Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Blackfoot Attack against the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company:

In 1809, the newly organized fur company, the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company, sent it's first expedition to the mountains to trap in the headwaters area of the Upper Missouri River.  This area was located deep in Blackfoot country. Although the company included ten partners, Manual Lisa was the driving force behind the company.  Blackfoot Indians were known to be hostile in the Upper Missouri River area, but the company hoped to convince these Indians that the company was friendly.  However, the Blackfeet were determined to drive the American trappers out of the country.  There followed a series of bloody encounters in which the company sustained heavy losses in life and equipment.  The following encounter is recorded by Thomas James, an American trapper with the company in the spring of 1809 (Reference).  The fort that James refers to is Fort Manuel.  Here is James description of the encounter:

"The company consisting of eighteen, had proceeded up the bank of the Jefferson, trapping, and on the third day had pitched their tents for the night, near the river, and about forty miles from the Fort.  Cheek, Hull and Ayers were employed in preparing the camp, while the rest had dispersed in various directions to kill game, when some thirty or forty Indians appeared on the prairie south of them, running a foot and on horses, toward the camp. Valle and two men whose names I forget, came running up to Cheek and others and told them to catch their horses and escape. This Cheek refused to do, but, seizing his rifle and pistols, said he would stay and abide his fate. "My time has come, but I will kill at least two of them, and then I don't care." His gloomy forebodings were about to be fulfilled through his own recklessness and obstinacy.  Ayers ran frantically about, paralysed by fear and crying, "O God, O God, what can I do." Though a horse was within his reach he was disabled by terror from mounting and saving his life. Courage and cowardice met the same fate, though in very different manners.  Hull  stood coolly examining his rifle as if for battle. The enemy were coming swiftly toward them, and Valle and his two companions started off pursued by mounted Indians. The sharp reports of Cheek's rifle and pistols were soon heard, doing the work of death upon the savages, and then a volley of musketry sent the poor fellow to his long home. 

Lieutenant Emmel [Michael Immel] and another came in from hunting, about dusk, ignorant of the fate of their fellows, and seeing the tent gone they supposed the place of the camp had been changed. Hearing a noise at the river, Emmel went down to the bank, whence he saw through the willows, on the opposite side, a camp of thirty Indian lodges, a woman coming down to the river with a brass kettle which he would have sworn was his own, and also a white man bound by both arms to a tree. He could not recognise the prisoner, but supposed he was an American. On returning to the place where Cheek had pitched his tent, he saw his dead body without the scalp, lying where he had bravely met his end.  He then hastened to the Fort where his arrival has been noticed before.  A greater part of the garrison, with myself, started out on the morning of my coming in to go in pursuit of the Indians, up the river, and to bury our dead. We found and buried the corpses of our murdered comrades, Cheek and Ayers; the latter being found in the river near the bank.  Hull  was never heard of, and two others, Rucker and Fleehart were also missing; being killed or taken prisoners by the Indians. An Indian was found dead, with two bullets in his body, supposed to be from Cheek's pistol. The body was carefully concealed under leaves and earth, and surrounded by logs." 

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