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Brackenridge, Henry M.; Schermerhorn, John F.; Humboldt, Alexander; Missouri Gazette; Sibly; Mills; Perry. Views of Louisiana; Together With a Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River, in 1811 . Pittsburgh: Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, 1814. [format: book], [genre: memoir; narrative; travelogue]. Permission: Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures, Aurora University
From the fatal ravages of the small pox, the present Indian nations of Louisiana, particularly on the Missouri, have not the tenth of the numbers which they had near thirty years ago.
Within a few years past, however, they have been rapidly increasing. Notwithstanding the formidable list here presented, these people are scattered over so wide a country as scarcely to be noticed in it. One may travel for days without meeting a living soul; I descended the Missouri one thousand miles without once seeing a human being that was not of our party.
The only fixed or agricultural villages on the Missouri, are those of the Osage, Maha's, Poncas, Pani's, Arikara's, and Mandan's; and all on the S. W. side of the river. On the Blue earth river, and in the forks of the Kansas, there are several villages of the nation of that name, the Pani villages below the mouth of Wolf river, and a village of Ollo's and Missouri's. Yet even some of these, are abandoned for a great part of the summer season, and their inhabitants wander through the plains; generally en masse, and carrying with them all their property, excepting their corn, and a few bulky articles which they deposit in hiding places. Their baggage is more cumbrous, than would be imagined, and employs a great number of dogs and horses in transporting it from place to place.
All the other nations lead a life similar to that of the shepherds of Asia; it is true they do not drive domestic herds to places where the best pasturage may be found, but what amounts nearly to the same thing, they follow the instinctive migrations of the Buffaloe, feed upon his flesh and kindle their fires with his ordure. The great object of serious employment in these nations, the ruling passion, is a thirst for mutual destruction. The great distance to which their war parties wander in pursuit of this darling gratification is indeed surprising; eight hundred or a thousand miles is not an unusual journey. It is only, however, on women and children, and on parties taken by surprise that their attacks prove really bloody and destructive. In their more regular engagements, or battles, where there is something like equality in the adverse parties, they engage, generally on horseback, in a manoeuvering fight, in which they display wonderful activity and skill on both sides, so much so, that they do each other very little harm. A battle between three or four hundred men on each side, will continue a whole day, and be at length terminated by the death of two or three and as
many wounded. In this they bear a strong resemblance to the Arabs; it is the result of the theatre of war on which they engage, the open plains, and not the want of courage.
Nearly all the nations of the N. W. side, are descendants of the Sioux, and at peace with each other, but with scarcely an exception, at war with those on the S. W. side. These nations have considerable trade or traffic with each other. The Sioux have for this purpose regular fairs, or assemblages, at stated periods. The same thing prevails with the nations on the S. W. side of the Missouri. Those towards the south, have generally vast numbers of horses, mules, and asses, which they obtain in trade, or war, from the Spaniards or nations immediately bordering on New Mexico. These animals are chiefly transferred to the nations N. E. of the river, by such of the southern tribes as happen to be on good terms with them, who obtain in exchange European articles, procured from the British traders. Their stock of horses requires to be constantly renewed by thefts or purchases: from the severity of the climate and the little care taken of the foals, the animal would otherwise be in danger of becoming extinct. Their mode of trading with each other is perfectly primitive. There is no bargaining or dispute about price; a nation or tribe comes to a village, encamps near it, and after demonstrations on both sides of a thousand barbarous civilities, as sincere as those which are the result of refinement, one of the parties makes a general present of all such articles as it can conveniently spare: the other a short time after makes in return a similar present, the fair is then concluded by a variety of games, sports and dances. They hold the mode of trading by the whites, in great contempt; they say it displays a narrow and contemptible soul to be weighing and counting every trifle; the price is usually fixed by the chief and his council, and the nation as well as traders must submit.
Their arms consist principally of bows, spears, clubs, and light fuses. But the bow, particularly in hunting, is still the principal weapon. Like all savages they are superstitious. It appeared to me that if they had any particular object of adoration it was the buffaloe head. They place it in every holy or sacred spot of ground, and each lodge or tent, has one or two, to which
the whole family seem to pay the utmost reverence. I saw in the village of the Mandan chief, She-he-ke, in an open space before the temple or medicine lodge, an enclosure of about six feet square, in which were four on these heads on elevated mounds of earth.
I had not sufficient time to form any idea of their languages but from what I was able to learn there are about six primitive ones: it is very probable that a more accurate scrutiny would discover of those, several common to other nations of the continent. It appeared to me that the Snake Indians, both in language and in appearance were different from any Indians I had ever seen. In the sound of the language there is a good deal of resemblance to those of Africa which I have heard. I am informed that copious vocabularies have been made by Lewis and Clark, of nearly all the Indian languages of the Missouri. As their journal is expected shortly to appear, I shall not publish the collections made by me, which must necessarily be much inferior to theirs, they having had more time and much greater opportunities. A few primitive words of different nations will suffice in this view.
They call themselves Wasashe, and are divided into three bands, 1. The Great Osage, 2. Little Osage, 3. The band of "Big Track," from a chief who left the nation some years ago and is now settled on the Arkansas. Their language may be considered the primitive of several others, which are spoken by neighbouring nations, without any great difference; as the Arkansas, Kansas, and Mahas. Their trade is principally in deer skins, bear skins, beaver, otter, muskrat, and the Buffaloe.
These people have been noted for their uncommon stature; this is somewhat exaggerated, though they are undoubtedly above the ordinary size of men. The wandering or semi-wandering nations of Louisiana, may be characterised as exceeding in stature the whites. The Osages are reputed warlike, but this arises from their being at war with all their neighbours, and not from any uncommon degree of bravery. When compared with the Shawanese, and the nations east of the Mississippi, they might with more propriety be regarded as a treacherous and cowardly race.
A purchase was made a few years ago by governor Lewis, of the greater part of the country claimed by these people, reserving to them the privilege of hunting on it, until the extension of the settlements should render it inconvenient. The object of this was to fix a certain and determinate boundary for the exercise of the jurisdiction of the courts, and in order to do away all question or difficulty as to the title of the United States. But great dissatisfaction has been excited amongst them in consequence of the purchase, which they alledge not to have been fairly made. In fact, this is not a matter easily effected with strict correctness, and it is doubtful with me whether our extensive Indian purchases east of the Mississippi, were conducted in the fairest manner. A desire of doing something meritorious, may have induced some of our agents, to go rather too far in procuring the consent of the chiefs of the nation, and, perhaps of chiefs created for the express purpose. When this subject is considered, there may be more justice in the disaffection of the Indian nations than is generally supposed. The governments of the Indian nations are generally republican; the chiefs propose, and the people approve or disapprove ; the proper solemnities are not so easily complied with; the Consent of a few of the principal chiefs has generally been thought sufficient, but there are instances of those chiefs falling into disgrace in consequence of their unauthorised conduct. The Osage purchase was sanctioned by the government, but nothing was done in complying with the stipulations of the treaty on our part for nearly two years. Shortly before the arrival of governor Howard, the Osages were informed that the first payment of the annuity was soon to be made for their land. Thirty or forty chiefs came to St. Louis, soon after the arrival of the governor, and in council, remonstrated against the purchase, declaring it to have been unfair. The principal speaker Le Sonneur, addressed him with great art, and some eloquence. He said, that "he was much surprised to hear of this purchase, which had been forgotten by his nation, and he supposed had also been forgotten by his great father. The sale was made by those who had no authority; and his great father not having complied with his part of the bargain, by delaying two
of the treaty, his nation ought not to be held to their part of it, even if fairly entered into. But, said he, the Osage nation has no right to sell its country, much less have a few chiefs, who have taken it on themselves to do so; our country belongs to our posterity as well as to ourselves; it is not absolutely ours, we receive it only for our lifetimes, and then to transmit it to our descendants. Our great father is good and just, will he permit his children to sell the bones of their fathers, to sell the inheritance of their children! No, my father, keep your goods, and let us keep our lands." This chief satisfied me of the talent for oratory amongst these rude men. He spoke for an hour, and as completely exhausted his subject as could have been done by the best speaker. His speech was evidently prepared with care for the occasion. Governor Howard replied to him with dignity and firmness, and informed him, that the treaty must be kept; that their great father did not compel Indians to sell their lands, but when they did sell, the bargain could not be broken; that circumstances had rendered it impossible to pay the annuities sooner, the treaty not having been approved by their great father for a considerable time. That the annuities for two years were ready for them, if they chose, they might accept, if not, it was of no consequence, the land would still be considered as purchased, and their obstinacy would have no other effect than that of displeasing their great father. Finding that opposition was useless, they finally promised to use their influence to induce their nation to accept. These purchases have a good appearance, but I question whether they are in reality more just than the French and Spanish mode of encroaching on their lands, and insinuating themselves into their country imperceptibly; taking a piece of land as they might happen to want it, without saying any thing about Indian title, and keeping those people quiet by presents, more pleasing to them than if given as the payment of a debt, for which an equivalent had been received. I fear it is not with respect to Indian purchases, that we have manifested a conduct more generous and noble than our predecessors; we must look for this in the pains and expense which we have been at, in civilizing and instructing these people, together with the uniform practice of advising them to neutrality in our wars with white nations.
and to peace amongst themselves. The establishment of trading houses and factories, though originating from the best intentions, is not in reality so praise-worthy as might appear from the first glance, otherwise than it affords protection to traders, and keeps the Indians in awe.
A few years ago they were the greatest scoundrels of the Missouri, robbing traders, and ill-treating the whites, but since about two years, in consequence of a severe defeat from the Panis, in which their greatest warriors fell, they have been humbled. They are brave, and are esteemed great warriors. They have their villages on the Kansas river. The country which they inhabit abounds with beaver, but they do not hunt much. They speak the Osage language with some difference of dialect.
They are the descendants of the ancient Missouris, and speak their language, which is remarkably lofty and sonorous. They are not numerous, but esteemed brave and warlike. They reside fifteen leagues up the river Platte, and live in community and friendship with the Panis.
The remnant of one of the most numerous nations of the Missouri, and who have given their name to the river. They were reduced to about eighty warriors. They reside with the Ottoes. Their village was formerly at the mouth of the Grand river.
A much more friendly and civilized people than those just described; they treat their traders and the whites generally with remarkable hospitality, have frequent intercourse with the Spaniards, and live about thirty leagues from the mouth of the river Platte, and in two villages. The Council Bluffs on the Missouri would be a good place for a trading establishment for these people. They have but faint ideas of the exclusive right of soil, and have no fixed boundary; in which, they resemble the greater part years the stipulated payment, and not performing the other parts
of these nations. They hunt on the rivers Platte and Kansas; their country very little wooded, but of a beautiful surface, consisting of open plains.
The Pani Loups, reside on the Wolf river, thirty six leagues from its mouth. There is said to be a good deal of timbered land between this river and the Corne-de-Cerf, or Elk horn, principally pine and shrubby oak. The two rivers just mentioned, afford excellent navigation; the Wolf river rises in a lake, or rather a large fountain.
The Pani, Republican, a small band which seceded from the nation a few years ago, reside on the Republican fork of the Kansas river.
Reside on the Maha creek, about eighty leagues above the Platte, in their village, and raise corn. A friendly and industrious people, and have a considerable trade. Their language originally Osage. All the Sioux bands, except the Yanktons, make war upon them. Their numbers have been much reduced within the last ten years.
Originally Maha; village a short distance below the Qui-Courre. They were almost destroyed by the Sioux, their village broken up, and they were compelled to be altogether wandering; but within a few years, they have re-established their village, and are increasing rapidly.
Live 1440 miles up the Missouri, in two villages, an industrious people, but from the attacks of their neighbours, are unable to hunt any other but the buffaloe, though their country abounds in game. They are at present on very friendly terms with the whites, though guilty a few years ago of an outrage on a party commanded by Lieut. Prior. In my Journal I have dwelt a good deal on the customs and character of these people, which in many respects are peculiar and highly interesting. They were originally Pani.
The remnants of a number of villages, according to their account, seventeen. They claim only the small portion of county which they actually occupy; in this, resembling the Arikaras. They still consist of seven villages, five of Gros Ventres, and two of Mandans, in the distance of about fifteen miles. They are generally on good terms with each other, but at present there exists considerable dissentions, and even open rupture. There is not the least affinity in their languages, but the Gros Ventre is spoken by all the Mandans. According to the tradition of these last, who were originally of the Crow nation, owing to a quarrel between two chiefs, over the carcase of a buffaloe which they had slain, a separation took place of the followers of each.
Are a wandering nation, on the heads of the Chienne river. Trade with the Arikaras speak a different language from any nation I know. Their complexion very fair. They trade also with the Spaniards, and have a great number of horses, &c.
On an ancient map I have seen them named Naddouwessioux; the Noddouwessces of Carver, are probably a band of Sioux Are nearly all wandering tribes, and may be considered as divided into four nations, the Sioux, Teton, Assineboin and Black-feet.
Wander in an agreeable country, a considerable portion of which is woodland trade on the St. Peters, and on the Missouri at the riviere à Jaque. Their trade is not valuable, chiefly buffaloe robes and deer skins: they are the most friendly and peaceable of the Sioux bands.
On Red river of lake Winipee, and trade with the British establishments.
On the N.W. side of the river St. Peters, to the mouth of the Chippoway river.
The only Sioux band which attends to the cultivation of the earth; but this not to any great extent. They live on the Mississippi above the river St. Peters. Their country is represented as tolerably fertile, and well watered.
On the S. W. side of the river St. Peters, from a place called Hardwood, to the Yellow Medicine river, some traffic with the Yanktons and Tetons west of them.
On the upper part of Red river and the St. Peters. This country abounds with small lakes, and is valuable for animals, beaver, otter, muskrat, martin, &c. They meet the Tetons, &c. on the riviere a Jaque, about the months of May and June to trade. They supply the Yanktons with articles of European manufacture, and receive in return, horses, &c.
These are the pirates or marauders of the Missouri, their country without timber, and not good for hunting, except as to the buffaloe, they have therefore hardly any thing but buffaloe robes to trade.
The Sioux bands claim as follows; "beginning at the confluence of the riviere des Moines and the Mississippi, thence to the river St. Peters, thence on both sides of the Mississippi to Crow Wing river, and upwards with that stream, including the waters of the upper part of Red river of lake Winipec, and down to the Pemberton river; thence a S. W. course to intersect the Missouri, at or near the Mandans, and with that stream, down to the Warricon river, thence, crossing the Missouri, it goes to include the lower part of the Chienne river, all the waters of White river, and Teton river, including the lower portion of the Qui Courre, and returns with that stream downward to the Missouri, thence eastward to the beginning."
Manelopee, (gens de Canot,) wander on the Mouse river, between the Assineboin and the Missouri. Osee-gah, about the mouth of the little Missouri, to the Assineboin river.
Mahto pa-na-to, on the Missouri, about the mouth of the White earth river, and on the head of the Assineboin and Copelle rivers.
These bands trade with the Hudson's Bay Company, who have establishments on the Assineboin and Copelle rivers; occasionally also on the Saskashawin. Their country has little or no timber.
They wander on the heads of the Missouri, Maria river, and along the Rocky mountains, they are also Sioux. They trade at the same establishments with the Assineboin, and are at war with the Crow nation. They have been very troublesome to our traders, to whom they have conceived a deadly hatred. Their country the most abundant in beaver and other furs.
Speak the Crow language, and wander on the south fork of the Saskashawin.
Are divided into three bands, one in a village on an island in Leech lake; another about the head of the Mississippi, and around Red lake, and the third on Red river, of lake Winipec, and about the mouth of Pemberton river. They wander along the lakes, however, to a great distance. They are the inveterate enemies of the Sioux, with whom they have been at war time immemorial. Their country is tolerably well covered with wood, but abounds with morasses and lakes.
Speak the same language with the Chippoways, and live in two bands, one on the south side of Rainy lake, Rainy Lake river, and the Lake of the Woods; the other about the mouths of the Assineboin and Red rivers.
Descendants of the Chippoways on the head of the Assineboin, thence towards the Saskashawin. They might be induced to trade at an establishment on the Missouri, at the mouth of the Yellow Stone river.
A very numerous race, who have as yet but little intercourse with the whites. They are badly armed, and much at the mercy of the other Indians, by whom they are made slaves when taken prisoners. They are also called Camanches. They wander about the heads of the Platte, and in the vast plains bordering on New Mexico and New Spain, south of the Arkansas; and are divided into many bands. They possess an immense number of horses, asses, and mules.
On the Yellow Stone, and heads of the Missouri; they are divided into a number of small bands.
Wander along the Rocky mountains, and sometimes venture: across. Probably a band of the Snake Indians. The Padoncas, Kioways, &c. are probably bands of nations already enumerated; inhabit an arid, unproductive country.
Thirty-five miles west of the main branch of Red river, 120 miles by land above Natchitoches, formerly lived 375 miles higher up, at a beautiful prairie, which has a lake of clear water. The nation is small, but the warriors greatly celebrated for their courage, and as much respected by their neighbours, as the Knights of Malta were in Europe.
Fifty miles above Natchitoches on Bayou Pierre, there is a small French settlement. They are but a remnant, but live in a fixed village.
On the Sabine, sixty or seventy miles from the Yattasces. The French had formerly a factory here language Caddó
Forty miles from Natchitoches below the Yattasces; language peculiar extremely difficult to speak.
Near Nacogdoches nearly exterminated a few years ago by the small-pox language peculiar, but speak Caddó.
On the Trinity river, near where the road to St. Antonio crosses it. Language peculiar.
On a branch of the Sabine language Caddó gave their name to the province of Texas Nabadaches, in the same neighbourhood.
On the Trinity, about sixty miles S. of the Nacogdoches, speak Caddo, but have a peculiar language.
Two hundred miles S.W. of Nacogdoches, on the W. side of the Colorado speak peculiar language wander about the bay of St. Bernard.
On the bay of St. Bernard, near the Guadaloupe hate the Spaniards, and are attached to the French have a tradition of landing of La Salle in this neighbourhood speak Attakapas.
On an island or Peninsula in the bay of St. Bernard, 10 miles long and 5 broad at war with the Spaniards a peculiar languages.
A very numerous nation; consisting of a number of tribes, who occupy the country from the bay of St. Bernard, across Grand river, towards la Vera Cruz. On bad terms with the Spaniards speak a peculiar language.
A wandering people, near the Rio Grande.
On the Brassos de Dios for some months at the prairie of the Tortuga usual residence 200 miles west of Nacogdoches, towards Sta. Fee speak Pani, or Towiache.
Eight hundred miles above Natchitoches, 340 by land. Much diminished six or eight years ago by the small-pox.
Formerly resided where the town of Natchitoches is now situated Have always been friendly to the whites. They have dwindled away to a few warriors.
Emigrants from Pensacola they came with a few French families are not more than thirty in number. There are, besides several small bands or parties, originally from Florida, the Appalaches on Bayou Rapide Alibamas, in Oppelousas Conchatas, of the same nation with the Alibamas, emigrated to the Sabine about fifteen years ago Pacanas, a small tribe who live on the Qulequeshoe river, which heads S. W. of Natchitoches. Pascagolas, live in a small village 60 miles above Natchitoches. Tunicas, at Avoyall, emigrants from Bayou Tunica. All these nations speak the Mobilian, which was formerly the court language amongst the Indian nations of Lower Louisiana. There are besides, a number of small bands of Chactas, on Bayou Boeuf; on the Teche, and on the Sabine.
In the Indian language means black head, or black scull they are aborigines of this district.
Signifies man-eater. They at present reside with the Carankouas on an island in the bay of St. Bernard. They have the reputation of being to this day anthropophagi. A French writer, who published a book on Louisiana in 17 13, of the name of Dumont, relates a fact of two white men who fell into their hands, one of whom was killed and eaten, the other made Ins escape.
Emigrants from the Tensa, and Bayou Boeuf Washas, formerly a considerable nation, now extinct, lived near New Orleans, and were the first with whom the French became acquainted.
South of the Arkansas village, descended from the Osage. The Houmas and Avoyall extinct.
Descended from the Missouris, and claim the country west of them. Have a village on the riviere des Moines, S. E. side, but are generally wandering.
One hundred and forty leagues above St. Louis. Trade with the merchants from Michilimackinac, and St. Louis. Live with the Foxes, and may be considered as identified with those people. The country which they claim lies principally on the east side of the Mississippi. On the west side, they claim the country of the ancient Missouris by right of conquest, without defining any portion to the Ayuwas. To them may be ascribed the destruction of the Piorias, Kaskaskias, Cahokias, Missouris, and Illinois.
Lower Louisiana, when first discovered, was inhabited by very numerous nations; the accounts given by early writers are almost incredible. Charlevoix states that about the year 1560, there were many powerful nations in what was then called Florida. Outina, Timogoa, and Saturiora, the neighbours of Mons. Ribaut, could each command eight hundred or a thousand warriors. Onothaca, and Calos, one on the eastern, the other on the western side of the Peninsula, were still more powerful. In 1565, M. Laudamère sent thirty men to assist Outina, against another chief, named Patanow, whom they encountered and defeated, his force consisting of two thousand men. The Baya goulas who were situated near the mouth of the Mississippi, when visited by M. D'Iberville, are described as having seven hundred families in their principal town. Charlevoix gives a curious description of their temple.
In Upper Louisiana (Ter. Missouri) there are several small bands scattered through the settlements, and in the White river country. Near Apple creek there are two villages of Shawanese, a sober orderly people, and another of the same on the Maramek. In the White river country, there have been of late considerable emigrations of Cherokees, who are said to claim it. Straggling families may be seen at all seasons of the year, encamped near the villages, and on the banks of the Mississippi, who subsist by vending the produce of their hunting to the whites. These stragglers are usually a miserable and degraded rage, lazy, and filthy in the extreme.
Before the change of government, the mode of carrying on the Indian traffic, like all other colonial trade, was by monopolies, in which the interest of the governor or intendant was alone consulted. The traders obtained the exclusive privilege of trading to a particular tribe, or upon a certain river. But they were cramped in their enterprise by the narrow views of the government, who established no forts for the protection of the trade, nor would sanction the establishment of companies capable of protecting themselves. Since the change, a more extended theatre has been opened, both to the Mississippi and Missouri; and enterprising individuals have ventured up those rivers with great prospects of advantage. The merchandise consumed in this trade, was chiefly brought from New Orleans or Michilimakinac. The place of rendezvous on the Mississippi, was at prairie du Chien, but there were no fixed trading establishments. It was usual for the traders to ascend the rivers in the autumn, remain during the winter at a spot considered most convenient for the resort of the Indians, and return to St. Louis on the breaking up of the ice in the spring, with the produce of their traffic. The only permanent trading establishments on the waters of the Missouri, were those of Choteau's, on the Osage river. Others, wintered with the Mahas, Poncas, and at different points on the river. A trader of the name of L'Oiselle, had a fort on Cedar island, in the country of the Sioux, nearly twelve hundred miles up. This trade could not have been considerable; and besides, the traders were exceedingly harassed by vagabond Indians, who frequently pillaged, carried away in captivity, or even murdered them and their men.
Notwithstanding the freedom of trading was open to all, on possession being taken by the United States, it was not until after the return of Lewis and Clark from their expedition that any perceptible change took place. Mr. Manuel Lisa, an enterprising gentleman of St. Louis, was the first to venture towards the source of the Missouri for the purpose of trading. His own capital not being adequate to the undertaking, he was joined by two or three gentlemen of St. Louis. A brief account of his expedition, as it may be considered somewhat connected with
the fur trade of Louisiana, may not be uninteresting in this place.
He set off in the spring following the return of Lewis and Clark. Besides his own boats there were two others in company, which constituted a tolerable force. This trading expedition was very different from a journey of discovery The difficulties would necessarily be much greater. A party of men well armed and equipped, and under proper submission to their officers, with presents to bestow to the different tribes, and not incumbered with goods or effects, might, with prudence, pass through with much less difficulty. The case is different where the trader has unruly hands to manage, who think themselves perfectly at liberty when once out of the reach of law: without discipline, badly armed, and coming to the nations, not for the purpose of making presents, but of trade. All these obstacles were encountered by Lisa and the traders who accompanied him.
At the river Platte, Lisa met one of Lewis and Clark's men, of the name of Coulter, who had been discharged at the Mandan villages, at his own request, that he might make a hunt before he returned. Coulter was persuaded to return: his knowledge of the country and nations rendered him an acquisition. Lisa passed the country of the Sioux, without finding any of that nation. On his arrival at the Arikara villages, his reception was such as to require the exhibition of prudence and courage. Two or three hundred warriors were drawn up, and on his approach, such as had fire arms fired a volley before his boat, to indicate the place where he should land. He accordingly put to shore, but instantly made it known, that no one of them was to enter his boat: the chiefs at the same time appointed warriors to stand guard and keep off the crowd. The women, who always trade amongst these nations, came to the beach with bags of corn, which they offered: an Indian rushed forward, cut open the bags with his knife while the women took to flight. Lisa, who was perfectly acquainted with the Indian character, knowing that the least appearance of alarm would be dangerous, instantly called his men to arms, pointed a couple of swivels which were fixed on his boats, and made every preparation for defence. The Indians perceiving this, dispersed in confusion; and after some time, the chiefs
approached with pipes of peace, extended before them in their hands. Lisa making signs of reconciliation, they came to him, and according to their custom, stroked him on the shoulders, begging him not to be displeased, declaring that the Indian who had offended him was considered a bad man. This had a good effect, and enabled him to proceed on his voyage without further molestation.
On his arrival at the first Mandan village, he determined to proceed through these villages, which are situated at intervals along the river, in the distance of about twenty miles, while his boats continued to ascend. At this village, he held the usual council with the chiefs, and presented them a few rolls of tobacco, and other articles, and was permitted to continue his journey. At the third village, his presents were rejected, and the chief demanded some powder, which was refused: Lisa, knew that his life was in no danger while his death could not procure them his goods, and resisted their repeated solicitations in a bold and firm manner; he told them that they might kill him, but that his property would be safe. They were finally compelled to accept of such presents as he offered.
A few days after, having passed the Mandans, he espied the Assineboin nation approaching, in a body of four or five thousand souls. These wandering people had learned from their scouts, the approach of the traders. The whole prairie, to use his expression, was red with them; some on horseback, others on foot, and all painted for war. His situation required the utmost boldness and intrepidity. He charged his swivels and made directly across to the savages, and when he had come within an hundred yards, the match was put, while there was at the same time, a general discharge of small arms. This was intended to strike them with terror; the effect was ludicrous, they fell back, tumbled over-each other, and fled to the hills with precipitation. A few of the warriors and chiefs only remained. The pipe of peace was presented, and matters concluded amicably. He continued his voyage to the Yellow Stone river, which he ascended about one hundred and seventy miles, to the Big Horn river, where he built a trading fort. He shortly after dispatched Coulter, the hunter before mentioned, to bring some of the Indian nations to
trade. This man, with a pack, of thirty pounds weight, his gun and some ammunition, went upwards of five hundred miles to the Crow nation; gave them information, and proceeded from thence to several other tribes. On his return, a party of Indians in whose company he happened to be, was attacked, and he was lamed by a severe wound in the leg; notwithstanding which, he returned to the establishment, entirely alone and without assistance, several hundred miles. Yet such instances of intrepidity would not be regarded amongst those people, as any way extraordinary. How should those blush, who are continually whining about the little inconveniences and privations pf common life! Lisa remained nine months at this place. He returned to St. Louis, having indemnified himself for his voyage, by considerable benefits. But he had not chosen the proper country, as the north side of the Missouri was much more abundant in furs, and of a more valuable quality.
After the return of Lisa, the favorable reports which he made, induced a number of gentlemen to turn their attention to this trade, and in a short time a company was formed under the name of "the Missouri Fur Company;" of this association Lisa became a member, and has been one of the most active and useful. The company was composed of ten persons; but the capital was greatly inadequate, not exceeding forty thousand dollars. Haying collected about two hundred and fifty men, they ascended the Missouri; left trading establishments with the Sioux, the Arikaras, and Mandans, but the principal part proceeded to the three forks of the Missouri, the country most abounding in beaver, for their intention was to hunt as well as trade, and the greater number of the men were hunters. But they had not been long here until they found their hopes entirely frustrated by the hostilities of the Black-feet Indians, a numerous tribe, who had unfortunately been rendered inimical to the Americans by an unlucky affair, in which Lewis and Clark, on their return, had killed two or three of their nation; besides, probably instigated by the jealousy of the British companies. A party of fifteen or twenty American hunters were attacked by surprise, and nine killed. The greatest precaution was found necessary in going out to hunt, they were at length so much harassed by the
savages, as to be compelled to remain altogether at their fort, or to venture but a short distance from it. It is supposed that in the different encounters with these savages, at least twenty of the whites were killed, and nearly twice that number of the others. Thus a most implacable enmity has been unfortunately excited, which will for a long time, exclude our traders and hunters, from that part of the western country by far the most favorable for their pursuits. It is supposed that had they continued unmolested, the company would have brought down the first year, three hundred packs of beaver alone. Instead of which there were scarcely twenty. The following spring a considerable number of the party descended the river; the remainder continued until autumn, when, fearing a general attack, and finding the situation otherwise exceedingly irksome, Mr. Henry, one of the company, who now commanded the party, resolved to cross the mountains, and winter on some of the branches of the Columbia; this he accordingly effected, but not without suffering every possible hardship, from hunger, cold, and fatigue. In the mean time, the company suffered considerable loss from the accidental burning of one of their factories; this was estimated at fifteen thousand dollars. The establishments at the Mandans and Arikaras, brought no profit. In the spring of the year 1811, the third, and by the time fixed for the duration of the association, the last, an expedition was fitted out by the company, the command of which was given to Lisa, whom I accompanied. By his prudence and good management, the affairs of the company were in some measure retrieved. After remaining sometime at the Mandan villages, he was joined by Mr. Henry and all his party, who brought about forty packs of beaver. Leaving trading establishments at the Mandans, Arikaras, and with the Sioux, he descended to St. Louis. It appeared that at the termination of the third year, notwithstanding all these unforeseen difficulties and misfortunes, the company had saved the capital, and had besides the establishments before mentioned. I have been informed that the company has been renewed, and its capital considerably enlarged.
Such is the present situation of the Indian trade. Besides the Missouri company, there are many individuals, who trade
with nations on the Mississippi, or on the Missouri, as high as the Mahas. There are few of the Indian tribes who hunt; they have hitherto had little encouragement; and besides, the continual wars which prevail amongst them, renders it impracticable.
A well regulated company, with sufficient capital, would in a very short time draw immense profits from the Indian trade of the Mississippi and Missouri. A very great proportion of the North West Company's trade, would find its way down those rivers. The city of New York is highly interested; its situation may render it the rival of Montreal in this trade; the climate of New Orleans is unfavourable to furs and peltries. Near the heads of all the western rivers, tributary to the Mississippi and Missouri, there are immense numbers of the beaver, muskrat, otter, and other furred animals. An extensive company, well established, might count upon a thousand packs annually, besides a vast number of buffaloe robes, which will be found of much use in the slave states, as a cheap and comfortable bedding for negroes. The buffaloe would furnish other articles of trade, wool, horns, tongues, &c. which would also be considerable. Wolf, bear, elk, and deer skins, might be had in immense quantities. It requires no gift of prophecy to tell, that such a company will not be long in forming. Should Canada, in the present struggle, be wrested from Britain, it would be immediately established.
The establishment of factories by the United States, in the Indian country, have had good effects where they are accompanied by forts, with a small number of soldiers; they keep those nations in awe, and enable the traders or hunters to traverse the country in security. The factory highest on the Missouri, is at fort Osage, three hundred miles from its entrance: two more might be established advantageously on this river; one at the Council Bluffs, and another at the little Cedar island.
Brackenridge, Henry M.; Schermerhorn, John F.; Humboldt, Alexander; Missouri Gazette; Sibly; Mills; Perry. Views of Louisiana; Together With a Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River, in 1811 . Pittsburgh: Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, 1814. [format: book], [genre: memoir; narrative; travelogue]. Permission: Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures, Aurora University
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