THREE immediate tasks faced the Astorians as rainy spring succeeded rainy winter. Dispatches must be sent to Astor, branch trading posts must be established in the interior, and the goods buried in nine caches at the eastern end of the Snake canyon must be recovered.
The loss of the Tonquin meant that the letters and reports for Astor must be carried overland. The care of these papers was undertaken by John Reed, and he stowed them away in a bright tin box made specially for the purpose. Reed would make the overland journey to St. Louis in company with Robert McLellan, Ben Jones, a Kentucky hunter, and two voyageurs. Two other par-ties were to set out at the same time one, under Robert Stuart, to take supplies to his uncle’s fort on the Okanogan, and the other, consisting of two clerks, to go to the caches.
Accordingly, towards the end of March, 1812, the three parties launched canoes and ascended the river. Trouble met them at the Long Narrows. The Indians of the village of Wishram above the Narrows, noted for their arts of treachery and piracy, fell upon the canoes. A fight followed; and, before the white men were masters of the field, two Indians had been killed and Reed had been clubbed and wounded and his shining tin box had been stolen. His condition and the loss of the letters canceled the overland expedition for the time being. He and his party kept on to the Okanogan with Robert Stuart and, after some days at the fort there, turned back downstream with the two Stuarts. Not far from the Long Narrows they descried on the bank of the river two naked white men who, on nearer approach, proved to be Ramsay Crooks and John Day. To their old companions it seemed that they had risen from the grave. They had made their way from the Snake canyon through terrible hardship and had recently been stripped of their clothes and moccasins by the Indians at Wishram. The two unfortunates were taken aboard the canoes, fed, and clothed like chiefs in blankets and furs. On the 11th of May they were all back at Astoria.
But the problem still confronted them of how to send dispatches to Astor, and this notwithstanding that they now had a seagoing vessel. Two days before the canoes beached at Astoria, the Beaver, Astor’s second ship, bearing supplies, was firing inquiring guns off Cape Disappointment. On the eleventh or twelfth a committee of welcome crossed the surfy bar to the ship’s anchorage. First went a canoe in which were six Indian paddlers and old Comcomly, who had dressed himself in his best to do the honors. A barge followed propelled by eight voyageurs and bearing McDougal and McLellan. Piloted by this delighted reception committee the ship sailed over the bar and came to rest in Baker’s Bay. The Beaver brought fifteen American laborers and six voyageurs, five clerks, including Ross Cox, and a partner named John Clarke, an American who had spent the greater part of his life as a trader in the British Northwest.
The Beaver, however, was not available to be sent round the Horn to New York. It was to be used to carry Hunt north to Alaska to bring to fruition Astor’s plans with regard to the Russian trade. Astor had broached to the Russian Government his plan for securing to himself and the Russians all the Pacific coast trade and so squeezing out the free traders. He would furnish the Russians with supplies and ship their furs with his own to Canton. It will be seen that Astor’s aim was twofold: to use the cooperation of the Russian traders to drive other rivals off the field and, at the same time, to make the Russian traders dependent upon him upon his transoceanic and coastwise ships and his colony at Astoria. Hunt was to sail to New Archangel (Sitka) to perfect these arrangements with the Russian official in authority at that port, bring away a cargo of furs, re-turn to Astoria, and transfer to the Beaver all the furs collected there, and then dispatch the ship for China.
The reports to Astor could therefore not be sent by sea; it would still be necessary to carry them by land. The duty was undertaken by a party of seven men, headed by the younger Stuart and including Crooks, Day, McLellan, and a voyageur named LeClerc. At the same time, Donald Mackenzie and the newly arrived John Clarke, with a number of clerks, voyageurs, and hunters, made ready to go inland to seek out good trading sites and erect forts. On the Nth of June both expeditions headed up the Columbia their two barges and ten canoes, while the cannon of Astoria roared a farewell to brave men.
Not far up the river, poor John Day began to show signs of derangement, and Stuart was obliged to send him back to Astoria in care of some Indians passing down on the way to trade at the fort. The parting with his old companion left Ramsay Crooks in great grief. He could not forget his recent experience with Day in the wilderness, when the two men debilitated from hunger and hard travel and left behind in the barren wilds of the Snake canyon had sustained and heartened each other, refusing to separate. This is a tale of nobility and loyalty and sacrifice which has never been written. All we have of it is a suggestion. They had no journal in which Day could have set down that the bleak winter sunset found them still in their rocky camp of yesterday and without food because Crooks was too ill to march, and Day himself too weak to range the hills hunting, even if he had dared to leave Crooks alone. And later, when Crooks was able to travel again and Day’s wits had wandered beyond the cruel Snake country into the regions of more fantastic fears, there were no means at hand whereby Crooks might record how on such a day he had lost, under a new fall of snow, the tracks of Hunt and his party which he had followed desperately for over a week; or how Indians were hovering among the rocks, surrounding the night’s camp but would not draw near either to succor or to slay because of their awe of that supernatural control to which they attributed the ravings of the starved and demented white man.
It is a general belief among savages, and one common among the coast Indians, that madmen are under the control of spirits and are either to be wisely avoided or treated with special consideration and reverence. The Indians bound for Astoria, to whom Stuart and Crooks confided John Day in the last stage of his dementia, guarded him carefully and brought him safely to the fort. Day partially recovered and lived in Oregon for several years only to die in those Snake Mountains, the scene of his sufferings. So came to his end one of the two characters in a lost chapter from the book of Heroism. His name is “writ in water” but not unto perishing. At least two streams west of the Yellowstone Park are known as “John Day’s River,” and the place of his death is marked by “Day’s Defile.”
On the 9th of July the combined parties, numbering between fifty and sixty men, were trafficking with the Indians on the Walla Walla River for horses. The Walla Walla Indians, of the Chopunnish tribe, were a hospitable and kindly folk and the best equestrians west of the mountains. They owned large bands of horses and they equipped their mounts with crude high saddles after the Mexican fashion. They roamed far afield and are known to have traded with the Spanish in California from an early date, exchanging horses for vermilion and blankets. It was among these Indians, then, that the two expeditions took leave of each other and went on their separate ways.
Nine months later, on April 30, 1813, Robert Stuart and his six men reached St. Louis, accompanied by Miller, the partner who had deserted Hunt on the way out to turn trapper. They had a story to tell of various mishaps, the most serious of which was the theft of their horses by the Crows in the mountains, which forced them to continue on foot so that it became necessary to go into camp for the winter on the bank of the Platte River. In the Snake region Stuart found Miller, Robinson, Rezner, and Hoback all in hunger and great distress, for they had been robbed of their beaver catch and their guns by Indians. Miller had tasted wild life to his fill and now craved the savors of civilization; but the three hunters asked Stuart for another outfit of guns, traps, and other essentials. These were supplied them from the caches above the Snake canyon, and they pitched their tents again in the wilderness. Only three of the caches were found intact. The other six had been rifled of their contents by Shoshones led thither by the three voyageurs who had fallen out of Hunt’s starving band and attached themselves to the Shoshones.
The trading caravan, which parted from Stuart at the Walla Walla River, separated into detachments. David Stuart and Alexander Ross proceeded to Stuart’s Fort at the mouth of the Okanogan. Here Ross remained while Stuart pushed north up the Okanogan and established another post where now stands the town of Kam-loops, British Columbia, at the forks of the Thompson. Far to the east John Clarke built Spokane House at the confluence of Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Rivers. Mackenzie and Ross Cox opened trade with the Chopunnish or Nez Percés from a post which appears to have been on the Clearwater some distance above its confluence with the Snake, Other Astorians went far north up the Columbia to the Pend d’Oreille River, to ply trade with the Salish or Flatheads and the Kootenays, as well as with the “Children of the Sun,” or Spokanes, and thus to assist John Clarke of Spokane House in cutting off trade from the posts of the Nor’westers set up on the Spokane and on the Pend d’Oreille rivers by David Thompson the year before. Some of the hunters who went out from Astoria during the winter of 1812 ranged southward into Oregon and are said to have explored five hundred miles inland from the mouth of the Willamette.
Between the winters of 1812 and 1814, the Astorians had spread their trade over an area of country roughly outlined by the Continental Divide on the east, the headwaters of the Willamette on the south, and the Thompson River, New Caledonia (British Columbia) on the north.
But, as will be seen, it was not under Astor’s banner that these forts were to flourish.
The Astorians pushing into unexplored territory in the summer and fall of 1812 did not know that war had been declared by the United States against Great Britain. Astor in New York knew it; and his anxiety was great. The Nor’-westers in Montreal and Fort William knew it; and it was never the way of the Nor’westers to let the water freeze under their keels. The partners in Montreal and the ” winterers” at Fort William, after hearing David Thompson’s report on the little colony at Astoria, were resolved to enter at once strongly into contest for trade on the Columbia. The War of 1812 fell about opportunely for them; it enabled them to color their plans in national and patriotic tints. War or no war, they would have sent a trading expedition to the mouth of the Columbia to battle by their own methods against the Astorians. But the war gave them cause to ask a warship of His Majesty. That would be the swifter way to take the trade and, with it, Astoria. So the arrangements were made. Convoyed by the Raccoon, the ship Isaac Todd, with a group of Nor’westers aboard of her, was to enter the River of the West. And another expedition was to leave Fort William, paddling and portaging through the maze of waters and mountains from Lake Superior to the Columbia, and along that great artery to greet the Isaac Todd in the bay.
Meanwhile Astor petitioned the American Government for protection for his fort. In response the Government somewhat tardily prepared to send the frigate Adams to Astoria, but, at the last moment, canceled the order because her crew was needed to supplement the scanty force on Lake Ontario. And the supply ship which Astor had commissioned to accompany the Adams was held in New York harbor by the British blockade. The Lark, how-ever, another boat, had sailed with supplies and more traders before the blockade; and Astor could only hope that she would reach Astoria safely and that the men aboard, joining with the Astorians, would be able to hold the fort until the Government could send aid. He may have felt that his hope was a forlorn one, for he remembered, doubtless with misgivings, that McDougal and most of the men at the fort were not only Canadians but old Nor’westers. And Thorn of the lost Tonquin, even before war had come to complicate further the already complex ethics of men trained in the Nor’westers’ school, had written to him more than once his unfavorable opinion of McDougal’s loyalty.
McDougal learned in January, 1813, of the Nor’westers’ plans. In that month Donald Mackenzie, just arrived from up the river, brought the word to Astoria. He told how John George McTavish, a Nor’wester trading on the upper Columbia, had dropped in at Spokane House and had confided to both Clarke and Mackenzie what was in the wind. And McTavish had drawn a long bow, as the saying goes; he had spoken of bombardments and wholesale destruction, perhaps also of dungeons for renegade Canadians, and incidentally of a trip he himself meant to make in the spring to contest for the trade at Astoria.
McDougal laid Mackenzie’s news before the little group of Astorians and after agitated discussion came to the decision to abandon Astoria in the spring and depart across the mountains for St. Louis. He sent out Mackenzie, Reed, and another clerk named Seton to the forts on the Okanogan, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Spokane, to inform the partners at these interior posts of the intended evacuation, instructing them to bring their furs and goods to the mouth of the Walla Walla, whence they would proceed together to Astoria, protected by their numbers from the pilfering Indians below. They were to trade all their merchandise with the Walla Wallas for horses, keeping only their supply of provisions. Thus provided with sufficient horses to carry the men and the bales of furs that now stocked the warehouses, McDougal planned to make the great hegira of the Astorians on the 1st of July, the earliest moment when they could hope to be ready for departure.
From these instructions it does not yet appear that McDougal was doing any less than his best to safeguard Astor’s interests, as well as his own and the interests of. the other partners. The plan fell through because David Stuart and Clarke, not liking it, failed to make the necessary purchases of mounts and smoked fish and meat for the journey. McDougal did not become aware of their lack of cooperation until the middle of June, when they finally arrived with their furs. It was then too late to send men back to the Walla Wallas for horses since Indians are not to be hurried in their trading and to conclude the necessary preparations in time to cross the high mountains before the descent of winter.
The journey must be abandoned, therefore, until the following year; and what the situation would be then none could foresee. A new peril had been added by the stupid brutality of Clarke and Farnham, a Vermonter, one of the clerks. These two men, while among the Nez Percés, had seized and executed an Indian for stealing a silver cup from Clarke. The other partners strongly condemned the act this was not the Canadian way of dealing with Indians but the mischief was done. We shall see later how the offended tribe took their revenge.
To add to McDougal’s perplexities, there were presently visitors at Astoria. Down the river came John George McTavish of Fort William and his retinue of voyageurs and hunters. It was a pretty demonstration of the old Nor’wester spirit that they made, as the fleet of canoes swung into harbor beside the fort. The men were dressed in holiday garb colored fringes dangled from their caps and shirts, little bells and gay beads clinked among the fringes of their leggings and sleeves and the boatman’s songs of Old Canada swelled from their throats. The brigade went into camp, while McTavish made himself at home in Astoria and was given his freedom of the best the fort had to offer.
McDougal is under suspicion for his reception of McTavish. Yet it may well appear that the wily Scotch laird of Astoria was trying to play his game as cannily as possible, seeing that his partners, Stuart and Clarke, by failing to buy horses, had checked his best move. There was certainly nothing to be gained by making a foe of McTavish, for the arrival of the Isaac Todd and the Raccoon might any day make him the Chief Factor of Astoria.
It should be borne in mind, too, that Hunt and the Beaver were very long overdue. Unknown to the Astorians, Hunt had changed his plans. Fearing to risk a valuable cargo of sea-otter pelts in crossing the river bar, he had kept on to the Sandwich Islands. He intended to await there the Lark, the supply vessel which Astor was to send out, and to return in her to Astoria while the Beaver continued her course to Canton. No chronicler has yet doubted the excellence of Hunt’s intentions. His motives were always of the best, but the results of his initiative were never fortunate. The belief that Hunt and the Beaver had come to disaster influenced not only McDougal; even the obstinate spirit of Stuart was now cast down by it. The upshot of the gloomy deliberations of the partners was that, when McTavish desired to purchase some goods for trade, they sold him not the goods alone but the Spokane trading post. He was to pay in horses to be delivered in the following spring. Three of the Astorians then requested and received of McDougal papers of discharge and en-rolled with McTavish. The partners drew up a statement of conditions, setting forth their reasons for abandoning Astoria and the outlying posts, and gave it to McTavish to forward for them to Astor by the winter express which the Nor’westers sent out annually from Fort William to Montreal. And on the 5th of July McTavish took leave of the despondent Astorians and was borne upstream by his belled and chanting paddlemen.
The partners decided to add to their stock of furs during the winter, rather than to idle away the six months before their departure. Stuart re-turned to the post at the mouth of the Okanogan; Clarke went to the Pend d’Oreille River; Mackenzie, with a body of hunters, to the Willamette and Reed, with the Dorion family and five voyageurs including Le Clerc, undertook to trap in the Snake River country. McDougal and forty men remained at Astoria, not a little apprehensive concerning the tribes in their immediate vicinity. It was in this summer month of July, 1813, that McDougal, having exhausted all other means of terrorism and diplomacy, offered himself a more or less willing sacrifice for the safety of the Astorians and became Comcomly’s son-in-law. And exactly one month later, to the very date, his spouse’s brother burst into the bridal bower with news of a ship in the offing. There was great excitement within the fort. Was it the Isaac Todd? Or the Beaver returned after a year away, like a ghost from Neptune’s realm? Was it His Majesty’s ship Raccoon with guns to batter down the fort? Nearer came the ship and now the watchers could see the Stars and Stripes at her masthead. Shouting with joy, they rushed to the guns and fired a salute. McDougal was already rowing out in a small boat to meet the vessel. As twilight closed in the boat returned and Mc-Dougal and Hunt sprang ashore. The ship was the Albatross, chartered by Hunt for two thousand dollars at the Sandwich Islands, after he had waited in vain for months the coming of Astor’s supply ship, the Lark, which, unknown to him, had been wrecked.
Though Hunt was greatly perturbed at the idea of abandoning Astor’s vast schemes for the Pacific coast trade, he finally agreed to the decision which the other partners had made. His first concern was in regard to the furs. He resolved to sail in the Albatross, which was bound to the Marquesas and the Sandwich Islands. He hoped to charter a vessel at the latter port in which to call for the furs and carry them to market in Canton. It was agreed that if he did not return, McDougal should make whatever arrangements he could with McTavish. Hunt confidently expected, however, to be back at Astoria by the 1st of January. Even so he would have been too late to have a voice as to the disposition of Astor’s property, but as a matter of fact he did not return to the Columbia until the 28th of February.
On the 7th of October, about six weeks after Hunt’s departure, John George McTavish with a brigade of seventy-five men in ten canoes were again wafted down the river to the jingle of bells and the music of boatmen’s songs. He knew that the Isaac Todd and the attendant warship must be nearing Astoria and he intended to beat them there. The two Astorians, Mackenzie and Clarke, accompanied the brigade. They had fallen in with McTavish up the river while on their way to the upper posts and had turned back in the hope that they might succeed in gliding down ahead of him and so get the news to McDougal and plan their moves before the Nor’wester’s arrival. But their chance never came to leave that Nor’wester behind in the night. McTavish had given orders to his men to sleep with one eye open and an ear to the ground. The two Astorians did slip their canoes noiselessly into the stream one morning before dawn, but only to see, in the first light, two other canoes full abreast of them; and, with what cordiality they could muster, they said “Good morning” to McTavish.
Irving, taking a long-distance view, alleges that McDougal might have dictated his own terms, because the Nor’westers were out of provisions and had lost their ammunition; that he might, in fact, have made off up the river with the furs. Be that as it may, McDougal now surrendered Astoria to the Nor’westers and sold them, under agreement duly executed, Astor’s stock of furs and goods and the buildings and boats, and all the forts on the Columbia and the Thompson at about a third of their value. Thus the rapacious Nor’-westers had turned the trick not only against their rival, John Jacob Astor, but also against the British Government. A month later, when His Majesty’s ship the Raccoon sailed into the river, it only remained to hoist the British flag above Astoria and to rechristen the captured post Fort George. There is no record saying that the privilege of performing these loyal ceremonies was considered by His Majesty’s officers as full compensation for the loss of the rich prize in furs, which they had made all speed to capture, having been egged on thereto daily by a Nor’wester they had aboard, John MacDonald of Garth. The feelings of the naval men, indeed, were such that they held no pleasant teas or banquets on board the Raccoon in honor of McDougal or MacDonald or McTavish. And, if McDougal’s canny, un-warriorlike conduct so grieved His Majesty’s bluff and simple mariners, what was the effect upon another heart in Astoria? Poor old Comcomly! Having witnessed the bloodless surrender of the fort, the great chief retreated to his lodge, hid his face and his one eye under his blanket and mourned that his peerless daughter she of the proudest lineage and the flattest head among the Chinooks should have married not a man but a squaw.
When Hunt returned in February to find Astor’s property disposed of and the Union Jack waving in place of the Stars and Stripes, there, too, was McDougal, now acting as Chief Factor of the Nor’westers’ post of Fort George. The dissolution of Astor’s company, as provided for by con-tract, had left him free to rejoin the Canadians.
There remained nothing for Hunt to do but to receive the drafts on the North-West Company for the sum of the bargain price and arrange about forwarding them to Astor by a small party of Astorians headed by David Stuart, Clarke, and Mackenzie, who refused to join the Nor’westers and who were about to cross the mountains. Hunt then reembarked.
In April of that year (1814) the Isaac Todd arrived. The ship brought several distinguished lights of the North-West Company, among them an autocratic old gentleman named Donald McTavish, whose rôle was that of governor of the new domain, but whose chief aim in life was to keep a full goblet beside him, an aim rendered difficult by the continuous motion he made for emptying it. To assist him in solving his problem, old Donald had enlisted the services of a barmaid named Jane Barnes, whose Hebe-like skill and swiftness in pouring had won his heart in an English alehouse. This barmaid was the first white woman on the Columbia. Her flaxen curls, blue eyes, and ruddy cheeks so inflamed the heart of Comcomly’s son that he offered one hundred sea-otter skins for the privilege of marrying her; but the Governor would not surrender his fair one. Let us hope that the old Governor quaffed at least one of his many cups nightly to the bold adventuring spirit which had made young Jane Barnes shake the dust of a sailor’s alehouse from her bare feet and dare the high seas and the savage wilds
For to admire and for to see, For to be’old this world so wide.
A little longer than thirty days did Governor McTavish hold high revels. The journal of the younger Alexander Henry, who came to Astoria with one of the Nor’westers’ canoe brigades, tells how high ran the tides of rum within and about Fort George. From other sources we learn that in June those tides came into conflict, so to speak, with the swollen flood of the Columbia, when a canoe bearing the Governor, Alexander Henry, and half a dozen voyageurs, all rather more than less unbalanced by their liquor, was overturned, and the Governor and Henry were drowned. When her patron sank inappropriately into a watery grave, what became of venturesome Jane? History seems to be mute. But there is a rumor to the effect that she sailed away to China and captured the heart of a magnate of the East India Company, who built a palace for her.
In July of the previous year, it will be recalled, a party of seven men, with Pierre Dorion and his wife and children, had gone into the Snake River country under John Reed’s leadership to trap. There Robinson, Hoback, and Rezner had joined them. When David Stuart, Clarke, Mackenzie, and their party of Astorians set out from Fort George on April 4, 1814, to cross the mountains, they expected to find Reed and his band, inform them of the changes that had occurred, and take them across country to St. Louis, if they should desire to go east rather than enlist with the Nor’-westers. The latter choice was open to them, because it was a part of the agreement between McDougal and McTavish that the NorthWest Company should endeavor to find places for any of Astor’s men who might wish to remain in the territory.
As Stuart and his companions neared the mouth of the Walla Walla they heard a voice hailing them in French. They turned in towards the bank. It was Dorion’s wife calling to them. She had a tragic story to tell. In the winter she had gone along the Clearwater with Pierre, Rezner, and LeClerc to a beaver stream. It was in the Nez Percés territory, a five-days’ journey from Reed’s post. While she was at her work of dressing skins in the hut one evening, LeClerc entered bleeding from wounds. Indians had fallen upon the three men suddenly and LeClerc alone had escaped alive barely alive, for he collapsed as his tale was told. The Sioux woman quickly caught two of their horses, loaded her children and some food on one of them and, after binding up LeClerc’s wounds as best she could, lifted and roped him upon the back of the other. Leading the horses she set off swiftly into the dark winter night towards Reed’s trading post. Three days later as her keen eyes searched the landscape, she caught sight of a band of mounted Indians riding towards the east. She lifted LeClerc down and hid him with herself and her children and the horses. That night, a cold January night, she dared not make a fire. She snuggled her children in her garments to keep them warm but the cold was too severe upon LeClerc, weakened from wounds; and, when morning came, he was dead. On the next day, when the Sioux woman reached Reed’s encampment, she found only the horrible traces of slaughter. She fled towards the mountains where the Walla Walla cuts its way from Idaho into Washington; and there she camped in a ravine under a shelter of skins and cedar branches until spring, subsisting meagerly on the smoked flesh of her horses. When milder weather came, her food was nearly gone. She started out again with her children, crossed the mountain and went down along the river bank until she arrived among the hospitable Walla Wallas, who took her in and cared for her and her children.
The woman could give Stuart no reason for the massacre nor say by what tribe it had been committed. But, as Clarke heard her tale, perhaps his mind reverted to the scene he had staged nearly a year before in the vicinity of these murders. And, if so, he saw now with different eyes the gibbet of oars erected on the spring grass by the beaver stream and the Indian, who had been tempted to theft like a child or a magpie by a brightly gleaming cup, bound and slung in the noose and strangled while his tribesmen looked on with expressionless faces till his struggles were over and then took up his body and silently went on their way.
So was savagely snapped the savage bond which had held Pierre and his Sioux mate together through harsh seasons within their tents and through hunger, cold, and the hourly peril of death in the wilderness. The last picture we have of Dorion’s wife is as a fugitive among the Walla Wallas, telling her story to Stuart. But ten years later there was a young Indian named Baptiste in the brigades of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Oregon, who was the eldest son of Pierre Dorion and the Sioux woman.