Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

The Battle of Pierre’s Hole
Account of John Ball

John Ball was member of Nathaniel Wyeth's 1832 expedition to the Rockies and the  Pacific Northwest.  Ball provides an account of the Battle of Pierre’s Hole in: The Autobiography of John Ball - Across the Plains to Oregon, 1832.

Mr. Sublette had come out with arms, ammunition, traps, etc., for his business and new men to take the places of those whose term of service had expired, so there was much fixing up to sort out the parties for the different purposes. And our party of trappers under Mr. Frapp one afternoon left the main camp and went out some seven or eight miles and encamped on a prairie near some timber on a little creek, as usually there is timber on the streams and mountainsides. We had a quiet night but in the morning, as we were about to commence our day's march, Indians were seen in line of march on horseback off across the prairie, say some two miles. And the trappers at once decided they must see who they were.  So Frapp told Antoine, [Antoine Godin] the half-breed, to take a good horse and have an Indian of the party go with him and go out and see who they were.  As Antoine approached them he saw they were Blackfeet, and their chief left his party and came out in a friendly way to meet him.  But his father having been killed by the Blackfeet, he was going to have his revenge.

So he said to his companion, "I will appear to be friendly when we meet, but you watch your chance and shoot him." His plan was carried out.  He was shot down. Antoine caught his robe, a square of blue and scarlet cloth, and turned and the Blackfeet fired after him, when they saw his treachery.  He escaped and came into our camp, said they were Blackfeet, and that he had killed their chief and there was his robe in evidence.

"All right" they said, "they would play friendly now but at night attack our camp."  But we twelve [Wyeth's Yankees] could not appreciate the reasoning.  But here we were in the company that thus decided.  But as we watched to see what they would next do they seemed at first to break up and scatter, but soon we saw that a large band, the warriors, seemed coming directly towards us to make fight.  So we immediately tied our horses to bushes near and put up our saddles as a kind of breastwork but before they reached us, they turned off into some timber on a stream, built a kind of fort of logs, bushes, their saddles and blankets, as a shade if we attacked them, and took their horses into the fort with them.

The moment that Antoine gave the information that they were Blackfeet, an express flew off back to the old camp to tell we had met the enemy, and in the time, it seemed to me, that race horses could have hardly gone over the ground, some of Sublette's men and the friendly Indians came rushing into our camp inquiring where were the Blackfeet.  And on soon finding where they had fortified themselves, each white or Indian, as he felt that his gun was right, and all things ready for his part, would start off.  And so they went helter skelter, each on his own hook to fight the common enemy.  For the friendly Indians had their own wrongs to avenge.  As they thus almost singly approached their brush and saddle fort, they could only see the defences whereas, they, the Blackfeet, could see everyone who approached them.  They soon shot down some of the trappers and Flatheads, for the timber was not large enough to shelter a man.  And soon wounded men were brought back to our camp.

We twelve Yankees felt that we had no men to spare to be killed or wounded that we were not called upon to go out of the way to find danger, but had they attacked our camp, we should have taken our full part, to save ourselves and horses.  But we readily assisted in taking care of the wounded and in other ways aid, as far as we felt belonged to us.  They kept up a firing at them at a safer distance, but did not rout them.  Six trappers and as many friendly Indians were killed or mortally wounded.  And as night approached it was determined to retreat.  And the whites took a wounded man on a horse, others riding each side to hold him up.  The Indians fixed long poles to a horse letting the ends draw on the smooth ground and fixed onto them a kind of hurdle, onto which they laid the wounded and drew them off easily over the smooth prairie. A better way than ours.

When night came on we encamped in the best manner of defence we could, and the next day expecting surely an attack from them, built a high fence and strong pen for our horses in such case, and a guard on the open prairie to run them in if attacked, and then awaited the result. Their fort was finally visited and a number of dead horses found.  But of course they had secreted any men they lost from scalping.  We did not go back so far as the old camp.

The man who died in our camp we buried in the horse pen where the ground was so trodden that the enemy could not find the body to scalp it.  Another badly wounded was sent to Sublette’s camp on a bier suspended between two horses, one ahead of the other.  And when we found that the enemy was not near, after a few days, we took up our line of march as originally intended.“

Account of Robert Campbell
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