Zenas Leonard: Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard

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Zenas Leonard

Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard

Of the adventures of a company of 70 men, who left St. Louis in the Spring of 1831, on an expedition to the Rocky Mountains, for the purpose of trapping for Furs, and trading with the Indians, by one of the company, Mr. ZENAS LEONARD, of Clearfield county, Pa. – comprising a minute description of the incidents of the adventure, and a valuable history of this immense territory – not from maps and charts, but from personal observation.

The Company under the command of Capt's. Gant and Blackwell, left St.Louis on the 24th of April, 1831. Each man was furnished with the necessary equipments for the expedition – such as traps, guns, amp;c.; also horses and goods of various descriptions, to trade with the Indians for furs and Buffaloe robes. We continued our journey in a western direction, in the state of Missouri, on the south side of the Missouri river, through a country thinly inhabited by the whites and friendly Indians, until we arrived at Fort Osage the extreme point of the white settlement. Here we remained several days and purchased and packed up a sufficiency of provision, as we then thought, for our subsistance through the wilderness to what is called the Buffaloe country; a distance of about 200 miles. From thence we proceeded up the Missouri until we arrived at the mouth of the Kanzas river, where we again tarried two or three days, for the purpose of trading some goods to the Kanzas Indians for corn, moccasins, amp;c.

This tribe of Indians live in small huts, built of poles, covered with straw amp; dirt, and in shape are similar to a potatoe hole. They cultivate the soil quite extensively, and raise very good corn, pumpkins, beans and other vegetables. The principal chief is called "White Ploom." – The nation is supposed to contain 800 warriors.

From thence we proceeded on our journey up the river. We found the country here beautiful indeed – abounding with the most delightful prairies, with here amp; there a small brook, winding its way to the river, the margins of which are adorned with the lofty Pine and Cedar tree. These prairies were completely covered with fine low grass, and decorated with beautiful flowers of various colors; and some of them are so extensive and clear of timber and brush that the eye might search in vain for an object to rest upon. I have seen beautiful and enchanting sceneries depicted by the artist, but never any thing to equal the work of rude nature in those prairies. In the spring of the year when the grass is green and the blossoms fresh, they present an appearance, which for beauty and charms, is beyond the art of man to depict.

We continued on our journey westward, up the republican fork of Kanzas river – passing through these prairies, till the 20th of June, when we happened on another tribe of Indians, called the Otoes, from whom we obtained a quantity of sweet corn and some wild turnips; we also understood from this tribe that it was much farther to the Buffaloe country than we had before anticipated, and that game in that direction, was very scarce. From thence we proceeded in a N. W. direction, up the Republican Branch – finding but very little game; and on the 21st of June we killed our last beef, which was equally divided to each mess. Here we began to feel somewhat alarmed – starvation began to stare us in the face, and some of the company became refractory and were for turning back. Stimulated, however, by the hope of reaching game in a few days, we continued in the direction of the Buffaloe country. Hunters were sent out daily in quest of game, but as often returned without any. We still continued to travel – subsisting chiefly on muscles and small fish which we caught in the river – finally the Captain ordered two of the best horses to be killed, to keep the company from starving, which was immediately done, and the carcasses equally distributed to each mess. We proceeded on our journey slowly – sending out hunters as usual, but without success; game appeared to become scarcer and scarcer, and in a few days our provision (if I may call it such) again exhausted. Finding it impossible, owing to the scarcity of game, to continue any further up the Republican, we concluded to leave it and steer for the head waters of the Missouri. Accordingly we changed our direction as well as our manner of travelling. Instead of travelling in a close mass as heretofore, we now scattered over a considerable range of country for the purpose of hunting, leaving ten or twelve men only to bring on the pack-mules, and at night we would collect together with our game, which generally consisted of wolves, wild cats, muscles, and some times an Antelope. In this way we continued our journey slowly, some of the company being half starved to death, for eight or ten days, eating at night what little game we caught through the day; at last we collected one evening, I think about the middle of July, in a barren prairie where we could not get wood enough to make a fire, much less any thing to cook on it – not a mouthfull of game was returned that evening. This was a trying time indeed – despondency amp; horror was depicted in the countenance of every man, and the enquiry, "what shall we do," was passing from every lip. In this condition, without fire or food, we spent the night. In the morning we held a consultation to decide whether to continue in that direction or turn. We finally agreed to proceed straight ahead amp; by night we arrived on the banks of the river Platte, a distance of about ten miles from where we had encamped the night before, where we pitched our tents for the night. Most of our hunters had collected without game, and pronounced it very scarce, and we were about to kill another of our horses when we saw one of our hunters approaching us with unusual rapidity, without his gun or hat and his countenance indicating great excitement. I never wish to feel more pleasure than I did as he rushed into the tent exclaiming, "I have killed two big Buck Elk!" Early the next morning – refreshed with what meat we had obtained and animated and encouraged with the hope of obtaining plenty more, we set out with unusual fine spirits. We continued to travel up the river Platte for several days – passing through extensive barren prairies, the soil being too poor even to produce grass; and game exceedingly scarce. Some of us again became alarmed, and one morning when the roll was called it was discovered that two of the company had stolen two of the best horses and started back to the state of Missouri. This had a bad effect – it impaired that full confidence which had heretofore existed between the members of the company, but we continued up the river and in a few days arrived at the Buffaloe country. After encamping, on a pleasant evening, in the latter part of July, some of the company discovered two Buffaloe bulls feeding in the prairie, about half a mile from camp. Four or five of us immediately mounted our horses and started to take them; but returned in a short time without success – one of the men having got his arm broken, by falling from his horse. But the next day we happened on a large drove of these animals, and killed six or seven of them. The flesh of the Buffaloe is the wholesomest and most palatable of meat kind. The male of these animals are much the largest – weighing from 1000 to 1500 pounds, and may be seen in droves of hundreds feeding in the plains. We remained here several days feasting upon Buffaloe meat. From thence proceeded up the river; finding an abundance of game, such as Buffaloe, Elk, Deer and Antelope and killing more or less every day. On the first day of August we arrived at the forks of the river Platte; and by means of boats made of buffaloe skins, crossed the south Fork and continued our journey up the valley. Here the soil appeared to be very poor, producing but little grass; and in some places for three or four miles we would travel over sand plains where there was scarcely a spear of grass to be seen. Immediately on the water courses the soil is better and produces good grass. As we travelled up the river, we occasionally came in contact with cliffs of rocks and hard clay, from two to three hundred feet above the level of the plain. One of these cliffs is very peculiar in its appearance, and is known among the whites as "Chimney cliff," and among the natives as "Elk Peak." It is only about 150 yards in circumferance at its basis, and about 25 at the summit; and projects into the air to the highth of 300 feet. Its towering summit may be seen at the distance of 15 or 20 miles – presenting the appearance of some huge fabric that had been constructed by the art of man.

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