Yellowstone County History

Local River Area History[1]

Prepared by Captain W. F. Raynolds

Missouri – Platte – Yellowstone Rivers & Tributaries (1859-1861)

Ref: US War Department Map of the Yellowstone & Missouri Rivers and Their Tributaries, Maynadier, 10th Inf. Assistant. Released 1867[2]


Sunday, November 01, 2009


North of the Platte, the principal streams flowing eastward are the White, Niobrara, Shayenne, Moreau, Palanata or Grand, Cannon Ball, and Heart rivers. Of these, the White and Niobrara, receiving their supply of water from the outliers of the Black Hills and the high lands north of the Platte, are large streams, and always contribute considerable water to the Missouri. The Shayenne is much the most important tributary between the Platte and Yellowstone. It is formed by two main branches which entirely surround and drain the Black Hills, and as it receives its water from the numerous mountain streams of this district, its supply is much more constant and reliable than that of any of the other rivers to the north. Its valley below the forks is from half to three-quarters of a mile in width of alluvial soil, and covered with a heavy growth of bottom grass. Beautiful cottonwood groves fringe its banks throughout its whole length. This portion of the river receives several tributaries, but all are prairie streams, and consequently contain little water during a great portion of the year. The riverbed is mainly quicksand, and great care is consequently requisite in finding fords. The bluffs bordering the valley below the forks are bold, and in most instances access to the river bottom from the neighboring plains is difficult if not impracticable. Wherever the bluffs have been subjected to the action of water they present the stratified clay formation of the " bad lands." Above the forks the bluffs are found close to the stream, and the valley becomes narrower. The tributaries are clear, and constant mountain creeks flowing through beautiful valleys. The whole region of the Black Hills is unquestionably destined at no distant date to afford homes for a thriving population. The mountains will furnish a sufficient supply of pine lumber for ordinary uses, and, although timber is very scarce in the region as a whole, yet the Black Hills will fully supply this great deficiency in the district immediately adjoining.

The Moreau or Owl, the Grand or Pell, the Cannon Ball, and the Heart rivers occur in the order named, and are mere prairie streams of unusual length. In the dry season they contribute little water to the Missouri, but their beds indicate that, at certain seasons, they are formidable torrents. The banks of these streams are lined with a narrow fringe of cottonwoods. Beyond these, and yet east of the outlying ridge, are two important rivers the Knife and the Chan-cho-ka, or Little Missouri-flowing to the northeast, instead of to the east, as was the case with the others. The Little Missouri rises in the Black Hills, whence it receives a constant and considerable supply of water, and its length is over 200 miles. This stream having more timber upon its banks than its neighbors, is called by the Indians "Chan-cho-ka," or Thick Timbered River. The title, however, is only comparative, and should not create the impression that the valley would be elsewhere considered heavily timbered. The foregoing complete the catalogue of the larger streams east of the outlier explored partially or completely by the expedition. Upon crossing the outlier the great valley of the Yellowstone is at once reached. The tributaries of this river-the Powder, the Tongue, the Rosebud, the Big Horn, Pryor's, and Clark's forks-all flow to the north until they reach the Yellowstone. Further west the same is true with reference to the Yellowstone itself, which near its source flows for more than 100 miles to the northward before changing its course to the east. The first stream west of the ridge is Powder River, (which derives its name from the sulphurous vapors rising from burning beds of lignite in its vicinity,) of which the Little Powder is the main tributary from the east. The latter rises near Pumpkin Butte, flows through the " bad lands" for over 100 miles, and joins the main stream in latitude 45º 28'. This stream, when crossed by us in July 1859, was almost dry. Its valley is wide, and contains the usual growth of cottonwood. Clear fork is the principal western tributary of the Powder, and leaves the Big Horn Mountains, in which it takes its rise, a dashing mountain torrent. Upon its banks is found considerable pine, which the excellent waterpower of the stream will in time convert into lumber for the use of the coming settlers. Crazy Woman's fork and Willow creek are less important tributaries of the Powder, finding their sources in or near the mountains, and emptying into the main stream above Clear fork. The Powder itself rises in the Big Horn mountains, about latitude 43~ 25', flows northeast about 60 miles, then turns to the north, and empties into the Yellowstone in latitude 46º 42'. Its valley (which is barren and yields but little grass and an abundance of artemisia) averages a mile in width throughout its entire length, until within 50 miles from its mouth, it becomes narrower and the bluffs more ragged and broken. Traveling in it is greatly impeded by deep and almost impassable ravines, which cross it at nearly right angles, and are concealed by the sage until their very edge is reached. These gullies are caused by the action of the water upon the light soil, and are among the most disagreeable features of the country. The bed of the river is mainly a treacherous quicksand, and great care is necessary in selecting fords. The depth of the water is not, however, such as to offer any obstruction, except during freshets. The bluffs bordering the valley are throughout the much-dreaded and barren " bad lands," and this stream must ever remain of little or no value to the country. Tongue river rises in the Big Horn Mountains, and is in some respects an improvement upon the Powder. Its valley is narrower, but contains less sage and more grass. The stream flows in the main over a gravel or stony bottom, and thus presents no especial obstructions to crossing. The river bottom is less torn up by gullies, and the bluffs are not as rugged and impassable. Yet the Tongue River valley presents few attractions to the settler. The soil is light, and the timber chiefly cottonwood, and scarce-disadvantages that will for years seriously affect its prospects for settlement and development. The third tributary of the Yellowstone is the Rosebud, which rises in the Chetish or Wolf Mountains, and, during our journey in August, 1859, contained no running water. Its valley is narrow, and resembles that of the Tongue. Near its source, however, are some open valleys that by contrast appear attractive. The Big Horn, which is next reached, is the main tributary of the Yellowstone. It is formed by the junction of the Popo-Azie and Wind rivers, both of which are considerable and noted streams. Thirty miles below the point of junction the river enters the mountains, passing through a canyon 20 miles in length, after which it flows among broken and barren hills, occasionally interspersed with small level valleys. During this part of its course, which is nearly 100 miles in extent, it receives several tributaries, of which the chief are No Wood and No Water creeks on the east, and Gray Bull and Stinking rivers upon the west. This part of the country, as will be seen from the detailed statements of Lieutenant Maynadier's explorations, is repelling in all its characteristics, and can only be traversed with the greatest difficulty. Below the mouth of the Stinking, the Big Horn again enters the Big Horn mountains, and passes through a second canyon of 25 miles in length, emerging in latitude 450 10'. The peculiar topography of this region, whereby the same river flowing to the north canyons twice through the same mountain range, is well set forth and made plain in the rough language of the guide [Jim] Bridger, who said: " The Big Horn mountains are just the shape of a horseshoe, and the Big Horn river cuts through both sides, dividing the heel from the toe." The lower canyon must present a series of views of great magnificence. The gorge cannot be less than 3,000 feet in depth, and whether the banks are sloping or perpendicular, the scenery must be grand in the extreme. Bridger, who claims to have once passed through on a raft, declares that for mingled sublimity and beauty this canyon is unequalled by any that he has ever seen. Below this the Big Horn flows some 10º east of north for about 70 miles to its junction with the Yellowstone. The valley is open, and from two to five miles in width, being bounded on either side by high rolling prairie hills. Near the Yellowstone a high spur of the Chetish Mountains, on the top of which is found a stunted and straggling growth of pines, crosses it. The soil improves as you ascend towards the mountains, and near the lower canon is very fertile, and covered with as heavy and luxuriant a crop of grass as could be found upon the continent. For 30 miles above its mouth the Big Horn flows upon the east side of its valley, but shifts to the other about half the distance to the mountains. The expedition forded the Big Horn without trouble about a mile and a half above its mouth, or about half a mile below the junction of Tullock's creek, and again about 35 miles above. These fords were well marked by Indian trails leading to them, and are the principal if not only crossings, as repeated attempts made at other points by naturalists, hunters, and other members of the party uniformly failed, the depth of water and rapidity of the current deterring the most daring. At these fords the water was only from two to two and a half feet in depth. The riverbed, throughout its entire course below the mountains, partakes of the general character of the Yellowstone and Missouri, the stream being crooked and badly cut up by islands and sandbars. Of the tributaries of the Big Horn below the mountains those upon the west were not visited by us, nor are they of much importance. Of' those upon the east the firs; is Tullock's creek, which empties into the main stream about two miles above the Yellowstone. It rises in the Chetish Mountains, and flows through a timbered valley about 50 miles in length, so wide that it was mistaken at first for that of the Big Horn or Yellowstone. The stream itself, however, contains but little water, and this in October 1859, was found only in pools. The second of the eastern branches is the Little Horn, or, taking a literal translation of the Indian name, the "Little Big Horn." This empties into the main stream about 30 miles above Tullock's creek, and flows through a wide bottom towards the north, its length being 60 or 70 miles. Upon its upper tributaries several good camping grounds are found near the base of the mountains. Of the rivers that unite to form the Big Horn, the Popo-Azie is a short stream, formed by the union of several branches which rise in the southern part of the Wind River chain anid to the northward of the South pass. These do not unite until near the junction of the Popo-Azie with Wind River. Its drainage is entirely from the mountains and the supply of water is therefore quite constant. Wind river rises near the northwestern extremity of the Wind River Range and flows to the southeast parallel with those mountains and between them and the Big Horn range. Its course is such that a glance at the map leads to an inquiry why it does not flow into, and form a continuation of, the Platte, instead of abruptly changing its course and discharging its water through the Big Horn into the Yellowstone. This is at once solved by an inspection of the profile of our route between those streams, by which the point of junction of Wind River and the Popo-Azie is shown to be 200 feet below the level of the Platte at the Red buttes. Wind river is rapid and filled with boulders, and its valley is narrow and unproductive. The mountains upon either side are bold and lofty, and present a constant succession of striking landscapes. At the sources of the stream is a lofty basaltic ridge, rising from 12,000 to 13,000 feet above the ocean, stretching across the head of the valley, and connecting the dividing crest of the Rocky Mountains with the Big Horn range. Near this point and on the dividing crest, in latitude 43º 28', a peak rises 13,750 feet above the ocean level, (as determined by angle of elevation taken from route,) which may justly be considered as the topographical center of North America, the rain which falls upon its sides being drained into the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi, the Gulf of California through the Colorado, and the Pacific ocean through the Columbia. I have designated this mountain on the maps as " Union peak." West of the Big Horn, the other tributaries of the Yellowstone are Pryor's river, Clark's fork, the Big Rosebud, and Beaver River. These streams are comparatively short and small, find their sources in the mountains, and flow to the north. Beyond these is the valley of the upper Yellowstone, which is, as yet, a terra incognita. My expedition passed entirely around, but could not penetrate it. My intention was to enter it from the head of Wind River, but the basaltic ridge previously spoken of intercepted our route and prohibited the attempt. After this obstacle had thus forced us over on the western slope of the Rocky mountains, an effort was made to recross and reach the district in question; but, although it was June, the immense body of snow baffled all our exertions, and we were compelled to content ourselves with listening to marvelous tales of burning plains, immense lakes, and boiling springs, without being able to verify these wonders. I know of but two white men who claim to have ever visited this part of the Yellowstone valley-James Bridger and Robert N Meldrum. The narratives of both these men are very remarkable, and Bridger, in one of his recitals, described an immense boiling spring that is a perfect counterpart of the Geysers of Iceland. As he is uneducated, and had probably never heard of the existence of such natural marvels elsewhere, I have little doubt that he spoke of that which he had actually seen. The burning plains described by these men may be volcanic, or more probably burning beds of lignite, similar to those on Powder River, which are known to be in a state of ignition. Bridger also insisted that immediately west of the point at which we made our final effort to penetrate this singular valley, there is a stream of considerable size, which divides and flows down either side of the water-shed, thus discharging its waters into both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Having seen this phenomenon on a small scale in the highlands of Maine, where a rivulet discharges a portion of its waters into the Atlantic and the remainder into the St. Lawrence, I am prepared to concede that Bridger's " Two Ocean river" may be a varity. Had our attempt to enter this district been made a month later in the season, the snow would have mainly disappeared, and there would have been no insurmountable obstacles to overcome. I cannot doubt, therefore, that at no very distant day the mysteries of this region will be fully revealed, and though small in extent, I regard the valley of the upper Yellowstone as the most interesting unexplored district in our widely expanded country. The general course of the Yellowstone itself, after leaving the mountains, is a little north of east through four and a half degrees of longitude, and then northeast to its junction with the Missouri. Throughout its entire length it flows through a wide, open valley, bounded by high, rolling hills. This valley has long been the home of countless herds of Buffalo and consequently the favorite hunting ground of the Indians. When my party first reached the bluff overlooking the Yellowstone, the sight was one which, in a few years, will have passed away forever. I estimated that about 15 miles in length of the wide valley was in view. The entire tract of 40 or 50 square miles was covered with buffalo as thickly as in former days, in the west, (when cattle were driven to an eastern market,) a pasture field would be, which was intended only to furnish subsistence to a large drove for a single night. I will not venture an estimate of their probable numbers. And here I would remark, that the wholesale destruction of the buffalo is a matter that should receive the attention of the proper authorities. It is due first and mainly to the fact that the skin of the female is alone valuable for robes. The skin of the male, over three years old, is never used for that purpose, the hair on the hind quarters being not longer than that on a horse, while, on the fore quarters, it has a length of from four to six inches. The skin is also too thick and heavy to be used for anything but lodge coverings, while the flesh is coarse and unpalatable, and is never used for food when any other can be had. The result is that the females are always singled out by the hunter, and consequently the males in a herd always exceed the females, it the proportion of not less than ten to one. Another, but far less important, cause of their rapid extinction is the immense number of wolves in the country, which destroy the young. The only remedy that would have the slightest effect in the case would be a prohibition of the trade of buffalo robes and a premium upon wolf'skins.  I fear it is too late for even this remedy, and notwithstanding the immense herds that are yet to be found, I think it is more than probable that another generation will witness almost the entire extinction of this noble animal. Beyond the upper Yellowstone, and immediately at the foot of the main divide of the Rocky Mountains, lies the valley of the Upper Missouri and of the Three Forks. The Missouri is formed by the junction, in latitude 45º 56', of the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson rivers, streams which take their rise in the Rocky mountains and have a general northerly course. Their order, in relative importance, is the reverse of that in which they are named above, the Gallatin being the least and the Jefferson the greatest, although the difference in size is not marked. The soil in the valley of the Three Forks is good, the grass fine, and the streams are all bordered by fringes of trees that add great beauty to the landscape. The neighboring mountains -are well timbered, and will, therefore furnish an abundance of lumber for the future settlers, and there is no part of the field of our exploration that on the whole presents greater natural advantages than this. Standing upon the bluff north of the junction of the three rivers, and looking to the south, the eye rests upon a charming picture of level and fertile valleys, environed by gently-sloping and grass-clad hills, and divided, to appearance, into immense parks by the hedge-like fringes of trees lining the river banks. In the distance snowy ranges of mountains fill the horizon upon all sides, and furnish the delightful landscape with a pure and appropriate setting. Below the Three Forks the Missouri flows nearly north for two and a quarter degrees of latitude, passing through the gate of the mountains and over the Great Falls, and then changes its course to nearly due east, keeping this general direction through eight degrees of longitude, ultimately bending to the southeast and mingling its waters with those of the Mississippi on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. The tributaries of this great river, between the Platte and the Yellowstone, have been already described. Of the branches between the Three, Forks and the Yellowstone I can speak but briefly. Of those flowing from the north and west the chief are the Sun, the Teton, Maria's river, and Milk river. The two latter are large and important rivers; but none of these were visited by my expedition. Of those, which flow from the south the principal, are Smith's river, the Muscleshell, and Big Dry creek. Smith's river is a mountain stream, flowing through a narrow valley, which would not be capable of supporting a large population. Its passage through the mountain gorge is marked by numerous scenes of striking and romantic beauty. The Judith rises in the Judith Mountains and flows northward into the Missouri. Near its head there is a small tract of fertile country, but, as we approach the Missouri, the river becomes less important, and at the mouth there is but little water in dry seasons within its banks. Some little doubt has arisen as to the identity of the Muscleshell. Lieutenant Mullan, of the artillery, in 1852 reached it in a journey to the southeast from Fort Benton. He describes it as a stream from two to four feet deep, and with a rapid current, and judged from its banks that, at high water, it was 120 yards in width. This so much exceeded previously conceived ideas of its size that Lieutenant Warren concluded that Lieutenant Mullan had reached the Yellowstone. Lieutenant Mullins, of the dragoons, who commanded my escort, however, crossed the Muscleshell some 50 miles below where Lieutenant Mullan saw it, and found only a stream of 30 or 40 yards in width. The day before Lieutenant Mullins reached its banks I passed its mouth and found there no running water. I think, therefore, there can be no reasonable doubt that Lieutenant Mullan was correct in saying that he had reached the Muscleshell, and that after leaving the mountains the stream gradually sinks in the earth, growing less in size and importance as it approaches the Missouri. The evidences at its mouth, however, prove that at times it must be a mighty torrent draining a vast area of country. Of the Big Dry but little is known, aside from the general fact that in the wet season it is a pretentious river and at other times but little else than a dry channel.

NAVIGABLE STREAMS. The Missouri has been navigated to Fort Benton, and doubtless boats can ascend the short distance from that point to the foot of the Great Falls, but this has only been accomplished during high water, and the first steamer that reached Fort Benton, was warped over several of the rapids above the mouth of the Yellowstone. Lieutenant Maynadier, in his report on the Yellowstone, expresses the confident conviction that at no distant day boats will ascend that stream to the mountains. The attempt has not yet been made, and it is hazardous to predict that science cannot overcome any obstacles that may be presented, but when the tables of altitudes, prepared from barometric measurements, are examined the showing is far from favorable to the realization of Lieutenant Maynadier's hopes. The Yellowstone, at the point at which Lieutenant Maynadier struck it, below the mouth of Shield's river, is about 200 feet higher than the Missouri at the Three Forks, and 1,700 feet higher than the Missouri at Fort Benton. Shield's river is but little further than Fort Benton from the point of junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri, and as the profile shows a nearly uniform descent in the Yellowstone, it is evident that the fall of the latter is 1,700 feet greater than that of the former in a nearly equal distance. Considering the difficulties encountered from the current of the Missouri, I cannot but think that the navigation of a stream whose waters possess such a greatly accumulated velocity is at least problematical. When I was upon the Big Horn I was impressed with the conviction that that stream could be navigated by boats of proper construction as far as the lower caion, or about 80 miles from its mouth, but an examination of the barometric heights shows a fall in this distance of 620 feet, which must create a current of great power. Hence I can readily understand how Lieutenant Maynadier failed to appreciate the constant and rapid descent of the Yellowstone, and I conclude that the objections to the navigability of that stream are equally valid with reference to the Big Horn.

 RAIIROAD AND WAGON ROAD ROUTES. The country between the outlier and the Missouri is the high, broken prairie of the west, and but little difficulty will be found, as far as regards grade, in crossing it either with wagon or railroads in any direction. The district between the Yellowstone and Missouri from Fort Union, in latitude 48º, as far south as 46º 30', is believed to be very broken, and, from the nature of the soil, it will offer great difficulties to the construction of a permanent roadway. The broad valley of the Yellowstone affords peculiar facilities for a railroad, and it is, moreover, the most direct route to the important region about the Three Forks, with all its agricultural and mineral wealth. The only serious obstacle that would be encountered in this entire distance is the ridge between the waters of the Gallatin and those of the Yellowstone, and, as this is shown to be only about 1,700 feet in height, it is believed it could be crossed without great difficulty, especially as the approaches upon either side are shown by profiles of our route to be of easy grade. The valley of the Yellowstone can be reached with comparative facility near its mouth, or near the junction of the Powder, but between these points the country lying to the east is represented, by all who have passed over it, as broken, barren, and impracticable. At the eastern base of the Big Horn mountains there is a belt of country some 20 miles in width that is peculiarly suitable for a wagon road, and which I doubt not will become the great line of travel into the valley of the Three Forks.* Being immediately at the base of the mountains, this strip is watered by the numerous streams which rise in the hills but soon disappear in the open country below, while the upheaval of the mountain crest is so uniform in direction that a comparatively straight road can be laid out close to their foot without encountering grades that are seriously objectionable. I traveled through this region with heavily loaded wagons in the fall of 1859 without embarrassment. The valley of the Big Horn, from latitude 43º 30' to latitude 45º 10' north, is surrounded on all sides by mountain ridges, and presents but few agricultural advantages, The geological structure of the mountains, however, would lead us to expect valuable mineral deposits in the ridges. This region is totally unfit for either rail or wagon roads.

*NOTE FOR 1867.-The recent developments of this country have opened this route by the foot of the Big Horn range, and forts are now established along the entire line.


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14 EXPLORATION OF THE YELLOWSTONE. Between the Yellowstone and Missouri the country is mainly broken and unattractive. Lieutenant Mullins, in his journey from Fort Benton to Fort Union, followed as closely as possible the crest of the divide between the waters of these rivers. I quote from his report this language: "The country passed over in my route, with the exception of that portion in and near the Judith mountains, and lying contiguous to the streams forming the drainage of the same, is worthless. Although it is a much nearer route from Fort Union to Fort Benton, than that on the other side of the river, I think the latter far preferable for military purposes. A railroad could be constructed along my route at comparatively slight cost, as there are no great elevations to overcome." North of the Missouri the country is open as soon as the stream is left, and but little difficulty will be found in traversing it in almost any direction. The usual route for the traders between Fort Benton and Fort Union is on this side of the Missouri, and partially in the Valley of Milk River. My route in 1860 ran near the base of the dividing ridge of the Rocky Mountains from the vicinity of the South Pass to Henry's lake, a distance of about 200 miles, keeping on the eastern slope to the head of Wind River and subsequently on the western. The summit of the ridge is lofty throughout, and I do not believe it will ever be thought expedient to cross it by rail between the points named. The valley, of the Three Forks offers every facility for transit, the open country bordering upon the Gallatin, the Madison, and the Jefferson presenting an agreeable contrast to the surrounding rugged mountains. Low pass, near Henry's lake, through which I entered this valley, is as favorable, as regards elevation, as any point can be for crossing the dividing crest of the mountains. It is 1,500 feet lower than the South pass, and without any prolonging of the route, rails can be laid from the waters of the Madison to those of Henry's fork of the Columbia, through this pass, not using a grade of over 50 feet to the mile.

 MINERAL PRODUCTS. Very decided evidences of the existence of gold were discovered both in the valley of the Madison and in the Big Horn mountains, and we found some indications of its presence also in the Black Hills, between the forks of the Shayenne. The very nature of the case, however, forbade that an extensive or thorough search for the precious metals should be made by an expedition such as I conAiucted through this country. The party was composed in the main of irresponsible adventurers, who recognized no moral obligation resting upon them. They were all furnished with arms and ammunition, while we were abundantly supplied with picks and shovels, and carried with us a partial stock of provisions. Thus the whole outfit differed in no essential respect from that which would be required if the object of the expedition had only been prospecting for gold. The powder would serve for blasting and the picks and shovels were amply sufficient for the primitive mining of the gold pioneer, while the arms would be equally useful for defense and in purveying for the commissariat. It is thus evident that if gold had been discovered in any considerable quantity the party would have at once disregarded all the authority and entreaties of the officers in charge and have been converted into a band of gold miners, leaving the former the disagreeable option of joining them in their abandonment of duty, or of returning across the plains alone, through innumerable perils. It was for these reasons that the search for gold was at all times discouraged, yet still it was often difficult to restrain the disposition to " prospect," and there were moments when it was feared that some of the party would defy all restraint. The lignite beds found so frequently upon the Powder, Platte, and Yellowstone, are not coal, though often mistaken for it, but are not entirely valueless as fuel. The troops formerly stationed near Platte Bridge used some of the best variety for that purpose, and it was found quite serviceable.

AGRICULTURAL PROSPECTS. Probably over three-fourths of the country over which the explorations of my party extended possesses a soil that, other conditions being favorable, would render a generous return for the labors of the husbandman. The most marked and peculiar feature of the entire region is the absence of trees. Apart from the mountains it is only upon the immediate banks of the streams that timber is to be found, and even under these circumstances it is confined to a narrow belt, very rarely extending 200 yards from the water's edge. In small ravines near the summits of certain ridges there are occasionally found a few bushes or vines, but these are so rare that their presence is always deemed a fact worthy of special mention. In the mountain districts considerable timber is found which may meet the chief needs of the country, but a very small portion of it only would be deemed valuable in a lumber region. Considering the nature of the country, however, the timber in the mountains is an inestimable blessing, and it will be the source of innumerable benefits. The bunch and buffalo grasses of the plains are highly nutritious, and afford sustenance to immense herds of buffalo. They are of quick growth, ripen' rapidly, and by early summer are as perfectly cured as possible. Standing in this condition throughout the winter, animals find excellent grazing during the entire year without human aid. The quantity of grass yielded on any given area of ground is not proportionately large, and thus the extent of territory ranged over by animals wintering on the plains far exceeds that which would be amply sufficient to furnish them with subsistence in more favorable regions, but, nevertheless, it is a great grazing country, and can support in the aggregate vast herds of cattle. The question, "Why are these vast plains destitute of timber?" is often asked and variously answered. The most popular explanation is the annual recurrence of immense fires, whence the conclusion is drawn that if those fires could be avoided, trees would at once spring up in abundance. Those who advocate this theory add as a corollary, that if trees once cover the country, rain will become more abundant. Sufficient data have not as yet been obtained for a final and full discussion of this subject, and theory is yet to be substituted by facts. I nevertheless believe that the well-known hypothesis of Professor Gayot-that the ocean is the great source of the supply of moisture for all continents, the water absorbed by the atmosphere being precipitated in rain by coming in contact with the colder currents of air, and that therefore it naturally follows, (all other things being equal,) that the interior of all large bodies of land must be comparatively destitute of moisture by reason of remoteness from the source of supply-is sustained in every respect by the meteorology of this region. Mountain ranges intercepting the upper currents of air would cause the moisture in them to be precipitated, and hence the mountainsides remote from the ocean would be much more abundantly supplied with rain than the level tracts in the same vicinity. While traveling from the Missouri river westward, over the plains, in 1859, we scarcely saw a drop of rain until we reached the Black Hills, where we encountered several hard showers. Between the Black Hills and the Big Horn mountains we were again on the plains, and without rain. Along the base of the latter range we found frequent showers and an abundance of clear, beautiful water. The same remarks apply to our explorations in 1860. During a large portion of the early part of the season we were in the mountainous districts, and frequently drenched by heavy showers. During the latter half of the season, while remote from the mountains, but little rain was encountered. It is a source of extreme regret to me that the importance of this question of the amount of rainfall in the country was not fully impressed upon my mind at the commencement of the expedition that I might have placed a more competent observer at Fort Pierre, and one who would have given proper attention to this subject, as meteorological observations made at that post would, if carefully kept, have helped greatly to settle many doubtful points. The rains were all noted, it is true, but the amount of the fall was not accurately measured. I have examined these notes carefully, and, from the imperfect data they embody, estimate the annual fall of rain and melted snow at less than 20 inches. General Humphreys, in his report on the physics and hydraulics of the Mississippi river, gives us the result of one year and eleven months' observations at this point, a mean annual fall of rain of 13.8 inches, and in the same report the mean annual fall at Fort Laramie is given at 16.6 inches, and at Fort Benton 13.1 inches. These data all point to the conclusion that the annual fall of rain in this entire region is not probably more than 15 inches. The immediate banks of the watercourses would feel this lack of moisture the least. Hence it is here we find the only trees that grow upon the plains proper. In the heads of ravines we naturally expect springs, and in such localities a few bushes are occasionally found. Copious rains always prevail in mountain ranges, and in them trees abound. From all these facts I am forced to conclude that the converse of the usually accepted theory is correct, or that the absence of forests is due to lack of moisture, instead of the latter being a result of the former fact. I suggest that the importance of this matter is such as to justify a thorough investigation. Careful and reliable data of the amount of rainfall will alone determine the productiveness of the vast region between the Missouri and the Rocky mountains.

 INDIAN TRIBES. The principal Indian tribes inhabiting the explored region are the Dakotas, or Sioux, and the Absaroukas, or Crows. The Dakotas are by far the most numerous and powerful. This tribe is a confederacy of ten bands, speaking the same language, but separately organized under their own chiefs. These subdivisions are so decided that it is not uncommon for some of the bands to be engaged in a war in which others do not take part, although they never war upon each other. They occupy the country on both sides of the Missouri from the mouth of the Yellowstone to Fort Randall, and from Powder river, on the west, to Minnesota river, on the east. Some efforts have been made to introduce Christianity and civilization among the Dakotas of Minnesota, and their language has been reduced to writing and a dictionary thereof published. West of the Missouri the missionary has not yet visited them, and they know nothing of civilization save as it is presented in rather a doubtful phase by the traders. The bands differ materially in their disposition towards the whites. Those to the south or near the Platte seem disposed to be peaceable, while those in the north are fierce, ill tempered, and warlike. I am not surprised at the horrible atrocities committed by those savages since I visited them, and I am impressed with the conviction that there can be no permanent peace with them until the policy of the government shall be radically changed. Some restrictions must be imposed upon the sale of arms and ammunition. The agents must not be permitted to deal with the Indians entirely through the traders, and to be dependent upon them for protection, guides, transportation, interpreters, &c., &c. Moreover, when depredations are committed by the Indians, and it becomes necessary to chastise them, treaties should not be subsequently negotiated in which their future quiet is purchased by large presents, as was the case in the Harney treaty of 1857, which I consummated at Fort Pierre, as this is simply offering a premium for future outrages, and lessens the savage's appreciation of the power and majesty of the government. In these and many minor respects sweeping reforms are vitally necessary in our Indian policy. The Absaroukas, or Crows, occupy the country west of Powder River, as far as the valley of the Three Forks of the Missouri, on both sides of the Yellowstone. They have had little or no intercourse with the whites save traders. They are divided into three bands-the mountain, lower, and middle-together, numbering about 3,000 souls. They have never had trouble with the whites, and are disposed to be peaceable. They occupy the best buffalo ground in the west, but are jealous of intrusion; and while they expressed a willingness that I should pass through their country, were careful to add that they could not consent to my remaining. As game becomes scarce the territory they claim as their own, is constantly encroached upon by surrounding tribes, and this fact leads to frequent wars. The Crows, though few in number, are noted warriors, and thus far have been able to maintain their independence and defend their territory. At the time of my visit, however, they evidently feared the effect of this constant pressure, and expressed a dread of being ultimately overpowered. Though they have seen little of civilized life, they have learned all its vices. Nothing was safe that they could steal, and their licentiousness was beyond conception. The Crows made (I think) just complaint that their annuities were not delivered to them in their own country, but were taken, in 1860, up the Platte, where they were expected to receive them, being thus compelled to pass through the country of the Sioux, their most formidable enemies —an evidence of gross stupidity and carelessness, or something worse, on the part of those who were responsible for this occurrence.

MISCELLANEGUS. The report, which is herewith submitted, of Professor F. V. Hayden, now of the University of Pennsylvania, upon the geology of this country, will be found to contain all information upon that branch up to date. Professor Hayden accompanied the expedition, and he has made the geology of the northwest his special study for years, having visited portions of it, not only in company with government explorations, but also at his personal expense. His opportunities have therefore been greater than those of any other person for trediJng this important subject. The meteorological records of the expedition are also submitted, and it is believed they will furnish important data for judging of the climatic condition of the country. The botanical specimens collected were placed in the hands of Dr. George Engleman, of St. Louis, whose report will be found herewith. The zoological specimens were forwarded to Professor S. F. Baird, of the Smithsonian Institution, and the report of this gentleman thereon is likewise submitted. The fossil plants have been examined by Professor J. S. Newberry, the fossil vertebrate by Professor Leidy, other specimens by Isaac Lea, of Philadelphia, Professor Chester Dewey, of Rochester, New York, and mosses by Professor Sullivan, of Columbus, Ohio. The reports and descriptive catalogues prepared by each of these gentlemen upon their respective topics are appended. A map of the country passed over by the expedition was prepared in 1861, and forwarded to the department in April 1864. The recent mining developments caused so great a demand for this map that the department decided upon its publication. The original having thus passed out of my hands, I, as a part of the report, annex hereto a lithographed copy received from the bureau. My daily journal, and the reports of Lieutenant H. E. Maynadier, Lieutenant John Mullins, Mr. J. Hudson Snowden, and Mr. J. D. Hutton, submitted herewith, embody all the details of the incidents of the expedition. It is but justice that in closing I should express my thanks to every member of the expedition for the satisfactory manner in which they aided me in the performance of the duties committed to my charge.

Respectfully submitted: W. F. RAYNOLDS, Brevet Colonel U. S. Army,

Brevet Maj. Gen. A. A. HUMPHREYS, Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.

Journal of Captain W. F. Raynolds, United States Army, Corps of Engineers.





[2] Map copy available at WebMaster. This map’s features are accurate to about one mile in longitude as compared with current TOPO maps. It was later amended to incorporate several local area Indian Battles and their definitive routes.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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