Of course, the project of crossing the Rocky Mountains and trapping at the headwaters of the Columbia had now to be abandoned. They wandered about, meeting with various adventures, until only Captain Williams and two others of the party were left. At last they agreed to separate, the two intending to attempt the difficult passage back to St. Louis, while the brave captain remained, and finally reached the great Arkansas Valley in safety.
In 1812 General William H. Ashley, the head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, travelled up the Platte Valley, which a few years previously had been traversed by Captain Ezekiel Williams, whose routes were nearly the same. This party had a particularly hard time. Before they reached the buffalo country the Indians had driven every herd away.
In the company there were two Spaniards, who were one morning left behind at camp to catch some horses that had strayed. The two men stopped at the house of a respectable white woman, and finding her without protection, they assaulted her. They were pursued to the camp by a number of the settlers, who made the outrage known to the trappers. They all regarded the crime with the utmost abhorrence, and felt mortified that any of their party should be guilty of conduct so revolting. The culprits were arrested, and they at once admitted their guilt. A council was called in the presence of the settlers, and the men were offered their choice of two punishments: either to be hanged to the nearest tree, or to receive one hundred lashes each on the bare back. They chose the latter, which was immediately inflicted upon them by four of the trappers. Having no cat-o’-nine-tails in their possession, the lashes were inflicted with hickory withes. Their backs were terribly lacerated, and the blood flowed in streams to the ground. The following morning the two Spaniards and two of the best horses were missing from the camp; they were not pursued, however, but by the tracks it was discovered they had started for New Mexico.
There were thirty-four men in the party, including the general, and a harder-looking set for want of nourishment could hardly be imagined. They moved forward hoping to find game, as their allowance was half a pint of flour a day per man. This was made into a kind of gruel. If it happened that a duck or goose was killed, it was shared as fairly as possible.
There were no jokes, no fireside stories, no fun; each man rose in the morning with the gloom of the preceding night filling his mind; they built their fires without saying a word, and partook of their scanty repast in silence.
At last an order was given for the hunters to sally out and try their fortunes. Jim Beckwourth, who was one of the party, a mere youth then, tells of the success in the following words:—