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Departure of Mr. Hunt in the Beaver
Departure of Mr. Hunt in the Beaver—Precautions at
the Factory.-Detachment to the Wollamut.—Gloomy Apprehensions.—
Arrival of M'Kenzie.—Affairs at the Shahaptan.—News of War.—Dismay
of M'Dougal.-Determination to Abandon Astoria.— Departure of
M'Kenzie for the Interior.—Adventure at the Rapids.—Visit to the
Ruffians of Wish-ram.—A Perilous Situation.—Meeting With M'Tavish
and His Party.—Arrival at the Shahaptan.—Plundered
Caches.-Determination of the Wintering Partners Not to Leave the
Country.—Arrival of Clarke Among the Nez Perces.—The Affair of the
Silver Goblet.—Hanging of An Indian.—Arrival of the Wintering
Partners at Astoria.
AFTER the departure of the different detachments, or
brigades, as they are called by the fur traders, the Beaver prepared
for her voyage along the coast, and her visit to the Russian
establishment, at New Archangel, where she was to carry supplies. It
had been determined in the council of partners at Astoria, that Mr.
Hunt should embark in this vessel, for the purpose of acquainting
himself with the coasting trade, and of making arrangements with the
commander of the Russian post, and that he should be re-landed in
October, at Astoria, by the Beaver, on her way to the Sandwich
Islands and Canton.
The Beaver put to sea in the month of August. Her departure and that
of the various brigades, left the fortress of Astoria but slightly
garrisoned. This was soon perceived by some of the Indian tribes,
and the consequence was increased insolence of deportment, and a
disposition to hostility. It was now the fishing season, when the
tribes from the northern coast drew into the neighborhood of the
Columbia. These were warlike and perfidious in their dispositions;
and noted for their attempts to surprise trading ships. Among them
were numbers of the Neweetees, the ferocious tribe that massacred
the crew of the Tonquin.
Great precautions, therefore, were taken at the factory, to guard
against surprise while these dangerous intruders were in the
vicinity. Galleries were constructed inside of the palisades; the
bastions were heightened, and sentinels were posted day and night.
Fortunately, the Chinooks and other tribes resident in the vicinity
manifested the most pacific disposition. Old Comcomly, who held sway
over them, was a shrewd calculator. He was aware of the advantages
of having the whites as neighbors and allies, and of the consequence
derived to himself and his people from acting as intermediate
traders between them and the distant tribes. He had, therefore, by
this time, become a firm friend of the Astorians, and formed a kind
of barrier between them and the hostile intruders from the north.
The summer of 1812 passed away without any of the hostilities that
had been apprehended; the Neweetees, and other dangerous visitors to
the neighborhood, finished their fishing and returned home, and the
inmates of the factory once more felt secure from attack.
It now became necessary to guard against other evils. The season of
scarcity arrived, which commences in October, and lasts until the
end of January. To provide for the support of the garrison, the
shallop was employed to forage about the shores of the river. A
number of the men, also, under the command of some of the clerks,
were sent to quarter themselves on the banks of the Wollamut (the
Multnomah of Lewis and Clarke), a fine river which disembogues
itself into the Columbia, about sixty miles above Astoria. The
country bordering on the river is finely diversified with prairies
and hills, and forests of oak, ash, maple, and cedar. It abounded,
at that time, with elk and deer, and the streams were well stocked
with beaver. Here the party, after supplying their own wants, were
enabled to pack up quantities of dried meat, and send it by canoes
The month of October elapsed without the return of the Beaver.
November, December, January, passed away, and still nothing was seen
or heard of her. Gloomy apprehensions now began to be entertained:
she might have been wrecked in the course of her coasting voyage, or
surprised, like the Tonquin, by some of the treacherous tribes of
No one indulged more in these apprehensions than M'Dougal, who had
now the charge of the establishment. He no longer evinced the
bustling confidence and buoyancy which once characterized him.
Command seemed to have lost its charms for him, or rather, he gave
way to the most abject despondency, decrying the whole enterprise,
magnifying every untoward circumstance, and foreboding nothing but
While in this moody state, he was surprised, on the 16th of January,
by the sudden appearance of M'Kenzie, wayworn and weather-beaten by
a long wintry journey from his post on the Shahaptan, and with a
face the very frontispiece for a volume of misfortune. M'Kenzie had
been heartily disgusted and disappointed at his post. It was in the
midst of the Tushepaws, a powerful and warlike nation, divided into
many tribes, under different chiefs, who possessed innumerable
horses, but, not having turned their attention to beaver trapping,
had no furs to offer. According to M'Kenzie, they were but a
"rascally tribe;" from which we may infer that they were prone to
consult their own interests more than comported with the interests
of a greedy Indian trader.
Game being scarce, he was obliged to rely, for the most part, on
horse-flesh for subsistence, and the Indians discovering his
necessities, adopted a policy usual in civilized trade, and raised
the price of horses to an exorbitant rate, knowing that he and his
men must eat or die. In this way, the goods he had brought to trade
for beaver skins, were likely to be bartered for horseflesh, and all
the proceeds devoured upon the spot.
He had despatched trappers in various directions, but the country
around did not offer more beaver than his own station. In this
emergency he began to think of abandoning his unprofitable post,
sending his goods to the posts of Clarke and David Stuart, who could
make a better use of them, as they were in a good beaver country,
and returning with his party to Astoria, to seek some better
destination. With this view he repaired to the post of Mr. Clarke,
to hold a consultation. While the two partners were in conference in
Mr. Clarke's wigwam, an unexpected visitor came bustling in upon
This was Mr. John George M'Tavish, a partner of the Northwest
Company, who had charge of the rival trading posts established in
that neighborhood. Mr. M'Tavish was the delighted messenger of bad
news. He had been to Lake Winnipeg, where he received an express
from Canada, containing the declaration of war, and President
Madison's proclamation, which he handed with the most officious
complaisance to Messrs. Clarke and M'Kenzie. He moreover told them
that he had received a fresh supply of goods from the Northwest
posts on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and was prepared for
vigorous opposition to the establishment of the American Company. He
capped the climax of this obliging but belligerent intelligence, by
informing them that the armed ship, Isaac Todd, was to be at the
mouth of the Columbia about the beginning of March, to get
possession of the trade of the river, and that he was ordered to
join her there at that time.
The receipt of this news determined M'Kenzie. He immediately
returned to the Shahaptan, broke up his establishment, deposited his
goods in cache, and hastened with all his people to Astoria.
The intelligence thus brought, completed the dismay of M'Dougal, and
seemed to produce a complete confusion of mind. He held a council of
war with M'Kenzie, at which some of the clerks were present, but of
course had no votes. They gave up all hope of maintaining their post
at Astoria. The Beaver had probably been lost; they could receive no
aid from the United States, as all the ports would be blockaded.
From England nothing could be expected but hostility. It was
determined, therefore, to abandon the establishment in the course of
the following spring, and return across the Rocky Mountains. In
pursuance of this resolution, they suspended all trade with the
natives, except for provisions, having already more peltries than
they could carry away, and having need of all the goods for the
clothing and subsistence of their people, during the remainder of
their sojourn, and on their journey across the mountains, This
intention of abandoning Astoria was, however, kept secret from the
men, lest they should at once give up all labor, and become restless
In the meantime, M'Kenzie set off for his post at the Shahaptan, to
get his goods from the caches, and buy horses and provisions with
them for the caravan across the mountains. He was charged with
despatches from M'Dougal to Messrs. Stuart and Clarke, appraising
them of the intended migration, that they might make timely
M'Kenzie was accompanied by two of the clerks, Mr. John Reed, the
Irishman, and Mr. Alfred Seton, of New York. They embarked in two
canoes, manned by seventeen men, and ascended the river without any
incident of importance, until they arrived in the eventful
neighborhood of the rapids. They made the portage of the narrows and
the falls early in the afternoon, and, having partaken of a scanty
meal, had now a long evening on their hands.
On the opposite side of the river lay the village of Wish-ram, of
freebooting renown. Here lived the savages who had robbed and
maltreated Reed, when bearing his tin box of despatches. It was
known that the rifle of which he was despoiled was retained as a
trophy at the village. M'Kenzie offered to cross the river, and
demand the rifle, if any one would accompany him. It was a
hare-brained project, for these villages were noted for the ruffian
character of their inhabitants; yet two volunteers promptly stepped
forward; Alfred Seton, the clerk, and Joe de la Pierre, the cook.
The trio soon reached the opposite side of the river. On landing,
they freshly primed their rifles and pistols. A path winding for
about a hundred yards among rocks and crags, led to the village. No
notice seemed to be taken of their approach. Not a solitary being,
man, woman, or child, greeted them.
The very dogs, those noisy pests of an Indian town, kept silence. On
entering the village, a boy made his appearance, and pointed to a
house of larger dimensions than the rest. They had to stoop to enter
it; as soon as they had passed the threshold, the narrow passage
behind them was filled up by a sudden rush of Indians, who had
before kept out of sight.
M'Kenzie and his companions found themselves in a rude chamber of
about twenty-five feet long and twenty wide. A bright fire was
blazing at one end, near which sat the chief, about sixty years old.
A large number of Indians, wrapped in buffalo robes, were squatted
in rows, three deep, forming a semicircle round three sides of the
room. A single glance around sufficed to show them the grim and
dangerous assembly into which they had intruded, and that all
retreat was cut off by the mass which blocked up the entrance.
The chief pointed to the vacant side of the room opposite to the
door, and motioned for them to take their seats. They complied. A
dead pause ensued. The grim warriors around sat like statues; each
muffled in his robe, with his fierce eyes bent on the intruders. The
latter felt they were in a perilous predicament.
"Keep your eyes on the chief while I am addressing him," said
M'Kenzie to his companions. "Should he give any sign to his band,
shoot him, and make for the door."
M'Kenzie advanced, and offered the pipe of peace to the chief, but
it was refused. He then made a regular speech, explaining the object
of their visit, and proposing to give in exchange for the rifle two
blankets, an axe, some beads and tobacco.
When he had done, the chief rose, began to address him in a low
voice, but soon became loud and violent, and ended by working
himself up into a furious passion. He upbraided the white men for
their sordid conduct in passing and repassing through their
neighborhood, without giving them a blanket or any other article of
goods, merely because they had no furs to barter in exchange, and he
alluded, with menaces of vengeance, to the death of the Indian
killed by the whites in the skirmish at the falls.
Matters were verging to a crisis. It was evident the surrounding
savages were only waiting a signal from the chief to spring upon
their prey. M'Kenzie and his companions had gradually risen on their
feet during the speech, and had brought their rifles to a horizontal
position, the barrels resting in their left hands; the muzzle of
M'Kenzie's piece was within three feet of the speaker's heart. They
cocked their rifles; the click of the locks for a moment suffused
the dark cheek of the savage, and there was a pause. They coolly,
but promptly, advanced to the door; the Indians fell back in awe,
and suffered them to pass. The sun was just setting, as they emerged
from this dangerous den. They took the precaution to keep along the
tops of the rocks as much as possible on their way back to the
canoe, and reached their camp in safety, congratulating themselves
on their escape, and feeling no desire to make a second visit to the
grim warriors of Wish-ram.
M'Kenzie and his party resumed their journey the next morning. At
some distance above the falls of the Columbia, they observed two
bark canoes, filled with white men, coming down the river, to the
full chant of a set of Canadian voyageurs. A parley ensued. It was a
detachment of Northwesters, under the command of Mr. John George
M'Tavish, bound, full of song and spirit, to the mouth of the
Columbia, to await the arrival of the Isaac Todd.
Mr. M'Kenzie and M'Tavish came to a halt, and landing, encamped for
the night. The voyageurs of either party hailed each other as
brothers, and old "comrades," and they mingled together as if united
by one common interest, instead of belonging to rival companies, and
trading under hostile flags.
In the morning they proceeded on their different ways, in style
corresponding to their different fortunes: the one toiling painfully
against the stream, the other sweeping down gayly with the Current.
M'Kenzie arrived safely at his deserted post on the Shahaptan, but
found, to his chagrin, that his caches had been discovered and
rifled by the Indians. Here was a dilemma, for on the stolen goods
he had depended to purchase horses of the Indians. He sent out men
in all directions to endeavor to discover the thieves, and
despatched Mr. Reed to the posts of Messrs. Clarke and David Stuart,
with the letters of Mr. M'Dougal.
The resolution announced in these letters, to break up and depart
from Astoria, was condemned by both Clarke and Stuart. These two
gentlemen had been very successful at their posts, and considered it
rash and pusillanimous to abandon, on the first difficulty, an
enterprise of such great cost and ample promise. They made no
arrangements, therefore, for leaving the country, but acted with a
view to the maintenance of their new and prosperous establishments.
The regular time approached, when the partners of the interior—posts
were to rendezvous at the mouth of the Wallah-Wallah, on their way
to Astoria, with the peltries they had collected. Mr. Clarke
accordingly packed all his furs on twenty-eight horses, and, leaving
a clerk and four men to take charge of the post, departed on the
25th of May with the residue of his force.
On the 30th, he arrived at the confluence of the Pavion and Lewis
rivers, where he had left his barge and canoes, in the guardianship
of the old Pierced-nosed chieftain. That dignitary had acquitted
himself more faithfully to his charge than Mr. Clarke had expected,
and the canoes were found in very tolerable order. Some repairs were
necessary, and, while they were making, the party encamped close by
the village. Having had repeated and vexatious proofs of the
pilfering propensities of this tribe during his former visit, Mr.
Clarke ordered that a wary eye should be kept upon them.
He was a tall, good-looking man, and somewhat given to pomp and
circumstance, which made him an object of note in the eyes of the
wondering savages. He was stately, too, in his appointments, and had
a silver goblet or drinking cup, out of which he would drink with a
magnificent air, and then lock it up in a large garde vin, which
accompanied him in his travels, and stood in his tent. This goblet
had originally been sent as a present from Mr. Astor to Mr. M'Kay,
the partner who had unfortunately been blown up in the Tonquin. As
it reached Astoria after the departure of that gentleman, it had
remained in the possession of Mr. Clarke.
A silver goblet was too glittering a prize not to catch the eye of a
Pierced-nose. It was like the shining tin case of John Reed. Such a
wonder had never been seen in the land before. The Indians talked
about it to one another. They marked the care with which it was
deposited in the garde vin, like a relic in its shrine, and
concluded that it must be a "great medicine." That night Mr. Clarke
neglected to lock up his treasure; in the morning the sacred casket
was open—the precious relic gone!
Clarke was now outrageous. All the past vexations that he had
suffered from this pilfering community rose to mind, and he
threatened that, unless the goblet was promptly returned, he would
hang the thief, should he eventually discover him. The day passed
away, however, without the restoration of the cup. At night
sentinels were secretly posted about the camp. With all their
vigilance, a Pierced-nose contrived to get into the camp
unperceived, and to load himself with booty; it was only on his
retreat that he was discovered and taken.
At daybreak the culprit was brought to trial, and promptly
convicted. He stood responsible for all the spoliations of the camp,
the precious goblet among the number, and Mr. Clarke passed sentence
of death upon him.
A gibbet was accordingly constructed of oars; the chief of the
village and his people were assembled, and the culprit was produced,
with his legs and arms pinioned. Clarke then made a harangue. He
reminded the tribe of the benefits he had bestowed upon them during
his former visits, and the many thefts and other misdeeds which he
had overlooked. The prisoner, especially, had always been peculiarly
well treated by the white men, but had repeatedly been guilty of
pilfering. He was to be punished for his own misdeeds, and as a
warning to his tribe.
The Indians now gathered round Mr. Clarke, and interceded for the
culprit. They were willing he should be punished severely, but
implored that his life might be spared. The companions, too, of Mr.
Clarke, considered the sentence too severe, and advised him to
mitigate it; but he was inexorable. He was not naturally a stern or
cruel man; but from his boyhood he had lived in the Indian country
among Indian traders, and held the life of a savage extremely cheap.
He was, moreover, a firm believer in the doctrine of intimidation.
Farnham, a clerk, a tall "Green Mountain boy" from Vermont, who had
been robbed of a pistol, acted as executioner. The signal was given,
and the poor Pierced-nose resisting, struggling, and screaming, in
the most frightful manner, was launched into eternity. The Indians
stood round gazing in silence and mute awe, but made no attempt to
oppose the execution, nor testified any emotion when it was over.
They locked up their feelings within their bosoms until an
opportunity should arrive to gratify them with a bloody act of
To say nothing of the needless severity of this act, its impolicy
was glaringly obvious. Mr. M'Lennan and three men were to return to
the post with the horses, their loads having been transferred to the
canoes. They would have to pass through a tract of country infested
by this tribe, who were all horsemen and hard riders, and might
pursue them to take vengeance for the death of their comrade.
M'Lennan, however, was a resolute fellow, and made light of all
dangers. He and his three men were present at the execution, and set
off as soon as life was extinct in the victim; but, to use the words
of one of their comrades, "they did not let the grass grow under the
heels of their horses, as they clattered out of the Pierced-nose
country," and were glad to find themselves in safety at the post.
Mr. Clarke and his party embarked about the same time in their
canoes, and early on the following day reached the mouth of the
Wallah-Wallah, where they found Messrs. Stuart and M'Kenzie awaiting
them; the latter having recovered part of the goods stolen from his
cache. Clarke informed them of the signal punishment he had
inflicted on the Pierced-nose, evidently expecting to excite their
admiration by such a hardy act of justice, performed in the very
midst of the Indian country, but was mortified at finding it
strongly censured as inhuman, unnecessary, and likely to provoke
The parties thus united formed a squadron of two boats and six
canoes, with which they performed their voyage in safety down the
river, and arrived at Astoria on the 12th of June, bringing with
them a valuable stock of peltries.
About ten days previously, the brigade which had been quartered on
the banks of the Wollamut, had arrived with numerous packs of
beaver, the result of a few months' sojourn on that river. These
were the first fruits of the enterprise, gathered by men as yet mere
strangers in the land; but they were such as to give substantial
grounds for sanguine anticipations of profit, when the country
should be more completely explored, and the trade established.
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Astoria; Or Anecdotes Of An Enterprise Beyond The