Departure of Mr. Hunt in the Beaver- Precautions at the Factory.- Detachment to the
Wollamut.- Gloomy Apprehensions.- Arrival of M'Kenzie.- Affairs at the Shahaptan.-
News of War.- Dismay of M'Dougal.-Determination to Abandon Astoria.-Departure of
M'Kenzie for the Interior.- Adventure at the Rapids.- Visit to the Ruffians of Wish-ram. -
A Perilous Situation.- Meeting With M'Tavish and His Party.- Arrival at the Shahaptan.-
Plundered Caches.-Determination of the Wintering Partners Not to Leave the Country.-
Arrival of Clarke Among the Nez Perces.- The Affair of the Silver Goblet.- Hanging of An
Indian.- Arrival of the Wintering Partners at Astoria.
AFTER the departure of the different detachments, or brigades, as they are called by
the fur traders, the Beaver prepared for her voyage along the coast, and her visit to the
Russian establishment, at New Archangel, where she was to carry supplies. It had
been determined in the council of partners at Astoria, that Mr. Hunt should embark in
this vessel, for the purpose of acquainting himself with the coasting trade, and of
making arrangements with the commander of the Russian post, and that he should be
re-landed in October, at Astoria, by the Beaver, on her way to the Sandwich Islands
The Beaver put to sea in the month of August. Her departure and that of the various
brigades, left the fortress of Astoria but slightly garrisoned. This was soon perceived by
some of the Indian tribes, and the consequence was increased insolence of
deportment, and a disposition to hostility. It was now the fishing season, when the
tribes from the northern coast drew into the neighborhood of the Columbia. These were
warlike and perfidious in their dispositions; and noted for their attempts to surprise
trading ships. Among them were numbers of the Neweetees, the ferocious tribe that
massacred the crew of the Tonquin.
Great precautions, therefore, were taken at the factory, to guard against surprise while
these dangerous intruders were in the vicinity. Galleries were constructed inside of the
palisades; the bastions were heightened, and sentinels were posted day and night.
Fortunately, the Chinooks and other tribes resident in the vicinity manifested the most
pacific disposition. Old Comcomly, who held sway over them, was a shrewd calculator.
He was aware of the advantages of having the whites as neighbors and allies, and of
the consequence derived to himself and his people from acting as intermediate traders
between them and the distant tribes. He had, therefore, by this time, become a firm
friend of the Astorians, and formed a kind of barrier between them and the hostile
intruders from the north.
The summer of 1812 passed away without any of the hostilities that had been
apprehended; the Neweetees, and other dangerous visitors to the neighborhood,
finished their fishing and returned home, and the inmates of the factory once more felt
secure from attack.
It now became necessary to guard against other evils. The season of scarcity arrived,
which commences in October, and lasts until the end of January. To provide for the
support of the garrison, the shallop was employed to forage about the shores of the
river. A number of the men, also, under the command of some of the clerks, were sent
to quarter themselves on the banks of the Wollamut (the Multnomah of Lewis and
Clarke) , a fine river which disembogues itself into the Columbia, about sixty miles
above Astoria. The country bordering on the river is finely diversified with prairies and
hills, and forests of oak, ash, maple, and cedar. It abounded, at that time, with elk and
deer, and the streams were well stocked with beaver. Here the party, after supplying
their own wants, were enabled to pack up quantities of dried meat, and send it by
canoes to Astoria.
The month of October elapsed without the return of the Beaver. November, December,
January, passed away, and still nothing was seen or heard of her. Gloomy
apprehensions now began to be entertained: she might have been wrecked in the
course of her coasting voyage, or surprised, like the Tonquin, by some of the
treacherous tribes of the north.
No one indulged more in these apprehensions than M'Dougal, who had now the charge
of the establishment. He no longer evinced the bustling confidence and buoyancy
which once characterized him. Command seemed to have lost its charms for him, or
rather, he gave way to the most abject despondency, decrying the whole enterprise,
magnifying every untoward circumstance, and foreboding nothing but evil.
While in this moody state, he was surprised, on the 16th of January, by the sudden
appearance of M'Kenzie, wayworn and weather-beaten by a long wintry journey from
his post on the Shahaptan, and with a face the very frontispiece for a volume of
misfortune. M'Kenzie had been heartily disgusted and disappointed at his post. It was
in the midst of the Tushepaws, a powerful and warlike nation, divided into many tribes,
under different chiefs, who possessed innumerable horses, but, not having turned their
attention to beaver trapping, had no furs to offer. According to M'Kenzie, they were but
a "rascally tribe; " from which we may infer that they were prone to consult their own
interests more than comported with the interests of a greedy Indian trader.
Game being scarce, he was obliged to rely, for the most part, on horse-flesh for
subsistence, and the Indians discovering his necessities, adopted a policy usual in
civilized trade, and raised the price of horses to an exorbitant rate, knowing that he and
his men must eat or die. In this way, the goods he had brought to trade for beaver
skins, were likely to be bartered for horseflesh, and all the proceeds devoured upon the
He had despatched trappers in various directions, but the country around did not offer
more beaver than his own station. In this emergency he began to think of abandoning
his unprofitable post, sending his goods to the posts of Clarke and David Stuart, who
could make a better use of them, as they were in a good beaver country, and returning
with his party to Astoria, to seek some better destination. With this view he repaired to
the post of Mr. Clarke, to hold a consultation. While the two partners were in
conference in Mr. Clarke's wigwam, an unexpected visitor came bustling in upon them.
This was Mr. John George M'Tavish, a partner of the Northwest Company, who had
charge of the rival trading posts established in that neighborhood. Mr. M'Tavish was the
delighted messenger of bad news. He had been to Lake Winnipeg, where he received
an express from Canada, containing the declaration of war, and President Madison's
proclamation, which he handed with the most officious complaisance to Messrs. Clarke
and M'Kenzie. He moreover told them that he had received a fresh supply of goods
from the Northwest posts on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and was prepared
for vigorous opposition to the establishment of the American Company. He capped the
climax of this obliging but belligerent intelligence, by informing them that the armed
ship, Isaac Todd, was to be at the mouth of the Columbia about the beginning of
March, to get possession of the trade of the river, and that he was ordered to join her
there at that time.
The receipt of this news determined M'Kenzie. He immediately returned to the
Shahaptan, broke up his establishment, deposited his goods in cache, and hastened
with all his people to Astoria.
The intelligence thus brought, completed the dismay of M'Dougal, and seemed to
produce a complete confusion of mind. He held a council of war with M'Kenzie, at which
some of the clerks were present, but of course had no votes. They gave up all hope of
maintaining their post at Astoria. The Beaver had probably been lost; they could
receive no aid from the United States, as all the ports would be blockaded. From
England nothing could be expected but hostility. It was determined, therefore, to
abandon the establishment in the course of the following spring, and return across the
Rocky Mountains. In pursuance of this resolution, they suspended all trade with the
natives, except for provisions, having already more peltries than they could carry away,
and having need of all the goods for the clothing and subsistence of their people,
during the remainder of their sojourn, and on their journey across the mountains, This
intention of abandoning Astoria was, however, kept secret from the men, lest they
should at once give up all labor, and become restless and insubordinate.
In the meantime, M'Kenzie set off for his post at the Shahaptan, to get his goods from
the caches, and buy horses and provisions with them for the caravan across the
mountains. He was charged with despatches from M'Dougal to Messrs. Stuart and
Clarke, appraising them of the intended migration, that they might make timely
M'Kenzie was accompanied by two of the clerks, Mr. John Reed, the Irishman, and Mr.
Alfred Seton, of New York. They embarked in two canoes, manned by seventeen men,
and ascended the river without any incident of importance, until they arrived in the
eventful neighborhood of the rapids. They made the portage of the narrows and the
falls early in the afternoon, and, having partaken of a scanty meal, had now a long
evening on their hands.
On the opposite side of the river lay the village of Wish-ram, of freebooting renown.
Here lived the savages who had robbed and maltreated Reed, when bearing his tin box
of despatches. It was known that the rifle of which he was despoiled was retained as a
trophy at the village. M'Kenzie offered to cross the river, and demand the rifle, if any
one would accompany him. It was a hare-brained project, for these villages were noted
for the ruffian character of their inhabitants; yet two volunteers promptly stepped
forward; Alfred Seton, the clerk, and Joe de la Pierre, the cook. The trio soon reached
the opposite side of the river. On landing, they freshly primed their rifles and pistols. A
path winding for about a hundred yards among rocks and crags, led to the village. No
notice seemed to be taken of their approach. Not a solitary being, man, woman, or
child, greeted them.
The very dogs, those noisy pests of an Indian town, kept silence. On entering the
village, a boy made his appearance, and pointed to a house of larger dimensions than
the rest. They had to stoop to enter it; as soon as they had passed the threshold, the
narrow passage behind them was filled up by a sudden rush of Indians, who had before
kept out of sight.
M'Kenzie and his companions found themselves in a rude chamber of about twenty-five
feet long and twenty wide. A bright fire was blazing at one end, near which sat the
chief, about sixty years old. A large number of Indians, wrapped in buffalo robes, were
squatted in rows, three deep, forming a semicircle round three sides of the room. A
single glance around sufficed to show them the grim and dangerous assembly into
which they had intruded, and that all retreat was cut off by the mass which blocked up
The chief pointed to the vacant side of the room opposite to the door, and motioned for
them to take their seats. They complied. A dead pause ensued. The grim warriors
around sat like statues; each muffled in his robe, with his fierce eyes bent on the
intruders. The latter felt they were in a perilous predicament.
"Keep your eyes on the chief while I am addressing him," said M'Kenzie to his
companions. "Should he give any sign to his band, shoot him, and make for the door."
M'Kenzie advanced, and offered the pipe of peace to the chief, but it was refused. He
then made a regular speech, explaining the object of their visit, and proposing to give in
exchange for the rifle two blankets, an axe, some beads and tobacco.
When he had done, the chief rose, began to address him in a low voice, but soon
became loud and violent, and ended by working himself up into a furious passion. He
upbraided the white men for their sordid conduct in passing and repassing through their
neighborhood, without giving them a blanket or any other article of goods, merely
because they had no furs to barter in exchange, and he alluded, with menaces of
vengeance, to the death of the Indian killed by the whites in the skirmish at the falls.
Matters were verging to a crisis. It was evident the surrounding savages were only
waiting a signal from the chief to spring upon their prey. M'Kenzie and his companions
had gradually risen on their feet during the speech, and had brought their rifles to a
horizontal position, the barrels resting in their left hands; the muzzle of M'Kenzie's
piece was within three feet of the speaker's heart. They cocked their rifles; the click of
the locks for a moment suffused the dark cheek of the savage, and there was a pause.
They coolly, but promptly, advanced to the door; the Indians fell back in awe, and
suffered them to pass. The sun was just setting, as they emerged from this dangerous
den. They took the precaution to keep along the tops of the rocks as much as possible
on their way back to the canoe, and reached their camp in safety, congratulating
themselves on their escape, and feeling no desire to make a second visit to the grim
warriors of Wish-ram.
M'Kenzie and his party resumed their journey the next morning. At some distance
above the falls of the Columbia, they observed two bark canoes, filled with white men,
coming down the river, to the full chant of a set of Canadian voyageurs. A parley
ensued. It was a detachment of Northwesters, under the command of Mr. John George
M'Tavish, bound, full of song and spirit, to the mouth of the Columbia, to await the
arrival of the Isaac Todd.
Mr. M'Kenzie and M'Tavish came to a halt, and landing, encamped for the night. The
voyageurs of either party hailed each other as brothers, and old "comrades," and they
mingled together as if united by one common interest, instead of belonging to rival
companies, and trading under hostile flags.
In the morning they proceeded on their different ways, in style corresponding to their
different fortunes: the one toiling painfully against the stream, the other sweeping down
gayly with the Current.
M'Kenzie arrived safely at his deserted post on the Shahaptan, but found, to his
chagrin, that his caches had been discovered and rifled by the Indians. Here was a
dilemma, for on the stolen goods he had depended to purchase horses of the Indians.
He sent out men in all directions to endeavor to discover the thieves, and despatched
Mr. Reed to the posts of Messrs. Clarke and David Stuart, with the letters of Mr.
The resolution announced in these letters, to break up and depart from Astoria, was
condemned by both Clarke and Stuart. These two gentlemen had been very successful
at their posts, and considered it rash and pusillanimous to abandon, on the first
difficulty, an enterprise of such great cost and ample promise. They made no
arrangements, therefore, for leaving the country, but acted with a view to the
maintenance of their new and prosperous establishments.
The regular time approached, when the partners of the interior -posts were to
rendezvous at the mouth of the Wallah-Wallah, on their way to Astoria, with the peltries
they had collected. Mr. Clarke accordingly packed all his furs on twenty-eight horses,
and, leaving a clerk and four men to take charge of the post, departed on the 25th of
May with the residue of his force.
On the 30th, he arrived at the confluence of the Pavion and Lewis rivers, where he had
left his barge and canoes, in the guardianship of the old Pierced-nosed chieftain. That
dignitary had acquitted himself more faithfully to his charge than Mr. Clarke had
expected, and the canoes were found in very tolerable order. Some repairs were
necessary, and, while they were making, the party encamped close by the village.
Having had repeated and vexatious proofs of the pilfering propensities of this tribe
during his former visit, Mr. Clarke ordered that a wary eye should be kept upon them.
He was a tall, good-looking man, and somewhat given to pomp and circumstance,
which made him an object of note in the eyes of the wondering savages. He was
stately, too, in his appointments, and had a silver goblet or drinking cup, out of which
he would drink with a magnificent air, and then lock it up in a large garde vin, which
accompanied him in his travels, and stood in his tent. This goblet had originally been
sent as a present from Mr. Astor to Mr. M'Kay, the partner who had unfortunately been
blown up in the Tonquin. As it reached Astoria after the departure of that gentleman, it
had remained in the possession of Mr. Clarke.
A silver goblet was too glittering a prize not to catch the eye of a Pierced-nose. It was
like the shining tin case of John Reed. Such a wonder had never been seen in the land
before. The Indians talked about it to one another. They marked the care with which it
was deposited in the garde vin, like a relic in its shrine, and concluded that it must be a
"great medicine." That night Mr. Clarke neglected to lock up his treasure; in the
morning the sacred casket was open - the precious relic gone!
Clarke was now outrageous. All the past vexations that he had suffered from this
pilfering community rose to mind, and he threatened that, unless the goblet was
promptly returned, he would hang the thief, should he eventually discover him. The day
passed away, however, without the restoration of the cup. At night sentinels were
secretly posted about the camp. With all their vigilance, a Pierced-nose contrived to get
into the camp unperceived, and to load himself with booty; it was only on his retreat
that he was discovered and taken.
At daybreak the culprit was brought to trial, and promptly convicted. He stood
responsible for all the spoliations of the camp, the precious goblet among the number,
and Mr. Clarke passed sentence of death upon him.
A gibbet was accordingly constructed of oars; the chief of the village and his people
were assembled, and the, culprit was produced, with his legs and arms pinioned.
Clarke then made a harangue. He reminded the tribe of the benefits he had bestowed
upon them during his former visits, and the many thefts and other misdeeds which he
had overlooked. The prisoner, especially, had always been peculiarly well treated by
the white men, but had repeatedly been guilty of pilfering. He was to be punished for
his own misdeeds, and as a warning to his tribe.
The Indians now gathered round Mr. Clarke, and interceded for the culprit. They were
willing he should be punished severely, but implored that his life might be spared. The
companions, too, of Mr. Clarke, considered the sentence too severe, and advised him
to mitigate it; but he was inexorable. He was not naturally a stern or cruel man; but from
his boyhood he had lived in the Indian country among Indian traders, and held the life
of a savage extremely cheap. He was, moreover, a firm believer in the doctrine of
Farnham, a clerk, a tall "Green Mountain boy" from Vermont, who had been robbed of a
pistol, acted as executioner. The signal was given, and the poor Pierced-nose resisting,
struggling, and screaming, in the most frightful manner, was launched into eternity. The
Indians stood round gazing in silence and mute awe, but made no attempt to oppose
the execution, nor testified any emotion when it was over. They locked up their feelings
within their bosoms until an opportunity should arrive to gratify them with a bloody act
To say nothing of the needless severity of this act, its impolicy was glaringly obvious.
Mr. M'Lennan and three men were to return to the post with the horses, their loads
having been transferred to the canoes. They would have to pass through a tract of
country infested by this tribe, who were all horsemen and hard riders, and might pursue
them to take vengeance for the death of their comrade. M'Lennan, however, was a
resolute fellow, and made light of all dangers. He and his three men were present at
the execution, and set off as soon as life was extinct in the victim; but, to use the words
of one of their comrades, "they did not let the grass grow under the heels of their
horses, as they clattered out of the Pierced-nose country," and were glad to find
themselves in safety at the post.
Mr. Clarke and his party embarked about the same time in their canoes, and early on
the following day reached the mouth of the Wallah-Wallah, where they found Messrs.
Stuart and M'Kenzie awaiting them; the latter having recovered part of the goods stolen
from his cache. Clarke informed them of the signal punishment he had inflicted on the
Pierced-nose, evidently expecting to excite their admiration by such a hardy act of
justice, performed in the very midst of the Indian country, but was mortified at finding it
strongly censured as inhuman, unnecessary, and likely to provoke hostilities.
The parties thus united formed a squadron of two boats and six canoes, with which they
performed their voyage in safety down the river, and arrived at Astoria on the 12th of
June, bringing with them a valuable stock of peltries.
About ten days previously, the brigade which had been quartered on the banks of the
Wollamut, had arrived with numerous packs of beaver, the result of a few months'
sojourn on that river. These were the first fruits of the enterprise, gathered by men as
yet mere strangers in the land; but they were such as to give substantial grounds for
sanguine anticipations of profit, when the country should be more completely explored,
and the trade established.