Shyenne River to Lake Jessee.

Series: The journey continues to gather information to help determine the route for the future transcontinental railroad. No. 6: (July 5-10, 1853 ). Shyenne River to Lake Jessee.

Following their July 4th celebrations, the various teams renewed their westward progress. From July 5th through 6th the mule trains moved at a slower pace, while the hunters reconnaissance teams were several miles ahead. The prairies were “almost level, with small salt ponds”[1] with plentiful water fowl. During these two days of travel in the prairies, Stevens dismissed the man in charge of caring for the mules and horses as he was not attending to them properly and assigned Mr. Kendall to take charge of the animals. One of the hunters, Mr. Boutineau, had sighted two Indians and plenty of buffalo but was unable to obtain any buffalo. Fortunately, the abundance of ducks kept the trains supplied with meat. Upon his return from hunting Boutineau’s horse and mule were in good condition though tired, however, he was forced to leave Sergeant Rummell behind as his animals were “broken down”. (Stevens 1853)

July 7th had the teams progressing over limestone in which there was evidence of iron. The group saw their destination in the distance, about six miles ahead - the Shyenne river. After resting the animals for an hour, they proceeded another ten miles and struck a camp within two miles of the river. While the grass was fine and the water good, there was no wood to be had for camp fires, so Stevens sent a wagon ahead to the banks of the river to gather the needed fuel for the various messes. There were a couple of oxen brought along on the journey for meat when hunting failed, however, Le Frambois and Menoc were able to kill an old buffalo bull along with a dozen geese. Some messes had been supplying themselves with frogs, to eat and to use as fish bait. “The whole command took supper off of buffalo, and the meat, though old and tough, tasted very good, and saved us an ox which had been destined for slaughter. Several antelopes and wolves were seen to-day.” (Stevens 1853)

On July 8th they began their approach to the crossing of the Shyenne. “Buttes[i] in considerable number are seen ahead, among which the Horse Butte and Butte Micheau are plainly visible.” (Stevens 1853) They set up camp on the east and south of the Shyenne. They named their camp “Guthrie” in honor of the Secretary of the Treasury and the magnetic tent was erected and the astronomical and meteorological parties went to work.


"Shyenne River Valley" Lithographic Print by Del Stanley.


“As the grass here is very indifferent, the main train will cross the river to-morrow afternoon and go ahead some six miles to good grass, while I shall remain with the magnetic party…This afternoon Mr. Tinkham, Paul Boulieu, and Rummell went ahead to fix the position of Butte Miceau Lake Jessie, and to make a reconnaissance of the road. Boulieu found a very good ford some half mile from our camp, which needed little levelling of the steep side banks to make it entirely practicable for our wagons.” (Stevens 1853)

Stevens wanted to remain with the magnetic party because “the astronomical and magnetic observations of the survey have not, as yet, furnished any satisfactory results. The rates of the chronometers[ii] have increased, and no satisfactory data have been obtained by which our longitude can be computed. I feel very anxious on this subject, as I wish to have verified our dead reckoning, as well as determine our position. These unsuccessful results have not been owing to any neglect or indolence on the part of Mr. G. W. Stevens, or his assistant, Mr. Doty.”[2]

The hunters returned to camp later that day with more success than previous days having returned with the choice pieces of a fine fat young buffalo bull, “and we made a delightful meal around the fire of the hunters’ mess of the ribs, marrow bones &c., cooked hunters’ fashion.” (Stevens 1853) Flags were planted on the high hills in the vicinity as signals to Lander so he could follow the Shyenne and find their crossing place. Later that evening a heard of elks appeared on the horizon and numerous wolves also sighted during the night and kept many awake with their constant howling.

July 9th found Stevens feeling unwell, so he remained in his bed for most of the day while an inventory was made of provisions. They found that flour was rapidly diminishing and issue was reduced to half a pound per day per man. Knowing that they were approaching buffalo country, flour would be reduced even further in the immediate future; causing much grumbling among the men. Later that afternoon, the main train was able to cross the Shyenne without unloading the wagons. Mr. Osgood had been detailed to go ahead and establish a good camp site. That evening, “Paul” began singing an Indian song which “Joe” said was in the Sioux language, which caused a panic among the men, several who “came running in and loudly proclaimed that we had but a few minutes left; that we were surrounded by Sioux.” (Stevens 1853) - which Stevens laughed off explaining all was well. This shows, however, the anxiety surrounding Native American relations. Throughout the day of July 10th various teams crossed the Shyenne, heading toward Lake Jessee. “About five miles from camp, all of the various teams within close proximity, Stevens’ group ascended to the top of a high hill, “and for a great distance ahead very square mile seemed to have a heard of buffalo upon it. Their number was variously estimated by the members of the party - some as high as a half million. I do not think it is any exaggeration to set it down at 200,000. I had heard of these animals inhabiting these plains, but I could not realize the truth of these accounts till to-day, when they surpassed anything I could have imagined from the accounts which I had received.” [3]


"Herd of Bison Near Lake Jessee" Lithographic Print by Del Stanley


[1] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Pages 57 [2] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Pages 58 [3] Ibid. Page 59.

[i] Buttes are isolated hills with steep sides and flat tops; similar to but narrower than a mesa. [ii] Chronometers are instruments for measuring accurate time in spite of motion or variations in temperature, humidity and air pressure.

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