He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain. — Mark Twain

Antoine of Oregon - James Otis




I Set Out as a Guide

Before seeking out John Mitchell, whose company was encamped on the opposite side of the river, I visited a neighbor who had once offered to buy our home. With him I agreed that for a certain sum of money he should take possession of the house, using it as his own until my mother and I came back, or, in case we remained in the Oregon country, then he was to pay us as many dollars as we agreed upon.

That afternoon, an hour before sunset, I paddled across the river to where John Mitchell's company was encamped, and for the first time I questioned whether it might be possible for me, a lad only fifteen years of age, to guide all these people, who seemingly had no more idea of what was to be encountered in a journey to the Oregon country, than if they had never heard of such a place.

I dare venture to say there could not have been found in St. Louis a lad over ten years old who would have shown so much ignorance in forming a camp, as did John Mitchell, who held himself commander of the company.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

True, there was no reason why they need guard themselves as if in the country of an enemy. Yet if they were careless at the start, heeding not the common precautions against the stampeding of their cattle, or the possibility that prowling Indians might steal whatever lay carelessly around, then surely when in a place where danger lurked, they could not be depended upon to care for themselves in a sensible manner.

Somewhat of this I said to john Mitchell while looking around the encampment, and that he himself was ignorant of what might be met with on a journey to the Oregon country, was shown when he asked:—

"And are you reckoning lad, that we may come upon much danger?"

"Ay, sir, and plenty of it," I replied. "Just now the Indians are quiet, so I have heard it said by the traders; but even when there is no disturbance of any account, you are likely to come upon roving bands that will make trouble. Even though they may do no worse, you can set it down as a fact that from the time of leaving the settlement of Independence, where the journey really begins, until you have come into the Walla Walla country, there will be hardly a day, or, I should say, a night, when you are not in danger of losing your stock through these red thieves."