Recollections of Wm. Craig   

Lewiston Morning Tribune, Sunday, March 3, 1918, page 8.

He came to the Lewiston Country in 1829--Craig Mountain Named in His Honor
(By Thomas J. Beall.)

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In the fall of 1858 Craig was superseded by A.J. Cain as Indian agent for the 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

 

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