« PreviousContinue »
down that river, to the place where it is said to empty itself, near the Straits of Anian."
From these declarations, it has been supposed, by many, that Carver was the first to make known to the world the existence of the great stream since discovered, and named the Columbia, which drains nearly the whole region, on the Pacific side of America, between the 40th and the 54th parallels of latitude; and that stream is, in consequence, frequently called the Oregon. On examining the journal of the traveller, however, we find no further mention of, or allusion to, his river than is contained in the following passages: “From these nations, [called by him the Naudowessies, the Assinipoils, and the Killistinoes,] together with my own observations, I have learned that the four most capital rivers on the continent of North America — viz., the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, the River Bourbon, and the Oregon, or River of the West, (as I hinted in my introduction) — have their sources in the same neighborhood. The waters of the three former are within thirty miles of each other; the latter, however, is rather farther west. This shows that these parts are the highest in North America ; and it is an instance not to be paralleled in the other three quarters of the world, that four rivers of such magnitude should take their rise together, and each, after running separate courses, discharge their waters into different oceans, at the distance of two thousand miles from their sources; for, in their passage from this spot to the Bay of St. Lawrence east, to the Bay of Mexico south, to Hudson's Bay north, and to the bay at the Straits of Anian west, each of these traverse upwards of two thousand miles.” The elevated part, to which Carver here alludes, is no otherwise described by him than as being near the Shining Mountains, “which begin at Mexico, and, continuing northward, on the back, or to the east, of California, separate the waters of those numerous rivers that fall into the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf of California. From thence, continuing their course still northward, between the sources of the Mississippi and the rivers that run into the South Sea, they appear to end in about 47 or 48 degrees of north latitude, where a number of rivers arise, and empty themselves either into the South Sea, into Hudson's Bay, or into the waters that communicate between these two seas.
In the preceding extracts from Carver's book, embracing all that he has said respecting his Oregon, or Great River of the West, there is certainly nothing calculated to establish the identity of the stream, to which those vague descriptions and allusions apply, with the Columbia, or with any other river. The Columbia does not rise within a few leagues, or a few hundred leagues, of the waters of the Red River, the St. Lawrence, or the Upper Mississippi, which latter Carver carefully distinguishes from the Missouri ; nor does either of those rivers, flowing to the Atlantic, rise near the great dividing ridge of the Shining Mountains; which ridge, moreover, does not end about the 48th degree of latitude, but continues more than a thousand miles farther north-westward. If, under circumstances so different, we consider the head-waters of the Columbia to be the same described by Carver as the head-waters of the Oregon, we should, a fortiori, admit the mouth of the Columbia to be the same mouth of a river which Aguilar is said to have discovered in 1603.
Carver's descriptions of places, people, and things, in the Indian countries, are vague, and often contradictory; and, where they can be understood, they are, for the most part, repetitions of the accounts of those or of other parts of America, given by the old French travellers and historians, whose works he, nevertheless, takes great pains to disparage, whenever he mentions them.* In many of those works, the belief in the existence of a great river, flowing from the vicinity of the head-waters of the Mississippi, westward, to the Pacific, is distinctly affirmed, as founded on the reports of the Indians; and on ricarly all maps of North America, published during the early part of the last century, may be found one or more of such streams, under the names of River of the West, River of
* In proof that no injustice is here done to Carver's memory, read his magisterial and contemptuous remarks on the works of Hennepin, Lahontan, and Charlevoix, in che first chapter of his account of the origin, manners, &c., of the Indians; and then compare his chapters describing, as from personal observation, the ceremonies of marriage, burial, hunting, and others, of the natives of the Upper Mississippi coun. tries, with those of Lahontan, showing the conduct of the Iroquois, of Canada, on similar occasions, by which it will be seen that Career has simply translated from Lahontan the whole of the accounts, even to the speeches of the chiefs. Carver's chapter on the origin of the Indians is merely an abridgment from Charlevoix's “ Dissertation" on the same subject. His descriptions of the language, manners, and customs, of the inhabitants of the Upper Mississippi regions, are entirely at variance with those of the same tribes at the present day, as clearly shown by the observations of Pike, Long, and other persons of unquestionable character, who have since visited that part of America. Keating, in his interesting narrative of Long's expedition in 1823, expresses his belief that Carver “ascended the Mississippi to the Falls of St. Anthony, that he saw the St. Peter, and that he may have entered it; but, had he resided five months in the country, and become acquainted with the language of the people, he would not have applied to them the name of Naudowessies, and omitted to call them the Dacota Indians, as they style themselves.”
Aguilar, River Thegayo, or some other, represented on the authority of accounts received from Indians, or of erroneous or fabulous narratives of voyages along the North Pacific coasts. When we consider the many and glaring plagiarisms, from the works above mentioned, committed by Carver, we certainly have a right to suspect, if not to conclude, that he derived from the same source every thing relating to his River of the West, which he pretends to have collected from the Indians of the Upper Mississippi. As to the name Oregon, or the authority for its use, the traveller is silent; and nothing has been learned from any other source, though much labor has been expended in attempts to discover its meaning and derivation: it was, most probably, invented by Carver.
The most distinct and apparently authentic of these Indian accounts of great rivers flowing from the central parts of North America to the Pacific, is that recorded by the French traveller Lepage Dupratz, as received from a native of the Yazoo country, named Moncachtabé. The amount of this statement is that the Indian ascended the Missouri north-westward, to its source, beyond which he found another great river, running towards the setting sun; this latter he descended to a considerable distance, though not to its termination, which he was prevented from reaching by wars among the tribes inhabiting the country on its banks; though he learned, from a woman who had been made prisoner by the tribe with which he took part, that the river entered a great water, where ships had been seen, navigated by white men with beards. All this is related, with many accompanying circumstances, tending to confirm the probability of the narrative; and there is, indeed, nothing about it which should induce us to reject it as false, except the part respecting the ships and white men, which may have been an embellishment added by Moncachtabé.* The course of this supposed stream is laid down on several maps of North America, published about 1750, in which it is called the Great River of the IVest; and one of these maps probably formed the basis of Carver's story.
The first actual discovery of a river in the northernmost section of America, not emptying into the Atlantic or Hudson's Bay, was made, in 1771, by Mr. Samuel Hearne, one of the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company, who also obtained the earliest exact information respecting the regions west and north-west of that bay.
* The account may be found at length in the Mémoires sur la Louisiane, by the Abbé le Mascrier, published at Paris in 1753, vol. ii. p. 246.
Hearne had been commissioned, by the directors of the company, to explore those regions, in order to determine, if possible, the question as to the existence of a northern passage between Hudson's Bay and the Pacific; and also, more especially, to find a rich mine of copper, which was believed, from the accounts of the Indians, to lie on the banks of a river or strait, called, in their language, “ the Far-off Metal River.” From the general tenor of the instructions given to Hearne, it is evident that the directors were convinced of the non-existence of such a passage, and that they were merely anxious to have the fact demonstrated, in order to clear themselves from the imputation often cast upon them, of endeavoring to obstruct the progress of discovery in the regions under their control.
Agreeably to these instructions, Hearne made, between 1769 and 1772, three journeys from Fort Prince of Wales, the company's chief establishment on the western shore of Hudson's Bay, near the 60th degree of latitude, through the regions west and northwest of that place, which he examined, in various directions, to the distance of about a thousand miles. In his last journey, he discovered the Great Slave Lake, and other similar collections of fresh water, from which issued streams flowing northward and westward; and he traced one of these streams, which proved to be the Far-off Metal River, since called the Copper Mine River, to its termination in a sea, where the tides were observed, and the relics of whales were strowed in abundance on the shores. The mouth of this river was calculated rudely by Hearne to be situated near the 720 degree of latitude, and about 20 degrees of longitude, west of the most western known part of Hudson's Bay; and he learned from the Indians that the continent extended much farther west, and that there were high mountains in that direction. The sea into which the Copper Mine River emptied was supposed by the traveller to be “a sort of inland sea, or extensive bay, somewhat like that of Hudson ;and he assured himself, by his own observations, that the territory traversed by him, between this sea and Hudson's Bay, was not crossed by any channel connecting the two waters: whence it followed, that no vessel could sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of America, without proceeding beyond the mouth of the Copper Mine River. Hearne also conceived that he had proved the entire impossibility of the existence of any direct communication between Hudson's Bay and the Pacific; in which he, undoubtedly, assumed too much, as the northern termination of that bay had not then, nor has it to this day, been discovered.
Hearne's journals were not published until 1795, though they were submitted, immediately after his return from his last journey, to the lords commissioners of the British Admiralty, who did not fail to perceive the importance of the information contained in them. The commissioners agreed with Hearne in considering the probability of reaching the Pacific through Hudson's Bay to be destroyed ; but they were, on the other hand, induced to hope that the newly-discovered sea, north of America, might be found to communicate, by navigable passages, with Baffin's Bay on the east and the Pacific on the west: and it was, in consequence, resolved, that ships should be sent, simultaneously, to explore the western side of Baffin's Bay and the north-easternmost coasts of the Pacific, in search of the desired channels of connection with the Arctic Sea. By an act of parliament, passed in 1745, a reward of twenty thousand pounds had been offered for the discovery of a north-west passage, through Hudson's Bay, by ships belonging to his majesty's subjects; and, in order further to stimulate British navigators in their exertions, a new act, in 1776, held out the same reward to the owners of any ship belonging to his majesty's subjects, or to the commander, officers, and crew, of any vessel belonging to his majesty, which should find out, and sail through, any passage by sea between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, in any direction, or parallel of the northern hemisphere, to the northward of the 52d degree of latitude.
Soon after the adoption of these resolutions, Captain James Cook returned to England from his second voyage of circumnavigation, in which he had completely disproved all reports of the existence of a habitable continent about the south pole; and, his offer to conduct the proposed expedition to the North Pacific having been accepted by the government, two vessels were soon prepared and placed under his command for that purpose.
In the instructions delivered to Cook, on the 6th of July, 1776, he is directed to proceed, by way of the Cape of Good Hope, New Zealand, and Otaheite, to the coast of New Albion, which he was to endeavor to reach, in the latitude of 45 degrees. He was “strictly enjoined, on his way thither, not to touch upon any part of the Spanish dominions on the western continent of America, unless driven to it by some unavoidable accident; in which case, he was to stay no longer than should be absolutely necessary, and to be very careful not to give any umbrage or offence to any of the inhabitants or subjects of his Catholic majesty. And if, in his