State of Nebraska - Genealogy Trails







    1823 Trading Expedition

These are a series of newspaper articles narrating Indian attacks a hunting and trading expedition encountered in 1823.



 Some possible locations for the localities mentioned in the letters:

"Above the Council Bluffs" - Council Bluffs (Hart's Bluffs) - Council Bluff was the name given by

Lewis and Clark to a location near Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.


Over time the term "Council Bluffs" was applied to the bluffs on both sides of the river from

Council Bluff down to the Platte.


In 1850 the name was given to the post office at Sarpy's (Traders) Point.


In 1853 the name was given to the present city of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Fort Atkinson - was located in Washington County, Nebraska

Yellow Stone River - joins up with the Missouri River in North Dakota and then veers

south-westward into Montana






The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) -  13 Aug 1823  - Page 1



    A trading and hunting party, consisting of about 75 Americans, commanded by General Ashley, left our frontier settlements the last spring for the Rocky Mountains. On the 2d of June, 2 or 300 miles above the Council Bluffs, they were attacked by the Ricaras Indians, who killed 14 of the American party, and wounded 9. General Ashley then took post, with one boat and 30 men, a few miles

    below where the attack was made, and sent his wounded and disaffected men back to Council Bluffs. Altho’ our government had no connexion with the part or expedition of Ashley, it being an individual enterprise, Colonel Leavenworth, by order of General Atkinson, marched from Council Bluffs on the 22d of June, with a body of troops and friendly Indians, to punish the Ricaras, who were reported to have taken post and fortified themselves. It is supposed that the attack was instigated by the British agents or traders, who, hearing of the American expedition, and jealous of American enterprise, adopted that mode of checking and arresting it.


The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) - 13 Aug 1823  - Page 3


    A letter from General Ashley, dated below the villages of the Rickarees on the Missouri, on the 4th of June, confirms the account we this week gave of an action between that tribe of Indians and his trading and hunting party, two days prior to that date. His men amounted to 90 in number. He lost 12 killed and had 11 wounded. – Frank. Gaz.



The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) - 20 Aug 1823  - Page 1 - St. Louis, July 9  



    It will be seen by the following extract from a letter of Gen. Ashley, that a very serious misfortune has befallen that gentleman in his enterprising expedition up the Missouri. We have learned from other sources that Col. Leavenworth with two hundred men and a part of the Missouri Fur Company, together with some of the Sioux and Soc warriors have set out to avenge this bold insult

    to the American people. – Republican



Extract of a letter from Gen. Ashley dated:


“On board the keel boat, Rocky Mountains, June 4, 1823


    On the morning of the 2d inst., I was attacked by the Ricaree Indians, which terminated seriouslyon my part. The particulars of which I relate with feeling of the greatest sorrow and mortification. Previous to my arrival at their towns, from information I received from some gentleman descending

    the river I apprehended danger from them, and used as much precaution as the nature of my situation would admit. Not one of the Ricaree Indians did I see until I arrived at their towns, on the 30th of May; my boats were anchored about the middle of the river, and I went on shore with two men, where I met some of the principal chiefs, who pretended to be very friendly disposed towards us, and expressed a wish that I should trade with them.

    Wishing to send a party through by land from that point to the Yellow Stone river, for which purpose forty or fifty horses were necessary, and having just received an express from Major ">Henry, sent for the purpose of desiring me to purchase all the horses I could on my way, I consented to send some goods on shore to exchange for horses, but proposed that the chiefs of the two towns would meet me on the sand beach, where a perfect understanding should take place before the barter commenced.  After a long consultation among them, they appeared at the place proposed to hold the talk. I made them a small present, which appeared to please them very much. I then told them that I had understood that a difference had taken place between a party of their men and some of the Missouri Fur Company, that in consequence of which they might feel disposed to do me an injury, and went on the state what I supposed would be the consequences should they attempt it. They answered that the affray alluded to had caused angry feeling among them, but that those feelings had vanished, that they then considered the white people as their friends and would treat them as such.

    A price for horses was proposed by me and agreed to by them; the exchange therefore commenced, and on the evening of the 15th inst., I had completed my purchases, and had things prepared for an early start the next morning. Late in the afternoon, the principal chief of one of the towns sent me an invitation to visit him at his lodge. I hesitated for a moment, but at length concluded to accept it, as I did not wish them to know that I apprehended the least danger from them. I took with me my interpreter, and went to the lodge of the chief, where I was treated with every appearance of friendship by him, as well as several other chiefs who were present. The next morning just before daylight, I was informed that the Indians had killed one of my men, Aaron Stephens, and in all probability would attack the boats in a few minutes; arrangements were made to receive them. My party consisted of ninety men, fourty of whom were selected to accompany me to the Yellow Stone river by land, and were encamped on the sand beach in charge of the horses.

    About sun rise the Indians commenced a heavy and well directed fire from a line extending along the picketing of one of their towns and some broken ground adjoining, a distance of about six hundred yards. Seeing that some of the horses were killed and others wounded, as well as two or three men, I attempted to have the horses crossed to a sandbar about the middle of the river, over which the water was about three feet deep; but before anything to effect that object could be done, the fire became very destructive, aimed principally at the men on shore. I ordered the anchor weighed and the boats put to shore; but the boatmen, with but very few exceptions, were so panic sturck that they could not be got to execute the order. Two skiffs, which would carry thirty men, were taken ashore for the embarkation of the men; but (I suppose) from a predetermination of the men on the beach not to give way to the Indians as long as there appeared the least probability of keeping their ground, not more than five of them made use of the large skiff, two of whom were wounded. The other skiff was taken to the opposite side by two men, one of them mortally wounded.

    I started the large skiff immediately back but unfortunately one of the men that worked it was shot down and by some means the skiff set adrift; by this time most of the horses were killed or wounded and about half of the men. I continued to make every effort to get the boats to shore, but all in vain, although anchored not more than ninety feet out in the stream: the most of the men swam to the boats, some of them when shot immediately sprang into the river and sunk. It was about fifteen minutes from the time the firing commenced until the surviving part of the men had embarked. The anchor of one of the boats was weighted, the cable of the other cut, and the boats dropped down the stream. Finding it impossible to pass the towns in the then situation of the men and boats, I directed them to be landed at the first timber, for the purpose of placing them and the men in a better situation of defence and to pass the towns which would have been done without much risk; but to my great surprise and mortification, when my intentions were known to the men I was informed that (with but few exceptions,) they would desert me, if I attempted it, and that however well the boats might be fortified, they would not make a second attempt to pass without a large reinforcement.

    The next morning they were drawn up, and a plan, which I had during the night thought of, by which I supposed we could safely pass the towns, made known to them, the the principal part of them refused to assist me in its execution, consequently I had to fall back to where we could get some game and wait the aid of Major Henry’s party at the Yellow Stone River, to whom I sent an express.

    My loss in killed and wounded is as follows:

    Killed – John Matthews, John Collins, Aaron Stephens, James M’Daniel, Westley Piper, George Flager, Benjamin F. Sneed, James Penn, Jr., John Miller, John S. Gardner, Ellis Ogle, David

    Howard – 12.

    Wounded – Reed Gibson, (since dead;) Joseph Monsa, John Larrison, Abraham Ricketts, Robert Tucker, Joseph I’Nomis, Jacob Miller, David M’Clune, Hugh Glass, Auguste Dufrain,

    Willis, (black man) – 11.

    There are but two of the wounded in the least danger of dying, and I think with care they will recover. Never did men in my opinion act with more cootness and bravery than they, most of those exposed on the small beach. A constant fire was kept up by us, but from the advantageous situation of the Indians, but little execution by it was done. Five or six Indians were seen to fall on the sand beach – I suppose they lost six or eight killed. The situation of their towns, numbers, arms, make them a formidable enemy to traders ascending the river. Their two towns are situated immediately in front of a large sandbar, around which boats are oblidged to pass, forming nearly a quarter or two-thirds of a circle, with a diameter of a half mile, partly covered with willows near the water’s edge; at the upper part of the bar they have a breastwork, made of dry timber. The ground on the opposite side of the river, about half way round the sand beach, is from twelve to twenty feet above the surface of the water; the balance of the way, high broken hills and the river very narrow. There are about six hundred warrioers. I think about three-fourths of them are armed with London Fuzils that carry a ball with great accuracy and for ce, and which they use with as much expertness as any men I ever saw handle arms; those that have not guns, use bows and arrows, war axes.. Knowing that some of the trading companies intended passing the Ricarees this summer, and apprehending danger, this will probably bring up one or more six pounders; I expect and hope they will arrive

    about the time I receive and from above.”




The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) - 27 Aug 1823 Page 3 - St. Louis, July 19

    We mentioned last week the departure of Col. Leavenworth from Fort Atkinson, on his expedition against the Aurikarees – a letter has since been received by a gentleman in this place, from Major Foster, commanding at Atkinson, conveying the unwelcome intelligence of the loss of one of the transport boats, and that Lieut. Wickliffe, a sergeant and six men, were drowned – a good part of the cargo was saved, but damaged. This misfortune happened on the 4th of July, about 150 miles above Fort Atkinson. Lieut. Wickliffe had been in the army upwards of four years, and was from Lexington in Kentucky, were an aged father and mother, a large circle of relations and friends will have to mourn his untimely death.

    We are happy to state, that the detachment of recruits, which left Philadelphia some time since, destined for Fort Atkinson, under the command of Capt. Fowle, arrived at this place on Thursday last in good health. Lieutenants M’Cabe, Mitchell, Rodgers, Vinton, and Lagnell, are associated with Capt. Fowle. The detachment will reusme its march, (or rather its voyage) in a day or two. – Enquirer.


The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) - 27 Aug 1823 Page 3 - Cincinnati, August 5

    We understand that General Gaines, immediately on hearing of the attack on Gen. Ashley’s party, on the 2d of June, by the Rickaree Indians, at their towns on the Missouri river dispatched two steam boats from Louisville to Baton Rouge, for 500 regular troops, to be transported to St. Louis as soon as possible, and from thence to be sent up the Missouri, to protect the defenceless settlements.

    A report is in town, from St. Louis, that Major Henry’s party, spoken of by General Ashley in his letter of 4th June, on their passage from the Yellow Stone river, had been attacked by a large party of Indians and totally defeated, with a loss of thirty killed. We cannot vouch for the truth of this report, but from the hostile disposition lately manifested by the Indians in that quarter, and the small military force stationed at the posts up the Missouri we have serious apprehensions of its truth. –

    Nat. Rep.  





    The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA) - 3 Sept 1823 Page 2 - Indian Outrages

    We the more regret to see the following because the reputation of Major O’Fallon, for penetration

and for an intimate acquaintance with the Indian character, gives great weight to his opinions:

From a St. Louis paper of July 22. - Fort Atkinson, 3d July, 1823

    Dear Sir:
    How painful for me to tell, and you to hear, of the barbarity of the Indians. They continue to deceive and murder the most enterprising of our people; and, if we continue to forbear – if we do not soon discover a greater spirit of resentment, this river will be discolored with our blood.

    The defeat of Gen. Ashley by the A’Rickarees, and departure of the troops to his relief, had scarcely gone to you, when an express arrived announcing the defeat by the Blackfoot Indians, near the Yellow Stone river, of the Missouri Fur Company’s Yellow Stone or Mountain Expedition, commanded by Messrs. Jones and Immell, both of whom, with five of the men, are amongst the slain. All of their property, to the amount of about $15,000 fell into the hands of the enemy.

    To add to Gen. Ashley’s catalogue of misfortunes, the Blackfoot Indians have recently defeated a party of 11, & killed Maj. Henry’s men, near his establishment at the mouth of the Yellow Stone river.  The express goes on to state, that “many circumstances (of which I will be apprized in a few days) have transpired to produce a strong belief that the British traders (Hudson Bay Company) are exciting the Indians against us, either to drive us from that quarter, or reap with the Indians the fruit of our labor”.

    I was in hopes that the British traders had some bounds to their rapacity. I was in hopes that during the late Indian war, in which they were so instrumental in the indiscriminate massacre of our people, that they had become completely satiated with our blood; but it appears not to have been the case. Like the greedy wolf, not yet gorged with the flesh, they guard over the bone – they ravage our fields, and are unwilling that we should glean them. Although barred by the treaty of Ghent from participating in our Indian trade, they presumed, and are not satisfied to do so; but, becoming alarmed at the individual enterprise of our people, they are exciting the Indians against them. They furnish them with the instruments of Hell, and a passport to Heaven – the instruments of death, and < a passport to our bosoms.

    Immell had great experience of the Indian character; but, poor fellow, with a British passport they at last deceived him, and he fell a victim in his own credulity; and his scalp, with those of his murdered comrades, are now bleeding on their way to some of the Hudson establishements.

    Another of Gen. Ashley’s wounded men is dead, making 15 men killed by the A’Ricarees, and 11 by the Blackfoot; in all, known to have been killed by the Indians within the last two or three months, 26 effective men; and I estimate the amount of property actually lost in the conflicts at $20,000, besides a great number of horses, &c.

    The Ottoes, Missouris, Omahas and Panis, have been to see me already, and as usual, profess great friendship, & C. but, with the rest of the neighboring tribes, are anxiously looking and listening to know how we (the Americans) are going to get out of the scrape.

    I am still in bad health, and almost despair of recovering, during my stay here.

    I am this moment interrupted by the arrival of an express from the military expedition, with a letter from Mr. Pilsher, who you know, is at the head of the Missouri Fur Company, on this river, in which he says. “I have but a moment to write. I met an express from the Mandans, bringing me very unpleasant news; the flower of my business is gone. My Mountainers have been defeated, and the chiefs of the party both slain – the party were attacked by three or four hundred Blackfoot Indians, in a position on the Yellow Stone river, where nothing but defeat could be expected. Jones and Immell, and 5 men were killed. The forman it is said fought most desperately. Jones killed two Indians, and in drawing his pistol to kill a third, he received two spears in his breast. Immell was in front; he killed one Indian, and was cut to pieces. I think we lose at at least $15,000. I will write you more fully between this and the Sioux.”

    Jones was a gentleman of cleverness. He was for several years a resident of St. Louis, where he had numerous friends to deplore his loss. Immell has been a long time on this river, first an officer of the United States’ army, since an Indian trader of some distinction – in some respects he was an extraordinary man – he was brave, uncommonly large, and of muscular strength – when timely apprised of his danger, a host within himself. The express left the Military expedition on the first instant, when all was well. With great respect, your most ob’t serv’t,

    Ben O’Fallon
    U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs.
    General Wm. Clark,
    Sup’t Indian Affairs, St. Louis.  


    At the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, the Yellowstone River is actually the larger river. Both rivers historically flood during the spring, and ice jams have caused dramatic flood events, Fort Union Trading Post was established near the confluence in 1829. According to the North Dakota Tourism



      "This was the largest and most imposing trading post on the Missouri River during the fur trading era.  Built near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers by John Jacob Astor’s powerful American Fur Company, Fort Union controlled the trading economy of the Northern Plains between 1828 and 1867."


    Later, the United States government built Fort Buford near the confluence. According to the Fort Buford 6th Infantry Regimental Association.


      "In August of 1864 Sully’s command arrived at Fort Union, which was by then a rundown facility.  General Sully scouted out the area and chose a site three miles to the east of Fort Union, overlooking the confluence directly, for the construction of a new post for the military."  





The Republican Compiler  (Gettysburg, PA) -22 Oct 1823 Page 2



Expedition against the Ricaras.


    The expedition against the Ricaras has been conducted with some spirit.  It has been productive of as much honor as the character of the enemy would warrant. It was a struggle with savages – not with a civilized nation, furnished with entrenchments are artillery. The men had to cope with severer trails than the courage and skill of the enemy. They have borne with these privations as men and as soldiers.

    Col. Levenworth seems, with much propriety, to regret the burning of the village. He clears his skirts of it, as well as his officers and men. He ascribes this useless and irritating act of inhumanity to “one M’Donald, a partner and one Gordon, a clerk of the Missouri Fur Company. He seems to ascribe this conduct to the most unwarrantable motives. “It is understood,” says he, “that this company (the Missouri) have withdrawn their trade from above the Sioux country. No so Messrs. Ashley and Henry; they have a small number of men, and a large amount of property at the mouth of the Yellow Stone River, and they were deeply interested in the correction and pacification of the Ricaras.”

    “This suggestion leads us to inquire, who compose this Missouri Fur Company and Whence are they? The time they have been in operation? Where they reside? What their objects & c.” For, the wanton act thus ascribed to them – excites some curiosity to know their history, character and designs. – Richmond Compiler.





Contributed by:  Kim Torp and Nancy Piper