Submitted by scott on Tue, 10/18/2016 - 11:01

To Fort Laramie. 14th August. M. Reynal had been an Indian trader in his youth. Of this race there were in his day two varieties: the regular trader and the coureur des bois, or unlicensed peddler, who was subject to certain pains and penalties. The former had some regard for his future; he had a permanent interest in the Indians, and looked to the horses, arms, and accoutrements of his protégés, so that hunting might not flag. The bois brûlé peddler, having-like an English advertising firm-no hope of dealing twice with the same person, got all he could for what he could. These men soon sapped the foundation of the Indian's discipline. One of them, for instance, would take protection with the chief, pay presents, and by increasing the wealth, enhance the importance of his protector. Another would place himself under the charge of some ambitious aspirant to power, who was thus raised to a position of direct rivalry. A split would ensue; the weaker would secede with his family and friends, and declare independence; a murder or two would be the result, and a blood-feud would be bequeathed from generation to generation. The licensed traders have ever strenuously opposed the introduction of alcohol, a keg of which will purchase from the Indian every thing that is his, his arms, lodge, horses, children, and wives. In olden times, however, the Maine Liquor Law was not, as now, in force through the territories. The coureur des bois, therefore, entered the country through various avenues, from the United States and from Mexico, without other stock in trade but some kegs of whisky, which he retailed at the modest price of $36 per gallon. He usually mixed one part of fire with five of pure water, and then sold a pint-canful for a buffalo robe. "Indian liquor" became a proverbial term. According to some travelers, a barrel of "pure Cincinnati," even after running the gauntlet of railroad and lake travel, has afforded a hundred barrels of “good Indian liquor.” A small bucketful is poured into a wash-tub of water; a large quantity of “dog-leg” tobacco and red pepper is then added, next a bitter root common in the country is cut up into it, and finally it is colored with burnt sugar-a nice recipe for a morning's headache! The only drawback to this traffic is its danger. The Indian, when intoxicated, is ready for any outrageous act of violence or cruelty; vinosity brings out the destructiveness and the utter barbarity of his character; it makes him thirst tiger-like for blood. The coureur des bois, therefore, who in those days was highly respected, was placed in the Trader's Lodge, a kind of public house, like the Iwanza of Central Africa, and the village chief took care to station at the door a guard of sober youths, sometimes habited like Europeans, ready to check the unauthorized attempts of ambitious clansmen upon the whisky-vendor's scalp. The Western men, who will frequently be alluded to in these pages, may be divided, like the traders, into two classes. The first is the true mountaineer, whom the platitude and tame monotony of civilized republican life has in early youth driven, often from an honored and wealthy family, to the wilds and wolds, to become the forlorn hope in the march of civilization. The second is the offscouring and refuse of the Eastern cities, compelled by want, fatuity, or crime to exile himself from all he most loves. The former, after passing through the preliminary stage greenhorn, is a man in every sense of the term; to more than Indian bravery and fortitude, he unites the softness of woman, and a child-like simplicity, which is the very essence of a chivalrous character; you can read his nature in his clear blue eyes, his sun-tanned countenance, his merry smile, and his frank, fearless manner. The latter is a knave or a fool; it would make “bad blood," as the Frenchman says, to describe him.

M. Reynal's history had to be received with many grains of salt. The Western man has been worked by climate and its consequences, by the huge magnificence of nature and the violent contrasts of scenery, into a remarkable resemblance to the wild Indian. He hates labor—which poet and divine combine to deify in the settled states—as the dire effect of a primeval curse; "loaf"  he must and will; to him one hour out of the twenty-four spent in honest industry is satis superque. His imagination is inflamed by scenery and climate, difficulty and danger; he is as superstitious as an old man-o'-war's-man of the olden school; and he is a transcendental liar, like his prototype the aborigine, who in this point yields nothing to the African negro. I have heard of a man riding eighty miles—forty into camp and forty out-in order to enjoy the sweet delights of a lie. His yarns and stories about the land he lives in have become a proverbial ridicule; he will tell you that the sun rises north of what it did se puero; he has seen mountains of diamonds and gold nuggets scattered like rocks over the surface of our general mother. I have been gravely told of a herd of bison which arrested the course of the Platte River, causing its waters, like those of the Red Sea, to stand up, wall fashion, while the animals were crossing. Of this Western order is the well-known account of a ride on a buffalo's horns, delivered for the benefit of a gaping world by a popular author of the yellow-binding category. In this age, however, the Western man has become sensitive to the operation of "smoking." A popular Joe Miller anent him is this: A traveler, informed of what he might educe by “querying," asked an old mountaineer, who shall be nameless, what difference he observed in the country since he had first settled in it.

“Wal, stranger, not much !" was the reply; "only when I fust come here, that 'ere mountain,” pointing to the tall Uinta range, “was a hole!"

Disembarrassing M. Reynal's recital of its mask of improbabilities and impossibilities, remained obvious the naked fact that he bad led the life of a confirmed coureur des bois. The French Canadian and Creole both, like the true Français de France, is loth to stir beyond the devil-dispelling sound of his chapel-bell; once torn from his chez lui, he apparently cares little to return, and, like the Englishman, to die at home in his own land. The adventurous Canadians—in whom extremes meet-have wandered through the length and breadth of the continent; they have left their mark even upon the rocks in Utah Territory. M. Reynal had quitted St. Louis at an early age as trader, trapper, every thing in short, provided with a little outfit of powder, ball, and whisky. At first he was unfortunate. In a war between the Sioux and the Pawnees, he was taken prisoner by the latter, and with much ado preserved, by the good aid of his squaw, that useful article his scalp. Then fickle fortune turned in his favor. He married several wives, identified himself with the braves, and became a little brother of the tribe, while his whisky brought him in an abundance of furs and peltries. After many years, waxing weary of a wandering life, he settled down into the somewhat prosaic position in which we had the pleasure of finding him. He was garrulous as a veteran soldier upon the subject of his old friends the trappers, that gallant advance guard who, sixty years ago, unconsciously fought the fight of civilization for the pure love of fighting; who battled with the Indian in his own way, surpassing him in tracking, surprising, ambuscading, and shooting, and never failing to raise the enemy's hair. They are well nigh extinct, those old pioneers, wild, reckless, and brave as the British tar of a century past; they live but in story; their place knows them no longer; it is now filled by the prospector." Civilization and the silk hat have exterminated them. How many deeds of stern fight and heroic endurance have been ignored by this world, which knows nothing of its greatest men, carent quia vate sacro! We talk of Thermopylæ and ignore Texas; we have all thrilled at the account of the Mameluke Bey's leap; but how many of us have heard of Major Macculloch's spring from the cliff?


Burton, Richard. 1861. The City Of The Saints. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.