Our company, composed of some of the officials and leading citizens of Montana, felt that if the half was true, they would be amply compensated for all the troubles and hazards of the expedition. It was, nevertheless, a serious undertaking, and as the time drew near for our departure, several who had been foremost to join us, upon the receipt of intelligence that a large party of Indians had come into the Upper Yellowstone valley, found excuse for their withdrawal in various emergent occupations, so that when the day for our departure arrived, our company was reduced in numbers to nine, and consisted of the following-named gentlemen: General H. D. Washburn, who served with distinction during the war of the rebellion, and subsequently represented the Clinton District of Indiana in the Congress of the United States; Samuel T. Hauser, President of the First National Bank of Helena; Cornelius Hedges, a leading member of the bar of Montana; Hon. Truman C. Everts, late United States Assessor for Montana; Walter Trumbull, son of Senator Trumbull; Ben. Stickney, Jr.; Warren C. Gillette; Jacob Smith, and the writer.
The preparation was simple. Each man was supplied with a strong horse, well equipped with California saddle, bridle, and cantinas. A needle-gun, a belt filled with cartridges, a pair of revolvers, a hunting-knife, added to the usual costume of the mountains, completed the personal outfit of each member of the expedition. When mounted and ready to start, we resembled more a band of brigands than sober men in search of natural wonders. Our provisions, consisting of bacon, dried fruit, flour, &c., were securely lashed to the backs of twelve bronchos, which were placed in charge of a couple of packers. We also employed two colored boys as cooks.
Major-General Hancock, in favorable response to our application for a military escort, had given orders for a company of cavalry to accompany us, which we expected to join at Fort Ellis, in the Gallatin Valley—a distance of one hundred and twenty miles from Helena. We were none the less obliged to Gen. Hancock for his prompt compliance with our application for an escort, because of his own desire, previously expressed, to learn something of the country we explored which would be of service to him in the disposition of the troops under his command, for frontier defense; and if the result of our explorations in the least contributed to that end, we still remain the debtor of that officer for his courtesy and kindness, without which we might have failed altogether in our undertaking.
Our ride to Fort Ellis, through a well-settled portion of the Territory, was accomplished in four days. That portion of the valleys of the Missouri and Gallatin through which we passed, dotted with numerous ranches, presented large fields of wheat, oats, potatoes, and other evidences of thrift common in agricultural districts. Large droves of cattle were feeding upon the bunch grass which carpeted the valleys and foot-hills. Even the mountains, so wild, solemn, and unsocial a few years ago, seemed to be domesticated as they reared their familiar summits in long and continuous succession along the bordering uplands. At the three forks, where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin unite and form the Missouri, a thriving agricultural community has sprung up, which must eventually grow into a town of considerable importance. Entering the magnificent valley of the Gallatin at this point, our course up the river lay through one of the finest agricultural regions on the continent. The soil is remarkably fertile, and the valley stretches away on either side, a distance of twenty miles, to immense mountain ranges, which traverse its entire length, enclosing a territory as large as one of the larger New England States, every foot of which is susceptible of the highest cultivation.