For the first three or four years after the settlement of Montana, a favorite mode of returning to the States was by Mackinaw boat, down one or both of the two great rivers whose upper waters traverse the Territory. The water trip, if not less exposed to Indian attack, was pleasanter, less laborious and expensive, and sooner accomplished than the long, weary journey by the plains.
The upper portions, both of the Missouri and Yellowstone, pass through a country abounding in some of the grandest, most unique, and most richly diversified scenery on the continent. Of themselves the rivers are very beautiful,-their waters pure, cold, broken into frequent rapids; at one moment passing through tremendous canyons and gorges; at the next, babbling along wide-spread meads; and anon, as if by a transformation of enchantment, dashing into the midst of a desolation which realizes all the descriptive horrors of Dante's "Inferno," -they afford to the eye a greater variety of picturesque beauty than any of the other great rivers of the continent. A journey down them in a Mackinaw boat is an incident to fill a prominent place in the most adventurous life.
The point selected for embarkation on the Yellowstone was about twelve miles above the spot where Captain Clark started on his descent of the river, when returning from the famous expedition of 1804-06. An isolated grove of lofty cottonwoods has grown upon the only soil within miles, under the overhanging crags of a canyon whose sombre walls lift themselves three thousand feet or more into the atmosphere. The river glides through those strong jaws with the swiftness and silence of a huge serpent escaping its pursuers, forming an eddy just in front of the grove, which, being convenient of access, was early selected as a favorable place for the construction of boats and embarkation of companies.
At this grove, in the fall of 1865, a company of six hundred persons commenced, in forty-three boats of different patterns, the long journey of three thousand miles to the States. The distance to the mouth of the Yellowstone was eight hundred and twenty miles, and little more was known of its general character at that time than could be derived from the geographical memoir written by Captain Clark sixty years before. A gentleman who belonged to the party has informed me that, after the first day's sail, he had learned to confide so fully in this narrative for geographical accuracy, that he was enabled to anticipate, long before reaching them, every prominent landmark and rapid mentioned in it. No better geographers than Lewis and Clark have, since their time, visited the country which they explored; but their book, valuable as it must ever prove for its historical and topographical accuracy, left untold the surpassing grandeur and novelty of the scenes through which they passed. There is not a river in the world which, for its entire length of one thousand miles, presents with the same grandeur and magnificence so much of novelty and variety in the stupendous natural architecture that adorns its banks. Its source is in a beautiful lake, unlike, in general character and appearance, any other body of water on the globe. It is surrounded by innumerable warm and hot springs, sulphur deposits, and mud volcanoes. At a few miles distance is the largest geyser basin in the world, and close at hand stupendous cataracts and beautiful cascades. Here, too, is a canyon which for forty miles of distance is filled with physical wonders, so numerous, strange, and various as to defy description, and most surpass comprehension.
The wonders of the Upper Yellowstone were first brought to the knowledge of the people of Montana, by David E. Folsom and C.W. Cook; though there is good reason to believe that they were seen by the soldiers of Captain Bonneville's command as early as 1834, and that Washington Irving, in the preparation of the report of that officer's expedition, was furnished with a description of them which he rejected as too incredible for belief. Mr. Folsom had often heard vague and uncertain rumors of the strange phenomena to be seen near the head waters of the Snake and Yellowstone Rivers. He was told that the Indians, taking counsel of their superstitious fears, believed that region to be the abode of evil spirits, and in their nomadic journeyings carefully avoided all approach to it. This story, gathering in volume and embellishment as it was circulated through the mining camps, so wrought up his curiosity that, in July, 1869, he and Mr. Cook made a partial exploration of the region to solve their doubts. Bewildered and astounded at the marvels they beheld, they were unwilling to risk their reputations for veracity by a full recital of them to a small company of citizens of Helena, assembled to hear the account of their explorations; Mr. Folsom, however, published a careful account of his expedition in 1870, in the Chicago Western Monthly, and this, with such information as could be gleaned from him, led to the organization, in August, 1870, of the Washburn exploring expedition, of which the writer was a member. The range of discoveries was so greatly extended by this latter expedition, and by the additions made a year afterwards by Professor Hayden, that Congress was induced to set apart the entire locality as a National Park.
Two hundred miles below this immense field of novelties, we arrived at the mouth of the canyon whence the river has been of late years frequently navigated, by Mackinaw and flat boats, to its union with the Missouri. Of this portion, but little has yet been written except by scientific explorers. For the first eighty miles of the distance, the river, almost a continuous rapid, rolls between gently undulating banks, dotted at intervals with clumps of stunted pines. Frequent ledges of rock jut into the stream, and wherever a bend or projection has served to arrest the flow of debris in time of flood, or catch the detritus washed from the rocks, a little bottom affords sustenance to a dense growth of majestic cottonwoods.
This feature is prominent in the river scenery until the stream enters the Bad Lands four hundred miles below the canyon. These groves, unlike the irregular groves that adorn the Eastern rivers, present to the voyager a straight regular outline on all sides, a feature imparted to them by the beavers, which cut down unsparingly both great and small trees outside the given spaces. This perfect regularity, always at right angles with the upland shore, gives to these frequent groves the appearance of artificial cultivation, and in the very midst of one of the most boundless solitudes in the world, the observer frequently finds himself indulging a thought that there may be some old mediaeval castle still standing within the shadow of these trees.
After one has sailed about eighty miles, and finds himself descending an expansive reach of the river, the eye is suddenly attracted by the appearance on the right of an immense and seemingly interminable ridge of yellow rocks, very high, precipitous, and crowned along its summit by a forest of stunted pines. It is several miles distant, and its sheer, vertical sides gleam in the sunlight like massive gold. Far away it stretches seemingly on an air line beyond the field of vision, presenting few inequalities of surface, and none of the features of ordinary mountain scenery.
The Happy Valley of Rasselas was not more strongly protected against outside intrusions by the precipices surrounding than is this portion of the Yellowstone Valley from all access by those who dwell beyond this ridge of sandstone.
At a distance of ten miles or more from where it first appears, the river has worn its way through it. We enter the massive gorge. Higher and higher rise the gleaming cliffs, seemingly straight up from the river's bed, until sunlight disappears, and the blue sky above you spans like a roof the confronting crags. The illusion vanishes with decreasing height, the gloom painted in darkness upon the frightened stream grows again into sunlight, and for the next few miles you pass through banks of green adorned on either hand with citadels, temples, towers, turrets, spires, and castellated ruins, all deftly wrought by the wind and rain upon the exposed portions of the yellow rock. Neither the Hudson, with its green hills and massive knobs, nor the Columbia, with its crags and beetling cliffs, presents anything at all comparable to this. At one moment you look up at the sheer sides of a temple wrought into a form not unlike that of Edfou or Denderah, except as it surpasses them in its magnificent dimensions, all its sides presenting in the vitrified fractures of the layers of rock, regular rows of seeming hieroglyphics, and its conical, time-worn summit, gray and smooth with the frosts and storms of centuries. A little beyond stand the remains of a castle; and still farther on, seemingly equidistant from each other, three or four stately towers; then comes a massive citadel of stone, with embrasures, walls, and portholes, all the apparent paraphernalia of a mighty fortress.
These scenes, with all the variety that Nature observes in her works, occur at intervals of thirty or forty miles, every time the river penetrates the ridge, for a distance of two hundred miles; and all the way between these passages, on one side or the other of the beautiful stream, you behold stretching along upon the most exact of natural lines the pine-crowned ridge itself, skirted by meadow reaching to the margin. Before quite losing this grand exhibition, the river, fed by Clark's Fork, the Rosebud, and the Big Horn, changes its character. The waters become dark and turbid, and spread out to more than a mile in width. The valley expands correspondingly, and the foot-hills and mountains are more distant. About midway of this passage through the yellow sandstone, Pompey's Pillar, a table of rock separated by the river from the main ridge, stands isolated, towering to a height of several hundred feet over the plain, on the brink opposite. Its summit of less than half an acre, accessible with difficulty on the inland side, according to Captain Clark, affords an extensive view of the surrounding country.
At the mouth of the Big Horn the last view of the Rocky Mountains, which thus far have enlivened the scenery with their varied phenomena of storm and sunlight, fades upon the vision, and your voyage lies for several miles through a richer agricultural region than any you have yet seen. Here are fine meadows covered with bunch-grass, and, upon the distant hills, herds of elk, flocks of mountain sheep, antelope, and deer. The temptation, often too great to be resisted, makes the hunter forgetful of the Crows and Sioux, and sometimes lures him to his death. The rapids now become less frequent, though several of them are more formidable. At one point, where the river passes through the ridge for a distance of six miles, it has no channel of sufficient depth to float an ordinary Mackinaw, and voyagers are obliged by main force to push their boats into the pool below. Captain Clark gave to this obstruction the name of Buffalo Shoals. A few miles below this he saw, in the midst of a formidable rapid, a grizzly bear upon a rock, and gave to the place the name of Bear Rapids.
The early hunters and trappers of the Northwest found no region more favorable for their pursuit than the central valley of the Yellowstone. Here came Ashley, and Bridger, and Culbertson, and Sarpie, as early as 1817. The latter built a fort, which he called Fort Alexander, some remains of which are still standing on the margin of one of the most delightful meadows in the valley.
The last and most fearful rapid of the Yellowstone is near the mouth of the Tongue River, and was named by Captain Clark, Wolf Rapid, because he killed a wolf near it. The river is here lashed into a fury. The roar of the rapid is heard for several miles, and the tossing spray and seething foam can be seen at considerable distance. The experiment of descending it has much to excite the fears of a person unaccustomed to river travels, but as yet it has been unmarked by accident.
Below this rapid we enter upon the last one hundred and eighty miles between us and the Missouri. The river, which to this point has displayed its beauties in long reaches of ten and twelve miles, now becomes crooked like the Missouri. Its banks are constantly crumbling, and its channel as constantly shifting. Everything in sight but adds to the desolation of the scenery, and the traveller finds it hard to realize that he is sailing on the game river which he beheld but yesterday so gloriously arrayed. The same general features are apparent to its mouth. It is much larger and wider than the Missouri at its junction with it, and increases to more than twice its size the latter, which, as all are aware, for more than a thousand miles below the Yellowstone has fewer attractions than any other river in the world.
Not so, however, the upper Missouri. That, like the Yellowstone, passes through a picturesque and beautiful country. From its source, where the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin unite to form it, to Fort Benton, a distance of two hundred miles, it exhibits a great variety of interesting and stupendous scenery, both of water, valley, rock, and mountain. There are the Great Falls, the Gate of the Mountains, and the passage of the river through numerous canyons, which, in any other portion of the country than the mountains and rocks of Montana, would be unparalleled for grandeur and sublimity.
Fort Benton, one of the early posts built by the American and Northwestern Fur Companies, is at the virtual head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri, in the midst of a country formerly occupied by the Blackfeet Indians,-the most implacable of all the mountain tribes in their hatred of the whites. From the time of the arrival of the first settlers of Montana in 1862, until the completion of railroads into the Territory, Fort Benton was the commercial depot of the Territory. During the period of high water every spring it is visited by steamboats freighted at St. Louis with merchandise for the great number of traders in the interior towns. A considerable town has sprung up within the shadows of the old post.
A trip from Fort Benton to the States in a Mackinaw, though full of danger, was always inviting, while the same trip by the overland stage, though comparatively safe, was ever repulsive. In the later part of August, 1866, Andrew J. Simmons, a citizen of Helena, and ten companions, after a wagon journey of one hundred and forty miles, alighted on the levee at Fort Benton, en route to the States. In a letter to me descriptive of this journey, Mr. Simmons writes,-
"The varied fortunes and migrating tendencies of the gold miner, in following the great periodical excitements, had cast our lots together through rough and pleasant places, through adversity and prosperity in many of the mining camps of the Pacific slope; and now, having accomplished a successful mining season in the Rocky Mountains, a visit to home and friends was determined upon by descending the Missouri river in a Mackinaw. In three days our craft was completed. She was as stanch as pine lumber and nails could make her. She was thirty-three feet in length, seven and a half feet beam, and ten inches rake. Sharp at both ends, and ample for our accommodation, she was a trim built, rakish-looking craft, which rode the current majestically, and challenged the admiration of all observers.
"Delighted with the success of our experiment in boat-building, and animated with hope of a safe and speedy passage through the two thousand miles of hostile Indian country, we quickly deposited our personal effects and various creature comforts in the little vessel, which we called 'The Self Riser,' and got everything in readiness for embarkation. We felt, indeed, that the bright visions of home, which had cheered us through many years of wandering, were soon to be realized. We had just taken a parting glass with the friends assembled on the levee to witness our departure, and the farewell hand-shaking and good wishes were in progress, when a young man, seemingly not more than twenty, approached me, and in an imploring voice and manner asked a passage with us down the river. There was something so touching in the low, sad tones of his voice, and his subdued manner, that I involuntarily, and on the instant, found myself deeply interested in him. He was a stranger to us all, but his pleasant, honest face, lit up by a pair of expressive eyes, disarmed all suspicions unfavorable to his character; and it was with real regret that I told him, with a view of breaking my refusal lightly as possible, that our party was made up of old comrades, who had seen much service together, and had jointly outfitted for the trip with the understanding that the company should not be increased.
"I was about to turn away and join my comrades, who had already got into the boat, when he persisted,-
"'For the love of God, sir, do not refuse me! I am here alone among strangers, and have met with many misfortunes in this country. If you do not take me, I shall lose my last chance of returning to my friends and relatives.'
"I could not resist the power of this appeal. After a few words of hasty consultation with my companions, it was agreed that the young man should accompany us. Never shall I forget his look of mingled joy and gratitude when I told him to come on board. Our moorings were then cut loose, and with many a shout and cheer we bore down upon the rapid current.
When night approached we did not, as was usual with voyagers, make land and remain until morning, but sailed on, bringing to for the first time early in the afternoon of the next day at the mouth of Judith River. There we made camp under the branching cottonwoods, one hundred and forty miles from our place of embarkation. Our larder had been replenished on the trip with three fat antelopes and a buffalo cow, shot from the boat as we floated along. We had also contrived to form the acquaintance of our new passenger, but without learning much of his history. There was something about him when questioned as to his life in the mountains which impressed us with the idea that he was guarding a secret it would cost him great pain to reveal. Respect for his sensibility soon overcame all curiosity on the subject, and so the poor boy was only known to us by the unromantic name of 'Johnny.' His skill with the pistol, exhibited on several occasions on our first day out, won him the favor of every man in the party.
We all felt that in his way 'Johnny' was one of us, but his way was not like ours. We soon discovered that the rough life to which we had been accustomed had no charms for him. He neither indulged in coarse jokes himself nor enjoyed them in others, no profane expressions escaped his lips, and we were kept constantly upon our guard by some indescribable delicacy of demeanor on his part, which commanded our respect. Neither could we impose on him any of the severe toil of the voyage, but in all the lighter duties no man was more faithful than he, nor more grateful for relief from any labor that overtasked his strength.
"We had feasted to repletion on antelope and buffalo at our first camping place, and when the hour for resting came, the question arose what should be done with Johnny. He had no blankets, and there was no alternative but that Humphrey and I should give him a place with us. So he became our joint bedfellow for the trip.
"We left at dawn, and before mid-day entered upon that marvellous tract of country which as yet has received no more appropriate name than the 'Bad Lands.' This significant title, translated from the original French, Mauvaises Terres, has been given to an immense tract of barren country stretching for more than a thousand miles along the Missouri and Yellowstone; but the portion to which I here allude is but a single and remarkable feature of this vast earthen desert, and should receive a more distinctive appellation. The Missouri at this point, for a distance of thirty miles or more, passes through a ledge of talcose rock. Its color is a dusky white. Twelve miles of this distance the entire face of the rock upon either bank of the river has been eroded by the elements into countless forms, which suggest a thousand resemblances to artificial and natural objects, in some instances so exact as almost to deceive a casual observer. No other spot in the world has yet been discovered which can boast of such an extensive display of eroded rock. The river is confined between precipitous banks a hundred or more feet in height, and all along the jagged and broken surface, extending from the edge of these vertical walls beyond the range of vision, these objects are distributed. It seems as if all the pantheons and art galleries of the world had been emptied of their contents here. In one place is an immense round table with a large company gathered around, realizing at a single glance the legendary stories of Arthur and his knights. Through a little nook may be seen a number of forms that will remind one of the Saviour and his disciples. Then again suddenly springs into view a large gathering of people, as if assembled upon some public occasion. Men in every position, women, angels, animals, mausoleums, may be seen, and in their immediate vicinity are larger forms suggestive of dwellings, churches, and cottages. On the extreme point of one of the bends in the river stands the most exquisitely fretted castle of imperial dimensions; spires, minarets, towers, and domes scattered over it in great profusion. This single object is larger than the Capitol at Washington. One nearly as large, and presenting points of great interest, stands diagonal from it, on the opposite side of the river. Buildings with long lines of colonnades, citadels with embrasured parapets and bastions at their several angles, may be seen on every hand. The exhibition is very beautiful, and so unlike any other exhibition of natural art as to excite the wonder not less than the admiration of all beholders. The difference between these and the eroded rocks of the Yellowstone is in color and size. The Missouri erosions are much more delicate, and not confined to architectural forms alone, but they embrace statuary, furniture, vessels, chariots, and almost every object in the natural world. They are, moreover, nearly white, and their surfaces gleam in the sunlight with all the beauty of polished marble. Awestruck at the multiplicity and grandeur of the various objects which met our gaze, we floated through this region of wonders as silently as if it had been a city of the dead. It did not seem possible as we sailed under the shadow of these immense citadels, that they were the mere creations of the elements, and had never been the abodes of men.
"The navigation of a Mackinaw boat over this portion of the river was intensely interesting. Our light craft, impelled by sails and a rapid current, easily at the command of the helmsman, would sheer around the huge rocks and dash through the foaming rapids, sweeping bends, crooked channels, and innumerable islands and sandbars. The scene was constantly changing, and new objects of interest presented themselves at every turn.
"Early on the morning of the third day, one of our company fired at a black-tailed deer, standing midway to the summit of a lofty cliff. The animal rolled down the declivity almost to the water's edge. The shot was pronounced remarkable. Out of compliment to the skill of the marksman, as well as to appease the cravings of appetite, we immediately landed, built a fire, and proceeded to roast and 'scoff,' after the approved manner of hunters, the tender ribs and haunches, furnishing a meal which all agreed surpassed anything known to the modern cuisine. Perhaps this was attributable to the fact that we were hungry, but then the delicious flavor of the venison was not spoiled by villainous cookery. Our dessert consisted of canned fruit and coffee, the whole moistened with a moderate flow of Bourbon drunk from tin cups. After our repast was finished, we resumed our journey in the happiest mood, with the spirit and dash of adventurers who felt themselves equal to any emergency. At noon we came upon the steamboat Luella, which, owing to the falling of the river, had left Fort Benton some weeks before, and was lying below Dauphin's Rapids, where her passengers, who were coming down in small boats, were to join her for the trip to St. Louis. The river, which owes its spring flood to the early rains and dissolving snows in the mountain ranges, seldom affords sufficient depth later than July for steamboats to pass over Dauphin's and Dead-Man's Rapids, the two great obstructions to its upper navigation. Indeed it was matter of speculation whether the Luella would be able at this late period in the season to make the trip until after another rise. We remained long enough to exchange compliments with Captain Marsh, and presenting him with a quantity of game for his lady passengers, resumed our voyage.
"While descending the river the forenoon of the next day, we saw on the right bank half a mile ahead, three monster bears. They were taking a social drink from the river. As soon as they had finished, they strolled leisurely up the bank and disappeared in the cottonwoods. Landing at the spot, all hands seized their weapons and started enthusiastically in pursuit of them. We followed their huge tracks in the sand up a low coulee, to the top of the bluff, and there formed in line and proceeded by the flank into the chaparral, their tracks growing larger and fresher as we advanced, until suddenly the huge monsters confronted us at a distance of about thirty paces. Seated on their haunches, their heads towering above the shrubbery, jaws extended, and paws swaying to and fro, they by short and eager snuffs, growls, and snaps, gave us an acute sense of the danger we had mistaken for sport. Our appetite for bear meat weakened much quicker than it came, and old 'Forty-niner,' who had served a long apprenticeship in California, coming up at this moment, on seeing the animals, raised and fired his rifle, shouting in a voice of terror, 'Holy Jupiter! They are grizzlies!' and turned and ran like a demoralized jackrabbit in the direction of the boat. Suddenly recollecting that it was the black bear and not the grizzly we were in pursuit of, we all followed his example. Humphrey, slowly bringing up the rear, proposed that we should 'give them a round.' To this I assented, but urged as a preliminary that we should get out of the brush and within striking distance of the boat. Before we could do so, however, the foremost bear made a plunge for Humphrey, who, facing him, with his gun at his shoulder, fired with so true an aim, that the great beast with a somersault fell forward at his feet, and with a roar of pain expired. The cub, two-thirds the size of its dam, seeing her fall, turned and fled, leaving the way open for the attack of the sire, a grand old fellow who sounded instantly to the charge, and came crashing through the thicket upon us. It was a moment for action. We opened upon him with a terrible bombardment from our Henry rifles. In less time than a minute we had fired thirty one balls into him. In his endeavors to reach us, and in his rage and agony, he executed some tremendous feats of ground and lofty tumbling. The woods echoed to his howlings, and in a frantic manner he tore up the earth and broke down the saplings for a considerable space around. The chaparral cracked beneath the strokes of his paws, and large pieces of rotten logs were scattered in all directions. His pluck should have won him a more glorious fate, for with all his efforts to attack us, he died without inflicting any harm, and his death roar, reverberating through the forest, summoned our frightened companions, who, with 'Forty-niner' in the van, returned in time to be in at the death. 'Johnny,' my faithful henchman, with revolver in hand, reserving fire for a last contingency, had stood near while the fight was progressing. He now came forward and warmly congratulated Humphrey and myself on our victory. We took the hind quarters of our prize on board, and nailed one of the huge paws as a trophy, to the top of our jackstaff, and floated on.
"Toward evening we descried a party of white men on the right bank, hove to, and went ashore. They proved to be a party of seven, engaged in chopping wood for steamboats. They were living in a little shanty, and intended to remain through the winter. When the boats came up, in the early spring, they expected to make a profitable sale of their wood, and go to some less exposed country. During the winter they designed to increase their wealth by hunting and trapping for furs. These men were armed with Hawkins rifles, which, being muzzle-loading, were greatly inferior to the breech-loading cartridge guns then in use. We warned them of their danger, but with the energy and enterprise they possessed also the courage and recklessness of all pioneers. They said they were ready to take their chances. Poor fellows! The chances were too strong for them, for only a few days afterwards a body of Sioux Indians came upon them. They made a desperate defense, but were overpowered and every one of them massacred.
"The eighth day of our voyage was mild and lovely. We had floated seven hundred miles without accident. Each day had been crowded with events of interest, and our adventures had all been crowned with success. These, with our resources for humor, and a general disposition to see only the ludicrous side of passing incidents, made us cheerful and goodhumored even to boisterousness. Sometimes, even in the midst of mirth, the thought of our constant exposure to Indian attack would operate as an unpleasant restraint. But we did not shirk the subject, or fail for a moment to look it steadily in the face. Most of our company knew what Indian fighting meant, and some had had experience. Three had followed under the banner of the writer, on the sunny slopes of the distant Pacific, when gallantry and honor had called for volunteers for the defense of firesides against savage forays. In early times upon the Middle Yuba, when Bill Junes the packer and five others were ruthlessly murdered, it was 'Forty-niner' who sounded the tocsin of war and led the daylight attack down the winding gorge upon a Digger ranchero, to its total annihilation. Our uniform experience had been that where civilized jarred with savage nature, a conflict was inevitable, and the pioneer had fought his own battles unaided. Government had done little for his protection, and less for the savage.
"Occasionally this subject would obtrude itself upon our thoughts, and we would discuss it in its personal aspects, always resolving to be on our guard against surprise and attack. But the prestige of successful adventure made us careless, and a latent sentiment of pride and confidence in our arms pervaded the entire party. We had been for several days passing through the country of the hostile Sioux, and knew if we should fall in with one of their war parties an attack would surely follow, and he would be a lucky man who escaped a bloody fate. As if, by a presentiment of coming evil, the subject on this day became more than usually exciting. 'Fortyniner,' who rather desired a brush with the Indians, had just expressed his willingness and ability to eat any number of Sioux for breakfast, should they attack our party, when our boat rounded a bend in the river, and Humphrey, the first to make the discovery, exclaimed, 'Well, there they are. You can eat them for dinner if you choose.'
"It was high noon. Just before us at the mouth of the coulee on the south bank of the river, was a large party of Indians. A hasty glance of mutual surprise and an instant seizure of arms by both parties defined, stronger than language could do, the terms upon which we were to meet. Below the coulee, there rose to the height of fifty feet, a perpendicular bluff around whose base dashed the foaming current. A low open sandbar disputed our passage on the opposite side. There was no alternative. We must go by the channel, within range of their guns, or not at all. As we steered to a point across the river, the Indians withdrew to the coulee, one alone remaining, who accompanied his friendly salutation of 'How! How!' with gestures indicating a desire for us to return to that side, and engage in trade with them. A moment later and our boat was opposite the coulee, within which we could see some of the red devils stripping off their blankets, and others, already denuded, approaching the verge of the bluff, armed with bows and arrows and rifles. It was evident we had come up with a large party of Sioux who were about to attack us, and we must make the best of the situation. Despite our labor at the oars, the current swept us down in direct range of the spot occupied by the Indians, who, before we had finished fastening our boat, opened fire upon us with about fifty shots, which fortunately whistled over our heads. Before they could correct their aim for another fire, we were behind a breastwork hastily extemporized by throwing up our blankets and baggage against the exposed gunwale of the boat. This they pierced with bullets thick as hail, but the protection it afforded us was ample, and we soon got ready to return their leaden compliments. Each of our Henry rifles contained sixteen cartridges when we opened fire, and the distance being about one hundred and fifty yards to the bluff, which was literally swarming with savages, not more than ten minutes elapsed until every one of them had disappeared. The fearful death howl, however, assured us that our fire had not been in vain. With the exception of an occasional head dodging behind the trees, not an Indian could be seen, yet from the coulee, the sage brush, and low shrubbery, an incessant firing was kept up, which we returned as often as an object became visible.
"The effect of our first fire satisfied us that while it would be death to all on board to attempt to run the channel, we could in our present position keep the rascals at bay. We could stand the broiling sun of an August afternoon on a heated sandbar in the Missouri better than the hotter fire of our savage foes. Early in the action, while rising to fire from the breastwork, a bullet struck Humphrey in the mouth, carrying away with it a piece of the jaw and three teeth, and severely cutting the lips. The wound disabled him, and deprived us of the best marksman in the party. A little later 'Forty-niner' was struck by an arrow in the fleshy part of the thigh. I pulled out the shaft, and bound up the wound. Five minutes after, an arrow pierced the calf of his leg, inflicting a painful wound. These arrows came from a squad which was protected from our bullets by a depression in the bluff, oblique to us. So great was their skill with the bow, that while the main party in front could not harm us with bullets, they, by bending their arrows, caused them to describe a curve which would strike their sharp points into the legs of our boots with unerring precision.
"The pride of 'Forty-niner' was now fully aroused. Twice wounded, he became enraged, desperate, and unsheathing his bowie-knife, he rose to his feet, and brandished it in the rays of the sun, launching a terrible imprecation upon the liver, hearts, and scalps of the savages. 'Come on,' he shouted, 'you infernal sons of Belial! Alone and single-handed, I will meet any five of the best of you in open fight!'
"The bullets whistled around him from an invisible foe, but to no purpose. Seizing him by the left arm I pulled him down, and warned him of the danger of this personal exposure; but not until he had exhausted his vocabulary of maledictions, would he yield to my entreaties and resume his place behind the breastwork. Deprecating his recklessness, I could not but admire his courage. But as this was no time for sentiment, I was only too happy, when, of his own accord, he stretched himself beside me, and I heard the bullets whistling harmlessly over us. Just at this moment I looked behind me and caught a glance of my little friend Johnny. With nothing but a pistol to engage in the conflict, he had taken no active part in it, but, with the pistol beside him, he was administering every possible relief to poor wounded Humphrey. His coolness was remarkable, and inspired us all with hope.
"The Indians kept up a brisk fire from various places of concealment until after sundown. We only responded when our shots would tell, and finally ceased to fire at all. Our enemies, thinking we were all slain, sent a party to take our scalps and plunder. We lay still, behind our breastwork, so as not to undeceive them. Twenty-seven of their best warriors, led by Ta-Skun-ka-Du-tah (the 'Red Dog'), swam the river half a mile above, and marched down directly in rear of us. There, at a distance of about three hundred yards, they sat down in a ring, within easy range of our rifles. Sitting Bull, their head chief, meantime made medicine on the south bank for their success, while they, believing that we were fully in their power, commenced smoking and making medicine with the intention of destroying us at leisure. (The names of the chiefs engaged in this attack were learned by the writer several years after its occurrence when he was employed as a government agent for the Teton Sioux, of which tribe Sitting Bull was head chief.)
"The 'Red Dog' was a big medicine man. Having filled and lighted the magic pipe, he first touched the heel of it to the ground, then raised and pointed the stem to the sun, drew a few solemn whiffs, forcing the smoke through his nostrils, and passed the pipe to his neighbor on the right, by whom it was passed on, until the ceremony was performed by every man in the circle, and the pipe returned from right to left without ceremony to the hands of the medicine man. He refilled it, and it was circulated again from left to right. Painted sticks with colored sacks of medicine attached were then stuck in the ground in the center of the enchanted circle, and the whole company arose, broke into a guttural graveyard chant, and commenced the war dance around the medicine, the chief meantime waving over it his coo-stick. This over, the medicine with great solemnity was given to the sun.
"During the half-hour thus occupied by the Indians, we were engaged also in making medicine, and we made it strong. Our ten large Colt's revolvers were carefully loaded, our Henry rifles cleaned, and their magazines filled with cartridges. We were impatiently awaiting the assault when it came. Naked, hideously striped with red and black paint, dancing, contorting their bodies, showering arrows thick and fast into and around the boat, blowing war whistles made of the bones of eagles' wings, whooping and yelling, they rushed to the onset as if all the devils of pandemonium had been suddenly let loose. For their arrows and bullets we were prepared, but this terrific vocal accompaniment for the moment scattered our courage to the winds. We could well understand how the stoutest hearts would quail in presence of such an infernal demonstration. Our hair rose up like quills, and we could feel our hearts sink within us as the noise and din increased, filling the forest with horrible reverberations.
"Our little boat, breasting the sluggish current, floated at a distance of twenty feet from the shore, to which she was fastened by a strong painter. The red-skins, still shouting and firing, evidently anticipating an easy victory, rushed madly onward to the water's edge, when at a word, we all rose up and opened a deadly and incessant fire upon them with our rifles. Our hopes were more than realized in seeing several fall, and the others beat a hasty retreat to the cottonwoods. It was now our turn to shout, and we made the welkin ring with cheers of victory as we jumped from the boat and waded rapidly to the shore, and pursued the flying demons to their log covert in a coppice of willows. 'Forty-niner,' reminded that his banqueting hour had arrived, forgetful of his wounds, rushed impetuously to the charge, brandishing his inevitable bowie-knife with one hand, his unerring pistol firmly clasped in the other, and his powerful voice raised to the highest pitch of angry utterance.
"'Scatter, you infernal demons!' he cried, 'scatter, for not a devil of you shall escape us.'
"Too true, alas! for Ta-Skun-ka-Du-tah, were these words of doom. The medicine which he deemed invincible, failed to protect him from the deadly aim of 'Forty-niner,' a bullet from whose pistol passed through his heart. With a convulsive leap into the air, and an agonizing death yell, he fell prone to the earth, grasping the coo-stick and medicine which had lured him to his fate. Six lifeless bodies of his followers lay around, and how many were killed or wounded on the opposite bank in the early part of the contest, we had no means of ascertaining. 'Forty-niner' made medicine over the fallen chief, and removed his scalp in a manner which even he would have approved. Little Johnny displayed great courage in the fight, and was always near me in the thickest of it, seemingly ready to avenge any harm that might befall his benefactor.
"The twilight was fading into darkness, when the Indians on the opposite side of the river fired upon us for the last time. Assembling upon the bank in a group a few hundred yards above us, they were speedily rejoined by the survivors of the attacking party, who, as we learned from their melancholy death howl, had communicated to them the disasters of the battle.
The wailing notes, attuned to a dismal cadence, ringing in echoes through the forest, harmonized gloomily with the joy and thankfulness which our escape had inspired. We had no sorrow to squander upon the savages in their distress, but there was something so heartfelt in the expression of their grief, that it filled us all with sadness. And there was no heart in the loud and repeated cheers and firing of rifles with which we deemed it necessary to respond, lest they should return and seek to avenge the death of their fallen comrades. It was simply an act of self-defense; for had the Indians known our fear of future and immediate attack, and the anxious plans we made for prompt departure, our doom would have been certain.
"When the last faint note of the retreating Sioux assured us of freedom from immediate danger, we took careful note of our injuries. and made preparations to resume our voyage. Five of our company had been wounded, none fatally, but all needed attention and service which we could not bestow. Our boat and baggage had been pierced by hundreds of bullets. A companion, who was disqualified by the recent amputation of his leg from service during the fight, had received a wound in the back that would have proved fatal but for the interposition of his wooden leg, which happened to be in range. Another had an arrow point in his shoulder, and still another one in the hip. Then there were Humphrey and 'Forty-niner,' so badly wounded as to be incapable of service. Before daylight a thousand Indians, thirsting for revenge, might assemble at some point below us, intent upon our destruction. There was no alternative; -we must leave with all possible speed, and reach Fort Buford, about one hundred and thirty miles distant, at the mouth of the Yellowstone, without detention of any sort. Those of us who were uninjured by the fight, set about repairing the boat. An hour before midnight we dropped into the current, and under cover of intense darkness were borne rapidly down the turbid river. Jostled by frequent snags, arrested by sand-bars and by various collisions, kept in constant fear of wreck, we contrived to hold our course until daylight. Through the succeeding day our field-glass was in constant use, but as no Indians were visible, we ventured, while passing a bottom, to fire into a large herd of antelopes. Two were killed. We disembarked, threw out pickets, and prepared a hasty meal, and sailed onward. Until its close, the remainder of the day was without incident; but just at dark, our boat ran hard aground upon a sand-bar, and obliged us to remain there during the night. This was not without risk, for if the Indians had come upon us we would have been an easy prey. Our ever-faithful Johnny, who had slept during the day, volunteered as guard, and wrapped in his blanket, he sat down on the deck, his clear eye peering into the darkness, and his keen ears detecting the slightest unusual noise. Several times he mistook the whistle of an elk, and howl of the wolf, for the Indian, but no Indian came, and we were aroused at daylight by our trusty sentinel with the welcome announcement that a large human habitation was visible. We sprang to our feet, and beheld, at a distance of three miles ahead, the stockade and bastions of Fort Union.
Fears for our safety and for the poor fellows whose wounds produced the most intense physical suffering, were instantly relieved; and every ablebodied man in the party put forth his best exertions with hearty good will to remove the boat from the sand-bar. This accomplished, we soon effected a landing at the fort, but finding no surgeon there, crossed the point with our wounded, a distance of two miles, to Fort Buford, then in process of construction at the mouth of the Yellowstone. Here we found a company of the 13th United States Infantry, under command of Col. W.G. Rankin, quartered in tents until the completion of the post. More than half their attention was diverted from work upon the fort by attacks of Sioux, large bands of whom were prowling through this region. The colonel received us very kindly, placed a large tent at our disposal, furnished us with commissary stores, and consigned our wounded to the skillful treatment of the surgeon.
"We had been two weeks at Port Buford, when the steamer Luella arrived with three hundred passengers. Our taste for adventure having lost its flavor, we reluctantly bade the kind colonel and his company good-by, and took passage on her for Sioux City. The run down, unmarked by any unusual incident, and after frequent detentions upon sand-bars, was accomplished to the head of the great bend above the town in fourteen days. One of our party crossed the bend, which is but a few miles in width, to the city, to provide means upon our arrival for the conveyance of the company to the Northwestern railroad, not then completed to the Missouri. I had just finished a game of whist, when my comrade Johnny, who was seated beside me, drew me aside and inquired if I intended to leave the boat at Sioux City. On receiving, with an affirmative reply, an urgent request to accompany me to Chicago, he broke into tears and expressed great regret that we must part so soon, as by remaining on the boat he could reach his friends and home much sooner than by any other route.
"'Come with me on the deck,' he continued, putting his arm mine. 'I have something to tell you in confidence, which will greatly surprise you.' "I had often had occasion during our trip to think that Johnny would unfold the mystery which enveloped him, before we separated, and I readily accompanied him to the place indicated. With much nervous embarrassment, he then said to me,-
"'I am indebted to you more deeply than you can even imagine. You have been a kind friend and benefactor, and now that the time has come for us to part, I should be more than criminal did I not reveal myself to you in my true character. The disguise is no longer necessary for my protection. I am a woman.'
"Involuntarily I exclaimed, 'Great Heaven! is it possible! -and I, all this while, so stupid as not to see it in your conduct! This accounts for everything I thought so strangely reticent, so singularly delicate and refined in your manners.'
"'Let me go on,' said she, interrupting this rhapsody. 'Our relation to each other, so changed, must not affect the deep sense of obligation your kindness has imposed; and besides, my history, with all its sad vicissitudes, will afford ample apology for the deceit of which this confession convicts me. When I came to you and begged for the passage you so generously granted, I was a poor heartbroken woman, but now with the multiplied evidences I have of a protecting Providence, I am comparatively happy. Listen to my story. Just before the great rebellion I was married to one I dearly loved. Our home was in Tennessee. I was nineteen, and my husband, whom I will call Mr. Gordon, a few years older. Early in the summer of 1861 he espoused the Union cause, which brought him in great disfavor with his relatives and neighbors. Their frequent persecutions drove us from the country. We sought a new home in California. Then he engaged in extensive mining enterprises, all of which terminated in failure. He became utterly discouraged, and realizing in the current idiom of the country the condition of one who had "lost his grip," I urged him to return to the States, but our means were nearly exhausted. With the hope of replenishing them, as a last resort he staked and lost everything at a gambling table. To my constant entreaties for reformation, he promised well, until intemperance seized him in its deadly coil. Naturally high-spirited and honorable, misfortune and dissipation soon reduced him to a wreck.
"'In the spring of 1866 we were living in a mining camp at the Middle mines, on the western slope of the Sierras. One night (I shall never forget it) my unfortunate husband, while intoxicated, became embroiled in a desperate quarrel at a game of faro, with a player of much local popularity. A fearful fight followed, in which he killed his antagonist. He was followed into the street and his arrest attempted by a sheriff's officer. He fled in the direction of his home, was fired upon and seriously wounded, and in three shots fired by him in return, he killed one of the arresting party. The others fled. The crowd, attracted by the firing, pursued him so hotly that he ran to the hills and secreted himself in the forest.
"'During the succeeding six days of bitter anguish I was in a state of terrible suspense. Late one night relief was brought by a messenger from my husband, who said he was lying at a miner's cabin in the mountains, fifteen miles distant, seriously wounded, and required medicine and attendance. I instantly determined to go to him. The man, an old friend of my husband, discouraged me, lest I should be followed by the officers, and the hiding-place discovered. This objection I overcame by donning male attire, and following his guidance astride a mule. I reached the bedside of my wretched husband without exciting suspicion, and after several weeks of careful nursing, his condition was so improved that he could commence a journey to the States. Fear of discovery prevented a longer delay, and our friend providing us with means of conveyance, we started on our weary route.
"'You may readily conceive that the task was disheartening, for to escape detection it was necessary to avoid all travelled routes, and literally pick our way through mountains, valleys, defiles, and canyons, fording rivers where we could find opportunity, and obtaining food from ranches and at points remote from the large settlements. My husband's condition required constant attention, and on me alone devolved all the labor and care of the journey. No one, to see my embrowned face and knotty hands, would have ever dreamed that I was aught else than the tough wiry boy I appeared, or that I concealed beneath my disguise a heart torn with anguish and shaken by continual fear.
"'We selected, as least liable to interruption, a route through Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, intending, after our arrival in Montana, to find some easier mode of completing our journey. Five long weary months during which travel was about equally alternated with delay, found us encamped on the Columbia plains in Washington Territory near the western border of Montana. Oh! it had been a terrible perambulation. And now, when beyond the pursuit of sheriffs, and near the close as we supposed of our journey, my poor husband, weakened by the internal hemorrhage from his wound, was prostrated by an attack which in a few days terminated his life.
"'I was alone in the wilderness, several hundred miles from the nearest settlement. For two days and nights I lingered in that lonely camp beside the dead body of my husband, without a sound to break the fearful stillness, save the yelping of coyotes, and the midnight howl of the wolf. On the third day I heard the welcome sound of an approaching pack-train. The men having it in charge dug a grave and gave my husband decent burial. I accompanied their train to Helena, preserving my male incognita without suspicion After a brief period of rest and refreshment I disposed of my effects and went by coach to Benton, where I was so fortunate as to fall in with your party. You know the rest.'
"The recital of this eventful narrative made a profound impression upon me. I could scarcely realize that it had fallen from the lips of the mildmannered, resolute, active little Johnny, who had been to us all such a pleasant but enigmatical companion. My sympathies were all warmly enlisted in favor of the brave woman, but she refused all further proffers of assistance, assuring me that she was provided with ample means for the completion of her journey, and had many able and willing friends who would greet her return to them with joy. I took leave of her at Sioux City the next day with real regret, and often since have recalled to mind the thrilling history of her experience in the mountains."