- Historic Sites
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
The most exciting events of the long journey to the mountains were the buffalo hunts under the expert guidance of Joe Pourier. The first sight of the shaggy game on the hills above the Platte had been the most memorable. Riding one day miles ahead of the caravan with Joe, they had seen two specks, like mice, way off on the rolling plains “at the very kissing of sky and land.” The spots were moving quickly, and foe casually informed them that when buffalo moved that rapidly, it must be because Indians were chasing them. The tourists immediately became frightened, and suggested a hasty retreat to the protection of the caravan, but Joe determinedly drew the cover off his rifle, dismounted to tighten the girth of the mule he was riding and muttered, “Sacre jeengo! Ze red rascal drive off all cow! By damn, we ees four—nuff for whole nation rascal savage. We must have meat zis day.”
With that staunch pronouncement, the Kreuch Canadian hunter hastened forward at a trot, the tourists gripping their rifles nervously and following fearfully in a little knot. Suddenly Joe stopped and pointed. The buffalo were rising into the air. As the men watched incredulously, the hunter started to laugh. The specks were crows. Relieved, the tourists started to laugh too. It had been a good joke.
Riding more easily now. they soon saw the real tiling, a small group of hulls grazing quietly on a slope beneath a rocky eminence. They rode around the bluff, hobbled their mules and, while Joe circled back to the buffalo, the tourists climbed to the top to see the sport. From their vantage point, they watched while Joe fastened a coronet of shrubs on his head, then crawled on his hands and knees up a gully toward the unsuspecting bulls. When he was within range, he rose slowly to a sitting position, made a rest for his ride by planting his ramrod in the ground, aimed at a Iat bull and fired. He dropped Hat right away, as the ounce ball hit the beast.
Field, like so many other Plains travelers before and after, could not resist describing in detail his first sight of a dying buffalo: “The bull was up in a moment, ‘all standing’—the other two hall-rose and glared about. The stricken animal lowered his head, then lilted it again and stared, turned and moved away a lew steps, stopped and looked around again, ran, paused, ran again, walked slowly, stopped, trembled, stared piteously at his companions, his head dropped, his fore knees bent tinder him, his enormous head struck the ground heavily, and he rolled over on his side.”
As the party approached its goal, the Wind River Mountains, Sir William dispatched three men to Jim Bridget’s newly constructed fort on Black’s Fork of the Green River, 200 miles away, to tell Hridger, the trappers and Indians in this area to meet with them for an old-time rendezvous at the little lake in the mountains. Early in August a group of Indians and whites set out from the fort for the festive reunion.
Meanwhile, the expedition reached the Little Sandy Creek, where the priests said good-bye and turned north to find the Flatheads. Sir William’s party went on to the Green and up to the head of Piney Creek, the next to last fork of New Fork Creek neat present-day Pinedale. Wyoming. They camped first on the creek, then moved five miles up into the Wind River Mountains to Stewart’s favorite lake, a wild, crag-lined body of water, ten to twelve miles long and one and one-quarter miles across at its widest point, known today as Fremont Lake.
Now commenced two weeks of free and relaxed frolic and pleasure, the highlight of the trip. “Having pitched tents and formed camp.” Field wrote, “one of the India rubber boats was put together and launched, in which eight of us started, with two strong men to row, loi the exploration of the lake. Om progress was slow, and having made about seven miles, we put into a lovely little sandy cove, bordered with pine and half hidden by enormous rocks. In this romantic little nook we disembarked, built a shanty of boughs, got our fishing arrangements to angle after a supper. The water was so dear that we could see the little finny people darting about among the rocks at the bottom, and we could drop our bits of bait almost into their very mouths. … We soon had a plentiful mess for supper, and after supper we disposed of half a dozen of ‘Steinwein.’ imported by E. Johns, of New Orleans, and put tip in diminutive demijohns.”
Fishing, hunting, exploring and lazing went on day after day. Then, as Field described it: “Jump, jump! Get your guns! Quick, for your lives! was the loud and alarming call heard suddenly in the stillness of the alternoon. Such a splashing and hurrying head-long out of the water, and up into camp as instantly followed, was probably never seen before in that section. Our ears were next cognizant of distant Indian screaming and almost the next moment a party of some thirty people appeared in view, dashing, with seeming frantic speed towards us. The alarm was soon over, however, the strangers proving to be trappers and Snake Indians, coming to visit us from the vicinity of Bridger’s Fort …
“These Snakes, or Sho-sho-nees, threw up their lodges alongside of our camp, while the trappers did the same in close vicinity, and we did not part company again for nearly a fortnight. A busy trade time commenced, and after getting our skins from the trappers, we set the Sho-sho-nee girls to work tailoring up our mountain dresses for us.”