"But your pony did stumble, and you didn't get him; nor I, either," remarked Ned. "And I don't think you and I had better brag any more about lassoing until you can catch your pony down there in the chaparral;" and Hal went for his pony.
The evening of the third day from the pass brought us to the head of Quercos canon, where we came upon a party of Mexicans and Papago Indians, engaged in manufacturing mescal, the native whiskey of the country.
This beverage is made from the roots of the maguey, a plant common to this region. The roots are bulbous, and are gathered in large quantities, and thrown into pits containing red-hot stones.
These being filled, they are covered with grass or brush, over which blankets are spread. The roots are allowed to remain until thoroughly steamed, when they are taken out, placed in sacks of rawhide and crushed, the juice escaping into earthen vessels. It is afterwards fermented in the sun, when it becomes an intoxicating liquor, very closely resembling Irish whiskey in taste, smell, and effect upon the brain.
Patsey enjoyed its pungent, smoky aroma, with the keenest pleasure, and, after several times tasting it, pronounced it quite "aquil to the bist rale ould Irish whiskey," an opinion that we all endorsed after witnessing his condition a few hours later.
While encamped here, Ned came to me and reminded me of my promise to Patsey; saying, that one of the Mexicans had a splendid suit of buckskin, that he would dispose of very cheap. I traded for it, and Ned arrayed Patsey in it. Never did king, clothed in robes of royal purple, exhibit greater pride than did Patsey in his buckskin suit. But, alas! pride must have a fall; and, within a very few hours, I saw him sitting on the ground, clothed in his new suit, and protesting with maudlin earnestness that he was the "veritable Bryan O'Linn himsilf."
Three days later, we reached the old Mission of San Xavier del Bac, one of the most interesting relics of the ancient Spanish rule, to be found in this country.
It was built by the Jesuits nearly two hundred years ago, and is one of the finest specimens of Saracenic architecture to be found on this continent. It is located on the lands of the Papago Indians, in whose charge it now is.
We encamped beneath the shadow of this massive pile, surrounded by the thatched huts of the Papagos, who cluster about its cruciform walls as though confident of its power to protect them, as it did their ancestors, from the contaminating influences of the outside world.
These Indians are a simple, honest, industrious tribe, quite superior to their present situation, and claim that their ancestors have occupied the country for more than a thousand years, and were far more civilized than themselves.
Many of them are as black as negroes, and nearly all are fine specimens of physical beauty. Still, as a race, they, like the old church, are but a wreck of former greatness.
A ride of eight miles brought us to the town of Tucson, through which our wagons passed to the Pico Chico Mountain, five miles beyond, where we made our camp.
This was formerly an old Mexican fort, and was abandoned in 1853, after the survey of the boundary line between Mexico and the United States.
We were here informed, that the Apaches had attacked and captured a small train that was travelling over the route we were following, only the week before; consequently, our chances of getting through unmolested were very good; a piece of information that we received gladly.
The boys and myself spent several hours in Tucson, looking about the town, and its many curiosities, being especially interested in several half-naked, dirty Apaches, which were lounging about, with large nuggets of gold tied up in their filthy rags.
Horse-racing, wrestling, gambling, drinking mescal, and shooting people, seemed to be the principal occupation of its inhabitants, who, as a whole, were about as villainous a looking set of cut-throats as could be found west of the Rio Grande.
Tucson is located in the heart of the great silver and gold bearing regions of Arizona, and it was exceedingly difficult to prevent the boys from loading themselves with specimens of the many ores offered for sale, by every loafer, greaser, and Indian, that we met on the street.
Hal managed to absent himself for a short time; and, when I found him, had traded Ned's watch for about as small and lively a specimen of a Mexican mule as I ever saw, which, he assured me in good faith, he had bought for Patsey's exclusive use.
I afterwards learned from Ned, that, ever since the boy had become the owner of a buckskin suit, he imagined that it little comported with the dignity of a person who could sport "sich an illegant suit, to ride in wagins, or walk afoot, whin he ought to ride on horseback, like a gintilmon;" promising, that, if Hal would procure him a mule in Tucson, he would pay him double price on reaching California.
The bargain had been made, and the mule delivered, and all I could do was to make the best of it. I was extremely glad to get out of town so cheaply, however; and, as it was, it became very dark before we reached camp; for the new purchase would not be driven, and only consented to be led, because Hal's pony was the stronger.
Jerry's opinion of the animal was given in words more forcible that elegant; and Hal's purchase was laughed at by all. Many were the bets offered, that Patsey couldn't ride him; but Patsey stoutly asserted he'd "ridden mules in the ould country, and why couldn't he do it in Ameriky?"
Shortly after leaving camp, the road crossed a small stream, which we knew could be easily forded. Jerry, with an eye to some sport, ordered Patsey, who, mounted upon his mule, was feeling very grand, to lead the way; and Patsey, nothing loth, started; but, alas! the animal refused to take the water.
Four times did he attempt to force him, and four times he was unseated and violently hurled to the ground: at each overthrow, however, he returned to the charge with fond hopes, fresh courage, and a stronger determination to make the animal enter the stream.
Upon the fifth trial, somewhat to our surprise and Patsey's delight, the mule quietly approached and entered the stream, without the least reluctance.
We all shouted our congratulations at the boy's well-deserved victory; while Patsey himself was so elated at his success, that he could not resist manifesting his exultation by digging his heels into the animal's sides, with a vindictiveness, that could not fail to stir up all its vicious propensities; while he kept up a running tirade of abuse, after the Mexican style, as follows:—
"So yez thought yez wouldn't cross the wathers, did yez (a dig with his heels). I'm the bye that'll show yez, that, whin Patsey McQuirk's aboard (another dig), and say's crass, ye'll crass, so yez will (dig). Ye moight jist ez well done it first ez last, so yez moight (dig, dig), but ye'll understand it next time, so yez will (dig, dig)."
The mule waded on, apparantly in meek submission, until he had nearly reached the middle of the stream, when, without the least warning, he laid back his ears, lowered his head, and elevated his heels so quickly, that Patsey went flying, heels over head into the stream, far towards the opposite shore, amid the shouts and laughter of the whole party.
He floundered about in the water for some minutes, completely bewildered. Occasionally he would disappear; then come to the surface, half suffocated, to again stumble, fall, and disappear; all the time calling for "Hilp! hilp! hilp!"
He finally reached the bank, the most woe begone, discouraged Irish boy ever seen clothed in a buckskin suit; nor did our screams of laughter tend to console him for his unwelcome bath: on the contrary, he began to look about him for some one upon whom to vent his anger.
Seeing the mule meekly standing by, looking both sorrowful and innocent, he approached him quickly, and seized the bridle, when the animal started back so suddenly that Patsey measured his length upon the ground.
At this point the boy was evidently very willing to give up the contest; but, knowing the laugh that would be raised at his expense, he determined to make one final effort to conquer him.
"Ye cussid lithle hay then," cried Patsey to the mule; "I'll taych yez to sarve an honist b'y sich a thrick ez thet, noo. Ye'll just sae how yez'll loik the batin' ye'll get, noo;" and he proceeded to cut a stick with which to administer the "batin';" but Jerry interrupted, and ordered Patsey to once more mount the mule, then, riding his own horse into the water, the mule followed without the least difficulty.
After we had all crossed, and were again on the road, I asked Patsey what the trouble seemed to be with his mule.
"Faith," said he, "don't I know well enuff? The craythur's bin put up to thim thricks by min as ought to know bother; but I'll be avin wid some one, if it takes a wake's wages, whin I git to Californy."
From this point the face of the country was covered by a low, scrubby growth of mesquite, interspersed with magnificent specimens of the Cerus Grandes, a remarkable species of cactus, called by the Indians Petahaya, which grows to the height of forty or fifty feet, and measure from eighteen to twenty inches in circumference. It is fluted with the regularity of a Corinthian column, and bears a fruit that resembles a fig in shape, size, and flavor, which is extensively used by the natives as an article of food.
The road was fine, and we hurried on as fast as the oppressive heat would permit; but, with our best exertions, evening found us still several miles from our intended camping-ground.
Shortly after sunset a dark bank of clouds arose in the south, which, in an incredibly short space of time, spread over the face of the heavens, completely shutting in every ray of light. The darkness was so intense, that it was with much difficulty we could make any progress, and finally, Jerry reluctantly gave the order to encamp.
Before we had time to unharness the mules the storm burst, and the rain descended in perfect torrents, accompanied by clouds of sand and vivid lightning. The thunder was terrific. As peal after peal echoed and reverberated over the vast plain, it sounded like the discharge of a park of artillery. So nearly above our heads did the sounds come, that we involuntarily cringed, while the animals became almost frantic with fear, and plunged and struggled to escape from the men.
Before we could possibly shelter ourselves, we were drenched to the skin, and forced to take refuge under the wagons. No attempt was made to light a fire or prepare supper; and we passed a most uncomfortable night.
Morning came at last, and, with the sunshine and a good breakfast, our wonted equanimity was restored; and we again set out, hoping to reach the Pimo villages, on the Gila, before night-fall.
We had heard many accounts of this remarkable tribe of Indians, who, for the past eight or ten centuries, have resided upon, and cultivated the same land. High as our expectations had been raised, we were in no measure disappointed upon meeting them. We found them friendly, and disposed to treat us with great kindness, freely furnishing such articles of food as we were in need of.
The Pimos raise fine crops of cotton, corn, wheat, melons, and vegetables. The women weave, spin, make blankets, grind the corn, and gather mesquite-beans. Besides doing such work, they attend to their children, and bring all the water from the river on their heads, in large earthen jars, frequently holding six or seven gallons, which they balance so perfectly that they rarely spill a drop.
The boys were much pleased with the primitive but comfortable houses, made of poles, bent at the top to a common centre, and wattled in with straw and corn-shucks. Each house was situated in a separate enclosure, and surrounded by a small garden.
The only weapon these Indians use is a bow and arrow, with which they are very expert.
While stopping here, we were much amused by watching a party of them engaged in hunting ducks in one of the lagoons making up from the Gila.
Placing a number of gourds in the water upon the windward side of the lagoon, they were gently propelled by the wind to the opposite shore, where they were picked up, carried back, and again sent adrift.
At first the birds exhibited no little fear at these singular objects floating about among them; but eventually became so used to the sight, that they paid no attention to them.
Observing this, each Indian cut, in a large gourd, holes for his eyes, nose, and mouth, and then fitted it upon his head. Taking with him a long bag, he entered the water, until nothing was seen but the gourd on his head. Then the peculiar bobbing motion of the gourd was imitated so exactly, that the wily hunter easily approached near enough to the birds to seize them by the feet and drag them suddenly under the water.
Scores of them were thus captured, and securely stowed in the bags that they carried.
So nicely and naturally was this done, and so great was the admiration expressed by us all at the dexterity displayed by the hunters, that Patsey, who had been remarkably quiet since his experience with the mule, ventured to whisper to Ned, that "he'd aften hoonted dooks that way, in the ould country."
This statement, coming to the ears of Hal, by way of a joke, he proposed that Patsey should give him a lesson in the art of gourd-hunting. The boy at once assented to the suggestion, provided he would keep the matter a secret from all but Ned. To this Hal agreed, at the same time taking good care that Ned should inform us of the intended sport.
After the Indians had obtained all the game they desired for themselves, and we had all left the ground, Hal borrowed one of the gourds for Patsey. This the boy fitted to his head, and, bag in hand, boldly started into the water, just as Jerry and myself arrived upon the field of observation.
He waded some distance down the lagoon without meeting with any mishap; but, just as he came near to a large flock, unfortunately stepped into a hole, and at once disappeared from sight.
The next moment he rose to the surface with arms extended, thrashing the water like the paddles of a side-wheel steamboat, and making a noise not unlike the first attempt of a young mule to bray.
This strange performance of course frightened the birds, who rose in a body, with a tremendous flapping of wings. This, joined to our own shouts of laughter, so terrified Patsey, that he started for the shore, floundering about in the water like a porpoise.
He finally reached the bank; and then we discovered that the gourd had slipped down under his chin, and turned completely around, with the holes at the back of his head, in which position it was stuck fast.
Patsey groped blindly about for a few minutes, greatly incensed at our roars of laughter; and then, convinced of his inability to get rid of the mask unaided, seated himself upon the ground, and quietly submitted to have it removed by breaking it with rocks.
The instant it was off, he flew at Hal, and would have soundly thrashed him, "for the thrick he had put upon him," had not Jerry interfered to prevent. This adventure, however, completely cured Patsey of boasting; for not once again during the entire trip did he indulge in what had heretofore been a favorite pastime. Nor was Patsey the only one who learned a lesson while at the Pimo villages. Master Hal, who was determined to try his hand at trading with the natives, found it anything but a profitable business; for he disposed of nearly his entire share of the stock of goods, for articles that were utterly useless to us, and which we were obliged to abandon before getting through.
Five days from the Pimo villages, we reached Fort Yuma, at the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers; but, with the thermometer at 118 deg. in the shade, we remained at this post only long enough to cross our wagons over the Colorado, when we found ourselves upon the borders of the great California desert, which extends in all directions as far as the eye can reach, except towards the south-west, where, fifty miles away, a mountain-range is to be seen, its blue peaks towering high in mid-air.
The entire country, for hundreds of miles, is covered with a loose, shifting, blinding, white sand, and is entirely destitute of vegetation or water.
We fancied we were well prepared for the journey over this vast plain; but, notwithstanding the care taken, we suffered all the torments that thirst can inflict, while our poor animals almost famished by the way. Our route was plainly marked, the entire distance, by the bleached bones and dried carcasses of mules, oxen, and sheep, interspersed with abandoned wagons and whitened skeletons of emigrants, who had perished on the way. At one place, we came upon a train of seven abandoned wagons, loaded with household goods. The harnesses remained where they had been thrown, after removing them; provisions were lying exposed upon a box, as though the family had been obliged to leave before finishing the meal; but not a living creature was in sight and, from the general appearance of the scene, we judged it must have been deserted for weeks. It was a sad sight: such a picture of desolation, as I care never again to witness.
Who the owners were, from whence they came, whither they were bound, or what was their fate,—must stand one of the secrets of the desert, until revealed at the final day.
After three days of terrible suffering, we reached the banks of Carrizo Creek. It would be impossible to describe the eagerness with which all, men and animals, plunged down its steep banks, or how we laughed and shouted as the murmur of its sparkling waters fell upon our ears, or with what pleasure we laved our burning flesh in its coolness.
This oasis in the desert is deserving a more extended description than I can give here; for it probably has not its equal in the world. The stream rises in sand, flows through sand, and disappears in sand; having worn for itself a channel about a mile in length, fifteen or twenty feet deep, and nearly thirty in width. The water is clear, and deliciously cool and sweet.
Here, under the benign influence exerted by this spring, we all for a time forgot our troubles: even Patsey so far forgave Hal for the "thricks he had put upon him," that I saw them sitting together, waist-deep in the water; the Irish boy utterly oblivious of the fact that he had neglected, before taking his bath, to remove the "buckskin suit," which had already become considerably shrunken and curtailed, of its fair proportions, by reason of its previous wettings.
During the night we encamped here, I suddenly awoke from a very sound sleep, and saw the form of old Jerry, standing in bold relief in the moonlight upon the top of the bank, and Apparantly gazing far out into the desert.
He stood so long motionless, that I thought him asleep; but, upon speaking, to my surprise he came and seated himself by my side, and said, "Look here, judge, I want to tell yer a story. Will yer hear it?"
I told him I would, with pleasure; and he began as follows:—
"It was nine year ago this spring, and the first trip I ever made across this desert. We hed been six days from Yuma to this place: the sun all the time like a ball of fire, and the sand so hot it burnt one's naked feet to a blister. Not a drop of water hed we hed for our animals for three days, and only a teaspoonful for ourselves.
"On the mornin' of the sixth day, my thirst became so great, that I determined to start out by myself, and find water. I give my mule the rein, and he brought me to the edge of this gully; and, when I looked down into it and see the clear, cold water sparklin' and shinin' like diamonds, why, I burst right out into a loud laugh.
"After I stopped laughin', and was a-gittin' down towards the water, I heerd a kind of noise from the other side of the creek, and looked up; and, the first thing I see, settin' on the edge on t'other side, was a boy about twelve years old, tryin' ter call to me.
"At first I couldn't believe my own eyes; but I shut 'em up for a minute, and looked again, and there he was, as plain as day, and not another livin' creeter but my old hoss in sight.
"Well, I was beat, an'no mistake. Bless me! I kin see the little feller jest as I seen him that morning,—and a perfect little gentleman he was too. Yes, and I've seen his pale, thin face and great starin' brown eyes a-lookin' into mine, a thousand times since that day.
"I went right over to where he was, and spoke ter him. The little feller smiled when I came up, and shook his head, as much as to say, that he couldn't speak. I asked him where he came from, and where his folks was, and how they come ter leave him alone on the plains, with nobody to look out for and take care of him; but he only shook his head, and looked up into my face so piteous and sorrowful like, that I felt my heart go right out to him. I couldn't understand how the little feller got there; for his clothes were all new,—the soles of his little boots warn't even stained.
"Well, I talked to him a long time afore I remembered I hadn't had a drink myself; so I asked him if he wanted water, and he nodded his head. I went down to the creek there, and filled my hat, and warn't away more than three minutes; but, when I got back, he was gone."—"Where did he go to, Jerry?" asked Ned, who, unperceived, had been listening to the story.
"Go to," echoed Jerry, "ther ain't anybody kin tell that. Why, I hunted every foot, for a mile around, and couldn't find a sign of his trail; and I never have seen or heerd of him since. Now, judge, I seen him, felt him, talked to him, and know he was there; and thar hain't never been a doubt in my mind as to what become of him."
"Well, Jerry, how do you account for his disappearance?" inquired I.
"Angels!" was the sententious reply.
"Pooh!" remarked the matter-of-fact Ned; "angels don't wear clothes and boots."
"How do you know?" inquired Jerry.
"Why, I never heard they did," answered Ned.
"Did you ever hear they didn't?" continued the old man. "I never believed in 'em much afore then, and I sartin hain't bed no reason to, on this trip, so far as I know. Now, judge, you're the first one I ever told that story to; and it's true, every word of it. What do yer reckon become of him, if 'twain't angels?"
"I can't say, Jerry," was my reply. "That is one of the secrets of the desert, which I cannot answer."
"Well, I reckon I've talked, about as long as I ought to, at this time of night; but I've never come this way since then, without thinkin' thet perhaps I might see him again. I never shall, though, I reckon; and I s'pose I'd better give up all hopes of it, and may as well go to bed again."
As soon as he had gone, Ned crawled over to my side, and said, "Do you really believe that it was an angel Jerry saw?"
I endeavored to explain to the boy, that Jerry had been the victim of one of those strange illusions defined in Sanskrit, as "The thirst of the gazelle," which is frequently experienced by travellers in the desert, causing them to imagine they see those objects in which their souls most delight, but which exist only, in their imaginations. Nor is it possible, ever after to convince the beholder, that the vision was not real.
The following day's journey carried us out of the arid, desert country, through magnificent groves of oak, over beautiful green prairies, and by ranches, whose cattle were, in truth, "feeding on a thousand hills." The contrast was as surprising, as it was graceful and pleasing; and, when at last we reached the summit of the high land that overlooked the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific, and saw, cozily nestled on the plain below us, facing the sea, the quaint old town of San Diego, with its magnificent date-palms, and rare old architecture, we all fairly shouted for joy.
The dangers and perils we had passed through, the privations we had suffered, the petty jealousies that had arisen, the unkind words spoken, —all were alike forgiven and forgotton in the rapture caused by the sight of that "shining shore" we had travelled so many weary miles to see.
Our arrival at San Diego was most opportune, for there was a great scarcity of goods in the market, which enabled us to dispose of ours, at such prices that we realized a handsome profit, after paying the expenses of our entire trip.
Indeed, we found ourselves in the possession of so much money, that we deemed it advisable to hold a consultation, as to the best manner of investing it.
Hal declared, that he would speculate with it; and thereby take the chance of doubling the capital in a few weeks, perhaps days.
Ned was for purchasing a stock of goods in San Francisco, and going into general merchandise.
Jerry declared for a stock-ranche, and I—why, I decided with Jerry, of course.
"And what do you say, Patsey," called out Ned.
"Well, I'd take the money, an' buy me a new buckskin suit, and sthart back for the ould country, shure. Divil a day would yez kitch me stoppin' in a counthry like this, iny longer thin it would take to git out of it."
After properly canvassing the matter, we decided to purchase a ranche, stock it well with cattle, and place it in charge of old Jerry, with Hal and Ned as assistants, and Patsey as "general utility boy."
The ranche, under old Jerry's management, has become a valuable piece of property, branding over a thousand calves the last spring.
Hal, who, since his arrival here, has corresponded regularly with Juanita, is now on a visit to Chihuahua, and the last letter I received from him spoke of his marriage as a settled thing in the coming fall. After that interesting event is over, he proposes to bring his wife home with him.
Ned is one of the most respected and honored citizens of San-Diego county, and Patsey is growing rich from the profits of a small country store.
Old Jerry is alive, and insists upon having his camp-fire lighted every night, smoking his pipe by the cheerful blaze, and telling a story. Then he spreads his "painter-skin," and "turns in;" for nothing will induce the old man to sleep within the four walls of a house. He says "it chocks him right up, so, he can't; fur the life of him, he don't see how a white man can stan' it."
And now, my dear readers, having crossed the Continent together, and at last found a home upon the shores of the beautiful Pacific, you and I must part; but, if you ever chance to visit San Diego, come and see us at the Buena-Vista stock-ranche, and you shall hear old Jerry tell a "story of the road," beside his camp-fire, and receive from Hal and Ned a genuine Western welcome.