We were yet in the desert, and if we kept our due west course, we must cross some of the snow before us which if steep gave us some doubts whether we could get through or not.
We did not know exactly what the people left behind would do if we were gone longer than we intended, but if they started on it was quite plain to us they would be lost, and as seven days had already passed we were in serious trouble for fear we could not complete the trip in the time allotted to us. We surveyed the plain and mountains to learn its situation and then started, on following our trail. As we went on we seemed to be coming to lower ground, and near our road stood a tree of a kind we had not seen before. The trunk was about six or eight inches through and six or eight feet high with arms at the top quite as large as the body, and at the end of the arms a bunch of long, stiff bayonet shaped leaves.
It was a brave little tree to live in such a barren country. As we walked on these trees were more plenty and some were much larger than the first. As we came to the lowest part of the valley there seemed to be little faint water ways running around little clouds of stunted shrubs, but there was no signs that very much water ever run in them. We thought that these were the outlet of the big sandy lake which might get full of water and overflow through these channels after some great storm.
As this low ground was quite wide we lost our trail in crossing it, and we separated as we went along, looking to find it again, till nearly dark when we looked for a camping place. Fortunately we found a little pond of rain water, and some of our strange trees that were dead gave us good material for a fire, so that we were very comfortable indeed, having both drink and fire.
Starting on again our course was now ascending slightly, and we came across more and more of the trees, and larger ones than at first. We saw some that seemed to have broken down with their own weight. The bayonet shaped leaves seemed to fall off when old and the stalk looked so much like an old overgrown cabbage stump that we name them "Cabbage trees," but afterward learned they were a species of Yucca. We were much worried at loosing our trail and felt that it would be quite unsafe to try to cross the mountain without finding it again, so we separated, Rogers going northwest, and I southwest, agreeing to swing round so as to meet again about noon, but when we met, neither of us had found a trail, and we were still about 10 miles from the foothills. Rogers said he had heard some of the people say that the trail leading from Salt Lake to Los Angeles crossed such a mountain in a low pass, with very high mountains on each side, and he supposed that the high mountain to the south must be the one where the trail crossed, but as this would take us fully fifty miles south of our course as we supposed it was we hesitated about going there, and concluded we would try the lowest place in the mountain first, and if we failed we could then go and try Roger's route, more to the south.
So we pushed on, still keeping a distance apart to look out for the trail, and before night, in the rolling hills, we saw here and there faint traces of it, which grew plainer as we went along, and about sundown we reached some water holes and from some old skulls of oxen lying around the ground showing that it had at some previous time been a camping ground. We found some good large sage brush which made a pretty good fire, and if we could have had a little fresh meat to roast we thought we were in a good position for supper. But that poor meat was pretty dry food. However it kept us alive, and we curled up together and slept, for the night was cool, and we had to make the little blanket do its best. We thought we ought to find a little game, but we had not seen any to shoot since we started.
In the morning the trail led us toward the snow, and as we went along, a brave old crow surprised us by lighting on a bush near the trail, and we surprised him by killing him with a charge of shot. "Here's your fresh meat," said Rogers as he put it into his knapsack to cook for supper, and marched on. As we approached the summit we could see, on the high mountains south of us, some trees, and when we came near the highest part of our road there were some juniper trees near it, which was very encouraging. We crossed over several miles of hard snow, but it moistened up our moccassins and made them soft and uncomfortable. After we had turned down the western slope we killed a small hawk. "Here's your meat" said I, as the poor thin fellow was stowed away for future grub, to cook with the crow.
When we got out of the snow we had lost the trail again but the hills on the sides were covered with large brush, and on a higher part of the mountain south, were some big trees, and we began to think the country would change for the better pretty soon. We followed down the ravine for many miles, and when this came out into a larger one, we were greatly pleased at the prospect, for down the latter came a beautiful little running brook of clear pure water, singing as it danced over the stones, a happy song and telling us to drink and drink again, and you may be sure we did drink, for it had been months and months since we had had such water, pure, sweet, free from the terrible alkali and stagnant taste that had been in almost every drop we had seen. Rogers leveled his shot gun at some birds and killed a beautiful one with a top knot on his head, and colors bright all down his neck. It was a California quail. We said birds always lived where human beings did, and we had great hopes born to us of a better land. I told John that if the folks were only there now I could kill game enough for them.
We dressed our three birds and got them boiling in the camp kettle, and while they were cooking talked over the outlook which was so flattering that our tongues got loose and we rattled away in strange contrast to the ominous silence of a week ago. While eating our stew of crow and hawk, we could see willows alders and big sage brush around and we had noticed what seemed to be cottonwoods farther down the canon, and green trees on the slope of the mountain. We were sure we were on the edge of the promised land and were quite light hearted, till we began to tell of plans to get the good people out who were waiting for us beside the little spring in the desert. We talked of going back at once, but our meat was too near gone, and we must take them something to encourage them a little and make them strong for the fearful trip. As to these birds—the quail was as superb a morsel as ever a man did eat; the hawk was pretty fair and quite good eating; but that abominable crow! His flesh was about as black as his feathers and full of tough and bony sinews. We concluded we did not want any more of that kind of bird, and ever since that day, when I have heard people talk of "eating crow" as a bitter pill, I think I know all about it from experience.
There seemed to be no other way for us but to push on in the morning and try to obtain some relief for the poor women and children and then get back to them as fast as ever we could, so we shouldered our packs and went on down the canon as fast as we could. We came soon to evergreen oaks and tall cottonwoods, and the creek bottom widened out to two hundred yards. There were trees on the south side and the brush kept getting larger and larger. There was a trail down this canon, but as it passed under fallen trees we knew it could not have been the same one we had been following on the other side of the summit, and when we discovered a bear track in a soft place we knew very well it was not a trail intended for human beings, and we might be ordered out almost any moment.
On the high bold grassy point about four hundred yards we saw two horses that held their heads aloft and gave a snort, then galloped away out of sight. About 10 o'clock I felt a sudden pain in my left knee, keen and sharp, and as we went along it kept growing worse. I had to stop often to rest, and it was quite plain that if this increased or continued I was sure enough disabled, and would be kept from helping those whom we had left. Nerved with the idea we must get help to them, and that right soon, I hobbled along as well as I could, but soon had to say to Rogers that he had better go on ahead and get help and let me come on as best I could, for every moment of delay was a danger of death to our party who trusted us to get them help. Rogers refused to do this, he said he would stay with me and see me out, and that he could not do much alone, and had better wait till I got better. So we worked along through the tangled brush, being many times compelled to wade the stream to get along, and this made our moccasins soft and very uncomfortable to wear. I endured the pain all day, and we must have advanced quite a little distance in spite of my lameness, but I was glad when night came and we camped in the dark brushy canon, having a big fire which made me quite comfortable all night, though it was quite cold, and we had to keep close together so as to use the blanket. I felt a little better in the morning and after eating some of our poor dried meat, which was about as poor as crow, and I don't know but a little worse, we continued on our way.
The tangle got worse and worse as we descended, and at times we walked in the bed of the stream in order to make more headway, but my lameness increased and we had to go very slow indeed. About noon we came to what looked like an excavation, a hole four feet square or more it looked to be, and on the dirt thrown out some cottonwood trees had grown, and one of the largest of these had been cut down sometime before. This was the first sign of white men we had seen and it was evidently an attempt at mining, no one knows how long ago. It encouraged us at any rate, and we pushed on through brush and briers, tangles of wild rose bushes and bushes of every sort, till all of a sudden we came out into an open sandy valley, well covered with sage brush and perhaps a hundred yards wide; probably more.
The hills on the south side had on them some oak trees and grassy spots, but the north side was thickly covered with brush. Our beautiful little brook that had kept us company soon sank into the dry sand out of sight, and we moved rather slowly along every little while we spoke of the chances of wagons ever getting through the road we had come, and the hope that my lameness might not continue to retard our progress in getting back to the place of our starting, that the poor waiting people might begin to get out of the terrible country they were in and enjoy as we had done, the beautiful running stream of this side of the mountain. If I did not get better the chances were that they would perish, for they never could come through alone, as the distance had proved much greater than we had anticipated, and long dry stretches of the desert were more than they would be prepared for. As it was we feared greatly that we had consumed so much time they would get impatient and start out and be lost.
I continued to hobble along down the barren valley as well as I could and here and there some tracks of animals were discovered, but we could not make out whether they were those of domestic cattle or elk. Soon, on the side of a hill, rather high up a pack of prairie wolves were snarling around the carcass of some dead animal, and this was regarded as another sign that more and better meat could be found, for these animals only live where some sort of game can be found, and they knew better than we that it was not for their health to go into the barren desert.
Before us now was a spur from the hills that reached nearly across our little valley and shut out further sight in that direction and when we came to it we climbed up over it to shorten the distance. When the summit was reached a most pleasing sight filled our sick hearts with a most indescribable joy. I shall never have the ability to adequately describe the beauty of the scene as it appeared to us, and so long as I live that landscape will be impressed upon the canvas of my memory as the most cheering in the world. There before us was a beautiful meadow of a thousand acres, green as a thick carpet of grass could make it, and shaded with oaks, wide branching and symmetrical, equal to those of an old English park, while all over the low mountains that bordered it on the south and over the broad acres of luxuriant grass was a herd of cattle numbering many hundreds if not thousands. They were of all colors shades and sizes. Some were calmly lying down in happy rumination, others rapidly cropping the sweet grass, while the gay calves worked off their superfluous life and spirit in vigorous exercise or drew rich nourishment in the abundant mother's milk. All seemed happy and content, and such a scene of abundance and rich plenty and comfort bursting thus upon our eyes which for months had seen only the desolation and sadness of the desert, was like getting a glimpse of Paradise, and tears of joy ran down our faces. If ever a poor mortal escapes from this world where so many trials come, and joys of a happy Heaven are opened up to him, the change cannot be much more that this which was suddenly opened to us on that bright day which was either one of the very last of December 1849 or the first of January 1850, I am inclined to think it was the very day of the new year, but in our troubles, the accuracy of the calendar was among the least of our troubles. If it was, as I believe the beginning of the year, it was certainly a most auspicious one and one of the most hopeful of my life.
And now if the others were only here, was the burden of our thought, and a serious awakening from the dream of beauty and rich plenty spread out before us. This ring-streaked and speckled herd might be descended directly from Jacob's famous herd, blessed of the Lord, and while we could not keep our thoughts from some sad doubts as to the fate of those whom we had left behind, we tried to be generally hopeful and courageous and brightened up our steps to prepare for a relief and return to the hot dry plain beyond the mountains where they were awaiting us, no doubt with much tribulation.
I now thought of myself and my failing knee and we sat down under the shade of an oak to rest, and after a little, better feeling seemed to come. Down by a deep gully cut by the rains a yearling steer was feeding, and I took the rifle and crawled down near him and put first one ball through him, and then another, before he fell dead on the other side of the wash, when we sprang with all the agility of a deer. We quickly got some good meat and had it roasted and eaten almost quicker than can be told. We hardly realized how near starved we were till we had plenty before us again. We ate till we were satisfied for once, and for the first time in many long dreary weeks. We kindled a fire and commenced drying the meat, one sleeping while the other kept the fire, and changing off every few hours. What a rest that was! One who has never been nearly worn out and starved, down nearly to the point of death can never know what it is to rest in comfort. No one can tell. It was like a dream, a sweet, restful dream where troubles would drown themselves in sleep. How we felt the strength come back to us with that food and the long draughts of pure clear water.
The miserable dried meat in our knapsacks was put away and this splendid jerked beef put in its place. The wolves came to our camp and howled in dreadful disappointment at not getting a meal. Rogers wanted me to shoot the miserable howlers, but I let them have their concert out, and thought going without their breakfast must be punishment enough for them. As our moccasins were worn out we carefully prepared some sinews from the steer and made new foot gear from the green hide which placed us in shape for two or three week's walking.
The morning was clear and pleasant. We had our knapsacks filled with good food we had prepared, and were enjoying the cool breeze which came up the valley, when we heard faintly the bark of a dog, or at least we thought we did. If this were true there must be some one living not very far away and we felt better. I was still very lame and as we started along the walking seemed to make it worse again, so that it was all I could do to follow John on the trail down the valley. As we went along a man and woman passed us some distance on the left, and they did not seem to notice us, though we were in plain sight. They were curiously dressed. The woman had no hoops nor shoes, and a shawl wound about her neck and one end thrown over her head, was a substitute bonnet. The man had sandals on his feet, with white cotton pants, a calico shirt, and a wide rimmed, comical, snuff-colored hat. We at once put them down as Spaniards, or then descendants of Mexico, and if what we had read about them in books was true, we were in a set of land pirates, and blood thirsty men whom we might have occasion to be aware of. We had never heard a word of Spanish spoken, except perhaps a word or two upon the plains which some fellow knew, and how we could make ourselves known and explain who we were was a puzzle to us.
Difficulties began to arise in our minds now we were in an apparent land of plenty, but in spite of all we went along as fast as my lame knee would permit me to do. A house on higher ground soon appeared in sight. It was low, of one story with a flat roof, gray in color, and of a different style of architecture from any we had ever seen before. There was no fence around it, and no animals or wagons in sight, nor person to be seen. As we walked up the hill toward it I told John our moccasins made of green hide would betray us as having recently killed an animal, and as these people might be the owners and detain us by having us arrested for the crime, and this would be especially bad for us just now. We determined to face the people, and let the fact of our close necessities be a sufficient excuse for us, if we could make them understand our circumstances.
As we came near the house no person was seen, but a mule tied to a post told us there was some one about, and a man soon made an appearance, dressed about the same style as the one we had passed a short time before. As we came near we saluted him, bidding him good morning, and he in turn touched his hat politely, saying something in reply which we were not able to understand. I showed him that I was lame, and taking out some money pointed to the mule, but he only shook his head and said something I could not comprehend. Rogers now began looking around the house, which was built of sun-dried bricks about one by two feet in size, and one end was used as a storehouse. As he looked in, a man came to him and wanted a black, patent leather belt which Rogers wore, having a watch-pocket attached to it. He offered a quart or more of coarse corn meal, and Rogers made the trade.
We tried to inquire where we were or where ought to go, but could get no satisfactory answer from the man, although when we spoke San Francisco he pointed to the north. This was not very satisfactory to us and we seemed as badly lost as ever, and where or which way to go we did not seem very successful in finding out. So we concluded to go on a little way at least, and I hobbled off in the direction he pointed, which was down the hill and past a small, poorly fenced field which was sometimes cultivated, and across the stream which followed down the valley. Passing on a mile or two we stopped on a big patch of sand to rest.
I told Rogers I did not think this course would lead us to any place in a month, and just now a delay was ruinous to us and to those who were waiting for us, and it would not do for us to go off to the north to find a settlement. While I was expressing my opinion on matters and things, Rogers had wet up a part of his meal with water and put it to bake on the cover of his camp kettle. There was a fair sized cake for each of us, and it was the first bread of any kind we had eaten for months, being a very acceptable change from an exclusively meat diet. Looking up the valley we could see a cloud of dust, thick and high, and soon several men on horseback who came at a rushing gallop. I told Rogers they were after us, and believed them to be a murderous set who might make trouble for us. I hastily buried our little store of money in the sand, telling him that if they got us, they would not get our money. Putting our guns across our laps in an easy position we had them cocked and ready for business, and our knives where we could get them handy, and awaited their arrival.
They came on with a rush until within a short distance and halted for consultation just across the creek, after which one of them advanced toward us and as he came near us we could see he was a white man, who wished us good evening in our own language. We answered him rather cooly, still sitting in the sand and he no doubt saw that we were a little suspicious of the crowd. He asked us where we were from, and we told him our circumstances and condition and that we would like to secure some means of relief for the people we had left in the desert, but our means were very limited and we wanted to do the best we could. He said we were about 500 miles from San Francisco, not far from 100 miles from the coast and thirty miles from Los Angeles. We were much afraid we would not be able to get anything here, but he told us to go across the valley to a large live oak tree which he pointed out, and said we would find an American there, and we should wait there till morning. He said he would go back and stay at the house we had passed, and would do what he could to assist us to go to Los Angeles where we could get some supplies. Then he rode away, and as we talked it over we saw no way but to follow the directions of our newfound friend.
It seemed now that my lameness had indeed been a blessing. If I had been able to walk we would now have been well on toward the seashore, where we could have found no such friend as this who had appeared to us. The way seemed clearer to us, but the time for our return was almost up and there was no way of getting back in fifteen days as we had agreed upon, so there was great danger to our people yet. It seemed very likely to take us twenty four or thirty days at best, and while they probably had oxen enough to provide them food for so long a time they might take a notion to move on, which would be fatal.
At the big live oak tree we found an American camper, who was on his way to the gold mines. He was going a new route and said the mines could be reached much quicker than by going up the coast by way of San Francisco. A new company with wagons was soon to start out to break the road, and when they crossed the east end of the valley he would follow them. I think this man's name was Springer. He had come by way of the Santa Fe route, and the people of Los Angeles had told him this route was an easy one being often traveled by saddle horses, and if the company could make it possible for wagons they could have all the cattle they wanted to kill along the road as their pay for doing the work. Our new friend lay down early, and as he saw we were scant in blankets he brought some to us for our use, which were most thankfully received.
As soon as we were alone Rogers mixed up some more of the meal which we baked in our friend's frying pan, and we baked and ate and baked and ate again, for our appetites were ravenous, and the demand of our stomachs got the better of the judgment of our brains.
It was hard to find time to sleep, we were so full of the plans about the way, which we must manage to get relief for the people. We had many doubts if animals could ever come over the route we had come over, from deliberation we decided that by selecting a route with that idea in our minds, we could get mules and perhaps horses over the country. We perhaps could go more to the north and take the Jayhawkers trail, but this would take us fully a hundred miles farther and four or five days longer, at the best, and every moment of delay was to be carefully avoided as a moment of danger to our friends.
Thus again, our sleep was troubled from another cause. Being so long unaccustomed to vegetable food, and helped on, no doubt, by our poor judgment in gauging the quantity of our food, we were attacked by severe pains in the stomach and bowels, from which we suffered intensely. We arose very early and with a very light breakfast, for the sickness admonished us, we started back for the house we had first passed, at which our friend on horseback, said he would spend the night and where we were to meet him this morning. He said he could talk Spanish all right and would do all he could to help us.
Our suffering and trouble caused us to move very slowly, so that it was nine or ten o'clock before we reached the house, and we found they had two horses all ready for us to go to Los Angeles. There were no saddles for us, but we thought this would be a good way to cure my lameness. The people seemed to be friends to us in every way. We mounted, having our packs on our backs, and our guns before us, and with a friendly parting to the people who did not go, all four of us started on a trip of thirty miles to the town of Los Angeles.
When we reached the foot of the mountain which was very steep but not rocky, John and I dismounted and led our animals to the top, where we could see a long way west, and south, and it looked supremely beautiful. We could not help comparing it to the long wide, desert we had crossed, and John and myself said many times how we wished the folks were here to enjoy the pleasant sight, the beautiful fertile picture.
There appeared to be one quite large house in sight, and not far off, which the man told us was the Mission of San Fernando, a Roman Catholic Church and residence for priests and followers. The downward slope of the mountain was as steep as the other side and larger, and John and I did not attempt to mount till we were well down on the level ground again, but the other two men rode up and down without any trouble. We would let our leaders get half a mile or so ahead of us and then mount and put our horses to a gallop till we overtook them again. We had walked so long that riding was very tiresome to us, and for comfort alone we would have preferred the way on foot, but we could get along a little faster, and the frequent dismounting kept us from becoming too lame from riding.
We passed the Mission about noon or a little after, and a few miles beyond met a man on horseback who lived up to the north about a hundred miles. His name was French and he had a cattle range at a place called Tejon (Tahone). Our friends told him who we were, and what assistance we needed. Mr. French said he was well acquainted in Los Angeles and had been there some time, and that all the travelers who would take the Coast route had gone, those who had come by way of Salt Lake had got in from two to four weeks before, and a small train which had come the Santa Fe Route was still upon the road. He said Los Angeles was so clear of emigrants that he did not think we could get any help there at the present time.
"Now," said Mr. French—"You boys can't talk Spanish and it is not very likely you will be able to get any help. Now I say, you boys turn back and go with me and I will give you the best I have, I will let you have a yoke of gentle oxen, or more if you need them, and plenty of beans, which are good food for I live on them; besides this I can give an Indian guide to help you back. Will that do?" After a moment we said we doubted if oxen could be got over the road, and if they were fat now they would soon get poor, and perhaps not stand it as well as the oxen which had became used to that kind of life, and of those they had in camp all they needed. We wanted to get something for the women and children to ride, for we knew they must abandon the wagons, and could not walk so far over that dry, rough country. "Well," said Mr. French:—"I will stop at the place you were this morning—I know them well—and they are good folks, and I am sure when I tell them what you want they will help you if they possibly can. This looks to me to be the most sensible course." After talking an hour our two companions advised us that the proposition of Mr. French seemed the most reasonable one that appeared. But for us to go clear back to his range would take up so much valuable time that we were almost afraid of the delay which might mean the destruction of our friends. French said he had a pack saddle, with him taking it home, and we could put it on one of our horses, and when we came back to Los Angeles could leave it at a certain saloon or place he named and tell them it belonged to him and to keep it for him. I have forgotten the name of the man who kept the saloon. We agreed to this, and bidding our two companions farewell, we turned back again with Mr. French.
When night came we were again at the Mission we had passed on the way down. We were kindly treated here, for I believe Mr. French told them about us. They sent an Indian to take our horses, and we sat down beside the great house. There were many smaller houses, and quite a large piece of ground fenced in by an adobe wall. The roof of the buildings was like that of our own buildings in having eaves on both, sides, but the covering was of semi circular tiles made and burned like brick. Rows of these were placed close together, the hollow sides up, and then another course over the joints, placed with the round side up, which made a roof that was perfectly waterproof, but must have been very heavy. These tiles were about two feet long. All the surroundings, and general make up of the place were new to us and very wonderful. They gave us good dried meat to eat and let us sleep in the big house on the floor, which was as hard as granite, and we turned over a great many times before daylight, and were glad when morning came. We offered to pay them, but they would take nothing from us, and we left leading our horses over the steep mountain, and reaching the house again late in the day. They turned our horses loose and seemed disposed to be very friendly and disposed to do for us what they could.
We were very tired and sat down by the side of the house and rested, wondering how we would come out with our preparations. They were talking together, but we could not understand a word. A dark woman came out and gave each of us a piece of cooked squash. It seemed to have been roasted in the ashes and was very sweet and good. These were all signs of friendship and we were glad of the good feeling. We were given a place to sleep in the house, in a store room on a floor which was not soft. This was the second house we had slept in since leaving Wisconsin, and it seemed rather pent-up to us.
In the morning we were shown a kind of mill like a coffee mill, and by putting in a handful of wheat from a pile and giving the mill a few turns we were given to understand we should grind some flour for ourselves. We went to work with a will, but found it, hard, slow work.
After a little, our dark woman came and gave us each a pancake and a piece of meat, also another piece of roasted squash, for our breakfast, and this, we thought, was the best meal we had ever eaten. The lady tried to talk to us but we could not understand the words, and I could convey ideas to her better by the sign language than any other way. She pointed out the way from which we came and wanted to know how many day's travel it might be away, and I answered by putting my hand to my head and closing my eyes, which was repeated as many times as there had been nights on our journey, at which she was much surprised that the folks were so far away. She then place her hand upon her breast and then held it up, to ask how many women there were, and I answered her by holding up three fingers, at which she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. Then pointing to a child by her side, four or five years old, and in the same way asked how many children, I answered by holding up four fingers, and she almost cried, opening her mouth in great surprise, and turned away.
I said to Rogers that she was a kind, well meaning woman, and that Mr. French had no doubt told her something of our story. Aside from her dark complexion her features reminded me of my mother, and at first sight of her I thought of the best woman on earth my own far off mother, who little knew the hardships we had endured. We went to work again at the mill and after a while the woman came again and tried to talk and to teach us some words of her own language. She place her finger on me and said ombre and I took out my little book and wrote down ombre as meaning man, and in the same way she taught me that mujer, was woman; trigo, wheat; frijoles, beans; carne, meat; calazasa, pumpkin; caballo, horse; vaca, cow; muchacho, boy, and several other words in this way.
I got hold of many words thus to study, so that if I ever came back I could talk a little and make myself understood as to some of the common objects and things of necessary use. Such friendly, human acts shown to us strangers, were evidences of the kindest disposition. I shall never forget the kindness of those original Californians. When in Walker's camp and finding he was friendly to Mormonism we could claim that we were also Mormons, but the good people though well known Catholics, did not so much as mention the fact nor inquire whether we favored that sect or not. We were human beings in distress and we represented others who were worse even than we, and those kind acts and great good will, were given freely because we were fellow human beings.
The provisions we prepared were, a sack of small yellow beans; a small sack of wheat, a quantity of good dried meat, and some of the coarse, unbolted flour we had made at the mills. They showed us how to properly pack the horse, which was a kind of work we had not been use to, and we were soon ready for a start. I took what money we had and put it on a block, making signs for them to take what the things were worth. They took $30, and we were quite surprised to get two horses, provisions, pack-saddles and ropes, some of the latter made of rawhide and some of hair, so cheaply, but we afterward learned that the mares furnished were not considered of much value, and we had really paid a good fair price for everything. To make it easy for us they had also fixed our knapsacks on the horses.
The good lady with the child, came out with four oranges and pointed to her own child and then to the East, put them in the pack meaning we should carry them to the children. With a hearty good bye from them, and a polite lifting of our hats to them we started on our return, down toward the gentle decline of the creek bottom, and then up the valley, the way we came. Toward night we came to a wagon road crossing the valley, and as we well knew we could not go up the tangled creek bed with horses we took this road to the north, which took a dry ravine for its direction, and in which there was a pack trail, and this the wagons were following. We kept on the trail for a few miles, and overtook them in their camp, and camped with them over night. We told them we considered our outfit entirely too small for the purpose intended, which was to bring two women and four children out of the desert, but that being the best we could get, we were taking this help to them and hoped to save their lives. Our mission became well known and one man offered to sell us a poor little one-eyed mule, its back all bare of covering from the effect of a great saddle sore that had very recently healed. He had picked it up somewhere in Arizona where it had been turned out to die, but it seemed the beast had enough of the good Santa Ana stock in it to bring it through and it had no notion of dying at the present time, though it was scarcely more than a good fair skeleton, even then. The beast became mine at the price of $15, and the people expressed great sympathy with us and the dear friends we were going to try to save.
Another man offered a little snow-white mare, as fat as butter, for $15, which I paid, though it took the last cent of money I had. This little beauty of a beast was broken to lead at halter, but had not been broken in any other way. Rogers said he would ride her where he could, and before she got to the wagons she would be as gentle as a lamb. He got a bridle and tried her at once, and then there was a scene of rearing, jumping and kicking that would have made a good Buffalo Bill circus in these days. No use, the man could not be thrown off, and the crowd cheered and shouted to Rogers to—"Hold her level."
After some bucking and backing on the part of the mare and a good deal of whipping and kicking on the part of the man, and a good many furious clashes in lively, but very awkward ways, the little beast yielded the point, and carried her load without further trouble.
The people gave us a good supper and breakfast, and one man came and presented us with 25 pounds of unbolted wheat flour. They were of great assistance to us in showing us how to pack and sack our load, which was not heavy and could be easily carried by our two animals which we had at first. However we arranged a pack on the mule and this gave me a horse to ride and a mule to lead, while Rogers rode his milk-white steed and led the other horse. Thus we went along and following the trail soon reached the summit from which we could see off to the East a wonderful distance, probably 200 miles, of the dry and barren desert of hill and desolate valley over which we had come.
The trail bearing still to the north from this point, we left and turned due east across the country, and soon came to a beautiful lake of sweet fresh water situated well up toward the top of the mountain. This lake is now called Elizabeth Lake. Here we watered our animals and filled our canteens, then steered a little south of east among the Cabbage trees, aiming to strike the rain water hole where we had camped as we came over. We reached the water hole about noon and here found the Jayhawkers trail, which we took. They had evidently followed us and passed down the same brushy canon while we having taken a circuitous route to the north, had gone around there. Getting water here for ourselves and horses, we went back to the trail and pushed on as fast as the animals could walk, and as we now knew where we could get water, we kept on till after dark, one of us walking to keep the trail, and some time in the night reached the Willow corral I have spoken of before. There was good water here, but the Jayhawker's oxen had eaten all the grass that grew in the little moist place around, and our animals were short of feed. One of us agreed to stand guard the fore part of the night and the other later, so that we might not be surprised by Indians and lose our animals. I took the first watch and let the blaze of the fire go out so as not to attract attention and as I sat by the dull coals and hot ashes I fell asleep. Rogers happened to wake and see the situation, and arose and waked me again saying that we must be more careful or the Indians would get our horses. You may be sure I kept awake the rest of my watch.
Next day we passed the water holes at the place where we had so stealthily crawled up to Doty's camp when coming out. These holes held about two pails of water each, but no stream run away from them. Our horses seemed to want water badly for when they drank they put their head in up to their eyes and drank ravenously.
Thirty miles from here to the next water, Doty had told us, and night overtook us before we could reach it, so a dry camp was made. Our horses began now to walk with drooping heads and slow, tired steps, so we divided the load among them all and walked ourselves. The water, when reached proved so salt the horses would not drink it, and as Doty had told us the most water was over the mountain ahead of us, we still followed their trail which went up a very rocky canon in which it was hard work for the horses to travel. The horses were all very gentle now and needed some urging to make them go. Roger's fat horse no longer tried to unseat its rider or its pack, but seemed to be the most downhearted of the train. The little mule was the liveliest, sharpest witted animal of the whole. She had probably traveled on the desert before and knew better how to get along. She had learned to crop every spear of grass she came to, and every bit of sage brush that offered a green leaf was given a nip. She would sometimes leave the trail and go out to one side to get a little bunch of dry grass, and come back and take her place again as if she knew her duty. The other animals never tried to do this. The mule was evidently better versed in the art of getting a living than the horses.
Above the rough bed of the canon the bottom was gravelly and narrow, and the walls on each side nearly perpendicular. Our horses now poked slowly along and as we passed the steep wall of the canon the white animal left the trail and walked with full force, head first, against the solid rock. She seemed to be blind, and though we went quickly to her and took off the load she carried, she had stopped breathing by the time we had it done. Not knowing how far it was to water, nor how soon some of our other horses might fall, we did not tarry, but pushed on as well as we could, finding no water. We reached the summit and turned down a ravine, following the trail, and about dark came to the water they had told us about, a faint running stream which came out of a rocky ravine and sank almost immediately in the dry sand. There was water enough for us, but no grass. It seemed as if the horses were not strong enough to carry a load, and as we wanted to get them through if possible, we concluded to bury the wheat and get it on our return. We dug a hole and lined it with fine sticks, then put in the little bag and covered it with dry brush, and sand making the surface as smooth as if it had never been touched, then made our bed on it. The whole work was done after dark so the deposit could not be seen by the red men and we thought we had done it pretty carefully.
Next morning the little mule carried all the remaining load, the horses bearing only their saddles, and seemed hardly strong enough for that. There was now seven or eight miles of clean loose sand to go over, across a little valley which came to an end about ten miles north of us, and extended south to the lake where we went for water on our outward journey and found it red alkali. Near the Eastern edge of the valley we turned aside to visit the grave of Mr. Isham, which they had told us of. They had covered his remains with their hands as best they could, piling up a little mound of sand over it. Our next camp was to be on the summit of the range just before us, and we passed the dead body of Mr. Fish, we had seen before, and go on a little to a level sandy spot in the ravine just large enough to sleep on. This whole range is a black mass rocky piece of earth, so barren that not a spear of grass can grow, and not a drop of water in any place. We tied our horses to rocks and there they staid all night, for if turned loose there was not a mouthful of food for them to get.
In the morning an important question was to be decided, and that was whether we should continue to follow the Jayhawker's trail which led far to the north to cross the mountain, which stood before us, a mass of piled-up rocks so steep that it seemed as if a dog could hardly climb it. Our wagons were nearly due east from this point over the range, and not more than fifty miles away, while to go around to the north was fully a hundred miles, and would take us four or five days to make. As we had already gone so long we expected to meet them any day trying to get out, and if we went around we might miss them. They might have all been killed by Indians or they might have already gone. We had great fears on their account. If they had gone north they might have perished in the snow.
The range was before us, and we must get to the other side in some way. We could see the range for a hundred miles to the north and along the base some lakes of water that must be salt. To the south it got some lower, but very barren and ending in black, dry buttes. The horses must have food and water by night or we must leave them to die, and all things considered it seemed to be the quickest way to camp to try and get up a rough looking canon which was nearly opposite us on the other side. So we loaded the mule and made our way down the rocky road to the ridge, and then left the Jayhawker's trail, taking our course more south so as to get around a salt lake which lay directly before us. On our way we had to go close to a steep bluff, and cross a piece of ground that looked like a well dried mortar bed, hard and smooth as ice, and thus got around the head of a small stream of clear water, salt as brine. We now went directly to the mouth of the canon we had decided to take, and traveled up its gravelly bed. The horses now had to be urged along constantly to keep them moving and they held their heads low down as they crept along seemingly so discouraged that they would much rather lie down and rest forever than take another step. We knew they would do this soon in spite of all our urging, if we could not get water for them. The canon was rough enough where we entered it, and a heavy up grade too, and this grew more and more difficult as we advanced, and the rough yellowish, rocky walls closed in nearer and nearer together as we ascended.
A perpendicular wall, or rather rise, in the rocks was approached, and there was a great difficulty to persuade the horses to take exertion to get up and over the small obstruction, but the little mule skipped over as nimbly as a well-fed goat, and rather seemed to enjoy a little variety in the proceedings. After some coaxing and urging the horses took courage to try the extra step and succeeded all right, when we all moved on again, over a path that grew more and more narrow, more and more rocky under foot at every moment. We wound around among and between the great rocks, and had not advanced very far before another obstruction, that would have been a fall of about three feet had water been flowing in the canon, opposed our way. A small pile of lone rocks enabled the mule to go over all right, and she went on looking for every spear of grass, and smelling eagerly for water, but all our efforts were not enough to get the horses along another foot. It was getting nearly night and every minute without water seemed an age. We had to leave the horses and go on. We had deemed them indispensable to us, or rather to the extrication of the women and children, and yet the hope came to us that the oxen might help some of them out as a last resort. We were sure the wagons must be abandoned, and such a thing as women riding on the backs of oxen we had never seen, still it occurred to us as not impossible and although leaving the horses here was like deciding to abandon all for the feeble ones, we saw we must do it, and the new hope arose to sustain us for farther effort. We removed the saddles and placed them on a rock, and after a few moments hesitation, moments in which were crowded torrents of wild ideas, and desperate thoughts, that were enough to drive reason from its throne, we left the poor animals to their fate and moved along. Just as we were passing out of sight the poor creatures neighed pitifully after us, and one who has never heard the last despairing, pleading neigh of a horse left to die can form no idea of its almost human appeal. We both burst into tears, but it was no use, to try to save them we must run the danger of sacrificing ourselves, and the little party we were trying so hard to save.
We found the little mule stopped by a still higher precipice or perpendicular rise of fully ten feet. Our hearts sank within us and we said that we should return to our friends as we went away, with our knapsacks on our backs, and the hope grew very small. The little mule was nipping some stray blades of grass and as we came in sight she looked around to us and then up the steep rocks before her with such a knowing, intelligent look of confidence, that it gave us new courage. It was a strange wild place. The north wall of the canon leaned far over the channel, overhanging considerably, while the south wall sloped back about the same, making the wall nearly parallel, and like a huge crevice descending into the mountain from above in a sloping direction.
We decided to try to get the confident little mule over this obstruction, Gathering all the loose rocks we could we piled them up against the south wall, beginning some distance below, putting up all those in the bed of the stream and throwing down others from narrow shelves above we built a sort of inclined plane along the walls gradually rising till we were nearly as high as the crest of the fall. Here was a narrow shelf scarcely four inches wide and a space of from twelve to fifteen feet to cross to reach the level of the crest. It was all I could do to cross this space, and there was no foundation to enable us to widen it so as to make a path for an animal. It was forlorn hope but we made the most of it. We unpacked the mule and getting all our ropes together, made a leading line of it. Then we loosened and threw down all the projecting points of rocks we could above the narrow shelf, and every piece that was likely to come loose in the shelf itself. We fastened the leading line to her and with one above and one below we thought we could help her to keep her balance, and if she did not make a misstep on that narrow way she might get over safely. Without a moments hesitation the brave animal tried the pass. Carefully and steadily she went along, selecting a place before putting down a foot, and when she came to the narrow ledge leaned gently on the rope, never making a sudden start or jump, but cautiously as a cat moved slowly along. There was now no turning back for her. She must cross this narrow place over which I had to creep on hands and knees, or be dashed down fifty feet to a certain death. When the worst place was reached she stopped and hesitated, looking back as well as she could. I was ahead with the rope, and I called encouragingly to her and talked to her a little. Rogers wanted to get all ready and he said, "holler" at her as loud as he could and frighten her across, but I thought the best way to talk to her gently and let her move steadily.
I tell you, friends, it was a trying moment. It seemed to be weighed down with all the trails and hardships of many months. It seemed to be the time when helpless women and innocent children hung on the trembling balance between life and death. Our own lives we could save by going back, and sometimes it seemed as if we would perhaps save ourselves the additional sorrow of finding them all dead to do so at once. I was so nearly in despair that I could not help bursting in tears, and I was not ashamed of the weakness. Finally Rogers said, "Come Lewis" and I gently pulled the rope, calling the little animal, to make a trial. She smelled all around and looked over every inch of the strong ledge, then took one careful step after another over the dangerous place. Looking back I saw Rogers with a very large stone in his hand, ready to "holler" and perhaps kill the poor beast if she stopped. But she crept along trusting to the rope to balance, till she was half way across, then another step or two, when calculating the distance closely she made a spring and landed on a smooth bit of sloping rock below, that led up to the highest crest of the precipice, and safely climbed to the top, safe and sound above the falls. The mule had no shoes and it was wonderful how her little hoofs clung to the smooth rock. We felt relieved. We would push on and carry food to the people; we would get them through some way; there could be no more hopeless moment than the one just past, and we would save them all.
It was the work of a little while to transfer the load up the precipice, and pack the mule again, when we proceeded. Around behind some rocks only a little distance beyond this place we found a small willow bush and enough good water for a camp. This was a strange canon. The sun never shown down to the bottom in the fearful place where the little mule climbed up, and the rocks had a peculiar yellow color. In getting our provisions up the precipice, Rogers went below and fastened the rope while I pulled them up. Rogers wished many times we had the horses up safely where the mule was, but a dog could hardly cross the narrow path and there was no hope. Poor brutes, they had been faithful servants, and we felt sorrowful enough at their terrible fate.
We had walked two days without water, and we were wonderfully refreshed as we found it here. The way up this canon was very rough and the bed full of sharp broken rocks in loose pieces which cut through the bottoms of our moccasins and left us with bare feet upon the acute points and edges. I took off one of my buckskin leggins, and gave it to Rogers, and with the other one for myself we fixed the moccasins with them as well as we could, which enabled us to go ahead, but I think if our feet had been shod with steel those sharp rocks would have cut through.
Starting early we made the summit about noon, and from here we could see the place where we found a water hole and camped the first night after we left the wagons. Down the steep canon we turned, the same one in which we had turned back with the wagons, and over the sharp broken pieces of volcanic rock that formed our only footing we hobbled along with sore and tender feet. We had to watch for the smoothest place for every step, and then moved only with the greatest difficulty. The Indians could have caught us easily if they had been around for we must keep our eyes on the ground constantly and stop if we looked up and around. But we at last got down and camped on some spot where we had set out twenty-five days before to seek the settlements. Here was the same little water hole in the sand plain, and the same strong sulphur water which we had to drink the day we left. The mule was turned loose dragging the same piece of rawhide she had attached to her when we purchased her, and she ranged and searched faithfully for food finding little except the very scattering bunches of sage brush. She was industrious and walked around rapidly picking here and there, but at dark came into camp and lay down close to us to sleep.
There was no sign that any one had been here during our absence, and if the people had gone to hunt a way out, they must either have followed the Jayhawker's trail or some other one. We were much afraid that they might have fallen victims to the Indians. Remaining in camp so long it was quite likely they had been discovered by them and it was quite likely they had been murdered for the sake of the oxen and camp equipage. It might be that we should find the hostiles waiting for us when we reached the appointed camping place, and it was small show for two against a party. Our mule and her load would be a great capture for them. We talked a great deal and said a great many things at that camp fire for we knew we were in great danger, and we had many doubts about the safety of our people, that would soon be decided, and whether for joy or sorrow we could not tell.
From this place, as we walked along, we had a wagon road to follow, in soft sand, but not a sign of a human footstep could we see, as we marched toward this, the camp of the last hope. We had the greatest fears the people had given up our return and started out for themselves and that we should follow on, only to find them dead or dying. My pen fails me as I try to tell the feelings and thoughts of this trying hour. I can never hope to do so, but if the reader can place himself in my place, his imagination cannot form a picture that shall go beyond reality.
We were some seven or eight miles along the road when I stopped to fix my moccasin while Rogers went slowly along. The little mule went on ahead of both of us, searching all around for little bunches of dry grass, but always came back to the trail again and gave us no trouble. When I had started up again I saw Rogers ahead leaning on his gun and waiting for me, apparently looking at something on the ground. As I came near enough to speak I asked what he had found and he said—"Here is Capt. Culverwell, dead." He did not look much like a dead man. He lay upon his back with arms extended wide, and his little canteen, made of two powder flasks, lying by his side. This looked indeed as if some of our saddest forebodings were coming true. How many more bodies should we find? Or should we find the camp deserted, and never find a trace of the former occupants.
We marched toward camp like two Indians, silent and alert, looking out for dead bodies and live Indians, for really we more expected to find the camp devastated by those rascals than to find that it still contained our friends. To the east we could plainly see what seemed to be a large salt lake with a bed that looked as if of the finest, whitest sand, but really a wonder of salt crystal. We put the dreary steps steadily one forward of another, the little mule the only unconcerned one of the party, ever looking for an odd blade of grass, dried in the hot dry wind, but yet retaining nourishment, which she preferred.
About noon we came in sight of the wagons, still a long way off, but in the clear air we could make them out, and tell what they were, without being able to see anything more. Half a mile was the distance between us and the camp before we could see very plainly, as they were in a little depression. We could see the covers had been taken off, and this was an ominous sort of circumstance to us, for we feared the depredations of the Indians in retaliation for the capture of their squashes. They had shot our oxen before we left and they have slain them this time and the people too.
We surely left seven wagons. Now we could see only four and nowhere the sign of an ox. They must have gone ahead with a small train, and left these four standing, after dismantling them.
No signs of life were anywhere about, and the thought of our hard struggles between life and death to go out and return, with the fruitless results that now seemed apparent was almost more than human heart could bear. When should we know their fate? When should we find their remains, and how learn of their sad history if we ourselves should live to get back again to settlements and life? If ever two men were troubled, Rogers and I surely passed through the furnace.
We kept as low and as much out of sight as possible, trusting very much to the little mule that was ahead, for we felt sure she would detect danger in the air sooner than we, and we watched her closely to see how she acted. She slowly walked along looking out for food, and we followed a little way behind, but still no decisive sign to settle the awful suspense in which we lived and suffered. We became more and more convinced that they had taken the trail of the Jayhawkers, and we had missed them on the road, or they had perished before reaching the place where we turned from their trail.
One hundred yards now to the wagons and still no sign of life, no positive sign of death, though we looked carefully for both. We fear that perhaps there are Indians in ambush, and with nervous irregular breathing we counsel what to do. Finally Rogers suggested that he had two charges in his shot gun and I seven in the Coll's rifle, and that I fire one of mine and await results before we ventured any nearer, and if there are any of the red devils there we can kill some of them before they get to us. And now both closely watching the wagons I fired the shot. Still as death and not a move for a moment, and then as if by magic a man came out from under a wagon and stood up looking all around, for he did not see us. Then he threw up his arms high over his head and shouted—"The boys have come. The boys have come!" Then other bare heads appeared, and Mr. Bennett and wife and Mr. Arcane came toward us as fast as ever they could. The great suspense was over and our hearts were first in our mouths, and then the blood all went away and left us almost fainting as we stood and tried to step. Some were safe perhaps all of those nearest us, and the dark shadow of death that had hovered over us, and cast what seemed a pall upon every thought and action, was lifted and fell away a heavy oppression gone. Bennett and Arcane caught us in their arms and embraced us with all their strength, and Mrs. Bennett when she came fell down on her knees and clung to me like a maniac in the great emotion that came to her, and not a word was spoken. If they had been strong enough they would have carried us to camp upon their shoulders. As it was they stopped two or three times, and turned as if to speak, but there was too much feeling for words, convulsive weeping would choke the voice.
All were a little calmer soon, and Bennett soon found voice to say:—"I know you have found some place, for you have a mule," and Mrs. Bennett through her tears, looked staringly at us as she could hardly believe our coming back was a reality, and then exclaimed:—"Good boys! O, you have saved us all! God bless you forever! Such boys should never die!" It was some time before they could talk without weeping. Hope almost died within them, and now when the first bright ray came it almost turned reason from its throne. A brighter happier look came to them than we had seen, and then they plied us with questions the first of which was:—"Where were you?"
We told them it must be 250 miles yet to any part of California where we could live. Then came the question;—"Can we take our wagons?" "You will have to walk," was our answer, for no wagons could go over that unbroken road that we had traveled. As rapidly and carefully as we could we told them of our journey, and the long distance between the water holes; that we had lost no time and yet had been twenty six days on the road; that for a long distance the country was about as dry and desolate as the region we had crossed east of this camp. We told them of the scarcity of grass, and all the reasons that had kept us so long away from them.
We inquired after the others whom we had left in camp when we went away, and we were told all they knew about them. Hardly were we gone before they began to talk about the state of affairs which existed. They said that as they had nothing to live on but their oxen it would be certain death to wait here and eat them up, and that it would be much better to move on a little every day and get nearer and nearer the goal before the food failed. Bennett told them they would know surely about the way when the boys returned, and knowing the road would know how to manage and what to expect and work for, and could get out successfully. But the general opinion of all but Mr. Bennett and Mr. Arcane and their families was, as expressed by one of them:—"If those boys ever get out of this cussed hole, they are d——d fools if they ever come back to help anybody."
Some did not stay more than a week after we were gone, but took their oxen and blankets and started on. They could not be content to stay idly in camp with nothing to occupy their minds or bodies. They could see that an ox when killed would feed them only a few days, and that they could not live long on them, and it stood them in hand to get nearer the western shore as the less distance the more hope while the meat lasted. Bennett implored them to stay as he was sure we would come back, and if the most of them deserted him he would be exposed to the danger of the Indians, with no hope of a successful resistance against them.
But the most seemed to think that to stay was to die, and it would be better to die trying to escape than to set idly down to perish. These men seemed to think their first duty was to save themselves, and if fortunate, help others afterward, so they packed their oxen and left in separate parties, the last some two weeks before. They said that Capt. Culverwell went with the last party. I afterward learned that he could not keep up with them and turned to go back to the wagons again, and perished, stretched out upon the sand as we saw him, dying all alone, with no one to transmit his last words to family or friends. Not a morsel to eat, and the little canteen by his side empty. A sad and lonely death indeed!
There was no end to the questions about the road we had to answer, for this was uppermost on their minds, and we tried to tell them and show them how we must get along on our return. We told them of the great snow mountains we had seen all to the north of our road, and how deep the snow appeared to be, and how far west it extended. We told them of the black and desolate ranges and buttes to the south, and of the great dry plains in the same direction. We told them of the Jayhawkers trail; of Fish's dead body; of the salt lake and slippery alkali water to which we walked, only to turn away in disappointment; of the little sheets of ice which saved our lives; of Doty's camp and what we knew of those gone before; of the discouraged ones who gave us their names to send back to friends; of the hawk and crow diet; of my lameness; of the final coming out into a beautiful valley, in the midst of fat cattle and green meadows, and the trouble to get the help arranged on account of not knowing the language to tell the people what we needed. They were deeply impressed that my lameness had been a blessing in disguise, or we would have gone on to the coast and consumed more time than we did in walking slowly to favor the cripple knee. Our sad adventures and loss of the horses in returning was sorrowfully told and we spoke of the provisions we had been able to bring on the little mule which had clambered over the rocks like a cat; that we had a little flour and beans, and some good dried meat with fat on it which we hoped would help to eke out the poorer fare and get them through at last. They were so full of compliments that we really began to think we had been brought into the world on purpose to assist some one, and the one who could forecast all things had directed us, and all our ways, so that we should save those people and bring them to a better part of God's footstool, where plenty might be enjoyed, and the sorrows of the desert forgotten. It was midnight before we could get them all satisfied with their knowledge of our experience.
[Illustation: Leaving Death Valley.—The Manly Party on Foot After Leaving Their Wagons.]
It was quite a treat to us to sleep again between good blankets, arranged by a woman's hand, and it was much better resting than the curled up, cramped position we had slept in while away, with only the poor protection of the half blanket for both of us, in nights that were pretty chilly.
We had plenty of water here, and there being no fear of the mule going astray we turned her loose. As the party had seen no Indians during our absence we did not concern ourselves much about them. At breakfast we cautioned them about eating too much bread, remembering, our own experience in that way.
They said they had about given up our coming back a week before, and had set about getting ready to try to move on themselves. Bennett said he was satisfied that they never could have got through alone after what we had told them of the route and its dangers. He said he knew it now that not one of them would have lived if they had undertaken the journey alone without knowledge of the way.
They had taken off the covers of the wagons to make them into houses for the oxen, so they could be used as pack animals. The strong cloth had been cut into narrow strips and well made into breast straps and breeching, for the cattle were so poor and their hide so loose it was almost impossible to keep anything on their backs. They had emptied the feathers out of the beds to get the cloth to use, and had tried to do everything that seemed best to do to get along without wagons. The oxen came up for water, and the mule with them. They looked better than when we left, but were still poor. They had rested for some time and might feel able to go along willingly for a few days at least. I was handy with the needle, and helped them to complete the harness for the oxen, while Bennett and John went to the lake to get a supply of salt to take along, a most necessary article with our fresh meat. I looked around a little at our surroundings, and could see the snow still drifting over the peak of the snowy mountain as we had seen it farther east, where we were ourselves under the burning sun. This was now pretty near February first, or midwinter. The eastern side of this great mountain was too steep to be ascended, and no sign of a tree could be seen on the whole eastern slope. The range of mountains on the east side of this narrow valley were nearly all the volcanic, barren in the extreme, and the roughest of all the mountains we had ever seen. I had now looked pretty thoroughly, and found it to be pretty nearly a hundred miles long, and this was the only camp I had seen where water could be had.
When Mrs. Bennet was ready to show me what to do on the cloth harness, we took a seat under the wagon, the only shady place and began work. The great mountain, I have spoken of as the snow mountain has since been known as Telescope Peak, reported to be 11,000 feet high. It is in the range running north and south and has no other peak so high. Mrs. Bennett questioned me closely about the trip, and particularly if I had left anything out which I did not want her to know. She said she saw her chance to ride was very slim, and she spoke particularly of the children, and that it was impossible for them to walk. She said little Martha had been very sick since we had been gone, and that for many days they had expected her to die. They had no medicine to relieve her and the best they could do was to select the best of the ox meat, and make a little soup of it and feed her, they had watched her carefully for many days and nights, expecting they would have to part with her any time and bury her little body in the sands. Sometimes it seemed as if her breath would stop, but they had never failed in their attentions, and were at last rewarded by seeing her improve slowly, and even to relish a little food, so that if no relapse set in they had hopes to bring her through. They brought the little one and showed her to me, and she seemed so different from what she was when we went away. Then she could run about camp climb out and in the wagons, and move about so spry that she reminded one of a quail. Now she was strangely misshapen. Her limbs had lost all the flesh and seemed nothing but skin and bones, while her body had grown corpulent and distended, and her face had a starved pinched and suffering look, with no healthy color in it.
She told me of their sufferings while we were gone, and said she often dreamed she saw us suffering fearfully for water, and lack of food and could only picture to herself as their own fate, that they must leave the children by the trail side, dead, and one by one drop out themselves in the same way. She said she dreamed often of her old home where bread was plenty, and then to awake to find her husband and children starving was a severe trial indeed, and the contrast terrible. She was anxious to get me to express an opinion as to whether I thought we could get the oxen down the falls where we had so much trouble.
I talked to her as encouragingly as I could, but she did not cheer up much and sobbed and wept over her work most all the time. It was not possible to encourage her much, the outlook seemed so dark. Mrs. Arcane sat under another wagon and said nothing, but she probably heard all we had to say, and did not look as if her hopes were any brighter. Bennett and Rogers soon returned with a supply of salt and said the whole shore of the lake was a winrow of it, that could be shoveled up in enormous quantities.
We now in a counsel of the whole, talked over the matter, and the way which seemed most promising. If we went by the Jayhawkers trail, there was a week of solid travel to get over the range and back south again as far as a point directly opposite our camp, and this had taken us only three days to come over as we had come. The only obstacle in the way was the falls, and when we explained that there was some sand at the bottom of them, Bennett said he thought we could get them over without killing them, and that, as we knew exactly where the water was, this was the best trail to take. Arcane was quite of the same opinion, the saving of a week of hard and tiresome travel being in each case the deciding reason. They then explained to me what they had decided on doing if we had not come back. They had selected two oxen for the women to ride one to carry water and one to carry the four children. There were no saddles but blankets enough to make a soft seat, and they proposed to put a band or belt around the animals for them to hold on by, and the blankets would be retained in place by breast and breeching straps which we had made. They had found out that it was very difficult to keep a load of any kind upon an ox, and had devised all this harness to meet the trouble.
Bennett had one old bridle ox called Old Crump, which had been selected to carry the children, because he was slow and steady. How in the world do you expect it to keep the children on?—said I. "Well"—said Bennett, with a sort of comical air, about the first relief from the sad line of thought that had possessed us all—"We have taken two strong hickory shirts, turned the sleeves inside, sewed up the necks, then sewed the two shirts together by the tail, and when these are placed on the ox they will make two pockets for the youngest children, and we think the two others will be able to cling to his back with the help of a band around the body of the ox to which they can cling to, with their hands." Now if Old Crump went steady and did not kick up and scatter things, he thought this plan would operate first rate. Now as to the mule they proposed as we knew how to pack the animal, that we should use her to pack our provisions so they would go safe.
From a piece of hide yet remaining John and I made ourselves some new moccasins, and were all ready to try the trip over our old trail for now the third time, and the last, we hoped.
Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. Arcane had taken our advice, and in cooking had not put too much of the flour or beans into the soup for the children and they had gotten along nicely, and even began to smile a little with satisfaction after a full meal. They got along better than John and I did when we got hold of the first nutritions after our arrival on the other side.
We must leave everything here we can get along without. No clothing except that on our backs. Only a camp kettle in which to make soup, a tin cup for each one, and some knives and spoons which each happen to have. Each one had some sort of a canteen for water, which we must fill up at every opportunity, and we decided to carry a shovel along, so we might bury the body of Capt. Culverwell, and shovel up a pile of sand at the falls to enable us to get the oxen over. Every ox had a cloth halter on his head, so he might be led, or tied up at night when we had a dry camp, and they would most assuredly wander off if not secured. Old Crump was chosen to lead the train, and Rogers was to lead him. We had made an extra halter for this old fellow, and quite a long strip of bed ticking sewed into a strap to lead him by.
This packing business was a new idea, and a hard matter to get anything firmly fixed on their backs.
We had made shoulder straps, hip straps, breast straps and breeching as the correct idea for a harness. The only way we could fasten the band around the animals was for one to get on each side and pull it as tight as possible then tie a knot, as we had no buckles or ring in our harness.
The loads of the oxen consisted of blankets and bedding and a small, light tent of their sheeting about four by six feet in size. We rose early and worked hard till about the middle of the forenoon getting all things ready. They had been in a state of masterly inactivity so long in this one camp that they were anxious to leave it now forever. Only in progress was there hope, and this was our last and only chance. We must succeed or perish. We loaded the animals from the wagons, and some of the oxen seemed quite afraid at this new way of carrying loads. Old Crump was pretty steady, and so was the one with the two water kegs one on each side but the other oxen did not seem to think they needed any blankets on these warm days.
Mrs. Arcane was from a city, and had fondly conveyed thus far some articles of finery, of considerable value and much prized. She could not be persuaded to leave them here to deck the red man's wife, and have her go flirting over the mountains with, and as they had little weight she concluded she would wear them and this perhaps would preserve them. So she got out her best hat and trimmed it up with extra ribbon leaving some with quite long ends to stream out behind. Arcane brought up his ox Old Brigham, for he had been purchased at Salt Lake and named in honor of the great Mormon Saint.
Mrs. Arcane also dressed her little boy Charlie up In his best suit of clothes, for she thought they might as well wear them out as to throw them away. She made one think of a fairy in gay and flying apparel. In the same way all selected their best and most serviceable garments, for it was not considered prudent to carry any load, and poor clothes were good enough to leave for Indians. We set it down as a principle that we must save ourselves all we could, for it would be a close contested struggle with us and death, at the very best, and we wanted to get all the advantage for ourselves we could. As we were making the preparations the women grew more hopeful, as it seemed as if something was really going to be accomplished.
Bennett and Arcane were emphatic in their belief and expressions that we would succeed, "I know it—Don't you Sally?" said Bennett very cheerfully, but after all Mrs. Bennett could not answer quite as positively, but said "I hope so."—Mrs. Bennett's maiden name was Sarah Dilley, which I mention here as I may otherwise forget it afterward. She realized that hers was no easy place to ride, that they would have hard fare at best, and that it must be nearly or quite a month before they could reach a fertile spot on which to place her feet. One could easily see that the future looked quite a little dark to her, on account of her children, as a mother naturally would.
High overhead was the sun, and very warm indeed on that day in the fore part of February 1850, when the two children were put on Old Crump to see if he would let them ride. The two small children were placed in the pockets on each side, face outward, and they could stand or sit as they should choose. George and Melissa were placed on top and given hold of the strap that was to steady them in their place. I now led up Mrs. Bennett's ox and Mr. Bennett helped his wife to mount the animal, on whose back as soft a seat as possible had been constructed. Mrs. Arcane in her ribbons was now helped to her seat on the back of Old Brigham and she carefully adjusted herself to position, and arranged her dress and ornaments to suit, then took hold of the strap that served to hold on by as there were no bridles on these two.
Rogers led the march with his ox; Bennett and I started the others along, and Arcane followed with Old Crump and the children. Bennett and Arcane took off their hats and bade the old camp good bye. The whole procession moved, and we were once more going toward our journey's end we hoped. The road was sandy and soft, the grade practically level, and everything went well for about four miles, when the pack on one of the oxen near the lead got loose and and turned over to one side, which he no sooner saw thus out of position, then he tried to get away from it by moving sidewise. Not getting clear of the objectionable load in this way he tried to kick it off, and thus really got his foot in it, making matters worse instead of better. Then he began a regular waltz and bawled at the top of his voice in terror. Rogers tried to catch him but his own animal was so frisky that he could not hold him and do much else, and the spirit of fear soon began to be communicated to the others and soon the whole train seemed to be taken crazy.
They would jump up high and then come down, sticking their fore feet as far as possible into the sand after which, with elevated tails, and terrible plunges would kick and thrash and run till the packs came off, when they stopped apparently quite satisfied. Mrs. Bennett slipped off her ox as quick as she could, grabbed her baby from the pocket on Old Crump, and shouting to Melissa and George to jump, got her family into safe position in pretty short order. Arcane took his Charley from the other pocket and laid him on the ground, while he devoted his own attention to the animals. Mrs. Arcane's ox followed suit, and waltzed around in the sand, bawled at every turn, fully as bad as any of the others, but Mrs. Arcane proved to be a good rider, and hard to unseat, clinging desperately to her strap as she was tossed up and down, and whirled about at a rate enough to to make any one dizzy. Her many fine ribbons flew out behind like the streamers from a mast-head, and the many fancy fixin's she had donned fluttered in the air in gayest mockery. Eventually she was thrown however, but without the least injury to herself, but somewhat disordered in raiment. When I saw Bennett he was standing half bent over laughing in almost hysterical convulsion at the entirely impromptu circus which had so suddenly performed an act not on the program. Arcane was much pleased and laughed heartily when he saw no one was hurt. We did not think the cattle had so much life and so little sense as to waste their energies so uselessly. The little mule stepped out one side and looked on in amazement, with out disarranging any article of her load.
Mrs. Bennett, carrying her baby and walking around to keep out of the way, got very much exhausted, and sat down on the sand, her face as red as if the blood were about to burst through the skin, and perspiring freely. We carried a blanket and spread down for her while we gathered in the scattered baggage. Then the oxen were got together again, and submitted to being loaded up again as quietly as if nothing had happened. Myself and the women had to mend the harness considerably, and Arcane and his ox went back for some water, while Rogers and Bennett took the shovel and went ahead about a mile to cover up the body of Capt. Culverwell, for some of the party feared the cattle might be terrified at seeing it. All this took so much time that we had to make a camp of it right here.
We put the camp kettle on two stones, built a fire, put in some beans and dried meat cut very fine, which cooked till Arcane came with more water, which was added, and thickened with a little of the unbolted flour, making a pretty good and nutritious soup which we all enjoyed. We had to secure the animals, for there was neither grass nor water for them, and we thought they might not be in so good spirits another day.
We had little trouble in packing up again in the morning, and concluded to take a nearer route to the summit, so as to more quickly reach the water holes where Rogers and I camped on our first trip over the country. This would be a hard rocky road on its course leading up a small rocky canon, hard on the feet of the oxen, so they had to be constantly urged on, as they seemed very tender footed. They showed no disposition to go on a spree again and so far as keeping the loads on, behaved very well indeed. The women did not attempt to ride but followed on, close after Old Crump and the children who required almost constant attention, for in their cramped position they made many cries and complaints. To think of it, two children cramped up in narrow pockets, in which they could not turn around, jolted and pitched around over the rough road, made them objects of great suffering to themselves and anxiety and labor on the part of the mothers.
Mrs. Bennett said she would carry her baby if she could, but her own body was so heavy for her strength that she could not do it. Bennett, Rogers and myself hurried the oxen all we could, so that we could reach the water, and let Bennett go back with some to meet the rest and refresh them for the end of the day's march, and he could take poor little Martha from the pocket and carry her in his arms, which would be a great relief to her. Arcane also took his child when he met them, throwing away his double barrel gun, saying:—"I have no use for you."
When the women reached camp we had blankets already spread down for them, on which they cast themselves, so tired as to be nearly dead. They were so tired and discouraged they were ready to die, for they felt they could not endure many days like this.
We told them this was the first day and they were not used to exercise therefore more easily tired than after they became a little used to it. We told them not to be discouraged, for we knew every water hole, and all the road over which we would pilot them safely. They would not consent to try riding again, after their circus experience, and Mrs. Arcane said her limbs ached so much she did not think she could even go on the next day. They had climbed over the rocks all day, and were lame and sore, and truly thought they could not endure such another day. The trail had been more like stairs than a road in its steep ascent, and our camp was at a narrow pass in the range. The sky was clear and cloudless, as it had been for so long for thus far upon this route no rain had fallen, and only once a little snow, that came to us like manna in the desert. For many days we had been obliged to go without water both we and our cattle, and over the route we had come we had not seen any signs of a white man's presence older than our own. I have no doubt we were the first to cross the valley in this location, a visible sink hole in the desert.
The women did not recover sufficient energy to remove their clothing, but slept as they were, and sat up and looked around with uncombed hair in the morning, perfect pictures of dejection. We let them rest as long as we could, for their swollen eyes and stiffened joints told how sadly unprepared they were to go forward at once. The sun came out early and made it comfortable, while a cool and tonic breeze, came down from the great snow mountain the very thing to brace them up after a thorough rest.
The slope to the east was soon met by a high ridge and between this and the main mountain was a gentle slope scattered over with sage brush, and a few little stools of bunch grass here and there between. This gave our oxen a little food and by dipping out the water from the holes and letting them fill up again we managed to get water for camp use and to give the animals nearly all they wanted.
While waiting for the women Bennett and Arcane wanted to go out and get a good view of the great snowy mountain I had told them so much about. The best point of view was near our camp, perhaps three or four hundred yards away, and I went with them. This place where we now stood was lower than the mountains either north or south, but were difficult to climb, and gave a good view in almost every direction, and there, on the back bone of the ridge we had a grand outlook, but some parts of it brought back doleful recollections. They said they had traveled in sight of that mountain for months and seen many strange formations, but never one like this, as developed from this point. It looked to be seventy-five miles to its base, and to the north and west there was a succession of snowy peaks that seemed to have no end. Bennett and Arcane said they never before supposed America contained mountains so grand with peaks that so nearly seemed to pierce the sky. Nothing except a bird could ever cross such steep ranges as that one.
West and south it seemed level, and low, dark and barren buttes rose from the plain, but never high enough to carry snow, even at this season of the year. I pointed out to them the route we were to follow, noting the prominent points, and it could be traced for fully one hundred and twenty-five miles from the point on which we stood. This plain, with its barren ranges and buttes is now known as the Mojave Desert. This part of the view they seemed to study over, as if to fix every point and water hole upon their memory. We turned to go to camp, but no one looked back on the country we had come over since we first made out the distant snow peak, now so near us, on November 4th 1849. The only butte in this direction that carried snow was the one where we captured the Indian and where the squashes were found.
The range next east of us across the low valley was barren to look upon as a naked, single rock. There were peaks of various heights and colors, yellow, blue firery red and nearly black. It looked as if it might sometime have been the center of a mammoth furnace. I believe this range is known as the Coffin's Mountains. It would be difficult to find earth enough in the whole of it to cover a coffin.
Just as we were ready to leave and return to camp we took off our hats, and then overlooking the scene of so much trial, suffering and death spoke the thought uppermost saying:—"Good bye Death Valley!" then faced away and made our steps toward camp. Even after this in speaking of this long and narrow valley over which we had crossed into its nearly central part, and on the edge of which the lone camp was made, for so many days, it was called Death Valley.
Many accounts have been given to the world as to the origin of the name and by whom it was thus designated but ours were the first visible footsteps, and we the party which named it the saddest and most dreadful name that came to us first from its memories.
Out of Death Valley we surely were. To Rogers and I, the case seemed hopeful, for we had confidence in the road and believed all would have power to weather difficulties, but the poor women—it is hard to say what complaints and sorrows were not theirs. They seemed to think they stood at death's door, and would about as soon enter, as to take up a farther march over the black, desolate mountains and dry plains before them, which they considered only a dreary vestibule to the dark door after all. They even had an idea that the road was longer than we told them, and they never could live to march so far over the sandy, rocky roads. The first day nearly satisfied them that it was no use to try, Rogers and I counted up the camps we ought to reach each day and in this way could pretty near convince them of time that would be consumed in the trip. We encouraged them in every way we could; told them we had better get along a little every day and make ourselves a little nearer the promised land, and the very exercise would soon make them stronger and able to make a full day's march.
John and I told them we felt in much better spirits now than we did when we set out alone, and now that nothing but the arrows of an Indian could stop us. We said to them. "We are not going to leave you two ladies out here to die for there is not a sign of a grave to put you in,—" and it was a pretty tough place to think of making one. We told them of the beautiful flowery hillsides over the other side and begged them to go over there to die, as it would be so much better and easier to perform the last sad rites there instead of here on the top of the dismal mountain. It seemed quite like a grim joke, but it produced a reaction that turned the tide of thoughts and brought more courage. We only laid out the march for this day as far as the falls and after a little prepared to move. The cattle seemed to have quit their foolishness, and they were loaded without trouble. The children fitted into the pockets better than usual, and the mothers with full canteens strapped across their shoulders picked out soft places on which to place their poor blistered feet at every step. They walked as if they were troubled with corns on every toe and on their heels into the bargain, and each foot was so badly affected, that they did not know on which one to limp. But still they moved, and we were once more on our way westward. They often stopped to rest, and Arcane waited for them with Old Crump, while they breathed and complained awhile and then passed on again.
The route was first along the foot of the high peak, over bare rocks and we soon turned south somewhat so as to enter the canon leading down to the falls. The bottom of this was thick with broken rock, and the oxen limped and picked out soft places about as bad as the women did. A pair of moccasins would not last long in such rocks and we hoped to get out of them very soon. Rogers and I hurried along, assisting Arcane and his party as much as we could, while Bennett staid behind and assisted the women as much as possible, taking their arms, and by this means they also reached camp an hour behind the rest.
A kettle of hot steaming soup, and blankets all spread out on which to rest, was the work Rogers and I had done to prepare for them, and they sank down on the beds completely exhausted. The children cried some but were soon pacified and were contented to lie still. A good supper of hot soup made them feel much better all around.
The first thing Bennett and Arcane did was to look round and see the situation at the falls, and see if the obstacle was enough to stop our progress, or if we must turn back and look for a better way. They were in some doubt about it, but concluded to try and get the animals over rather than to take the time to seek another pass, which might take a week of time. We men all went down to the foot of the fall, and threw out all the large rocks, then piled up all the sand we could scrape together with the shovel, till we had quite a pile of material that would tend to break a fall. We arranged everything possible for a forced passage in the morning, and the animals found a few willows to browse and a few bunches of grass here and there, which gave them a little food, while the spring supplied them with enough water to keep them from suffering with thirst.