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OFFICIAL CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO FORT
Washington, March 23, 1855.
St. Louis, Mo. Najor:
Obtain the most reliable information possible, as to the suitableness of Fort Pierre Choteau, at the mouth of Bad River, on the upper Missouri, for a Depot of Supplies, and the nature of the country thence to Fort Laramie, together with the distance of the former to the latter place. Report to me on these subjects as soon as practicable. It seems to me that we would. save a considerable sum annually, by sending our supplies for Fort Laramie to that point, and transporting them thence by land to Fort Laramie.
Since writing the above, I have received the enclosed instructions from the War Department, through the Adjutant General. You will consult General Clark, and will take prompt measures to carry out the views of the Secretary of War.
Furnish me the information called for in the first paragraph as soon as you can obtain it. From Mr. Choteau's partner, (I do not remember his name), you will be able to get satisfactory and full information; also from others.
-Th. S. Jesup, Quartermaster General.
Qr. Master's Office, St. Louis,
March 30th, 1855. General:
I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 23d inst., enclosing a copy of the instructions of the War Department, addressed to you by the Adjutant General, in relation to the contemplated movement of troops into the Indian country in the course of the ensuing season.
You desire me "to obtain the most reliable information possible as to the suitableness of Fort Pierre on the upper Missouri for a depot of supplies and the nature of the country thence to Fort Laramie, together with the distance from the former to the latter place.
I have conversed with Mr. John B. Sarpy, the active or principal partner, at St. Louis, of the firm of P. Chouteau Jr. and Co., who are the owners of Fort Pierre, respecting the points referred to, and, from all the information I have gathered from him, I can come to no other conclusion than that Fort Pierre is unfitted for a depot of supplies for any considerable body of troops in its immediate vicinity. The dimensions of the enclosure forming the trading establishment, are sufficiently large to contain the ordinary qr. mr's stores, proper, the subsistence, ordnance and medical supplies, and to afford quarters to the officers and employees requisite at a depot; but, to provide for the wants of a mounted force, or the numerous animals necessary to be kept there for transportation purposes, there are none of the usual resources for forage to be found.
Fort Pierre is situated in the country called “Mauvaise Terre," and for hundreds of miles around, there is no grass susceptible of being made into hay for winter food. The short, but nutritious buffalo grass prevails and affords good grazing in the summer, but it is covered by the snows in the winter.
Fodder cannot be procured as a substitute, as the sterility of the soil forbids the cultivation of corn. Mr. Sarpy states that about the only district capable of producing corin, is found on an island about three miles long and three-fourths of a mile in width, and distant about three miles from the fort; but that the largest crop hitherto raised, has been about thirty bushels in one year, after repeated trials for five years; or, in other words, one meagre crop only can be expected from five plantings.
Fuel for consumption at the proposed depot, cannot be had at a less distance than twenty miles. The customary manner of procuring it in considerable quantities, is to send chopping parties above and raft it down the river to the place of deposit. Fort Pierre was established eighteen years ago, and, in the meantime, the timber, never very dense, has been exhausted within the circuit I have mentioned.
For our supplies of corn and hay then, we must look to the nearest settlements below on the Missouri, at present from 600 to 700 miles. I have had corn offered to me, to be delivered at such points at 60 cents per bushel, but to carry it to the depot, a boat of extreme light draft must be used, and, at rather favorable stages of the river. The navigableness of the Missouri from St. Louis to Fort Pierre, cannot be depended upon, for boats of 309 tons, longer than 75 days in the year; nor can more than one voyage be performed by a single boat. I am told that it is useless to leave St. Louis for such a purpose before the first of June, then to avail of the periodical high water caused by the melting of the snow in the mountains whence the Missouri has its source. It requires about 25 days to reach Fort Pierre, and about ten or fifteen to return to St. Louis. Hence you will perceive that to carry out the instructions of the War Department of the 23d instant, several boats will be required to convey all the stores necessary to supply the troops, cavalry as well as infantry, ordered there, and, should the Dept. become a permanent one, all the supplies destined for that quarter hereafter, must be accumulated at this place, so as to be shipped about the first of June of every year, to secure certain and economical transportation.
From the foregoing, you will be able, in a manner, to judge of the expediency suggested in your letter of sending our supplies for Fort Laramie to that point instead of to Fort Leavenworth. The annual supplies destined for Fort Laramie are now conveyed by contract with civilians; were they to be sent by the way of Fort Pierre, a train of wagons must be maintained there, at the risk and expense, and under difficulties to which I have adverted, to forward them to their destination. The cost of transportation per 100 lbs. from St. Louis to Fort Laramie last year, was $8.31 ; the charge for freight to Fort Pierre, may be estimated at five dollars; and the subsequent expense of supporting the animals belonging to the wagon train to forward the supplies, seasonably, is incalculable. From the character of the soil in that region, there can never be afforded means of transportation by contract, nor forage to subsist our own animals, through the facilities offered elsewhere by individual enterprise and a cultivated country.
The distance from Fort Pierre to St. Louis is 1525 miles, and to Fort Laramie, 325 miles. The road between the latter points is a good one in dry seasons, but very difficult after heavy rains.
I respectfully submit herewith a rough draft of the country within the circumference of the proposed operations, a plan of Fort Pierre, showing the dimensions of the several buildings, and a list of distances from St. Louis to various points on the Missouri, as far as its source.
Although I have expressed an unfavorable opinion of the capabilities of Fort Pierre as a depot (especially for cavalry supplies) it must be conceded there is no other place on the Missouri more eligible in view of the communications to be kept up with Fort Laramie. Should the depot or a military post be permanently established there, it may be found necessary to form an Entrepot at the “Eau-qui-court,” or, between that and White River, and, for the purpose of making the delivery of supplies certain, under the variation of the waters of the upper Missouri, one or more small draft boats should be purchased and kept constantly in service, plying between these points and Fort Leavenworth or the settlements.
Should you concur with me in the latter suggestion, I would respectfully ask that Major Ogden be detained long enough from the execution of his present orders, to purchase on the Ohio River the steamboats required and equip and man them at the same time.
I am, General,
With great respect,
Your obdt. servant,
--D. H. Vinton,
Major and Qr. Mr. Major General T. S. Jessup,
Qr. Mr. General,
U. S. Army,
Headquarters Sioux Expedition,
April 5, 1855. Colonel :
I arrived at this city on the ist instant, and have occupied myself since that time in the necessary preliminary inquiries and measures incident to the operations about to be undertaken, under my direction on the plains.
I find the Missouri River unusually low for the season of the year, so low indeed that boats of ordinary draft cannot ascend even to Fort Leavenworth. The two companies of the 6th Infantry which are to relieve those of the 2d at Fort Riley, are under orders and only waiting for an opportunity to proceed to Fort Leavenworth. In regard to the companies of the 2d Infantry destined for Fort Pierre, the experience of the oldest pilots on the Missouri, is opposed to their starting before they will be likely to meet what is termed the June rise; that is to say, about the middle of May, from Saint Louis so as to meet the June freshet about midway between this point and Fort Pierre. It is highly probable also, that the necessary supplies for the Quartermaster's and Subsistence Departments intended for that line, cannot be collected before the time above named.
In respect to the troops and supplies destined for Forts Laramie and Kearney, considering the prospect for an unusually backward spring, it would not be safe to predict their departura from Fort Leavenworth, before the 15th proximo, or the ist of June.
As yet, Brevent Major O. F. Winship, A. A. G. and Captain S. Van Vliet, Asst. Qr. Mr., are the only staff officers that have reported to me. I doubt not that measures have been taken to supply the remainder required for the Expedition, but it is highly important that they should report to me at as early a day as practicable. I have already been advised that Captain M. D. L. Simpson, of the Subs. Department and a Topographical Engineer (not designated) are assigned to the expedition. There are still wanting at least one more Asst. Or. Master, four more medical officers, one paymaster and an ordnance officer.
I have just received a letter from the Commissary General of Subsistence, relative to the assignment of Captain Simpson to the expedition, and a recommendation that he be required to