The author long having had an anxious desire to visit those wild regions upon the great Pacific, which had now become the topic of conversation in every circle, and in reference to which, speculations both rational and irrational were everywhere in vogue, now determine to accomplish his desired object: for which purpose he repaired to Independence, Mo., which place was the known rendezvous of the Santa Fe traders, and the trappers of the Rocky mountains. Having arrived at Independence, he was so fortunate as to find, not only the Santa Fe traders, and the Rocky mountain trappers, but also a number of emigrants, consisting of families and young men who had convened there with the view of crossing the Rocky mountains, and were waiting very patiently until their number should be so increased as to afford protection and insure the safety of all, when they contemplated setting out together, for their favorite place of destination, Oregon territory. The number of emigrants continued to increase with such rapidity, that on the 15th day of May, our company consisted of one hundred and sixty persons, giving us a force of eighty armed men, which was thought ample for our protection. Having organized, and having ascertained that all had provided themselves with the necessary quantum of provisions and ammunition, as well as such teams and wagons as the company had previously determined to be essential, and indispensable, and all things else being in readiness, on the 16th day of May, in the year 1842, all as one man, united in interest, united in feeling, we were, en route, for the long desired El Dorado of the West.
Now, all was high glee, jocular hilarity, and happy anticipation, as we thus darted forward into the wild expanse, of the untrodden regions of the "western world." The harmony of feeling, the sameness of purpose, and the identity of interest, which here existed, seemed to indicate nothing but continued order, harmony and peace, amid all the trying scenes incident to our long and toilsome journey. But we had proceeded only a few days travel, from our native land of order and security, when the "American character" was fully exhibited. All appeared to be determined to govern, but not to be governed. Here we were, without law, without order, and without restraint; in a state of nature, amid the confused, revolving fragments of elementary society! Some were sad, while others were merry; and while the brave doubted, the timid trembled! Amid this confusion, it was suggested by our captain, that we "call a halt," and pitch our tents, for the purpose of enacting, a code of laws, for the future government of the company. The suggestion was promptly complied with, when all were required to appear in their legislative capacities. When thus convened, it was urged, by the captain, as a reason why we should enact a code of laws, that an individual of the party, had proposed to capture an Indian horse, and that, he had made arrangements to accomplish his sinful purpose, by procuring a rope, and setting out with that view. In view of this alarming state of facts, it was urged by the over-legal and over-righteous, that the offending party should be immediately put upon his trial, for this enormous and wanton outrage upon Indian rights. This suggestion was also readily complied with, and the offender was soon arraigned, who, without interposing a plea to the jurisdiction, declared himself ready for trial, upon the "general issue." The investigation now commenced, during which, several speeches were delivered, abounding with severe and bitter denunciations of such highly criminal conduct, as that with which the prisoner at the bar of imaginary justice, stood charged. But it was urged on the part of the accused, that in whatever light his conduct might be viewed, by the advocates of "extreme right," it amounted to no crime at all; that to talk of taking an Indian horse, was neither malum in se, nor malum prohibitum. It was not criminal in itself, for in itself it was nothing, as he had done nothing. It was not criminal because prohibited, for in our infant state of society, we had no prohibitory code. The jury consisted of the whole company, who now with very little hesitancy, and almost unanimously, rendered their verdict of "not guilty," when the accused was discharged, and permitted to go hence, without day. Thus terminated the first jury trial, in our little community, whose government was extremely simple, yet purely democratic. This investigation, terminating as it did, afforded no valid reason for law-making, yet all being present with that view, and many being extremely anxious to accomplish the object for which they assembled, whether it was necessary or not, now proceeded to the discharge of the new, arduous and responsible duty of legislation. A committee was, therefore, appointed to draft a code of laws, for the future government of the company. This committee, contrary to the most sanguine expectations of the movers in this affair, reported that, in its opinion, no code of laws was requisite, other than the moral code, enacted by the Creator of the universe, and which is found recorded in the breast of every man. This report was adopted by an overwhelming majority, the consequence of which was, that no code of human laws was enacted; still there appeared to be a strong determination on the part of some, to do something in the way of legislating. In accordance with this determination, a decree was passed, which required the immediate and the indiscriminate extermination of the whole canine race, old and young, male and female, wherever they might be found, within our jurisdiction. This decree was passed by a very small majority, and it gave great dissatisfaction, especially to the owners of the animals whose extermination it contemplated. Those who favored its enforcement, insisted that the subjects of "the decree of death," however athletic they might be, could not possibly be taken through; that they would die before they had traveled half the distance; and that, by their incessant barking and howling, they would notify the Indians of' our locality when encamped. On the other hand, it was insisted that, if they died on the way, that would be the loss of owners, and, consequently, their business; and that if they did notify the Indians of our position, they would also notify us of theirs; and hence, the conclusion was drawn, that the advantages more than counterbalanced the disadvantages. Notwithstanding this conclusion, several dogs were slain under the inconsiderate decree, when the opposition became more general and determined. The owners of the most valuable mastiffs now declared in the most positive terms, that "if any man should kill their dogs they would kill him, regardless of all consequences." The "dog killers," however, now went out "armed and equipped," as the decree required, with a full determination to discharge their honorable and dangerous duty; but they were promptly met by the owners, who were also "armed and equipped," and prepared for any emergency. At this important crisis, the captain thought proper to convene the company again, in its legislative capacity, which being done, the "dog decree," as it was called, was almost unanimously abrogated. This was our first and last effort at legislation. This legislative rebuff, however, was not the only difficulty which we here encountered.
Our misfortunes were heightened by disease and death. The wife and child of a Mr. Lancaster were taken very ill, and the child soon died. Mrs. Lancaster remained very low for several days, during which time, the company remained in camp; but as there were no prospects of her immediate recovery, and as any considerable delay in this section, might be attended with fatal consequences to the whole company, Mr. Lancaster determined to return to the States, which he could very safely do, as we were but a few days travel from the Missouri line, and as we had passed no hostile Indians. Upon arriving at this determination, we continued our journey, and Mr. Lancaster returned to the States, where he safely arrived, as I have since learned. We passed on now very agreeably, with the exception of the occasional expression of dissatisfaction with our officers, which, however well founded, grated harshly upon the ears of the order-observing, and law-abiding portion of the company. In a very few days, we met a company of traders from Fort Larimie, on their way to the States, with their returns of furs and buffalo robes, which they had accumulated during the previous year. These furs and robes were transported in wagons, drawn by oxen. Here many of our party for the first time, saw the buffalo. The only ones, however, which they saw here, were eight or ten buffalo calves, which the traders had domesticated for the St. Louis market; and so completely domesticated were they, that they followed the cows, which had been taken out for that purpose, with very little trouble to the drivers. This meeting afforded a very favorable opportunity for forwarding letters to the States, of which many of the party were happy to avail themselves. We were informed, by this party, that we would find the buffalo upon the Platte, a few days travel below the confluence of its north and south branches: upon arriving at which place, we did find them in the greatest abundance imaginable. No adequate conception can be formed of the immensity of the numerous herds, which here abound. The entire plains and prairies are densely covered, and completely blackened with them, as far as the most acute vision extends. Now the most feverish anxiety, and confused excitement prevails. Those who are accustomed to buffalo hunting, are almost instantly upon their fleet horses, and in chase, while those unaccustomed to such scenes, "green horns," as they are called, are in the greatest confusion, adjusting saddles and martingals, tightening girths and spurs, loading guns and pistols, and giving their friends, wives and children, all manner of assurances of their unparalleled success. They too, are now ready, and like the mountaineer, they dart away, as with the wings of light; but they soon observe that they are far in the rear of the mountaineer, who is now amid the buffalo, slaying them on the right and left, in the front and rear. But stimulated by the loud thundering and clattering sounds, produced by the confused rushing forth of the thousands of frightened buffalo, as well as by the extraordinary success of the mountaineer, they ply the spur with renewed energy; and giving their fiery steeds loose rein, they are soon in the vicinity of the scene of action, but not in the scene of action, for to their utter surprise, and intolerable vexation, their heretofore faithful steeds, now decline the contest; and notwithstanding the renewed application of the spur, they merely bound, snort and plunge, but keep a respectful distance, until they arrive in the midst of the slain buffalo, which have been left by the mountaineer. Here their timidity is increased, and taking a new fright, they dart and leap away with great velocity, and notwithstanding the firm and steady restraint of the sturdy rider, they soon meet the moving caravan, to the infinite gratification of the mountaineer, the utter astonishment of the "green horn," and the sad disappointment of the friends, wives and children, who had anticipated so much from the first grand debut in buffalo hunting. The experienced hunter is soon seen returning to the camp, with his horse heavily laden with the choicest portions of some of the numerous buffalo which he has slain. In order that the company may now obtain a supply of the delicious fresh meat, with which the plains are strewed, it is directed to encamp, which having been done, all are soon abundantly supplied. Having been a few days among the buffalo, and their horses having become accustomed to these terrific scenes, even the "green horn," is enabled, not only to kill the buffalo with much expertness, but he is also frequently seen, driving them to the encampment, with as much indifference as he used formerly to drive his domestic cattle about his own fields, in the land of his nativity. Giving the buffalo rapid chase for a few minutes, they become so fatigued and completely exhausted, that they are driven from place to place, with as little difficulty as our common cattle. Both the grown buffalo and the calves, are very frequently driven in this manner to the encampment, where they are readily slaughtered.
By this time, the party had become greatly incensed with the officers, and had determined upon holding an election, for the purpose of electing other officers. Accordingly an election was held, which resulted in the election of myself to the first, and a Mr. Lovejoy to the second office of our infant republic. This election gave some dissatisfaction, to a few of the party, especially the disaffected and disappointed office-holders and office-seekers, who now, together with a few others, separated themselves from the main body, and went on a few days in advance, to Fort Larimie, where they had been but a few days, when the main body arrived. Upon arriving at Forts Larimie and John, we were received in a very kind and friendly manner by the gentlemen of those forts, who extended every attention to us, while we remained in their vicinity. While here several of our party disposed of' their oxen and wagons, taking horses in exchange. This they were induced to do, under the impression that their wagons could not be taken to Oregon, of which they were assured by the gentlemen of those forts, and other mountaineers. Many others of the party, disposed of their cows and other cattle, which had become tender footed, as from this cause, it was supposed, that they would soon, be unable to travel; but we found by experience, that by continued driving, their hoofs became more and more hardened, until they had entirely recovered. Before leaving these forts, the disaffected of our party, proposed to unite their destinies again with ours; but the main body being so exasperated with their former course, for some time refused their consent, yet in view of the fact, that they must either travel with us, remain at these forts, or return to the States, they were permitted to join us again, when, we were once more, enabled to continue our toilsome, yet interesting journey.
Leaving these forts, we had traveled but a few miles, when we met a company of trappers and traders, from Fort Hall, on their way to the States, among whom was a Mr. Fitspateric, who joined our party, as a guide, and traveled with us, as such, to Green river. From this gentleman's long residence in the great western prairies, and the Rocky mountains, he is eminently qualified as a guide, of which fact, we were fully convinced, from the many advantages which we derived from his valuable services. He was employed by Dr. White, who had received the appointment of Indian agent of Oregon, and who was under the impression, that our government would defray all such expenses; which impression, however, I think, was entirely unfounded. Perfect unanimity of feeling and purpose, now having been fully restored, we passed on very agreeably, and with little or no interruption, until we arrived at Sweet-water, near Independence rock. Here we had the misfortune to lose a young man, by the name of Bailey, who was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun. As the ball entered at the groins, and passed entirely through the body, it was readily seen, that the wound must prove fatal. He survived but about two hours, which, to him, were hours of excruciating suffering, and to us, those of gloomy despondency and grief. He was an amiable young man, a native of the state of Massachusetts; latterly from the territory of Iowa. Being a blacksmith by trade, the party sustained a great loss in his death; not only, however, in reference to his services as a mechanic, but also, in reference to the important protection, which each afforded to the other, in this wild region of savage ferocity. While he survived, every possible exertion was made to afford him relief, but all to no purpose. He constantly insisted that it was utterly impossible for him to recover, that immediate death was inevitable. The physician now gave up all hopes of his recovery; his voice faltered; death was depicted upon his countenance: and every thing seemed to indicate a speedy return of his immortal spirit, "to God who gave it," yet, even now, he was to be heard, urging us all, in the most emphatic language, to be more cautious in the future, and, thereby, avoid similar accidents. He now took his "eternal leave " of all, in the most solemn and affecting manner, at the same time, most earnestly admonishing us, "to prepare for a like fate, should it be our unhappy lot, and, at all events, to make a speedy preparation for death and eternity!" This was truly a most solemn and awful scene; and these admonitions, coming from such a source, and under such circumstances, must have produced an impressive and lasting effect! He expired in the evening, and the burial took place the next morning. The grave having been prepared, at the foot of a mountain of considerable altitude, about eighty rods southwest, from the usual encampment, we now followed to the grave, the second corpse of our little company! As we thus marched along, in solemn procession, the deepest gloom and solemnity, was depicted upon every countenance, and pungent and heartfelt grief pervaded every breast! While we were silently and solemnly moving on, under arms, "to the place of the dead," the sentinels were to be seen, standing at their designated posts, alternately meditating upon the solemnity of the passing scene, and casting their eyes watchfully around as if to descry the numerous and hostile foe, with whom we were everywhere surrounded, and thus, to avert accumulating danger! At the same time, the young man, who was the unwilling instrument of this, our trying calamity, was also to be seen, walking to and fro, suffering the most extreme mental agony; apparently noticing nothing that was transpiring around; seemingly unconscious of every thing, but his own unhappy existence, and the sad departure of his, and our lamented friend! The ordinary rites, after interment, having been performed at the grave, the company returned in the same solemn manner, to the encampment, where all sat down in silent mournful mood, contemplating the many trying scenes of the desolating past, and anticipating the dreaded fearful future!
Having spent several days at this place, and having, in the mean time, procured an additional supply of meat, re-elected our officers, and made all other necessary preparatory arrangements, we, once more, set out upon our dismal journey; when I thought proper to issue an order, which required all, in the future, to carry their guns uncapped or primed. The propriety and importance of this order, were clearly manifested, by the sad occurrence just related, hence it was readily and promptly obeyed. Had such an order been previously issued and enforced, our deceased friend might still have lived, and instead of sadness and dismay, hilarity and joy might have pervaded our community; but we, unfortunately, like thousands of others, were mere sophomores in the great school of experience. The fates, taking advantage of our want of experience, appeared really to have conspired against us; surrounding us everywhere, with the most inauspicious circumstances; and crowding our lonely way with innumerable and unforseen dangers, and with death, as if determined to deluge the whole western wilds, with human misery, and to engulf us, their defenceless victims, in the deep, dark abyss of inextricable wo; and thus, to feast upon our misfortunes, and exult triumphantly over our weakness and inexperience! Sweet-water, was a bitter water to us; if it even possessed any sweetness, it had lost it all now, for it afforded us nothing but the extreme bitterness of sore affliction and deep distress.