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On the Columbia River

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Fitz-Hugh Ludlow, “On the Columbia River.” Atlantic Monthly. Volume 14, Number 86 (December 1864). Pp.703-715.


ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER.

I HAVE never known, nor seen any person who did know, why Portland, the metropolis of Oregon, was founded on the Willamette River. I am unaware why the accent is on the penult, and not on the ultimate of Willamette. These thoughts perplexed me more than a well man would have suffered them, all the way from the Callapooya Mountains to Portland. I had been laid up in the backwoods of Oregon,in a district known as the Long-Tom Country,—(and certainly a longer or more tedious Tom never existed since the days of him additionally hight Aquinas,)—by a violent attack of pneumonia, which came near terminating my earthly with my Oregon pilgrimage. I had been saved by the indefatigable nursing of the best friend I ever travelled with,—by wet compresses, and the impossibility of sending for any doctor in the region. I had lived to pay San-Francisco hotel-prices for squatter-cabin accommodations in the rural residence of an Oregon landholder, whose tender mercies I fell into from my saddle when the disease had reached its height, and who explained his unusual charges on the ground that his wife had felt for me like a mother. In the Long-Tom Country maternal tenderness is a highly estimated virtue. It cost Bierstadt and myself sixty dollars, besides the reasonable charge for five days’ board and attendance to a man who ate nothing and was not waited on, with the same amount against his well companion. We had suffered enough extortion before that to exhaust all our native grumblery. So we paid the bill, and entered on our notebooks the following

Mem. “In stopping with anybody in the Long-Tom Country, make a special contract for maternal tenderness, as it will invariably be included in the bill.”

I had ridden on a straw-bed in the wagon of the man whose wife cultivated the maternal virtues, until I was once more able to go along by myself, — paying, you may be sure, maternal-virtue fare for my carriage. During the period that I jolted on the straw, I diversified the intervals between pulmonary spasms with a sick glance at the pages of Bulwer’s “Devereux” and Lever’s “Day’s Ride.” The nature of these works did not fail to attract the attention of my driver. It aroused in him serious concern for my spiritual welfare. He addressed me with gentle firmness, —

“D ‘ye think it’s exackly the way for an immortal creatur’ to be spendin’ his time, to read them novels?”

“Why is it particularly out of the way for an immortal creature?

“Because his higher interests don’t give him no time for sich follies.”

“How can an immortal creature be pressed for time?”

“Wal, you’ll find out some day. G’lang, Jennie.”

I thought I had left this excellent man in a metaphysical bog. But be had not discharged his duty, so he scrambled out and took new ground.

“Now say,—d’ you think it ‘s exackly a Christian way of spendin’ time, yourself?”

“I know a worse way.”

Eh? What‘s that?”

“In the house of a Long-Tom settler who charges five dollars a day extra because his wife feels like a mother.”

He did not continue the conversation. I myself did not close it in anger, but solely to avoid an extra charge, which in the light of experience seemed imminent, for concern about my spiritual welfare. On the maternal-tenderness scale of prices, an indulgence in this luxury would have cleaned out Bierstadt and myself before we effected junction with our drawers of exchange, and I was discourteous as a matter of economy.

We had enjoyed, from the summit of a hill twenty miles south of Salem, one of the most magnificent views in all earthly scenery. Within a single sweep of vision were seven snow-peaks, the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helen’s, with the dim suggestion of an eighth colossal mass, which might be Rainier. All these rose along an arc of not quite half the horizon, measured between ten and eighteen thousand feet in height, were nearly conical, and absolutely covered with snow from base to pinnacle. The Three Sisters, a triplet of sharp, close-set needles, and the grand masses of Hood and Jefferson, showed mountainesque and earthly; it was at least possible to imagine them of us and anchored to the ground we trod on. Not so with the others. They were beautiful, yet awful ghosts,—spirits of dead mountains buried in old-world cataclysms, returning to make on the brilliant azure of noonday blots of still more brilliant white. I cannot express their vague, yet ‘vast and intense splendor, by any other word than incandescence. It was as if the sky had suddenly grown white-hot in patches. When we first looked, we thought St. Helen’s an illusion,—an aurora, or a purer kind of cloud. Presently we detected the luminous chromatic border,—a band of refracted light with a predominant orange-tint, which outlines the higher snow-peaks seen at long range,—traced it down, and grasped the entire conception of the mighty cone. No man of enthusiasm, who reflects what this whole sight must have been, will wonder that my friend and I clasped each other’s hands before it, and thanked God we had lived to this day.

We had followed down the beautiful valley of the Willamette to Portland, finding everywhere glimpses of autumnal scenery as delicious as the hills and meadows of the Housatonic. Putting up in Portland at the Dennison House, we found the comforts of civilization for the first time since leaving Sisson’s, and a great many kind friends warmly interested in furthering our enterprise. I have said that I do not know why Portland was built on the Willamette. The point of the promontory between the Willamette and the Columbia seems the proper place for the chief commercial city of the State; and Portland is a dozen miles south of this, up the tributary stream. But Portland does very well as it is,—growing rapidly in business-importance, and destined, when the proper railway-communications are established, to be a sort of Glasgow to the London of San Francisco. When we were there, there was crying need of a telegraph to the latter place. That need has now been supplied, and the construction of the no less desirable railroad must follow speedily. The country between Shasta Peak and’ Salem is at present virtually without an outlet to market. No richer fruit and grain region exists on the Pacific slope of the continent. No one who has not travelled through it can imagine the exhaustless fertility which will be stimulated and the results which will be brought forth, when a continuous line of railroad unites Sacramento or even Tehama with the metropolis of Oregon.

Among the friends who welcomed us to Portland were Messrs. Ainsworth and Thompson, of the Oregon Steamship Company. By their courtesy we were afforded a trip up the Columbia River, in the pleasantest quarters and under the most favorable circumstances.

We left Portland the evening before their steamer sailed, taking a boat belonging to a different line, that we might pass a night at Fort Vancouver, and board the Company’s boat when it touched at that place the next morning. We recognized our return from rudimentary society to civilized surroundings and a cultivated interest in art and literature, when the captain of the little steamer Vancouver refused to let either of us buy a ticket, because he had seen Bierstadt on the upper deck at work with his sketchbook, and me by his side engaged with my journal.

The banks of the Willamette below Portland are low and cut up by small tributaries or communicating lagoons which divide them into islands. The largest of these, measuring its longest border, has an extent of twenty miles, and is called Sauveur’s. Another, called “Nigger Tom’s,” was famous as the seigniory of a blind African nobleman so named, living in great affluence of salmon and whiskey with three or four devoted Indian wives, who had with equal fervor embraced the doctrine of Mormonism and the profession of day’s-washing to keep their liege in luxury due his rank. The land along the shore of the river was usually well timbered, and in the level openings looked as fertile as might he expected of an alluvial first-bottom frequently overflowed. At its junction with the Columbia the Willamette is about three-quarters of a mile in width, and the Columbia may be half a mile wider, though at first sight the difference seems more than that from the tributary’s entering the main river at an acute angle and giving a diagonal view to the opposite shore. Before we passed into the Columbia, we had from the upper deck a magnificent glimpse to the eastward of Hood’s spotless snow-cone rosied with the reflection of the dying sunset. Short and hurried as it was, this view of Mount Hood was unsurpassed for beauty by any which we got in its closer vicinity and afterward, though nearness added rugged grandeur to the sight.

Six miles’ sail between low and uninteresting shores brought us from the mouth of the Willamette to Fort Vancouver, on the Washington-Territory side of the river. Here we debarked for the night, making our way, in an ambulance sent for us from the post, a distance of two minutes’ ride, to the quarters of General Alvord, the commandant. Under his hospitable roof we experienced, for the first time in several months and many hundred miles, the delicious sensation of a family-dinner, with a refined lady at the head of the table and well-bred children about the sides. A very interesting guest of General Alvord’s was Major Lugenbeel, who had spent his life in the topographical service of the United States, and combined the culture of a student with an amount of information concerning the wildest portions of our continent which I have never seen surpassed nor heard communicated in style more fa mating. lie had lately come from the John-Day, Boise, and Snake-River Mines, where the Government was surveying routes of emigration, and pronounced the wealth of the region exhaustless.

After a pleasant evening and a good night’s rest, we took the Oregon Company’s steamer, Wilson G. Hunt, and proceeded up the river, leaving Fort Vancouver about seven a. m. To our surprise, the Hunt proved an old acquaintance. She will be remembered by most people who during the last twelve years have been familiar with the steamers hailing from New York Bay. Though, originally built for river-service such as now employs her, she came around from the Hudson to the Columbia by way of Cape Horn. By lessening her top-hamper and getting new stanchions for her perilous voyage, she performed it without accident.

Such a vivid souvenir of the Hudson reminded me of an assertion I had often heard, that the Columbia resembles it. There is some ground for the comparison. Each of the rivers breaks through a noble mountain-system in its passage to the sea, and the walls of its avenue are correspondingly grand. In point of variety the banks of the .Hudson far surpass those of the Columbia,—trap, sandstone, granite, limestone, and slate succeeding each other with a rapidity which presents ever new outlines to the eye of the tourist. The scenery of the Columbia, between Fort Vancouver and the Dalles, is a sublime monotone. Its banks are basaltic crags or mist-wrapt domes, averaging below the cataract from twelve to fifteen hundred feet in height, and thence decreasing to the Dalles, where the escarpments, washed by the river, are low trap bluffs on a level with the steamer’s walking-beam, and the mountains have .retired, bare and brown, like those of the great continental basin farther south, toward Mount Hood in that direction, and Mount Adams on the north. If the Palisades were quintupled in height, domed instead of level on their upper surfaces, extended up the whole navigable course of the Hudson, and were thickly clad with evergreens wherever they were not absolutely precipitous, the Hudson would much more closely resemble the Columbia.

I was reminded of another Eastern river, which I had never heard mentioned, in the same company. As we ascended toward the cataract, the Columbia water assumed a green tint as deep and positive as that of the Niagara between the Falls and Lake Ontario. Save that its surface was not so perturbed with eddies and marbled with foam, it resembled the Niagara perfectly.

We boarded the Hunt in a dense fog, and went immediately to breakfast. With our last cup of coffee the fog cleared away and showed us a sunny vista up the river, bordered by the columnar and mural trap formations above mentioned, with an occasional bold promontory jutting out beyond the general face of the precipice, its shaggy fell of pines and firs all aflood with sunshine to the very crown. The finest of these promontories was called Cape Horn, the river bending around it to the northeast. The channel kept mid-stream with considerable uniformity,—but now and then, as in the highland region of the Hudson, made a détour to avoid some bare, rocky island. Several of these islands were quite columnar,—being evidently the emerged capitals of basaltic prisms, like the other uplifts on the banks. A fine instance of this formation was the stately and perpendicular “Rooster Rock” on the Oregon side, but not far from Cape Horn. Still another was called “Lone Rock,” and rose from the middle of the river. These came upon our view within the first hour after breakfast, in company with a slender, but graceful stream, which fell into the river over a sheer wall of basalt seven hundred feet in height. This little cascade reminded us of Po-ho-nó, or The Bridal Veil, near the lower entrance of the Great Yo-Semite.

As the steamer rounded a point into each new stretch of silent, green, and sunny river, we sent a flock of geese or ducks hurrying cloudward or shoreward. Here, too, for the first time in a state of absolute Nature, I saw that royal bird, the swan, escorting his mate and cygnets on an airing or a luncheon-tour. It was a beautiful sight, though I must confess that his Majesty and all the royal family are improved by civilization. One of the great benefits of civilization is, that it restricts its subjects to doing what they can do best. Park-swans seldom fly,—and flying is something that swans should never attempt, unless they wish to be taken for geese. I felt actually désillusiouné, when a princely cortége, which had been rippling their snowy necks in the sunshine, clumsily lifted themselves out of the water and slanted into the clouds, stretching those necks straight as a gun-barrel. Every line of grace seemed wire-drawn out of them in a moment. Song is as little their forte as flight,—barring the poetic license open to moribund members of their family,—and I must confess, that, if this privilege indicate approaching dissolution, the most intimate friends of the specimens we heard have no cause for apprehension. An Adirondack loon fortifying his utterance by a cracked fish-horn is the nearest approach to a healthy swan-song. On the whole, the wild swan cannot afford to “pause in his cloud” for all the encomiums of Mr. Tennyson, and had better come down immediately to the dreamy water-level where he floats dream within dream, like a stable vapor in a tangible sky. Anywhere else he seems a court-beauty wandering into metaphysics.

Alternating with these swimmers came occasional flocks of shag, a bird belonging to the cormorant tribe, and here and there a gull, though these last grew rarer as we increased our distance from the sea. I was surprised to notice a fine seal playing in the channel, twenty miles above Fort Vancouver, but learned that it was not unusual for these animals to ascend nearly to the cataract. Both the whites and Indians scattered along the river-banks kill them for their skin and blubber,—going out in boats for the purpose. My informant’s boat had on one occasion taken an old seal nursing her calf. When the dam was towed to shore, the young one followed her, occasionally putting its fore-flippers on the gunwale to rest, like a Newfoundland dog, and behaving with such innocent familiarity that malice was disarmed. It came ashore with the boat’s-crew and the body of its parent; no one had the heart to drive it away; so it stayed and was a pet of the camp from that time forward. After a while the party moved its position a distance of several miles while Jack was away in the river on a fishing-excursion, but there was no eluding him. The morning after the shift he came wagging into camp, a faithful and much-overjoyed, but exceedingly battered and used-up seal. He had evidently sought his friends by rock and flood the entire night preceding.

Occasionally the lonely river-stretches caught a sudden human interest in some gracefully modelled canoe gliding out with a crew of Chinook Indians from the shadow of a giant promontory, propelled by a square sail learned of the whites. Knowing the natural, ingrained laziness of Indians, one can imagine the delight with which they comprehended that substitute for the paddle. After all, this may perhaps be an ill-natured thing to say. Who does like to drudge when he can help it? Is not this very Wilson G. Hunt a triumph of human laziness, vindicating its claim to be the lord of matter by an ingenuity doing labor’s utmost without sweat? After all, nobody but a fool drudges for other reason than that he may presently stop drudging.

At short intervals along the narrow strip of shore under the more gradual steeps, on the lower ledges of the basaltic precipices, and on little rook-islands in the river, appeared rude-looking stacks and scaffoldings where the Indians had packed their salmon. They left it in the open air without guard, as fearless of robbers as if the fish did not constitute their almost entire subsistence for the winter. And within their own tribes they have justification for this fearlessness. Their standard of honor is in most respects curiously adjustable,—but here virtue is defended by the necessities of life.

In the immediate vicinity of the cured article (I say “cured,” though the process is a mere drying without smoke or salt) may be Seen the apparatus contrived for getting it in the fresh state. This is the scaffolding from which the salmon are caught. It is a horizontal platform shaped like a capital A, erected upon a similarly framed, but perpendicular set of braces, with a projection of several feet over the river-brink at a place where the water runs rapidly close in-shore. If practicable, the constructor modifies his current artificially, banking it inward with large stones, so as to form a sort of sluice in which passing fish will be more completely at his mercy. At the season of their periodic ascent, salmon swarm in all the rivers of our Pacific coast; the Columbia and Willamette are alive with them for a long distance above the cascades of the one and the Oregon-City fall of the other. The fisherman stands, nearly or quite naked, at the edge of his scaffolding, armed with a net extended at the end of a long pole, and so ingeniously contrived that the weight of the salmon and a little dexterous management draw its mouth shut on the captive like a purse as soon as he has entered. A helper stands behind the fisherman to assist in raising the haul,—to give the fish a tap on the nose, which kills him instantly,—and finally to carry him ashore to be split and dried, without any danger of his throwing himself back into the water from the hands of his captors, as might easily happen by omitting the coup-de-grace. Another method of catching salmon, much in vogue among the Sacramento and Pitt-River tribes, but apparently less employed by the Indians of the Columbia, is harpooning with a very clever instrument constructed after this wise. A hard-wood shaft is neatly, but not tightly, fitted into the socket of a sharp-barbed spear-head carved from bone. Through a hole drilled in the spear-head a stout cord of deer-sinew is fastened by one end, its other being secured to the shaft near its insertion. The salmon is struck by this weapon in the manner of the ordinary fish-spear; the head slips off the shaft as soon as the barbs lodge, and the harpoon virtually becomes a fishing-rod, with the sinew for a line. This arrangement is much more manageable than the common spear, as it greatly diminishes the chances of losing fish and breaking shafts.

There can scarcely be a more sculpturesque sight than that of a finely formed, well-grown young Indian struggling on his scaffold with an unusually powerful fish. Every muscle of his wiry frame stands out in its turn in unveiled relief and you see in him attitudes of grace and power which will not let you regret the Apollo Belvedere or the Gladiator. The only pity is that this ideal Indian is a rare being. The Indians of this coast and river are divided into two broad classes,—the Fish Indians, and the Meat Indians. The latter, ceteris paribus, are much the finer race, derive the greater portion of their subsistence from the chase, and possess the athletic mind and body which result from active methods of winning a livelihood. The former are, to a great extent, victims of that generic and hereditary tabes mesenterica which produces the peculiar pot-bellied and spindle-shanked type of savage; their manners are milder; their virtues and vices are done in water-color, as comports with their source of supply. There are some tribes which partake of the habits of both classes, living in mountain-fastnesses part of the year by the bow and arrow, hut coming down to the river in the salmon-season for an addition to their winter bill-of-fare. Anywhere rather than among the pure Fish Indians is the place to look for savage beauty. Still these tribes have fortified their feebleness by such a cultivation of their ingenuity as surprises one seeing for the first time their well-adapted tools, comfortable lodges, and, in some cases, really beautiful canoes. In the last respect, however, the Indians nearer the coast surpass those up the Columbia,—some of their carved and painted canoes equalling the “crackest” of shell-boats in elegance of line and beauty of ornament.

In a former article devoted to the Great Yo-Semite I had occasion to remark that Indian legend, like all ancient poetry, often contains a scientific truth embalmed in the spices of metaphor, — or, to vary the figure, that Mudjekeewis stands holding the lantern for Agassiz and Dana to dig by.

Coming to the Falls of the Columbia, we find a case in point. Nearly equidistant from the longitudes of Fort Vancouver and Mount Hood, the entire Columbia River falls twenty feet over a perpendicular wall of basalt, extending, with minor deviations from the right angle, entirely between-shores, a breadth of about a mile. The height of Niagara and the close compression of its vast volume make it a grander sight than the Falls of the Columbia, — but no other cataract known to me on this continent rivals it for an instant. The great American Falls of Snake are much loftier and more savage than either, but their volume is so much less as to counterbalance those advantages. Taking the Falls of the Columbia all in all,—including their upper and lower rapids,—it must be confessed that they exhibit every phase of tormented water in its beauty of color or grace of form, its wrath or its whim.

The Indians have a tradition that the river once followed a uniform level from the Dalles to the sea. This tradition states that Mounts Hood and St. Helen’s are husband and wife,—whereby is intended that their tutelar divinities stand in that mutual relation; that in comparatively recent times there existed a rocky bridge across the Columbia at the present site of the cataract, and that across this bridge Hood and St. Helen’s were wont to pass for interchange of visits; that, while this bridge existed, there was a free subterraneous passage under it for the river and the canoes of the tribes (indeed, this tradition is so universally credited as to stagger the skeptic by a mere calculation of chances); that, on a certain occasion, the mountainous pair, like others not mountainous, came to high words, and during their altercation broke the bridge down; falling into the river, this colossal Rialto became a dam, and ever since that day the upper river has been backed to its present level, submerging, vast tracts of country far above its original bed.

I notice that excellent geological authorities are willing to treat this legend respectfully, as containing in symbols the probable key to the natural phenomena. Whether the original course of the Columbia at this place was through a narrow cañon or under an actual roof of rock, the adjacent material has been at no very remote date toppled into it to make the cataract and alter the bed to its present level. Both hood and St. Helen’s are volcanic cones. The latter has been seen to smoke within the last twelve years. It is not unlikely that during the last few centuries some intestine disturbance may have occurred along the axis between the two, sufficient to account for the precipitation of that mass of rock which now forms the dam. That we cannot refer the cataclysm to a very ancient date seems to be argued by the state of preservation in which we still find the stumps of the celebrated “submerged forest,” extending a long distance up the river above the Falls.

At the foot of the cataract we landed from the steamer on the Washington side of the river, and found a railroad-train waiting to do our portage. It was a strange feeling, that of whirling along by steam where so few years before the Indian and the trader had toiled through the virgin forest, bending under the weight of their canoes. And this is one of the characteristic surprises of American scenery everywhere.’ You cannot isolate yourself from the national civilization. In a Swiss châlet you may escape from all memories of Geneva among the Grampians you find an entirely different set of ideas from those of Edinburgh but the same enterprise which makes itself felt in New York and Boston starts up for your astonishment out of all the fastnesses of the continent. Virgin Nature wooes our civilization to wed her, and no obstacles can conquer the American fascination. In our journey through the wildest parts of this country, we were perpetually finding patent washing-machines among the chaparral,—canned fruit in the desert,—Voigtlander’s field-glasses on the snow-peak, —lemon-soda in the cañon,—men who were sure a railroad would be run by their cabin within ten years, in every spot where such a surprise was most remarkable.

The portage-road is six miles in length, leading nearly all the way close along the edge of the North Bluff, which, owing to a recession of the mountains, seems here only from fifty to eighty feet in height. From the windows of the train we enjoyed an almost uninterrupted view of the rapids, which are only less grand and forceful in their impression than those above Niagara. They are broken up into narrow channels by numerous bold and naked islands of trap. Through these the water roars, hails, and, striking projections, spouts upward in jets whose plumy top blows off in sheets of spray, it is tormented into whirlpools; it is combed into fine threads, and strays whitely over a rugged ledge like old men’s hair it takes all curves of grace and arrow-flights of force; it is water doing all that water can do or be made to do. The painter who spent a year in making studies of it would not throw his time away; when he had finished, he could not misrepresent water under any phases.

At the upper end of the portage-road we found another and smaller steamer awaiting us, with equally kind provision for our comfort made by the Company and the captain. In both steamers we were accorded excellent opportunities for drawing and observation, getting seats in the pilot-house.

Above the rapids the river-banks were bold and rocky. The stream changed from its recent Niagara green to a brown like that of the Hudson; and under its waters, as we hugged the Oregon side, could be seen a submerged alluvial plateau, studded thick with drowned stumps, here and there lifting their splintered tops above the water, and measuring from the diameter of a sapling to that of a trunk which might once have been one hundred feet high.

Between Fort Vancouver and the cataract the banks of the river seem nearly as wild as on the day they were discovered by the whites. On neither the Oregon nor the Washington side is there any settlement visible,—a small wood-wharf, or the temporary hut of a salmon-fisher, being the only sign of human possession. At the Falls we noticed a single white house standing in a commanding position high up on the wooded ledges of the Oregon shore; and the taste shown in placing and constructing it was worthy of a Hudson-River landholder. This is, perhaps, the first attempt at a distinct country-residence made in Oregon, and belongs to a Mr. Olmstead, who was one of the earliest settlers and projectors of public improvements in the State. He was actively engaged in the building of the first portage-railroad, which ran on the Oregon side. The entire interests of both have, I believe, been concentrated in the newer one, and the Oregon road, after building itself by feats of business-energy and ingenuity known only to American pioneer enterprise, has fallen into entire or comparative disuse.

Above the Falls we found as unsettled a river-margin as below. Occasionally, some bright spot of color attracted us, relieved against the walls of trap or glacis of evergreen, and this upon nearer approach or by the glass was resolved into a group of river Indians,—part with the curiously compressed foreheads of the Flat-head tribe, their serene nakedness draped with blankets of every variety of hue, from fresh flaming red to weather-beaten army-blue, and adorned as to their cheeks with smutches of the cinnabar-rouge which from time immemorial has been a prime article of import among the fashionable native circles of the Columbia,— he other part round-headed, and (I have no doubt it appears a perfect sequitur to the Flat-head conservatives) therefore slaves. The captive in battle seems more economically treated ‘among these savages than is common anywhere else in the Indian regions we traversed, (though I suppose slavery is to some extent universal throughout the tribes,) —the captors properly arguing, that, so long as they can make a man fish and boil pot for them, it is a very foolish waste of material to kill him.

At intervals above the Falls we passed several small islands of especial interest as being the cemeteries of river-tribes. The principal, called “Mimitus,” was sacred as the resting-place of a very noted chief. I have forgotten his name, but I doubt whether his friends see the Atlantic” regularly; so that oversight is of less consequence. The deceased is entombed like a person of quality, in a wooden mausoleum having something the appearance of a log-cabin upon which pains have been expended, and containing, with the human remains, robes, weapons, baskets, canoes, and all the furniture of Indian ménage, to an extent which among the tribes amounts to a fortune. This sepulchral idea is a clear-headed one, and worthy of Eastern adoption. Old ladies with lace and nieces, old gentlemen with cellars and nephews, might be certain that the solace which they received in life’s decline was purely disinterested, if about middle age they should announce that their Point and their Port were going to Mount Auburn with them.

The river grew narrower, its banks becoming low, perpendicular walls of basalt, water-worn at the base, squarely cut and castellated at the top, and bare everywhere as any pile of masonry. The hills beyond became naked, or covered only with short grass of the grama kind and dusty-gray sage-brush. Simultaneously they lost some of their previous basaltic characteristics, running into more convex outlines, which receded from the river. We could not fail to recognize the fact that we had crossed one of the great thresholds of the continent,—were once more east of the Sierra-Nevada axis, and in the great central plateau which a few months previous, and several hundred miles farther south, we had crossed amid so many pains and perils by the Desert route to Washoe. From the grizzly mountains before us to the sources of the Snake Fork stretched an almost uninterrupted wilderness of sage. The change in passing to this region from the fertile and timbered tracts of the Cascades and the coast is more abrupt than can be imagined by one familiar with our delicately modulated Eastern seen cry. This sharpness of definition seems to characterize the entire border of the plateau. Five hours of travel between Washoe and Sacramento carry one out of the naked-cit stone heap into the grandest forest of the continent.

As we emerged from the confinement of the nearer ranges, Mount Hood, hitherto visible only through occasional rifts, loomed broadly into sight almost from base to peak, covered with a mantle of perennial snow scarcely less complete to our near inspection than it had seemed from our observatory south of Salem. Only here and there toward its lower rim a tatter in it revealed the giant’s rugged brown muscle of volcanic rock. The top of the mountain, like that of Shasta, in direct sunlight is an opal. So far above the line of thaw, the snow seems to have accumulated until by its own weight it has condensed into a more compactly crystalline structure than ice itself and the reflections from it, as I stated of Shasta, seem rather emanations from some interior source of light. The look is distinctly opaline, or, as a poet has called the opal, like “a pearl with a soul in it.”

About five o’clock in the afternoon we reached the Oregon town and mining-depot of Dalles City. A glance at any good War-Department map of Oregon and Washington Territories will explain the importance of this place, where considerably previous to the foundation of the present large and growing settlement there existed a fort and trading-post of the same name. It stands, as we have said, at the entrance to the great pass by which the Columbia breaks through the mountains to the sea. Just west of it occurs an interruption to the navigation of the river, practically as formidable as the first cataract. This is the upper rapids and “the Dalles” proper, — presently to be described in detail. The position of the town, at one end of a principal portage, and at the easiest door to the Pacific, renders it a natural entrepot between the latter and the great central plateau of the continent. This it must have been in any case for fur-traders and emigrants, but its business has been vastly increased by the discovery of that immense mining-area distributed along the Snake River and its tributaries as far east as the Rocky Mountains. The John-Day, Boisé, and numerous other tracts both in Washington and Idaho Territories draw most of their supplies from this entrepot, and their gold comes down to it either for direct use in the outfit-market, or to be passed down the river to Portland and the San-Francisco mint.

In a late article upon the Pacific Railroad, I laid no particular stress upon the mines of Washington and Idaho as sources of profit to the enterprise. This was for the reason that the Snake River seems the proper outlet to much of the auriferous region, and this route may be susceptible of improvement by an alternation of portages, roads, and water-levels, which for a long time to come will form a means of communication more economical and rapid than a branch to the Pacific Road. The northern mines east of the Rocky range will find themselves occupying somewhat similar relations to the Missouri River, which rises, as one might almost say, out of the same spring as the Snake, — certainly out of the same ridge of the Rocky Mountains.

“The Dalles” is a town of one street, built close along the edge of a bluff of trap thirty or forty feet high, perfectly perpendicular, level on the top as if it had been graded for a city, and with depth of water at its base for the heaviest draught boats on the river. In fact, the whole water-front is’ a natural quay,—which wants nothing but time to make it alive with steam-elevators, warehouses, and derricks. To Portland and the Columbia it stands much as St. Louis to New Orleans and the Mississippi. There is no reason why it should not some day have a corresponding business, for whose wharfage-accommodation it has even greater natural advantages.

Architecturally, the Dalles cannot be said to lean very heavily on the side of beauty. The houses are mostly two-story structures of wood, occupied by all the trades and professions which flock to a new mining-entrepot. Outfit-merchants, blacksmiths, printing-office, (for there is really a very well-conducted daily at the Dalles,) are cheek by jowl with doctors, tailors, and Cheap Johns, —the latter being only less merry and thrifty over their incredible sacrifices in everything, from pins to corduroy, than that predominant class of all, the bar-keepers themselves. The town was in a state of bustle when our steamer touched the wharf; it bustled more and more from there to the Umatilla House, where we stopped; the hotel was one organized bustle in bar and dining-room; and bed-time brought no hush. The Dalles, like the Irishman, seemed sitting up all night to be fresh for an early start in the morning.

We found everybody interested in gold. Crowds of listeners, with looks of incredulity or enthusiasm, were gathered around the party in the bar-room which had last come’ in from the newest of the new mines, and a man who had seen the late Fort-Hall discoveries was “treated” to that extent that he might have become intoxicated a dozen times without expense to himself. The charms of the interior were still further suggested by placards posted on every wall, offering rewards for the capture of a person who on the great gold route had lately committed some of the grimmest murders and most talented robberies known in any branch of Newgate enterprise. I had for supper a very good omelet, (considering, its distance from the culinary centres of the universe,) and a Dalles editorial debating the claims of several noted cut-throats to the credit of the operations ascribed to them,—feeling that in the ensemble I was enjoying both the exotic and the indigenous luxuries of our virgin soil.

After supper and a stroll I returned to the ladies’ parlor of the Umatilla House, rubbed my eyes in vain to dispel the illusion of a piano and a carpet at this jumping-off place of civilization, and sat down at a handsome centre-table to write up my journal. I had reviewed my way from Portland as far as Fort Vancouver, when another illusion happened to me in the shape of a party of gentlemen and ladies, in ball-dresses, dress-coats, white kids, and elaborate hair, who entered the parlor to wait for further accessions from the hotel. They were on their way with a band of music to give some popular citizen a surprise-party. The .popular citizen never got the fine edge of that surprise. I took it off for him. If it were not too much like a little Cockney on Vancouver’s Island who used the phrase on all occasions, from stubbing his toe to the death of a Cabinet Lord, I should say, “I never was more astonished in me life!”

None of them had ever seen me before,—and with my books and maps about me, I may have looked like some public, yet mysterious character. I felt a pleasant sensation of having interest taken in me, and, wishing to make an ingenuous return, looked up with a casual smile at one of the party. Again to my surprise, this proved to be a very charming young lady, and I timidly became aware that the others were equally pretty in their several styles. Not knowing what else to do under the circumstances, I smiled again, still more casually. An equal uncertainty as to alternative set the ladies smiling quite across the row, and then, to my relief, the gentlemen joined them, making it pleasant for us all. A moment later we were engaged in general conversation,—starting from the bold hypothesis, thrown out by one of the gentlemen, that perhaps I was going to Boisé, and proceeding, by a process of elimination, to the accurate knowledge of what I was going to do, if it was n’t that. I enjoyed one of the most cheerful bits of social relaxation I had found since crossing the Missouri, and nothing but my duty to my journal prevented me, when my surprise-party left, from accompanying them, by invitation, under the brevet title of Professor, to the house of the popular citizen, who, I was assured, would be glad to see me. I certainly should have been glad to see him, if be was anything like those guests of his who had so ingenuously cultivated me in a far land of strangers, where a man might have been glad to form the acquaintance of his mother-in-law. This is not the way people form acquaintances in New York but if I had wanted that, why not have stayed there? As a cosmopolite, and on general principles of being, I prefer the Dalles way. I have no doubt I should have found in that circle of spontaneous recognitions quite as many people who stood wear and improved on intimacy as were ever vouchsafed to me by social indorsement from somebody else. We are perpetually blaming our heads of Government Bureaus for their poor knowledge of character,—their subordinates, we say, are never pegs in the right holes. If we understood our civilized system of introductions, we could not rationally expect anything else. The great mass of polite mankind are trained not to know character, but to take somebody else’s voucher for it. Their acquaintances, most of their friendships, come to them through a succession of indorsers, none of whom may have known anything of the goodness of the paper. A sensible man, conventionally introduced to his fellow, must always wonder why the latter does not turn him around to look for signatures in chalk down the back of his coat for he knows that Brown indorsed him over to Jones, and Jones negotiated him with Johnson, through a succession in which perhaps two out of a hundred took pains to know whether he represented metal. You do not find the people of new countries making mistakes in character. Every man is his own guaranty,—and if he has no just cause to suspect himself bogus, there will he true pleasure in a frank opening of himself to the examination and his eyes for the study of others. Not to be accused of intruding radical reform under the guise of belles-lettres, let me say that I have no intention of introducing this innovation at the East.

After a night’s rest, Bierstadt spent nearly the entire morning in making studies of hood from an admirable post of observation at the top of one of the highest foot-hills,—a point several miles southwest of the town, which he reached under guidance of an old Indian interpreter and trapper. His work upon this mountain was in sonic respects the best he ever accomplished, being done with a loving faithfulness hardly called out by Hood’s only rival, the Peak of Shasta. The result of his hood studies, as seen in the nearly completed painting, has a superiority corresponding to that of the studies themselves, possessing excellences not included even in the well-known “Lander’s Peak.”

In the afternoon, we were provided, by the courtesy of the Company, with a special train on the portage-railroad connecting Dalles City with a station known as Celilo. This road had but recently conic into full operation, and was now doing an immense freight-business between the two river-levels separated by the intervening “Dalles.” It seemed somewhat longer than the road around the Falls. Its exact length has escaped me, but I think it about eight or nine miles.

With several officers of the road, who vied in giving us opportunities of comfort and information, we set out, about three p.m.., from a station on the water-front below the town, whence we trundled through the long main street, and were presently shot forth upon a wilderness of sand. An occasional trap uplift rose on our right, but, as we were on the same bluff-level as Dalles City, we met no lofty precipices. We were constantly in view of the river, separated from its Oregon brink at the farthest by about half a mile of the dreariest dunes of shifting sand ever seen by an amateur in deserts. The most arid tracts along the Platte could not rival this. The wind was violent when we left Dalles City, and possessed the novel faculty of blowing simultaneously from all points of the compass. It increased with every mile of advance, both in force and faculty, until at Celilo we found it a hurricane. The gentlemen of the Company who attended us told us, as seemed very credible, that the highest winds blowing here (compared with which the present might be styled a zephyr) banked the track so completely out of sight with sand that a large force of men had to be steadily employed in shovelling out trains that had been brought to a dead halt, and clearing a way for the slow advance of others. I observed that the sides of some of the worst sand-cuts had been planked over to prevent their sliding down upon the road. Occasionally, the sand blew in such tempests as to sift through every cranny of the cars, and hide the river-glimpses like a momentary fog. But this discomfort was abundantly compensated by the wonderfully interesting scenery on the Columbia side of our train.

The river for the whole distance of the portage is a succession of magnificent rapids, low cataracts, and narrow, sinuous channels,—the last known to the old French traders as “Dales” or “Troughs,” and to us by the very natural corruption of “Dalles.” The alternation between these phases is wonderfully abrupt. At one point, about half-way between Dalles City and Celilo, the entire volume of the Columbia River (and how vast that is may he better understood by following up on the map the river itself and all its tributaries) is crowded over upon the Oregon shore through a passage not more than fifty yards in width, between perfectly naked and perpendicular precipices of basalt. Just beyond this mighty mill-race, where one of the grandest floods of the continent is sliding in olive-green light and umber shadow, smoothly and resistlessly as time, the river is a mile wide, and plunges over a rage ed wall of trap blocks, reaching, as at the lower cataract, from shore to shore. In other neighboring, places it attains even a greater width, but up to Celilo is never out of torment from the obstructions of its bed. Not even the rapids of Niagara can vie with these in their impression of power, and only the Columbia itself can describe the lines of grace made by its water, rasped to spray, churned to froth, tired into languid sheets that flow like sliding glass, or shot up in fountains frayed away to rainbows on their edges, as it strikes some basalt hexagon rising in mid-stream. The Dalles and the Upper Cataracts are still another region where the artist might stay for a year’s University-course in water-painting.

At Celilo we found several steamers, in register resembling our second of the day previous. They measured on the average about three hundred tons. One of them had just got down from Walla Walla, with a large party of miners from gold-tracts still farther off taking down five hundred thousand dollars in dust to Portland and San Francisco. We were very anxious to accept the Company’s extended invitation, and push our investigations to or even up the Snake River. But the expectation that the San-Francisco steamer would reach Portland in a day or two, and that we should immediately return by her to California, turned us most reluctantly science which would have enabled us to down the river after Bierstadt and I had accomplish one of the most interesting side-trips in our whole plan of travel. While this pleasure still awaited us, and none in particular of any kind seemed present, save the in-door courtesies of our Portland friends, it was still among the memories of a lifetime to have seen the Columbia in its Cataracts and its Dalles. made the fullest notes and sketches attainable. Bad weather on the coast falsified our expectations. For a week we were rain-bound in Portland, unable to leave our hotel for an hour at a time without being drenched by the floods which just now set in for the winter season, and regretting the lack of that prescience which would have enabled us to accomplish one of the most interesting side-trips of our whole plan of travel. While this pleasure still awaited us, and none in particular of any kind seemed present, save the in-door courtesies of our Portland friends, it was still among the memories of a lifetime to have seen the Columbia in its Cataracts and its Dalles.

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