Fort Dalles and the March

When last I saw this post, three years since, it seemed to me to be the most unattractive on the Pacific. Without even the beauty of scenery which surrounds Fort Vancouver, its sole recommendation was its healthiness. Nor did the Government buildings add anything to its appearance. Planned and erected some years ago by the Mounted Rifles, when they were stationed in Oregon, they were remarkably primitive, and very little attention had been bestowed upon their architecture. In those days, the ornamental had not yet been developed on the Pacific coast. (Note: This fort was located in what is now called The Dalles, not Dallas, Oregon)

The change now is a great one, for during the past year new quarters have been erected, under the direction of Captain Jordan, Quarter-master, which are arranged in every way to promote the convenience of those for whom they are intended. The officers’ quarters are in the cottage form, and for taste are superior to those we have seen at any other post.

On our arrival, my company, together with the three of the Third Artillery already there, camped about a quarter of a mile from the barracks, while the officers’ tents were pitched a short distance from those of the men.

We at once commenced our regular routine. At nine in the morning, we have dress parade; at half-past nine, we drill for an hour, (light infantry, Hardie’s tactics); at twelve, the men are practiced at firing at a mark, and estimating distances; at five in the evening, we have drill; and at half-past six, guard mounting. Drilling, too, is a very different matter from what it is at a post in time of peace. Then, it is a sort of pro forma business, in which neither officers nor men take much interest. Now, it is invested with a reality, since all are conscious that our success in the field depends perhaps upon the state of discipline.

Still, there is time for sociability, and the esprit du corps which prevails in the Army, renders a meeting of officers of different regiments a delightful reunion. We have our mess in camp, but are constantly dining with the officers at the post. This is the headquarters of the Ninth Infantry, and their band is an exceedingly fine one.

June 28. Colonel Steptoe arrived from Walla Walla, on his way to Vancouver; and on the same day. Major Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General, Major Allen, Quartermaster, and Captains Ingalls, Kirkham and Jordan came up from Vancouver. They all returned in a couple of days, except Colonel Steptoe, and Captain Jordan who is stationed here.

June 28th. Major Mackall reviewed us; after which we had muster. The officers are now mounted, and we are only awaiting the arrival of the steamer with additional stores, to begin our march.

The news brought in from the country of the hostile Indians is, that they have made a league among themselves to carry on this war for five years. This they consider to be the last struggle in which they will have to engage, as in that time they can exterminate the whites.

July 7th. At three in the afternoon we took leave of the officers to whose hospitality we have been so much indebted, and commenced our march across the plains. The length of each day’s march will have to be regulated by the water, which in some places is not to be found for a distance of twenty miles. The country over which we passed during the afternoon is barren and desolate, unfit for culture, except a few spots on the river. After a march of six miles, we reached Five Mile Creek, where we camped for the night

Our time of starting in the morning depends on the length of the march before us. When it is to be a long one, we have reveillé at three o’clock in the morning, and get under way by five. With short marches, reveille was at five, and we marched at seven. It takes two hours to pack up and get the command started. Through the twelve and a half days which it took to reach Walla Walla, our march varied from five to thirty miles a day.2 The soldiers in marching average a mile in twenty minutes.

Our order of march was, to have two companies in advance, then, the train, then, two companies more, then, a rear guard of twenty men behind, under a lieu-tenant, with the hospital wagon. Their duty was to pick

We give the list of each day’s march to Walla Walla:

July 7th. To Five Mile Creek, 6 miles.
July 8 To DesChutes, 10 miles.
July 9 To Mud Springs, 11 miles.
July 10 To Camp beyond John Day’s River, 20 miles.
July 11 To Rock Creek, 6 miles.
July 12 To Willow Creek, 20 miles.
July 13 To Butter Creek, 30 miles.
July 14 To Umatilla River, 18 miles.
July 15 To Camp up Umatilla River, 5 miles.
July 16 To McKay’s River, 16 miles.
July  17 To Wild Horse Creek, 18 miles.
July 18 To Camp, 13 miles.
July 19 To Walla Walla, 9 miles.

up all stragglers and to keep in the rear of everything. The companies in front and rear alternated every day. Our transportation was limited to ten pack mules to each company, and one wagon to two companies. We had thirteen wagons in the train.

When about half way to Walla Walla, Colonel Steptoe, Captain Kirkham and Lieutenant Davidson passed us on their way to Walla Walla, with an escort of fifteen dragoons. Lieutenant Davidson goes up to take command of one of the Dragoon companies, in place of Lieutenant Gaston, who was killed in the late action.

During most of our march the weather was exceedingly hot. This was particularly the case the day we were obliged to advance thirty miles. It took the men exactly twelve hours, starting at half-past five in the morning. The sun hot as the tropics beat down on our heads with an intolerable glare, while there was nothing in the appearance of the country to afford any relief. Far as the eye could reach was only a sun-burnt plain, perfectly lifeless, for the summer’s sun, by burning up the herbage, had driven the game to seek refuge by the rivers. The prairie was covered with a miserable crop of salt week and wormwood, and even the horses of the officers drooped when the sun began sinking towards the west; still our camping-ground was not in sight. Yet, on the men marched, loaded with their equipments, and through a stifling dust, which added to the exhaustion of the heat.

The line of country through which we passed is varied, the plains generally barren and desolate, though sometimes covered with thick bunch grass which affords good pasturage to cattle. It is rolling in its character, and probably ill adapted for culture, except along the rivers. The absence of timber tends to give it a more waste appearance. Along John Day’s River, (so called from a hunter who was one of the original members of Mr. Astor’s enterprise,) there is but little wood, and that of a small size, often not larger than brushwood. Along the Umatilla and Walla Walla, on the contrary, the timber is abundant and heavy, and the water is excellent.

The valleys are the redeeming features of this country. The Des Chutes valley is admirable for grazing, as the temperature is such that cattle can be kept out the whole year and find subsistence. It is the place where formerly the Hudson Bay Company raised all the best horses they used. The Umatilla valley is one of the richest and best adapted for cultivation of any on this side of the Rocky Mountains. It has plenty of wood, and much of it is heavy timber. The Walla Walla valley, too, is a large and fertile one, and in places where cultivation has been at-tempted, it shows that the products will amply repay the laborer.

We saw no signs of Indians until the day before we reached Walla Walla, when before we broke up camp in the morning, two Indians (one a Walla Walla and the other a Cayuse,) came in, as they said, for protection. They told us that the Snakes and Cayuses had a fight two days before, and the latter had been defeated.

Fort Dalles,

Kip, Lawrence. Army Life on the Pacific: A Journal of the Tribes of the Coeur d'Alenes, Spokans, and Pelouzes, in the Summer of 1858. Redfield, 1859.

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