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#28 Awaiting the Return of Mr. Tinkham

October 6, 1853. “Lieutenant Donelson moved off this morning on to the route of the Jocko river and Clark’s Fork. Mr. Lander, who had returned to my camp in compliance with instructions, moved down the Bitter Root this afternoon. I sent up to Fort Owen for Lieutenant Mullan, and we remained in camp, passing the time, as patiently as we could, awaiting the arrival of Mr. Tinkham. Meanwhile a huge joint of beef was placed upon the spit, to be in readiness when the explorers should come in, and honest Sergeant Simpson undertook to set as cook. Bending over the fire, with huge drops of perspiration rolling from his glowing red face, a picture was presented, (see sketch,) which Mr. Stanley thought not unworthy of a trial of his pencil…”[1]

GR Plate 32 “Awaiting the Return of Mr. Tinkham”

“…while Osgood jokingly told Simpson he was working then for ‘two dollars a day and roast beef.’ The meat was cooked in the nicest manner, and at five and a half o’clock we sat down to it, having as guests Mr. Tinkham and his party, the returned ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel,’ also Lieutenant Mullan, who arrived in season to join us in our meal.”[2]

Over the course of their meal, Mr. Tinkham provided his verbal account of his trip and the consequences of having proceeded without a guide, including the difficulty of following a proper trail. Their wandering found the team in a low valley surrounded, hemmed in, by inaccessible mountains that were covered with a dense growth of woods. His team had to spend an entire day cutting their way through (with axes) the heavy woods and gained only six miles of progress. Once the forest thinned, his team made better progress to Clark’s Fork, over the ridge and eventually arriving at the Jocko River valley. Early morning of the 6th (that day) the team was able to follow Lieutenant Donelson’s route, passing the Flathead fort, which was unoccupied at that time.

At this point, Stevens enters planned instructions for the various team leaders who would be heading out, again, in different directions, and where their paths would intersect. He further comments on the ease of passage over the mountains at that latitude. Stevens wrote that the favorite time of the year for the return of the Flathead Indians from their buffalo hunt was between Christmas and New Year; that it was only in the winters of unusual severity that the mountains were unpassable. He then writes about “Victor” - a Flathead chief: We have to-day seen at our camp a good deal of Victor, the Flathead chief, celebrated in the book of De Smet*. He appears to be simple-minded, but rather wanting in energy, which might, however, be developed in an emergency.” Through Chief Victor, Stevens obtained a guide to lead Tinkham through the Marias Pass and return back through the Flathead Pass. There was some difficulty overcoming the fears of some of the team, worried that the guide would fall in with parties of Blackfeet young men. That was eventually overcome and assurances given that such a situation would not occur.


Stevens, Isaac I. “Narrative of the Final Report of Explorations For A Route For A Pacific Railroad, Near The Forty-Seventh and Forty-Ninth Parallels of North Latitude, From St. Paul to Puget Sound, by Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, 1855”. Published in 1859 by the Secretary of War, Honorable John B. Floyd.

[1] “Narrative of the Final Report of Explorations For A Route For A Pacific Railroad”, Isaac Stevens, Page 127. [2] Ibid.


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