Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell


Keeping on down Snake River, sometimes in its valley, sometimes, to avoid bad travelling, marching back on the hills, the party went on. Before long the Grand Rond was passed; and soon after this they entered the timber, through a part of which they were obliged to cut their way.

When the missionary station, occupied by Dr. Whitman, was reached, it was found that he was absent on a visit to the Dalles of the Columbia; but here were seen a party of emigrants men, women, and children—all in good health, and living largely on potatoes, which even then were raised here of good quality and in some quantity.

All the trading-posts in the Oregon country were still controlled by the Hudson's Bay people, but all received Fremont cordially, and helped him on his way. They crossed John Day's river, the Des Chutes, called by Fremont Riviere aux Chutes. At the Dalles was a comfortable settlement: "Two good-looking wooden dwelling houses, and a large school house, with stables, barn and garden, and large cleared fields between the houses and the river bank, on which were scattered the wooden huts of an Indian village." Here the party again divided, Fremont leaving a part of his people at the Dalles with Carson, while he and Mr. Preuss went on down the river by canoe.

The new mode of travel seemed very delightful to men who had been for months journeying on foot and on horseback over a rough country. It was very pleasant to float along down the broad stream, camping from time to time to build their fires, and cook the fat salmon, and potatoes and coffee, which they had, with bread and sugar—luxuries to which they had long been strangers. It was a motley group, but a contented one. Three Indians assisted in paddling the canoe, while the commander of the expedition, the German, Preuss, the Frenchman, Bernier, and the colored man, Jacob, floated onward to the sea. Fremont's eagerness to reach Fort Vancouver led him to travel during a part of each night; and for the greater part of the voyage they had beautiful weather, made good progress, and enjoyed the wonderful scenery. They were now in sight of the splendid Cascade range, and of the towering peaks of Mount Hood, St. Helens, and, later, Mount Rainier. As they passed on down the river the hills grew lower, and presently, one night, they heard the noise of a sawmill at work on the bank, and camped not far from Fort Vancouver. Here, Dr. McLaughlin, the executive officer of the Hudson's Bay Company for the territory West of the Rocky Mountains, received the travellers with that courtesy and hospitality for which he was so well known, and concerning which all those who passed through the region in early days spoke with so much gratitude.

About the fort were many American emigrants, some of them in a more or less destitute condition, but all of them supplied with the necessaries of life by the kindly Hudson's Bay officer, who allowed them to pay for what they had by their labor.

From Dr. McLaughlin Fremont procured three months' provisions, and through his kindness was enabled also to secure men and boats to transport these provisions up the river to the camp of his main party at the Dalles. The return journey was slow with the laden boats, for they were obliged to cordelle the Mackinaw along the shore, being unable to overcome the swift water by their oars.

From the Dalles it was Fremont's purpose to go South, on the West side of the Cascade range, as far as Klamath Lake by Fremont written Tlamath Lake; thence south to the reputed Buenaventura River, which is said to empty into San Francisco Bay; thence across the desert to the Rocky Mountains, opposite the headwaters of the Arkansas River, and there, crossing the mountains, to follow down the Arkansas to Bent's Fort, and so back to St. Louis. Much of this region had never been passed over by a surveyor. To make this trip at the beginning of winter, the party consisted of twenty-five men, with one hundred and four mules and horses, and a few California cattle, to be driven along as food for the company.

After leaving the Dalles, Fremont's whole party were occupied in making the necessary preparations for the start into this new region. Horses were purchased, provisions accumulated, all unnecessary baggage cut out and left behind, and the little wagon which had hitherto carried the instruments given to the mission. The howitzer, however, was to be taken with them. Here a Chinook Indian, nineteen years old, who had expressed a desire to see the whites, was permitted to join the party.

They started November 25 and followed along the plateau on the east flanks of the Cascade range, and so on the western side of the Fall River. The weather was cold and the streams frozen along the edges, while snow lay on the ground. When the sky cleared superb views were had of Mounts St. Helens, Hood, Rainier, Jefferson and other mountains of what is now called the Presidential range. The weather grew colder and the road more rough, it being over volcanic plains, often interrupted by deep gulches or stream valleys. They were now passing through the country of the Nez Perce, the Cayuse, and certain tribes of Diggers, and from their Indian guides heard more or less alarming accounts of the fierceness and treachery of the Indians before them. December 20 they reached Klamath Lake and saw smoke arising from different points about it. Here, for the purpose of encouraging their guides, who evidently felt very shaky about the local Indians, and alarming the latter, Fremont caused the howitzer to be fired with a shell, and tells that "the bursting of the shell at a distance, which was something like a second fire of the gun, amazed and bewildered them with delight. It inspired them (the guides) with triumphant feelings, but on the camps at a distance the effect was different, for the smokes in the lake and on the shores immediately disappeared."

The next day Fremont set out to look up the Indians, and before long came near to a village from which two people were seen advancing to meet them.

"We were surprised, on riding up, to find one of them a woman, having never before known a squaw to take any part in the business of war. They were the village chief and his wife, who, in excitement and alarm at the unusual event and appearance, had come out to meet their fate together. The chief was a very prepossessing Indian, with very handsome features, and a singularly soft and agreeable voice—so remarkable as to attract general notice.

"The huts were grouped together on the bank of the river, which, from being spread out in a shallow marsh at the upper end of the lake, was collected here into a single stream. They were large, round huts, perhaps twenty feet in diameter, with rounded tops, on which was the door by which they descended into the interior. Within, they were supported by posts and beams.

"Almost like plants these people seemed to have adapted themselves to the soil, and to be growing on what the immediate locality afforded. Their only subsistence at this time appeared to be a small fish, great quantities of which, that had been smoked and dried, were suspended on strings about the lodge. Heaps of straw were lying around, and their residence in the midst of grass and rushes had taught them a peculiar skill in converting this material to useful purposes. Their shoes were made of straw or grass, which seemed well adapted for a snowy country, and the women wore on their heads a closely woven basket, which made a very good cap. Among other things were parti-colored mats about four feet square, which we purchased to lay on the snow under our blankets and to use for table-cloths.

"Numbers of singular-looking dogs, resembling wolves, were sitting on the tops of the huts, and of these we purchased a young one, which, after its birthplace, was named Tlarnath. The language spoken by these Indians is different from that of the Shoshone and Columbia River tribes, and otherwise than by signs they cannot understand each other: They made us comprehend that they were at war with the people who lived to the southward and to the eastward, but I could obtain from them no certain information. The river on which they live enters the Cascade Mountains on the western side of the lake, and breaks through them by a passage impracticable for travellers, but over the mountains to the northward are passes which present no other obstacle than in the almost impenetrable forests. Unlike any Indians we had previously seen these wore shells in their noses. We returned to our camp, after remaining here an hour or two, accompanied by a number of Indians."

Like many other persons since that time, Fremont was much impressed by the attractions of Klamath Lake, and he stopped here a short time to rest his animals. From this point on there were no maps, and practically nothing could be learned of the country from the Indians, although they drew rough maps in the effort to direct the explorers. The road before them was hard and difficult, much of it through heavy forest, made hard to travel by fallen trees, and by snow, which was constantly growing deeper. After two or three very laborious and most uncertain days, they came suddenly to the edge of a precipice, from which they could look over into a green and sunshiny valley below, partly filled by a great lake, which, from its appearance, Fremont called Summer Lake. It stands so on the map to-day. The descent from the mountain was a difficult one, but at last a way was found. It was impossible, however, to reach the shores of the lake, on account of the deep mud. However, streams of good water were passed at sufficient intervals. They had now left the forest behind them, and their fuel consisted of willow twigs and sage brush. A little farther along another lake was approached, called Lake Abert, after Colonel Abert, then the Chief of Engineers. The water of this lake, however, was very bad. Everywhere about this lake were signs of Digger Indians, and about this time they came upon a broad trail over which horses had passed. Most of the country was sterile, and as they crossed the mountains, from the watershed of these lakes, they found snow a foot deep.