IF in these dawning hours of the Great West the trapper was lord of the land, the ruler of the waters along the Northwest Coast was the Indian hunter Of sea-otter a dark-skinned Neptune with spear for trident. The sea-otter trade, initiated by the Russians and. advertised by Cook, had grown largely since the adventures of John Meares and Robert Gray. And it was almost wholly an American trade. By 1801 fifteen American vessels, nearly all from Boston, were trading with the natives on the Pacific; and in that year fourteen thousand pelts were shipped and sold in China at an average of thirty dollars apiece.
So it was that in the year 1810 John Jacob Astor of New York was preparing to capture the trade of the Northwest Coast, and the Nor’westers in Montreal were conferring with David Thompson to defeat him. That Astor had in mind the sea-otter trade when he decided to send a ship round the Horn, as well as an expedition overland, is not to be doubted. He would place the Tonquin in the sea-otter trade on the Coast and build posts for the land trade in beaver on the Columbia and at suitable points across the continent. Thus he would control a mighty fur-trading system reaching from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean and on to China and India. It was a bold plan worthy of the genius and imagination of this pioneer of American commerce.
Meanwhile a similar idea had entered the Russian mind. In 1806 the Inspector at New Arch-angel, Alaska, had urged his Government to found a settlement at the mouth of the Columbia and to build a battleship for the purpose of driving the American traders away. His enterprising suggestion went further. He pointed out that, from the settlement on the Columbia, the Russians could advance southward to San Francisco and “in the course of ten years we should become strong enough to make use of any favorable turn in European politics to include the coast of California in the Russian possession.” That the Russians planned to descend upon the Columbia in 1810, a Boston trader named Winship learned from his brother, also a trading captain; and he made haste to fore-stall them. Early in the spring, Winship ran his vessel up the Columbia, sowed grain, and began building on a low spit which he named Oak Point. Indian hostility compelled him to abandon the undertaking, and he departed with the intent to return next year in force sufficient to cope with the savages. Winship’s attempt at occupancy amounted to nothing in itself, but his presence on the river that year caused a postponement of the Russians’ secret design. But for this Boston sea-man the story of Old Oregon might not now find place in the history of the United States. Two years later, in 1812, came just such a “favorable turn” as the forward-looking Inspector at New Archangel had been on the lookout for. While England was warring with Napoleon and Madison, and while Americans were intent on the conquest of Canada, an expansive Russia soundly established on the River of the West, with armored brigs to chase away American traders, might well have laid a locking grasp upon the coast from Alaska to California. Indeed, the War of 1812 had hardly more than begun when Russian traders stole down to Bodega, California, and, with the permission of the Spanish authorities, erected a trading post.
This trading post they subsequently transformed into a fort from which they refused to budge despite the indignant cries raised by Spain.
The belief prevailed among American traders that alien influences were at work among the savages. In 1803 occurred the seizure of the Boston and the massacre of the crew at Nootka by Maquinna’s tribe. And in 1805 the savages attacked another Boston ship trading in Millbank Sound and murdered the captain and a number of the crew. Russian vessels were at this time cruising south-ward and were in the habit of calling at Nootka and at the mouth of the Columbia. No proof was advanced, however, of Russian complicity in these attacks.
It was plain that the time had come for a fort to be erected at the mouth of the Columbia the time for occupation to attest ownership. On that subject, as we have seen, the Russians, the Canadian Nor’westers, and the American Astor were all agreed. The question was, which of the three should build the fort?
Of John Jacob Astor’s early life not a great deal is known. He was born of poor parents in 1763 at Waldorf, a village near Heidelberg in Germany.
At sixteen he worked in a butcher’s shop belonging to his father. Then he ran off to London. There, four years later, he learned that a brother had gone to America; and this news, coupled with his vision of money to be made in America, prompted him to try his fortune in the New World. It would seem that his thrift and his business acumen had already achieved results, for the young man who had arrived in London a penniless lad left for America on a ship sailing for Baltimore with a small collection of goods for trade. He reached New York some time in 1784. Here, following the advice of a furrier he had met in Baltimore, he exchanged his merchandise for furs and returned in the same year to London, where he disposed of his peltry at a good profit. He had found the right road to fortune. Ten years later he had established a profitable business and was purchasing furs in large quantities from the North-West Company of Montreal for shipment to Europe and China.
In 1808 Astor incorporated by charter from the State of New York the American Fur Company, with a capital of one million dollars supplied by himself. Soon afterwards he combined with the Nor’westers, as we have seen, to buy out the Mackinaws, whose American trade was turned over to him with the proviso that he should not trade in Great Britain or her colonies. Astor’s magnificent plan was taking shape. His acquisition of the trading posts of the Mackinaws in Wisconsin was the first link forged in the great chain which he in-tended to stretch across the continent and which should bind under his control the whole fur trade of the United States. However little he knew of the Nor’westers’ ulterior plans, he saw that they were spreading overland towards the Pacific; and, wishing to eliminate them as rivals, he proposed that they should join with him in the Columbia trade and offered them an interest of one-third. He was also planning to conciliate the Russians and to gain control of the Pacific coast trade to China. Probably he saw, in his invitation to the Nor’-westers, the first step towards control of their Canadian and British trade, also, and so, towards ultimate mastery of the whole traffic of North America in pelts. And probably the Nor’westers saw what Astor saw, namely, the final elimination of themselves, even as by a coalition they had helped him to eliminate the Mackinaws, for they refused his offer and made swift plans for a descent upon the Columbia.
Astor took up the gage of battle and went on with the organization of his Pacific Fur Company for trade on the Pacific Coast. He believed that he would conquer his rivals and finally drive them from the new field beyond the Rocky Mountains. The Nor’westers had no sea-going ships. Their furs must reach Montreal from the West through Fort William by a long and perilous inland route; therefore, the farther westward they pushed their activities, the greater became their difficulties and their expenses in bringing their furs to market. On the other hand, Astor would have not only his cross-country chain of forts from St. Louis on the south and the Great Lakes on the north to the Columbia, but his sea-going Tonguin and in time other vessels as required. By sea, he would ship supplies to the forts on the Columbia, and from headquarters at the mouth of that river he would ship the furs to Canton, while his trading posts to be built along the Missouri would be supplied by pirogues from St. Louis and would, in turn, send their furs by the same means to that city.
Astor knew what was the chief factor in the spectacular rise of the North-West Company its men. And he realized that, if his superior advantages in other respects were to count at their full value in the battle before him, he too must have men of the same stamina and experience. Where should he look for them? In the North-West Company itself, of course, for the Nor’-westers had no peers. He therefore opened the war by detaching from the Nor’westers several of their “winterers” and clerks. He enticed to join him, among others, Alexander Mackay., the great Mackenzie’s companion in exploration, David Stuart of Labrador, and his nephew Robert Stuart, Duncan McDougal, and some clerks from Montreal, including Ross and Franchère, the authors of the diaries which are our chief sources of information concerning the enterprise. But Astor needed more than partners and clerks: he needed also some of those French-Canadian voyageurs who served with paddle and pole in the Nor’westers’ canoe brigades between Montreal and Fort William. He enlisted into his service a number of these, and they came in a body with their canoes down the Hudson to New York.
Having recruited his men, Astor proceeded to carry out the first part of his plan, which involved making ready for sea his ship, the Tonquin, and sending it round the Horn to the Columbia, with several of his new partners and servants aboard. On the Columbia they would choose a suitable site and erect a fort, which McDougal would command, while the Tonquin under Captain Thorn would ply along the coast for trade.
The Tonquin was a vessel of some 90 tons, mounting ten guns and carrying a crew of about twenty-one men. Her captain, Jonathan Thorn, was a naval officer on leave of absence. He was a man of rigid determination, a believer in iron discipline, and easily moved to wrath by the smallest infringement of the hide-bound rules and proprieties of his code; a faithful, loyal man, but without the least understanding of human nature, and too lacking in imagination to have any sympathy or good feeling towards persons who were different from himself and whose characters, therefore, could not commend themselves to him. Thorn took his responsibility towards Astor very seriously. Doubtless he was prepared to die bravely and, if need be. go down with his ship in his employer’s interest and for the honor of his flag. But what his employer’s interests required of the skipper of the Tonquin was most of all humor and tact in dealing with the passengers. And neither humor nor tact was at all mentioned in any seaman’s manual ever perused by Captain Jonathan Thorn.
He took one look at the “winterers” and their voyageurs and despised them on sight for a shabby, roistering set of braggarts. He saw the partners sitting among the canoemen no naval commander ever sat thus with deck-swabbers ! smoking with them, passing the pipe from mouth to mouth in Indian fashion (a custom which affronted his sanitary soul) and roaring with them in chorus the in-numerable verses of À la claire fontaine, or Malbrouck. And he immediately wrote to Astor, in effect urging him to get rid of these noisy, useless knaves; who would do his project no good, besides being an offense to the eyes of a tidy man. When, at the first roll of the sea, partners, clerks, and voyageurs were overcome by seasickness, Thorn knew for certain that not one of them had ever done a man’s job in his life. They were falsifiers and fabricators. They had never seen the fur country where they claimed to have experienced wild adventures; they had gone no farther into the wilderness than the waterfront of Montreal; they were waiters, barbers, draymen, and scallywags. He doubted much if any one of the voyageurs had ever dipped a paddle. In Thorn’s experience, men who were accustomed to water did not get seasick. Yes, he had them there; it took a sailor to find these rogues out.
And what was the opinion of Thorn current among the ex-Nor’westers and their crew of paddlemen? We may readily imagine how the stiff and truculent naval dictator, with his set of rules, appeared to “Labrador” Stuart and to Mackay of Athabasca Mackay, who had made those miraculous journeys with Mackenzie men whose swift initiative had, time and time again, saved themselves and their comrades from sudden peril in the wilds. The voyageurs probably wondered by what right Thorn gave himself such airs, since all he had to do was to stand on the deck of a large stoutly made boat while the winds took it over the waves of broad open water without an obstruction. Put him in a frail bark canoe and let him run the boiling rapids, with great rocks, gnashing like the teeth of a devouring monster, to grind him to splinters. Would he, by a deft paddle-stroke, or a thrust of the pole, whirl his craft aside and send it flying past those jaws, like a feather on the spume? “Crayez! Moi, j’n’l’ crais pas!”
Into this mutual non-admiration society Astor sent farewell letters filled with wise advice. The partners were assured that Captain Thorn was a strict disciplinarian, a severe man, whose favor they should cultivate by very circumspect behavior; and Thorn was advised to prevent misunderstandings and to inspire the passengers with a spirit of good humor at all times. Here then was a setting and a cast prepared for either an excellent comedy or a bitter tragedy, according as circumstances should direct.
On September 8, 1810, the Tonquin was on her way out of the harbor of New York. That she was convoyed by the Constitution brings to mind certain facts and assumptions winch have an oblique bearing on the subsequent history of Astor’s enterprise. While the American Government did not take any part in Astor’s venture, its attitude was sympathetic. It may be said that he had the Government’s moral support in his large schemes for cornering the fur trade. And he had been readily granted an armed convoy to guard the Tonquin beyond the point where, it was rumored, a British man-of-war waited its chance to stop Astor’s vessel and impress the Canadians aboard of her. The presence of the British vessel was sup-posed to be due to the machinations of the North-West Company. But that supposition hardly shows agreement in motive with another assumption, namely, that some of the ex-Nor’westers on board the Tonquin, McDougal in particular, were still more loyal to their old company than to Astor. To be impressed into the British Navy would have prevented the opportunity they might have later to play the game on the coast in the interests of their Montreal friends. Some of them had already related Astor’s plans to the British consul in New York; and all of them had deceived Astor in the matter of the American naturalization on which he had insisted. The British man-of-war is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that England, in the midst of the colossal struggle with Napoleon, needed seamen and was not over particular how she got them.
All lights out and under convoy, the Tonquin slipped by safely and headed south.
The salt air gave the passengers lively appetites. They demanded food at all hours and cursed the sea-biscuit that mocked palates yearning for venison steaks. Thorn’s disgust increased daily. He viewed with contempt the various clerks who sat on deck scribbling down in their journals every-thing new to them that passed upon wave or sky. Did the ship sail by an island that looked inviting? At once there was a clamor to land and explore. There was almost a riot on board because Thorn refused to let his passengers off on the coast of Patagonia where, so they had heard, the natives were of huge size and strangely macle.
Occasionally it was necessary to make port because the supply of fresh water was low. The passengers would seize these opportunities to make explorations and to hunt penguins, sea-lions, or whatever game the coast afforded And, paying no attention to the ship’s signals to them to return, they would continue their amusement until it palled. The second or third time that delay occurred on their account the ship was then at the Falkland Islands, in December Thorn in a rage put to sea without them. Fortunately for the excursionists, the younger Stuart had remained on board. When Thorn refused to heave to and wait for the eight men who were desperately tugging after the Tonquin in the ship’s boat, young Stuart drew his pistol and threatened to shoot the captain through the head unless he shortened sail and let the boat come up. A shift of the wind rather than Stuart’s pistol slowed the Tonquin’s pace and the indignant sightseers were presently safe on board. In Thorn’s account of the matter to his employer, he deplores the shift of wind and asserts that it would have been to Astor’s advantage if the men had been left behind. It is probable that this incident did little to improve the relations between the captain and the partners, for discord continued uninterruptedly throughout the voyage, waxing fierce off Robinson Crusoe’s island in the Pacific, where the passengers wished to collect souvenirs.
On the 25th of December the Tonquin rounded Cape Horn and on the 12th of February put in at Hawaii and anchored in the bay of Karakakooa. Astor had given instructions as to the treatment of the natives of Hawaii, because he intended to establish trade with them. The ex-Nor’westers were thoroughly at home when it came to making the right impression on the Hawaiians. They had had experience in making friends with savages and knew that visits and councils and gifts, with-out haste, were the proper means. Thorn was interested only in securing a supply of hogs and fresh water for the ship, and he saw nothing but childish dilly-dallying in the conduct of his passengers with the natives. “Frantic gambols,” Thorn called the whole procedure.
The partners had distributed firearms to their men, while at Hawaii, so that no possible act of treachery on the part of the natives should catch them unprotected. But Thorn suspected them of plotting to seize the ship. He had visions of a bloody mutiny in which he would be deposed, perhaps murdered, and Astor’s enterprise would be ruined. He must have made his suspicion known, for the partners were soon playing upon it. They would make furtive signs, cease speaking English and converse in Gaelic, whenever Thorn came by. He wrote to Astor warning him about these “mysterious and unwarranted” conversations.
On March 22, 1811, the Tonquin stood off Cape Disappointment.
There was a high wind and a rough sea. On the hidden sand bars stretching almost across the entrance to the bay, the surf pounded and roared and leaped like Niagara. The ship hove to about three leagues from shore; and the Captain ordered Fox, the mate, with another sailor and three voyageurs, to take out the whaleboat and seek the channel. Fox begged for seamen to man the boat; but Thorn insisted that they could not be spared from their tasks on the ship. In desperation Fox appealed to the partners. They, in turn, argued with Thorn. The dangers were apparent. The whale-boat was a small ramshackle affair not fit to dare such a sea as now raced over the bar; the voyageurs were skilled in their special work as canoemen, but they had no knowledge of the sea. Fox was unfortunate in his emissaries. They merely stiffened the Captain’s back. To Thorn, these were the men who had held his ship up while they hunted penguins, who had baited him in Gaelic and mocked his dignity with too much singing. Now they were trying to interfere with his management of his ship, were they?
At one o’clock in the afternoon the whaleboat left the ship. Those on deck watched it until it was hidden by the cataracts of surf. All the after-noon they waited for the boat’s return with news of the channel. They waited through the night. Morning broke. The wind had slackened; the sea was calmer. The Tonquin sailed in nearer to shore. All that day the watchers on deck looked out hoping to descry the whaleboat emerging through the high roaring surf between the capes; and all day they saw nothing but the white hounds of the sea rushing at full cry across the bar. Darkness fell, and the ship moved out to safer water.
Next morning the Tonquin cast anchor near to the Cape. The pinnace was manned and lowered Thorn could spare seamen today and “Labrador” Stuart and Alexander Mackay went with the crew. The surf forced a retreat and Stuart and Mackay returned to the ship. Then Thorn headed the Tonquin towards the entrance, but he dared not attempt to find the channel through the piling breakers. Once again the pinnace was lowered, again to be driven back. Thorn sent it out a third time with orders to sound ahead while the ship followed. Aiken, the seaman in charge of the pinnace, having found the channel, attempted to re-turn to the ship at a signal from Thorn. The boat was near enough to the Tonquin for those on board to hear the cries for help that rose as the waves suddenly swirled the little craft about and swept it away towards the bar. Dusk was falling, and presently the pinnace was lost to view. The Tonquin, still heading in, was in a perilous way. She was striking frequently in the narrow channel and the breakers washed over her. At length the tide rose and the flow carried her in beyond the cape. She dropped anchor in the bay.
In the morning, search parties were sent out along the beach. Presently the party headed by Thorn came upon Weekes, one of the men who had been in the pinnace. His boat had been swamped. He and a Sandwich Islander, one of the crew, had reached land. Another Sandwich ][slander’s body was washed ashore during the day. No trace was to be found of the other white men who had been in the pinnace, nor of the whaleboat and its crew.
The Tonquin had first anchored off Cape Disappointment on the 22d of March. Three days and nights had passed before those now aboard of her had looked over the safe waters of Baker’s Bay behind the promontory. And eight men had perished.
There were clerks on board the Tonquin and they set down in their diaries, in detail, every incident of those seventy-two hours of terror. They wrote of the aspect of the coast, of the sound and fearful appearance of the breakers running mountain high, of the sunken bars that wreck ships. And after them came Washington Irving, man of letters. Irving read their journals and talked with other sailors who had adventured through the perils of that place; and he pictured faithfully, albeit discursively in the literary fashion of his day, the danger and the terror which Nature had set to guard the entrance to the River of the West. But our minds go back to the log-book of the discoverer of that river. And we begin to see the nature of the feat Robert Gray was recording when he jotted down those few terse sentences:
Being within six miles of the land, saw an entrance in the same. . . . At half past three bore away and ran in northeast by east, having from four to eight fathoms, sandy bottom; and, as we drew in nearer between the bars, had from ten to thirteen fathoms, having a very strong tide of ebb to stem. . . . At five P.M. came to . . . in a safe harbor.
No; Robert Gray was not a writer. But he appears to have been a seaman.
Now began a series of squabbles between Thorn and the partners concerning a site for the fort. Thorn was for rigging up a shelter on the bay shore. There he could deposit the stores and goods for the trading post at once, and then be off up the coast for sea otter. McDougal and the others, experienced in such matters, insisted on seeking a site up the river where situation would offer some points of natural defense. The site selected by McDougal was on Point George about twelve miles up the stream. Here was a sheltered harbor where small vessels could anchor within fifty yards of the beach. The Tonquin rode at anchor off the point, and the Captain fumed as days and weeks flitted by while the partners directed the building of the fort, with its living quarters, storehouse, and powder magazine, or knocked off work to hold council with inquisitive swarms of Indians led by their chief, old Comcomly, the one-eyed. Since the one gentleman was on ship and the other on shore, Thorn and McDougal could no longer match each other in spoken invective. So they sent splenetic epistles back and forth across the little stretch of water. By the end of May, however, the fort was completed. It was built of bark-covered logs and was enclosed in a stockade of log palings and mounted with guns after the model of the fur-trading forts in the North. In honor of John Jacob Astor it was named Astoria. On the 1st of June, the Tonquin, with Alexander Mackay and a clerk named Lewis aboard, took sail. A strong wind held her back within the bay for four days, but on the fifth she crossed the bar and turned northward towards Vancouver Island.
While the Tonquin was moving on her way and the men at Astoria were busy with their final touches to the fort and in planting various grain and vegetable seeds which they had brought with them, another fort was in building far up on the north branch of the Columbia at the mouth of the Spokane. The man who was building that fort was David Thompson, the Nor’wester.
In the autumn of the previous year (1810) Thompson had set out from Fort William to make his way to the Columbia. The natural route for him lay through the Rockies from the North Saskatchewan. But this pass was closed to him by the Piegans. He had been obliged, therefore, to ascend the Athabaska and to cross the mountains through the thick snows of Athabaska Pass. The crossing occupied weeks. It was nearly the end of January when Thompson and his men reached the Columbia near the mouth of the Canoe River. There they camped until spring.
In June Thompson was building his fort on the Spokane; and Indians were passing the news from village to village down the Columbia, till presently this spicy bit of wilderness gossip was retailed to the citizens of Astoria. The Astorians supposed that the men of whom they heard these tidings were Astor’s Overlanders. But, one day in the middle of July, a canoe swept down towards the fort, with the British flag flying. McDougal and the Stuarts, who had rushed to the shore to welcome Astor’s Overlanders, greeted instead the old crony of their grand battle days in Canada. Thompson was tossed from one rough embrace to another, then carried into the fort and, with his party of eight men, treated to the best that Astoria afforded. In consideration of Thompson’s errand it has been customary to censure McDougal and the other partners for their reception of him; but on reflection it seems easy to take a more human view of the matter. It would require more than business rivalry or business loyalty to make such men forget what their long comradeship in the wilderness had meant to them in times when each had proved his claim to that “Fortitude in Distress,” which had welded the Nor’westers into a clan, hardy and proud. Then, too, Thompson with his record of skill and success under enormous difficulties must have been a welcome relief to McDougal and the Stuarts after their long session with Jonathan Thorn, whose stupidity and obstinacy had sent eight lives into eclipse before ever a log of Astor’s fort was laid in place. When Thompson ascended the river which, now, he had explored from its source to its mouth he was well provided with food and other necessaries. David Stuart, with several clerks and voyageurs, set out at the same time to find good sites for trading posts. And, when he and Thompson parted company, Stuart acted in Astor’s interests and stole a march on the Nor’wester by choosing a site at the mouth of the Okanogan where he could compete for the trade which Thompson was expecting to attract to his fort on the Spokane. There Stuart established himself. Thompson in the meantime was faring north again through the mountains to put in the trapping season among the Salish and then to take the long route by lake and river to Montreal.
At Astoria the little colony now began eagerly to watch for the sails of the Tonquin. It was a watch kept in vain. The history of the Tonquin after she crossed the bar is barely more than a rumor, for the diarists at Astoria set down only so far as they were able to understand it the story told them by an Indian interpreter who was the only man to escape alive from the scene of disaster.
The Tonquin proceeded from Baker’s Bay to Clayoquot on Vancouver Island. Here she dropped anchor and signaled for trade. This was done against the entreaties of the interpreter, who warned Captain Thorn that the natives of Nootka and Clayoquot were hostile and treacherous. Thorn was not one to listen to warnings. Ile was a courageous man, but he seems not to have been able to differentiate between fear and caution in other men. Not only did he insist on trading in that region, but he ignored all advice about letting the natives aboard only in very small numbers. He knew nothing of Indian character nor of the patience and tact which must be used in meeting their annoying methods of barter. One day, when Mackay had gone ashore, Thorn spread out the goods for trade and proceeded to tell the Indians precisely what he would give for each otter-skin. The natives understood neither Thorn nor his ways. They demanded more and still more. He refused to trade with them at all. His anger only served to arouse their mockery and insolence. One old chief, who had led the others in bidding up the prices, pattered about the deck after Thorn, poking an otter-skin at him and alternately quoting a price and hurling a gibe. In exasperation Thorn snatched the pelt and smacked the chief’s face with it. Then he thrust the old native off the deck and kicked the furs about. The Indians gathered up their pelts and made for the shore in a fury.
When Mackay returned and learned what had taken place, he urged Thorn to set sail at once. Mackay knew the vengeful Indian temper. Thorn treated his counsel with contempt. Had they not cannon and firearms on board? Then why should they run from a band of naked savages? He re-fused to make any preparations against a surprise attack and turned in for the night.
Before Thorn or Mackay was awake in the early morning the Indians came alongside in their huge canoes and made signs to the man on watch that they had come to trade. They were apparently unarmed. As no orders to the contrary had been issued, the Indians were allowed on board. Canoes clustered about the ship with both men and women in them. The women remained in the canoes while the men clambered over the ship’s sides. Mackay and Thorn hastily came on deck, and Mackay again urged the captain to weigh anchor. Thorn re-fused. The Indians offered to trade on terms satisfactory to Thorn and pelts were soon rapidly changing hands. The principal articles demanded in trade were blankets and knives. The blankets the men threw overboard into the canoes, but the knives they kept in their hands. As soon as each man had sold his furs and received his exchange, he moved off and took up a position on another part of the deck. By the time that the furs were all disposed of, there were several armed natives grouped advantageously near to every white man on deck.
The anchor was being weighed, men had gone aloft to make sail, and the captain ordered the decks cleared. With a yell, the Indians began the real work they had come there to do,.
Lewis, the clerk, was stabbed in the back as he leaned over a bale of blankets and fell down the companionway. Mackay, who was sitting on the taffrail, was clubbed. He fell overboard and was received on the knives of the women in the canoes. Thorn made a fierce fight for his life. He was a big burly man of great strength, and he laid one or two Indians low with his fists and a clasp-knife before he was clubbed down and stabbed to death. Every white man on deck fell. There were seven men aloft. Four of them escaped by leaping through the hatch. They reached the cabin where they found the wounded Lewis. Here the five men barricaded themselves in, cut holes for their firearms, and began pouring out a fire that drove the natives back to their canoes and to the shore.
During the night the four men who were unhurt lowered the ship’s boat and stole out upon the tide, with the desperate resolve of trying to row back to Astoria. When morning came the Indians, reconnoitering from a safe distance, saw a white man on deck. It was evident that he was badly hurt and very weak. He made friendly signs to them, inviting them on board. The opportunity for rich plunder was too alluring to be resisted. Presently a few natives climbed over the taffrail. The deck was empty save for the furs, the bales of blankets, and other merchandise. The one survivor had crawled below again; and there was no sign of the other men whose musket fire had driven off the savages after their victory of the preceding day. They signaled to their tribesmen who were lingering at a safe distance. And it was not long before the deck was thronged with Indians, while crowded canoes, rocking on the tide, rubbed against the ship’s sides.
But, if yesterday had seen an Indian’s vengeance, today was to see a white man’s. Satisfied at last with the numbers of his foes which he had lured on board the Tonquin and about her, this sole survivor dragged himself to the powder magazine. The natives on shore heard a sound new to them and more terrible than the roar of the Thunder-God; it was the one note of a dying white man’s war song. The Tonquin was blown into slivers by the explosion and the bay was strewn with bits of what had once been human bodies. Of over a hundred warriors who had been jauntily gathering the spoils on deck, only a few gruesome traces were washed ashore. Those in the canoes also suffered havoc. A number were killed; many were wounded and mangled.
There was mourning in Clayoquot. The death fires burned along the shore; and wailing was heard in the great cedar houses which, last night, had echoed to the savage chant of triumph.
But a day or so later the sea cast up to the Clayoquots a sacrifice to appease the spirits of their slain. The four seamen who had left the Tonquin in the mad hope of reaching Astoria were captured as they slept in a cave. They were dragged to the village and were put to death after prolonged torture.
In substance, this was the story which the interpreter told to the Astorians when at last he arrived at the mouth of the Columbia with an Indian fishing fleet. Rumors had already reached the little colony by other Indians from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, who had come to the bay for sturgeon fishing. Indian gossip credited the Russians with having instigated the attack on the Tonquin. In-deed, the Indians still maintain that the attacks on American ships in those years were due to Russian influence.
The story of the Tonquin’s fate and the depletion of the little colony, through the departure of Stuart and his party to the new inland trading post, moved the Indians on the lower Columbia to ask themselves whether they really desired the presence of the white men at Astoria. The vote was in the negative. McDougal knew Indians. Therefore he was quickly suspicious when he found them unwilling to trade and, in fact, deserting the fort where they had so recently made themselves very much at home. He set his men to work at once, strengthening barricades, putting guns in place, and making other preparations against at-tack. Then, all being in readiness, McDougal sent for Comcomly and other headmen, charged them with their perfidy, and vowed a terrible vengeance if they did not immediately mend their ways. He knew how terrified the natives were of the smallpox, which they believed to be the work of a devil. McDougal held up a corked bottle, declaring that it contained the spirit of the smallpox. Unless they behaved he would let loose that disfiguring and devastating devil. Hastily they assured him that they would behave. He was the greatest of all great chiefs. They would certainly behave.
McDougal, as time went on so we learn thought it best not to rely entirely upon the super-natural. Suppose a jealous medicine man were to steal the bottle and drop it to the bottom of the river? Such a contingency was not at all improbable. For the cement of good-will natural means would serve better than supernatural in the long run. So at last there came a day when the old Nor’wester girded himself with amity and put fair words in his mouth and went a-wooing. After sufficient gifts and palaver had been exchanged, one of the many Misses Comcomly became Mistress McDougal.
Presumably the marriage was a happy one, for it inspired other Astorians to seek connubial bliss. And, in time, old Comcomly, the one-eyed, came to be known as “the father-in-law of Astoria.”