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LE TOUR DU MONDE 1864

A TRIP TO THE BAD LANDS (UNITED STATES)

by E. DE GIRARDIN (OF FRANCE).


1849-1850

I

TRIP FROM SAINT LOUIS TO FT. PIERRE CHOUTEAU

I 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 and merchandise.
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 and children.
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 :

J. B. SMITH, DENTIST FROM KEW YORK
ASK THE TEAMSTER

The 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 wagon.
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 American Company.
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.

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The steamboat Iowa on the Missour River