Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Edward Rose:

Edward Rose, was also known amongst the Crow Indians as Cut Nose and later as The Five Scalps.  He was an individual with few scruples, and was a fierce and savage fighter, totally without fear.  He was equally comfortable living in both the society of the Indians as well as with that of the mountain men.  Many of his contemporaries saw him as a scoundrel: his typical relationships with the fur companies and mountain men followed a pattern in which Rose would first show himself as an outstanding hunter, guide, interpreter, but his later duplicity caused his employers and peers much relief to see him gone.

He was a son of a white trader and a half-breed Cherokee-Negro woman.  The date of his birth as well as his early life are unknown.  At about 18 years of age he signed on as part of the crew on a keelboat and traveled to New Orleans where he quickly gained a reputation for both robbery and as a savage fighter. It was here that he may have received the severe slash and scar on his nose that would give him the nickname Cut Nose.

By 1806 he was in St. Louis, and in the spring of 1807 he joined with a brigade of men lead by Manuel Lisa heading up the Missouri River, ultimately to build a fort (Fort Raymond) at the confluence of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Rivers.  Lisa’s goal for this expedition was to accumulate furs both through trade with the Indians and directly by trapping them from the streams and rivers.  The expedition arrived too late in the fall to do either.  

In November 1807 Lisa sent out John Colter to give notice to the Indians in the region of the presence of the post and invite them to come in the following spring for trade.  Later in the winter Lisa sent out George Drouillard and Edward Rose with the same mission as Colter.  

Whereas Colter covered some 500 miles through the snow choked mountains, and Drouillard covered a similar distance under less rigorous conditions, Rose made it as far as a village of Crow Indians, where he passed the remainder of the winter living in relative opulence while generously dispensing Lisa’s trade goods in return for favors.

When he returned to the fort in the spring of 1808, he was unable to satisfactorily account for his time or the trade goods he had taken out with him.  This soon lead to a violent altercation between Rose and Lisa, which ultimately required 15 men to subdue Rose.  After the altercation Lisa made a hasty departure for St. Louis while Rose remained at Fort Raymond only long enough to coerce additional trade goods from the remaining employees before returning to the Crow Indians.

Soon after rejoining the Crows Rose had the opportunity to demonstrate his reckless bravery and ferocious abandon in hand-to hand fighting.  Crow and Minnetaree (Hidatsa) warriors were engaged in a skirmish, and the Minnetaree were forted up in a strong defensive position.  After several abortive charges the Crow were willing to give up the attack.  At this point, Rose snatched two shields from the milling Crow warriors and armed with only a knife and tomahawk, single handedly attacked the Minnetaree position.  Just as he approached the fortification, three bullets simultaneously struck the shields.  Rose fell backwards, apparently dead, and then as if possessed by supernatural powers regained his feet and vaulted over the defensive position.  The Minnetaree were paralyzed with shock while Rose went into a battle rage.  Rose killed five with his ax while the Crow warriors drove off remaining, now demoralized Minnetaree. From his great luck and reckless actions Rose obviously possessed great medicine.  He was now known among the Crow as "Chee-ho-carte" (The Five Scalps.)  Rose now had firmly established his reputation with the Crow for both generosity and as a fearless warrior.

By the spring of 1809 Rose was living with the Arikaree Indians along the Missouri River, where he was found by Andrew Henry who was then leading a brigade up river.   

Because Henry intended to pass through Crow territory, he hired Rose to act as an interpreter.  Initially Rose proved to be an extremely valuable addition to the brigade.  But after gaining access to Henry’s trade goods, he soon decamped with a quantity of supplies, returning to his Crow Indian friends.

In 1811 Wilson Price Hunt was leading the Overland Astorians in an attempt to establish a continent spanning fur empire for John Jacob Astor (See the biography for Ramsay Crooks for a more complete description of this venture). By June the brigade had reached the Arikara villages on the Missouri River where Rose was once again in residence.  Here Hunt decided to travel by pack animal to the Columbia River basin rather than following the path of Lewis and Clark up to the headwaters of the Missouri River.  

Rose because of his extensive knowledge of the regional geography and experience with the local Indians was quickly hired to act as a guide and interpreter.  As the expedition traveled across the mountains it was not long before rumors of robbery and desertion, all ascribed to Rose, came to the attention of Hunt.  Even though a strong guard was established to prevent theft, Hunt still worried that Rose would desert with enough men that it would cripple his expedition.  In his journal entry of September 2, 1811, Hunt (Hunt, 1811) writes "We had in our company a hunter by the name of Rose, a very unpleasant, insolent man.  We had been warned that he planned to desert us when we came across the Crow Indians, to persuade as many of our men as he could to abandon us, and to steal our horses.  For that reason we kept close watch at night. Moreover, we were afraid that if, despite our vigilance, he succeeded in carrying out his traitorous design, he would greatly damage our expedition.  Thus, with the thought in mind that his plan might be more extensive than we suspected, we resolved to frustrate it.  On September 2 we had received a visit from some Crow Indians of a tribe different from the one which we had just left and which was camped on the mountainside.  At that point I suggested to Rose that he remain with [the] Crow Indians; and I offered him half a year's wages, a horse, three beaver traps, and some other commodities.  He accepted my conditions; and he immediately abandoned his fellow conspirators who, without a leader, remained with our expedition."

In 1812 Rose is again listed on the ledger of the Missouri Fur Company (Manuel Lisa's outfit) as one of the men composing the brigade to the mountains that year. On the way to the Rocky Mountains, the company established a trading post located about 12 miles from the Arikaree villages.

In following years Rose took up residence amongst the Omaha Indians where he again established himself in a high-ranking position by dispensing trade goods for favors.  He married the daughter of one of the chiefs with whom he had two children.

While with the Omaha he became a heavy drinker, an activity encouraged by easy access to alcohol from a nearby trading post.  While under the influence of alcohol Rose was strongly predisposed towards violence, starting fights for the pleasure of fighting.  He eventually became such a problem for both Indians and traders that he was put in chains and sent to St. Louis.

After his release he made a short trip to New Orleans, and then he returned to the Crow Indians, amongst whom he mostly resided for the next eight or ten years. Starting in 1820 through 1823 he resided mostly amongst the Arikara Indians at their villages on the Missouri River.

In 1823 William Ashley hired Rose as interpreter and guide for his second expedition to the mountains.  The Arikara Indian villages were always difficult to pass and when Ashley’s expedition arrived at the Arikara villages in the spring of that year, the Arikara were in an especially foul mood.  Two Arikaree warriors had been killed by personnel from the Missouri Fur Company the preceding winter, and the Indians were ready to extract vengeance from any white man that they encountered.  Ashley thought that he could make the Indians differentiate between his outfit and the actions of the Missouri Fur Company but to the Arikara a white man was a white man.  

There followed three days of tense trading on the beach below the village, Ashley seeking to trade for horses, and the Indians seeking only powder and ammunition. On the third night one of Ashley’s men was killed in the village and all hell broke loose. According to James Clyman (1824) "In the night of the third day Several of our men without permition went and remained in the village amongst them our Interperter Mr Rose   about midnight he came runing into camp & informed us that one of our men was killed in the village and war was declared in earnest   We had no Military organization diciplin or Subordination  Several advised to cross over the river at once but thought best to wait untill day light But Gnl. Ashley our imployer Thought best to wait till morning and go into the village and demand the body of our comrade and his Murderer     Ashley being the most interested his advice prevailed    We laid on our arms epecting an attact as their was a continual Hubbub in the village."  

The following morning the Indians opened fire on the men of Ashley’s brigade exposed on the beach, killing 15, wounding 9 and driving the expedition down river several hundred miles.  It is likely that Rose was personally involved in the incident in the Arikara village that night, but overall on this occasion, Rose behaved honorably with respect to his employer.  Ashley would later recommended Rose for the rank of ensign in Colonel Leavenworth’s military expedition when it marched the following month in a punitive expedition against the Arikara.

Although the military campaign failed to achieve any of its goals, Colonel Leavenworth was favorably impressed with Edward Rose.  In a report to General Henry Atkinson he writes: "I had not found any one willing to go into those villages except a man by the name of Rose, who had the nominal rank of ensign..… He appeared to be a brave and enterprising man, and was well acquainted with those Indians. He resided three years with them; understood their language, and they were much attached to him.…. I have since heard that he was not of good character. Everything he told us, however, was fully corroborated. He was perfectly willing to go into their villages, and did go in several times." (Hafen Volume IX page 341)

Facing financial ruin as a result of the disaster at the Arikara villages, Ashley had to act quickly to salvage anything from the season.  Abandoning the familiar water route to the mountains, he split his men into two brigades to travel overland.  One party was to resupply Andrew Henry’s men, the other, led by Jedediah Smith was to travel to the west trapping and hunting, eventually to join up with Henry as well.

Once again, Edward Rose, with his by now immense knowledge of the region and Indians who lived there, was selected to act as a guide and interpreter for Smith’s party.  In making the journey, the men and horses suffered greatly from lack of water.  Rose was sent on ahead to find the Crow Indians and obtain fresh horses from them.  Rose returned with 15 or so Crow Indians and some fresh horses, but not enough to equip the entire party.  Eventually Smith’s party caught up with the main Crow encampment in the vicinity of the Wind River Mountains where Smith’s men also encamped for the winter.  

Tensions between Rose and Smith immediately began to appear. All communications with the Indians were by necessity channeled through Rose, he being the only one who could speak their language.  The Indians would do nothing without approval from Rose, and the cost of Rose’s approval proved to be a continual drain on Smith’s limited supply of trade goods.  In mid January, 1824, Smith and his men packed up and left the Crow encampment.  Even though they suffered immensely from wind, cold, and hunger until spring, it was better than enduring the tyranny Rose had imposed on them.

Little is known of Rose’ doings or whereabouts in subsequent years although he probably continued to live amongst the Crow Indians.  In November 1834?? Zenas Leonard (Reference Note: it’s possible Leonard has mistaken the year) witnessed Rose in battle with the Crows against a war party of Blackfoot Indians. For Zenas Leonard’s description of the battle click here.

It is likely that Rose was killed during the winter of 1832-1833.  John F.A. Sanford in a letter to General William Clark (Hafen Vol. IX, page 345) states that Rose along with two others were killed by Arikaras.  Hugh Glass was one of Rose’ companions and another man were delivering a message to Fort Union. They were traveling along on the ice of the frozen Yellowstone River when they were caught by a war party of about 30 Arikara warriors.  Greatly outnumbered and with nowhere to establish a defensive position, the three men were shot and killed.

For more information about Edward Rose see:

The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Volume IX; edited by LeRoy R Hafen, published by The Arthur H Clark Company, Glendale, California, 1966. 

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