From: Lewiston Morning Tribune, Sunday, March 3, 1918, page 8.
To the Tribune--Will you please grant the space in your columns that I may inform your readers as to my early recollections of William Craig the trapper of the Rocky mountains, frontiersman and after whom Craig mountain was named. I first met Craig in the latter part of September, 1857. He was at The Dalles, Oregon, for the purpose of purchasing his winter supplies accompanied by several Nez Perce Indians, among them Chief Lawyer and Reuben. As I wanted to see the Walla Walla country, my cousin, Lloyd Brooke, of Vancouver, thought I would have an opportunity in so doing by joining Craig's party on his return trip to that country, so he gave me a letter of introduction to Craig which I tendered on my arrival at The Dalles.
Craig was the sub-Indian agent for the Nez Perces at that time and the agency was at Walla Walla. I was at The Dalles two days visiting the army officers stationed at the garrison. I was soon informed that Craig would not be able to return to the agency for several days and as I was anxious to proceed on my journey, I joined a party of Hudson Bay people who were on their way to Fort Colville and traveled with them as far as old Fort Walla Walla, now Wallula. I there severed my connection with the Hudson Bay people and proceeded to Cantonments Stevens in the Walla Walla valley, Occupied by two companies of the First Dragoons and two of the Ninth Infantry, U.S. army, under the command of Col. E. J. Steptoe. I was there nearly two months and saw a great deal of Craig nearly every day during my stay, and our intercourse with each other soon ripened into an ever lasting friendship.
In the fall of 1858 Craig was superseded by A.J. Cain as Indian agent for the Nez Perce Indians and the agency was at Cantonment Stevens, it being abandoned, and the U.S. troops were removed to the garrison built for them and now called Fort Walla Walla.
In the latter part of December, 1858, Mr. Cain received orders to move the agency on to the Nez Perce reservation, but it was not accomplished until the early spring of 1860. Craig then concluded that he would move to his old home on the Lapwal and I accompanied him also Jake Schultz. Nearly all of the old timers knew Jake, and that reminds me of a little incident that occurred in which Jake took a part. Craig had some hogs running up what is now called Mission creek. One evening Jake returned to the house and in a very excited manner accosted Craig, who was reading, and told him there was a cougar up the creek eating his hogs. Craig says: "Jake you ride back and tell that cougar I'll mess with him." The next morning the old man saddled his horse took his gun and dogs and went for Mr. Cougar, and it was not long until he returned with the hide of the cougar.
Craig was rather reticent as to his past life and not very communicative on that subject unless he was out in camp and then by the camp fire in the evening he became reminiscent and his stories and accounts of his exploits and travels in the mountains and on the plains were very interesting. There was no egotism in his recounting his exploits. He would invariably say, in speaking of his travels, "we" did so or "he" never "I."
It was in the fore part of the month of May, 1867, that Craig and a man by the name of Mike Mayer and myself took a trip to the headwaters of Potlatch creek for the purpose of hunting and prospecting. We departed from his old home at what is now called Jacques Spur on the Camas Prairie Railway and we intercepted the Clearwater river at Big Eddy, twenty-five miles above Lewiston, thence up the river to a point four miles above the present railway station at Lenore. It is not necessary to give any details as to our trip from there on; suffice to say we crossed the river and traveled in a northerly direction to the head-waters of the Potlatch, remained there several days, passing the time in prospecting, hunting and fishing. It was on this trip that I learned a great deal of Craig's past life.
He was born in the Old Dominion, as he loved to call his native state (Virginia) in Green Brier county about the year 1799 or 1800. At the age of eighteen he became involved in an altercation or quarrel with one much older than he was and was forced to kill him in self-defense. Being quite young and somewhat alarmed at his act he made his "getaway" and he found himself in time in the city of St. Louis. This city at that time was the emporium for the fur traders, trappers and frontiersmen of the northwest. Craig soon joined a party of French Canadians who were on the eve of starting up the Missouri river on a trading expedition and their mode of transportation was with bateaus which made it a long tedious journey. When near Fort Benton they encountered a party of trappers, their destination being the Rocky mountains. Craig severed his connections with the Canadians, joined the trappers, and in time became a full-fledged trapper and plainsman.
The main rendezvous for the trappers, and Indians also, was at Fort Bridger on Green River, now Wyoming. It was there that Craig first met the Nez Perces who told him of the quantities of beaver and other fur animals there were in the waters of their country.
In the fall of the year 1829, William Craig, Joe Meek and Rob't Newell accompanied a party of Nez Perces from the rendezvous to their country to engage in trapping on the waters of the Clearwater and Salmon. I never knew how long they remained in their new field of operations, probably not more than two seasons.
It was here among the Nez Perces that they got their Indian wives and accompanied by them they returned to their old haunts east of the Rocky mountains.
At one time Craig in his reminiscent mood told me that in the year 1832 or 1833 a party of mountaineers were organized on Green river, now in Wyoming, for the purpose ostensibly of trapping for furs on the waters flowing from the Sierra Nevada mountains into the Pacific ocean. In fact the object was to steal horses from the Spaniards residing in California. In this party was Joe Walker, the headman; Joe Meek, Joe Gale, Bill Williams, Mark Head, Bob Mitchel, Alex Godey, Antoine Janise, William Craig and some others.
When they camped on a stream where the water would admit they usually stripped at their tepees or lodges and proceeded to the stream to take a plunge.
Now Craig tells this story: "The waters of the Humbolt river are of a milky cast, not clear, so one afternoon while camped on the said stream and being the first to strip, I started for the swimming hole and was just about to plunge in when I got a hunch that things were not as they should be and I had better investigate before taking a dive. I did so and found the water was about a foot and a half deep and the mud four, this condition being in the eddy. So I waded to where there was a current and found the water a little more than waist deep, no mud and good smooth bottom. In looking towards the camp I espied Joe Walker coming and he was jumping like a buck deer, and when he arrived at the brink he says to me: 'How is it?' 'Joe,' I replied 'it is just splendid.' With that he plunged head-first into that four and a half feet of blue mud.
Fearing trouble and not being interested in the subsequent proceedings, I made myself scarce by hiding in the brush on the opposite side and in so doing I ran into some rose brier bushes and scratched myself some, but I was so full of laughter I did not mind that. I peeped through the bushes just in time to see him extricate himself from the mud. He then washed the mud off as well as he could, returned to the tepee, put on his clothes, shot his rifle off, cleaned it, then reloaded it and hollered at me and said: 'Now show yourself and I'll drop a piece of lead into you,' which I failed to do as I did not want to be encumbered with any extra weight especially at that time. I was compelled to remain in hiding nearly the whole afternoon. Before sundown I was told to come into camp and get my supper and leave, that I could not travel any further with that party.
I was very glad of the permit for it was rather monotonous out there in the brush with nothing but a blanket around me and nobody to talk to and my pipe in camp. I soon dressed myself and then it was time to chew. Our company was divided into messes and each mess was provided with a dressed buffalo hide. It was spread on the ground and the grub placed upon it. When supper was announced we sat down. I sat opposite to Walker and in looking at him I discovered some of that blue mud of the Humbolt on each side of his nose and just below his eyelids and I could not help laughing. He addressed me in an abrupt manner and said: 'What the h--l are you laughing at.' I told him that gentlemen generally washed before eating. With that the others observed the mud and they too roared with laughter in which Walker joined, but he threatened if ever I played another such trick on him he would kill me as sure as my name was Craig."
This place on the Humbolt river was ever afterward called by the mountain men. "Walker's Plunge," or "Hole." Craig says in this raid, Walker's party got away with five or six hundred head of the Spaniards horses and they drove them through what is now known as Walker's basin and Walker's pass of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is south of the Truckee pass where the Central Pacific railway now traverses. The most of these horses were traded to the different tribes of Indians they encountered for furs, buffalo robes and such other things as they wished to barter, especially the mares and colts. I think that this was the only means by which the Indians east of the Rocky mountains acquired their ponies. They evidently came from California and New Mexico, either stolen from or traded by the Spainards. The tribes on the west side of the Rockies secured their horses from the Pacific coast by trading or raiding.
I once questioned Craig as to the bravest of the frontiersmen. He told me that actually Bill Williams was the bravest and the most fearless mountaineer of all: that the tribes from the Mexican border to the Canadian know him and feared him thinking perhaps he was some supernatural being. He never trapped in company with anyone else, always alone. His furs were the best dressed and he received more for them. He could speak the dialects of several tribes, especially the Osages and was proficient in what is termed the sign talk among the Indians, that is with the hands, hence he could go among any of the tribes and make himself understood.
Craig told me at one time that a missionary preacher came among the Osages to preach the gospel and Williams was to do the interpreting for him. It seems that Williams at one time was a minister of the gospel previous to his becoming a trapper and he asked the missionary from what part of the bible he'd select his text. He was told it would be from the book of Jonah. Than said Williams, "I will advise you not to mention that fish story for you will not get one of these Indians to believe you, but if you insist in telling about the big fish do so and I'll interpret for you." The missionary got no further in his discourse than reading the text, for one old chief arose and pointing his finger at the preacher said: "We have heard several of the white people talk and lie, we know they will lie, but, that is the biggest lie we ever heard." Then he gathered his blanket around him and proceeded to his tepee followed by the others to their respective places of abode, leaving the missionary meditating on their conduct as predicted by Bill Williams. I am digressing from my subject, but the aforesaid story was told to me by Craig, hence I insert the same in writing my recollections of him.
The land on the Lapwai creek known as the Craig donation claim, was not donated by the government but by the Nez Perces. In the treaty of 1855 at Walla Walla between Governor J.J. Stevens of Washington territory on the part of the government on one side and the Nez Perces on the other, there was a stipulation in the said treaty that Craig or his heirs should have so much land (one section) on the reservation. I think this is on record in the department at Washington D.C. and Craig had the privilege of selecting it.
In 1862 I visited Craig who was then living on Mission creek, a half a mile from its junction with the Lapwai. After I had put up my horse he said to me: "See here Thomas, I am glad you came I have got some barley to deliver to Weingerber and Gamble at the brewery in Lewiston tomorrow and it will require two wagons to hold it all and I want someone to drive one of the teams." I told him I would assist him. He then proposed to load the wagons that evening so as to get an early start in the morning. He had two teams, one being mules. He asked me which I preferred. I told him either would be satisfactory. He then said: "I'll drive the mules." The next morning we had an early start and in due time arrived, delivered the barley, then put our teams up at the White Front stable. Craig went to the different stores to make his purchases, not forgetting Blue John (an appellation put on a one gallon blue keg) to have it replenished.
After dinner we went to the stable to hitch up and return home. While waiting for our teams to be harnessed he said to me: "See here, Thomas, I don't like this way of traveling." I knew what he meant so I told him I would hitch his mules to my wagon, it being the heaviest, put my horses in the lead and tie his wagon behind, then he could ride with me. This proposition was agreed on. I then hitched the mules to my wagon and drove to the different places where he had made his purchases. After collecting them I drove back to the stable hitched the other team in the lead and tied the other wagon behind mine and then started for home with Craig sitting beside me on my left.
We were traveling along very nicely until we arrived at Mulkey's orchard, since called Lindsay's orchard. Mulkey had constructed an irrigating ditch, the waters of which were taken out of what is now known as Lindsay creek and the road was on the edge of this ditch for some distance. I was driving along telling some story and not paying much attention to the team when suddenly one of the fore wheels went into the ditch and Craig and I parted company - he fell on his back into that ditch. He got out of it, pulled off his coat, shook the mud off of it, then made the remark that: "if that was the way I drove a team he'd be --- if he would ride with me." I told him it was optional. He got into the trail wagon and laid down on the empty barley sacks. I drove along whistling and singing and I never thought to look behind till I was half way down Soldier canyon; then I observed that I had a wagon missing and I didn't know how far back it was to where I lost it. I tied my team to some trees dropped the tugs and went back in search of the lost one. Just at the head of the canyon I discovered the wagon silently approaching. I placed my optics on the form of my friend Craig in the arms of Morpheous I did not wish to disturb his peaceful slumbers so I picked up the tongue and started down the canyon. A short distance beyond was a rather steep piece of road and on approaching it I stopped and put on the brake, but I could not move the vehicle with the brake on and it would move too fast with it off. I took another peek at my sleeping friend and he seemed so comfortable: therefore, I did not feel inclined to wake him up, so I grasped the tongue once more and proceeded on. This particular piece of road was about thirty feet long and steep, but I thought I could manage to get along. I soon discovered that the wagon wanted to go in advance and not wishing to be run over I jumped aside to let it proceed on but it did not do so, it ran off of the road and upset. I could hear Craig's muffled voice, he being covered with grain sacks, saying. "What the h--l does all this mean." It was an extremely ridiculous situation and I being in a hilarious mood I could not reply, but I approached the wagon, raised the body and let him crawl out. That being done he stood up, rubbed his eyes and took a reconnaoissance of the situation, and in a solemn manner said: "Well I'll be d--m:" then exploded with laughter from which the canyon replied in echo.
In getting our wagon back on the road we were assisted by a young man passing by. We were now ready to move on and I asked Craig on which side he wished to work, off or nigh. He said he'd push. I told him I thought he had better work by my side, that we were well matched and made a good team hitched up together. He complied. We soon had our two wagons attached together and was ready to move on when Craig asked me if I did not think the incident just occurring demanded a sentiment. I told him it absolutely did. He then went to my wagon, resurrected Blue John and giving the usual salutation, "how," then passed John to my embrace and I followed suit by moistening my lips with John's tears.
In the year 1863 a portion of the territory of Washington was cut off and the territory of Idaho was created from it. A republican convention was held at Mt. Idaho to nominate a delegate to congress. Rob't Newell, a frontiersman, a companion of Craig, aspired to get the nomination, so he started for Mt. Idaho, accompanied by Craig. The first day they got as far as Durkeeville on Craig mountain.
This place was a road house established by a man named Durkee, afterwards called Masons, in fact he sold out to Harry Mason. There was quite a crowd at this place that evening whose destination was Mt. Idaho. Newell being tired, and not wishing to sit up, retired early. Some were reading, some conversing and others engaged in playing cards, in which pastime Craig participated. He soon became tired of card playing and concluded to retire. He and Newell were to sleep together, so when Craig came into the room he saw the prepared speech of Newell sticking out of his coat pocket. Craig took the speech and returned to the lower room and read to those there assembled and perhaps added some to it, for when Newell made his appearance next morning he was hailed as a good fellow, a brick and a fine old man. He was invited to have a drink and a cigar both of which he refused. They had their breakfast and by that time their team was ready to convey them on.
They had not proceeded very far when Newell says to Craig: "Bill, if I am the nominee at the convention as the delegate to congress, I'll go to congress and all h--l won't stop me." Says Craig: "See here, Bob, I'll tell you what I think." "Well what is that." "I think you'll go to h--l and all congress won't stop you." Newell made his speech but he was told in the convention that they had heard it before. In that convention Governor Wallace was the nominee.
In 1868 Craig received a paralytic stroke from which he never entirely recovered. I was contemplating on going to Moose creek and I paid him a visit before doing so and we sat up nearly the whole night talking of the pleasant hours spent together and when I bid him good bye, he said: "Thomas I'll never see you again on this earth." He invariably addressed me as Thomas.
I had been to Moose creek and on my return at Weippe I received a letter from Sam Phinney, his son-in-law, informing me of his death which was in the latter part of September 1868. The Nez Perces always called him William; did not know him as Craig. He is buried at what is now known as Jacques Spur; also his wife, two sons and two daughters. He has one daughter living; her age is about seventy-five, and she lives at Theon, Umatilla county, Oregon.
Thos. J. Beall