The Journey

On April 28, 1834 the march toward the Rocky Mountains began.  The whole party numbered between fifty and sixty men, all mounted on horses or mules, and armed with rifles.  Most of them had a powder-horn or flask, a large leather pouch for bullets hung at his side, and buckled close to his body with a leather belt was a leather scabbard bearing a "scalping-knife."  The mules and horses numbered over 150.  Nearly one-third were for the men, and about two-thirds carried packs, each man leading two of them.  Mr. Jason Lee, besides the five horses to ride, one for each person with him, and four to pack, took some cows, and two of them made the journey to Oregon.  Their milk was quite a luxury along the way.

Captain Wyeth, who headed the party, was assisted by Captain Thyng, a gentleman of Boston.  Two naturalists were also in the company, Mr. John KirkTownsend of Philadelphia and Mr. Thomas Nuttall, who had accompanied Mr. Hunt up the Missouri in 1811.  Encampments were generally near some stream of water, where there was good grass for the animals; and the tents, eight in number, were pitched in a circular form, enclosing a space large enough to contain all the horses and mules, fastened to pickets.  These are sticks more than a foot long and two inches wide, one for every horse or mule.  They are driven into the ground, and are designed to prevent the escape of the animals in case of any sudden attempt of the Indians to frighten them away.  A regular guard was kept up, and relieved every four hours during the night; and when the horses were feeding outside the camp, morning and evening, a watch was set near them.  The company generally travelled about twenty miles a day, halting near noon to take dinner.  Encampment usually took place early to give the animals time to eat before dusk when they were brought into the camp, where they remained until morning; then the cry, "Turn out!" was heard from Captain Wyeth.  As soon as the horses were turned out the breakfast fires began.  Each of the eight messes into which the company was divided, consisted of five to eight persons each.  Fried bacon and dough fried in the fat, with tea or coffee, made the meal.  After breakfast each mess prepared to move: tents were struck, packs and saddles put in order. "Catch up!" cried Captain Wyeth, and the whole camp was instantly in motion to gather the animals, pack up, mount and move out.  Captain Wyeth led the way and his assistant, Captain Thyng, brought up the rear.

The country to the Kansas River and then to the Platte was a rolling prairie with rich soil.  In some parts it was thinly wooded with oak and along the rivers it was fringed with cottonwood. Upon reaching the Platte a course on the south side of the river was pursued.  The Platte, as its name implied, was very shallow, and in some places more than a mile wide.  The bottom was quicksand, and in fording it was necessary to keep in motion to prevent sinking.  The banks were low, and a level bottom, covered generally with grass, extended a mile, more or less, on either side, terminated by hills.  The antelope that inhabited the region provided a supply of food until the Forks of the Platte were reached and the buffalo range began.  Although, already starting to diminish, immense herds of many thousands ranged from the Forks of the Platte to the headwaters of the Lewis River.  Crossing the south fork of the Platte, Captain Wyeth led his company in a northwest direction to the North Fork, which he was to follow to the base of the Rocky Mountains.  Having crossed the north fork, the company proceeded to the Sweet Water and reached Independence Rock on June 8th, 1834.  From Independence Rock, Captain Wyeth continued up the Sweet water for several days, crossing it many times, it's steep banks compelling him to take sometimes one side and then the other.  Leaving the Sweet Water, the party soon came to the Big Sandy, a branch of the Colorado which flows into the Gulf of California.  After crossing it, the company proceeded west and on June 19th, 1834 arrived at Hain Fork in the Green River valley, for rendezvous.  Here the company stayed for twelve days to trade and rest the animals. The soil in the valley was good and the grass abundant but the temperature in the region is too low for cultivation.  Snow capped peaks and naked hills rise in mass on every side.  The valleys and plains in the area are whitened with the bones of buffalo.

Early in July, the journey was again commenced westward to the waters of Bear River, which empties into the Salt Lake, lying to the southwest.  The country is hilly, soil poor and timber scarce.  The river was followed several days until Soda Spring was reached.  It was described by Daniel Lee as follows: "This spring is on the northwest side of Bear River, twenty rods from the shore, and has some half a dozen openings, from five to eight feet over.  The water is clear, and the escape of the gas through it keeps it boiling with a noise that can be heard several yards.  Its taste resembles that of the soda water in the shops.  They have no visible outlet, but seem to have a subterraneous connection with the river.  Some distance below is an intermitting spring, which throws out water violently from an opening in a rock in such a manner as to have received the appropriate name of Steamboat.  Between these two springs, along the surface of the river, the water is constantly agitated by the large quantities of gas escaping through it; and it ought to be also stated, that the water of the last spring described is also strongly impregnated with soda, and has a temperature of ninety degrees.  The surrounding soil and grass are good."

At this location the company left Bear River and continued on a few days march to one of the branches of the Snake River, Ross's Fork.  Some small trout the company caught were a welcome replacement for the dried buffalo meat that had been the chief staple for many days.   After almost forty days journey no enemy had assailed the camp and no evil had confronted the company.  The descent to the Pacific was to begin.

About the middle of July, Captain Wyeth arrived at the Snake River, and after selecting a site, a party of his men were employed in the building of a fort, to be known as Fort Hall.  The remainder of the party went out on a buffalo hunt to procure the necessary supplies of meat for the rest of the journey.  Edwards and Walker were a part of this hunt and after being absent for about two weeks, the hunting party returned with a good stock of dried meat.

It was at this location that Mr. Thomas McKay, with a trading party under his command, in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, visited camp.  Jason Lee preached on the sabbath in a grove near camp, and was generously presented with a sack of flour for the missionaries.  On the evening of the day that Mr. Lee preached, one of Mr. McKay's men, a Canadian, was riding so fast he rode against another man and was so badly injured, as to die in a short time.  He left several children, two of whom were later in the Oregon mission school at the Willamette.

While at Fort Hall, one of the Kinse Indians in Mr. McKay's party made a present of a horse to Jason Lee, and from him received a present in turn.  The horse was welcomed as a replacement for one of the tired animals that had suffered under the hard journey to this site.

An extensive plain covered with grass, and intersected with creeks and mountain rivulets surrounded Fort Hall, stretching many miles along the river, and several miles back to the distant hills on the south.  This establishment did not remain long in the possession of its original proprietors, but was sold and became part of the trade monoploy known as the Hudsons Bay Company.

On August 1, leaving Captain Wyeth to complete the structure of the fort, the missionary party proceeded down the south side of the Snake River.   They were now in the company of Mr. McKay; his Canadians, with their bows and arrows; wives, mounted in the fashionable native style, astride and bearing muskets; and their children, confined to a board, and hung on the horn of their saddles, or lashed on horseback alone.  Also in the party were some Indians with their wives and children and an English adventurer, Captain Stuart,  who had been spending time roaming the mountains accompanied by his servants.  In this way, the company proceeded for a few days through sandy plains, with scarcely sufficient grass for the horses, toiling through immense tracts of mountain sage.   When Mr. McKay decided to remain in the Snake country to trap and trade beaver, the missionary party continued on down the river accompanied by Captain Stuart and guided by some of the Indians.

Along the banks of the river there was an occasional Indian engaged in catching salmon.  The country was generally hilly, in some parts mountainous, with rich intervening plains and beautiful valleys.  Considerable timber topped the more elevated positions.  Hot days, cold nights and a remarkably dry atmosphere were characteristic.  Before reaching the Blue Mountains the party was led to a small village on a small branch of the Snake River.  The dwellings were lodges made of buffalo skins, deprived of the hair and then made soft and then sewn together.  They were set up in the form of a cone around a number of long smooth poles that provided a frame.  The width on the ground, and their height were almost twelve feet, with an opening at the top to permit the smoke to escape and to admit light.  The night was passed here and the hospitality shown the travelers was worthy of their reputation as a governing tribe.  Presents of horses were made by some of the chiefs to Jason Lee and small presents were made to the donors as a show of friendship and good faith.

Passing on from the grassy plain, the party soon reached the Blue Mountains, over whose high and rugged summits lay the trail to the valley of the Columbia.  The journey was made easier by the acquisition of the fresh horses.  Fires on the mountain crackled among the evergreens, and smoke hid from view the extended landscape while the company zigzaged their way to the top and down its dizzy sides, creeping along dark rocky chasms until after two days they reached the valley of the Umatilla.  Here the horses were rested and then, leaving this stream they rose to the divide on the north side and pushed toward Fort Walla Walla where they arrived safely Monday afternoon, September 1, 1834.  In all, according to the calculations of Daniel Lee, the missionary party had traveled approximately 1760 miles from Independence in 88 days including 39 days rest.

At Fort Walla Walla, the company received a hearty welcome by Mr. P.C. Pamburn, who was in charge of the establishment.  An abundance of food was liberally supplied to the hungry visiters.  Scarcely had they finished their lengthy meal when Captain Wyeth, Mr. Nuttall and Mr. Townsend appeared at camp.  On September 3, having left the horses and cattle at the fort, the missionary party took leave of Mr. Pamburn and embarked in a boat of the Hudsons Bay Company for Vancouver where, after a tedious voyage of twelve days they arrived on September 15th.

The Oregon Country