Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Route across the Rocky Mountains with a Description of Oregon and California/Chapter 1
THE JOURNEY OUT, WITH ITS INCIDENTS.
Departure from Independence—Country of the Shawnee and Kanzas Indians—Rainy Weather and muddy traveling—Antelopes and Prairie Dogs—Cold Rain Storm on the Platte—Buffalo region—Sand Hills—Pawnee and Sioux Indians—Forts on the Platte—Black Hills—Red Butes—Killing a Grizzly Bear—Sulphur Springs—Summit of the Rocky Mountains.
In the latter part of May, 1843, we left Independence, a small town in the Western part of the State of Missouri, situated six miles south of the Missouri River and twelve miles from the Western line of the State, and now the principal starting point for all the companies engaged in the Western and New Mexican trade, and place of general rendezvous of persons from all parts of the United States, wishing to emigrate or travel beyond the Rocky Mountains. In a few hours we passed the Western boundary of the State, and came into the territory of the Shawnee Indians. They occupy a small, but very beautiful and fertile country, lying immediately West of the State line. The Shawnees have made considerable advancement towards civilization. Many of them have good farms and comfortable houses. Some of them are good mechanics, and most of them speak the English language tolerably well.
We were traveling here in the great Santa Fe trace, and again and again, we passed long trains of Merchant wagons, laden with the products of our Manufactories and other Merchandise, and bearing them afar across the deserts, to be exchanged for the gold and silver of the Provinces of Mexico. This trace is large, and as well beaten, as many of the most important public highways in the States.
After leaving the country of the Shawnees we came into that of the Kanzas Indians. Theirs, also, is a very beautiful country; entirely in a state of nature. It differs but little from the Western part of Missouri, except that the surface is more undulating, and that it has less timber. Here we left the last traces of civilization, and seemed, for a time, to be beyond even the borders of animated existence. Not even the song of a bird broke upon the surrounding stillness; and, save the single track of the Emigrants, winding away over the hills, not a foot print broke the rich unvaried verdure of the broad forest-begirt prairies; and in the little islet groves that dotted the plain—the wooded strips that wound along with the course of the rivulet—and the blue wall that surrounded, not a trunk was scarred nor a twig was broken. It was a vast, beautiful and perfect picture, which nature herself had drawn, and the hand of man had never violated. No decoration of art, mingled to confuse or mar the perfection. All was natural, beautiful, unbroken. The transition had been sudden, as the change was great. Every thing was calculated to inspire the mind with feelings of no common kind. He, alone, who for the first time stands upon the deck of some tall ship, whose sails are spread before the breeze, and whose foaming prow looks steadily towards some distant clime, when for the first time he sees the loved shores of his native land sink into the wave, and the blue waters of the treacherous deep gather around him, may appreciate the sensations which awakened in our hearts when here we reflected upon where we were, and what we had undertaken: when the past; all that we had left behind us—nothing less than the whole civilized world, with all of its luxuries, comforts, and most of its real necessities—society, friends, home,—all that is in this world dear to man: when the future, dark and uncertain—presenting nothing but a vast extent of drear and desert wastes, uninhabited save by the wild beast and savage—filled, perhaps, with thousands of unknown difficulties and dangers, hardships and privations,—rushed at once, in mingled confusion, upon the mind, and impressed upon our feelings a full sense of the loneliness of our situation and the rapidly increasing space that was separating us from all communion with the civilized world.
The morning had been fair, and we were moving slowly along through the middle of one of the wide prairies, without noticing the cloud which had been gathering in the North, until its thunders awoke us from our dreaming. The breeze, which before had scarcely stirred the grass upon the plain, grown into a gale, now soared over the hills. The rain soon followed, pouring in torrents. Our mules, wheeling with their heads from the storm, refused to proceed. We were therefore compelled quietly to endure it, and wait upon the pleasure of our long eared masters. Fortunately, it lasted for but little more than an hour; but this was sufficient for us to become completely drenched with the rain and chilled with the cold. But in a short time the cloud passed over, and the rays of the sun having dried our garments and tempered the atmosphere to its previous mildness, made every thing appear more cheerful than before.
This we regarded as a sort of introduction to the next six months. As the sun approached the horizon, we turned aside and halted, on the bank of a small creek, and made preparations to pass the night. We turned our animals loose to graze, having first fastened strong cords, about ten yards in length, about their necks, that we might not have difficulty in catching them. After they had run loose some time one end of the cord was fastened to a stake, to prevent their rambling away, through the night, and the rope was sufficiently long to give them room to feed plentifully. Having pitched our tent and kindled a fire, supper was soon prepared, spread upon the ground, and we took our seats upon the grass around it. Three articles—bread, meat, and coffee—completed the variety of the board; and although they were not prepared in the neatest and most tasteful manner, yet our appetites poke abundant praises for the ability of the cook. Supper being finished, as the night grew dark, we retired one by one to rest, spreading our beds upon the ground. We slept to dream of all that we loved and had left behind us, and awoke to know that they were far from us and that our home was the wild uncultivated field of nature, "whose walls the hills and forests were, whose canopy the sky." Having traveled up the Kanzas River 90 miles, we came, on the 30th of May, to where the Emigrants were crossing. We saw here the first village of Kanzas Indians. Their huts are made of poles and bark, and are about sixteen feet wide, by thirty long, and eight high. The ends are perpendicular, but the sides joining with the roof in a gradual curve, make the whole very nearly in the shape of the half of a circular cylinder. They were very filthy and almost entirely naked, not disposed to be hostile to the whites, but like most other Indians, they are expert and inveterate thieves. The River not being fordable, the Emigrants constructed two large canoes, which they fastened together at a sufficient distance apart, by a platform of round poles laid across and extending from one end to the other. Upon this they placed the wagons by hand, and ferried them across the stream. The cattle and horses were turned loose and made to swim to the opposite shore. We succeeded in getting across on the same day that we arrived, and after delaying one day and a half, endeavoring to make up a small company to precede the main body and follow on the trail of Mr. Wm. Sublet [Sublette] and Sir Wm. Stewart, who were ahead with a company of men on a party of pleasure to the Mountains, we succeeded in making our company eight persons, and again began to travel.
The Emigrants, amounting, in all, to about six hundred persons, after they had finished crossing, organized themselves into a sort of traveling Government; adopted a short code of laws, employed a pilot, and elected a captain and officers of the guard. We still continued to travel up the Kanzas; but leaving it further and further to the left. The valley of this stream is high rolling prairies, and is very fertile. Its bottoms are wide, and there are numerous branches coming in from both sides, on all of which there is timber of most varieties found West of the Mississippi, some of which is good.
Ninety miles above our crossing we came to and crossed Big Blue River, one of its main branches. Here the Emigrants came up with us, and it was late in the night before their last wagons got over. This region has the character of being the residence of storms, and immediately after our arrival some of the blustering inhabitants introduced themselves in a manner that was by no means agreeable. After the sun went down a dense black cloud covered the sky, from which the rain fell in torrents during the whole night. The extreme darkness was dispelled by the dazzling and incessant flashes of lightning. The thunder kept up a constant roar, and frequently its sharp peals resembled the discharge of volleys of artillery. The wind blew so high that most of the tents were thrown down, and one of the wagons was fairly blown over. The surface of the ground was flooded with water, and in the morning we found the River, which we had crossed on the past evening without difficulty, had risen so rapidly as to overflow its bottoms near one fourth of a mile on either side, and was entirely impassable.
This is the middle ground between the Kanzas and Pawnee Indians. The day before we crossed the Big Blue River, we met a war party of Kaws (Kanzas), returning from the Pawnee country. They told us they had seen the Pawnees, and had beaten them in battle; but we learned afterwards, from a more creditable source, that it was exactly the other way. They had one or two fresh scalps and as many wounded men, and were leaving the world behind them as fast as possible. We saw their battle-ground afterwards and found on it two or three dead bodies. Here, the Emigrants, finding that it was inconvenient and retarding to their progress to travel in so large a body, dissolved their first organization and formed themselves into smaller companies.
It continued to rain, at intervals, for several days, and the road which had before been as good as we could wish, became quite muddy and bad. After leaving Big Blue River we continued to travel through a country very similar to that previously described, excepting that the proportion of timber was less, until we came to the Little Blue River—a distance of 70 miles; and here the hills bordering on the stream are a little sandy. After striking this stream we continued to travel up it 50 miles; then leaving it, turned across in a North Westerly direction, for the main Platte River. On the Little Blue River we found a few Antelopes, which were the first wild animals of any size, which we had seen since we had left the States; and after leaving the waters of the Kanzas we found no bees, and this, from all that we could learn, is the farthest point West which they have yet reached. Nor did we find any of the wild fowels, or smaller animals common in the Western States, until we passed the Mountains. We reached the Platte River in the evening; the distance across being about 25 miles, which is the greatest, on the whole route, without water.
After leaving the waters of the Kanzas, the character of the country changes rapidly. The hills, on either side of the narrow valley of the Platte, which is from five to ten miles wide, are little else than huge piles of sand. The valley itself is quite sandy; but it nevertheless produces a rich grass, which our animals were very fond of. It is also covered, in many places, with the Prickly Pear, the thorns of which frequently get into the feet of the loose cattle and produce lameness. The River is from one to three miles in width, and the bed of the channel is entirely of quicksand. When we came to it, it was quite full, and the water was every where running level with its banks, but seldom overflowing them, and was running with a strong, even current. There is, in many places along the Platte, a kind of salt, with which the ground, in spots, is covered; and the water in the River is slightly impregnated. In some of the sloughs and pools, back from the River, the water is very strong. We found but little wood here, and none except immediately on the River. We were frequently unable to procure it, and were compelled, sometimes, to make a strange substitute in the excrement of the Buffalo, in order to do our cooking. The varieties of timber are few; the principal kind being what is commonly called Cotton Wood. We saw great numbers of Antelopes, as we passed up the River; but they were so wild, and the valley was so level, that it was difficult to approach them. We also saw a singular little animal, which has been called the Prairie Dog. Its size, shape and color, are very much the same as the large Wharf rat, and its barking resembles that of the common Gray Squirrel. They burrow in the ground and live in villages, frequently of several hundreds. There is a small Owl that sometimes lives in the same hole with the Dog.
As we were now coming into the game country, and expecting every day to see the plains covered with herds of Buffalo; we made up a hunting party, (having previously joined one of the emigrating parties,) of 20 men, and proceeded up the River ahead of the wagons, to obtain meat and dry it by the time they would come up, in order to make as little detention as possible. In the evening of the second day we heard the guns of some of the party, who were in chase of a Buffalo along the Southern side of the valley, and as we saw the clouds begin to swell, dark and angrily above the Western horizon, and heard their thunders muttering heavily behind the hills, we thought it prudent to halt and prepare our camp. As we saw no timber ahead, and did not wish to go back, we stopped upon the open prairie, on the nearest high ground to the River. The rain had begun to fall; but several of us who were anxious to see the Buffalo, disregarding it, mounted our horses and galloped across the valley, in the direction of which we had heard the reports of the guns. The wind was blowing a gale; the clouds grew darker, until they almost shut out the light of the setting sun. The rain increased, and by the time we had reached the spot where the hunters were butchering, it poured down upon us as if all the windows of Heaven had been at once unbarred. The lightning and the thunder were dimming to the eye and deafening to the ear; and, withal, it was certainly just as cold as it could be without the water congealing. "I never saw it rain before," said a poor fellow, whose teeth were chattering together in a manner that seemed to threaten the destruction of his masticators. "Nor I,"—"nor I,"—"nor I,"—echoed half a dozen others, who were, as far as wet and cold were concerned, about in the same condition that they would have been had they been soaked an age in the Atlantic Ocean, and just hung out on the North Cape to dry. We made all possible haste; but, nevertheless, it was near two hours and growing quite dark, before we were ready to return to camp: and then we were so benumbed by the wet and cold, and encumbered with the meat which we had taken, that it was quite dark by the time we reached the River. When we came to the place where we had left the camp, we learned from one who had been waiting for us, that they had moved down the River, in hopes of finding wood. We therefore threw the remainder of our things, which had been left, upon our horses, and started to look for the camp. We saw our way by the lightning, and after traveling as we thought long enough to have gone several miles, we turned over the point of a hill and saw a small light, like that of a candle, away below us on the River. Taking a straight line for the light, we at length reached it, after having waded through a dozen sloughs up to our waists. We had expected to find a large blazing fire, and thought how comfortable we should be when we could warm and dry around it; and as we had not eaten any thing since morning, our appetites began to remind us how excellent a piece of roasted Buffalo meat would be. But how sadly were we disappointed, to find our companions shivering around a few coals, over which for fuel there was only a heap of green willow brush. Wet, cold, and hungry we spread our beds, which were of course as wet as water could make them, and turned in; but not to sleep—it was only to dodge the wind, and shiver the night away. At length the sky became clear, and the cold increased. We watched the stars, which seemed stationary in the sky. A dozen nights, according to the reckoning of our feelings, had time to have passed, and to us it appeared as though the sun would never rise; but at length it came, and never was dawn of day hailed more rapturously. One who was braver than the rest, summoning all his resolution, crawled out of bed: he would have leaped and run, had he been able; but that was impossible. His limbs refused to do their duty, and taking a hatchet, he waded across an arm of the River to an Island, upon which there was wood, and began cutting and carrying across. His example aroused others, and we soon had a large blazing fire. We spent several hours in putting our arms in order, drying our clothes and bedding, and appeasing our appetites on roasted ribs and marrow bones.
There were twenty of us, and we have frequently heard every one of that number say, afterwards, that they had seen some rough service in the world, but they had never met with any thing that could equal the night of the storm on the Platte. We continued to travel up the river, hunting as we went; but without much success. We saw a number of small herds of Buffalo; but they were generally too wild to approach, and too poor to eat after we had killed them. At the Forks, one hundred miles above where we first struck the River, we encamped, and by going several miles out beyond the hills, we succeeded in killing a number of Buffalo, the meat of which we brought in, dried and distributed among the company, when they came up; but the quantity was so small, in proportion to the numbers with whom it was to be divided, that it made scarcely a taste.
The Forks of the Platte is about the middle ground between the Pawnees and the Sioux. We saw a few of the Pawnees, in passing through their country, who were returning from the South, where they had been hunting, with packs of dried Buffalo meat, to their village, situated about fifty miles below where we struck the Platte. They are tall, but well proportioned and active. They raise some corn, but live principally upon the Buffalo, and are the most notorious rascals any where East of the Rocky Mountains.
The valley immediately at the junction of the two Branches of the Platte, is nearly twenty miles wide, and a large portion of it has a good soil. After we had passed the Forks, we made several attempts to cross the South Branch, but always found the water too deep; and continued to travel up the South side, until we saw that it would be impossible for us to find a ford; when we stopped at a large Cotton Wood grove, eighty-five miles above the Forks. Having determined to construct boats for this purpose, we procured in the first place, a sufficient number of green Buffalo hides, and having sewed two of them together for each boat, we stretched them over the wagon beds as tight as we could, with the flesh side out, and then turned them up in the sun to dry; and when they became thoroughly dry, we covered them with tallow and ashes, in order to render them more impervious to the water. The boats being completed, we proceeded to cross the goods of the company. Each boat was manned by six men. Some waded or swam along side, while others pulled by a long rope which was attached forward. The River here was about a mile wide. In this way the goods were ferried over, and the empty wagons were drawn across by the teams a short distance below, where the River was wider and shallower. The crossing was effected in six days, and without any serious accident. We passed here the fourth day of July. The country, as we advanced West, became more and more barren, until here it was little else than a desert: and between this point and where we first saw the Platte River, it receives no tributaries from the South.
Having crossed the South Fork, we turned across the higher dividing lands, and traveled one day North West twenty miles, to the North Fork, without water. After traveling up the North Fork sixty-five miles, through a country still increasing in sterility, we came to what is called the Chimney. It is situated on the South side of the North Fork, three miles from the River. It is a conical hill, one hundred and fifty feet high; from the top of which, a peculiar irregular shaft rises to the same height—making the whole about three hundred feet. The base of the hill is elevated above the water in the River, about seventy-five feet. It is a hard earth, composed of sand and clay, and may be seen for twenty or thirty miles. There are here several ranges of detached Sand Hills, running parallel with the River, the sides of which are almost perpendicular, destitute of vegetation, and so washed by the rains of thousands of years, as to present, at a distance, the appearances of Cities, Temples, Castles, Towers, Palaces, and every variety of great and magnificent structures.
On the 9th of July we had a splendid prospect of these Sand Hills. A dark cloud arose in the West, and the whole region was illumined by the reflected rays of the Sun, which, mellowed by its effect had lost their dazzling power; and the prospect was softened, until it seemed one vast brilliant picture, wrought with a mysteriously magic touch. Beneath the rising cloud was a vast plain, bounded only by the distant horizon. Here and there, upon its surface, there arose splendid edifices, like beautiful white marble, fashioned in the style of every age and country, canopied by the clouds; yet gilded and flooded by the mellowed light of the mid-day Sun. It was so beautiful that it could not be lost while it lasted, and though the gathering clouds threatened to drench us with their contents, we nevertheless continued to gaze until the beautiful illusion passed away.
Late in the evening of the same day, we encamped by a fine Spring, at the foot of Scott's Bluffs, a range of high Sand Hills, which run into the River. They receive their name from a melancholy circumstance which happened at them, several years ago. A small party of Trappers were returning from the Mountains, to their homes in Missouri. Owing to the hostility of the Indians who inhabited the country, (the Sioux,) it was necessary for their safety that they should not be seen. To prevent this, required the greatest precaution in their movements. A few days before they reached this place, one of their number, named Scott, was taken sick and continued to grow worse, until he was unable to proceed. His companions carried him to these bluffs, and supposing that he could not recover, they left him. Others passing that way, some years after, found his bones a short distance from where he had been left. From this circumstance, these hills have been called since that time, after the name of that unfortunate adventurer. In the extreme point of these hills, near the River, and about fifty feet above high water, are found great numbers of semi-petrified Turtles, from one to two feet across, imbedded in the sand, and many of them entirely perfect. There are no animals of this kind now in the Platte River, or elsewhere in the country, for several hundred miles around.
We continued up the North Fork, and on the 13th came to Lauramie [Laramie] Fork, opposite Fort Lauramie. Finding it full, we were obliged to ferry, and for this purpose we procured two small boats from the Forts, lashed them together, and covered them with a platform made of wagon beds, which we had taken to pieces for the purpose. Upon this platform, we placed the loaded wagons by hand, and although the stream was very rapid, all succeeded in crossing without much difficulty. A few hours after we crossed, a hail storm came up from the North West; before which, our animals ran for several miles, over the hills. Fort Lauramie belongs to the American Fur Company, and is built for a protection against the Indians. The occupants of the Fort, who have been long there, being mostly French and having married wives of the Sioux, do not now apprehend any danger. The Fort is built of Dobies (unburnt bricks). A wall of six feet in thickness and fifteen in height, encloses an area of one hundred and fifty feet square. Within and around the wall, are the buildings, constructed of the same material. These are a Trading House, Ware Houses for storing goods and skins, Shops and Dwellings for the Traders and Men. In the centre, is a large open area. A portion of the enclosed space is cut off by a partitioned wall, forming a carell (enclosure) for the animals belonging to the Fort. About one mile below Fort Lauramie, is Fort Platte; which is built of the same materials and in the same manner and belongs to a private Trading company.
On the morning of the 16th, we left the Forts, and after having traveled ten miles, we came to the Black Hills, and encamped at a large Spring, the water of which was quite warm. The road through these hills is, of necessity, very circuitous; winding about as it must, to avoid the steeps, ravines and rocks. They are very barren and some of them are high. On Long's Peak, which rises to the South, we could see a small spot of snow. We found in places, a few trees of Pine and Cedar scattered over the hills; but they were all small and quite dwarfish. We crossed a number of Creeks on our way through the Black Hills, in the narrow bottom lands of which, we generally found good grass for our animals.
On the 20th, we met Messrs. Vasques and Walker, with a company of twenty or thirty men, coming down from the Mountains, where Messrs. Vasques and Bridger have a small Trading Post among the Shoshones or Snake Indians. They were loaded with furs and skins, which they were taking to the Forts on the Platte, where they supply themselves with such articles as they want for the Indian trade.
Eighty miles above Fort Lauramie, we came to the Red Butes (isolated hills). They occupy a space of many miles in extent, and a large portion of the earth and stone of which they are composed, is as red as blood.
On the 23d we crossed the North Fork, one hundred and twenty-seven miles above Fort Lauramie, and for two days after leaving it, we suffered considerably for the want of water—the little which we found being strongly impregnated with a kind of Salt, prevalent almost everywhere in the neighborhood of the waters of the Platte. At one of these Salt Springs, there are numerous sinks, into which the Buffalo sometimes fall and perish. The surfaces of them are dry, and appear firm; but in many places they would mire a man, so that it would be impossible for him to extricate himself or escape, without assistance.
On the 25th we came to Willow Springs, where we found a beautiful spring, of very clear cold water, rising in a little green valley, through which its water flow about one mile, and sink in the sand. We also found here, an abundance of Willow wood. The hunters, who had been out while we were traveling, had seen several bands of Buffalo; and as they were the first we had met with since we left the South Fork, we remained in camp nearly a day, in order to recruit our stock of provisions. The great scarcity of the Buffalo, through this country—a circumstance which afterwards was the cause of much suffering to the Emigrants—was attributable, in a great degree, to the presence of Sir William Stewart, with his pleasure party, and fifty or sixty fine horses for the chase; who, while we were passing through the Buffalo country, constantly kept several days ahead of us—running, killing and driving the game out of our reach. It was cheap sport to them, but dear to us; and we were led to conclude, that, if ever again an English or Scottish nobleman sees fit to look for pleasure in the Rocky Mountains, while an emigrating party is passing over them, it will be prudent to place him in the rear, instead of the van.
On the 20th we encamped on Sweet Water, one of the tributaries of the North Fork, near the Independence Rock; which is a huge isolated mass of coarse granite, about three fourths of a mile in circumference, one hundred feet high, rather oblong, and rounded on the top. On the South side, next to the stream, which runs within ten yards of its base, it is almost covered with the names of different persons, who have traveled through this country. It was called Independence Rock, by Mr. Wm. Sublet, an old Indian Trader; who, several years ago, celebrated here the 4th of July. These masses of detached and barren rocks extend many miles up Sweet Water, principally on the North side. At the Sweet Water Cañon, about four miles above the Independence Rock, the river runs half a mile through a narrow chasm, between rugged and almost perpendicular walls of rock, which rise on either side to the height of about three hundred feet (and this constitutes what is known through the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California, as a cañon). Being informed by those who were acquainted with the country, that we should soon leave the Buffalo region, all the different companies of the Emigration remained several days on this part of Sweet Water, to procure provisions for the remainder of the journey. Owing to the scarcity of game, we were compelled to travel a day, and sometimes further, from the road to find it. We made up a party here from our company, to go to the Mountains on the South, which were distant about fifteen miles from the River. Having crossed over the plain, and seeing but few Buffalo, and those we saw being very wild, and some of the bands being already pursued by other hunters; we continued along the Mountain to the farther extremity of the valley, and finding nothing here, we held a council, to decide what course it was best to pursue. Differing in opinion, the larger number turned back to follow the base of the Mountain on the North side, while a small party continued on, intending to cross over it. We found it very steep, rugged, and difficult of ascent; and night overtaking us near the summit, we were compelled to encamp. The Mountain was covered in places with pine, and there were many small streams running down its sides, upon which there was an abundance of grass. The night was quite cold; but as we were in a deep sink at the source of one of these Mountain streams, we thought there would be little danger of being seen, and built up a large fire, by which we slept very comfortably, having, before going to rest, tied our animals on the grass. In the morning we ascended to the summit, to ascertain what lay beyond it, and look over the best probable field for game. Having gained it, we saw an extensive plain, through which, at a great distance, there was a River flowing, which we supposed to be the North Fork of the Platte. The descent to it was easy, and there were several bands of Buffalo feeding upon it, below us. We returned for our horses, and having passed into the plain, began to approach the nearest herd, but they took fright before we came within shooting distance, and we proceeded to the next. Having come near them, we stopped, leaving one of our company with the animals, while we approached nearer on foot. The ground favoring, we succeeded in bringing them within the range of the rifle, and killed three before they ran off. It was now the second day since we had eaten, and as soon as we could load our animals with the choice meat, we went to the nearest water, (which, contrary to the way it generally happens, was only a short distance from us,) kindled a fire and had a fine feast of "roasted ribs and marrow bones."
Having what meat we could carry we proceeded West, along the foot of the Mountain, for a deep gap, which we had seen from the other side, in the evening. About sunset, as we were going along, we saw three Bears, up in the breaks of the Mountain, busily engaged scratching in the earth for roots. Having taken advantage of the ground we approached near to them, and again leaving our partner, who was not a very good shot, a little distance behind with the horses and mules, we climbed up to the brink of the ridge between us and the Bears, and fired at the largest one. It fell, and supposing that we had given it a dead shot, we borrowed our companion's gun, intending to serve the second in the same way; but finding the first still alive, we gave him the contents of the second gun, upon receiving which he sprang upon one of the others, and cuffed him until he squalled for dear life. We returned and were hastily reloading our rifles, and had only poured down the powder, when all three came rushing to the top of the hill, roaring most furiously, and so loud that the answering hills and hollow caves were filled with the beastly thunder. They stopped within forty yards of us, and in open view, rearing up on their hinder feet, the wounded one in the middle—which, as he stood, was about eight feet high—with the blood streaming from his mouth and down his side, snuffing the air on every side, to catch some tainted breath of us; but the wind was ours, and being blind with rage and pain, he did not discover us. Our companion became dreadfully frightened, so that he lost all reason, and commenced running around his horse, and exclaiming loudly, "Oh Lord! what shall we do?" We told him to mount; but he still continued running around his horse, bawling at the top of his voice: "Good God Almighty! what shall we do?" "Mount! mount!" said we again; but he paid no attention, and was making about the twentieth trip around his horse, crying aloud, "Oh Lord!" "Oh Lord!" at every step, when we gave a loud whoop, and the two bears that were not wounded wheeled and ran off, and the wounded one tumbled back down the hill. This set our partner a little to rights, and turning to us, with a look of most perfect simplicity, he exclaimed, in a half weeping tone, "Good God! we can't fight them three Bears." You were frightened, were you not? said we. "O no, no, not bad scared," said he; "but stop—stop— look here," he continued, "may such another beautiful roar as we just now heard, be my music from this on if you ever catch me in a bear fight again," he added, shaking his head.
Having finished charging our rifles, and despatching the wounded animal, we proceeded towards the gap, traveling until late in the night, when one of the mules throwing off and scattering his load, obliged us to encamp. The next morning we set out again, at the dawn of day, and soon reached the gap, which we found to be a deep break, extending entirely through the Mountain, and about two hundred yards wide. In passing through the gap we came to several fine looking springs bursting out from the base of the Mountain, and dismounting to drink we found them to be strong of Sulphur, and upon examining more closely we saw the little cave out of which the largest one ran, in a stream about equal to the size of a man's arm, was entirely covered with a thick coat of crystalized Sulphur. The water was cold, slightly acid, and very pleasant. The country around is romantic, affords all the different varieties of game common in the Mountains, and would, we think, be an excellent resort for invalids, and persons of weak and disordered constitutions. The trip, the pure Mountain air, and the rough and wholesome manner of living, have already restored many who were before feeble and afflicted to health, strength and activity; and we are convinced they are better remedies for constitutional or pulmonary diseases than all the Patent Medicines and learned prescriptions, with which the public have ever been gulled.
Having passed through the gap we traveled across the valley of the Sweet Water, and to the trail of the Emigrants, and saw, from its size, that all the companies had passed. We hastened to overtake them, which we did that night, but not until late. During our absence Messrs. Vasques and Walker came up, on their return from Fort Lauramie, and afterwards traveled with us to their Trading House.
On the 1st of August we saw arise from the horizon, like distant clouds, the snow crested summits of the Wind River Mountains. They are several miles North of the Grand Pass, and are one of the highest portions of the Rocky Mountain range.
On the 2nd we made another hunting party, and proceeded again across the Mountain, on the South. After having gone about thirty miles from the trail we saw a large band of Buffaloes; but as it was late in the evening we thought it best not to disturb them before morning. When morning came not a Buffalo could be seen upon the plain. We hunted again all day, and in every direction, without finding any thing, and encamped at night in the Mountains, between where we were and Sweet Water. The third day we went about fifteen miles further to the South and saw a band of Buffaloes. We attempted to approach them, but they were so wild that we could not get within a mile of them before they would run. While following them we saw an Indian, about half a mile off, and galloped towards him. At first he fled, but finding that he could not escape, he stopped. When we came up one of our party, (a Trader belonging to the Company then traveling with us,) who understood his language, spoke to him. He was very much frightened when he saw that we knew he was a Sioux, expecting to be killed on the spot. We asked him where his company were. He told us they were at a Lake, which was about three miles distant, making meat, and that they were three hundred in number. We turned to go away when the Trader observed that we ought to kill him; but the rest of us objected, and he was overruled. Turning again to speak to him, he said he thought we had two hearts: one to kill him and another to let him go, and that he did not know how to talk to us: that he did not know whether he should go under or not—(meaning that he did not know whether we did or did not intend to kill him). But we turned away and left him, taking a straight course for the Company, thinking it not very safe to be in the neighborhood of three hundred Sioux. We put spurs to our horses, and kept a good gait until we considered that we were out of their reach.
We arrived at our Company's encampment that night, having killed nothing. When we told them of our adventure with the Sioux, all the Traders joined in exclaiming against us, for not killing him. We plead that it was unmanly and unfair to take the life even of the meanest enemy, under such circumstances; but they adopted the Indian argument, and said that as we were among Indians, we must treat them as they treated us; and so the white people, who live in the Rocky Mountains, act towards their enemies.
On the evening of the 7th we left the head of Sweet Water, and in a few hours passed over the dividing ridge, through the Grand Pass, and encamped by a marsh, which is one of the sources of Green River, a tributary of the Colorado, of the Gulf of California.
We slept here, on the great Backbone of North America, where the sources of the Rivers which empty into the oceans which bound it, on the East and on the West, are only a few miles apart.
The lofty summits of the Wind River Mountains, with their wide fields of eternal snow, appeared to be almost beside us. We had a heavy frost during the night, and in the morning the water in our camp kettles was covered with ice nearly one fourth of an inch thick; and every thing that had been exposed to the dew, which fell in the evening, was perfectly glazed with ice.
Both the ascent and descent were so gradual, that, had we not been told, we should have passed over the dividing ridge in the Rocky Mountains without knowing it. The distance from our crossing of the North Fork of the Platte to the summit of the Grand Pass is one hundred and fifty-four miles; and the country between is a perfect desert.