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- The Great Salt Lake Trail - 3/86 -


miles that day, they encamped on the bank of another stream still running north. While there an alarm of Indians was given, and instantly every man was on his feet with rifle ready to sell his life only at the greatest cost. Indians there were, but they proved to be three miserable Snakes, who were no sooner informed that a band of Crows were in the neighbourhood, than they ran off in great trepidation.

Six days afterward they encamped on the margin of Mud River, nearly a hundred and fifty miles from where they had met the impudent Crows. Now the party began to believe themselves beyond the possibility of any further trouble from them, and foolishly relaxed their usual vigilance. The next morning they were up at the first streak of day, and began to prepare their breakfast, when suddenly the cry of “Indians! Indians! to arms! to arms!” sounded through the camp.

In a few moments a mounted Crow came riding past the camp, holding in his hand a red flag, which he waved in a furious manner, as he halted on the top of a small divide. Immediately a most diabolical yell broke forth from the opposite side of the camp where the horses were picketed, and a band of paint-bedaubed savages came rushing to where they were feeding. In a moment the animals took fright and dashed towards the flag-bearer, who vigorously kicked the flanks of his pony, and loped off, followed by the stampeded animals which were hurried on by the increasing yells of the retreating savages.

When the alarm was first given, Mr. Stuart's men seized their rifles and tried to cut off the Indians who were after their horses, but their attention was suddenly attracted by the yells in the opposite direction. The savages, as they supposed, intended to make a raid on their camp equipage, and they all turned to save it. But when the horses had been secured the reserve party of savages dashed by the camp, whooping and yelling in triumph, and the very last one of them was the gigantic chief who had tried to joke with Mr. Stuart. As he passed the latter, he checked up his animal, raised himself in the saddle, shouted some insults, and rode on.

The rifle of one of the men, Ben Jones, was instantly levelled at the chief, and he was just about to pull the trigger, when Mr. Stuart exclaimed, “Not for your life! not for your life, you will bring destruction upon us all!”

It was a difficult matter to restrain Ben, when the target could be so easily pierced, and he begged, “Oh, Mr. Stuart, only let me have one crack at the infernal rascal, and you may keep all the pay that is due me.”

“By heavens, if you fire, I will blow your brains out!” exclaimed Mr. Stuart.

By that time the chief was far beyond rifle range, and the whole daring band of savages, with all the horses, were passing out of sight over the hills, their red flag still waving and the valley echoing to their yells and demoniacal laughter.

The unhorsed travellers were dismayed at the situation in which they found themselves. A long journey was still before them, over rocky mountains and wind-swept plains, which they must now painfully traverse on foot, carrying on their backs everything necessary for their subsistence.

They selected from their camp equipage such articles as were absolutely necessary for their journey, and those things which they could not carry were cached. It required a whole day to make ready for their wearisome march. Next morning they were up at the break of day. They had set a beaver-trap in the river the night before, and rejoiced to find that they had caught one of the animals, which served as a meal for the whole party.

On his way back with the prize, the man who had gone for it, casually looking up at a cliff several hundred feet high, saw what he thought were a couple of wolves looking down upon him. Paying no attention to them, he walked on toward camp, when happening to look back, he still saw the watchful eyes peering over the edge of the precipice. It now flashed upon him that they might not be wolves at all, but Indian spies.

On reaching camp he called the attention of Stuart and his companions to what he had observed, and at first they too entertained the idea that they were wolves, but soon satisfied themselves that they were savages. If their surmises were true, the party was satisfied that the whereabouts of their caches were known, and determined that their contents should not fall into the hands of the savages. So they were opened, and everything the men could not carry away was either burned or thrown into the river.

On account of this delay they were not able to leave the place until about ten o'clock. They marched along the bank of the river, and made but eighteen miles in two days, when they were obliged to stop and build two rafts with which to cross the stream. Discovering that their rafts were very strong and able to withstand the roughness of the current, instead of crossing, they floated on down the river.

For three days they kept on, staying only to camp on land at night. On the evening of the third day, as they approached a little island, much to their joy they discovered a herd of elk. A hunter who was put on shore wounded one, which immediately took to the water, but being too weak to stem the current it was overtaken and drawn ashore.

As a storm was brewing, they camped on the bank where they had drawn up the elk. They remained there all the next day, protecting themselves as best they could from the rain, hail, and snow, which fell heavily. Now they employed themselves by drying a part of the meat they had secured; and when cutting up the carcass of the animal, they discovered it had been shot at by hunters not more than a week previously, as an arrow-head and a musket-ball were still in the wounds. Under other circumstances such a matter would have been regarded as trivial, but as they knew the Snake Indians had no guns, the presence of the bullet indicated that the elk could not have been wounded by one of them. They were aware that they were on the edge of the Blackfeet country, and as these savages were supplied with firearms, it was surmised that some of that hostile tribe must have been lately in the neighbourhood. This idea ended the peace of mind they had enjoyed while they were floating down the river.

For three more days they stuck to their rafts and drifted slowly down the stream, until they had reached a point which in their judgment was about a hundred miles from where they embarked.

The lofty mountains having now dwindled to mere hills, they landed and prepared to continue their journey on foot. They spent a day making moccasins, packing their meat in bundles of twenty pounds for each man to carry, then leaving the river they marched toward the northeast. It was a slow, wearisome tramp, as a part of the way lay through the bottoms covered with cottonwood and willows, and over rough hills and rocky prairies. Some antelope came within rifle range, but they dared not fire, fearing the report would betray them to the Blackfeet.

That day they came upon the trail of a horse, and in the evening halted on the bank of a small stream which had evidently been an Indian camping-place about three weeks ago.

In the morning when ready to leave, they again saw the Indian trail, which after a while separated in every direction, showing that the band had broken up into small hunting-parties. In all probability the savages were still somewhere in the vicinity, so it behooved the white men to move with the greatest caution. The utmost vigilance was exercised, but not a sign was seen, and at night they camped in a deep ravine which concealed them from the level of the surrounding country.

The next morning at daylight the march was resumed, but before they came out of the ravine on to the level prairie a council was held as to the best course to pursue. It was deemed prudent to make a bee-line across the mountains, over which the trail would be very rugged and difficult, but more secure. One of the party named M'Lellan, a bull-headed, impatient Scotchman, who had been rendered more so by the condition of his feet which were terribly swollen and sore, swore he had rather face all the Blackfeet in the country than attempt the tedious journey over the mountains. As the others did not agree with his opinion, they all began to climb the hills, the younger men trying to see who would reach the top of the divide first. M'Lellan, who was double the age of some of his companions, began to fall in the rear for want of breath. It was his turn that day to carry the old beaver-trap, and finding himself so far behind the others, he suddenly stopped and declared he would carry it no farther, at the same time throwing it as far down the hill as he could. He was then offered a package of dried meat in its place, but this in his rage he threw upon the ground, asserting that those might carry it who wanted it; he could secure all the food he wanted with his rifle. Then turning off from the party he walked along the base of the mountain, letting those, he said, climb rocks who were afraid to face Indians. Mr. Stuart and all his companions attempted to impress him with the rashness of his conduct, but M'Lellan was deaf to every remonstrance and kept on the way he had determined to go.

As they felt they were now in a dangerous neighbourhood, and did not dare to fire a rifle, they were compelled to depend upon the old beaver-trap for their subsistence. The stream on which they were encamped was filled with beaver sign, and the redoubtable Ben Jones set out at daybreak with the hope of catching one of the sleek fur animals. While making his way through a bunch of willows he heard a crashing sound to his right, and looking in that direction, saw a huge grizzly bear coming toward him with a terrible snort. The Kentuckian was afraid of neither man nor beast, and drawing up his rifle, let fly. The bear was wounded, but instead of rushing upon his foe as is usually the case with a wounded grizzly, he ran back into the thicket and thus escaped.

They were compelled to remain some days at this camp, and as the beaver-trap failed to supply them with food, it became absolutely necessary to take the chances of discovery by the Indians, in order to live, and Ben Jones was permitted to make a tour with his rifle some distance from the camp, defying both bears and Blackfeet. He had not been absent more than two hours when he came upon a herd of elk and killed five of them. When he reported his good news, the party immediately moved their camp to the carcasses, about six miles distant.

After marching a few days more, hunger again returned, the keenest of their sufferings. The small amount of bear and elk meat which they had been able to carry in addition to their other equipage lasted but a short time, and in their anxiety to get ahead they had little time to hunt. As scarcely any game crossed their trail, they lived for three days upon nothing but a small duck and a few miserable fish. They saw numbers of antelope, but they were very wild and they succeeded in killing only one. It was poor in flesh and very small, but they lived on it for several days.


The Great Salt Lake Trail - 3/86

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