I have been re-reading the Tom Cover book ( Vengeance! The Saga of Poor Tom Cover by Dan Thrapp) in preparation for a trip I am taking to Montana later this month. What a great book! I am not sure why the author chose to write about Tom Cover but I am sure glad he did. As Joe Snyder has commented, Tom Cover makes our lives seem pretty small by comparison. He had a huge life jam-packed with adventure, excitement and intrigue. Every time I read this book, my attention is drawn to a different part of his adventures.
During 1862, Tom led a group of 26 gold-seeking prospectors from Denver, Colorado to Montana. It says a lot about Tom that he was chosen to captain this hard-bitten aggregation of men. The group that Tom led included a variety of individuals, including at least three attorneys, a future Congressman, men from various walks of life and individuals of foreign descent. Dan Thrapp, the author of the Tom Cover book, surmises that Tom was anointed the leader of this group because of his considerable frontier experience, his capacity to handle troublesome Indians, his leadership qualities, courage and resourcefulness.
The Cover party, as it was called, included men mounted on horseback, others riding bull wagons and men walking. The Cover party traveled through numerous areas inhabited by Indians, some very unfriendly and dangerous and some not. Make no mistake, the threat of attack from Indians was very real on this journey. To put this in perspective, the Cover Party’s journey occurred 14 years before Custer and 267 troopers from his 7th Cavalry were killed by Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in nearby Montana Territory. Their trip included travel through plains areas, through valleys, along and over rivers and into and over mountains, including stretches of the Northern Rockies. There were many adventures along the way. As they had started in the spring, many of the streams and rivers they crossed were very high due to melted snow runoff. As the group crossed the North Platte River, Tom Cover’s horse sunk and he was able to reach land only after tremendous difficulty.
In late May or early June of 1862, the group crossed the Snake River near the present town of Idaho Falls. The Snake River carried an abundance of ice-cold swift water which was hazardous to raft. The Cover party spent several weeks making rafts for the wagons and testing them in the rough water of the Snake River. During that time, one poorly constructed boat, made out of a wagon box, capsized and two of the expedition drowned. Ultimately, they located and repaired an ancient ferry boat, that they used to ferry across the river the wagons, the horses and the men that could not swim. The Cover party became quite expert in using rafts to cross wide and dangerous rivers.
The Cover party faced the threat of constant skirmishes with Indians and they had to picket their horses and cattle nearby every night and post guards to prevent losing their stock to the Indians. At times, they found game to be scarce and at other times, they found game in abundance, killing birds, elk and antelope. On July 4, they celebrated by slaughtering one of their precious oxen.
The Cover party threaded through Lemhi Pass, a high mountain pass, to enter into Montana from Idaho. Lemhi Pass is in the Beaverhead Mountains, part of the Bitterroot range in the Rocky Mountains and within present Salmon-Challis National Forest. the pass lies on the Idaho-Montana border on the continental divide at an elevation of 7,373 feet. Before they began the journey up the pass, they took apart the wagons , hid the pieces in the brush, cached their extra provisions and turned loose most of their oxen to graze, rest and fatten. Pack saddles were made for some of the cattle, a handful of men rode horses and the remainder of the men walked as they journeyed up Lemhi Pass, which is shown in the photo at the top of this post. Lemhi Pass is also of historical significance as it was the pass discovered and used by Meriwether Lewis and members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1805. As Meriwether Lewis and his crew climbed Lemhi pass from the Montana side, they hoped to see the Pacific Ocean but, upon reaching the top of the pass, saw only further mountains as far as they could see.
The driving distance today from Denver to Dillon, Montana is 755 miles via interstate and/or modern highways. Given the nature of the roads and/or trails that existed at the time of the Cover party’s journey, they likely traveled over 1,000 miles through rough and difficult terrain. In short, the Cover party’s journey through the wilderness of present day Colorado, Wyoming , Idaho and Montana was long, arduous and full of adventures, obstacles and unanticipated difficulties.