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About the Author
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849) was an American poet, short story writer, playwright, editor, critic, essayist and one of the leaders of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of the macabre and mystery, Poe was one of the early American practitioners of the short story and a progenitor of detective fiction and crime fiction. He is also credited with contributing to the emergence of the science fiction genre. Poe died at the age of 40 of an undetermined illness.
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The Journal of Julius Rodman
Being an Account of the First Passage Across the Rocky Mountains of North America Ever Achieved by Civilized Man
By Edgar Allan Poe
Steerforth PressCopyright © 2008 Pushkin Press
All rights reserved.
After the death of my father, and both sisters, I took no farther interest in our plantation at the Point, and sold it, at a complete sacrifice, to M Junôt. I had often thought of trapping up the Missouri, and resolved now to go on an expedition up that river, and try to procure peltries, which I was sure of being able to sell at Petite Côte to the private agents of the Northwest Fur Company. I believed that much more property might be acquired in this way, with a little enterprise and courage, than I could make by any other means. I had always been fond, too, of hunting and trapping, although I had never made a business of either, and I had a great desire to explore some portion of our western country, about which Pierre Junôt had often spoken to me. He was the eldest son of the neighbor who bought me out, and was a man of strange manners and somewhat eccentric turn of mind, but still one of the best-hearted fellows in the world, and certainly as courageous a man as ever drew breath, although of no great bodily strength. He was of Canadian descent, and having gone, once or twice, on short excursions for the Fur Company, in which he had acted as voyageur, was fond of calling himself one, and of talking about his trips. My father had been very fond of Pierre, and I thought a good deal of him myself; he was a great favorite, too, with my younger sister, Jane, and I believe they would have been married had it been God's will to have spared her.
When Pierre discovered that I had not entirely made up my mind what course to pursue after my father's death, he urged me to fit out a small expedition for the river, in which he would accompany me; and he had no difficulty in bringing me over to his wishes. We agreed to push up the Missouri as long as we found it possible, hunting and trapping as we went, and not to return until we had secured as many peltries as would be a fortune for us both. His father made no objection, and gave him about three hundred dollars; when we proceeded to Petite Côte for the purpose of getting our equipments, and raising as many men as we could for the voyage.
Petite Côte is a small place on the north bank of the Missouri, about twenty miles from its junction with the Mississippi. It lies at the foot of a range of low hills, and upon a sort of ledge, high enough above the river to be out of reach of the June freshets. There are not more than five or six houses, and these of wood, in the upper part of the place; but, nearer to the east, there is a chapel and twelve or fifteen good dwellings, running parallel with the river. There are about a hundred inhabitants, mostly Creoles of Canadian descent. They are extremely indolent, and make no attempt at cultivating the country around them, which is a rich soil; except now and then when a little is done in the way of gardening. They live principally by hunting, and trading with the Indians for peltries, which they sell again to the North-West Company's agents. We expected to meet with no difficulty here in getting recruits for our journey, or equipments, but were disappointed in both particulars; for the place was too poor in every respect to furnish all that we wanted, so as to render our voyage safe and efficient.
We designed to pass through the heart of a country infested with Indian tribes, of whom we knew nothing except by vague report, and whom we had every reason to believe ferocious and treacherous. It was therefore particularly necessary that we should go well provided with arms and ammunition, as well as in some force as regards numbers; and if our voyage was to be a source of profit, we must take with us canoes of sufficient capacity to bring home what peltries we might collect. It was the middle of March when we first reached Petite Côte, and we did not succeed in getting ready until the last of May. We had to send twice down the river to the Point for men and supplies, and neither could be obtained except at great cost. We should have failed at last in getting many things absolutely requisite, if it had not so happened that Pierre met with a party on its return from a trip up the Mississippi, and engaged six of its best men, besides a canoe or piroque; purchasing, at the same time, most of the surplus stores and ammunition.
This seasonable aid enabled us to get fairly ready for the voyage before the first of June. On the third of this month (1791) we bid adieu to our friends at Petite Côte, and started on our expedition. Our party consisted in all of fifteen persons. Of these, five were Canadians from Petite Côte, and had all been on short excursions up the river. They were good boatmen, and excellent companions, as far as singing French songs went, and drinking, at which they were pre-eminent; although, in truth, it was a rare thing to see any of them so far the worse for liquor, as to be incapable of attending to duty. They were always in a good humor, and always ready to work; but as hunters I did not think them worth much, and as fighting men I soon discovered they were not to be depended upon. There were two of these five Canadians who engaged to act as interpreters for the first five or six hundred miles up the river (should we proceed so far) and then we hoped to procure an Indian occasionally to interpret, should it be necessary; but we had resolved to avoid, as far as possible, any meetings with the Indians, and rather to trap ourselves, than run the great risk of trading, with so small a party as we numbered. It was our policy to proceed with the greatest caution, and expose ourselves to notice only when we could not avoid it.
The six men whom Pierre had engaged from aboard the return Mississippi boat were as different a set from the Canadians as could well be imagined. Five of them were brothers, by the name of Greely (John, Robert, Meredith, Frank, and Poindexter) and bolder or finer looking persons it would have been difficult to find. John Greely was the eldest and stoutest of the five, and had the reputation of being the strongest man, as well as best shot in Kentucky — from which State they all came. He was full six feet in height, and of most extraordinary breadth across the shoulders, with large strongly-knit limbs. Like most men of great physical strength, he was exceedingly good-tempered, and on this account was greatly beloved by us all. The other four brothers were all strong well-built men, too, although not to be compared with John. Poindexter was as tall, but very gaunt, and of a singularly fierce appearance; but, like his elder brother, he was of peaceable demeanor. All of them were experienced hunters and capital shots. They had gladly accepted Pierre's offer to go with us, and we made an arrangement with them which ensured them an equal share with Pierre and myself in the profits of the enterprise — that is to say, we divided the proceeds into three parts; one of which was to be mine, one Pierre's, and one shared among the five brothers.
The sixth man whom we enlisted from the return boat was, also, a good recruit. His name was Alexander Wormley, a Virginian, and a very strange character. He had originally been a preacher of the gospel, and had afterwards fancied himself a prophet, going about the country with a long beard and hair, and in his bare feet, haranguing every one he met. This hallucination was now diverted into another channel, and he thought of nothing else than of finding gold mines in some of the fastnesses of the country. Upon this subject he was as entirely mad as any man could well be; but upon all others was remarkably sensible and even acute. He was a good boatman and a good hunter, and as brave a fellow as ever stepped, besides being of great bodily strength and swiftness of foot. I counted much upon this recruit, on account of his enthusiastic character, and in the end I was not deceived, as will appear.
Our other two recruits were a negro belonging to Pierre Junôt, named Toby, and a stranger whom we had picked up in the woods near Mills' Point, and who joined our expedition upon the instant as soon as we mentioned our design. His name was Andrew Thornton, also a Virginian, and I believe of excellent family, belonging to the Thorntons of the northern part of the State. He had been from Virginia about three years; during the whole of which time he had been rambling about the western country, with no other companion than a large dog of the Newfoundland species. He had collected no peltries, and did not seem to have any object in view, more than the gratification of a roving and adventurous propensity. He frequently amused us, when sitting around our campfires at night, with the relation of his adventures and hardships in the wilderness — recounting them with a strait-forward earnestness which left us no room to doubt their truth; although indeed, many of them had a marvellous air. Experience afterwards taught us that the dangers and difficulties of the solitary hunter can scarcely be exaggerated, and that the real task is to depict them to the hearer in sufficiently distinct colors. I took a great liking to Thornton, from the first hour in which I saw him.
I have only said a few words respecting Toby; but he was not the least important personage of our party. He had been in old M Junôt's family for a great number of years, and had proved himself a faithful negro. He was rather too old to accompany such an expedition as ours; but Pierre was not willing to leave him. He was an able-bodied man, however, and still capable of enduring great fatigue. Pierre himself was probably the feeblest of our whole company, as regards bodily strength, but he possessed great sagacity, and a courage which nothing could daunt. His manners were sometimes extravagant and boisterous, which led him to get into frequent quarrels, and had once or twice seriously endangered the success of our expedition; but he was a true friend, and in that one point I considered him invaluable.
I have now given a brief account of all our party, as it was when we left Petite Côte. To carry ourselves and accoutrements, as well as to bring home what peltries might be obtained, we had two large boats. The smallest of these was a piroque made of birch bark, sewed together with the fibres of the roots of the spruce tree, the seams payed with pine resin, and the whole so light that six men could carry it with ease. It was twenty feet long, and could be rowed with from four to twelve oars; drawing about eighteen inches water when loaded to the gunwale, and, when empty, not more than ten. The other was a keelboat which we had made at Petite Côte (the canoe having been purchased by Pierre from the Mississippi party.) It was thirty feet long, and, when loaded to the gunwale, drew two feet water. It had a deck for twenty feet of its length forward, forming a cuddy-cabin, with a strong door, and of sufficient dimensions to contain our whole party with close crowding, as the boat was very broad. This part of it was bulletproof, being wadded with oakum between two coatings of oak-plank; and in several positions we had small holes bored, through which we could have fired upon an enemy in case of attack, as well as observe their movements; these holes, at the same time, gave us air and light, when we closed the door; and we had secure plugs to fit them when necessary. The remaining ten feet of the length was open, and here we could use as many as six oars — but our main dependence was upon poles which we employed by walking along the deck. We had also a short mast, easily shipped and unshipped, which was stepped about seven feet from the bow, and upon which we set a large square sail when the wind was fair, taking in mast and all when it was ahead.
In a division made in the bow, under deck, we deposited ten kegs of good powder, and as much lead as we considered proportionate, one tenth ready molded in rifle bullets. We had also stowed away here, a small brass cannon and carriage, dismounted and taken to pieces, so as to lie in little compass, thinking that such a means of defense might possibly come into play at some period of our expedition. This cannon was one of three which had been brought down the Missouri by the Spaniards two years previously, and lost overboard from a piroque, some miles above Petite Côte. A sandbar had so far altered the channel at the place where the canoe capsized, that an Indian discovered one of the guns, and procured assistance to carry it down to the settlement, where he sold it for a gallon of whiskey. The people at Petite Côte then went up and procured the other two. They were very small guns, but of good metal, and beautiful workmanship, being carved and ornamented with serpents like some of the French field pieces. Fifty iron balls were found with the guns, and these we procured. I mention the way in which we obtained this cannon, because it performed an important part in some of our operations, as will be found hereafter. Besides it, we had fifteen spare rifles, boxed up, and deposited forward with the other heavy goods. We put the weight here, to sink our bows well in the water, which is the best method, on account of the snags and sawyers in the river.
In the way of other arms we were sufficiently provided; each man having a stout hatchet, and knife, besides his ordinary rifle and ammunition. Each boat was provided with a camp kettle, three large axes, a towing-line, two oil-cloths to cover the goods when necessary, and two large sponges for bailing. The piroque had also a small mast and sail, (which I omitted to mention) and carried a quantity of gum, birchbark and watape, to make repairs with. She, also, had in charge all the Indian goods which we had thought necessary to bring with us, and which we purchased from the Mississippi boat. It was not our design to trade with the Indians; but these goods were offered us at a low rate, and we thought it better to take them, as they might prove of service. They consisted of silk and cotton handkerchiefs; thread, lines and twine; hats, shoes, and hose; small cutlery and ironmongery; calicoes and printed cottons; Manchester goods; twist and carrot tobacco; milled blankets; and glass toys, beads, etc, etc. All these were done up in small packages, three of which were a man's load. The provisions were also put up so as to be easily handled; and a part was deposited in each boat. We had, altogether, two hundred weight of pork, six hundred weight of biscuit, and six hundred weight of pemmican. This we had made at Petite Côte, by the Canadians, who told us that it was used by the Northwest Fur Company in all their long voyages, when it is feared that game may not prove abundant. It is manufactured in a singular manner. The lean parts of the flesh of the larger animals is cut into thin slices, and placed on a wooden grate over a slow fire, or exposed to the sun, (as ours was) or sometimes to the frost. When it was sufficiently dried in this way, it is pounded between two heavy stones, and will then keep for years. If, however, much of it is kept together, it ferments upon the breaking up of the frost in the spring, and, if not well exposed to the air, soon decays. The inside fat, with that of the rump, is melted down and mixed, in a boiling state, with the pounded meat, half and half; it is then squeezed into bags, and is ready to eat without any farther cooking, being very palatable without salt, or vegetables. The best pemmican is made with the addition of marrow and dried berries, and is a capital article of food. Our whiskey was in carboys, of five gallons each, and we had twenty of these, a hundred gallons in all.
When everything was well on board, with our whole company, including Thornton's dog, we found that there was but little room to spare, except in the big cabin, which we wished to preserve free of goods, as a sleeping place in bad weather; we had nothing in here except arms and ammunition, with some beaver-traps and a carpet of bear-skins. Our crowded state suggested an expedient which ought to have been adopted at all events; that of detaching four hunters from the party, to course along the river banks, and keep us in game, as well as to act in capacity of scouts, to warn us of the approach of Indians. With this object we procured two good horses, giving one of them in charge of Robert and Meredith Greely, who were to keep upon the south bank; and the other in charge of Frank and Poindexter (Greely) who were to course along the north side. By means of the horses they could bring in what game was shot.
Excerpted from The Journal of Julius Rodman by Edgar Allan Poe. Copyright © 2008 Pushkin Press. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
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