August 16, 1833
16 August: In the morning, beautiful, clear weather; hot during the day, though moderated by the wind. At 7:30 Mr. Mitchell suggested a ride to the place on the Missouri where he wants to build the new fort. M16At 7:30, 71°F [21.7°C]. At 7:30 we rode out of the fort, crossed the prairie behind it, and climbed the range of hills stretching beyond it. On them there is a plateau that extends to the deeply hollowed bed of the Teton River (Rivière aux Tettons, called Unnehkiesisatt by the Blackfoot). This little river flows through a beautiful valley, which is completely filled with tall, shady cottonwoods, and empties into the Marias River (Marayon) not far from its outlet into the Missouri. About 3 1/2 to 4 miles from Fort Mc Kenzie, it comes as close to the Missouri as the Nishnabotna, or even closer, and the land lying between is certainly not wider than 500 to 600 paces. On our way we first came upon a prairie dog village; the small animals sat on their mounds and burrows and emitted their loud squeaks. The whole prairie was burnt and dry, and I saw only a few plants unfamiliar to us; the seeds of many other familiar ones had already ripened.
On the elevated plain we saw two Indians riding, who, when they caught sight of us, turned their horses around and galloped toward us. Because we were carrying our double-barreled guns in a horizontal position, the Indians had probably assumed that we were unarmed and wanted to beg from us or flabbergast us. M17Mr. Mitchell had a similar experience last summer,
when he learned how such individual meetings with the Indians
can turn out. He rode out unarmed with a companion
and encountered two Indians, who immediately demanded
tobacco from them. He had only a small piece, which he gave
them; but they demanded more. When he said he did not
have any more, they tossed the piece he gave them at his head
and demanded his knife, whereupon one of them cocked his
gun and the other laid an arrow to his bow. Mr. Mitchell indicated
[that] the next day they should come to the boat, where he would give them tobacco, and after brief deliberation,
they let him go. On the next day they came to the bank of
the Missouri where the ship was anchored, but [they] were
not so bold as to make their presence known; there would
have been serious words with them. Meanwhile Mr. Mitchell
decided never to leave the fort unarmed in these regions.
One can never trust these people out in the open, when one
is in a small group; in [the] case of [just] a few men, it is
always dangerous, as will be seen immediately.
They came rather close to us; then they suddenly turned around and galloped away—they had spotted our guns. At a distance they stopped and spoke with each other; one of them gave the other his weapons and came riding up to us. He was naked except for his buffalo hide and rode on a thin white horse with nothing but a whip in his hand. Through sign language he told us that another young man had abducted his sister, the wife of the comrade riding with him. They were looking for him in order to shoot him. He looked for tracks in the path we were riding on and then left us.
Somewhat farther on, we met about twenty men from the fort, all armed, and two two-wheeled carts on which their bedding and food had been loaded. The men were supposed to trim and fell timber for the new fort, to stay out all week, and not to return until Saturday. Others had been sent out to burn charcoal for the blacksmith, which is well produced from cottonwood trees.
We rode off and reached the edge of the hills, from which we had a very beautiful view. To the right flowed the Teton River (Rivière aux Tettons), M18Unnehkiesisatt. so named by the Indians for a pair of roundish mountains. We saw the valley all densely filled with the crowns of tall trees, so that it created a fresh green strip in the brownish gray, bare, and scorched region. On a meadow near the woods were threeor four Indian leather [tipis]. If one looked to the left from this ridge, one saw a big bend of the Missouri in the immediate vicinity, along which there were also several beautiful cottonwood groves and green expanses covered with luxuriant grass. A brook called Snow River by Lewis and Clark emptied at the right bank of the Missouri. M19The Lewis and Clark map is very accurate and
precise for the entire region around Fort McKenzie.
Before us, somewhat to the left, we saw at a short distance the blue mountains that form the first range of the Rocky Mountains.[Page 2:231] They do not seem as high as the chain of the Bears Paw (la Main d’ Ours) rising behind us, which is just as beautiful but more distant. From that first ridge of the Rocky Mountains it is about 60 to 80 miles to the highest and principal range, which is snow-covered in summer. The front one does not extend to the region of eternal snow. From this high point with the beautiful view, we rode left over steep elevations down toward the Missouri and then through willows and, before long, through beautiful, darkly shaded thickets of cottonwoods, Negundo, and willows intermingled with buffalo berry, roses, Cornus, Prunus padus, Ribes, and several other bushes. A luxuriant growth of grass covered the ground. Men from the fort had made some hay [from this] and raked it into stacks. Wherever these meadows were free of timber, the cerises (Prunus padus) grew abundantly, and their fruits were nearly ripe. They contain a thick stone and thin pulp. They were still very tart. M20Here we saw the big lark (Sturnella), a great many
small falcons (F. sparverius and possibly others), a golden
oriole or troupial, Muscicapa, and several small birds. A pair
of large ospreys (F. leucocephalus), as well as a flock of black
crows, flew up around the riverbank.
The path led along the Missouri beneath the low Negundo maples, with thick branches growing widely apart. [It] was extremely shady, but piles of dry timber lay in our way, so that our horses had to step over them continually. Beyond the timber, at the bend the river makes here, was the place where the new fort was to be built. We rode around near the hills and on the prairie, examined the nearby woods to find out whether they contained usable timber for construction, and then returned on the same path, after Mr. Mitchell had selected a beautiful prairie on the right, or opposite, riverbank as the most suitable site for his purpose. We saw several Gros Ventres des Prairies, who had set up their [tipis] in nearby woods, walking about there.
Hardly had we entered the shady grove again than one of our men, Dauphin, came galloping up on an Indian horse to call us back urgently. The Bear Chief (la Biche Caïe) had us informed that he was about to attack the Blood Indians, because they had killed his nephew, and he did not want to expose the whites to danger on this account. For this reason he had stopped and sent back all our men who were assigned to build the new fort. On the hilltop we found these men together with some Indians, and Mr. Mitchell rebuked them sternly, because they intended to return without his permission. They all called out at the same time in their French jabber, and Latresse was their very loud spokesman: they did not want to be killed by the Indians; they had not come up here for that purpose. Their behavior was very foolish and cowardly. Twenty well-armed men had little to fear from [a] few scattered Blood Indians. We returned. We were told that Bear Chief’s nephew—a very good, quiet Indian—had ridden out this morning to look for a stolen horse, and on the hills not far from the place we visited, [he] had been murdered by the Blood Indians by stabbing, tomahawks, and gunshots. La Biche Caïe was furious, and in the camp by the fort where several of those Blood Indians still remained, they were immediately set upon. In the [tipi] where we were yesterday evening, the inhabitants had been greatly alarmed but were finally pardoned, and the pipe was smoked with them. Another Blood Indian had been pursued across the river and shot at three times. M21At noon, 80°F [26.7°C].
In the afternoon la Biche Caïe came to Mr. Mitchell with several Indians, and they discussed what was to be done. A reasonable man advised him not to make the matter public but to wait instead until he could kill one of the relatives. A call for whiskey concluded the discussion. They were treated to this beverage, and then they suddenly left. The great chief was quiet and thoughtful. He wore a plain, poor robe; [he held] his new double-barreled gun in his hand. He had not cut off his hair, because, he said, his heart was too big and strong for this action. At five o’ clock several packhorses [were] sent back by the hunters with meat from a buffalo cow.[Page 2:232] The hunters themselves had hurried on after the animals. The bloody quarrel between the Indians arose through the death of the engagé who had been shot in the fort. At that time la Biche Caïe had taken the side of the whites and had struck several Blood Indians. Now we [would be] confined for some time in a narrow area. Late in the evening the Bear Chief returned once more and informed Mr. Mitchell that he had to leave to avenge his brother. He did not want to see the corpse, [but] in order that it be in good hands, he wanted to give it to Mr. Mitchell for burial. This gift could not readily be refused, since the man had died indirectly because of the whites; therefore it was accepted. A Blood Indian had shown himself in the prairie and was again immediately pursued.