The River of the West
1840. When Meek arrived at Fort Hall, where Newell was awaiting him, he found that
the latter had there the two wagons which Dr. Whitman had left at the points on the
journey where further transportation by their means had been pronounced impossible.
The Doctor's idea of finding a passable wagon-road over the lava plains and the
heavily timbered mountains lying between Fort Hall and the Columbia River, seemed to
Newell not so wild a one as it was generally pronounced to be in the mountains. At all
events, he was prepared to undertake the Journey. The wagons were put in traveling
order, and horses and mules purchased for the expedition.
"Come," said Newell to Meek, " we are done with this life in the mountains--done with wading in beaver-dams, and freezing or starving alternately--done with Indian trading and Indian fighting. The fur trade is dead in the Rocky Mountains, and it is no place for us now, if ever it was. We are young yet, and have life before us. We cannot waste it here; we cannot or will not return to the States. Let us go down to the Wallamet and take farms. There is already quite a settlement there made by the Methodist Mission and the Hudson's Bay Company's retired servants.
"I have had some talk with the Americans who have gone down there, and the talk is that the country is going to be settled up by our people, and that the Hudson's Bay Company are not going to rule this country much longer. What do you say, Meek ? Shall we turn American settlers ?"
" I'll go where you do, Newell. What suits you suits me."
" I thought you'd say so, and that's why I sent for you, Meek. In my way of thinking, a white man is a little better than a Canadian Frenchman. I'll be d - - d if I'll hang 'round a post of the Hudson's Bay Company. So you'll go ?"
" I reckon I will! What have you got for me to do ? I haven't got anything to begin with but a wife and baby ! "
" Well, you can drive one of the wagons, and take your family and traps along. Nicholas will drive the other, and I'll play leader, and look after the train. Craig will go also, so we shall be quite a party, with what strays we shall be sure to pick up."
Thus it was settled. Thus Oregon began to receive her first real emigrants, who were neither fur-traders nor missionaries, but true frontiersmen--border-men. The training which the mountain-men had received in the service of the fur companies admirably fitted them to be, what afterwards they became, a valuable and indispensable element in the society of that country in whose peculiar history they played an important part. But we must not anticipate their acts before we have witnessed their gradual transformation from lawless rangers of the wilderness, to law-abiding and even law-making and law-executing citizens of an isolated territory.