Lewis and Clark

Lewis-and-ClarkWilliam Clark, and nearly four dozen men that made up the Corps of Discovery, started upstream on the Missouri River to meet up with Meriwether Lewis on May 20, 1804.  They had been commission by Thomas Jefferson, the year before, to find a water route to the Pacific and explore the uncharted West. Jefferson believed the team would find mammoths, volcanoes and salt mountains.  What their eyes actually beheld, during their journey, was no less boggling.  They interacted with nearly 50 Indian tribes, observed 300 species unknown, at the time, to science and then there were the Rocky Mountains!

keelboat_rapid_harveywjohnson1017x641Aboard a 55 foot long keelboat and two smaller pirogues, they charted, mapped, studied nature, and kept copious notes and journals of their experiences. By the end of that July, they had traveled more than six-hundred miles, all while not once crossing path with an Indian.  But things changed come August.

riverislandAs a precaution, the Corps camped on river islands when possible and had guards posted at night.  On the eve of August 2nd, Oto and Missouri Indians arrived at their camp.  This first encounter actually went well.  But, they had been warned, by President Jefferson, that the Sioux Indians would be another story.

The first and only death of a member of the Corps occurred on August 20th.  Sargeant Charles Floyd became the first soldier to die west of the Mississippi, most likely, from appendicitis.

At month’s end, the group had reached the Great Plains, which was well stocked with beautiful elk, deer, buffalo and beaver.  They were now headed into Sioux territory.  The first encounter was with Yankton Sioux, who were fairly peaceful, more so than the Teton Sioux a bit farther up the river.

tetonsiouxThe Corps were prepared to exchange gifts, but the Teton Sioux showed ill-disguised hostility. A Teton chief demanded a boat as exchange for passage. The Indians became further threatening until Clark pulled his sword and Lewis aimed the keelboat’s swivel gun on the tribe. As quickly as tensions mounted, they subsided, but the Corps never did achieve a friendly rapport with the Sioux.

As winter approached, they left their enemy behind them and headed further up the river. They continued to travel until the Missouri River began to freeze. Four days after the first snowfall, they reached the villages of the Mandan tribes. They wintered there, immediately building a fort to protect them from the fierce winter and potential attack by the Sioux. The expedition kept occupied by repairing equipment, trading with the Indians, and hunting for buffalo as their food supply began to dwindle. Lewis and Clark learned much from the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes.

sacagaweaIt was here that the expedition hired Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper living among the Hidatsa who would serve as their interpreter. Charbonneau, his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, and their baby son, Jean Baptiste, traveled with the expedition when it left Fort Mandan.

Lewis and Clark dispatched a dozen expedition members, 108 botanical specimens, 68 mineral specimens, and Clark’s map of the United States aboard a keelboat bound for St. Louis.  The items would eventually be presented to President Jefferson.

Using six dugout canoes and two larger pirogues, the remaining team loaded supplies and equipment and ventured where no American had ever gone. For the first time since the journey began, Lewis and Clark were headed due west and into grizzly country. Although warned by the Indians about the powerful grizzly, Lewis felt a bear would be no match for a man with a rifle.  But an encounter on April 29th changed his mind.Grizzly It was on that day that Lewis and several other party members spotted a pair of grizzlies. They wounded one of the bears, which managed to escape. But the other charged at Lewis, causing him to flee 80 yards before he and one of his colleagues were able to reload and kill the bear.

In early May a surprise gust of wind caught the sail of one of the pirogues, tipping the vessel over on its side. The quick reflexes of Sacagawea, who was riding in the vessel, preserved precious journals and supplies that otherwise would have been lost.

rocky_mountains1During the last week of May, Lewis caught sight of the Rockies for the very first time.  He was filled with awe – which was immediately tempered at the realization of what lay ahead – to traverse the amazing mountain range would be no small feat. Progress became slow as the group made its way along a bending and shallow river filled with sharp, jutting rocks.

On June 3, 1805, the Corps came upon a fork in the river. The branches of the fork were of equal size.  It was believed by the captains that the southern branch was a continuation of the Missouri.  They hoped this would lead them to be able to cross the Rockies before the first autumn snow. The rest of the Corps, however, disagreed, believing that the north fork was the way to go. The Mandan Indians had spoke of Great Falls.  Scouting parties went along each branch in search of the landmark that would guide their way.

Great_falls_of_missouri_riverOn June 13 Lewis became the first white man to see the Great Falls of the Missouri River. But to his dismay there were five separate falls, not one and they went on for a 12-mile stretch. Making their way around the  falls was going to take some time – more than they had planned. On June 22, the hardest physical task of the trip thus far began. More than a month would pass before the party made their way around Great Falls as the Rocky Mountains loomed larger on the horizon.

Once across the Continental Divide, they could ride the westward-flowing Columbia River. But the trek from the Missouri River to the Columbia River would require horses. To secure horses, the Corps would have to find the Shoshone tribe. On August 11, Lewis spotted an Indian on horseback that turned out to be, at long last, a Shoshone, and the first Indian they had encountered since Mandan.

shoshoneThe Shoshone led the expedition to his chief, who, as the best of luck would have it, turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother. With Sacagawea translating, the bargaining began with Chief Cameahwait for horses. Without these horses, their chances of reaching the Pacific were nil.

So, what was the price of a horse?  At first, a knife and an old shirt.  But the price went up every day until Clark had to offer his knife, his pistol, and a hundred rounds of ammunition for a single animal. And even then most of the horses were in terrible health.

Continental-Divide-signInformation was also secured from the Shoshone.  An old member of the tribe described a trail that led across the Continental Divide which was paramount to find a way over the mountains.

Snow was already falling as the expedition set off for the Continental Divide. Game was scarce and food supplies were low. After passing over the divide into the Bitterroot Valley, the team came upon a band of Flathead Indians from whom they were able to secure more horses.  bitterootCrossing the Bitterroot Mountains tested their endurance.  After 11 days the horses were near starvation, and the men were too, resorted to eating three colts.   Upon emerging from the mountains, contact was made with the Nez Perce, where the expedition procured dried fish and roots for their sustenance.

Camp was set up on the banks of a branch of the Snake River called the Clearwater.  The Snake is also a branch of the Columbia River.  It was here that they hollowed out five dugouts.  With the Rockies behind them, the Pacific was soon to be on the horizon.  They also finally had the river current flowing in their favor.  columbia riverThe Corps reach the Snake on October 10 and the Columbia on October 16th.  They took a break to rest and meet with Indians, who had gather along the shore and had, what Clark estimated, 10,000 pounds of dried salmon. The explorers continued down the Columbia into the Cacades, the last mountain range between them and the ocean. On November 7, Clark wrote, “Ocean in View! Oh! The joy.”  But they were actually still 20 miles away as he mistook a wide band in the river for the Pacific. They were required to hunker down for three weeks due to high winds and rolling water.  Clark called this period of time, “the most disagreeable time I have experienced.”

In the middle of November, the men eagerly scanned the rolling waves of the ocean for the masts of ships that might carry them home.  Spying none, they realized they would be spending the winter on the coast.  One trade ship stopped to barter with the Indians while the expedition was present on the coast, but the Corps was never informed.  The team was anxious to go home, but timing of the journey back was critical.  They could only go once the snow had melted.  If they waited too long, the Missouri would be frozen and they would be required to endure a winter on the plains.  They spent their time at Fort Clatsop in monotony, making moccasins, buckskin clothing, working on maps, writing in journals and eating elk meat and roots.  The rain was constant.

The day that began their return occurred on March 23, 1806. Chinookan Indians were a constant concern via their continual attempts to steal supplies.  Getting around the falls was a great a challenge.  The expedition abandoned their boats and headed over the mountain with horses acquired from the Walla Walla tribe.

nezpercThe expedition arrived in Nez Perce Indian territory almost out of food.  They had to wait for the weather to improve before trying to cross the snow-covered Bitterroots. The men lived on a diet of dried fish and roots, with occasional meat in the form of deer, elk, horse and dog.

By early June the expedition was equipped with fresh horses and ready to continue east. Against the advice of the Nez Perce, Lewis and Clark left Camp Choppunish. Spring had begun on the plain, but it was still winter in the mountains where they encountered snow ten feet deep and packed so hard even the horses did not sink. They returned to the Nez Perce Indians for help. The Indian guides helped them to traverse the mountain range.

On June 30, after reaching Traveler’s Rest, Lewis and Clark split up. Lewis took nine men to explore the Marias River.  Clark and the remaining members of the Corps headed to the Yellowstone River.

A skirmish, with Blackfeet Indians, resulted in the death of two Indians. Lewis and his men covered 120 miles, not knowing if the Indians were giving chase.

horsethiefMeanwhile, Clark and his group descended into Crow territory. The Crow were known as the great horse thieves of the Plains. On July 21, the party arose to find half of their horses gone, although they never saw a single Indian.

On August 11, Clark, mistaken for an elk, was shot clean through his left thigh.  The wound was painful and took a while to heal, but not fatal.

Lewis and Clark reunited and traveled the swift current of the Missouri River back to the Mandan Village, where they bade farewell to Sacagawea.

In Teton Sioux territory, the expedition encountered threats and taunts. As they ran into traders, they were told that the expedition had been given up for dead. Two years, four months and ten days after they first left, the Corps of Discovery entered the Mississippi River on their way to St, Louis.  One-thousand people lined the shore to greet the returning team with gunfire, salutes and an enthusiastic WELCOME HOME!.

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Thomas Jefferson

The Fur Trade/Mountain Man era would have never occurred had it not been for the existence and influence of one Thomas Jefferson. So, let’s backtrack to the beginning by detailing the life of this great leader.

According to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time, Thomas Jefferson was born on April 2, 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia.thomas_jeffersonIn 1752, when Jefferson was nine years old, England and her colonies switched to the Gregorian Calender, which was more in line with the astronomical year. This conversion necessitated the deletion of 11 days to bring the calendar more in step. Today, we recognize Jefferson’s birthdate as April 13, 1743. More information about the two calendars and the switch is located here: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/old-style

peter jeffersonBorn to a successful planter and surveyor, Peter Jefferson, and Jane Randolph, a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families, Thomas inherited a considerable estate. Jefferson began building Monticello at the age of twenty-six years old.

martha wayles skeltonThree years later, at the age of 29, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, with whom he happily shared life until her death ten years later in 1782. During that ten years, six children were born, with only two surviving to adulthood. Jefferson never remarried. He maintained Monticello as his home throughout his entire life.

MonticelloFrom his inheritance and through his marriage, Jefferson owned 200 slaves, with almost half under the age of 16. 80 of these slaves lived at Monticello and 120 lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations in Bedford County on his Poplar Forest estate. In his lifetime, Jefferson freed the children born into slavery by Sally Hemings. More on that later.

william and mary collegeJefferson attended the College of William and Mary, where he learned and then practiced law. In his early professional life, he served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses. In 1776, as a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status, and that the government is the servant, not the master, of the people.

Virginia_State_CapitolWhen Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. He was elected and served as governor from 1779 to 1781. During his last year as governor, he was charged with failure to provide for the adequate defense of Richmond although he knew a British invasion was imminent, and of cowardice and “pusillanimous conduct” when he fled the capital and returned to Monticello during the moment of crisis. In June 1781 he retired from the governorship. The Virginia assembly subsequently voted that “an inquiry be made into the conduct of the executive of this state.” Jefferson was exonerated. In fact, the assembly unanimously voted a resolution of appreciation of his conduct. The episode, however, left Jefferson bitter about the rewards of public service although his hiatus from public service lasted a mere 3 years.

france-mapHe became a trade commissioner for France. It was at this time that he met Sally Hemings, who was his deceased wife’s half-sister and also a slave on his plantation back at Monticello. She was 14 years of age when she accompanied Thomas Jefferson’s youngest daughter Mary (Polly) to Paris after the death of her sister, Lucy, from whooping cough. Jefferson was 44 and, at the time, 7 years a widower. His daughter, Polly, and Sally stayed for two years in Paris. Sally-HemingsBecause slavery was abolished in France after the Revolution in 1789, Sally was paid a wage of approximately $2 per month by Jefferson while she lived in France. When Jefferson announced his intended return to the USA, Sally could have stayed in Paris and would have been free. It is said she based her return to the USA, as a slave, upon a promise by Jefferson to free any/all of her children when they turned 21. Sally did not work in the fields, nor did any other slave of mixed heritage. She worked in a domestic capacity at his estate.

Eston Hemings-JeffersonIt is said that Jefferson started what would be a 35 year relationship with Sally Hemings while in Paris. Sally Hemings’ first child died soon after her return from Paris in 1797. Jefferson recorded slave births in his Farm Book. Unlike his established practice of noting the fathers of all other slaves, he did not indicate the father of Hemings’ children. It was not unusual for men to take slave women as concubines during that time. All that was asked is that they be discreet. Marriage for a slave was illegal, although many took on common-law relationships. There was no indication that Sally had such a relationship with other slaves. According to Sally’s son, Madison, while young, he and his siblings “were permitted to stay about the ‘great house,’ and only required to do such light work as going on errands”.  At the age of 14, each of the children began their training. The brothers learned from the plantation’s skilled master of carpentry, and the daughter was taught the skills of spinning and weaving. The three boys all learned to play the fiddle, while Jefferson played the violin. Jefferson was determined through DNA testing conducted in 1998, to be the father of, at least, Sally’s last son, Eston Hemings,  He is reputed to be the father of all six of her children.

benjamin-franklin1Jefferson also served as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister. During this period, he avidly studied European culture, sending home to Monticello, books, seeds and plants, statues and architectural drawings, scientific instruments, and information.

george-washingtonIn 1790, he accepted the post of Secretary of State under his friend George Washington. His term was marked by his opposition to the pro-British policies of Alexander Hamilton. Along with James Madison, he founded the Democratic-Republican Party, the second political party in the United States, organized to oppose the centralizing policies of the Federalist Party run by Alexander Hamilton. In 1796, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republicans, he became vice-president after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes.

Johnadamsvp.flippedFour years later, in 1800, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. The Democratic-Republicans, aka as the “Jeffersonian Republicans,” came to power with Jefferson’s election in 1800, and dominated national and state affairs until the 1820s.

la-purchase-largeThe most notable achievements of his first term were The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and his support of

Lewis-and-Clark_1011

The Lewis and Clark Expedition. His second term is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France although his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812.

Rotunda_UVa_from_the_south_eastThe last 17 years of his life were lived at Monticello. During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress. At the age of 76, he founded the University of Virginia. He spearheaded the legislative campaign for its charter, secured its location, designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first rector.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, just hours before his close friend, John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of our nation’s day of independence. He was eighty-three years old and a faithful and tireless servant of his country for over five decades. IST-IS162RM-00000177-001He authored the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. He voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era.

It was Jefferson’s wish that his tombstone reflect what he had given. jeffersons-grave-charlotte-court-houseSubsequently, Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph reads:
HERE WAS BURIED, THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S. DIED JULY 4. 1826

Watkuweis

sc0099748fWatkuweis was single-handedly responsible for saving The Lewis and Clark Expedition, although they never even knew.

As recorded in The Encyclopedia of the Lewis and Clark Expedition:

Carte_Lewis-Clark_Expedition-en

It would have been an easy matter to kill them and take possession of their guns, ammunition, and trade goods, thus ensuring the Nez Perce’s dominance over other nations, and several of the warriors advocated doing just that.

It was an old woman named Watkuweis who stopped them. Watkuweis stepped forward and said, “These are the people who helped me. Do them no hurt.”

“She told history about the whites and every Nez Perce listened . . . told how the white people were good to her, treated her with kindness. That is why the Nez Percés never made harm to the Lewis and Clark people. . . . We ought to have a monument to her in this far West. She saved much for the white race.”

From The Women of The Fur Trade website, with permission and a big THANKS to Sandy Gabbert Hunt:

watkuweis-1jpgThe story of Watkuweis has been handed down in the oral history of the Nez Perce tribe.   Lewis and Clark never even knew, so of course they recorded nothing of the event.  Clark did meet her and recorded in his journal about the woman who had been captured by the Minitarries of the North and had seen white men. William_Clark-Charles_Willson_Peale

Watkuweis, whose name means “Returns from a Far Land,” had been captured, taken to Canada, and then traded between tribes until she ended up far away in the Great Lakes region. She had been purchased by a white man and lived for a time among the whites. According to the stories she was the first of their tribe to see white men and return to tell about it. After she had given birth to a child she determined to escape. With the help of the friendly whites, who supplied her with food and a horse, she began her long journey back to her tribe.nez perce map

It was such an incredible distance for a lone woman and her baby to travel!  Whenever she was in danger of being discovered the fog would close in thick and hide her! Faced with starvation in the season of cold, she killed her horse for food. Under such hardships, her baby died. By a miracle she made her way to a band of Salish who helped her return to her tribe, but the privations of her journey had taken a toll on her health, which she never fully regained. Though still young, she was called “Old Watkuweis.”

watkuweisShe was on her deathbed when the strange party of white men arrived with their Shoshone guide. Their arrival immediately aroused suspicion because the Nez Perce had recently sent a group of their men to try and establish peace with the Shoshones, but the Nez Perce delegation was killed. They felt vulnerable, since many Nez Perce warriors were absent from the village at this time, having gone to revenge their fallen tribes.

Marie Dorion

marie dorianYou know of Sacajewea, but have you heard of Marie Dorion? She was the second woman to make the long trip from Missouri to the West Coast. She was in her early 20’s at the time her husband, Pierre Dorion, was hired as a guide and interpreter for the Wilson Hunt Party of 1811. Marie, along with her two children, Baptiste (approx. age 4) and Paul (approx. age 2), were brought along.

After they tried, unsuccessfully, to travel the Snake River in Dugout Canoes, the ill-fated Wilson Hunt party met with hard times.  Around what is now Burley, Idaho, they had to abandon their canoes. With most of their trade goods cached, each man, carrying a 20lb. pack, began walking toward their goal of Fort Astoria which was located on the coast.  The party divided into smaller groups, hoping it would be easier to find food.map

From journals members of the party kept, we know how desperate their situation became. On November 18th, around Glen’s Ferry, Idaho, they were able to trade for salmon and dog meat. On November 27th, they found frozen blackberries and divided the meat of one beaver among their group. Remember that, all this time, Marie was carrying her two children and was also pregnant! Her baby was the first, with mixed blood, to be born in the Western land. In their sad state of starvation, however, the baby did not survive.

Marie carried her burdens, of body and soul, without complaint and earned the admiration and respect of all the men in the party!  Amazingly, all but two men lived, arriving to the fort on February 15th, 1812. Marie may have thought her hard times were over, but it was not to be.

In the Summer of 1813, Pierre Dorion was assigned as a hunter for a trapping party headed to the Boise River.  They built a cabin on the Snake, where trapping was good, near the mouth of the Boise River. In January they were attacked by Bannock Indians.  Marie and her husband, along with Jacob Rezner and Giles LeClerc, were trapping from a camp about 5 days away from the main cabin.  LeClerc, severely wounded, made his way back to camp to bear the bad news to Marie that her husband and Rezner had been killed.

marie-dorionMarie caught two horses and hoisted the wounded LeClerc over one saddle, along with what supplies she could hastily pack. With her two children on the other horse, she forged her way back to the main cabin.

LeClerc died that first night, but Marie and her children continued on, arriving late on the fourth day only to find ashes where the cabin had once stood. Determined to save her children, she forded the Snake River and followed their old trail back from Astoria. Nine days later the snow became too deep to continue. In a sheltered ravine, she built a primitive hut by using skins thrown over a framework of branches.  She killed the two horses for food. This shelter was their home for 53 days.marie-dorion2

By the end of March their food supply had become desperately low. Marie set out on foot, holding the hand of her oldest and carrying on her back her youngest child, along with what was left of their food. On the second day of travel, Marie became snow blind, and was unable to take a step further.  She remained in this condition, for three days, before starting out on foot again.

placqueFinally, she reached the Wallah Wallah River and then traveled for 15 more days to reach the Columbia River Plains. Weak from hunger, and barely able to walk, she saw smoke in the distance.  Leaving her children lying under a Buffalo robe, she walked, and then crawled, to reach that distant camp. It turned out to be friendly Wallah Wallah Indians, who tracked back to rescue her two children.

Marie_dorionOn April 17th, canoes from Fort Astoria, approaching the mouth of the Wallah Wallah, were intercepted by this tribe. When they pulled to shore they were amazed to hear of Marie Dorion’s story of survival under such hardship!


sandyUsed with permission from The Women of The Fur Trade and with special thanks to Sandy Gabbert Huntwho did a 5 day trip down The Snake River, in a bull boat, on the 200th anniversary of Marie Dorion’s trek!bull boat

Isabel Gunn, the FIRST Woman of the Fur Trade

Orkney_Islands_in_Scotland.svgIsabel (Isobel, Isabella) Gunn, 1 of 6 siblings, was born on the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland in 1780 or 1781. She was the daughter of John Gunn and Isobel Leaske.

Life in Orkney, at the time, consisted of intense labor, hardship and poverty. The women looked after the farm. The men either joined the British Army to help defeat Napoleon, fished to survive, or they joined the fur trade.

Hudson's Bay logo 2013Not much is known about Isabel until the summer of 1806, when John Fubbister came to be. Guised as a man, Isabel/John entered the male dominated world of The Fur Trade by agreeing to a three year contract with The Hudson Bay Company for a whopping annual salary of 8 pounds. This salary, however meager by today’s standard, was far more than Gunn, or any woman, could hope to make during that time and in that place.

Ruperts LandHudson Bay Company policy did not allow European women to be in their employ. First Nation aboriginal women were barely allowed to serve as cooks or domestic servants, and only at company outposts. Gunn’s story holds many rumors. Was she enticed by the stories of adventure, via her brother George, who was already a member of The Company?  Was the thought of being away from a faithless lover, John Scarth, whom she might have met while he was on leave from HBC in 1805, so unbearable that she acted in such a manner to remain close to him? Was she taken advantage of by this same John Scarth, who threatened to uncover her ruse as a man, while they were both employed by HBC?  No matter. Cloaked as a male, and by way of her boarding The Prince Of Wales ship in June of 1806, Isabel subsequently and unwittingly became a pioneer of feminism as she became the first European woman to travel to Rupert’s Land, a part of Western Canada. She also became the first woman, of European descent, to give birth in the North West.

hudson 2As a laborer for the Hudson Bay Company, Isabel Gunn – aka John Fubbister, was assigned to provision outposts.  She was posted, alongside John Scarth, at Fort Albany in what is now Northern Ontario. They worked the boats running a route up the Albany River, but at the end of June, in 1807, their life paths separated. canoeScarth went to East Main on the eastern coasts of Hudson and James Bays, while Isabel was sent with a crew on an 1,800 mile canoe trek that traveled to Martin Falls, Red River and ended at the post in Pembina, which is now a part of North Dakota. Her pretense put 2,900 kilometers of travel under her belt for the HBC until the morning of December 29, 1807, when she gave birth to a boy, whom she named James Scarth. The birth took place at the home of Alexander Henry The Younger, who was chief of the North West Company’s Pembina post.  This, from his journal:

220px-Alexander_Henry_(1739-1824)“I returned to my room, where I had not been long before he sent one of my own people, requesting the favour of speaking with me. Accordingly, I stepped down to him, and was much surprised to find him extended out upon the hearth, uttering most dreadful lamentations; he stretched out his hand towards me and in a piteful tone of voice begg’d my assistance, and requested I would take pity upon a poor helpless abandoned wretch, who was not of the sex I had every reason to suppose. But was an unfortunate Orkney girl pregnant and actually in childbirth, in saying this she opened her jacket and display’d to my view a pair of beautiful round white breasts.”

Working on the boats, collecting furs, and running supplies was dangerous and physically demanding work. Isabel would have been required to hoist as much as ninety pounds on her back. She would have experienced harsh weather and the scarcity of food and less than sanitary conditions in a mosquito infested wilderness. Life was hard for the men. Imagine the difficulties for a woman who was also hiding a pregnancy. Yet no one suspected she was not a man. She dressed as a man, acted and worked as one. No one questioned her.

the-laundry-woman-1879The jig, however, was up. After the birth of her son, James, she became known as Mary Fubbister in The Company and was ordered to return to Albany.  She was no longer allowed to work among the men and was offered the menial position of a washerwoman, a position at which she did not excel. Once her son was baptized by Schoolmaster William Harper, in October, an unmarried and considered “ruined” Isabel/Mary was forcibly returned to Scotland on September 20, 1809 on the very same ship that she had first departed. Although John Hodgson, the chief factor at Albany, seemed sympathetic toward Isabel, The Hudson Bay Company upper echelon had concern about supporting a woman of “bad character.” Isabel never again returned to Canada. She lived in Stromness, working as a seamstress, and was likely an outcast even to her own Scottish family. John Scarth, returned to The Orkneys just once in 1812.  He went on to marry a Cree widow in 1822.  He passed away in 1833. Isabel died many years later on November 6, 1861.

bookcoverIsabel’s known and imagined adventures became a work of historical fiction by Audrey Thomas. A documentary poem titled The Ballad of Isabel Gunn was penned by Stephen Scobie. She became the subject of a documentary film, The Orkney Lad: The Story of Isabel Gunn, directed by filmmaker, Anne Wheeler.  Canadian folk singer Eileen McGann also paid homage with her moving ballad called Isabella Gunn.  A link of this ballad is included below.


The Mountain Culture

Life in the early 1800’s was brutally hard, for men and women, both in the settlements and in the wilderness. On average, the life expectancy of a woman was 25-30 years old. For men, it was 35 years old.

tenderexotic2Women of European descent were known as “Tender Exotics” and were almost unknown in the fur trade, with many developing mental health issues and returning to the motherland or eastern cities. Most of the problems encountered by these women had their roots in the class-conscious nature of British society of the time. The wife of a fur company manager was expected to associate only with other women of her class. In the remote posts, there would be no-one else at that level, and it wasn’t proper or allowable for her to associate with Indian or mixed-heritage women, even if, by some remote chance, there wasn’t a language barrier. As a manager’s wife, servants took care of the domestic tasks about the house. Thus, she felt very little purpose, with the exception of being there for her husband, who was gone, sometimes, for several months at a time. Wilderness conditions and societal demands created a “rock and a hard place” environment in which “Tender Exotics” lost their will.

hidetanningOn the northern plains and Rocky Mountain regions, the role of the Indian women, in the affairs of the tribe, was as the authority in domestic matters, with primary responsibilities for housekeeping. From the European perspective this role, in many ways, had a greater resemblance to slave than partner. The women were responsible for child rearing, cooking, butchering, preparing hides, skins, and robes, gathering firewood, preserving foods, all aspects of agriculture (if any) making and mending clothing and moccasins, constructing the lodge and most aspects of establishing and raising camp. Tanning and preparing buffalo robes was very labor intensive, and an ambitious man wishing to increase his wealth might have multiple wives to increase robe production.

Women were often treated as property. A suitor for marriage would have to provide the woman’s father (or oldest brother in the event that the father was deceased) with a horse, guns, blankets, kettles, etc., in exchange for the woman. The bride’s price was determined, in part, on the value placed by the father on the loss of the woman’s productivity and work around the lodge.

natawistaTo become the wife of a fur trader, the Indian woman was offered the prospect of an alternate way of life that was often easier physically and richer in material ways. Such an alliance did require some sacrifice in personal autonomy as the Indian woman was forced to make some adjustments to the traders patriarchal views of home and family. One Nor’Wester noted that Cree women considered it an honor to be selected as wives by the voyageurs.

PortraiAn Indian woman, who married a trapper/trader, might remain with her village where he would visit her periodically, or she might live at the fort/post with her trader husband, or accompany the nomadic wanderings of her trapper husband. It is said that the only authority that the Free Trapper would acknowledge was that of his Indian spouse. This authority was asserted as much with a white spouse as well as with a man of her own tribe. The household was effectively the property of the woman, and to a certain extent the products of her labor were hers to dispose of as she wished. In some aspects the Indian woman enjoyed considerably more autonomy than her European counterpart, at times leading to considerable confusion amongst the patriarchal trader/trappers.

apachewomenIf she remained with the village or accompanied her trapper husband, her life probably didn’t change much from village life, except that she would have first access to many luxury items not available to other women. Indian wives expected and received lavish gifts, for their husbands strove to exhibit them as the most brilliantly clothed and ornamented of the women whether at the village, post or rendezvous.

weddingBecause there were no clergy in the mountains, marriages were “after the custom of the country” or an indigenous marriage which met both the needs of the trader and the natives. The Indians initially encouraged the marriage alliances between their women and the European and European descent traders. The Indian viewed the marriage in an integrated social and economic context, whereby the marriage created a social bond which served to consolidate economic relationships with the traders. In return for giving the traders sexual and domestic rights to their women, the Indians expected reciprocal privileges such as access to posts, provisions and trade goods. Among the Cree Indians it became customary to reserve one or more daughters specifically to offer as wives for the traders.
payforwifeThe benefits of marriage also accrued to the traders.  It didn’t take traders long to realize that marriage to a daughter of a leading hunter or respected chief not only secured the furs of the father-in-law, but of all his relations as well. Marriage to an Indian woman furthermore provided the trapper/trader with a translator and cultural liaison/ambassador within her tribe. The domestic chores performed by the Indian woman greatly assisted the trapper/trader and greatly enhanced his ability to successfully prosecute his end of the fur trade.

mixedbloodchildTrappers, who chose to raise mixed blood families, often found themselves acting as mediators between the two cultures, interpreting each to the other and many would even find themselves aligned with their adopted people in times of conflict. Women and children often traveled with the trapping brigades. If it was not possible to travel with their husbands, the women might return to their tribal families, or might camp near the trading post until their husbands returned from the hunt.

Marriage was not always viewed as a long-term commitment by either the trapper/traders or by the women. A fur company man might also have multiple Indian wives, with one or more tribes in the mountains, and a European descended city wife as well. Under these circumstance care was exercised so that the city wife would never meet the “country” wife (wives) or children in the event she should travel to the remote post where he was stationed.

fur trapper2Although the stereotype of the trapper would suggest that he had many wives, often at the same time, statistical analysis of marriage data suggests otherwise. Marriage data shows that most trappers had only one wife, and that marriage lasted on average for 15 years with the majority of these marriages terminated by the death of one of the partners. Second marriages also lasted on average for 15 years. Only 10 percent of marriages are documented to have been terminated by separation or divorce. Nearly half of all marriages were with Indian or mixed heritage women. Anglo-American and French-American women constitute about one-quarter of marriages. In most of these cases, the wedding took place prior to the man leaving for the mountains. About 17 percent of women were Spanish or Spanish-American, particularly with those men that frequented Taos or Santa Fe.

Of those men with women that remained behind in the settlements, it is unlikely that they remained celibate while in the mountains trapping. Unrecorded temporary liaisons with Indian women of very short duration for purposes of relieving sexual tension were probably frequent.

furtradersIn some cases, when a trader or trapper retired from the mountains to return to civilization he would “turn off” his country wife, that is simply leave her behind, and, if generous, would return her to her village before leaving. A woman who was “turned off” would return to her father’s lodge (or brother’s lodge should the father be deceased) where she would work for the household until another suitor purchased her hand. The Indian women didn’t anticipate that such relations would be permanent.

A woman could initiate divorce just as simply as the man. If an Indian woman decided to divorce her husband, she would simply put his things outside the door of the lodge. When the man returned, he had two choices. He could try to talk his way back in, or he could simply pick up his belongings and move on.

The trapper would often “turn off” his Indian wife on retiring from the mountains. Although some of the men, particularly officers in the Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company, would provide an annuity for their women and dependents, far too many simply disappeared from the lives of their native families.

In other cases, if the relation wasn’t working for the trader or trapper, he would directly attempt to sell his wife and recover some of the bride’s price. Dr. Wislizenus, a traveler in the mountain west in 1839 writes of meeting a party of trappers including one Fleming:  “He had a squaw with him, of the tribe of the Eutaws, whom he had bought at one time for $500.00, but was disposed to sell for half the purchase price. She was a little, unshapen bundle of fat; but otherwise seemed to have very good qualities, for he recommended her to us in the following terms, characteristic of the cardinal virtues of a squaw: ‘She is young, gentle, easy, and in first rate order.” Wislizenus does not mention if the trapper successfully sold the woman to anyone in his party.

Walker and Wife - Alfred MillerThe woman would certainly be exposed to the same dangers and hardships as her husband. If she accompanied her trader husband back to a fort or post, she would still have been occupied with many of the same domestic tasks that would have been hers in her village, but she wouldn’t have had to work as brutally hard and the quality of her life would have improved. The following entry from David Adams journals December 26, 1841 illustrates this:  “The 26 Sunday this morning the sun ris clear and worm and thawing to day thar nothing strang and we hav had but one visitr today and he did dow his damdost to git my squaw to run of with him but I discuvrd it and did throw a curs on his head and you ort to sean this poor Indian how he did run fur fear that I wold kill him and I expet that he is running yet thow the squaw says that she had now noshon of going with him to the vilig to liv a mesarable life she says when you throw me on the porary [prairie] and I cant dow now betr then I will hav to gow to my vilig and liv with my pepl and lead a dog life but I shant dow until I cant dow now betr.” To paraphrase the woman, she is saying that there is no way she will willingly leave David Adams to return to a woman’s life in her peoples’ village, which she describes both as “a miserable life” and as “a dog’s life.”

kettle2Perhaps even more so than the native men, the Indian women welcomed the introduction of European technology. Items such as kettles, knives, awls and woolen and cotton fabrics greatly eased the domestic burdens of the women. In many instances it was the Indian women who acted as an ally or peace-maker to advance the cause of the fur trader, suggesting that it was in the woman’s interest to do so.  There are documented cases where Indian women actively interfered in attacks by their warrior-husbands on fur traders. Furthermore, because of her gender, the Indian woman could be absorbed into fur-trade society in a way not open to the Indian man.

Typical Tools of the Fur Trapper

The equipment of the Mountain Man was, by necessity, rugged, durable and given the technology and materials of the times, generally heavy.

awlneedle3

Awls and needles, used in Europe were made of iron. They were brought by the fur traders to North America and were quickly seized upon, by the Indians, as a superior implement to the sinew or rawhide thongs they used to sew, lace or bind rawhide. French trade awls generally appear to be straight, whereas English awls might be either straight or offset.

tomahawk

The Axe, Hatchet and Tomahawk have always been an important tool whether made of stone, bronze or iron. The axe was indispensable to the security, comfort and general morale of every person, both white and Native American, living on or beyond the frontier.

blanket

Blankets (at least 2)

pirogues

A Boat (Bull Canoe, Flat, Keel or Pirogues) was used to move the Mountain Man and his gear.

mule

Pack horses or Mules were used to move the Mountain Man and his gear

bullet mold

Bullet Mold

gunpowder

Gun Powder

lead

Bullet molds, Gun Powder and Lead, in the 1800s, were the tools used to create the implements for putting meat on the table. If the resulting creation would go in a cartridge and ultimately out a barrel it would do that job. Today, we have become too caught up with technology and ballistics to appreciate the simplicity of the basic skill of bullet making. The February 1, 1806 entry in Captain Lewis’ journal (Lewis and Clark) said, “…today we opened and examined all our ammunition, which had been secured in leaden canesters (sic). We found twenty-seven of the best rifle powder, 4 of common rifle, three of glaized (sic) and one of the musqut (sic) powder in good order, [9] perfectly as dry as when first put in the canesters, (sic) altho’ (sic) the whole of it from various accedents (sic) has been for hours under the water. these cannesters (sic) contain four lbds. (sic) of powder each and 8 of lead. had it not have been for that happy expedient which I devised of securing the powder by means of the lead, we should not have had a single charge of powder at this time. three of the canesters (sic) which had been accedentally (sic) bruized (sic) and cracked, one which was carelessly stoped, (sic) and a fifth that had been penetrated with a nail, were a little dammaged; (sic) these we gave to the men stock to last us back; and we always take care to put a proportion of it in each canoe, to the end that should one canoe or more be lost we should still not be entirely bereft of ammunition…

fire steel and flint

Flint and Steel The ability to start a fire could be the difference between a comfortable or miserable existence and even survival. A fire-steel and flint was an integral part of every Mountain Man’s equipment. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the lightweight steel retailed for a cent or two, and was often given, without charge, to Native Americans as a token of good will. A fort or post without a resident blacksmith to manufacture fire-steels would, by necessity, import this essential item. Huge quantities of fire-steels were shipped to the mountains for trade at the rendezvous.

flour

Flour (at least seven pounds)

kettle

Kettle

1892 44 WCF - SMOOTH BORE rifle - sn. 382819 - pic.  9c

Smooth Bore

rifle

Rifle The gun was a mountain man’s constant companion. Many different types of firearms went to the western wilderness, including both percussion and flintlock rifles. Smoothbore weapons were also common especially as a trade item because of their relative low cost and because they could also be used as a shot-gun for small game. Smoothbores were especially popular because they could be reloaded on the fly while on a galloping horse.

knife

Knives were indispensable to living and surviving in the mountains. A knife was so personal and intimate to the mountain man that, if lost or stolen, a very determined effort would be made to recover the knife. This sometimes involved days of back-tracking or even risking mortal combat. The knife was essential to the trapper and valued no less by the Indian. When the Indians, who had murdered Hugh Glass and his companions, joined Johnson Gardner and his party one evening around a campfire, Glass’s knife was immediately recognized. Gardner’s party seized the Indians, demanding to know how they came by Glass’s property.

lucifers

Lucifers were used more as a novelty item than as serious fire starting equipment. They were not available until 1836.

beaver trap

6-7 Beaver and Muskrat traps were all important tools. It usually took a full day to prepare the “sets,” to make the rounds of the traps, to skin the captured animals, and to flesh the pelts. Under favorable conditions a skilled trapper could be certain of taking a beaver at each set. Under very favorable conditions, certain traps could be visited twice a day, thus improving the average of six pelts per day. Prior to the coming of the white man and his steel traps, Native Americans had devised numerous types of deadfalls, underwater pens, snares, and other devices for drowning beaver. Almost, without exception, these devices were designed to quickly kill the beaver in a manner that would cause no breaks in the skin and no soaking of the fur with blood. It is reported that in some places beaver were so abundant that they could be taken by clubbing.