The trappers were camped on Pelican Creek near Yellowstone Lake. Osborne Russell ate a few bites, kindled a fire, filled his pipe, and sat down to unwind while his young trapping partner napped.
As Russell began to relax, he glanced toward the horses and immediately spotted several Blackfeet warriors creeping towards him. He grabbed his rifle, woke his partner, and lunged for his powder horn and bullet pouch. Too late, they were already in the hands of an attacker. The trappers were nearly surrounded.
This may sound like the beginning of a movie but its’s actually an incident that Osborne Russell thoroughly described and one that he almost didn’t survive.
The trappers threw up their rifles and, as the attackers shattered the silence with war cries, the mountain men hurried into a nearby blow-down. An arrow struck Russell’s partner on the right hip. Russell told him to pull it out, but was also hit in the hip by an arrow as he spoke. Russell noted that the arrows did not impede their progress. Russell was shot a second time as an arrow pierced his right leg above the knee causing him to fall. The warrior that shot him leaped towards Russell with uplifted battle-axe. The trapper avoided the blow, stood, and hopped from log to log through a shower of arrows.
Russell was faint from blood loss so the trappers settled among the downfall determined to kill the two leading attackers “and then die like men.” They rested their rifles across a log and Russell whispered to his companion to shoot when the Blackfeet looked their way.
About 20 Blackfeet passed quite close to the trappers without spotting them and another group passed within 20 or 30 paces. The attackers moved into some nearby bushes while the trappers remained still until the rustling sounds of the Blackfeet had died away. Then they carefully looked around and stood. Russell’s partner asked in a whisper how far it was to the lake. Russell indicated it was about a quarter of a mile while nearly fainting from loss of blood and lack of water. The trappers hobbled toward the lake although Russell was obliged to sit down for a few minutes, then go a little further, and then rest again, while trying to calm his panicking young partner.
After their escape, Russell estimated they were 90 miles from Fort Hall and expected to see little or no game on the way. They lay down and shivered with cold until daylight, then arose and began their journey, determined to travel it in three days. Starting at daybreak, they traveled all day through tall sagebrush and sand along the Snake River. They stopped at dark, nearly worn out with fatigue, hunger, and lack of sleep. On the third day, the exhausted men hovered over a small fire until sunrise then resumed their journey. They travelled to within about 10 miles of the fort when they encountered an individual that furnished them with horses and accompanied them. They arrived before sunset, hungry, wounded, and fatigued, but alive.
Now you understand how tough these mountain men were.
Sensing the end of the fur trade, Osborne Russell moved to Oregon in 1843. Russell was described as a man who “always remained true to his principles; man of education, refined feelings and exceptional ability.” He served on the executive committee to form Oregon’s provisional government and was one of the original trustees of the University at Forest Grove.
In his later years Russell moved to Placerville, Calif. In May 1884 he entered Eldorado County Hospital with miner’s rheumatism. Russell died on August 2, 1892, at age 78. He was buried in the hospital cemetery in an unmarked grave.