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Transcriber's Note: The detailed map of the territory explored by Maj. Raynolds can be found at the David Rumsey Map Collection along with a plethora of other maps. Through the kind permission of Mr. Rumsey, I have been allowed to link directly to the copywrited image he and his associates have created by the restoral of the original map drawn by F. V. Hayden. You will find their work was superlative. This link will open a separate browser window which will allow the reader to follow along with the expedition's progress. When using the map viewer, it will be necessary to "zoom in" several times but, after doing so, you will be able to see the dotted line with dates indicating the expedition's route and camp sites. To open the map directly, please click on the following link (you may have to stop any "pop-up" blocker software you have running to see the resulting window):

Map of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers

Journal of Captain W. F. Raynolds, United States Army, Corps of Engineers.


It is not necessary to submit a detailed report of our life during the six tedious months spent in winter quarters.  After we reached our creek, several parties passed down the road on their way to "the States," and we could have done the same, thus saving the expenses of the party for about four months, and still returning in time for the resumption of our explorations, but my instructions were explicit in directing me to winter in the mountains, and therefore the course named was impossible.

The words "winter in the mountains" apparently embody the idea of discomfort and privation, but in our case they possess no such significance.   We were thoroughly comfortable in all our surroundings.   Our log houses, although they had no floors, and only decidedly primitive roofs, were still dry and warm.   These roofs consisted of logs, with brush filling in the interstices, and covered with a coating of clay mortar, and above all a foot or more of earth well packed.   This is the common roof of the plains.   A slope of about one foot vertical to five horizontal serves to shed the rain perfectly, and the amount that falls is not sufficient to wash off the dirt within one winter, as we fully proved.   The winds are in fact much more destructive.

With such a device repairs are very simple, consisting of only a few moments' labor with a shovel.   The fact of the general use of this style of roof among the settlers on the plains, decidedly sustains the theory of the great want of rain in these regions.

Two or three times during the winter we had "snaps" of very cold weather, the thermometer in one instance falling to minus 25°.  The cold of December 4th, 5th, and 6th was intense, the thermometer ranging from 15 to 25 degrees below zero.   On the 6th the wind was terrific, and the air was filled with minute particles of snow and ice, which penetrated every crack and crevice in our buildings.

In my own quarters I had a bank of snow two feet deep that sifted through a crevice of whose existence I was previously unaware.   A snow bank also formed on the exterior of our quarters as high as the roof, completely blocking up the doors.   It was strange that we did not lose all our animals, but only one was killed, though they had but little or no shelter from the fury of the storm.

Excepting these cold "spells," the weather during the winter was delightful.   The meteorological records, which were carefully kept and given elsewhere in detail, show the mean temperature for the different months, and the amount of rain or melted snow that fell, to have been as follows :

November 25th to 30th 30º 25' 370 inches rain
December 20° 660 inches rain
January 29° 4' 512 inches rain
February 34° 2' 575 inches rain
March 42° 4' 310 inches rain
April 1st to 15th 48° 8' 140 inches rain
        2,567 total rain

Our general occupation was picking up the loose ends of the summer's work, reducing and copying notes, making charts, computing, &c., employment that was both agreeable and profitable.   With a view to determining the longitude of our camp I had proposed observing noon culmination during the winter, and for this purpose had ordered a transit instrument to be forwarded to me at Fort Laramie.   On the occasion of my visit to that post, however, it had not arrived, and I then ordered it forwarded by the Overland Mail Company's wagons, paying express charges upon it at the rate of a. fraction over letter postage, and receiving it with promptness and safety on December 9th.

It was mounted on the 12th, the moon being considerably past the full.  The meridian passage was observed that night, and on the 13th and 15th, which ended observations for that lunation.  The instrument remained mounted until the 6th of May, when it was taken down preparatory to the summer's journey.

During this period, of the 69 meridian passages of the moon, which occurred when the sun was below the horizon, 56 were observed, and only 13 lost by cloudy weather—that is, four nights out of every five were clear enough for observations.

From the 29th of February to the 14th of March, inclusive, the passage of the moon over the meridian was observed each night, excepting March 6th.   From March 26th to April 9th, inclusive, six nights were cloudy.   This was the least favorable of any lunation.   These facts, taken from the records, are enough to show that, unless the winter of 1859-'60 was a very unusual one, which I have no reason to think was the case, the snow that falls in the mountains is not sufficient to prevent the running of railroad trains at all seasons.

If our animals had not been broken down by the arduous labors of the summer, there would have been little difficulty in our continuing our explorations by parties sent out from our fixed camp during a large portion of the winter.   The necessity of so doing was not great, however, as we were in a country comparatively well known, while it was of supreme importance that we should recruit our horses and mules as fully as possible.   Therefore, the only explorations made after reaching winter quarters were by a party sent to the headwaters of the Shayenne, another detailed to find the nearest possible approach to a direct route from Deer creek to Powder river, and a third sent out for geological researches to the southward, along the western slope of the Rocky mountains to Long's peak.   The first of these expeditions was in charge of J. Hudson Snowden, and started three days after we reached Deer creek, being absent about ten days.

The second expedition was made in April, under the charge of Mr. James D. Hutton, the object being, as stated above, to find a more direct road to Powder river than that we followed, thus obtaining, in connection with the route already explored along the base of the Big Horn mountains, the map of the entire route to the Big Horn river.   The report of Mr. Hutton will be found herewith.

The other expedition was made under the direction of Dr. F. V. Hayden, the geologist of the expedition, and as the country visited was comparatively well known, no topographer accompanied it.   The results of the geological investigations will be found embodied in Dr. Hayden's geological report, submitted herewith.

Throughout the whole of the season's march the subsistence of our animals had been obtained by grazing after we had reached camp in the afternoon, and for an hour or two between the dawn of day and our time of starting.   Often the grass was very scanty and of poor quality, requiring them to feed over a large extent of ground, thus giving them no opportunity for rest.   The water, also, was in many cases so impregnated with salt as to act as a purgative, thus lessening their strength.

The consequence was that when we reached our winter quarters there were but few animals in the train that were in a condition to have continued the march without a generous grain diet.   Poorer or more broken-down creatures it would be difficult to find.   They were at once driven up the valley of Deer creek and herded during the day, and brought to camp and kept in a corral through the night.   The distance grazed over covered perhaps 50 square miles, and in the spring all were in as fine condition, for commencing another season's work as could be desired.   A greater change in their appearance could not have been produced, even if they had been grain-fed and stable-housed all winter.  Only one was lost, the furious storm of December coming before it had gained sufficient strength to encounter it.

This fact that seventy exhausted animals turned out to winter on the plains the first of November, came out in the spring in the best condition and with the loss of but one of the number, is the most forcible commentary I can make upon the quality of the grass and the character of the winter.   The extent of territory ranged over by the herd also shows that the quantity of grass is very small per acre; and in this connection I wish to mention an incident that further illustrates this fact.   On the 4th of March almost half the herd disappeared very mysteriously, and were not found for over a week, when a general and thorough search in all directions resulted in their discovery some fifteen or twenty miles from camp at a point whither they had strayed for better pasturage.

Among the most noticeable incidents of our sojourn in winter quarters was a visit from One Horn, a chief of the Minneconjoux tribe of the Sioux or Dakota Indians.   He said that a large band of the Sioux were wintering about two hundred miles north of us, and that he had been sent to notify me that I must not pass through their country.   I informed him that I had been sent by the President and must obey my orders, and reminded him that I had brought them a large present promised them by General Harney when he made a treaty with them, and that one of the conditions of that treaty was that persons sent by the President should not be molested.   He answered, "We cannot restrain our young men; they will kill you."  "Then," I replied, "your tribe will be held responsible."  "Where are you going the coming summer?" he asked.   I responded by sketching a rough map of the country, laying down the different rivers, all of which he seemed fully to comprehend, and told him I proposed to pass westward by the heads of the Yellowstone and Missouri.   He at once ; exclaimed, "You are not going into the Sioux country!"  "I know that," I replied, "until, on my return, I reach the mouth of the Yellowstone, where I intend crossing the Missouri and going directly south."

The following dialogue ensued:

CHIEF.  "Keep on the east side of the river."
Answer.  "I cannot; you know that that route is the longest.   It will be nearly winter; my horses will be broken down.   I will be in danger of being unable to 'get out of the country.   I must take the shortest route."

CHIEF.  "Are anymore parties coming?"
Answer.  "Not that I know of, unless my party does not get home at the right time.   You know there are soldiers at Fort Randall; they know when to look for us.   If we do not get there at the right time they will go for us. and if you want soldiers in your country that is the way to get them.   Kill my party and then you will have enough."

This last seemed to stagger him, and after a few moments he replied, "It may be that they will not hurt you; we will try to restrain our young men.   If any of them come into your camp don't let them shake hands with you!"   He meant by this, do not permit too many around you at once, so that they may be able to surprise and overpower you.   I was satisfied that this was good advice, and probably it was intended as such.   I told him I would look out for this, but that he must remember that we were all armed and should defend ourselves to the last, and if we were attacked some of them would be killed before they could exterminate us.   After giving him some food and a present of a few Indian goods, he left apparently well satisfied that the best course for them to pursue was to allow us to proceed quietly on our journey.

When we arrived at Deer creek we found at the Indian agency the Rev. Mr. Bryninger and three companions, on their way to establish a mission among the Crows.   They were German Lutherans, and had been sent out by the German Evangical [sic] Synod of Iowa.   God-fearing and devoted men, but ignorant of the world as well as of our language, and in consequence poorly fitted for the labors they had undertaken.  They had started so late in the season that winter had overtaken them at this point.   Their means were exhausted and they were awaiting funds from their friends in Iowa to enable them to prosecute their labors.

I have the satisfaction of believing that I was instrumental in enabling them to pass a more comfortable winter than would otherwise have been their lot, and also of enabling them to continue the prosecution of their undertaking in the spring, though they were never permitted to reach their destination.

Mr. Bryninger and his companions left Deer creek a few days before we left our winter quarters, proposing to establish their headquarters near the lower cañon of the Big Horn river, a point I had recommenced to them and which I have mentioned as possessing more natural advantages than any I met with.   I did not hear from them until the close of the season's operations, when I learned that after getting as far as Powder river, Mr. Bryninger got separated from his companions and was killed by the Sioux.   His companions being thus left without a head became discouraged and returned to Iowa, and the attempt to establish a mission was abandoned.   After my return to civilization the authorities of the synod under which they were acting refunded to me in full the small advance that I had made to the party.

Early in March preparations were commenced for our summer campaign.   I had made requisition for a mounted escort, and knew that it would be necessary to take all our supplies in packs, as it would be impossible for our wagons to accompany us.  This involved the purchase of a large number of additional animals and the procuring, either by purchase or manufacture, of pack saddles.   A few of these were obtained from the quartermaster at Fort Laramie, but the balance we were compelled to make.   Without suitable tools or material this was considerable of an undertaking, but we at last succeeded in producing an article that answered a very good purpose.   Indian horses and mules were purchased of the traders, supplies were procured from the commissary at Fort Laramie, and by the first of May we were ready to resume operations.

The fitting out of the pack train with inexperienced packers, extemporized pack saddles, and unbroken Indian horses and mules, was, however, a tedious, and at times an amusing, operation.   The animals were first loaded with packs of sand to get them used to their burthens, and for a time confined to the limits of the corral.   As a general rule they only submitted to the incumbrance [sic] after they had been wholly exhausted by the most frantic efforts to free themselves, and I made up my mind that the Indians had sold us only such animals as they could not use, or were too lazy to themselves break for service.

Deer creek had been selected for our winter residence upon the recommendation of Major Swiss, the Indian agent for the Upper Platte, who is familiar with the whole country, and who had made this point the headquarters of the Indian agency.   The fact that the Mormons had at one time commenced a settlement in the valley and commenced to build the houses which we had finished and used, also proved it to be one of the best locations in this section of the country, but notwithstanding these facts I was most agreeably disappointed in the excellence of our mail facilities.   We were but three and a half miles south of the Platte road, along which the overland mail was carried, and shortly after we were settled the department complied with a request previously made by Major Swiss, and established a post office at the mouth of the creek, appointing an Indian trader postmaster.   We were at once brought within about fifteen days of our friends, the mail coming once a week with such regularity that we could time it within a few hours.   The walk to the post office soon became an established event to break the monotony of our life, and after our friends at home learned that we were within accessible distance of their letters, our weekly mail was as large as would be received at a respectable country village.

The pony express was also established while we were in winter quarters, and by it we several times received interesting items of news but three days old.  To this enterprise I cannot forbear paying a slight tribute in passing.   The sight of a solitary horseman galloping along the road was of itself nothing remarkable, but when we remember that he was one of a series stretching across the continent, and forming a continuous chain for 2,000 miles through an almost absolute wilderness, the undertaking was justly ranked among the events of the age, and the most striking triumphs of American energy.

Notwithstanding our mail facilities, our astronomical duties, our map-making, and other official duties, there were many weary hours in winter quarters, when we longed for the social enjoyments of home and civilized life.   At times these were relieved by recounting incidents of adventure in life on the plains which had come to our ears, most of which were heard from the former trappers in this region, some of whom are yet to be found.   From all that I hear I conclude that in the palmy days of the fur trade, before the silk hat was invented, and when the beaver was the great object of attraction, the bands of trappers in the west were little more than bands of white Indians, having their Indian wives, and all the paraphernalia of Indian life, moving from place to place, as the beaver became scarce, and subsisting like the Indians upon the products of the country.

Bridger says that one time he did not taste bread for 17 years.

Is it surprising that men leading such a life, not hearing from civilization oftener than once a year, and then only through the fur companies who send to them to get their furs, and supply them with ammunition and Indian trinkets, but who yet retained a recollection of the outer world they had left, should beguile the monotony of camp life by "spinning yarns" in which each tried to excel all others, and which were repeated so often and insisted upon so strenuously that the narrators came to believe them most religiously.

Some of these Munchausen tales struck me as altogether too good to be lost.   One was to this effect: In many parts of the country petrefactions and fossils are very numerous; and, as a consequence, it was claimed that in some locality (I was not able to fix it definitely) a large tract of sage is perfectly petrified, with all the leaves and branches in perfect condition, the general appearance of the plain, being unlike that of the rest of the country, but all is stone, while the rabbits, sage hens, and other animals usually found in such localities are still there, perfectly petrified, and as natural as when they were living; and more wonderful still, these petrified bushes bear the most wonderful fruit—diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds. &c., &c., as large as black walnuts, are found in abundance.  "I tell you, sir," said one narrator, "it is true, for I gathered a quart myself, and sent them down the country."

Another story runs in this wise:   A party of whites were once pursued by Indians so closely that they were forced to hide during the day, and could only travel at night.   In this they were greatly aided by the brilliancy of a large diamond in the face of a neighboring mountain, by the light of which they travelled for three consecutive nights.

I will end these specimen tales by one from Bridger, which partakes so decidedly of a scientific nature that it should not be omitted.   He contends that near the headwaters of the Columbian river, in the fastnesses of the mountains, there is a spring gushing forth from the rocks near the top of the mountain.   The water when it issues forth is cold as ice, but it runs down over the smooth rock so far and so fast that it is hot at the bottom.

I cannot pass over our winter in the mountains without mentioning the prevalent and entire disregard of the laws and regulations in regard to the traffic in ardent spirits in the Indian country.   The evening after my party reached Platte Road, at the Red Buttes, liquor was obtained, and many of its members rendered almost uncontrollable.   After we were established in winter quarters this continued to be a source of constant trouble, notwithstanding we were immediately under the eye of the Indian agent, and it was only by reminding the traders that I knew the law and should enforce it that I was able to preserve anything like discipline in my command.  The sale of liquor in this country is an evil that demands the most effective and persistent remedies.