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Mr. Hunt Overtakes the Advance Party
Mr. Hunt Overtakes the Advance Party.—Pierre Dorion,
and His Skeleton Horse.—A Shoshonie Camp.—A Justifiable
Outrage.—Feasting on Horse Flesh.—Mr. Crooks Brought to the
Camp.—Undertakes to Relieve His Men.—The Skin Ferry-Boat.—Frenzy of
Prevost.—His Melancholy Fate.-Enfeebled State of John Day.-Mr.
Crooks Again Left Behind.-The Party Emerge From Among the
Mountains.—Interview With Shoshonies.— A Guide Procured to Conduct
the Party Across a Mountain.— Ferriage Across Snake River.—Reunion
With Mr Crook's Men.— Final Departure From the River.
ALL that day, Mr. Hunt and his three comrades
travelled without eating. At night they made a tantalizing supper on
their beaver skin, and were nearly exhausted by hunger and cold. The
next day, December 10th, they overtook the advance party, who were
all as much famished as themselves, some of them not having eaten
since the morning of the seventh. Mr. Hunt now proposed the
sacrifice of Pierre Dorion's skeleton horse. Here he again met with
positive and vehement opposition from the half-breed, who was too
sullen and vindictive a fellow to be easily dealt with. What was
singular, the men, though suffering such pinching hunger, interfered
in favor of the horse.
They represented that it was better to keep on as long as pos-sible
without resorting to this last resource. Possibly the Indians, of
whom they were in quest, might have shifted their encampment, in
which case it would be time enough to kill the horse to escape
starvation. Mr. Hunt, therefore, was prevailed upon to grant Pierre
Dorion's horse a reprieve.
Fortunately, they had not proceeded much further, when, towards
evening, they came in sight of a lodge of Shoshonies, with a number
of horses grazing around it. The sight was as unexpected as it was
joyous. Having seen no Indians in this neighborhood as they passed
down the river, they must have subsequently come out from among the
mountains. Mr. Hunt, who first descried them, checked the eagerness
of his companions, knowing the unwillingness of these Indians to
part with their horses, and their aptness to hurry them off and
conceal them, in case of an alarm. This was no time to risk such a
disappointment. Approaching, therefore, stealthily and silently,
they came upon the savages by surprise, who fled in terror. Five of
their horses were eagerly seized, and one was despatched upon the
spot. The carcass was immediately cut up, and a part of it hastily
cooked and ravenously devoured. A man was now sent on horseback with
a supply of the flesh to Mr. Crooks and his companions. He reached
them in the night; they were so famished that the supply sent them
seemed but to aggravate their hunger, and they were almost tempted
to kill and eat the horse that had brought the messenger. Availing
themselves of the assistance of the animal, they reached the camp
early in the morning.
On arriving there, Mr. Crooks was shocked to find that, while the
people on this side of the river were amply supplied with
provisions, none had been sent to his own forlorn and famishing men
on the opposite bank. He immediately caused a skin canoe to be
constructed, and called out to his men to fill their camp-kettles
with water and hang them over the fire, that no time might be lost
in cooking the meat the moment it should be received. The river was
so narrow, though deep, that everything could be distinctly heard
and seen across it. The kettles were placed on the fire, and the
water was boiling by the time the canoe was completed. When all was
ready, however, no one would undertake to ferry the meat across. A
vague and almost superstitious terror had infected the minds of Mr.
Hunt's followers, enfeebled and rendered imaginative of horrors by
the dismal scenes and sufferings through which they had passed. They
regarded the haggard crew, hovering like spectres of famine on the
opposite bank, with indefinite feelings of awe and apprehension: as
if something desperate and dangerous was to be feared from them.
Mr. Crooks tried in vain to reason or shame them out of this
singular state of mind. He then attempted to navigate the canoe
himself, but found his strength incompetent to brave the impetuous
current. The good feelings of Ben Jones, the Kentuckian, at length
overcame his fears, and he ventured over. The supply he brought was
received with trembling avidity. A poor Canadian, however, named
Jean Baptiste Prevost, whom famine had rendered wild and desperate,
ran frantically about the bank, after Jones had returned, crying out
to Mr. Hunt to send the canoe for him, and take him from that
horrible region of famine, declaring that otherwise he would never
march another step, but would lie down there and die.
The canoe was shortly sent over again, under the management of
Joseph Delaunay, with further supplies. Prevost immediately pressed
forward to embark. Delaunay refused to admit him, telling him that
there was now a sufficient supply of meat on his side of the river.
He replied that it was not cooked, and he should starve before it
was ready; he implored, therefore, to be taken where he could get
something to appease his hunger immediately. Finding the canoe
putting off without him, he forced himself aboard. As he drew near
the opposite shore, and beheld meat roasting before the fire, he
jumped up, shouted, clapped his hands, and danced in a delirium of
joy, until he upset the canoe. The poor wretch was swept away by the
current and drowned, and it was with extreme difficulty that
Delaunay reached the shore.
Mr. Hunt now sent all his men forward excepting two or three. In the
evening he caused another horse to be killed, and a canoe to be made
out of the skin, in which he sent over a further supply of meat to
the opposite party. The canoe brought back John Day, the Kentucky
hunter, who came to join his former employer and commander, Mr.
Crooks. Poor Day, once so active and vigorous, was now reduced to a
condition even more feeble and emaciated than his companions. Mr.
Crooks had such a value for the man, on account of his past services
and faithful character, that he determined not to quit him; he
exhorted Mr. Hunt, however, to proceed forward, and join the party,
as his presence was all important to the conduct of the expedition.
One of the Canadians, Jean Baptiste Dubreuil, likewise remained with
Mr. Hunt left two horses with them, and a part of the carcass of the
last that had been killed. This, he hoped, would be sufficient to
sustain them until they should reach the Indian encampment.
One of the chief dangers attending the enfeebled condition of Mr.
Crooks and his companions was their being overtaken by the Indians
whose horses had been seized, though Mr. Hunt hoped that he had
guarded against any resentment on the part of the savages, by
leaving various articles in their lodge, more than sufficient to
compensate for the outrage he had been compelled to commit.
Resuming his onward course, Mr. Hunt came up with his people in the
evening. The next day, December 13th, he beheld several Indians,
with three horses, on the opposite side of the river, and after a
time came to the two lodges which he had seen on going down. Here he
endeavored in vain to barter a rifle for a horse, but again
succeeded in effecting the purchase with an old tin kettle, aided by
a few beads.
The two succeeding days were cold and stormy; the snow was
augmenting, and there was a good deal of ice running in the river.
Their road, however, was becoming easier; they were getting out of
the hills, and finally emerged into the open country, after twenty
days of fatigue, famine, and hardship of every kind, in the
ineffectual attempt to find a passage down the river.
They now encamped on a little willowed stream, running from the
east, which they had crossed on the 26th of November. Here they
found a dozen lodges of Shoshonies, recently arrived, who informed
them that had they persevered along the river, they would have found
their difficulties augment until they became absolutely
insurmountable. This intelligence added to the anxiety of Mr. Hunt
for the fate of Mr. M'Kenzie and his people, who had kept on.
Mr. Hunt now followed up the little river, and encamped at some
lodges of Shoshonies, from whom he procured a couple of horses, a
dog, a few dried fish, and some roots and dried cherries. Two or
three days were exhausted in obtaining information about the route,
and what time it would take to get to the Sciatogas, a hospitable
tribe on the west of the mountains, represented as having many
horses. The replies were various, but concurred in saying that the
distance was great, and would occupy from seventeen to twenty-one
nights. Mr. Hunt then tried to procure a guide; but though he sent
to various lodges up and down the river, offering articles of great
value in Indian estimation, no one would venture. The snow, they
said, was waist deep in the mountains; and to all his offers they
shook their heads, gave a shiver, and replied, "we shall freeze! we
shall freeze!" at the same time they urged him to remain and pass
the winter among them.
Mr. Hunt was in a dismal dilemma. To attempt the mountains without a
guide would be certain death to him and all his people; to remain
there, after having already been so long on the journey, and at such
great expense, was worse to him, he said, than two "deaths." He now
changed his tone with the Indians, charged them with deceiving him
in respect to the mountains, and talking with a "forked tongue," or,
in other words, with lying. He upbraided them with their want of
courage, and told them they were women, to shrink from the perils of
such a journey. At length one of them, piqued by his taunts, or
tempted by his offers, agreed to be his guide; for which he was to
receive a gun, a pistol, three knives, two horses, and a little of
every article in possession of the party; a reward sufficient to
make him one of the wealthiest of his vagabond nation.
Once more, then, on the 21st of December, they set out upon their
wayfaring, with newly excited spirits. Two other Indians accompanied
their guide, who led them immediately back to Snake River, which
they followed down for a short distance, in search of some Indian
rafts made of reeds, on which they might cross. Finding none, Mr.
Hunt caused a horse to be killed, and a canoe to be made out of its
skin. Here, on the opposite bank, they saw the thirteen men of Mr.
Crooks's party, who had continued up along the river. They told Mr.
Hunt, across the stream, that they had not seen Mr. Crooks, and the
two men who had remained with him, since the day that he had
separated from them.
The canoe proving too small, another horse was killed, and the skin
of it joined to that of the first. Night came on before the little
bark had made more than two voyages. Being badly made it was taken
apart and put together again, by the light of the fire. The night
was cold; the men were weary and disheartened with such varied and
incessant toil and hardship. They crouched, dull and drooping,
around their fires; many of them began to express a wish to remain
where they were for the winter. The very necessity of crossing the
river dismayed some of them in their present enfeebled and dejected
state. It was rapid and turbulent, and filled with floating ice, and
they remembered that two of their comrades had already perished in
its waters. Others looked forward with misgivings to the long and
dismal journey through lonesome regions that awaited them, when they
should have passed this dreary flood.
At an early hour of the morning, December 23d, they began to cross
the river. Much ice had formed during the night, and they were
obliged to break it for some distance on each shore. At length they
all got over in safety to the west side; and their spirits rose on
having achieved this perilous passage. Here they were rejoined by
the people of Mr. Crooks, who had with them a horse and a dog, which
they had recently procured. The poor fellows were in the most
squalid and emaciated state. Three of them were so completely
prostrated in strength and spirits that they expressed a wish to
remain among the Snakes. Mr. Hunt, therefore, gave them the canoe,
that they might cross the river, and a few articles, with which to
procure necessities, until they should meet with Mr. Crooks. There
was another man, named Michael Carriere, who was almost equally
reduced, but he determined to proceed with his comrades, who were
now incorporated with the party of Mr. Hunt. After the day's
exertions they encamped together on the banks of the river. This was
the last night they were to spend upon its borders. More than eight
hundred miles of hard travelling, and many weary days, had it cost
them; and the sufferings connected with it rendered it hateful in
their remembrance, so that the Canadian voyageurs always spoke of it
as "La maudite riviere enragee"—the accursed mad river—thus coupling
a malediction with its name.
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Astoria; Or Anecdotes Of An Enterprise Beyond The