Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

An Indian Ferry

The way was hard, more difficult, it seemed to me, than any over which we had passed. But by working carefully, sparing the cattle as much as we could, and not forcing them more than an eight- or ten-mile march, we succeeded in passing over the bluff, until we came to the Des Chutes River.

At this stream it was necessary to have assistance from the Indians, because it would be impossible for so small a party as ours to make the crossing. The current was so rapid and violent, besides being exceedingly deep at places, that we could not hope to take the wagons over except by using canoes as ferryboats.

This last we did, lashing upon five or six of the largest a platform of poles and split logs, until there had been formed a bed sufficiently large to give room for a wagon.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

It seemed to me as if John Mitchell would never make a bargain for this rough ferrying. The Indians demanded as the price of their labor almost everything they saw in the wagons, and at least three hours were spent in haggling, before we were ready to make the first venture.

Then our picket ropes were doubled and tied together until we had a length sufficient to stretch across the stream. One end of this was made fast to the platform of logs and canoes, and the other carried by a party of the Indians to the opposite side of the stream, when all the strength of every man that could be mustered was required to keep our ferryboat from striking upon the rocks.

We were two days making this passage, although the stream at its widest part is not over a hundred fifty yards, and when, finally, the task had been accomplished and we started on the last stage of our journey, it was found that, in addition to what we had given the Indians, they had succeeded in stealing a quantity of powder and shot, several shirts, and two pair of trousers, one pair of which, I grieve to say, belonged to me and were the best I ever owned.