In 1812 General William H. Ashley, the head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, travelled up the Platte Valley, which a few years previously had been traversed by Captain Ezekiel Williams, whose routes were nearly the same. This party had a particularly hard time. Before they reached the buffalo country the Indians had driven every herd away.

In the company there were two Spaniards, who were one morning left behind at camp to catch some horses that had strayed. The two men stopped at the house of a respectable white woman, and finding her without protection, they assaulted her. They were pursued to the camp by a number of the settlers, who made the outrage known to the trappers. They all regarded the crime with the utmost abhorrence, and felt mortified that any of their party should be guilty of conduct so revolting. The culprits were arrested, and they at once admitted their guilt. A council was called in the presence of the settlers, and the men were offered their choice of two punishments: either to be hanged to the nearest tree, or to receive one hundred lashes each on the bare back. They chose the latter, which was immediately inflicted upon them by four of the trappers. Having no cat-o'-nine-tails in their possession, the lashes were inflicted with hickory withes. Their backs were terribly lacerated, and the blood flowed in streams to the ground. The following morning the two Spaniards and two of the best horses were missing from the camp; they were not pursued, however, but by the tracks it was discovered they had started for New Mexico.

There were thirty-four men in the party, including the general, and a harder-looking set for want of nourishment could hardly be imagined. They moved forward hoping to find game, as their allowance was half a pint of flour a day per man. This was made into a kind of gruel. If it happened that a duck or goose was killed, it was shared as fairly as possible.

There were no jokes, no fireside stories, no fun; each man rose in the morning with the gloom of the preceding night filling his mind; they built their fires without saying a word, and partook of their scanty repast in silence.

At last an order was given for the hunters to sally out and try their fortunes. Jim Beckwourth, who was one of the party, a mere youth then, tells of the success in the following words: -

        I seized my rifle and issued from camp alone, feeling so reduced in strength that my mind involuntarily reverted to the extremity I had been brought to by my youthful folly in coming into such a desert waste. About three hundred yards from the camp I saw two teal ducks; I levelled my rifle, and handsomely decapitated one. This was a temptation to my constancy; appetite and conscientiousness had a long strife as to the disposal of the booty. I reflected that it would be but an inconsiderable trifle to the mess of four hungry men, while to roast and eat him myself would give me strength to hunt for more. A strong inward feeling remonstrated against such an invasion of the rights of my starving messmates; but if, by fortifying myself, I gained ability to procure something more substantial than a teal duck, my dereliction would be sufficiently atoned for, and my overruling appetite at the same time gratified.

        Had I admitted my messmates to the argument, they might possibly have carried it adversely. But I received the conclusion as valid; so, roasting it without ceremony in the bushes, I devoured the duck alone, and felt greatly invigorated by the meal.

        Passing up the stream, I pushed forward to fulfil my obligation. At the distance of about a mile from the camp, I came across a narrow deer-trail through some bushes, and directly across the trail, with only the centre of his body visible (his two extremities being hidden by the rushes), not more than fifty yards distant, I saw a fine large buck standing. I did not wait for a nearer shot. I fired, and broke his neck. I despatched him by drawing my knife across his throat, and, having partially dressed him, hung him on a tree close by. Proceeding onward, I met a large wolf, attracted, probably, by the scent of the deer. I shot him, and, depriving him of his meal, devoted him for a repast to the camp. Before I returned, I succeeded in killing three good-sized elk, which, added to the former, afforded a pretty good display of meat.

        I then returned near enough to the camp to signal them to come to my assistance. They had heard the reports of my rifle, and, knowing that I would not waste ammunition, had been expecting to see me return with game. All who were able turned out at my summons, and, when they saw the booty awaiting them, their faces were irradiated with joy.

        Each man shouldered his load, but there was not one capable of carrying the weight of forty pounds. The game being all brought into camp, the fame of Jim Beckwourth was celebrated by all tongues. Amid all this gratulation, I could not separate my thoughts from the duck which had supplied my clandestine meal in the bushes. I suffered them to appease their hunger before I ventured to tell my comrades of the offence of which I had been guilty. All justified my conduct, declaring my conclusions obvious. As it turned out, my proceeding was right enough; but if I had failed to meet with any game, I had been guilty of an offence which would have haunted me ever after.

        The following day we started up the river, and, after progressing some four or five miles, came in sight of plenty of deer sign. The general ordered a halt, and directed all hunters out as before. We sallied out in different directions, our general, who was a good hunter, being one of the number. At a short distance from the camp I discovered a large buck passing slowly between myself and the camp, at about pistol-shot distance. As I happened to be standing against a tree, he had not seen me. I fired, the ball passed through his body, and whizzed past the camp. Leaving him, I encountered a second deer within three-quarters of a mile. I shot him and hung him on a limb. Encouraged with my success, I climbed a tree to get a fairer view of the ground. Looking around from my elevated position, I perceived some large dark-coloured animal grazing on the side of a hill, about a mile and a half distant. I was determined to have a shot at him, whatever he might be. I knew meat was in demand, and that fellow, well-stored, was worth a thousand teal ducks.

        I therefore approached with the greatest precaution to within fair rifle-shot distance, scrutinizing him very closely, and still unable to make out what he was. I could see no horns; if it was a bear, I thought him an enormous one. I took sight at him over my faithful rifle, which had never failed me, and then set it down, to contemplate the huge animal still further. Finally I resolved to let fly. Taking good aim, I pulled the trigger, the rifle cracked, and then I made rapid retreat toward the camp. After running about two hundred yards, and hearing nothing of a movement behind me, I ventured to look around, and to my great joy I saw the animal had fallen.

        Continuing my course to camp, I encountered the general, who, perceiving blood on my hands, addressed me: "Have you shot anything, Jim?"

        I replied, "Yes, sir."

        "What have you shot?"

        "Two deer and something else," I answered.

        "And what is something else?" he inquired.

        "I do not know, sir."

        "What did he look like?" the general interrogated. "Had he horns?"

        "I saw no horns, sir."

        "What colour was the animal?"

        "You can see him, General," I replied, "by climbing yonder tree."

        The general ascended the tree accordingly, and, looking through his spy-glass, which he always carried, exclaimed, "A buffalo, by heavens!" and coming nimbly down the tree, he gave orders for us to take a couple of horses, and go and dress the buffalo, and bring him to camp.

        I suggested that two horses would not carry the load; six were therefore despatched for the purpose, and they all came back well packed with the remains.

        That was the first buffalo I had ever seen though I had travelled hundreds of miles in the buffalo country. The conviction weighing upon my mind that it was a huge bear I was approaching had so excited me that, although within fair gun-shot, I actually could not see his horns. The general and my companions had many a hearty laugh at my expense, he often expressing wonder that my keen eye could not, when close to the animal, perceive the horns, while he could see them plainly nearly two miles away.

        When we moved up the river again, we hoped to fall in with game, though unfortunately found but little in our course. When we had advanced some twenty miles we halted. Our position looked threatening. It was midwinter, and everything around us bore a gloomy aspect. We were without any provisions, and we saw no means of obtaining any. At this crisis, six or seven Indians of the Pawnee Loup band came into our camp. Knowing them to be friendly, we were overjoyed to see them. They informed our interpreter that their village was only four miles distant, which at once accounted for the absence of game. They invited us to their lodges, where they could supply us with everything we needed, but on representing to them our scarcity of horses, and the quantity of peltry we had no means of packing, they immediately started off to their village. Our interpreter accompanied them, in quest of horses, and speedily returned with a sufficient number. Packing our effects, we accompanied them to the village, Two Axe and a Spaniard named Antoine Behele, chief of the band, forming part of our escort.

        Arrived at their village, we replaced our lost horses by purchasing others in their stead, and now everything being ready for our departure, our general informed Two Axe of his wish to get on.

        Two Axe objected: "My men are about to surround the buffalo," he said; "if you go now, you will frighten them. You must stay four days more, then you may go." His word was law, so we stayed accordingly.

        Within the four days appointed they made the "surround," and killed fourteen hundred buffaloes. The tongues were counted by General Ashley himself, and thus I can guarantee the assertion.

        There were engaged in this hunt from one to two thousand Indians, some mounted and others on foot. They encompassed a large space where the buffalo were contained, and, closing in around them on all sides, formed a complete circle. The circle at first enclosed measured say six miles in diameter, with an irregular circumference determined by the movements of the herd. When the "surround" was formed, the hunters radiated from the main body to the right and left, and the ring was entire. The chief then gave the order to charge, which was communicated along the ring with lightning-like speed; every man then rushed to the centre, and the work of destruction began. The unhappy victims, finding themselves hemmed in on every side, ran this way and that in their mad efforts to escape. Finding all chance of escape impossible, and seeing their slaughtered fellows drop dead at their feet, they bellowed with fright, and in the confusion that whelmed them lost all power of resistance. The slaughter generally lasted two or three hours, and seldom many got clear of the weapons of their assailants.

        The field over the "surround" presented the appearance of one vast slaughter-house. He who had been the most successful in the work of devastation was celebrated as a hero, and received the highest honours from the fair sex, while he who had been so unfortunate as not to have killed a single buffalo was jeered at and ridiculed by the whole band.

        The "surround" accomplished, we received permission from Two Axe to take up our line of march. Accordingly we started along the river, and had only proceeded five miles from the village when we found that the Platte forked. Taking the South Fork, we journeyed on some six miles and camped. So we continued every day, making slow progress, some days not advancing more than four or five miles, until we had left the Pawnee villages three hundred miles in our rear. We found plenty of buffalo along our route until we approached the Rocky Mountains, when the buffalo, as well as all other game, became scarce, and we had to resort to the beans and corn supplied to us by the Pawnees.

        Not finding any game for a number of days, we again felt alarmed for our safety. The snow was deep on the ground, and our poor horses could obtain no food but the boughs and bark of the cottonwood trees. Still we pushed forward, seeking to advance as far as possible, in order to open a trade with the Indians, and occupy ourselves in trapping during the finish of the season. We were again put upon reduced rations, one pint of beans per day being the allowance to a mess of four men, with other articles in proportion.

        We travelled on till we arrived at Pilot Butte, where two misfortunes befell us. A great portion of our horses were stolen by the Crow Indians, and General Ashley was taken sick, caused, beyond doubt, by exposure and insufficient fare. Our condition was growing worse and worse; and, as a measure best calculated to procure relief, we all resolved to go on a general hunt, and bring home something to supply our pressing necessities. All who were able, therefore, started in different directions, our customary mode of hunting. I travelled, as near as I could judge, about ten miles from the camp, and saw no signs of game. I reached a high point of land, and, on taking a general survey, I discovered a river which I had never seen in this region before. It was of considerable size, flowing four or five miles distant, and on its banks I observed acres of land covered with moving masses of buffalo. I hailed this as a perfect godsend, and was overjoyed with the feeling of security infused by my opportune discovery. However, fatigued and weak, I accelerated my return to the camp, and communicated my success to my companions. Their faces brightened up at the intelligence, and all were impatient to be at them.

        The general, on learning my intelligence, desired us to move forward to the river with what horses we had left, and each man to carry on his back a pack of the goods that remained after loading the cattle. He farther desired us to roll up snow to provide him with a shelter, and to return the next day to see if he survived. The men, in their eagerness to get to the river (which is now called Green River), loaded themselves so heavily that three or four were left with nothing but their rifles to carry.

        We all feasted ourselves to our hearts' content upon the delicious, coarse-grained flesh of the buffalo, of which there was an unlimited supply. There were, besides, plenty of wild geese and teal ducks on the river - the latter, however, I very seldom ventured to kill. One day several of us were out hunting buffalo, the general, who, by the way, was a very good shot, being among the number. The snow had blown from the level prairie, and the wind had drifted it in deep masses over the margins of the small hills, through which the buffalo had made trails just wide enough to admit one at a time. These snow-trails had become quite deep - like all snow-trails in the spring of the year - thus affording us a fine opportunity for lurking in one trail, and shooting a buffalo in another. The general had wounded a bull, which, smarting with pain, made a furious plunge at his assailant, burying him in the snow with a thrust from his savage-looking head and horns. I, seeing the danger in which he was placed, sent a ball into the beast just behind the shoulder, instantly dropping him dead. The general was rescued from almost certain death, having received only a few scratches in the adventure.

        After remaining in camp four or five days, the general resolved upon dividing our party into detachments of four or five men each, and sending them upon different routes, in order the better to accomplish the object of our perilous journey, which was the collecting of all the beaver-skins possible while the fur was yet valuable. Accordingly we constructed several boats of buffalo-hides for the purpose of descending the river and proceeding along any of its tributaries that might lie in our way.

        One of our boats being finished and launched, the general sprang into it to test its capacity. The boat was made fast by a slender string, which snapping with a sudden jerk, the boat was drawn into the current and drifted away, general and all, in the direction of the opposite shore.

        It will be necessary, before I proceed further, to give the reader a description, in as concise a manner as possible, of this "Green River Suck."

        We were camped, as we had discovered during our frequent excursions, at the head of a great fall of Green River, where it passes through the Utah Mountains. The current, at a small distance from our camp, became exceedingly rapid, and drew toward the centre from each shore. This place we named the Suck. This fall continued for six or eight miles, making a sheer descent, in the entire distance, of over two hundred and fifty feet. The river was filled with rocks and ledges, and frequent sharp curves, having high mountains and perpendicular cliffs on either side. Below our camp, the river passed through a canyon, which continued below the fall to a distance of twenty-five or thirty miles. Wherever there was an eddy or a growth of willows, there was sure to be found a beaver lodge; the cunning creatures having selected that secluded, and, as they doubtless considered, inaccessible spot, to conceal themselves from the watchful eye of the trapper.

        After caching our peltry and goods by burying them in safe places, we received instructions from our general to rendezvous at the "Suck" by the first of July following. Bidding each other adieu, for we could hardly expect we should meet again, we took up our different lines of march.

        Our party was led by one Clements, and consisted of six, among whom was the boy Baptiste; he always insisted on remaining with his brother (as he called me). Our route was up the river - a country that none of us had ever seen before - where the foot of the white man has seldom, if ever, left its print. We were very successful in finding beaver as we progressed, and we obtained plenty of game for the wants of our small party. Wherever we hauled up a trap, we usually found a beaver, besides a considerable number we killed with the rifle.

        In moving up the river we came to a small stream - one of the tributaries of Green River - which we named Horse Creek, in honour of a wild horse we found on its banks. The creek abounded with the objects of our search, and in a very few days we succeeded in taking over one hundred beavers, the skins of which were worth ten dollars per pound in St. Louis. Sixty skins, when dried, formed a pack of one hundred pounds. After having finished our work on Horse Creek, we returned to the main river, and proceeded on, meeting with very good success, until we encountered another branch, which we subsequently named Le Brache Creek, from our comrade who was murdered by the Indians. Our success was much greater here than at any point since leaving the Suck, and we followed it up until we came to a deep canyon, in which we camped.

        The next day, while the men were variously engaged about the camp, happening to be in a more elevated position than the others, I saw a party of Indians approaching within a few yards, evidently unaware of our being in their neighbourhood. I immediately shouted, "Indians! Indians! to your guns, men!" and levelled my rifle at the foremost of them. They held up their hands, saying, "Bueno! bueno!" meaning that they were good or friendly; at which my companions cried out to me, "Don't fire! don't fire! they are friendly - they speak Spanish." But we were sorry afterward we did not all shoot. Our horses had taken fright at the confusion and ran up the canyon. Baptiste and myself went in pursuit of them. When we came back with them we found sixteen Indians sitting around our camp smoking, and jabbering their own tongue, which none of us could understand. They passed the night and next day with us in apparent friendship. Thinking this conduct assumed, from the fact that they rather overdid the thing, we deemed it prudent to retrace our steps to the open prairie, where, if they did intend to commence an attack upon us, we should have a fairer chance of defending ourselves. Accordingly we packed up and left, all the Indians following us.

        The next day they continued to linger about the camp. We had but slight suspicion of their motives, although, for security, we kept constant guard upon them. From this they proceeded to certain liberties (which I here strictly caution all emigrants and mountaineers against ever permitting), such as handling our guns, except the arms of the guard, piling them, and then carrying them together. At length one of the Indians shouldered all the guns, and, starting off with them ran fifty yards from camp. Mentioning to my mates I did not like the manoeuvres of these fellows, I started after the Indian and took my gun from him, Baptiste doing the same, and we brought them back to camp. Our companions chided us for doing so, saying we should anger the Indians by doubting their friendship. I said I considered my gun as safe in my own hands as in the hands of a strange savage; if they chose to give up theirs, they were at liberty to do so.

        When night came on, we all lay down except poor Le Brache, who kept guard, having an Indian with him to replenish the fire. Some of the men had fallen asleep, lying near by, when we were all suddenly startled by a loud cry from Le Brache and the instant report of a gun, the contents of which passed between Baptiste and myself, who both occupied one bed, the powder burning a hole in our upper blankets. We were all up in an instant. An Indian had seized my rifle, but I instantly wrenched it from him, though I acknowledge I was too terrified to shoot. When we had in some measure recovered from our sudden fright, I hastened to Le Brache, and discovered that a tomahawk had been sunk in his head, and there remained. I pulled it out, and in examining the ghastly wound, buried all four fingers of my right hand in his brain. We bound up his head, but he was a corpse in a few moments.

        Not an Indian was then to be seen, but we well knew they were in the bushes close by, and that, in all probability, we should every one share the fate of our murdered comrade. What to do now was the universal inquiry. With the butt of my rifle I scattered the fire, to prevent the Indians making a sure mark of us. We then proceeded to pack up with the utmost despatch, intending to move into the open prairie, where, if they attacked us again, we could at least defend ourselves, notwithstanding our disparity of numbers, we being but five to sixteen.

        On searching for Le Brache's gun, it was nowhere to be found, the Indian who had killed him having doubtless carried it off. While hastily packing our articles, I very luckily found five quivers well stocked with arrows, the bows attached, together with two Indian guns. These well supplied our missing rifle, for I had practised so much with bow and arrow that I was considered a good shot.

        When in readiness to leave, our leader inquired in which direction the river lay; his agitation had been so great that his memory had failed him. I directed the way, and desired every man to put the animals upon their utmost speed until we were safely out of the willows, which order was complied with. While thus running the gauntlet, the balls and arrows whizzed around us as fast as our hidden enemies could send them. Not a man was scratched, however, though two of our horses were wounded, my horse having received an arrow in the neck, and another being wounded near the hip, both slightly. Pursuing our course we arrived soon in the open ground, where we considered ourselves comparatively safe.

        Arriving at a small rise in the prairie, I suggested to our leader that this would be a good place to make a stand, for if the Indians followed us we had the advantage in position.

        "No," said he, "we will proceed on to New Mexico."

        I was astonished at his answer, well knowing - though but slightly skilled in geography - that New Mexico must be many hundreds of miles farther south. However, I was not captain and we proceeded. Keeping the return track, we found ourselves, in the afternoon of the following day, about sixty miles from the scene of the murder.

        The assault had been made, as we afterward learned, by three young Indians, who were ambitious to distinguish themselves in the minds of their tribe by the massacre of an American party.

        We were still descending the banks of the Green River, which is the main branch of the Colorado, when, about the time mentioned above, I discovered horses in the skirt of the woods on the opposite side. My companions pronounced them buffalo, but I was confident they were horses, because I could distinguish white ones among them. Proceeding still farther, I discovered men with the horses, my comrades still confident I was in error. Speedily, however, they all became satisfied of my correctness, and we formed the conclusion that we had come across a party of Indians. We saw by their manoeuvres that they had discovered us, for they were then collecting all their property together.

        We held a short council, which resulted in a determination to retreat toward the mountains. I, for one, was tired of retreating, and refused to go farther, Baptiste joining me in my resolve. We took up a strong position in a place of difficult approach; and having our guns and ammunition and an abundance of arrows for defence, considering our numbers, we felt ourselves rather a strong garrison. The other three left us to our determination to fall together, and took to the prairie; but, changing their minds, they returned, and joined us in our position, deeming our means of defence better in one body than when divided. We all, therefore, determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible should the enemy attack us, feeling sure that we could kill five times our number before we were overpowered, and that we should, in all probability, beat them off.

        By this time the supposed enemy had advanced toward us, and one of them hailed us in English as follows: -

        "Who are you?"

        "We are trappers."

        "What company do you belong to?"

        "General Ashley's."

        "Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!," they all shouted, and we, in turn, exhausted our breath in replying.

        "Is that you, Jim Beckwourth?" said a voice from the party.

        "Yes. Is that you, Castenga?" I replied.

        He answered in the affirmative, and there arose another hurrah.

        We inquired where their camp was. They informed us it was two miles below, at the ford. Baptiste and myself mounted our horses, descended the bank, plunged into the river, and were soon exchanging salutations with another of the general's old detachments. They also had taken us for Indians, and had gathered in their horses while we took up our position for defence.

        That night was spent in general rejoicing, in relating our adventures, and recounting our various successes and reverses. There is as much heartfelt joy experienced in falling in with a party of fellow-trappers in the mountains as is felt at sea when, after a long voyage, a friendly vessel just from port is spoken and boarded. In both cases a thousand questions are asked; all have wives, sweethearts, or friends to inquire after, and then the general news from the States is taken up and discussed.

        The party we had fallen in with consisted of sixteen men. They had been two years out; had left Fort Yellowstone only a short time previously, and were provided with every necessity for a long excursion. They had not seen the general, and did not know he was in the mountains. They had lost some of their men, who had fallen victims to the Indians, but in trapping had been generally successful. Our little party also had done extremely well, and we felt great satisfaction in displaying to them seven or eight packets of sixty skins each. We related to them the murder of Le Brache, and every trapper boiled with indignation at the recital. All wanted instantly to start in pursuit, and revenge upon the Indians the perpetration of their treachery; but there was no probability of overtaking them, and they suffered their anger to cool down.

        The second day after our meeting, I proposed that the most experienced mountaineers of their party should return with Baptiste and myself to perform the burial rites of our friend. I proposed three men, with ourselves, as sufficient for the sixteen Indians, in case we should fall in with them, and they would certainly be enough for the errand if we met no one. My former comrades were too tired to return.

        We started and arrived at our unfortunate camp, but the body of our late friend was not to be found, though we discovered some of his long black hair clotted with blood.

        On raising the traps which we had set before our precipitate departure, we found a beaver in every one except four, which contained each a leg, the beavers having amputated them with their teeth. We then returned to our companions, and moved on to Willow Creek, where we were handy to the caches of our rendezvous at the Suck. It was now about June 1, 1822.

        Here we spent our time very pleasantly, occupying ourselves with hunting, fishing, target-shooting, footracing, gymnastic and sundry other exercises. The other detachments now came in, bringing with them quantities of peltry, all having met with very great success.