First "Dude Ranch" Trip to the Untamed West
Never again can there be a hunting party as gay or as risky as the one Sir William Stewart devised in 1843
February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
In Sir William’s party were a French-Canadian hunter, Antoine Clement, who had served with the baronet during his earlier years on the plains, and an exuberant gathering of eager young sports from eastern cities and New Orleans. Among them were two botanists, a youthful doctor from Baltimore, and Matthew C. Field, who had tried the stage and newspaper work, and who would write heady letters of the trip back to the New Orleans Picayune .
Prior to setting off, the expedition accepted a company of traveling companions, two Kelgian priests and their retinue, on their way to a Catholic mission among the newly converted Flathead Indians. The group would accompany the pleasure-seekers across the great South Pass, then turn north and continue alone across present-day Wyoming, Idaho and Montana to their charges in the Mitterroot Valley.
The caravan jumped off on May 22. Along the way, the excursionists reveled in every new impression and made adventures out of the commonplaces of the trail. One man was thrown from a horse and another dragged when he became entangled in his stirrup. The hunters served up exotic prairie dishes: turtle soup, antelope steak and, later, when they came on their first buffalo, sizzling hump ribs and marrow bones. The sports raced and cavorted across the prairie, riding to nearby hillocks to peer over them for first sight of buffalo, but careful not to go too far from the caravan, lest they come on Indians instead.
Fourteen days out. the party was treated to its Hist excitement with Plains Indians. First, they came on three blanketed Pawnees, afoot on the prairie, and apparently wandering around without any object in mind. The trio readily attached themselves to the caravan, plodding along behind the wagons with the hopeful look of scavengers patiently awaiting something to fall their way. Soon afterward, the expedition’s advance riders topped a knoll and almost rode into a war party of 25 hideously painted Osages, Otos and Kaws who had been out fighting the Pawnees. The three vagabond Pawnees saw their enemies and in terror tried to hide behind a large Pittsburgh wagon belonging to the priests. The warriors spied them, and in an instant rushed at them. The expedition might have been witness to a triple scalping on the spot, but the priests, assisted by some of the more experienced members of the party, interceded and secured the release of the Pawnees, who scurried back to the wagons and continued walking on with the camp. At nightfall the frustrated war party gave up and rode away.
The Pawnees, too, disappeared, as the expedition moved to the country of the Sioux and Cheyenne. Chimney Rock, Scott’s Bluff and other landmarks of the route were passed, and the travelers continued to experience the usual occurrences of greenhorns on the trail. They imagined near-brushes with deadly rattlesnakes in the rocks, and were uneasy over the possibility of meeting a grizzly bear.
The party passed Sublette’s old post on the Laramie, and in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains the veterans in the caravan had a reunion with a band of grizzled old mountain men, bringing a pack train of furs east from the Green River country. On the Fourth of July, they celebrated with a “munificent and magnificent jollification.” The party sat down to a huge least that included buffalo hump ribs, side ribs, tongues, marrow bones, sweetbreads, elk steaks, corn dodgers and plum pudding, washed down with juleps, milk punches and “excellent hock.”
There were Sioux and Cheyenne all about the party as it proceeded now west of Port Laramie, but the travelers were beginning to feel themselves rugged frontiersmen and professed not to be afraid. “Ahead are 1,000 Cheyenne warriors,” Field wrote boldly in one of his letters to the Picayune . ”We are 93 strong, well-armed and provisioned, and mean to march through them with all ease and confidence.” The Cheyenne melted away somewhere and were never encountered, but one day eight strapping Brule Sioux chiefs came riding breakneck into camp, angry as hornets.
“They were all in high dudgeon with Captain Stewart,” Field wrote, “as they had understood that the white chief and his young men intended a visit to them at their village, some fifteen miles away, for which occasion they had prepared a grand least, and none of us were there to eat it. Hall the dogs in the village had been killed and cooked, robes had been spread for us in the big lodges, all the squaws had been busy with unusual culinary operations, and not one of us attended the feast. The Indians were very angry.”