Travels with MacKenzie
Travels with MacKenzie
From the September 8, 2011 edition of McKenzie River Reflections
Two hundred years ago this month Donald MacKenzie, age 28, was making his way from the Missouri River towards Fort Astoria, as assistant leader of the "Astorians Overland Party" made up of fifty-six men, a woman, and two children. Ten years later a map would be drawn by the Hudson Bay Company, naming a branch of the Willamette River as "Mackenzie's Branch" after Donald Mackenzie. Understanding why his name was given to this river requires us to explore the stories, maps and artifacts left behind. Throughout the coming year, as part of the McKenzie Bicentennial 2012, a small part of his remarkable life will be told each month in this newspaper.
The leader of the Astorian Overland expedition was W.P. Hunt. Excerpts of his journal describe where Donald Mackenzie was during the July and August of 1811.
"By July 18, 1811, we had traveled up the Missouri River from St. Louis to the village of the Aricaras...We left there with eighty-two horses packing commodities, munitions, food, and animal traps, taking a southwesterly route. We camped near a small stream a short distance from its confluence with the Grand River, which we forded on July 21, and on the 24th. We had covered sixty-seven miles in three days, keeping on a route where the grass was knee-high and where the horses could graze contentedly."
"Several members of the company were ill, and we rested here until August 5th. During this interval I bought thirty-six horses from some Cheyenne Indians. These Indians burn buffalo chips to keep themselves warm. Their teepees are made of buffalo skins carefully sewn together and supported by poles joined at the top. They often hold as many as fifty people. The Cheyennes are honest and clean. They hunt buffalo, and they raise horses that each year they trade to the Aricaras for corn, kidney beans, pumpkins, and some merchandise. They had a dozen beaver skins, but they did not seem to know how to trap these animals We killed several buffalo; in fact, they were everywhere around us, for they were breeding. They made a frightful noise that sounded like distant thunder. The males tore up the earth with their hooves and horns."
"We covered forty-two miles on the 6th and 7th.... The countryside became mountainous and water scarce. We saw some big horn [sheep] there, and we built fires on the summits to guide our hunters. (40 miles southwest)"
August 11 "we crossed a range of mountains like those of preceding days. The trail was tiring because of its precipitousness and the great number of rocks. On the 12th we forded two tributaries of the Grand River that flowed from the southwest, one of them appearing to be the main branch. (27 miles)"
August 14th: "we made camp beside a tributary of the Little Missouri. The evening was very cold. extremely rugged. It became even worse on the 17th, and we could find no passage through these mountains. We killed a big horn whose meat is good, not unlike mutton."
August 18th: We found it necessary to leave the mountains and turn back toward the broken countryside. When we had pitched camp to the left of the pine-covered mountains, Mr. McKenzie and I scaled the nearby slopes. Our view extended in all directions. In the west we saw far off some mountains that appeared white in several spots, and we assumed that this was the snow-covered Big Horn [Range]. Below the peaks herds of buffalo ran over the plains."
Next month: The Astorians follow the Snake River into the area now known as "Hell's Canyon."
If you have ideas, time, talent, or treasures to contribute to the McKenzie Bicentennial, please let the McKenzie Bicentennial Committee know. We are available to talk with you and your organizations about the possibilities for community-based events during 2012. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 541-822-8454.