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Chapter 6 - Montana - Documents

VII.B.b.15. Letter, John G. Copelin to WMW at DeSoto Washington Co., 13 Apr. 1865, St. Louis

Saint Louis April 13/65

Wm. M. Wheatley Esq.
DeSoto Washington Co. D. T.

Dear Sir

Yours of 7th at hand I answerd you & dispatch to Can J. A. Horbach of(?) Omaha–Capt. N.J. Eaton1 agent of Board of Underwriters is <n>ow at wreck and any arrangement you make with him about Salvage will be all right. the Machinery was not insured as I did not understand it to be your instruction to me to insure it. If you can get Mill and all the Machinery out so it will be of value and you can run it I will take you and Wilson and machinery all through on another boat, but would like to know about it if to go as soon as possible so as to provide for it.

Yours truly

John G. Copelin

VII.B.b.10. Letter, WMW to MMHW, “Sam Gaty”, 29 May 1865.

Write to Fort Benton care Capt. N. Wall.2

Sam Gaty May 29th 1865

My precious Darling

It seems a long time since I heard from you, though I know that you have had no opportunity to send a letter, or my pet would have done so. I am almost sure I will get one at Fort Sully, if you recd my last in due time. I trust I will not be disappointed, for I want to hear from you so much.

I know my pet loves me better every day, my confidence & my own heart tells me so, & if she only knew how my poor heart aches for a sight of her sweet face again, she would say truly, “My William loves me”. I never needed your council, your aid, & your love so much as I do now, & I have no petty near me. Oh if I could only lay my head on her bosom, and pour out my feelings, I would feel relieved. Dearest Mildred, my precious, darling love I have treated you so badly & have been so cruel to you, though I know I will be forgiven by you, yet I can never forgive myself, & the thought haunts me continually. I have seen you kneel <p.2> at our bedside and pray night after night for me, & I have looked on with as much stoic indifference, as if I had no soul, not even giving you a single word of encouragement, & worst of all, invariably, turning your thoughts from serious things to others of far less importance. Tell me, darling for the hope of heaven, what you thought of me, & what kind of a heart you thought I had? I know I always meant well, but my actions did not say so. Though I was an idle looker on there was one above, who was listening to her prayers, and permitted them to remain unanswered until now. Dearest you do not <know> what I have endured, & how I have been troubled. I sometimes thought I must go back to my beloved wife, & then we could kneel together & ask forgiveness. Darling can you, will you forgive me for being so cruel towards you? I cannot be entirely satisfied until you tell me. Petty I never have deserved the love of your pure good heart, but I will try henceforth to be more worthy, & show you that my heart appreciates the worth & blessing of your love.

Beloved Mildred do not be afraid or ashamed to talk to me of a crucified Saviour, for it is a delightful theme, & I live to think of it. It is no effort for me to say this; but <p.3> a pleasure. We can live [sic] now as we never loved [sic] before. Darling pray that I may soon be restored to you & our dear little pets, for I cannot live away from you, & I fret & mourn for you continually. Others may call this weakness, but I wish not for their kind of strength, strength to leave a darling wife, without a sight or tear, & when lost to her sight indulge in all sorts of pleasure & iniquity, as I have so often seen. Blessed darling trust me, I will be true \to/ you. You are the bright beaming star that shines for me constantly, & will guide me back to the haven of peace and love.

We are getting along but slowly, owing to the low stage of the river, but we hope for a fresh [=freshet?] from the mountains soon. I learn that we were not the only unfortunate ones in sinking, four Ft Benton boats have been snagged & lost, which is unusual. I have had my machinery &c insured, & if we are so unfortunate as to sink I can get what it cost & more too.

I had a bilious attack last week, & am well now after taking proper medicine, our beef is all gone, & I am sorry, we hope to have buffalo & Elk soon, which will come very good after using salt meat so long.

<p.4> As soon as you can ascertain where Ed is and write him that he must live with us, but don’t let him come to Gravois until I come back for fear some one may kill him. Jos intends every one to look after himself, which is right for he has enough to shoulder in his own family. The property has gone out of his hands forever, what is to become of Josephine? if I can & you wish it, & she is willing I will take her with us. Darling you don’t know how good I want to be to you. I thought she would be a help to you, and then she would be sure to be raised properly, which is a great thing especially for a girl. In order that I may know whether you receive all my letters. I will number them, as they will all be of importance as regards the future, & when you write tell me what number you have recd. This I will number “one”. I wish I could hear from Johnson Co, land is going to be valuable in Mo, & I want to save our place. If you ever get to see Ross ask him if he ever heard from Warrensburg about it.

How sweet it is to think how happy we will be, it affords me much delightful meditation, & I nightly thank the lord for giving me such a blessed angel to love & cheer me through this changing & uncertain world. I wish I were able to find language to express my love more earnestly, for I wish her to know that she possesses no ordinary heart but one that is overflowing with love & devotion. Goodbye dearest Mildred, that God may bless you & our little pets in the earnest prayer of you affectionate Husband.


VII.B.b.11. Poem by William, written on the “Sam Gaty”, 2 June 1865.

Sam Gaty June 2d 1865


I gazed on a river that murmured along,
When spring birds were chanting their beautiful song,
Thus sung the gay river that swept by the shore,
I flow on for ever, flow on “evermore”.
I gazed on that river, when floweret and tree,
Were gently unfolding their sweets to the bee,
The murmuring winds with their musical lore
And the waves sung in concert, the song “Evermore”.
I stood by that river when the cold icey breath,
Had chilled the fair scene, like the finger of death,
But ‘neath the ice-chain that girded each shore,
I heard the low moan, “Evermore”, “Evermore”
‘Tis thus the fond heart loves tenderly on,
Though the spring-time of youth, with \its/ vigour is gone,
Till the soul in full gladness will joyfully soar
To the regions of bliss to love “Evermore”
There is a fair land where flowers ever bloom
And the bright smile of angels shall chase away gloom
And sorrow and care will ne’er reach that bright shore
Where we will sing to the praise of our God “Evermore”


VII.B.b.12. Letter “5”, WMW to MMHW, “Sam Gaty”, June 1865, 3 sheets, on notepaper of “Office Union Line Express”


Sam Gaty June 1865

My beloved Mildred

I will continue some of the ideas suggested in no 4 though I can do it imperfectly. I have made up my mind firmly that we <will> have no more long faces, for we will remove the cause of them: instead of mourning and fretting over losses that we could not help, and thinking of injuries received from our friends and foes, and how we have been wronged and deprived of our just and lawful right, we will pass it along and not let it disturb us. We will do right to others, though we have been treated badly by them. Petty I remember how often you used to ask me to talk some: you did this because you loved to hear me talk, besides that you knew that something was troubling my mind that was doing no good, and if you could direct my thoughts in another direction, it would be more pleasant for you, and better for me. Now love we will have no more of this, but will sped our time in pleasant conversation, or reading to each other, and improve our minds. I think so much of you and the little pets that I can’t express half, though I say a good deal. <p.2> Precious darling love, but I do want to see you so much. I want to hear you talk and love me, and I want to kiss you and lay my cheek on yours. I think it will be a happy day for you when I come back to my dear home. O I will draw you to my bosom and kiss you sweetly, darling, and caress you, and with fonder kinder words bless you, than you ever before have heard. I will show you dearie, how a man can love. I am not building a castle of air for you to look at a while, and then fade from your grasp, and leave you disappointed and forlorn. Your sweet loving heart shall have a home, a home where care and disappointment can never come, to make drear, nor time decay, that home darling, is in my bosom. If it were possible, I would open my breast and lay your heart right beside my own, that I might feel its loving pulsations always, and keep evil thoughts away.

Darling: don’t you remember how often you wished that you were stronger that you could lay half reclining on my bosom, in the morning, and love me, and smooth my forehead with your soft hand, your bare bosom would lay on mine just enough for me to feel its delightful pressure. I wonder what I would be <p.3> doing all this time, would my hands & lips be idle? How I hope you will be strong enough to gratify your loving heart, & then do you think it would do your husband any good? I wonder if I won’t rob little blossom of one of your breasts! at least I am going to lay mighty close to them. Blessed you don’t know how many happy thoughts come over my mind. How many ways I am going to love you, and bless and pet you, and now my darling wife, my beloved will you indulge me in every way that appertains to love? My love is so great and grasping that nothing ordinary can satisfy me. I do not mean that I wish to lie on your bosom enjoying that particular pleasure always, which dear knows I crave all the time, but I want souls and hearts and lips to commune sweetly together, and breathe to each other words of love and comfort. Will it not be delightful when we sit by ourselves and relate to each other, our trials and experience during our long seperation, how attentively will each listen, and catch every word with interest, and when we hear from each other, how constantly and tenderly we have loved, will it not be sweet?

Darling, if you could comprehend how deeply and firmly I am bound to you! O, blessed it seems <p.4> that [=as?] if my very soul lives in you. It is wonderful how I love. I always knew that my heart was warm and tender, and only awaited a tender hand to touch its chords to make it vibrate to the sweetest tones of love. You have that heart, my jewel, it is in your keeping. Cherish it darling, for it loves you tenderly. You have the power to make it swell with love and devotion, to make it sink and die with grief. Petty knows my heart, and that it loves her better than all the world beside, and will keep it safe in her own bosom, where it will be happy and contented. Mildred dear, you cannot comprehend me aright: you do not know how I feel toward you, and you can only appreciate me when you see me. O! I want to be always in your presence, and loved in your arms, do not think that a voluptuous, sensual desire has taken possession of my senses: Oh do not dearie, for you would do me wrong. I am incompetent to tell my love, and what remains untold must remain untold and rest until you see and feel its burning power.

I sometimes wonder if such feelings are incompatible with our duty and love to our Saviour? I feel that my heart has truly changed, and if there are any foul desires, I pray to have <p.5> <them> plucked from me. I have these strong passions and ardent feelings, and received them through no agency of mine, and am I responsible for them? It is hard to resist nature, though nature is sinful, and I ask for guidance. In these thoughts I get bewildered and will leave them until I see you. Petty I have just feasted my eyes on your sweet face and you look as if you loved me so much. O can it be that I will <be> so long seperated from you.

O ye winds! cannot you waft me on your wings to that blissful home? Your bright beaming star that I nightly watch will point the way, if ye know not whither to go. I hear her sweet voice calling me from afar, and see her hand beckoning me to come to her bosom! and if ye cannot transport me thither, will <ye> not carry this message of love: Tell her to love and doubt not, for his love will bless her cre____e.

Ever your own


VII.B.b.13. Letter “6”, WMW to MMHW, “Sam Gaty”, 20 June 1865, 2 sheets, on notepaper of “Office Union Line Express”


Sam Gaty June 20th 1865

My own dear Mildred

I have sent you quite a number of letters, all of which I hope have reached you safely. a few days since we met the “Yellow-Stone” on her way to St. Louis, by her I sent you two which would reach you in two weeks. Yesterday the “Genl Grant met us, and took about 150 tons from our boat, which will enable us to get along much faster. We have been getting along miserably slow, owing to our heavy load, and high winds. We expect to meet the “Benton” today which will take the balance of our load, and this boat be sent back to St. Louis, where she ought to be instead of trying to navigate this treacherous river. After we get on the “Benton”, I think we can without some accident, reach Ft. Benton in fifteen days.4

If you wrote me at Ft. Sully I did not get it, and you may be sure that I was much disappointed, for it has been so long since I heard from you, now there is no chance of getting letters until we get to Benton, when the “Gaty” returns I will send this, and another letter by her for you. I have not heard from Jos, or Wilson, but I know the boats they were on have reached Ft. Benton, safely. Though all the boats have had a great deal of trouble.

<p.2> If I were to go west a dozen times, I would not go by boat, particularly with my precious family. The vice and temptations of this upper country, is awful to contemplate. The women have a hard time I assure you. Dear petty, my heart is right and my resolution strong, and nothing can tempt me from the path of duty and love. I never thought how deeply and devotedly I loved you, until I came up this river. My precious darling, I am yours wholly \yours/ every feeling and thought is for your welfare. You will realize, my blessed wife how dearly I love you when I come back. You will then know that you have a husband than [=that] can appreciate your love.

How I do want to see our poor, dear little pets. It seems <hard?> to be seperated so long from you all, but the step is now taken & I must go through. I see nothing discouraging, ahead, but had I known at the start what I now know I would not have come at all. From what news we have, the war is “virtually closed” as uncle Neal5 used to say, & it may be that I could have done well, by trying to close up all our business in Mo, but all is for the best.

We are now at the old Mandan Village, where Lewis & Clark spent their first winter,6 and the whole country about here is filled with hostile Sioux, and it is unsafe to go a hundred yards from the boat. I don’t say this to alarm you in the least, for I take good care of myself, and do not go where there is any danger.

<p.3>We have seen many herds of buffalo, Elk, and antelope, the latter resemble our deer very much, they have legs much shorter, and horns are of different shape, & do not shed them yearly as the deer, it is a great mistake with people, to think that they are so fleet, a good horse can overtake them in a fair run. Their meat is not so good as the deer. We have killed no Elk and cannot say much about them. I will give you an account of the killing of our first buffalo. We had seen hundreds of them on the bottoms, but could not stop the boat to get any, a few days since we were lying up for wind, when most of the passengers, were asleep, in the afternoon, we were startled by the cry of buffalo.7 I jumped out <of> bed & ran up on the hurricane deck, and then saw(?) a huge buffalo not fifty yards off, in the river, swimming right for the boat, in a minute every one had a gun, and in a few moments he had at least fifty bullets in him, he looked terrible, when wounded, he picked and charged furiously, but could not help himself and was soon dead, he swam right up to the boat, and seemed determined to get aboard, some fired the muskets at his head when he was not five feet from them, and we found afterward that the heavy ounce(?) balls flattened on his scull instead of going through as we supposed, after he was dead we hooked him in the derrick and drew him aboard to dress him, and when dressed he weighed 870 pounds <p.4> The meat resembles beef, but is better than any we have had, all our mountaineers seemed to enjoy Mr Allen’s8 part but the roast & steak was good enough for me.

We took on three passengers at Ft. Rice for Ft. Berthold,9 and we got along so slow they thought that they would take it on foot last night, being about twenty miles to go, after going about six miles they came to Knife river & stumbled on a war party of Sioux, soon as the sioux discovered them, they made chase, and followed them up so closely that they sometimes thought they must give it up, and be killed, but they outran the indians and as good fortune had it, they struck the river right opposite the boat, which run [=ran] to the shore to their assistance, and got them aboard safely, we could see the disappointed indians plainly. I think they will stay aboard until the boat gets up now. The poor fellows seemed almost tired to death.

I will write you again dearest soon as I can find a chance to send a letter. Remember me darling with much love, and pray every night for the safe return of your affectionate husband,


VII.B.b.14. Letter “7”, WMW to MMHW, Fort Union, 26 June 1865. On notepaper of “Office Union Line Express”.


Fort Union10 June 26th 1865.

Dearest Mildred

In 5 & 6 I wrote several days since in order to have them ready, when an opportunity offered to forward them to you. Yesterday we met two boats which take the greater part of our freight, the balance will be left at this post, until the boat that Jos, went up on, decends [sic] this far, & return to Benton with it. The “Sam Gaty” will start for St. Louis to morrow and will carry three letters for you.11 We are on board the “Gen Grant”12 and I hope will take us to Ft. Benton soon, for dear knows I am almost tired out, my health now is good and I try to take care of myself, as my darling pet advised me. I now see plainly that the season will be over before we get to our destination, it seems that everything has happened that can, almost, to detain us, but the worst enemy we have had, yet look<s> us in the face and seemingly defies us to advance \that is low water/ still I am hopeful. I am anxious to get to Benton so I will be enabled to hear from you. I will write every opportunity, so you will have the satisfaction of knowing how I am, though I must be denied the pleasure <p.2> of hearing from you.

I could write of many things that we have seen, and many stirring times we have had with the buffalo, antelope, and indians, but these I will keep for you until I return. I write you what you need most, that is, assurances of my constant love and devotion. My darling pet, I love you better every day as they come, and my only desire is to be with you. Though I am [sic] cannot be with you to show you, the fervency of my love, my letters must convey a slight conception of the devotion I have for my precious wife. I have thought much of a true wife’s love, and I think it is one of the grandest subjects that the human mind can contemplate. Dearie, if your heart feels as mine (and I know it does) you must write me letters of warmest love and affection, for that is what we need most. Let us emulate each others love and see how near we came can attain to human the perfection of human happiness.

Kiss the dear children for me, and keep their papa fresh in their minds. Oh I want to see you all so much. Good-bye my precious, darling wife, may God bless and protect you. If we love and serve him, and fervently pray in earnest faith he will restore us to each other again.

Truly ever


I.A.e.1. Letter from WMW to “Pap” (JWW1), Gravois Mills, 24 Feb. 1866; incomplete.

Gravois Mills P.O.
Morgan County Mo

Feb. 24th 1866

Dear Pap

Your affectionate letter of Jan, is recd and I had a good cry over it as well as you, & certainly no one has more cause to be thankful than myself for my safe return here, for I know that I have made some narrow escapes, more than I am willing to run again, all the indians this side the mountains are more exasperated and vicious than they ever have been, owing to the truckling course of this despicable government, more of which I will speak again.

We have agreed among us, and all the creditors that I take the farm and release my judgments. Except <p.2> one who lives some distance off, and he no doubt will be satisfied. This will save any further litigation and trouble which I wish to avoid.

I have been mightily worried and disappointed about my money matters, and I hardly know what is best to do. I had no disposition \to bring/ any amt of money if we had got all down, indeed was better satisfied at the time than to have got it.13 One of the men we sold to was from Versailles, and kept store, and now owns a farm adjoining town worth, and would at any time bring 400000 dollars. He left here during the war, and sold his stock of goods amt, to $300000 to a Wm Bradbury. (who is now keeping store and is rich.) also some good accounts amt to $140000. Just before we thought of coming home Bradbury wrote Freebairn (the man we sold half to) that he could get his money at any time so we much preferred receiving the <p.3> money here, to bringing it along with us, which was extremely hazardous. He paid us $500 in gold and gave us his note for $94700 payable in gold or its equivalent in greenback and an order to Bradbury to pay us, which we supposed would be paid at once, which he ___ not, nor will not do. Knowing very well that we cannot make him pay. He wants to use the money in his business, as he is doing at Freebairn’s expense. Soon as I ascertained this I brought suit against Freebairn to make sure of my claim, and got judgment by attachment for the amount, but cannot get anything out of the property for six months, as Freebairn is a non-resident. He will make the money come soon as he knows what I have done.

The other half sold over to a Watkins on 30 days time at 25 percent interest (the rate of the country) secured by a lien <p.4> on the mill and the note endorsed by the marshall of the territory,14 one of the best men in it. He said if I would wait 30 days he would pay us the money then, but that was impossible and get home, so we started and left the note with a lawyer to attend <to> and we have heard nothing from the territory since, it may have been sent by draft, and never reached us, and a hundred things might have happened, to prevent my getting it, so you will see from this that I am short of money. I have poss___ of the farm and nothing to work it with, and cannot get any of my means until it is to late to raise a crop, and I dont feel as if I can afford to loose the whole season. It took over $500 to bring us home. I have managed to get a good cow and some hogs, and something to eat for the whole year, but this is a [=as] far as I can go until I make a raise. The horse I rode in, died a few weeks ago & I am entirely on foot.

<p.1 top margin> Mildred and the children are all well and send much love. Mildred will write and say more about the children.

I.A.d Letter from William to his father John Wright Wheatley, Gravois Mills, 18 Mar. 1866, transcribed by William’s son John Wright Wheatley, 29 June 1916.

Within is a copy of letter written by my father, William M. Wheatley, to his father, John Wheatley. The last page or two of the original letter have been lost. The original letter is in my possession.

John W. Wheatley

Spokane, Wash.

June 29, 1916.


Gravois Mills, P.O.
Morgan Co., Missouri

March 18th, 1866.

Dear Father:–

Several weeks since I promised to give you an account of my trip and observations in Nebraska, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Utah and Colorado Territories, but having been so much annoyed and troubled about my business since my return, I could attend to little else, but now having things in better shape for final settlement, I can devote some time towards fulfilling my promise.

The last I wrote you was, I believe, from Crow Creek Agency, which is about 280 miles below Fort Rice,15 at which point I will commence. This fort was built during the fall and winter of 1864, and is a substantial fort; it is now garrisoned by what they call “galvanized rebels”, that is, rebels who have taken the oath not to fight against the North or South, but Indians only, who are naturally the enemy of the whole white race. The strictest discipline prevails here, and the service imposed upon the soldiers is severe, and in many cases very degrading for a white man. The Colonel’s orders are supreme, as there is little communications with the Government at Washington, owing to the hostility of the Sioux who hold this country, except what ground the fort stands on. The course that the authorities take towards the Indians is such that it only aggravates them, instead of pacifying them–so much so that a soldier cannot venture a half mile from the stockade without getting an arrow or bullet through him. The night before our boat came one of the sentinels was shot by an Indian that had crept along the stockade in the darkness of the night. The Officer told me that he got within 20 feet of him before he fired. The week before a lieutenant ventured about a mile from <p.2> the post alone and was surprised by four Sioux who chased him in and shot an arrow through him within 50 yards of the gate. You can see from this fact what kind of life it is at this place. These are not isolated instances but occur very often. I have more fear of an Indian arrow than I used to have, as I only considered them trifling things to kill birds with etc., but I have seen an Indian shoot an arrow through the smoke stack of our boat,16 in one side and out the other, and that at 60 yard or more—also shoot clear through a wagon body, and it is a common thing for them to shoot through a buffalo. I never saw an arrow go clear through, but I have seen the barbed point through, leaving the feather end in the animal. Most Indians prefer the bow and arrow to the gun, for it never misses fire, and is not affected by wet; besides that, they can always make or get them. For common shooting they make the points of old iron (hoop iron) which they find along the river and about the posts on the river. The fine steel pointed arrows they get at Fort Geary, and at other posts in the British possessions. This point is put firmly on the shaft by strings of sinew, and is well calculated to kill anything it enters. When the arrows enter the flesh the warm blood softens the sinews that are wrapped on, and loosens them, so that when you attempt to draw the arrow out, the shaft comes only, and leaves the point in the wound, and that sticks tighter than you have any idea of. The engineer drew one from the shoulder of one of our men with the blacksmith tongs, and it took no little pull. This circumstance I will speak of hereafter.

We remained at FORT RICE one day and night; during the day some of the passengers expressed sentiments of a disloyal character and the captain of the boat17 gave orders for the boat to be detained another day and make every man take the oath before she could proceed on the trip, but some of <p.3> the intensely loyal ones aboard proffered the hospitality of the boat in the shape of a champagne supper, which made their heads so thick, and made them sleep so soundly, that when they came to we were about 20 miles up the river. I understood from passengers on other boats that they compelled several boats to take the oath. Here I will make a remark that will hold good for the whole trip, that we never came in sight of the American flag but what it was the signal for trouble, and never did I see or hear of a single instance of the thousands who pass through this Indian country when man ever received any accommodation or protection whatever; but on the contrary, they contrive all means to annoy and swindle every person. It is the general impression that the forts are established for the protection of the great trade and travel of the plains and mountains, but it is anything else. This is not the fault at Washington, for the intention is all right, but the fault of the miserable officials who have charge, and are in authority at these posts. I know very well that the commander at a post is compelled by law, and has orders to furnish a man with meat, flour and coffee sufficient to carry him to the next post, if he be out, and that at regular ration rates–that is cost and freight, and without charge if he has no money; but instead of this they charge the most exhorbitant prices, and if a man is out of money they will let him starve. At FORT HALLECK18 they made me pay 50 cents per pound for rotten middlings flour, full of worms, $18 for a bushel of corn, and $1 for a pound of spoiled flitch,–when the ration rates, I knew, were 12¢ for good flour, $5 for corn and 20¢ for good bacon. This system of swindling, so far as I could see, is universal at all Government forts. The only imposition that I know which comes directly from the Government at WASHINGTON is the restriction of the trade of the Missouri. Previous to 1861 any person or party that thought proper could go up into the Indian country with goods and trade for furs <p.4> and robes, but now it is prohibited, and the whole trade is confined to two parties who are licensed at Washington, and they put any man found trading with the Indians in prison at the forts and confiscate or steal his goods and property. When we came to FORT RICE there were two persons there for this offence. It used to be that a person could get a robe for a plug of tobacco, or cup of sugar, but that game is played out. These two licensed trading parties buy robes for half these amounts and compel those wishing to robes to pay more for them at FORT BERTHOLD and BENTON than they cost in NEW YORK. At FORT BERTHOLD I paid $12 for a robe, in gold, which is more by $3 than it would bring in ST. LOUIS. Six years ago you could buy a robe at FORT BENTON for $2, now $10 to $15. There is not a nook or corner in the Rocky Mountains that you can buy or trade or sell in a single article without a license vender getting after you. A ranch man cannot sell a weary traveler a cup of milk and piece of bread without a license, and I have been refused lodging in the territory of Nebraska, and state of Kansas,19 on a stormy night, for the reason that they had no license to lodge travelers. There are persons on the road who have license for this purpose, and they prosecute any others that lodge persons, so if you cannot reach those points or houses you have to lie out.

The face of the country varies but little along the river. There are good, large bottoms, some timber but not much. Off the bottoms there is not timber, but a succession of prairie hills and plains, with plenty of grass. As far as the Black Hills over these plains roam immense herds of buffalo and antelope. The deer or elk keep in or near the timber on the streams and do not migrate like the others. All this country from FORT RANDALL to the mountains is entirely unfit for cultivation, as there is no rain from June to Jan<p.5>uary nor from January to June–that means that it hardly ever rains, but the grass is such a nature that it grows luxuriantly on the bottoms and plentifully for myriads of buffalo on the plains and hills. I will not prolong this sketch by giving an account of the difficulty of navigating this treacherous river. You know something about steamboating, but when you think of my being on that river from the 18th of March to the 19th of July, and all the time going up stream, you may think I have seen more than you. I traveled on six different boats20 before I reached Fort Benton, and had my engine and mill unloaded 17 times. Sometimes we had to run a hawser or line a mile and a half from the boat up the stream and make fast, and then load the yawls with freight and haul them up the river by means of the line, and unload at the end of the line, and then return to the boat and take another load, and so on until we had enough off to get the boat off the bar, and many times had to carry out heavy lines and by means of the capstan draw the steamboat through the snags, which seemed to be as thick as stalks in a cornfield, and the miserable hum-drum monotony of such a long trip.21 Of course we had all the fun we could, but we ran out of everything, so towards the last it was eat, drink, smoke and sleep and sleep and eat and smoke and drink.

About 100 miles I saw the first buffalo. We could see them in lots of three and four and a dozen, grazing quietly in the bottoms, but not within shot. I soon saw that they did not go much on sight but almost entirely on scent, for sometimes the boat would run within a quarter of a mile of them and they would pay no more attention than to raise up their heads to see where the noise came from and then go to eating again. I was mighty uneasy lest I would not get kill any, but it was not long before I was satisfied. The second day after we came in sight of buffalo, the boat was lying up for wind on the north side of the river, and almost <p.6> all on board were asleep, myself with the number. We were startled by the cry of “buffalo”.22 I awoke in an instant and seized my rifle (which was a fine, heavy one that I had made in Ohio for the purpose and for which I paid $40) I ran out on the guard, and there in the river not 40 yards from the boat was a large buffalo bull making directly for the boat. By this time almost everybody on board was on the guards with guns, pistols, and deck hands with their axes, as if the boat had been on fire. The consternation and excitement could not have been greater. There he was pitching and charging, lashing the water with his short tail, and snorting the water from his nostrils, savage and frightened. He came right up to the boat and if he could have got on board he would, for he seemed to have no idea of changing his course. He looked like the very devil himself, if it is possible for one to imagine such a thing. For ten minutes it was a constant ring with fire arms. Some, in their excitement, would shoot a rod over him, and after all the shooting he swam down below the boat, though he had many large bullets in him. About 200 yards below the boat he attempted to land. I, with some others followed down, and could see plainly that he was weak from loss of blood. Along with the party was an old mountaineer, and he said if all would hold off he would kill him the first shot, and he did so. He went down close to the bank and waited until the beast got within 15 feet of him when he fired and the buffalo dropped dead. I examined him and he got a heart shot. We rolled into the river, tied one leg to the yawl and brought him to the boat, and hoisted him up with the derrick, skinned and dressed him and that night I ate my first buffalo meat. I told you in a former letter his exact weight, but it was about 900 pounds dressed. I did my best, but I have not vanity enough to say that I did any better than most of them, but I know I did afterwards, when I saw them fall from my own bullet.

<p.7> About this time we met the “Yellowstone” on her down trip, having been to FORT BENTON with a load of goods for the North American Fur Company. This gave us a good opportunity to send news to the States; after exchanging the usual salutations we parted. I noticed a good many rusty looking mountaineers, who had been to the “El-Dorado”.23 She had a good cargo of furs and robes. Every day now we see thousands of buffalo, and I am ashamed to say that many were killed when we had four or five hung up in the boat, but I never killed any only when we wanted meat. I sometimes think that they are the greatest fool things I ever saw. Very often a herd of several hundred would be grazing on the bank about a half mile from us, and getting scent of us would plunge into the river to avoid us. By the time the boat had ascended two thirds of the way, and they floated down the other third the boat would be right among them. Some would go clear under the boat, and the huge mass jammed up tight right around the boat. Some would get fast in the side wheels, and it revolving would knock their horns off and break legs and tangle and clog up the boat until it would have to be stopped. During the time wholesale slaughter is going on, some of the hands punching them in the head with sticks of wood and cutting them with axes, and others shooting. The slaughter was too bad. One day I saw 29 floating down dead, besides we took six aboard. In this plentiful time we use only the hind quarters and the tongue. At this season the hide is useless as there is no fur or hair on them from the shoulders back–nothing but a little fuz. I saw plenty of black-tailed deer in the bottoms along the river, and numerous elk. The black-tailed deer differ from the common deer only in the tail, which is about 10 inches long and sparsely covered with hair of the same color as the body except the tail which is a tuft of long black hair. They do not keep the tail erect when running or frightened, as our <p.8> deer. We killed a number of them. Every day now we see thousands of buffalo and wolves without number. The latter are the most audacious and impudent animals I ever saw. I saw but two species–the Kiote and the silver grey. I have seen the latter watching buffalo calves not 15 yards from them waiting to pounce on them, and the cows watching the wolves as closely as the wolves watch the calves. As soon as the wolves get close enough to make a jump, the cows make a lunge at them, and run them off a few yards, when the wolves set down quietly on their haunches and await their chance to approach the calves again. I suppose they get one occasionally. All along this part of the river we are troubled with bars and wind and spend a great deal of time loading and unloading.

The next post we came to is FORT BERTHOLD, which is a well built fort and a place of great trade. There are more robes bought here than at any other on the river. This is garrisoned now by a company of Yankees and the trading is carried on by the same company I before mentioned. I noticed three trading stores closed up by this outrageous monopoly. One of the traders came up with us from FORT RICE where he had been confined 9 weeks for buying a bale of robes, and most of his goods taken, and his cattle driven off or killed. These three traders were the pioneers and have been in this country trading with the Indians 45 years and now, having opened the trade, are driven off to pamper a set of upstarts.

Along the river from FORT RICE to FORT BERTHOLD it is extremely dangerous for a man to go ashore. We had a large spy glass with which we could frequently see some rascally Sioux peeping over the hills and behind clumps of bushes. Indeed it would be certain death to go ¼ mile from the shore. One day we saw some elk grazing beyond a strip of timber about ½ mile from shore which we thought could be killed without much trouble; so the steward and two passengers went off to get them. When they got about half way six Sioux on horseback appeared from behind a hill about two miles off and made for them with all speed. We were <p.9> all expecting something of the kind and had a yawl ready with twelve men well armed, who were sent to their relief soon as the Indians were discovered. There was some running done by the three men, and some pulling done in the boat about this time, but the Indians seeing that they could not reach their prize gave up the chase; after that everybody was more cautious.

About 60 miles below the Fort is a great bend in the river which is only 20 miles across.24 The two traders that I spoke of being on the boat wished to get off at this point and walk across, as it would take the boat a much longer time to go; so there were put ashore. This was about 11 o’clock in the morning, and the next morning at daylight, we noticed two white men hailing the boat and making for the boat with all speed possible, and five Indians after them. The bank was good and the boat was run up and the men taken on, who proved to be the ones that had left the morning before. They had been chased all night and their only chance was to make their way to the boat. The Sioux are not cowards, at the same time they do not like to be killed for nothing, so they never attack without having the advantage. These patent fire-arms bother them very much, and many have lost their lives in consequence. They had got used to the trouble double-barreled guns, and always expect two shots, and then they rush in and receive 6 to 19 shots, quick as a man can cock the gun, surprises them beyond measure, at PINE GROVE STATION in BRIDGER’S PASS, I knew one man to kill six Indians right along. He was hunting off the road and was attacked by 14 Cheyennes. As they advanced he shot them down until six fell. The remaining 8 gave up the fight and ran off.

The principal part of the trading at this post is done by the “Gros Ventres”, which means in English the Indians with the big bellies. This is the old Min-ne-a-ta-tee tribe. They are the largest men I ever saw. Quite a number, I am sure, <p.10> were nearly seven feet high, and stoutly built. Taking them as a tribe or people they are much the finest looking of any I have ever seen, though, I believe cowardly, as they are much afraid of the Sioux. When we were at the Fort there were about three thousand there. I noticed considerable furs among them, and I learned afterwards that they intended giving us a pow-wow, dance, etc, but the Captain of the boat would not wait. They are friendly and want to be sociable, and exhibit good traits of character, and are good fast friends of the whites. Out of the numerous tribes I saw these are by far the best. I noticed a large old chief with a silver medal held by a heavy chain of the same metal which he wore about his neck, and was particularly anxious should be seen by all.25 One side was the image of Fillmore, on the other some device which I did not understand, the inscriptions being in Latin. I suppose he had performed some great deed–killed some Sioux likely. This much I understood from the long story he tried to tell me by signs. On another old Chief I saw a gold medal about the size of a double eagle, with the Virgin Mary on one side and some Catholic doings on the other, the gift of some designing priest. It is wonderful what influence the priests and Catholics generally have with the Indians, and the secret is, they practice what they preach. They spend their whole lives among them and teach good by their example. They go among all tribes and are never molested, but on the contrary are protected and respected. On Sun or Medicine River they have a sort of Convent or station which is supported by the general church and there they administer help to any that stand in need, no matter whether the person be white, red or black. They seem to be the Good Samaritans of the mountains. The Indians have watched them for 70 years, and their conduct has been universally of such an exemplary and Christian character that they believe in them and nothing on earth can change their faith for a century.

<p.11> I noticed a good vein of bituminous coal in the bank at this fort.26

About 10 miles above the fort we met the “BENTON” which had been to Milk River and unloaded, and come to relieve our boat. We had about 400 tons and drew 4 and ¾ feet.27 100 tons was soon transferred. Next met the “General Grant”, come to help us also. On this boat was put 80 tons and all the passengers. The change was quite a relief, and was really a benefit for both were faster boats than the “SAM GATY”. All having light loads we made good time and soon reached FORT UNION at the mouth of the YELLOWSTONE; in the meantime the “ DEER LODGE”28 came to help us also, which had been to FORT BENTON, and was the only boat out of 21 that reached that point last year,29 owing to the river falling so soon in the season. The Yellowstone is the larger half of the river here and waters an immense country, which when developed will be found to be the richest in the world for gold. Two years more and this river will be navigated and be the artery of heavy trade. Now the Sioux are so hostile that miners cannot work, as it takes too many to fight and too few to work. Parties of 10 or 12 have gone out often, and are never heard of after. When I left the mountains a large force was being organized to prospect the headwaters, which they knew to be rich. At FORT UNION we found the “KATE KEARNEY”30 one of the LaBarge line, which had unloaded and given up trying to ascend further, and left her consort, the “EFFIE DEANS”,31 which was ahead, to return and take her load.32 Here the loads of our 4 boats33 were thrown out promiscuously, and about half of which was left at the Fort. The other half was divided between the “Grant”, “Benton” and “Deer Lodge”, the “Sam Gaty” being sent back to St. Louis, as unfit for the navigation. With a great deal of persuasion and a little quarreling I got my freight put on the Grant. From the looks of things generally it began to look a little uncertain about our getting to Fort <p.12> Benton that season, at least I was certain that all the freight could not, which made me try so hard to get my freight ahead. Everybody was getting cross, tired and out of humor generally. Every day we were troubled much with bars, etc. At what is called Dry Fork we had much trouble, the Captain complaining so much about my boiler, etc. Being so heavy, that I told him finally to throw it into the river if that would satisfy him. It did some good, for I heard nothing more about “heavy machinery” for several days.

This dry fork seems to have been a large river once, but from some cause it has completely dried up. Here the “GRANT” ran on a bar. The yawl was lowered and manned with four men and the pilot and sent up the river to find a channel. Having ascended about 1 ½ miles and after diligent search found enough water to float us, they signaled the boat to come on which had in the meantime got off the bar. The men in the Yawl instead of keeping in the stream until the boat came up foolishly went ashore to wait for us, and what was more foolish still went about ½ mile from the shore, when 14 savages rushed out for from a hollow or gulch and cut them off from the yawl, at the same time uttering the most hellish yells that any human ever heard. One of the Indians ran (they were all on horseback) to the river and turned the yawl loose, after having upset it and turned it adrift. The poor men in their fright ran every way, though finally all but one made for the river. One man was 1 killed before he reached the river. Three others reached the river, two plunged in under a storm of arrows. One of them got two in the back or shoulder, but made a bar, but while resting on Indian raised his rifle and after taking deliberate aim fired and the poor fellow fell dead. The other one that had jumped into the river su swam manfully for his life and only received one arrow, which entered the shoulder so tightly that it was only with considerable trouble that it was pulled out with a pair of blacksmith’s tongs. While all this <p.13> work of death was going on we were doing our best to get to their relief, we on the far side of the river and about a mile or perhaps not more than three-fourths below, and the river at least a mile wide. The man with arrow in his shoulder made the boat, the fourth man hid under the boat,34 and the Indians lost sight of him. They went up the gulch to look after him. When they started he jumped in to make for the boat, but after swimming about 20 yards found he would drown unless he got rid of his clothes and turned ashore for that purpose. He got ashore and undressed in double quick time and pitched in and swam over a hundred yards before they discovered him. At this time we were on another bar. The Indians, all but three, who had the fifth man, rushed to the river on the jump, and discharged their arrows and rifle (they had but one gun) but to no purpose–All fell short. It was terrible to see all this going on, but we could do nothing. We were trying to get the boat to their relief, but that was all we could do. The Indians found that they were gong to lose another man unless something was done. After a moments consultation one plunged into the river with his horse, with bow and quiver of arrows. We thought the poor fellow gone for sure, (this was the pilot). Now came the line race, the Indian goading his horse on, and the pilot straining every nerve to make the boat. Every few minutes he would look back to see if the Indian was gaining on him, which he certainly was. A fortunate thing saved his life. In crossing the river the pilot swam over a bar without touching, but the Indian’s horse liked to have mired. He pitched and plunged furiously but finally got into deep water again, but not without losing a good deal of time. The poor fellow reached the shore at least 100 yards ahead of the Indian and ran up the river, as the Indian had floated considerably farther down than the pilot, and while the Indian was making the bank his horse mired again, and fearing his race lost leaped from his horse, <p.14> and took after the pilot on foot. The shore was stony, some places full of drift-wood and bushes, brambles and briers, but they were not heeded much though they told fearfully on the tender flesh. As they were running up the river shore our boat floated again, and ran ahead with all the steam that could be made. The racers were now on the same side of the river that we were. Soon as the pilot saw the boat coming ahead, he jumped into the river again and made for the boat, knowing that the boat would run between him and the Indian unless she grounded. We steamed ahead, and the savage saw that the race was lost and turning back made the shore and soon disappeared in the hollows, but not without being shot at very often, though I don’t think he was hit. The pilot made the boat, or rather the boat reached the pilot, for he was well nigh gone. We took him aboard almost faint and tired unto death, for it was an awful race, and nothing but presence of mind, together with his determination to die trying to save himself, saved him. He was a wretched sight all scratched and town [=torn], full of briers and covered almost with blood. He was cared for, and in a few days entirely recovered. The last we saw of the poor Irishman that ran towards the ridge was him standing on a little bench of land and the 13 devils circled around him dancing and cavorting and yelling in the most hideous and hellish manner. We had lost our yawl and he was past our help. I suppose they tortured him to death. A full account of this affair was published in the St. Louis Republican, and perhaps you may have seen it copied in some Eastern papers.35

FORT UNION is a large well built fort, and is much the best in all the Indian country. The diagonal towers are built of good, substantial masonry, and is safe against any Indian attack. All these forts were established by Pierre Choteau & Co. And <they> deserve credit for opening up this immense country to trade. They compose the North American Fur Company and have a steamboat, the “Yellowstone” that carries goods up <p.15> and furs and robes down. I think they only hold two forts now, Union and Benton, and the Government or some of its pets will have them before two years more.36 The buildings inside are good, and on the front of the principal’s house is painted a large likeness of Choteau. …x…x…x..37

There were a few Asinaboines at Fort Union, but no others, though above and below we saw numerous crows, who indeed are found from Fort Berthold to the Mountains.

After much tribulation our fleet arrived at Milk River, at which place we found five other boats, all stopped by low water.38 The pilots sounded about several days and could find only 26 inches water. I began to think we could get no farther. Most all the freight of the Benton, Grant and Roanoke39 was put ashore and all the freight of the other five, and six more that followed in a few days after.40 A stockade fort41 was built and manned to protect the goods. The three above named boats proceeded up the river with their own passengers, and three of five other boats, which crowded us very much. One morning before breakfast five elk tried to cross the river ahead of us, but stuck on a bar. We ran the boat up and shot them all. A few planks were laid out from the boat, then one of the hands walked out with a line and put a noose over their heads, and by means of the capstan all were hauled aboard.42 I think elk the best of any game except buffalo tongue. Next day I saw the only grizzly bear that came in my way the whole trip, nor did I care about seeing any more. He was a huge fellow and was as large as a good sized ox. He was on shore eating a buffalo that had mired. I sent a bullet at him merely to draw his attention, which it did, for he went off on a lope, and I saw him no more. I have heard some terrible stories about them from mountaineers, and I dare say true ones.

After exhausting all the boatmen’s skill, we hauled up at Cow Island, unable to go any farther. A long consultation <p.16> was had, and decided it useless to try any more. The only hope now was to send a courier to FORT BENTON, which was about 180 miles by land. An old mountaineer volunteered and in 12 days some teams arrived, the courier having bought a horse from a Crow, and made Benton in three days. All the freight was thrown in confusion, and no one lot of goods was complete my mill was scattered from Dan to Bersheeba, and I almost despaired of ever getting it to Fort Benton. Soon as the boats were unloaded two were sent back to St. Louis and the General Grant to Milk River to bring up another small lot of goods. We were put ashore43 with rations enough to take us to Fort Benton, consisting of crackers, bacon, coffee and sugar. The Crows soon found us out, and came in large numbers with robes to sell or trade, but the principal object was to steal. They won’t kill whites but will steal all they can get their hands on. Some got good bargains in robes, but I did not want to run the risk of going in a back room at Fort Rice for the sake of a robe, besides they were all so lousy I did not want any. They took a great fancy to my big plaid blanket, because of its bright colors, but I knew its value as well as they.44

At length the wagons were loaded and we were packed in, on the loads. The weather was exceedingly hot and dry, and the road so dusty that in a few hours we were covered with dust, almost choked for water, which after we left the river was miserably scarce and poor as scarce. The road from the river to the plains is twice as bad as you can possibly imagine. Sometimes it took 16 yoke of oxen to haul a 3500 wagon up some of the hills. This trip to Benton in a wagon was the worst that I ever had, and I think nobody ever had any worse. It is no regular road, but


merely a trail. For two days I had no water, and everyone suffered very much. I pitied the women and children. From the point where we struck the plains to Maria’s River are immense deposits of hematite ore of the purest kind; would yield 90% and furnish iron enough for the world for a thousand years. At <p.17> At [sic] the mouth of Maria’s River twelve men were killed in April.45 This river is twelve miles by land below Fort Benton. After eleven days weary traveling we saw the long looked for towers of FORT BENTON.

Fort Benton is situated on a beautiful bench of land about 5 miles long and two wide, and is a splendid site for a city, and the post some day not far distant will be a place of great trade. It is the head of navigation for boats of common capacity, though some boats (small) can run 60 miles farther up, to the great falls. At Benton there are, besides the Fort, stores and shops, two warehouses, three stores, a blacksmith shop, wagon shop, a steam saw mill (out of order and going to ruin), a boarding house, three doggeries, and a tailor shop, all of which make a lot of money for their owners. The fort is a good looking structure, but not good as it appears, for it is built of “dobies” or sun-dried brick, owing to the scarcity of stone and timber. Below I give a plan of it with its apartments etc.:–

Fort Benton

Most of the Forts are built on plans similar. This is the last Fort on the upper Missouri. Trading parties and trappers are sent out from here to the headwaters of the Sun and Maria’s River, and all along the Great Range. While we were at the Fort there were no Indians there except a lot that I remember seeing at Cow Island. I procured passage on <p.18> <a> mule wagon for Helena City for $15 in gold and furnish my own provisions, etc. After remaining three days at the Fort we left for Helena with a train of 16 wagons, though there were several hundred ahead of us, and in our rear. The great Mullen road commences at Benton and runs to Walla Walla, on the Columbia River. It was build by the Government under charge of Lieutenant Mullen of the U.S. Army. The road to Sun River runs over high plains and destitute of water entirely, except a pond of alkali, which is wholly unfit for use. The third day we reached Sun River and camped two days to give the mules plenty of grass. There are beautiful bottoms along the river, and some day they will be cultivated, and would be now to some extent, but the Blackfeet will not permit it. At the crossing of Sun River the Government has established a farm for the improvement of the Indians, which I think is all lost money and time, for they have no disposition to work. I went over to see the farm, but it was unoccupied at that time. I found it to contain about 200 acres under fence, with tolerably good buildings enclosed in a stockade. There was a field of oats, one of wheat, some timothy, a few potatoes and peas and beans. Col. Vaughn, who had charge of it, had left a few days before, and some new agent was to move on in a short time. I got a lump of ice from the ice house and left. Sun River is about as large as the Juniata, and clear mountain water. Our road lay nearly south now, and crosses the breaks of the mountains and is well supplied with good water to Helena, a distance of 120 miles. Sun River is 60 miles from Benton, and nothing of interest came under my observation for two or more days. The next stream we came to was the Dearborn River, a good large stream. The next water is Prickly Pear, a creek as large as Big Fishing Creek or Loyalsock. This country about now reminds me very much of home and the trout country. The hills are covered with pine, <p.19> and the streams full of fine fish, of which I took not a few. The wagon-master told us to take provisions for six days, but owing to a heavy rain that retarded our progress the time was now out, and at best would take four more days to Helena, and what was worse, my provisions were out, but having good fishing tackle along, I caught lots of fine trout, and traded fish to the teamsters for bread, so I got along very well. I found the trout much more shy in these mountain waters than where the country is more frequented. The trout are the same as ours, with the exception of their having scales, which are so very small, that they are barely perceptible, being less than one-fourth the size of a pin head. These mountains are full of mountain sheep, elk and deer, and the streams full of beaver and otter. On the way we passed a ranch kept by a Mr. Clark, a West Point cadet, and has been in this country about thirty years, likely expelled for some misdemeanor. He has a squaw and has raised a large family of half breeds, and most of them are very intelligent. His daughter and son came up with us from St. Louis46 and had been at some Catholic School seven years, at Cincinnati. He is a smart, shrewd man. I saw his bald head which a grizzly bear had scalped for him about six years ago in a fight.

The twentieth47 day from Benton we reached Helena, and was gladly welcomed by our friends, who had almost given me up. I almost forgot to say that at Benton I received some letters from the States. Helena is a fair specimen of a gold city, and outbangs anything I ever saw or heard of. The main gulch was discovered during the winter of ‘64 & 5 and by April there was a population of 12,000 souls. The city contains large stores in which you can buy anything you want, and that of the very best quality. There are no poor trifling goods brought to this country. There are livery stables, hotels, theatres, dance houses and all the outfit of an eastern city. The saloons and gambling houses are the finest. I am sorry to say that I found everything but schools and churches. In all the hurly-burly and <p.20> confusion there is more order than exists in cities east for the reason that people here do not wait for the slow process of law. When a man commits a crime, as stealing, counterfeiting, murder, etc. as soon as they detect him the “Vigilance” hangs them without much ceremony. This summary process of administrating law has a great tendency to prevent crime, and there is more safety by all odds than where I am writing. I slept late the first night after I arrived, and my partner got up to bring water and found a man hanging on a tree near the cabin, and had a card on his back with words “Road Agent”. The rascal had been concerned in robbing the overland stage some time before. This is a common thing. The city is furnished with water brought and distributed through the streets in pipes and discharged by hydrants. The worst feature I saw was that most of business transactions were left for Sunday. All the auction sales are on that day, as well as horse and foot racing, prize fights, shows, etc., and they have things fixed so a man is bound to buy and sell on Sunday, or not at all. There is but little private trading; most all is done through the auction houses. After waiting here three weeks and hearing nothing of our mill I concluded to go to Fort Benton to look after it, and bad as I hate Sunday dealing I had to buy a horse on that day or not go. So I bid on a fine California mare, and she was struck off to me at $55. After buying saddle, bridle, etc. I asked Humes to try her, as he was a better rider than I; so he mounted and before she made five jumps he was landed in a neighbour’s door to the surprise of the inmates. For a ride of nearly four hundred miles this would not do, so I took her back and had her sold and she brought only $48, a clean loss of $7. I then bought the pony that I rode all the way in for $57.50, as good a horse as man ever rode.

The currency in this country is gold dust, which is reckoned at $18 per ox Troy. Every one doing business has gold <p.21> scales. When I first came greenbacks were worth 75 cents on the dollar. The year before no one would take it at all, but when taxes had to be paid, license etc. the people would not pay gold. This is what introduced paper.

The next morning after I bought the horse I was to start for Benton, and tried to find out when a train was to leave, or when the last had left, but I could not hear of any. Anyway, I hated to start alone to ride 380 miles through an Indian country, but I started next morning, or the afternoon rather, and rode 26 miles, laid down on the grass and turned my pony out to graze. My outfit consisted of horse, saddle, two blankets, tin cup, canteen, two loaves of bread, 2 bacon, 12 lbs crackers, some coffee, and two heavy Navy Revolvers. During the night some Indians or white men rode near with a lot of ponies, which from some cause got on a stampede and ran about ten miles, and it was noon next day before I found my horse. That day I rode 60 miles. In this mountain country 60 miles is no ride for a horse. I can ride these Indian horses 60 miles with more ease than I can our home horses 30, and that on grass entirely, for there is nothing else to feed on. The stage from Virginia City to Helena, a distance of 130 miles, makes an average of 12 miles an hour, making the trip in about 10 hours. Passengers eat breakfast in Virginia and take supper at Helena, and this is daily. The next day I made 56 miles to Dearborn River, and the next to Sun River where I overtook a train and went with it to Benton. It is not a pleasant thing for a man in this wild country to lie down at night alone with a dozen or more wolves howling around you, and that not more than 50 yards from you, but I have done it so often I have been hardened to it, and sleep soundly over it. When there is danger from them, which is in winter, the pony is a great safeguard. The sixth day I reached BENTON and found about half of the mill, the rest being at Milk <p.22> River, 600 miles distant, and no hope of getting it here short of two months. I remained ten days to rest and started back, and made Helena in 4 days. My partners had selected Confederate Gulch as a site for the mill. This is 40 miles east of Helena, East of the Missouri River. This gulch was just discovered and is one of the richest in the Territory.48 Our time was now spent cutting timber for building a cabin. Cold weather began to set in (August 28th) and snow fell to the depth of 4 feet on the mountain, though in the bottom where we were it was not so deep. I now saw plainly that the mill could not be put up until mid-winter and then it would be so cold that we could not work. I scarcely knew that what to do for the best. About this time I received news from Missouri that my claims there would be lost unless I was there to attend to them. So after a long consultation with Humes we agreed to sell out and go back.

I will give you a list of prices of various things at the time that I reached Helena, and everything was getting higher.

Labor, $6.00 per day; mechanics about $10 per day.
Lumber $250 per thousand feet.
Flour, 30 cents per pound.
Coffee, 90 cents per pound.
Sugar, 85 cents per pound.
Axes, $5.00
Axe Handles, $2.50 (I paid $7.50 for an axe and a handle)
Pick with handle, $10.00
Molasses, $8.00 per gallon
Ham, 80 cents per pound
Bacon, 70 cents per pound
Cows, about $100
Sow and pigs, $100 to $150
Dried apples, 80 cents per pound
Beans, 70 cents per pound

I found nothing cheap except horses and oxen. Half-soling and heeling boots $4.00 and everything in about the same proportion. I wanted a tongue for a buggy and they asked me $20 for a piece of hickory to make one. I found that the tongue would cost me about $50. I did without of course. Nobody cares for money. It is made easy and spent recklessly.

<p.23> I will now say a few words about the basis of all this extravagance–where and how the gold is obtained. During the winter of 1864-5 a party of prospectors dug a hole in what is now called “Last Chance”, about 8 ft deep, and found some gold, but not enough to stop them, so they went on. A few days after three men stopped at the same hole and dug one foot deeper and struck the richest kind of a deposit, so rich that they dug out in one day over $2000 in pure gold. They went to Virginia City for supplies and returned and a host followed them. In less than two months the city of Helena was built around this hole, and thousands have got rich in this and the smaller gulches heading into it, and when I was there some claims paid $1000 per day. I never have seen anything published in newspapers equal to what I have seen here with my own eyes. But all is in luck–some get rich and others poor. In our cabin several men lodged some poorer even than myself. We were busy cutting timber and getting ready for the mill. One of these men, a Scotchman, had a claim in Montana Gulch,49 a tributary of Confederate Gulch, which was not opened, but was believed by a good many to have gold in it. He offered it to me for $100, or that and four others for one-third the mill, which I would not take. I told him that if I owned the claim I would open it anyhow–it would take but a few days at best. He finally did so one day and came back to the cabin that night worth $100,000, a low estimate for there is certainly not less than a million in his claim. I saw him dig out 6 ft square (cubic) and wash out $3300 and this did not take him a whole day. I have seen the nuggets in his gold pan like kernels of walnuts. I just mention this to show how luck runs. It does him no good though. He goes to Helena and Virginia and will spend $1000 a day in drinking, gambling, etc. The ground on which we built our cabin was not supposed by any to contain gold, but since we <p.24> left 100 feet of it was sold for $700, and up the little hollow from the house, just like from Geo. Johnson’s up, where I used to go up for my pony, little dreaming of gold, has been sold for from $1000 to $5000 per claim of 100 ft. so you see how it goes. It is the richest and best country I ever saw, and if it had not been for my family and other matters that called me home I would never have come. If we could have got the mill up in time we could have made any amount of money, and if I had given it up and gone at something else I could have made enough. I never saw anything discouraging, and I gave the country a pretty good look. There is no difficulty in making money, the great difficulty is to keep from spending it. It may be that I will never go back to this country, but if I do not it will not be because I think it a poor or unhealthy country. I do not say this to encourage others to go. Let every one see for himself, and no two men can see alike in many things.

You would like to know something about the country as for farming. The land along the creeks and rivers produces wonderfully by irrigation. The largest and best potatoes I ever saw were raised here, yielding 400 bushels per acre. Onions, squash, barley, wheat, oats and cabbage grow to perfection, all better than I ever saw before. When I was at Helena potatoes sold at 28 cents per pound. Ranch men or farmers make any amount of money. Butter brought $1.80 per pound. But the finest farming country I ever saw that I have to tell you of (SALT LAKE VALLEY). I know you notice that I say nothing discouraging about the country, which I cannot do truthfully. I knew two men that went on Stinking Water Creek with a yoke of oxen in the fall of ‘64 and put up a cabin on it. In the spring they broke up all the land they could and planted onions, beets and cabbage and potatoes, and when I was in Virginia City they were then worth $18,000 in gold for which they had sold their crop in the field ungathered. These things are so, and there is no getting around it.

<p.25> It was now late to undertake a journey to the States, and extremely hazardous. The trains had all left some time ago, but if the trip could be made I was going to make it, and after getting our business all fixed up we started on the 26th of September. We bought another pony to ride, and one to pack our blankets, provisions, etc. on. Though I rode the new one and put the pack on my pony “Billy” which weighed 180 pounds, he carried easy. Poor Billy! He was the best horse I ever saw. I could ride him 100 miles in 12 hours and never hurt him. We laid in provisions to take us to Virginia. Our nearest road is the Bossman route, which cuts off 300 miles, but we well knew that the Indians would kill us before 10 days so we have to go via Salt Lake and Denver cut-off.

There is not much change in the country between Helena and Virginia, 130 miles, but it is a splendid road; in fact the roads generally through this country are the best I ever saw. The rains do not often come to wash them. Before coming to Virginia we passed Nevada and Central Cities, all in Alder Gulch, which is acknowledged by all to have been the richest in the world. More than $70,000,000 in gold has been taken out. Virginia City is of the same character as Helena, but has a more stable appearance, some of the houses are of finely cut stone, but the people are all on the fast line. The night we came General Meagher arrived in a coach from Salt Lake, and made a speech in the square. The Fenians turned out in full style to meet him.50

After three days delay at Virginia, we left for SALT LAKE, a distance of 520 miles. Our route is through a mountainous country, passing several small rivers, but the main waters I wanted to see was Snake River, a branch of the great Columbia. I had heard so much about its splendid fish, that I could hardly wait till we reached it. One day after riding about 35 miles without grass or water (it being a sandy plain), we reached Snake River, and a more beautiful stream I never saw. The water was clear and pure as could be, and I <p.26> told Humes that I would not go any further without a good mess of trout, for I could see them from the Bank. We unsaddled, turned out our animals, and I went to fishing and in a few minutes I had a fine lot, among them two very large ones. Next morning I caught another lot. How many we ate I dont know, but a great many. We traveled along the river 80 miles, and all the time I got as many fish as we could eat. We crossed nine miles above Fort Hall, and bade farewell to this magnificent river. Our route lies nearly South. I think there are but few Indians in this country, and there are no hostile ones. I saw a few Sho-sho-nies and some Flatheads and some Snakes. In crossing Bear River we liked to have - - - all and ourselves too, but my pony proved as good a swimmer as he was a traveler. Of course we had many more accidents and troubles along the way than I can find time to speak of, but during the trip from Virginia to Salt Lake the weather moderated, or we could not have passed the great range beyond the lake. About 60 miles above Salt Lake City we strike settlements, and the country improves more and more until we come to the beautiful valley of Salt Lake, which for beauty, fertility, and salubrity of climate excels everything I ever saw. Indeed I consider it a perfect paradise.

This valley lies on a slope from the mountain to the lake, and is irrigated by thousands of springs that issue from the mountain. These springs are of the purest water. Before reaching Salt Lake we pass Brigham City and Ogden City, which are towns of considerable importance. The latter is about the size of Lewisburg.

The Mormons were not asleep when they settled this beautiful country. A great many of the farms are improved in the best manner, having large stone houses, barns, mills and fences of the most substantial kind. It was late in October (29th) when we passed through here, and it was very pleasant weather. The sun shone warm, while on the mountains, not a mile off, there was three feet of snow. Peaches were yet on <p.27> the trees and corn and pumpkins were yet in the field. Many of the farmers were digging potatoes. This valley is said to be the best climate in the world for peaches. I know that Salt Lake peaches bring 20 and 30 cents a pound more in the Mountain markets than State peaches. Every farmer has a peach orchard. Land in this valley varies in price from $30 to $80 per acre, according to the improvements. There are a few Gentiles in the valley, but not many. In about six years there will be the greatest speculation in land here that ever was in the world, for in that time most, or perhaps all the Mormons will have left the valley, for a new country where they can preach their creed without molestation. Government is taking a wise plan to root them out, much better than the sword and musket. They see that their days are numbered, and have taken steps for the evacuation of the country. There is a wing of the church called the “Morrisites”, whose doctrine differs materially from that of the Mormon Church. The principal point is that they do not practice polygamy. Two years since some emissaries of the main church killed him, which created such a feeling that the two parties do not mingle or affiliate. The Morrisites would have all been killed before this–at least all the leaders, but the Government stepped in and gave them protection, and is doing all it can secretly to aid them in the establishment of a new church, which will end in the final expulsion of the old church. Beyond Fort Bridger I met 3000 cavalry for this purpose, and when I was at Fort Floyd, now called Camp Douglass,51 there were 2500 troops there to hurl destruction on the great stronghold, Salt Lake City, when an excuse warranted it. Some Morrisites (English) told me the plan for the destruction of the old church, and the work is going on slowly but surely. The Mormons have purchased immense tracts of land on the Sandwich Islands, with permission from the British Government in view of immigration thither, and when the time comes they will pull stakes and <p.28> leave on short notice, and leave their splendid lands and homes to whoever is there to buy them at any price. From what I saw of the Mormons they are a very hospitable and industrious people, with any amount of energy and perseverance. Between Ogden and Salt Lake City we passed the greatest sulphur spring I ever saw, so strong that its fumes could be smelled ½ a mile and so hot that I could not hold my hand in it. On the 30th of October we entered the great city of men with many wives.

GREAT SALT LAKE CITY is situated on a plain of oval form that is slightly elevated in the center and it is a splendid site for a city. It is regularly laid out. The streets are 200 feet wide, and the houses all built in from the street line and have beautiful yards in front. The city proper is about three miles square and surrounded by a wall ten feet high around the mountain side. The lake affording a barrier on the other. Before the Government troops were sent out no one could pass the gates without permission from King Brigham, but now the gates as well as the wall is thrown down in many places, and any person enters that wishes without hindrance or tithes. The pure water of a mountain stream is conducted to the highest point in the city from hence it flows through the city around every square through channels dug out and laid with stone. Taking the city all in all it is a splendid place. There are residences of the finest kind. Tremendous wholesale stores, banks and manufacturies. There are some buildings that would compare with any in Harrisburg. What struck me most was the size and extent of the city. There must be at least 20,000 inhabitants, perhaps more, and everybody seems to be in thriving condition. Some of the churches are beautiful, and the theatre is not surpassed by Philadelphia or New York. This is the great center for the whole vast country, and in less than 12 years will be connected with St. Louis by railroad. Coaches leave every day for Denver and Atchison, <p.29> Virginia City, Walla Walla and San Francisco, and connected with all these by telegraph except Walla Walla and Virginia City.

—-express wagons leave Atchison weekly for all these points (just –ttle’s pedlar wagon) and never stop except to unload or receive freight and change horses. They average 9 miles per hour the whole 24. A person can express a package from Northumberland to Salt Lake, Virginia, San Francisco, Walla Walla, just as easy as they can to Williamsport,–freighting the same way. You can ship goods from Philadelphia to Salt Lake. There are agents at all the Eastern cities to look after that. You have no idea of the immense freighting there is through this Western country. There was no day but what we met 150 wagons, and most of them 6000 lb wagons, and some days as many as 500 to 800. A railroad to Salt Lake would pay now were it built. The Overland Stage Company is a great affair of itself. There are station houses built every 12 or 15 miles from Atchison to the Pacific. Each of these stations have from 6 to 12 horses or mules, requiring a station keeper, extra driver, and most of the way from 5 to 100 soldiers to guard them and the coach while on the way. You may judge what some of these stations cost when I say that there is not a stock of timber or stone within a hundred miles of some of them, and very often have to dig a great depth for water. Then think of transporting feed such a great distance for all these horses. Very often the Cheyennes or Sioux sweep half a dozen of these stations with their horses and all in one night, and very often kill all the men that dont escape. The Government has to pay all depredations by the Indians to the Stage line, and it is no small sum. For the last three years the loss has been very great both in men and horses.


I.K.m Part of a memoir by a grandchild of William McCoy Wheatley, describing William’s Montana trip (which is dated 1858 here; has details that are not in the letter in I.A.d). 2 pages.

In the spring of ‘58 my grandfather then a lad of eighteen, with some associates bought a sawmill loaded it on a river steamer called the the [sic] Star52 and proceeded up the missourie river expecting to locate it some where in Montana. The crew were a fine lot of growing fellows and for a time all went well but this trip was a most hazardous undertaking. The water was high - there were hidden sand-bars - the banks were hazardous and worst of all the Indians were hostile - especially the Sioux - This little story will tell you how some <of> them fared.

They were in Montana now the boat had stuck fast on a bar and while the crew were trying it [sic] get it off three men - my grandfather William Wheatley - Joe Hume - and a witty Irishman named Mularky <decided> that they would go ashore and try for a buffalo - they encountered a large herd <p.2> but about that time Indians could be seen in the distance They knew well what would be their fate so they started for the boat as fast as they could run two men reached the bank and swam out to the boat. but the poor Irishman was over taken - - he put up a brave fight but there was no hope for him. The boat was now floating from the bar and their only salvation lay in steaming ahead - The arrows were flying thick and fast - several men were badly hurt but they got away.

As the boat pulled out they could see Mularky bound hand <and> foot standing alone. and a lot of Sioux i<n>dians dancing and yelling around him. and that was the last they every [sic] saw or heard of that brave man.

Some time of this [breaks off in the middle of a line]

I.K.k.15. Probably a page from the source from which above was copied.

circles of indians were dancing and yelling around him - that was the last they ever heard of that poor fellow some time after that the boat burned no lives were lost but the boat was [a total] and cargo was a total loss Most of this party secured horses and made their way across country and finally reached

J. Simpson Africa, History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883), p.34.

…Upon his marriage Mr. Wheatley bought a farm in Johnson County, Mo., and after farming for three years, proceeded with his family to his old Pennsylvania home for a visit. While he was there the outbreak of the civil war occasioned his resolution to sell his Missouri farm and remain in the East. He continued inactive until 1865, when he embarked for Montana Territory, taking with him a steam saw-mill which he proposed to erect at the point now known as Diamond City. After a protracted, adventurous, and dangerous trip he sold out his venture before completing it, and at the end of a year was back again in Pennsylvania. …

II.D.21. Obituary of William McCoy Wheatley, clipped from a Spokane newspaper, 8 Sept. 1900

… In 1856 [sic] he came west for the first time, and was interested in a number of business enterprises in Montana. He was the first man to set up a steam sawmill in what was then the territory of Montana. He also surveyed and laid out Diamond City, Mont., and the old settlers of that section all remember William Wheatley, who was prominent among them.

For family reasons Wheatley sold out his interests in Montana and returned to Pennsylvania …

Notes to Chapter Six Documents

  1. A Capt. N.J. Eaton superintended construction of the sidewheeler Kit Carson, intended for the Missouri River, at Elizabethtown, Pa., in 1848. Way’s Packet Directory 3294. 

  2. Captain Nicholas Wall was captain of the Monona on the Missouri in 1845 (Way’s Packet Directory no.4009); he was a Confederate sympathizer and was paroled thanks to the intervention of Joseph La Barge, whom he subsequently cheated (or so La Barge remembered) in a case involving compensation for damages in a shipment to Fort Benton (Chittenden, History, p.326). In 1862 he was one of the founders of the American Exploring and Mining Company, the first St. Louis company to enter the Montana gold fields; Wall was in charge of the first expedition (Lass, Steamboating, p.32). In 1868 he was managing J.J. Roe’s freight wagons between Fort Benton and Helena, carrying freight for the Montana and Idaho Transportation Line, Copelin and Roe’s company and owners of the Bertrand (ibid. pp.44-45). The steamboat Nick Wall, built in 1869, was named after him (Way’s Packet Directory no.4206). 

  3. William seems to have used his initials only to sign his poems. A typed copy of this poem is at I.A.k.3. 

  4. The Benton met the Sam Gaty on the 18th below Fort Berthold, and took 140 tons of its freight; the two then traveled upriver together and met the General Grant above Fort Berthold on the 21st, and transfered more of the Sam Gaty’s freight to the General Grant (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, pp.302-3). William seems to have got the names of the General Grant and the Benton mixed up, and to have perpetuated the confusion in his letter to his father, where he says they met the Benton and the General Grant, in that order, both above Fort Berthold (see below, p.19). 

  5. Presumably Neal McCay, son of Robert McCay (b.1788) and therefore William’s first cousin once removed (the son of his great-uncle). He lived in Fredericksburg (I.E.d.1), and with his wife Hetty occasionally visited William’s father (undated letter, John Wright Wheatley I to William, in ledger 4). William must have known about Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination by now, for news of both had reached Fort Sully by the end of April (Hamilton, “Abel J. Vanmeter”, pp.17, 21). 

  6. I haven’t checked this reference yet. Atkins on the Benton, accompanying the Sam Gaty, does not mention where they spent the night of the 20th, but on the 21st he notes: “…ran up to the old Indian village and laid up for the night.” (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, p.303). 

  7. The same incident is described in I.A.d p.6 (below, p.16), where William says he ran out onto the guard (section of deck built outward from the hull to extend the area of the main deck) rather than the hurricane deck (the roof the cabins, the highest level of the boat). 

  8. A neighbour of the Humes family in Morgan county, Missouri. William and Mildred did some of their courting at his house. See VII.B.b.6, etc. 

  9. The same incident is described in I.A.d p.9 (below, p.18), and by Atkins on the Benton: “Monday, June 19, 1865. … Landed Jeff Smith and a roustabout on opposite side of river, and Gaty’s yawl landed another man at 8 p.m. to go to Berthold. Tuesday, June 20, 1865. … Gaty picked up her man, and we Smith and roustabout. Sioux fired upon them last night, and they barely saved themselves by flight.”(Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, pp.302-3). 

  10. Fort Union, N.D., was 3 miles above the mouth of the Yellowstone, on the left bank of the Missouri (Roberts, Encyclopedia of Historic Forts, p.634). 

  11. I.e. letters 5, 6 and 7 (VII.B.b.12, 13, and 14), presumably. 

  12. Atkins and Larpenteur confirm that the Sam Gaty, the General Grant and the Benton arrived at Fort Union on the 26th (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, p.303; Larpenteur (ed. Coues), vol.2, pp.433-434). 

  13. I.e. he did not wish to carry cash or gold on the trip from Montana, even if the men who bought the mill had been willing to pay it. 

  14. George M. Pinney was Marshal from February 1865 until March 1867. Johnson, “List of Officers…” p.327. 

  15. Fort Rice, N.D., was 10 miles south of the mouth of Cannonball River, and was established in July 1864 (Roberts, Encyclopedia of Historic Forts, pp. 632-3). 

  16. My father (Robert W. Binkley) remembers that when he was young, the chest of Wheatley/Williams memorabilia contained the broken shaft of an Indian arrow which was said by his grandmother Harriet Wheatley Williams to have been shot through the smokestack of a steamboat. It is not there now, and may have been donated to some museum by Harlan T. Williams in the 1960s, when he had possession of the chest and apparently placed some items in museums. 

  17. This must be a slip, either by William or in John Wright Wheatley’s transcription, for the commander of the fort. 

  18. Presumably William stopped at Fort Halleck, Carbon Co., Wyoming, near Medicine Bow, on his return from Salt Lake City to Missouri. The fort was established in 1862 to protect the Overland Trail, and abandoned in July, 1866 (Roberts, Encyclopedia of Historic Forts, p.859). 

  19. Presumably this was during William’s return trip from Montana to Missouri, unless he traveled from DeSoto while waiting for the salvage of his mill from the Bertrand

  20. Only three can be identified: the Bertrand, the Sam Gaty, and the General Grant

  21. William refers to the procedures of double-tripping (normally done by leaving part of the cargo ashore and carrying the rest up on the steamer, then returning for the first load) and warping (hauling the steamer up on a line attached to a “deadman”, a log fixed in the sand). Lass, Steamboating, pp.12-13. 

  22. The same incident is described in a letter to Mildred, above, p.11

  23. Perhaps the gold camp near Diamond City (Cushman, Montana, p.178). 

  24. The same incident is described in a letter to Mildred, above, p.12

  25. Leonard Gilchrist saw a chief at Fort Union in June 1866 with a similar medal: “Has on his neck suspended by a double brass-linked chain, a large silver-worked medal with the likeness of James Buchanan on one side. A white man who lives at the fort told me he [the chief] was about 72 yrs. of age.”(Potter, ed., “Missouri River Journal”, p.291). 

  26. Vanmeter reports that the Deer Lodge stopped on 15 May just below Fort Berthold and “got some coal, the strat was 4 feet thick and extended along the Bank 30 yds that it showed.” (Hamilton, “Abel J. Vanmeter, p.26). 

  27. The registered tonnage of the Sam Gaty was 295 tons, but the actual cargo capacity of most steamers in this period was normally almost double the registered tonnage (Petsche, Steamboat Bertrand, p.120). William seems not to have kept precise notes of the tonnages, anyway: in his letter to Mildred he said 150 tons was transferred to the Benton, whereas Atkins, the Benton’s pilot, noted 140 tons (see above, p.10). 

  28. Atkins on the Benton does not mention the Deer Lodge joining their fleet, although he frequently refers to the Sam Gaty and the General Grant during the period in which they were traveling together. Larpenteur does not record the Deer Lodge returning to Fort Union until 22 July, when it pickup up freight for Fort Copelin (Larpenteur, ed. Coues, vol. 2 p.435). Writing to Mildred on 20 June, William expected the Deer Lodge to come down and take some of the Sam Gaty’s freight; perhaps when writing to his father several months later he forgot that the Deer Lodge had done so only a few weeks after the Sam Gaty reached Fort Union. 

  29. The Yellowstone also reached Fort Benton; other boats made it no further than the mouth of Maria’s River or Dauphine’s Rapids (“Steamboat Arrivals”, p.318). 

  30. Way’s Packet Directory no.3232: sternwheeler, 445 tons, built in 1864. 

  31. Way’s Packet Directory no.1731: sternwheeler, 157 tons, built in 1863; commanded by Capt. Joseph La Barge. 

  32. Joseph La Barge remembered that his brother John, commanding the Kate Kearney, had given up trying to reach Fort Benton because of the hostility of the Indians above Fort Union, leaving his employer open to lawsuits for failure to deliver. The Effie Deans, under the command of Capt. Ray after Joseph La Barge left it at Fort Benton, met the Kate Kearney while returning downriver and took its load (Chittenden, History, p.337). Larpenteur reports that the Kate Kearney arrived on 6 June and left headed upriver on the 19th, returning on the 26th and unloading 623 sacks of flour before leaving the next day headed down (Larpenteur, ed. Coues, vol.2 pp.433-4). When the Benton came down past Fort Union on the 13th, Atkins noted: “found Kate Kearney there, she is waiting for the Effie Deans to relieve her of her freight.” (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton, p.302). He also noted the Kate Kearney’s arrival at Fort Union on 26 June (ibid. p.303). 

  33. I.e. the Sam Gaty, the Benton, the General Grant and the Kate Kearney. Atkins noted on 27 June: “Got under way at daylight and sparred over to the fort. Grant got the last of the Gaty’s freight over about noon, and Gaty went down in bend below fort to wood. Put our freight out and assorted it, took it on board, and in company of the Grant, took our departure up the river.” 

  34. This must be a transcription error, unless William meant the yawl which had been set adrift. Probably it should read “under the bank”: Atkins says of the pilot that “the steep cut bank with overhanging roots helped him to escape them while it compelled the Indians to seek a landing lower down.” Another man, apparently the one William says was shot while resting of a bar, is said by Atkins to have “run under the bank where there was a considerable cavity. The Indians apparently did not dare approach him from the lower bank, possibly because they feared his gun (which he did not have) but they began digging away the bank from above.” Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, p.301 n.1. 

  35. Leonard Gilchrist heard about the General Grant’s skirmish the following year, noting in his diary on 23 June 1866: “At Dry Fork, the Grant lost three men last year, killed by the Sioux, also had one wounded.” (Potter, ed., “Missouri River Journal”, p.294). Joseph La Barge also remembered the attack: “In the same year [sc. 1865] the General Grant lost three men. They had been sent ashore at a wooding place to make fast a line, when they were pounced upon by the Indians and killed.” (Chittenden, History, p.279). 

  36. Pierre Chouteau had had a monopoly on steamboat trade to Fort Benton until 1862; in 1865 his company’s licenses to trade with Indian agencies or military posts were not renewed because of his Confederate sympathies, and he withdrew from the Missouri River trade. His company, now managed by his son, sold its posts to James Hubbell and Alpheus Hawley, who reorganized it as the Northwest Fur Company in March 1865. The Yellowstone’s trip to Fort Benton in 1865 to collect the Chouteau company’s furs was its last on the Missouri. Lass, Steamboating, p.42; Larpenteur, who had charge of Fort Union for Chouteau’s company, was kept on by the new firm: Larpenteur, Forty Years, p.309. 

  37. It is not clear what John Wright Wheatley meant by this in his transcription: perhaps a passage was illegible, or a page was lost. 

  38. Atkins reports that the Benton arrived at “Fort Copilin” just above Milk River on 1 July, and found the Fannie Ogden, Hattie May, and Effie Deans there; the Benton and Fannie Ogden then returned to Fort Union for more freight, followed by the Hattie May, while the General Grant and Effie Deans tried to move up river. The Benton returned to Fort Copelin with more of the Sam Gaty’s freight on 9 July, and found the Hattie May, Effie Deans and David Watts there, and that evening the Deer Lodge, General Grant and Roanoke arrived from upriver. William may have confused the number of boats present at the two arrivals. 

  39. Way’s Packet Directory, no.4766: Sternwheeler, 266 tons, built in 1864. Probably, the “Oronacke” mentioned by Larpenteur was really the Roanoke (Petsche, Steamboat Bertrand, p.118). 

  40. It would probably be possible to identify the 14 boats that congregated at Milk River from Larpenteur’s journal, from which Petsche compiled a list (apparently chronological) of the 18 boats that reached Fort Union that summer. Only five made it to Fort Benton or the mouth of Maria’s River. The Sam Gaty is 15th on the list. Of the 13 boats that reached Fort Union but not Fort Benton, two (the Sam Gaty and the Kate Kearney) turned back at Fort Union; two of those that reached Fort Benton stayed in the upper Missouri to help the others (the Deer Lodge and the Effie Deans); the fourteenth boat may have been one of the other Fort Benton boats that did not head downstream immediately, as the Yellowstone and the St. Johns did. 

  41. Jean Tyree Hamilton, using a report in the Montana Post of 29 July 1865, gives a description of the fort: “By mid-July, 1865, [Milk River] was the head of navigation on the Upper Missouri, the steamboats being able to go no farther. To meet the problem the steamboat companies erected a stockade fort with a log bastion mounting three guns to sweep the exposed faces. The fort was divided into three compartments which were owned by the proprietors of different lines of boats and were called Fort Jacobs, For Copeland [sic] and Fort Keiser. They were, in fact corrals, built of twelve foot posts and measuring 50 by 100 yards. The goods were covered with tarpaulins while awaiting the wagon trains. Some 800 to 1000 tons of freight could be stored in the area.” (Hamilton, “Abel J. Vanmeter”, p.29). The editor of Atkins’ log also calls it “Fort Copeland”, although Atkins spelled the name “Copilin” (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, p.304 n.1); it is clear that it was named after John G. Copelin, the part owner of the Bertrand and the Deer Lodge. The stockade was already there at the beginning of July, for the Hattie May had unloaded at Fort Keiser before returning to Fort Union on 5 July (Larpenteur, ed. Coues, vol. 2 pp.366-7 n.11). 

  42. Perhaps the same incident as noted by Atkins on the Benton on 30 June: “Under way about 3 o’clock, Grant behind. Killed four elk at 5:30, we gave one to the Grant. Had lots of fun.” (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, p.304). 

  43. This was presumably on 19 July, William’s last day “on the river” (above, p.16). After the General Grant returned to Fort Copelin on 9 July (Atkins, “Log of the Steamer Benton”, p.306), we have no information about its movements until it returned to Fort Union on 24 July to pick up freight left by the Benton; it had to return on the 26th and unload its freight and head upriver to help other boats (between Fort Copelin and Cow Island?). It picked up another load at Fort Union on 3 August, and returned for still another on 12 August, when it was commandeered by the army (Larpenteur, ed. Coues, vol.2 p.435). 

  44. Joseph La Barge remembered that the Effie Deans, carrying the freight of the Kate Kearney, could get no further upriver than Fort Galpin at the mouth of the Milk River. Capt. Ray then “sent an express” to Fort Benton, where Joseph La Barge “procured 30 ox teams of five yoke each, with the necessary wagons”, brought them to Fort Galpin, and took all the freight to Fort Benton, saving his employer from expensive litigation (Chittenden, History, p.338). Fort Galpin was a trading post established by Larpenteur in 1862 close to the site of Fort Copelin, and it may be that La Barge confused the two (Roberts, Encyclopedia of Historic Forts, p.471; Larpenteur, ed. Coues, vol.2 pp.366-7 n.11). A similar operation had been performed in 1863 (ibid. p.326). E.W. Carpenter, who also traveled to Fort Benton in 1865, was stopped at Dauphin’s Rapids, 250 miles below the fort, and had to travel the rest of the way overland (Lass, Steamboating, p.45). The following year Gilchrist noted on 26 June: “Yesterday we made Cow Island about 8 am. This is as far as boats got up last year with two or three exceptions. Goods were waggoned to Benton, distance by Land, 90 miles.” (Potter, ed., “Missouri River Journal”, p.295). It seems, then, that separate wagon trains brought goods from Fort Copelin (including La Barge’s freight) and from Cow Island (including William) to Fort Benton. Petsche’s estimate of the total tonnage of freight that reached Fort Benton in 1865 is therefore very low, since it assumes that only freight carried by the five boats that actually reached Fort Benton or vicinity got through (Petsche, Steamboat Bertrand, p.118). 

  45. This incident is mentioned by Atkins on 3 June: “Learned from the Yellowstone that the Blackfeet killed eleven men at the mouth of Maria’s river.” (Atkins, “Log of the Steamboat Benton”, p.299). 

  46. Presumably this means that Clark’s son and daughter were on the Bertrand. They are not among the known passengers (Petsche, Steamboat Bertrand, p.124). Malcolm Clark was well known on the Missouri River, and William describes his career accurately. See Larpenteur (1933 ed.), p.195 n.56; Sunder, Fur Trade, pp.132-3; Chittenden, History, pp.233-4. 

  47. This must be an error for the “twelfth” day. The chronology of the period between William’s leaving the river on 19 July and leaving Confederate Gulch on 26 Sept. cannot be reconciled with a 20-day journey, and just above William said that on the sixth day it was expected to take four more days to reach Helena. 

  48. Confederate Gulch was first worked in the autumn of 1864 by Confederate veterans from Missouri; their camp that winter, consisting of four cabins joined by paths forming a lozenge shape, was jokingly known as Diamond City. Confederate Gulch itself was not particularly rich, but the gulches leading off it, such as Cement Gulch and Montana Gulch, were opened in the summer of 1865 and proved extraordinarily abundant. (Cushman, Montana, pp.175-7). 

  49. See Wolle, Montana Pay Dirt, p.123. A party of Germans found pay dirt in Montana and Cement Gulches in 1865. 

  50. Gen. Thomas Frances Meagher was appointed secretary of the Territory of Montana on 4 Aug. 1865, and reached Bannack in late September. Wolle, Montana Pay Dirt, p.12. 

  51. Camp Douglas, established in October 1862, was three miles east of Salt Lake City (Roberts, Encyclopedia of Historic Forts, pp.787-8). 

  52. No such steamer appears in Way’s Packet Directory