Across the Rockies to the Columbia

by John Kirk Townsend


When Nathaniel Wyeth led his second expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia in 1834, he was accompanied by a young ornithologist, John Kirk Townsend. Townsend, and his companion Thomas Nuttall, a botanist, were among the first naturalists to study these regions. Specimens taken by Townsend were an important contribution to the work of Audubon.

Their journey took the naturalists to Independence, MO, where they joined Wyeth's party. From there, they proceeded west over what was to become the Oregon Trail, to the trapper's Rendezvous on Ham's Fork of the Green River. Continuing west, the party established Fort Hall, near what is now Pocatello, ID. Thence onward to Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia.

Bibliographical Information

Townsend published this narrative of his journey in 1839 (Philadelphia: H. Perkins) as Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River. It was reprinted in Volume 8 of Early Western Travels, Ruben Gold Thwaites, ed. (Cleveland: Authur H. Clark, 1905). Thwaites omitted a scientific appendix and an account of Townsend's trip to the Sandwich Islands as being irrelevant to Western history; they are omitted in this electronic edition, as well. Thwaites' edition has been recently reprinted by University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books) in 1978, with an introduction by Donald Jackson.

Links to the Text

  • Chapter I
  • Arrival at St. Louis - Preparations for the journey - Saque Indians - Their appearance, dress, and manners - Squaws - Commencement of a pedestrian tour - Sandhill cranes - Prairie settlers - Their hospitality - Wild pigeons, golden plovers and prairie hens - Mr. P. and his daughters - An abundant repast - Simplicity of the prairie maidens - A deer and turkey hunt - Loutre Lick hotel - Unwelcome bed-fellows - A colored Charon - Comfortable quarters - Young men of the west - Reflections on leaving home - Loquacity of the inhabitants - Gray squirrels - Boonville - Parroquets - Embarkation in a steamboat - Large catfish - Accident on board the boat - Arrival at Independence - Description of the town - Procure a supply of horses - Encampment of the Rocky Mountain company - Character of the men - Preparation for departure - Requisites of a leader - Backwoods familiarity - Milton Sublette and his band - Rev. Jason Lee, the missionary - A letter from home - Mormonites - Military discipline and its consequences.