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Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter X

WE have already mentioned the departure of the land expedition from Montreal, and now propose to follow up its history, through its zig-zag windings and perils, to Columbia, the place of its destination.

The gentleman appointed to head the adventurous party was Mr. Wilson Price Hunt, a citizen of the United States—a person every way qualified for the arduous undertaking. Had Mr. Astor been as fortunate in his choice of a marine commander to conduct his expedition by sea as he was in that of his land expedition, a very different result would have ensued.

Mr. Hunt was also accompanied on this journey by Mr. Donald M'Kenzie, another partner, who had formerly been in the service of the North-West Company. This gentleman had already acquired great experience in the Indian countries, was bold, robust, and peculiarly qualified to lead Canadian voyageurs through thick and thin. Mr. Astor placed great confidence in his abilities, perseverance, and prudenee. Under, therefore, two such leaders as Hunt and M'Kenzie, he had, in fact, everything to hope and little to fear.

The trumpet of enterprize was, therefore, no sooner sounded at the office of the new company for recruits, than crowds of blustering voyageurs, of all grades and qualities, flocked thither to enrol themselves under the banner of this grand undertaking. Money was tempting, and Jean Baptiste has ever been fond of novelty. The list of adventurers therefore might have been filled up in an hour; but a different line was pursued. M'Kenzie was too sagacious and wary to be taken in by appearances; he drew a line of distinction, and selected those only who had already given proofs of capacity. The picking and choosing system, however, gave great offence to many; consequently, those who had been rejected put every iron in the fire, out of pure spite, to discourage those already engaged, or about to engage; and the money once expended, little persuasion was required to effect their purpose.

Mr. M'Kenzie, from his knowledge of the Canadian character, wished to engage at once a sufficient number for the enterprize, so that no subsequent delays might interrupt their progress; and this was generally allowed to be the better plan, as we shall have occasion to notice hereafter. But Mr. Hunt—grave, steady, and straightforward, himself—detested the volatile gaiety and ever-changing character of the Canadian voyageurs, and gave a decided preference to Americans, and the mongrel Creoles of the south, who, as he alleged, might be got on the route, either at Mackina or St. Louis; and this was the plan ultimately adopted: so that no more Canadian voyageurs were taken than were barely sufficient to man one large canoe. These men, however, were voyageurs of the first class, whose well-tried experience on the lakes, rivers, and frozen regions of the north, made them anticipate the pleasures of a holiday voyage on the waters of the south—hardy veterans, who thought of nothing but to toil and obey. Such were the men—second to no canoe-men in Canada— that joined the expedition at Montreal. The party now assembled in high spirits, and after bidding a dozen adieux to their friends and companions, embarked at La Chine on the 5th of July. On arriving at St. Anne's, the devout voyageurs, according to usual custom, expressed a wish to go on shore to make their vows at the holy shrine before leaving the island. There, prostrated on the ground, they received the priest's benediction; then embarking, with pipes and song, hied their way up the Ottawa or Grand River for Mackina, which place they reached on the seventeenth day.

Michiliinackina, or Mackinaw, was their first resting-place after leaving La Chine; and here they had again to recommence the recruiting service, as at Montreal—with this difference, however, that the Montreal men are expert canoe-men, the Mackina men expert bottle-men. That Canadians in general drink, and sometimes even to excess, must be admitted; but to see drunkenness and debauchery, with all their concomitant vices, carried on systeinatically, it is necessary to see Mackina.

Here Hunt and M'Kenzie in vain sought recruits, at least such as would suit their purpose; for in the morning they were found drinking, at noon drunk, in the evening dead drunk, and in the night seldom sober. Hogarth's drunkards in Gin Lane and Beer Alley were nothing compared to the drunkards of Mackina at this time. Every nook and corner in the whole island swarmed, at all hours of the day and night, with motley groups of uproarious tipplers and whisky-hunters. Mackina at this time resembled a great bedlam, the frantic inmates running to and fro in wild forgetfulness; so that Mr. Hunt, after spending several weeks, could only pick up a few disorderly Canadians, already ruined in mind and body; whilst the cross-breeds and Yankees kept aloof, viewing the expedition, as an army views a forlorn hope, as destined to destruction. Mr. Hunt now saw and confessed his error in not taking M'Keazie's salutary advice to engage more voyageurs at Montreal, but regretted most of all the precious time they had lost to no purpose at Mackina, and therefore set about leaving it as soon as possible.

But before we take our leave of a place so noted for gallantry and gossiping, we may observe that it was, at the date of this narrative, the chief rendezvous of the Mackina Fur Company, and a thousand other petty associations of trappers and adventurers, all in some way or other connected with the Indian trade. Here then Mackina was the great outfitting mart of the south—the centre and head-quarters of all those adventurers who frequented the Mississippi and Missouri waters in search of furs and peltries.

These different parties visit Mackina but once a year, and on these occasions make up for their dangers and privations among the Indians by rioting, carousing, drinking, and spending all their gains in a few weeks, sometimes in a few days; and then they return again to the Indians and the wilderness. In this manner these dissolute spendthrifts spin out, in feasting and debauchery, a miserable existence, neither fearing God nor regarding man, till the knife of the savage, or some other violent death, despatches them unpitied.

In the fur trade of the north many have attained to a competency, not a few to independence, and many have realized fortunes after a servitude of years; but in the slippery and ruinous traffic of the south many fortunes have been lost, and an awful sacrifice made of human life; so that of all the adventurers engaged, for half a century past, in the fur trade of that licentious quarter, few, very few indeed, ever left it with even a bare competency.

At Mackina, Mr. Crooks, formerly a trader on the Missouri, joined the expedition as a partner. The odds and ends being now put together, and all ready for a start, the expedition left Mackina on the 12th of August, and crossing over the lake to Green Bay, proceeded up Fox River, then down to Prairie du Chien by the Wisconsin, and from thence drifted down the great Mississippi to St. Loins, where they landed on the 3rd of September.

No sooner had the St. Louis papers announced the arrival of Astor's expedition at that place, than the rendezvous of Hunt and M'Kenzie teemed with visitors of all grades, anxious to enlist in the new company. Pleased with the flattering prospect of soon completing their number, they commenced selecting such countenances as bespoke health and vigour; but, alas! few of that description was to be found in the crowd.

The motley group that presented itself coull boast of but few vigorous and efficient hands, being generally little better, if not decidedly worse, than those lounging about the streets of Mackina, a medley of French Creoles, old and worn-out Canadians, Spanish renegades, with a mixture of Indians and Indian half-breds, enervated by indolence, debauchery, and a warm climate. Here, again, Mr. Hunt's thoughts turned to Canada; and in the bitterness of disappointment he was heard to say, "No place like Montreal for hardy and expert voyageurs!" Several Yankees, however, sleek and tall as the pines of the forest, engaged as hunters and trappers; but here again another difficulty presented itself, the sapient Yankees, accustomed to the good things of St. Louis, must have their dainties, their tea, their coffee, and their grog. This caused a jealousy; the Canadians, who lived on the usual coarse fare of the north, began to complain, and insisted on receiving the same treatment which the hunters and trappers had,—such is the force of example; and dissatisfaction once raised is not so easily allayed again. To adjust these differences, Mr. Hunt adopted an expedient which, in place of proving a remedy, rather augmented the evil. Thinking it easier, or at all events cheaper, to reduce his own countrymen, being but few in number, to the Canadian pot-luck, rather than pamper Jean Baptiste with luxurious notions, he issued his orders accordingly, that all denominations should fare alike; but Jonathan was not to be told what he was to eat, nor what he was to drink. Finding, however, Mr. Hunt determined to enforce the order, the new corners shouldered their rifles to a man, and, in the true spirit of Yankee independence, marched off with their advance in their pockets, and the expedition saw them no more; and not only that, .but they raised such a hue-and-cry against the parsimonious conduct of the new enterprize, that not a man could be afterwards got to engage; and this state of things the other traders, and particularly the Missouri Fur Company, turned to their advantage, by representing to the people the horrors, the dangers, and privations that awaited our adventurous friends; that if they were fortunate enough to escape being scalped by the Indians, they would assuredly be doomed, like Nebuchodnezzar, to eat grass, and never would return to tell the sad tale of their destruction.

While Mr. Hunt's affairs thus seemed almost at a stand, a new impulse was given to the expedition by the timely acquisition of another partner, a Mr. Miller, who had been a trader up the Missouri, had considerable experience among Indians along the route to be followed, and was a great favourite with the people at St. Louis. As soon, therefore, as Mr. Miller joined the expedition, people from all quarters began again to enlist under the banner of the new company. Canoemen, hunters, trappers, and interpreters were no longer wanting, and the number of each being completed, the expedition left St Louis, after a vexatious delay of forty-eight days.

On the 21st of October the expedition started in three boats, and soon after reached the mouth of the Missouri, up which the party proceeded. Our Canadian voyageurs were now somewhat out of their usual element Boats and oars, the mode of navigating the great rivers of the south, were new to men who had been brought up to the paddle, the cheering song, and the bark canoe of the north.. They detested the heavy and languid drag of a Mississippi boat, and sighed for the paddle and song of former days. They soon, however, became expert at the oar, and Mr. Hunt, who was somewhat partial to the south men, was forced to acknowledge that their merits were not to he compared to the steady,. persevering, habits of the men of the north. Yet the progress was but slow, scarcely averaging twenty- one miles a day, so that it was the 16th of November before they reached the Nodowa, a distance of only 450 miles up the Missouri, and there, from the coldness of the weather and lateness of the season, they were obliged to winter.

Mr. M'Kenzie, accustomed, during the days of the North-West, to start from Montreal and reach the mouth of Columbia. river, or Great Bear's Lake, the same season, did not muck like this slow travelling, and had his advice been acted on, the expedition, in place of wintering at the Nodowa, would have wintered on the waters of the Columbia.

Here it was that Mr. M'Lellan, another partner, joined the expedition. This gentleman was one of the first shots in America, nothing could escape his keen eye and steady hand; hardy, enterprizing, and brave as a lion: on the whole, he was considered a great acquisition to the party.

After settling the winter quarters, Mr. Hunt returned to St. Louis, which place he reached on the 20th of January 1811, and before he joined his wintering friends at the Nodowa River again, it was the 17th of April.

During Mr. Hunt's visit at St. Louis, orders arrived, among other instructions, from Mr. Astor, that the sole command of the expedition should be vested in him alone, although hitherto it was intrusted to Hunt and M'Kenzie. This underhand proceeding of Astor's gave umbrage to the other partners, and particularly to M'Kenzie, and added new difficulties to Mr. Hunt's situation, by throwing the whole responsibility of the enterprize upon him alone; but such was Astor, that no confidence could be placed in his arrangements; his measures, like the wind, were ever changing.

During Mr. Hunt's absence, several changes had taken place in the wintering camp; some of the men had deserted, others again, under various pretences shook themselves clear of the ill-omened undertaking, and even after Mr. Hunt's return, several more turned their backs and walked off, without the least compunction, and all those who so unceremoniously and treacherously left the expedition, excepting one, were Americans. Mr. Hunt, in his eagerness to press forward, was perfectly, worn out with anxiety.

On the 22d of April, however, the adventurers broke up their camp, or winter quarters, and bent their course up the strong and rapid current of the Missouri, no less formidable in itself; than dangerous on account of the numerous savage hordes that infest its banks.

On the 14th of September the party reached the heights of the Rocky Mountains, safe and in good spirits, after many hairbreadth escapes, and drew near to the Pilot Knobs, or Trois Tetons, that great landmark, so singular and conspicuous, near which is the romantic source of Louis River, or the great south branch of the Columbia. From the Nodowa, to the Pilot Knobs occupied them one hundred and forty-five days.

The Pilot Knobs, so cheering to our wayfaring friends, proved but the beginning of their real troubles: for, after various projects and plans, it was resolved, on the 18th of October, to abandon their hitherto serviceable and trusty horses, and they were, therefore, turned loose, to the number of one hundred and eighty, and the party embarking in fifteen crazy and frail canoes, undertook to descend the rugged and boiling channels of the head waters of the great south branch of the Columbia. Having proceeded about 350 miles, they were at last compelled to abandon the project of navigating these. bold and dangerous waters; but not before one of their best steersmen was drowned, and they were convinced as to the impracticability of proceeding by water.

At this time, two small and separate parties, consisting in all of twelve persons, were fitted out as trappers to hunt the beaver, and, to the astonishment of all, Mr. Miller, in one of his headstrong fits, turned his bank on the expedition abruptly, and became a trapper also.

The canoes being now abandoned altogether, various plans were thought of; two or three parties were sent out as scouts, to try and fall in with Indians, provisions being now so scarce that the most gloomy apprehensions were entertained. These parties, however, saw but few Indians, and those few were destitute themselves. At this time a starving dog that could hardly crawl along was a feast to our people, and even the putrid and rotten skins of animals were resorted to in order to sustain life. Whilst these parties were exhausting themselves to little or no purpose, another party attempted to recover the horses, which had been so thoughtlessly and imprudently left behind; but they returned unsuccessful, after a week's trial and hunger. A fifth party was despatched ahead to explore the river, and they, also returned with the most gloomy presage—all failed, and all fell back again on the cheerless camp, to augment the general despondency; the party now, as a last resource, set about depositing and securing the goods and baggage, by putting them in caches; this done, the party finally separated into four bands, each headed by a partner, and the object of one and all was, to reach the mouth of the Columbia by the best and shortest way. That part of the country where they were was destitute of game, and the provisions of the whole party taken together were scarcely enough for two days' journey. At that season of the year, the Indians retire to the distant mountains, and leave the river till the return of spring, which accounts for their absence at this time.

We have already stated that one man, named Clappine, had been drowned—another of the name of Prevost had become deranged through starvation, and drowned himself—and a. third, named Carrier, lingered behind and perished; these fatal disasters happened in the parties conducted by Messrs. Hunt and Crooks. M'Kenzie and his party were more fortunate: as soon as the division of the men and property took place, that bold North-Wester called his little band together,—"Now, my friends," said he, "there is still hope before us; to linger on our way, to return back, or to be discouraged and stand still, is death--a death of all others the most miserable; therefore, take courage; let us persevere and push on ahead, and all will end well; the foremost will find something to eat, the last may fare worse." On hearing these cheering words, the poor fellows took off their caps, gave three cheers, and at once shot ahead. They kept as near the river as possible, and got on wonderfully well, until they came into the narrow and rugged defiles of the Blue Mountains: there they suffered much, and were at one time five days without a mouthful to eat, when, fortunately, they caught a beaver; and on this small animal and its skin, scarcely a mouthful to each, the whole party had to subsist for three days. At this time some of them were so reduced that M'Kenzie himself had to carry on his own back two of his men's blankets, being a strong and robust man, and long accustomed to the hardships and hard fare of the north. He alone, of all the party, stood the trial well; and, by still cheering and encouraging his men on, he brought them at length to the main waters of the Columbia, at Walla-Walla, a little below the great forks; from thence they descended with the current to the long looked-for Astoria, where they arrived safe and sound on the 10th of January 1812.

Mr. Hunt and the other parties still lingered behind; and from the severe trials and privations which M'Kenzie, who was reckoned the boldest and most experienced adventurer in the expedition, suffered, fears were entertained as to the safety of the other parties, more particularly as many gloomy reports had reached Astoria; some saying that they had been killed by the Indians, others that they had died of hunger in the mountains; but at last, on the 15th of February, the joyful cry of white men approaching, announced at Astoria the glad tidings of Mr. Hunt's arrival.

The emaciated, downcast looks and tattered garments of our friends, all bespoke their extreme sufferings during a tong and severe winter. To that Being alone who preserveth all those who put their trust in Him, were in this instance due, and at all times, our thanksgiving and gratitude.


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