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Excursion to Oregon

IN 1834.


HE transit from the eastern states to Oregon. across the country, has now become quite a common affair. The mode of travel has, in a great measure, become systematized and regular. The peril of travel is greatly diminished, and thrilling adventures are less frequent. The route of travel is well defined, and soon we may expect to see a continuous line of railroad connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific.

As the past recedes from us, and is seen only by the dim light of history, the events of border life, and the adventures of pioneer travelers, on the broad prairies, in the vast wilderness, and in the mountain gorges, increase in the intensity of their interest. A great variety of incidents now lies within reach of the historian-much of it not only well calculated to awaken a tran

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sient interest, but also to illustrate the rapid spread of our population and the progress of civilization over the northern part of our vast continent.

Our purpose will be best accomplished by taking the incidents of a single expedition than by grouping anecdotes gleaned from the experience of border life. We shall, therefore, in this paper, trace the history of an excursion performed in 1834 by Mr. Townsend, an enthusiastic ornithologist, and his friend, Professor Nuttall, of Harvard University, an equallyzealous botanist.* Being desirous of increasing the existing stock of knowledge in the departments of science to which they were respectively attached, these gentlemen agreed to accompany a body of traders, commanded by a Captain Wyeth, to the Columbia river and adjacent parts. The traders belonged to an association called the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company, and on this occasion they designed to fix a permanent branch-establishment in the


On the evening of the 24th of March, 1834, the two friends arrived in a steamboat at St. Louis. Here they furnished themselves with several pairs of leathern pantaloons, enormous

*“An Excursion to the Rocky Mountains, by J. K. Townsend."

overcoats, and white wool hats with round crowns, fitting tightly to the head, and almost hard enough to resist a musket-ball. Leaving their baggage to come on with the steamer, about three hundred miles up the Missouri, Mr. Townsend and his friend set off to amuse themselves by walking and hunting leisurely through that distance, which is composed chiefly of wide, flat prairies, with few and remotely-situated habitations of the frontier settlers.

One of the first indications of their approach to a wild country was the spectacle of a band of Indians of the Sac tribe, who were removing to new settlements. The men were fantastically painted, and the chief was distinguished by a profuse display of trinkets, and a huge necklace made of the claws of the grizzly bear. The decorations of one of the women amused the two travelers. She was an old squaw, to whom was presented a broken umbrella. The only use she made of this prize was to wrench the plated ends from the whalebones, string them on a piece of wire, take her knife from her belt, with which she deliberately cut a slit of an inch in length along the upper rim of her ear, and insert them in it. The sight was as shocking to the feelings as it was grotesque; for the cheeks of the vain being were covered with blood as she stood with fancied dignity in

the midst of twenty others, who evidently envied her the possession of the worthless baubles.

While pushing forward on the borders of the wilderness, the travelers one day arrived at the house of a kind of gentleman settler, who, with his three daughters, vied in showing kindness to their visitors. "The girls," says Mr. Townsend, "were very superior to most that I had seen in Missouri, although somewhat touched with the awkward bashfulness and prudery which generally characterize the prairie maidens. They had lost their mother when young, and having no companions out of the domestic circle, and consequently no opportunity of aping the manners of the world, were perfect children of nature. Their father, however, had given them a good, plain education, and they had made some proficiency in needlework, as was evinced by numerous neatly-worked samplers hanging in wooden frames round the room.' Some little curiosity and astonishment was excited in the minds of the unsophisticated girls when they were informed that their two guests were undertaking a long and difficult journey across the prairies—one of them for the purpose of shooting and stuffing birds, the other for the purpose of obtaining plants to preserve between leaves of paper; but at last they began to perceive that probably there was some hidden

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