Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

The Account of Zenas Leonard:

Zenas Leonard was originally a member of Gant and Blackwell’s expedition to the mountains.  When these men learned that Gant and Blackwell had become insolvent and had dissolved, they formed a loose affiliation with Fitzpatrick and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.  These men then traveled with the Sublette and Campbell supply train going to the Rendezvous of 1832.  Here Leonard recounts Fitzpatrick’s Adventure:  

But a melancholy gloom was visible in every countenance, when we discovered that Fitzpatrick had not arrived.  Great excitement prevailed, and vigorous measures were immediately taken to rescue him, if he had not before this, as many supposed, fallen a victim to the enraged fury of the merciless savage, or the ravenous appetite of some ferocious beast of prey. Small companies were despatched [sic] in various directions on the tributary streams of the Columbia. Diligent search was kept up for some time without success, and our search was about to be abandoned as fruitless; and indeed some of the parties had given up in despair, and returned to camp, when, a party, who had wandered into the vicinity of the Blackfeet Indians, were reconnoitering their movements in a valley from a high bluff, saw, and immediately recognized, Fitzpatrick's horse, with which the Indians were running races. - Was this calculated to inspire hope? or was it not rather an omen that our employer was destroyed by these Indians. Vigilant search was made to make further discoveries; and, to the great joy of every man, he was at length found on the banks of the Pieres [sic] river, which forms a junction with the Columbia, near the rendezvous of Fitzpatrick's company.  When found he was completely exhausted, and so much wasted in flesh, and deformed in dress, that, under other circumstances, he would not have been recognized.  The poor man was reduced to a skeleton, and was almost senseless.  When his deliverers spoke of taking him to camp, he scarcely seemed to comprehend their meaning. After eating some dried buffaloe [sic] meat, and a little maize, he grew better, and placing him on a horse, he was safely conveyed to camp.  A general rejoicing ensued, for his appearance among us again, was like that of one risen from the dead.  Although I was not much attached to the man, for I could not banish from my mind the craftiness evinced by him when we first met with him on the east side of the mountains, yet I can scarcely describe my feelings of joy on beholding him safely returned.  After resting a few days, and being nourished by the provender our camp would afford, he became able to relate the misfortunes which befel [sic] him in crossing the mountain, which I will give in his own words, as follows: 

ADVENTURES OF FITZPATRICK "For three or four days after I left the company I travelled without any difficulty, and at great speed, but the fourth and fifth, the weather being dull and cloudy, I got strayed from my course, and soon found myself in the midst of a rough hilly country, abounding with large loose rocks which some places almost prevented me from passing at all, and covered with various kinds of timber of the most magnificent description.  In passing the nights in these solitudes my rest was constantly disturbed by the dismal howl of the wolf and the fierce growl of the bear - which animals were very numerous and would frequently approach within a few steps and threaten to devour me.  One day after a toilsome ride, I dismounted, turned my horse loose to graze and seated myself on a rock, with the little remaining provision I had, to refresh myself.  While thus seated resting my wearied limbs, and satisfying the gnawings of hunger, I was suddenly startled by a scrambling on the rocks immediately in my rear.  I turned round and beheld a huge bear approaching me in double quick time.  I instantly sprang to my feet, for I was well acquainted with his mode of warfare.  I turned and faced his lordship, when he approached within about six feet of me, rose on his hind feet and most impudently stared me right in the face, for more than a minute.  After discovering that I was no ways bashful, he bowed, turned and run - I did the same, and made for my horse.  Bruin was not so easy fooled; he seen my retreat & gave chase.  I thought I could reach my horse and mount before the bear could reach me, but the approach of the bear frightened my beast, and just as I was going to mount he sprang loose and threw me on the broad of my back.  The bear was at my heels, and I thought that all chance of escape was now gone.  Instantly I was again on my feet, - and, as it were, in a fit of desperation, rushed towards the bear, which, fearing, as they do, the face of man, again turned and run. - Sir Bruin stopped to secure the little morsel I had been eating, and retired a few paces to devour it.  While the bear was thus employed, I crept to my gun, keeping the rock between him and me, having reached it, took deliberate aim and killed him dead on the spot.  Having secured my horse, I fell to work at the carcase of my vanquished foe, and, after cooking and eating a choice piece of his flesh, left the rest to feed his kindred. It being now near night, I travelled two or three miles further, and encamped for the night.  The next morning appeared more favourable over head, and I made an early start.  Being on the banks of a small creek, I concluded to follow it a while. After winding my way through the rocks and trees, till near the middle of the day, I came to a valley which seemed to be hemmed in on every side by huge towering hills.  I had not travelled far in this valley before I found myself ushered into the presence of a hostile tribe of Indians.  I halted to devise some means to effect a return without being discovered; but I soon found that it was too late.  Immediately in my rear was a choice set of young warriors - in front, and on both sides by high and craggy mountains.  My noble steed, than him, I would defy the whole Indian world to produce a stouter, swifter, or better, was now brought to the test.  He started with the velocity of the rein deer, - bounding over ditches, stones, logs, and brush. - Soon I began to ascend the mountain, but found it much too steep and rough.  The Indians dismounted and followed on foot.  I applied the whip, but in vain.  My horse was compelled to yield to exhausted nature - and I dismounted, and left my much prized animal to fall a prey to the savages.  I ran up the mountain with all possible speed, but finding that I must eventually be overtaken, I secreted myself in a hole among the rocks, and closed the mouth of it with leaves and sticks.  After remaining a few minutes in this subterraneous cavern, I heard the ferocious yells of triumph of my pursuers, as they captured my lamented horse.  The victory was not yet complete, although the horse was the principal prize.  Some of them followed on and came close to my hiding place, passed and repassed within reach without discovering me.  What a moment of intense anxiety was this!  All chance of escape cut off.  No prospect of mercy if taken!  Hope began to die - and death inevitable seemed to be the very next incident that would occur. They continued their search until near sunset, for they knew that I had not reached the summit of the mountain.  As they retired down the mountain, squads of four or five would frequently halt and hold a busy consultation - then suddenly return to complete their search, as if they feared that some hollow tree or rocky cavern might escape unexplored.  Finally, they gave me up in despair, and retired into the valley, with my horse.

"Now that I had escaped this scrutinizing search, I began to breathe more free and easy; but I was yet far from being out of danger.  I was conscious that I had lost the course to the  Columbia river, and could not tell how to regain it, even if I should succeed in escaping from my present perilous situation.  I remained secreted in the rocks till long after dark, when I crawled out, and surveyed the country as well as the darkness of the night would permit, and finally started in the direction which I thought I would have the least chance of meeting the Indians.  I had not travelled far, however, until I was again doomed to be disappointed, for I was on the very borders of their encampment.  Happily the camp was all quiet, and I returned quietly to my hiding place on the mountain, hoping that on the morrow I would be able to make some new discovery by which to extricate myself from these savages - which I judged to be the merciless Blackfeet. Early in the morning of the next day the hunt was resumed with increased vigilance; but again returned with disappointment.  After the sound of their voices no longer reached me, I crawled to the mouth of the hole from which I presently beheld them running races with the horse they had taken from me.  In this sport they spent the day.  This village did not appear to be their permanent residence, but was handsomely situated on the banks of a small creek, and I suppose they had came here on a sporting expedition. The second night I made another effort to save myself, and gradually descended the mountain, to the creek some distance below the camp. - This I followed, until daylight again compelled me to hide myself; which I did by crawling into the brush close to the creek, where I secreted myself till darkness again give me an opportunity to resume my journey.  During the day I seen a number of the Indians pass and repass up and down the valley, whom I supposed to be hunters.  This day I again had a view of my horse under the saddle of the chief of the tribe, as I supposed; but did not attempt to rescue him.  The following night I travelled a short distance down the creek when I came to where it empties into the Pieres river. Here I came to my reckoning of the country and thought that if I could escape from hunger and beasts of prey, I could manage to elude the Indians. Supposing that the Indians were not so numerous on the opposite side of the river, I resolved to cross over - for which purpose I built a raft of old logs, laid my shot-pouch, gun, blanket, &c. on it, and pushed for the opposite shore.  After getting nearly across, the current became very rapid, and I began to descend the river at a rapid rate until I struck a rock which tore my frail craft to pieces - committing myself, gun, blanket and all to the watery element.  Being weak from hunger and exertion, it was with great difficulty that I succeeded in reaching the land, with the loss of my only companion, and my only hope in this wilderness of dangers - my gun.  I stood on the bank in the midst of despair.  I had no other weapon than a butcher knife to fight my way through a country swarming with savages and equally dangerous wild beasts.  On my knife depended all hope of preventing starvation.  The loss of my blanket was also severe, as the weather was sometimes quite cold, and I had no other clothing than a shirt and vest - having thrown the rest away when pursued by the Indians on the mountain.  I followed the banks of this river for two days, subsisting upon buds, roots, weeds, &c.  On the second evening whilst digging for a sweet kind of root, in a swamp, I was alarmed by the growl of wolves, which were descending the hill to the river, about fifty yards distant.  The only chance of escape now, was to climb a tree, which I did immediately.  Here I was compelled to roost until daylight, in the most painful agitation.  The wolves tearing up the ground and gnawing at the tree so that I sometimes feared they would cut it through.  The third day I travelled with great speed, not even stopping for any thing to eat.  On the fourth I happened where the wolves had killed a buffaloe. - Here I satisfied my appetite by collecting all the meat that was left on the bones, made a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and cooked it.  From the gluttenous fill which I took of this meat, I was enabled to travel three or four days, without any particular occurrence; but I found that the further I descended the river, the scarcer became the roots, buds, &c., on which I must depend for subsistence, and I was finally obliged to turn my attention to get something to eat, without traveling any further.  For several days I loitered about from place to place, but could find no nourishment.  My body began to grow weaker and weaker, until I was no longer able to walk.  Still my mind held its sway, and I was well aware how desperate was my situation. Finally losing all prospect of getting any thing more to eat, & no hope of being found by my companions or friendly Indians, I thought of preparing myself for death, and committed my soul to the Almighty.  I have no recollection of any thing that occurred after this, until I found myself in the hands of my deliverers."

The story of Fitzpatrick created much excitement in our camp. Some were determined on immediately chastising the Indians, and retaking his horse.  Others, who were not friendly disposed towards Mr. F., would not credit his story.  For my part I thought the man had related nothing more than the truth as to his sufferings, for nothing less could have reduced him to the condition in which he was found.  

After the Battle of Pierre’s Hole Leonard reports the following “In the afternoon we returned to the rendezvous and presented Mr. Fitzpatrick with his long-lost and highly valued horse, which seemed to compensate for all the sufferings and hardships which he had encountered.“

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