Last of the Mountain Men
By Hugh M. Lewis
Beginning of the "Prairie Wolf"
King-Pin of the Rocky Mountain Corridor, 1924-1844
Guide, Gold-Seeker, and Wyoming Road Rancher, 1845-1858
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Beginning of the "Prairie Wolf"
Antoine Robidoux was the most colorful and perhaps the best known of the six Robidoux brothers. He is known so much not through the records of St. Louis or St. Joseph, as through the documentary sources from places scattered across the Western half of the United States and from a wide array of others who knew and met him and briefly described their encounter. He is in some ways more controversial than his brother Joseph--virtually villanized as a ruthless slave trader by the Mormons of Utah, he is referred to as a "gentleman" in his obituary and by many others who had his acquaintance. One time becoming a Mexican citizen and first non-Mexican Alcalde' of Santa Fe, he publicly denounced and chastized the other American traders of Santa Fe for not following suit. Twenty years later he is literally leading Kearny's Army of the West against the Mexican Government. Known as the Kingpin of the Colorado fur trade, he died in poverty, blind and crippled from his lance-wounds. Well respected and even liked by many different Indians, his two forts were some of the few trading forts ever to be attacked and destroyed by the Indians.
The controversy that surrounds the recounting of his life story is not unlike the controversy which has surrounded the life of Jean Lafitte, the privateer who attacked American trade vessels and yet fought against the British along side Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans. A man at one time suave, "cavalier" and a gentleman, and the next cunning, ruthless and dead in his aim. It is evident that Antoine probably had many of the same talents and capacities of Jean Lafitte. Dexterous with many languages, American, French, Spanish and at least several different Indian dialects, he must have been a highly intelligent individual. There are very few surviving documents in his own hand, though he must have been literate and quite precocious--he was apparently capable of successfully prosecuting long distance and long term trade relations without the need for secretaries or log-books.
In stature of reputation and skills of his day, he walked beside Kit Carson as an early mountain-man and hero of the west. He achieved a reputation far and wide with the sobriquet of the "Prairie Wolf," only to have his life and his story forgotten before his own demise.
Without all the facts, we cannot today sit in clear judgement of his character. He apparently was not a man without contradictions--both good and bad. To villainize him for buying and selling slaves and possibly for enslaving Indians for profit is to ignore the cultural and historical context in which he was operating. He died several years before the Civil War began. He was raised by a father who was also a slave owner in a slave state. He entered into Spanish territory where the slave trade had been conducted continuously for more than a century already, where Indians higher on the totem pole of life habitually and unhesitatingly preyed on other Indian groups. To claim that he was not a man without strong vices, is not to say that he was also a man without strong virtues also. Good or bad, he was a man who stood tall in his own time, and a man for many, if not all, seasons.
Born on September 24th, 1794, Antoine was the fifth surviving son of Joseph Robidoux III. Like his other brothers, the period of his early life is largely unknown. William Wallace, who wrote the first and best biography of Antoine, show the young brothers growing up in Florissant, playing with the neighbor girls they would later marry, and with other children who will figure prominently in the Fur trade--Antoine Leroux, Clamorgan, August Archambault, the Chouteaus, etc. Whether or not this was really the case is unknown.
Antoine enlisted in an artillery company of the Missouri Militia in St. Louis on April 23, 1813, which marched north from St. Louis to Prairie du Chien. He remained actively enlisted for one month, and was honorably discharged on May 21, 1813. He always claimed he was enlisted for three months with this company, which may well be the case.
In connection to the fur trade, we first hear of him as part of the first Atkinson-Long expedition of 1818-19, which reached the site of Old Council Bluffs, leading to the founding of Ft. Atkinson, and which was intended as a show of force to the Indians. He would have been 25 years old. Orral Messmore Robidoux mentions this expedition in her book, but curiously makes no reference to Antoine as being a member of it. The journals of Stephen Long provide a lot of descriptive information, but little about the many people who were connected with it. The Atkinson expedition shows to be almost exclusively a military affair. The only ostensible non-military people connected with this side of the Missouri expedition were the sutlers and their boatmen. Benjamin O'Fallon and apparently Manuel Lisa had hands in equipping this expedition. It is possible that young Antoine Robidoux might have been engaged at this time in helping to supply the expedition, possibly as a contractor or sub contracting agent, or as an engage'. It is also possible that he may have been employed as a guide or an interpreter by either the Long or Atkinson sides, but again, I have found no direct evidence indicating this.
On March 6th, 1819, James Barnes of Franklin, Missouri wrote a promissary note to Joseph and Antoine Robidoux. This is the first document of record for Antoine. This is three months before Stephen Long's expedition put in at Franklin for a week, though the military had already ventured well past this point.
Four steamboats, the Thomas Jefferson, R. M. Johnson Expedition and the Western Engineer, paddled up the Missouri under government order. Actually, five steamboats had been requisitioned from a St. Louis contractor, but only three were made available in time for the voyage. The Thomas Jefferson was sunk at the mouth of the Osage River, becoming the first wrecked steamboat on the Missouri. They established, according to Orral Messmore Robidoux, the first military post, "Cantonment Martin", on Cow Island above Ft. Leavenworth.
LeRoy Hafen, in his introduction to the Bell Journal of the second expedition, wrote that Major Stephen Long established in 1817 a military site for a fort on the Arkansas River, later to become Fort Smith. That year Long was sent up the Mississippi to choose other military locations, leading to the establishment of Fort Anthony by Colonel Leavenworth at the mouth of the Minnesota River. Under the direction President Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun:
"the grandest exploration venture yet attempted. It was popularly called the Yellowstone Expedition. A corps of competent scientists and artist was to examine and report upon the Western country. An adequate military force was to accompany the party, protect the explorers and overawe the Indians. The company was to ascend the Missouri, make scientific explorations, and establish a fort at the Mandan Villages or at the mouth of the Yellowstone. This military post was intended to impress the Indians, frighten away the British trader and encourage the opening of a trade route to Oregon, perhaps even to China. The nation expected important results from the venture."(13-14)
Colonel Henry Atkinson led the military part of the expedition, and Major Stephen Long the scientific. Because they traveled by steamboat, they encountered many difficulties--the muddy Missouri clogged the boilers and delayed the travel. It took the entire season of 1819 to reach Council Bluffs where Camp Missouri (Later Ft. Atkinson and Fort Calhoun) was established. "The ensuring winter spent there was a miserable one, about one hundred men dying of scurvy." (14) Congress, disappointed in the expedition, refused to fund the remainder of the journey.
Chittendem gives extensive reference to the Yellowstone expeditions. He provides invaluable newspaper reports of the time which indicate the optimistic social climate in which the original expedition was conceived and received by the public. He shows the ineptitude of the contractor for the steamboats, who failed to build boats adequate to the voyage up the mighty Missouri.
Of those connected with this expedition, one Colonel James Johnson, contractor, emerges from its confused history with the glory of having accomplished all and more than he expected. Without competition he secured a contract, Dec. 2, 1818, in which not only were the prices exorbitant, but some of them were left to future contingencies to be fixed by arbitration if agreement should fail between the principals. He was also to be allowed advances before services were performed, and that without adequate security to the government. Thus practically guaranteed against loss, the shrewd Colonel Johnson took little care to see that his equipment was of a character that should ensure a prompt fulfillment of the contract. He provided five steamboats, the Jefferson, Expedition, Johnson, Calhoun and Exchange. There is no record that the last two were able to enter the Missouri at all. The Jefferson gave out and abandoned the trip thirty miles below Franklin. The Expedition and Johnson wintered at Cow Island, a little above the mouth of the Kansas, and returned to St. Louis in the following spring. In his entire arrangements Colonel Johnson failed to come up to the contract, and the expedition was thereby hopelessly delayed and its main purpose thwarted. In the disagreements that subsequently arose arbitrators had to be called in, and these sided with the contractor, allowing him over forty thousand dollars for loss occasioned by the very delays for which he alone was responsible. The matter was so scandalous that it led to an investigation by a committee of Congress..."(569)
He reveals the poor quality of high level planning. Colonel Atkinson had conceived of a more viable and less expensive plan to utilize man-powered keel boats equipped with paddle wheels. It was a method that he later successfully applied on an expedition to the Yellowstone in 1825 (567), but government planners were insistent that the voyage should be conducted in style upon steamboats that were the new craze of the day. As it was, the boats that reached Council Bluffs only made less than half the journey in greater time than it would have required a troop to have marched on foot to the Yellowstone. The plans and over equipment was outlandishly extravagant. There were too many troops for the purpose, and the Western Engineer proved far to comfortable a home for the scientists to induce them to risk their lives on the untamed shores.
The winter encampment, known as Camp Missouri, proved to be one of the most disastrous such encampments for the Army, including Valley Forge. Over three hundred troops suffered from "scurvy," of which more than one hundred perished. "The disease prevailed to some extent all winter, and by spring the situation had become 'truly deplorable." Paul Wilhelm left an account of this expedition with which Antoine has been apparently associated:
This expedition which consisted of riflemen and the Sixth Regiment of regular troops was equipped with every necessary for the erection of the fort, the cultivation of the surrounding country and the maintenance of the men. They arrived at the Bluffs on Oct. 12, 1819. The location first selected was a low point, about three miles farther up the stream than the Bluffs, not far from a swamp. In the summer of 1820 a serious epidemic broke out. It manifested itself by successive swellings of the limbs. It was called scurvy by the local physicians. It does not seem to have been diagnosed accurately. Three hundred of the men perished from the effects of this disease. An earlier flood, the proximity of the swamp and the consumption of rancid salt pork may have been the cause of the ailment.
The very romantically situated hills, sloping abruptly toward the river, were chosen as a suitable location for a military post. In 1820 it was called Fort Atkinson. The location of the establishment was very well selected. It was located at 41º (degrees) 17' northern latitude, in a region freely swept by the breezes. It commands the surrounding country very well for a distance of 1,000 paces. It also commands the Missouri River, which is not very wide here.
The fort itself was a square structure. Its sides were each 200 American yards long. There were eight log houses, two on each side. There were three gates leading into this fort. On the side toward the river there was only a passage under the houses that here were set one against the other. Each house consisted of ten rooms, and was 25 feet wide and 250 feet long. The roof of the houses sloped toward an interior court. The doors and windows opened upon this court. On the outside each room has an embrasure or loophole, ten feet long. The interior court was a large grass-covered square, in the center of which stood the powder house, built of stone. Around the fort, at a distance of 50 paces ran a fence with three gates. Outside the fort, on the northwest side was situated a council house, about 50 feet long, consisting of a hall and a smaller room. Here the government agents negotiated with deputations of the Indian nations and their chiefs. (359-60)
A sixth steamboat commissioned out of Pittsburgh in 1818 for the expedition especially provided for the scientific portion under Major Stephen Long. "For the use of Major Long's part a special boat was constructed which appears in every way to have been a decided novelty. It was called the Western Engineer, and was probably the first stern-wheel steamboat ever built. A description in the Missouri Gazette of May 26, 1819 reveals the nature of the boat:
The Western Engineer is well armed and carries and elegant flag representing a white man and an Indian shaking hands, the calumet of peace and the sword. The boat is 75 feet long, 13 feet beam and draws 19 inches of water. The steam passes off through the mouth of a larger figure-head (a serpent)...The wheels are placed in the stern."
A letter dated June 19, 1819, from St. Louis, ten days after the boats arrival there, further describes this unusual craft.
The bow of this vessel exhibits the form of a huge serpent, black and scaly, rising out of the water from under the boat, his head as high as the deck, darted forward, his mouth open, vomiting smoke, and apparently carrying the boat on his back. From under the boat at its stern issues a stream of foaming water, dashing violently along. All the machinery is hid. Three small brass field pieces mounted on wheel carriages stand on the deck. The boat is ascending the rapid stream at the rate of three miles an hour. Neither wind nor human hands are seen to help her, and, to the eye of ignorance, the illusion is complete, that a monster of the deep carries her on his back, smoking with fatigue, and lashing the waves with violent exertion. Her equipments are at once calculated to attract and to awe the savages. Objects pleasing and terrifying are at once placed before him--artillery, the flag of the Republic, portraits of the white man and the Indian shaking hands, the calumet of peace, a sword, then the apparent monster with a painted vessel on his back, the sides gaping with portholes and bristling with guns. Taken altogether, and without intelligence of her composition and design, it would require a daring savage to approach and accost her with Hamlet's speech: 'Be thou a spirit of health or a goblin damned, etc.'"
Orral Messmore Rubidoux provided a very interesting description of the Western Engineer, which apparently was the only one to survive the Expedition.
The First Steamboat.
On May 5 (15?) 1819, Major Stephen H. Long headed a small military expedition up the Missouri River on a steamboat called the Western Engineer, leaving St. Louis early in June and being the first steamboat that ever ascended the river above Charleston. Stops were made at a few places in the vicinity. One was at the mouth of Wolf River in Doniphan Country, where much time was spent in repairs. Here, also, they replenished their stores with all kinds of game. Buffalo, deer, turkey and other kinds of game were in abundance. The boat passed up the river and landed at the mouth of the Nemaha and the Tarkio Rivers and took on a large quantity of wild honey. The boat arrived at the mouth of the Platte River September 15, 1819, and went into winter quarters in the vicinity of Council Bluffs.
The Western Engineer was fitted out especially to overawe the Indians. On her bow, running from the keel forward, was an escape pipe made in imitation of a huge serpent, painted black, and the mouth and tongue painted a fiery red.
The steam escaped from the mouth of the sea serpent, puffed and groaned like a powerful monster in great agony. The terrible noise could be heard for many miles, and when the Indians saw this they thought the judgment day was at hand. It is believed that the Western Engineer had more to do with quelling the Indians than all the shots and shells ever used against them. They were told that the great white father in Washington had sent a sea serpent to swallow them if they were not good. (75-6)
Chittendem describes the voyage of the scientific team aboard the Western Engineer. The boat had few navigational or mechanical problems, and easily sailed up the Missouri. Though it started later than the others, it quickly passed them before they reached the mouth of the Kansas, and was the only boat to make it to Council Bluffs. Even so, it took a very leisurely pace. "Average running time five hours per day (12-17 miles). Average leisure time for examining the country, ten hours per day."
Gaining Franklin, where they stopped for more than a week and were wined and dined by the local townsmen. On the 19th of July four of the scientific party left Franklin to travel overland to Ft. Osage , which was reached on the first of August. On the 6th of August most of the party set out by land with the intention of visiting the Kansas and Pawnee, rejoining the expedition near Council Bluffs. The Boat left Ft. Osage on the 10th and arrived at "Camp Martin" on Isle a la Vache below the present site of Ft. Leavenworth, where three companies of the expedition troops were wintered. The boat remained there a week in order to treat the Kansas Indians, and resumed its voyage on the 25th of August, accompanied by 15 trops under Lieutenant Field in a keelboat General Smith.
Four days later, the land party arrived at Isle a la Vache for the purpose of "availing themselves of the comforts of the boat. They had been pretty roughly handled by a small part of Pawnees and were satisfied with their taste of frontier experience." Two of the party were ill. The party set out on forced marches and caught up with the boat by the 1st of September. The boat arrived at Fort Lisa on the 17th of September where it was decided to winter at a site "half a mile above Fort Lisa, five miles below Council Bluffs, and three miles above the mouth of the Boyer river." This site was named Engineer Cantonment. The scientific party wintered quite comfortably, conduction scientific explorations of the surrounding area, gathering information on the Omahas, and dining with Manuel Lisa and his wife. Of the Scientific part of the expedition, Chittendem concludes:
The same spirit of absurd extravagance pervaded the scientific branch of the enterprise. If Major Long had been content with a sensible field equipment transported on pack mules, or on a keelboat while along the Missouri, he could have kept his party in the field for five years, and have explored the entire region east of the mountains, for less money than his actual operations cost in the year 1819 alone. (574)
The Steamboat Western Engineer at Engineer Cantonment, 1819.
Antoine is not directly connected with the second Long Expedition in 1820. He is not found listed in the manifest that is given by Bell. It appears that he may have been wise enough to dissociate himself from the involvement of this second more successful expedition.
The case of the association of Antoine Robidoux with the Atkinson-Long expedition is one of those recurrent instances of historical parallax of our knowledge of the Robidoux family, of which there are a few. It is a case in which statements are made by chroniclers without substantiation or citation of references. The validity of these claims cannot be tested. Possibly coming from family lore, we cannot flatly deny their veracity--lacking documentary substantiation, we cannot assert with any real confidence that it was the case. It is very possible, even probable, that Antoine was one of those nameless individuals in the background of the historic events of this expedition. He was old enough and was probably operating in this region during this time period. Outfitting and supplying over a thousand relatively nonproductive people for over a year would have been a major expense and undertaking in itself. The logistics and windfalls would have been enough to entice and satisfy all of the traders on the Missouri at the time. If he had been an interpreter or a guide in any of these expeditions, again it is not clear in the records. He undoubtedly would have had the experience among the Indians of the region to undertake such a role.
It is not known what he was up to between 1820 and 1822. The only reference to emerge so far for this critical time period, just before he entered the Mexican territory of the Southwest, comes from the narrative of a young mountain-man to be Tom "Pegleg" Smith:
At a grand council of the Wabash Nation near present-day Terre Haute, Indiana, he met Antoine Robidoux. Robidoux infected him with tales of adventure, among the trappers of the western wilds, and he took Tom out to the Sioux-Osage territory in 1820. They remained two years, returned to St. Louis and gleefully squandered the proceeds of their trading in a royal drunken spree.
It can be presumed that sometime during this period he was involved with Joseph in the setting up an Oto post near Council Bluffs, which was founded in 1822 with Joseph as the factor. This post was briefly known as Fort Robidoux for a single year until Cabanne' became the superintendent and its name changed. Antoine may have been helping in the Indian trade with the nations of this region, including the Sioux and the Osage.
In 1822-3, at 28 years of age, Antoine Robidoux was probably engaged by his brother Joseph for his first trip to Santa Fe. Indian agent Benjamin O'Fallon writes to Joshua Pilcher of the Missouri Fur Company, that "Robidoux's hunters and trappers have returned to the mountains," following the passage of General Ashley's boat to St. Louis and the fiasco of Colonel Leavenworth's expedition against the Arikara." (Hafen, VIII: 299). It has been suggested that he made his way at this time to the Uintah-Green River region which he was later to occupy.
It is not unlikely that he did not become engaged with Ceran St. Vrain at this time, who, according to Morgan, would have to yank his engage's from the St. Louis grog shops, including a new specimen of a mountain-man--"wild, whooping, black-eyed, red-faced, bull-shouldered youth with the undistinguished name of Tom Smith." Smith accompanied the first caravan of wagons to Santa Fe, which left Missouri in May of 1824. Whether Antoine was in this company is not specified, but it is almost certain that he had already returned from the Mexican Southwest well before this time. After Smith arrived at Taos, he went north to trap along "Smith's Fork" of the "Grand", possibly the Uncompahgre and the Gunnison, continued down the Grand River, and then came back along the San Juan river and became one of the first white Americans to encounter the Navajoes:
"We were g'wine along nearly as dry as our powder horns and as hungry as cayotes on a Christmas mornin' when we saw a slight smoke curling up from the little valley that lay beneath us. We didn't know what kind of people we should find there, but concluded that we might as well lose our hair in the valley as starve to death on the hills; so we descended into the valley where we found a little stream of pure crystal water. We plunged into the creek and lay in the water with our mouths open....dog my cats if it warn't worth more'n a glass of old Bourbon--and you kn ow that ain't bad to take, of a cold morning....We got up and began to crawl--cautiously through the bushes towards....the smoke.....We soon got near enough to discover that there was but a single hut, and that occupied by a single person, and that one a woman--old and wrinkled enough to be the mother of all the witches....She was....parching corn and grinding it in a rude stone mortar...Afore she had time to raise from the fire....we were upon her. She gave a screetch and turned to fly, but we caught hold of and kept her quiet and....astured her that we meant no harm. We informed her by the universal language of signs that we were hungry; whereupon she seized a handful of pounded corn and gave to us and then pointed to a canon a short distance away and intimated that plenty of food was to be obtained there....the Indians came out and welcomed us....then furnished us with everything that we desired even to a pretty good hoe cake made of...corn and goat's milk. We were the first Americans that these Indians had ever seen...The second day after our arrival, we were offered wives by the Chief, who with good taste picked out good-looking squaws for us." (69, Morgan: 227-8)
Though Antoine was not a member of this party, it reveals the type of encounters and ordeals that Antoine was probably involved in during this time. Antoine is known to have had early trade relations with the Navajoes, and must have found his way along the Grand, Green and San Juan rivers during this or an even earlier period of time. That the Robidou brothers had penetrated this region between 1820 and 1824 is supported by the following passage:
In the fall of 1824 Cabanne' was eager to outfit an expedition of his own into northern Mexico. When he reached his post at Council Bluffs, however, too few company hunters remained to staff a party. Cabanne' blamed this shortage on Sylvestre Pratte, who had stopped at the Bluff on his way north toward the James River that fall. Pratte, Cabanne' discovered, "had assered that the (Rocky) mountains remained exclusively to Robidoux, & that the Company did not want to 'send' any more,...accordingly he had even believed to do well in dismissing a part of the engages'." Thus, instead of competing with Joseph Robidoux, Cabanne' was forced to buy a one third interest in Robidoux's Mexican adventure. This humiliation certainly contributed to Cabanne's disenchantment with Sylvestre Pratte.
This would indicate that the Robidoux brothers had probably already been active in this region prior to 1824, and that Antoine must certainly have reached the Green River region a year or two before. According to Antoine's biographer William Wallace, "Antoine Robidoux activities in the Intermontane Corridor were to bring him the distinction of being one of the first penetrators of the entire Corridor. Also, he was the first to remain long enough in a large section of the Corridor to establish himself as one of the first permanent fitures in the long and colorful history of Western America." (14)
By late 1823 he was back in St. Louis, going back up the Missouri with goods to the Fort Robidoux which was south of Ft. Atkinson. He was granted permission to pass through Indian country from Ft. Atkinson, but apparently made a detour to the Green River country--probably for trapping and Indian trade. Lavendar (1954) sites a party of seventeen led by Antoine Robidoux that went to New Mexico in the winter of 1823-4. Kennerly, the Sutler of Fort Atkinson, mentions Antoine Robidoux as early as November 8th, 1823, possibly returning from Santa Fe by this time. "Clark issued them passports on December 29, 1823, endorsed at Council Bluffs on February 19, 1824." He, or possibly any of the other brothers, may have been the "young Robidou" mentioned in the Kennerly Journal for the 15th of February, 1824: "Received from St. Louis by young Robidou a small assortment of goods which were much wanted, and several letters from friends &c." Though the editor attributes this reference to Francois, and states that "Joseph and Francois Robidou conducted a store in Papin's brick house in 1820", it is highly like that this may have been any one of the younger brothers, especially Antoine.
The endorsement by Col. H. Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson on February 19, 1824, permitted him to pass through the Indian country between the Missouri River and New Mexico. Antoine, Charles Beaubien and Antoine Leroux were with a party of sixteen others bound for New Mexico in 1824. Kennerly recorded the departure of a Robidoux expedition to Santa Fe on Sept. 14th, 1825:
that Antoine was a member of this expedition is shown by two letters written that same day to "St. Vrain & Ballio" by Lieutenant Colonel A. R. Woolley, temporarily commanding at Fort Atkinson. Woolley entrusted to Antoine seven horses and three mules of which "your Hunters & Trappers were robbed by the Panis Loups in July last," subsequent recovered from those Indians. (Morgan, 306)
Reference is given in the Diary of James Kennerly on the 30th of September, 1824, to the departure of the "Roubidoux party" from Ft. Atkinson: Had chimney fixed but no better yet, Roubidoux party started for St Afee (Santa Fe) to day. The editor footnotes this with the information : "This expedition to Santa Fe' returned to Fort Atkinson on August 30, 1825. It was only one of several which Antoine Robidoux made into the Southwest." (75)
It is not clear that the party which left for Taos on Sept. 30, 1824, was the same which returned almost a year and a month later, on August 30, 1825, from Santa Fe. It is not clear that Antoine was even of the party which returned to Ft. Atkinson sometime before Sept. 30, 1824. It is likely that the returning expedition must have been Francois, who appears back in St. Louis that summer to marry his wife, and also, who with Manuel Alvarez and ten other men were given passports to Mexico by Governor McNair on September 3rd, 1824, and "were at the Bluffs in company with Joseph Robidoux eleven days later." (Morgan, 151)
The Missouri Intelligencer gives the following account on April 19, 1825 of William Huddart:
On the 24th of August (1824) he, in company with fourteen others, left Taos for the purpose of trapping for beaver, and traveled west thirty days (late September, 1824). On Green River (probably Rio Colorado of the West) the company separated, and nine ascended the river. Our informant was among those who remained; and in a few days they accidentally fell in with five other Americans, among whom was Mr. Rubideau. Two days after this, a large party of Aripehoes (Arapahoes) attacked them, killed one person by the name of Nowlin, and robbed the others.
This reference is interesting for several related reasons: first, it is the first known mention of the Green River "as applied to the Colorado of the West" (Chittendem: 507). It is also the first known reference of Antoine Robidoux in the West. Finally, it is virtually impossible that Antoine was of the Robideau party leaving for Taos on Sept. 30, 1824, or returning from Santa Fe on Aug. 30, 1825.
It is apparent therefore that in the Spring of 1824, Antoine had gone north toward the intermontane corridor, and returned earlier than the Aug. 30th, 1825 account, possibly by another route. Pegleg Smith recalled that in February, 1825, his friend Hopper, "who had been trapping on Green River, came into Taos "accompanied by Antonio Rubedoux, John Roland and some twenty-five men of Provost's company." (Morgan, 279).
According to John Barton, who has written the most recent biographical account of Antoine Robidoux, especially his involvements in the Uinta basin, it is not known if Etienne Provost had in fact trapped that year with Antoine Robidoux, though it is known that Joseph Robidoux sold supplies to Provost that year and may even have invested in the outfit. (24)
The contention that Antoine Robidou was along the Green River in the fall of 1824 is further strengthened by the report of William Gordon in his "Report to the Secretary of War relative to the Fur Trade" dated at St. Louis, Oct. 3, 1831, that was authorized by an investigation of a congressional committee. It stated that in 1824 "eight of Nolidoux (Robidoux) men were killed by the Comanches." "In the tabulation at the end of the document the offense is recorded as having been committed on 'Robidoux men," by the "Snakes" and the place is designated as "West of the Colorado." (Hafen: 95)
Mention is made of a possible alliance at the time between Etienne Provost and the Robidoux brothers. Ceran St. Vrain, in a latter dated April 27th, 1824, mentions the following incident:
It is now 37 days Since we arived and we have Sold but verry fue goods & goods is at a verry redused price at present. I am in hopes when the hunters comes in from there hunt that I well Sell out to Provoe & Leclere, if I doe not succeed to Sel out tothem and othere hunters, my intenshion is to buy uup goo (d) Articles that will Sout the market of Sonora to purchess mulls; but I Shall first doe all I can to mak arragement with Provoe & Lecleare to furnish them with goods. Should I Succeed thare is no doubt but it will a verry profitable business.
Provost was not only on the Colorado and Green Rivers, but he had pushed beyond into the basin of the Great Salt Lake. Warren Ferris, in his journal, describes the following incident:
There is one evil genius among them, called the "Band Gocha" (mauvais gauch--bad left-handed one) who fell in with a party of trappers, led by a well-known mountaineer, Mr. E. Proveau, on a stream flowing into the Big Lake that now bears his name, several years since. He invited the whites to smoke the calumet of peace with him, but insisted that it was contrary to his medicine to have any metallic near while smoking. Proveau, knowing the supersititious whims of the Indians, did not hesitate to set aside his arms, and allow his men to follow his example; they then formed a circle by sitting indiscriminately in a ring, and commenced the ceremony; during which, at a preconcerted signal, the Indians fell upon them, and commenced the work of slaughter with their knives, which they had concealed under their robes and blankets. Proveau, a very athletic man, with difficulty extricated himself from them, and with three or four others, alike fortunate, succeeded in making his escape; the remainder of the party of fifteen were all massacred. (pp. 308-9)
According to Hafen (98) Ferris places Provost's name on present Jordan River, which runs from Utah lake to Great Salt Lake. "So one would assume that he means to report the misfortune as taking place on the Jordan River of today. Kit Carson told his biographer about the Provost tragedy and said that it occurred on the river named for Provost. But he does not indicate whether he meant the present Provo River that flows into Utah Lake, or the Jordan, which runs from it. In any case, the Utah lake vicinity would be the locality of the massacre."
William Gordon's report states that in 1824 "8 men were killed at one time by the Snakes on the waters of the Colorado who were in the employ of Provost & Lubro (Le Clerc). The tabulation at the end of the document gives the party as "Provost & Le Clerc's Comapny," and the place of the tragedy as "Reta (Euta or Utah) lake." Hafen quotes Peter Skene Ogden, in a letter dated July 10, 1828:
We were also informed by the Americans the cause of the Snakes not being so friendly towards us as formerly, and which I regret to state the Americans too justly attribute to us, last Summer Mr. Ross consented most probably with such villains he had to deal with, he could not prevent them to go and steal the Snakes horses in which they succeeded, 12 of Mr. Ross's party were then absent in quest of Beaver and were with a large Camp of Snakes who were treating them most kindly, but on hearing this they pillaged them of all their horses and Furs, and in the scuffle they killed a Snake chief, shortly after a party of 7 Americans and one of our deserters fall on the Snakes Camp, and the Snakes lost no time in killing them all this also has greatly irritated the Americans against us, and they would most willingly shoot us if they dared.
The exact reference date of this letter is not specified, but it would put the incident possibly in 1824 or 5 which would make it a little after the Provost incident. His journal entry on May 22, 1825 gives a more precise date--"the Americans had a battle last fall with the Snakes & 7 of the former & one of our deserters Patrick O'Connor were killed & only one Snake fell." (Ogden, 50) It is reported in the Missouri Intelligencer, June 25, 1825, that Becknell, who left on a trapping expedition on November 3, 1824 for the Green River, met en route Indians "who afterwards committed murders upon the persons of some of the engages of Mr. Provost, of St. Louis, and robbed the remainder." (Hafen, 99) The location of this incident is not reported, but it may be presumed to have been the same incident described by Ferris. It is known that Provost wintered at the mouth of the White River, a branch of the Green, and continued trapping in the Green River area.
Hafen suggests that the Robidoux massacre of 8 men in 1824 in Gordon's Report was possibly the same as the Provost massacre described by Ferris and listed separately by Gordon. The likely-hood that Robidoux and Provost were operating together at the same time and place was great, and that likely-hood of two massacres, both involving eight men killed, in the same period and area, is not great. That both Robidoux and Provost may have suffered the same depradations by the same Indians in the same year is indicated in the subsequent incidences reported by Becknell, Ogden, and Huddart, is also to be construed as reasonable within the context of patterns of indigenous warfare and many violent episodes between the early trappers and Indians of this region.
It is interesting to note that a year later Michel Robidoux's trapping party would be treacherously murdered by another tribe of Indians under very similar kinds of circumstances. It appears that the mistakes committed by Michel, and much better documented by Pattie, may have been similar in nature to those made by Provost and Robidoux, in their estimation of the trustworthiness of the Indians they met, and in their desire to appease these groups in the effort of establishing trade relations. That they had miscalculated on their first encounters, suffered for it, miraculously survived, and later learned from these violent episodes, appears the case in both incidences. Michel, having met Antoine in St. Louis in the summer of 1825, would have probably learned from his brother what tragedies occurred the previous year, only for Michel to experience the same sort of tragedy within a few months. It is interesting that what saved Michel's life was a pocket pistol he kept under his coat.
Antoine was back in St. Louis by June of 1825, probably attending the weddings of his brothers, Michel and Isadore, and received licenses with them from William Clark for a third trip from Ft. Atkinson to Santa Fe. (Hafen, VIII: 297-8).
The diary of James Kennerly notes the arrival of "Robideaus party from Tous." on August 30th, 1825. A day later, on the 31st, "had a settlement in part & Division of Furs with Jo Robidoux" while he was "sick with Fever & ague." (pg.79). On Sept. 3rd, he had "a final settlement with Robidoux" and on September 13th, observed "Mr. Cabanne' had an interview with Robidoux & settled part of their difficulties--Gratiott--Cabanne'--papin & St Cir were sent down on Sunday to take the Furs of Robido off--Buches--boat." (Morgan 151)
This Robidou party probably did not contain Antoine, Michel or Isadore, as he had apparently been in St. Louis the month before. Whether Joseph Robidoux was at the post or arrived from Taos is not specified, but it appears the Joseph was at the post, and received probably Francois returning with a load of pelts.
Francois or Louis Robidoux may have brought these furs in from New Mexico. Already, Joseph had mounted a new outfit for that country, the one for which Antoine, Michel and Isidore had been licensed in July. Michel stayed home for a time, but Antoine and possibly Isidore got off to Taos on September 14, just five days before Ashley reached Fort Atkinson with the returning Atkinson-O'Fallon Expedition. (Morgan, 155-6)
It appears that by this time, a Robidoux trading post had been established nearby Ft. Atkinson, which was the main jumping off point for the Santa Fe trade. Whether a post had been here prior to the 1819 Yellowstone Expedition is unknown. Possibly between 1820 and 1824 time may have been spent by Joseph and Antoine in setting up this post.
The editor of the William Ashley Journal, Dale Morgan, mentions the following:
Almost against its will, this firm had become entangled in the Santa Fe traffic as early as 1822, its factor in the Council Bluffs area, Joseph Robidoux, having taken upon himself the responsibility for "sending" to new Mexico in the first year Santa Fe was opened up.
Very little is known about that first expedition. In 1824, however, the picture begins to clarify. In February, Antoine Robidoux came up the Missouri with a supply of goods. He reached Fort Atkinson on the 15th, and four days later was authorized to pass through the Indian country to New Mexico. Fugitive glimpses of his activity in the Mexican province during the winter following indicate that he operated (rather precariously) as far northwest as Green River, an area with which for the next two decades he would be prominently identified. Antoine returned to Taos in February, 1825, and must have left for St. Louis almost immediately thereafter, for on June 29 he and his brothers Michel and Isidore were licensed at St. Louis for a new venture to Santa Fe. (150)
Colonel H. Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson issued to Antoine Robidoux in company with unspecified traders a passport to travel across Indian country to Santa Fe, dated the 19th of February, 1824 (Huntington Library).
By virtue of the power and authority in me vested by the Act of Congress of the United States, is titled an act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes and to preserve peace on the Frontiers. Permission is hereby granted to Antoine Robidoux and the other persons named in the within permission to pass through the Indian country lying between this place and the boundary line between the Territory of the United States and New Mexico in the direction of Santa Fe--
Given at Fort Atkinson on the Missouri River this 19th Day of Februrary, 1824.
6th Regt. U. S. Infantry at
Pegleg Smith, in his recollections, stated that in February 1825, his friend Hopper had been trapping on the Green River and had come to Taos "accompanied by Antonio Rubedoux, John Roland, and some twenty-five men of Provost's company." It was apparent that Antoine was affiliated with Provost at this early time.
Antoine and possibly others may have joined their brothers at the Robidoux's (Cabanne's ?) Post sometime in the fall of 1825, and that Antoine probably returned to Taos soon afterward, leaving in October, possibly bringing his brother Isadore with him. It is in mid December of 1825 that we find the arrival at the Santa Rita mines of the French party mentioned in the Pattie Journal, purportedly led by Michel. His brothers Antoine, and possibly Isadore, may have headed north at this time.
Whatever the actual case, it is clear that the entries by Kennerly at Fort Atkinson did not include Antoine, who was first in the Green River region, and afterward in St. Louis. For the next twenty years Antoine was to be closely associated with what has been referred to as the "intermontane corridor" that extended from Northern Utah, through Colorado, into Santa Fe', New Mexico--so much so that he has gained the epithet of "Kingpin of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade". He was mostly likely of the first party into this region, which had been hitherto a relatively unexplored terra incognita, and it is also likely that his was probably the first party to trap and explore the Green River region. It is possible that he may have used and borrowed information from the Escalante' expedition which led through Ute Country some fifty years previously, as his later trade routes between his forts clearly follows the lines demarcated by the Escalante map.
Antoine's name is probably one of the "four Americans Robidour" mentioned in Auguste Duran in a treasure account dated Jan. 12, 1826, as having paid the previous treasurer duties sometimes in late 1825. His name also appears about the same time, as one Antonio Rubidu without a passport, along with his brothers Miguel and Francisco, in Governor Narbona's report on foreigners dated Feb. 1st, 1826, and referring back to late 1825. It is apparent that these three brothers traveled to Santa Fe, possibly along with Isadore, sometime in early December, 1825.
His name appears again as Antonio Robidour a year later, sometime in late October or early November, 1826, as the twenty-second "guia" issued by the Custom House of Santa Fe that year, without a "destination given" as was customarily the case. It is possible that he traveled to El Paso this year, perhaps with his brother Louis. His name is also listed as one "Antonio Rovidour" by the treasurer as among the few to whom "outgoing funds" were paid in December of 1826: Listed among the outgoing funds of this month (December, 1826) is a payment to Jorge Westt and Antonio Rovidour which represents the return of a deposit paid at El Paso."(28). That same year his brother Louis name also appears as the first Guia issued, along with that to Manuel Martin, bound for El Paso (38).
Antoine Robidoux is next on record September 28, 1828, when he was authorized at Santa Fe to pass through the States of Chihuahua, Sonora and Durango. On July 16 of the following year he petitioned at Santa Fe for naturalization...Meanwhile, in 1828, he had married Carmel Benavides... (Morgan, 306)
Our next reference to him is back in Santa Fe in 1828, during which time he married is wife , Carmel Benavides, and after which he petitioned the Mexican Government for naturalization under the name "Don Antonio Robidoux." On July 16, 1829, Antoine and his brother Louis became naturalized citizens of Mexico. Among other advantages it freed them from the taxation imposed upon aliens. The petition, roughly translated to English, reads as follows:
The citizens Antoine and Louis Robidoux, residents and traders in this capital,present themselves before V. J. stating: in practice of the provisons of the law of the 14th day of April in 1828, in order to acquire a letter of naturalizaton have shown the required accompanying vital documents; we request V. J. to accept the expressed renunciation that we give of all submission and obedience of whichever nation or foreign government, especially which or those that have pertained to us, renouncing equally all titles with decorations or acknowledgements that we have obtained from whichever Government and finally claims in more legal form; we give obligation (pledge) to the constitution, constitutional acts and general laws of the united Mexican states, pledging our pledge to the truthfulness of the cited documents and of the renunciations and claims that we have expressly made following--we extend the letter of naturalization for which we indulge and expressly request.
Santa Fe, July 16th, 1829
It appears that he must have been doing very profitable business from the Intermontaine corridor. "Once a citizen Antoine entered Santa Fe's political circles and within a few months had managed to capture the presidency of the Junta del Ayuntamiento, or town council, of Santa Fe." (Wallace, 12). This occurred a year later, in 1830. Then he verbally attacked the foreign traders in Santa Fe, many of which were his friends and acquaintances, for exploiting the resources of the country. This attack led many to adopt Mexican citizenship. He also turned to speculation in New Mexican mining interests. In 1828 he invested $8,000 in a mine near Tas, and later, in 1834, bought another mine in the Cerro
del Oro. His mining interests did not prove profitable. "Despite his apparent
failures in mining, his standing in the business community of Santa Fe was sufficient for the government to accept his bond guaranteeing the payment of 648 pesos by an American in customs fees during the summer of 1835."
According to John Barton, Antoine Robidoux, probably in affiliation with his brother Louis, established a trading house in the main square of Santa Fe which they maintained as a warehouse and store for several years, and which was broken into at least twice during the 1830's. He also owned a tannery "at the northwest corner of Gaudalupe and San Francisco streets."(68)
His only recognized wife, Carmel Benavides was born in Santa Fe on the 29th of December, 1812. She would have been sixteen years old and would have had her first sweet-sixteen coming out celebration when she married Antoine, who would by then have been thirty-four years old, more than twice her age. According to Orral Messmore Robidoux, her family was "an old and aristorcratic Spanish family, who brought to this country the courtly manners, the gallantry and the chivalry of the Court of Castile. Her father was a Spanish captain, one of the bravest and most efficient officers in the service, who distinguished himself of courage in many hard-fought battles with the savages. It was in one of these battles with a band of Comanches that he met his death."
"Mrs. Carmel Benavides was a belle in New Mexico in her younger days. The flower of Spanish chivalry was at her feet, and there was not a youth within a radius of fifty miles of Santa Fe but would have braved the very jaws of death for a smile from the fair Carmel or a glance of the dark eyes that sone with the splendor of the stars that twinkle in the southern firmament. Hers was a lively, vivacious nature. She was fond of dancing and would frequently ride horseback from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, a distance of sixty miles, in one day to attend a ball. Nor were the triumphs of Spanish beauty confined to the ballroom. She was as brave as beautiful, as her feats of daring were the talk of the country. On several occasions she swam the Rio Grande on horseback when not a man would undertake the feat. In those days all traveling was done on horseback or
in wagons, and a trip across the plains was a dangerous and difficult undertaking, but nothing daunted the intrepid Carmel Benavides Robidoux." (O. M. Robidoux, 1924:184-5)
Orral Messmore Robidoux notes that she had made the trip between St. Joseph and Santa Fe six times between 1828 and 1833, a journey that took about three months to complete. On one such trip the caravan was stuck in a blizzard upon the "plano estacado". The snow piled over the wagons and every mule froze to death. Seven men of the party perished, "and a servant girl who slept beside her was discovered to have died of the cold during the night". They burned the wagons for firewood, and subsisted for several weeks on frozen mule flesh. Joseph Robidoux sent out a relief expedition which rescued the party.
"Mrs Carmel Robidoux was a woman of indomitable courage and perseverance and most industrious. Those who had the pleasure of her acquaintance found her a most refined and cultured lady. She spoke with fluency French, English and Spanish and mingled with elegant and aristocratic society of Santa Fe." (O.M. Robidoux 185-6)
Whether Antoine accompanied her on these sojourns across the Santa Fe Trail, or one or another of the brothers, or she led the caravans herself, is not mentioned in the text. It is held that Carmel and Antoine had no child of their own, but adopted a child they named Carmelite (Carmelette). The date of adoption would coincide with the prospective date of the first born of newlyweds--1830. The record is confusing on this account. O. M. Messmore mentions that she had no children of her own, but adopted "the child of a relative, Miss Barada." Apparently, the case of the adoption of their granddaughter, Amanda Barada, who was the child of Carmelette and Isadore Barada, brother of Elizabeth Barada who married Julius C. Robidoux, the second son of Joseph III, was confused, for whatever reason, with the identity of their own child, Carmelette. Amanda's own descendants drop out of the official lineage at this point, though it is apparent that Amanda, Antoine and Carmel's adopted granddaughter, married Colonel C. F. Stollsteimer, an Indian Agent. They apparently had no more descendants. It is my contention that the records are unclear on the point of Antoine's and Carmels daughter, Carmelette, whom I would suggest was the natural daughter of their marriage, but who later died after the birth of her only child, Amanda, and whom Antoine and Carmel then adopted as their own. The birth of their first child would place Antoine in 1829 and 1830 in the Santa Fe nexus. It is apparent that his involvements after this period meant his absence at home and prevented effectively his having other offspring.
The speculative tree of Antoine's known marriage and offspring are given as follows:
Known conjectural genealogy of Antoine Robidoux, not including Indian offspring.
In the 1830's, Antoine Robidoux formed a partnership with John Robertson, (Also known as Jack Robinson) "an old Ashley man and whiskey peddlar, buying furs, selling ammunition, firearms, tobacco and trinkets to both "free" trappers and to the Indians dominating the vast area between northern Utah and southern Arizona. It was even hinted that some of their trade goods consisted of loot taken by the pirate LaFitte and shipped west from New Orleans." (Parkhill, 61-2).
One of the best known and one of the most interesting mountain men in the Black's Fork (Green River) country, next to Jim Bridger, was John Robertson, also an Ashley man on his first introduction to the mountains. He was generally known as "Uncle Jack Robertson (often misspelled "Robinson"). A trapper, and trader, he came into the Black's Fork country with two independent French trappers and traders, Antoine Robidoux and Old Sherrell, from Taos, New Mexico, around 1832.
Jack Robertson and Antoine Robidoux, in the early thirties, entered into a partnership and acquired some horses and cattle to trade to Indians and trappers in the Green River country. Cattle, heards of horse, (and mules and horse trains loaded with hides) were driven from Santa Fe and Taos via the Old Spanish Trail, some going to the Salt Lake Valley and thence to the Black's Fork and Green River country, and some taking Indian cut-off trails from the Uncompahgre River and the Gunnison to the Wintey (Uinta) River, and from there to Fort Wintey and the Black's Fork country.
Cattle, herds of hroses and mule and horse trains loaded with hides were also driven from California over the Old Spanish Trail through Utah Lake Valley and Salt lake Valley, and thence eastward.
Jack Robertson had been the first white man to discover that livestock could winter well on the Black's Fork of the Green River country, and he brought many horses, mules and cattle in from Taos, New Mexico, and from California.
In the thirties he built a cabin on Black's Fork, about two miles from the present Mountain View. Fort Bridger was later built on Black's Fork just a few miles from Jack Robertson's cabin. The town of Robertson, Wyoming, on Smith's Fork, was named after him.
"Uncle Jack" Robertson told Samuel H.Auerbach that for years, he, Antoine Robidoux, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Etienne Provost, Louis Vasquez, Lucien Fontenelle, who came from New Orleans, and other early mountain men, who later became noted, had hunted and trapped together, and that they all prided themselves on being crack shots, so much that they often engaged in marksmanship contests and on occasions had shot tin cups containing whiskey off one another's heads.
Jack Robertson also said that during the thirties and forties, he made frequent winter trips to Brown's Hole, where he conducted a very profitable trade with the Indians and trappers who congregated there during the winter. While at Brown's Hole he lived with his family and some relatives and friends in wickiups, Indian style, and in one of these wickiups he kept his stock of goods and transacted his trading business. The goods he spread out on buffalo robes laid on the ground, and he and his costumers sat cross-legged alongside his ares and examined them and conducted their trading pow wows. Uncle Jack spoke the language of various Indian tribes, and his services as interpreter were much in demand.
Antoine's name appears as one "Antoine Robadeau" in the accounts of W. H. Ashley for the sum of 3806.50 paid for pelts, on August 25, 1831. His names appear in the account books for William Ashley, Jackson & Sublette for the dates April 29th, 1831 to September 3, 1831; from September 29th through March 20th, 1833. For one year, between October 12th, 1831, to October 25th, 1832, Antoine Robidoux was issued a draft on Ashley, as listed on the account sheet of W. L. Sublette with Jackson & Sublette. Apparently, Ashley had been a banker for a venture in the Santa Fe trade with partner David E. Jackson that year. (Morgan, 204)
In 1834, Antonio Roubidoux appears in the Spanish Archives of New Mexico in the purchase of a Mine in the Cerro del Oro region, from one Dolores Jallon, Ignacio Ladron de Guevara and Marcelino Abreu. (Twitchell, 215) That he may have been interested in prospecting for gold during this time is revealed in another vague account which is linked to the first reputed and ill-fated discovery of gold in the Black Hills and the mysterious Thoen stone that was afterward discovered there.
It seems that the base of operations of the American trappers was the pueblo of San Fernando de Taos. Herbert Auerbach gives an interesting description of this southern base of operations:
In Taos was a noted distillery, the product of which was highly prized by the trappers and widely known as "Taos lightning." When the early trappers spoke of Taos, they referred not only to the village by that name, but in general to the several small settlements scattered about Taos valley in the vicinity of Taos.
Taos was known as the "Barter town" and was noted as a great market for horses, mules, and oxen. In the 1820's, and particularly from 1824 to the early 1830's, Taos became an important headquarters for trappers and traders and trading parties. A number of the traders maintained trading posts in Taos. Prominent among these were the Robidoux Brothers. The trappers seemed to prefer Taos to Santa Fe, the larger and the capital city of New Mexico, probaby, for one reason, because most of the Mexican officials resided at Santa Fe, while there were not many at Tos. There was in fact a dearth of Custom Guards at Taos which made it very difficult to patrol the extensive border, and this facilitated the smuggling of furs and goods into Taos. Then, too, the official supervision in Santa Fe was much stricter than in Taos.
At any rate, Taos was the much more popular town among the trappers and tradrs and especially during the winter season these men remained for some time at the village. Business was very active and the place took on a lively and festive air, and the townsfolk as well as the trappers and traders had happy times. The principal pastimes were drinking and gambling and upon frequent occasions Fandangos.
For a number of years the Mexican Government would issue licenses to trap to Mexican citizens only. The native Mexicans, however, engaged but very little in trapping. Americans were forced to become citizens of Mexico in order to obtain trapping and trading licenses, or else they had to trap without a license, risking arrest and fines and confiscation of their catches and belongings. Some Americans, as for instance Antoine Robidoux and Wm. Wolfskill, became Mexican citizens for this reason, but many Americans did not, and they engaged in clandestine trapping and trading, which was particularly remunerative. Taos appears to have been a smuggler's paradise and great quantities of valuable peltries and trading goods cleared illegally through the village. (21-2)
Jean Arno Jeantet was the widow of one Gabriel Jeantet and born in 1835 in Fernando de Taos. According to her, Antoine Robidoux lived in Taos when she was a girl. "Old French friends of her father were Antoine Robidoux, C. Beaubien, Abraham Ledoux, Joaqin Leroux, Antoine Ledoux, Laforey, Isidoro Robidoux, Cahrette Grignet. (Cragin Papers, Notebook 7; Pg. 19)
Bailey notes that in the American Fur Company records, all the Robidoux brothers bought goods in large quantities, except for Antoine:
In fact, all the Robidoux brothers had open accounts at the store. There are only small purchases of personal items by Antoine. One was dated March 23, 1836. He walked in the store and bought: 1 pair satinette pants $4, 1 wool hat $1.25. There are subsequent purchases, significant only in the respect that they show exact dates when Antoine was in St. Louis. Probably these dates would indicate he was in town to pick up pack trains of merchandise. (26)
Some other dates that Antoine could have been in St. Louis to pick up orders are July 15, 1840 and February 28, 1843. Presumably, Antoine dealt mostly either through his brothers, or through trade in the Mexican trade ports of Taos and Santa Fe--even there most probably in trade with his brothers.
A manifest of goods picked up in Mexico displays some of the trade items that could have been found at Fort Uncompahgre. In this case, Robidoux is asking a second party who knows the country, to pick up the following effects in the State of Sonora. (Some of these items orginated frm the Missouri.)
16 Pieces blanketing in the roll532 yards 3 Pieces blanketing 124 yards
10 Pieces cloth 302 yards 1 Piece (nayadidro) 37 yards
7 Rolls of same 105 yards 1 Piece of the same 28 yards
2 Pieces colonial blanketing 280 yards 1 Piece (couillos) 12 yards
1 Piece unknown blanketing 9 yards 92 Lined paper ledgers
1 Piece ribbed cloth (corduroy) 37 1/4 yards 10 Pieces bright hairpieces
1 Roll black ribbed cloth 3 1/2 yards 3 Hairpieces
2 maroon church robes 1 Hairpiece
2 standard robes 2 Trunks
2 Robes of cotton 4 Women's fine live combs
2 More Robes of cotton 6 Combs
4 Woolen Robes 2 Umbrellas
4 (Cortes) low priced 5 Combs
3 Sashes low priced 3 Pairs Women's silk stockings
1 (Corte Berega) 57 yards of binding lace
1 Scarf of silk and cotton 1 Piece baking soda
3 Bandannas of choice 2 Fine made knives
1 Bandanna of choice 6 Common kinves
2 (Chales)? 1 Woolen scarf
5 satchels or bags 1 (Picon Repillo)
47 Cotton scarves 2 Jackson (Indian Peace Medal)
8 Pair cotton hose or stockings 7 Bags or satchels
18 Black scarves 2 Washbasins?
1 Piece of silk with stripe 8 yards
1 Piece of silk purple 16 yards
1 Piece of silk and cotton 30 yards
3 Hair ribbon
3 Pieces white jackets or coats
4 Pairs (Sarcillos)
6 Pairs of Large Scissors
1 Thousand brass tacks
2 Large buttons
1 Large button
2 Dozen kives
8 Shaving knives
2 Pieces (coquillos)? 26 yards
1 Piece of same 13 yards
Santa Fe 20 October 1830
Not many references are known from the 1830's in regard to Robidoux's forts, though many trappers probably visited them during this time. One of the few references of this time, besides Carson's, comes from the diary written by a member of the Estes party in 1833: "This diary reveals that, in 1833, Peter and Joel Estes, William Poe, John Sollors, Joseph Gladden, Antoine Robidoux (an Indian Trader), and about 75 traders and trappers set out from Independence, for New Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. As they approached the Rockies, the group separated. The Indian traders went to the Green River. The Estes Party of 25 headed for the Rio Dolores placer mines." (Thoen Stone, 67) It is from this period that Antoine Robidoux is known to have purchased a mine in Santa Fe.
Ruxton, in his famous Life in the Far West, mentions that his primary characters, La Bonte and Killbuck, were well known to the Yuta Indians "having trapped in their country and traded with them for years at Roubideau's fort at the head waters of the Rio Grande. This reference is curious, as it suggests the possibility that Robidoux may have had an alternative post besides Fort Uncompahgre in the region. It may have been due to Ruxton's lack of familiarity with the region, or his second hand recounting of La Bonte's story. What later became known as the Gunnison River was during that time called the Grand.
La Bonte' met with Robidoux after an unsuccessful trapping expedition into Digger Country of the Great Basin, probably sometime in the late early 1830's. This was just after a winter Rendezvous at Brown's Hole along the Green "--an inclosed valley so called-which, abounding in game, and sheltered on every side by lofty mountains, is a favorite wintering ground of the mountaineers." They found there several bands "and a trader from the Uintah country, with a store of powder, lead, and tobacco, prepared to ease them of their hard-earned peltries." This reference may well be to Antoine Robidoux:
Singly, and in bands numbering from two to ten, the trappers dropped into the rendezvous; some with many pack-loads of beaver, others with greater or less quantity, and more than one on foot, having lost his animals and peltry by Indian thieving. Here were soon congregated many mountaineers, whose names are famous in the history of the Far West. Fitzpatrick and Hatcher, and old Bill Williams, well known leaders of trapping parties, soon arrived with their bands. Sublette came in with his men from Yellow Stone, and many of Wyeth's New Englanders were there. Chabonard with his half-breeds, Wah-keitchas all, brough his peltries from the lower country; and half-a-dozen Shawanees and Delaware Indians, with a Mexican from Taos, one Marcelline, a fine strapping fellow, the best trapper and hunter in the mountains, and the ever first in the fight. Here, too, arrived the "Bourgeois" traders of the "North-West" Company, with their superior equipments...(133)
La Bonte joined a small party of trappers on an adventure into the Great Basin region west of the Great Lakes. Harrassed by payutes, it proved an ill-fated venture which eventuated in their near starvation and in an account of two trappers committing cannibalism on a the ham muscles of a living payute female:
La Bonte' now found himself without animals, and fairly "afoot:" consequently nothing remained for him but to seek some of the trapping bands, and hire himself for the hunt. Luckily for him, he soon fell in with Roubideau, on his way to Uintah, and was supplied by him with a couple of animals; and thus equipped, he started again with a large band of trappers, who were going to hunt on the waters of the Grand River and the Gila.
This band was led by Captain Joseph Walker, and its venture on the Gila is further described by Ruxton as one entailing horse-theft by Indians and the subsequent massacre of the Indians by the trappers. This passage would indicate that Antoine was probably using an alternative route to reach his Uintah posts at this time, possibly keeping more true to the Spanish trail as far as the Green River, whence La Bonte' fortunately met him.
This party trapped the Spring along the Gila, then turned northeast to find more success among the streams in New Mexico. They had an encounter with a band of Navajo Indians just returning from a slave raid in Mexican settlements. They recaptured these prisoners and returned them to Socorro, when the turned west again to meet the Green (or Colorado) and hence up this river.
Before reaching the capital of the province they struck again to the westward, and, following a small creek to its junction with the Green River, ascended that stream, trapping en route to the Uintah or Snake Fork, and arrived at Roubideau's rendezvous early in the fall, where they quickly disposed of their peltries, and were once more on "the loose." (156-7)
This passage suggests that Robidou had occupied a site, sometime in the late 20's or early 30's, that was known as Robidoux Rendezvous and that was proximate to the junction of the Uintah and Green Rivers. This is the same unnamed site drawn on the Ferris Map in 1836, based on his sojourn to the region between 1830 and 1835, showning three small cabins or trading posts in a row along the eastern bank of the Green just north of the confluence of the White river.
Before leaving off with the story of La Bonte, it is interesting to note that he took a squaw wife at Robidoux's Rendezvous: "a Snake squaw with whom he crossed the mountains and proceeded to the Platte through the Bayou Salade, where he purchased of the Yutas a commodious lodge, with the necessary poles &c. ; and being now "rich" in mules and horses and all things necessary for otium cum dignitate, he took unto himself another wife, as by mountain law allowed; and thus equipped, with both his better halves attired in all the glory of fofarraw he wen his way rejoicing. (104)" He set up his lodge "in a snug little valley lying under the shadow of the mountains watered by Vermilion Creek." This designates an alternate westerly route that led directly from Robidoux Rendezvous through Bayou Salade to the head of the South Fork of the Platte, and thence across to the North Fork. While going north to the North Fork of the Platte that winter, Arapahoes attacked La Bonte' settlement and when he returned, he found that all was lost. La Bonte' fell asleep and awoke to find his second wife had escaped the clutches of the Arapahoe and had faithfully returned to him. Together they packed their belongings and set off "on the Indian trail for Platte."
On Horse Creek they came upon a party of French ("Creoles of St. Louis and French Canadians) trappers and hunters, who were encamped with their lodges and Indian squaws, and formed quite a village. Several old companions were amongst them; and, to celebrate the arrival of a "camarade," a splendid dog-feast was prepared in honor of the event. To effect this, the squaws sallied out of their lodges to seize upon sundry of the younger and plumper of the pack, to fill the kettles for the approaching feast. With a presentiment of the fate in store for them, the curs slunk away with tails between their legs, and declined the pressing invitations of the anxious squaws. These shouldered their tomahawks and gave chase; but the cunning pups outstripped them, and would have fairly beaten the kettles, if some of the mountaineers had not stepped out with their rifles, and quickly laid half-a-dozen ready to the knife. A cayeute, attracted by the scent of blood, drew near, unwitting of the canine feast in progress, and was likewise soon made dog of, and thrust into the boiling kettle with the rest. (163)
This is the earliest reference to Horse creek encampments which suggest that a creole colony had been formed at a fairly early date (sometime in the early to mid 1830's) in this vicinity--this also clearly demonstrates a trade route or trail between the region of Fort Laramie and Robidoux's Rendezvous at Uintah.
It appears that La Bonte' must have remained for a season among this colony, for it was not until early November of that year (possibly 1834-5) that he and his wife head for the North fork and arrived at Laramie when a large Sioux village also arrived for their winter trade. Two other Sioux villages were nearby, and he mentions traders who had been alotted different portions among these groups of Sioux. This early reference to traders near Laramie river and to a winter Rendezvous which was primarily an Indian affair, gives clues to the involvements of other Robidoux brothers, possibly Michel and Francois, who were known to have been about this vicinity and trade nexus by this time:
The traders had a particular portion of the village allotted to them, and a line was marked out, which was strictly kept by the soldiers appointed for the protection of the whites. As there were many rival traders, and numerous coureurs des bois or peddling ones, the market promised to be brisk, the more so as a large quantity of ardent spirits was in their possession, which would be dealt with no unsparing hand to put down the opposition of so many competing traders. (163)
It describes what is taken as an Indian Rendezvous scene:
The village presented the usual scene of confusion as long as the trade lasted. Fighting, brawling, yelling, dancing, and all the concomitants of intoxication, continued to the last drop of the liquor-eg when the reaction after such excitement was almost worse than the evil itself (170)
It is apparent that La Bonte' spent that winter near Laramie among the Indians and the post that was there. In early spring, he and his wife went north to the headwaters of the Yellow-stone, and there they were attacked by the Blackfeet along a creek which afterwards bore La Bonte's name. His wife was captured, and all but La Bonte' was killed. His wife was later on sold at the posts along the Platte. Two years pass with La Bonte' trapping over on the Columbia, when he joins with another party of trappers including Joseph Meek and old Bill Williams. This must be probably in 1836-37. They meet with ill-luck, being attacked by Indians repeatedly. Almost perished from hunger, the survivors chance to encounter a hunting party which included a Scottish nobleman--presumably Stuart on his expedition to Oregon. They then join a party of 14 trappers, and they make their way to California, presumably in 1838-9. They stay what appears to be a season in California among the missions, afterwhich, in company of a cavallada of some 400 head of mules and horses, they make their return trip, presumably along the Old Spanish trail, crossing over the mountains to the headwaters of the Arkansas, whence they made their way down to Bent's Fort. They apparently stopped again at this time at Robidoux's rendezvous on the Uintah, by which time there is reference to both a Rendezvous and a fort:
We have omitted to mention that the Sonora girl Juanita, and her spouse Ned Wooton, remained behind at Roubideau's fort and rendezvous on the Uintah, which our band had passed on the other side of the mountains, whence they proceeded with a party to Taos in New Mexico, and resided there for some years, blessed with a fine family, &c., &c., &c., as the novels end. (275)"
Farnham provides another interesting account associated with one of Robidoux's forts "on the upper waters of the San Juan." Since Farnham provides a fairly detailed geographical description of the rivers and the region of the Southwest, it is unlikely that he was mistaking the "Grand" or later "Gunnison" rivers for the San Juan, unless the source of his story made the mistake himself. This account suggests the possibility that Antoine Robidoux had established some kind of trading post among the Navajos of this region at a fairly early date. The account, retold in 1841-2, goes back to the mid to late 1830's.
About four hundred and fifty miles from the mouth of the Colorado, and a short distance north of that stream, a river arises, which, on account of its rough character, the Mexican Spaniards have named Rio Seve're--Severe River. Its source is among a small cluster of mountains, where it presents the usual beautiful phenomena of rivulets gathering from different quarters--uniting--increasing--tumbling and roaring, till it reaches the plain, when it sinks into chasms or kenyons, of basalt and trap rocks, and dashes on terribly over fallen precipices for about eighty miles, where it looses itself in the sand. This river was explored by an American trapper, several years ago, under the following circumstances. He had been hunting beaver for some time among the mountains in which the river rises, with considerable success, and without seeing any Indians to disturb his lonely tranquility. One night, however, when the season was far advanced, a party of Arapahoes, which had been watching his movements unseen by him, stole all his traps. Thus situated, without means of continuing his hunt, and being two hundred miles from any trading post where he could obtain a supply, he determined to build a canoe and descend the Rio Seve're in the hope that it might bear him down to the habitable parts of California. He, therefore, addressed himself to this task with great perseverance, completed his bark, and launched himself upon the angry stream, with life pleged to his undertaking, and that daring expectation so peculiar to the "mountain men," to light his way among the dark and brawling caverns through which his frail and perilous craft was to bear him. Seven days passed in floating down this stream. Most of its course he found walled-in by lofty perpendicular cliffs, rising several hundred feet high, dark and shining, and making papable his imprisonment within the barriers of endless solitude. At intervals he found cataracts, down which he passed his boat by means of lines, and then with great labor and hazard, clambered up and down the preceipices till he reached the waters below. On these rapids the water was from two to three feet deep and a hundred yards in width. In the placid sections, the stream was often thirty or forty feet in depth, and so transparent, that the pebbly bottom and the fish swimming near it, were seen, when the sun shone, as distinctly as the like appear in the supposed peerless waters of Lake George. As this man drew newar the close of his fifth day's journeying, the chasms began to disappear, and the country to open into rolling and drifting plains of sand, interspersed with tracts of dark-colored hard-pan. About the middle of the seventh day, he came to the sands in which the river was swallowed up, and hauling his shattered boat on shore, explored the country northwest, for the reappearance of the stream. But to no purpose. A leafless, dry desert spread away in all directions, destitute of every indication of animal life, breathless and noiseless, a great Edom, in which every vital function was suspended, and where the drifting sands and the hot howling winds warned him that he must perish if he persisted. He therefore left his faithful old boat and made his wayback to the mountains, where he lost his traps, and thence traveled to Robi'doux fort, on the upper waters of the San Juan. He subsisted on snails and lizards during his journey; and when he arrived, was reduced to a skeleton, with barely strength enough to creep into that solitary fortress. It is needless to add that he was most kindly received by the hospitable owner, for who does not know that from the Artic seas to the southernmost limit of the fur-trader's habitations, the wayworn stranger finds a home and a brother at any of their posts? These iron men of the wilderness of the wilderness, like those who combat the waves and the winds of the seas, never fail to feel a bond of holy brother-hood for those who have met and overcome the same difficulties.
The old trapper is forgotten.... (319-20)
That Farnham was not mistaken in his identification of the San Juan is shown in the very next paragraph where he locates the Rio San Juan as a "fine stream of mountain waters which rises in the Anahuac ridge, and, running in a westwardly direction, empties itself into the Colorado about three hundred and fifty miles from its mouth." (320-1) The description given of the San Juan by Dr. Lyman in 1841 on which Farnham bases his account, sets the San Juan 150 miles from Santa Fe.
The picture we gain from the brief and passing accounts of Carson, La Bonte' and also from Thomas Jefferson Farnham, suggest that for almost the entire decade of the 1830's, Robidoux was a fairly stable fixture at his "Robidoux Rendezvous" site at the confluence of the Uintah River and the Green, against the background landscape of the Intermontane corridor. Mention of a "fort" does not arise until the late 1830's, suggesting that construction of forts in the Uintah area did not actually proceed unitl this time. It seems also possible that Robidoux built, kept and periodically relocated during the 1830's a number of posts cum trading forts both in the vicinity of the Uintah River and the Green, as well as in the vicinty of the headwaters of the Grand (or Gunnison) rivers, San Juan and Rio Grand Rivers.
It is unfortunate that not more is known about Antoine's relations with the Navajo Indians. A council of Navajo elders joined him at Santa Fe during the Kearny occupation of this city, and it is apparent that they must have heavily relied upon and trusted Robidoux implicitly with their delicate negotiations with Kearney, and that he apparently could understand Navajo well enough to be able to translate it to English. It is also apparent that Robidoux kept numerous sheep, and that this activity is clearly an association with the Navajo pattern. Later in his account, Farnham briefly recites a very general history of the early trade with the Navajos:
These Nabajos have within a few years past been taught some respect for the Americans in the following manner. A large party of trappers, with a few Shawnee and Delaware Indians, penetrated into the heart of their country, were victorious in all their skirmishes, killed a great many Indians, at a loss of only one or two of their own party, and drove off many mules, horses and sheep. This expedition has had a good effect upon the Nabajos. They now prefer tradng to fighting with the Americans.
In the autumn of 1841, also, a trader from Bent's Fort, on the Arkansas, went with a party of thirty-five men into the Nabajo country, built a breastwork with their bales of goods, and informed the astonished Indians that he had "come into their country to trade or fight, whichever they preferred." The campaign of the old trappers was too fresh in their memory to allow hesitation. They chose to trade; and soon a brisk business commenced--the savages bartering freely their valuable furs and blankets for the gaudy goods of the whites; so that, in a couple of days, the latter were on their return to the Arkansas." (373)
Antoine may well have been this unidentified trader. If Antoine Robidoux had had such a post among the Navajos, then it is apparent that this was established late in his career in the Rockies, in the late 1830's or 1840's. If he had had such a post, then it reveals a pattern that Antoine was in the process of building and maintaining a chain of fortified trading posts through the central corridor of the western Rockies, spread at a distance of about 150 miles apart from one another. The object perhaps being to consolidate his somewhat precarious lines of communication through this region, safeguarding a vast central trade-network allowing up to one or two fortnights travel between each of his posts. He would have had alternative sites for the caching, protection and resupplying of his alternative posts through alternative routes--via the Old Spanish Trail, and via Robidoux's Route over Coochetope pass. Because no other evidence for such a post has yet surfaced, its facticity in our story is only speculative and suggestive at this point of our knowledge. Irving Stone wrote clearly of the larger trade network of Forts that developed in the Southwest between 1820 and 1840's:
The period between Major Long's expedition of 1820 and Lieutenant Fremont's of 1842 is dominated by the epochal story of the hunters and trappers who, in search of ever fresh sources of beaver skins, explored and created trails through Colorado that would have taken twenty or more army expeditions to duplicate. The story of Colorado is the story of these mountain men: Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger, Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick, Kit Carson, William Ashley, the Sublettes, Josph Reddeford Walker, James Ohio Pattie, the Bent Brothers, Antoine Robidoux, Caleb Greenwood, Vasquez, St. Vrain, Peter Skene Ogden were the greatest woodsmen since Daniel Boone and his confreres opened the Kentucky wilderness. Either working for themselves or attached to the big fur companies, squaw men, they spent most of the year in the wilderness, emerging in summer with their bundles of valuable pelts at one of their trading posts or open-air rendezvous, to "barter for food, liquor, trinkets for their wives, and enjoy a week of wild carousal" before returning to the solitude of mountain lakes and streams for another year of danger, adventure and, of necessity, exploration. At these summer fairs there were sometimes as many as two hundred whites and two thousand Indians.
The posts, serving as forts against hostile Indian attack, were always built by commercial traders who brought in goods from the East: flour, sugar, coffee, cloth, guns, knives, whiskey, tobacco, which they traded for furs. In the early years of beaver skins, worth $6.00 to $8.000 apiece, buffalo robes $3.00 to $4.00 apiece, were bartered for one pint of whiskey, particularly to the Indians who, as the Arapaho told Colonel Dodge in 1835, listed the desirable things in life as:
"First, whiskey; second, tobacco; third, horses; fourth, guns; fifth, women."
Between 1826 and 1840 there were eight important trading posts: Bent's El Pueblo along the Arkansas River, on a fairly straight line in the southeast secontion; a couple of hundred miles north, on the South Platte were Vasquez's, Sarpy's, Lupton's and St. Vrain's; in the extreme northwest corner Davy Crockett's, close to the Utah border; and Uncompahgre on the Gunnison. Out of these eight forts were sent many millions of dollars worth of furs and skins, to New York, Boston, Paris, Berlin; so many, in fact, that the beaver and buffalo were depleted and the era of the mountain man, the trading post, the rendezvous was on its way to extinction.
This chain of trading posts was roughly equivalent to the chain of Spanish padre-built missions of California; though they did not last, the adobe walls crumbling to ruins, the posts were Colorado's first settlements. Around them, as around the missions, towns sometimes grew. If the mountain men were through as hunters there was an equally important role awaiting them: the only whites who knew every mile of the mountains and streams of this most easterly portion of the Far West, they would become the indispensable guides to the army expeditions and emigrant trains headed for California. (Stone, 25-26)
The network that these forts represented was part of a North-South supply system that had its base in Taos and Santa Fe, and had in its employ an increasing number of Mexican laborers throughout the Southwest. Peltries fell off with each advancing year of the 1830's, and this represented the culmination of the fur trade era. The main staples of this system by the mid-a180' s was cheap Mexican whiskey and flour. "The rapid extension of thenorth-south supply system at the hands of Robidoux, the Mexicans, and Bent, St. Vrain and Compnay was a notable feature of the fur trade in its declining years. Although the Yankees who took part in this movement were not attuned to imperial themes, their activities were of some interet to diplomats." (538-9, The Fur Trade)
During this same period, Creole traders, among them Michel and Francois Robidoux and some of his sons, were making in-roads at the Laramie nexus with the Sioux, and at the same time were extending themselves into the areas of the Yellow Stone, "the most dangerous" of the trapping regions. It appears that "winter rendezvous", including both Indians, trappers and traders, were important yearly events during this classical rendezvous era.
The intermontane corridor can be described at that region which is bounded by the Gila River, Colorado and the Santa Rita Mines on the South, extending Northward through the Virgin River, that leg of the Old Spanish Trail which today is approximately followed by U.S. Interstate 15 up to the Great lakes, and then east across to the Green River region, through the Mountains and reaching its north eastern most extent at Fort Laramie, heading south on the Western Side of the Central Rockies to Northern New Mexico, Taos and Santa Fe. It appears that Santa Fe remained for the several decades the main hub of this vast trading/trapping network. This region was bounded on the Southwest by the arid California and Nevade Desserts, on the North by the Uintah Mountains, on the East by the Rockies and on the South by the Mexican border.
Within this large region, the exact Intermontane Corridor appears in part to follow the Old Spanish Trail, to reach up to the Gunnison river from old Taos and Santa Fe, and to nearby Grand Junction, then to go north and west up to where the Green River emerges from the Uintah Mountains.
Herbert Auerbach outlined the various branches and off shoots of the Old Spanish Trail system, besides the updown-shaped "v" of the main trail, a subsidiary branch called the "Grand River Trail" led from the San Luis valley over the Cochetopa pass to the junction of the Uncompahgre and Grande rivers, where Antoine established, apparently, his first post.
The Grand River (Gunnison) Trail may be considered a branch of the Old Spanish Trail. From Taos, this trail headed north through the Valley of the Rio Grande del Norte to Conejos, Colorado, and then led northerly through the San Luis Valley, and to the Saguache River. It followed this river and then continued northwesterly to Cochetopa Pass and after going through this Pass it led along Pass Creek to Cochetopa Creetk, and followed the course of Cochetopa Creek to the Grand River (later named the Gunnison River), passing the mouth of the Uncompahgre River. It then continued past Fort Uncompahgre of Robidoux (near the present town of Delta Colorado), and thence westward, beyond the present town of Grand Junction, one branch trail striking northwesterly to White River, by way of Two Water Creek, and then following down along the White River to its junction with the Green River. (24-25)
From here, the next leg of this trail leds up to the Junction of the Green, White and Duchesne rivers which encompasses as well the Great Salt Lake Region and the basin territory beyond. Here Antoine had established supposedly his second post. Past the Green, it branched into several smaller trails--one leg of which went up the Uinta River to the Strawberry River, down this River to the divide andto the Spanish Fork River to Utah Lake. Another branch of this trail led up the Strawberry River through Strawberry Valley, then down Daniels Creek to the Heber Valley. Another trail went over Wolf Creek Pass and down lake Creek to the Heber Valley, following the Provo River into the Valley of Utah lake.
Still another trail led from the junction of the White River, the Green River, and the North Fork of the Uinta River (now called White Rocks River) in a northwesterly direction following the North Fork of the Uinta River to Robidoux's Fort Wintey (Uinta), just east of where the present Indian Village of White rocks is located. From this point, a trail continued northerly along the Uinta River and across the summit of the Uinta Mountains, and thence down along Smith's Fork of the Green river to the Fort Bridger Country. (25)
This entire branch is what Auerbach referred to as the eastern division of the Old Spanish Trail, and largely follows the route taken first by Dominguez-Escalante in 1776, and later by Antoine Robidoux, probably in the late 1820's. The "western division" of the Old Spanish trail system led from the Great Lakes down to the California area.
LeRoy Hafen describes several routes which were probably utilized by Antoine in his peregrinations between Santa Fe and his forts. Part of the intermontane corridor was defined by two general routes of the intermontane corridor, the main one running from Abiquiu, along the southern and western base of the San Juan Mountains to the Dolores River and north to the Colorado.
The second route ran north from New Mexico, through the San Luis Valley, over Cochetopa Pass (Robidoux's Pass) and down the valley of the Gunnison to the Colorado. At its southern end, it had two forks, one northward from Taos, and the other west of the Rio Grand by way of Ojo Caliente, joining again in the San Luis Valley, continuing as one trail northwest to cross the Cochetopa Pass, and descending Pass Creek and the Tomichi to the Gunnison River. Winding along the Gunnison, it ran around Black Canon, following the Gunnison to the Colorado.
From this point northward, there is a large and insurmountable plateau. "In effecting a crossing over this barren mountain upland to reach the White and Green rivers and the good beaver country of the Uinta, several routes were used. These were trapper and fur trader trails, and so are related only indirectly to the Old Spanish Trail" (Hafen, Vol. 1, 101) Hafen lists four routes: 1. leading up the Colorado River to DeBeque, taking the escalante trail up Roan Creek, over the dived and down Douglas Creek to the White River, northwest to the Green, and then to the Uintas. 2. Down the Colorado from the Gunnison junction to Loma, up East Salt Creek, over the Roan Plateau, down Douglas Creek, on to the Green and the Uintas. 3. Departing the Colorado west of Mack, ascending West Salt Creek, across the Roan Plateau, descending either Evacuation Creek or Bitter Creek to the White, then the Green and Uintas. 4. Depart the Colorado west of the Utah state line, up Westwater Creek to the Robidoux inscription at the base of Roan Plateau, up the mountain, eastward to Sweet Water and along Bitter Creek to the White River, or westward from the summit of Roan Plateua down Willow Creek and then to the Green. It is probable, according to Hafen that the first two routes were generally used in the northbound journeys, and the last two were pioneered on return trips. Alternate routes might have prevented Indian attack.
According to Hafen, Williams and Robidoux used approximately the fourth route for their trip to the Fort on the Gunnison, and then had taken the "North Branch" of the Old Spanish trial (Vol. V, 90) to Taos.
What is interesting to this is the singular rock inscription left by Antoine Robidoux on the Book Cliffs of the formidable Roan plateau. It is near the mouth of Westwater Canyon, 15 miles north of Westwater, Utah. It was first rediscovered by Charles Kelly based on Orral Messmore's quotation from a Denver Newspaper, and he photographed the inscription then in 1933. "The legend, on a smooth sandstone cliff, is thus inscribed beside the mouth of a cave or rock shelter...
Passe ici le 13 Novembre
Pour etablire maison
Traitte a la
Rv Vert ou Winte
This brief inscription has been translated in several ways--nothing is beyond historical controversy. Briefly, and most straightforwardly translated to English, it reads: "Antoine Robidoux passed here the 13th of November 1837 for to establish a trade mission at the Green or White river." Perhaps it was a strategic spot, informing all passer's by of his mission, perhaps it was a trail marker he used to find his way up and over the plateau to his Uintah posts. Besides locating Antoine precisely in time and place, it helps us to date the establishment of his fort Uintah. It appears that he, according to Kelly's evidence, attempted construction of a fort from adobe and timber along the Green River. By the summer of the following year, flooding ruined his site, so he settled on the less accessible, but safer site upon which he had previously established a small trading post.
In early February-March, 1840, Joe Meek left an account of Antoine Robidoux and what is taken as a clue to the earlier Robidoux Rendezvous along the Green. They wintered at Fort Davy Crockett. During this time a party of trappers under Thompson began horse stealing. They went to the Snake River to steal from the Nez Perces'--finding no horses they took forty head from the Snakes and ran them to the Uintahs. In February of 1840 party under Joseph Walker, including Meek and Kit Carson, organized to hunt the thieves:
They found them on an island on Green River. They located the horse thieves in an old abandoned fort at the mouth of the Uintah. Walker and his men were not eager to spill white blood, and tried to sneak the horses away. (Stanley Vestal"
"But while horses and men were crossing the river on the ice, the ice sinking with them until the water was knee-deep, the robbers discovered the escape of their booty, and chargin on the trappers tried to recover the horses. In this effort they were not successful; while Walker made a masterly flank movement and getting in Thompson's rear, ran the horses into the fort, where he stationed his men, and succeeding in keeping the robbers on the outside. Thompson then commenced giving the horses away to a villageof utes in the neighborhood of the fort, on the condition that they should assist in retaking them. On his side, Walker threatened the Utes with dire vengenance if they dared interfere. The Utes, who had a wholesom fear not only of the trappers, but of their foes the Snakes, declined to enter into the quarrel. After a day of strategy, and of threats alternated with arguments, strengthened by a warlike dispaly, the trappers marched out of the fort before the faces of the discomfitted thieves, taking their booty with them, which was duly restored to the Snakes on their return to Fort Crockett, and peace sucred once more with that people. (259-60)
The men of Meek's and Walker's party had little to do the rest of the winter--they went in small parties in different directions seeking adventure. Meek joined a party which traveled down the ice on the frozen over Green River. They traveled thus for more than a hundred miles without finding but one place to come out of the canyons--which they did at the mouth of the Uintah river.
Here, this party probably met Antoine Robidoux who had just come up from Santa Fe with a train of goods. With these, they ventured back up the Green, trading along the way, until Ham's Fork where they set up camp in March, 1840. "The Snow was still deep in the mountains, and the trappers found great sport in running antelope. On one occasion a large herd, numbering several hundreds, were run on to the ice, on Green River, where they were crowded into an air hole, and large numbers slaughtered only for the cruel sport which they afforded." (261)
But killing antelope needlessly was not by any means the worst of amusements practiced in Rubideau's camp. That foolish trader occupied himself so often and so long in play Hand (an Indian game,) that before he parted with his new associates he had gambled away his goods, his horses, even his wife; so that he returned to Santa Fe much poorer than nothing--since he was in debt. (261)
This passage reveals insight into Antoine's character, as well as the fact that he probably kept squaw wives while on the trail. Gambling was probably part and parcel to the life of the Mountain-man--it was a way of killing time during the long and cold winter months. It was also a reflection of the risk-taking orientation of these entrepreneurs in their every-day adventures.
Joe Meek offers a glimpse of Antoine's activities in the winter of 1839 until March of 1840, when they were snowbound along the Green River. Antoine apparently traveled north from Fort Uintah to be with other trappers during a winter of heavy snow. According to Charles Kelly (July 1939) "Meek, who was himself no saint, might have been a little prejudiced in his opinion. " It is evident that Meek had become caught up in Christian doctrine, somewhat as a lay preacher among the trappers, through his association with Marcus Whitman. This involvement may have influenced his remembrance of Antoine Robidoux in a similar manner that it obviously influenced Joseph Williams' depiction of the man.
Kit Carson revisited the Robidoux fort on the Uintah in the Spring of 1840, this time in company with Jack Robinson, leaving Bridger's company that was headed to the last of the great rendezvous. "Bridger and party started for rendezvous on Green River. Jack Robison and myself ofr the Utah country, to Robidoux's fort, and there disposed of the furs we caught on our march."
It is at this juncture that Guild & Carter offer insight into some of the Indians and family life at Fort Uintah.
If Waanibe died during the winter of 1839-40 at Brown's Hole, Carson had to make arrangements for the care of his two little girls. The Indian population around Fort Davy Crockett was composed of wandering tribes. If he left the children with one of them, he might never see them again. Robidoux, on the other hand, had a fairly stable household of Indian women, and Jack Robertson, who had a cabin on Black's Fork and is known to have been of kindly disposition, may have offered to help Carson take the children to the fort on the Uintah. His Indian wife, Marook, may have taken care of the children on the journey. (92)
From Fort Uintah, Carson proceeded to the Horse Creek Rendezvous where he met Father De Smet. After this, he trapped and then returned to Fort Uintah in the Spring of 1841:
In the fall, six of us went to Grand River and there made our hunt, pasing the winter at Brown's Hole on Green River. In the following spring we went back to the Utah country and into the New Park, where we made our spring hunt. We then returned to Robidoux's fort and disposed of our beaver and remained there till September, 1841.
Beaver was gettting very scarce, and finding that it was necessary to try our hand at something else...(Autobiography, 62)
It was at this point that many mountain men turned to horse-stealing, making the famous run to California with Peg-Leg Smith. It is also at this point that Robidoux's name becomes more associated with the trade in mules and horses, and with the winter storms which led to the loss of his caravans on the Santa Fe trail. It is possible that at this point, Antoine may have accompanied this famous horse raid to California.
Antoine apparently left his posts at Uintah some time in mid-to-late 1840, and returned to Missouri. This was probably a yearly sojourn, or at least once every other year. The next account we have of Antoine is in late 1840, in Missouri, where he is describing to Joseph Bidwell and an assembly of prospective pioneers the virtues of California. Though the actual identity of this Robidoux has never been positively identified, it is apparent that it could only have been either Louis or Antoine. Louis Robidoux would have been the first choice, as his interests in California were clearly known at this time--but it is evident that he was probably not in Missouri at this time.
Several scholars attribute Antoine for being that mysterious "Robidoux" speaker who fired the blood of John Bidwell and his party bound for California in 1841. It was probably Antoine who is referred to in this famous instance. It could not have been Louis, who was probably in Santa Fe at this time--his having signed a letter in December of 1840 praising the actions of the American Consul in Santa Fe.
Following the publication of a letter in the St. Louis Daily Argus by Dr. John Marsh to a friend in Missouri which praised California to the highest and promised Missourians a new life, on Oct. 31st, 1840: "This is beyond all comparison the finest country and the finest climate. What we want here is more people. If we had fifty families from Missouri, we could do exactly as we please without any fear of being troubled. The difficulty of coming here is imaginary... (Stone, 26)
Soon, according to Bidwell, he met a man by the name of Robidoux who had been to California. It was due to this Robidoux's influence at a meeting that the first emigrant train to California was organized and put into motion. Though scholars attribute this episode to Antoine, it is also possible that it was actually Louis Robidoux who had addressed the crowd thus--evidence shows that he had made a trip to California in 1840; although at least one reference indicates that Antoine may have visited California by 1837, perhaps before his return to Ft. Uintah when he wrote his famous Book Cliffs inscription. Antoine must have known the way to California in order to have been leading the Kearny expedition there a few years later. According to Bancroft in his History of California, Antoine probably first came to California with the Santa Fe trappers by the late 1820's or 1830's when the Southern Route by the Gila via Tucson first opened up, with the parties of Wolfskill, Warner, Jackson, or Ewing Young. It is possible that he accompanied David Jackson's party that made its way to San Francisco By, and that returned in Spring of 1832. It is unlikely that he made this journey later than this, with either the Young or Walker parties. He may have made the sojourn to California between 1834 and 1836, for which time there are few accompanying explicit records of his whereabouts.
The only known document of his whereabouts during this time is a guarantee of payment made at the Border Customs Office in Santa Fe, dated August 26th, 1835:
Antoine Robidoux, inhabitant in this city, by my present constitued bondsman Richard D. Dallam for the amount of six hundred and forty eight pesos five and five that in this advance payment of in effect that to the effect which he made and the stated Dallam was not pade
Antoine may have been with the first party with Smith to cross the Sierra's directly to Monterey, even before Walker's second successful journey there from the Great Salt Lake in 1833. Robidoux was known to have been trapping with both Walker and Smith during these years. It is unlikely that Robidoux came with Walker during that expedition, as evidence suggests he was in Santa Fe at the time.
Bidwell dictated his account to S. S. Boynton in 1877:
About this time a man came to the settlement by the name of Rowbadeaux. He was an Indian trader and brother to the famous Joseph Roubadeaux of St. Joseph, Missouri, whose trading post I was at in 1839
Rowbadeaux described California to us in glowing colors. He had gone to Santa Fe, thence to Arizona, thence to California and up to Monterey. He said it was a perfect paradise, a perpetual spring. He was a calm, considerate man and his stories had all the appearance of truth. He said the hospitality fo the people was unbounded. Cattle and horses ranged there in the greatest abundance. The matter was talked over among us and a public meeting called. To hear more about this wonderful country on Pacific Coast. Roubadeaux answered all our interrogations in a satisfactory manner. (77)
Bidwell's account of the alledged Antoine's description of California is as follows:
In November or December of 1840, while still teaching school in Platte County, I came across a Frenchman named Roubideaux, who said he had been to California. He had been a trader in New Mexico, and had followed the roader traveled by traders from the frontier of Missouri to Santa Fe. He had probably gone through what is now new Mexico and Arizona into California by the Gila River trail used by the Mexicans. His description of California was in the superlative degree favorable, so much so that I resolved if possible to see that wonderful land, and with others helped to get up a meeting at Weston and invited him to make a statement before it in regard to the country. At that time when a man moved out West, as soon as he was fairly settled he wanted to move again, and naturally every question imaginable was asked in regard to this wonderful country. Roubideaux described it as one of perennial spring and boundless fertility, and laid stress on the countless thousands of wild horses and cattle. He told about oranges, and hence must have been to Los Angeles, or the misson of San Gabriel, a few miles from it.
Every conceivable question that we could ask him was answered favorably. Generally the first question which a Missourian asked about a country was whether there was an fever or ague. I remember his answer distinctly. He said there was but one man in California that had ever had a chill there, and it was a matter of so much wonderment to the people of Monterey that they went eighteen miles into the country to see him shake. Nothing could have been more satisfactory on the score of health.
He said that the Spanish authorities were mostly friendly, and that the people were the most hospitable on the globe; that you could travel all over California and it would cost you nothing for horses and food. Even the Indians were friendly. His description of the country made it seem like a Paradise.
"The account given of the Pacific Coast was so inviting that man resolved to visit it. Immediately an organization was proposed and in due time effected." (78) As a result of this meeting with Robidoux, the prospective pioneers formed a committee with a secretary and made a pledge to purchase outfits and to rendezvous at Sapling Grove in Kansas on the 9th of May, 1841. Thus started the first known wagon train across the plains to California.
By 1841, the Beaver was mostly trapped out, and era of the great fur trade was drawing to a sudden close. There was still enough of it left for Rufus Sage to be impressed by the Gila river party a year later. In the summer of 1842, the Reverend Joseph Williams was making a return journey from Oregon territory, via a Southern route which took them through Fort Uintah and Fort Uncompahgre.
According to William Bailey, the loss of the value of Beaver led to increasing debts of Antoine Robidoux and greater financial hardship, as demonstrated by the following letter to Manuel Alvarez, the American Consul of Santa Fe:
Teas October 26th 1840
I would be glad if you wold Rite me what Chance you think thar is of giting my money of Thopson & Roubedou if it will be paid here or will I have to send to the united States Plias Rite me a few lines to Let me know wat prospech
Thare are be and much oblige
a friend yours be
Simeon Turly was a principal distiller of Taos Lightening, and this undoubtedly links Antoine's trade activities with the sale of liquor. Though Wallace traces his probable route as the Gunnison-Cochetopa Pass trail. Because this trail leads to the San Luis Valley, with Robidoux or Mosca pass at the other, eastern end, it is believed that sometimes Antoine must have used this trail to make a shortcut directly to Missouri.
That Antoine Robidoux probably took such a route not infrequently to Missouri there is some evidence. In a letter from James Collins to the territorial governor of New Mexico William Carr Lane, written December 10th, 1852, it is reported that in the winter of 1841-2 Antoine had left St. Joseph with several hundred horses and mules for Santa Fe. Manuel Alvarez had preceded Antoine on the trail with a small party:
In December, 1841, Don Manuel Alvarez, with a small party, was caught in a storm on Cottonwood creek, near Council Grove. In a few hours two men and all the mules were frozen to death. Alvarez saved the remainder of his men by forcing them into motion until the storm abated; many of them, however, were badly frozen.
"About the same period another party, under the charge of Don Antonio Robidoux, had to stand a storm at the same place. They lost in one night one or two men and over four hundred horses and mules." (Twitchell, 125-6; Collins, from Benjamin Read "Perils of the Santa Fe Trail in its Early Days (1822-1852), El Palacio, Vol. XI?X(1925):206-11)
It was at Cotton-wood Fork, on September 6th, 1843, that Captain Philippe St. George Cooke encountered Antoine Robidoux while escorting another caravan:
Marching this morning in a dense fog, about 7 o'clock, before the caravan,--as I thought--I soon discovered, like spectres, the dim outline of a seemingly endless column of wagons which had glided ahead of me; nine miles it took me to get in frot, on a well-beaten road.
The breeze now rattles merrily overhead through the tall cotton woods--which shade my tent; the light clouds of the broken storm fly like shattered fleets before a gale; now and then are heard distant cheers, or unearthly yells, and volleys of whip-cracks from the Mexicans, who are driving their overworked mules up the steep bank at the ford.
I find Mr. Robidoux here, with a dozen light horse-carts; he has a trading house three hundred miles beyond Santa Fe. The snow-storm of the 8th of last November fell upon him in this vicinity; more than a hundred horses and mules perished, and indeed one man; he had lost his only axe, or he could have cut down cotton-woods for food to save his animals.
Robidoux undertakes to give me the boundaries of the buffalo grass, which extents to the Missouri River, and within eighty miles of the State boundary; he says 'that throughout New Mexico, where the buffalo do not keep it down, it grows a foot high; his cattle and sheep live on it exclusively, and keep fat in winter; and improve in size on the original breed; the mutton is superior in flavor to ours.'
This man prays for the annexation of New Mexico, as necessary to develop its mineral riches: he asserts 'that he knows districts where, for twenty miles, it is impossible to find a handful of dirt without gold.'
'Why in the world have you not made your fortune collecting it?'
'I sunk,' he replied with a true Frenchman's shrug, 'eight thousand dollar.'
Later that night, Cook wrote the following diatribe to himself:
Friend--I remember that; it was on the unfortunate Texan expedition against Santa Fe.
"Yes: they might easily have captured it, as thee was great dissatisfaction against the government, if they had only had discipline. It shows the difference between the bravery of bowie-knife broils, and that high courage which supports one amid a long train of difficulties and disasters--which braves the wear and tear of adverse circumstances, famine, fatigue, and continual dangers: these only inspire the veteran with heroism! They had one such among them. Armijo has confessed that he could have succeeded well backed by a hundred men; or, as Robidoux said the other day, 'if they had fired three guns.'
Several insights come from this passage--Antoine made numerous trips, almost yearly, across the plains. Servicing and supplying his Forts directly from the East, and raising capital there through the sale of livestock and furs, enabled him to continue and develop his network inspite of numerous set backs which would probably have wiped out lesser traders. It was apparent that by 1843, he was strongly dissatisfied with the Mexican government of New Mexico--he blamed them for mismanagement and the kind of corruption that prevented development (i.e., his development) of the region.
This period represents an important turning point for the fortunes of Antoine Robidoux in the Rocky Mountains. On October 31st, 1842, Solomon Sublette wrote to William Sublette in St. Louis from Independence Missouri mentioning that Antoine Robidoux "made a good trade of goods last year. There is talk of his getting an outfit of Bent & St. Vrain and returning to his post." It is not known if he was caught in a blizzard both in 1841 and again in 1842, or if it was returning from or going to Santa Fe that he was wiped out. It is likely that he was caught at least twice in blizzards near Council Grove in as many years. It is apparent that he was caught in a blizzard on November 8th, 1842, about a week after this letter was written, and that during this storm he was headed west. It appears likely that with so many mules and horses he was headed east when disaster struck his caravans in about December of 1841. According to William Wallace, and Bill Bailey, "In January of 1842, Antoine was crossing Missouri with a large herd of horses and mules destined for sale in Santa Fe. He was caught in a terrible blizzard near Cottonwood Creek and overnight lost 400 animals and two of his men to the freezing temperatures."
Though the dates may be confused, it indicates that Antoine may have suffered numerous disasters on the Santa Fe Trail due to unexpected blizzards. Another letter from Solomon Sublette, this time at Fort William, Arkansas, to William Sublette in St. Louis, dated May 5th, 1844, stating that "I have heard that Mr. Robidoux lost most of his animals last winter. I got new from the men just from his fort," suggests that Antoine may have suffered another disaster on his caravan sometime in the early winter o 1843-4, which would have been just after the period that Captain Cooke encountered him near Council Grove. These sets of disasters where part of an inherent risk of caravaning in the wintertime.
According to William Bailey, these events would prove disastrous on Antoine's trade and ability to recover. In a letter to Consul Manuel Alvarez from Charles Bent in 1842, reference is made to Robidoux:
Taos 4th September 1842
M. M. Alvaras
Pleas let me know by the first opportunity wether I could procure one or two Thousand Dollars on a draft on St. Louis or any of you Gentlemen of Santefe.
Thare is an American Gentleman heare, a native of Pennsylvania, about thirty yeares of age, by the name of Thomas Biggs, who wishes to procure a passport for California, so far as I have acquaintance with hime, he is a worthy man, and one I have no hesitation in vouching for his good behavior You will pleas doe me the favor to procure him a pasport if posible, and forward it to me, let me know the cost and I will refund you the mony. I shall visit Santefe so soone as I settle with Robadaux, he goes dawn I expect, to try and get some person to lone him mony payable in St. Louis, he owes a greadeal of mony in the U States I know.
Youres Respectfully C Bent
Bent took Antoine Robidoux to court over debts due him. Governor Armijo, who heard the case, decided in favor of Robidoux. But Bent insisted that he would be "payed either by fair or foul means". On October 11th, 1842, Antoine rendered payment:
Taos October 11th, 1842
Mr. M Alvars
On the seventh Mr A Robadoux gave me six hundred and fity # of Beaver
to secure his debt to us, which he has the privilage of redeaming, next july in St. Louis by paying up $1788.00 in either gold or silver, he left here the 9th for missouri.
Before he left he returned me a latter you had given him for Waldo, he says he would not oblige you so much as to carry a letter for you. I sent the letter by Tealas. I ensure it will go safe. I am told that St. Vrain will be here in a few days. how true I cant say
We have no rush here give my Respects to Scotty
These disasters may not have affected his business enough to prevent him from making lucrative returns on pelts or other goods. It is evident that peltry was becoming less abundant and available by this period, and that the demand and price for beaver dropped drastically. It makes sense that mules and horses would quickly become an alternative form of trade. It is possible though that they may have exacerbated the conditions of trade and tensions which may have led up to the attack on his fort. Perhaps he was at a gradual disadvantage with the Ute Indians who may have been some of the principal suppliers of his horses and mules. He may have temporarily lost the upper hand in the trade long enough to eventuate in the revolt of the tribes under his control.
No record is given how many trips Antoine may have made between Missouri and his intermontane territory. It is apparent that he was engaged in the great mule and horse trade between the Southwest and Missouri, which was largely a basis of the trade of this region. Doubtless that he was constantly on the move between his posts, Taos and the east.
The Journal of James Clyman for the 31st of August, 1845, makes reference to meeting a "Mr. Robedeau from the arkansas with horses and mules":
31 Moved up the vally of Blacks Fork & early in the afternoon arived at Bridger & Vasqueses trading house (Fort Bridger) a temporary concern calculated for the trade with Shoshonees and Eutaws which trade is not verry valuable this place is likewise the general rendezvous of all the rocky mountain hunters & Trappers that once numerous class of adventurers are now reduced to less than thirty men which Started out under the command of Mr Bredger yestarday on an excursion thrugh the mountains of Northern & central Mexico this small Trading post is also within the limits of Mexico but can be no great distance south of the U.S. tates Boundary line this Establisment has a fine grassy vally around it but of no greate extent we here met Mr Robedeau (Antoine Robidoux) from the arkansas with horses and mules & other articles porposely to catch our trade.
This incident occurred not a month or two before the attacks, and it locates him in the vicinity of Fort Uinta and Fort Bridger--this suggests his exploitation of an alternate route from the Arkansas. It is likely that Antoine had explored and developed a whole network of trails which connected the different outposts of Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, Fort Bent, Fort St. Vrain, and his other posts. An instance of this is given by Wanda Richardon's brief biography of Antoine in her description of his Fort Uinta:
Here he engaged in trapping and trading with the Indians, white men and "breeds." He made a pack-horse trail across Taylor Mountain to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Part of this historic trail is still used by cattlemen on the face of Taylor Mountain and part of it is the present wagonroad to Burnt Fork, Wyoming. It was known as the Robidoux Trail.
This account is corroborated to some extent by Grace Hebard's account of Sacajawea's sons, Toussaint and Jean Baptiste, who were known to have trapped with the Robidoux brothers in the 1830's. Jim Faris who was an old time frighter along the Oregon trail between Fort Laramie and Salt Lake City, gave to Charles Alexander Eastman the following story:
Bazil seemed to have had then a great influence with Brigham Young, in fact, he made two or three agreements with him.
He also was one of the strong men of James Bridger and Roubideau, for he usually interpreed all their trading with his tribe. I have also known his brother, Baptiste. He was not a leader of the band, but he was assistant to his brother in a way. Bazil once said to me that since he came back here he took the responsibility of guiding his uncle's band. His uncle had been dead before he came back, and it was led by another man, but not successfully.
What Bazil said, I think was true, because ever since I have known him he was always considered the head of Henry's fork Snakes. I know him to be a very reliable and conscientious man. He was practically old or middle-aged when I met him, but in action he was a man of great physical activity and clear headedness. He was a very useful lieutenant to Chief Washakie. He never claimed very much honor, but it is a fact that he and his mother were the trump card when Washakie made the treaty with the United States in 1868. He did not as a rule volunteer information or tell much about his own life, except that he knew me very well and we talked over a good deal of western life in the past when we smoked in our own cabins.
It appears from what he said he came into this country with Jim Bridger and Roubideau from the southwest. After he arrived here, he devoted his time to his tribe and he was with them all the time, but his brother, Baptiste, became more or less a guide and trapper to the fur-traders and hunters for a time, but he too aftere a while settled down with his brother's tribe. (Hebard, 177-8)
King-Pin of the Rocky Mountain Corridor: 1824-1844
To Antoine's name are credited the establishment of at least two and probably three or four trading forts west of the Rocky Mountains, and the naming of a river, a pass and later a small railroad town after him. He left at least one sets of inscriptions near his forts, if not more. The exact dates of the establishment of these posts, and even the exact location, and naming, has long been a matter of some conjecture. Antoine's fort on the Gunnison has been referred to as Ft. Robidoux, Fort Uncompaghre, Robidoux's post, or "the Fort on the Gunnison". The Fort on the Uinta has been referred to as Ft. Robdoux, Ft. Uintah, and Ft. Winte. Strong evidence suggests a third site at the junction of the Green and White Rivers, possibly at the confluence of the Uinta River--this was also known as Robidoux's Fort and possibly was the location of what was refered to as "Robidoux's Rendezvous." Minor evidence indirectly indicates that he may also have maintained some kind of post in the upper reaches of the San Juan, in what was and remains Navajo Terrritory--if this is correct, then he would have been the earliest trader known to have had long-term connections with the Navajo, and probably also the surrounding Pueblo and Apache Indians.
Like almost every other facet of the Robidoux story, a great deal of historical controversy surrounds the identity of these forts. Not one of the sites has today been definitively or precisely located beyond all doubt, though the site at Fort Uintah was confirmed by archaeological site surveys, based on the geographical coordinates provided by John Fremont on his second expedition.
It is probable that Antoine had visited and become acquainted with the general areas in which he was later to build the forts during his first few ventures through the region. The exact dates of the construction of these forts are not known. Various scholars have offered dates for the Gunnison Fort ranging from 1825, 1828, 1830, 1831, 1837. Parkhill notes the establishment of a permanent post by the Robidoux brothers at Taos and then at Uncompaghre as early as 1826. Dates for the Fort Uintah generally range from 1830-1 to 1833-4 to 1837-8. "Judging from the disagreements in the literature touching on the Robidoux forts it is doubtful whether exact dating will ever be possible unless some new documentary material is discovered." (Wallace, 15).
In this regard it is interesting to note the earlier presence of one Julien and Archambault near the Uintah site, both of whom have been presumed to have been in the employ of Antoine Robidoux's company at the time. Julien is purported to be Denis Julien, whose record appears on April 6, 1824 in the Kennerly diary at Ft. Atkinson, and on Dec. 26, 1825, for having shot another man in the face. His name is found on a list of personnel under Francisco Robidoux reported by Manuel Martinez on April 7, 1827, heading north from Taos, "to retrieve some caches in the direction of the land of the Utes." There occurs a "Denis Julien 1831" inscription near Whiterocks. "In recalling white men in the basin prior to Robidoux' establishment of Fort Winty, Nauhnan, son of Chief Tabby, is quoted by Milt Jacobs: 'We knew about an earlier trading post. There was a white man the Indians called 'Sambo" and the other one called 'Julie.'"
This is attributed to Denis Julien, and the other, more obscure reference, to August Archambault, who was born in St. Louis in 1817 and who was a neighbor and associate of Chouteau. James Reed, his nephew, was quoted in 1902 that Archambault "later had a trading store somewhere in the vicinity of old Fort Uintah." and the Utes called him "Toop-chee," meaning "Little Fellow" because he was small when he first came to the country.
The claim has been put forth, primary by John Barton, that the first trading post and white residents in the Uinta basin were this trio in 1828, whom Antoine bought out in 1832, according to accounts by Ute Indian informants who were the descendants of Reed. It is difficult to objectively evaluate the legitimacy or validity of this claim. According to Dunham's account:
If we're to believe an old Ute tale, it couldn't have been long after Baptiste got here that two men, whom the Indians knew as Julie and Sambo, set up a trading post at the junction of trails on Whiterocks River. They peddled knives, cloth, needles, black blankets with white borders, as well as beads and other "fooforaw," as trappers called the knickknacks that gladdened the feminine Indian heart. It took a stack of beaver as tall as the weapon itself, we hear, to barter for a gun. Some Utes traded for coffee beans which they boiled for days trying to make them soft enough to eat.
It is difficult to assess the accuracy or validity of these accounts. Clark's interviews with Utes in a much earlier time shows a general haziness and lack of detail of memory, as does Cragin's recounting of Old Big Tom, which leads one to question the authenticity of these accounts. According to the Dunhams, James Reed was Auguste's nephew. According to Barton's account, he is William Reed's nephew. The Duchesne County Historian, Frances Dillman, claimed that William Reed was Jim Reeds father, who was the first at this post. "Jimmie himself, as an old man, told people he'd come West to join his uncle (perhaps great uncle) when he was sixteen. That, he said, was in 1855. So we're left with one of those intriguing contradictions with which the story of our region is filled." (Dunham 50). According to this account, the partnership sold out their trading post to their competition, Antoine Robidoux, in 1832. According to Barton, James Reed died in 1925 just shy of 110 years of age. The likelihood is greater that he was born in 1839, and not in 1815, and that when he died, he was probably about a ripe 86 years old. Even William, whether father or Uncle of James, was likely a very young man by the time of this founding--"Many of the oral sources refer to Toopeechee and William Reed as the same individual." Thus it is possible that Julien and Reed did have an early trading post in the Uintahs--according to Hafen, it is equally likely that Julien was in fact an engagee of Antoine Robidoux. It is known that he was employed by Antoine in 1832, that he left his name on a rock there in 1831, and that he was employed in New Mexico in 1827 by Louis Robidoux, Antoine's brother.
According to Barton:
It is doubtful that his father was the first to trade iron to the Utes. When William Ashley met the Utes near Ashly Creek in 1825, they already possessed guns. Provost and Robidoux had been in the Basin the year before and certainly traded with the Utes, which predates the Reeds' entry into the Uinta Basin....Reed's story is interesting, if not wholly accurate. (Barton, 33)
The lack of primary, documentary or secondary sources further weakens this story. It is not impossible that there was such a trading post in the area, and that it indeed can claim to be the "first year-round habitation of non-Indians in Utah, a claim formertly applied to Fort Uintah." But this, like the villainization of Antoine in the same region today, sounds like a counter-claim in history which opens up real parallax--once having been made--it is virtually impossible to retract, but without a great deal of first hand evidence, it is also difficult to verify. For one reason or another, possibly the same reason, there appears to be real social resistance in the area to giving Antoine credit or full legitimacy for his early accomplishments in the area.
These two men would have been members or visitors of Robidoux's camps. One of the Robidoux's was found near the mouths of the Winty and White rivers with twenty men in 1832-3 by Lee and Carson and also noted by Ferris. It is presumed that they were under the employ of the Robidouxs. They set up a post at the junction of trails on Whiterocks River, according to local historians they "peddled knives, cloth, needles, black blankets with white borders, as well as beads and other "fooforaw,' as trappers called the knickknacks that gladdened the feminine Indian heart. It took a stack of beaver as tall as the weapon itself, we hear, to barter for a gun. Some Utes traded for coffee beans which they boiled for days trying to make them soft enough to eat."
Antoine Robidoux and David Waldo applied for a license to the Mexican Government in order to operate a fort on the 19th of September, 1831. It has been assumed that this must have been Fort Uintah, because it is believed he had already been operating Fort Uncompahgre. It is more likely that the first fort Antoine would have built in the area would have been the Fort Ouray. The archaeological evidence given for the short occupation of this site is unconvincing, especially in lieu of the flooding purported to have occurred there. It ismore likely that Fort Ouray was established at the earlier date, and was already abandoned by the time it was the scene of the famous horse theft incident mentioned by Joe Meek later on in early 1840. It is likely that Fort Uintah would have been simultaneously established, or at least enlarged at a later date. The Ferris Map of 1836 shows only building sites in the position of Fort Ouray--this is significant because this map is the first accurate map of the area, and it isknown for its detail.
John Barton takes issue with the site that Morrill located as Fort Uintah, and names the site of a Junction of the Whiterocks and Uintah as the location. To date, the best evidence are Fremont's coordinates, and the best analysis is the inaccuracy of the instruments and the error this produced by Morrill.
It has been assumed that either Denis Julien and a very young August Archambault were in the employ of Robidoux, or that he had managed to "buy out" their post. The Dunhams (1943:53) give this to have occurred in 1831, when he apparently first built his Fort Uintah, which trappers had known as Ft. Wintey. The dating and location of the remains near Whiterocks is even more of a controversy than that for the fort on the Gunnison.
It has long been argued by scholars who have visited and examined the sites that there may have been two posts built by Antoine Robidoux, though the dating and sequencing of this sites are a matter of great debate. That there was a Ft. Uintah is fairly certain. There might have been another post, built earlier, above the mouth of the White river on the left bank of the Green River, and which was excavated by Kelly in 1936. Kelly concluded that this site had been started by Robideaux, but halted after summer flooding of the river ruined the early phases of construction. Maps and journal accounts of 1871 note this as Fort Robidoux and as "Robidoux's Crossing." George Bird Grinnell, tells of crossing the Green River with stock in 1870 "....near the ancient trading post known as Fort Robidoux." "Although no documentary evidence exists, it is almost a certainty that the adobe fort discovered here by Dr. Albert Reagan was built by Antoine Robidoux in 1837." An alternate theory was that this structure had been built by Lee and Carson in 1833-4 for their winter quarters. The map in Ferris dated 1836 shows three cabins in precise position. We might speculate that these could have been the encampments of Robidoux, Kit Carson and Denis Julien.
Though the background of the forts is quite vague, there can be no doubt that Antoine Robidoux had maintained almost continuous trade activity in this area, probably from the late 1820s, until its final destruction by the Ute Indians in 1844.
Its exact location of Fort Uintah had been forgotten until A. Reed Morrill, using primarily Fremont's journal, was able to relocate it in October of 1936, where he found "the ground was strewn with charcoal, pieces of bone, burnt particles of leather, fragments of old earthenware dishes; and among the articles found were the bowl of an old Indian peace pipe, th stock of an old rifle, parts of old-type bake ovens, old coffee pots in late stages of decomposition, portions of wagon irons and harness hames, and many other articles." (Morrill, 6)
A. Reed Morrill provides a description of the probable site of Ft. Uintah that provides a rough idea of what both forts probably were like:
The old rock foundation wall forming the east side of Fort Robidoux, can be traced about 300 feet running north and south. The north wall trends to the northwest, extending about 200 feet. Here the west wall connects, but is discernible only in spots, except at the southern extremity; and the heavy line of rocks is again very plain.
On the inside of the northwest corner is the excavation of twoold store-rooms, one opening into the other. The excavation was apparently about 5.5 feet deep, and at the present day is lined with piles of rock on all sides. The excavation was apparently 48 feet long and 22 feet wide, with a rock partition between the rooms. The west room had no outside entrance, and was thus presumably a fairly safe storehouse.
Joining these excavations on the south the complete foundation of another room can be traced which was about 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, not square with the world but trending northwest to southeast. to the south and a little to the west of this foundation at a distance of 148 feet is the clear-cut rock outline of another room, about 30 feet by 40 feet in size, with cedar posts set in each corner--now chopped off or burned off close to the ground. The outline of still another room was found in 1940.
Morrill carefully considers two problems then standing in his way as to the positive identification of this as old Ft. Robidoux--local officials appeared committed to the idea that the site was originally built by James Reed, who, it has been ascertained, was born in 1839, but which brings us back to the Julien & Archambault connection. The other discrepancy appears to have been a slight error of John Fremont's reckoning of longitude for the site, which he had given as 109 degrees, 56 minutes and 43 seconds west longitude and 40 degrees, 27 minutes and 45 seconds north latitude. Apparently, his longitudinal reading with relatively crude instrumentation, was off by about three-quarters of a mile.
It is my conclusion that Julien and Archambault, and William Reed who was the Archambault's nephew, probably occupied the vicinity in a trading post during the early 1830's, and possibly in the late 1820's, and that they were probably attached to Antoine Robidoux's trading enterprise as the factors of his post. Julien had a squaw wife, and they were probably a stable part of the constellation of the earliest traders which gravitated about the area. The early association of James Reed as the original occupant of this area does not withstand scrutiny of available evidence.
This post is probably lost today. Antoine probably slowly developed the Uintah fort over the years. According to Herbert Auerbach:
"Fort Wintey consisted of a small collection of rude log cabins with dirt roofs and dirt floors, surrounded by a log palisade. On one side of the fort was a corral. A number of trappers and their squaws lived inside this fort and others had their wickiups scattered around outside the fort.
The wickiups were made of a number of dressed buffalo, deer or elk skins swen together, and usually ranging from 10 to 16 skins, dependent upon the size of the skins and the size of the wickiup required. A framework of lodge poles was set up on a conical shape and the skins fastend to these poles. A wickiup was usually large enough to accommodate 6 or 8 Indians, and sometimes as many as 10 or 12 Indians.
Cragin's papers show Fort Uintah to be pentagonal in shape. "Charcoal found along the limits of the dwelling houses and store indicated fire, confirming the destruction of the post. Careful measurement indicated a pentagonal form of groups of three houses, 15 feet approximately on a side. Some fireplaces seem only 15 feet apart, others about 20 feet apart, but these chimney-sites are not all quite certain in original position, owing to the removal of stone in some cases."
According to this account by Cragin, Old Big Tom and old Jimmy Duncan were two Uintah Utes who lived in the area when Fort Uintah was still there. They both remembered it and Antoine Robidoux: "they remember him as blackbearded." Big Tom was a young man grwn when Mormons came out with Jim Bridger. Jimmy Duncan was a boy 12 or 13 years old when the Fort Uintah was still standing. The corner of Ft. Uintah is about N. W. of the N. W. corner of the store." According to Big Tom, the people of the fort had horse racing from South to North up the small valley. "Sweepstakes" in the form of furs and guns were spiked at the North end. Indians were on the East side of the North end, and the whites on the South side of the North end.
It is apparent that he may have attempted to build another site, perhaps in a more accessible location, where Carson and Lee had previously had their Winter quarters, along the Green River, that later became known as Fort Kit Carson, but had abandoned this site after the first year due to flooding. It is possible that this may be the site of the attempt by the Hudson Bay company to establish a post along the Uintah that is mentioned in a correspondence b Sir William Drummond Stewart in a letter to William L. Sublette on Aug. 27, 1838: "The Hudson's Bay Company have established a fort on the Wintey (Uinta) and Andy's people (the men in the employ of Andrew Drips, Agent of the American Fur company), will be driven from here, if the Government does not take some steps." That this company would want to compete in this fur-rich region and take advantage of the Indian trading networks is a reasonable assumption for the start of a second fort that didn't last very long.
Fort Uncompahgre on the Gunnison was presumably a set of log and adobe buildings, surrounded by log and adobe ramparts. According to Herbert Auerbach, who does not cite his sources, "Fort Uncompahgre consisted of a few rough log cabins enclosed in a quadrangle of pickets...About 1846 or 1847 the Utes burned Fort Uncompahgre and, it was reported, killed all the occupants." (39) Construction would have been a major undertaking, requiring a season of transportation of supplies, recruitment of men and the actual process of building. It is likely that both Forts were built of part timber, stone and adobe, and that Mexican builders employing a "Santa Fe" style may have been recruited for the job, in the manner of the second Fort Laramie. Both forts were apparently constructed within or near a stand of timber--the Fort on the Uintah in within a forest of cedar, according to the later description given by John C. Fremont. Of the Fort on the Gunnison, "the area in the vicinity of the fort was formerly well supplied with trees but subsequently land clearing activities of ranchers and farmers have left the site a clear field." (Wallace, 14).
W. P. Clark gives the following first hand account of the Utes, which sheds light on Antoine Robidoux's trade network and its connection with and dependency upon the Ute Indians:
In October, 1881, I was traveling over the Uintah range of mountains, and during a snow-storm at night came on a Ute camp, consisting mostly of Uintahs, but some few White Rivers were with them. After some little persuasion they took me into one of the tepees, and, by the flickering light of the lodge fire, while the squaw was preparing my supper, I obtained from the chief and headmen, by means of gestures and their poorly-spoken English, a brief history of their tribe as they understood it. They claimed that for many generations they had been divided into bands, which occupied different parts of the country, extending from Great Salt lake to the headwaters of the Cimarron River. These bands were known by some familiar custom which they practiced, or from some physical feature of the particular part of the country they occupied. To oppose the invasion of the Siouw, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Comanches, Kiowas, and other tribes, these bands were at times united, and lived and fought together, quickly separating and going to what might be called their respective homes after the necessity for the concentration had passed away. The present Uintahs and some other bands were called Pah-go-wee Nutzes, or Big Water Utes; the White Rivers, Yam-Pa-recks, or Root-Eaters. The Uncompahgres, Monatz, or Cedar-Tree Utes, and several bands are consolidated with what are known as the Southern Utes, viz. Travois band, Willow band, Skin and Painted Lodge band, etc.
The White Rivers are more conversant with the sign langauge than the other bands, their geographical position having thrown them into more constant and intimate relations with the Plains tribes, particulary of late years with the Arapahoes. (391-2)
Wallace notes that the Fort on the Gunnison was probably the first, and was "ready in time to take advantage of Senator Thomas Hart Benton's legislation which resulted in an appropriation for improvement of the route from Fort Osage on the eastern frontier, to Taos on the west, and completed by 1825, thus opening the flourishing Santa Fe trade on a large scale." (15). It is likely, given the known whereabouts of Antoine in 1824-5 and in 1828, that it was between 1826 and 1827 that the fort on the Gunnison was first constructed. This would fill a brief hiatus in the biographical record of Antoine, and would help explain his cash assets by the time he married.
The Fort Robidoux on the Gunnison is described as a small post "on the banks of the Gunnison River, a short distance below the mouth of the Uncompahgre River." Uncompahgre is a Ute word meaning "red water springs" First-hand descriptions of Fort Uncompahgre are found in Cragin's Early Far West Notebooks. It shows a standard configuration of an adobe walled fort drawn from the clay-loam of the valley, facing in a north west direction with a six foot main gate apparently fronting the river. It was given as about 75 feet wide in a south-north direction and 90 feet in a east-west direction. There are 12 foot square bastions in both the northeast and southwest corners. There are three rooms joining the western wall each sharing a common wall, as well as a common wall with the ladder well to the Southwest Bastion. There are two rooms on the opposite, northeast wall, that extends about two thirds of the way, incorporating the northeast Bastion. The rooms are about 17-18 feet wide, and vary between 20-30 feet in length, with central door about mid-way and in board, and an occasional window.
Antoine's Fort Uncompahgre or Fort Robidoux on the Gunnison
Walls massive, of adobe: (no sod on the valley here; all clay-loam. At x (southeastern corner) a dirt ridge runs out east to the S. wall and flush with it as if a small tower or bastion had fallen there; its only about 4 feet wide.
According to Manuel Pais who was at the Fort in 1842, and whose drawing is dated 1887, the walls were about 8 to ten feet high and the North and south sides were 37 paces and the east and west sides 30 paces. The interior buildings were made of log and adobe. The floor plan is somewhat different than the other depiction , though close enough in general form to suggest renovations having been made. The orientations of the two maps indicate that the fort may have been rebuilt, with its bastions put on the opposite corners. The second structure may have been slightly smaller than the first. The interior buildings were built of logs and adobe. The main store was along the north wall. About twenty-five to thirty men slept in rooms close to the bastions, with squaws, and other men lived near by. According to his drawing there were doors on both the north and south entrances.
Today, the original site of the fort has remained undiscovered. William Bailey, by personal report, has been searching for clues of it for years, but so far has found only the sites of later homesteaders. Periodic flooding and the changing course of the Gunnison river, has taken its toll on the remains of the site--it is very possible that the original site is now on the other bank of the river, or even in the middle of the river, from where it originally stood. Also, this area is prime agricultural land, and corn fields now cover both banks were the site may have been.
The best evidence for locating the site has been from the notes and maps left by the Gunnison Expedition. John Gunnison led his ill-fated party through this area in the fall of 1853. Beckwith's report gives the distances of travel very precisely, and this has been used to reconstruct the general and probable location of the site:
September 14-- It was 3.80 miles by this route to the top of the steep ascent of the ridge, and three hours were occupied in its ascent; our barometers giving a difference of level of fourteen hundred feet. The top of the mountain was broad, and near the summit we fortunately found a small basin of water, in our circuitous path to avoid ravines, at which our animals were watered; but it was too stagnant for the men. From the western slope of the valley of the Uncompahgra could be seen in the distance; and, striking the dry head of Cedar creek, we commenced our descent to it. This creek was too narrow and ravine-like to allow us to descend its bed, and we accordingly circled round on the hillsides, sometimes in the grass fields, at others in the dense masses of sage, from which we escaped only to encounter the stiff scrubby branches of oak bushes, and at length, through a mass of them, to make a precipitous descent to the creek, which was itself lined with them. Just before sundown we reached a point where Leroux had, under a rock in a deep thickly-bushed ravine, discovered a little cool and refreshing water, with which our animals were watered from buckets, and ourselves supplied for the night, which now overtook us, and we encamped a mile below on a very little coarse grass, having traveled thirteen miles. Two miles west of this camp our elevation above the sea was 6,962 feet, while it was 8, 755 feet at the top of the sharp ascent nine miles east of camp. The average ascent per mile to this point, for the 3.80 miles from our morning camp, is a few inches over 368 feet, and the average descent for the succeeding eleven miles is 163 feet per mile. Some additional distance can be gained by a winding path in the ascent of this ridge, but not sufficient to make it practicable for a railroad, which, if at all, can only be carried on this part of Grand river immediately along its banks.
September 15--We were still forced to cross Cedar creek several times, each passage requiring considerable labor in cutting down the banks, before it became wide enough for our wagons to pass freely down it, which it did two miles below camp, where we found water in pools. To this point the cacti and sage were troublesome, but were scarcely seen again until we reached the borders of the Uncompahgra; the hills and valley alike, on each side of our route, being a light-colored, friable, and clayey soil, almost destitute of vegetation. The valley of the Uncompahgra, efflorescing with salts in many places, is several miles in width, and the stream is lined with cotton-woods, willow and buffalo-berry bushes, and, by crossing it where it was thirty feet wide by one deep, we found an abundance of grass and encamped, having marched 12,30 miles, descending 87.7 feet to the mile for the last ten miles. This river rises, as I have already stated, in the Sierra de la Plata, which appears to set off from the Sierra San Juan, and lie nearly parallel with our path, and from fifty to sixty miles distant. Near us are two or three Indian lodges, the occupants of which were greatly frightened at our sudden appearance. Their young men being absent in the hills hunting, were too timid to return and warn their lodges of our approach, for they had seen us, as we had them, long before reaching these lodges. Those of the women who could, fled to the thickets with their children; but two were too old to run, and were soon assured of their safety. They, however, experienced considerable difficulty in calling the young women from their hiding-places, until their men returned and they no longer feared treachery. The two old women bear unmistakable evidence of having seen the snows of a hundred winters pass away. They are of small stature, and bent forward with years; wearing their coarse hair, still as abundant as in their youth, after the manner of the women of their nation: cut short across the forehead, and passing below the ears, across the nape of the neck. It is a little thinned on the edges, and stands off hideously ugly, but gray only in a few locks. Their features are dried and shrunken to a mummy-like appearance, with bleared eyes, and sunken lips covering teeth worn to the gums. The joints of some of their fingers are stiff and distorted, and all are enlarged to ugliness. These poor objects of humanity are clothed in ragged, filthy dear skins, and, on learning that their lives were not in danger, sang and jumped with joy at their escape from what they had supposed an inevitable death. The most domestic scene witnessed was that of a mother who visited our camp with her four little children--the five riding the same horse, and all as much at home as mothers and children in a nursery. One sat in front of the mother, and one was swung on her back on a frame covered with skins, and two rode behind her, leaving no place unoccupied from the horse's tail to his neck. Presents were made to these people by Captain Gunnison.
September 16--We traveled 18.25 miles down the Uncompahgra to-day, crossing the stream four miles below our morning camp, and again a few miles before encamping this evening, a short distance above its junction with Grand river; the descent from camp to camp slightly exceeding forty-one feet to the mile. The country is in all respects like that passed yesterday--cotton-wood, willow, and grass in the narrow bottom, and near it heavy sage; but the great mass of the valley land is nearly destitute of vegetation--light, clayey, and arid to such an extent that it is disagreeable to ride over it, as it sends up clouds of dust at every step. We met several small parties of Indians during the day, all of whom followed us to camp; and others continued to arrive until a late hour at night, filling the air as they approached with yells and calls, which were answered by their friends in or near camp--consisting of inquiries and directions as to how and where they were to pass--until we were heartily tied of them. The most of them were sent out of camp, but they built their fires only a few yards from ours, and their noise was little abated by the change, and our safety but little increased. They had, much to his regret, recognized our guide, but he neither showed fear nor want of confidence in them, although he had once shot one of their chiefs, who was attempting to rob him of his horse; and he shared his fire, pipe, and blankets with the thieves who remained all night with him.
September 17.--Si-ree-chi-wap, the principal chief of the band, who is now so old that he exercises little authority directly--intrusting it to his son, who accompanies him--arrived during the night, and, followed by his sub-chiefs and warriors, this morning repaired to Captain Gunnison's tent to talk and smoke. The Captain informed them that "the President had sent him to look for a good road by which his people, who live towards the rising sun, can visit those who live upon the great water where it sets; that the President was their friend, and had authorized him to take them a few presents in his name." The son of Si-ree-chi-wap replied: "this is your land, and you can go over it at any time. There are no bad Indians over the mountains, who kill white men, but the Utahs are good, and glad to see the Americans." Presents were then distributed, pipes smoked, and the party moved on, accompanied for several miles by the chiefs. We crossed the point of land lying between the Uncompahgra and Grand rivers, reaching the latter at Roubideau's old trading fort, now entirely fallen to ruins. The river is much larger than where we left it a week ago; and its water has here a greenish shade, while there it was colorless. The Uncompahgra, however, is remarkable for this color of its water, and for a pea green moss, two or three inches long, covering the stones in its bed, even where the stream is very shallow and very rapid. A mile below the fort we crossed the river at an excellent fort; the bottom being a mile in width and covered with abundant grass. (54-6)
It is apparent that the Utes were not hostile to this party, and expressed good will by the Chiefs. The Gunnison party was not massacred by the Ute Indians, but probably by Payutes in the region of the Great Basin. This passage, besides providing fairly precise distances, provides also a very clear picture of the abundance of cotton-woods and willows, and of the cultural life of the same Indians with whom Antoine had been dealing twenty or thirty years earlier.
Later 1857, Captain Marcy in company with Jim Baker, also crossed the mountains on the 8th of December and struck the Grand River near the Uncompahgre and the Bunkara. "They forded the streams with a great deal of difficulty, for the water was deep, rapid, and filled with a great mass of floating ice. They made their next camp at the base of Elk Mountain, near old Fort Robidoux." (Mumey, 1972: 102)
William M. Bailey who has written most extensively in relation to the historical knowledge concerning Fort Uncompahgre. All three of Antoine Robidoux's known forts, Fort Uncompahgre, Fort Ouray, and Fort Uintah, were situated in the local context of major bands of the Ute tribe--the Uncompahgre band, the White River Utes, and the Uinta Utes. The Southern Ute tribes were located in closer proximity of the Taos sphere--there may have been another Fort Robidoux at the headwaters of the Saguache River. In constructing these forts in these locations, he had the alliance, the influence and protection of these bands, and their implicit blessing in his exclusive trade monopoly over the region.
Only one incident would challenge his arrangement with the Western Utes. On one occassion Bent and St. Vrain sent a caravan of goods into Ute lands with the intent to capture a portion of the Ute trade. They were not warmly received. The Indians sent them away and urged them not to return. The Ute resolve would soften in later years, but without damage to the Robidoux Enterprise. (Bailey, 2-4)
Kit Carson visited the Uintah area, where Antoine had set up a winter quarters, in the year of 1832-3. Biographer's of Carson have corrected the date he gave in his own story of the fall of 1833-4. This correction accounts for the discrepancy somewhat in the whereabouts of Antoine Robidoux in the Winter of 1833, for it is known that he was involved that year in Santa Fe. It has been presumed by most historians and biographers that Kit Carson had met Antoine that winter, although David Weber in his biography of Louis Robidoux reveals documentary evidence that Antoine's signature appears on Dec. 6th, 1833, on a list of commission members in charge of district elections in Santa Fe, and on Feb. 19th, 1834, Antoine's name appears on a certificate of sale for a mine near Santa Fe. (Weber 321) It may have been that Antoine had journeyed south during the early part of winter, after meeting Kit Carson. Being only a two week journey, it might have been easily accomplished except for the dangers presented by an unpredictable winter. Weber speculates that perhaps it was another Robidoux brother whom Carson had met that winter, such as Isadore or Francis. On the other hand, it is most likely that Carson, recounting his story from memory as an old man, had gotten his dates and years mixed up. Whatever Robidoux it was that winter, quite a tale Carson has to tell about it:
We followed the Spanish Trail that leads to California till we struck White River, went down it till we struck Green River, and crossed from Green to the Winty, one of its tributaries, where we found Mr. Robidoux. He had a party of some twenty men that were trapping and trading.
The snow was now commencing to fall and we concluded to go into winter quarters. We found a place at the mouth of the Winty that answered every prupose. During the winter, a California Indian of Mr. Robidoux's party ran off with six animals, some of them being worth two hundred dollars per head. Robidoux came to me and requested that I should pursue him. I spoke to Captain Lee and he informed me that I might use my pleasure. There was a Utah village close by, and I got one of the Indians to accompany me. We were furnished with two fine animals and took the trail of the runaway, who had gone down the river, his object being to reach California.
After traveling about one hundred miles the animal of the Indian gave out and he would not accompany me any farther. I was determined not to give up the chase and continued the pursuit and in thritymiles overtook the Indian with the horses. Seeing me by myself, he showed fight and I was under the necessity of killing him. I recovered the horses, and returned to our camp, arriving in a few days without any further trouble. (Autobiography 35-7)
According to Brewerton's story (Overland with Kit Carson, 1930: 10-11) Carson reached the Uinta post in 1832 or 3 by means of the alternate trail that led up the Rio Grande River through the San Luis Valley, over Cochetope Passe, down the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers to the Gunnison valley, where the Green River and Price River joined. At this point, the old Spanish trail diverged from this trail, which then led north along the Green up the the Uintah River. No mention is made by Carson or his biographer's of having passed or visited Fort Uncompahgre on the Gunnison--suggesting possibly at this time that no such fort existed.
According to Carson's biographer Sabin, Antoine Robidoux then was lively and fond of the Indian game of "hand." Ferris provides an interesting description of this Indian game among the Flathead Indians:
Their favorite game is called "Hand," by the hunters, and is played by four persons or more.--Betters, provided with small sticks, beat time to a song in which they all join. The players and betters seat themselves opposite to their antagonists, and the game is opened by two players, one on each side, who are provided each with two small bones, once called the true, and the other false. These bones they shift from hand to hand, for a few moments with great dexterity, and then hold their closed hands, stretched apart, for their respctive opponents to guess in which the true bone is concealed. This they signify by pointing with the finger. Should one of them chance to guess aright and the other wrong, the first is entitled to both true bones, and to one point in the game. Points are marked by twenty small sharp sticks, which are stuck into the ground and paid back and forth until one side wins them all, which concludes the game. The lucky player, who has obtained both the true bones, immediately gives one to a comrade, and all the players on his side join in a song, while the bones are concealing. Should the guesser on the opposite side miss both the true bones, he pays two points, and tries again; should he miss only one, he pays one point. When he guesses them both, he commences singing and hiding the bones, and so the game continues until one or other of the parties wins. (94)
Antoine had gathered around his log trading post some twenty trappers and traders, their squaws and families, wintering around him in skin lodges. They had settled in for the winter when Robidoux requested his service in tracking the Indian and recovering the stolen horses. The Indian was very shrewd and one of the best shots at the fort. The Indian, knowing he was being pursued, saw Carson at the same time that Carson saw him. The Indian raced for cover, with Carson right behind and quickly gaining. When Carson got within one hundred and fifty yards, both the Indian and Carson drew their rifles and fired. The Indian hesitated a moment too long, in the attempt to gain cover, so that he could quickly reload and fire a second round. "Just as he whirled about the edge of the cover and leveled his rifle, Carson, at speed, loosed a bullet at him. The Indian's gun exploded, but without aim, for he pitched to the ground and instantly died."(Sabin, 227)
According to Guild and Carter's account of Kit Carson, Carson was one of twelve men who accompanied Lee, cousin of Robert E. Lee, north from Abiquiu' on November 19, 18833 following the Old Spanish trail and the Dominguez-Escalante trail. They had a Ute guide named Awat-Apaw-gai (the talker), led them to the White river to the east of Ouray--"the Place Where Waters Meet" (i.e. the White, Green and Uintah or Duchesne Rivers). "They found a Ute village and another guide who knew where trappers were. They went up the Bookcliff range by way of Westwater, crossed the summit and struck Two water Crreek, a branch of Bitter Creek, which led them to White River" (60-61)
The White took them to Ouray, where they found an adobe fort. The young guide received a new rifle, which he carried proudly back to his village and related how he had earned it. Kit Carson was an easy name to remember, and these Utes always did remember it: the name of an honest white man.
The fort at Ouray belonged to Antoine Robidoux, one of the most important fur traders of the St. Louis family of that name. With him were about twenty trappers and traders as well as a number of Indians. Kit says nothing about carrying any goods of his own, but ht eIndians remembered him under a huge cottonwood tree near the Uintah, his goods spread out for trade.
This account, partly based on Ute recollections, suggests that the earliest fort by this time was an adobe structure which would be properly called Fort Ouray and that was later known as Robidoux Rendezvous. This is the same or one of the abandoned sites that figured in the story of Joseph Meek and Joe Walker in 1840. This fort was later to be called or popularly known as Fort Kit Carson, as early biograhers of both Carson and Robidoux believed that Carson and Lee's party constructed the fort there that winter. I do not believe that Carson was an Indian trader or was interested in seasonal construction or the perennial maintenance of forts. He obviously did not stick around to maintain the fort after the winter was over. This reference suggests that this Adobe Fort Ouray was possibly the first Fort Robidoux in the area.
Antoine Robidoux visited Brown's Park in 1825, but chose to build a trading post in 1828 on the Gunnison River at its junction with the Uncompahgre. Later in the early 1830's, he built a fort in Uintah near the later White Rocks Agency that he named Fort Uintah. It was also called Fort "Winty" or Fort Robidoux, and became a major trading post for the Yampa River area. During his visits to the region, Robidoux also worked along the White River. The region was in use as early as 1824 or 1825 and continued as a major fur source into the early 1840's. robidoux and his men ranged from the Flattop Mountains to the Utah border and were likely the first American visitors to the Rangely, Colorado, country. (Athearn, Frederick, 22)
According to these accounts, it appears as if Antoine Robidoux may have had some kind of trading post established by 1831-2 in the Uintah region, which he had developed into a full fledged fort by the time Carson happened back by in 1840.
Fort Ouray has never been positively identified as belonging to Robidoux, except by an article by Charles Kelly in the Utah Magazine entitled "The Forgotten Bastion: Old Fort Robidoux" in October, 1946. The site had early been surveyed and partially excavated by Dr. Albert Reagan. They had excavated near a cottonwood grove along the east banks of the Green River, opposite the Indian settlement of Ouray.
Just below us White river entered Green river from the east, and the Uintah (now called Duchesne) entered from the west. On the wide, flat delta of White river stood a large grove of cottonwoods. Towering above them all stood one huge patriarch, nine feet in diameter, believed to be the largest tree of this variety in Utah. In its branches a platform of poles had been built, presumably for some ceremonial use. (25)
Dr. Reagan had discovered dim traces of adobe walls at the site, apparently the ruins of an old fort. "They enclosed a space 95 feet long and 78 feet wide, containing five rooms and an open space in the center. At the northeast and southwest corners were well-defined bastions extending beyond the walls, each protecting two sides." (25) A year later Charles Kelly returned to the site and excavated in the center down to a hard-packed clay floor, and dug two trenches outward to the walls. "A test pit was sunk in a room at the northeast corner and another room against the west wall was entirely cleared. Nothing of importance was found..." (26; 40)
Next we dug a pit in the southwest bastion. On the old floor we found a handful of metal flakes and particles which proved on examination to be lead skimmings discarded while running lead balls for old muzzle-loading rifles. We also found one square iron nail and a few trade beads. This was disappointing, but served to date the old post as having been constructed some time during the period when trappers operated in that section. A very thin layer of ashes covered the floor and this, together with the poverty of glass or metal objects which would ordinarily accumulate in such a place, indicated a very short period of occupancy.
Walls of this old fort, about three feet thick, had been made of adobe but were so badly melted down by rains or river floods that it was impossible to identify individual bricks. Three rooms on the west side appeared to have been occupied by white men, while two in the northeast corner, with fireplaces in the center, may have been reserved for Indian helpers. There had been a wide gate in the north wall and the enclosure provided sufficient room for a herd of horses in case of attack.
Antoine's Fort Ouray on the Green & White Rivers, circa 1837
Kelly attributed this site to Antoine Robidoux, based on the famous rock inscription and on the account left by Carson and later Meek. He dates this fort to 1837, and that it was probably abandoned within a year of its construction due to flooding of the Green River. "Traces of walls indicated destruction and leveling by flood rather than rain" (41). Indeed, by 1839, it is apparent that the fort where the famous horse-stealing incident was already abandoned, and that it sat on a small island--the consequence of the river having shifted its course in that vicinity and flooded the fort-site. It seems likely though that the fort had already been built by 1832 when Kit Carson first visited it, and was what came to be known as Robidoux Rendezvous. It was probably several years in operation before it was washed out, possibly by 1837.
Lewis Manly visited the site in 1849 and recorded the log remains of old cabins, though he later camped at Fort Uintah. Major Dowell' camped there in 1871 for about three weeks, calling the locality Fort Robidoux, though they do not record seeing any remains. Though Kelly attibutes this fort to Robidoux, "There is, however, still a possibility that it may be the remains of a much earlier fort erected by some Spanish expedition from Santa Fe. In either case, this ruin would prove to be the oldest structure built by white men within the present state of Utah, of which any trace is still visible." (41)
Albert Reagan, who first found this site, attributed this site in 1935 to Kit Carson, as his wintering quarters and called it Fort Kit Carson, based on Carson's autobiographical account:
It is therefore evident that his quarters for that winter were somewhere in the vicinity of Ouray (Utah) at the junction of Green, White and Winty (Uintah) rivers, that latter now being called the Duchesnes in its lower course.
We looked for this winter fort and found it, now reduced to wall mounts, in the woods on the east side of Green river, about a mile opposite (southeast of) the mouth of the Duchesne, the then Winty river.
The writer's attention was first called to this fort-building by Wallace Stark and C. A. Broome of Ouray, Utah, the latter also stating that there are the remains in ground-plan mounds, of a similarly built fort-building, on the east side of Green river, some miles farther to the southward down the river. W. J. Willes, an employee of the Daly hotel at 203 Broadway, Salt Lake City, also told the writer that when he was wrangling cattle on the range in these parts in 1873 he saw the two forts above, and that they were reduced to wall mounds as they are now. Who occupied the south fort can not even be conjectured at this time.
The fort-building which is here named "Fort Kit Carson," is laid off in an approximately north-south direction. Its east and west walls are about 95 feet in length each, and the north and south walls 78 feet each. Outside the inclosure but connected with the fort wall were two bastions (towers), which like the walls were made of earth (adobe), and judging from the mounds, must have been quite a bit higher than the fort.
One of these towers abutted the southwest corner so that it controlled the south and west sides of the fort, its mound now being 22 feet in an east-west direction and 16 feet in a north-south direction. The other bastion, whose mound is now 18 feet in an east-west direction and a little over 15 feet in a northeast-southwest direction, abuts the northeast corner of the fort so that it controlled the east and north sides of that edifice.
Some distance south of the fort enclosure there are also remains of a wall which conjecturally was constructed so as not to give room for ramming of the main wall in battering-ram fashion with pole ends, should the place be attacked. Within the enclosure there was a tier of rooms on both the east and west sides, with a plaza between. (130-1)
According to Reagan, Antoine Robidoux concurrently had Fort Winte, but "at that time jointly occupied this fort with Kit Carson in the winter of 1832-33." (131) Reagan also claims that the Hudson Bay company temporarily occupied this site. They had a boat landing "on the island southwest of the mouth of the Duchesne River and across the rive about due west of the fort, from a notice which was seen in some publication, a record of which was not made at the time." (131) He does note the friction between the Hudson Bay people and the American Fur Company people:
There is also a record that there was an attempt to capture the horses belonging to this fort, presumably by the American Fur Company people--some records seem to indicate that Robideaux's people were the ones who attempted to capture the H. B. Company's horses, and the horses were run into the plaza to save them from falling into their hands.
Dr. Reagan gave then another interesting account from Sir. William Drummond Stewart to William Sublette dated August 27th, 1838.
....The Hudson's Bay Company at a later period (later than Ashley's visit in 1825 and Robideaux's establishing Fort White in 1831) undertook to penetrate this country (of the Uintah). Sir William Drummond Stewart in a letter to William L. Sublette, dated Head of Blue Fork, August 27, 1838, writes, "The H. B. Company have established a fort on the Winty (Uinta) and Andy's people (the men in the employ of Andrew Drips, agent of the American Fur Company) will be driven from there, if the government does not take some steps." (Sublette Mss. Carton 12, Missouri Historical Society. (132)
This suggests that the Hudson Bay Company may have occupied this fort site in about 1838, and that the site down river was one built or occupied by the American Fur Company under Andrew Dripps. It is apparent that the Hudson Bay Company did not last more than a season or two in the area, and shortly afterwards also abandoned the site. By then, it is likely that Antoine had established his Fort Uintah. The site built further south may also have been one that was previously built by Antoine Robidoux, though no other records exist of this site. He may have built several sites along the Green and White Rivers--flooding being perhaps the principal cause of their short habitation and early abandonment. They were also strategically situated "rendezvous" sites, unlike Fort Uintah that was a little more off the beaten track.
Besides Kit Carson's autobiography that briefly mentions visiting Antoine Robidoux at these sites, there are several known eyewitness accounts of Fort Uintah. These are given by a Methodist Clergyman, Joseph Williams, who passed through Gunnison Country in 1842 on a return journey from Oregon country, an account by Rufus Sage of approximately the same time, made of the return journey by Antoine from his fort Gunnison to Fort Uintah, and later, on June 1st, 1844, an account of Fort Uintah given by John C. Fremont on his expedition.
Joseph Williams traveled down the Green River, then turned Southwest to reach Bridger's fort on July 3-5. It had been evacuated. The next day they traveled south into the Uintah Mountains, in the hope of gaining a safe route eastward. They hit a valley with a stream, and camped on the side of a mountain, in about two feet of snow.
Next day we traveled through brush and logs and rocks till 12 o'clock, and only gained half a mile. then we began to ascend the mountain. The wife of one of the Frenchmen was our pilot. She had two children along; one tied to a board, and hung to the horn of the saddle, the other in a blanket, tied to her back. When we got to the top of the mountain, it was raining and snowing and thundering, and I was shivering with cold. There are elk and sheep on this mountain. there were snow piles on the mountain; and yet there was green grass, and flowers, and it looked like the spring of the year. In descending the other side of the mountain, we passed the same kind of loose rocks that we had come up on. It was very dangerous on account of the rocks, which were easily started to rolling down the mountains, endangering the legs of our horses. At night we got down to a beautiful, clear lake, at the head of a small creek that came out of the mountains. Here we staid two days. Mr. Miles and his squaw were both taken sick. Mr. Shutz started on Saturday, by himself, to go to Rubedeau's Fort, on Wintey River.
Next day, (Sabbath,) Rogers and Ross were anxious to start on to Rubedeau's Fort. I gave up to go with them, (not, however, without some scruples of conscience for traveling on the Sabbath,) as I was anxious to know the prospect of company to go with us from thence to the States. So we started on, and left two men and their wives at the lake. We soon got lost, having no pilot, and had to travel by guess; pressing over steep hills, and through brush, and logs, and saplings, and rocks. Our horses were almost distracted with swarms of flies. That night got to a small prairie, by a small stream, where we staid all night. Next morning we continued our way through logs and brush again, and got to the brow of the mountain, on its southern declivity, but saw no way down. We went back and forth seeking a place to get down, and about an hour before sunset, we commenced our descent. Our horses were sometimes sliding down among the stones. I went foremost; and while leading my horse, I was afraid of getting my bones broke with the loose rocks that were now and then rolling down from above. We scrambled along, however, till we got down to the base of the mountain, after dark, which was about a mile and a quarter. When we reached the bottom we were wet and cold, and found that we had lost four of our horses, two of them with packs on them. Next morning we found them, and were glad to find that nothing was lost but my saddle blanket. This morning we had some frost, We are now on the head of the Wintey River, down which we pursued our journey toward Rubedeau's Fort. About two miles of our journey was almost impassable for the brush, and logs, and rocks. Then we got out of the mountains into a prairie, and reached the Fort about 2 o'clock.
Delayed for more than two weeks awaiting the arrival of Antoine Rubidoux, much to his chagrin, Reverend Williams next provides us with brief and singular glimpse at the life of the fort. Though morally jaundiced by a Christian dominated world-view, it is an invaluable account because it provides clear image of the kind of culture within the fort, an example of a way of life that had almost twenty years to develop. It must be remembered that all these accounts come at the end of the intermontane era, rather than the beginning. Doubtless many of the young squaws he describes were born and raised about the fort. It is a way of life which crossed cultural boundaries of American, Frenchman, Spaniard and Indian alike.
We had to wait there for Mr. Rubedeau about eighteen days, till he and his company and horse-drivers were ready to start with us to the United States. This delay was very disagreeable to me, on account of the wickedness of the people, and the drunkenness and swearing, and the debauchery of the men among the Indian women. They would buy and sell them to one another. One morning I heard a terrible fuss, because two of their women had ran away the night before. I tried several times to preach to them; but with little, if any effect.
Here I heard the mountain men tell of the miserable state of the Indian root-diggers. Numbers of them would be found dead from pure starvation; having no guns to kill game with and poor shelters to live in, and no clothing except some few skins. These creatures have been known, when pressed with hunger, to kill their children and eat them! and to gather up crickets and ants, and dry them in the sun, and pound them into dust and make bread of it to eat! These creatures, when traveling in a hurry, will leave their lame and blind to perish in the wilderness. Here we have a striking example of the depravity of the heathen in their natural state. I was told here, of a Frenchman, who lived with an Indian woman, and when one of his children became burdensome, he dug a grave and buried it alive! At another time he took one of his children and tied it to a tree, and called it a "target," and shot at it and killed it!
Mr. Rubedeau had collected several of the Indian squaws and young Indians, to take to New Mexico and kept some of them for his own use! The Spaniard would buy them for wives. This place is equal to any I ever saw for wickedness and idleness. The French and Spaniards are all Roman Catholics; but are as wicked men, I think, as ever lived. No one who has not, like me, witnessed it, can have any idea of their wickedness. Some of these people at the Fort are fat and dirty, and idle and greasy.
A kind of slave trade with Indians was an established part of the inter-montane trade. It had been instituted by the Spanish in the first quarter of the Eighteenth Century, after the defeat of an Ute Indian uprising. Trade networks among the Indians of the basin were quit well established, and it seems that to some extent these networks and previous associations must have provided some rudimentary framework of relations with the Indians upon which Antoine was later to so successfully build his Rocky Mountain empire.
It was yet two decades before the Civil War, and Joseph and Antoine both had bought and sold slaves. On the other hand, it points up the probability that Antoine also had at least one squaw wife, who may have accompanied him on his journeys between posts, with children. The origin of the Indians at the Fort is unknown--possibly mixed--but in all probability they were part of the Ute tribes. Ute women would probably have made valuable partners.
Minister Joseph Williams then describes his journey between Fort Uinta and the Fort on the Gunnison:
July 27th. We started from Rubedeau's Fort and cross the Wintey River, and next crossed Green and White rivers. Next night we lay on Sugar Creek, the water of which was so bitter we could scarcely drink it. Here two of Rubedeau's squaws ran away, and we had to wait two days till he could send back to the Fort for another squaw, for company for him. August 1st. We camped under a large rock, by a small stream, where we could get but very little grass for our animals. Next night we lay under the Pictured Rock, and being sheltered from the rain, slept very comfortably. Next day we traveled over rough roads and rocks, and crossed the Grand River, a branch of the Colorado, which runs into the Gulf of California, at the head thereof. Next day crossed another fork of Grand River, and came to Fort Compogera, below the mouth of the Compogera River.
The journey he mentions between these Robidoux posts required about six days, not including the two days waiting for another squaw. It appear s that the Reverend Williams spent about ten days to two weeks at the Fort on the Gunnison, though he provides no other description than the following:
August 14th, (Sunday.) I preached to a large company of French, Spaniards, Indians, half-breeds, and Americans, from Proverbs XIV, 32:
"The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death." I felt the power of the word, and I believe some of the people felt also. I spoke plainly and pointedly to them, and felt as though I would be clear of their blood in the day of eternity."
He then describes in the next passages the journey with Antoine Robidoux between the Fort on the Gunnison and Taos, New Mexico.
Next day we started to go through New mexico, which is a long distance out of our route, to shun the range of the Apahoc Indians; and at night we camped on a small creek. Tuesday morning, we started, and crossed Union River; and next day, crossed Lake Rver, and lay that night on a small creek. Here are good, clear streams of water; but rough hilly roads--rocky, sandy, and gravelly; good grazing for our animals all the way. August 19th. We could see snow on the mountains. To-day we had a very cold rain. Next day we came to Rubedeau's wagon, which he had left there a year before. He hitched his oxen to it and took it along. This morning my mocasons were frozen so hard I had to thaw them by the fire before I could put them on. Here we had reports of Indian hostilities having commenced near Santa Fe, in New Mexico. Rubedeau sent on an express to see whether it was so, and found it to be a false report.
Sunday, 20th. I arose, and the frost was like a little snow. My blanket, which I used for a tent-cloth, being rained on the night before, was now frozen quite stiff and hard. We left this beautiful plain, which lies between two mountains, with a fine stream of water running through it. How different my feelings were on this Sabbath day, with my gun on my shoulder, and my butcher-knive and tomahawk by my side, in this heathen land, than they would have been in the pulpit with my Bible and Hymn-book in my hand. On Sabbath evening I tried to preach to them; but being wet and cold after traveling through mountains and plains, we had but little satisfaction. Next morning my blankets and moccasons were frozen hard again. Some snow and rain fell during the night. I pray God to give me more faith, more patience and more courage to preach the Gospel.
We are now on the waters of the Del Norte River, which falls into the Gulf of Mexico, and are passing the North Mountain. We are now traveling down Tous Valley, which leads down to Tous (a Spanish village) and Santa Fe. This is a beautiful valley, about eighty or a hundred miles long. We remained sometime in this valley, encamped by some beautiful streams of water, waiting for the express to return. We then traveled for several days about a south course, and encamped in the neighborhood of Tous. Here I tried in vain to persuade our company to leave Rubedeau; for he would detain us too late, as winter was coming on. It will be recollected that there were only four of us in company, bound for the United States; and Rubedeau had hired three of them to stay with him.
The journey he describes from Fort Robidoux on the Gunnison to Taos required approximately 10 or eleven days to complete. It is apparent that the other members of the camp were not so reviled by the trading culture of Antoine Robidoux that they would refuse his offer of employment.
It is apparent that while Antoine took his time in caution on the trail, he spared little time at the posts themselves. On the very same return journey, he picked up an northbound traveler, Rufus B. Sage, at his post on the Gunnison. It was apparent that he had reached Taos in late August, had spent about two weeks there, and was already turned around to leave for the Gunnison by the 7th of October.
A small party from a trading establishment on the waters of the Green River, who had visited Taos for the procurement of a fresh supply of goods, were about to return, and I availed myself of the occassion to make one of their number.
On the 7th of October we were under way. Our party consisted of three Frenchmen and five Spaniards, under the direction of a man named Roubideau, formerly from St. Louis, Mo. Some eight pack-mules, laden at the rate of two hundred and fifty pounds each, conveyed a quantity of goods; ---these headed by a guide followed in Indian file, and the remainder of the company mounted on horseback brought up the rear.
Crossing the del Norte, we soon after struck into a large trail bearing a westerly course; following which, on the 13th inst. we cross the main ridge of the Rocky Mountains by a feasible pass at the southern extremity of the Sierra de Anahuac range, and found ourselves uont he waters of the Pacific.
Six days subsequent, we reached Roubideau's Fort, at the forks of the Uintah, having passed several large streams in our course, as well as the two principal branches which unite to form the Colorado. This being the point of destination, our journey here came to a temporary close.
This return journey lasted about two weeks, and by-passed the post on the Gunnison. Though the route is not detailed, Hafen beliefs that after crossing east of the Mancos, they traveled the Dolores river, crossing the Colorado west of the Utah state line, ascending Westwater creek to the Roan inscription, across the Roan plateau down to the White and Green rivers. Rufus journal has a more descriptive and ethnographic feel than the didactic accounts by Williams.
Our stay at the Uintah was prolonged for some ten days. The gentleman in charge at this post spared no pains to render my visit agreeable, and, in answer to enquiries, cheerfully imparted all the information in his possession relative to the localities, geography and condition of the surrounding country.
A trapping party from the Gila came in soon after our arrival, bringing with them a rich quantity of beaver, which they had caught during the preceding winter, spring and summer upon the affluents of that river and the adjacent mountain streams. They had made a successful hunt, and gave a glowing description of the country visited, and the general friendliness of its inhabitants (Vol. 5, 126)
It is apparent that expeditions were making their way to this post from as far as the Gila River, a general course perhaps taken by the Pattie expedition two decades earlier, and were using this as a base of their operations. It may well be that one of the other Robidoux brothers were upon such expeditions. It had spent therefore almost a year in the field, having departed in the fall of 1841 and returning about a year later. He describes a group of old trappers, having spent 15-20 years in the Rockies--were these among the original members of Antoine's first parties to the region, if so, it would set a date of the Uintah area in the late1820's. Of the seasoned trappers, he describes briefly their enjoyments and racanteurship about the trail:
Among the visitors at the Fort were several old trappers who had passed fifteen or twenty years in the Rocky Mountains and neighboring countries. They were what, with propriety, be termed "hard cases."
The interval of their stay was occupied in gambling, horse-racing and other like amusements. Bets were freely made upon everything involving the least doubt,--sometimes to the amount of five hundred or a thousand dollars--the stakes consisting of beaver, horses, traps, &c.
Not unfrequently, the proceeds of months of toil, suffering, deprivation, and danger, were dissipated in a few hours, and the unfortunate gamester left without beaver, horse, trap or even a gun. In such cases they bore their reverses without grumbling, and relinquished all to the winner, as unconcernedly as though these were affairs of every-day occurrence.
These veterans of the mountains were very communicative, and fond of relating their adventures, many of which were so vested with the marvelous as to involve in doubt their credibility.
Of the fort itself, Sage offers the following description:
Roubideau's Fort is situated on the right bank of the Uintah, in lat. 40 degrees 27' 45" north, long. 109 degrees 56' 42" west. The trade of this post is conducted principally with the trapping parties frequenting the Big Bear, Green, Grand, and the Colorado rivers, with their numerous tributaries, in search of fur-bearing game.
A small business is also carried on with the Snake and Utah Indians, living in the neighborhood of this establishment. The common articles of dealing are horses, with beaver, otter, deer, sheep, and elk skins, in barter for ammunition, fire-arms, knives, tobacco, beads, awls &c.
The Utah and Snakes afford some of the largest and best finished sheep and deer skins I ever beheld,--a single skin sometimes being amply sufficient for common sized pantaloons. These skins are dressed so neatly as frequently to attain a snowy whiteness, and possess a softness of velvet.
They may be purchased for a trifling consideration of eight or ten charges of ammunition each, or two or three awls, or any other thing of proportional value. Skins are very abundant in these parts, as the natives, owing to the scarcity of buffalo, subsist entirely upon small game, which is found in immense quantities. This trade is quite profitable. The articles procured so cheaply, when taken to Santa Fe and the neighboring towns, find a ready cash market at prices ranging from one to two dollars each. (vol. V, 97-8)
Sage availed a party of trappers heading north, and they left Uintah on Oct. 29th, bidding farewell to his new-found companions. It is interesting that three days later, arriving from the North on Nov. 1st, 1842, was Dr. Marcus Whitman with a guide and Asa L. Lovejoy, where they met Antoine and Miles Goodyear. Marcus Whitman and Lovejoy left their mission at Waiilatpu on October 3rd, 1842. They arrived at Fort Hall two weeks later. There the factor Richard Grant advised them not take the South Pass route because of Indian hostilities. Thus, according to Lovejoy's recounting of the journey to Bancroft, they decided to go by way of Fort Uintah:
away out to Taos and around to Santa Fe...We were all winter. We made terrible work of it. When we got to Fort Hall we took men from the Fort, a half-breed from St. Louis by the name of Rogers. We went right through the Salt Lake Country. There was not a house nor a thing there, and it was a perfect waste. It looked to us then as though there never would be any thing there. We went on then down to Fort Uintah. This was about as far as this fellow knew. Then we got a new pilot. I think it was an Iroquois Indian, and he went on with us. (Drury, Marcus Whitman, M.D.,: 295)
They suffered record low temperatures and ran into deep snow while crossing the mountains to Fort Uintah. Lovejoy wrote "On our way from Fort Hall to Fort Uintah, we had terribly severe weather. The snows retarded our progress and blinded the trail so we lost much time." (Drury, 297) They reached Brown's Hole and then crossed over Diamond Mountain.
While at Fort Uintah, Whitman and Lovejoy met Miles Goodyear, who had traveled with them six years previously. Miles Goodyear was at Fort Uintah when Rufus Sage at sojourned there on his way to Fort Hall. Goodyear wrote a letter to his brother, dated November 1st, 1842, which he sent on with Marcus Whitman, addressed to "Independence P. O., care of Dr. Whitman, missionary to the west of the Rocky Mountains."
Suffice it to say that my time nor my paper admit of me giving you an entire narrative of my adventures for the last eight years. Time has rolled on; from youth I have arrived at manhood. I have gotten on with indifferent success so far through the world, but have always found honesty the best policy. I have for the last six years been in the Rocky Mountains, far from the land of civilization--to use the words of the poet--"as free as native air." (Drury, 298)
A guide was contracted from this post (Fort Uintah) by Whitman and Goodyear. on their journey to the fort on the Gunnison. Antoine Robidoux had just arrived from Taos with a pack train of goods for the winter trade. They made a few purchases and then moved on. Of the post Whitman wrote: "After arriving at Fort Wintey and making some purchases for our trip, we took a new guide and started for Fort Uncompagra." They went down the Uintah and crossed at its confluence with the Green, possibly spending the night in the abandoned fort there. They followed the White River to a branch which led them to the crest of the Book Cliffs, to the headwaters of Bitter Creek. They followed this down to the Colorado, and then followed along the Colorado until they reached the Grand River. They crossed the Colorado near the present site of Grand Junction.
They found a New Mexican guide at Fort Uncompahgre, and they pushed on upon into the Mountains where they encountered a severe snow storm. The guide lost his way. Doctor Whitman then went with the guide and backtracked to Fort Uncompahgre to procure a new guide "and that I should remain in the camp with the animals until his return, which was on the seventh day with a new guide." (Lovejoy, M. S., Grey, 325) They slowly proceeded with their journey, soon running out of food. They killed and ate the pack mules one at a time and then their dog. They met a party of Taos hunters. "I never shall forget that time, I know the old Dr ate so much it liked to have killed him. We were nearly starved to death." They reached Taos in the middle of December, 1842.
Upon reaching Fort Uncompahgre, they followed the Uncompahgre upriver to a pass through the "Anahuac" Range, and then through the San Juan Mountains to the Rio Grande and Santa Fe and Taos. According to Lovejoy, it required them almost a month to make this difficult journey in the approaching winter.
There had long bee a trail, in what is now New Mexico, connecting Taos and Santa Fe with the headwaters of the Platte River. As early as 1761, Don Juan Maria de Rivera reached the mouth of the Uncompahgre River, where Delta, Colorado, now is. In 1776, Father Escalante passed that way and continued further north through the Uinta Basin to the Great Salt Lake. The old Spanish trail thus blazed was much used by the early traders and trappers, among whom was Antoine Robidoux, who seems to have been in the Uintah Basin as early as 1831.
Several forts were built along the trail. Going north from the south, one met first the fort at the mouth of the Uncompahgre known as Fort Uncompaghre or Fort Robidoux. This seems to have been Robidoux's principal post. No remains of it are to be seen today. Robidoux and another trading point on the Uintah River near where it emerges from the Uintah Mountains and near the present site of White Rocks, Utah. These two posts were at least 150 miles apart. In between was a point of lesser importance at the junction of White River with Green River, opposite the mouth of the Uintah River, which is now called the Duchesne. An old map shows a Fort Robidoux there. All evidence poiints to a short occupancy.
They were forced to ford the Colorado river near present day Grand Junction. At the fort on the Gunnison a guide was obtained who lost his way a few days later, forcing a delay until a new guide came. Weather was beginning to turn for the worse. Food supplies exhausted, the pack animals and a dog were slaughtered. Despairing of hope, they came upon a group traveling from Taos who gave them fresh supplies, which lasted until they reached Taos in mid December. (Wallace, 27)
The next account we have of Fort Uintah is of Fremont's return journey, accompanied by Kit Carson, turning through the Wasatch Mountains via Fort Uintah, which they reached on June 1st, 1844 and spent four days there. Carson makes only passing reference to "Winty" in his Autobiography, but Fremont makes more careful observations:
Continuing our route across a broken country, of which the higher parts were rocky and timbered with cedar, and the lower parts covered with good grass, we reached, on the afternoon of the 3d, the Uintah fort, a trading post belonging to Mr. A Roubideau, on the principal fork of the Uintah River...
It has a motley garrison of Canadian and Spanish engage's and hunters with the usual number of Indian women. We obtained a small supply of sugar and coffee, with some dried meat and a cow, which was a very acceptable change from the pinoli on which we had subsisted for some weeks past. I strengthened my party at this place by the addition of Auguste Archambeau, an excellent voyageur and hunter, belonging to the class of Carson and Godey.
On the morning of the 5th we left the fort and the Uintah river... (174)
In a footnote at the bottom of this last entry, he concludes "This fort was attacked and taken by a band of Utah Indians since we passed it; and the men of the garrison killed, the women carried off. Mr. Roubideau, a trader of St. Louis, was absent and so escaped the fate of the rest."
Charles Preuss, Fremont's topographer and cartographer, left a more interesting description of their visit to Fort Uintah:
June 6 (1843)
We had been told that Uintah Fort is always poorly stocked with supplies.
Yet day before yesterday we succeeded in purchasing there several pounds of coffee and sugar, a sack of dried meat, toro, some tallow, and best of all, a fat cow. The latter was slaughtered last night, and we had a magnificent breakfast this morning.
That night they camped on the west bank of Ashley's Fork. They reached the Green River on June 8th: "We are getting ready and enlarging a boat made of hides that we purchased at the Fort. The river is very swollen but not very rapid, and thre are good places for embarking and landing. This place is called Brown's Hole; it is about fifteen miles long.
Reckoning from the following letter dated Oct. 20, 1844, between the Sublette brothers, the fort was probably massacred in the last week of September, or early October, 1844.
Taos, Oct. 20th, 1844.
I come to this place a fiew days since mearly to pass the time and get provisions for the winter as there is nothing to be done. Brother Solomon is here with me and is doing nothing as my self there is one thing which I have gained by coming to this country which is worth considerable to me that is my health I am entirely clear of my cough and in good health the Company have just got to Santafee that is Mr. Own with some others and another Company expected in about a month.
The Youtau Indians are at ware with the Spaniards and whites a Spaniard come in a fiew days Since who was trapping with one other his companion was killed he escaped went to the Fort of Rubadoux where he found them all killed five or six Spaniards and one American from there he came to this place without shoes coat or provisions which took him 14 days the Spaniards have a new govenor in office he has raised the duty on the traiders--it was at Five hundred dollars pr wagon he has got it to six.
I left my carts &c. on the South Fork of Platte where I expect to pass the winter I will proably come down in the Spring if I do no go to California-- the americans who went to Oregon a part of them have since left there and gone to California.
I thought you would have writen to me as I would like to hear from you all Mr. Charles Bent sais he saw you befre he left you were well &c.-- I thinky you might have writen by him as I requested in my last letter to you. I suppos I am so fare away I am forgotten--
I would have writen to Mr. Campbell but could not get paper in this place
My love to him and Mrs. Campbell, Miss Campbell an others
Mr. Mallarson and son is here from St. Charles he wishes you to send a fiew lines to his family as he cannot get paper enough to write to them they are in good health My Love to Franis to Mrs. Hereford and family and to the Doctor and family tell him to come up in the Spring an take a little of the Buffalow it will do him good
tell the Blacks howdy for me
I remain your Old Brother until death adieu
A. W. Sublette
To: W. L. Sublette, St. Louis
Like almost every other aspect of the Robidoux story, the incident of the massacre's of Robidoux's forts by Indians has remained vague and subject to historical gossip. About the clearest account given is that by Janet LeCompte:
At about the same time that Fort Lancaster went out of business, two other posts were abandoned because of Ute hostility, and their traders came to live on the Arkansas. Both trading posts belonged to Antoine Robidoux and were for trade with trappers and Ute Indians. One was Fort Uintah or Robidoux on a fork of the Uintah River near its junction with Green River in present northeastern Utah; the other was Fort Uncompahgre on the Grand (Gunnison) River below the mouth of the Uncompahgre river near present Delta in western Colorado. To supply these posts, robidoux brought goods from St. Louis in light horse carts up the Arkansas and over Robidoux (Mosca) Pass into the San Luis Valley and over Cochetopa Pass to the Gunnison. Long afterwards it was said that the Utes were not happy with Robidoux's business methods, for he sent his own men to trap beaver instead of buying the skins from the Indians, and for this reason the forts were attacked. Contemporary sources show that this was not the whole story.
In September, 1844 Governor Martinez of New Mexico started a war with the Utes. What happened, according to the Governor's report was the following. In the fall of 1843, Governor Armijo allowed the Frenchman Jose' Portelance and the Englishman Alexander Montgomerie to raise a company of volunteers to invade the territory of the Navajos, then at war with the Mexicans. Their raid was not successful. On their return they fell upon a band of friendly Utes, killing ten, taking three captive, and driving off their horses and mules.
On the afternoon of September 7, 1844, six Ute chiefs and over a hundred braves, mounted, armed and drawn up in battle array, arrived at Santa Fe demanding retribution for the outrage. The next day the six chiefs were admitted to Governor Martinez's office for a talk. When an argument started, the governor knocked Chief Panasiyave to the ground with a chair, killing him. The governor's servants, honor guard and other citizens ran into the room, and through the window came more Indians. In the ensuring fray seven Utes died. The rest of the Indians gathered in the plaza, armed and threatening, but then retreated. As they passed through Abiquiu the Utes made a charge upon its citizens and killed ten. Then they retired to the mountains, determined to make war on the Mexicans.
During their war the Utes made a bloody shambles of Robidoux's Fort Uncompahgre. In late September, two men from the fort, Jose' Francisco Trujillo and Calario Cortez, went out to check their beaver traps in the river. They were fired on by Utes from the top of the bluffs and Trujillo was killed. Cortez ran back to the fort where he found the bodies of seven Mexicans. All the Indian women at the fort had been carried into captivity. Cortez took off afoot for Taos, arriving fourteen days later without shoes, coat or provisions. (135-7)
The account of the massacre was given in the Cragin Papers:
One Mr. Istuss was very early in N. M. (a very brave man--a trapper. Later he was husbandof mother (Maria Natividad Sandoval) of Mrs. Felipe Ledoux. Maria M. Sandval's first husband was Jose Francisco Trujillo (generally called "Francisco")....
Maria N. Sandoval's first husband, Francisco Trujillo, was killed by the Utes in the vicinity of Fort Uncompahgre, in connection with whose trade he was then employed. Robidoux sent himto examine the traps in the river; when on this errand, some Utes shot him from the top of a neighboring hill. Another Mexican, Calario Cortez, went to the traps at the same time; but when the Utes fired, he ran away and went to Taos. Robidoux & others were then in the Fort Uncompahgre. After Francisco Trujillo's death, his widow married (old) Istuss.
Another early account given by William P. Clark in 1884, one which is interesting because its likely source are from Ute Indian informants who had been alive at the time, is given as follows:
Many years ago Mexican traders went among them, and from intercourse with them, and with the Navajos and other tribes who spoke that language, many of them learned to speak Mexican quite fluently.
In 1844 the Mexican who had charge of the trading post on the Uncompahgre River was killed by these Indians and the goods appropriated to their own use. (Clark 386)
According to Janet LeCompte, Alexander Montgomerie gave a statement on Dec. 25th, 1844, at Taos which she translated thus "I met several peons from Senor Rubidu' Fort Uinta who were taking refuge at Hardscrabble who told me what the enemy Yutas had done at said fort..."
It appears that some of the garrison may have left previous to the attack, and the garrison being at minimal staff. That Antoine was constantly on the trail, it is no surprise that he wasn't there to be massacred. Given this account, it is doubtful that he had found his way back to St. Louis or St. Joseph a month later, which is the account given by Richard Burton. It appears likely that he was at Fort Uinta when he received news from the straggler that his Fort Uncompahgre had been attacked.
Among other things, this reference suggests that Robidoux and Bridger had long had a trading association developed in the area, and that there may well have been a definite route between Fort Uinta and what later became known as Fort Bridger. This was probably close to the route that was followed by Lewis Manly and his associate Field and five other "emigrants"after their futile attempt to raft down the Green River to San Franciso, on board a small flat-bottomed ferry they had dug up in a sandbar near a Green River crossing "116 miles east" of Fort Bridger. They made their way back up to the river and forded it from the east side in a grove of cotton-woods near the confluence of the Uinta River--there they found logs, apparently from old trading cabins, with which they constructed a raft. They had with them a pocket map which showed Fort Uinta. They tried to reach this site in the hope that it may yet be occupied:
According to our map, our recollections of different objects, and the present appearances we were now a little above the mouth of the Uinta river about hundered miles from where we were; but whether or not there were any human beings there, we did not know, and in order to determine we must cross this great river and travel a hundred miles, and this seemed a perilous undertaking for us in our present starving condition; but after being refreshed by plenty of good water we determined to undertake it, hoping that good fortune might attend us. (288-9)
They attempted to swim across the Green River but it proved too swift and rough for them or their mule. "What shall we do now? We are perhaps two hundred or more miles from any white settlement. We do not know that Fort Uinta is occupied. Shall we make another attempt to cross the river?" Finally, starving they butchered their young horse for meat. Field took violently ill for several days, during which they camped at the site and Lewis Manly constructed a raft "of some partyly rotten logs, which I found in the vicinity, on which we floated across the river, on the fourth day of our arrival here."
The old logs of which the raft was made were remnants of log cabins, a number of which had been built and occupied more than half a century before, but by whom I do not know. Field remarked that the finding of these old rotting logs was another "god send," as we then had neighter ax, hammer, or any tool of iron with which to cut down a tree. I bound these logs together with long strips cut from the hide of a dead horse. Paddles and poles were also provided. The mule was with difficulty driven across the river. (293-4)
It is evident that they had probably found the remains of the interior buildings Fort Ouray, on the Eastern side of the River--by then the adobe walls of the structure having decayed to ground level where they were probably not noticed. When they landed on the other side of the river, they made their way by afternoon to the Uintah river where they made camp.
"The second, third, fourth and fifth days came and went, and we were trudging on, up the Uinta, through mostly very barren country, with some little rich and fertile land. We saw signs of Indians often, but no Indians. There was much cottonwood, but little other timber. We saw signs of Indians often, but no Indians. There was much cottonwood, but little other timber. We saw some fish in the river which we coveted, but could not get. The main course of this river is from north-west to south-east. We traveled most of the way to the fort on Indian trails, some of which were much worn, but mostly at some much earlier period....
Early in the morning of the sixth day we arrived at the abandoned old fort. There were only three log buildings, and they were in the shape of three sides of a hollow square, with port-holes on the outer faces of the buildings, and doors entering each of them from the hollow square or court. Facing the vacant side of the court, the port-hole from which I shot the wolf on the night after we had killed the mule, would be on the right side. We were unable to determine whether this fort had been constructed and occupied by Americans or Mexicans, but, from its apparent age, we were inclined to the opinion that it was Mexicans. It had not been occupied for, probably, three or four years. Some little farming had been done immediately around the fort. Surrounding the fort is a large body of fine, fertile land which I have no doubt has long since been occupied by Mormons, or other enterprising people. (295-6)
Antoine's Fort Uintah or the "Robidoux Rendezvous"
Manly and Field then tried to go on to Fort Bridger, which they figured was almost due North by a straight line--they went up the larger fork of the River headed due North, until they reached a dead end three days later in a rocky canyon. Out of provisions, they beat a retreat to the Fort. They killed their mule and tried preserving it as long as possible "and stay there until spring, or until good fortune might afford us some means escape." (297)
There were signs of wolves in that vicinity, and it was decided that the mule be slain about ten paces distant and directly in front of one of the port-holes of the fort with the idea that wolves might smell the blood and come there and subject themselves to being shot, and thereby afford us a chance to increase our stock of winter supplies in the form of wolf steak, or jerk....
They slaughtered the mule and they built a fire inside the fort. Field rolled himself in a blanket and went to sleep while Manly took his double-barreled shot-gun and manned one of the portholes. The night was clear and the moon shown brightly. By eleven, a wolf appeared and licked the blood on the ground. Manly shot it down.
The tired, sleeping man was aroused by the report of the gun, and rushed into the room where I was in great excitement, thinking, perhaps, that some enemy had appeared, and had just then commenced to bombard the fort; but when I explained to him that I had simply killed a wolf, he ran out towards it, and, arriving close to it, the wounded creature rose up on its hind feet and growled quite vigorously, which seemed to frighten Field as much as did the noise of the gun. He dashed back to the fort, and, after having time to recover from his speechless condition, abused me most fearfully for having told him that I had killed a wolf. I then went out and put a load of shot into the wolf's head, and found that my first charge had passed through and broke both of its forelegs near the body. Field was so thoroughly frightened that I could not induce him to approach the dead animal for some time, and I do believe that the wold haunted him as long as I knew him, for he seemed never to forget it. After dressing it by the light of the moon assisted by a torch, we retired. (298-9)
Between the mule and the wolf, they had increased their larder substantially and thus decided to take temporary possession of the fort and to try their hand taking turns hunting for more food. First Field went out and came back in the evening empty handed. Then Manly went out, finding a deer trail leading to the river decided to wait till morning in ambush--he awoke in the morning and waited, but found nothing but the tracks of a bear that had sauntered by him in the darkness unnoticed.
On arriving at the fort late in the evening I found my friend in a terrible state of mental excitement. He said that he had not slept a minute during the whole of the night before. He had filled the door of his room with rails, and sharpened one end of a long stick which he intended to use if necessary as a weapon of defence. When I arrived he was again filling the door with rails. I had the gun, pistol and big knife with me so this was his only means of defence. He said he would not stay alone another night for all the gold in California. (300-1)
Thus, finding little luck hunting, they decided to try to reach Fort Bridger once again. They stayed three more days preparing the meat and resting. Leaving the fort early in the morning, they made slow progress, putting up in the noon to rest and eat. Having left their kettle and blankets behind at the fort, they had to build a fire at night. Four or five days thus brought them across "sandy plains and rocky mountains" to the base of a mountain "where we had plenty of good water and an abundance of fuel." The next morning they began their ascent of the mountain. On the second day, they reached the "the summit of the great Uinta range", barren of timber and snow.
When Field came up I broke the silence which had lasted since the little unpleasantness of the night before, by suggesting that we attempt to cross the snow-covered range of mountains which now appeared north of us and probably fifty miles away, through what appeared to be a gap or low place in the great range of mountains. He relied, "You may to that way if you want to, but I am going this way," pointing in another direction and quickly started off an an angle of about 45 degrees to the right, or directly north-east.
Thus the two companions parted company. Manly then made his lonely way down into a valley while following landmarks. The next day he followed over hills and deep canons, arriving at the foot of the range of mountains he was aiming for in the evening of the second day. Snow fell on the second morning as he ascended the mountains. By the third day he approached the summit of the mountain, arriving there the following morning.
Early on the following morning I arrived at the bald, snow-covered summit. On my right and on my left were high, untimbered snow-covered peaks. From this point I could overlook a vast territory extending over many hills, valleys, and smaller mountains where there was no snow. In fact, the snow extended a few miles down the steep sides of the great range. As a rule there is more timber on the north than on the south side of mountains west of the Rockies; but it was the reverse here, for there was little timber on the north side of this range. (306-7)
Within two more days he descended down onto grassy plains and then arrived at an Indian village, where he was treated kindly, and then escorted on horse back to an encampment of traders less than two hours away. There he met an Illinois man named "John Smith" with two squaw wives and several children.
All of the other white men with Smith were French, and all had plenty of wives (squaws) and numerous slaves. The wives were not slaves, but they had slaves all around them. The whole tribe traveled about and lived much as other tribes did, only much better, for they lived by trading while the others lived by hunting and fishing. In this camp I ate bread for the first time in many weeks. At the end of three days after my arrival here a caravan was ready to start for Fort Bridger for winter supplies for the traders. I was furnished with a good horse and saddle, and Smith, one of the Frenchmen, five slaves, 20 horses and myself made up the caravan, and on the evening of the third day we reached the fort where I was very kindly received.
Smith was a large man, had a good head, and some cultivation and apparent refinement, and treated his women and children well. He said he had been to his old home in Illinois since he had entered upon this kind of life, but was not contented there and soon returned to his Indian friends. He and those Frenchmen were as generous and hospitable as old Southern planters, and their kindness to me will not be forgotten while my memory lasts (311)
This account is fascinating, as it reveals some important details of a largely incomplete picture of Fort Uinta. Fort Uinta was constructed on the same basic ground plan as the later Fort Robidoux at Carter Canyon near Scott's Bluff, suggesting that the later fort may have been constructed in the same style, possibly by Robidouxs who were familiar with Fort Uinta. If it had an outer bulwark, it is likely this was built of adobe, like the Fort Ouray, that was mostly eroded away by the time Manly and Field found it five years after its abandonment. It is apparently not the same site that is described in no uncertain detail by Reed Morrill--and this suggests the possibility that there may have been more than one or successive posts in the area. The French trading camp that Manly finally arrived at could very well have been remnants of the Garrison at Fort Uintah from five years before--adopting an Indian style of nomadic existence which they apparently managed to do with some success.
By the time Antoine received news of the attack on Fort Uncompahgre, he was probably by then already aware of the hostilities, for his own Fort Uintah had also just been attacked, though the garrison appears to have survived through the winter until the following Springtime. He may even have had a previous inclination of impending hostilities, such that he would be taking an alternate northerly route.
What is apparent is that the fur trade had been "trapped" out and that by then many mountain men had already left the region to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The old rendezvous had found a semi-permenant and more stable, perennial location at Fort Bridger. It also ascertains that Antoine had probably been maintaining connections North and Northwest of the Uinta Mountains, and that he had been dealing in "horses and mules" as well. Whether Antoine knew of anything in advance of the attack on his post, there is no evidence. This was, according to Chittendem, "the only instance of a successful attack by the Indians upon a trading post of the West, " 971, though, according to Wallace's biography, it sparked more than forty years of warfare between the Utes and the new transgressors. Apparently, the Fort on the Gunnison was destroyed two years later.
Sir Richard Burton makes reference to this attack in his journal dated Sept. 14th, 1860: "As a rule Indians avoid attacking strong places; this, however, must not always be relied upon; in 1844 the Utah Indians attacked Uintah Fort, a trading post belonging to M. A. Robidoux, then at St. Louis, slaughtered the men, and carried off the women."(76)
Parkhill, in his insightful biography of Antoine Leroux, presents a different picture of Antoine:
Antoine Robidoux's participation in public affairs at Santa Fe failed to interfere with the operation of his trading posts on the western slope of the Rockies. He was known to be a reckless gambler. The lavish sale of whiskey was largely responsible for the destruction of the Robidoux enterprise.
A party of Utes, drunk on whiskey bought at the trading post, burned down Fort Uintah in 1844 and Fort Uncompaghre two years later. Antoine Leroux may have continued to use these trading posts as supply bases in the late thirties and early forties, but it is more likely that as a "free" trapper he operated out of Taos. (Parkhill, 73)
Many reasons might be cited for the Indian uprising that led to the destruction of Fort Uintah and then Fort Uncompaghre. Several authors give superficial reference to the "Taos Lightening" which was outlawed and which supposedly Antoine provided to his Indian customers in prodigious quantity. Reference is made to a band of drunken Indians who attacked Uintah.
A reckless use of whiskey was responsible for the destruction of a large trading enterprise established in the southwest by Antoine Robidoux, a celebrated trapper. Antoine and his brothers trapped on the southern streams for several years and settled down to a remunerative life as businessmen and politicians at Santa Fe. Antoine married and became a Mexican citizen. In the early 1830's he engaged in the Indian trade with Jack Robertson, an old Ashley man and a whiskey peddler. Robidoux tried hunting in the North for a time and then concluded, as did so many, that trapping was more profitable when combined with the supply business.
In 1837 he built Fort Uintah near the forks of the Uinta and White Rocks rivers about ten miles north of present Roosevelt in Utah. The fort consisted of a small congregation of log cabins with dirt roofs and floors surrounded by log palisades. The "Robidoux Rendezvous" attracted trappers from all sides as the northern rendezvous deteriorated. A motely collection of Canadian and Mexican engage's and hunters lived off supplies drawn from Taos and consorted with native Indian women between expeditions.
Fort Uintah was better located for the southwestern trade than either Taos or Santa Fe, although Robidoux had difficulty in supplying it at times. Robidoux' men dominated a large area between Northern Utah and lower Arizona, the Gila again being productive in beaver after a period of rest. Robidoux made his money by supplying independent trappers and by selling ammunition, firearms, tobacco and trinkets to the Indians. In return he received beaver, otter, deer, sheep and elk skins. Joe Meek, the famous Mountain Man, described Robidoux as a gambling addict. The worst gamble he made was to risk whiskey on the Ute Indians. In 1844 they rose up and destroyed his fort. Its loss encouraged other outbreaks that the whites were unable to control.
Robidoux had another post in the Southwest that may have predated Fort Uintah by ten years or more. Fort Uncompahgre was located on the south bank of the Gunnison (Grande) River in Colorado about three miles west of the modern city of Delta. The trapping force consisted of Frenchmen, Mexicans, Indians, Americans and half-bloods. The fort was a jerry-built affair that offered few inducements compared to those of Taos, which was not difficult to reach from there. Trappers operating from Taos and the newer establishments east of the mountains were not dependent on Fort Uncompahgre for supplies and they competed with it for furs. Ute Indians burned it down in 1846/47. (534-5)
The discontentment of the Utes and other tribes was much deeper than this. Whereever exploitation and unequal trade relations existed, it can be sure that the Indian was understanding this inequality and weakness of their position. Slavery of women and children is a clear example of this. At the same time, the code of the trappers and the intermittent hostilities between Indians and trappers probably had a cumulative effect upon the Indian tribes. It is apparent that whatever the trappers might have lost in these incidences, in general the Indians lost a great deal more. On top of this, small pox had returned in epidemic proportions, which also stressed the Indians, that can be added on top of the destructive stress of acculturation by the Americans and Spaniards, the encroachments and depradations of new settlers begining to move through their country.
That beaver had been mostly trapped out, meant that the inter-montane corridor, where no buffalo roamed, was no longer as economically viable as it had been. In the hey-day of the fur trade era the Indians probably enjoyed a good material return for the many furs. According to Sabin's brief biography of Antoine in his book on Kit Carson, he was extensively involved in trade with not only the Utes, but with the Navajos and Apaches as well. He had plugged into well established trade networks. (Sabin, 1995: 198-9) If we can believe Orral Messmore Robidoux, at one time, Antoine enjoyed great prestige within his realm:
His coming was a period of great rejoicing among the Indians, and many of the old bucks of the Ute reservation remember the major well. He would organize a grand pow-wow and barbecue, and as many as 30,000 Indians would gather together to enjoy his princely hospitality and dispose of their wares in exchange for glass and tin trinkets and groceries. He also had Kit Carson and other noted hunters in his employ, who scoured the country in quest of rare and costly furs, and the proceeds of their sale brought him a princely fortune. (184)
There is good reason to consider her description quite seriously, because it indicates an important connection between the Indians and the traders, especially through the Robidoux family, that has been lost to history.
This view of Antoine is quite contrasted with other perspectives that have cast him as a villain. Decontextualized accounts at the Field House in Vernal portray him as a slave hunter and child killer. The Mormons there, and the local historians of the area, who seem bent on having an Anglo (Jim Reed) as the first permanent resident of their state, also appear bent on judging Antoine for crimes they alleged he committed. Typical is the following account by Wanda Richardson:
According to some stories told of Robidoux, he was a cruel man who traded not only in furs, horses and trinkets, but in human beings as well. He and his men are said to have traveled from one Indian tribe to another, trading horses, guns, etc., for young squaws, some of which they took for themselves, while the others were traded for valuable furs to unscrupulous white men and half-breeds. The young women were cruelly treated, being forced to work hard, bear their master's children, and in return were often beaten and some even killed by the cruel traders.
Robidoux' name became known among the tribes as a symbol of slavery and cruelty and many red men yearned to get revenge for the injustice that they had suffered at his hands. Some historians think that it was too bad that Robidoux was absent from the Fort when a band of Indians descended upon it one night in 1844, and after killing the men and taking the women captive, burned the for or trading post to the ground.
Such an account is didactic and culturally jaundiced. Antoine lived and gained his success within a context that was full of cruelty and contradiction. To single him out for blame among all the others who participated in this period and place would in itself be wrong and it demonstrates prejudice. Such accounts borrow mostly from the Joseph Williams' report of his visit to the post. Joseph Williams was clearly skewed from a narrow-minded Christian point of view--everyone he met in that context had souls bound for hell. It would be expected that grizzly old mountain men would regal him with stories about child murder for their own pleasure in his astonishment and literal-mindedness. Joseph Meek's account of Robidoux is also morally jaundiced--he too was playing the role of missionary among the devil's lot. Even more, though he did say that it was Antoine who was an inveterate gambler, he only said that it was among the "camp" of Antoine that the sport of running antelope herds on the ice was practiced. It is interesting that Rufus Sage's account, almost from the same point in time, portrays Antoine in a manner that most other acquaintances portrayed him, as generous, a gentleman and somewhat affable to be with. But Sage's entire account is both more realistic and more interesting in its detail and openness in understanding the way of life of these people. It is evident that the mountain men regaled him with stories as well, but not of the same caliber as those retold by Williams--they told him of their journeys to Mexico and the discovery of lost cities of gold.
The typical story of the reasons for the destruction of his posts is that he was selling "Taos Lightening" to the Indians. This story, another incident of historical gossip, is a superficial analysis of what was a complex situation. New Mexico was a frontier of the Mexican government--one that was preoccupied with administrative and civic affairs much closer to home. Ute, Comanche, Apache and Navajo Indians perennially gave the Mexicans a hard time, and the Mexicans lacked the resources, organization or manpower to deal with the problems presented by the Indians effectively. It was not the sale of whiskey that instigated the Ute war. It was rather the changing structural relationship with the would-be emperors of Mexico who manifested enough weakness and lack of interest in the northern frontier to encourage the Indians to seek improvement of their situation through resorting to violence. Clearly, it was guns and gun powder that was the tangible evidence of this change. In fact it was the Mexican governments attempt to restrict the sale of arms to the Indians, and their attempt to make a case against and penalize Antoine Robidoux for doing so, that led to the uprising of the Utes in the first place. Guns were more than weapons of revolution against the Mexicans--they were tools for survival and defense against other Indians.
There may well have been another reason that the Mormon community of the area would be interested in disclaiming the historical validity of Antoine's early presence in their state, and this has to do with the legitimation of their own subsequent claims on the same lands, and this issue became clear in regard to Miles Goodyear's trading establishment that was to the West of Antoine's. 1844, the year of the Indian uprising and massacre(s?) of Antoine's garrisons, was also the year of the first coming of the Mormons to Salt Lake City. The issue arose more clearly in regard to Mile's Goodyear, who remained in the area of his trading cabin on the Weber River long enough to experience the change of social climate presented by the influx of Mormons.
Goodyear was forty miles away, and it would seem that there was plenty of room for both; but for some reason Brigham Young was determined to get rid of him so as to have the entire country under his control. Possibly he could foresee the effects on his colony if a group of wild mountain men such as Jim Baker, Bill Williams, Peg-leg Smith, Jack Robinson and their like should make Fort Buenaventura their headquarters. Besides, the details of Weber River contained the finest farming land to be found anywhere around the lake and the rapidly expanding colony would need all available acres. So it was decided that Goodyear must go. (86)
He claimed he had received a grant from the Spanish government, and it was this claim that he fought efforts on the part of the Mormons to get him off his land, in an attempt at least to realize some return on his investments there.
The territory in which the Mormons had settled was claimed by Mexico at the time of their arrival. Goodyear's claim to a Mexican grant sounded logical to the Mormons, who knew they were on Mexican soil. As a matter of fact, no grants were ever issued, from either Santa Fe or Monterey, for land situated so far from those two capitals. No Mexican official ever visited the country and they knew practically nothing of its nature or those who might be occupying it. Neither Jim Bridger on Black's Fork, Craig and Newell in Brown's Hole, nor Antoine Robidoux on the Uintah River had any land grant from Mexican officials, nor did they need one. But Goodyear sensed the advantages of such a claim, and his story was accepted as fact.
Brigham Young, who might have easily forced Goodyear off his land, struck a deal with him instead and the Mormon church purchased his holdings for $2,000 dollars on November 15th, 1847. "If a grant had been desirable or necessary, surely Antoine Robdoux would have had one for his Fort Uintah in the Uintah Basin. It is true that he had a trading license issued from Santa Fe, since he made his headquarters there and at Taos. He would cerrtainly have applied for a land grant if that had been necessary or customary." (142) Apparently, Jim Bridger himself took his cue from Miles Goodyear and also claimed to have had a grant when the Mormons sought to acquire it in 1853.
It will be remembered that James Bridger, who built Bridger's Fort on Black's Fork of Green River, in Wyoming, also claimed to have received a Mexican Grant for his holdings when he offered them for sale to the Mormons in 1853. But he was never able to produce any such document. In the opinion of these writers Bridger took his cue from Goodyear on that score, hoping to make a nice profit. He failed to realize anything on his claim and the Mormons, by that time powerful in their new location, ran him off--so he claimed--and took possession. (142)
It is not too far to speculate about a conspiracy theory by a young and aggressive Brigham Young who by 1844 had set his sites on his new homeland. Brigham Young was known for his careful, strategic planning and preparation in the advancement of his Mormon church. It is not unlikely or impossible that he may have early on struck negotiations with the Snake or Ute Indians by this time. Possibly this change of venue for the local Indian tribes might have eventuated in the loss of Antoine's Forts at that time, and it would also explain why the local communities ever after have been so intent on forgetting who Antoine was or where his forts were, or when the do seem to remember, to do so in such a jaundiced manner. Whatever the case may have been, it is clear that this may have been one more indirect contributory factor in Antoine's final loss in the area.
In late winter of 1852, George Washington Bean, an early Mormon Pioneer who worked for Brigham Young, and a man who had later visited Louis Robidoux's Jurupa Rancho, visited the site of Fort Uintah of which he left the following account:
In the late winter of 1852, George Washington Bean, an early Utah Mormon pioneer, visited the site of Fort Uintah and left a description.
February 26th--Kept on an eastern direction on a dim trail. Crossed a Cedar Ridge about noon and discerned some Indians in a small valley on the other side. We went down to the camp and found it to be Tabby and Grospene busy building pens to snare antelope. Tabby told us it was two days tramp to Uinta River. Camped with them tonight. Their camp is near the Duchesne Fork of Green River.
February 27th.--started on, having Tabby's brother along as guide. We traveled briskly all day and calculated that we had ridden thirty miles. Camped on Rabbit Creek as large as Provo (river). Found a lodge of Indians camped a little below us on the creek. They were going to join Tabby in his antelope catching.
February 28th.--Crossed the river at a very rocky ford, then climbed a rocky hill and emerged into a large plain several miles across. We were now about twenty-five miles in the Uintah Valley. Crossed several dry creeks and cedar ridges and after travelling about thirty miles reached the Uintah River just before sunset.
February 29th.--Called a council and decided that we remain here today and reconnoiter the neighborhood to see if any Indians were about, and also to examine the timber and facilities for farming purposes. In the evening all agreed that the finest timber was here, but not much land in a body suitable for cultivation. Water privileges were excellent. Game plenty--deer, antelope, rabbits, sage hens, etc. This North Fork of Uintah River is where the old French trapper and trader, Louis Roubidoux, had his trading Post, which was a place of rendezvous fo the Mountaineers for twenty-five years. Here we found large pine trees right down in the valley where the Fort buildings stood, but no sign of white men or Indians today. Antelope were numerous as on the Duchesne. (The old Frenchman had gone to California where I saw him in 1855 living on the Santa Ana River.)
March 1st.--This morning started on our return back, as no Indians were to be found with whom we could trade. The wind blew hard and chilly so that by noon we concluded to stop for the night on a dry creek where the water had but lately commenced running down. Snowed through the night. In two days more arrived at Tabby's Camp. Our Guide, War Chief, brought in an antelope, which we lived on most of the way home, as our meat had run out. Bought one horse at an enormous price--as the Major's mare had given out. Also brought a few skins. Nothing worthy of note happened until we arrived at the Big Mountains where we found the snow had drifted and filled up our tracks completely, so that we had to break the trail for our animals up the mountain again, which tired ourselves and horses.
To tell the story briefly, I'll say, on the way over to Uintah, we took three days to go fifteen miles breaking trail for our pack animals in the Soldier Summit Drifts, and slept on snow possibly twenty feet deep. We forced our animals to wind blown points to feed.
Bean's diary also indicate that he was a close friend of Kit Carson, with whom he had been drinking and carousing not a month before. In an interesting side note, Bean wrote: "We reported that Uintah had plenty of timber, water, game and even settlement possibilities." A Mormon party was sent out to survey the area and attempt settlement, but the Federal Government caught wind of the move and set the area aside as a Ute reservation.
"In the Fall of 1861, President Young called on about thirty men from Salt Lake City and Provo to proceed and make survey and settlements in Uintah, Surveyor Jesse w. Fox, with James W. Cummings as our Captain. We spent three weeks locating lands there, but some of the Government officials got alarmed and reported what the Mormons were doing, and an order was issued setting apart the whole Uintah Valley and its tributaries as an Indian Reservation and forbidding settlements of Whites."
As far as the Forts are concerned, the superficial archaeological evidence described by Morrill--scattered bones, broken artifacts, charcoal-- indicates a relatively undisturbed destruction layer that had been gradually reclaimed by time and natural processes--an event horizon that is quite common to archaeologists. Apparently, a couple of young men camped near Fort Uintah in 1849--it was abandoned but still standing. By the time the fated Gunnison expedition passed by the fort on the Gunnison in 1853, it was identified as "Roubideau's old trading fort, now entirely fallen to ruins." Leroux was leading this expedition at the time when "much to his regret" he had been recognized by the Utes of the region, as he had killed on the of the Ute chiefs in the past. It was not much later that this expedition was massacred. (Wallace, 29) Later, Captain Marcy in company with Jim Baker, also crossed the mountains on the 8th of December and struck the Grand River near the Uncompahgre and the Bunkara. "They forded the streams with a great deal of difficulty, for the water was deep, rapid, and filled with a great mass of floating ice. They made their next camp at the base of Elk Mountain, near old Fort Robidoux." (Mumey, 1972: 102)
Antoine may have attempted somewhat desperately to reestablish himself in the Rocky Mountains after the Fall of 1844, but was again driven out by the Utes. This may date a subsequent attack on Fort Uintah sometime in the Spring or Summer of 1845. This is the first reference that also places Antoine in the vicinity of Fort Robidoux, showing an alternative route. The exact details of these attacks do not really matter except in a strict historical sense--the consequences for the trade in the region would be the same regardless. Antoine lost the basis of his trade, and so whatever remained standing would have been abandoned at this time.
Following this massacre of Ft. Uintah, Antoine appears to have liquidated his remaining interests in the intermontane corridor and in Taos/Santa Fe and to have returned to St. Joseph, Missouri. It was apparent that the Robidoux brothers were retreating from Santa Fe, probably because of a changed political climate there. Louis, having visited California in 1840, finally sold out his interests in Santa Fe in 1841 and left Santa Fe/Taos for good in 1844, taking his family westward to what is now Southern California.
The sites of Fort Uintah, Fort Ouray and Fort Uncompahgre were all but forgotten until a revival of historical interest in the Robidoux's which began in the 1930's and 40's, and which only gradually gained steam in the late 1980's. Evidence that any such places existed could only be found on early maps of the 1840's to 1870's. These maps, many of them quite accurate, were based on earlier maps and on surveys that were subsequently conducted, thus they have become a good second-hand source for identifying these locations, if somewhat neglected by contemporary scholars. By far the best map is the fourth Beckwourth Gunnison map produced in 1855 which clearly shows "Roubadeau's Old Ft." along the Gunnison river, as well as Fort Uintah on the coordinates provided by John Fremont. The coordinates of Fort Uncompahgre on this map I estimate to be 108 degrees, 10 minutes, 48-50 seconds lattitude, and 38 degrees, 44 minutes, 59.52 seconds North longitude, give or take a few seconds. This map was constructed soon after the expedition by Beckwourth and the accompanying cartographer. The site was off the south bank of the River, near a bend that may not exist anymore. The scale of the map is 12 miles to the inch, and this would put the site just about 1.5 to 1.75 miles due west of the downtown area of Delta, Colorado and about 1.13 miles due west from the junction of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison rivers.
The original Rand McNally map of 1876 locates the site of Fort Robidoux on the opposite bank of the Gunnison River, in roughly similar coordinates. I suspect that within this twenty year period, the original site was already lost, and for the most part, forgotten. These are the only maps I have located to date which clearly show the location of Fort Uncompahgre with any kind of cartographic or topographical precision.
Another Rand McNally map of Utah of the same year also shows both Fort Uintah and the site of "Ft. Robedeaux" south and east of the Junction of the White and Green Rivers. What is interesting about his map is the apparent displacement of this site from all other references to it, placing it more closely on the bank of the White river, some distance from the Green. It is clearly along an old railroad route marked out on the map leading to Salt Lake City, which approximates Berthould's route through Northeastern Colorado.
More interesting than this is the Froiseth Map, certified correct by Brigham Young, of 1870 which clearly shows both Fort Uinta in its approximate locate, and "Fort Roubidon" slightly north of the junction of the Duchesne and Green River, on the East bank of the Green, along "an unidentified road to Colorado--"the same road traveled by Berthould in 1861 and by Bela M. Hughes in 1865." (Morgan, 279) Froiseth's papers were destroyed soon after his death.
Fort Uintah is found on numerous maps of the 1850's and later--its coordinates being provided by Fremont and Preuss. What is more interesting about its early location on the maps is that it apparently laid along a well marked trail or wagon route that to some extent recapitulated Fremont's 1843 route and the exact locations of all these sites are today quite controversial and fundamentally lost. The site of Fort Robidoux at the Junction of the Green and White Rivers appeared on several maps of the era, but was dismissed by later historians as "an error."
Secondary sources all indicate that both Forts Uintah and Uncompahgre were attacked and massacred. It is not clear from documentary evidence that this was so, though it is possible that the Utes who did not spare one of the posts, also would spare the other. Archaeological evidence at the Fort Uintah site does suggest a modest destruction layer. It is evident that about the same time a party of Robidoux's trappers was attacked and robbed. On Sunday, the 29th of June, 1845, Jacob Snyder and his wagon train met Antoine Robidoux on the western side of Fort Laramie:
Started at 8 o'clock. Encamped on Horse Shoe Creek. Passed this day Antoine Roubidoux from the Spanish Country. He was obliged to come through this way on account of the Indians, 8 of his men having been killed.
This train arrived about a week after the one that included W. A. Goulder who had been previously at St. Joseph and who joined a caravan that arrived at Fort Laramie about the middle of June, 1844, where there was a grand encampment of Sioux Indians.
....In view of possible trouble to the emigrants, the Government that year sent out a detachment of troops from Fort Leavenworth, numbering some three hundred dragoons, under command of Colonel, afterwards General, Stephen Kearney. The troops overtook and passed our company on the North Platte and went on to Fort Laramie, where a halt was made until we came up and camped at that point.
The next day, June 15th, 1845, found several thousand Sioux Indians collected at and around Fort Laramie, where the troops had a talk with the Indians, and when presents were distributed among them. It was a novel sight for many of us to see so many Indians and soldiers congregated. A fierce snow-storm was raging during the day. This furnished another novel feature to the scene, as none of us had ever before witnessed a snow-storm in summer.
The Indians seemed well-pleased with what they saw and received and expressed themselves as duly impressed with the favors of the white man. They professed undying friendship for their white brethern and made all the required promises of peace and non-interference with our movements. From Fort Laramie, the troops went on to a camping place called Pacific Springs, at the summit of the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains, and then turned southward toward the waters of the Arkansas River. This left our company, which was the foremost part of the emigration, without further military escort and protection. (114)
Goulder records reaching Independence Rock on the 28th day of June, the day before Antoine is met with Jacob Snyder further to the East. It appears that he must also have just missed Stephen Kearny's Dragoons at Laramie, but that he probably had some kind of communication with Colonel Kearny shortly afterward. Undoubtedly, Kearny would have been very interested in first-hand accounts of Indian trouble that was suffered by Antoine and his trappers the year before. During 1845, the governor of New Mexico launched an investigation into the charge that Antoine Robidoux was selling guns to the Indian illegally. This was a little late--and possibly a scapegoat of the Mexicans against their own mistreatment of the Indians.
On July 4th, 1845, Bruce Husband of Fort John wrote to Antoine Robidoux gave an order to H. Sublette at Fort Laramie "to receive my mules, pack & riding saddles, guns, etc. which were stolen from me on the Green River last October."
"Manuel Ruis, Manuel Pais, Miguel Ruibali, Jose my Payute Boy and Felipe Archuleta will please to deliber to Mr. W. Subletz my mules, seven in nomber, three rifles, riding sadles, pack sadles, ros & powder horn, one tomahawk.--Mr. Subletts his fully authorize by me, and in my name to perseau or Receive any part or all the above mention property, as the said property has been stolen from me on Green River October last. Given at Larama Fort on the 4th July 1845.
Upon hearing news of the attack of Fort Uncompahgre, it is claimed that several of Robidoux's employees at Fort Uintah, namely Manuel Ruis, Esquipula Salasar, Manuel Pais, Miguel Ruibala, Felipe Archuleta, Mexicans fearing attack by the Utes, and a Payute slave named Jose, all stole horses and mules and fled to hardscrabble.
This letter suggests that Fort Uinta was attacked during October of 1844, and was subsequently abandoned, with the few remaining garrison eventually evacuating with the remaining property to Fort Laramie. The reference to the Green River leaves little doubt as to it being Fort Uinta. It also suggests that the remainder of the garrison may have made an attempt to stay on at the Fort until Spring time of 1845--perhaps wintering there.
According to accounts given to John Barton by Calvin Hackford in 1988, who grew up near the site of Fort Uinta, his family found a piece of paper on which there was a plea for help in the rubble of the fort, which was a 60 by 60 foot square ash darkened in the sage brush when he was a 10 year-old boy. (Barton 99). Another statement has it that though it had probably been attacked at this time, it was actually not razed until later, possibly by Jim Baker in the late 1840's or early 1850's.
It is possible at this point that he took up briefly leading wagon trains over the plains. It is apparent also by this letter that though Antoine met the Snyder train on the 29th of June, he was not among those who went to Fort Laramie. It is evident that he may have gone south towards the Arkansas at this time, where presumably many of his men sought refuge after the attacks on his outposts. He may also have headed west again at this time to meet up with Kearny at South Pass, who was probably less than a week before the train.
That Antoine was back in the Missouri nexus by early Fall is evident because Antoine gave to a Missouri newspaper, the Missouri Democrat that was published on September 17th, 1845, stating that three Mexicans were killed in "Fort Tampagarha" and one American spared, who was sent to Robidoux 120 miles away." (301, notes)
Antoina Robidoux, who it was sometime since understood had been killed by the Indians in the Mountains, returned a few days ago to St. Joseph, He has kindly furnished us with some information which we give to our readers. The facts in relation to the destruction of the Tampaparh Fort, are these: some Eutaw Indians had been killed by the Spaniards in Santa Fe, from which the fort was about 300 miles; the Indians were incensed at this, and attacked the fort for the purpose of killing the Mexicans who were there; there were three Mexicans in the Fort, all of whom were massacreed, but one American was there who was spared and sent to let Mr. Robidoux know (who was 120 miles distant) that the peltries were unharmed. Mr. R. states that the Indians manifested no desire to injure him, and that they are generally friendly to the Americans.
The St. Louis Republican carried another article dated March 6th, 1845 that stated:
The only internal disturbance feared in New Mexico, was the Yuta Indians, in revenge for the massacre of their head men at Santa Fe in August last. The whole province was kept in constant alarm by their depredations, and they threatened to attack on Santa Fe itself. They have taken the fort of Antoine Robidoux, on the Wintae, and killed the traders and hands found in to; it is said that Antoine Robidoux escaped to his fort on Compagara.
Guide, Gold-Seeker & Wyoming Road Rancher: 1844-1858
Antoine had apparently returned to Missouri at short notice in the early fall of 1845. It is presumed that by Fall of 1845, he is in the St. Joseph nexus with his wife and adopted granddaughter. The period of his activity between this time and his first enlistment with Colonel Kearny's Army of the west on June 9th, 1846 is unknown, but several incidents suggests that he may have led one or more early wagon trains as far as Fort Laramie. It is possible that Antoine guided the first leg of the famous Aram train, during which there was an incident with the Pawnee Indians, though this was more likely Michel. If it were Antoine, then he would have early on quit this train, it being under the guidance of Carson, with Antoine then returning to St. Joseph in time to become enlisted in the Kearny expedition.
Antoine was engaged by Kearny in a letter dated on June 4th, 1846:
Head Q. Fort Leavenworth
Dear Sir June 4th, 1846
Yours of the 2nd was received last evening & in reply I have to state, that I shall be pleased to have you with me on my expedition to New Mexico--I engage you on behalf of the Govt--as an Interpreter to render such other service as I may call upon you for. I should like to have you here about the 12th. Instant. You will furnish your own transportation, & on your arrival here will make arrangements with the Q. M. as to your compensation. The Govt. will furnish you with a Ration.
M. Anthony Robidoux
Saint Joseph Your old Leuit.
Missouri S. W. Kearny
Co. 1st Dragoons
Among other things, this letter indicates that Antoine had initiated contact with Colonel Kearny two days before, from St. Joseph, and that the mail took a day to get to Kearny at Fort Leavenworth, which was down river. It was probably received by Antoine on either the 8th or 9th of June.
Antoine later recalled this date as June 9th, but the actual date of enlistment was June 10th, 1846. This date of enlistment made it impossible for him to have been one of the "Rubideau's" met by Francis Parkman in June, 1846. Likely, this other Robidoux was probably Michel. The letter is also interesting because it provides a clue as to Antoine's earlier involvement in the Army under Kearny as Lieutenant.
The Kearny expedition set out from Fort Leavenworth in June of 1846, reaching Bent's fort in late July, and commencing for Santa Fe in early August, which they reached on August 19. It is evident that Antoine led the very vanguard of the Army, serving as "point" and guide for the central column. In this capacity, it appears that he did not carry a gun, and that he often went on foot rather than on horse-back. Though few direct references to his role are available, what evidence that does exist suggests that he served his role well and that he was in the center of almost every important event which occurred during the Kearny expedition up until the Battle of San Pasqual.
The first account comes from George Gibson's A Soldier under Kearny and Doniphan. On July 2nd, Kearny's advanced guard crossed the Kansas River early in the morning and they set up an early camp about a mile from the river. "Our camp was on the slope of a hill of very gradual ascent, with a ravine skirted with hazel and a few trees close to our tents, the remainder of the country being prairie, except along the river.":
In the evening the camp presented a pretty appearance, the weather was fine, the men all merry and exchanging visits to know how the military life pleased them; and the ound of the bugles at retreat gave a military air to the surrounding country. The teams of the artillery containing their provisions and camp utensils failed to get up, and at the request of Captain Turner we loaned them our camp kettles and pans and a tin cup of coffee from each mess and some other things; for which Captain Fischer, who commanded the company for whom they were obtained, seemed very thankful. Mr. Robidou, who goes out as interpreter, guide, etc., for the general, paid us a visit, and we spent the evening very pleasantly.
At a camp near 110 mile creek on July 4th, 1846, with the train of the army, broken up after a long march across Kansas, was able to regroup and reorganize itself. "Mr. Robidoux estimated our day's march at thirty-two miles, which is probably not over the mark. Coffee and water made us feel better, and the men were soon wrapped in their blankets and the camp quite, all needing repose after one of the longest and hardest day's marches we were destined to make." (134-5)
The army occupied Las Vegas in early August, 1846. There, Kearny gave a speech to the local people who gathered along with the local officials. Kearny delivered a speech from a roof-top, with Antoine interpreting. In this speech he disavowed all the inhabitants of their allegiance with Mexico. He promised them the kindness of the American government and their protection from the Navajos and Apaches. He then demanded an oath of allegiance from the local alcalde' and the two captains of the militia. The captains said nothing but looked upon the ground. Kearny then said to one of them "'Captain, look me in the face, while your repeat the oath of office!' The oath was administered through the interpreter, Robidoux, and the general and his staff descended, mounted and galloped away to the head of the column." (Twitchel 206-7) Similar speeches were delivered in Tecolote and at San Miguel del Bado.
On August 18th, The Army of the West occupied Santa Fe' without a shot having been fired. The Governor's palace was made the headquarters, and the next day, at 9 A. M, August 19th, Kearny addressed a crowed in the plaza from the roof of the Palacio, with Antoine Robidoux interpreting:
Antoine Robidoux, to the left of General Kearney, translating his speech to Spanish & Indian citizens at Las Vegas, 1846.
"New Mexicans: We have come amongst you to take possession of New Mexico, which we do in the name of the government of the United States. We have come with peaceable intentions and kind feelings toward you all. We come as friends, to better your condition and make you a part of the republic of the United States. We mean not to murder you or rob you of your property. Your families shall be free from molestation; your women secure from violence. My soldiers shall take nothing from you but what they pay for. In taking possession of New Mexico, we do not mean to take away from you your religion. Religion and government have no connection in our country. There, all religions are equal; one has no preference over the other; the Catholic and the Protestant are esteemed alike. Every man has a right to serve God according to his heart. When a man dies he must render to God an account of his acts on earth, whether they be good or bad. In our government, all men are equal. We esteem the most peaceable man the best man. I advise you to attend to your domestic pursuits, cultivate industry, be peaceable and obedient to the laws. Do not resort to violent means to correct abuses. I do hereby proclaim that, being in possession of Santa Fe', I am therefore virtually in possession of all New Mexico. Armijo is no longer your governor. His power is departed; but he will return and be as one of you. When he shall return you are not to molest him. You are no longer Mexican subjects; you are now American citizens, subject only to the laws of the United States. A change of government has taken place in New Mexico and you no longer owe allegiance to the Mexican government. I do hereby proclaim my intention, also, to continue in office those by whom you have been governed, except the governor, and such other persons as I shall appoint to office by virtue of the authority vested in me. I am your governor--henceforth look to me for protection." (Twitchell, Old Santa Fe, 264-5)
According to Twitchell, on the 20th of August, the day after the speech above, "the principal chiefs of several tribes of pueblo Indians presented themselves at the palace and gave in their submission and expressed great satisfaction over the arrival of the American forces. (Twitchell, Old Santa Fe, 266)
Emory states that the day after the speech:
...the chiefs and head men of the Pueblo Indians came to give their adhesion and express their great satisfaction at our arrival. This large and formidable tribe are among the best and most peaceable citizens of New Mexico. They, early after the Spanish conquest, embraced the forms of religion, and the manners and customs of their then more civilized masters, the Spaniards. Their interview was long and interesting. They narrated, what is a tradition with them, that the white man would come from the far east and release them from the bonds and shackles which the Spaniards had imposed, not in the name, but in a worse form than slavery.
They and the numerous half-breeds are our fast friends now and forever. Three hundred years of oppression and injustice have failed to extinguish in this race the recollection that they were once the peaceable and inoffensive masters of the country. (58)
During their first day of encampment at Santa Fe', Gibson notes on the day of occupation, August 19th, Antoine's role as interpreter, during the Army command's occupation at the Governor's Palace in the last week of August:.
The dragoons were moved from camp to quarters in town near the plaza, and Lieutenant Eastin and myself were sent to see the general in relation to ours, when he told us to send down Captain Angney to select such as would suit and report to the quartermaster. The general was in fine spirits, took us through the Palace, and introduced us to the ballroom, as well as the private chamber of the governor's lady. The ballroom is a large, long room, with a dirt floor, and the panels of the interior doors made of bull or buffalo hide, tanned and painted so as to resemble wood. There are various other rooms besides the antechamber, which has the lady's private apartment at one end and the ballroom immediately back of it and parallel to it. The office of Secretary of State is on the east side, and the guard room and prison on the west end of the block. The rear contains kitchens, bake ovens, and ground for a garden, the whole being roomy, convenient and suitable to the dignity of a governor in New Mexico. Some parts of the building appear to be made bomb proof or so to be intended, but it would hardly be a defense against American arms. Many parts of the building are in a state of decay and have been neglected for some time, especially the apartments near the calabozo. The walls are all thick, and it contains as few doors and windows as possible. A delegation of Pueblo Indians waited upon the general. There were ten or twelve, a fine-looking set of men, who formed a semicircle around him, Mr. Robidoux interpreting. They appeared satisfied and pleased at their reception. (213)
Henry Turner notes this in his journal for August 24th, 1846 that "A deputation of Indian Pueblos, conducted by their cure' have an interview with the General. The cure' Alcalde and civil authorities of Taos and the vicinity come in to have a conversation with the General. The cure' appeared much agitated--it having been reported that he encouraged resistance to the U. S. troops on hearing of their approach. (74)
Gibson notes that the general order for all people to submit was issued by Kearny on August 25th. Twitchell claims that this order was given on the 22nd.
Susan Magoffin, wife of Magoffin, makes note of Robidoux at a dinner party with the Leitensdorfers on the date she gives as Saturday, August 19th, but which was probably the 22nd of August:
We left here at fifteen minutes to 2 o'clock P. M. passed through the plazo, of course atracting the attention of all idle bystanders--my bonnet being and equal object of wonder with the white woman that wore it. We arrived at Mr. L's door followed by the Gen. and his little party of officers, after Mexican style, I suppose, we were met by tres Senoras, Mrs. L. and two sisters. We entered the dining room where we found a number of gentlemen seated around on the cushioned benches, and waiting to partake the dainty viands now being placed en la mesa. My bonnet and shawl were soon removed and we seated ourselves at table.
One custom I cannot admire among them, 'tis this the ladies are all placed on one side by themselves, while the gentlemen are also alone; 'tis not at all congenial to my sociable feelings, there is much more enjoyment for the company generally, much more taste, and more sociability when all seat themselves promiscuously around.
But now for the dinner; first came sopa de vermicile, then sopa de otro, this is their custom to bring on something light preparatory to the more weighty dishes. This sopa is pretty much a substitute for our fine soups. the rice is boiled, dressed with little butter, salt, &c. and then covered over with slices of boiled egss.--Next came the several dishes of carne de asado, carne de cocida, and some other carnes, all of which they placed in plates before me, andof course I tasted them. The champain went around without reserve. The Gen. drank and enjoyed it, he has been under the Doctor for some days past and consequently could now do justice to the dishes before him after his fast. For desert we had a dish made of builed milk and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, and it was very good, the recipe I should like. An other of cake pudding--both Mexican and new to me, fine cool grapes, to which we all did justice. Our General gave us a toast, with the permission of our host, "The U.S. and Mexico--They are now united, may no one ever think of separating." It was translated into Spanish by Mr. Rubidor, the general's interpreter. 'Twas responded to by Mrs. L's brother, while the mexican gentlemen around the table cried out "viva" "viva". (134-6)
The discrepancy of dates between Gibson's, Magoffin's and Emories accounts of the events of the first days of American occupation of Santa Fe are not clearly understood.
Emory states that in the course of the following week, numerous deputations from Taos appeared at the palace to give their allegiance and to ask for protection from the Indians. "That portion of the country seems the best disposed towards the United States. A Taos man may be distinguished at once by the cordiality of his salutation" (58). Emory gives the first of three references to Antoine Robidoux in this expedition in the last week of August:
A band of Navajoes, naked, thin, and savage looking fellows, dropped in and took up their quarters with Mr. Robideaux, our interpreter, just opposite my quarters. They ate, drank and slept all the time, noticing nothing but a little cinnamon-colored naked brat that was playing in the court, which they gazed at with the eyes of gastronomes. (Emory, 58)
It is evident that these Indians knew Antoine from an earlier time, and trusted him and probably were making quiries of him regarding the march of the army and the changing political climate.
Kearny's command remained in Santa Fe for about five weeks, during which time Fort Marcy was constructed under the direction of Doniphan. The main body of the army then departed for California on about September 25th, with about 300 dragoons.
On Oct. 6th, the vanguard met Kit Carson carrying dispatches to Washington. Up to this point, Antoine Robidoux with Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick had been guiding the expedition. The news Carson was carrying was that California had been taken, and there was little resistance remaining. Therefore Kearny sent back two hundred of his dragoons "He retained companies C and K, or 100 dragoons, under Captain Benjamin D. Moore, Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond, and Lieutenant John W. Davidson. His staff consisted of Captain Henry S. Turner, acting assistant adjutant general; Captain Abraham R. Johnston, aide-de-camp; Major Thomas Swords, quartermaster; Lieutenants William H. Emory and William H. Warner of the topographical engineers, with a dozen assistants and servants; and Assistant Surgeon John S. Griffin. Antonio Robidoux was the guide, and Carson became his associate. The latter was unwilling to turn back, desiring to deliver his dispatches in person, and also to visit his family." (Bancroft, 337) Thomas Fitzpatrick was named by Kearny to carry the dispatches on to Washington, while Carson reluctantly "faced west". The entire force was pared to 121 men with two mountain howitzers. Most of the men were mounted on mules, and wagons carrying their baggage was soon abandoned in favor of pack mules.
The second reference by Emory to Robidoux is found on October 7th, mentioning changes in the marching orders following information from Carson's express the day before.
Yesterday's news caused some changes in our camp; one hundred dragoons, officered by Captain Moore and Lieutenants Hammond and Davidson, with General Kearny's personal staff, Major Swords, Captain Johnston, Captain Turner, adjutant general to the army of the west, Messrs. Carson and Robideaux, my own party, organized as before mentioned, and a few hunters of tried experience, formed the party for California. Major Sumner, with the dragoons, was ordered to retrace his steps. (88)
It was apparent that Antoine, now with Carson, was leading the vanguard of the army, serving as guides and interpreters to whom all they should meet in the advance. That this role was Antoine's is demonstrated by the following lengthy set of passages beginning Oct. 30, 1846:
Many "fresh signs" of Indians were seen, but, as on previous days, we could not catch a glimpse of them. They carefully avoided us. This evening, however, as Robideaux unarmed was riding in advance, he emerged suddenly from a cavity in the ground, thickly masked by mezquite. He had discovered two Indians on horseback within twenty yards of him. The interview was awkward to both parties, but Robideaux was soon relieved by the arrival of the head of the column. The Indians were thrown into the greatest consternation; they were tolerably mounted, but escape was hopeless; two more miserable looking objects I never beheld; their legs (unlike the Apaches we left behind) were large and muscular, but their faces and bodies (for they were naked) were one mass of wrinkles, almost approaching to scales. They were armed with bows and arrows, and one with a quiver of fresh cut reeds. They were directed to go with us to camp, where they would receive food and clothing, but they resolutely refused, evidently thinking certain death awaited them, and that it would be preferable to meet it then than suffer suspense. The chief person talked all the time in a tongue resembling more the bark of a mastiff, than the words of a human being. Our anxiety to communicate to the tribe our friendly feeling, and more especially our desire to purchase mules, was very great; but they were firm in their purpose not to follow, and much to their surprise (they seemed incapable of expressing joy,) we left them and their horses untouched. (114-5)
They were supposed by some to be the Cayotes, a branch of the Apaches, but Londeau thought they belonged to the tribe of Tremblers, who acquired their name from their emotions at meeting the whites.
Observed to-night 12 altitudes of Polaris for latitude, and measured 9 lunar distances for longitude.
Lat. 33 degrees 12' 10" Long. 110 degrees 20'46"
Oct. 31. Today we were doomed to another sad disappointment. Reaching the San Francisco about noon, we unsaddled to refresh our horses, and allow time to look upa trail by which we could pass the formidable range of mountains through which the Gila cuts its way, making a deep canon impassable for the howitzers. A yell on top of a distant hill announced the presence of three well mounted Indians, and persons were sent out to bring them in. Our mules were now fast failing, and the road before us unknown. These Indians, if willing, could supply us with mules and show us the road. Our anxiety to see the result of the interview was, consequently, very great. It was amusing, and at the same time very provoking. They would allow but one of our party to approach. Long was the talk by signs and gestures; at length they consented to come into camp and moved forward about a hundred yards, when a new apprehension seemed to seize them and they stopped. They said, as well as could be understood, that the two old men we met yesterday had informed their chief of our presence, and wish to obtain mules; that he was on his way with the same, and had sent them ahead to sound a parley. They were better looking, and infinitely better conditioned, than those we met yesterday, resembling strongly the Apaches of the copper mines, and like them decked in the plundered garb of the Mexicans.
The following day, Nov. 1st, they pursued a trail led by Carson over sixty miles of rough terrain, following the Gila a few miles, and then commencing an ascent over the range, soon coming to a spring along a trail where they watered their mules and refreshed themselves. They halted there for the night to allow the howitzers to catch up. The next morning they arose early in the cold, to have an alarm sounding that Indians were making off with their mules. The party ran to the scene to discover the herd grazing peacefully, and a ring of mounted Indians on top of the crest above them, calling in Spanish for a talk.
They were Apaches, and it had been for some time our earnest desire to trade with them, and hitherto we had been unsuccessful. "One of you put down your rife and come to us," said the Spanish-tongued Indian. Londeau, my employee before mentioned, immediately complied; I followed; but before reaching half-way up the steep hill, the Indian espied in my jacket the handle of a large horse pistol. He told me I must put down my pistol before he would meet me. I threw it aside and proceeded to the top of the hill, where, although he was mounted and surrounded by six or eight of his own men armed with rifle and arrows, he received me with great agitation. The talk was long and tedious. I exhausted every argument to induce him to come into camp. His principal fear seemed to be the howitzers, which recalled at once to my mind the story I had heard of the massacre by Johnson. At last a bold young fellow, tired of the parley, threw down his rifle, and with a step that Forrest in Metamora might have envied, strode off towards camp, piloted by Carson. We were about to follow, when the chief informed us it would be more agreeable to him if we remained until his warrior returned.
The ice was now broke; most of them seeing that their comrade encountered no danger, followed one by one. They said they belonged to the tribe of Pinon Lanos; that "they were simple in head but true of heart." Presents were distributed; they promised to pilot us over the mountain, five miles distant, to a spring with plenty of good grass, where they engaged to meet us next day with 100 mules. (118-9)
Antoine is not mentioned in the remainder of the expedition, though it can be assumed that as interpreter and guide he was central to these encounters. The force captured a group of Mexicans leading 500 horses to the Mexican army, and so gained new mounts to facilitate the remainder of their passage. There small company of little more than a hundred men gained the main route to San Diego by December 5th, at which time the enemy forces, guarding all passes, had discovered their entrance. "It was therefore deemed necessary to attack the enemy, and force a passage. About 2 o'clock a.m., the call to horse was sounded." Marching some nine miles in the morning darkness over hilly country, the baggage train and part of the scientific team were left behind.
By the fourth of December, after a hard journey, they met a small force of thirty-five volunteers under Marine Captain Gillespie, Lieutenant Edward Beale and Midshipman James Duncan, carrying the famous 4 pound brass "Sutter Gun." This party bore news that Californio resistance lay ahead "9 miles distant" of Kearny's army and was blocking all the routes. The Americans were itching for a battle, and Kit Carson had assured them that the Californians would not put up much resistance. Without any alternative route on the main road to San Diego, a straight-forward attack, in the hope of surprise, was decided upon, and Lieutenant Hammond was sent out to reconnoitre the situation. George Pearce, who overheard the report of the the reconnaissance, gave this account in 1880:
"that as they neared some Indian huts at ....S. Pascual, the guide stopped them and called attention to a dim light in one of the huts, and told them that Pico and his men were occupying those huts; that Sergt. Williams and the guide (the same native Californian who had reported at Warner's rancho) absolutely went to the door of the hut and saw a number of men sleeping, and a lone Indian sitting by the fire. They beckoned the Indian without the hut, and while conversing with him, a small dog started barking at the Americans, and a sentinel hailed the main party, and the whole detachment instantly retreated....As they retreated they distinctly heard the shouts of the enemy "Biva California"!' (Bancroft, 431, footnote)
Thus, the reconnaissance failed in the sense that it gave away the advantage of surprise. The party returned by 2 A. M. to report a force of about 80 strong encamped at San Pasqual and the call to horse was immediately given. Pico had just arrived at San Pascual with a force of about 80 Californios. Pico apparently only expected to encounter Gillespie's small force. A sentry was awakened by a barking before midnight--it was cold and rainy-- and he called out "Quien vive?" but received no reply. He saw retreating forms, and a party sent out to reconnoiter found a U. S. blanket and the trail of the Americans. The Californios horses had been left to graze, and they were immediately rounded up. "At early dawn, however, on the 6th, the near approach of the Americans was announced; and hardly could the Californians mount their horses, lance in hand, before the advance guard of the foe was seen riding at full speed down the hill upon them" (Bancroft, 343)
The order of march was as follows: Captain Johnston commanded an advanced guard of twelve dragoons mounted on the best horses; close behind was General kearny with lieutenants Emory and Warner of the engineers, and four or five of their men. Next came Captain Moore and Lieutenant Hammond with about fifty dragoons, mounted, many of them on mules, followed by captains Gillespie and Gibson with twenty volunteers of the California battlaion. Lieutenant Davidson was next in the line, in charge of the two howitzers, with a few dragoons to manage the guns, which were drawn by mules. Finally, the rest of the force, between fifty and sixty men, brough up the rear under Major Swords, protecting the baggage and protected by Gillespie's field-piece. (343-4
Antoine Robidoux and Kit Carson were apparently of the advance guard commanded by Captain Johnston. By their arrival at San Pasqual, before sunrise, this column had become scattered out over a great distance on the road. Their animals were exhausted and stiff--half-unbroken. The men were soaked in the rain and the cold was "intense." As the advance party approached the village, they immediately went into a charge upon the barely visible enemy, even before the Generals group could come up. "Seeing less than twenty horsemen coming down the hill, the Californians made a stand, discharged the few muskets and pistols they had, and with lances ready received the shock of the advancing dragoons. Johnston fell dead with a musket-ball through his fore-head, and another Dragoon was severely wounded. As the two sides clashed, Kearny's party soon appeared, and Pico's Californios beat a quick retreat.
Seeing this, Captain Moore called his men to charge the retreating force, "and was followed by all that had come up". The force of this second charge was lost when the soldiers again became stretched out over the field. "No order was observed in the pursuit; all rushed onward pell-mell, each urging his animal at full speed." (Bancroft, 345)
"after running half a mile, more or less, to ground more favorable for cavalry evolutions, and noting the line of pursuers extending with frequent and irregular intervals far to the rear, Don Andres' suddenly wheeled his column and rushed back to meet the Americanos. The conflict, though brief, was terrible. Kearny's men derived but slight benefit from their fire-arms, either because the rain had rendered them useless, or because most of them had been discharged at long range upon the flying foe. It was sabre against lance--sabres and clubbed guns in the hands of dragoons and volunteers mounted on stupid mules or half-broken horses against lances, the enemy's favorite weapons, in the hands of the world's most skilful horsemen. The Americans fought with desperate valor against heavy odds and with fearful loss of life; and they stood their ground." (Bancroft, 345)
Lieutenant Emory's report of the battle is as follows:
When within a mile of the enemy, whose force was not known to us, his fires shown brightly. The general and his party were in advance, preceded only by the advanced guard of twelve men under Captain Johnston. He ordered a trot, then a charge, and soon we found ourselves engaged in a hand to hand conflict with a largely superior force.
....As day dawned, the smoke cleared away, and we commenced collecting our dead and wounded. We found 18 of our officers and men were killed on the field, and 13 wounded. Amongst the killed were Captains Moore and Johnston, and Lieutenant Hammond of the 1st dragoons. The general, Capt. Gillespie, Capt. Gibson, Lieut. Warner and Mr. Robideau badly wounded.
Moore died first in the second charge, lanced through the body. Antoine Robdioux had received three lance wounds in the back. Historical reconstructions of the battle suggest that Antoine was lanced in the second charge, one that included the wounding of General Kearny just prior to Antoine's wounding, when a group of about 45 of the dragoons became surrounded by a superior force of the Californian lancers. Almost all the wounds in the battle were received by lance. General Kearny's account is brief:
We approached the enemy (one hundred and sixty,) at San Pasqual, who was ready in the saddle, when Captain Johnston made a furious charge upon them with his advance guard, and in a short time after supported by the dragoons; soon after which the enemy gave way, having kept up, from the beginning, a continual fire upon us. Upon the retreat of the enemy, Captain Moore led off rapidly in pursuit, accompanied by the dragoons, mounted on horses, and was followed, though slowly, by the others on their tired mules: the enemy were mounted, and among the best horsemen in the world; after retreating about half a mile, and seeing an interval between Captain Moore with his advance and the dragoons coming in support, rallied their whole force, charged with their lancers, and, on account of their greatly superior numbers, but few of us in front remained untouched; for five minutes they held the ground from us, when our men coming up, we again drove them, and they fled the field, not to return to it, which we occupied and encamped upon.
There were estimated to be about thirty-eight casualties of an actual fighting force of less than fifty. Eighteen Americans were killed immediately. Nineteen were severely wounded, and three more died later on.
Hammond is said to have received the thrust that caused his death in a few hours while trying to save Moore. Gillespie, a skilful swordsman, fought bravely, but was unhorsed and left for dead on the field with three lance-wounds in his body. Warner also received three wounds; while Kearny escaped with two. Gibson of the battalion was seriously wounded, and Robidoux, the guide, more seriously.
Though the Mexicans reported only eleven wounded and no death, eyewitness accounts tend to agree that many more than this suffered death or severe wounds. General Kearny claimed in his report that "The number of their dead and wounded must have been considerable, though I have no means of ascertaining how many, as just previous to their final retreat they carried off all excepting six." The actual extent of the Californios casualties has remained has remained unconfirmed.
Henry Turner left another account of the battle, which he wrote in his succinct and concise style in a letter to his wife dated December 21st, 1846:
On the evening of December 5th, when within about 50 miles of this place, we learned that about 160 of the enemy were encamped six miles from us; Lt. Hammond with a few Dragoons was sent to make a reconnaissance; they returned about one o'clock on the morning of the 6th, and reported that the enemy were in considerable force, and that the information in relation to their numbers and whereabouts was correct; It was immediately determined to attack them; and saddling up we reached their camp just at dawn of day: Captain Abraham Robinson Johnston who had command of the advance guard made a furious charge on them when within a quarter of a mile of them; the enemy having discovered Lt. Thomas C. Hammond's reconnoitering party a few hours before, were all in the saddle and ready to receive us. Capt. Johnston's guards were followed by Capt. Benjamin D. Moore's Dragoons with the General and his staff at their head. The enemy fired into us several vollies as we approached; Capt. Johnston was shot in the head at the first volley and fell dead from his horse. After firing a few vollies at us the enemy fled and was pursued by Capt. Moore and about 40 Dragoons, accompanied by the General and his staff, the major portion of the Dragoons being mounted on the broken down mules which we had brought in from New Mexico, were scarcely able to do more than keep in sight of the party headed by Capt. Moore. After pursuing the enemy about half a mile at full speed and becoming separated frmt he body of our command, he discovered the small force who were in pursuit, and about 150 charged upon us, and did terrible execution with their lances; this struggle lasted about 15 minutes, fighting each man hand to hand with his antagonist. We finally beat them off the second time; they fled leaving us in possession of the field. Then came the painful task of collecting our dead and wounded. (145)
It has proven to be California's bloodiest battle, given the small size of the actual forces involved. It has also proven to be one of the most historically controversial battles ever fought. Apparently, the powder of the Dragoons rifles was wet from the previous rain, snapping and sputtering ineffectually--with only swords and rifle-butts, on half-shod mounts and mules, the Californians had a superior advantage of better mounts, skilled horsemanship, long lances and greater numbers. Kit Carson's terse account appears an accurate and simple description of the events of that fateful day:
I was now ordered to join Captain Johnston, who had fifteen men under his command. We were ordered to proceed in advance of our troops, our chief objective being to get the animals belonging to the Californians. Captain Moore, with part of two companies of dragoons and a party of twenty-five volunteers who had come from San Diego, was ordered to attack the main body of the enemy. They resisted only about ten or fifteen minutes and then retreated.
When we were within one hundred yards of their camp, my horse fell and threw me, and my rifle was broken into two pieces. I barely escaped being trodden to death, since I was in advance and the whole command had to pass over me. I finally saved myself by crawling out of the way. I then ran on about one hundred yards to where the fight had commenced. I saw a dead dragoon and taking his gun and cartridge box I joined in the mele'e. Captain Johnston and two or three of the dragoons had been killed. The Californians then retreated, pursued by Captain Moore for about three-quarters of a mile. About forty of Moore's men were mounted on horses and the balance on mules.
....In the pursuit, the command had become very much scattered. The enemy, perceiving their opportunity, wheeled and cut off the forty that were in advance, killing or wounding thirty-six of them. Among the slain were Captain Moore and Lieutenant Hammond. General Kearny was severely wounded and nearly every other officer of his command was wounded.
Lieutenant Davidson, who was in charge of the two howitzers, now came up, but before he could do anything all of his men were killed or wounded. The enemy also captured one of his guns by lassoing the horse which drew it, fastening the lasso to the saddle and then running off with it. They hauled it about three hundred yards and then endeavored to fire it at us, but without success..."
Years after the event, there was given an eyewitness account of the daughter of the chief of the San Pasqual indians whose village was the scene of the battle:
...one morning we heard the sound of voices shouting on the mountain side towards Santa Maria. Clouds hung low so at first we could see nothing but some figures of men like shadows came riding down the mountain. They were soldiers wearing coats of blue...The Mexican soldiers were sitting on their horses holding their long lances in their hands. They now rode swiftly to meet the soldiers in blue and soon there came the sound of battle. The Indians in great fear fled to the mountains. We hid behind brush and rocks and watched. One of our men who had lived at the Mission told us that the strange soldiers from the hills were Americans and that they were fighting to take land away from the Mexicans. The Mexicans had not been good to the Indians so we were not sorry to see the new soldiers come against them. At first there were only a few of the American soldiers who came down the mountain and there were many Mexicans so the battle went hard. Some of the Americans were killed and some wounded. Then more of their men came from the mountain and the Mexicans were driven away. We saw them ride down the valley and wait behind a hill. Soon we saw the Americans moving down the valley. When they came near the place where the Mexicans were hiding there was more fighting and we trembled as we watched. The Americans did not shoot their guns many times. Perhaps rain had made the powder wet. They struck with their guns and used the sword while the Mexicans used the long lances and their reatas. The mules that the Americans rode were frightened and ran all through the willows by the river. After them rode the Mexicans on their swift horses, striking with the lances and lassooing with the reata. It was a very terrible thing. As the hours passed we crept nearer and nearer to the valley. There was little shooting so we were not afraid of bullets...Towards evening another company of Americans that must have been far behind came to the fighting place. Then the Mexicans rode away and the American soldiers had time to look for their dead and wounded.
The total American force was reduced by more than a third of their total number, they were without rations, exhausted, their horses were dead. Unable to carry the dead, they were interred secretly that night beneath a willow tree.
They spent the first night upon a hill in a defensible but uncomfortable position. Dawn arrived to a tattered force with the enemy pickets and forces arranged in front of them. They consolidated their forces, and with the wounded conveyed as comfortably as possible in the center, they resumed their attack of the enemy position. The enemy retired as they advanced, until they arrived at San Barnardo Rancheria, where they watered their horses and found a chicken and some cattle. They then turned toward the dry river bed in front of the enemy, in search of better fodder for their horses.
About a mile toward a river, a "cloud of cavalry" approached from their rear and took up defensive position to their front. "Thirty or forty of them got possession of the hill, and it was necessary to drive them from it. This was accomplished by a small party of six or eight, upon whom the Californians delivered their fire; and strange to say, not one of our men fell. The capture of the hill was then but the work of a moment, and when we reached the crest, the Californians had mounted their horses and were in full flight." (171)
They halted for the night, to tend the sick and wounded whom they found impossible to safely convey in the open before the enemy forces. The next morning, December 8th, the Mexican commander parlayed a truce with Emory in order to exchange prisoners. "Early on the 8th a man arrived from Pico's camp with a flag of truce, bringing sugar and tea, and a change of clothing sent by a friend for Gillespie, and a proposition to exchange four prisoners just captured." (Bancroft, 349) A first party was sent to San Diego the first night to bear news and send for relief, which they reached on the 7th of December, but they were captured by Pico's forces on their return. The second party, with Beale and Kit Carson, was sent on the night of the 8th, again to call for relief, and they succeeded in slipping through the enemy lines and reaching San Diego at night on the 9th, just as the relief party was leaving.
The wounded still not in a condition to move, which effort would have required one half of the remaining forces, they remained at their position that night. On the 9th, they remained on the hill, and one man more, Sargeant Cox, died from his wounds.
The observations made to-night give for the latitude of this camp, 33 degrees 03'42", and the longitude 117 degrees 03'29".
Don Antonio Robideaux, a thin man of fifty-five years, slept next to me. The loss of blood from his wounds, added to the coldness of the night, 28 degrees Fahrenheit, made me think he would never see daylight, but I was mistaken. He woke me to ask if I did not smell coffee, and expressed a belief that a cup of that beverage would save his life, and that nothing else would. Not knowing there had been any coffee in camp for many days, I supposed a dream had carried him back to the cafes of St. Louis and New Orleans, and it was with some surprise I found my cook heating a cup of coffee over a small fire of wild sage. One of the most agreeable little offices performed in my life, and I believe in the cook's, to whom the coffee belonged, was, to pour this precious draught into the waning body of our friend Robideaux. His warmth returned and with it hopes of life. In gratitude he gave me, what was then a great rarity, the half of a cake made of brown flour, almost black with dirt, and which had, for greater security, been hidden in the clothes of his Mexican servant, a man who scorned ablutions. I ate more than half without inspection, when, on breaking a piece, the bodies of several of the most loathsome insects were exposed to view. My hunger, however, overcame my fastidiousness, and the morceau did not appear particularly disgusting until after our arrival at San Diego, when several hearty meals had taken off the keenness of my appetite, and suffered my taste to be more delicate.
The next day, the 10th of December, the enemy attacked their encampment, driving a band of wild horses in front of them. They turned the animals off, and managed to kill two horses which they made into a "gravy-soup". All but two of the wounded recovered to the point of being able to ride horses, so they waited to set off the next morning to reattack the enemy. Early in the morning, of the 11th, Kearny had decided to resume his march, just when a column of 80 to 100 sailors and eighty to 120 marines sent from San Diego under the command of Lieutenant Gray joined their camp and gave them some relief. The Mexicans, by now reinforced with new forces, but seeing no chance of successful attack on the reinforced Americans, had fled before them, even leaving their mounts and cattle behind. The column marched on into San Diego without further incident.
The wounded were loaded aboard a Navy boat in the harbor, possibly the Congress, and were conveyed to Monterey, to a military post where Antoine was honorably discharged, in the month of April or May of 1847. Joseph Robidoux forwarded $300 for his return boat passage to St. Joseph via Peru, Jamaica, and New Orleans.
In November of 1847, Antoine Robidoux shipped passage on board the schooner Commodore Shubrick. On board were Ned Kern and his friend Henry King, one of the famous Kern brothers who would later accompany Fremont on his fourth, disastrous expedition, Gunnison on his ill-fated expedition, as well as other expeditions in the Southwest.
"With them on the ship was Antoine Robidoux, trapper, trader, and scout, who had also served Fremont in the conquest. The three men were already acquainted, and the long voyage, during which they could take turns damning fate and the government for making them bear their own expenses home, would bring them closer. But the net time Edward was to see San Francisco eight years later, Henry King would have died not far from Ned's side, Antoine Robidoux would be blind and paralyzed, and the transformation of Yerba Buena would leave him familiar with little more than the sea and the fog. (Hine, 47)
The period of his life from Spring of 1847 to April 3, 1855, has been regarded has a unknown hiatus in his biographical record. Obituaries in Missouri placed him in California until 1854 and then a year in New Mexico. It is possible he was in Wyoming for part of that time. It can be presumed that the remainder of 1847-8 were spent in St. Joseph in recuperation of his wounds. Declarations made by Antoine in connection to his settlements claim that he was a resident of St. Joseph.
That he was no doubt close to the St. Joseph sphere of things is evidenced by Edward Kern's letter to Antoine Robidoux dated February 11th, 1849, which was originally published in the St. Joseph Gazette. Edward Kern had befriended Robidoux will on board the schooner on their passage from California in late 1847 and early 1848. The letter was published in the Missouri Statesman on April 27, 1849 and is introduced: "To Mr. A. robidoux of this place, we are indebted for the following letter from Mr. Kern...
TO ANTOINE ROBIDOUX
TAOS, NEW MEXICO Feb. 11th, 1849.
My Dear Robidoux: I arrived at this place last evening from Rio Colorado, from about as hard a trip and as total destruction of an expedition as possible. As rumors will reach you I thought it would be as well to give you some little correct information on the subject, though my time will scarcely allow of anything like detail
As far as Bent's we met with no obstacles or loss and everything bade fair to give us a tolerable pleasant trip, considering the season. Our animals were in good condition; and procuring corn at Hard Scrabble for the worst part of the road, we calculate passing the mountains with success. Old Bill was with us as a guide, and that of course gave confidence, supposing none so capable as he to carry us through. Leaving Hard Scrabble, we continued up its creek into the mountains. As we advanced the snow increased. Cross the first range we fell upon the waters of the Wappanah, passing through the mountains to the Del Norte by your old wagon road--the snow still increasing.
We continued a couple of days on the Del Norte, and then turned up what Williams called your pass on to the Compadne. In this he was evidently mistaken, for a worse road I never saw. If you ever got over it with wagons, I should like to have seen the operation. We went on up the canon, our animals failing and the snow deepening every step we took, biding fair, as it subsequently turned out, to defeat our crossing. On the 15th of December we attempted to cross what we supposed to be the dividing ridge between the St. Johns and the waters of the Del Norte, but were driven back by the storm. The next day we returned to it again, and were successful enough to get on the other side to a small clump of pines. We unpacked our animals on a bare point and drove them to the hill-top in hopes of their finding sufficiency of food for a day, as the snow had drifted from it in places. From this hill they never came again; the storm continuing, and having no shelter, they perished. Camp then commenced making portages, in hopes of reaching the river. This you may suppose was a severe undertaking in the cold, and no positive hopes ahead of reaching any place, even should we have been able to get out our effects. By hard labor we worked our way gradually down. On the 26th, King was sent ahead with Old Bill to Abaque to bring us relief, while we were continuing down. On the 11th of January, he not arriving, the Colonel became anxious and started with his mess and Godey in hopes of meeting the relief party. Our provisions had given out, and we were living on parfleshes and tug ropes. Already Proulx had perished from hunger and exposure.
On the 16th, all having reached the river, we made our little packs of bedding and with our rifles started for--God only knew where. Here commenced our greatest suffering. The company had for its head Vincut Hatter, about as contemptible and cowardly a fellow as ever walked: his own lack of courage quickly diffused itself among the men--so you may suppose how things went on. Probably up to the 27th we had lost nine men. Our mess and another had made our final camp. We were blind from the snow and unable to see the sights of our rifles. A dead wolf was all we had to sustain life among nine men. I had closed all my affairs, and felt that a day or two more would end my troubles, when, about noon on the 28th, we heard and shout, and Godey entered camp. Here ended our troubles. King's party who had been found by him on the way down on the 16th. Poor King had died from exhaustion somewhere about the 9th; the rest were in a miserable condition--frozen and partly crazed. They had given up all hopes of returning to us with relief.
Thus had ended the expedition,--commenced, so far as outfit was concerned, under as flattering prospects as ever one started. The loss in dollars has amounted to over 10,000--in life 10. My brothers and myself will winter somewhere in this vicinity, and return home early in the spring, when I shall pay you a visit at your pleasant town of San Jose.
Adios, NED KERN
It is evident, that he was also upon the trail again as early as Spring, 1849, and it can be assumed that he was a member of the Robidoux complex at Scott's Bluff, along with his brothers Mitchel, Francis, Isadore and his nephews Joseph E., possibly a second Antoine and Sellico, leading caravans and guiding emigrant groups along this route between St. Joseph and Scott's bluff.
Antoine Robidoux is mentioned by name leading a "Robidoux train" through the area in 1849. A. McCall, in his "The Great California Trail in 1849" notes the following. On Saturday, May 12, "all those who were to travel together under the guidance of Antonio Robidaux, met in solemn council at 12 p.m., by appointment, to perfect their organization. They numbered one hundred and twenty five representive men, embracing all the professions, farmers, mechanics and merchants. They may have been a little luny on one subject,but evidently were respectable and intelligent. They had thirty-five wagons, with from two to four yoke of oxen to each; besides a few horses for the saddle." (17) These men adopted a plan of organization for the train. The first article of the plan was that the "organization shall be designted as the "Robidaux Train." There prospective guide, Antoine, joined them three days later, belated, just to the west of St. Joseph.
Tuesday, May 15--News came that our guide was coming up by forced marches and it was concluded to hold the train. About ten o'clock he reached our encampment and pitched his tent. It being cool and cloudy, sometimes threatening rain, it was thought best not to move at all. We had been told that Robidaux, the guide, intended to take out his family, but all that seemed to be with him was a son, a lad of eighteen, slightly dusky in hue, a horse and a dog, with the driver of his team. This may constitute his family--his wives may be awaiting him at some way station. He was a tall genteel looking personage, a descendant of one of the old French voyageurs in St. Louis. He had been all his life engaged in the Indian trade, once had a trading post on one of the branches of the Green River, and had journeyed several times to the Pacific. He bore the sobriquet of the "Prairie Wolf." He was dangerously wounded at the battle of San Pasqual, during the Mexican war. His acquaintance with the country and his experience in mountain travel was supposed to be of great advantage to us. We were to pay him for his services one dollar and a half each, one half down and the balance at the end of the journey. I was detailed for guard duty tonight. (19)
Wednesday, May 16-- We are now already for a bold push ahead. By seven o'clock the order of march was given, and the grand "Robidaux Train" rolled out of our encampment in fine order. Bidwell at the head, our team next and thirty-four following in the rear, while the guards rode or walked by their sides with fire-locks on their shoulders. It was really an imposing cavalcade and one well able to resist the attack of any force the Indian might bring against us. (20)
The California-Oregon trail by 1849 had become very well traveled. They encountered hundreds of other wagons along the way, and the conditions of the Robidoux train were straining for many of the emigrants. By June 9th, just past Ash Hollow, it was evident that many of the emigrants were discontent with their progress, which they partly blamed on Antoine:
There were some cool showers in the forepart of the day. The trail was very sandy, causing the teams heavy work. The grass seemed to be all gone and the bold bluffs gave no promises of a supply. The morning's work had caused much grumbling and dissatisfaction. It seemd to be conceded that our guide was of no service. He could not tell where grass could be found where more than ten thousand head of cattle had pastured.
It had been several years since he had passed over the ground, and many changes had taken place, so that he knew little more of the present state of the country than ourselves. Dudley drove out of the line of the old train, and we followed him until just before night, and selected a camping place for ourselves. Thus quitting the Robidoux train, a small company of wagons set out on their own across the plains. By the following Tuesday, June 12th, just before Scott's Bluffs, this company again had camped the previous night nearby McCall's smaller group, and that morning "Dr. Budden, the camp master, with three wagons, drew out from the train and joined us. We found the road quite bad--muddy and sandy, making our progress slow and laborious." (35) On June 17th, just before Fort Laramie, "Our old Robidaux train passed our encampment on their way to the Fort, where it expected to camp for the night. The hills about us looked barren and desolate, but the valleys produce fine grass." (38)
There is no clear reason to doubt either the authenticity or the accuracy of this account. While it may be interpreted in almost any manner we may wish, in lieu of any clear contravening evidence, it must be taken at face value as an accurate, almost complete description of Antoine Robidoux, placing him not in California and not in St. Joseph, but along the first half of the Oregon trail bound for California with a wagon, a young teenage boy who is possibly a half-breed and a driver.
It is not known if he accompanied this train or some other as far as the Green River crossing, but he is found there on July 15th, 1849, by one Augustus Ripley Burbank, according to Dr. Coutant's Annals of Wyoming:
July 15. Sabbath. I felt quite restored from my exhausted state of crossing the Desert. We commenced crossing the river at half past 11 o.c.k. (our opportunity having just offered) in a few hours all was over & our tents pitched on the wetern bank--The river is some 400 feet wide & a swift mountain Stream-- occasional Groves & Islands of Cottonwood, with wild sage make the wood privilege. Grass is very good on the west side (we grazed 3 miles up the valley). We are now in the country of the Snake Indians, which is said to extend to Ft. Hall. I saw some of them sick today. Mr. Rubadore of St. Joseph, Mo. I saw lying sick in the tent of a frenchman, whom has one or more Indian wives. Mr. R. was aged (agued). This day I regret to say was to some extent spent by us in toil. I heard almost continually our Lords name profaned & Liquor was pored down mens throats freely." (191)
It is possible that Antoine made his way all the way back to California in 1849, though he apparently suffered a great deal along the way. According to Bancroft, who appears to have accurately and thoroughly accounted for all early arrivals of California pioneers, "He (Antoine Robidoux) came with Kearny as a guide from N. Mex., and was severely wounded at S. Pasqual. Going east in '47 he came back after '49 to remain until '54. From about '56 he lived at St. Joseph, Mo.--founded by his brother--where he died in '60 at the age of 66." (698)
Though few records have surfaced yet indicating his last sojourn in California, especially in connection with his brother Louis's ranch, it is apparent that he actually did take the California trail in 1849 and ended up somewhere in California--perhaps first in Monterey or Yerba Buena. It is possible that Antoine, accompanying the 1849 train of California Emigrants, may have made his way to Gold country to become a placer miner there. This would have been in keeping with what is known of his character and his life, and of previous commentary he had made in this regard.
A letter to H. M. Nimmo in California from Abel Stearns, written in February, 1850, mentioned in reference to the Placerito Fields at Rancho San Francisco, that "miners are averaging from $11 to $20 a day--Antoine Robideaux has gone out with an assortment of merchandise and thinks the San Fernando mines will prove equal to any in the south." (Cleland, 1952: 147)
He may have been both supplying miners with merchandise, and mining himself, in the fields near what is now Newhall, California. It is unknown during this period if he ever visited his brother Louis at the Jurupa, but it is likely that he probably did. There has still been a period of about five years then which were unaccounted for in his life. If he was not in California, it is not clear that he was in Missouri or in Santa Fe either.
One piece of documentary evidence exists suggesting that he may have made his way back along the Oregon-California trail and started a road-ranch somewhere in the vicinity of Devil's Pass in Wyoming Territory. This would probably have been in about 1851-1852, at about the time when the Robidoux family withdrew their active interests in the Scott's Bluffs post. Sometime in late June, 1852, Capt. J. C. Terrell mentioned while encamping beyond Devil's Gate: "I bought a mare pony from Mr. Rheubadeau of St. Jo., the very hardiest animal I ever saw, foaled in these mountains; she did not know grain, and kept fat--a natural pacer." (Terrell, 1906:85)
Though Terrell did not give the exact location of this transaction, he previously mentioned "opening a store" near Devil's Gate to barter goods along the trail. He also mentions Archambeaux with an Indian wife, who had a "store in twenty rods of us." (ibid., 85). Subsequent queries in this area by the author brought to surface several interesting and possibly related bits of evidence that suggests that Antoine had Metis offspring in this region and was operating a Road-ranch there. I was fortunate to speak with a known descendant of "Uncle Jack Robinson" who related to me the details of Robinson's early post on Black's fork. Robinson's family had been in continual residence of this region since the earliest days. He reported having seen a fort site near the Green River on the Northern slope of the Uintahs. He also reported having known an "Antoine Robidoux" who had worked for the BLM out of Rawlins, Wyoming. This suggests that for at least a year or two, between 1852 and 1854, Antoine returned to this area, what I estimate to be between Lander near South Pass, and out to the Green River area, where he and his half-breed children and possibly other Robidouxs, operated a Road-ranch where they bred ponies and traded with the Indians and the pioneers coming through the area.
It is evident that, by the time of his death, he longed to return to Santa Fe to spend the remainder of his years It is apparent that by 1854, Antoine, nearly crippled and blind, would be unable to continue with his life's work, and it is apparent that he must have retired after that back to St. Joseph to live nearby or with his brother Joseph, and with his legitimate wife and their adopted granddaughter. By 1855, he was making appeals to the government for compensation for his war wounds. He made a declaration on April 3, 1855 for a bounty land claim available to veterans as a result of a Congressional Act of March 3rd, 1855. This declaration was forwarded by Antoine's acting attorney, George Hall, to the President's Commissioner of Pensions. Antoine appeared to be eligible for a pension, and he drew up a second declaration containing Antoine's doctors affidavit concerning his physical condition as the result of his wounding at San Pasqual:
I hereby certify that Antoine Robidoux who makes the foregoing declaration, is disabled from obtaining his subsistance by manual labor, in consequence of a severe lance wound. By satisfactory evidence and accurate examination it appears that on the 6th of December A.D. 1846, that the said Antoine Robidoux being engaged in actual service in the line of his duty at the battle of San Pasqual, received a severe lance wound in the "Lumbar region." The point of the lance probably penetrating through the Lumbar nerves to a point about the second Lumbar vertibra--the effect of which is now and has been since the reception of said wound a partial Paralysis (of temporary duration) upon any excitement occasioned by extraordinary exertion or fatigue--to render him entirely unable to make a support for himself and family by manual labor in the opinion of the undersigned.
I. H. Crane M.D.
That Antoine's declaration was prompted by the onset of his blindness, and not his paralytic condition, is revealed in the appeal written by his old associate from Santa Fe, David Waldo, two weeks later in a letter on Antoine's behalf to the Commissioner of Pensions. This letter is congruent with the opinion that he continued in his trade until the last possible moments, and that his blindness prevented him from further involvement in trading activities.
An old friend of mine Antoine Robidoux applied through Mr. George Hall of St. Joseph, Mo., about the 1st inst. for a pension on account of wounds received at the battle of San Pasqual in California under General Kearny.
Mr. Robidoux is now blind, has a family extremely helpless, and really & trully much in need of the Pension. His life from his boyhood has mostly been spent in the Mountains & has on many occasions rendered important services to his country, further I know that now at this distant day he suffers much from the wound received in the above battle.
I am well assured, when you are convinced of the situation of Mr. Robidoux, that you will at once accord to him which now is & will continue to be the main support of his declining years. He was restrained from motives of an ever sensitive nature from applying for his pension while he was blessed with his eye-sight to support himself & family, but now deprived of his last resort, he is forced to throw himself upon the benefit of our laws, which you so faithfully administer.
Apparently, Antoine heard no reply for nine months, and then traveled to Washington D. C. where no one avowed having any knowledge of his applications. He appealed to his congressman, John Phelps, for assistance in the matter, who then called at the office of the Secretary of War, Mr. Jefferson Davis. The following message was relayed to Jefferson by the secretary:
The Hon. J. S. Phelps called with a view of seeing the Secretary on the subject of making the enclosed application of A. Robidoux a special case. The engagement of the Secretary prevented his seeing him, and he left the papers with a request that it might be laid before the Sec.
He states that Robidoux is now in the City, old, infirm & blind, on his way to Phila. with a view of obtaining if possible some relief of the latter infirmity. He thought an application had been made last Spring and expected to get his pmt. but finds that no such application can now be found and as an old Indian, trapper & hunter and one whose life has been directed to the frontier service, asks in his old age that the bounty of the Government may be made subservient Now to his wants and necessities.
C.S.F. (Wallace, 42-3)
While in Washington, Antoine engaged another attorney for a fresh attempt and made a third declaration, which document makes reference both to his service in the Army in 1813 and again in 1846. (Wallace, 44-5) Then Antoine traveled to New York to visit Thomas Swords, the quarter-master who served with him in the Mexican war, and whom he got to write another letter testifying to his service. He returned to Washington in June of 1856, where he learned that his application for bounty land had been rejected, based upon the lack of sufficient evidence for his military service. Before this date, on May 23, 1856, the House of Representatives attached to bill no. 196 Antoine Robidoux's honorable discharge, the contents of which was presented in the O. M. Robidoux text (pages: 198-9):
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
34th Congress Report
1st Session No. 157
To accompany bill H. R. No. 196
May 23, 1856
Mr. Lumpkin, from the committee on invalids' pensions, made the following report:
The committee on invalid's pensions, to whom was referred the petition of Antoine Robidoux, beg leave to submit the following report. That Antoine Robidoux was on or about June 9th, 1846, employed by Brigadier General Kearney as Spanish interpreter and continued in actual service about ten months.
That he was discharged honorably at Monterey, in California in the month of April or May, 1847. That while in the actual discharge of his duty he received a severe lance wound at the battle of San Pasqul, from which he has ever since been disabled. His attending physician, a man of good reputation as a surgeon in his profession, testifies that the effect of the lance wound is now and has been since the reception of said wound, such as to render him entirely unable to make support for himself and family by manual labor.
The committee, therefore, recommend that the prayer of the petitioner be granted and beg leave to report back to the house Bill No. 196 and recommend its passage.
On July 7th, 1856, the Third Auditor's Office, Department of the Treasury, notified the Commissioner of Pensions that a reexamination of records disclosed that Antoine had served under Captain Charles Lucas in the War of 1812 from April 22 to May 21, 1813. Antoine filed a "Supplementary Declaration" on July 7th and two weeks later received "Bounty-Land Warrant No. 32 986 for 160 acres of land. It was then a simple matter for Congressman Phelps to put through Congress, on August 23, a Special Act of Congress for the Relief of Antoine Robidoux. Pension jacket No. 8 533, August 23, 1856, states "Antoine Robedaau (sic). Interpreter to General Kearny of the Army of the West. Inscribed on the Roll of Washington at 16.66 Dollars per month, to commence on the 1st December, 1855. Certificate of Pension issued the 27th of August 1856 and set to Hon. John S. Phelps, H. of R." (Wallace 58)
On August 12th, 1856, Joseph E. Heywood reported meeting Antoine Robidoux in August of that year in Washington D. C. He wrote in his diary that he "had an interesting conversation with Mr. Antoine Robidoux who went to the Rocky Mountains in 1820, settled in the Uintah Valley where he had a fort which he vacated in 1845 which was burned a few years since by Jim Baker, a mountaineer."
By that time, Antoine made it known that he would return to New Mexico for his remaining years. With his first pension payment received in Washington, D. C., he returned to St. Joseph for the winter. On March 3rd, 1857, he filed an "Application of Transfer" for his pension payments, stating his reasons for the return to New Mexico as the following: "The climate being to him more agreeable and the associates and friends of his early life being there and in the vicinity." On March 18th, 1857, he was taken to bed, where he remained as an invalid for the remainder of his years. In a letter to Edward Kern dated June 22nd. of that year, he reveals the breakdown of his health that precluded his return to New Mexico. The letter had been dictated to a scribe. In it, Antoine wrote "...I am sorry to say I am now down and have been for a long while confined, but am now down with a greater afflictions than ever in addition to the total loss of my eyes I am afflicted with dropsy."
It is supposed that Antoine lingered the last couple years of his life in St. Joseph. In 1856 "trapper Antoine Robidoux, then 62, was able to count only three living men from 300 he knew to have roamed the Rockies." (Time-Life "The Trail Blazers", 77). He died on August 29th, 1860, at the age of sixty-five years old. The St. Joseph Gazette published an obituary that included a memorial to him on that day:
"Obituary.--Departed this life, at his residence in this city, on Wednesday, the 29th day of August, 1860, after a long illness, Antoine Robidoux, in the sixty-sixth year of his age. Mr. Robidoux was born in the city of St. Louis, in the year 1794. He was one of the brothers of Mr. Joseph Robidoux, founder of the city of St. Joseph. He was possessed of a sprightly intellect and a spirit of adventure. When not more than twenty-two years of age he accompanied Gen. Atkinson to the then very wild and distant region of the Yellow Stone. At the age of twenty-eight he went to Mexico, and lived there fifteen years. He then married a very interesting Mexican lady, who returned with him to the States. For many years he traded extensively with the Navajoes and Apaches. In 1840 he came to this city with his family, and has resided here ever since. In 1845 he went out to the mountains on a trading expedition, and was caught by the most terrible storms, which caused the death of one or two hundred of his horses, and stopped his progress. His brother Joseph, the respectable founder of this city, sent to his relief and had him brought in, or he would have perished. He was found in a most deplorable condition, and saved. In 1846 he accompanied Gen. Kearney, as interpreter and guide, to Mexico. In a battle with the Mexicans he was lanced severely in three places, but he survived his wounds, and returned to St. Joseph in 1849. Soon after that he went to California, and remained until 1854. In 1855 he removed to New Mexico with his family, and in 185 he went to Washington, and remained there a year, arranging some business with the government. He then returned to St. Joseph, and has remained there ever since. Mr. Robidoux was a very remarkable man. Tall, slender, athletic and agile, he possessed the most graceful and pleasing manners, and an intellect of a superior order. In every company he was affable, graceful and highly pleasing. His conversation was always interesting and instructive, and he possessed many of those qualities which, if he remained in the States, would have raised him to positions of distinction. He suffered for several years before his death with a terrible soreness of the eyes, which defied the curative skill of the doctors: and for the past ten years he has been afflicted with dropsy. A week or two ago he was taken with a violent hemorrhage of the lungs, which completely prostrated him, and from the effects of which he never recovered. He was attended to by the best medical skill, and his wife and many friends were with him to the hour of his dissolution, which occurred on Monday morning, at four o'clock, at his residence in this city. He will be long remembered as a courteous, cultivated, agreeable gentleman, whose life was one of great activity and public usefulness, and whose death will long be lamented." (Burton, 75-6)
He was noted as tall and thin, with dark eyes and of a sensitive nature. He was apparently, like his brother Joseph, and inveterate gambler. He was a man of his time, not without faults. Undoubtedly he kept at least one squaw wife. He bought and sold Indian slaves on the Spanish market, and probably conducted illegal trade in whiskey and other contraband.
He was buried in the family lot at Calvary Cemetery in St. Joseph, his life almost forgotten. He was survived by his wife Carmel and adopted granddaughter, Amanda, both of whom returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Amanda married C. F. Stollsteimer, and Carmel, and Amanda and her new husband lived first at Del Norte, Colorado, and later at Durango. In Durango, Carmel engaged a law firm to inquire whether she could be the beneficiary of Antoine's pension. The result of this inquiry is unknown. Carmel died in 1888 at the age of 76 years old.
We must take seriously the challenge of fully appreciating the singular contribution of Antoine Robidoux to American history. As noted by Wallace, his initiative in the inter-montane corridor paved the way for the later development of the region. But he was, much like his compatriot Kit Carson, the living embodiment and paragon of the Mountain Man, and he was part of the creation of the legend that has become a vital part of the American character. He stands as few others at the helm of the advance of American Civilization across the frontier.
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 09/16/06