Billy Hawkins' Account of the 1869 Expedition
As related in a 1907 letter to Robert Brewster Stanton
In the summer of 1868, I was camped at Hot Sulphur Springs in Middle Park, Colorado, with my pack train of two mules and two horses. I was at that time trapping. My headquarters camp was 100 miles west, but in the summer I would take the furs I had caught during the winter out to Denver and sell them, and then put in three months packing provisions to my camp for the next season's trapping. I had gone out as soon as the snow was so I could cross the mountain range, and had already made two trips and was on my third and last for that summer when I heard of Major J. W. Powell's proposed expedition. Returning, I camped at Jack Sumner's place at Hot Sulphur to rest my animals three or four days. I think it was the second day after I got to Sumner's post that Major Powell's pack outfit came in and camped a short distance from where I was. It was the custom of us mountaineers as well as the Indians to find out where strangers were going and what for, since we as well as the Indians respected each other's trapping grounds. Therefore I went over to Powell's camp to find out what his intentions were.
I found the Major a very pleasant gentleman and very easy to get acquainted with. I asked him his business in that part of the country, and he stated his final object was the exploration of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. I told him that would be an interesting trip, that I had been to some parts of it, and it was rough enough for any use, and that some of my neighbors, the Ute Indians, said the river in places ran under the ground. Powell said it was his intention to find out, and that he was acting in the interests of the Smithsonian Institution. He asked where my winter camp was. He said he intended to make his winter quarters somewhere on the White River, and asked me all about the Indians.
Sumner, Bill Dunn, and I had been talking for some time past of building us some boats and starting down through the canyons to trap. In the evening Sumner and Dunn came to my camp, and Sumner said that now we had a chance to go to Cottonwood Island down on the lower Colorado, and that he would speak to Major Powell and perhaps we might become members of his party. I told Sumner I had several hundred dollars' worth of provisions and trinkets I would have to dispose of beforehand.
Next morning Sumner and Major Powell came over to my camp, where Dunn had spent the night with me, and Sumner spoke up and said that the Major would like us (Dunn and me) to join his party for the winter, as well as for the trip down the canyons of the Colorado. I told the Major that Sumner was thinking of selling his trading post, and that he, Dunn, and myself were going to try the canyons as far as Cottonwood Island. I told him that I had already packed my year's supplies in from Denver. The Major replied, "Those things are just what we want, also your mules and horses. I will buy them and pay you just what you can sell them for elsewhere." I told him I would think the matter over and let him know in the evening. In the meantime he and Sumner arranged a trade for Sumner's supplies at his post.
Later I went to the Major's camp and told him if I could arrange things and agree on a price for my animals, I would join his party. I showed him my bills and everything I had in stock, and he allowed me the price of the goods and for packing them over the range. He allowed me a fair price for three of my animals. For the other one we could not agree upon a price, so I kept it, as it was a favorite of mine and had carried me safely through several Indian fights. After all was counted up, outside of thirty-six traps, it amounted to $960. The traps, he said, could be used that winter, and when we got to Cottonwood Island he would replace them. He also offered me $1.50 a day for cooking for the outfit, and said that when we got through our journey down the Colorado Canyon he would pay our transportation to where we were then at Sumner's place. The Major added, "Now, as to the money you are to receive for your goods and horses, I expect to get it from the Government and also to pay your transportation back," explaining that he had money with him, and that he would let me have what I needed during the trip, and that he would be responsible to me for the remainder. He gave me a receipt for the amount due me at that time. Sumner told me that he was to receive good prices for his supplies and stores and good pay for his work, and that he would have several thousand dollars coming to him when he got through, and that he was to receive it all when we got to the end of the river journey. Later in the fall, Major Powell told me that if he could get the Government to appropriate $12,000 there would be $1,000 for each of us and $2,000 for himself for the trip.
When we finally got to the mouth of the Virgin River, the Major and his brother left us. I cannot tell how much money he paid to each one, but he gave each man some. He gave me $60 and Hall $60, and said that he would send us a government voucher for the rest, also for what he was to pay me for the provisions and animals I sold him. As we had not come to Cottonwood Island, I asked him how about my traps that he was to make good. There were thirty-six of them, and I had paid $3.00 apiece for them.
"Well," the Major said, "they got lost in Green River."
"Yes," I replied, "but you agreed to make them good when we got to Cottonwood Island."
Then he said he would allow me $2.50 for each trap and would find out what the transportation was, and send me a voucher for the whole amount. The voucher is still coming. All I ever received was $60, at the mouth of the Virgin River. Sumner is out a good deal more than I am. I saw the Major after that and asked him about it, and he told me he was still expecting an appropriation from the government. Then he would pay me.
We made our Winter camp on White River, hunting, trapping, and gathering specimens. In the spring of 1869 we moved to Green River City, and waited for the arrival of Major Powell and the boats from the East. While we were camped at Green River, something happened which may be worth telling. The Major brought from the East a young man whom some friends of the Major's sent out West to see the sights and join our expedition down the unknown regions of the Great Colorado of the West. We boys noticed that this young man did not seem to like our bill of fare. I was the cook and the boys, particularly Sumner, bragged on my cooking and said I could make the best coffee in the world and a pie that would last a man a week. But it did not exactly suit the young tenderfoot. The third day, Captain Powell, who had just bought himself a new pair of boots, wanted to wash his socks. I gave him a small camp kettle and he put the socks to soak.
At noon I had the coffee in a large camp kettle, and the small one the Captain's socks were in was hid from the boys behind the large one. Then we all sat down on the ground to eat our dinner. I had done my level best that day to please our new-comer. I had dished up the coffee and they were all drinking it and feeling fine. Sumner said there was something mighty peculiar about the coffee, and asked me what was the matter with it. I took my bowie knife and stuck it in one of the Captain's socks and held it up over the kettle just back of the coffee. With the reddish brown water running off, it looked just as though I had taken it out of the coffee kettle. I yelled "Who in hell put his socks in the coffee?" All said they had not, except the young man, who did not answer. When I asked him if he had, he said very politely that he had not, but he was getting up and leaving at the time. That was the last we ever saw of him. When time Major got his mail at the Virgin, he heard that the young man had gone home and said our grub did not suit him, and that he thought the Major had a hard crowd with him.
On the 24th of May, 1869, we started down the Green River with provisions for eight or ten months, according to Major Powell. Our provisions got wet and were lost in different ways, and finally the largest boat—load was lost in Diamond Falls on time Green River. All this reduced our rations. Though we had plenty of fish on Green River, we caught very few on the Colorado and soon found we were up against it for grub. It was not long before we began to lose our hats and clothes. I had a pair of buckskin breeches. They were so wet all the time that they kept stretching and I kept cutting off time lower ends till I had nothing left but the waist band. When this was gone I was left with a pair of pants and two shirts. I took the pants and one shirt and put them in the boat's locker, as I did not know what time law was below as to nakedness. I cut holes in my shirt tail and tied the loose ends around my legs so they would not bother me in the water. Major Powell said he was dressed when he had his life preserver on, and he always had it on when the water was bad.
I can say one thing truthfully about the Major — that no man living was ever thought more of by his men up to the time he wanted to drive Bill Dunn from the party. A description of this you will find below. I have only written here a few facts on things that happened on the Colorado expedition. There is no revenge in my heart. With time best of feelings towards the Major, I have written this because I think his Report is somewhat lacking. I am willing to do more by him than he ever did by any of us men. I am willing to call him a brave and daring leader, but I do not think the boys who left the party, the Howland brothers and Bill Dun, under the circumstances herein mentioned, deserve to be branded as cowards. I do not wish to cast any discredit on Major Powell's Report or upon his memory of the Colorado expedition. But in justice to Dunn and the Howland brothers I must say that the account in the Report which accuses them of cowardice is entirely wrong, and that it was made to cover up the real cause of their leaving.
The trouble with the Howland boys began away back at Disaster Falls, where their boat was lost, but with Dunn it began only a few weeks before he left the party. At noon one day when the boats were being let over a bad place, Dunn was down by the water's edge with a barometer, taking the altitude. He was also assigned the post to look after time rope fastened to the boat and held by Sumner and others. By some means Dunn was thrown into the river, but he caught the rope and finally got out. In this he got wet a watch that belonged to the Major. At dinner the same day Major Powell told Dunn that he would have to pay for the watch or leave the party, which was impossible at that point. Dunn told him a bird could not get out of that place, thinking the Major was joking, but all of us were very quickly convinced that every word the Major said was meant. Dunn said he could not leave then, but that he would go as soon as he could get out. The Major then said he would have to pay one dollar a day for his board until such time as he could get out of the canyon. The rest of us sat listening as we ate our dinner. As Sumner was the oldest of our crowd, that is, the two Howlands, Dunn, Hall, and myself, we naturally looked to him as our spokesman.
Sumner told the Major he was surprised at what he had said to Dunn, and the Major said he was running the expedition. But Sumner said that was one thing he could not do — compel Dunn to leave the party or make him pay for his board. Walter Powell, better known as Captain Powell, took up the quarrel and thereby came near getting shot. We all considered the Captain demented because of his imprisonment in Andersonville prison. Had it not been for this, I doubt very much if the Captain would have made the entire trip.
When we came to time rapid where the Howland boys and Dunn decided to leave the party, we all looked at it and Hall and I had our course picked out on that rapid for the morning. The Major and some of the other boys went across the river to look to see if there was any chance to let the boats over it by ropes. On the following morning when I raised up from my bed about daybreak, I saw the Major walking up and down on a patch of sand and I called to Andy Hall, who shared the bed with me, and asked what the Major meant. He said he saw some of time boys and the Major in council the evening before, but could not find out what was the matter.
By that time the Major walked up to where I was making a fire and said, "Billy, how much flour have you now?" I said, "Very little," and showed it to him, and he told me to make it all into biscuits as near one size as possible. I asked no questions, excepting if we wanted any dried apples cooked, as we had about 100 pounds of them, and about 75 pounds of coffee. That was our entire stock of provisions. The Major said I need not cook any apples.
Andy Hall drew my attention to a group of the boys that were off to one side counciling among themselves. Bradley came up to the fire and I asked him if it was not coming to a show-down. He said he could not understand the Major, but there was something going to happen. I did not know or care what happened, as I was sure Andy and Bradley would stand by me in anything that was reasonable. I called out to come to coffee. All came and drank the coffee and ate the bread, and there was not one word said, one to another. When we got through the Major said, "Billy, you take this bread and divide it just as equally as you can." I made nine piles and put one biscuit in each pile till my supply was gone. I don't remember how many there were to the man, but there were three or four left over and I said we would give these to the Major, but he said his share would have to do him.
The Major, the Howland brothers, Dunn, and Sumner went off to one side to hold another council. Bradley came over to where Andy Hall and I were standing and completely broke down and shed tears, and said such actions made him feel like a child again. By that time the Major came up to where we were standing and said, "Well, Billy, we have concluded to abandon the river for the present," stating that on account of the scarcity of provisions and because the rapids were getting more severe, he thought the better thing to do was to leave the river, as it could not be more than one hundred miles to some settlement in Utah, and that we would get a new supply of grub and return and complete our journey. By that time all the boys were standing and listening to him. When he finished his say, I asked him if he would sell the boat to Andy and me. He said if we would come back and finish the trip he would give us the boat. I told him I proposed to finish my part of it then.
I said, "Major, you have always looked to Hall and me as being too young to have anything to say in your council, but Hall and I are going to go down this river whether you or any of the rest go or not." And I told him that if he left the river I would not think of following him one foot on land, that my mind was set. Then the Major said, "Well, Billy, if I have one man that will stay with me I will continue my journey or be drowned in the attempt." I told him that Bradley, Hall, and I had made up our minds to continue and that I thought the worst of the rapids were passed, and that if he had taken me into his council he would have soon found out my attitude on that.
Sumner spoke up and said, "Stay with it, Billy, and I will be with you." It did not take long to settle the rest of it. The Howland brothers and Dunn had made up their minds and would not change them. Of course, we knew what was the reason Dunn left. As for any fear, he did not possess it. And as for the other boys, they never showed any signs of fear. The elder of the Howlands had been in the boat with me since his own boat was wrecked.
We all crossed over to the north side, hid our supplies and instruments, and left one boat for the boys. It is my opinion that if the Howland boys had not agreed to leave the river in the council I referred to, they would have come with us. But they were sore about the way Dunn had been treated. I will admit that at that time they had more than an even chance to get out by land. We lifted our boats up about thirty feet over a ledge of rock and put them in a little bay in a crevice or crack between the rocks which was some twenty feet in width and thirty-five or forty feet in length. Here the water was still, but it ran like lightning in front of the crevice.
We had the two boats. The other one we left with the Howland brothers and Dunn. We again asked them to come with us. Dunn held me by the hand and tears came into his eves as he said he hated to leave Sumner and me, that we had had many a hard and daring time together before we ever saw the Colorado River. "But," he said, "Billy, you cannot blame me." I could not answer. For once in my life I was hurt to the very heart, and in silence I shook his hand for the last time in this world. All this time Sumner and Hall were talking with the Howland boys.
The Major came into my boat, and we started first, but when we struck the main current it was so swift that it sent us back in the eddy in the little cove. By this time things were getting interesting, and again Dunn and the Howland brothers said we would never make it. I said, "Watch my smoke this time!" I told Hall to put all his strength in the oars, and I would do the rest. The Major got a firm hold with his left hand and sat down in the bottom of the boat. I headed for the lower side of the cove so as to strike the main current more on a down stream course than before. It was perhaps thirty feet from the mouth of the cove to the middle of the high waves which were over fifteen feet in height, but Hall had the boat under such headway that I could manage with my steering oar, so I caught the side of the main waves, then cut them for the other side, which we made all right and landed below. Then came Bradley, and Sumner and Captain Powell in the other boat.
We took in perhaps only thirty gallons of water in my boat. The other boat did not fare so well, as it struck the rapid too high up, but it got through all right. We all landed and hallooed to the other boys that we left on the rock to come, but they would not.
It was here Major Powell took off his life preserver and handed it to me, saying he would have no more use for it and would make me a present of it. I told him he had better keep it on, but he said that he felt safe with any man who could come through the way I did between the rocks, and that he would make me a present of it. I thanked him, and said I would keep it to remember the Major and the daring trip and hardships down through the entire length of the Colorado River Canyons. I have the life preserver now in my possession, although it is unfit for use by reason of old age.
W. R. Hawkins
Billy Hawkins' Account of the 1869 Expedition
As related in a 1919 statement subsequently published by William Wallace Bass
Now our trouble begins, and plenty of bad rapids in the river. Dunn was the one who took the altitudes with the barometer, and it was here we had the first real trouble in the party, although Powell had named Dunn the "Dirty Devil." But the rest of the boys looked over that. At noon, while we were making a portage and letting the boats over a bad place, the ropes happened to catch Bill Dunn under the arms and came near drowning him, but he managed to catch the ropes and come out. Whi1e we were eating our dinner, Sumner said that Dunn came near being drowned and the Major's brother made the remark that it would have been but little loss. The Major spoke up and said that Dunn would have to pay thirty dollars for a watch belonging to him that had been soaked with water and ruined, and that if he did not he would have to leave the party.
Andy Hall and I were down at our boat, I having gone down after a cup and Andy had remained at the boat fitting one of his oars. When we returned to where they were eating, Sumner asked me what I thought of the Major's proposition, and I asked him what it was, and he then related what had been said. I asked the Major if that was his desire, and he said that it was. I made the remark that a part of his wishes could not be granted, as it was impossible to get out of the Canyon on account of the abrupt walls. He then said that it made no difference whether Dunn got out or not. I then said that I was sorry that Dunn had been jerked into the water and got the watch wet, and that I was sorry he felt that way with one of his party. The Major seemed to be offended at my remarks and said I had no right to pass on the matter, also that neither Hall nor myself, in the future of the party, would be expected to say anything, as we were too young. Hall made the remark that we had old heads on our shoulders anyway. Before this time everything seemed to be getting along fine, as each man had certain things to do, and I was doing the cooking, and I generally found plenty to do.
Our meal was ready and we all seated ourselves on the rocks to eat our dinner. Up to this time I had always helped the Major all I could and washed his hand (as he only had one) and generally found him a good place to sit at meals, sometimes a few feet from the rest. Before this it never made any difference to me, but now it did, for, as Andy Hall would say, he raised hell with himself in the break he had made with Dunn. I could see that there was a different feeling in the whole party at this time. The Major had sat down several feet from the rest of the party. I poured out each man a cup of coffee and one for him also and we all began to eat. He then asked me why I did not bring him his dinner as I had been doing before. I told him he had just said that he was going to make a change in the outfit, and I told him that I had made that change to start the ball rolling, and that he would have to come and get his grub like the rest of the boys.
His brother then handed his dinner to him. After dinner Sumner asked him if he had changed his mind in regard to Dunn and the watch and he said he had not, and that Dunn would either pay for the watch or leave the party. Dunn, Hall, Bradley, and myself were near the boat and about twenty feet from the Major and Sumner. We could not hear what they were talking about, but we had decided that if Dunn left the party we would go with him. Of course we expected opposition to what we intended to do, so after we had talked the matter over we wanted Bradley to go and tell the Major what we intended to do. But Bradley decided I had better go and tell him myself, as I had made the plan of going with Dunn. I went to where Sumner and the Major were talking with the two Howland boys.
I told the Major that Bradley, Hall and I had decided to go with Dunn, and that we would take my boat (the cook boat) and some grub, and would pull out, and he could come when he got ready. He said he would not stand any such work, that it would be the ruin of his party. I told him that it was all his own fault, and that I had no more talk to make, and went back to the boat. I found Dunn, Bradley, and hall waiting to see what had happened, but before I had time to tell them, Sumner came and began to talk to us, telling us to not feel put out, that the Major was hasty, and to give him another chance. Dunn remarked that the Major did not like him anyway. If he had, he would never have named the Escalante River the "Dirty Devil."
We camped at that place for the night and in the morning the Major said he would take thirty dollars for the watch and that he could pay for it when we got through. None of the party except the Major liked Capt. Powell. He had a bull-dozing way that was not then practiced in the West. He threatened to slap me several times for trying to sing as he did, but he never did slap anyone in the party. We all moved off down the river 0. K., but our provisions began to run short, and rapids became more frequent, some of them very bad. But for a few days everything went all right. The boys would tell Indian adventures at night that someone had had. The remark was made that Dunn had nothing to say, and Captain Powell said he guessed Dunn did not know much about Indians. The Major chipped in and said, "Nor anything else." Sumner took it up for Dunn because he knew there would soon be trouble. He told Powell that Dunn had been wounded four times by the Comanches, so it all passed off.
The next day we had some very bad rapids, so bad that it was necessary to let the boats around some large rocks. In order to do this, and as Dunn was a fine swimmer, the Major asked him to swim out to a rock so the boat would swing in below. He made the rock all 0. K. and was ready to catch the rope which was supposed to be thrown to him, so he could swing the boat in below, but the Major saw his chance to drown Dunn, as he thought, and he held the rope. That was the first time that he had interfered in the letting the boats around bad places, and the rope caught Dunn around the legs and pulled him into the current and came near losing the boat.
But Dunn held on to the rope and finally stopped in water up to his hips. We were all in the water but the Major and the Captain. Dunn told the Major that if he had not been a good swimmer he and the boat both would have been lost. The Major said as to Dunn that there would have been but little loss. One word brought on another, and the Major called Dunn a bad name and Dunn said that if the Major was not a cripple he would not be called such names.
Then Captain Powell said he was not crippled, and started for Dunn with an oath, and the remark he would finish Dunn. He had to pass right by me and I knew that he would soon drown Dunn, as he, so much larger could easily do. He was swearing and his eyes looked like fire. Just as he passed I caught him by the hair of his head and pulled him over back into the water. Howland saw us scuffling and he was afraid Cap would get hold of my legs. But Dunn got to me first and said, "For God's Sake, Bill, you will drown him!" By that time Howland was there and Cap had been in the water long enough and Dunn and Howland dragged him out on the sand bar in the rocks. After I got my hold in Cap's hair I was afraid to let go, for he was a very strong man. He was up in a short time, and mad! I guess he was mad! He cursed me to everything, even to being a "Missouri puke." I wasn't afraid of him when I got on dry ground. I could out-knock him after he was picked up twice.
He made for his gun and swore he would kill me and Dunn. But this talk did not excite me. As he was taking his gun from the deck of the boat, Andy Hall gave him a punch behind the ear and told him to put it back or off would go his head. Cap looked around and saw who had the gun, and he sure dropped his. This all happened before the Major got around to where we were. He soon took in the situation and came to me and made the remark that he would have never thought I would go back on him. I told him that he had gone back on himself, and that he had better help Cap get the sand out of his eyes, and that if he monkeyed with me any more I would keep him down next time.
Sumner and I had all we could do to keep down mutiny. There was bad feeling from that time on for a few days. We began not to recognize any authority from the Major. We began to run races with the boats, as the loads were almost all gone. It was fun for the first two days, but then the water began to get rough. Hall, Howland, and myself were in my boat. I had become an expert in bad rapids. We ran several that the other two boats were let over with ropes. We stopped at noon one day to wait for the other boats. We were at the head of four bad rapids. It was some two hours before the other boats came and I had coffee all ready, as that was our principal food then. We had but little flour, but had plenty of dried applies and coffee. We lay in camp that afternoon and the Major and Sumner spent the afternoon in trying to find a place where we could let the boats over the first rapid with ropes. But they failed to find any place where we could get footing enough and the walls were too high for our ropes, so the Major said we would try to find a place on the west side the next day.
That evening late the Major and Sumner and the two Howland boys held a consultation (as I afterward found out) to see about leaving the river with all hands. He said we would cross over and leave our boats with instruments under some large rocks, and that we then would go out to some Mormon settlements and get some grub and return to our boats and continue on down the river. The Major asked me to bake up all the flour we had and make the bread into biscuits or dough-gods, as we called them, as flour and water was what we had to make them with. In about three hours I had them all baked. I told the Major that the bread was ready and he called the boys and told them all his intentions as to leaving the river. That was the first time Hall and I knew anything about what was going on. I told Hall to take our shares and put them in the boat. The Major said that each man should keep his own part, since we might get separated. I told him that if we had enough coming to us to pay for the boat he could keep it.
Dunn, 0. G. Howland, and Seneca Howland had made up their minds to go. Dunn said he hated to leave Hall and me, as we had been together a long time, and that we would perish in the river, and that we had better come and stay with the party. I told him that was what I was doing, that I called Hall, Bradley, and myself a party of three, and each one of us a party of one. While we were talking the Major came up to me and laid his left arm across my neck, tears running down his cheeks. By that time the rest of the boys were present and the Major said to me, "Bill, do you really mean what you say?" I told him that I did, and he said that if he had one man that would stay with him that he would not abandon the river. I simply said that he did not know his party, and that Andy Hall and myself were too young to have any say in council. I said, "We are off now." He said that it was noon, and if I would make some coffee that we would have a cup of coffee together. I have been present at many solemn occasions, but I never witnessed one that came up to this. Some strong men shed tears. Bradley said it made him a child again. We crossed over to the west side of the river and there we left our instruments and one boat.
This is the last time we ever saw Dunn and the two Howland brothers alive. Some years afterwards I, with a party of some others, buried their bones in the Shewits Mountains, below Kanab Wash. As to Powell's leaving the party at Lee's Ferry, there was no ferry on the river. No one except some Indians ever crossed. There was no place known as Kanab Wash when we first came down. Powell never left the party until we got through to the mouth of the Virgin River, where he and his brother were taken to the railroad or stage by some Mormons who lived on the Muddy. Sumner, Bradley, Hall, and myself continued on down the river. Hall and I stopped at Ehrenburg, and Sumner and Bradley went on to Yuma. From there Sumner went to Denver and Bradley to San Diego, where he died. Sumner died at Vernal, Utah, so I heard, and Hall was killed near Globe, Ariz. Powell and his brother both died somewhere in the East, and I am here nine miles below Phoenix.