Travels with MacKenzie 2

Travels with MacKenzie, Part 2

From the October 6, 2011 edition of McKenzie River Reflections

September 1811

Two hundred years ago this month Donald MacKenzie was making his way from the Missouri River towards Fort Astoria and then to the Willamette River. He was assistant leader of the “Astorian Overland Party,” the fur-trading expedition financed by J.J. Astor, and lead by W.P. Hunt. Ten years later a tributary of the Willamette River was named “MacKenzie’s Branch.”  The story of MacKenzie’s travels is told here as part of the McKenzie Bicentennial 2012.

The following excerpts are from the book “Astoria,” written by Washington Irving at J. Jacob Astor’s request. It was published in 1836. (Read the full text at www.history1700s.com)

 On the third of September, finding that the mountain still stretched onwards, presenting a continued barrier, they endeavored to force a passage to the westward, but soon became entangled among rocks and precipices which set all their efforts at defiance. The mountain seemed, for the most part, rugged, bare, and sterile; yet here and there it was clothed with pines, and with shrubs and flowering plants, some of which were in bloom. In tolling among these weary places, their thirst became excessive, for no water was to be met with. Numbers of the men wandered off into rocky dells and ravines in hopes of finding some brook or fountain; some of whom lost their way and did not rejoin the main party.

After a day of painful and fruitless scrambling, Mr. Hunt gave up the attempt to penetrate in this direction, and, returning to the little stream on the skirts of the mountain, pitched his tents within six miles of his encampment of the preceding night. He now ordered that signals should be made for the stragglers in quest of water; but the night passed away without their return…

On the evening of the 14th September, they encamped on the forks of the Wind or Bighorn River. The largest of these forks came from the range of Wind River Mountains. The hunters who served as guides to the party in this part of their route, had assured Mr. Hunt that, by following up Wind River, and crossing a single mountain ridge, he would come upon the head waters of the Columbia. This scarcity of game, however, which already had been felt to a pinching degree, and which threatened them with famine among the sterile heights which lay before them, admonished them to change their course. It was determined, therefore, to make for a stream, which they were informed passed the neighboring mountains, to the south of west, on the grassy banks of which it was probable they would meet with buffalo. Accordingly, about three o’clock on the following day, meeting with a beaten Indian road which led in the proper direction, they struck into it, turning their backs upon Wind River.

On the 17th they continued down the course of the river, making fifteen miles to the southwest... They encamped for the night opposite the end of a mountain in the west, which was probably the last chain of the Rocky Mountains. On the following morning they abandoned the main course of the Spanish River, and taking a northwest direction for eight miles, came upon one of its little tributaries, issuing out of the bosom of the mountains, and running through green meadows, yielding pasturage to herds of buffalo. As these were probably the last of that animal they would meet with, they encamped on the grassy banks of the river, determined to spend several days in hunting, so as to be able to jerk sufficient meat to supply them until they should reach the waters of the Columbia, where they trusted to find fish enough for their support. A little repose, too, was necessary for both men and horses, after their rugged and incessant marching; having in the course of the last seventeen days traversed two hundred and sixty miles of rough, and in many parts sterile, mountain country.

Mr. Hunt broke up his encampment on the 24th of September, and continued on to the west. A march of fifteen miles, over a mountain ridge, brought them to a stream about fifty feet in width, which Hoback, one of their guides recognized for one of the head waters of the Columbia… They kept along it for two days…At length they emerged from these stupendous defiles, and continued for several miles … through one of the stern mountain valleys. Here it was joined by a river of greater magnitude and swifter current, and their united waters swept off through the valley in one impetuous stream, which, from its rapidity and turbulence, had received the name of the Mad River*... An important point in their arduous journey had been attained; a few miles from their camp rose the three vast snowy peaks called the Tetons, or the Pilot Knobs, the great landmarks of the Columbia, by which they had shaped their course through this mountain wilderness. By their feet flowed the rapid current of Mad River, a stream ample enough to admit of the navigation of canoes, and down which they might possibly be able to steer their course to the main body of the Columbia. The Canadian voyageurs rejoiced at the idea of once more launching themselves upon their favorite element; of exchanging their horses for canoes, and of gliding down the bosoms of rivers, instead of scrambling over the backs of mountains. Others of the party, also, inexperienced in this kind of travelling, considered their toils and troubles as drawing to a close. They had conquered the chief difficulties of this great rocky barrier, and now flattered themselves with the hope of an easy downward course for the rest of their journey. Little did they dream of the hardships and perils by land and water, which were yet to be encountered in the frightful wilderness that intervened between them and the shores of the Pacific! (*now known as the Snake River)

..............

If you or your group have ideas for Bicentennial activities, please let us know. We will be applying for grants and sponsorship to fund activities. Email us at 200mckenzie@gmail.com, or phone Margaret Beilharz at 541-822-8454.

McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.