FROM SAINT LOUIS TO FT. PIERRE CHOUTEAU
had gone to seek my fortune in Saint Louis, the great city of Missouri.
In turn a commission merchant, a peddler, and a mule driver, I was
also following the current of emigration toward the promised land
of California, when I met an American geologist who was ready to leave
that very day for a long exploring trip through the American continent.
I obtained permission to accompany him as artist. I was granted two
hours in which to prepare myself for the trip, that is to say, to
buy a pair of buckskin breeches, two flannel shirts, a revolver, and
a gun ; and I started out on the steamboat Iowa in the midst of such
turmoil and Boise as vas deafening. The friends of the passengers
overwhelmed us with a ball of oranges and shouts of enthusiastic goodbye;
the officers were beating the drunken sailors and the crowd was quarreling
and swearing in every language of the old and new world, to the accompaniment
of the whistling of our steamboat and the roaring of our powerful
engines as the smoke enveloped us in a thick cloud.
It is well known that American steamboats do not resemble in the slightest
the frail craft of our rivers. These are immense structures three
stories high surmounted by tall chimneys ; they are really caravansaries
where the traveler finds all the luxury and comfort of a first-class
hotel. In fact a Saint Louis woman wishing to give a high idea of
a house furnished and decorated with great luxury said : "It
is almost as elegant as a steamboat".
We were about two hundred passengers, mostly steerage passengers,
poor adventurers engaged for a year with the American Company, which
trades in furs from the Far West. There were types from every country
in the world ; bearded Parisians, some political victims, and others
deserters from the colony of Cabet ; Danes, Germans, Spaniards, English,
Irish, negroes, mulattoes, Indians, and half-breeds. The most numerous,
however, were Canadians. Endowed with iron constitutions, used to
travel and dangers, these are excellent hunters and indefatigable
seekers after adventure.
In the cabin, we had three geologists, a botanist, two officers from
the American army, and a young German prince with his staff. The Indian
race was represented by two women, pure blooded savages. The one,
a daughter of a Black Foot chief, and married to a director of the
Fur Company, is well known in the upper Missouri region because of
the happy influence which she exercises there.
Only at the moment of leaving do I learn the destination of the Iowa.
This boat, belonging to the American Company, makes each year one
trip to the upper Missouri, stopping at different trading posts situated
on the river, and leaving there the newly employed men, provisions
It is a long trip of forty days to go up stream to Fort union, an
establishment situated at the confluence of the Yellowstone, six hundred
and seventy-five leagues from Saint Louis and eleven hundred from
New Orleans. However, since steamboats of heavy tonnage can, during
four or five months of the year, go up as far as Fort Benton, a situated
in the land of the Black Feet and ten leagues from the great falls
of the Missouri, one may say that the great river is navigable for
twelve hundred and sixteen leagues.
Going with difficulty up stream against a current of from four to
five kilometers an hour, we pass in front of the slopes of Gasconade,
remarkable for their beautiful cliffs covered with verdure ; then
come Jefferson City the capital of Missouri, and Independence where
the Mormons in their hegira had established their new Zion, and from
which they were driven by the Missourians.
To-day this little town is filled with emigrants on their way to California
; and a steam ferryboat continually crosses the river, transporting
from one shore to the other a great number of wagons, many herds of
cattle and horses. as well as thousands of emigrants ; men, women
After a period of interruption caused by many deceptions, new epidemic
of gold fever has just broken out. The farmers are selling their lands
for nothing ; lawyers are abandoning their studios ; merchants, ministers,
presbyterians, methodists or baptists, all are donning a red flannel
shirt ; and, a revolver in their belts, a carbine over their shoulders,
they are going in long caravans toward the new Eldorado.
The wagons of emigrants, covered with a large canvas, are arranged
on the inside with much order and neatness. It is a rolling cabin
in which the owner must live for six or seven long and which he makes
as comfortable as possible.
The pistols and guns, indispensable arsenal for the adventurer in
the Far West, are hung on the interior walls of the wagon.
in one corner is attached the cast-iron stove which is set up at each
camp in order to cook biscuits ; here and there are also hung household
utensils and equipment. One finds in almost all these rolling tents
some works of history and geography, and always a Bible, the inseparable
companion of the American emigrant.
Some emigrants write their name and profession on the out-side of
their canvas. I read on one of these wagons :
B. SMITH, DENTIST FROM KEW YORK
ASK THE TEAMSTER
teamster was not other than the dentist himself. After having unhitched
his oxen and cooked his dinner he put on a black coat, and, like the
charlatans of our fairs, he had his victims get into the wagon, and
he pulled their teeth, without pain, for the modest sum of one piaster.
They showed me a large wagon covered with a white canvas with blue
stripes and hermetically closed. It is inhabited, they tell me, by
six young girls who are going to the gold mines to seek husbands and
an independent position. They are said to be very pretty, and especially
very respectable, and the proof of this latter assertion is that each
evening they bolt their calico door with pins which shuts up their
Leaving, not without regret, the encampment of the emigrants, we pass
rapidly the mouth of the Kansas River, Fort Leavenworth, the military
establishment of great importance because of its position on the frontier
of Indian territory, and Saint Joseph, a city founded yesterday and
already rich and commercial.
There all traces of civilization stop. Farther up the river, the banks
are desert, navigation becomes more difficult, and steamboats must
give up traveling at night, in order to avoid the sand bars which
often bar the river and necessitates continual soundings.
The bed of the river becomes more and more winding and the current
so rapid that we take four hours to pass the mouth of the Sioux River.
They were using full power, however, the boat was trembling in its
whole frame : sometimes the forward end would disappear completely
under the water which covered the deck ; we would have advanced a
few inches, but the current seemed to double its force and we would
drop back again. Our captain, furious, has a barrel of resin thrown
into the furnaces. It is a solemn moment for the passengers, who,
while they dread an explosion, are keenly interested in the struggle.
What most impresses the traveler going up the Missouri, is the immense
number of enormous trees, carried by the current and sticking in the
muddy bed of the river, showing often only a point at the surface
of the water and causing numerous and terrible disasters to boats.
Sometimes these trunks of trees, tangled together and piled upon each
other, form little islands covering an extend of several miles, and
it is with difficulty that the boats can make their way by a thousand
zigzags. Therefore it is impossible to navigate at night, and at sunset
the boat is solidly tied up at the shore. Since the country is totally
uninhabited and since one finds there neither coal nor wood, cut in
advance, our eighty men of the crew, armed with axes, work great havoc
in the old forests of cedars and poplars which grow on both banks.
The companies which engage in fur trading on American territory are
only two in number : the American Fur Company, and that of the Opposition.
The most inveterate hate exists between the employees of these two
companies, and they do not hesitate before any means of doing each
other mutual harm, when the occasion presents itself.
One day when we were passing in front of a blokhaus or winter post
belonging to the Company of the Opposition, our captain took pleasure
in sending his whole crew ashore to demolish houses, fortifications,
and palisades. The whole was brought 'on board and provided fuel for
a day's journey. A few days later, the boat belonging to the other
company took vengeance by repeating, at another point, the innocent
joke of our captain and completely destroying a winter post of the
This long trip becomes tiresome and monotonous. Day after day we go
up stream and the volume of water which rolls on its bed of mud seems
to augment under our keel, the islands of tree trunks are less numerous,
the heavy growth of cottonwood trees which border the banks gives
place to prairies as far as the eye can reach, and, sometimes, a column
of smoke visible on the horizon indicates an Indian camp.
The nights are burning hot. As soon as the boat is tied at the shore,
millions of mosquitoes invade the lounges and the cabins. Then, in
spite of the heat, we must put on gloves and wrap up face and neck
heavily in kerchiefs and mufflers.