Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

Fort Bridger

This fort, like many another, is little more than a trading post, and was built two years before we started for the Oregon country, by two old trappers who had turned fur traders. The largest building is made of adobes and serves as storehouse, while the others are flimsy shelters built from time to time to serve the needs of visitors.

I remember having heard in St. Louis why James Bridger forsook his calling of trapper to engage as trader, and have even seen the letter he wrote Pierre Chouteau when he settled in the valley of Black's Fork of the Green River, asking that goods for trading with the Indians be sent to him.

In it he wrote: "I have established a small fort with a blacksmith shop and a supply of iron, on the road of the emigrants, which promises fairly. People coming from the East are generally well supplied with money, but by the time they get here are in want of all kinds of supplies. Horses, provisions, and smith work bring ready cash from them, and should I receive the goods hereby ordered will do a considerable business with them. The same establishment trades with the Indians in the neighborhood, who have mostly a good number of beaver among them."

John Mitchell had a very good idea of how great a profit the owners of the fort hoped to make, when he was forced to pay five cents a pound for flour, and three dollars a pound for powder, with other supplies in like proportion.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

James Bridger was exceedingly kind to mother and me when he learned who we were, for he had often trapped in company with my father, and I believe he would have given us outright anything we might have needed from his stores, had we told him we lacked money with which to pay for what was wanted; but I would not have taken a dollar's worth from any man, unless my mother had been in sore distress.

Susan Mitchell was greatly interested in the trapper who had turned trader, when she heard from my mother that James Bridger had been grievously wounded in a battle with the Blackfeet Indians, had received two arrows through his back, and yet after so severe an injury he, with his friend, Bascus, and two other comrades, held the savages at bay for two days, until a company of white hunters came to his relief.

One of the arrows was taken from Bridger's body during the fight, but the other held firm in the wound, and Bascus cut off the wooden portion close to the flesh, letting the iron head remain. This piece of metal he carried in his body three years, until Dr. Marcus Whitman, who was on his way to the Oregon country, cut it out after long and painful work. The arrowhead was three inches long, and the barbs had become hooked around one of the man's bones, which held it until it was cut out by Dr. Whitman.

We were at our nearest point to the Great Salt Lake, and at this place a trail branched off, leading to what is known as Ogden's Hole, close by that vast inland sea. If we had desired to go to the California country, it would only have been necessary to continue on around the Wasatch Mountains, and then strike off again to the westward, unless we were inclined to climb the hills, going by the way of that salt lake.

There were twenty-five lodges of Indians near Fort Bridger, some of the savages having come to trade, and not a few of them being employed as trappers by the fur buyers. They were mostly of the Snake tribe and had with them quite a large herd of cattle.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

Already Susan Mitchell and Mary Parker had seen enough of the Indians to satisfy their curiosity, and whether they wore moccasins of a little different pattern from other Indians, or fashioned their bows and arrows after another manner, was not sufficient inducement to persuade them to encounter such conditions as were to be found in the lodges.

In order to give our cattle a rest we remained at Fort Bridger two days, after which we went on again with the hope of soon coming upon the Columbia River.

Our men had been told by the fur buyers that it was of the greatest importance we push forward at all speed, lest we be caught among the hills by the snow, and during the four or five days following our departure from the post, we traveled more rapidly than at any other time since leaving Independence.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

The month of August had well set in when we came to Soda Springs, and there it was I had counted upon surprising Susan Mitchell; nor was I disappointed.

These springs are small hills or mounds standing at the right of the trail near a grove of cedars and pines, while the water that has oozed out of them in the past has formed a solid crust of soda for miles around, so hard that one may walk upon it.

The liquid soda is warm and sparkling as it comes to the surface, and when it has been led some distance away where it may be cooled, is as pleasing a drink as one can find in any of the shops in the East, for it is the true soda water as made by God Himself.