New Light on the Donner Party
What I Saw in California
by Edwin Bryant
From Independence, Missouri, to the Green River, May 1-July 14, 1846.
IN the succeeding pages, the author has endeavored to furnish a faithful sketch of the country through which he travelled—its capabilities, scenery, and population. He has carefully avoided such embellishment as would tend to impress the reader with a false or incorrect idea of what he saw and describes. He has invented nothing to make his narrative more dramatic and amusing than the truth may render it. His design has been to furnish a volume, entertaining and instructive to the general reader, and reliable and useful to the traveller and emigrant to the Pacific. If he has succeeded in this, it is as much as he can hope. The facts in reference to those military and naval operations in California which did not come under his personal observation, have been derived from authentic sources.
Leave Louisville – Independence, Mo. – New-Mexican teamsters – Outfitting – Masonic celebration – Improbable rumors – Mormons – Indians – Marvellous stories.
With my travelling companions for a journey over the Rocky mountains to
California, (Mr. R. T. Jacob and Mr. R. Ewing,) I left Louisville, Ky., on
the 18th of April, 1846; and arrived at Independence, Mo., the
starting-point, on the 1st of May.
The town of Independence is situated about six miles from the Missouri river, on the southern, or left-hand side as you ascend it. The surrounding country is undulating, picturesque, and highly fertile. The growth of timber is various, and all indicative of a fat and exuberantly productive soil. Its population is about one thousand; and, at this season, every man seems to be actively and profitably employed. It has been for some years the principal outfitting point for the Santa Fé traders, and will probably so continue. Many of the houses around the public square are constructed of brick, but the majority of the buildings are frames. I noticed, among the busy multitude moving to and fro through the streets, a large number of New-Mexicans, and half-breed Indians, with their dusky complexions and ragged and dirty costumes. They were generally mounted on miserably poor mules or horses, and presented a most shabby appearance. Long trains of oxen, sometimes as many as ten or fifteen yokes, strung together and pulling huge tented-wagons, designed for some Santa Fé trading expedition, were moving about the streets, under the direction of numerous drivers, cracking their whips and making a great noise. Ox-teams seem to be esteemed as preferable, in these journeys, to either mules or horses. Following the example of others more experienced in these matters than ourselves, we determined to procure oxen, instead of mules, for our wagon, as originally we had intended.
Accordingly I purchased three yokes of oxen, which it was believed would be a team sufficiently powerful for the transportation of our baggage and provisions. The average price paid per yoke was $21.67, which was considered very cheap. The streets were filled with oxen offered for sale by the neighboring farmers, but few of them were in good condition or well trained. This was the case in regard to those we purchased; but they were all young cattle, and improbable. Young and medium-sized cattle should be selected for a journey over the plains and mountains, in preference to the heavy-bodied and old; the latter almost invariably become foot-sore, and give out after travelling a few hundred miles. We engaged a man, who had spent some time in the Rocky Mountains as a servant of the trading and trapping companies, for our driver and cook, and the cattle were placed under his charge to be educated. Although we had made many purchases in St. Louis, we found upon consultation after our arrival here, that there was a long list of small articles necessary for the journey yet to be procured. These I obtained at reasonable rates, of Messrs. Wilson & Clarke, who keep a general furnishing store for these expeditions. Other mercantile houses in the place were also well supplied, and sold their wares at fair prices.
The masonic lodges of Independence commemorated the departure of their brother masons, connected with the Santa Fé and emigrating parties, by a public procession and an address, with other religious exercises. The lady-masons, that is, the wives of the members of the fraternity, walked in the procession to and from the church. A large audience was collected to hear the address, and participate in the exercises. The address was delivered by Mr. REESE, the grand-master, or principal masonic officer in the place. It was appropriate to the occasion, except, as I thought, that it was rather over strained in pathos. The orator, at the close of his discourse, consigned us all to the grave, or to perpetual exile. He was responded to in suitable and eloquent terms, on behalf of the Santa Fé traders and the emigrants to Oregon and California, by Col. Waul and Col. Russell. After the addresses, an original hymn, written for the occasion, as I understood, was sung with much feeling by the whole audience, to the tune of "Old Rosin the Bow." These farewell ceremonies were concluded by an affecting prayer and benediction. The ladies of the auditory, I thought, were the most interested in and excited by these proceedings. Some of them wept, and manifested strong emotions.
It rained heavily and incessantly the whole day on the 3d, and the unpaved streets of the town were so muddy and so much inundated with water, that walking about was quite out of the question. We therefore confined ourselves to our room in the hotel, where we had scores of visitors; who, finding it impossible to do any thing else, lounged and talked over the various rumors connected with the several expeditions.
One of these rumors was, that five thousand Mormons were crossing, or had crossed, the Kansas river; that they marched with ten brass fieldpieces, and that every man of the party was armed with a rifle, a bowie-knife, and a brace of large revolving pistols. It was declared that they were inveterately hostile to the emigrant parties; and when the latter same up to the Mormons, they intended to attack and murder them, and appropriate to themselves their property. Another rumor was, that the Kansas Indians had collected in large numbers on the trail, for the purpose of robbery and murder. A third was, that a party of five Englishmen, supposed to be emissaries of their government, had started in advance of us, bound for Oregon; and that their object was to stir up the Indian tribes along the route, and incite them to deeds of hostility towards the emigrants; to attack their trains, rob, murder, and annihilate them. All these reports were sufficiently appalling to deter prudent men from incurring the dangers which they suggested, had there been any foundation for them to rest upon. Similar rumors will probably be current every year, about the time that emigrants are organizing their companies to start west.
Among the gentlemen who honored us with their company during the day, were--Mr. Webb, editor of the "Independence Expositor," to whom I was indebted for several acts of kindness; Mr. [Benjamin S.] Lippincott, a gentleman from New York, visiting California for commercial purposes; and Mr. Curry, late one of the editors of the "St. Louis Reveille," who will be our fellow traveller over the plains and mountains. Many tales of Rocky Mountain adventure, some of which were sufficiently dismal and tactical for the most horror-tinctured taste, others contrasting as widely there from as possible, were related. The merits of the countries bordering the Pacific were discussed by some they were denounced as abodes suitable only for the condemned and abandoned of God and man; by others they were extolled, as being scarcely inferior in their attractions to the Eden described in the history of the creation, and presenting such fascinations as almost to call the angels and saints from their blissful gardens and diamond temples in the heavens. Such are the antipodes of opinion among those who rely upon second-hand testimony for their information, or are governed by their prejudices, in reference to this subject.
A story was told in regard to the climate of California, which, because it serves to illustrate the extravagances above referred to, I will endeavor to recite. It was of a man who had lived in California, until he had reached the advanced age of two hundred and fifty years! Although that number of years had passed over him, such were the life-giving and youth-preserving qualities of the climate, that he was in the perfect enjoyment of his health, and every faculty of mind and body which he had ever possessed. But he was tired of life. Having lived so long in a turbulent and unquiet world, he anxiously desired some new state of existence, unincumbered with its cares, and unruffled by its passions and its strifes. But notwithstanding all his efforts to produce a result which he so much wished, and for which he daily and hourly prayed to his Maker, health, and vigor, and life still clung to him--he could not shake them off. He sometimes contemplated suicide; but the holy padres, to whom he confessed his thoughts, admonished him that that was damnation: he was a devout Christian, and would not disobey their injunctions. A lay friend, however, (his heir, probably,) with whom he daily consulted on this subject, at last advised him to a course which, he thought, would produce the desired result. It was to make his will, and other arrangements, and then travel into a foreign country. This suggestion was pleasing to our venerable Californian patriarch in search of death, and he immediately adopted it.
He visited an adjoining country; and very soon, in accordance with his plan and his wishes, he took sick and died. In his will, however, he required his heir and executor, upon pain of disinheritance, to transport his remains to his own country and there entomb them. This requisition was faithfully complied with. His body was interred with great pomp and ceremony in his own cemetery, and prayers were rehearsed in all the churches for the rest of his soul. He was happy, it was supposed, in heaven, where, for a long series of years, he had prayed to be; and his heir was happy that he was there. But what a disappointment! Being brought back and interred in Californian soil, with the health-breathing Californian zephyrs rustling over his grave, the energies of life were immediately restored to his inanimate corpse ! Herculean strength was imparted to his frame, and bursting the prison walls of death, he appeared before his chapfallen heir reinvested with all the vigor and beauty of early manhood! He submitted to his fate, and determined to live his appointed time. Stories similar to the foregoing, although absurd, and so intended to be, no doubt leave their impressions upon the minds of many, predisposed to rove in search of adventures and Eldorados.
A party of gentlemen from Baltimore, bound for Santa Fé on a pleasure excursion, among whom were Messrs. Hoffman, Morris, and Meredith, arrived. The small town seemed to be literally overflowing with strangers of every grade of character and condition of life, collected from all parts of the continents of America and Europe, civilized and uncivilized. On the 4th our additional purchases were made and other arrangements completed, with the exception of some fixtures to our wagon, with duplicate axletrees, ox-bows, &c. &c., which were promised to be in readiness the next morning. From the 5th, therefore, I shall date the commencement of our journey, describing as minutely as will be interesting or useful the events and observations of each day consecutively, from notes taken at the close of our several diurnal marches.
I bespeak the patience of the reader whenever these pages shall appear to him monotonous, as they doubtless frequently will. My design is to give a truthful and not an exaggerated and fanciful account of the occurrences of the journey, and of the scenery, capabilities, and general features of the countries through which we shall pass, with incidental sketches of the leading characteristics of their populations. The journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, is one of protracted duration, owing to the necessarily slow progress of those who undertake it, arising from the numerous difficulties and obstructions they must encounter. The scenery is neither so diversified, nor are the incident and adventure so dramatic and striking as most readers may suppose, from having perused the many unauthenticated histories, fabulous and imaginary, with which the press has of late teemed, professing to be descriptive of mountain and prairie life. The vast interior of North America, with the reputed Eldorado on the shore of the Pacific, furnishes, however, much that is worthy of the inquiry, examination, and admiration of the naturalist, and much that is calculated to awaken and please the desultory curiosity of the mass. Whatever I saw and noted at the time, with the impressions made upon my mind, will be faithfully and truthfully recorded.
Appearance of the country – Vexatious difficulties of starting – First camp – Violent thunder-storm – Four-footed tragedian – First view of the prairie – Soil – Flowers – Emigrant camp – Frontier family – Thunder-storm on the prairie – Lodgings on the frontier – More of the Mormons – Rainbow on the prairie Indian Creek – Place of organization – Straying of cattle and horses – Election on the prairies – Shawnee Indians.
MAY 5. – The beauties and glories of spring are now unfolding themselves,
and earth and sky seem to vie with each other in presenting the most
pleasing influences to the eye and upon the sensibilities. Vegetable nature
in this region has arrayed herself in a gorgeous garniture, and every object
that raises it self above the surface of the ground, is so adorned with
verdure and all the variegated and sparkling array of floral coloring, as to
challenge the admiration of the most unobservant eye.
Our wagon, which has been in the hands of the smith several days for the purpose of adapting it in all respects to our journey, we expected would be ready early this morning; but when I went to the shop to ascertain if the alterations and fixtures were completed, I found but little done. The smith made his excuses as usual in such cases, but promised to go about the work and finish it immediately. I had learned how to value his promises, and determined not to leave the spot until I saw the work finished. This was done about three o’clock, P. M. Our ox-team, which had been kept in readiness for several hours, was immediately attached to the wagon, and our luggage placed in it with all dispatch, and at four o’clock the wagon and team, under the guidance of Brownell the driver, left the town. Business detaining me a short time, I did not overtake the wagon, until it had "rolled," as the teamster’s expression is, about a mile from its starting-point, where I found it firmly and immoveably stalled in the mud, so far as the power of our team could be considered an agent for its extrication. The oxen being untutored and unmanageable, could not be prevailed upon to unite their strength. I dismounted from my horse, and with the aid of Curry, McKinstry, and Nuttall, endeavored to raise the wheels and thus assist the oxen in their efforts. But all our exertions were vain. Fortunately a negro man with a well-trained yoke of oxen came down the road, while we were thus engaged, and hitching his team to ours the wagon was immediately drawn out of the mud, and, to use a nautical expression, we were "set afloat" again.
Proceeding a mile farther, I determined to encamp for the night, it being nearly sunset, on a small stream which crossed the road. Having selected the site of our camp in a grove near a log-house, the wagon, driven by Brownell, soon came up, but in attempting to cross a causeway thrown over the stream, the wheels ran off on one side, and we were stalled a second time. We were relieved finally from this difficulty by a Santa Fé teamster and his oxen, who came down the road during our labors to extricate the wagon. A Mr. Ross, of Independence, passing at the time, acted as master-teamster on the occasion, and performed his duty to admiration. The oxen seemed willing to obey him, when they would not heed the commands of others. We ascended a small elevation and encamped for the night.
Our provisions and cooking utensils, in the haste of departure, had been packed in the wagon without much regard to convenience, in case we should be obliged to make use of them; and we were consequently compelled to remove many heavy boxes and trunks before arriving at our meal, flour, and bacon, and the pans and dishes of our kitchen and table. Upon a careful inspection, we moreover found that sundry pots, skillets, and frying-pans, which we had specially ordered and paid for, were wanting.
During the process of cooking supper, it commenced raining and blowing with great violence. Our fire was nearly extinguished by the deluge of water from the clouds, and our dough was almost turned to batter. Curry, after most persevering and praiseworthy efforts, succeeded in browning the coffee, but Jacob, when he set about grinding it, could not make the coffee-mill perform its appropriate duty, and it was voted a cheat. The rain came down so copiously at last, that our fire was entirely extinguished, and our culinary operations were suspended until nearly 10 o’clock. The violence of the storm abated at that hour. Brownell soon after succeeded in placing before us a supper of half-baked corn-bread, fried bacon, and coffee. We ate standing, with the rain falling, and our clothing completely saturated with water.
Our oxen become entangled in the ropes by which we had secured them from straying during the night, and it was not without much labor and difficulty that they were released. Jacob and myself made our bed, or rather took shelter from the storm, among the boxes in our wagon; McKinstry and Brownell bivouacked under the wagon, and Curry and Nuttall under a large tree. The suspension of the fury of the storm lasted until about 2 o’clock in the morning, when the rain recommenced falling in torrents, accompanied by peals of crashing thunder and flashes of lightning so brilliant, as to illuminate the whole vault of the heavens. Notwithstanding all these inconveniences, we rested pretty well. Distance two miles.
May 6. – The atmosphere was clear and calm, and thousands of birds were
chanting their matin hymn, rendering the grove musical with their melodies.
Three Santa Fé wagons which passed our camp last night during the storm, were stalled in the road just beyond us. We purchased some corn for our oxen at the log-dwelling near by, which they devoured with a good appetite, having eaten nothing for about eighteen hours. Our breakfast, which consisted of badly-baked corn-bread, bacon, and coffee, being over, we readjusted the baggage and resumed our journey. Just as we were starting, one of our best oxen having become entangled in the rope by which he was tied, was thrown to the ground with great force, and after struggling some time he rolled up his eyes, which became fixed, and he manifested all the symptoms of death by a broken neck, or some other fatal injury. The rope was cut, but he was motionless and apparently breathless. Here, as we supposed, was a disaster, stopping further progress until we could supply the place of the dead ox. I was about starting back to town to purchase another animal, when he very calmly and deliberately rose upon his legs, and began to feed upon the corn as composedly as if nothing had occurred. He evidently, after struggling with the rope a long time, thought himself dying, and made signs accordingly.
As we approached what is called the Blue Prairie, the road became much drier and less difficult. The vast prairie itself soon opened before us in all its grandeur and beauty. I had never before beheld extensive scenery of this kind. The many descriptions of the prairies of the west had forestalled in some measure the first impressions produced by the magnificent landscape that lay spread out before me as far as the eye could reach, bounded alone by the blue wall of the sky. No description, however, which I have read of these scenes, or which can be written, can convey more than a faint impression to the imagination of their effects upon the eye. The view of the illimitable succession of green undulations and flowery slopes, of every gentle and graceful configuration, stretching away and away, until they fade from the sight in the dim distance, creates a wild and scarcely controllable ecstasy of admiration. I felt, I doubt not, some of the emotions natural to the aboriginal inhabitants of these boundless and picturesque plains, when roving with unrestrained freedom over them; and careless alike of the past and the future, luxuriating in the blooming wilderness of sweets which the Great Spirit had created for their enjoyment, and placed at their disposal.
The soil of these prairies is of the most inexhaustibly fertile composition, being a black loam, usually several feet in depth. Among the flowers which spangle the waves of this ocean of luxuriant vegetation, were the wild pink-verbena, and the wild indigo, with a blue bean-like blossom. The larkspur, and myriads of smaller flowers, ornament the velvety carpet of grass. Having alighted from my horse to gather some fine specimens of these flowers, when I was carelessly remounting, encumbered with my gun and several other articles, the saddle turned, and my horse becoming restive or alarmed, threw me with great violence to the ground. My wrist and both shoulders were much injured, and my right side was severely bruised.
At two o’clock we reached an encampment, composed of the wagons of Colonel Russell and the family of Mr. West, of Calloway county, Mo., and some others. They were emigrating to California. The wagons numbered in all about fifteen. When our wagon arrived it was drawn up alongside the others, and our oxen released to feed upon the grass of the prairie. I visited the tents of our fellow-travellers, and found the ladies busily employed, as if sitting by the fireside which they had recently left for a long and toilsome, if not a dangerous journey, and a country of which they knew but little. Mrs. West, a lady of seventy, and her daughter, Mrs. Campbell, were knitting. Mr. West, the head of his family, was originally from Virginia, and was, he told me, seventy-five years of age. His four sons and son-in-law, Major Campbell, having determined to emigrate to California, he and his wife had resolved to accompany them. Mr. and Mrs. W, although so much advanced in life, appeared to be as resolute as the youngest of their family, and to count with certainty upon seeing the Eldorado of the Pacific. The former realized this expectation, the latter did not.
A log-house, the residence of a Mr. Milliron, an emigrant to this country from Virginia, was situated about half a mile from our encampment. We visited this house soon after we encamped. The family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. M. and several sons and daughters, have resided here, on the outskirts of civilization, four years. They have annually been afflicted with the prevailing sickness of the country, (the fever and ague,) except their eldest daughter, a very fair-skinned, handsomely-featured and graceful young woman. In a field not far from the house, one of the sons of Mr. M., with a horse-team, was plowing up the ground. I followed the plow several times backwards and forwards, and I never saw a soil indicative of a higher degree of fatness, or more productive qualities.
About five o’clock, P.M., a very black and threatening cloud, which had been gathering for some hours in the west, rose over us, and discharged rain with the copiousness of a water-spout, accompanied with brilliant and incessant flashes of lightning, and crashing peals of thunder. The scene, during the violence of the storm, was inexpressibly grand. I had never previously witnessed any meteoric displays comparable with it. The storm continuing after dark, we determined to shelter ourselves in the house for the night.
A good supper of fried bacon, eggs, fresh butter, and hot corn-bread and biscuit, with a cup of coffee, was prepared for us, to the merits of which we did ample justice. I met at the supper-table a traveller named O’Bryant. He was a young man, and last from Santa Fé, bound for Independence. He had been absent from the United States six years, during which time, impelled by the spirit of adventure and the temptations of gain, he had visited Santa Fé, Chihuahua, Mexico, the mines of Sonora, and the country of Lower California. He could, however, give us no information respecting the route we were about to travel. The capacity of the log-house in which we had taken lodgings for the night, was confined to two small rooms; and of men, women, and children, all counted, there were some fifteen persons to be accommodated. But this, singular as it may seem to the uninitiated in frontier life, was done to the perfect satisfaction and comfort of all concerned. Such are the inventions of necessity, and so soon do our real wants and comforts overshadow and annihilate the artificial desires and luxuries of civilization to which we have been accustomed. I retired early, but the feverish and painful sensations produced by the injuries of the morning, together with the exciting impressions upon my imagination made by the remarkable aspect of the country through which we had travelled, prevented sleep. We were now on the line which divides savage life and civilization. A few miles further, and we shall pass beyond the incorporated territories of the United States into the countries inhabited by the untutored tribes of the wilderness. But notwithstanding such is our position, the scenery around us presents greater pastoral charms than I have witnessed in the oldest and most densely populated districts of the United States; houses alone are wanting to render the landscape perfect. It would seem as if in mockery of the puny efforts and circumscribed results of the labors of man to ornament the landscape by art and cultivation, the power and taste of Omnipotence had here been manifested, preparing for his children a garden as illimitable in extent as it is perfect, grand, and picturesque in appearance. Distance 10 miles.
May 7. – A rainbow formed a perfect and brilliant arch in the west, as
the sun rose above the eastern horizon. A black curtain of clouds shaded the
entire heavens, with the exception of a narrow fringe of yellow light above
the far-off green undulations to the east. The impending masses of watery
vapor soon, however, shut down, and closing this, the whole heavens were
shrouded in deep gloom.
The rain fell almost incessantly during the night, accompanied by loud and continual peals of thunder, and flashes of lightning so vivid as to illuminate the apartment in which we slept, through the unchinked crevices between the logs. During these fierce bursts of the storm, I could not but sympathize with my fellow-travellers without, with no shelter but the thin covering of their tent-cloths, and no floor to rest upon but the wet, cold ground. Such are the exposures of the western emigrants.
We resumed our march in the rain, at 9 o’clock, accompanied by Colonel Russell and his wagon, leaving the other wagons encamped where we found them. We travelled about four miles to a small creek which is called "Blue Creek," and finding the waters so much swollen by the late heavy rains, that it was not fordable, we encamped in a narrow, timbered bottom, a hundred yards from the stream. About twelve o’clock the dark masses of clouds which had obscured the heavens, and poured out upon the earth such floods of water, cleared away, and the sun shone out warm and bright. We took advantage of this interregnum in the water dynasty to dry our drenched clothing. Large fires were made of the dead and fallen timber. the bottom, and an excellent dinner of fried bacon and corn bread was prepared by our cook. The severe bruises which I received from the accident of yesterday, aggravated by the of the weather, were excessively painful, and rendered quite unfit for travelling.
Ewing, who had been dispatched yesterday to Fort Leaven to ascertain the truth of the various rumors respecting the numbers of the Mormons bound west, their disposition, etc. etc., came into camp whooping, about o’clock, P.M., with a man (McClary) riding behind him on his horse. He brought from Colonel Kearny, commandant of the fort, the purport of which was, that a thousand Mormons had crossed the Missouri river about four weeks since, and that a number about equal to the foregoing were now crossing at St. Joseph’s. Others, it was reported, were soon to follow, but with proper circumspection on our part, no difficulties with them need be apprehended.
The emigrants with whom I have met, express generally much apprehension in regard to the designs of the Mormons. Many predict collisions with them and fatal results; and it is probable that some who have started will turn back in consequence of these apprehensions.
We sounded the creek this evening, but found the depth of water too great for fording. We consequently resolved to encamp for the night, and pitched our tent for the first time. Just before sunset another storm of lightning, thunder, and rain rose in the west, and passing over us to the east, the most perfect and brilliant rainbow I ever beheld was defined upon the face of the dark masses of clouds, displaying by a most brilliant presentation all the colors of the prism. Distance, four miles.
May 8. – The creek had fallen several feet during the night, and, much to
our gratification, was now fordable. But our oxen had strayed away, and it
was not until after a long search through the brushy and timbered bottom of
the creek, that they were found. These difficulties in respect to cattle are
always experienced at the outset of a journey over the prairies. At 9
o’clock we resumed our march. Fording the creek, and crossing the timbered
bottom of the stream over a very deep and muddy road, we entered another
magnificent prairie beyond the Missouri line and within the Indian
territory. It is impossible for me to convey to the reader the impressions
made upon my mind by a survey of these measureless undulating plains, with
their ground of the freshest verdure, and their garniture of flame-like
flowers, decorating every slope and hilltop. It would seem as if here the
Almighty had erected a finished abode for his rational creatures, and
ornamented it with beauties of landscape and exuberance and variety of
production far above our feeble conceptions or efforts at imitation.
Our cow, which we found it impossible to drive before us, we secured by a rope attached to her head, and tied to the rear of the wagon. In the course of the day she became entirely exhausted by her own intractability, and fell down in the road. We were compelled to leave her, and forego the luxury of milk on our journey. Some distance to the right of our trail, about two o’clock, P. M., we saw an encampment of several emigrant wagons. Colonel Russell and myself proceeded to them. Composing a portion of this party, were Mr. and Mrs. Newton, recently from Virginia and bound for California. Mrs. N. is a lady of good appearance and manners, and of cultivated taste. We dined with Mr. and Mrs. N.; and although our dinner was not set out in the style of the St. Charles, the Gait House, or the Astor House, nor the viands so various, I certainly enjoyed it more than I ever did a repast at either of those celebrated places of luxury and resort.
Pursuing our journey, after dinner, we overtook ten emigrant wagons, with a numerous drove of cows and other stock. most of these wagons are the property of Mr. Gordon, of Missouri, who, with his entire family, consisting of several sons and daughters, is removing to California. After some conversation we passed them, and overtook our own wagons just as they were driving up to the encampment on Indian Creek, where the organization for our journey is to take place. The position of this encampment is highly picturesque. The margin of the small stream is fringed with a grove of timber, and from the gentle slope, where our wagons are drawn up, the verdant prairie, brilliant with flowers of every dye, stretches far away on all sides, diversified in its surface by every conceivable variety of undulation.
We found two wagons encamped here, one of which belonged to Mr. [Andrew Jackson] Grayson, of St. Louis. Mrs. G., an intelligent and cultivated lady, with a small child, accompanies her husband to the shores of the Pacific. A party from Michigan, under the direction of Mr. [George W.] Harlan, we learned, was encamped in a grove of timber about a mile beyond us. They left Michigan in October last, and wintered near Lexington, Mo. From thence, this spring, by land, they had proceeded thus far on their journey to the Pacific. I visited them in the afternoon; and, as usual among the emigrants, found them cordial and friendly in their salutations. They had been in their present encampment more than a month, but appeared to be contented and happy, and, with the numerous women and children, who greatly outnumber the men, to possess a persevering energy and confidence in the future, that would sustain them in a journey round the globe, whatever might be its difficulties.
Returning to our camp, and accompanied by Curry and Nuttall, I walked some distance down the creek to try my luck at angling. The aggregate result of two hours’ patient toil, was about fifteen small fish, with which we returned to camp. They were cooked in the pan, and our appetites were such that we enjoyed them with a relish unknown to the epicure of the "settlements."
Among the flowers and plants which I have noticed to-day, are the verbena and the indigo-plant, in larger quantities and a higher degree of perfection. Also a species of wild geranium, and the rosin-weed, the stalk of the last of which, on being broken, exudes a gum of the consistence and odor of turpentine. The lupin (not in bloom) in many places seems to dispute the occupancy of the soil with the grass. I observed, also, a plant producing a fruit of the size of the walnut, called the prairie pea. The fruit has an agreeable taste, resembling that of the green pea of our gardens. In a raw state, it is eaten by travellers on the plains to quench thirst. It makes a most excellent pickle, as we afterwards discovered, scarcely inferior to the olive.
I killed a moccasin-snake this afternoon, when returning from our angling excursion down the creek. I had nearly stepped upon him before he was discovered, and from his attitude, he was evidently prepared to strike at me. He was about three feet in length.
The sky, since twelve o’clock, A.M., has been perfectly clear, and the atmosphere calm. At eight o’clock, P.M., the moon and stars are shining in all their splendor, presenting to the eye a scene of imposing sublimity, and of the most profound solitude. Distance, 16 miles.
May 9. – Immediately after breakfast I commenced the arrangement of our
baggage and provisions, so as to render them convenient of access in our
wagon. A party which went out in the morning to angle, brought in an
abundant supply of small fish about 12 o’clock. Several emigrant wagons have
arrived during the day and encamped alongside of us. The wagons at our camp
this evening numbered thirty-four. We were visited by Mr. Harlan and a
number of his party.
It was proposed to-day, and there was a general concurrence to the proposition, that the party for California should be organized and officered by the free choice of those concerned, on Monday next. Singular as it may appear, there is as much electioneering here for the captaincy of this expedition, as there would be for the generalship of an army, or for the presidency of the United States. The many interests of the ambitious aspirants to office, and the vehemence with which their claims are urged by their respective friends, augur unfavorably to harmony on the journey.
Our camp this evening presents a most cheerful appearance. The prairie, miles around us, is enlivened with groups of cattle, numbering six or seven hundred, feeding upon the fresh green grass. The numerous white tents and wagon-covers before which the camp-fires are blazing brightly, represent a rustic village; and men, women, and children are talking, playing, and singing around them with all the glee of light and careless hearts. While I am writing, a party at the lower end of the camp is engaged in singing hymns and sacred songs.
The dew is very heavy, the grass being as wet as if a hard shower had fallen during the night. This diurnal condensation of dampness, and the great difference between the temperature of the day and the night, are doubtless strong agents in producing the prevailing diseases of this country,--the ague and bilious fevers.
Several of the oxen and horses belonging to ourselves and others of the party encamped, strayed away and could not be found this morning. A general hunt to recover this valuable property became necessary, and it proved successful. Emigrants cannot be too watchful of their cattle and horses when first starting upon this journey. They are all more or less disposed to stray and return to the settlements, and frequently they range to such a distance, that they cannot be recovered.
Numerous parties of ladies and gentlemen from the neighboring villages visited our camp in the course of the day, and attended divine service, the exercises of which were performed by the Rev. Mr. Dunleavy of the Methodist Episcopal church, one of the emigrants to California.
Six additional wagons came into our camp in the course of the afternoon, one of which, drawn by mules, belonged to Mr. Lippincott of New York, whom I have already mentioned. The sun, until late in the afternoon, shone with scorching intensity. Just before sunset I took a stroll over the verdant plain to gather flowers for preservation. I strayed to a stone monument erected by an emigrating company, commemorative of their departure for Oregon, on a commanding position of the prairie.
Ex-governor Boggs, of Missouri, who, with his family, designs to emigrate to California, came to our camp this evening, and soon after left, returning to Independence, his residence. He stated that it was impossible for his wagons to come up with us until Thursday.
May 11. – This day had been appointed for the organization of the
emigrant company bound for California, the choice of officers, &c. Mr.
HARLAN and his party came over, and at nine o’clock, A. M., all the men were
assembled in the grove to proceed to business.
EDWIN BRYANT was chosen chairman, and Mr. CURRY appointed secretary of the meeting. Mr. Harlan, after the organization of the meeting, moved a postponement of the election of officers, until the emigrants had passed the Kansas River. This motion was rejected. Mr. H. then requested leave to withdraw from the meeting, and by a vote his request was granted. He then withdrew, stating, however, before he left, his belief that companies of moderate size would travel with much more convenience and celerity than large companies, and that his party added to those on the ground, he believed, would render the train too unwieldy for convenience and progress. This view was afterwards found to be entirely correct.
Colonel W. H. Russell was then chosen captain of the party encamped around us. A committee was appointed, of which Governor Boggs was chairman, to draft rules or laws for the government of the party during their journey. They reported in the afternoon, and it was further resolved that we should recommence our journey in the morning. A guard was set over our cattle to-night, for the first time, to prevent them from straying.
A male and female of the Shawnee Indian tribe came into our camp this afternoon. Their age apparently was about fifty. They were mounted on ponies, and the female rode sidewise on the saddle. They were dressed in the costume of the whites of the frontier. They were very taciturn, and soon left us.
Leave Indian Creek – "Catching up" – A corral – Droves of mules from New Mexico – Santa Fé traders returning – Dismal accounts of the journey – Leave the Santa Fé trail – Wild onions – Difficult crossings – Potawattomie Indian – Ex-governor Boggs and other emigrants come up – Reasons assigned for emigration – Solitude of the prairies – More Indians – First news of war with Mexico -- Signs of dissolution of the party – An adventure almost – Extreme heat – Sufferings of cattle ‘Division’ – Kansas River – A luxury in the wilderness – New-comers – Rumors of war confirmed.
MAY 12. All the wagons and teams were this morning inspected by a
committee appointed for that purpose. It appeared from their report that the
number of wagons belonging to the company was 63; of men 119; of women 59;
of children, male and female, 110; pounds of breadstuffs 58,484; of bacon
38,080; of powder 1,065; of lead 2,557; number of guns, mostly rifles, 144;
pistols 94. The number of cattle was not reported, but I estimate it at 700,
including the loose stock, and 150 horses.
The scene of "catching up," as the yoking and attaching of the oxen to the wagons is called in emigrant phraseology, is one of great bustle and confusion. The crack of the ox-goad, the "whoa-haws" in a loud voice, the leaping and running about of the oxen to avoid the yoke, and the bellowing of the loose stock, altogether create a most Babel-like and exciting confusion. The wagons commenced moving at nine o’clock, and at ten the camp was entirely deserted. In consequence of there being no order of march to-day, the train of wagons was strung out two or three miles in length. The views of this long procession, occasionally sinking into the depressions of the prairie, and then rising therefrom and winding along the curves of the ridges to avoid the wet and soft ground, were highly picturesque.
Our journey has been over a prairie entirely destitute of timber, or shrubbery of any kind. The soil is generally composed of a black argillaceous loam, several feet in depth. The summits of the highest elevations exhibit a more sandy composition of soil, with a debris of flint and porous sandstone. The grouse, or prairie-hens, have been frequently flushed during our march. Smaller birds are not very numerous. The heat of the sun has been extremely oppressive.
At one o’clock, P.M., we reached a small grove, composed of a few oaks, cotton-wood, maple, and hickory trees, on the banks of a small branch, (head of Blue Creek,) where we encamped for the day. The wagons, in forming the encampment, were what is called corraled, an anglicised Spanish word, the significance of which, in our use of the term, is, that they were formed in a circle; constituting a wall of defence in the event of an attack from the Indians, and a pound for the confinement of the cattle and horses, whenever necessary or desirable. A Spanish corral is a common cattle or horse pound. The area of this circle is sufficiently large to graze, during the night, such horses and cattle as are most likely to stray, if not thus confined. On the outside of the corral the tents are pitched, with their doors outwards; and in front of these the camp-fires are lighted, and the culinary operations for the several families, or messes, performed.
This afternoon the company was divided into four sections, and a leader for each was appointed, to superintend their order of march. Several subordinate or staff officers were appointed, as assistants to the captain, etc., etc. Regular guard-duty was established, and our organization, theoretically, appeared to be very perfect, and entirely sufficient for all the purposes required of it. Distance, six miles.
May 13. – Brownell, our driver, having left camp last night, to ride a distance of ten or twelve miles on some business, did not return until after we had commenced our march. It was not without great trouble that we collected our oxen, and succeeded in attaching them to the wagons. Nuttall volunteered to act as driver pro tern. for the day, or until Brownell returned.
Our march was along the Santa Fé trail, through an undulating prairie-country, occasionally dotted with a few trees and clumps of small hazel-bushes. But generally there was no object for the eye to rest upon but the green and flowery slopes and gentle and ever-varying irregularities in the surface of the prairie. About one o’clock we passed what is called the "Lone Elm," a solitary tree, standing near a pool of water.
I met, this afternoon, three returning Santa Fé trading-companies; two of them with three or four wagons, and the other with twelve wagons, all drawn by mules. They were driving before them several large herds of mules, in the aggregate about one thousand. The mules were so lean that the ribs of most of them were defined with precision, and the bones of some of them appeared to have worn through the flesh. I never saw a more ghostly collection of animals. The operative men composing these companies were principally New-Mexicans; the chiefs of the parties, however, were Americans. They all presented a most tagged and worn appearance.
I stopped and conversed some time with one of the leading men of these companies. lie was intelligent, notwithstanding his soiled and ragged costume, and appeared to be very candid in all his statements. He said that the principal part of the mules had been driven from Chihuahua, and cost there twenty dollars per head; that they were taken in exchange for such commodities as had been carried out with them, and he expected to dispose of them at a profit on his arrival in the settlements of Missouri. He said that the journey to Santa Fé and Chihuahua was one of great fatigue and hardship, as he knew, but that the journey to California was infinitely more so; that our lives would be shortened ten years by the trip, and before we returned, if we experienced such good fortune, our heads would be white, not with the frosts of age, but from the effects of exposure and extreme hardships. This was not very cheering information, and bidding him a polite good-day, we left him.
About 4-o’clock, P.M., I reached the point where I supposed the Oregon trail diverged from the Santa Fé road. It was raining copiously. At some distance in the prairie, I saw man mounted on a horse, with a loose mule feeding near him. Supposing him to be a member of some of the front emigrating parties, I rode up to him and inquired the probable distance to the next camping-ground. He was a man of that non-committal order sometimes met with, from whom no satisfactory or explanatory information can be drawn by any inquiry, however pointed. He appeared to be afraid of exposing his own ignorance by committing himself in any direct reply; and in & vain effort to seem eminently wise and discreet, his affirmative responses were rebutted by such a volume of negative qualifications and reservations, that he was entirely incomprehensible.
The rain had abated before this unsatisfactory colloquy was ended, and a bright rainbow was formed in the east, the arch of which was not raised more than one degree above the horizon. Our train of wagons coming up, we continued on the Santa Fé trail four miles farther, when we left it on the right hand, and soon afterwards crossing a small creek with high and steep banks, we encamped on the western side of it, in a small grove which fringes the margin of the stream. Large quantities of wild onions were gathered by many of our party to-day, and being cooked with their bacon, composed the vegetable portion of their evening meal. Their odor is rank, and any thing but agreeable. The rain recommenced falling before we could pitch our tent, heavily and steadily, with every prospect of stormy night. Distance 16 miles.
May 14. – The rain of yesterday and last night has again so much
saturated and softened the ground, as to render travelling with wheels very
The first mile and a half of our route was through the timbered bottom of the branch on which we had encamped. Our progress through this was very greatly obstructed by the unevenness of the ground and its soft and miry condition. We were frequently obliged to fell trees and to cut down large quantities of small brush and throw them into the muddy vines, in order to enable our animals and wagons to pass over them. These difficulties operate as serious discouragements upon the energies of many, but I look for a better road before we advance a great distance. Throughout the day the travelling has been very fatiguing to our oxen, the wagons frequently stalling in the mud-holes and the crossings of the small branches. Three or four hours were occupied in fording a diminutive tributary of the Wakarusa creek. The banks on the eastern side are so steep, that the wagons were let down with ropes, and the teams were doubled, sometimes quadrupled, in order to draw them up on the other side.
The largest portion of our train reached the banks of the Wakarusa about 5 o’clock, and encamped on a sloping lawn in a curve of the stream, carpeted with verdant and luxuriant grass. A. grove of small trees (oak, hickory, dogwood, and willows) nearly surrounds our camp. Their foliage is of the deepest green, and flowers of all the brilliant, and the softer and more modest hues, enliven the landscape around us. The face of the country over which we have travelled to-day, has been more broken and picturesque than yesterday. We passed during our march an elevated conical swell of the plain, which I ascended; and the view from it was one of commanding extent and great richness and beauty. The configuration of the vast diameter of the plain which can be observed from this, presents all the graceful and gentle curves, and the delicate shading and coloring that would charm the enthusiastic landscape artist in his dreaming sketches.
A number of wagons being behind at dark, a party was formed and returned on the trail to their assistance. We found two or three of the wagons stalled in the deep mud, and the tongue of one of them, belonging to some highly worthy young men from Lexington, Ky., named Putnam, was broken. After great exertions they were all drawn out and up to the camp, but it was near midnight before this was accomplished. Distance 15 miles.
May 15. – A Potawattomie Indian, accompanied by a halfbreed who spoke
English correctly, came to our camp early this morning. The Potawattomie was
a tall, athletic young man of a symmetrical figure, and rode a fat and
handsome Indian pony, which several of our party made overtures to purchase,
but they were not successful. He was dressed in a calico shirt, with
buckskin pantaloons, gaiters, and moccasins. He brought with him several
pairs of moccasins, some of them second-hand, which he wished to trade for
meat. He soon sold out his small stock of wares and left us. The morning was
spent in cleaning our rifles and pistols, which had become rusty and foul
from the frequent rains.
In the afternoon we were joined by Ex-governor [Lilburn W.] Boggs, of Missouri, and Colonel [J. Quinn] Thornton and another gentleman from Illinois. The general reason assigned for emigration to the Pacific, by those from the frontier settlements of Illinois and Missouri, is the extreme unhealthiness of those districts. They state that during the summer and autumnal months they are afflicted with the ague and fever; and of late years, in the winter season, the congestive fever prevails, and sometimes it is so fatal in its ravages as nearly to depopulate whole neighborhoods. They emigrate to the Pacific in search of health, and if they can find this with a reasonable fertility of soil on their arrival, they will not only be satisfied but feel thankful to Providence for providing them such a retreat from the miseries they have endured.
In the afternoon we crossed the Wakarusa creek, and en camped on the opposite bank in a grove of large timber. Several Shawnee Indians came to our camp in the evening; one of whom, calling himself John Wolf, spoke English. They begged for whiskey. Distance 1 mile.
May 16. – Several Potawattomie Indians, male and female, visited our camp
this morning. None of them spoke English. They could, however, pronounce the
word "whiskey," and uttering this and at the same time exhibiting small
pieces of silver, was the common salutation of these miserably-clad,
half-starved creatures. They excited mingled emotions of loathing and
commiseration. John Wolf, the Shawnee, whose acquaintance I made yesterday,
applied to me to indite for him a letter, and to carry it westward to some
great Indian captain of his tribe. The letter, written from his dictation,
was only four lines in length. It informed his friend that two Shawnee
chiefs, named Henry Clay and Ben Kiasas, and a sister of the Indian
addressed, named Black Poddee, were dead. I folded, sealed, and superscribed
the letter, but I could never hear of the friend of John Wolf, and
consequently the brief epistle was never delivered.
The grove in which we were encamped presented, this morning, a most noisy and animated scene. The oxen belonging to our teams, and in daily use, now number about seven hundred; and the mules, horses, and other loose animals, amount to three hundred, numbering, in the aggregate, one thousand head of cattle and horses. "Gee-up !" "gee-haw !" and "whoahaw !" with incessant cracks of the whip, resounded on all sides, as soon as the word to "catch up" was given. As usual, a portion of the cattle could not be found when wanted, notwithstanding a guard had been placed over them during the night; and it was ten o’clock, A.M., before the rear division of the train left the encampment.
Our route, with the exception of the low rich bottom of the Wakarusa, has been over the high rolling prairie. In the far distance we could see the narrow dark lines of timber, indicating the channels of the small water-courses, stretching far away, until lost in the haze, or concealed from our view by the interposition of the horizon. Some of the slopes of the plain, in the perspective, were beautifully ornamented with clumps and rows of trees, representing the parks, avenues, and pleasure grounds of some princely mansion, which the imagination was continually conjecturing might be hidden behind their dense foliage. Not a living or moving object of any kind appears upon the face of the vast expanse. The white-topped wagons, and the men and animals belonging to them, winding slowly over the hill-tops and through the hollows, are the only relief to the motionless torpor and tomblike stillness of the landscape. A lovelier scene was never gazed upon, nor one of more profound solitude.
A short time before we encamped, this afternoon, a small party of Indians were seen in a hollow about a mile to our right. We rode to them. and ascertained them to be Kachinga, a chief of the Kansas tribe, two warriors, and two squaws, with their families of children. They were here encamped, their tents being smoke-colored skins sewn together, and raised on small sticks, about two feet from the ground. Kachinga carried a rifle, which appeared to be new. He did not seem to understand very well the use of it. He was rouged with vermilion paint, and his hair was shorn to the skin, except a small tuft on the crown of his head, and under Iris chin. He wore, suspended by a buckskin string from his neck, two medals, one representing, in alto relievo, the likeness of Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States. The other medal, the device on which I do not recollect, purported, from the inscription, to have been presented to him by a citizen of Hartford, Ct.,--evidently a "Yankee notion." Kachinga appeared to be a man of about sixty, and the expression of his countenance and his general appearance were prepossessing. The two squaws were miserable-looking objects in their features, figures, and clothing. The Indians broke up their encampment when we left them, and soon overtaking our train, travelled along with us. The two squaws had each a pony, heavily laden with baggage. The children were in a state of nudity, and the infants were carried by their mothers, being fastened to their backs by closely-drawn blankets. They came around us while eating supper, and begged something to eat, which we gave them. Their appearance was extremely wretched.
We were overtaken to-day, during our march, by a man belonging to one of the forward trains, but who left the settlements since we did. He brought with him a late number of the "St. Louis Republican," from the columns of which we derived intelligence of the first overt acts of hostility between Mexico and the United States. The paper contained an account of the defeat and capture of a company of dragoons on the Rio Grande, under the command of Captain Thornton, by the Mexicans, and also of the supposed critical situation of the United States troops composing the command of General Z. Taylor. Notwithstanding this warlike demonstration, none of the emigrants to California, so far as I could learn, manifested a disposition to turn back in consequence of it.
That discordance, arising from many trifling circumstances and unavoidable inconveniences, which I had heard mentioned as inevitable concomitants of this journey, was displayed in several instances to-day. Many of the men manifested much petulance, incivility, and the want of a spirit of accommodation. In short, there appears to be considerable wrangling and intrigue in camp, which will probably result in a division of our party. Distance, 12 miles.
May 17. – The morning was so delightful and the atmosphere so bracing,
that I started on foot in advance of the train; and noticing on the right
some attractive objects at a distance of two or three miles, I left the
trail, and proceeding towards them, passed over two or three elevated swells
of the prairie and through several deep and lonely hollows. In one of the
latter I saw two horses grazing. My first conjecture, seeing no signs of
emigrants or Indians about, was, that these horses had strayed either from
our own camp or from some of the forward emigrating parties, and I attempted
to drive them before me; but they were not to be controlled, running off in
a contrary direction, prancing and snorting.
In the next hollow, through which flows a small spring branch, I saw the embers of an Indian camp-fire, with the low, rude frame upon which their tent-skins had been spread surrounding it. I stirred the ashes and discovered a few live coals, showing that the camp had been occupied last night. The diminutive bottom bordering the miniature stream was covered with hazel brush, with a few alders and larger shrubbery. I crossed through the brush, and was commencing the ascent on the other side, when six Indians, mounted on horses, came in sight on the top of the hill, and began to descend it. They did not discover me immediately, but as soon as they did, they halted on the side of the hill. I was sufficiently near to see that one of them carried in his hand a broadsword, with a bright metal scabbard, which glittered in the sunbeams. This Indian, the foremost of the party, was leading a horse. When he saw me he gave the horse in charge of another. I had very carelessly, in order to be unencumbered by weight, left all my arms in the wagon, except my hatchet. I was now several miles distant from our train and entirely concealed from them, and there was no probability of any of our party passing this way. Not liking the manoeuvres of the Indians, or knowing what might be their designs, I never felt more regret for any misadventure, than for not bringing my gun and pistols with me. Ascertaining that my hatchet was in a right position for use, if necessary, I advanced up the hill to the place where the Indians had halted, and stopped.
I ascertained that the party was composed of three men and three squaws. The men were armed with bows and arrows and tomahawks. The leader spoke to me in English, and said, "How do?" I replied and reciprocated the inquiry in the usual manner. He then asked, in his broken English, if there were more white men with me? I replied that there was a great number just behind. He nodded his head and looked at his companions with an expression of disappointed intelligence. I asked him if he was a Kansas? His reply was, "No,--Sac." I then passed, leaving them standing and apparently in earnest consultation.
I was glad to be relieved of their company, for I felt doubtful of their intentions, and my arms were insufficient for a successful defence against them, if they had made an attack,--from which I believe they were deterred by the supposition that my fellow-travellers would immediately be upon them. I rose the hill, and saw, at a distance of about two miles, a man on horseback riding in such a direction across the prairie that I could easily intercept him. I soon came up to him and found it to be Mr. Grayson, one of our own company, out hunting. We walked onward. and came up to the caravan while our party were nooning.
After procuring from our wagon some refreshments, and resting an hour, accompanied by Mr. Curry I again started a pedestrian, in advance of the train of wagons, for a walk of twelve or fifteen miles, the nearest point in our route, to water. The fresh breeze which had fanned us during the forenoon, died away entirely, and the sun shone with an almost scorching fervency of heat, unmitigated by a solitary cloud on the face of the sky. The trail is smooth and hard, running over the high table-land of the prairies. Clumps and rows of timber could be seen at long distances, giving to the background of the scenery a cultivated and inhabited aspect. The effects of the intense heat, aggravated by the severe exercise of fast walking, became intolerably oppressive, and produced a thirst and faintness such as I had not before experienced. We hunted along the roadside for even a puddle of water to moisten our mouths and throats, but could discover none. Finding some prairie peas, we filled our pockets with them, and their juice afforded a little relief to our thirst. At length we arrived within the distance of two miles of a line of timber on the left, indicative of water. Leaving the trail we marched directly towards it, and reaching its banks we found it to be a small creek which empties into the Kansas river, about five miles distant. We satisfied our thirst with long draughts of the tepid water, and then plunged into the current of the stream to cool our almost broiling flesh and purify our bodies from the dust accumulated upon them by the day’s march.
Refreshing ourselves, in the manner above described, for an hour, the invigorating effects of which were most salutary, we returned again to the trail, just as the train of wagons was coming up and passing. Many of the oxen were so much exhausted that they could with difficulty move forward at a very slow pace. Their tongues were hanging out, and several had fallen down, being unable to proceed. One had died on the march. The order had been given to encamp on the opposite side of the stream, and several of the front wagons when they reached it attempted to cross; but the oxen, mad with thirst and heat, when they came in sight of the water, became uncontrollable, and ran down the steep bank into the stream, threatening destruction to tile wagons and there contents. All efforts to prevail upon them to leave the water and ascend the opposite bank, for a long time, were unavailing. Such being the difficulties, the order was countermanded, and our camp formed on the southeastern bank of the stream.
Near our camp there is a crescent-shaped chain of elevated mounds, the natural undulations of the prairie, which I had plainly seen this morning when we commenced our march. These mounds stretch some four or five miles, and their bases being precipitous and wall-like, but for their extent, in outline they would represent the foundations and the fallen and ruined superstructure of some vast temple or overthrown city.
This evening, after we had encamped, it appeared from a speech delivered by Mr. Dunleavy, that a portion of the company had determined to separate from the main party, being dissatisfied with its present organization. Distance 24 miles.
May 18. – Mr. Jacob, who had been appointed sub-captain of one of our
divisions; Mr. Kirkendall, who had been appointed quartermaster; and Mr.
Greenbury, our pilot, were dispatched early this morning to a mission about
ten miles distant up the Kansas river, to ascertain if the river was
fordable at that point. Colonel Russell, our captain, rode to the Kansas
ferry, five miles distant, to ascertain if the ferry-boats were disengaged,
and could, if we deemed it expedient to cross here, ferry our wagons over
Although the morning was fine and pleasant, it clouded up before eight o’clock and commenced raining, accompanied by thunder. After considerable labor and difficulty we succeeded in crossing the creek without any accident, except the breaking of an axletree of one of the wagons in descending the steep bank. Colonel Russell met us on the opposite bank, and, some conversation ensuing with the leaders of the disaffected party, it was proposed that the company should divide, it being too numerous and cumbrous for convenient progress. Those who were in favor of remaining with the originally organized company were requested to move towards the ferry. Thirty-five of the wagons moved forward, and the remainder separated from them.
The signs were so strongly indicative of a heavy rain, that it was thought imprudent to delay crossing the Kansas until the return of the gentlemen dispatched up the river this morning, but that we should proceed to the ferry and cross forthwith. The Kansas, at the ferry, which is owned by two half-breed Indians, is about two hundred yards in width at this time; but at some seasons of the year, from its banks, it evidently is much narrower. The approach to it, on either side, is through a timbered bottom about three-fourths of a mile in width. The trees are chiefly oak, linden, and hickory. Hazel and a variety of underbrush and grapevines, make up the small shrubbery of the bottom.
The labor of ferrying our wagons over was commenced at one o’clock. The wagons were hauled as near the boat-landing as they could be by the teams, and then with their loads in them were lifted and pushed into the boats by the united strength of the men. By hard and unremitting toil the thirty-five wagons, which now constituted our train, were safely transported to the other side; and all our oxen, horses, and loose stock swam over, by six o’clock, P.M. The fee for ferriage, per wagon, was one dollar. Two boats are employed, and they are large enough to transport two wagons each trip. They are pushed across the stream with long poles handled by Indians. All being over, we moved forward about three miles and encamped on the bank of Soldier Creek, a small stream emptying into the Kansas.
While on our march from the Kansas to our encampment, Mr. Branham and myself, being in advance of the main party, discovered an abundance of ripe strawberries. We stopped and gathered several quarts, and, carrying them to camp, they were served up by Mrs. B., with rich cream and loaf-sugar, a genuine luxury in this wild region.
This morning, before we commenced our march, a Mrs. Hall, the wife of one of the emigrants, was safely delivered of a pair of twins. Thus two were added to our number. These young natives of the wilderness were appropriately named. The mother and children were doing well this evening.
Mr. Webb, editor of the "Independence Expositor," accompanied by Mr. Hay, a great-grandson of Daniel Boone, arrived at our camp, direct from the settlements, just after dark. They came express to communicate to us the last intelligence we shall receive from the United States, before reaching the Pacific. They brought with them all the letters at the Independence and Westport post-offices addressed to emigrants, and several files of papers to the latest dates. These gave positive information of the existence of hostilities between Mexico and the United States on the Rio Grande, and confirmed the rumor respecting the perilous situation of Gen. Taylor. How this important event is to affect us upon our arrival in California, it is impossible to foresee. No one, however, is in the least disposed to turn back in consequence of it. Distance 10 miles.
Methodist Mission on the Kansas – Soldier Creek – Lustration – A ruined Indian town – A rose in the wilderness -- Another division – Kansas Indian towns – Ki-he-ga-wa-chuck-ee – Prairie potato – Mountain trappers – Beauty of scenery and fertility of soil – Vermilion Creek – Brilliant meteor – Big Blue River – Prairie-pea – Legislation on the prairies.
MAY 19. – We remained encamped to-day, in order to enable Mr. Boone, a
grandson of Daniel Boone, and his family and party, who wish to join us, to
come up. Messrs. Kirkendall, Jacob, and Greenbury, reached camp this morning
about seven o’clock, relieving me of some uneasiness on their account. They
had found a ford, near the mission, about twelve miles up the Kansas; but
when they returned to the ferry, finding that our train had all passed over,
and it being late, they remained during the night with the party that
separated from us this morning. The mission which they had visited, and at
which they were well received and entertained, is an establishment for the
education and christianization of the Indians, supported in part by the
United States government, and under the patronage and superintendence of the
Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States. There is a blacksmith’s
shop at the mission, and an extensive farm under cultivation.
The stream on which we are encamped is called "Soldier Creek," from the circumstance, as I learned, that, some years since a company of traders having smuggled into the Indian territory a quantity of whiskey, were pursued by a detachment of United States soldiers, and overtaken at the spot where our wagons are formed into a corral. Their whiskey was taken and emptied into the stream; and the soldiers having encamped here during these proceedings, gave its present name to the creek. The bank of the small rivulet was lined at an early hour after breakfast with fires, kettles, washtubs, and piles of unwashed linen, showing conclusively that a general lustration was to be performed by the female portion of our party. The timber on the creek consists of oak, linden, and some maple trees. They are of good size, and in several places the bends of the stream are well covered with them. I had heard reports of the creek being richly stocked with a variety of fish; but after two trials of several hours each, without a single nibble at my hook, I was compelled to entertain strong doubts of the accuracy of the reports. The whiskey poured into the stream may have poisoned the fish, as it would have done the Indians, had the traders been successful in their designs.
The soil of the Kansas bottom, and where we are encamped, is a rich argillaceous loam, of great depth, and capable of producing any crop adapted to this latitude. The natural grasses grow with great luxuriance, but they are of a coarse species, and when matured must be rather tough, and not very nutritious.
A new census of our party was taken this morning, and it was found to consist of 98 fighting-men, 50 women, 46 wagons, and 350 cattle. Two divisions were made of the wagons, for convenience in marching. We were joined to-day by nine wagons from Illinois, belonging to Mr. [James F.] Reed and the Messrs. [George and Jacob] Donner, highly respectable and intelligent gentlemen, with interesting families. They were received into the company by a unanimous vote.
A Kansas Indian village was visible from our camp on the plain to the south, at a distance of two or three miles. As soon as the sun was sufficiently low in the afternoon, accompanied by Jacob, I visited this village. The walk was much longer and more fatiguing than we expected to find it. While on the way we counted, for a certainty, on our arrival, to be received and entertained by the female élite of the Kansas aristocracy, clad in their smoke-colored skin costumes, and with their copper complexions rouged until they vied, in their fiery splendors, with the sun, seen through a vapor of smoke. We carried some vermilion and beads along with us for presents, to ornament the most unadorned, in accordance with the taste of the savages. But, alas! after all our toil, through the rank and tangled grass, when we approached the village not a soul came out to welcome us. No Kansas belle or stern chief made her or his appearance at the doors of any of the wigwams. We entered the village, and found it entirely deserted and desolate, and most of the wigwams in a ruinous state.
A large wigwam, or cabin, near the centre of the village, had recently been burnt to the ground. The whole number of the buildings standing was fourteen. They varied in dimensions, from twenty to thirty-six feet in length, by fifteen in breadth. The cabins are constructed by inserting in the ground hickory saplings, and bending them so as to form an arch about eight or ten feet in height at the top. These saplings are bound firmly together by willow twigs, making a strong, though light framework. This frame is shingled over with bark, peeled from the linden and other large trees, in strips of about twelve inches in breadth and five feet in length. Over this is another frame of saplings and willow-withes, securing the roof and walls, and binding the whole building together. Each cabin has one small entrance, about four feet in height, and three feet in breadth. We passed through, and examined four or five of them. The bark-walls, on the inside, were ornamented with horses; horses with men mounted upon them, and engaged in combat with the bow and arrow; horses attached to wagons; and, in one instance, horses drawing a coach. Another group represented a plow, drawn by oxen. There were various other figures of beasts and reptiles, and some which I conjectured to be the Evil Spirit of the Indian mythology. But they were all done in a style so rude, as to show no great progress in the fine arts. None of the cabins which we entered contained a solitary article of any kind. I returned to our camp, disappointed in my expectations of meeting the Indians at their village, and saddened by the scene of desolation I had witnessed.
In reference to the present number of the Kansas tribe of Indians, I could obtain little satisfactory information. They appear to be wretchedly poor. The country they claim as theirs, and inhabit, affords little or no game; and so far as my observation has extended, they give no attention to agriculture. The number of warriors which the tribe can assemble, I heard estimated at three hundred; but I have no means of judging of the accuracy of this estimate.
May 20. – Our driver was helplessly sick this morning from the effects of
an over-night’s drunken frolic, upon some wretched, adulterated whiskey
which he had procured somewhere in the camp. We were compelled to employ a
new driver for the day, and to haul our old one in the wagon.
We travelled several miles over a flat plain, in some places wet and boggy. The Kansas river skirted with timber, with a rich and extensive landscape beyond, could be seen on our left; and on our right Soldier Creek, with scenery equally attractive.
I saw near the trail this morning, a solitary wild rose, the first I have seen blooming in the prairies, the delightful fragrance of which instantly excited emotions of sadness and tenderness, by reviving in the memory a thousand associations connected with home, and friends, and civilization, all of which we had left behind, for a weary journey through a desolate wilderness. It is not possible to describe the effect upon the sensibilities produced by this modest and lonely flower. The perfume exhaled from its petals and enriching the "desert air," addressed a language to the heart more thrilling than the plaintive and impassioned accents from the inspired voice of music or poesy.
We encamped at 3 o’clock, P.M., in a heavy rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, which had been pouring down upon us three hours. Our camp is on the high ground of the prairies, a mile from wood and water, which necessary articles have to be hauled to it in the rain and through the deep mud.
The Indians have, thus far, made no attempts to steal our cattle. They generally keep a respectful distance, showing themselves in small numbers on the summits of the prairie, adjacent to the route of our train. I watched to-night until one o’clock. The howls and sharp snarling barks of the wolves; the mournful hootings of the owl, and the rush of the winds through the tree-tops of the neighboring grove, are the only sounds disturbing the deep solitude of the night. Distance eight miles.
May 21. – The views from the high elevations of the prairie, have, as
usual, been strikingly picturesque. The country we have passed through for
the last one hundred miles, presents greater attractions to the eye than any
that I have ever previously seen. What the climate may be in winter, or how
it may effect the health of settlers in summer and autumn, I have no means
of judging. Its elevated and undulating surface, however, would seem to
About noon we arrived at another small creek, the banks of which on both sides are steep, and very difficult to pass. Our wagons were lowered down by ropes, and by doubling teams, they were all finally drawn out of the bed of the stream, and up the opposite bank. It was four o’clock when this was accomplished. We encamped in a bend of the stream, about a mile from where we crossed it.
The day has been delightful, and a more cheerful spirit seems to prevail in our party than usual. Mr. [Alphonso D.] Boone, whom we have been expecting several days, came up and joined us this afternoon. The men amused themselves, after we encamped, by firing at a target. The distances were 80 and 200 yards. Among the best shots, with the rifle, were those of Brown of Lexington, Ky. At dark our cattle were driven into the corral to prevent them from straying, and from being stolen by the Indians. Distance 6 miles.
May 22. – This morning thirteen wagons, about half of which belonged to
Mr. [Joseph] Gordon, of Jackson county, Mo., separated from the main party, assigning
as a reason therefor, that the company was too large, and that as a
consequence of this, our progress was too slow for them. This is the second
division in our party which has taken place since we started, and there is a
strong probability that soon there will be others. A restlessness of
disposition, and dissatisfaction from trivial causes, lead to these frequent
changes among the emigrating parties.
The trail along which we have travelled to-day, has been dry, compact, and easy for our teams. it runs over a high undulating country, exhibiting a great variety of rich scenery. As the traveller rises the elevated swells of the prairie, his eye can frequently take in at a glance, a diameter of 60 or 80 miles of country, all clothed at this season with the deepest verdure, and the most luxuriant vegetation. We encamped for the day on what was called by some "Black Paint" Creek, by others "Sandy," a tributary of the Kansas river. The bottom on either side of the creek, is timbered with large and handsomely-shaped oaks.
Mr. Kirkendall and myself were two or three miles in advance of our train, when we commenced winding through the ravines of the bluffs, in order to descend to the bottom-lands bordering the stream. We were met here by four young Indians, apparently riding a race. They were mounted on fat ponies, which they urged forward at their highest powers of speed, until coming up to us they drew their horses in, and passing by a short distance, wheeled about and rode along at our side to the bank of the stream. Here we met some forty or fifty more Indians, and we soon discovered that about two miles below there were two large Kansas villages.
One of those whom we met at the creek was a very hand some young man, (a chief,) whose dress was much more cleanly and of better materials than his followers or associates. He carried in his hand a small looking-glass, which he consulted with great frequency and earnestness, evidently much pleased with his personal appearance. A profusion of bone and tin trinkets ornamented his ears, and nose, and neck. A medal with the likeness on one side of "John Tyler, President of the United States," was suspended on his breast. On the other side there was a device of a pipe and a tomahawk, and the following inscription, "Peace and Friendship." This Indian appeared to have great influence over the young men of his tribe. I did not learn his name.
Our train came up and encamped, and it was not long before the two villages appeared to be entirely emptied of their men, women, and children. The camp was filled and surrounded by them. They numbered probably some four or five hundred. Those who last came from the villages were mostly in a wretched condition, so far as their clothing was concerned. An exceedingly foul blanket, more than half worn, and sometimes in tatters, with a pair of leggins, constituted their suits of garments. A large portion of the men were well-proportioned and above medium stature; and the countenances of many were prepossessing and intelligent, if not handsome. Some of them wore their hair long, and it presented a tangled and matted appearance. The heads of others (probably warriors) were shorn close to the skin, except a tuft extending from the forehead over the crown of the head down to the neck, resembling the comb of a cock. The faces of many were rouged,--some in a fanciful manner, with vermilion. The eyelids and lips only, of several, were painted; the cheeks and ears of others, and the forehead and nose of others. There appeared to be a great variety of tastes and no prevailing fashion. I noticed that the ears of a great number of the men were bored with four large holes in each, so large that the finger could be passed through the perforations, from which were suspended a variety of ornaments, made of bone, tin, and brass. Small globular and hollow metal buttons, with balls in them, were strung around the neck or fastened to the leggins of others, so that every motion of their bodies created a jingling sound.
Such as rode ponies were desirous of swapping them for the American horses of the emigrants, or of trading them for whiskey. They all appeared to be most unblushing and practised beggars. There was scarcely an object which they saw, from a cow and calf to the smallest trinket or button upon our clothing, that they did not request us to present to them. Bread, meat, tobacco, and whiskey, they continually asked for; and the former we gave to them, the last we had not to give-and if we had had it, we should not have given it. Among these very troublesome visitors was Ki-he-ga-wa-chuck-ee, (words importing "the rashly brave," or "fool-hardy.") This personage is ,. principal chief of the Kansas tribe. His wife accompanied him. He appeared to be a man of about fifty-five years of age, of commanding figure, and of rather an intellectual and pleasing expression of countenance. I presented his squaw, whose charms were not of the highest order, with a dozen strings of glass beads, with which she and her spouse seemed to be much delighted. They both spoke and said, "Good! very good !" A turban; a soiled damask dressing gown of originally brilliant colors, but much faded; buckskin leggins and moccasins, composed the dress of Ki-he-ga-wa-chuck-ee. He wore the usual quantity of bone and tin ornaments about his ears and neck, and the little jingling buttons or bells on his legs. His face was painted with vermilion.
The reputation of the Kansas Indians for honesty is far from immaculate among the emigrants, and a strong guard was placed around the camp and over our cattle, notwithstanding the pledge of Ki-he-ga-wa-chuck-ee, that none of his people should steal from or molest us in any manner. About 10 o’clock at night, two Indians were taken prisoners by the sentinels on duty. They were greatly alarmed when brought to the guard-tent, expecting immediate punishment. An investigation took place, and it turned out, that they had come into the camp by appointment with some individual of our party, who had promised to trade with them for a horse, for which they were to receive four gallons of whiskey. Their motive in coming late at night was, that they wished to conceal the trade from the Indians generally, as in the event of its being known, they would be compelled to divide the whiskey among the whole tribe, whereas they wished to drink it themselves. The trade was broken off, and the Indian captives, much to their relief, were discharged. Several of the young men from our camp visited the nearest Kansas village after dark. They had not been in the village long, before the cry of "Pawnee! Pawnee!" was raised by the Indians, and several guns were discharged immediately. This alarm was probably raised by the Indians, to rid themselves of their white visitors, and the ruse was successful. The Pawnees, as I learned, had a short time previously made an attack upon the Kansas, and besides killing a number of the latter, had burnt one of their villages. Distance 18 miles.
May 23. – The Indians were in and around our camp before we were fairly
aroused from our slumbers, begging with great vehemence for bread and meat.
Ki-he-ga-wa-chuck-ee, and his wife, took their seats upon the ground near
our tent, it being headquarters, and there remained until the train was
ready to move. In consideration of the fulfilment of the promise of the
chief that nothing should be stolen from us by his people, a general
contribution was made, of flour, bacon, and sundry other articles, amounting
in the aggregate to a large quantity, which was given to the chief to be
divided as he saw fit among his people. This appeared to give general
satisfaction to our visitors, and we left them in the full enjoyment of
The ford of the small creek on which we encamped last night was difficult, owing to its steep banks and muddy channel. We were obliged to fell small trees and a large quantity of brush, and fill up the bed of the stream, before the wagons could pass over. Our route for several miles was through a highly fertile valley, bounded on the east by a chain of mound shaped elevations of the prairie, on the west and in front by "Hurricane Creek," the timber skirting which is plentiful and large. The most enthusiastic votary of agriculture and a pastoral life, could here, it seems to me, realize the extent of his desires--the full perfection of rural scenery, and all the pleasures and enjoyments arising from the most fruitful reproduction in the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Granite, flint, and sandstone are exhibited in boulders and a debris on the slopes of the highest elevations.
Several of the Kansas Indians followed us from our last encampment. One of them presented to me a root or tuber, of on oval shape, about one and one-half inch in length, and an inch in diameter. This root is called the prairie potato. Its composition is farinaceous and highly nutritious, and its flavor is more agreeable than that of the finest Irish potato. I have but little doubt, if this plant was cultivated in our gardens, it would be an excellent and useful vegetable for ordinary consumption; and very probably it would be so improved as to form a substitute for the potato. The wild rose, which is now in full bloom, perfumes the atmosphere along our route with & delicious fragrance. The wild tulip, (yellow and variegated,) a plume-shaped white flower, and several flowers of the campanella or bell-shaped classification, have ornamented the prairie to-day.
We crossed the creek on our left at 12 o’clock, M. Two hours were occupied in passing our wagons over it. Our route from the creek continued over an open and rolling prairie, broken by small branches and ravines ;--the last of which are now dry, but seem to serve as aqueducts to convey the water from the rolling plains to the principal streams in rainy seasons, or during the melting of the snows early in the spring.
In the afternoon, near a small pond of water, we met four trappers from the Rocky Mountains, returning to the "settlements." They were accompanied by several Delaware Indians, all of whom spoke English so as to be understood. There were suspended from the saddle of one of the trappers, a wild turkey, a racoon, and several squirrels, which they had taken last night. To acquire the trapper’s art, a long apprenticeship is evidently requisite. Although the country through which we are travelling abounds in all the natural vegetable riches which a most generous soil can be supposed to produce without cultivation, we have rarely seen signs of game of any description, beast or bird. By the mystery of their art, however, these hunters of the mountains have contrived to supply themselves with a sufficiency of meat to keep themselves from starvation. They were packing several large sacks of fur-skins. They reported that on the Platte, some one or two hundred miles in advance of us, there were large herds of buffaloes, and that we should experience no difficulty while in this region in supplying ourselves with fresh meat. The costume of these men was outré surpassing description.
We encamped this afternoon in a small depression of the prairie, near a fine spring of cold pure water, surrounded by a few trees. The water of this spring was as grateful to us as nectar to the fabled deities of heathen mythology. Several of the Kansas Indians followed us all day, and are with us tonight. Distance 12 miles.
May 24. – The first five miles of our march was over a rolling prairie
country, dotted with occasional clumps of timber. We then crossed a creek
with a rapid and limpid current, flowing over a rocky and gravelly bed. This
stream would afford fine water-power for mills. The banks above and below
the ford are well supplied with oak, elm, and linden trees, of good size;
and the laud, which on the western side rises from the creek in gentle
undulations, is of the richest composition, and covered with a carpet of the
greenest and most luxuriant vegetation. We found here, gushing from a ledge
of limestone rock, a spring of excellent water, from which we refreshed
ourselves in draughts that would be astonishing to the most fanatical cold
Rising from the bottom of this stream, upon the table-land, the scenery for a long distance to the north and the south is surpassingly attractive. On the eastern bank of the rivulet, a chain of mound-shaped bluffs stretches far away to the right and the left, overlooking the gentle slopes and undulations on the western side. It is impossible to travel through this country with the utilitarian eye and appreciation natural to all Americans, without a sensation of regret, that an agricultural resource of such immense capacity as is here supplied by a bountiful Providence, is so utterly neglected and waste. The soil, l am persuaded, is capable of producing every variety of crop adapted to this latitude, which enters into the consumption, and conduces to the comfort and luxury of man, with a generosity of reproduction that would appear almost marvelous to the farmers of many of our agricultural districts on the coast of the Atlantic. This fair and extensive domain is peopled by a few wandering, half-naked and half-starved Indians, who have not the smallest appreciation of the great natural wealth of the country over which they roam in quest of such small game as now remains, to keep themselves from absolute famine. Having destroyed or driven farther west all the vast herds of deer, elk, and buffalo which once subsisted here upon the rank and nutritious vegetation, they are now starving, and have turned pensioners upon the government of the United States, and beggars of the emigrants passing west, for clothing and food. Beautiful as the country is, the silence and desolation reigning over it excite irrepressible emotions of sadness and melancholy.
Passing over the undulations, in a few miles we discovered, on the right-hand of the trail, another spring of cold water, from which again we refreshed ourselves. At this point the country becomes much more elevated, and the view on all sides still more extensive, bounded by the far, far-off green hill-tops, without a solitary tree in the vast expanse. Where timber exists on these plains, it is usually in the ravines and bottoms, and along the water-courses, frequently entirely concealed from the eye of the traveller when surveying the country from the ridges.
I noticed this morning, in a ravine near our camp, a species of honeysuckle. its blossom was white, and without fragrance. The wild rose, perfuming the atmosphere with its delicate and delicious fragrance, the sweetbrier, tulip, and the usual variety of other flowers, have exhibited themselves on our march.
The oxen, overcome by the extreme heat of the sun during the marches, are beginning to perish. I saw two dead oxen by the wayside, this morning, which belonged to some of the forward companies. We encamped, this afternoon, in a hollow where there is a fine spring of cold, pure water, but no timber, with the exception of three elm-trees. A dead and fallen elm has been drawn to our camp, and divided among the several messes for fuel. This tree was entirely consumed by us, and the next three emigrating parties will consume the three standing elms. Our progress is very slow. But notwithstanding this, many of the wagons are late in reaching camp, and the train is frequently strung out several miles. I am beginning to feel alarmed at the tardiness of our movements, and fearful that winter will find us in the snowy mountains of California, or that we shall suffer from the exhaustion of our supply of provisions. I do not fear for myself, but for the women and children of the emigrants. Singular as it may seem, there are many of our present party who have no just conceptions of the extent and labor of the journey before them. They appear to be desirous of shortening each day’s march as much as possible, and when once encamped are reluctant to move, except for the benefit of fresh grass for their cattle, and a more convenient and plentiful supply of wood for the purposes of cooking. There are several persons in camp ill with bilious complaints. Distance 10 miles.
May 25. – Our route to-day has been over a more broken country than I
have seen since entering upon the prairies. The timber fringing the margin
of Vermilion Creek, seen in the distance, has been the only relief to the
nakedness of the country, with the exception of two or three solitary trees,
standing isolated on the verdant plain. We reached the Vermilion about noon.
The bank of this stream on the eastern side was so steep, and the ford in
other respects so difficult, that we were detained several hours in crossing
it. The Vermilion is the largest watercourse we have crossed since leaving
the Kansas. Its current is more rapid than has been usually exhibited by the
streams of these prairies, and would afford very good water-power. The
timber at this point on its banks, is about a quarter of a mile in width,
and consists chiefly of oak and elm. It has been reported to be abundantly
supplied with a variety of fish. Ewing and Nuttall, who encamped with an
emigrant party here last night, caught two good-sized catfish, but none of a
Between this and the Big Blue, on the trail, there was said to be neither wood nor water, and consequently our water-casks were filled, and a supply of wood placed in our wagons, sufficient for fires at night and in the morning. We encamped this afternoon on a high elevation of the prairie, about five miles west of the Vermilion. Just as our wagons were forming the corral, a storm of thunder, lightning, rain and wind, burst upon us, drenching us to the skin, and nearly upsetting some of our wagons with its furious violence. The cloud rose from the west, and soon passing over to the east, within a hundred yards of us the most brilliant rainbow I ever beheld was formed, the bases of the arch resting upon two undulations between which we had passed. No Roman general, in all his gorgeous triumphal processions, ever paraded beneath an arch so splendid and imposing. The clouds soon cleared away, the rain ceased, and the brilliant meteor faded, leaving nature around us freshened and cleansed from the dust and impurities, which for two days past have been excessively annoying.
The ridges over which we had marched to-day, have generally exhibited a coarse gravel of flint and sandstone, with boulders of the latter, and of granite. Distance 15 miles.
May 26. – Our route to-day has continued over a rolling, and rather
broken country, compared with former marches. We crossed a small stream
about three miles from our encampment, the limpid waters of which flow
merrily over a gravelly bed, and a few straggling trees ornament its banks.
From this we continued to ascend over elevated ridges, until we reached the
bluffs which overlook Big Blue River. Descending from these, and
ascertaining that from the late rains the stream was so much swollen as not
to be fordable, we encamped on a slope of the prairie, near the timber, at
one o’clock, P.M.
The Big Blue in its present state, at the ford, is a stream about one hundred yards in width, with turbid water and a strong and rapid current. A large quantity of drift is floating on its surface. The timber on it at this point is about half a mile in width, and is composed of oak, cotton-wood, walnut, beach, and sycamore. The trees are large, and appear to be sound and thrifty. A small spring branch empties into the main river, which here runs nearly from the north to the south, just above the ford. The waters of the branch are perfectly limpid, and with a lively and sparkling current bubble along over a clear bed of gravel and large flat rocks. In the banks and the bed of this small stream, there are several springs of delicious cold water, which to the traveller in this region is one of the most highly prized luxuries. Should our government determine to establish military posts along the emigrant trail to Oregon, a more favorable position than this, for one of them, could not be selected. The range of bluffs on the eastern side of the river, about two hundred yards from it, overlooks and commands the entire bottom on both sides, forming a natural fortification.
The river has continued to rise rapidly since our arrival here, and at sunset the muddy waters were even with its banks. It is not probable that we shall be able to ford it for two or three days. The two companies immediately in advance of us, were so fortunate as to reach the stream last night before the great rise took place, and we saw them on our arrival wending their way west, over the high and distant ridges.
A fruit called the prairie pea, which I have previously noticed has been very abundant along our route. The plant which produces it is about eight inches in length, and has a leaf similar to that of the wild pea vine. The fruit, which varies from half an inch to an inch in diameter, has a tough rind, with a juicy pulp, the flavor of which resembles that of the green pea in its raw state. In the heart of the fruit there are a number of small seeds. Mrs. Grayson, having the necessary spices, &c., made of the prairie pea a jar of pickles, and they were equal if not superior to any delicacy of the kind which I have ever tasted. The wild rose with its delicate perfume, and the wild tulip, have been the most conspicuous flowers.
The afternoon has been devoted, by the female portion of our party, to the important duty of "washing." I noticed that the small branch was lined with fires, kettles, tubs, and all the paraphernalia necessary to the process of purifying linen. The Big Blue is said to abound in fish, but its extreme height, has prevented much success with our anglers. A catfish about three feet in length was taken this evening by one of our party.
While I am writing, a public meeting is being held in the area of the corral. There is much speaking and voting upon questions appertaining to the enforcement of by-laws, and regulations heretofore adopted, but rarely enforced. We are a pure democracy. All laws are proposed directly to a general assembly, and are enacted or rejected by a majority. The court of arbitrators, appointed to decide disputes between parties, and to punish offenders against the peace and order of the company, does not appear to have much authority. The party condemned is certain to take an appeal to an assembly of the whole, and he is nearly as certain of an acquittal, whatever may have been his transgressions.
The day has been delightful. No disagreeable incident has marred the general harmony and good feeling. The new moon exhibited its faint crescent above the tree-tops contiguous to our camp, soon after the sun sank behind the western horizon. She was recognised as an old and familiar acquaintance of the great family of Adam, with whom our friends of the orient might be shaking hands at the same time that we were gazing upon her pleasing features. Distance 10 miles.
Terrible storm – More Legislation – Alcove spring – Honey – A death and funeral – Boat – launch – Blue River Rover – Soil and scenery along the Blue – Fresh graves – Pawnee country – Quarrels in camp – Withdrawal Of the Oregon emigrants Indian hunters – Indian appetites – More fighting – Antelopes – False buffalo chase – Blacksmithing on the plains.
MAY 27. – A terrific thunderstorm roared and raged, and poured out its
floods of water throughout a great portion of night. But for the protection
against the violence of the wind, afforded by the bluffs on one side and the
timber on the other, our tents would have been swept away by the storm. The
whole arch of the heavens for a time was wrapped in a sheet of flame, and
the almost deafening crashes of thunder, following each other with scarcely
an intermission between, seemed as if they would rend the solid earth, or
topple it from its axis. A more sublime and awful meteoric display, I never
witnessed or could conceive.
The river since last night has risen several feet, and there is now no hope of fording it for several days. At eight o’clock, A.M., an adjourned meeting of the company was held in the corral, to hear and act upon a report of a committee, appointed by the meeting last night, to draw up additional regulations for our government during the journey. As usual in these assemblies, violent language was used, producing personal altercation and much excitement. A motion having been made by one of the company, to appoint a standing committee to try the officers, when charged with tyranny or neglect of duty by any individual of the party, it was carried; whereupon all the officers announced their resignations, and we were thrown back into our original elements, without a head and without organization. I felt fully satisfied that a large majority of the emigrants composing our party were in favor of order, and a restraining exercise of authority on the part of their officers, and that they had voted without understanding the effects which must follow the measure adopted. Not having participated in the proceedings of the meeting previously, I moved a reconsideration of the vote just taken, and explained the reasons therefor. My motion was carried by a large majority; the resolution raising the standing committee was rescinded, and the officers who had just resigned were re -elected by acclamation! These matters I describe with some minuteness, because they illustrate emigrant life while on the road to the Pacific, where no law prevails except their will. So thoroughly, however, are our people imbued with conservative republican principles, and so accustomed are they to order and propriety of deportment, that with a fair understanding, a majority will always be found on the side of right, and opposed to disorganization. "Our glorious constitution," is their motto and their model, and they will sanction nothing in derogation of the principles of the American constitution and American justice. There are, however, men in all emigrating parties, desperate and depraved characters, who are perpetually endeavoring to produce discord, disorganization, and collision; and after a proper organization of a party, as few public assemblages as possible should be convened for legislative purposes.
This afternoon, accompanied by several of the party, I strolled up the small branch, which I have previously mentioned as emptying into the river just above the ford. About three fourths of a mile from our camp we found a large spring of water, as cold and pure as if it had just been melted from ice. It gushed from a ledge of rocks, which composes the bank of the stream, and falling some ten feet, its waters are received into a basin fifteen feet in length, ten in breadth, and three or four in depth. A shelving rock projects over this basin, from which falls a beautiful cascade of water, some ten or twelve feet. The whole is buried in a variety of shrubbery of the richest verdure, and surrounded by small mound -shaped inequalities of the prairie. Altogether it is one of the most romantic spots I ever saw. So charmed were we with its beauties, that several hours unconsciously glided away in the enjoyment of its refreshing waters and seductive attractions. We named this the "Alcove Spring;" and future travellers will find the name graven on the rocks, and on the trunks of the trees surrounding it.
There are indications of the existence of mineral coal on the Big Blue. Mr. Grayson and others went out in search of honey this morning, and returned in the afternoon with several buckets full of the pure and delicious product of the labors of the bee. Our hunters and fishermen met with no success. Some of them discovered a large, but deserted Indian encampment, about four miles up the river, which they conjectured had been occupied by the Pawnees.
May 28. – The river having fallen only fifteen inches during the night,
after breakfast the whole party capable of performing duty were summoned to
repair to a point on the river about half a mile above us, to assist in the
construction of a raft to ferry our wagons over the stream. The response to
this call was not very general; but a number of the men armed with their
axes, adzes, and a variety of other mechanical tools, immediately assembled
and repaired to the place designated. We labored industriously the entire
day, in making "dug-outs." Two large cotton -wood trees were felled, about
three and a half or four feet in diameter. From these canoes were hollowed
out, twenty-five feet in length. The two canoes are to be united by a cross-frame, so as to admit the wheels of our wagons into them. Lines are then to
be attached to both ends, and our water-craft is thus to convey our wagons
over the river, being pulled backwards and forwards by the strength of the
I strolled up another small branch, which empties into the Big Blue not far distant from our encampment. The water is abundant, and of the finest quality, and the scenery most picturesque and romantic. I procured in my rambles a plentiful supply of the prairie pea for pickling, and I would recommend all emigrants travelling this road to do the same. A man belonging to one of the forward companies returned back this afternoon, in search of some lost cattle or horses. He reported that a child of Judge Bowlin [Josiah Morin], one of the emigrants to Oregon, died yesterday. The man in crossing the river was thrown from his horse, and it was with great difficulty that he could save himself from drowning. He sank several times, and was carried down the stream by the rapid current; at last he succeeded in grasping the tail of his horse, and was thus kept above water until he was drawn to the shore.
May 29. – Last night Mrs. SARAH KEYES, a lady aged 70, a member of the
family of Mr. J. H. [sic] Reed of Illinois, and his mother-in -law,
died. Mr. Reed, with his family, is emigrating to California. The deceased
Mrs. Keyes, however, did not intend to accompany him farther than Fort Hall,
where she expected to meet her son who emigrated to Oregon two or three
years since. Her health, from disease and the debility of age, was so
feeble, that when she left her home, she entertained but faint hopes of
being able to endure the hardships of the journey. Her physicians had
announced to her that she could live but a short time, and this time she
determined to devote to an effort to see her only son once more on earth.
Such is a mother’s affection! The effort, however, was vain. She expired
without seeing her child.
The event, although it had been anticipated several days, cast a shade of gloom over our whole encampment. The construction of the ferry-boat and all recreations were suspended, out of respect for the dead, and to make preparations for the funeral. A cotton-wood tree was felled, and the trunk of it split into planks, which being first hewn with an axe and then planed, were constructed into a coffin, in which the remains of the deceased were deposited. A grave was excavated a short distance from the camp, under an oak-tree on the right-hand side of the trail. A stone was procured, the surface of which being smoothed, it was fashioned into the shape of a tombstone, and the name and age, and the date of the death of the deceased, were grayed upon it.
At 2 o’clock, P. M. a funeral procession was formed, in which nearly every man, woman, and child of the company united, and the corpse of the deceased lady was conveyed to its last resting-place, in this desolate but beautiful wilderness. Her coffin was lowered into the grave. A prayer was offered to the Throne of Grace by the Rev. Mr. [Josephus Adamson] Cornwall. An appropriate hymn was sung by the congregation with much pathos and expression. A funeral discourse was then pronounced by the officiating clergyman, and the services were concluded by another hymn and a benediction. The grave was then closed and carefully sodded with the green turf of the prairie, from whence annually will spring and bloom its brilliant and many-colored flowers. The inscription on the tombstone, and on the tree beneath which is the grave, is as follows: "MRS. SARAH KEYES, DIED MAY 29, 1846: AGED 70."
The night is perfectly calm. The crescent moon sheds her pale rays over the dim landscape; the whippoorwill is chanting its lamentations in the neighboring grove; the low and mournful hooting of the owl is heard at a far-off distance, and altogether the scene, with its adjuncts around us, is one of peace, beauty, and enjoyment.
May 30. – The river having remained stationary during the night, and from the frequency of rains there being no present probability of its falling so as to be fordable, the business of completing our ferry-boat was resumed with energy at an early hour. This work being finished, the nondescript craft was christened the "Blue River Rover," and launched amid the cheers of the men. She floated down the stream like a cork, and was soon moored at the place of embarkation. The work of ferrying over was commenced immediately. Much difficulty, as had been anticipated, was experienced in working the boat, on account of the rapidity of the stream and the great weight of many of the wagons. The current was so strong, that near the shore, where the water was not more than three or four feet in depth, the strength of a man could with difficulty breast it. One of the canoes was swamped on the western side in drawing the third wagon from it. The damage, however, was soon repaired and the work resumed. Nine wagons and their contents were safely ferried over during the afternoon.
May 31. – The business of ferrying was resumed at an early hour, and
continued with vigor until nine o’clock at night, when all the wagons, oxen,
and horses were safely landed on the western bank of the river, where our
corral was formed. The labor has been very severe, and sometimes dangerous;
but was rendered still more disagreeable by a very sudden change in the
temperature. A chilling wind commenced blowing from the northwest at four
o’clock, P. M. Soon after dark masses of clouds rolled up, and it rained
violently. At six o’clock the thermometer had fallen to 48N;
and our men, many of whom have been standing in the water the whole day,
when they came into camp were shivering as if under the influence of a
paroxysm of the ague.
A fisticuff fight, in the progress of which knives were drawn, took place near the river bank, between two drivers, who ordinarily were very peaceable and well-disposed men. Fortunately, by the interposition of those standing by, serious results were prevented. The pugnacious and belligerent propensities of men display themselves on these prairie excursions, for slight causes and provocations. The perpetual vexations and hardships are well calculated to keep the nerves in a state of great irritability.
Jacob was taken quite sick this evening from the effects of the wet and the cold. He was relieved, however, in a short time. The growth of timber on the western bank of the river, is oak, walnut, elm, a few poplars, cotton-wood, the black haw, (in bloom,) dog-wood, and a variety of small shrubbery. Grapevines cover many of the trees. Distance one mile.
June 1. – Cloudy, with a cold, raw wind from the northwest. The great and
sudden change of the temperature, connected with the heavy fall of rain last
night, completely drenching every thing exposed to it, is exceedingly
distressing to the women and children, who generally arc thinly clothed, and
unprepared to resist the effects of exposure and atmospheric eccentricities.
Many of them suffered greatly last night, and this morning and during the
entire day the wind has blown with the rawness and bleakness of November,
rendering overcoats necessary to the comfort of those who have been
constantly exercising themselves by walking or otherwise.
We resumed our march after a detention of four days. As we rose from the bottom of the Blue, upon the high and rolling prairie, a vast diameter of country spread itself before us in all directions, presenting a landscape surpassingly attractive. Springs of cold, pure water, gushing from the cliffy banks of the small branches and ravines, are abundant on all sides. These delightful watering-places are usually shaded by small clumps of trees; and their existence and locality are thus indicated to the thirsty traveller in quest of the delicious and indispensable beverage which they so generously supply.
The general features and characteristics of the country over which we have travelled to-day, are not very dissimilar from the descriptions previously given. There is a paucity of timber. The soil is exuberantly rich, and productive of the most luxuriant grass and a great variety of plants, few of which, however, are now in bloom. The surface of the country is high and undulating. There are no stagnant pools or boggy marshes to produce malaria. All the aspects are indicative of a healthful climate; but whether this conclusion is experimentally correct, I have no means of judging.
The strongest objection to the territory we have passed through, since we left the Missouri line, is the sparseness of timber. With this single objection, the country appears to be the most desirable, in an agricultural point d view, of any which I have ever seen. It possesses such natural wealth and beauties, that at some future day it will be the Eden of America. When that epoch arrives, he who is so fortunate as to be then a traveller along this route, may stand upon one of the high undulations, and take in at a single glance a hundred, perhaps a thousand villas and cottages, with their stately parks, blooming gardens and pleasure-grounds; their white walls seen through the embowering foliage, and glittering in the sunbeams from every hill-top and slope of these magnificent plains.
I saw a solitary cluster of a pure white flower, of the poppy family, which previously I have not seen. The lupin is abundant, but not in bloom. At four o’clock, P. M, we reached a small branch, a tributary of the Blue, which presented so many difficulties in crossing, that the remainder of the day was laboriously occupied in passing our wagons to the opposite bank, where we encamped, forming our corral in the bottom, to avoid the ground so often occupied by emigrant companies which have preceded us. The grass, for a long circumference, has been cropped in many places to the roots, showing that large herds of cattle are in advance of us.
Near our camp there is a dead ox, and two graves of children, which have died and been buried within the last four days. A stone with the inscription, "May 28, 1846," stands at the head of one of the graves; at the head of the other, there is a small wooden cross. The bones of these children will sleep in their nameless graves, in this remote wilderness, unless disturbed by the cupidity of the savage, or the hunger of the wolf, until the last trump shall summon them from their repose.
We are now in the territory of the Pawnees, reported to be vicious savages, and skillful and daring thieves. Thus far we have lost nothing of consequence, and met with no disaster from Indian depredation or hostility.
Several unpleasant difficulties and altercations have occurred to-day, from the perverse obstinacy of some of the men, who refuse obedience to the orders of our captain. The standing committee appointed to adjust such matters, have been in session the whole of this evening. The result of their investigations I have not heard. There has been, for several days, a very troublesome dispute between two Oregon emigrants, partners for the journey, one owning the wagon and the other the oxen. The claimant of the oxen insists upon his right to take them from the wagon. The proprietor of the wagon denies this right. The difference was brought to a crisis on the road to-day, by a personal rencounter produced by an attempt of the ox claimant to take the oxen from the wagon, and thus to leave it to move along by the best mode that could be invented for such an exigency. If a man is predisposed to be quarrelsome, obstinate, or selfish, from his natural constitution, these repulsive traits are certain to be developed on a journey over the plains. The trip is a sort of magic mirror and exposes every man’s qualities of heart connected with it, vicious or amiable. Distance 14 miles.
June 2. – The temperature continues unseasonably cool, and there is much
suffering and some sickness among the women and children in consequence of
A scene of angry altercation, threatening to terminate in violence and blood, occurred last night about eleven o’clock, during the sitting of the committee of arbitration on the oxen and wagon controversy which I mentioned yesterday. Happily, through the interposition of those roused from their slumbers by the loud threats, epithets, and language of defiance, which passed between the parties at variance and their respective friends, the affair was quieted without more serious consequences. This morning the men composing the company were summoned, at an early hour, to meet at the guard-tent for the purpose of adopting measures for the prevention of similar outbreaks, disturbing the peace and threatening the lives to an indefinite extent, of the party.
The two individuals at variance about their oxen and wagon were emigrating to Oregon, and some eighteen or twenty wagons, now travelling with us, were bound to the same place. It was proposed, in order to relieve ourselves from the consequences of disputes in which we had no interest, that all the Oregon emigrants should, in a respectful manner and a friendly spirit, be requested to separate themselves from the California emigrants, and start on in advance of us. This proposition was unanimously carried, and the spirit in which it was made prevented any bad feeling, which otherwise might have resulted from it. The Oregon emigrants immediately drew their wagons from the corral and proceeded on their way.
Many of them, especially the females, separated from us with much apparent reluctance and regret. When making their adieux, several of them were affected to tears. Doubtless tender ties of affection and friendship, formed between the young men and young women of the two parties, were then sundered, and will never be reunited. Such are the stern and inflexible decrees of Fate in the delicate affairs of the heart.
Our march to-day has been for the most part over a smooth inclined plane, in some places wet and marshy. We encamped on another small affluent of the Blue. Just before we encamped, we saw, at the distance of about three miles, some moving objects, which being inspected through a glass proved to be Indians. They were a party of four Shawnee Indians, one or two of whom spoke English, and had been out on a trapping and hunting expedition. They were now returning to their homes. Two of them by invitation came to the camp, supped and remained all night with us. We purchased of them some dried buffalo tongues and jerked meat, which they packed in skins on their horses. Distance 12 miles.
June 3. – A bitter wind blows from the northeast, chilling as the blasts
of November. Flannels, overcoats, and all the clothing of winter are
necessary to comfort. The day has been the coldest and most disagreeable
that I ever experienced in the month of June.
The two Shawnee Indians parted from us on their homeward journey, at the same hour that we commenced our march. They carried with them a large budget of letters, which had been written during the night by those composing our party, addressed to their friends at home. We also supplied them with bacon, flour, coffee, and sugar, sufficient for the remainder of their journey. They supped and breakfasted with our mess, and I never saw men swallow food with such apparent enjoyment and in such prodigious quantities. Each of them consumed as much at one meal, as a man with ordinary appetite and powers of digestion would eat at six. Our cook this morning, in order that there should be no deficiency, prepared five or six times the usual quantity of bread, and fried bacon, and coffee, but it all disappeared, besides nearly a quart of lard in which the bacon was swimming.
A few scattering trees on a small branch which we crossed this morning, are all that we have seen during our day’s march. Our route has been over ascending ground nearly the whole day. Late in the afternoon we reached the summit of a ridge, overlooking a valley, through which winds a small rivulet, the banks of which are fringed with timber. The view from the ridge of the beautiful valley below, appeared almost like a creation of enchantment. Involuntary exclamations of pleasure and admiration escaped from the lips of the whole advance party as soon as the scene became visible.
Descending into the valley and crossing the stream, we encamped in a grove of oak on the western side. Vegetation here is much more backward than it has appeared generally on our route. The grass is not so high, and many of the oaks display no foliage and are still in the bud. I account for this by supposing the country to be much more elevated than that which we have passed over. I noticed, on a gravelly bluff overlooking the valley, the cactus or prickly-pear, and some beautiful specimens of the flower called "Adam’s Needle," and a bell-shaped flower of variegated colors. Two elk, a panther, and some wild turkeys have been seen during our march, but they were beyond the reach of our rifles.
Two men, who joined us a few days since, had a violent quarrel in camp this evening. Blows were exchanged, knives and pistols drawn; and but for the interference of Mr. Kirkendall, who was standing near at the time and rushed between the parties, one or both would probably have been killed. A wagon belonging to a German emigrant named [Louis] Keyesburgh, whose wife carried in her arms a small child, and was in a delicate situation, was upset, and the woman and child precipitated into a pool of water. The tongue of the wagon was broken, and all its contents were thoroughly wet and plastered with mud. Fortunately, however, no other damage was done. The woman and child escaped without material injury. Distance 18 miles.
June 4. – Our march, as usual, has been over the high tableland of the
prairie, occasionally dotted with one or more small trees, indicating the
localities of springs or pools of stagnant water. The undulations and
ravines have been less frequent, the surface of the country presenting
before us an expansive inclined plane, which we have been climbing the
entire day. We crossed several affluents of the Blue, with sandy and
gravelly beds; the waters having ceased to flow, stand in pools of
considerable depth. The soil as we advance is becoming sandy and less
fertile, and the grass and other vegetation is much shorter and thinner.
Vegetation appears to be very backward, many of the trees being bare of
foliage; and the flowers which one hundred and fifty miles back were
dropping their blossoms, are here budding and bursting into bloom.
About noon a number of antelopes were seen grazing, about two or three miles. A party started out immediately on the best horses to hunt them. We spread out to the right and left, and the antelopes did not discover us until we had approached within the distance of half a mile. They then raised their heads, and looking towards us an instant, fled almost with the fleetness of the wind. I never saw an animal that could run with the apparent ease, speed, and grace of these. They seem to fly, or skim over the ground, so bounding and buoyant are their strides, and so bird-like their progress. A chase was commenced immediately, but it ended as might have been expected; the antelopes were very soon two or three miles distant, notwithstanding we rode fleet horses, and as if in derision of our slow progress, would stop occasionally and look around until we came near to them, when again they would bound off, and in a few minutes be out of sight. In shape they resemble in many respects the goat; their size is considerably below that of the common deer. Their limbs are very small and sinewy. Their hair is coarse, and of a light chestnut color mingled with white. Beneath the tail on the thighs behind, there is a small oval shaped spot of white hair. All our efforts to approach them within gunshot were entirely fruitless. The sport, however, was very good for us, but not so agreeable to our horses.
We encamped this afternoon on the Little Blue, in sight of the timber skirting which we have travelled most of the day. The trees are chiefly oak, cotton-wood and hickory. Mr. Grayson brought in a fine fat doe, which he had succeeded in shooting after a day’s hunt. This is the first game of consequence, that has been killed since we commenced our journey, and it We are beginning now to look for buffalo, with great curiosity and interest. Every dark object descried upon the horizon is keenly scrutinized, and manufactured into one of those quadrupeds, if its shape, color and proportions, can be tortured into the slightest resemblance. So eager and excited are our men in this respect, that two of them in advance, discovering two others at a distance of three miles, were so certain that they were buffaloes, that they commenced a chase, which lasted several hours, the distance between the parties being maintained for some time by nearly equal speed. The pursuers were greatly chagrined when they discovered their mistake. The day has been highly favorable to our cattle, being so cool that overcoats were comfortable. Distance 22 miles.
June 5. – Our march to-day has been along the bottom, or in sight of the
Little Blue, which is skirted by a few large trees, chiefly oak and
cotton-wood. We crossed the dry gravelly beds of several streams, which in
rainy seasons, or during the melting of the snows, flow into the Little
Blue. In passing over one of these, our wagon was so much injured that we
were compelled to stop several hours to repair it. A fire was lighted, irons
heated, and the "art and mystery" of blacksmithing, without anvil, and with
axes and hatchets for hammers, in the course of two hours repaired the
injury. The train in the mean time had moved on, and we were left far in the
The composition of the soil continues to exhibit fewer fertile qualities. It is sandy, and the vegetation is scattered and short. I noticed to-day a beautiful crimson, five-leafed flower, produced by a small vine. The shape of the flower resembles the hollyhock, but its leaves are much more delicate, and its color more deep and brilliant.
We encamped this afternoon in a handsome bottom of the Little Blue, with good water and grass, and a plentiful supply of dry wood. The scenery is attractive, and the evening, although cool for the season, is not unpleasant. Distance 21 miles.
Sickness among the emigrants – Effects of travel and exposure upon the appearance and habits of our party – Method of travel – The Little Blue River – Change in the soil – A break – down – Platte River – Soil of the Platte bottom – Human bones – Buffalo bones – Post – offices – Islands of the Platte – Bois de Vache – Mackinaw boats – Prairie – dog town – Rocky Mountain hunters, and boatmen – The bluffs of the Platte – Immense fungi – First buffaloes – Men in search of a doctor – Disposition among emigrants to take large doses of medicine – Effects often fatal – Barbarous surgical operation – Distressing scene – Funeral – Wedding – Birth.
JUNE 6. – There has been considerable sickness in camp during the past
ten days; resulting, as I believe, from imprudent exposure and indulgence.
The complaints are chills and fevers, and diarrhoea. The cases have,
however, generally yielded to medicine. Few of our company have been
accustomed to the fatigues, exposures, and privations of a camp-life, and on
the whole it is rather surprising that the outset of the journey has not
affected us more seriously than it has. Many have decidedly improved in
health, and are now becoming so inured to our present mode of life, that the
usually deleterious effects of exposure to dampness, cold and heat, are not
a subject of much consideration.
Our faces are nearly as dark, from the effects of the sun and the weather, as those of the copper-colored inhabitants of these plains whom we have so often met. Before our evening ablutions, after encamping, are performed, and the black dust of the prairie is laved from our skins, if a friend from the "settlements" were to meet us, clad as we are in our grotesque and careless costume, he might very naturally mistake us for a company of the savages who roam over this wide wilderness. Once a week is as often as the most particular and fastidious exquisite of the party consults his pocket-mirror and admires his physiognomy; and the not very delicate nerves of most of them, it must be admitted, are then often severely shocked; and they regard their own images with feelings of terror and aversion, rather than with emotions of admiration. The anecdote of the very ugly man who, after surveying himself in the glass, exclaimed, "Not handsome, but d------d genteel!" is not applicable to any of us. No one is either genteel or handsome.
Our system of travel is thus: The whole encampment is roused by the sound of a trumpet at or before sunrise. Breakfast, which hitherto has consisted of bread, fried bacon, and coffee, is prepared and discussed as soon as possible, usually by six o’clock, when the morning cattle-guard is summoned to drive the oxen into the corral preparatory to "catching up" or yoking. This occupies an hour or more, and at seven or half-past seven o’clock, our march commences. Between 12 o’clock and one o’clock the train is halted in the road for the oxen to breathe. There is a delay of an hour, during which each person partakes of such refreshment as has been provided for him before leaving camp in the morning. The march is then resumed, and continued according to circumstances in reference to grass, water, and wood, until 5 or 6 o’clock in the afternoon, when our corral is formed, our tents pitched, and our evening meal provided.
Until last night the oxen have been driven into the corral at 8 o’clock, to guard against Indian thefts; but now that we have approached so near the buffalo region, where cattle are of no value in the estimation of the savages, this practice has been discontinued. We have seen no Indians, except the Shawnees mentioned, since we left the Big Blue River. The Shawnees reported that there was an encampment of 300 Pawnee warriors, at a point now about five days’ journey in advance.
Our route has been up the Little Blue, which runs in a southeast direction. We have generally travelled upon its bank. The waters of the stream at present are confined to a channel about ten yards in width, but during high-water, or freshets, they overflow the most of the bottom. The deposite of sand and detritus from an overflow of the present year, is so deep in many places that the grass has not penetrated through it. The $oil of the bottom appears to be of a fertile composition, but that of the table-land or prairie undulations is sandy and gravelly, producing but little grass. Among the flowers which I noticed to-day were the foxglove, and a plume-shaped flower, the petals of which are pink, purple, and blue. The wild pea, in bloom, is quite abundant in places; and the lupin disputes the tenantry of the ground with the grass.
The mirage has displayed itself several times to-day with fine effect, representing groves of waving timber and lakes of limpid water. Our amateur hunters, several of whom have been out all day, brought in no game. They saw large numbers of antelope, but never were so successful as to approach within rifle-shot of them. We are encamped to-night on a handsome bottom, between the Little Blue and a small branch emptying into it. The moon is shining brilliantly, and the evening is more pleasant than any we have enjoyed for some time. The trail has been dry and firm, and, with the exception of the ravines we are compelled to cross, a better road could not be desired. Distance 20 miles.
June 7. – We continued along the banks of the Little Blue until noon,
when the trail diverged from the stream to the right, ascending over the
bluffs, into the high table-land of the prairie, in order to strike the
Platte river, the estimated distance of which from this point is
twenty-seven miles. We supplied ourselves with water and wood, expecting to
encamp to-night where neither of these could be obtained. The soil of the
prairie is thin, and the grass and other vegetation presents a blighted and
stunted appearance. I did not notice a solitary flower in bloom, between the
Little Blue and our encampment.
About two o’clock, P.M., in crossing a ravine the bank of which was steep, one of the axletrees of our wagon broke down entirely, and our progress consequently was suspended. This would have been a most serious disaster, detaining us probably a whole day, but for the fact that we had brought with us from Independence duplicate axletrees. The train "rolled" past us, but a number of men sufficient to assist in repairing the damage to our vehicle remained. The tools with which we had provided ourselves in the event of accidents, consisting of a saw, shaving-knife, augers, chisels, hammers, etc. etc., were now found indispensable. With the aid of these, Mr. [William H.] Eddy, a carriage-maker by trade, was soon as busily at work in adjusting the new axletree to the size of the irons appertaining to the wheels, as if he had been in his own shop at home. The damage was fully repaired, and our wagon as strong if not stronger than before at sunset, when we started for camp.
The twilight soon melted into moonlight, and the evening was serene and beautiful. As we jogged along at our leisure over the smooth road, objects indistinctly observed in the dim distance were shaped according to the taste or fancy of the several individuals of the party, to represent buffaloes, beam, elk, and Indians. We came in sight of our encampment about half-past ten o’clock. The tents and wagon-covers at the distance of a mile, appeared in the moonlight like a cluster of small white cottages composing a country village. Some trees near the tents strengthened the agreeable illusion. To my surprise, when I approached nearer the encampment, I found the corral formed on a handsome sloping lawn near the brink of a chain of small pools of clear water, shaded by ash and elm trees. This was unexpected, as we had been informed there was no water between the Little Blue and the Platte. The scene was peaceful and pleasing, awakening such emotions as are felt when revisiting some favorite haunt of boyhood, engraven upon the memory and consecrated by juvenile affection. Being a mile or two in advance of our wagon, I sat down under a tree on the bank of the first pool, and contemplated the scene of peace and solitude until my companions came up. We then drove into camp, unharnessed our team, and pitched our tent for the night. Distance 16 miles.
June 8. – The prairie over which we travelled, until we reached the
bluffs that overlook the wide valley or bottom of the Platte, is a gradually
ascending plane. The soil is sandy; the grass is short, and grows in tufts
and small bunches. I saw no flowers.
We reached the bluffs bordering the valley of the Platte, about three o’clock, P.M., and from these we had a view of the valley beyond and the river winding through it. We encamped late in the afternoon on the river bank, about four miles above the point where we entered the valley. Opposite to our camp is Grand Island, which extends up and down the river farther than the eye can reach, but its exact dimension I do not know.
The Platte here (its waters being divided by Grand Island) is about one hundred and fifty yards in breadth. Its current is sluggish and turbid. The timber consists of a few cotton-wood trees, and these principally are on the island. The bottom on the southern side is about three or three and a half miles in width. The soil near the river appears to be fertile, but next to the bluffs it is sandy, and the grass and other vegetation present a stunted and blighted appearance. Small spots in the bottom are covered with a white efflorescence of saline and alkaline substances combined.
While marching across the valley this afternoon, I saw numbers of antelopes, and of the curlew, a large and fine bird. One of the former was killed by Mr. Grayson, and brought into camp. The flesh is coarser than that of the deer, but I thought it more juicy and tender.
We met this morning a man belonging to a company of Oregon emigrants, which had encamped last night about five miles in advance of us. He stated, that a party of twenty or thirty Pawnee Indians had attempted to break into their camp, and that they had much difficulty in keeping them off: This company, to-night, is about three miles from us; and the report of fire-arms being heard in that direction, it was conjectured that their difficulties with the Indians had been renewed. A party of our men volunteered to march to their assistance. They returned, and reported that no Indians had been seen in the vicinity.
The wood for our camp-fires, to-night, has been obtained (by wading the river) from the island opposite. Although the turbid water, rolling in eddies, appears, by a glance at its surface, to be of great depth, yet when sounded, in no place is it more than four feet deep. Distance 25 miles.
June 9. – The morning air is pleasant and invigorating. The dew,
heretofore, has wet the grass as much as a fall rain; and usually it has not
been evaporated until eleven or twelve o’clock. This morning the grass was
not perceptibly damp; and from this time forward, I am informed, we shall
rarely witness the phenomenon of copious dew.
Our route, to-day, has been along the bank of the Platte; the general course of which is nearly from the west to the east. After passing the head of Grand Island, about eight miles above our encampment, the river expands in breadth, presenting a surface of water two miles wide; and resembling the Missouri or the Mississippi. Although the channel is so broad, indicating to the eye a large volume of water, the stream is, nevertheless, so shallow, that in many places it can be forded without wetting the pantaloons, if ,well rolled up above the knees. The bed of the river is composed of sand. This is constantly shifting its position by the action of the current, and fresh deposites are made. The banks of the Platte are low, not rising more than four feet above the present surface of the water. The bottom, at this point, I do not think, is often inundated; such is the breadth of the channel, that an immense body of water would be required to raise the stream above its banks. For all the purposes of navigation the Platte is a nullity.
The soil of the Platte bottom appears to be indurated by drought. Occasionally there are marshy places, but these are easily avoided; and the trail in general is dry and hard.
One of our party who left the train to hunt through the valley, brought into camp this evening a human skull. He stated that the place where he found it was whitened with human bones. Doubtless this spot was the scene of some Indian massacre, or a battle-field where hostile tribes had met and destroyed each other. I could learn no explanatory tradition; but the tragedy, whatever its occasion, occurred many years ago. The bones of buffalo, whitened by the action of the atmosphere, are seen every few yards.
A sort of post-office communication is frequently established by the emigrant companies. The information which they desire to communicate is sometimes written upon the skulls of buffaloes, – sometimes upon small strips of smooth planks, – and at others a stake or stick being driven into the ground, and split at the top, a manuscript note is inserted in it. These are conspicuously placed at the side of the trail, and are seen and read by succeeding companies. One of the last-described notices we saw this morning. It purported to be written by the captain of a company from Platte county, Mo., a portion of which was bound for California, and a portion for Oregon. It consisted of sixty-six wagons. They had travelled up the Platte a considerable distance, passing through the Pawnee villages, with which Indians they had had some difficulties. They had also suffered much from the rains and high waters. They were now one day in advance of us. The number of emigrants on the road for Oregon and California, I estimate at three thousand.
We encamped late this afternoon on the bank of the Platte. From our position I counted twenty-five islands, varying in dimensions, generally from a rod to a quarter of a mile in diameter. The green herbage, trees, and shrubbery upon them, assume many singular and rather fantastic shapes, representing in the distance, ships, gondolas, elephants, camels, fiat-boats, etc. etc. The landscape composed of these objects in the river, is fairy-like and highly pleasing to the eye. At this time there are but few flowers in bloom in the valley of the Platte. I have noticed none varying from those of the prairies which we have travelled over, and rarely any of these. Our fuel for cooking is what is called "buffalo chips," which is the deposite of manure made by the herds of buffalo that have roamed over this region in years past, and has become perfectly dry, burning with a lively blaze and producing a strong heat. The "chips" are an excellent substitute for wood. Some ducks, plover, and curlews, were killed to-day. Distance 18 miles.
June 10. – Our route the entire day has been up the bottom of the Platte,
frequently near its bank. The river maintains its expansive width, and is
dotted with numerous small green islets. The valley on the opposite side
appears, from the distance at which we view it, to be a plain of sand. The
vegetation of last year not having been burnt off, is still standing, and
hides with its brown drapery the fresh growth of the present year, and hence
the barren aspect.
We saw from our encampment this morning eight small boats, loaded, as we ascertained by the aid of a glass, with bales of furs. The boats were constructed of light plank, and were what are called "Mackinaw boats." The water of the river is so shallow, that the men navigating this fleet were frequently obliged to jump into the stream, and with their strength force the boats over the bars or push them into deeper water. We watched them from sunrise until 8 o’clock in the morning, and in that time they did not advance down stream more than a mile.
I rode to-day through a village of prairie-dogs. The village covered several acres. Scattered over this space there were, perhaps, five hundred small conical elevations raised by these animals in excavating their subterraneous dwellings. I saw large numbers of the diminutive residents of this populous town. They are about the size and of the proportions of the Norway rat, and their hair is a mixture of light brown and black. When I approached their habitations a multitude could be seen scampering about, and hard barking with a shrill but rather playful and pleasing sound, or tone of voice. The whole of them, however, soon ceased their music, and ran into their holes, from whence they peered their heads with a very timid and innocent expression of countenance. The rattlesnake and the owl are said to be the associates of these singular and orderly little animals, but whether this statement is or is not true, I could not, from what I saw, determine. Some of our party shot several of them, and the meat is said to be tender and of a good flavor.
We encamped this afternoon on a small creek emptying into the Platte, the waters of which are brackish and disagreeable to the taste, and not conducive to health. This remark is applicable to many of the small affluents of the Platte. The mosquitoes, morning and evening, have been very troublesome since we entered this valley. They collect about our animals and ourselves in immense swarms, and bite with the most ravenous eagerness. The slightest puncture of their probosces, inflames the skin and produces a most painful sensation. Distance 18 miles.
June 11. – The soil and scenery of our day’s march have presented few
varieties worthy of notice. The breadth of the river bottom on the southern
side, is from two and a half to four miles. The bluffs, as we advanced up
the stream, become more elevated and broken. Sometimes they present a
sloping, grassy surface, blending gently with the level plain; – at others,
they assume the form of perpendicular, or overhanging precipices, with a
face of bare and barren sand, so compact as to appear like solidified rock.
The tracks and other signs of buffalo have been seen frequently during the day, but none of the animals have yet been discovered. It is probable that the large number of emigrants who have preceded us, have driven the few buffaloes which descend the Platte so low as this, into the hills. The bleaching skeletons of these animals are strewn over the plain on all sides, ghastly witnesses deposited here, of a retreating and fast perishing race. At some future epoch in geological history, they will claim the attention of the curious scientific naturalist.
I observed the cactus, or common prickly-pear, in bloom, frequently on the march. The flower is a pale yellow. Many antelopes have been seen, but it seems almost vain to attempt to hunt them. Their timidity and fleetness are such, that they cannot be approached except by stealth, and to do this on the level and bare plain, is very difficult.
About 11 o’clock this morning, being considerably in advance of our train, I discovered a man at the distance of half a mile, standing in the trail leaning upon his rifle. He was dressed in the hunting costume of the mountains,--buckskin shirt, pantaloons, and moccasins. After the ordinary salutations, he informed me that his name was Bourdeau; – that he was from St. Charles, Mo., and was one of a party which left a small trading-post on the Platte, a few miles below Fort Laramie, early in May. They were navigating two "Mackinaw boats" loaded with buffalo skins, and were bound for the nearest port on the Missouri. He stated that they had met with continual obstructions and difficulties on their voyage from its commencement, owing to the lowness of the water, although their boats, when loaded, drew but fifteen inches. They had at length found it impossible to proceed, and had drawn their boats to the shore of the river, and landed their furs. Their intention now was to procure wagons if they could, and wheel their cargo into the settlements.
To meet men speaking our own language, in this remote wilderness, was to us an interesting incident. Our train coming up, we determined to proceed as far as the place where the party of Mr. Bourdeau had landed their furs, (about four miles,) and there to noon, in order to give all interested an opportunity of making inquiries, and to write letters to their friends in the United States, to send by this conveyance. The company of voyageurs consisted of Mr. Bourdeau, Mr. Richard, Mr. Branham, formerly of Scott county, Ky., a half-breed Mexican, an Indian, and several creole Frenchmen, of Missouri. The Mexican and the Indian were engaged in frying bread in buffalo tallow for dinner. Their cooking apparatus and arrangements did not present the most cleanly aspect, but the results of their culinary operations were such as to excite the appetite of the epicure of the mountains. The whole party presented a half civilized and half-savage appearance in their dress and manners. The Americans were all well-formed, athletic, and hardy young men, with that daring, resolute, and intelligent expression of countenance which generally characterizes the trappers, hunters, and traders of the mountains. Their avocation, position, and connections force them to be ever watchful, and ever ready to meet danger in its most threatening forms.
We traded with them for their buffalo skins, giving in exchange flour, bacon, sugar, and coffee, which they needed. Sugar and coffee were rated at one dollar per pound, flour at fifty cents, and buffalo-robes at three dollars.
Messrs. Bourdeau, Richard, and Branham accompanied us to our encampment this afternoon, and remained with us during the night. They procured a horse and such other articles as they needed for their journey into the settlements. Our camp is on the south bank of the Platte, which at this point presents a sheet of turbid water, between two and three miles in breadth, dotted with numerous small green islets, which give a most pleasing relief to the monotonous landscape. Distance 17 miles.
June 12. – The mornings are uniformly delightful and the atmosphere
elastic and bracing, in this region. The sun shines with great power in the
middle of the day, but usually a fresh breeze mitigates the intensity of its
The banks of the river, like those of the Mississippi, are considerably higher than the surface of the plain next to the bluffs. There is a very gradual descent from the stream to the point where the bluffs connect with the plain. This is produced by the deposite of detritus when the water from the melting snows above overflow the banks of the river, and partially inundate the valley.
This afternoon, accompanied by Mr. Kirkendall, I left the train for the purpose of crossing the valley and exploring the hills or bluffs, in search of buffalo. We saw grazing on the plain, near the foot of the bluffs, numerous herds of antelopes; but could never approach them within rifle-shot. We entered the bluffs through a gorge or ravine, which we followed for about two miles, when we ascended to the summit of one of the highest elevations. From this, on one side, we could see the Platte and its broad valley for a long distance. On the other side were the innumerable sandy peaks, assuming every variety of rude and misshapen configuration; and separated from each other by deep hollows and ravines and impassable gulfs, hollowed out by torrents of water, or the action of the winds upon the dry and sandy composition of the ground. More wild, desolate, and rugged scenery than is presented by these bluffs, after you enter them, is rarely seen. Our attempt to reach the prairie, where, from the signs, we expected to find buffalo, was abortive. After winding over the steep ridges and through the deep hollows for several hours, we at last became 80 entangled, that for some time we felt doubtful of forcing our way out, without returning by the same route which we had come. This, at the risk in several instances of our horses’ necks, we finally accomplished, reaching the valley in safety.
I noticed numerous fungi, of a globular shape; some of which were ten inches in diameter, and perfectly white. Indications of iron and copper ores were seen in several places.
We encamped this afternoon on a small branch, the waters of which, when they flow, empty into the Platte. At present, the water stands in stagnant pools. A few cotton-wood trees are scattered along the stream. The dead limbs of these, with "buffalo chips," compose our fuel. Mr. Reed shot a large elk to-day, and brought the carcass into camp. The flesh of the elk is coarse, but this was tender, fat, and of a good flavor. Distance 16 miles.
June 13. – The wood-work of many of the wagon-wheels have contracted so
much from the effects of the dry atmosphere on the Platte, that the tires
have become loose, and require resetting. There being sufficient wood to
make the fires necessary for this purpose at this encampment, it was
determined that we should remain for the day.
Messrs. Grayson and Boggs, who crossed the Platte yesterday afternoon for the purpose of hunting, returned this morning with their horses loaded with the choice pieces of a buffalo cow which they had killed about fifteen miles below our camp. The meat was tender and juicy, but not fat. They reported that they saw large numbers of buffalo on the opposite side of the river; and that they could approach them within rifle-shot without difficulty. The day has been pleasant, with a most agreeable temperature under the shade of our tents.
June 14. An Indian was discovered last night by one of the guard, lurking
in the bushes; no doubt intending to steal some of our horses. He ran off
with great speed when the alarm was given. We resumed our march at the usual
hour. About five miles from our encampment we were met by three men
belonging to an emigrant company, which they had left last night about
twenty-five or thirty miles in advance. They were in search of a doctor. A
boy eight or nine years of age had had his leg crushed by falling from the
tongue of a wagon, and being run over by its wheels; and besides, there were
in the company a number of persons ill with fevers and other complaints.
There being no physician in our party, and possessing, from my former studies and later experience, some pathological and anatomical knowledge, together with such a knowledge of the pharmacopoeia and materia medica as to be fully sensible that many patients are killed, rather than cured, by the injudicious use of medicine, I had consented on several occasions, when persons belonging to our company were seized with sickness, to give them such advice and to prescribe and administer such medicines as I thought would be beneficial. I informed the patients in all cases that I was no "doctor," but acted rather in the character of the "good Samaritan." By using this phrase I would not be understood as assuming to myself the merits and virtues of the individual who, under that name, has been rendered forever memorable and illustrious for his humanity by the impressive parable of our Saviour. In all cases of sickness in our party where I was called, I have the satisfaction of knowing that no one died. This I do not attribute to any medical skill or science of my own, but to the fact that medicines were exhibited in small quantities, and such as would not crush the recuperative powers and sanative impulses of nature. On this long and toilsome journey, during which it is impossible to suspend the march for any length of time, doses of exhausting medicines should never be administered to the patient. If they are, the consequences most frequently must result in death. The fatigues of the journey are as great as any ordinary constitution can bear; and the relaxing and debilitating effects of medicines injudiciously prescribed in large quantities, are often, I believe, fatal, when the patient would otherwise recover.
It so turned out that I had acquired the undeserved reputation of being a great "doctor," in several of the emigrant companies in advance and in our rear, and the three men who had met us, above noticed, had come for me. I told them, when they applied to me, that I was not a physician, that I had no surgical instruments, and that I doubted if I could be of any service to those who were suffering. They stated in reply that they had heard of me, and that they would not be satisfied unless I accompanied them in all haste to their encampment. I finally consented to their urgent demands, feeling desirous of alleviating as far as I could the miseries of the sick and disabled, which here are more dreadful than can be imagined.
Making my arrangements as soon as I could, I mounted the horse which had been brought for my conveyance-one of those hard trotters whose unelastic gait is painfully fatiguing to the rider. You are obliged to protect yourself from the concussion caused by the contact of his feet with the earth, by springing from the saddle at each stride. We crossed, in a few miles, a small branch shaded by some oak-trees. In the bank of this we found a spring of cool water. There was, however, such a multitude of mosquitoes and gnats surrounding it, that we had but little enjoyment in its generous supply of refreshing waters. The air is in places filled with these troublesome insects, and the venom of their bite is frequently seriously afflictive. At the spring above alluded to, the trail recedes from the river, and runs along under the bluffs, which, to-day, seemed to shut from us every breath of air, rendering the heat of the sun oppressive almost to suffocation. I observed that some of the bluffs which we passed were composed of calcareous rock, and the debris below was of the same composition. I shot with my pistol, while riding this morning, an antelope, at a distance of 150 yards.
After a most fatiguing and exhausting ride, we reached the encampment to which I had been called about five o’clock, P.M. The men who had been sent for me had given no description of the case of fracture, other than that which has above been stated. I supposed, as a matter of course, that the accident had occurred the preceding day. When I reached the tent of the unfortunate family to which the boy belonged, I found him stretched out upon a bench made of planks, ready for the operation which they expected I would perform. I soon learned, from the mother, that the accident occasioning the fracture had occurred nine days previously. That a person professing to be a "doctor," had wrapped some linen loosely about the leg, and made a sort of trough, or plank box, in which it had been confined. In this condition the child had remained, without any dressing of his wounded limb, until last night, when he called to his mother, and told her that he could feel worms crawling in his leg ! This, at first, she supposed to be absurd; but the boy insisting, an examination of the wound for the first time was made, and it was discovered that gangrene had taken place, and the limb of the child was swarming with maggots! They then immediately dispatched their messengers for me. I made an examination of the fractured limb, and ascertained that what the mother had stated was correct. The limb had been badly fractured, and had never been bandaged; and from neglect gangrene had supervened, and the child’s leg, from his foot to his knee, was in a state of putrefaction. He was so much enfeebled by his sufferings that death was stamped upon his countenance, and I was satisfied that he could not live twenty-four hours, much less survive an operation. I so informed the mother, stating to her that to amputate the limb would only hasten the boy’s death, and add to his pains while living; declining at the same time, peremptorily, all participation in a proceeding so useless and barbarous under the circumstances. She implored me, with tears and moans, not thus to give up her child without an effort. I told her again, that all efforts to save him would be useless, and only add to the anguish of which he was now dying.
But this could not satisfy a mother’s affection. She could not thus yield her offspring to the cold embrace of death, and a tomb in the wilderness. A Canadian Frenchman, who belonged to this emigrating party, was present, and stated that he had formerly been an assistant to a surgeon in some hospital, and had seen many operations of this nature performed, and that he would amputate the child’s limb, if I declined doing it, and the mother desired it. I could not repress an involuntary shudder when I heard this proposition, the consent of the weeping woman, and saw the preparations made for the butchery of the little boy. The instruments to be used were a common butcher-knife, a carpenter’s handsaw, and a shoemaker’s awl to take up the arteries. The man commenced by gashing the flesh to the bone around the calf of the leg, which was in a state of putrescence. He then made an incision just below the knee and commenced sawing; but before he had completed the amputation of the bone, he concluded that the operation should be performed above the knee. During these demonstrations the boy never uttered a groan or a complaint, but I saw from the change in his countenance, that he was dying. The operator, without noticing this, proceeded to sever the leg above the knee. A cord was drawn round the limb, above the spot where it was intended to sever it, so tight that it cut through the skin into the flesh. The knife and saw were then applied and the limb amputated. A. few drops of blood only oozed from the stump; the child was dead – his miseries were over!
The scene of weeping and distress which succeeded this tragedy cannot be described. The mother was frantic, and the brothers and sisters of the deceased boy were infected by the intense grief of their parent. From this harrowing spectacle, I was called to visit the father of the dead child, who was lying prostrate in his tent, incapable of moving a limb, with an inflammatory rheumatism, produced, as I supposed from his relation, by wading streams and exposure to rains during the commencement of the journey, while under the influence of large doses of calomel. He was suffering from violent pains in all of his bones, which, added to his mental affliction from the death of his child, seemed to overwhelm him. He told me that he had been unable to walk or sit upright for four weeks. He begged that I would prescribe something for his relief. I comforted him with all the encouragement in reference to his case that I could conscientiously give, and left some medicines, enjoining him, however, not to deviate the thousandth part of a scruple from my directions, unless he wished to die at once. The propensity of those afflicted by disease, on this journey, is frequently, to devour medicines as they would food, under the delusion that large quantities will more speedily and effectually produce a cure. The reverse is the fact, and it is sometime dangerous to trust a patient with more than a single dose.
From this family I was called to visit a woman, the wife of one of the emigrants, who had been ill for several weeks of an intermittent fever. She had taken large quantities of medicine, and her strength and constitution appeared to be so much exhausted, that I had no hopes of her recovery, unless the company to which she belonged could suspend their march for a week or more, and give her rest. This I communicated to her husband, and left such medicines, and gave such advice in regard to nursing as I thought would be the most useful in her case. A young man applied to me for relief, who after I had examined him, I believed to be laboring under a disease of the heart. I told him that I could do nothing for him; that the journey might effect his cure, but that no medicine which I possessed would have any other than an injurious effect.
After visiting some four or five other persons more or less indisposed, and prescribing for them, by invitation of Col. Thornton I walked from this encampment to his, about three fourths of a mile distant. Col. T., it will be recollected, was a member of the Oregon party, which separated from us about two weeks since. In crossing the Platte bottom to his encampment, we forded two small streams flowing into the main river. Their waters are brackish and bitter with saline and alkaline impregnation. On our arrival at Col. T.'s camp, my old acquaintances and late fellow-travellers were rejoiced to see me. They evinced their pleasure by many kind and cordial manifestations. Mrs. Thornton, a lady of education and polished manners, received me in her tent as she would have done in her parlor at home. I was most hospitably and agreeably entertained, by these my respected friends.
Between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, I was invited to attend a wedding which was to take place in the encampment. The name of the bridegroom [Riley Septimus Moutrey] I did not learn, but the bride was a Miss [Mary Lucy] LARD, a very pretty young lady, who, I doubt not, will be the ancestress of future statesmen and heroes on the shores of the Pacific. The wedding ceremonies were performed by the Rev. Mr. Cornwall, and took place in the tent of her father. The candles were not of wax nor very numerous, nor were the ornaments of the apartment very gorgeous or the bridal bed very voluptuous. The wedding-cake was not frosted with sugar, nor illustrated with matrimonial devices, after the manner of confectioners in the "settlements ;" but cake was handed round to the whole party present. There was no music or dancing on the occasion. The company separated soon after the ceremony was performed, leaving the happy pair to the enjoyment of their connubial felicities. This was the first wedding in the wilderness, at which I had been a guest.
After we left the bridal tent, in looking across the plain, I could see from the light of the torches and lanterns the funeral procession that was conveying the corpse of the little boy whom I saw expire, to his last resting-place, in this desolate wilderness. The faint glimmer of these lights, with a knowledge of the melancholy duties which those carrying them were performing, produced sensations of sadness and depression. While surveying this mournful funeral scene, a man arrived from another encampment about a mile and a half distant, and informed me that the wife of one of the emigrants had just been safely delivered of a son, and that there was, in consequence of this event, great rejoicing. I could not but reflect upon the singular concurrence of the events of the day. A death and funeral, a wedding and a birth, had occurred in this wilderness, within a diameter of two miles, and within two hours’ time; and tomorrow, the places where these events had taken place, would be deserted and unmarked, except by the grave of the unfortunate boy deceased! Such are the dispensations of Providence !-such the checkered map of human suffering and human enjoyment!
I saw numbers of buffalo to-day, and large numbers of antelope. The grass surrounding the encampments is green and luxuriant, but more distant from the river it is short and thin, and has a blighted appearance. Buffalo chips constitute the only fuel. Having left my thermometer in the wagon, I could not make an observation to-night. Wind east, with clouds and flashes of lightning. Distance 30 miles.
Country becomes more arid and sterile – Return party from Oregon – Herds of buffalo – Dead oxen – Chalybeate spring at the ford of the Platte – Killing buffaloes – Buffalo meat – Resignation of Colonel Russell and other officers – Determination to change our mode of travel – Ash Hollow – General post-office. – Grave opened by wolves – Chimney Rock in the distance – Court-House Rock – Foetid water and tainted atmosphere – Quicksands – Near view of Court-House Rock – A man in a fright – Near view of Chimney Rock – Scenery at Chimney Rock – Horse-trading – Furious storm – Scott’s Bluff – First view of Rocky Mountains – Horse Creek – Fort Bernard – Fort Laramie – Sioux Indians – Beauty of the Sioux women – Sioux Lodges.
JUNE 15. – Accompanied by two men, I started back on the trail to meet
the train to which I was attached. We came in sight of the advance party
after travelling about four miles, and I stopped until the wagons came up, —
the two men leaving me in pursuit of their own party. When our train came
up, I ascertained that they had travelled yesterday 23 miles, and about
three miles this morning.
Colonel Russell, our captain, had been seized during the night with a violent attack of chills and fever, and I found him in his wagon quite ill.
As we advance up the Platte, the soil becomes less fertile. The vegetation is thin and short. The river to-day has generally been eight or ten miles from us on our right. Ledges of calcareous rock frequently display themselves in the bluffs. The heat of the sun during the day’s march, has been excessively oppressive. Not a cloud has exhibited itself on the face of the heavens, nor a tree or a shrub on the surface of the plain over which we have travelled, or in the distance as far as the eye could reach.
We encamped this afternoon about a mile from the junction of the north and south forks of the Platte, near a spring of cold pure water, than which to the weary and thirsty traveller in this region nothing can be more grateful and luxurious. Nature, in this region, is parsimonious in the distribution of such bounties, and consequently when met with, their value is priceless to those who have suffered through a long day’s march under a burning sun, and whose throats are parched with dust and heat. Several of our party who have been hunting to-day, reported that they saw large droves of buffalo on the plains to the south of us, numbering from five hundred to one thousand. Distance travelled from my place of encampment last night 18 miles.
June 16. – A number of our party were seized with violent and painful sickness, brought on no doubt by indulging too freely in the cold water of the spring. Our route to-day has been up the south fork of the Platte, the trail generally running through the bottom near the river. The bottom is much narrower than on the main Platte, and the bluffs are more gentle and sloping. The grass near the bank of the stream is green and luxuriant, but near the bluffs it is very thin; and the soil still farther back is, in many places, quite bare of vegetation.
About 12 o’clock we met a party of five men, from Oregon, returning to the United States. They were a portion of a company which originally numbered eighteen, and which left Oregon city on the first of March. They stopped at the Wallawalla mission one month, and the residue of the time they have been marching. Their baggage and provisions are packed on mules and horses, and they average from twenty-five to thirty miles per day. One of the party having dislocated his shoulder, with three others stopped at Fort Laramie until the injured man could recover sufficiently to travel. The remainder of the company, they stated, were about fifteen miles in their rear. They had not been molested in any manner by the Indians on their route, although they had met them in various places. They had kept an account of the emigrant wagons, as they met them, and reported the number at 430, which, added to our own, make a total of 470. These are about equally divided between California and Oregon. They gave a flattering description of the fertile portions of Oregon. After visiting the United States, they intend to return and settle permanently on the Pacific.
We saw, in the course of the day, several herds of buffalo grazing on the plains two or three miles distant from the trail. A large and fat cow was chased and shot near our camp this afternoon, by Mr. Grayson, supplying us with an abundance of excellent fresh beef. Cacti, tulips, and the primrose, have displayed their blossoms along the trail during our march.
Soon after we encamped, this afternoon, nine men belonging to the Oregon party, reported by those we met this morning, came up, and, by our invitation, encamped with us. Among this party is an intelligent young man by the name of Wall, from St. Louis, who has been on the Pacific coast of South and North America, and among the islands, for some years, and is now returning home by this route. We learned from Mr. Wall that some of the forward emigrant companies had lost their cattle and horses by Indian depredations. We pass, every day, several cattle which have been left behind, too much crippled, or exhausted by fatigue, to proceed. The Platte rose inches last night. Distance 17 miles.
June 17. – We reached the ford of the Platte about two o’clock, P.M., and
ascertained by an examination that, although the river was still rising, our
wagons could pass over without much difficulty. While waiting at the river
for our party to come up, I discovered, a short distance above where the
trail enters the stream to cross it, a large spring of cold water, strongly
impregnated with iron, and slightly with sulphur. drank freely of the water
of this spring during the afternoon, and found its effects upon me
beneficial. I would advise those emigrants passing this way, who are
afflicted with the ordinary complaints on this portion of the route, to
visit this spring, and when they leave it to fill their casks with the
water, for use on the road.
Our wagons were all passed safely over the river before sunset, an event thought to be worthy of general congratulation. The stream was rising rapidly; and when so high that it cannot be forded, owing to the absence of timber, it forms an impassable barrier to the progress of emigrant parties. Their only course, in such a case, is to halt until the water falls. Two or three buffaloes were killed near our camp this evening. Distance 17 miles.
June 18. – The trail to-day has run along the north bank of the south
fork of the Platte, and we encamped at that point where the road diverges
from the stream to cross over the prairie to the north fork. The soil of the
bottom is sandy; and the grass, which appears to have been blighted by
drought, is short, thin, and brown.
We saw large herds of buffalo during our march, some of which approached us so nearly that there was danger of their mingling with our loose cattle. The buffalo-hunt is a most exciting sport to the spectator as well as to those engaged in it. Their action when running is awkward and clumsy, but their speed and endurance are such, that a good horse is required to overtake them or break them down in a fair race. Although the uninitiated in this sport may without much difficulty wound one of these animals with his rifle or pistol, it requires the skill and practice of a good hunter to place the ball in those parts which are fatal, or which so much disable the strong and shaggy quadruped as to prostrate him or force him to stop running. I have known a buffalo to be perforated with twenty balls, and yet be able to maintain a distance between himself and his pursuers. Experienced hunters aim to shoot them in the lungs or the spine. From the skull the ball rebounds, flattened as from a rock or a surface of iron, and has usually no other effect upon the animal than to increase his speed. A wound in the spine brings them to the ground instantly, and after a wound in the lungs their career is soon suspended from difficulty of breathing. They usually sink, rather than fall, upon their knees and haunches, and in that position remain until they are dead, rarely rolling upon their backs.
The flesh of the bull is coarse, dry, tough, and generally poor. The beef from a young fat heifer or cow, (and many of them are very fat,) is superior to our best beef. The unctuous and juicy substances of the flesh are distributed through all the muscular fibres and membranes in a manner and an abundance highly agreeable to the eye and delightful to the palate of the epicure. The choice pieces of a fat cow, are a strip of flesh along each side of the spine from the shoulders to the rump; the tender-loin; the liver; the heart; the tongue; the humpribs; and an intestinal vessel or organ, commonly called by hunters the "marrow-gut," which, anatomically speaking, is the chylo-poetic duct. This vessel contains an unctuous matter resembling marrow, and hence its vulgar name. No delicacy which I have ever tasted of the flesh kind can surpass this when properly prepared. All parts of the buffalo are correspondingly palatable with those of tame cattle; but when they are abundant, the principal part of the carcass is left by the hunter to feast the beasts and birds of prey.
This evening, after we encamped, Colonel Russell, who has been suffering for several days from an attack of bilious fever, tendered his resignation of the office of captain of our party. His resignation having been accepted by a vote of the company assembled, Ex-governor Boggs was called to the chair. A motion was then made by E. Bryant, and unanimously adopted, that the thanks of the company be expressed to Colonel Russell for the manner in which he has discharged his duties since his election to the office of captain. The other subordinate officers then resigned their places. These were Messrs. Kirkendall, Donner, Jacob, and West. A similar vote of thanks was adopted in regard to them. Mr. F. West was afterwards appointed captain pro tem, and the meeting adjourned. Distance 12 miles.
June 19. – A party of eight or ten persons, including myself, had
determined, on our arrival at Fort Laramie, to change our mode of travel,
provided we could make suitable arrangements. If mules could be obtained for
packing, our design was to abandon our oxen and wagons, and all baggage not
absolutely necessary to the journey. This would enable us to proceed with
much greater expedition towards the point of our destination.
The distance from the south to the north fork of the Platte, by the emigrant trail, is about twenty-two miles, without water. The country between the two streams is elevated and rolling. The soil is poor, and the grass and other vegetation thin and short. The bloom of the lupin in many places gives a blue coloring to the undulations of the prairie. No trees or shrubs are visible. While halting at noon, midway of our day’s march, we were overtaken by Messrs. Lippincott and Burgess, two gentlemen who left us at the Kansas, and had joined some of the advance companies. They had been out six days in search of some mules composing their team, which they supposed had at first strayed from their encampment, and then been driven off by the Indians. In their excursion, they had been as high up as the head-waters of the Little Blue, where, as they stated, they found the soil of the country sandy and sterile, and vegetation parched by the drought. Their search had been unsuccessful.
We descended into the valley of the north fork of the Platte, through a pass, known as "Ash Hollow." This name is derived from a few scattering ash-trees in the dry ravine, through which we wind our way to the river bottom. There is but one steep or difficult place for wagons in the pass. I saw wild currants and gooseberries near the mouth of Ash Hollow. There is here, also, a spring of pure cold water. We met at this spring the four members of the Oregon party which had been left at Fort Laramie. The man with the disabled arm, by resting two or three days, had recovered sufficiently to be able to travel. He informed me that he was returning to Ohio for the purpose of disposing of his property there, which he should invest in sheep and cattle, and drive them to Oregon next year.
We found near the mouth of "Ash Hollow," a small log cabin, which had been erected last winter by some trappers, returning to the "settlements," who, on account of the snows, had been compelled to remain here until spring. This rude structure has, by the emigrants, been turned into a sort of general post-office. Numerous advertisements in manuscript are posted on its walls outside; descriptive of lost cattle, horses, etc. etc.; and inside, in a recess, there was a large number of letters deposited, addressed to persons in almost every quarter of the globe, with requests, that those who passed would convey them to the nearest post-office in the states. The place had something of the air of a cross-roads settlement; and we lingered around it some time, reading the advertisements and overlooking the letters. Distance 22 miles.
June 20. – Having made my arrangements for the purpose, last night, with
a view of carrying into effect the design of changing our method of travel I
left the encampment early this morning, accompanied by Messrs. Kirkendall,
Putnam, Holder, and Curry, for Fort Laramie, about one hundred and fifty
miles distant. In the course of the day we were joined by Messrs.
Lippincott, Burgess, Brown, and Ewing.
For several miles, after leaving our encampment near the mouth of "Ash Hollow," the wagon-trail passes over a sandy soil, into which the wheels sink eight or ten inches. The surface of the ground, however, becomes gradually more compact; and the bottom of the river occasionally exhibits patches of green grass. The bluffs which wall in the river valley, are becoming rugged and sterile, exhibiting barren sands and perpendicular ledges of rock. The general aspect of the scenery is that of aridity and desolation. The face of the country presents here those features and characteristics which proclaim it to be uninhabitable by civilized man. The light sands, driven by the bleak winds, drift across the parched plain, filling the atmosphere, and coloring the vegetation with a gray coating of dust. The Platte preserves the same general features as below the forks. Its width is not so great; but still it is a wide stream with shallow and turbid water, the flavor of which is, to me excessively disagreeable. But we are forced to make use of it to quench our thirst.
I noticed several times to-day, on the bluffs, a few stunted cedars, the deep-green foliage of which was some relief to the dreary monotony of the scenery. We found a grave which had been opened by the wolves or the Indians, and the corpse exhumed. Some of the bones were strewn around the excavation from whence they had been taken.
About four o’clock, P.M., we overtook a train of twenty-one emigrant wagons, under the command of Captain [Gallant Duncan] Dickinson. This company is the same that separated from us soon after crossing the Kansas river. We accepted Captain D.’s invitation to encamp with him for the night; and travelling along with him, we passed another small emigrant party which had halted for the day. Our camp is near the bank of the river, and the grass immediately surrounding it is green. Another emigrant party is in sight, about three miles in advance of us. A thunderstorm rose from the southwest about five o’clock, and there was a copious and refreshing fall of rain. A beautiful bow, of the most brilliant colors, displayed a perfect arch in the east immediately after the shower had passed over. Our party were distributed among the tents of the emigrants for the night. I was most hospitably entertained at the tent of Mr. Gordon, an intelligent and highly respectable gentleman, with an interesting family of sons and daughters. Distance 30 miles.
Sunday, June 21. The shower of last evening has washed the grass and laid
the dust. The landscape wears a greener and more attractive drapery.
The atmosphere this morning being clear, we saw distinctly the "Chimney Rock," at a probable distance of thirty-five or forty miles. Some ten or twelve miles this side of it we also saw an elevated rock, presenting an imposing and symmetrical architectural shape. At this distance its appearance was not unlike that of the capitol at Washington; representing, with great distinctness of outline, a main building, and wings surmounted by domes. This, I believe, has been named by emigrants the "Court-house."
As we approached this large rock, it assumed still more definitely the regular proportions of an artificial structure. At times its white walls and domes would appear in a state of perfect preservation; in other views they appeared partially ruinous, like some vast edifice neglected or deserted, and mouldering and falling under the influence of time. Desirous of examining this object more closely than could be done by an observation from the trail, accompanied by Mr. Lippincott, I left our party, turning our horses in a direction towards it. After riding about four miles we ascended the bluffs, the view from which, over the plain to the south, was one of sterile desolation. The wind was blowing fresh, and the white sand and dust were driving through the air and drifting in heaps, like freshly-fallen snow in a furious storm. A foetid odor, highly offensive, probably arising from some stagnant lake at a distance, impregnated the atmosphere. While riding at full speed we came suddenly upon a stream of clear running water. It appeared so inviting to the eye, that we dismounted for the purpose of drinking from its limpid current; but a single swallow was sufficient to produce nausea. In. attempting to cross the stream, which is about two rods in width, Lippincott’s horse sank into the quicksands so that his body became entirely covered. After some difficulty he was extricated, and farther down the stream we found a safe ford with a compact bottom of bluish clay. I noticed along the bank of this stream several round rolls of clay and sand, combined in layers from one and a half to two feet in diameter, and about the same in length. These singular formations appear to have been produced by the action of the wind, forcing a small lump of soft clay forward until by accumulation its size is increased to the above dimensions.
We continued our course towards the rock about three miles farther, when its distance from us appeared to be still so great, that we concluded we could not visit it and overtake our fellow travellers before night. The rock appeared, from the nearest point where we saw it, to be from 300 to 500 feet in height, and about a mile in circumference. Its walls so nearly resemble masonry, and its shape an architectural design, that if seen in an inhabited country, it would be supposed some collossal [sic] edifice, deserted and partially in ruins.
Turning our course towards the river we kept along over the bluffs for several miles, from which we had an extensive view of the arid plain to the south, with clouds of dust and sand flying over it. The "Chimney Rock" has been in sight the whole day. About five miles before we reached it a very amusing incident occurred. A man on horseback appeared in front coming towards us. He was about two miles distant when we first saw him. He appeared to be riding leisurely along the trail, and did not discover us until he had approached within the distance of half or three-quarters of a mile. He then suddenly halted, turned his horse partly round, and seemed in doubt whether to advance or retreat. In the mean time we continued to approach him; and several of the party starting their horses suddenly forward on a gallop, gave a loud Indian whoop. This appeared to operate with electrical force. He fled with all the speed that his horse was capable of. Whip and spur were applied with an energy indicating that the rider supposed his life dependent upon their influence over the animal he rode. He would occasionally look back, and then renew with increased zeal the lashes upon his poor beast. Away and away he went, almost with the fleetness of the wind, and was soon lost to our sight in a distant depression of the plain. He evidently supposed us to be a party of Indians, whom he did not wish to encounter, and seized with a panic, fled with the precipitation I have described. I did not see him afterwards. He was an emigrant probably in search of lost cattle.
We encamped about five o’clock, P.M., on the bank of the Platte, about three miles from the "Chimney Rock." This remarkable landmark derives its name from some resemblance which it bears to a chimney. Its height from the base to the apex is several hundred feet, and in a clear atmosphere it can be seen at a distance of forty miles. It is composed of soft rock, and is what remains of one of the bluffs of the Platte, the fierce storms of wind and rain which rage in this region, having worn it into this shape. The column which represents the chimney, will soon crumble away and disappear entirely.
The scenery to the right of the rock as we face it from the river, is singularly picturesque and interesting. There are four high elevations of architectural configuration, one of which would represent a distant view of the ruins of the Athenian Acropolis; another the crumbling remains of an Egyptian temple; a third, a Mexican pyramid; the fourth, the mausoleum of one of the Titans. In the background the bluffs are worn into such figures as to represent ranges of castles and palaces. A black cloud which has risen in the west since three o’clock, hangs suspended like a sable curtain over this picture of nature in ruin and desolation. A narrow bright line of lurid light extends along the western horizon beneath the dark mass of vapor where the sun is setting, casting huge and lengthened shadows over the plain, from pyramids, spires, and domes, in the far distance.
The illusion is so perfect that no effort of the imagination is required to suppose ourselves encamped in the vicinity of the ruins of some vast city erected by a race of giants, contemporaries of the Megatherii and the Ichthyosaurii.
An emigrant party is encamped about two miles below us on the bank of the river. Two of them, after having visited the "Chimney Rock," rode over to our camp. We invited them to partake of our humble fare, and if they thought proper, a bed in our spacious chamber. The first consisted of bacon broiled on a stick over a fire of buffalo chips; and the last was the illimitable canopy of the heavens. What was wanting in variety and sumptuousness of fare, was fully made up in the dimensions of our sleeping apartment. They declined our invitation, but were resolutely bent on making a horse-trade before they bade us good-evening. This duty was performed to their satisfaction by my friend Lippincott. Horses were traded and exchanged, but which party had the advantage, it would require one more learned than myself in horseflesh to decide. Were I to give an opinion, I should go so far as to intimate that both parties were sufferers by the contract.
Our party being small, every individual composing it was compelled to stand a watch during the night, for the protection of our animals and ourselves, My watch come on in the early part of the night. The dark masses of clouds which had been rising from the west for many hours, continued to become more and more threatening. I never witnessed more brilliant displays of electricity, or heard more deafening crashes of thunder. While standing in our camp with a pistol in my hand, sparks of electricity rolled along the barrel and dropped to the ground. I was several times sensibly but not violently affected by electrical shocks. Distance 35 miles.
June 22. – The rain poured down in torrents about one o’clock this
morning, and the storm continued to rage with much violence for several
hours. A great change had taken place in the temperature during the night,
and when I rose from my bivouac, my clothes were dripping wet, and I was
shivering with cold. The buffalo chips being too wet to ignite, we were
forced to leave our encampment without our coffee, a great deprivation under
present circumstances. If I could I would endeavor to describe to the reader
by the use of language, a picture presented this morning, at sunrise, just
as we were leaving our encampment, among these colossal ruins of nature. But
the essay would be in vain. No language, except that which is addressed
directly to the eye, by the pencil and brush of the artist, can portray even
a faint outline of its almost terrific sublimity. A line of pale and wintry
light behind the stupendous ruins, (as they appeared to the eye,) served to
define their innumerable shapes, their colossal grandeur, and their gloomy
and mouldering magnificence. Over us and resting upon the summits of these,
were the black masses of vapor, whose impending weight appeared ready to
fall and crush every thing beneath them. The cold winds blew with the force
of a tornado, and the dark drapery which obscured the heavens was wrapping
its sable folds, as if to shelter and protect the skies from the fury of the
storm. The sublime conceptions of Martin, representing infernal scenery,
were vividly brought to mind by these phenomena; and nothing which
previously I have witnessed in nature, has so nearly resembled those
extraordinary imaginative sketches of this artist.
About twenty miles distant from our encampment of last night is "Scott’s Bluff," a very elevated and remarkable formation. It derives its name, as I have been informed by one who was in part cognizant of the facts, from these circumstances :—a party of some five or six trappers, in the employment of the American Fur Company, were returning to the "settlements," under the command of a man—a noted mountaineer—named Scott. They attempted to perform the journey in boats, down the Platte. The current of the river became so shallow that they could not navigate it. Scott was seized with a disease, which rendered him helpless. The men with him left him the boat, and when they returned to their employers, reported that Scott had died on the journey, and that they had buried him on the banks of the Platte. The next year a party of hunters, in traversing this region, discovered a human skeleton wrapped in blankets, which from the clothing and papers found upon it, was immediately recognised as being the remains of Scott. He had been deserted by his men, but afterwards recovering his strength sufficiently to leave the boat, he had wandered into the bluffs where he died, where his bones were found, and which now hear his name.
The bluff is a large and isolated pile of sand-cliffs and soft sandstone. It exhibits all the architectural shapes of arch, pillar, dome, spire, minaret, temple, gothic castle, and modern fortification. These, of course, are upon a scale far surpassing the constructive efforts of human strength and energy. The tower of Babel, if its builders had been permitted to proceed their ambitious undertaking, would have been but a feeble imitation of these stupendous structures of nature. While surveying this scenery, which is continuous for twenty or thirty miles, the traveller involuntarily imagines himself in the midst of the desolate and deserted ruins of vast cities, to which Nineveh, Thebes, and Babylon were pigmies in grandeur and magnificence.
The trail leaves the river as we approach "Scott’s Bluff" and runs over a smooth valley in the rear of the bluff seven or eight miles. From this level plain we ascended some distance, and found a faint spring of water near the summit of the ridge, as cold as melted ice. I need not say that we refreshed ourselves from this beneficent gift of nature to the weary and thirsty traveller. We reached the extreme height of the dividing ridge about three o’clock, P.M., and from it we had the first view of the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Laramie’s Peak, and several other elevations about one hundred or one hundred and fifty miles distant, were very distinctly visible, and I think I saw the summits of the Wind River Mountains, about four hundred miles distant. The atmosphere was very clear, and the summits of the last-named mountains appeared like small white clouds, resting upon the horizon. I may be mistaken in my supposition.
Descending from the ridge, we passed over a barren country, broken by deep chasms and ravines hollowed out by the winds and the torrents of water pouring from the hills in wet seasons, for twelve miles, when we reached Horse Creek, where we expected to encamp. But the grass being very indifferent, although it was near sunset we determined to find, if possible, a better encampment on the river some five or six miles distant. We accordingly laid our course for the nearest point on the Platte, passing over a plain, the prevailing growth being the cactus, the thorns of which were very troublesome to the feet of our animals. We reached the bank of the river just before dark, and encamped, although the grass around us was very indifferent. Dark clouds had been rising for some hours from the south and the southwest, and we had scarcely completed the labor of unsaddling our animals when a strife of the elements commenced. Lightning, thunder, and wind seemed to vie with each other for predominance. We succeeded, after much difficulty, in striking a fire in the hurly-burly of the storm, and preparing as hastily as possible a cup of coffee and a slice of broiled bacon, we made our beds upon the ground, and accommodated our philosophy to a thorough saturation by water before morning, which expectation was not disappointed. The rain fell in torrents about ten o’clock, and in a short time my blankets and all my clothing were as wet as if they had been submerged in the river. Distance 45 miles.
June 23. – My physical sensations when I rose this morning were not
agreeable. Every article of bedding and clothing which I possessed was
perfectly saturated with water. A thick driving mist concealed from our view
all distant objects, and seemed almost to penetrate the pores of the skin.
It was a long time before we succeeded in striking a fire for the
preparation of breakfast, of which we all stood much in need, having fared
indifferently for the last thirty-six hours. A faint blaze, sufficient to
boil water for coffee and to broil a slice of bacon for each, was at last
raised, and as soon as our hasty morning meal was over, we resumed our
We found two emigrant encampments in a few miles, from one of which I purchased a tin cup, (a great prize,) having been so unfortunate as to lose my own on the march since leaving the wagon. The channel of the Platte has become much compressed; during our march to-day its average breadth has not been more than three hundred yards. The soil of the bottom is sandy and barren; there is but a scant vegetation upon it, owing to drought or other causes. I noticed, in several places, clusters of small islands ornamented with willows and occasionally a cotton-wood tree. Looking down upon these islands from the bluffs, they presented a cultivated appearance; the green foliage of the willows, in contrast with the white sand, represented circular and serpentine walks of shrubbery in the distance, and the barren soil, cultivated ground. These appearances were numerous and very pleasing just below a small trading-post, called "Fort Bernard," about eight miles from Fort Laramie.
We reached "Fort Bernard," a small building rudely constructed of logs, about two o’clock, P. M. While approaching it, I saw a large herd of mules grazing on the plain and guarded by Mexican Indians. One of these had a small looking-glass, with which he conveyed the reflected rays of the sun into our faces, by way of a distant salutation. The mules (animals of which we were in quest) were objects more agreeable and interesting to us than their keepers. I had a letter of introduction to Mr. Richard, the principal of this trading-post, from his brother, one of the party which we met on the Platte. Mr. R. received us with mountain cordiality, inviting us to remain with him over night. We declined the invitation, having determined to proceed as far as Fort Laramie. An inhabited house, though of the rudest construction and with accommodations far inferior to an ordinary stable, was nevertheless a cheering sight. Several traders from Taos and the head-waters of the Arkansas in New Mexico were collected here, to whom the herd of mules we saw belonged. They had packed flour, some four hundred miles, for the purpose of trading with the Sioux Indians.
We arrived at Fort Laramie in the midst of a violent storm of rain, thunder, and lightning, just before sunset. About three thousand Sioux Indians were encamped in the plain surrounding the fort. The lodges, as I understood, numbered about six hundred; and the whole plain, at a distance, appeared like a vast cultivated field, from which the crop had been gathered and secured in stacks. An immense number of horses, belonging to the Indians, were grazing on the plain. The Sioux had collected here to this number for the purpose of organizing a war-party to attack the Snakes and Crows. They held a grand war-dance in the fort to-day, which had just concluded when we arrived. Many of them, I could perceive, were intoxicated with the excitement of the dance, or from the effects of whiskey. The females especially appeared to be under the influence of this excitement. Notwithstanding the rain, a large number of them were outside the walls of the fort, dancing, singing, and throwing themselves into a variety of grotesque and not very decent attitudes, according to our notions of feminine delicacy and decorum. Many of these women, for regularity of features and symmetry of figure, would bear off the palm of beauty from some of our most celebrated belles.
A portion of the Sioux women are decidedly beautiful. Their complexion is a light copper color, and, when they are not rouged artificially, the natural glow of the blood is displayed upon their cheeks in a delicate flush, rendering their expression of countenance highly fascinating. The dress of the higher orders (for there is an aristocracy among them) is graceful and sometimes rich. It consists usually of a robe or shirt of buckskin, with pantaloons and moccasins of the same, tastefully embroidered with porcelain beads of various colors. The material of their dress is so prepared, that frequently it is as white as the paper upon which I write, and as flexible as the muslin which envelops in its misty folds the forms that float in our ballrooms. Their feet are small and exquisitely formed. The student of sculpture, when he has acquired his trade at Rome or Florence, should erect his studio among the Sioux for his models.
The Sioux are one of the most powerful tribes of Indians on the continent of America. Their warriors number, as I understand, about eight or ten thousand, and they claim a district of country of great extent. These claims and pretensions are disputed by other tribes surrounding them, and the consequence is, that they are engaged in perpetual wars with their neighbors. The men are powerfully made, and possess a masculine beauty which I have never seen excelled. Conscious of their superior strength, of course, like all savage nations under the same circumstances, they are arrogant and exacting towards their more feeble neighbors; and have thus, probably, acquired a reputation for cruelty and duplicity. But, having passed twice through them without injury or insult of any kind, I have little reason to suppose that this reputation would be sustained by any facts, after a full and fair investigation. The men, as well as the women, are generally well clothed in skins and blankets, and they have every appearance of being well fed. The numerous herds of buffalo which roam over the plains and mountains within the Sioux territory, afford a bountiful supply of meat; and by an exchange of their skins with the traders they obtain blankets, and sometimes flour, sugar, and coffee, and other luxuries. They have among them a few muskets and rifles, but their principal weapons are the bow and arrow, tomahawk, and hunter’s knife.
Fort Laramie, or "Fort John," as it is otherwise called, has been the principal trading-post of the American Fur Company. Its distance from Independence, by the route we travelled, is six hundred and seventy-two miles. Its latitude is about 42o 40''north. It is situated on Laramie river, near its junction with the Platte, and is surrounded by an extensive plain. Timber in the vicinity is very scarce. Not a foot of ground around the fort is under cultivation. Experiments have been made with corn, wheat, and potatoes, but they either resulted in entire failures, or were not so successful as to authorize a renewal. The Indians, who claim the soil as their property, and regard the Fur Company as occupants by sufferance, are adverse to all agricultural experiments; and on one or two occasions they entered the small enclosures, and destroyed the young corn and other vegetables as soon as they made their appearance above the ground. The Fur Company raise cattle and poultry, make butter, and have an abundance of milk for their own consumption. They also have herds of horses and mules, which they either breed themselves or purchase from the Indians. The Indian horses are the most hardy animals of the kind I have ever seen. Many of the breeds higher up in the Rocky Mountains have powers of endurance nearly equal to the Mexican mule; an animal which I regard as superior to any other on the continent of America for long, toilsome, and difficult journeys.
"The Fort," as it is called, is a quadrangle, the walls of which are constructed of adobes, or sun-dried bricks. The area enclosed is, I should suppose, about half or three-fourths of an acre of ground. Its walls are surmounted by watch-towers, and the gate is defended by two brass swivels. On three sides of the court, next to the walls, are various offices, store-rooms, and mechanical shops. The other side is occupied by the main building of the Fort, two stories in height. The Indians have permission to enter the Fort during the day; at night, they encamp in their lodges on the plain.
Their lodges are constructed of poles, erected in a conical shape, for a framework, over which is thrown and fastened a roof or covering of buffalo skins, so prepared as to resist the rain. The diameter of the lodges at the base is usually about ten feet; some of them are larger. In cold or stormy weather, the fire is lighted in the centre of the lodge. In warm and fair weather, the fire for cooking is lighted near the entrance, on the outside. The floor of the lodge is covered with buffalo skins, forming an excellent carpet. When the Indians decamp for the purpose of removing to another place, the poles are fastened to their pack-horses on each side, one end dragging behind on the ground. Short crosspieces are strapped on these, in the rear of the horse, forming a framework, upon which the baggage, and sometimes the children, are placed during the march. The small children are confined in cages, composed of willows, in the form of a common crockery crate, except that the door for ingress and egress is at the side. In this manner, these Indians travel fifty or sixty miles a day, according to circumstances; the women always taking charge of the luggage, pack-animals, and children.
The numerous herds of horses belonging to the Indians having grazed off all the grass from the plain surrounding the fort, and it being unsafe to trust our animals with theirs, we determined to proceed and encamp for the night about five or six miles further, at a point where we were informed there was good grass. Distance from our last encampment to Fort Laramie, 40 miles –to this camp, 46 miles.
Procession of the Sioux – Purchase of mules – Extreme high prices for coffee, sugar, tobacco, flour, etc. – Shooting-match with the Sioux Indians – A return party from California – Denunciation of the country by them – Resume the journey on pack-mules – Vexations of mule-packing – Canyon of the Platte – First appearance of wild sage – View of the Rocky Mountains – Another Oregon return party – Swarms of crickets – An extinct volcano – Green peas – A good supper – Frost in the mountains – Effects of earthquakes – Hunters and trappers: their numbers, habits, etc. – Celebration of the 4th of July – Gnats and mosquitoes – Joined by Mr. Buchanan – Alkaline lakes – Impure water, its effects – Sweet-water Mountains.
JUNE 24. – About 8 o’clock I started alone to return to Fort Laramie. I
had not travelled far when I met processions of the Sioux Indians, who this
morning broke up their encampment. Having resolved upon and organized an
expedition against the Snakes and Crows, their design was to conduct their
women and children to a point on the Platte about fifty miles above the
Fort, where they intended to leave them in the care of the old men, until
the war party returned.
In marching, as I met them, they seemed to be divided into numerous parties, at the head of each of which was a beautiful young female gorgeously decorated, mounted upon a prancing fat Indian horse, and bearing in her hand a delicate staff or pole, about ten feet in length, from the point of which were suspended, in some instances, a gilt ball and a variety of large brass trinkets, with brilliant feathers and natural flowers of various colors. The chiefs, dressed in their richest costumes, followed immediately in the rear of this feminine ensign-bearer, with their bows and arrows in hand. Next succeeding them were the women and children, and pack-animals belonging to the party; and in the rear of all, the warriors. The whole, as I met them, party after party, was a most interesting display of savage pageantry. The female standard-bearers appeared to me more beautiful and fascinating than any objects connected with savage life which I had ever read of or conceived. It appeared as if this was a most solemn occasion, for not one of those composing the long column, some three or four miles in length, as I passed them, seemed to recognise any object or to utter a word. They marched at a slow pace, in perfect silence, with their eyes gazing steadfastly upon the vacancy in front. I bowed many times, but they took no notice of my salutations. Doubtless this stern deportment was expressive of their determination not to look to the right or the left, until they had penetrated into the country of and wreaked their vengeance upon their enemies, the Snakes and Crows.
Arriving at Fort Laramie, the business I had to transact detaining me some hours, I was invited by Mr. Bourdeau and other officers of the American Fur Company, to dine with them. The dinner consisted of boiled corned beef, cold biscuit, and milk. These gentlemen (and some of them are gentlemen in manners and intelligence) informed me that this was their usual fare, when they could obtain flour, which was not always the case. In the absence of bread, they subsist upon fresh buffalo meat, venison, salt beef, and milk. Mr. Bourdeau, the principal of the Fort, who is a man of about thirty, informed me that he left the settlements of, the United States fifteen years since, and had never returned to them. Most of the others with whom I dined, had been absent from their homes and civilization several years.
From Laramie, I proceeded back to the small trading-post, known as "Fort Bernard," where I ascertained that arrangements could be made with the traders from Mexico for mules, by exchanging for them our oxen and wagons. I was joined here by the other members of the party which accompanied me from the wagons, and here we determined to encamp until the wagons came up.
June 25. – The mountain traders and trappers are not rich in luxuries;
but whatever they possess they are ever ready to divide with their guests.
In a trade, however, they are as keen as the shrewdest Yankee that ever
peddled clocks or wooden nutmegs. Coffee, sugar, and tobacco, are valued
here at one dollar per pound; whiskey at a dollar per pint, and flour at
fifty cents per pint. The last-named article is sometimes a dollar per pint,
according to the supply, payable in buffalo or deer skins, buckskin shirts
and pantaloons, moccasins, etc., etc. Money is of no value among the
Indians. The traders, however, who come here from New Mexico and the United
States, whenever they see their advantage, extort money from the emigrants.
Several emigrant companies which we have passed in the last day or two, arrived this evening, and encamped near the fort. A party of Sioux Indians, headed by two chiefs, on their way to join the main body in their expedition against the Snakes, halted here for the night. The two chiefs had recently returned from a victorious expedition against the Pawnees; bringing with them twenty-five scalps, and a number of horses. They held a "talk," and smoked the pipe of peace and friendship at the camp of Capt. [Stephen] Cooper. A contribution of flour and meat was then made by the emigrants for their benefit.
June 26. – Our wagon reached Fort Bernard this afternoon. We entertained at supper, this evening, all the trappers and traders at the fort. The banquet was not very sumptuous, either in viands or the manner in which it was served up; but it was enjoyed, I dare say, with a higher relish than many a feast served in a thousand dishes of porcelain and silver. The mountaineer who has subsisted for months on nothing but fresh meat, would proclaim bread, sugar, and coffee to be high orders of luxury.
June 27. – I concluded, this morning, a trade with Mr. New, a trader from
the head-waters of the Arkansas, by which Mr. Jacob and myself realized
seven mules with pack-saddles and other trappings for packing, for our wagon
and three yokes of oxen and their appendages. The whole of the day has been
busily occupied in selecting such articles from our baggage as we cannot
dispense with, and in the arrangement of our packs. Just before sunset we
had a shooting-match at a target, with a number of Sioux Indians, in which
the bow and arrow, rifle, and pistol were introduced. These Indians shoot
the arrow with great accuracy and force, at long distances. One of them
handled the rifle with the skill of a marksman and hunter. The rapid
repeating discharges of Colt’s revolving-pistol astonished them very much.
They regarded the instrument with so much awe as to be unwilling to handle
A party of eight or ten persons, some of whom were returning. from California, and some from Oregon, to the United States, encamped a small distance below on the Platte. One of these came up to the fort to purchase provisions. He gave a most discouraging description of California; representing it as scarcely habitable. He stated, that he had resided in that country four years, during which time not a drop of rain had fallen; that no crops had been raised; that vegetation had perished, and that the population there must necessarily perish for want of food. His account of the people in California was not more flattering than that of the soil and climate. According to his statement, there was not a man in the country, now that he had left it, who was not as thoroughly steeped in villany as the most hardened graduate of the penitentiary. This man made himself very busy among the emigrant parties for California, who had halted here, or who were passing; and many of them, I have reason to suppose, were credulous enough to believe him. It was easy to perceive, however, that he had a motive for his conduct, more powerful than his regard for the truth.
June 28. – By hard labor all the arrangements for our new mode of travel were completed this morning; and our mules being brought up, saddled and packed, we resumed our march about 12 o’clock. The party which started consisted, including myself, of Messrs. Russell, Jacob, Kirkendall, Brown, Curry, Holder, Nuttall, and Brookey. Not one of us had ever seen a mule packed before this morning. Some New Mexicans who came in with the trading-party gave us our first lesson, and it was a very valuable one, although experience and necessity, the best of tutors, instructed us afterwards, so that many became adepts in the art of handling and packing mules. We had not proceeded more than two miles, before several of our packs, which at the start were very bulky, and not well balanced, were swinging under the bellies of the animals. These being rearranged, to the best of our poor skill, (and very poor skill it was,) in a short time other packs would be in the same condition. Although these incidents were vexatious, they nevertheless afforded us occasionally with matter for laughter and amusement, chiefly at our own ignorance. The mules, stupid as we regarded them, knew more about this business than we did; and several times I thought I could detect them in giving a wise wink and sly leer, as much as to say, that we were perfect novices, and if they could speak, they would give us the benefit of their advice and instruction. A Mexican pack-mule is one of the most sagacious and intelligent quadrupeds that I have ever met with. After much trouble of the nature described, we reached our old camp, six miles beyond Fort Laramie, where we halted for the night. We passed a company of Oregon emigrants, from one of whom I learned that Ewing had joined a party of traders, bound for Taos or the head-waters of the Arkansas. I did not hear from him after this.
June 29. – Colonel Russell and myself left our party in the valley of the
Platte, in order to visit Governor Boggs’s train, which we could see moving
on another trail along the crest of the bluffs to our left, about three
miles distant. We followed this trail, after bidding adieu to our late
fellow-travellers, some ten or twelve miles, and then struck across the
country for the Platte, expecting to intercept our party. We travelled
several hours over a broken country covered with wild sage, and reached the
Platte about three o’clock, P.M., near a grove Of cotton-wood trees, and
just below a canyon of the river, formed by perpendicular walls of red
sandstone 200 or 300 feet in height. A small creek flows into the Platte at
this point, the banks of which are dotted with occasional clumps of timber.
The trees, although not large, are the largest and most symmetrical we have
seen for 300 miles. A few stunted pines show themselves on the hills
bordering the Platte, above and below the cañon.
Contrary to our expectation, we found no trail near the river. Following the bank of the creek, we struck the path which we had left; and ascertaining, by an inspection of the footprints in the road, that our party had not passed, we halted under the shade of a small tree, and struck a fire to keep off the mosquitoes and gnats until they should come up. Our mules appeared to understand the object of the fire, and instead of grazing, as usual, they took their positions close to the blaze and smoke, by our side. Being much fatigued, we fell fast asleep. Just before sunset our party came up, and roused us from our slumbers. They had experienced great difficulties with the packs. Some of the mules had become unmanageable, and had to be reduced to discipline and subjection by the usual process of roping, throwing, etc., etc., which occasioned long delays. Hence their slow progress. We encamped on the bank of the creek. Distance travelled on the trail, 20 miles.
June 30. – Crossing the creek a few miles above our camp, we entered the dry bed of one of its branches, which we followed some six or eight miles to the summit of an elevated dividing ridge. The dust from the disturbance by our mules of the deep, light sand along the trail, has been at times almost suffocating. We descended from the ridge through a narrow ravine plowed out between the hills by the melting snows or torrents of water in rainy seasons, and entered a narrow valley through which flows another small stream of pure, limpid water. From this valley we ascended by a steep and difficult defile another ridge of hills, of greater elevation than the last described. The view from this ridge, to one unaccustomed to mountain scenery, is strikingly picturesque, although the extensive landscape presents a wild, desolate, and inhospitable aspect. On our left are numerous mountain-peaks of great altitude, composed of barren rocks, and rising one behind another in spiral forms. To the right and in front there is a vast prospect of low conical hills far below us, ornamented with occasional groves of small pines, which, from their linear and curvilinear shapes, appear in the far distance like immense armies drawn up in battle array. We have passed to-day Laramie’s, or James’s Peak, and what are called the Black Hills. We encamped at a small spring-branch, in a depression of the ridge. The atmosphere has an autumnal feel, and the wind blows fresh and cold from the northwest. Distance 25 miles.
July 1. – Leaving our camp this morning, we crossed a country exhibiting
a surface of conical sand-hills, and furrowed with deep chasms and ravines.
In the course of our morning march we had a view, at a distance of some
twenty miles, of the waters of the Platte. The diameter of the landscape
exhibited to the eye from several positions during the day’s march, was at
least 100 miles. It presented a broken, barren, and desolate appearance.
We met this afternoon, just after crossing a creek upon which we had nooned, a company of sixteen men, driving before them about thirty horses, returning to the States from Oregon. I conversed with several members of this party. They manifested considerable curiosity and anxiety in reference to the Oregon negotiations in progress with Great Britain. They expressed themselves as highly pleased with the country on the Pacific, from whence they came, and avowed their determination to return to it and make it their residence for life.
I noticed, to-day, in the trail, immense numbers of insects, in color and motion resembling the common cricket. They are much larger, however, and their bodies more rotund. In places, the ground was blackened with them, and they were crushed under the feet of our animals at every step.
We encamped, this afternoon, in a small, oval-shaped valley, through which flows a rivulet of pure, limpid water. The valley is surrounded on all sides by high, mountainous elevations, several of which are composed of granite-rock, upheaved by the subterranean convulsions of nature; others are composed of red sandstone and red clay. A volcanic debris is thickly scattered in places. Many ages ago, the spot where we are encamped, and where the grass is now growing, was the crater of a volcano; but its torch is extinguished forever. Where then flowed the river of liquid fire, carbonizing and vitrifying the surrounding districts, now gurgles the cool, limpid current of the brook, in its laughing and fertilizing career towards the great Father of Waters. The thunders of its convulsions, breaking the granite crust of the globe, upheaving and overturning mountains, and "crushing the waters into mist," are now silenced; and its volumes of sulphurous vapor and heated cinders, darkening the atmosphere and affrighting the huge monster animals which then existed, when gazing from afar, are dissipated, and will never more be seen. Instead of these, the sweet chirp of the wren, and the chatter of the magpie, are heard among the trees bordering the stream, and light, fleecy clouds are floating through the azure vault of the heavens. Such are the beneficent changes ordered by that Power whose wisdom can render perfection more perfect.
A company of emigrants, composed chiefly of those who had belonged to our original party, at its organization, encamped near us. I was invited by Mr. [Isaac] Branham, whom I have before mentioned, to take supper in his tent. He had gathered, during the day, a mess of green peas from the wild pea-vines along the trail. These had been prepared under the superintendence of Mrs. B., and were a genuine luxury. But, that the epicure of the "settlements" may not sneer at our mountain entertainment, I will state, that in addition to the dish just named, there were on the table smoking biscuits, fresh butter, honey, rich milk, cream, venison steaks, and tea and coffee. With a hearty welcome, what more could a man with an appetite desire? Distance 20 miles.
July 2. – Mr. Kirkendall, whom I expected would accompany us, having changed his destination from California to Oregon, in consequence, as I suppose, of the unfavorable representations made at Fort Bernard in reference to the first-named country, we were compelled to strengthen our party by adding to it some other person in his place. For this purpose we remained encamped during the day, waiting for some of the rear emigrant parties to come up. None appearing during the forenoon, in the afternoon, accompanied by Brookey, I rode back some five or six miles, where I met Governor Boggs’s company, and prevailed upon Mr. Hiram Miller, a member of it, to join us.
July 3. – The buffalo-robes (which compose a portion of our bedding) were
hoary with frost, and the grass through the whole valley was stiffened and
white with the congealed moisture which had been condensed upon it during
As we gradually ascend towards the summit of the Rocky Mountains, the face of the country on our right and left becomes more and more sterile and broken. We passed, this morning, through a deep, circular hollow, surrounded on all sides by masses of rocks of great altitude, thrown up by earthquakes. In the centre of this valley, the bottom of which is a flat plain, there rises a conical mass of loose rocks, piled one upon another, about one-eighth of a mile in diameter at the base, and rising to the height of several hundred feet. This pyramid has evidently been raised by subterranean combustion, but at a remote period of geological history.
We encamped this afternoon at one o’clock on Beaver creek, an affluent of the Platte. The grass and water are good, and the wood is abundant. The timber which fringes the margin of the stream is chiefly box-elder and large willows. I noticed scattered among and enlivening the brownish verdure of the grass, many specimens of handsome and brilliantly colored flowers. One of these was of the lily family, presenting peculiarities distinguishing it from any flower of the same genus I have before seen. The prevailing vegetation during the day’s march, except immediately along the water-courses, has been the wild sage, (artemisia.) In this region this shrub grows frequently to the height of two or three feet. Its stalk is ligneous, and is sometimes of a diameter of two or three inches.
We were joined to-day by Capt. Welles and Mr. McClary, the first a mountain-trapper, intending to accompany us as far as Fort Bridger, and the last an emigrant bound for California. Capt. Welles, as he informed us and as I was informed by others, had once held a commission in the British army. He was in the battles of Waterloo and New Orleans. He was a man of about sixty, vigorous and athletic, and his manners, address, and general intelligence, although clothed in the rude buckskin costume of the wilderness, confirmed the statements in regard to him, made by himself and others. The Rocky Mountains have their white as well as their copper-colored population. The former I should estimate at from five hundred to one thousand, scattered among the Indians, and inhabiting, temporarily, the various trading-posts of the Fur Companies. Adventure, romance, avarice, misanthropy, and sometimes social outlawry, have their influence in enticing or driving these persons into this savage wilderness. After taking up their abode here, they rarely return, to remain permanently, to civilized life. They usually contract ties with the Indians which are sufficiently strong to induce their return, if they occasionally visit the "settlements." Many of them have Indian wives and large families. Polygamy is not uncommon. They conform to savage customs, and from their superior intelligence have much influence over the Indians, and frequently direct their movements and policy in war and peace. Distance 18 miles.
July 4. – Gov. Boggs’s emigrant company having arrived and encamped just
above us last night, it was resolved, out of respect to the birthday of our
National Independence, to celebrate it in the usual manner, so far as we had
the ability so to do. Mr. J. H. Reed had preserved some wines and liquors
especially for this occasion – an anniversary, by the way, which in this
remote and desert region crowded our memories with reminiscences of the
past, pleasurable from the associations which they recalled, and painful
from the position which we now occupied.
At nine o’clock, A. M., our united parties convened in a grove near the emigrant encampment. A salute of small-arms was discharged. A procession was then formed, which marched around the corral, and returning to the grove, the Declaration of American Independence was read, and an address was delivered by Col. Russell. A collation was then served up by the ladies of the encampment, at the conclusion of which, toasts suitable to the patriotic occasion were given and drunk with much enthusiasm, a discharge of musketry accompanying each sentiment. Songs were sung, patriotic and sentimental, and I thought, on the whole, that the" glorious fourth" was celebrated here in this remote desert with more spirit and zest, than it usually is in the crowded cities of the States. The pageantry, of course, was not so imposing.
After participating in these ceremonies and festivities, in the afternoon we resumed our journey, making a short march over a country exhibiting greater fertility than has been presented for several days past. The wild sage is the prevailing vegetation on the table-land and on the sides of the hills, giving to them a dark and shaggy aspect. Occasionally there are patches of bunch-grass, which is heavily seeded and appears to be highly relished by our animals. The cactus continues to display its yellow and sometimes crimson blossoms on all sides.
We encamped this afternoon near a grove of box-elder, willows, and alders, on the bank of a creek fifteen or twenty feet in width, with pure limpid water running over a gravelly and sandy bed. The grass surrounding our camp is more abundant and luxuriant than I have seen for several hundred miles. Our mules as well as ourselves suffer much from the myriads of buffalo-gnats and mosquitoes, which take up their abode near all the water-courses and every fertile spot. The evening is perfectly calm and very beautiful. The howling of the wolves and the low hum of the insects, are the only sounds which disturb the profound solitude. We have seen but few birds or signs of animals since we left the Platte bottom. I noticed several magpies this afternoon. Distance 12 miles.
July 5. – The sun rose clear, with dark banks of clouds in the west,
which soon disappeared. The little grove near our camp was rendered musical
by the notes of the wren and other leathered choristers. The buffalo-gnats
and mosquitoes, as usual, were excessively annoying just after sunrise.
The face of the country for several miles of our march this morning, presented more habitable indications than I have observed since leaving Fort Laramie. Deer and antelope were frequently seen grazing at a distance, and birds of various plumage and notes were flitting across our path and perching themselves upon the low shrubbery. These moving objects relieve the death-like torpor and silence which generally prevail. Crossing two small branches we struck the Platte once more about ten o’clock, A. M. The channel of the Platte here is not more than two hundred feet in breadth. We travelled up the south bank of the river until we encamped for the day.
Our camp is in a handsome bottom covered with green, luxuriant grass, and ornamented with a grove of tall, straight cottonwood trees. Jacob brought into camp a specimen of coal taken from the bank of the Platte by one of the emigrants. It resembled our common bituminous coal, but when placed on the fire it did not seem to ignite or blaze freely. This is the first positive indication of the existence of coal I have noticed during our journey. A shrub called grease-wood, about three feet in height, with a bright green foliage containing a fetid, oily substance, in places disputes the occupancy of the soil with the wild sage. The sun-flower, wild daisy, and a flower emitting an odor resembling the heliotrope, have exhibited themselves. We found here two emigrant companies, one for Oregon and one for California. One of them was encamped on account of the illness and expected death of one of its members, a woman. No rain appears to have fallen in this vicinity for long time. The ground is so hard that it is with difficulty that we can force our mule-pickets into it. While on the march, we are frequently enveloped in clouds of dust. Distance 28 miles.
July 6. – Travelling up the river seven or eight miles, on the south
bank, we forded it just below a grove of cotton-wood trees. From the ford
the trail ascends the high bluffs overlooking the valley of the river, from
which we had a view of several green islands, one of which resembles a heart
so nearly in shape that we named it Heart Island. Vegetation over the
expanse of table-land on our right is brown and dead with drought. After a
march of several miles on the bluffs, we crossed a deep ravine or chasm,
through which we descended again to the bottom of the Platte, where we found
Capt. West’s company of emigrants encamped for the day. Several of the
emigrating parties have, been encamped here, and have jerked buffalo meat.
By invitation, Mr. John C. Buchanan, of Lexington, Ky., joined us at this
After halting a short time, our party, with the exception of myself, moved on. I waited for Mr. Buchanan to complete his arrangements for separating from those with whom he had heretofore travelled. We left the emigrant encampment, both of us much encumbered with his baggage, about five o’clock, P. M. The trail here finally leaves the Platte river. Ascending the bluffs on the right, we pursued our way over an arid plain, the only vegetation upon which is the wild sage, grease-wood, and a few perishing plants. We passed immense piles of rocks, red and black, sometimes in columnar and sometimes in conical and pyramidal shapes, thrown up by volcanic convulsions. These, with deep ravines, and chasms, and widespread sterility and desolation, are the distinguishing features of the landscape. We reached our camp at a spring impregnated with salt and sulphur, about ten o’clock at night. An emigrant company had made their camp here. In the course of the march we have passed several small lakes or ponds, incrusted with the carbonate of soda or common saleratus. Their appearance resembles congealed water. A few buffaloes have been noticed at a distance during our march. On our right, this afternoon, at a very great distance, I observed the summits of several high mountains covered with snow. Distance 28 miles.
July 7. – I was seized, during the night, with a violent and exhausting
sickness. The soil and water of the country through which we are now
travelling, are strongly impregnated with salt, alkali, and sulphur;
rendering the use of the water, in large quantities, deleterious to health,
if not dangerous. I was scarcely able to mount my mule when we commenced the
A ride of fourteen miles, over an arid, undulating plain, with a growth of stunted wild sage, brought us to a small grassy hollow, through which runs a faint stream of limpid water. Nothing, in my condition of extreme thirst and feverish excitement, much aggravated by the hot sun and dust, could be more cheering than this agreeable sight. Dismounting from my mule, in an almost fainting state, I hastened to the stream, and sitting down beside it, filled my cup with the water; but great was my disappointment, when raising the cup to my lips I found the liquid bitter with salt and alkali, and undrinkable. I dug several holes with my hand and cup in the sand, close to the stream, hoping to obtain water less impregnated with these disagreeable substances, but without success. Some one of our party in searching about, however, discovered at the lower end of the little valley, in the side of a bank, a small spring and a basin of fresh cold water. To describe the deliciousness of this, as it tasted to me in my diseased and feverish condition, would be impossible. I drank draught after draught, and then making a shade from the sun with my blankets, laid down to rest while our mules were grazing.
The cooling water of the spring, and an hour’s rest, revived my strength; and at three o’clock we resumed our march. Five miles from this we passed another spring of cold water; the purest I have tasted since leaving the Blue River. It is on the right hand of the trail, and surrounded by clumps of witch hazel and alders. Ascending from this spring several miles, we mounted the summit of a dividing ridge, from which we had a view of the Sweetwater River Mountains, raising their bald rocky pinnacles at a distance of some twenty or thirty miles. Descending from this ridge, we reached, about sunset, a small stream, and. encamped upon its grassy banks. A number of small herds of buffalo have been seen during our day’s ride. We have passed several dead oxen, and others alive, but exhausted by the journey. Distance 30 miles.
Independence Rock – Sweetwater River – Devil’s Gate – A solitary traveller – Distant view of Wind River Mountains – Chalky Lakes – Deleterious effects of milk – Sickness in emigrating parties – Another return party from California – Buffalo-chase – Mortality among the oxen of the emigrants – Wolves in chase of diseased oxen – South Pass of the Rocky Mountains – Pacific Springs – Last view of the Atlantic slope – Jacob’s Tower – Little Sandy River – Troublesome visitors – The Mirage – Big Sandy River – Greenwood’s Cutoff – Curious incident – Snake Indian hunting-party.
July 8. – We reached about noon a well-known landmark of the mountains,
called "Independence Rock;" from the circumstance of the celebration of the
fourth of July here by one of the first emigrant companies to Oregon. It is
an isolated elevation, composed of masses of rock, about one hundred feet in
height, and a mile or more in circumference, standing in a central and
conspicuous position near the northern bank of the Sweetwater river, and
between the ranges of mountains which border the valley of that stream. A
multitude of names, to the number, I should suppose, of several thousand,
are painted and graven upon this rock. I did not follow the example of those
who have preceded me, and my name is not there. Near this place are several
small lakes, the waters of which having evaporated, have left a deposite or
incrustation of the carbonate of soda. They resemble ponds of frozen water.
Col. Russell and myself supplied ourselves with saleratus, for culinary
purposes, from this bountiful natural manufactory of this article, without
Proceeding up the Sweetwater river about five miles, we passed what is called the Devil’s Gate; a remarkable fissure in the rocky mountain-wall, which, above this point, runs parallel with and within a short distance of the stream. The fissure is about thirty feet in breadth, and the perpendicular walls on each side of the channel of the stream which flows through it, are, by estimate, between two and three hundred feet in height, perhaps more.
We encamped just above the Devil’s Gate about twelve o’clock, M. The camp of Captain Cooper’s emigrant company was a short distance from us. By invitation, Colonel Russell and myself dined at the tent of Captain C, who, with a large and interesting family of sons and daughters, is destined for California. Wild currants have been quite abundant along the trail in several places to-day. A few buffalo were seen. Distance 16 miles.
July 9. – The Sweetwater mountains, on the north side of the stream, are
composed of bare granite rocks, entirely destitute of vegetation. These rise
abruptly to a high elevation. The mountains on the left are more sloping,
and have a soil sustaining vegetation. The Sweetwater river at this time is
at this point not more than thirty feet in breadth, and so shallow that it
can be waded without wetting the knees. The grass covering its bottom seems
to have been blighted by drought before it reached maturity, and is for the
most part brown and crisp. Following the wagon-trail we left the river about
nine o’clock, A.M., and returned to it again after a ride of four hours. We
nooned upon the bank of the stream, near a clump of small willows. The trail
diverges again from the river, and crosses a broken and arid plain, the
vegetation upon which is the sage and grease-wood, with a few straggling
blades of dead grass. The flinty gravel mingled with the sand is very
destructive to the feet of our animals. I noticed this afternoon two
remarkable dome-shaped rocks of great elevation, between which there is a
gap in the right-hand range of mountains, affording a view to the north of
great extent, bounded by some high mountain-peaks which seem almost to
mingle their summits with the clouds.
Myriads of the insect before described, resembling the cricket, blackened the ground in places. We encamped this afternoon on the river, near a narrow gap between the ranges of mountains through which the Sweetwater forces its way. Distance 30 miles.
July 10. – When the sun rose it shone upon and illuminated a dense bank
of fog resting at the base of the mountains to the southeast, giving it the
appearance of an immense mass of snow. An Oregon emigrant company having
encamped near us last night, we were visited by them this morning; and one
of them, (Dr. Davis,) originally from Montgomery county, Kentucky, and, as
he informed me, a relative of the Hon. Garrett Davis, the distinguished
member of Congress of Kentucky, invited Colonel Russell and myself to
breakfast with his family. We accepted the invitation, and partook with
strong appetites of his good cheer. This company had been successful in
hunting deer, and we obtained from one of the party a supply of fat venison.
Just before we were leaving camp for the day’s march a solitary horseman rode up. From his own account, which I have no reason to doubt, his name was [Wales B.] Bonney, from Oregon, and he had traveled from Fort Hall to this place by himself, and intended to make the journey into the settlements of the United States alone. He travelled, I believe, in the night, and concealed himself and horse in the ravines during daylight. He emigrated to Oregon last year from Ohio, and was now returning to take out his family next year. There must have been a powerful motive to induce an experienced man to risk the hazards of such a journey; and whether he ever reached the end of it or not I can scarcely conceive to be doubtful. Mr. Bonney brought with him an open letter from L. W. Hastings, Esq., of California, dated on the head-waters of the Sweetwater, and addressed to the California emigrants on the road. The main contents of the letter I will not recite. It hinted, however, at probable opposition from the Californian government to the ingress to that country of American emigrants; and invited those bound for California to concentrate their numbers and strength, and to take a new route which had been explored by Mr. H., from Fort Bridger via the south end of the Salt Lake, by which the distance would be materially shortened.
Passing through the gap between the two ranges of granite mountains which here approach each other within a few hundred yards, we had our first view of the Wind River Mountains. They were hoary with a drapery of snow more than halfway from their summits to their bases, and appeared, from the distance we saw them, like white clouds resting upon the horizon, It was a satisfaction to know that we were in sight of the crest of the Rocky Mountains, the point where the waters of the continent divide, taking different comes - the one flowing into the Atlantic, the other into the Pacific.
We passed through a narrow valley several miles in length, the surface of which is white with an alkaline efflorescence. A small stream flows through this valley, the water of which is bitter with alkaline impregnation. Several numerous flocks of antelope have been in sight to-day. Returning to the Sweetwater about four o’clock, P.M., we encamped near a cluster of small willows, after a continuous march of nine hours. The ranges of hills running parallel with the river have, at this point, lost in some degree their rocky characteristics. They are not so elevated, and more gentle and sloping. The bottom on which we are encamped is covered with the common thistle, and there is but little grass. The mules, however, crop the thistle-blossoms, and seem to relish them. The atmosphere is filled with swarms of mosquitoes, which bite with a fierceness far greater than their civilized brethren of the "settlements." Colonel Russell complains of severe and painful sickness to-night. Brown shot an antelope in the sage near our camp; but leaving the carcass where it fell, in order to obtain a mule to pack it on, before he could return to it again the wolves had devoured it. Distance 33 miles.
July 11. – We continued our route up the valley of the Sweetwater,
occasionally leaving the bank of the stream and striking over the rolling
and arid table-land to cut off the bends, We nooned near some small lakes or
ponds, the water of which is so saturated with a cretaceous substance as to
be unfit for use. Some of our mules drank of it, – others refused. Brown’s
Oregon emigrating-company, consisting of about thirty wagons, nooned at the
same place. They supplied us with milk and buttermilk-frequently used by the
emigrants as substitutes for water. But I am inclined to the belief that the
large quantities of milk drank by the emigrating parties, are productive of
the fatal febrile complaint known among them as "camp-fever."
Most of the emigrant families drive along with them several cows which are regularly milked, and in a thirsty state the milk is frequently drank in quarts, and sometimes gallons, in the course of a few hours. It also composes a portion of every meal, being used as water or coffee during the hearty repasts upon fat middling of bacon and buffalo meat. The cow which yields the milk, from being constantly exercised in the hot sun, with little rest day or night, is frequently in a diseased or feverish state. It is more than probable that the disease afflicting the animal is communicated, through the use of its milk, to those who drink it in the quantities which I have named. Besides this, the cows are frequently forced to subsist upon herbage, the poisonous qualities of which are imparted, in some extent, to their milk, and thus communicated to those who use it too freely. This conclusion may be erroneous, but it has subsequently been confirmed by Dr. [George B.] Saunderson, a surgeon of the army, who accompanied General Kearny’s expedition to New Mexico and California, for whose opinion I entertain great respect.
There were in Mr. Brown’s company several persons prostrated with fevers and other diseases. I was called upon as usual, when passing emigrant parties, to prescribe and give advice in these cases, and the short time I remained here was busily employed among the sick. One of the cases of fever was a young man about twenty-one years of age. He had been ill ten or twelve days. I found him in the wagon in a state of half stupor. His pulse was slow and irregular, sometimes rolling with a throbbing volume, then sinking to a wiry feel. A cold perspiration stood on his forehead.
Another case to which I was called, was that of a woman of about thirty-five or forty. She was of a naturally vigorous constitution, and inclined to corpulency. I found her prostrate in a close-tented wagon, upon the covering of which the sun was pouring its almost scorching rays. A burning fever had flushed her face to the color almost of scarlet, except small circles of corpse like pallor around the lips and eyes. Her respiration was so difficult, that frequently she gasped to recover her breath. She could not speak audibly, but made known her wants in whispers. ! felt a shudder of painful horror when looking upon her, distorted as her features were with agonizing suffering. Her daughters, three interesting girls from twelve to seventeen years, gathered around me with anxious and inquiring looks, watching every expression of my countenance while I was king the examination.
I learned from her husband, that some two or three weeks ago, after having labored hard in washing during a hot day exposed to the sun, she had imprudently bathed in very cold water. The consequence was, a severe cold with a high fever. The affection had increased, until she had been brought to the condition in which I saw her. Calomel and other medicines had been administered in large quantities without any beneficial result. She continued to get worse every day. The woman was fearfully attacked with pneumonia, and the violence of the disease, with the exhausting medicines she had taken, had reduced her to a state of helpless feebleness. She begged me in whispers to give her something to relieve the pressure upon her lungs, and restore her breathing. Poor woman! I thought her breathing hours were nearly over!
The daughters, with anxiety and grief depicted upon their countenances, questioned me:" Do you think she is better?" "Do you think she will get well "" "What will you give her ?" I shook my head, and told them that there was hope while there was life, but that they alone could save their mother. They regarded me with an expression of hopeless sorrow and disappointment. I then explained to them, that any medicines which I possessed, would only aggravate the disease and render her more feeble than she now was; that they must make warm teas and prevail upon her to drink them in large quantities every hour in the day, and with this treatment and good nursing, it was possible for her to recover. With this advice I left them, fully persuaded that the woman would not live twenty-four hours. But I have since learned that my advice was followed, and that the patient recovered and is now a healthy woman.
Proceeding on our journey, we crossed in the course of the afternoon two small creeks, near one of which we encamped about 5 o’clock, P. M, for the day. Two or three miles before we halted, we passed the camp of a party of four men returning to the United States from California. They were Messrs. Sublette, Taplin, Reddick, and – Messrs. Taplin and Reddick had been members of Captain Fremont’s exploring party. They left California with a party with which they travelled as far as Fort Hall, and from thence have proceeded on by themselves, expecting, as I understood, to fall in at Fort Laramie with some party of traders bound to the frontier towns of Missouri. Mr. Reddick is a nephew of an old friend and neighbor of mine, CHARLES CARR, Esq., of Fayette county, Kentucky, and had been absent from his friends two years.
A number of buffaloes were seen at a distance of a mile or two from the trail, just before we encamped, and a member of this party was in full chase of one of them. I watched the chase with interest and no small degree of excitement, until man, horse, and buffalo disappeared in one of the ravines of the plain. Brown, discovering that a buffalo had run into the willows bordering the stream upon which we encamped, started towards the place on his mule. Leaving his mule on the plain, he succeeded in approaching and killing the buffalo at a single shot. This, to us, important feat, being performed, (for we were much in want of fresh meat,) he remounted his mule and rode into camp swinging his cap and shouting with exultation. Two pack-mules were soon saddled, and a party went out to slaughter the fallen animal and bring in the meat. The animal was a cow, and although not fat, the flesh was tender and juicy, and we had a sumptuous supper.
The lawn surrounded by willows, upon which we are encamped, is ornamented with the lupin and its blue blossoms, and several other more brilliantly-colored flowers. We have passed to-day some eight or ten dead oxen which belonged to emigrant companies in advance of us. Oxen, when foot-sore or exhausted by fatigue, are left by the emigrants, and immediately become the victims of the wolves, who give them no rest until they fall. I have sometimes traced an ox pursued by wolves along the trail for ten or twenty miles, and noticed the places where he would turn and give battle to his remorseless pursuers. The result in every instance was, that I found the dead carcass or the skeleton of the ox, upon which the wolves and ravens had been feasting. Domesticated animals, unprotected, cannot resist the persevering attacks of the wolves, urged on as they are by their appetites, and conducting their warfare with all the skill of instinct, sharpened often by famine. The deer and antelope are compelled frequently to shelter themselves from the attacks of these animals, under the strong protection of the buffaloes, and you sometimes see herds of buffaloes and antelopes mingled and grazing together. Distance 25 miles.
July 12. – Leaving our encampment, in a few miles we crossed another
small stream, about four miles from which we again struck and crossed the
main Sweetwater river, and left it finally, making our way up a very gentle
ascent to the SOUTH PASS OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, or the dividing ridge
separating the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific. The ascent to the
Pass is so gradual, that but for our geographical knowledge and the imposing
landmarks on our right, (the snow-capped peaks of the Wind River Mountains
raising their cold, spiral, and barren summits to a great elevation,) we
should not have been conscious that we had ascended to, and were standing
upon the summit of the Rocky Mountains – the backbone, to use a forcible
figure, of the North American Continent.
There is, I believe, considerable misconception in regard to the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains. The general supposition is, that it is a difficult and narrow passage by steep ascent and descent, between elevated mountain-peaks. This conjecture is very far from the fact. The gap in the mountain is many miles in breadth, and as will have been seen from the daily description of our marches, the ascent up the Platte and Sweetwater has been so gradual, that although the elevation of the Pass above the sea is, according to some observations, between seven and eight, and others, nine and ten thousand feet, yet from the surface we have travelled over, we have been scarcely conscious of rising to the summit of a high ridge of mountains. The temperature has given us the strongest admonitions of our position. The Pass, where the emigrant trail crosses it, is in latitude about 42-1/2o north and longitude 31-1/2'' west from Washington City. The wagon trail, after we reach the summit, passes two or three miles over a level surface, between low sloping elevations composed of sand and clay, and covered with a vegetation now brown and dead, when it descends by a gentle declivity to a spring known to emigrants as the "Pacific Spring," the water from which flows into the Colorado River of the West, and is emptied into the Gulf of California. The upper waters of the Colorado of the West, are known to travellers and trappers in the mountains as Green River. The stream assumes the name of Colorado, (or Red,) farther down towards the Pacific. The distance from Fort Laramie, by the route which we travelled, to the "Pacific Spring," according to our estimate, is three hundred and eleven miles. It is stated at twenty miles less by some travellers. According to this estimate the distance from Independence to the "Pacific Spring," two miles west of the South Pass, is nine hundred and eighty-three miles.
The health of Col. Russell being very feeble, we encamped for the day as soon as we reached the spring on the west side of the Pass. The water of the spring is very cold, and the grass surrounding it has been much fed down by the emigrant parties which have preceded us. We found here a solitary emigrant wagon, and its proprietor, wife, and two or three children. From his own account, he had had a difference with the company in which he had been travelling, and this morning he had determined to separate from his former fellow-travellers, and unite himself to some of the rear companies when they came up.
Just before sunset, accompanied by Jacob, I ascended one of the highest elevations near our camp; and we took a farewell look of the scenery towards the Atlantic. The sun went down in splendor behind the horizon of the plain, which stretches its immeasurable and sterile surface to the west as far as the eye can reach. The Wind River Mountains lift their tower-shaped and hoary pinnacles to the north. To the east we can see only the tops of some of the highest mountain elevations. The scene is one of sublime and solemn solitude and desolation. The resolution almost faints when contemplating the extent of the journey we have already accomplished, and estimate the ground which is yet to be travelled over before we reach our final destination on the shore of the Pacific. illimitable almost as the prospect seems to the eye, the vision can penetrate to the distance of a few marches only on our toilsome journey through. the barren and inhospitable wilderness. To the left of the "Pacific Spring," at a distance of eight or ten miles, there is a spiral elevation, resembling a Gothic artificial structure. This I named "Jacob’s Tower." Distance 20 miles.
July 13. – Our route to-day has been over an arid undulating plain, in a
west-by-north course. The plain, where any vegetation exhibits itself, is
covered with wild sage, with a few occasional blades of dead bunch-grass
between the sage-hillocks.
Far in front, rising solitary from the face of the plain, are elevated buttes, of singular configuration. The plain appears at some geological era to have been submerged, with the exception of these buttes, which then were islands, overlooking the vast expanse of water. Some of these buttes, far to the northwest, present castellated shapes. Others resemble vast structures, surmounted by domes. As we approached "Little Sandy river," an affluent of Green river, we came in view of a plain of white sand or clay, stretching to the southeast a vast distance. We crossed the deep channels of two streams, about midway of our day’s march; but the waters which flowed through them during the melting of the snows on the mountains, were absorbed by the sands, and unseen. Their beds were dry as ashes.
We encamped on Little Sandy about three o’clock P.M., among the small willows along its margin. The stream, at this season, has a shallow, limpid current, running over a bed of yellowish sand and gravel, through a channel about fifteen or twenty feet in breadth. The grass among the willows is sufficient for our animals. The mosquitoes manifest an almost invincible courage and ferocity. We were obliged to picket our mules and light fires, made of the wild sage, around and among them, for their protection against the attacks of these insects. An antelope and sage-hen were killed during our march to-day. The hen was the mother of a large brood of chickens. The mother and protector of this family was killed by the rifle-ball; but the children escaped by hiding in the sage.
The mirage has deceived us several times during the day’s march. When thirsting for water, we could see, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left, and at others in front, representations of lakes and streams of running water, bordered by waving timber, from which a quivering evaporation was ascending and mingling with the atmosphere. But as we advanced, they would recede or fade away entirely, leaving nothing but a barren and arid desert. The lupin is blooming on our campground. Distance 28 miles.
July 14. – The mosquitoes, with an untiring perseverance, and a chivalry
and courage equalling if not surpassing the valor of the hosts which met and
fought our generals and armies in Mexico, disturbed our repose and kept us
awake nearly the whole night. Although frequently defeated by fire if not by
sword, still they remained unconquered, and would listen to no propositions
of peace. We determined, therefore, early this morning, to adopt a "masterly
activity," and the "line of march" policy, leaving them in full possession
of the territory which they claimed, and which they are welcome from me to
hold to the end of time.
Our route this morning was across the plain some ten or twelve miles, when we struck the Big Sandy river, another affluent of the Green, or Colorado. The emigrant trail known as "Greenwood’s Cut-off," leaves the old trail via Fort Bridger to Fort Hall at this point. It is said to shorten the distance on the Fort Hall route to Oregon and California some fifty or sixty miles. The objection to the route is, that from Big Sandy to Green river, a distance of forty-five or fifty miles, there is no water. We nooned on the Big Sandy, under a high bluff, down which we descended to the water; but there was no grass for our mules. A curious incident occurred here. Colonel Russell, who has been suffering from disease for several days, when we dismounted to noon, was placed under the shade of a clump of small willows on the bank of the stream. In his unquiet state, produced by a periodical fever, he threw his hands around him on the grass, whereon his blanket had been spread. In doing this he accidentally grasped something which had a metallic feel, that upon examination proved to be a pair of silver-mounted spectacles. There were no signs of any encampment at this place during the present year. Who could have left or lost these spectacles, so singularly recovered?
During our afternoon’s march we fell in with a party of some sixty or eighty Soshonee or Snake Indians, who were returning from a buffalo-hunt to the east of the South Pass. The chiefs and active hunters of the party were riding good horses. The others, among whom were some women, were mounted generally upon animals that appeared to have been nearly exhausted by fatigue. These, besides carrying their riders, were freighted with dried buffalo-meat, suspended in equal divisions of weight and bulk from straps across the back. Several pack-animals were loaded entirely with meat, and were driven along as we drive our pack-mules.
They struck the wagon-trail a short distance only before we came in sight of them, and their advance party, consisting of some six or eight, were the first we saw and the first who discovered us. They appeared to manifest some uncertainty and irresolution when they saw us pursuing them; but they finally halted in the trail and waited for us to come up. We held out our hands in token of friendship, and they did the same, giving a most cordial shake, which ceremony with Indians is not usually expressive of a high degree of warmth or gratification. It is one of the signs between the whites and themselves which they have learned from the former, and they make use of it without fully understanding its significance, as I believe. But these Snakes seemed truly glad to see us, and really friendly. Whether these manifestations prepossessed me unduly in their favor I cannot say, but I was much pleased by their civil deportment, and the kind and amiable expression of their countenances.
Our conversation, of course, was carried on altogether in signs, except a few words and names of things which the Snakes themselves had acquired from the English and American traders and trappers at the posts of the fur companies. The Sioux, in the Snake language, when translated into ours, are called "cutthroats," and the sign for their name is a motion with the hand across the throat. We conveyed to them all the information we had, in the best manner we could, in regard to the warlike movements of the Sioux. They appeared to comprehend us; and I noticed that a party of four or five, mounted on good horses, started off in advance of the others at a great speed. The rear of the hunting party continued to overtake us as we moved slowly along, and several of them when they came up to shake hands, said, "How do?" and asked for "tobac." I had a pound or two of tobacco in a small bag suspended from my saddle, which I distributed among them, and it appeared to give them great satisfaction. They made signs inquiring if we had whiskey, by forming their hands into a cup-shape, putting them to their mouths, and throwing their heads back, as if in the act of drinking a long and refreshing draught. I shook my head, in token that we had none.
Among the party I noticed a very beautiful young female, the daughter of one of the chiefs of the party, who sat upon her horse with the ease and grace almost of a fairy. She was clothed in a buckskin-shirt, pantaloons, and moccasins, with some really tasteful ornaments suspended around her neck and delicate waist. It will be a long time before I forget the cheerful and attractive countenance, graceful figure, and vivacity of feature and language of this untutored child of nature. The Soshonees or Snakes occupy the country immediately west of the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains; and their principal places of trading are Fort Hall, a post of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Fort Bridger, the establishment of an individual trader. There are other white traders among them, who, having intermarried with the Indians, change their positions according to circumstances. They are one of the most powerful tribes of Indians west of the Rocky Mountains, and have hitherto on all occasions manifested a most friendly disposition towards the emigrants passing through their territory. Many of the men we saw were finely formed for strength and agility, with countenances expressive of courage and humanity. They evinced fine horsemanship, and a skilful use of the bow and arrow, their principal weapon in hunting and war. I do not know that the United States government has made treaties with the Snakes. The Indians rode along with us to our place of encampment for the day. We encamped on the bank of the Big Sandy, in a handsome bottom formed by a bend of the river. The general aspect of the country through which we have passed to-day is much the same as yesterday. The table-land of the plain produces little vegetation except the wild-sage, and this is stunted and seems to be dying from drought or the poverty of the soil. On the narrow bottoms of the river there is grass; and immediately on its banks there are clumps or thickets of small willows, from half an inch to an inch in diameter, and from five to ten feet in height. The lupin is in bloom around our camp. Distance 30 miles. [Next]
What I Saw in California:
Part 1: Independence, Missouri, to the Green River
Part 2: Hastings Cutoff to California
Part 3: The Donner Party
Part 4: In Northern California
Part 5: To Southern California and Back
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