1825 – Capt. Becknell’s Tour

[as published in the Missouri Intelligencer, Vol. VI, No. 41 (June 25, 1825), p. 3]


Mr. Patten,

If the following narrative of my late tour in the upper province of Mexico, is sufficiently interesting to deserve a place in your columns, you are at liberty to publish it.

On the 5th of November last, I left Santa Cruz, with a party of nine men, employed in my service, with a view of trapping on the Green River, several hundred miles from Santa Fe.

In the course of my route towards the point of destination, I passed through the gap in a mountain, which was so narrow as greatly to resemble a gate way. This mountain, which had the appearance of an artificial mound, was about three or four hundred feet high, and not more than ten feet in breadth at the base.  The country here is poor, and only timbered with pine and cedar. I met in this vicinity, several parties of Indians, who were poor and inoffensive. It was, however, reported that some of the Indians who spent some time with us, afterwards committed murders upon the persons of some of the [ ]gagus of Mr. Prevost, of St. Louis, and robbed the remainder. We suffered every misery incident to such an enterprize in the winter season, such as hunger and cold—but were exempted from robbery. The flesh of a very lean horse, which we were constrained to break our fast with, was, at this time, pronounced excellent. But when his bones were afterwards served up, as a matter of necessity, they were not as well relished, but had nearly proved fatal to the whole party. We found to our cost, that our stomachs, although tolerably commodiously disposed, were not equal to the task of digesting bones. You can readily imagine, that we were in that deplorable condition where it would be justifiable to adopt the philosophy of the ancient Romans, and give odds to die. But such is not the practice of Missourians. Although we were forty days from settlements, the snow three or four feet deep, and our small stock of horses, our principal reliance for effecting a retreat, considered sacred, so that to have eaten them would have been like dining upon our own feet, we still contrived to supply our tables, if not with the dainties of life, with food of the most substantial kind. For instance, we subsisted two days on soup made of a raw hide we had reserved for sealing our moccasins; on the following morning the remains were dished up into a hash. The young men employed by me had seen better days, and had never before been supperless to bed, nor missed a wholesome and substantial meal at the regular family hour, except one, who was with me when I opened the road to Santa Fe. When afterwards we were enabled to procure indifferent bear meat, we devoured it in that style of eagerness, which, on a review of our operations at this time, very forcibly reminds us of the table urbanity of a prairie wolf.

While at our winter camp we hunted when we could, and the remainder of the time attempted to sleep, so as to dream of the abundance of our own tables at home, and the dark rich tenants of our smokehouses.

In the vicinity of our encampment, I discovered old diggings, and the remains of furnaces. There are also in this neighborhood the remains of many small stone houses, some of which have one story beneath the surface of the earth. There is likewise an abundance of broken pottery here, well baked and neatly painted. This was probably the sette of a town where the ancient Mexican Indians resided, as the Spaniards, who seldom visit this part of the country, can give no account of it.

On our way back to the settlements, we halted at the encampment of a band of Indians, who shocked our feelings not a little by the disposition they were about to make of an infirm (and no longer useful) squaw.  When the principal part of the band had left their camp, two of those remaining proceeded to lay the sick woman upon her face, by the side of some of her effects. They then covered her with a funeral pile of pine wood, to which they set fire, and thus made a Hindoo sacrifice of the patient old matron.

As the depth of the snow, and the intense cold of the season rendered trapping almost impracticable, we succeeded, on a third attempt, in making good our retreat from this inhospitable wilderness, and reached a Spanish village on the fifth of April, after an absence of five months.

It was reported in the Spanish settlements, by a man who had been employed by George Armstrong, of Franklin, who accompanied me to Santa Fe, that he had been murdered by the Indians; but I have good reason to believe, and I most sincerely hope, this may be only an idle fabrication.

The trade to this province has been greatly injured by the reduction of prices—white domestics are only fifty cents per yard. An export duty of three per cent is collected on all specie brought out of the province in this direction. Although my essays have been unfortunate speculations, I am disposed to make another experiment.

I travelled from the Spanish village of Taos, to Fort Osage, on the Missouri, in thirty-four days. I had supplied myself with provisions for the journey, consisting of meat, beans & peas. By the route which I travelled on my return, I avoided the so much dreaded sand hills, where adventurers have frequently been forced to drink the blood of their mules, to allay their thirst. Mr. Bailey Hardeman, of this county, was to have set out on his return, accompanied by a large party, on the first of the present month.

I cannot better conclude than by annexing this remark, that the toils endured, and the privations suffered in these enterprizes, very naturally give a tone and relish to the repose and plenty found at the civilized fire side.