About the first thing we did was to organize and select a captain, and, very much against my wishes, I was chosen to this important position. Six of us had guns of some sort, Richard Field, Dallas’s cook, was not armed at all. We had one regular axe and a large camp hatchet, which was about the same as an axe, and several very small hatchets owned by the men. All our worldly goods were piled up on the bank, and we were alone.
An examination of the old ferry boat showed it to be in pretty good condition, the sand with which it had been filled keeping it very perfectly. We found two oars in the sand under the boat, and looked up some poles to assist us in navigation. Our cordage was rather scant but the best we could get and all we could muster. The boat was about twelve feet long and six or seven feet wide, not a very well proportioned craft, but having the ability to carry a pretty good load. We swung it up to the bank and loaded up our goods and then ourselves. It was not a heavy load for the craft, and it looked as if we were taking the most sensible way to get to the Pacific, and almost wondered that everybody was so blind as not to see it as we did.
This party was composed of W.L. Manley, M.S. McMahon, Charles and Joseph Hazelrig, Richard Field, Alfred Walton and John Rogers. We untied the ropes, gave the boat a push and commenced to move down the river with ease and comfort, feeling much happier than we would had we been going toward Salt Lake with the prospect of wintering there.
At the mouth of Ham’s Fork we passed a camp of Indians, but we kept close to the opposite shore to avoid being boarded by them. They beckoned very urgently for us to come ashore, but I acted as if I did not understand them, and gave them the go-by.
As we were floating down the rapid stream it became more and more a rapid, roaring river, and the bed contained many dangerous rocks that were difficult to shun. Each of us had a setting-pole, and we ranged ourselves along the sides of the boat and tried to keep ourselves clear from the rocks and dangers. The water was not very deep and made such a dashing noise as the current rushed among the rocks that one had to talk pretty loud to be heard. As we were gliding along quite swiftly, I set my pole on the bottom and gave the boat a sudden push to avoid a boulder, when the pole stuck in the crevice between two rocks, and instead of losing the pole by the sudden jerk I gave, I was the one who was very suddenly yanked from the boat by the spring of the pole, and landed in the middle of the river. I struck pretty squarely on my back, and so got thoroughly wet, but swam for shore amid the shouts of the boys, who waved their hats and hurrahed for the captain when they saw he was not hurt. I told them that was nothing as we were on our way to California by water any way, and such things must be expected.
The next day after this I went on shore and sighted a couple of antelope, one of which I shot, which gave us good grub, and good appetites we already had. As near as we could estimate we floated about thirty miles a day, which beat the pace of tired oxen considerably. In one place there was a fringe of thick willows along the bank, and a little farther back a perpendicular bluff, while between the two was a strip of fine green grass. As we were passing this we scared up a band of elk in this grass meadow, and they all took a run down the river like a band of horses. One of them turned up a small ravine with walls so steep he could not get out, so we posted a guard at the entrance, and three of us went up the cañon after him, and after the others had each fired a shot, I fired the third and brought him down. This was about the finest piece of Rocky Mountain beef that one could see. We took the carcass on board and floated on again.
Thus far we had a very pleasant time, each taking his turn in working the boat while the others rested or slept. About the fifth day when we were floating along in very gently running water, I had lay down to take a rest and a little sleep. The mountains here on both sides of the river were not very steep, but ran gradually for a mile or so. While I was sleeping the boat came around a small angle in the stream, and all at once there seemed to be a higher, steeper range of mountains right across the valley. The boys thought the river was coming to a rather sudden end and hastily awoke me, and for the life of me I could not say they were not right, for there was no way in sight for it to go to. I remembered while looking over a map the military men had I found a place named Brown’s Hole, and I told the boys I guessed we were elected to go on foot to California after all, for I did not propose to follow the river down any sort of a hole into any mountain. We were floating directly toward a perpendicular cliff, and I could not see any hole any where, nor any other place where it could go. Just as we were within a stone’s throw of the cliff, the river turned sharply to the right and went behind a high point of the mountain that seemed to stand squarely on edge. This was really an immense crack or crevice, certainly 2000 feet deep and perhaps much more, and seemed much wider at the bottom than it did at the top, 2000 feet or more above our heads. Each wall seemed to lean in toward the water as it rose.
We were now for some time between two rocky walls between which the river ran very rapidly, and we often had to get out and work our boat over the rocks, sometimes lifting it off when it caught. Fortunately we had a good tow line, and one would take this and follow along the edge when it was so he could walk. The mountains seemed to get higher and higher on both sides as we advanced, and in places we could see quite a number of trees overhanging the river, and away up on the rocks we could see the wild mountain sheep looking down at us. They were so high that they seemed a mile away, and consequently safe enough. This was their home, and they seemed very independent, as if they dared us fellows to come and see them. There was an old cottonwood tree on bank with marks of an axe on it, but this was all the sign we saw that any one had ever been here before us. We got no game while passing through this deep cañon and began to feel the need of some fresh provisions very sorely.
We passed many deep, dark cañons coming into the main stream, and at one place, where the rock hung a little over the river and had a smooth wall, I climbed up above the high water mark which we could clearly see, and with a mixture of gunpowder and grease for paint, and a bit of cloth tied to a stick for a brush, I painted in fair sized letters on the rock, CAPT. W.L. MANLEY, U.S.A. We did not know whether we were within the bounds of the United States or not, and we put on all the majesty we could under the circumstances. I don’t think the sun ever shone down to the bottom of the cañon, for the sides were literally sky-high, for the sky, and a very small portion of that was all we could see.
Just before night we came to a place where some huge rocks as large as cabins had fallen down from the mountain, completely filling up the river bed, and making it completely impassible for our boat. We unloaded it and while the boys held the stern line, I took off my clothes and pushed the boat out into the torrent which ran around the rocks, letting them pay the line out slowly till it was just right. Then I sang out to–“Let go”–and away it dashed. I grasped the bow line, and at the first chance jumped overboard and got to shore, when I held the boat and brought it in below the obstructions. There was some deep water below the rocks; and we went into camp. While some loaded the boat, others with a hook and line caught some good fish, which resembled mackerel.
While I was looking up toward the mountain top, and along down the rocky wall, I saw a smooth place about fifty feet above where the great rocks had broken out, and there, painted in large black letters, were the words “ASHLEY, 1824.” This was the first real evidence we had of the presence of a white man in this wild place, and from this record it seems that twenty-five years before some venturesome man had here inscribed his name. I have since heard there were some persons in St. Louis of this name, and of some circumstances which may link them with this early traveler.
When we came to look around we found that another big rock blocked the channel 300 yards below, and the water rushed around it with a terrible swirl. So we unloaded the boat again and made the attempt to get around it as we did the other rocks. We tried to get across the river but failed. We now, all but one, got on the great rock with our poles, and the one man was to ease the boat down with the rope as far as he could, then let go and we would stop it with our poles and push it out into the stream and let it go over, but the current was so strong that when the boat struck the rock we could not stop it, and the gunwale next to us rose, and the other went down, so that in a second the boat stood edgewise in the water and the bottom tight against the big rock, and the strong current pinned it there so tight that we could no more move it than we could move the rock itself.
This seemed a very sudden ending to our voyage and there were some very rapid thoughts as to whether we would not safer among the Mormons than out in this wild country, afoot and alone. Our boat was surely lost beyond hope, and something must be done. I saw two pine trees, about two feet through, growing on a level place just below, and I said to them that we must decide between going afoot and making some canoes out of these pine trees. Canoes were decided on, and we never let the axes rest, night or day till we had them completed. While my working shift was off, I took an hour or two, for a little hunting, and on a low divide partly grown over with small pines and juniper I found signs, old and new, of many elk, and so concluded the country was well stocked with noble game. The two canoes, when completed were about fifteen feet long and two feet wide, and we lashed them together for greater security. When we tried them we found they were too small to carry our load and us, and we landed half a mile below, where there were two other pine trees–white pine–about two feet through, and much taller than the ones we had used. We set at work making a large canoe of these. I had to direct the work for I was the only one who had ever done such work. We worked night and day at these canoes, keeping a big fire at night and changing off to keep the axes busy. This canoe we made twenty-five or thirty feet long, and when completed they made me captain of it and into it loaded the most valuable things, such as provisions, ammunition, and cooking utensils. I had to take the lead for I was the only skillful canoeist in the party. We agreed upon signals to give when danger was seen, or game in sight, and leading off with my big canoe we set sail again, and went flying down stream.
This rapid rate soon brought us out of the high mountains and into a narrow valley when the stream became more moderate in its speed and we floated along easily enough. In a little while after we struck this slack water, as we were rounding a point, I saw on a sand bar in the river, five or six elk, standing and looking at us with much curiosity. I signaled for those behind to go to shore, while I did the same, and two or three of us took our guns and went carefully down along the bank, the thick brush hiding us from them, till we were in fair range, then selecting our game we fired on them. A fine doe fell on the opposite bank, and a magnificent buck which Rogers and I selected, went below and crossed the river on our side. We followed him down along the bank which was here a flat meadow with thick bunches of willows, and soon came pretty near to Mr. Elk who started off on a high and lofty trot. As he passed an opening in the bushes I put a ball through his head and he fell. He was a monster. Rogers, who was a butcher, said it would weigh five hundred or six hundred pounds. The horns were fully six feet long, and by placing the horns on the ground, point downwards, one could walk under the skull between them. We packed the meat to our canoes, and staid up all night cutting the meat in strips and drying it, to reduce bulk and preserve it, and it made the finest kind of food, fit for an epicure.
Starting on again, the river lost more and more of of its rapidity as it came out into a still wider valley, and became quite sluggish. We picked red berries that grew on bushes that overhung the water. They were sour and might have been high cranberries. One day I killed an otter, and afterward hearing a wild goose on shore, I went for the game and killed it on a small pond on which there were also some mallard duck. I killed two of these. When I fired, the ones not killed did not fly away, but rather swam toward me. I suppose they never before had seen a man or heard the report of a gun. On the shore around the place I saw a small bear track, but I did not have time to look for his bearship, and left, with the game already killed, and passed on down through this beautiful valley.
We saw one place where a large band of horses had crossed, and as the men with them must have had a raft, we were pretty sure that the men in charge of them were white men. Another day we passed the mouth of a swollen stream which came in from the west side. The water was thick with mud, and the fish, about a foot long, came to the top, with their noses out of water. We tried to catch some, but could not hold them. One night we camped on an island, and I took my gun and went over toward the west side where I killed a deer. The boys hearing me shoot, came out, guns in hand, thinking I might need help, and I was very glad of their assistance. To make our flour go as far as possible we ate very freely of meat, and having excellent appetites it disappeared very fast.
It took us two or three days to pass this beautiful valley, and then we began to get into a rougher country again, the cañons deeper and the water more tumultuous. McMahon and I had the lead always, in the big canoe. The mountains seemed to change into bare rocks and get higher and higher as we floated along. After the first day of this the river became so full of boulders that many times the only way we could do was to unload the canoes and haul them over, load up and go ahead, only to repeat the same tactics in a very short time again. At one place where the river was more than usually obstructed we found a deserted camp, a skiff and some heavy cooking utensils, with a notice posted up on an alder tree saying that they had found the river route impracticable, and being satisfied that the river was so full of rocks and boulders that it could not be safely navigated, they had abandoned the undertaking and were about to start overland to make their way to Salt Lake. I took down the names of the parties at the time in my diary, which has since been burned, but have now forgotten them entirely. They were all strangers to me. They had taken left such heavy articles as could not be carried on foot. This notice rather disconcerted us, but we thought we had better keep on and see for ourselves, so we did not follow them, but kept on down the rocky river. We found generally more boulders than water, and the down grade of the river bed was heavy.
Some alders and willows grew upon the bank and up quite high on the mountains we could see a little timber. Some days we did not go more than four or five miles, and that was serious work, loading and unloading our canoes, and packing them over the boulders, with only small streams of water curling around between them. We went barefoot most of the time, for we were more than half of the time in the water which roared and dashed so loud that we could hardly heard each other speak. We kept getting more and more venturesome and skillful, and managed to run some very dangerous rapids in safety.
On the high peaks above our heads we could see the Rocky Mountain sheep looking defiantly at us from their mountain fastnesses, so far away they looked no larger than jack rabbits. They were too far off to try to shoot at, and we had no time to try to steal up any nearer for at the rate we were making, food would be the one thing needful, for we were consuming it very fast. Sometimes we could ride a little ways, and then would come the rough-and-tumble with the rocks again.
One afternoon we came to a sudden turn in the river, more than a right angle, and, just below, a fall of two feet or more. This I ran in safety, as did the rest who followed and we cheered at our pluck and skill. Just after this the river swung back the other way at a right angle or more, and I quickly saw there was danger below and signaled them to go on shore at once, and lead the canoes over the dangerous rapids. I ran my own canoe near shore and got by the rapid safely, waiting for the others to come also. They did not obey my signals but thought to run the rapid the same as I did. The channel here was straight for 200 yards, without a boulder in it, but the stream was so swift that it caused great, rolling waves in the center, of a kind I have never seen anywhere else. The boys were not skillful enough to navigate this stream, and the suction drew them to the center where the great waves rolled them over and over, bottom side up and every way. The occupants of our canoe let go and swam to shore. Fields had always been afraid of water and had worn a life preserver every day since we left the wagons. He threw up his hands and splashed and kicked at a terrible rate, for he could not swim, and at last made solid ground. One of the canoes came down into the eddy below, where it lodged close to the shore, bottom up. Alfred Walton in the other canoe could not swim, but held on to the gunwale with a death grip, and it went on down through the rapids. Sometimes we could see the man and sometimes not, and he and the canoe took turns in disappearing. Walton had very black hair, and as he clung fast to his canoe his black head looked like a crow on the end of a log. Sometimes he would be under so long that we thought he must be lost, when up he would come again still clinging manfully.
McMahon and I threw everything out of the big canoe and pushed out after him. I told Mc. to kneel down so I could see over him to keep the craft off the rocks, and by changing his paddle from side to side as ordered, he enabled me to make quick moves and avoid being dashed to pieces. We fairly flew, the boys said, but I stood up in the stern and kept it clear of danger till we ran into a clear piece of river and overtook Walton clinging to the overturned boat; McMahon seized the boat and I paddled all to shore, but Walton was nearly dead and could hardly keep his grasp on the canoe. We took him to a sandy place and worked over him and warmed him in the sun till he came to life again, then built a fire and laid him up near to it to get dry and warm. If the canoe had gone on 20 yards farther with him before we caught it, he would have gone into another long rapid and been drowned. We left Walton by the fire and crossing the river in the slack water, went up to where the other boys were standing, wet and sorry-looking, say-that all was gone and lost. Rogers put his hand in his pocket and pulled out three half dollars and said sadly:–“Boys, this is all I am worth in the world.” All the clothes he had were a pair of overalls and a shirt. If he had been possessed of a thousand in gold he would have been no richer, for there was no one to buy from and nothing to buy. I said to them: “Boys, we can’t help what has happened, we’ll do the best we can. Right your canoe, get the water out, and we’ll go down and see how Walton is.” They did as I told them, and lo and behold when the canoe rolled right side up, there were their clothes and blankets safe and sound. These light things had floated in the canoe and were safe. We now tried by joining hands to reach out far enough to recover some of the guns, but by feeling with their feet they found the bottom smooth as glass and the property all swept on below, no one knew where. The current was so powerful that no one could stand in it where it came up above his knees. The eddy which enabled us to save the first canoe with the bedding and clothes was caused by a great boulder as large as a house which had fallen from above and partly blocked the stream. Everything that would sink was lost.
We all got into the two canoes and went down to Walton, where we camped and staid all night for Walton’s benefit. While we were waiting I took my gun and tried to climb up high enough to see how much longer this horrible cañon was going to last, but after many attempts, I could not get high enough to see in any direction. The mountain was all bare rocks in terraces, but it was impossible to climb from one to the other, and the benches were all filled with broken rocks that had fallen from above.
By the time I got back to camp, Walton was dry and warm and could talk. He said he felt better, and pretty good over his rescue. When he was going under the water, it seemed sometimes as if he never would come to the top again, but he held on and eventually came out all right. He never knew how he got to shore, he was so nearly dead when rescued.
The next morning Walton was so well we started on. We were now very poorly armed. My rifle and McMahon’s shotgun were all the arms we had for seven of us, and we could make but a poor defence if attacked by man or beast, to say nothing of providing ourselves with food. The mountains on each side were very bare of timber, those on the east side particularly so, and very high and barren. Toward night we were floating along in a piece of slack water, the river below made a short turn around a high and rocky point almost perpendicular from the water. There was a terrace along the side of this point about fifty feet up, and the bench grew narrower as it approached the river. As I was coming down quite close under this bank I saw three mountain sheep on the bench above, and, motioning to the boys, I ran on shore and, with my gun in hand, crept down toward them, keeping a small pine tree between myself and the sheep. There were some cedar bushes on the point, and the pines grew about half way up the bank. I got in as good a range as possible and fired at one of them which staggered around and fell down to the bottom of the cliff. I loaded and took the next largest one which came down the same way. The third one tried to escape by going down the bend and then creeping up a crevice, but it could not get away and turned back, cautiously, which gave me time to load again and put a ball through it. I hit it a little too far back for instant death, but I followed it up and found it down and helpless, and soon secured it. I hauled this one down the mountain, and the other boys had the two others secure by this time. McMahon was so elated at my success that he said: “Manley, if I could shoot as you do I would never want any better business.” And the other fellows said they guessed we were having better luck with one gun than with six, so we had a merry time after all. These animals were of a bluish color, with hair much finer than deer, and resembled a goat more than a sheep. These three were all females and their horns were quite straight, not curved like the big males. We cut the meat from the bones and broke them up, making a fine soup which tasted pretty good. They were in pretty good order, and the meat like very good mutton.
We kept pushing on down the river. The rapids were still dangerous in many places, but not so frequent nor so bad as the part we had gone over, and we could see that the river gradually grew smoother as we progressed.
After a day or two we began to get out of the cañons, but the mountains and hills on each side were barren and of a pale yellow caste, with no chance for us to climb up and take a look to see if there were any chances for us further along. We had now been obliged to follow the cañon for many miles, for the only way to get out was to get out endwise, climbing the banks being utterly out of the question. But these mountains soon came to an end, and there was some cottonwood and willows on the bank of the river, which was now so smooth we could ride along without the continual loading and unloading we had been forced to practice for so long. We had begun to get a little desperate at the lack of game, but the new valley, which grew wider all the time, gave us hope again, if it was quite barren everywhere except back of the willow trees.