The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 11, Part II

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!

 

Was ever the history of a grand and glorious achievement, so proud a victory over more than two years of continuous battle with the perils of the wilderness in every variety--mountain snows, rugged steppes, burning plains, desert wastes, savage foes--and exposure in every form more simply or modestly narrated! It wears the stamp of truth, exact and careful portraiture from nature in every line. It masquerades in no garb of self-laudation, no straining after dramatic effect. Pity it is that the youth

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of America, so eager to peruse the distorted, extravagant tales which attempt to portray a frontier heroism, where some ruffian in buckskin plays a melodramatic part, half love, half murder, and both equally disgusting, would not turn from such to the real adventures, quite as thrilling, of Lewis and Clarke and kindred spirits, who took a manhood and devotion to the duty of the house with them in their journeys by plain and mountain, and offtimes laid down their lives with no witnesses but an approving conscience and an omnipresent God.

Few novels can compare in interest (for it has passed like a proverb that truth is stranger than fiction) with the narratives of Ruxton's "Life in the Far West," or Gregg's "Commerce of the Prairies." It has fallen to the lot of the assistant editor and compiler of this history to follow the steps of those explorers in the years gone by; to gave upon the island washed by the seas where Columbus saw the light upon the shore; to skirt the costs and enter the harbors where the adventurers of Spain sought for fold; to sail the seas of Gray and Vancouver, and follow on horseback the paths from ocean to ocean of the early voyageurs; and perhaps he may be permitted here to step aside from the beaten track of drier history and dwell for a moment upon the charm which lured from the haunts of civilization, and, once beheld, kept forever in its wilds those old time pathfinders. It was not the green of gain--the rich furs, the spoils of the chase, so easy in those old days to come by--no,. it was something far more subtle--the bluer sky,

"Unstained by village smoke;" the pure air of the "unshorn fields," boundless and beautiful; of he prairie seas--the solemn stillness of "the groves" that "were God's first temples; the dash of hidden brooks and waterfalls; the tinkle of mountain rills; the great mountain peaks, the rock-ribbed guardians of the leagues of pine, wearing their white helmets, plumed by the mist-wreaths of everlasting snow. Pardon this digression, too long, perhaps, of one who knows whereof he speaks, for he has passed many a night by the amp-fire.

but to return: this successful adventure of Lewis and Clarke, as may well be supposed, caused no little commotion both in political and commercial circles, nor did its influence

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extend to our own land alone; it was felt in Europe also. From a lesser and more selfish standpoint it seemed to open new doors to mercantile adventure and trade; from a higher and more patriotic, it drew forth well-merited enconiums, and a sense of pride in these achievements of these explorers whose exploits had added new lustre to the American name. President Jefferson himself, ina tribute to Captain Lewis in 1813, says:

"Never did a similar event more joy through the United States. the humblest of its citizens have taken a lively interest in the issue of this journey, and looked with impatience for the information it would furnish. Nothing short of the official journals of this extraordinary and interesting journey will exhibit the importance of the service, the courage, devotion, zeal, and perseverance, under circumstances calculated to discourage, which animated this little band of heroes throughout the long, dangerous, and tedious travel."

It was not until the middle of February, 1807, that Captains Lewis and Clarke reached Washington. The services f the party--though republics are counted proverbially ungrateful--were not overlooked, but were rewarded by a considerable land grant. Lewis was appointed Governor of Louisiana, Captain Clarke was made the general of is militia, and soon after agent of the United States for Indian Affairs. But, sorrowful to relate, the life of our principal explorer, was only too soon to be suddenly and violently extinguished. Even before he had prepared the journals and reports of his explorations, he fell by his own hand while suffering from an attack of acute melancholy, to which he had been long subject. During one of these business compelled him to start for Washington. We will tell the story in President Jefferson's own most appropriate and sympathetic words:

"On his journey thither he did the dead which plunged his friends into afflictions and deprived his country of one of her most valued citizens. It lost, too, to the nation the benefit of receiving from his own hand the narrative of his sufferings and successes in endeavoring to extend for them the boundaries of science, and to present to their knowledge that vast and fertile country which theirs sons are destined to fill with arts, with science, with freedom, and with happiness."

How truthful and how prophetic! Surely he must have

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written that concluding line under an inspiration which not only looked into the future, but beheld the fruition of its coming days.

We have given so large a space to the outlines of this expedition and its results because it was in reality the most important and far-reaching in its effects of any which crossed the continent, and destined to be no mean factor in settling disputed boundary lines and rival rights to possession destined erelong to shake the land as with an earthquake shock and bring about the yielding of larger concessions in the interest of peace then would now be wrested from the American people by threat of war.

The next expedition was destined, unfortunately, to be less successful. We narrate it as an outgrowth of that just recorded. Evans credited it to an extract from an interesting letter. He says:

"When Captains Lewis and Clarke returned from their expedition, they were accompanied by one of the head chiefs of the Mandans. The next spring (1807) a detachment of soldiers was ordered to escort him back to his people. They started up the river in a barge, and about thirty Americans, among whom was Wier (William Wier, one of the earliest trappers who visited the Columbia, and the grandfather of Allen Weir, Esq., editor of the Port Townsend Argus), prepared themselves with traps and a keep boat, and started in company.

"Before reaching the Mandan village they were attacked by a band of hostile Indians. The soldiers took to their oars, and with the current went swiftly down the river. The hunters crossed to the other side of the river and continued to give the Indians a fight. The savages gathered up their skin boats; one which could seat four men could be carried on the head of an Indian. The hostiles descended the river some distance, crossed over, and came down in such numbers that the party was over-powered. In a few minutes seven of the trappers were killed and about as many more severely wounded. The In the spring of 1808 that company employed about three hundred men, principally French, from St. Louis, party gathered up the dead, fled to their boat, and followed after the soldiers. The whole party returned to St. Louis, and waited until next spring. In the mean time, the Missouri Fur Company had been formed.

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and sent them up the river. A party of some forty Americans, among whom was Wier, started also on their own account. In 1809 Wier, with nine others, crossed the Rocky Mountains and struck the headwaters of the Columbia and trapped down the river, wintering just above the Cascade or Coast Range. Another company of Missouri trappers wintered at the mouth of the river. All found the Indians friendly. Wier often spoke of the large fir timber, the mildness of the climate, the beautiful appearance of the land and soil, and gave it as his opinion that some day it would be one of the finest countries in the world."

He quaintly added, "At that time it was a long ways from home." About this time, too, one Harmon, a Vermonter, wintered on Fraser's Lake, and returned to New England in 1819 to write a history of his travels, published at Andover. A settlement of Americans was also planted at Oak Point, on the south side of the Columbia, but was speedily rooted up by a freshet in the river. In the mean while, the trade by American vessels was active on the coast.

It is impossible within the limits of a chapter to follow the many private explorers, whose pathfinding, after all, added little to and only verified the truthfulness of the government surveys by Lewis and Clarke. We will pass them over nearly a quarter of a century to the year 1831, when Captain Bonneville, of the United States Army, applied to the War Department for two years' leave of absence.

"To explore the country of the Rocky Mountains and beyond, with the view of ascertaining the nature and character of the several tribes of Indians inhabiting those regions, the trade which might profitably be carried on in them; quality of soil, productions, minerals, natural history, climate, geography, topography, as well as geology of the various parts of the country within the limits of the territories of the United States between our frontier and the Pacific."

A pretty comprehensive plan, and, considering the territory to be examined, brief space for its accomplishments.

On the 3d day of August following, Major-General Macomb, then commanding the army, granted Captain Bonneville's request, giving him the leave desired until October of 1833. At the same time he takes care to intrust the would-be explorer that the Government will be at no expense, "but that he must

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Provide suitable instruments and the best maps, especially of the interior, and that he must note particularly the number of warriors that may be in each tribe of natives that may be met with, their alliances with other tribes, and their relative position as to state of peace or war, and whether friendly or warlike positions toward each other are recent or of long standing; their manner of making war; mode of subsisting themselves during a state of war and a state of peace; the arms and the effect of them, whether they act on foot or on horseback--in short, every information useful to the Government."

Nor does this leave much to be desired in the way of instructions either, being even more minute than those give to Lewis and Clarke, who were provided with all means at the Government's command, both of men and material. But here we have the singular spectacle of an officer given a leave of absence to make explorations, the duties of which are dictated to him, and the appliances to be of the best; yet he is distinctly informed, by way of preamble, that "he goeth a warfare at his own charge;" that the Government will be at no expense--in other words, he is virtually directed to "make bricks," like the Egyptians of old, "without straw," All of which, considering the great advantages obtained from the results of Lewis and Clarke's expedition, seems niggardly in the extreme. Captain Bonneville, however, appears to have had friends who felt confidence in his scheme, for we find that during the ensuing winter an association was formed in New York from whence he received he necessary financial aid. On May 1st we see him taking the field with a party numbering 110 men, with twenty wagons, with which he started from Port Osage, carrying a large quantify of trading goods destined for the regions watered by the Colorado and Columbia. He remained west of the Rocky Mountains for over two years, though his expedition resulted in but little of geographical value, and in a pecuniary point of view, thanks to the competition of the Hudson's Bay Company and the bitter rivalry of fur traders more experienced than himself, was a complete failure. He was, nevertheless, eminently fortunate in his historian, his adventures being written up by the graceful and elaborate pen of the great American author, Washington Irving, who has thrown about the incidents of Bonneville's journeyings the charm which he alone could give

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of most realistic and fascinating description. In this connection Evans writes as follows:

"In that narrative, Irving, in his own inimitable style, has chronicled the vicissitudes and novelties of life in the Rocky Mountains as experienced by trappers and adventurers. In language more thrilling and varied than romance, he has pictured the trapper's life, its dangers, its exciting pleasures, the bitter rivalry of competing traders, the hostility of savages--in short, a pen picture ha been produced by a master hand from which latest posterity can learn what constituted the fur trade and how it was prosecuted in the heart of the American continent and Oregon within the first half of the nineteenth century. Bonneville went as far west as Fort Walla Walla. His parties penetrated the valleys of the Humboldt, Sacramento, and Colorado."

A certain Captain Wyeth, of Massachusetts, about this time conceived the idea of establishing salmon fisheries on the Columbia River in connection with an inland trade with the Indians for furs. With this intention he sent out a vessel laden with trading goods; the ship was never heard of from the day she sailed. Wyeth and his party coming, fortunately for them, overland, reached Fort Vancouver October 29th. Being thus disappointed, with true Yankee readiness, two of the party turned to the readiest bread-winner of a New Englander in distress--school-teaching and school-teaching under difficulties withal. John Ball, the first to make an attempt in this new direction, accepted from the chief factor, Dr. McLaughlin, an engagement to teach school for six months, and failed. It was possibly rather more difficult to teach the idea of the young Indian how to shoot than his hand. The next to try this doubtful experiment was Solomon H. Smith, whose name at least indicates wisdom equal to the task. The school was opened, and the teacher soon almost ina condition of despair; discouraged was too mild a term to express his embarrassment. He tells us that the scholars, all Indians, came in talking their native languages. The confusion of Babel was as nothing to it. Cree, Nez Peree, Chinook, Kliketat, and a few others produced a mingling of tongues which, as the poor pedagogue came only prepared to teach English, simply deafened him. He says, "I could not understand them, and when I called them to order there was just one who could understand me. All I came from

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a land where discipline was expected in school management, I could not persuade myself that I could accomplish anything without order. I gave directions, and to my surprise, the only one who understood them immediately joined issue with me upon my mode of government in school. While endeavoring to impress upon him the necessity of order, and through him, his fellows, Mr. McLaughlin, the chief factor, entered; to him I explained my difficulty. He investigated my complaint, found my statements correct, and at once proceeded to produce an impression (probably a striking one) on the refractory pupil which prevented any further trouble in governing. I continued in the school over eighteen months, during which the scholars learned to speak English. Several could repeat Murray's verbatim; some had gone through arithmetic, and upon review copied it entire. These copies were afterward used as school books, there having been only one printed copy at fort Vancouver." (The reader may fancy in what condition the "only original" must have been by the time that twenty-five young savages--the number of pupils--had finished their English education. Surely the lines of Washington's more modern instructors have fallen to them, by comparison at least, in pleasant places.)

Evans tells us that "Captain Wyeth returned overland to Boston in 1833, most of his party remaining in the country, making settlements in the Willamette Valley. Not disheartened by his first failure, the captain renews his efforts to establish a direct trade between Boston and the Columbia River, dispatching the brig May Dacre, Captain Lambert, laden with trading goods and supplies to the Columbia via Cape Horn. Meanwhile, he himself crossed the continent with two hundred men. In that overland train were Dr. Nuttall and John K. Townsend, of Philadelphia, both well known to science, the latter being the author of a pleasing narrative of their journey. The pioneer party of the Oregon Methodist Mission consisted of Revs. John and Daniel Lee, and Messrs. P. L. Edwards and Cyrus Shepherd, lay members; Courtney M. Walker, employed by the mission for one year, also accompanied the party. They left Independence, Mo., April 24th, 1834, and reached the junction of Snake and Point Neuf Rivers early in July. Here Wyeth built a trading post to store his trading goods, which he called Fort Hall. Having fitted out trapping parties, he proceeded to Fort

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Vancouver, reaching that place about the same time that his brig arrived via Cape Horn. At the lower end of Wapato (now Saurie's Island) he established a salmon fishery and trading house which he named Fort Williams." His fishing failed, his trade with the Indians proved unsuccessful; it was the old story of competition with that Northwestern octopus, the Hudson's' Bay Company--they destroyed him. To this was added constant trouble with the Indians, who killed several of his men, and the loss of others by drowning. Unable to bear up under this combination of difficulties, he finally became discouraged, and gave up the effort. We are told "that the island was thickly inhabited by Indians until 1830, when they were nearly exterminated by congestive chills and fever. There were at least three villages on the island. So fatal were the effects of the disease that Dr. McLaughlin sent a party to rescue and bring away the few that were left, and to burn the village. The Indians attributed the introduction of the fever and ague to an American vessel that had visited the river a year or two previously. It is not, therefore, a matter of surprise to any one who understands Indian character and their views as to death resulting from such diseases, that Wyeth's attempted establishment on Wapato Island was subject to their continued hostility. He was of the race to whom they attributed the cause of the destruction oft heir people, and his reverses were but the lawful compensation, according to their code, for the afflictions they had suffered."

His brig sailed with a half cargo of fish in 1835, and never returned to Fort William; he himself broke up his establishment disheartened, and returned home. Surely such enterprise and perseverance as his deserved a better fate. He endeavored to sell the remnants of his property in Oregon to the Hudson's Bay Company, whose chilling influence upon his trade may be said, without any attempt at pleasantry, to have literally "frozen him out." On application to their board of management in London, he was referred to their officers in charge at Fort Vancouver. In 1837 Dr. McLaughlin purchased Fort Hall from Wyeth's agents. His men generally remained in the territory. This ended the American fur trade went of the Rocky Mountains. The octopus had crushed out the last attempt at Yankee competition.

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It appears, however, that every cloud of failure has its compensation more or less remote. To this rule Wyeth's disastrous speculation was no exception. It proved in the highest degree valuable to the territory he was obliged to abandon and to the country at large. His memoir, printed by "order of Congress," attracted the attention of the American people to Oregon, its value and claims of colonization. The statements as to its resources, climate, soil, etc., stimulated emigrations, excited curiosity, and advertised its advantages to the world. "Oregon henceforth," says Evans, "is to be settled and Americanized." So for once we see the narrowness of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company's policy overreaching itself, and their wily engineering "hoist by its own petard." Had Wyeth remained and succeeded he would naturally have kept the secret of his good fortune to himself; disappointed and ruined, he south the sympathy of his countrymen by publishing it abroad.

In our account of Wyeth's last overland expedition we have alluded to the fact that he was accompanied by the pioneer party of the Oregon Methodist Mission. We cannot let the opportunity pass to pay a fitting and well-deserved tribute not only to these, but to all other religious pioneer teachers by whatever name hey may be called (among whom it cannot be denied that the Methodists stand pre-eminent), who not only in Oregon and Washington, but throughout our whole Western land, when it was comparatively a wilderness, brought the good news of salvation to many a wanderer upon the plains or dweller in his cabin beneath the shade of the primeval forest. They toiled not for gain, but solely for the advancement of the kingdom of their Lord. They had neither house nor land, were ofttimes stinted for bread or suffered fro water beneath the burning prairie suns; not infrequently too, like the Master they served, they "know now where to pay their heads." Their equipment was of the simplest--a horse too old and poor to make it worth while to deprive him of life, ill-fed and journey-worn like his rider; a steed which scarcely knew a shelter, but depended upon the wayside grass for his scanty provender, furnished their sole means of transportation as they traveled the thinly populated districts of their choice, going from house to house. Ever welcome to the isolated settler were these unsolicited and almost always unexpected ministerial visits. They

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Were met at the door with a cheery word and a warm grasp of some toil-hardened hand; the old saddle-bags, weather-worn and dilapidated, containing for the mot part a single change of underclothes, for he "who had two coats" in those days would have doubted his call to the ministry, and the universal traveling companions of a preacher--a Bible and hymn-book--were taken carefully in. His horse was cared for; the good wife put forth the best that her humble larder afforded; the husband refrained, for the time being at least, from rude speech or profane execration; there was a blessing, if never before, over the settlers' frugal meal, a sound of praise and a voice of prayer, and when the scatterer of Gospel seed by the wayside departed on the morrow, he left behind him with his entertainers, the women most of all, something of better hope, of purer and more unselfish ambition, and a renewal of far-away home memories of Christian lives which brought unbidden teas to eyes but little used to weep. It is not to be denied that these men were oft-times almost as uncultured as those whom they attempted to reach--rude shepherds of flocks little used to be tenderly folded, yet perhaps for that very reason far better fitted for the work they were called to do. their homely similes, their incisive, unshrinking manner of implanting the truth, never sugar-coated the Gospel medicine or fearing to administer it, however unpalatable; but most of all, perhaps, the example of their own self-sacrificing daily lives made them a power in the land. Their work is done; the lips, ofttimes strangely though rudely eloquent, are nor forever sealed; the eyes that shot forth magnetic glances as they pleaded the cause of a crucified Savior are glazed in death; they sleep where they fell, many of them in unmarked graves, fallen by the wayside. Having finished their labors, they have gone up higher to meet their reward. The descendants of those whom they warned or comforted worship in far more pretentious temples than those in which they preached and prayed, yet kneel at no purer altars. They rest from their labors, but their works follow them, and their influence lingers still.

In bringing to a close the present chapter we feel that the ground to be covered under its heading demanded more space then our limits permit. As it is, we have but endeavored to bind together, though with widely spirited and differing

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links, a chain of journeys and explorations of which that of Lewis and Clarke stands pre-eminent. The work of the explorer by land, like that of the discoverer by sea, is finished; he has accomplished his task. The initial path he so doubtingly and timidly followed has become a well beaten road, a highway for future travelers. The occult ceases to be hidden, the mysterious becomes the well known. As repeated voyages showed the way to the shores of western Washington, rendering its coasts, with all their sounds and inlets, a well-mapped chart patent to every intelligent mariner, so each trapper, voyageur and explorer added something to our knowledge of the interior, and finally opened up the land to the settler and the prospector. Looking over the field from a higher and clearer standpoint of to-day, were we to seek for a simile we should liken this myriad of gradual approaches to our eastern frontiers through such a multiplicity of tangled paths to the network of wires, slight and frail in themselves, as the tiny string that connected the philosopher Franklin with the lightning of the summer skies, yet when bound and braided together like the mighty cables linking two great cities of the Atlantic coast and upholding the bridge that carries the traffic of a metropolis. It is even so with the paths of that old day, then so wearily and painfully traversed, yet in the fullness of time to become the great highways of the present, over which the locomotive thunders, wedding our coasts and practically annihilating time and space as it reduces to hours the journey of a thousand leagues.

How little do the men who traverse with the rapid rush of steam those once silent mountains and desolate prairies realize the sufferings, privations, and fearful conflicts with savage foes of those who were its first pathfinders! There is no stream that has not reflected its camp fire; no lake that has not borne upon its bosom some hostile canoe; no spring or water-hole in the desert which ash not been the lurking-place of an enemy. Stern strife, tortures too fearful to be narrated, massacres of the helpless and the innocent by those who spared neither age nor sex have been the common incidents of their adventurous journeyings. True it is that they planned, labored, and suffered for themselves, but in so doing unwittingly laid a foundation for the future both broad and deep, building far better than they knew.

 

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