Departure for Oregon

At this time I was in San Francisco, preparing to join my company at San Bernardino in Southern California, when I received orders from General Clarke to remain in the city, as my company would shortly be up, on its way to Oregon. Sunday morning, June 12th, it arrived in the steamer Senator and being transferred to the Pacific I at once reported for duty and went on board.

Monday was a busy day. The soldiers, after their sea voyage, were naturally restless to visit the city, yet for fear of desertion they had to be watched and confined to the steamer. Military stores of all kinds were to be taken on board, provisions, ammunition, cannon, and a lot of mules. The embarkation of the latter was by no means easy. It required the most forcible arguments to induce them to march up the plank, and one so successfully evaded it, as to drop himself into the water, to the infinite delight of the countless idlers around. Swimming out beyond the wharf into the bay, he seemed to have no settled plan for the future, and so commenced going round in a circle, an amusement which he continued until he was lassoed and dragged again on the wharf. The officers found themselves fully occupied in attempting to keep order in this scene of confusion.

At three in the afternoon we managed to get under way. The command on board consisted of companies A, G, and M, of the Third Artillery, and the following officers:

Captain, Erasmus D. Keyes.
First Lieutenant, Robert O. Tyler. ” ”
First Lieutenant, James L. White.
First Lieutenant, Dunbar R. Ransom.
Second Lieutenant, Hylan B. Lyon.
Second Lieutenant, Geo. F. B. Dandy.
Second Lieutenant, Lawrence Kip.

Our voyage was a long one, as the coal was bad and we ran slowly. It was not until Friday, the 18th, that we crossed the bar at the mouth of the Columbia River, from its shifting shoals the most dangerous navigation on the whole Pacific coast. A short distance up the river stands Astoria, rendered classical ground by Washington Irving. An old trapper still living, who belonged to Mr. Astor’s first party, says he has often seen one thousand Indian canoes at a time collected on the beach in front of the fort. When the Hudson Bay Company took charge of it, they removed their establishment up the river to Vancouver, and allowed the fort to fall into decay, till not a vestige of it now remains. A few houses, like the beginning of a village, are scattered along the banks which slope down to the river, wooded to the edge with pines.

At evening we reached Fort Vancouver. Near the river are low meadow grounds, on which stands the post of the Hudson Bay Company, a picketed enclosure of about three hundred yards square, composed of roughly split pine logs. Within this are the buildings of the establishment, where much of its immense fur trade was once carried on. From these head quarters, their companies of trappers, hunters, and voyageurs, generally Canadians were sent out to thread the rivers in pursuit of the beaver. Alone they traversed the plains, or passed months in the defiles of the mountains, far north to the Russian possessions, or south to the borders of California, returning in one or two years with the furs, to barter at the fort. Then came generally a short time of the wildest revelry, until everything was dissipated or perhaps gambled away, when with a new outfit they set forth on another expedition. From Vancouver the company sent their cargoes of firs and peltries to England, and thence they received by sea their yearly supplies. They possessed an influence over the Indians which was wonderful, and which the perfect system of their operations enabled them for years to maintain. But the transfer of the country to the Americans, and the progress of civilization around them driving off the Indians and beaver, have forced them to remove much of their business to other posts.

Fort Vancouver is probably the most pleasant of our posts on the Pacific coast. The place is healthy and the scenery around beautiful, furnishing opportunities of fishing, hunting, and riding, while its nearness to Portland and Oregon City prevents the young officers from being, as at many other western posts, deprived of the refining influence of female society. Many are the occasions on which they find it necessary to drop down to these places. Deserters are supposed to be lurking there, garrison stores are to be provided, or some other of Uncle Sam’s interests are to be looked after. Then, these visits must be returned, for the inhabitants of these places have an equal care for the welfare of their neighbors at the fort. Numerous, therefore, are the parties of pleasure which come from these towns to enliven the solitude of the garrison. On these occasions they are welcomed by balls, and night after night music is heard floating over the waters of the Columbia River, and the brilliant glare of lights from the fort shows that tattoo is not the signal for all within its walls to retire.

On landing, the officers were distributed around, while Lieutenant White and myself were indebted for our quarters to the hospitality of Major Alvord.

When I was here, three years ago, the post was quiet enough, there being but three companies stationed at it. Now it is as lively as can be, being the landing place of all those on their way to the seat of war, and where they are equipped for the field; constant drills going on, and nothing but hurry and preparation from morning to night. The rattle of the drum and the notes of the bugle are the constant sounds we hear.

June 20th. Had a general review today. Lieutenant Colonel Morris, (Fourth Infantry, who commands the post, inspected our companies, together with those stationed here.

June 2lst. Captain Keyes, with companies A and M, left this morning for the Dalles. My company must wait until next week for the arrival of the Columbia as she brings up arms and ammunition, and the men must be equipped anew, before they can go into the field. Colonel George Wright, (Ninth Infantry), will take command of the expedition, while Captain Keyes will have command of the Artillery Companies in the field. Six companies of the Third Artillery will be collected at Fort Walla Walla; a larger number of the regiment than have been together since they were wrecked, five years ago, on the ill-fated steamer San Francisco,

June 23rd. Last night the steamer arrived, bringing General Clark and Staff, Captain Kirkham, Quarter-master, Lieutenant Walker, A. D. C, and Lieutenant Sill, of the Ordnance Corps. They stopped at Umqua, and took in Company B, of the Third Artillery, commanded by Lieutenants George P. Ihrie and James Howard. A salute of eleven guns was fired this morning for General Clarke. Colonels Wright and Steptoe are ordered down to Fort Vancouver to have a consultation with General Clarke.

This morning our company left Fort Vancouver in the steamer for the Dalles; the officers, Lieutenants White, Ransom, and myself. It is about fifty miles to the Cascades. The scenery of the river is in all parts beautiful, but very varied in its character. The pine forests stretch down, to the banks, enlivened here and there by the cultivated spot which some settler has cleared, whose axe awakened new and strange echoes as it rang through the primeval woods. On the margin of the shore, and particularly on one of the islands, we noticed the dead-houses of the Indians, rudely constructed of logs. Within, the bodies of the deceased are placed for a time, attired in their best array, until the building becomes filled. Then the oldest occupants are removed and placed on the shore, till the tide launches them off on their last voyage, and they are swept down to the ocean, which to the “untutored savage” as to his more cultivated brethren, symbolizes Eternity.

When a chief dies, his body is sometimes wrapped in a blanket and suspended between two trees, as if swinging in a hammock. We saw one which had already remained in that situation more than six months.

At six in the evening we reached the Cascades, the head of navigation. Here a portage has to be made, as the river for more than two miles flows over the rocks, whirling and boiling in a succession of rapids similar to those in the river St. Lawrence. This is the great salmon fishery of the Columbia River, the season for which is in the spring, when the fish ascend the river in incredible numbers. The banks are inhabited by the remains of the Indian tribes, (most of them having been removed to the Indian Reservations,) who display their skill in catching the salmon, which they dry for exportation. Little bridges are thrown out over the rocks, on which the Indians post themselves, with nets on hoops, to which long handles are attached.

With these they scoop up the fish and throw them on the shore. They are then pounded fine between two stones, cured, and tightly packed in bales of grass matting lined with dried fish-skin, in which state they will keep for years. The process is now precisely the same as it was when described by Lewis and Clarke. The aboriginal village of Wishram, at the head of the narrows, which they mention as being the place of resort for the tribes from the interior to barter for fish, is yet in existence. We still notice, too, the difference which those early explorers observed, between these Indians and those of the plains. The latter, living on horseback, are finely developed, and look like warriors; the former, engaged only in their canoes, or stooping over the banks, are low in stature, and seem to have been dwarfed out of all manhood. In everything noble they are many degrees below the wild tribes on the plains.

At the Cascades the men were landed, and camped for the night, while the officers were supplied with quarters by Lieutenant Mallory, (Fourth Infantry), who has command of the company stationed at this post. During the last Indian war, three years ago, this little settlement was surprised and almost entirely destroyed by the Indians.

June 24th. In the morning we marched the men about four miles, across the portage, and embarked in another little steamer which was to carry us to the Dalles. The scenery above was similar to that which we had already passed. In one place the mountains seem to come down to the river, ending in a huge rock perfectly steep, which has received the name of Cape Horn. Above, the precipices are covered with fir and white cedar; two small cascades, like silver lines, leap from point to point for a distance of one hundred and fifty feet, while below, in the deep shadow, the waters sweep around the rocks with a sullen sound, About six in the evening we reached the 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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