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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Adventures Of Captain Bonneville - Chapter 21
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The Adventures Of Captain Bonneville - Chapter 21 Post by :magonline Category :Nonfictions Author :Washington Irving Date :July 2011 Read :1598

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The Adventures Of Captain Bonneville - Chapter 21

CHAPTER 21

Schemes of Captain Bonneville - The Great Salt Lake Expedition to explore it - Preparations for a journey to the Bighorn


CAPTAIN BONNEVILLE now found himself at the head of a hardy,
well-seasoned and well-appointed company of trappers, all
benefited by at least one year's experience among the mountains,
and capable of protecting themselves from Indian wiles and
stratagems, and of providing for their subsistence wherever game
was to be found. He had, also, an excellent troop of horses, in
prime condition, and fit for hard service. He determined,
therefore, to strike out into some of the bolder parts of his
scheme. One of these was to carry his expeditions into some of
the unknown tracts of the Far West, beyond what is generally
termed the buffalo range. This would have something of the merit
and charm of discovery, so dear to every brave and adventurous
spirit. Another favorite project was to establish a trading post
on the lower part of the Columbia River, near the Multnomah
valley, and to endeavor to retrieve for his country some of the
lost trade of Astoria.

The first of the above mentioned views was, at present, uppermost
in his mind--the exploring of unknown regions. Among the grand
features of the wilderness about which he was roaming, one had
made a vivid impression on his mind, and been clothed by his
imagination with vague and ideal charms. This is a great lake of
salt water, laving the feet of the mountains, but extending far
to the west-southwest, into one of those vast and elevated
plateaus of land, which range high above the level of the
Pacific.

Captain Bonneville gives a striking account of the lake when seen
from the land. As you ascend the mountains about its shores, says
he, you behold this immense body of water spreading itself before
you, and stretching further and further, in one wide and
far-reaching expanse, until the eye, wearied with continued and
strained attention, rests in the blue dimness of distance, upon
lofty ranges of mountains, confidently asserted to rise from the
bosom of the waters. Nearer to you, the smooth and unruffled
surface is studded with little islands, where the mountain sheep
roam in considerable numbers. What extent of lowland may be
encompassed by the high peaks beyond, must remain for the present
matter of mere conjecture though from the form of the summits,
and the breaks which may be discovered among them, there can be
little doubt that they are the sources of streams calculated to
water large tracts, which are probably concealed from view by the
rotundity of the lake's surface. At some future day, in all
probability, the rich harvest of beaver fur, which may be
reasonably anticipated in such a spot, will tempt adventurers to
reduce all this doubtful region to the palpable certainty of a
beaten track. At present, however, destitute of the means of
making boats, the trapper stands upon the shore, and gazes upon a
promised land which his feet are never to tread.

Such is the somewhat fanciful view which Captain Bonneville gives
to this great body of water. He has evidently taken part of his
ideas concerning it from the representations of others, who have
somewhat exaggerated its features. It is reported to be about one
hundred and fifty miles long, and fifty miles broad. The ranges
of mountain peaks which Captain Bonneville speaks of, as rising
from its bosom, are probably the summits of mountains beyond it,
which may be visible at a vast distance, when viewed from an
eminence, in the transparent atmosphere of these lofty regions.
Several large islands certainly exist in the lake; one of which
is said to be mountainous, but not by any means to the extent
required to furnish the series of peaks above mentioned.

Captain Sublette, in one of his early expeditions across the
mountains, is said to have sent four men in a skin canoe, to
explore the lake, who professed to have navigated all round it;
but to have suffered excessively from thirst, the water of the
lake being extremely salt, and there being no fresh streams
running into it.

Captain Bonneville doubts this report, or that the men
accomplished the circumnavigation, because, he says, the lake
receives several large streams from the mountains which bound it
to the east. In the spring, when the streams are swollen by rain
and by the melting of the snows, the lake rises several feet
above its ordinary level during the summer, it gradually subsides
again, leaving a sparkling zone of the finest salt upon its
shores.

The elevation of the vast plateau on which this lake is situated,
is estimated by Captain Bonneville at one and three-fourths of a
mile above the level of the ocean. The admirable purity and
transparency of the atmosphere in this region, allowing objects
to be seen, and the report of firearms to be heard, at an
astonishing distance; and its extreme dryness, causing the wheels
of wagons to fall in pieces, as instanced in former passages of
this work, are proofs of the great altitude of the Rocky Mountain
plains. That a body of salt water should exist at such a height
is cited as a singular phenomenon by Captain Bonneville, though
the salt lake of Mexico is not much inferior in elevation.

To have this lake properly explored, and all its secrets
revealed, was the grand scheme of the captain for the present
year; and while it was one in which his imagination evidently
took a leading part, he believed it would be attended with great
profit, from the numerous beaver streams with which the lake must
be fringed.

This momentous undertaking he confided to his lieutenant, Mr.
Walker, in whose experience and ability he had great confidence.
He instructed him to keep along the shores of the lake, and trap
in all the streams on his route; also to keep a journal, and
minutely to record the events of his journey, and everything
curious or interesting, making maps or charts of his route, and
of the surrounding country.

No pains nor expense were spared in fitting out the party, of
forty men, which he was to command. They had complete supplies
for a year, and were to meet Captain Bonneville in the ensuing
summer, in the valley of Bear River, the largest tributary of the
Salt Lake, which was to be his point of general rendezvous.

The next care of Captain Bonneville was to arrange for the safe
transportation of the peltries which he had collected to the
Atlantic States. Mr. Robert Campbell, the partner of Sublette,
was at this time in the rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain Fur
Company, having brought up their supplies. He was about to set
off on his return, with the peltries collected during the year,
and intended to proceed through the Crow country, to the head of
navigation on the Bighorn River, and to descend in boats down
that river, the Missouri, and the Yellowstone, to St. Louis.

Captain Bonneville determined to forward his peltries by the same
route, under the especial care of Mr. Cerre. By way of escort, he
would accompany Cerre to the point of embarkation, and then make
an autumnal hunt in the Crow country.

Content of CHAPTER 21 (Washington Irving's book: The Adventures of Captain Bonneville)

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