Read Chapter XX - The Last Stage of the Columbia of First Across the Continent, free online book, by Noah Brooks, on

On the thirteenth of April the party reached the series of falls and rapids which they called the Long Narrows. At the point reached the river is confined, for a space of about fourteen miles, to narrow channels and rocky falls. The Long Narrows are now known as the Dalles. The word “dalles” is French, and signifies flagstones, such as are used for sidewalks. Many of the rocks in these narrows are nearly flat on top, and even the precipitous banks look like walls of rock. At the upper end of the rapids, or dalles, is Celilo City, and at the lower end is Dalles City, sometimes known as “The Dalles.” Both of these places are in Oregon; the total fall of the water from Celilo to the Dalles is over eighty feet. Navigation of these rapids is impossible. As the explorers had no further use for their pirogues, they broke them up for fuel. The merchandise was laboriously carried around on the river bank. They were able to buy four horses from the Skilloots for which they paid well in goods. It was now nearly time for the salmon to begin to run, and under date of April 19 the journal has this entry: -

“The whole village was filled with rejoicing to-day at having caught a single salmon, which was considered as the harbinger of vast quantities in four or five days. In order to hasten their arrival the Indians, according to custom, dressed the fish and cut it into small pieces, one of which was given to each child in the village. In the good humor excited by this occurrence they parted, though reluctantly, with four other horses, for which we gave them two kettles, reserving only a single small one for a mess of eight men. Unluckily, however, we lost one of the horses by the negligence of the person to whose charge he was committed. The rest were, therefore, hobbled and tied; but as the nations here do not understand gelding, all the horses but one were stallions; this being the season when they are most vicious, we had great difficulty in managing them, and were obliged to keep watch over them all night. . . .

“As it was obviously our interest to preserve the goodwill of these people, we passed over several small thefts which they committed, but this morning we learnt that six tomahawks and a knife had been stolen during the night. We addressed ourselves to the chief, who seemed angry with his people, and made a harangue to them; but we did not recover the articles, and soon afterward two of our spoons were missing. We therefore ordered them all from our camp, threatening to beat severely any one detected in purloining. This harshness irritated them so much that they left us in an ill-humor, and we therefore kept on our guard against any insult. Besides this knavery, the faithlessness of the people is intolerable; frequently, after receiving goods in exchange for a horse, they return in a few hours and insist on revoking the bargain or receiving some additional value. We discovered, too, that the horse which was missing yesterday had been gambled away by the fellow from whom we had purchased him, to a man of a different nation, who had carried him off. We succeeded in buying two more horses, two dogs, and some chappelell, and also exchanged a couple of elk-skins for a gun belonging to the chief. . . . One of the canoes, for which the Indians would give us very little, was cut up for fuel; two others, together with some elk-skins and pieces of old iron, we bartered for beads, and the remaining two small ones were despatched early next morning, with all the baggage which could not be carried on horseback. We had intended setting out at the same time, but one of our horses broke loose during the night, and we were under the necessity of sending several men in search of him. In the mean time, the Indians, who were always on the alert, stole a tomahawk, which we could not recover, though several of them were searched; and another fellow was detected in carrying off a piece of iron, and kicked out of camp; upon which Captain Lewis, addressing them, told them he was not afraid to fight them, for, if he chose, he could easily put them all to death, and burn their village, but that he did not wish to treat them ill if they kept from stealing; and that, although, if he could discover who had the tomahawks, he would take away their horses, yet he would rather lose the property altogether than take the horse of an innocent man. The chiefs were present at this harangue, hung their heads, and made no reply.

“At ten o’clock the men returned with the horse, and soon after an Indian, who had promised to go with us as far as the Chopunnish, came with two horses, one of which he politely offered to assist in carrying our baggage. We therefore loaded nine horses, and, giving the tenth to Bratton, who was still too sick to walk, at about ten o’clock left the village of these disagreeable people.”

At an Indian village which they reached soon after leaving that of the disagreeable Skilloots, they found the fellow who had gambled away the horse that he had sold. Being faced with punishment, he agreed to replace the animal he had stolen with another, and a very good horse was brought to satisfy the white men, who were now determined to pursue a rigid course with the thievish Indians among whom they found themselves. These people, the Eneeshurs, were stingy, inhospitable, and overbearing in their ways. Nothing but the formidable numbers of the white men saved them from insult, pillage, and even murder. While they were here, one of the horses belonging to the party broke loose and ran towards the Indian village. A buffalo robe attached to him fell off and was gathered in by one of the Eneeshurs. Captain Lewis, whose patience was now exhausted, set out, determined to burn the village unless the Indians restored the robe. Fortunately, however, one of his men found the missing article hidden in a hut, and so any act of violent reprisal was not necessary.

So scarce had now become fuel, the party were obliged to buy what little wood they required for their single cooking-fire. They could not afford a fire to keep them warm, and, as the nights were cold and they lay without any shelter, they were most uncomfortable, although the days were warm. They were now travelling along the Columbia River, using their horses for a part of their luggage, and towing the canoes with the remainder of the stuff. On the twenty-third of April they arrived at the mouth of Rock Creek, on the Columbia, a considerable stream which they missed as they passed this point on their way down, October 21. Here they met a company of Indians called the Wahhowpum, with whom they traded pewter buttons, strips of tin and twisted wire for roots, dogs, and fuel. These people were waiting for the arrival of the salmon. The journal says: -

“After arranging the camp we assembled all the warriors, and having smoked with them, the violins were produced, and some of the men danced. This civility was returned by the Indians in a style of dancing, such as we had not yet seen. The spectators formed a circle round the dancers, who, with their robes drawn tightly round the shoulders, and divided into parties of five or six men, perform by crossing in a line from one side of the circle to the other. All the parties, performers as well as spectators, sing, and after proceeding in this way for some time, the spectators join, and the whole concludes by a promiscuous dance and song. Having finished, the natives retired at our request, after promising to barter horses with us in the morning.”

They bought three horses of these Indians and hired three more from a Chopunnish who was to accompany them. The journal adds: -

“The natives also had promised to take our canoes in exchange for horses; but when they found that we were resolved on travelling by land they refused giving us anything, in hopes that we would be forced to leave them. Disgusted at this conduct, we determined rather to cut them to pieces than suffer these people to enjoy them, and actually began to split them, on which they gave us several strands of beads for each canoe. We had now a sufficient number of horses to carry our baggage, and therefore proceeded wholly by land.”

Next day the party camped near a tribe of Indians known as the Pishquitpah. These people had never seen white men before, and they flocked in great numbers around the strangers, but were very civil and hospitable, although their curiosity was rather embarrassing. These people were famous hunters, and both men and women were excellent riders. They were now travelling on the south side of the river, in Oregon, and, after leaving the Pishquitpahs, they encountered the Wollawollahs, as they called them. These Indians are now known as the Walla Walla tribe, and their name is given to a river, a town, and a fort of the United States. In several of the Indian dialects walla means running water, and when the word is repeated, it diminishes the size of the object; so that Walla Walla means little running water. Near here the explorers passed the mouth of a river which they called the Youmalolam; it is a curious example of the difficulty of rendering Indian names into English. The stream is now known as the Umatilla. Here they found some old acquaintances of whom the journal has this account: -

“Soon after we were joined by seven Wollawollahs, among whom we recognized a chief by the name of Yellept, who had visited us on the nineteenth of October, when we gave him a medal with the promise of a larger one on our return. He appeared very much pleased at seeing us again, and invited us to remain at his village three or four days, during which he would supply us with the only food they had, and furnish us with horses for our journey. After the cold, inhospitable treatment we have lately received, this kind offer was peculiarly acceptable; and after a hasty meal we accompanied him to his village, six miles above, situated on the edge of the low country, about twelve miles below the mouth of Lewis’ River.

“Immediately on our arrival Yellept, who proved to be a man of much influence, not only in his own but in the neighboring nations, collected the inhabitants, and having made a harangue, the purport of which was to induce the nations to treat us hospitably, he set them an example by bringing himself an armful of wood, and a platter containing three roasted mullets. They immediately assented to one part, at least, of the recommendation, by furnishing us with an abundance of the only sort of fuel they employ, the stems of shrubs growing in the plains. We then purchased four dogs, on which we supped heartily, having been on short allowance for two days past. When we were disposed to sleep, the Indians retired immediately on our request, and indeed, uniformly conducted themselves with great propriety. These people live on roots, which are very abundant in the plains, and catch a few salmon-trout; but at present they seem to subsist chiefly on a species of mullet, weighing from one to three pounds. They informed us that opposite the village there was a route which led to the mouth of the Kooskooskee, on the south side of Lewis’ River; that the road itself was good, and passed over a level country well supplied with water and grass; and that we should meet with plenty of deer and antelope. We knew that a road in that direction would shorten the distance at least eighty miles; and as the report of our guide was confirmed by Yellept and other Indians, we did not hesitate to adopt this route: they added, however, that there were no houses, nor permanent Indian residences on the road and that it would therefore be prudent not to trust wholly to our guns, but to lay in a stock of provisions.

“Taking their advice, therefore, we next day purchased ten dogs. While the trade for these was being conducted by our men, Yellept brought a fine white horse, and presented him to Captain Clark, expressing at the same time a wish to have a kettle; but, on being informed that we had already disposed of the last kettle we could spare, he said he would be content with any present we chose to make him in return. Captain Clark thereupon gave him his sword, for which the chief had before expressed a desire, adding one hundred balls, some powder, and other small articles, with which he appeared perfectly satisfied. We were now anxious to depart, and requested Yellept to lend us canoes for the purpose of crossing the river; but he would not listen to any proposal of the kind. He wished us to remain for two or three days; but, at all events, would not consent to our going to-day, for he had already sent to invite his neighbors, the Chimnapoos, to come down this evening and join his people in a dance for our amusement. We urged in vain that, by setting out sooner, we would the earlier return with the articles they desired; for a day, he observed, would make but little difference. We at length mentioned that, as there was no wind it was now the best time to cross the river, and we would merely take the horses over and return to sleep at their village. To this he assented; we then crossed with our horses, and having hobbled them, returned to their camp.

“Fortunately, there was among these Wollwaollahs a prisoner belonging to a tribe of Shoshonee or Snake Indians, residing to the south of the Multnomah and visiting occasionally the heads of Wollawollah Creek. Our Shoshonee woman, Sacajawea, though she belonged to a tribe near the Missouri, spoke the same language as this prisoner; by their means we were able to explain ourselves to the Indians, and answer all their inquiries with respect to ourselves and the object of our journey. Our conversation inspired them with much confidence, and they soon brought several sick persons, for whom they requested our assistance. We splintered (splinted) the broken arm of one, gave some relief to another, whose knee was contracted by rheumatism, and administered what we thought beneficial for ulcers and eruptions of the skin on various parts of the body which are very common disorders among them. But our most valuable medicine was eye-water, which we distributed, and which, indeed, they required very much.

“A little before sunset the Chimnapoos, amounting to one hundred men and a few women, came to the village, and, joining the Wollawollahs, who were about the same number of men, formed themselves in a circle round our camp, and waited very patiently till our men were disposed to dance, which they did for about an hour, to the music of the violin. They then requested the Indians to dance. With this they readily complied; and the whole assemblage, amounting, with the women and children of the village, to several hundred, stood up, and sang and danced at the same time. The exercise was not, indeed, very violent nor very graceful; for the greater part of them were formed into a solid column, round a kind of hollow square, stood on the same place, and merely jumped up at intervals, to keep time to the music. Some, however, of the more active warriors entered the square and danced round it sideways, and some of our men joined in with them, to the great satisfaction of the Indians. The dance continued till ten o’clock.”

By the thirtieth of April the expedition was equipped with twenty-three horses, most of which were young and excellent animals; but many of them were afflicted with sore backs. All Indians are cruel masters and hard riders, and their saddles are so rudely made that it is almost impossible for an Indian’s horse to be free from scars; yet they continue to ride after the animal’s back is scarified in the most horrible manner.

The expedition was now in what we know as Walla Walla County, Washington, and they were travelling along the river Walla Walla, leaving the Columbia, which has here a general direction of northerly. The course of the party was northeast, their objective point being that where Waitesburg is now built, near the junction of Coppie Creek and the Touchet River. They were in a region of wood in plenty, and for the first time since leaving the Long Narrows, or Dalles, they had as much fuel as they needed. On the Touchet, accordingly, they camped for the sake of having a comfortable night; the nights were cold, and a good fire by which to sleep was an attraction not easily resisted. The journal, April 30, has this entry: -

“We were soon supplied by Drewyer with a beaver and an otter, of which we took only a part of the beaver, and gave the rest to the Indians. The otter is a favorite food, though much inferior, at least in our estimation, to the dog, which they will not eat. The horse is seldom eaten, and never except when absolute necessity compels them, as the only alternative to dying of hunger. This fastidiousness does not, however, seem to proceed so much from any dislike to the food, as from attachment to the animal itself; for many of them eat very heartily of the horse-beef which we give them.”

On the first day of May, having travelled forty miles from their camp near the mouth of the Walla Walla, they camped between two points at which are now situated the two towns of Prescott, on the south, and Waitesburg, on the north. Their journal says: -

“We had scarcely encamped when three young men came up from the Wollawollah village, with a steel-trap which had inadvertently been left behind, and which they had come a whole day’s journey in order to restore. This act of integrity was the more pleasing, because, though very rare among Indians, it corresponded perfectly with the general behavior of the Wollawollahs, among whom we had lost carelessly several knives, which were always returned as soon as found. We may, indeed, justly affirm, that of all the Indians whom we had met since leaving the United States, the Wollawollahs were the most hospitable, honest, and sincere.”