"During our stay at the rendez-vous, many of us
looked anxiously for letters from our families, which we expected
by the later caravans, but we were all disappointed. For myself,
I have received but one since I left my home, but this has
been my solace through many a long and dreary journey" (Townsend:
Townsend describes the visitors at the Green River rendezvous
as being mainly Indians and also lots of "half breeds."
The camp was
"crowded with a heterogenous assemblage of visiters.
The principal of these are Indians, of the Nez Perce, Banneck
and Shoshone tribes, who come with the furs and peltries
which they have been collecting the risk of their lives during
past winter and spring, to trade for ammunition, trinkets,
and 'fire water."
About thirty Indians joined them for their journey to the Snake
River. These included
"Flat-heads, Nez Perces, &c, with their wives,
children and dogs. Without these our camp would be small;
they will probably travel with us until we arrive at Snake
river, and pass over the country where the most danger is
to be apprehended from their enemies, the Blackfeet" (Townsend:
Their Indian companions left them before they reached the
upper reaches of Ross' Fork, where they set up camp and broke
their fast of dry meat, with the killing of one buffalo. They
moved camp again, noting buffalo all around.
Townsend left Ft. Hall, crossed the Shoshone, or Snake, River
and followed Goddin's Cr. with Capt. Wyeth and Richardson.
On August 13th they came upon a
"large, Indian encampment, probably of Bannecks,
who are travelling down to the fisheries on Snake river" (Townsend:
At the fishery, they learned of a "hard contested, and
most sanguinary battle" that had been fought at that
spot three days previous between the Bannocks and the Blackfeet,
in which the Bannocks triumphed.
"The former gained a signal and most complete
victory, killing upwards of forty of their adversaries, and
taking about three dozen scalps. The Blackfeet, although much
the larger party, were on foot, but the Bannecks, being all
well mounted, had a very decided advantage; and the contest
occurred on an open plain, where there was no chance of cover,
the BF were run down by the horses, and, without being able
to load their guns, were trampled to death, or killed with
salmon spears and axes."
Along the "Mallade" River On August 14th -
"We travelled down Mallade river, and followed
the Indian trail through the valley. The path frequently passed
along near the base of the mountain, and then wound its way
a considerable distance up to avoid rocky impediments and
thick tangled bushes below, so that we had some climbing to
do; but the difficulties and perils of the route yesterday
are still so fresh in our memory, that all minor things are
disregarded, at least by us. Our poor horses, however, no
doubt feel differently as they are very tired and foot sore
" (Townsend: 1840).
On a branch of the Mallade, they encountered a party of Snakes
"were returning from the fisheries, and travelling
towards the buffalo on the 'big river,' (Shoshone or Snake).
Their camp consisted of two lodges, with about 20 people.
The men presented the Snake chief and two young men who visited
their camp with gifts, including a yard of scarlet cloth for
leggings, some balls and powder, a knife, and a looking glass
each. Then Captain Wyeth queried them, through an interpreter,
about the route, and food to be found along the way. He then
bought of them "a small quantity of dried salmon, and
a little fermented kamas or quamash root"" (Townsend: 1840).The chief is a man about fifty years of age,
tall, and dignified looking, with large, strong, aquiline
features. His manners were cordial and agreeable, perhaps
remarkably so, and he exhibited very little of that stoical
indifference to surrounding objects which is so characteristic
of an Indian. His dress consisted of plain leggings of deer
skin, fringed at the sides, unembroidered moccasins, and
a marro or waist-covering of antelope skin dressed without
the hair. The upper part of his person was simply covered
with a small blanket, and his ears were profusely ornamented
with brass rings and beads. The men and squaws who accompanied
him, were entirely naked, except that the latter had marro's
of deer skin covering the loins" (Townsend: 1840).
The next morning, travelling west,
"crossing within every mile or two, a branch of
the tortuous Mallade, near each of which good pasture was
seen; but on the main prairie, scarcely a blade of grass could
be found, it having been lately fired by the Indians to improve
the crops of next year" (Townsend: 1840).
They passed a recently occupied camp,
"occupying a little valley densely overgrown with
willows, the tops of which have been bent over, and tied so
as to form a sort of lodge; over these, they have probably
stretched deer skins or blankets, to exclude the rays of the
sun. Of these lodges there are about forty in the valley,
so that the party must have been a large one" (Townsend: 1840).
That afternoon, they arrived at "Kamas prairie," so called
from a vast abundance of this esculent root which it produces...
"The plain is beautifully level, of about a mile
in extent, hemmed in by low, rocky hills, and in spring, the
pretty blue flowers of the Kamas are said to give it a peculiar,
and very pleasing appearance. At this season, the flowers
do no appear, the vegetable being indicated only by little
dry stems which protrude all over the ground among the grass
"" (Townsend: 1840).We encamped here, near a small branch of the
Mallade river; and soon after, all hands took their kettles
and dispersed themselves over the prairie to dig a mess of
kamas. We were, of course eminently successful, and were furnished
thereby with an excellent and wholesome meal" (Townsend: 1840).
Townsend describes the Indian mode of preparing camas by fermenting it
in pits under ground, into which hot stones have been placed, and where
it remains for several days. When removed, it has a dark brown color, consistency
of softened glue and sweet, "like molasses." Then made into large
cakes by being mashed and pressed together, and "slightly baked in
"There are several other kinds of bulbous and tuburous roots, growing
in these plains, which are eaten by the Indians, after undergoing a certain
process of fermentation or baking. Among these, that which is most esteemed,
is the white or biscuit root,...This is dried, pulverized with stones, and
after being moistened with water, is made into cakes and baked in the sun"
Biscuit root (lomatium dissectum)
Larry Huffer photo
Courtesy of Nutrition and Food Management, Oregon State University
On the morning of July 19th, with the temperature at 28 degrees, they
travel again over rough terrain, losing more horses. They did find great
quantities of choke-cherries, still green. They also saw large patches of
serviceberry bushes, but no fruit.
Serviceberry (amelanchier alnifolia)
Larry Huffer photo
Courtesy of Nutrition and Food Management, Oregon State University
"It seems to have failed this year, although ordinarily
so abundant that it constitutes a large portion of the vegetable food of
both Indian and white trappers who visit these regions" (Townsend: 1840).
Late in the day on July 19th they descend to a
"fine, large plain, and struck Boisee, or Big
Wood river. Beautiful stream, 100 yds. across, clear as crystal,
and deep. "It is literally crowded with salmon" (Townsend:
On the 20th, they followed the route along the
an hour, the travelling was toilsome and difficult, the Indian
trail, leading along the high bank of the river, steep and rocky,
making our progress very slow and laborious." It led them
to a wide plain, "interrupted only by occasional high banks
of earth, some of them of considerable extent, across which ran
the path" (Townsend: 1840).
They arrived on the
Snake River. Not a man in their camp had ever traveled
this route before.
They met some Snakes who were disgusted that
they had eaten horse meat, having killed a colt
that wandered into camp.
Then many small groups of "Shoshone" arrived,
each man carrying a salmon spear and a knife,
but no guns. Townsend
describes the chief of this group as an exceptional
"...rather above the ordinary height, with a fine, noble
countenance, and remarkably large prominent eyes. His person, instead of
being naked, as is usual, is clothed in a robe made of the skin of the mountain
sheep; a broad band of large blue beeds, is fastened to the top of his head,
and hanges over on his cheeks, and around his neck is suspended the foot
of a huge grizzly bear" (Townsend: 1840).