The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850: An Historical Geography

By E. W. Gilbert | Go to book overview

Chapter VIII
THE INDIAN INHABITANTS
OF THE REGION

The region under consideration was not devoid of human inhabitants when it was first visited by white men. Indian tribes roamed over the whole area and had established some permanent settlements.

Explorers found that assistance from the Indians was indispensable. The greatest service which the Indian rendered was that of guide. Many of these men had travelled immense distances and knew the trails and passes over the mountains. Lewis and Clark were accompanied by Indian guides for the greater part of their journey. The geographical knowledge of an Indian was always limited, but they had an extraordinary faculty for finding their way.

The assistance of the Indians was always required in all matters of transport. They supplied the explorers with canoes or with horses,1 as they were generally ready to sell these commodities provided they kept sufficient for their own use.

Food was often obtained from the Indians, who were willing to give or sell buffalo meat, salmon, and other foods. They also helped the white man in the hunting of animals for food and for fur.

Although generally friendly to the white man, the Indian could prove to be a very dangerous foe. The white traders of Manuel Lisa were constantly harried by Indians in the neighbourhood of the Three Forks. The position of the fur-traders in that region became so intolerable, because of the ravages of the Blackfoot Indians, that trade had to be abandoned. The experiences of John Colter in 1807 are typical of the hardships which the Indians could inflict. This unfortunate man was captured by the Blackfoot Indians and compelled to run a race for his life, stark naked, over the plain "abounding in prickly pear".

____________________
1
The Arikara supplied the Astorian expedition of 1811 with horses.

-91-

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