IN LAST WEEK’S episode, the Press Expedition of 1889-90, a motley collection of six men, four dogs named Daisy, Tweed, Bud and Dike, and one remaining mule, Dollie, were floundering through the snow in upper Elwha somewhere above today’s Whiskey Bend.
After months of pushing up the Elwha, the Press boys had ditched their 30-foot party barge Gertie. It was impossible to drag the craft upriver. They had lost Jennie the mule, who had fallen off a cliff on a ridge ominously named the Devil’s Backbone.
The men were suffering from dysentery. The dogs were hungry and the remaining mule Dollie was reduced to eating Oregon Grape.
The men supposed that Dollie would be fine if they could just make it to the center of the Olympic Mountains, where the locals had assured the expedition there was a bunch grass prairie and a lake. The expedition leader James Christie came to the hard realization that “From the thousand and one advices received and the mass of rubbish poured out for the education of our party, I can get no information regarding the country.”
Unfortunately for the Press Expedition, telling tall tales to tourists was a proud pioneer tradition — variations of which have survived to the present. A flourishing tourist industry lures crowds of people to the Olympic Peninsula for solitude in the wilderness, if they can get a reservation and a permit.
By the time the expedition reached Geyser Valley, half of their provisions were gone. They were saved by a wealth of steelhead, elk and deer.
The expedition stopped and built a smokehouse.
Here is one of the great mysteries of the Press Expedition. They heard rumbling sounds with a duration of about four minutes that the men thought could be caused by geysers.
Having spent decades in the fruitless search for the geysers in Geyser Valley, we can only suspect tales of the geysers may have been a form of revenge for the faulty intelligence the expedition was supplied by the townsfolk. Who knows?
The dogs and mules were the most important members of the expedition. The mules packed the grub. The dogs kept the humans from freezing to death while sleeping in the snow in a blanket. The dogs were hunters, saving the expedition from starvation during the most desperate point of the journey.
Dike was killed by a bull elk up in Press Valley.
Dollie laid down and refused to get up. This was on a disastrous detour where the expedition left the broad, level valley of the Elwha to struggle up the impossibly rugged Goldie River, only to find it was a dead end that led back down to the Elwha just upstream from where they left it.
Dollie was relieved of her halter and, “turned adrift to make her living as the elk do.”
This was a desperate measure, but it might not have been the end of Dollie.
Instead of ending up as cougar bait, she may have done what many a mule has done before.
Anytime you least expect it, a mule is liable to whirl around with a second wind and head back down the trail to the starting point — a trick that has left many a mule-skinner in the wilderness without their outfit.
As for the dogs, they stuck with the expedition, eating what was left of the bacon, but saving the men from starvation by chasing down bears at Low Divide.
From there it was all downhill to the Quinault, where possibly, the descendants of these dogs may survive to the present. Who knows?
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via firstname.lastname@example.org.