South Pass, July 4, 1836. The annual pack train of the American Fur Company, commanded by Thomas Fitzpatrick; a considerable outfit, seventy-odd engages, upwards of four hundred horses and mules. Fitzpatrick’s adjutant is Black Harris, the specialist in solitary and winter travel. Harris rides at the end of the Company train to keep an eye on the technique of the march and to enforce trail discipline. A Company cart (a ‘charette’ as in Miller’s drawings) is going through the Pass this year – and with it a light wagon which will presently establish itself in American history forever. At the head of the train Fitzpatrick is the familiar figure of the partisan, thin-faced, gaunt, eyes sweeping the land, Hawken rifle unslung and held across the saddle. He looks in fact like a Ranney painting of the next decade or a Tait lithograph of the following one. Beside him on a superb black horse rides his hawk-nosed, mustached friend of three years’ standing now, Captain William Drummond Stewart. . . .
Fitzpatrick and Stewart and the unexplained Sillem in the lead, an outrider or two on each flank, three-quarters of a mile of diabolism and dust, then the Company cart and Black Harris with a headful of trail cunning.
But behind Harris the momentous thing: a light four-wheeled wagon without springs, fourteen horses and six mules, fifteen head of beef and milch cattle – and the missionary party. The new missionary party that was a revolution. Marcus Whitman and the two Nez Perce boys who had gone East with him last year and a third one inexplicably found at Liberty. A dubious hired hand named (or spelled) Dulin and a nineteen-year-old youth named Miles Goodyear who was hellbent to be a mountain man – and soon made the grade. Also William H. Gray, a ‘mechanic’ of attested piety and proved malice whom the American Board had added to the party for no sound reason. Also the Reverend Henry Hart Spalding. Also, and here was the difference, Mr. Spalding’s wife, Eliza, and the wife whom Marcus Whitman had married during the winter.