Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

A Frontier Town

Independence was much like a trading post, save that there were no blockhouses; but the log tavern had the appearance of a building put up to resist an attack, and the brick houses surrounding it were made with heavy walls in which were more than one loop-hole for defense.

The idea that the settlement was a frontier post was heightened by the number of Indians to be seen, while their scrawny ponies were tied here and there in every available place.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

There were the wretched Kansas, only half covered with their greasy, torn blankets, Shawnees, decked out in calicoes and fanciful stuff, Foxes, with their shaved heads and painted faces, and here and there a Cheyenne sporting his war bonnet of feathers.

The scene was not new to me, and so did not invite my attention; but Susan, who seemingly believed that she had suddenly come into the very heart of the Indian country, was so interested that I went with her here and there, while her father was bartering in the shops, and before an hour had passed her idea of an Indian was far different from what it had been before she left her home in Indiana.

I had nothing to say against the savages more than can be set down when I speak of the murder of my father, and save for the fact that Susan was so eager to see all she might, and that everything was so strange to her, I would not have lingered in the settlement a single minute longer than was necessary to complete our outfit.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

There were here Santa Fe traders in Mexican costume; French trappers from the mountains, with their long hair and buckskin clothing; groups of Spaniards, who were evidently bound down the Santa Fe trail; and here and there and everywhere as it seemed, were people from the States, emigrants like those who followed John Mitchell, to the number, I should say, of not less than two hundred, all expecting to make homes in the Oregon country.

It saddened me to think of what was before these people. To gain the banks of the Columbia River they must travel more than two thousand miles, in part over sandy plains, where would be found little or no water for themselves and scanty feed for their animals. There were rivers to be crossed where the current ran so swiftly that a single misstep might mean death. Mountain ranges were to be climbed when even the strongest would find it difficult to make progress, and all the while danger from wild beasts or wilder men.

And it was I who must show these men when and where to camp, how to bring down the game which would be necessary for their very existence, and lead them, in fact, as one might lead children.