Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fur Trade 1834

Below is an excerpt from Journal of a trapper: or, Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843 By Osborne Russell, Lem A. York. The journal was printed in 1921 by the nephew of the author nearly a century later.

Expedition Left Independence, Missouri, April 28,1834, Headed by Nathaniel J. Wyeth
At the town of Independence, Mo., on the 4th of April, 1834,1 joined an expedition fitted out for the Rocky Mountains and mouth of the Columbia River, by a company formed in Boston under the name and style of the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company. The same firm had fitted out a brig of two hundred tons burden, freighted with the necessary assortment of merchandise for the salmon and fur trade, with orders to sail to the mouth of the Columbia River, whilst the land party, under the direction of Mr. Nathaniel J. Wyeth, should proceed across the Rocky Mountains and unite with the brig's company in establishing a post on the Columbia near the Pacific.

Our party consisted of forty men engaged in the service, accompanied by Messrs. Nutall and Townsend, botanists and ornithologists, with two attendants; likewise Revs. Jason and Daniel Lee, Methodist missionaries, with four attendants, on their way to establish a mission in Oregon, which brought our numbers (including six independent trappers) to fifty-eight men. From the 23rd to the 27th of April we were engaged in arranging our packs and moving to a place about four miles from Independence. TOn the morning of the 28th we were all equipped and mounted hunter-like. About forty men leading two loaded horses each were marched out in double file with joyous hearts, enlivened by anticipated prospects, led by Mr. Wyeth, a persevering adventurer and lover of enterprise, whilst the remainder of the party, with twenty head of extra horses and as many cattle to supply emergenciesJbrought up the rear under the direction of Captain Joseph ThingT^n eminent navigator and fearless son of Neptune, who had been employed by the company in Boston to accompany the party and measure the route across the Rocky Mountains by astronomical observation.

We traveled slowly through the beautiful, verdant and widely extended prairie until about two o'clock p. m. and encamped at a small grove of timber near a spring. On the 29th we took up our march and traveled across a large and beautifully undulating prairie, intersected by small streams skirted with timber intermingled with shrubbery, until the 3d day of May, when we arrived at the Kaw or Kansas River, near the residence of the United States agent for those Indians.

The Kaw or Kansas Indians are the most filthy, indolent and degraded set of human beings I ever saw. They live in small, oval huts four or five feet high, formed of willow branches and covered with, deer, elk or buffalo skins.

On the 4th of May we crossed the river and on the 5th resumed our march into the interior, traveling over beautiful rolling prairies and encamping on small streams at night until the 10th, when we arrived at the River Platte. We followed up this river to the forks, then forded the south fork and traveled up the north until the 1st day of June, when we arrived at Laramie's Fork of the Platte, where is the first perceptible commencement of the Rocky Mountains. We crossed this fork and traveled up the main river until night and encamped. The next day we left the river and traveled across Black Hills nearly parallel with the general course of the Platte until the 9th of June, when we came to the river again and crossed it at a place called the Red Buttes (high mountains of red rock from which the river issues). The next day we left the river on our left and traveled a northwest direction, and stopped at night on a small spring branch, nearly destitute of wood or shrubbery. The next day we arrived at a stream running into the Platte, called Sweetwater. This we ascended to a rocky, mountainous country until the 15th of June, then left it and crossed the divide between the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and encamped on Sandy Creek, a branch running into Green River, which flows into the Colorado of the West. The next day we moved down Sandy west northwest direction and arrived at Green River on the 18th of June. Here we found some white hunters, who informed us that the grand rendezvous of the whites and Indians would be on a small western branch of the river about twenty miles distant, in a southwest direction. Next day, June 20th, we arrived at the destined place. Here we met with two companies of trappers and traders. One was a branch of the American Fur Company, under the direction of Messrs. Dripps and Fontanell; the other was called the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The names of the partners were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublett and James Bridger. The two companies consisted of about 600 men, including men engaged in the service, white, halfbreed and Indian fur trappers. This stream was called Ham's Fork of Green River. The face of the adjacent country was very mountainous and broken, except the small alluvial bottoms along t the streams. It abounded with buffalo, antelope, elk and bear and some few deer along the river. Here Mr. Wyeth disposed of a part of his loads to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and on the 2d of July we renewed our march towards the Columbia River. After leaving Ham's Fork we took across a high range of hills in a northwest direction and fell on a stream called Bear River, which emptied into the Big Salt Lake. This was a .beautiful country. The river, which was about twenty yards wide, ran 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 remained nearly the year round. We traveled down this river northwest about fifteen miles and encamped opposite a lake of fresh water about sixty miles in circumference, which outlet into the river on the west side. Along the west border of this lake the country was generally smooth, ascending gradually into the interior and terminating in a high range of mountains which nearly surrounded the lake, approaching close to the shore on the east. The next day, the 7th, we traveled down the river and on the 9th we encamped at a place called the Sheep Rock, so called from a point of the mountain terminating at the river bank in a perpendicular high rock. The river curved around the foot of this rock and formed a half circle, which brought its course to the southwest, from whence it ran in the same direction to the Salt Lake, about eighty miles distant. The sheep occupied this prominent elevation (which overlooked the surrounding country to a great extent) at all seasons of the year.

On the right hand or east side of the river about two miles above the rock were five or six mineral springs, some of which had precisely the taste of soda water when taken up and drank immediately; others had a sour, sulphurous taste; none of them had any outlet, but boiled and bubbled in small holes a few inches from the surface of the ground. This place which looked 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 seemed to have all undergone volcanic action at some remote period, the evidences of which, however, still remained in the deep and frightful chasms which might be found in the rocks throughout this portion of the country and which could only have been formed by some terrible convulsion of nature. The ground about these springs was very strongly impregnated with salsoda. There were also large beds of clay in the vicinity, of a snowy whiteness, used by the Indians for cleansing their clothes and skins, it not being inferior to any soap for cleansing woolens or skins, dressed after the Indian fashion.


  1. Oh, I want to come back to this tomorrow and read fully and the railroad post. Thanks so much, Lynn!

  2. Truly a page from history ;) thank you for the glimpse