In the Early Days along the Overland Trail in Nebraska Territory, in 1852
by Gilbert L. Cole
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

We camped for the night farther up this ravine. It was the same place where, a few years afterward, some immigrants were massacred, when a part of the Wright family was killed and others badly wounded. Years afterward I became well acquainted with the survivors. Their description of the place and its surroundings left no doubt in my mind that our ravine camping-spot was identical with that of their massacre.

Our passage up Goose Creek Valley was extremely slow and difficult, the valley in places being no wider than the road, while in other places rocks and streams were so thick and close together that the way was almost impassible. We camped in this valley at nightfall, and, as there was no feed in sight for the animals, several of us took them up on the mountain side and gave them a feed of bunch grass, one man and myself remaining to guard them.

Very soon a storm came up, dark clouds, deep thunder, sharp lightning, and a perfect deluge of rain were sweeping through the mountains. We brought the animals as close together as we could, tied them to the sagebrush, and kept going among them, talking to them and quieting them as best we could, for they were whinnying and trembling with fear. It was an awful night. Over and above the roaring storm could be heard the howling of wolves, which added much terror to the situation. On being relieved at daylight and going down to camp, the men were trying to find themselves and a lot of traps that were missing. It seemed that the men had lain down in a bunch on a narrow bit of ground close to the creek, and when the rain began to fall they drew a canvas wagon cover over them for protection, when, without any sound or warning that could be heard above the storm, a tide of water came down upon them which fairly washed them off the earth. They got tangled up in the wagon cover and were being washed down the creek, not knowing in the darkness when or where they were going to land. They kept together by all keeping hold of the wagon cover, but for which some or all of them might have lost their lives. They were finally washed up against a rocky projection and pulled themselves ashore. We were a sorry-looking lot—wet, cold, dilapidated, and suffering from the terror and fright of the night.

After breakfast we went out to hunt for our missing goods, some of which we found caught in the brush; some was washed beyond finding.

This was Sunday morning and the weather had cleared up bright. All Nature seemed anxious to make amends for her outrageous conduct of the night before. We concluded to stop here until Monday morning, and spread our traps out to dry, and cook some rice, and rest and replenish in a general sense.



We travelled up Goose Creek for several days till we got to its head, on the great divide that separates the Snake River from the Humboldt. The second or third day up the creek we had a genuine surprise that put us all in the best of humor again. It was no less than the overtaking of the three wagons that left us in the South Pass, where we commenced packing. Captain Wadsworth's wagon was mired down and part of the team. We all turned in and soon had him out. We were all glad to meet again, and all our men were delighted to meet and shake hands with Mrs. Wadsworth, who was equally as joyful as ourselves. We camped together that night and had a good visit. It was a genuine family reunion. How thoroughly we listened to each other's rehearsals and became mutual sympathizers and encouragers! This was the last time the original company ever met together.

Some of our boys, whose stock was nearly worn out, concluded that they would join the three wagons and take more time to get through. This move reduced our little company of packers to six men and ten animals. In the morning we bade them all goodby (some of them for the last time), swung into our saddles, and moved on.

After crossing the divide we entered Pleasant Valley, which, with its level floor, abundant grass, and willow-fringed stream of cool water, was very appropriately named. As our provisions were now getting short, I was on the lookout for game of any sort that would furnish food. After dinner, taking my rifle, I went along down the stream as it led off the road, when a pair of ducks flew up and alighted a short distance below. These were the first ducks I had seen since leaving the Platte, and, being out for something to eat, I was particularly glad to see them. I watched them settle, and then creeping up through tall wild rice I got a shot and killed one of them. I quickly reloaded. As I was out there alone I was necessarily on my guard. The duck was about twenty-five feet from the bank, and as the water was deep and cold and no one with me I concluded not to go in after it. So I took out the ramrod, screwed the wormer to it, lengthened it out with willow cuttings fastened one to another, and then shoved it out on the water until the wormer touched the duck, which I managed to twist into the game and draw it ashore. We had an elegant supper that night.

The next day or two I came to a pond where were sitting five snipe. I killed the whole bunch, and they helped to make another square meal. We were now near the border of the Great Desert proper, where, out of the midst of a level plain, stood a lone mountain known as the "Old Crater," which, together with its surroundings, had all the appearance of an extinct volcano. The plain round about this mountain had been rent in narrow cracks or crevices leading in various directions from the mountain off on to the plain, some of them crossing the trail, where we had to push and jump the stock across them. In dropping a rock into them there seemed to be no bottom. All about them the ground was covered with pieces of broken lava, largely composed of gravel stones that had been welded together by intense heat. A half mile or so from the mountain stood a block of the same material, which was nearly square in shape and larger than a thirty-by-forty-foot barn.

We made good time here after coming off the mountain, although we suffered intensely for want of water, the sun being very hot. However, we soon found ourselves in the "Thousand Spring Valley," and, being influenced by its name, expected to have, for that day at least, all the water we could drink. But, as is sometimes the case, there was

"Water, water everywhere, But not a drop to drink."

Near the entrance of the valley, which is about thirty miles long, is the Great Rock Spring, deriving its name, I presume, from its flowing out from under an immense rock, forming a pool or basin of the brightest and clearest of water, but so warm that neither man nor beast could drink it. We all waded around through the basin, the water being about two feet deep. After a few more miles, we could see ahead of us clouds of steam vapor rising from the earth in various places. We came to the first group of boiling springs at noon, nearly famished for water that one could drink. We turned out for a resting-while. Some went to look for cool water, and found none, while others made some coffee with boiling water from a spring, of which there were hundreds on a very few acres of ground. Some of the springs were six to ten feet across and three or four inches deep. We set our coffee-pots right in a spring and made coffee in a very short time. The hot sun pouring down on us, and boiling springs all about us, and no cold water to drink, made the place desirable for only one thing—to get away from.

Toward night we turned off into the hills and looked for water, where, tramping over the rocks and brush, supperless, until nearly midnight, we found a most delicious spring. We all drank together, men and animals, and together laid down and slept.

A little farther along, one day at noon, while we were drinking our coffee, two wild geese flew over and down the river. Watching them sail along as if to light at a certain point, I took my rifle and followed. The trail led to the right and over a range of hills, coming into the valley again several miles ahead, and the direction in which I was pursuing the geese being a tangent, I soon lost sight of the company. I went hurriedly on down the river bottom, much of which was covered with wild rice, very thick and almost as high as my head. The course and windings of the river here were, as elsewhere, marked by the willows along the banks. I was now a mile or so from the trail, and coming quite near where I expected to find the game. Passing cautiously by a clump of willows I noticed something white on the dead grass, which, upon investigation, proved to be a human skeleton in a perfect state of preservation. I picked up the skull, looked it over, and picked off the under jaw which was filled with beautiful teeth. Putting these in my pocket and replacing the skull, I moved carefully forward, expecting to soon see the geese. Picking my way through the stiff mud, I saw several moccasin tracks. I was just on the point of turning back when I saw the head of an Indian to my left, within easy range of my rifle. Looking hurriedly about me, I saw another at my right and quite a distance to the rear. In a moment they drew their heads down into the grass. I immediately realized the danger of retreating back into open ground, so I plunged forward into the wild rice, gripping my rifle with one hand and making a path through the rice with the other. I ran along in this way until my strength was nearly gone and the hand I worked the rice with was lacerated and bleeding. I faced about, dropped to my knees, and, with rifle cocked, awaited developments. After resting a few minutes and getting over my scare I started in the direction of the trail, hoping to get out of the rice and the willows into the open. Again I had to rest. My hands and arms were now both so lame and sore I could scarcely use them. When I finally got out of the rice, I straightened up and ran like a deer, expecting at every jump I made to be pursued and shot. I made straight for a bend in the slough which was partly filled with water. The opposite bank being lined with willows, some of them began to move a little and I concluded some one was coming through them. Levelling my rifle and with finger on the trigger, I heard some one shout to me not to shoot. It was a white man, who wanted to cross the slough. He ran into the water and mud far enough so that I could reach him and pull him on to the bank. He, too, had encountered the Indians in the rice and willows, and for a time was unable to stand, being completely exhausted with fear and his efforts to escape. As soon as he could walk, we started away from that locality with what strength and energy we had left. He was there alone and unarmed, looking for strayed cattle, and had been skulking and hiding from Indians for more than an hour before I came along. I, being well armed, might have discouraged them in their hunt for either one of us. At least they never got in my way after our first sight of each other.

My hands were now swollen and very painful. The stranger carried my gun, and in a couple of hours we overtook my comrades. As I got on to my mule I thought what a fool I had been to go alone so far on a wild-goose chase. That day's experience ended my hunting at any considerable distance from camp.

While we were still trailing close beside the Humboldt River a most remarkable and pathetic incident occurred, the vicinity being that now known as Elko, in Elko County, Nevada.

We had been camping over night in the Humboldt Mountains, and on our way out in the morning I chanced to be some distance ahead. Riding down a steep, narrow place, walled in on either side, I could catch only a glimpse of the Humboldt River as it spun along just ahead of me. Just before emerging from this narrow place I heard loud screaming for help, although as yet I could see no one. Coming out into the open, I saw a man in the river struggling with a span of horses to which was still attached the running gear of a wagon. A few rods below him were his wife and two children about five and three years old, floating down the strong current in the wagon bed.

I swam my mule across, and the minute I reached the land, I jumped off, and, leaving my rifle on the ground, ran over the rocks down stream after the woman and children, who were screaming at the top of their voices. The river made a short bend around some rocks on which I ran out, and, wading a short distance, I was able to grasp the corner of the the wagon bed as it came along, which was already well filled with water. Holding to it, the current swept it against the shore, where the woman handed her children out to me and then climbed ashore herself. As soon as all were on land, the woman, hugging her children with one arm, knelt at my feet and clasping me about the knees sobbed as though her heart would break, as she kept repeating that I had saved their lives, and expressing her thanks for the rescue.

As soon as I could collect my wits I began to tug at the wagon-bed, and then the woman helped, and together we got it where it was safe. Then we led the children up to where the man had got ashore with his team.

By this time the rest of our train had crossed the river and were with the man and his horses. When they learned just what had happened, they became very indignant because the man had apparently abandoned his wife and children to the mercies of the river, while he exerted himself to save his team. Quicker than I can tell it, the tongue of the man's wagon was set up on end, and hasty preparations being made to hang the man from the end of it. Almost frantic with what she saw, the wife again threw herself at my feet and begged me to save her husband. Her tears and entreaties, probably more than all I said, finally quieted the men, although some of them were still in favor of throwing him in the river. We eventually helped them get their wagon together, when we moved on and left them.

At this place the river runs down into a canon, where we had to ford it four times in ten miles, the stream changing that many times from one side of the rocky walls to the other. We made the last ford about middle afternoon, and as it was Sunday, we put out for the day and night.

"Up with my tent, here will I lie to-night. But where to-morrow? Well, all's well for that."



In nearly all lifetimes and in nearly all undertakings, there will occur seasons which severally try not merely one's faith and courage, but one's power of physical endurance as well; seasons when one's spirits are fagged and stand in need of a reveille, or "Boots and Saddles" call.

The march of our little company during these mid-July days, with their privations and sufferings, could scarcely have been maintained, but for the notes of cheer which, by memory's route, came to us from out the silent places of the past, or, on the wings of hope, alighted among us from off the heights of the future.

The Humboldt River, which by this time had become to us quite a memorable stream, was winding and crooked after coming out of the canon, and could be traced through the desert only by the willows that grew along its banks and around its shallow pools. Our route lay on the left bank all the way down to the "sink."

It was the middle of July, with never a cloud in the sky, not a tree or shade of any kind. The ground was heated like an oven and covered more or less by an alkali sand, which parched our lips while the sun was blistering our noses.

The river from here down to its sink is like all desert streams in the dry season. It does not have a continuous current, but the water lies in pools, alternating with places where the bed is dry and bare. In its windings it averaged about twenty-five miles from one bend to another, the trail leading a straight line like a railroad from one point to another. These points were our camping-places. As it was useless to stop between them we had to make the river or perish.

The willows were already browsed down to mere stubs, consequently there was little or no feed for the stock. Wherever we could find any grass, there we took the animals and tended them until they got their fill. There was no game to be seen nor anything that had life, except horned toads and lizards. The former could be seen in the sand all day. They were of all sizes, ranging from a kernel of corn to a common toad, each ornamented with the same covering of horns, beginning with a Turk's crescent on the tip of the nose. As to the lizards, none could be seen during the day, but at night there would be a whole family of them lying right against one, having crept under the blankets to keep warm, I suppose, as the nights were quite cool. Upon getting up in the morning we would take our blankets by one end and give a jerk, and the lizards would roll out like so many links of weinerwurst.

About midway to the river we began to get uncomfortably short of provisions, having only some parched coffee, a little sugar, and a few quarts of broken hardtack. We had neither flour nor meat for more than two weeks. But of all our sufferings the greatest was that of thirst. It was so intense that we forgot our hunger and our wearied and wornout condition. Our sole thought was of water, and when we talked about what amount we would drink when we came to a good spring no one ever estimated less than a barrel full, and we honestly believed we could drink that much at a single draught. We had, in a degree, become "loony" on the subject, particularly in the middle of the day, when one could not raise moisture in his mouth to even spit. For about ten days the only water we had was obtained from the pools by which we would camp. These pools were stagnant and their edges invariably lined with dead cattle that had died while trying to get a drink. Selecting a carcass that was solid enough to hold us up, we would walk out into the pool on it, taking a blanket with us, which we would swash around and get as full of water as it would hold, then carrying it ashore, two men, one holding each end, would twist the filthy water out into a pan, which in turn would be emptied into our canteens, to last until the next camping-place. As the stomach would not retain this water for even a moment, it was only used to moisten the tongue and throat.

One afternoon we noticed on the side of a mountain spur off to our left a green spot part way up its side. We looked at the spot and then at the bend to which we were going, and as each seemed to be about equi-distant we concluded to go to the mountains, believing we would find water.

Well, if any of you have had any experience in travelling toward a mountain you, as did we, probably under-estimated the distance. We left the trail at 3 o'clock and tramped until nearly sundown before we began to make the ascent, always keeping our eyes on that green spot. About an hour after dark we came into the bed of a dry creek, and believing that it would eventually lead us to water, we followed it up until about midnight, when we came to water in a ditch about two feet wide and a few inches deep.

Ourselves and animals being nearly exhausted, we just laid down in that stream, and I guess each one came pretty near drinking his barrel of water. We pulled off the packs and let the animals go loose in the feed, which was very good, while we were soon stretched out and sound asleep. When we woke in the morning the sun was well up and sending down its scorching rays into our faces. We made some coffee, drank it and felt better. We stayed there until noon, as the animals were still getting good feed, and we—well, we were getting all the water we wanted. We filled our canteens with it, and after making necessary preparations started to strike the river again, which we could plainly see from our mountain perch, also slow moving trains, as they plod their weary way over the plain.

We reached the river about sundown and as we looked against the western horizon, began to see quite distinctly the snow-capped range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They looked grand and formidable to us, knowing that we must climb up and over them before we could reach our journey's end. They held no terror for us, however, for we knew that we should suffer neither from heat nor thirst during our trail over their broad, friendly sides.

For a couple of days we had been trying the experiment of camping during the day and travelling at night, but we soon got enough of that way of getting along. The traveling at night was all right, but to camp all day with a scorching sun overhead and a burning sand under our feet was more than we could endure, so we again worked by day and slept at night.

There was no fuel along here except willows, and they were so green it was impossible to coax them into a blaze. We finally resorted to a willow crane, which we made by sticking a couple of willows into the sand, arching them over toward each other and tying them together, hanging our coffee-pot between them, underneath which we made a fire of dead grass tied in knots. For a long time we laid on the sand and fed that fire with knotted grass, but boil the coffee would not.

We had now reached the sink of the Humboldt, which was a small lake, perhaps ten or twelve miles long and two or three miles wide. The upper half was quite shallow, with soft, miry bottom covered with flags and rushes. The lower half was clear, open water, rounding off at its lower end with a smooth, sandy beach, making it a very pretty thing to look at, but its water was so brackish as to be unpalatable for drinking purposes.

We camped for the night near its flags and rushes, a large quantity of which we cut and brought in for the animals, which seemed to give them new life and ambition. We also cut as many bundles as we could carry away bound to the backs of our loose stock, for we still had forty-two miles more of desert, without wood, water or grass, before reaching the Carson River. While camping in this vicinity two pelicans sailed around and lighted in the clear lake, beyond reach of rifle-shot. These were the first birds of the kind I had ever seen outside of a showman's cage, and I was determined to have one of them if possible; so, with rifle in hand, I waded out till the water came up under my arms, and, not being able to go any farther, I fired, but without avail.

In looking about me as I waded back, I saw a little white tent a short way off, just on the edge of the lake. Going to it, I found a lone man about half drunk. I asked him what he was doing there, and he said he had some alcohol to sell at five dollars a quart. I bought a quart, my canteen full, and went back to camp. We succeeded in making coffee of the strongest kind and enough of it to fill our six canteens. We divided the alcohol equally among us and mixed it with the coffee. This arrangement was an experiment, but we found upon trial that one swallow of this mixture would make a person bat his eyes and step about quite lively, while two of them would make a man forget most of his troubles.

I remember that it was about mid-afternoon when we finally packed and left the Humboldt River for the last time, which we did with but few regrets. It was our intention to make as much as possible of the Humboldt desert during the night.

A few miles out the trail forked, the one to the right being "Trucke Route" and the other "Carson Route"; we decided upon the latter. Near the forks were some campers, two sets of them, who were quarreling as to which route was the better. They finally began to shoot at each other and were still at it when we passed out of hearing, not knowing or caring how the duel might end. Toward sundown we came to the salt wells, twelve miles from the sink, the water in them being as salt as the strongest brine. This was the last salt water we saw on our journey. About midnight we came to some tents, wagons, and a corral of stock; we were then nearly half the distance across the desert.

At the tent water was sold at the very low price of "six bits" a gallon. We bought one gallon apiece for each of the animals and as much as we needed to drink at the time for ourselves. We did not care to dilute the contents of our canteens. We gave the stock a feed and moved on. The night was moonlighted, very bright and pleasant, but awfully still, rendered so seemingly by the surroundings, or perhaps by the lack of surroundings, for there could be heard no rushing of waters, no murmuring of forests no rustling of grasses. All of Nature's music-pieces had been left far behind. There was nothing but sand, and it was at rest except as our footfalls caused it to vibrate. The broad and barren expanse, the white light of the full moon full upon it, the curvings and windings of the trail upon the sand, the steady onward march of our caravan, all combined to make a subject worthy the brush of a Millet.

We travelled in silence mostly. There was reverence in the atmosphere and we could not evade it. We did not even try.

Akin to this scene must have been the one which inspired Longfellow to write:

"Art is the child of Nature; yes, Her darling child, in whom we trace The features of the mother's face, Her aspect and her mien."



From this point on to Carson River the route was continuously strewn with the carcasses of stock that had perished there, some of them years before. Owing probably to the dry climate and the fact that the greater part of the desert was covered with alkali and crystalized soda, the bodies of these animals remained perfect, as they had fallen. The sand glistening in their eyes gave them a very lifelike appearance. At intervals could be seen wagons, all complete except the cover, with two to four yoke of cattle lying dead, with the yokes on their necks, the chains still in the rings, just as they fell and died, most of them with their tongues hanging from their mouths.

Daylight came just as we got to the loose sand. The moment the sun rose above the horizon its influence could be seen and felt, and in an hour or two several cattle-teams had perished near us. First one ox would drop as though he were shot, and in a few minutes others would sink down, and almost before the owner could realize the condition of things, a part or the whole of his team would lie dead.

For the want of vegetables or acid of some kind, I had been troubled for a week or so with an attack of scurvy in my mouth, the gums being swollen because of the alkali dust. This not only caused me pain and misery, but created a strong and constant desire for something sour. While riding past an ox team I noticed a jug in the front end of the wagon. Upon inquiry of the driver, I found that the jug contained vinegar. I offered him a silver dollar for a cupful, but he refused to part with any of it, saying that he might need it himself before he got through. He was afoot on the off side of the wagon, where the jug was setting. I was sort of crazy mad and drawing my revolver, I rode around the rear of the wagon, thinking I would kill the fellow and take his jug of vinegar. But when he began to run for his life around the front yoke of cattle I came to my senses and hastened away from his outfit.

We could now see a few scattering, tall trees outlining the Carson River, also long mountain spurs reaching almost out into the sand, covered with a short growth of pine timber. In leaving the sand about 11 o'clock A. M. I noticed a large open tent near by. I rode up and into the tent, and, looking about, saw among other things one bottle of gherkin pickles about one quart of them. I asked the price. It was five dollars, and I paid it gladly as the owner passed the bottle over to me. I saw in that bottle of pickles my day of deliverance and salvation, and drawing my long knife from my bootleg soon drew the cork and filled my fevered mouth with pickles. I assure my readers that I can taste those gherkins to this day. The proprietor, who evidently thought that I was a "little off," brought me to a sense of realization by telling me that his tent was not a mule stable and that I had better get out. His voice and expression made me feel that I might be in danger of losing my pickles, so I waited not on ceremony, but beat a hasty and complete retreat.

We had now finished the desert which, with all its events and experiences, was already behind us. We had travelled more than one thousand miles with no tree in sight, and our feelings can easily be imagined when, in looking a short distance ahead, we saw a clump of trees—real trees, green trees, shade-giving trees. We instantly became, as it were, initiated into the tree-worshipping sect. We were soon, men and beasts, within the cooling shade, and the packs stripped from the poor, tired animals, when they were led into the shallow water of the Carson, where they drank and bathed to their heart's content, and were then turned loose into a stretch of good grass.

We couldn't treat ourselves as well as we had treated our animals, for we had only a bite of hardtack crumbs, which we washed down with some of the "elixir of life" from our canteens. But we stretched ourselves underneath the friendly trees and, just letting loose of everything, slept until nearly noon the next day.

The vicinity in which we camped seemed to have been pre-empted by a number of parties, who lived in tents and sold provisions to the immigrants. The settlement was called "Ragtown."

After coming out of our long sleep and taking in the situation of our whereabouts we were soon ready to take up our westward march, which, in two days, brought us to the first real house we had seen since leaving the Missouri. This house was known as "Mormon Station." It was a good-sized story and half building, with a lean-to on one side and a broad porch on the other, along which was a beautiful little stream of cold, clear water. Cups were hanging on the porch columns for the use of immigrants. There were also long benches for them to sit and rest on. Connected with this house was a stock ranch and a cultivated farm of sixty acres, mostly all in vegetables. Within was a large store of supplies. Well, we didn't stop long for compliments, for our mouths were watering for some of those onions, lettuce, cabbage, new potatoes, pickles, steak and bacon, etc. We laid in a generous supply of the whole thing, including soft and hard bread and a bucket of milk. We also got a new coffeepot, as our old one had neither spout nor handle.

After making our purchases we selected our camping-site and proceeded to make ourselves comfortable, after disposing of the stock in grass up to its eyes. We were going to have a supper fit for the gods, and everybody became busy. The boss coffee-maker attended strictly to his business, and some others cut and sliced an onion that was as large as a plate, covering it with salt and pepper and vinegar, which we ate as a "starter." We had an elegant supper and appetites to match. After supper some of the men went back to the store and laid in a supply of fresh bread and steak for breakfast. They brought back some pipes and tobacco, and for a long time we sat around our campfire smoking and reciting many experiences incident to our journey across the continent. With pangs of hunger and thirst appeased, our pipes filled to the brim and the smoke therefrom curling and twisting itself into cloud-banks, we were a supremely happy lot, and with the poet was ready to sing:

"The road is rough and the day is cold, And the landscape's sour and bare, And the milestones, once such charming friends, Half-hearted welcomes wear. There's trouble before and trouble behind, And a troublesome present to mend, And the road goes up and the road goes down, But it all comes right in the end."

We decided to remain in this place another day, thereby giving ourselves and the stock time to secure the rest which we so greatly needed. It was during our stay here that in loading my rifle for a duck the stock broke in two. In making this little book, I cannot pass the incident by without a few parting words in memory of my faithful old friend and protector.

In make and style the gun was known as a Kentucky rifle, with curled maple stock the entire length of the barrel, underneath which was a "patch box," set lock, and a brass plate. Since we began to pack I had carried it continually on my shoulders, exposed to weather and elements, hot air and desert heat, until the varied exposures had so weakened it that it broke while being loaded. I had carried it on my shoulders for such a long time that my shirt and vest became worn through, and the brass plate, heated by the scorching sun, did a remarkable piece of pyro-sculpture by burning into my bare shoulders a pair of shoulder straps that continued with me more than a year.

Carson valley, through which our route lay, seemed to be twenty or more miles wide when we first entered it, but it narrowed as it continued toward the Sierras until it became not more than a mile in width at the point where it pushed itself far into the mountain range. Upon the morning of our departure, we were early astir, and, turning to the right, left the valley that had been to us a Mecca of rest and replenishment, and entered the Dark Canon, which is but a few rods wide, with perpendicular sides of rock so high that daylight seemed to be dropped down from overhead. Through this canon flowed a rushing, roaring torrent of water, and as the bed of the canon is very steep and made up mostly of round stones and boulders ranging in size from a marble to a load of hay, one can imagine something of the difficulties we had to encounter during the first four miles of our ascent.

In addition to the well-nigh impassable track, was the most deafening and distracting accumulation of noises ever heard since the time of Babel. The water as it roared and rushed and dropped itself from boulder to boulder, the rattling and banging of empty wagons, the cracking of the drivers' whips, the shouting of the men, and the repetitions and reverberations of it all as the high walls caught them up and tossed them back and forth on their way to the exit, gave an impression that the canon was engaged in grand opera with all stops open.

After spending one entire day here we emerged into what is known as Hope Valley, and its name in no wise belied its nature. In its quietude we took a new hold of ourselves, remaining in camp within its enclosure during the night. The valley is a large estuary or basin upon the first great bench of the range. Its center seemed to consist of a quagmire, as one could not walk far out on it and stock could not go at all.

Some of us took our knives and 'twixt rolling and crawling on our stomachs, got to where the grass was and cut and brought in enough to bait our horses and mules.

We started again at daylight next morning, and as the roads were fairly good we made twelve miles, which brought us to the shore of Mountain Lake. The weather here was cold during the night, the water near the edge of the lake freezing to the thickness of window glass. We were among quite heavy timber of pine and fir. This place might be called the second point in line of ascent. About one-half mile distant was the region of perpetual snow, in full sight, toward which we climbed and worked most assiduously, the line being very steep and the trail exceedingly zigzagged. Resting-places were only to be had on the upper side of the great trees. It was here that a four mule team, hitched to a splendid carry-all, got started backward down the mountain, the driver jumping from his seat. The whole outfit going down the mountain end over end and brought up against a large tree, the vehicle completely wrecked. The mules landed farther down.

Arriving at the snow line, we found grass and even flowers growing and blooming in soil moistened by the melting snow. The notch in the summit of the mountains through which we had to pass was four miles distant from this point. The trail leading up was of a circular form, like a winding stair, turning to the left, and the entire distance was completely covered with snow, or more properly ice crystals as coarse as shelled corn, which made the road-bed so hard that a wheel or an animal's foot scarcely made an impression on it.

We reached the summit about noon, August 7th, where we halted to rest and, as did Moses, "to view the landscape o'er." Looking back and down upon the circular road we could plainly see many outfits of men, animals, and wagons, as they slowly worked their way up and around the great circle which we had just completed.

Thinking we might see the Missouri River or some eastern town from our great altitude, we looked far out to the east; but the fact was we could see but a very little way as compared with our view on the plains. On a point high up on the rocks I spied a flag, which proved to be a section from a red woolen shirt. Upon going to it I found in a small cavity in the highest peak a bottle having upon its label the inscription, "Take a drink and pass on."

We went down to the edge of the timber on the California side and spent a night on the hard snow. We had wood for fire, snow for water, and pine boughs for beds, but no feed for our hungry beasts. Having laid in a good supply of provisions at Mormon Station, among which was a big sack of hard bread, we gave the animals a ration apiece of the same, promising them something better as soon as it could be had. This was our first night in California, having heretofore been travelling, since leaving the Missouri River Valley, in the Territory of Nebraska, except as we passed through a little corner of Oregon, near Ft. Hall.

After an early breakfast, we left the region of snow and went down among the timber and into a milder atmosphere. We passed through a place called Tragedy Springs, whose history, we afterwards learned, was indicated by its name. Leek Springs was the name of our next stopping place, which, from its appearance, evidently a favorite resort of all who passed that way. It so happened, however, that we were the only parties camping there that night. Realizing that we were very near our journey's end, we made these last evenings together as pleasant and as restful as possible. I remember this evening in particular, also the following morning, when, upon bestirring ourselves, we found that our sack of hard bread had been eaten and the sack torn to pieces. The frying pan had been licked clean, and things generally disturbed. Upon investigation we soon found that the camp had been invaded by two grizzly bears. They had walked all around us while we slept, evidently smelling of each one, as was indicated by the large, plain tracks which they had left, not only in the camp, but across the road also as they took their departure.

During the day we had opportunity to buy some hay for our stock, and at night we made ourselves at home among the heaviest white pine timber I ever saw. To test the size of the trees, we selected one that was representative of more than half the trees in that vicinity, and four of us joined hands and tried to circle the tree, but could not. They were so large and so near together that it seemed as though more than one-half of the ground and air was taken up by them. They had only a few stub branches for a top. Their bodies were as straight and as smooth as a ship's mast, and so tall that in looking at them one usually had to throw one's head back twice before seeing their tops.

The western slope of the Sierras was much more gradual in its descent than on the eastern side, the former reaching from the summit to the Valley of the Sacramento, about one hundred miles, while the ascent on the eastern side, from the leaving of Carson Valley, is about twenty-four miles.

The travel along here was quiet and easy, and as we had reason to believe that we were in close proximity to the gold mines, we were constantly looking out for them. We found a sort of restaurant on the hillside, where we treated ourselves to sardines and vinegar, coffee and crackers; and a little later we came upon some men actually engaged in gold-digging, the first we had ever seen. The place was called Weber Creek Diggings. There were several Chinamen in the group, who, with their broad bamboo hats and their incessant chatter, were certainly a great curiosity to us.

We passed on and soon came to Diamond Spring Diggings, where we spent the night under an immense lone tree. The ground was rich with gold here, and if we had gone to digging and washing the very spot on which we slept we could all of us have made a snug fortune; but it was not for us to get rich so quickly.

This was our last night together, Hangtown, or Placerville, Eldorado County, as it is to-day, being but a few miles distant. We reached Hangtown in time for breakfast, after which we all rode up the dividing ridge, from the top of which we looked down upon the busiest town and richest mining district in that country.

The hill was long and steep, and thereby hangs a tale. The saddle had worked up on my mule's shoulders, which I had not noticed, my mind being so wholly given to our new surroundings. In a second of time, and with no admonition whatever, that mule kicked both hind feet into the air, and I was made to turn a complete somersault over his head landing on the flat of my back just in front of him. He stopped and looked at me with a malicious smile in his eye, as much as to say: "We will now quit even." The breath was knocked out of me. The boys picked me up and brushed the dirt off, but I never mounted the mule again. We closed our social relations right there. To think he should be so ungrateful as to treat me in that way after I had watched over him with so much care and tenderness! We had swam many a stream together; I had even divided my bread with him; I had reposed so much confidence in him that many a night had I slept with the loose end of his lariat tied to my wrist. When we returned to town I sold both my mule and pony.

After we had treated ourselves to a bath, shave, haircut, and some new clothes we started out to prospect for individual interests, and became separated. Two of the company I have never seen since we parted that afternoon, August 10, 1852.



"I am dreaming to-night of the days gone by, When I camped in the open so free and grand.

* * * * *

Those days have gone; each passing year Has made the buoyant steps grow slow, But the pictures stay to comfort and cheer The days that come and the days that go."

During the preparation of the previous chapters I have once again been twenty-four years old. Once again I have lived over those five months, so alternated with lights and shadows, but above which the star of hope never for a moment lacked luster or definiteness. The entire route from Monroe, Michigan, to Hangtown, was one great book, having new lessons and illustrations for each day. Some of them were beautiful beyond description; others were terrible beyond compare, and so hard to understand.

Each day made its own paragraphs and punctuation marks, and how surprising and unexpected many of them were! Commas would become semicolons and periods give place to exclamation points, in the most reckless sort of fashion. The event which had been planned as a period to a day's doings would often instead become a hyphen, leading into and connecting us with conditions wholly undreamed of.

To-day as I look back upon the more than fifty intervening years I realize that the wealth that I gathered from the wayside of each day's doings has enriched my whole after-life far beyond the nuggets which I digged from the mines. Nature never does anything half-heartedly. Her every lesson, picture, and song is an inspirer and enricher to all who would learn, look, and listen aright.

All of our company, excepting the one who still sleeps in his prairie bed, eventually reached the "promised land." Captain and Mrs. Wadsworth, then as before, were noted and esteemed for their noble manhood and womanhood. The Captain in time was made Marshal of Placerville and did much for the advancement of its interests. Both he and his wife died after being in California about seven years. Charley Stewart, the young man with whom I had the midnight tussle, returned to his home in a few months, dying shortly thereafter. He had made the trip hoping to benefit his impaired health, but was disappointed in the result. I kept in touch with several of the others for some time.

After two years I returned home by way of the Isthmus, when other and new interests claimed my time and attention, and I would only hear now and again that one and then another and yet others had left the trail and passed over the dividing ridge into the land where camps neither break nor move on.

The story of our trail has of necessity been told in monologue, as only I of all the number am here to tell it.

The pictures upon memory's walls, a few relics, and a golden band upon my wife's finger, made into a wedding-ring from gold that I myself had dug, are the links which unite these days to those days.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse