Background # 2 - Readings & Notes
Reading from Osborne's Russell's Journal of a Trapper
We begin our readings with two selections from Osborne Russell, a trapper, a mountain man who spent time in our area in the 1830's. In the last lecture, we discussed that trappers were an exception to prevailing American attitudes that wilderness land needed to be subdued. Mountain men were willing to live and subsist off the land as it was, without changing it. They were in essence "primitivists." If you read all of Russell, you'll see shades of romanticism in his writing, and while the natural environment in which he lived could be cruel and unforgiving, he, nonetheless, had an appreciation for the beauties of wild places.
Background of Osborne Russell
Russell was born June 12, 1814 in Maine. He is from the Transcendental Generation. In 1834, he joined Nathaniel Wyeth's trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The readings, below, are from the time he was under Wyeth's employment. Wyeth was a poor leader and Russell eventually left Wyeth's party. He trapped some more, but by the 1830's many of the streams had been trapped so heavily that few beaver remained. Moreover, when fashions in Europe changed from beaver hats to silk hats, the market completely dried up. Russell wandered on to Oregon, and for a while was involved in government and political affairs. He left Oregon, joining the rush for gold in California, and ended up living in California until his death in 1892. He never married.
The map, below, shows the route of the Wyeth Party out west
The First Reading from Journal of a Trapper
In the following reading, Russell is travelling in the southeast corner of Idaho. He passes by Bear Lake and follows the Bear River down to present day Soda Springs. From Soda Springs, his band of trappers rides northwest, eventually coming out in the Snake River valley and establishing Fort Hall along the Snake.
The following has not been altered. It appears as Russell wrote it with his spelling and sentence structure intact.
After leaving Ham's Fork we took across a high range of hills in a NW direction and fell on to a stream called Bear River which emptied to the Big Salt Lake. This is a beautiful country. the river which is about 20 yards wide runs through large fertile bottoms bordered by rolling ridges which gradually ascended on each side of the river to the high ranges of dark and lofty mountains upon whose tops the snow remains nearly the year round. We travelled down this river N West about 15 miles and camped opposite a Lake of fresh water about 60 miles in circumference which outlets into the river on the west side. Along the west border of this Lake the country is generally smooth ascending gradually into the interior and terminates in a high range of mountains which nearly surrounds the Lake approaching close to the shore on the East. The next day (the 7th) we travelled down this river and on the 8th encamped at a place called the Sheep Rock so called from a point of the mountain terminating at the river bank in a perpen-dicular high rock: the river curves around the foot of this rock and forms a half circle which brings its course to the S. W from whence it runs in the same direction to the Salt Lake about 80 miles distant. The Sheep occupy this prominent elevation (which overlooks the surrounding country to a great extent) at all seasons of the year.
On the right hand or East side of the river about 2 miles above the rock is 5 or 8 mineral Springs some of which have precisely the taste of soda water when taken up and drank immediately others have a sour, sulperous taste: none of them have any outlet but boil and bubble in small holes a few inches from the surface of the ground. This place which now looks so lonely, visited only by the rambling Trapper or solitary Savage will doubtless at no distant day be a resort for thousands of the gay and fashionable world, as well as Invalids and spectators. The country immediately adjacent seems to have all undergone volcanic action at some remote period the evidences of which, however still remains in the deep and frightful chasms which may be found in the rocks, throughout this portion of country which could only have been formed by some terrible convulsion of nature. The ground about these springs is very strongly impregnated with Sal Soda There is also large beds of clay in the vicinity of a snowy whiteness which is much used by the Indians for cleansing their clothes and skins, it not being any inferior to soap for cleansing woollens or skins dressed after the Indian fashion. On the 11th (July) we left Bear river and crossed low ridges of broken country for about 15 miles in a N East direction and fell on to a stream which runs into Snake river called Black Foot. Here we met with Capt. B. L. Bonnenvill with a party of 10 or 12 men He was on his way to the Columbia and was employed killing and drying Buffaloe meat for the journey. The next day we travelled in a west direction over a rough mountaneous country about 25 miles and the day following after travelling about 20 miles in the same direction we emerged from the mountain into the great valley of Snake River on the 16th - We crossed the valley and reached the river in about 25 miles travel West. Here Mr. Wyeth concluded to stop build a Fort & deposit the remainder of his merchandise: leaving a few men to protect them and trade with the Snake and Bonnack Indians. On the 18th we commenced the Fort which was a stockade 80 ft square built of Cotton wood trees set on end sunk 2 1/2 feet in the ground and standing about 15 feet above with two bastions 8 ft square at the opposite angles. On the 4th of August the Fort was completed; And on the 5th the "Stars and Stripes" were unfurled to the breeze at Sunrise in the center of a savage and uncivilized country over an American trading Post.
The map, below, shows the routes Russell followed for both the first and second readings:
The Second Reading from Journal of a Trapper
In the second reading, Russell has been asked by Wyeth, the expedition leader, to go to Fort Hall and bring back some horses. Their location is on Camas Creek, south of present day Kilgore, Idaho. Russell rides to what is now Mud Lake, and continues south, eventually being stopped by lava flows. With his path blocked, and out of water, he rides north, eventually making it to Birch Creek. There he stays for a few days with a large encampment of Indians who are hunting buffalo. He leaves the Indians and then rides to the east, finding the forks of the Snake (the confluence of the Henry's Fork and the South Fork of the Snake north of present day Idaho Falls). From there he follows the Snake River south to Fort Hall.
Here it is in his words . . .
[We were] encamped on "Camas Creek" at the NW extremity of the great plain of Snake River Here the leader of our party desired me to go to Fort Hall and get some horses to assist them to the Fort as we were dependent on Mr Bridger for animals to move camp 30th After getting the nessary information from our leader I started contrary to the advice and remonstrances of Mr. Bridger and his men rather than be impeached of cowardice by our austocratical director. I travelled according to his directions South untill dark amid thousands of Buffaloe. The route was very rocky and my horses feet (he not being shod) were worn nearly to the quick which caused him to limp very much. After travelling about 30 Mls. I lay down and slept soundly during the night. The next morning I arose and proceeded on my journey down the stream about 9 oclk I came to where it formed a lake where it sank in the dry sandy plain from this I took a SE course as directed towards a high Bute which stood in the almost barren plain by passing to the East of this Bute I was informed that it was about 25 Mls to Snake River
In this direetion I travelled untill about two hours after dark my horse had been previously wounded by a ball in the loins and tho. nearly recovered before I started yet travelling over the rocks and gravel with tender feet and his wound together had nearly exhausted him. I turned him loose among the rocks and wild Sage and laid myself down to meditate on the follies of myself and others: In about two hours I fell asleep to dream of cool spring rich frosts and cool shades In the morning I arose and looked around me my horse was near by me picking the scanty blades of sunburned grass which grew among the sage. On surveying the place I found I could go no further in a South or East direction as there lay before me a range of broken basaltic rock which appeared to extend for 5 or 6 miles on either hand and 5 or 6 Mls wide thrown together promiscuously in such a manner that it was impossible for a horse to cross them. The Bute stood to the SW about 10 Mls. which I was informed was about half the distance from "Camas Lake" to Snake river. I now found that either from ignorance or some other motive less pure our Leader had given me directions entirely false and came to the conclusion to put no further confidence in what he had told me, but return to the Lake I had left as it was the nearest water I knew of this point being settled I saddled my horse and started on foot leading him by the bridle and travelled all day in the direction of the Lake over the hot sand and gravel. After daylight disappeared I took a star for my guide but it led me South of the Lake where I came on to several large bands of Buffaloe who would start on my near approach and run in all directions It was near midnight when I laid down to rest I had plenty of provisions but could not eat Water! Water was the object of my wishes travelling for two long days in the hot burning sun without water is by no means a pleasant way of passing the time I soon fell asleep and dreamed again of bathing in the cool rivulets issuing from the snow topped Mountains. About an hour before day I was awakened by the howling of wolves who had formed a complete circle within 30 paces of me and my horse at the flashing of my pistol however they soon dispersed. At daylight I discovered some willows about 3 miles distant to the West where large numbers of Buffaloe bad assembled apparently for water In two hours I had dispersed the Brutes and lay by the water side. After drinking and bathing for half an hour I travelled up the stream about a mile and lay down among some willows to sleep in the shade whilst my horse was carelessly grazing among the bushes The next day being the 4th I lay all day and watched the Buffaloe which were feeding in immense bands all about me 5th I arose in the morning at sunrise and looking to the SW I discovered the dust arising in a defile which led thro. the mountain about 4 Mls distant The Buffaloe were carelessly feeding all over the plain as far as the eye could reach. I watched the motions of the dust for a few minutes when I saw a body of men on horse back pouring out of the defile among the Buffaloe. In a few minutes the dust raised to the heavens The whole mass of became agitated producing a sound resembling distant thunder. At length an Indian pursued a Cow close to me alongside of her he let slip an arrow and she fell. I immediately recognized him to be a Bonnack with whom I was acquainted. On discovering myself he came to me and saluted me in Snake which I answeeed in the same tongue. He told me the Village would come and encamp where I was. In the meantime he pulled off some of his Clothing and hung it on a Stick as a signal for the place where his squaw should set his lodge he then said he had killed three fat cows but would kill one more and So saying he wheeled his foaming charger and the next moment disappeared in the cloud of dust. In about a half an hour the Old Chief came up with the village and invited me to stop with him which I accepted. While the squaws were putting up and stretching their lodges I walked out with the Chief on to a small hillock to the view the field of slaughter the cloud of dust had passed away and the prarie was covered with the slain upwards of a Thousand Cows were killed without burning one single grain of gunpowder. The Village consisted off 332 lodges and averaged six persons young and old to each lodge They were just returned from the salmon fishing to feast on fat Buffaloe. After the lodges were pitched I returned [to] the village This Chief is called "Aiken-lo-ruckkup" (or the tongue cut with a flint) he is the brother of the celebrated horn chief who was killed in a battle with the Blackfeet some years ago: and it is related by the Bonnaks without the least scruple that he was killed by a piece of Antelope [horn] the only manner in which he could [be] taken as he was protected by a Supernatural power from all other harm. My worthy host spared no pains to make my situation as comfortable as his circumstances would permit. The next morning I took a walk thro. the Village and found there was fifteen lodges of Snakes with whom I had formed an acquaintance the year before. On my first entering the Village I was informed that two white Trappers belonging to Mr. Wyeths party had been lately killed by the Bonnaks in the lower country and that the two Indians who had killed or caused them to be killed were then in this village. The Old Chief had pointed them out to me as we walked thro. the village and asked me what the white men would do about it I told him they would hang them if they caught them at the Fort He said it was good that they deserved death for said he "I believe they have murdered the two white men to get their property and lost it all in gambling" for continued he "ill gained wealth often flies away and does the owner no good". "But" said he "you need not be under any apprehensions of danger whilst you stop with the village." The squaws were employed cutting and drying meat for two days at the end of which the ground on which the village stood seemed covered with meat scaffolds bending beneath their rich loads of fat Buffaloe meat 13th My horse being somewhat recruited I left the Village with a good supply of boiled Buffaloe tongues prepared by my land lady and the necessary directions and precautions from the Old Chief. I travelled due east about 25 Mls which brot. me to the forks of Snake River
I had not gone far when I discovered three Indians on horse back running a Bull towards me: I jumped my horse into a ravine out of sight and crawled up among [the] high Sage to watch their movements as they approached nearer to me I saw they were Snakes and showed myself to them. They left the Bull and galloped up to me after the usual salutation I followed them to their Village which was on the East bank of the river. The village consisted of 15 lodges under the direction of a chief called "Comb Daughter" by the Snakes and by the whites the "Lame Chief." He welcomed me to this lodge in the utmost good humor and jocular manner [I] had ever experienced among Indians and I was sufficiently acquainted with the Snake language to repay his jokes in his own coin without hesitation. I passed the time very agreeablyly for six days among those simple but well fed and good humored Savages. On the 19th learning that Bridger was approaching the forks and the party of hunters to which I had belonged had passed down the river towards the Fort I mounted my horse - started down the river and arrived at the Fort next day about noon the distance being about 60 Mls S. S. W. When I arrived the party bad given up all hopes of ever seeing me again and had already fancied my lifeless body lying on the plains after having been scalped by the savages. The time for which myself and all of Mr. Wythe's men were engaged had recently expired so that now I was independent of the world and no longer to be termed a "Greenhorn"
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