Gunnison Expedition, 1853

“September 16. – We travelled 18.25 miles down the Uncompahgra to-day, crossing the stream four miles below our morning camp, and again a few miles before encamping this evening a short distance above its junction with Grand river; the descent from camp to camp slightly exceeding forty-one feet to the mile. The country is in all respects like that passed yesterday—- cotton- wood, willow, and grass in the narrow bottom, and near it heavy sage; but the great mass of the valley land is nearly destitute of vegetation— light, clayey, and arid to such an extent that it is disagreeable to ride over it, as it sends up clouds of dust at every step. We met small parties of Indians during the day, all of whom followed us to camp; and others continued to arrive until a late hour at night, filling the air as they approached with yells and calls, which were answered by their friends in or near camp— consisting of inquiries and directions as to how and where they were to a=pass— until we were heartily tired of them. the most of them were sent out of camp. but they built their fires only a few yards from outs, and their noise was little abated by the change, and our safety but little increased. They had, much to his regret, recognized our guide; but he neither showed fear nor want of confidence in them, although he had once shot one of their chiefs, who was attempting to rob him of his horse; and he shared his fire, pipe, and blankets with the chiefs who remained all night with him.”

“September 17.— Si-ree-chi-wap, the principal chief of the band, who is now so old that he exercises but little authority directly—- interesting it to his son, who accompanies him— arrived during the night, and, followed by his sub-chiefs and warriors, this morning repaired to Captain Gunnison’s tend to talk and smoke. The Captain informed them that ‘the President had sent him to look for a good road by which his people, who live towards the rising sun, can visit those who live upon the great water where it sets; that the President was their friend, and had authorized him to make them a few presents in his name.’ The son of Si-rec-chi-wap replied: ‘This is your land, and you can go over it at any time. There are bad Indians over the mountains, who kill white men, but the Utahs are good, and glad to see the Americans.’ Presents were then distributed, pipes smoked, and the party moved on, accompanied for several miles by the chiefs. We crossed the point of land lying between the Uncompahgra and Grand rivers, reaching the latter at Roubideau’s old trading fort, not entirely fallen to ruins. The river is much larger than where we left it a week ago; and it’s water has here a greenish shade, while there it was colorless. The Uncompahgra, however, is remarkable for this color of its water, and for a pea green moss, two or three inches long, covering the stones in its bed, even where the stream is shallow and very rapid. A mile below the fort we crossed the river at an excellent ford; the bottom being a mile in width, and covered with abundant grass.

“The cañon which we have been so many days passing around, terminates several miles above the junction of the Uncompahgra with Grand river, where the latter receives a large affluent from the Elk mountains, known as Smith’s fork…..

Gunnison, views of the Grand River, Library of Congress

Gunnison, views of the Grand River, Library of Congress

“Ascending from the river bottom, our route passed, parallel with it, over a district of pulverulent clay, the surface occasionally incrusted with salt, with small broken crystals of gypsum scattered freely about. This soil is formed from the wash of impure clay-slate bluffs, our animals sinking in it to their fetlocks. These bluffs rise one above another until they attain an altitude of 1,000 feet, their summits presenting the appearance, as we descended Grand river, of an unbroken plain; but as we pass in front of them they are seen to be cut into deep ravines by the small streams which descend from them during rains. In a few miles, however, we passed from this soil to a hard one, covered with small fragments of black vesicular volcanic rocks scattered over the surface. The men sent forward to select a camp, failed to find access to the river; and having travelled 20.33 miles at dark, we encamped without water, and on so limited a supply of grass, scattered over the hills, that the most of our animals were tied up to secure their presence in the morning. Our elevation was perhaps 150 feet above the river and during the afternoon we had repeatedly to cross deep ravines entering the river in canons, in trap-rock or in sandstone and clay- slate, where they overlie the trap. The land rises from out camp to the river, distant half a mile, and beyond it is soon elevated into a mountain: the stream flowing, consequently, in an immense chasm along the mountain side, made doubtless, by volcanic action. Much ‘cutting and filling’ would be required in constructing a railroad near this cañon, which the Utahs call Una-weep, or Red cañon. It extends from a short distance below Roubideau’s old fort to near the junction of the Grand river with the Blue or Nah-un-kah-rea of the Indians. The Utahs also give the name of Una- weep to a small stream which enters Grand river from the south, in this cañon.”


Report of Explorations for a Route for the Pacific Railroad, by Capt. J.W. Gunnison, Topographical Engineers, near the 38th and 39th Parallels of North Latitude, from the Mouth of the Kansas River, Mo., to the Sevier Lake, in the Grate Basin. Report by Lieut. E. G. Beckwith, Third Artillery. Washington: 1855, Volume II, pp 55- 57.