Tag Archives: Yellowstone

This Week in History: September 29 — October 5

Fort William Fri­day Octo­ber 13th 1833
My Dear Mary

I owe you a let­ter of more than a year stand­ing, and I know not now but I had bet­ter allow inter­est to accu­mu­late than attempt  to liq­ui­date the debt. In fact there is so lit­tle in this coun­try that could prove inter­est­ing to you (  I know your taste is not  Sav­age) that it is not with­out reluc­tance I take up my pen: and  but for our con­sid­er­a­tion I would pro­cras­ti­nate a lit­tle longer  —  Name­ly that it brings fresh my rec­ol­lec­tion the pleas­ant  evenings I passed with you in Decem­ber and Jan­u­ary last: and I  can now indulge the delu­sive idea that I am seat­ed in your room  on Wal­nut Street enjoy­ing the agree­able soci­ety it always  con­tained, and look­ing on the only Broth­er and Sis­ter that  inhab­it the same con­ti­nent as myself. Can you imag­ine to your­self how agree­able such dreams are? No, ’tis impos­si­ble. We can only  know plea­sure by con­trast and you who have no alloy to mix with  pure hap­pi­ness can­not pos­si­bly appre­ci­ate the feel­ings of one  whose whole life is bus­tle and anx­i­ety with­out a com­pan­ion (I  don’t mean a wife) to share it. To fan­cy myself trans­port­ed from  fif­teen hun­dred miles beyond the bounds of civ­i­liza­tion, leav­ing  all my cares behind, and enter­ing the most agree­able and  accept­able Soci­ety that I can imag­ine, pro­duces a sen­sa­tion that  it beg­ging words to describe; just call to mind the hap­pi­est  moments of your life, then that twice told, can enable you to  form some idea of what I should feel if I could pass one evening  with you at this time, and what I now expe­ri­ence in writ­ing you  notwith­stand­ing the immense dis­tance we are apart –

[Pg. Break] As I write vol­umes to Hugh you prob­a­bly have a pret­ty good knowl­edge of what a per­son sac­ri­fices who embarks in this  life, and yet I might say to you it is not with­out some enjoyment

” — this our life exempt from pub­lic haunt
“Finds tongues in trees, books in the run­ning brooks
“Ser­mons in stones and good in every thing”

Roam in what direc­tion we may, nature in all her beau­ties (and  some of her defor­mi­ties) meets our eye and should our soli­tude be inter­rupt­ed, it is only by a son of nature who affords quite as  good a sub­ject for con­tem­pla­tion as the scenery he con­tributes to diver­si­fy; and I can assure you there are times when such are my feel­ings that I would scarce exchange a walk in the vicin­i­ty of  Fort William with an unso­phis­ti­cat­ed Son of the Prairie that I  might hap­ly meet,  and with whom I could only “talk by signs”,  for a prom­e­nade in Ches­nut Street on a fine sun­ny day when all  the fash­ion and beau­ty of the city are on the move. My taste you  will say is bar­barous– I con­fess it else I would not now be  writ­ing you from the Mouth of the Yel­low Stone

I could tell you so many excel­lent sto­ries in praise of the  Indi­ans that you would be led to admire them. And for our trust  in their char­ac­ter (and sor­ry I am to record it) for which I  can­not offer an excuse; and that is their bar­barous treat­ment of  the ____[?] sex. Fash­ion it as I may I can­not pal­li­ate this  offense: to one who has not been accus­tomed to see our pret­ty  Girls in the States wait­ed on from time to time they become  mar­riage­able until they get a hus­band, and if they man­age him  prop­er­ly ever after, it is hard to look at the poor crea­tures in  this coun­try– Youth, Beau­ty– I had almost said refine­ment but  they poss­es nei­ther that nor intel­li­gence–  noth­ing can exempt  them from drudgery. Even the daugh­ter of a chief if she works to  get a hus­band (and they all do) must show that she is capa­ble of  dress­ing Buf­fa­lo Robes–  pack­ing wood and if occa­sion requires  pack­ing a heavy bur­den a days march whilst the detestable men  step ahead encum­bered only by their gun and bow and arrows
[Pg. Break] I have fre­quent­ly had the Indi­ans boast to me that  they were not poor for they had two, three or four wives (tell it not in Goth) who could dress Buf­fa­lo Robes to pur­chase what they might require. A Nabob in the Old Domin­ion could not speak of  his human stock with more indif­fer­ence than an Indi­an does of his wives; nor is this all. They will dis­pose of their daugh­ters for a gun or a Horse or any oth­er arti­cle they may require with­out  regard to their feel­ings, but I must add the Lady, like a true  daugh­ter of Eve will have her own way, and if her Father’s choice does not please her, she sel­dom fails to choose for her­self  after­wards in which she is jus­ti­fied by the Cus­toms of her Nation
I intend the first leisure to smoke sev­er­al pipes of Tobac­co —  (I am indebt­ed to Knicker­backer for the plan) explain­ing, at  the risk of being laughed at, the dif­fer­ence between our  treat­ment of  the sex and theirs
You per­ceive the bad exam­ple dai­ly set before me oper­ates as it  ought, in pro­duc­ing the great­est ven­er­a­tion for the ladies I have the mis­for­tune to be so far removed from. The more I see of  these Sav­ages the more glar­ing appears the injus­tice. No dan­ger  that like vice.

Seen too oft famil­iar with the face
We must endure, then tru­ly them embrace”

But if some hus­bands had a prece­dent such as I could fur­nish  then, Lord help their wives — there­fore the less they know of  Indi­an usage the better.
I hope you have been able to enter­tain my friend Sub­lette as  agree­ably as you did last sea­son, I trust how­ev­er your fair  friends  are not as fas­ci­nat­ing as they thus were, or I shall  expect an addi­tion­al part­ner in our concern
When I left St Louis your sis­ters spoke of the two of them going to Phi­la, but all being anx­ious to live with “Sis­ter Mary” they  had not deter­mined whose should be the hap­py lot — please  present my respects to them
Is it not pro­vok­ing to be placed so as to not expect a let­ter  before June or July next —  this is indeed one of the great­est  griev­ances — I find in this coun­try — Could I expect to hear  from you and Hugh  and a few of my oth­er friends once a month,  then would I be the hap­pi­est amongst the self-exiled — as that  is denied me, I shall do myself the plea­sure of sub­scrib­ing  myself your most sin­cere and most devot­ed friend and Brother

Robert Camp­bell


This Week in History: July 14–20

Green Riv­er, Rocky Moun­tains, July 20, 1833.
DEAR BROTHER.-I am now on my route from the head of Co-
lum­bia riv­er, to the mouth of the Yel­low Stone, where it empties
into the Mis­souri. You can have no idea of the anx­i­ety and toil
of such a march. With “returns” of some val­ue, our par­ty are
tra­vers­ing a coun­try fre­quent­ed by bands of Indi­ans, whose
friend­ship can only be depend­ed on, when our vig­i­lance and
strength sets hos­til­i­ty at defi­ance. From our point of destination,
we will send our beaver, &c. by water to St. Louis,-and I will
prob­a­bly build a fort, and estab­lish a trad­ing sta­tion in the vicinity.
Yes­ter­day I met a par­ty of the Shoshonee9 or Snake Indians,
with their prin­ci­pal chief “^he Iron Wrist­band.” We had a smoke
and talk, as is usu­al on such occa­sions; in the course of which I
dis­cov­ered that my new friend wished to employ me in the capacity
of ambas­sador extra­or­di­nary and min­is­ter plenipo­ten­tiary, on a
mis­sion to the Crow Indi­ans; through whose coun­try I intend to
pass. Much as I have been accus­tomed to the tact and shrewdness
of Indi­an chiefs, I have sel­dom seen stronger proofs of political
cun­ning, than on this occasion.
The Iron Wrist­band had late­ly suc­ceed­ed his father “Pet­ti­coat,”
as chief of the nation. It seems that a mis­un­der­stand­ing had arisen
between the Snakes and Crows,-not so seri­ous as to lead to
imme­di­ate open hostilities,-yet suf­fi­cient to ren­der it doubtful
whether they could meet as friends. To ascer­tain the views of the
Crows; and if hos­tile, to deliv­er a suit­able defi­ance, were to be the
objects of my mis­sion. After some pre­lim­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion, the chief made me a speech,
in which were con­densed his final instruc­tions. I took notes of it at
the time, and here­with give you the sub­stance. The sententious
brevi­ty and emphat­ic point, would have put some of your long
wind­ed ora­tors to the blush;-and few of them could con­vey their
mean­ing with more accuracy.
“Write a let­ter,” said he “to the Crows. Let it be in two parts.
Tell them my peo­ple wish to know their Inten­tions. We are anxious
to go to war with the Black Feet Indi­ans (com­mon ene­mies to the
Crows and Snakes). We do not wish to fight with our for­mer friends
and allies-the Crows;-nor to divide our strength by keeping
some war par­ties at home to pro­tect our squaws. No,-we wish to
be friends with the Crows; we wish to join them, against the Black
Feet;-we wish to smoke, trade and inter­mar­ry with their people.
If they will agree to this, we will be happy;-we will love them as
neigh­bours-as friends-as allies.
“Should the Crow Indi­ans reject these offers of peace, then the
Snakes hurl defi­ance at them. Let them come. There are many
heroes among us, who have nev­er known fear. We will meet them
with as much feroc­i­ty as ene­mies as we could have cor­dial­ly greeted
them as friends. We are not afraid. We will call on our friends the
Shi­ans, Ari­pa­hoes, Utaws and Nava­hoes, before the snow comes,
and will grind them to death!
“Let this be your let­ter. Divide it into two parts. If the offer of
peace be accept­ed, then destroy the oth­er. If not, then give them
our defi­ance, and tell them to come on.”
“Eight years ago, when we first saw the long knife (Gen. A–y)”
there had been war between us and the Crows. We had killed many
of them. They were as chil­dren in our hands. Your friend, the Long
Knife, offered to make peace. He gave us large presents. We con-
sent­ed; and since then, the tom­a­hawk has been buried. Our wish
is still for peace. Let their answer be frank and can­did. Peace or
war, is the same to us;-only let them say which they prefer.”
I lis­tened with much atten­tion, and no small share of admiration
to this brief harangue. Were you famil­iar with the posi­tion of the
par­ties, you would see in every sen­tence, evi­dence of deep policy,
and con­sum­mate polit­i­cal skill. The Snakes were deeply appre-
hen­sive of the effects if a war with the Crows; for they could not
wage war with that nation, and the Black Feet: yet an Indian
well knows the dan­ger of admit­ting weak­ness; or ask­ing as a boon,
what he knows can only be held by his rifle.
On part­ing, I promised the chief to write and deliv­er the letter
“in two parts” accord­ing to his wishes;-and hope to suc­ceed in
estab­lish­ing peace between those nations.
Yours, &c. &c.