The Prairie Traveler - A Hand-book for Overland Expeditions
by Randolph Marcy
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Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and discrepancies have been retained.









Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York.



The different Routes to California and Oregon. Their respective Advantages. Organization of Companies. Elections of Captains. Wagons and Teams. Relative Merits of Mules and Oxen. Stores and Provisions. How packed. Desiccated and canned Vegetables. Pemmican. Antiscorbutics. Cold Flour. Substitutes in case of Necessity. Amount of Supplies. Clothing. Camp Equipage. Arms. 15


Marching. Treatment of Animals. Water. Different methods of finding and purifying it. Journadas. Methods of crossing them. Advance and Rear Guards. Selection of Camp. Sanitary Considerations. Dr. Jackson's Report. Picket Guards. Stampedes. How to prevent them. Corraling Wagons. 44


Repairing broken Wagons. Fording Rivers. Quicksand. Wagon Boats. Bull Boats. Crossing Packs. Swimming Animals. Marching with loose Horses. Herding Mules. Best Methods of Marching. Herding and guarding Animals. Descending Mountains. Storms. Northers. 71


Packing. Saddles. Mexican Method. Madrina, or Bell-mare. Attachment of the Mule illustrated. Best Method of Packing. Hoppling Animals. Selecting Horses and Mules. Grama and bunch Grass. European Saddles. California Saddle. Saddle Wounds. Alkali. Flies. Colic. Rattlesnake Bites. Cures for the Bite. 98


Bivouacs. Tente d'Abri. Gutta-percha Knapsack Tent. Comanche Lodge. Sibley Tent. Camp Furniture. Litters. Rapid Traveling. Fuel. Making Fires. Fires on the Prairies. Jerking Meat. Making Lariats. Making Caches. Disposition of Fire-arms. Colt's Revolvers. Gun Accidents. Trailing. Indian Sagacity. 132


Guides and Hunters. Delawares and Shawnees. Khebirs. Black Beaver. Anecdotes. Domestic Troubles. Lodges. Similarity of Prairie Tribes to the Arabs. Method of making War. Tracking and pursuing Indians. Method of attacking them. Telegraphing by Smokes. 183


Hunting. Its Benefits to the Soldier. Buffalo. Deer. Antelope. Bear. Big-horn, or Mountain Sheep. Their Habits, and Hints upon the best Methods of hunting them. 230





Map of Overland routes at end of volume. Fort Smith, Arkansas Frontispiece. Swimming a Horse 78 Diagram for Measurements 81 Crossing a Stream 87 Grimsley's Pack-saddle 99 California Saddle 119 Half-faced Camp 134 Conical Bivouac 135 Tent Knapsack 137 Comanche Lodge 140 Sibley Tent 143 Camp Chairs 145 Camp Table—Field Cot 146 Field Cot—Camp Bureau 148 Mess-chest 149 Horse-litter 151 Hand-litter 154 The Grizzly 167 Horse-tracks 178 Keep away! 209 Calling up Antelopes 245 The Needles 254 Chimney Rock 269 Devil's Gate 271 Well in the Desert 292 Map of the Pike's Peak Gold Region 296 Sangre de Cristo Pass 300 San Francisco Mountain 309 Canon on Bill Williams's Fork 312 Artillery Peak 313


A quarter of a century's experience in frontier life, a great portion of which has been occupied in exploring the interior of our continent, and in long marches where I have been thrown exclusively upon my own resources, far beyond the bounds of the populated districts, and where the traveler must vary his expedients to surmount the numerous obstacles which the nature of the country continually reproduces, has shown me under what great disadvantages the "voyageur" labors for want of a timely initiation into those minor details of prairie-craft, which, however apparently unimportant in the abstract, are sure, upon the plains, to turn the balance of success for or against an enterprise.

This information is so varied, and is derived from so many different sources, that I still find every new expedition adds substantially to my practical knowledge, and am satisfied that a good Prairie Manual will be for the young traveler an addition to his equipment of inappreciable value.

With such a book in his hand, he will be able, in difficult circumstances, to avail himself of the matured experience of veteran travelers, and thereby avoid many otherwise unforeseen disasters; while, during the ordinary routine of marching, he will greatly augment the sum of his comforts, avoid many serious losses, and enjoy a comparative exemption from doubts and anxieties. He will feel himself a master spirit in the wilderness he traverses, and not the victim of every new combination of circumstances which nature affords or fate allots, as if to try his skill and prowess.

I have waited for several years, with the confident expectation that some one more competent than myself would assume the task, and give the public the desired information; but it seems that no one has taken sufficient interest in the subject to disseminate the benefits of his experience in this way. Our frontier-men, although brave in council and action, and possessing an intelligence that quickens in the face of danger, are apt to feel shy of the pen. They shun the atmosphere of the student's closet; their sphere is in the free and open wilderness. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that to our veteran borderer the field of literature should remain a "terra incognita." It is our army that unites the chasm between the culture of civilization in the aspect of science, art, and social refinement, and the powerful simplicity of nature. On leaving the Military Academy, a majority of our officers are attached to the line of the army, and forthwith assigned to duty upon our remote and extended frontier, where the restless and warlike habits of the nomadic tribes render the soldier's life almost as unsettled as that of the savages themselves.

A regiment is stationed to-day on the borders of tropical Mexico; to-morrow, the war-whoop, borne on a gale from the northwest, compels its presence in the frozen latitudes of Puget's Sound. The very limited numerical strength of our army, scattered as it is over a vast area of territory, necessitates constant changes of stations, long and toilsome marches, a promptitude of action, and a tireless energy and self-reliance, that can only be acquired through an intimate acquaintance with the sphere in which we act and move.

The education of our officers at the Military Academy is doubtless well adapted to the art of civilized warfare, but can not familiarize them with the diversified details of border service; and they often, at the outset of their military career, find themselves compelled to improvise new expedients to meet novel emergences.

The life of the wilderness is an art as well as that of the city or court, and every art subjects its votaries to discipline in preparing them for a successful career in its pursuit. The Military Art, as enlarged to meet all the requirements of border service, the savage in his wiles or the elements in their caprices, embraces many other special arts which have hitherto been almost ignored, and results which experience and calculation should have guaranteed have been improvidently staked upon favorable chances.

The main object at which I have aimed in the following pages has been to explain and illustrate, as clearly and succinctly as possible, the best methods of performing the duties devolving upon the prairie traveler, so as to meet their contingencies under all circumstances, and thereby to endeavor to establish a more uniform system of marching and campaigning in the Indian country.

I have also furnished itineraries of most of the principal routes that have been traveled across the plains, taken from the best and most reliable authorities; and I have given some information concerning the habits of the Indians and wild animals that frequent the prairies, with the secrets of the hunter's and warrior's strategy, which I have endeavored to impress more forcibly upon the reader by introducing illustrative anecdote.

I take great pleasure in acknowledging my indebtedness to several officers of the Topographical Engineers and of other corps of the army for the valuable information I have obtained from their official reports regarding the different routes embraced in the itineraries, and to these gentlemen I beg leave very respectfully to dedicate my book.



The different Routes to California and Oregon. Their respective Advantages. Organization of Companies. Elections of Captains. Wagons and Teams. Relative Merits of Mules and Oxen. Stores and Provisions. How packed. Desiccated and canned Vegetables. Pemmican. Antiscorbutics. Cold Flour. Substitutes in case of Necessity. Amount of Supplies. Clothing. Camp Equipage. Arms.


Emigrants or others desiring to make the overland journey to the Pacific should bear in mind that there are several different routes which may be traveled with wagons, each having its advocates in persons directly or indirectly interested in attracting the tide of emigration and travel over them.

Information concerning these routes coming from strangers living or owning property near them, from agents of steam-boats or railways, or from other persons connected with transportation companies, should be received with great caution, and never without corroborating evidence from disinterested sources.

There is no doubt that each one of these roads has its advantages and disadvantages, but a judicious selection must depend chiefly upon the following considerations, namely, the locality from whence the individual is to take his departure, the season of the year when he desires to commence his journey, the character of his means of transportation, and the point upon the Pacific coast that he wishes to reach.

Persons living in the Northeastern States can, with about equal facility and dispatch, reach the eastern terminus of any one of the routes they may select by means of public transport. And, as animals are much cheaper upon the frontier than in the Eastern States, they should purchase their teams at or near the point where the overland journey is to commence.

Those living in the Northwestern States, having their own teams, and wishing to go to any point north of San Francisco, will of course make choice of the route which takes its departure from the Missouri River.

Those who live in the middle Western States, having their own means of transportation, and going to any point upon the Pacific coast, should take one of the middle routes.

Others, who reside in the extreme Southwest, and whose destination is south of San Francisco, should travel the southern road running through Texas, which is the only one practicable for comfortable winter travel. The grass upon a great portion of this route is green during the entire winter, and snow seldom covers it. This road leaves the Gulf coast at Powder-horn, on Matagorda Bay, which point is difficult of access by land from the north, but may be reached by steamers from New Orleans five times a week.

There are stores at Powder-horn and Indianola where the traveler can obtain most of the articles necessary for his journey, but I would recommend him to supply himself before leaving New Orleans with every thing he requires with the exception of animals, which he will find cheaper in Texas.

This road has received a large amount of travel since 1849, is well tracked and defined, and, excepting about twenty miles of "hog wallow prairie" near Powder-horn, it is an excellent road for carriages and wagons. It passes through a settled country for 250 miles, and within this section supplies can be had at reasonable rates.

At Victoria and San Antonio many fine stores will be found, well supplied with large stocks of goods, embracing all the articles the traveler will require.

The next route to the north is that over which the semi-weekly mail to California passes, and which, for a great portion of the way to New Mexico, I traveled and recommended in 1849. This road leaves the Arkansas River at Fort Smith, to which point steamers run during the seasons of high water in the winter and spring.

Supplies of all descriptions necessary for the overland journey may be procured at Fort Smith, or at Van Buren on the opposite side of the Arkansas. Horses and cattle are cheap here. The road, on leaving Fort Smith, passes through the Choctaw and Chickasaw country for 180 miles, then crosses Red River by ferry-boat at Preston, and runs through the border settlements of northern Texas for 150 miles, within which distances supplies may be procured at moderate prices.

This road is accessible to persons desiring to make the entire journey with their own transportation from Tennessee or Mississippi, by crossing the Mississippi River at Memphis or Helena, passing Little Rock, and thence through Washington County, intersecting the road at Preston. It may also be reached by taking steamers up Red River to Shreveport or Jefferson, from either of which places there are roads running through a populated country, and intersecting the Fort Smith road near Preston.

This road also unites with the San Antonio road at El Paso, and from that point they pass together over the mountains to Fort Yuma and to San Francisco in California.

Another road leaves Fort Smith and runs up the south side of the Canadian River to Santa Fe and Albuquerque in New Mexico.

This route is set down upon most of the maps of the present day as having been discovered and explored by various persons, but my own name seems to have been carefully excluded from the list. Whether this omission has been intentional or not, I leave for the authors to determine. I shall merely remark that I had the command and entire direction of an expedition which in 1849 discovered, explored, located, and marked out this identical wagon road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that this road, for the greater portion of the distance, is the same that has been since recommended for a Pacific railway.

This road, near Albuquerque, unites with Captain Whipple's and Lieutenant Beall's roads to California.

Another road, which takes its departure from Fort Smith and passes through the Cherokee country, is called the "Cherokee Trail." It crosses Grand River at Fort Gibson, and runs a little north of west to the Verdigris River, thence up the valley of this stream on the north side for 80 miles, when it crosses the river, and, taking a northwest course, strikes the Arkansas River near old Fort Mann, on the Santa Fe trace; thence it passes near the base of Pike's Peak, and follows down Cherry Creek from its source to its confluence with the South Platte, and from thence over the mountains into Utah, and on to California via Fort Bridger and Salt Lake City.

For persons who desire to go from the Southern States to the gold diggings in the vicinity of Cherry Creek, this route is shorter by some 300 miles than that from Fort Smith via Fort Leavenworth. It is said to be an excellent road, and well supplied with the requisites for encamping. It has been traveled by large parties of California emigrants for several years, and is well tracked and defined.

The grass upon all the roads leaving Fort Smith is sufficiently advanced to afford sustenance to animals by the first of April, and from this time until winter sets in it is abundant. The next route on the north leaves the Missouri River at Westport, Leavenworth City, Atcheson, or from other towns above, between either of which points and St. Louis steamers ply during the entire summer season.

The necessary outfit of supplies can always be procured at any of the starting-points on the Missouri River at moderate rates.

This is the great emigrant route from Missouri to California and Oregon, over which so many thousands have traveled within the past few years. The track is broad, well worn, and can not be mistaken. It has received the major part of the Mormon emigration, and was traversed by the army in its march to Utah in 1857.

At the point where this road crosses the South Platte River, Lieutenant Bryan's road branches off to the left, leading through Bridger's Pass, and thence to Fort Bridger. The Fort Kearney route to the gold region near Pike's Peak also leaves the emigrant road at this place and runs up the South Platte.

From Fort Bridger there are two roads that may be traveled with wagons in the direction of California; one passing Salt Lake City, and the other running down Bear River to Soda Springs, intersecting the Salt Lake City road at the City of Rocks. Near Soda Springs the Oregon road turns to the right, passing Fort Hall, and thence down Snake River to Fort Wallah-Wallah. Unless travelers have business in Salt Lake Valley, I would advise them to take the Bear River route, as it is much shorter, and better in every respect. The road, on leaving the Missouri River, passes for 150 miles through a settled country where grain can be purchased cheap, and there are several stores in this section where most of the articles required by travelers can be obtained.

Many persons who have had much experience in prairie traveling prefer leaving the Missouri River in March or April, and feeding grain to their animals until the new grass appears. The roads become muddy and heavy after the spring rains set in, and by starting out early the worst part of the road will be passed over before the ground becomes wet and soft. This plan, however, should never be attempted unless the animals are well supplied with grain, and kept in good condition. They will eat the old grass in the spring, but it does not, in this climate, as in Utah and New Mexico, afford them sufficient sustenance.

The grass, after the 1st of May, is good and abundant upon this road as far as the South Pass, from whence there is a section of about 50 miles where it is scarce; there is also a scarcity upon the desert beyond the sink of the Humboldt. As large numbers of cattle pass over the road annually, they soon consume all the grass in these barren localities, and such as pass late in the season are likely to suffer greatly, and oftentimes perish from starvation. When I came over the road in August, 1858, I seldom found myself out of sight of dead cattle for 500 miles along the road, and this was an unusually favorable year for grass, and before the main body of animals had passed for that season.

Upon the head of the Sweetwater River, and west of the South Pass, alkaline springs are met with, which are exceedingly poisonous to cattle and horses. They can readily be detected by the yellowish-red color of the grass growing around them. Animals should never be allowed to graze near them or to drink the water.


After a particular route has been selected to make the journey across the plains, and the requisite number have arrived at the eastern terminus, their first business should be to organize themselves into a company and elect a commander. The company should be of sufficient magnitude to herd and guard animals, and for protection against Indians.

From 50 to 70 men, properly armed and equipped, will be enough for these purposes, and any greater number only makes the movements of the party more cumbersome and tardy.

In the selection of a captain, good judgment, integrity of purpose, and practical experience are the essential requisites, and these are indispensable to the harmony and consolidation of the association. His duty should be to direct the order of march, the time of starting and halting, to select the camps, detail and give orders to guards, and, indeed, to control and superintend all the movements of the company.

An obligation should then be drawn up and signed by all the members of the association, wherein each one should bind himself to abide in all cases by the orders and decisions of the captain, and to aid him by every means in his power in the execution of his duties; and they should also obligate themselves to aid each other, so as to make the individual interest of each member the common concern of the whole company. To insure this, a fund should be raised for the purchase of extra animals to supply the places of those which may give out or die on the road; and if the wagon or team of a particular member should fail and have to be abandoned, the company should obligate themselves to transport his luggage, and the captain should see that he has his share of transportation equal with any other member. Thus it will be made the interest of every member of the company to watch over and protect the property of others as well as his own.

In case of failure on the part of any one to comply with the obligations imposed by the articles of agreement after they have been duly executed, the company should of course have the power to punish the delinquent member, and, if necessary, to exclude him from all the benefits of the association.

On such a journey as this, there is much to interest and amuse one who is fond of picturesque scenery, and of wild life in its most primitive aspect, yet no one should attempt it without anticipating many rough knocks and much hard labor; every man must expect to do his share of duty faithfully and without a murmur.

On long and arduous expeditions men are apt to become irritable and ill-natured, and oftentimes fancy they have more labor imposed upon them than their comrades, and that the person who directs the march is partial toward his favorites, etc. That man who exercises the greatest forbearance under such circumstances, who is cheerful, slow to take up quarrels, and endeavors to reconcile difficulties among his companions, is deserving of all praise, and will, without doubt, contribute largely to the success and comfort of an expedition.

The advantages of an association such as I have mentioned are manifestly numerous. The animals can be herded together and guarded by the different members of the company in rotation, thereby securing to all the opportunities of sleep and rest. Besides, this is the only way to resist depredations of the Indians, and to prevent their stampeding and driving off animals; and much more efficiency is secured in every respect, especially in crossing streams, repairing roads, etc., etc.

Unless a systematic organization be adopted, it is impossible for a party of any magnitude to travel in company for any great length of time, and for all the members to agree upon the same arrangements in marching, camping, etc. I have several times observed, where this has been attempted, that discords and dissensions sooner or later arose which invariably resulted in breaking up and separating the company.

When a captain has once been chosen, he should be sustained in all his decisions unless he commit some manifest outrage, when a majority of the company can always remove him, and put a more competent man in his place. Sometimes men may be selected who, upon trial, do not come up to the anticipations of those who have placed them in power, and other men will exhibit, during the course of the march, more capacity. Under these circumstances it will not be unwise to make a change, the first election having been distinctly provisional.


A company having been organized, its first interest is to procure a proper outfit of transportation and supplies for the contemplated journey.

Wagons should be of the simplest possible construction—strong, light, and made of well-seasoned timber, especially the wheels, as the atmosphere, in the elevated and arid region over which they have to pass, is so exceedingly dry during the summer months that, unless the wood-work is thoroughly seasoned, they will require constant repairs to prevent them from falling to pieces.

Wheels made of the bois-d'arc, or Osage orange-wood, are the best for the plains, as they shrink but little, and seldom want repairing. As, however, this wood is not easily procured in the Northern States, white oak answers a very good purpose if well seasoned.

Spring wagons made in Concord, New Hampshire, are used to transport passengers and the mails upon some of the routes across the plains, and they are said, by those who have used them, to be much superior to any others. They are made of the close-grained oak that grows in a high northern latitude, and well seasoned.

The pole of the wagon should have a joint where it enters the hounds, to prevent the weight from coming upon it and breaking the hounds in passing short and abrupt holes in the road.

The perch or coupling-pole should be shifting or movable, as, in the event of the loss of a wheel, an axle, or other accident rendering it necessary to abandon the wagon, a temporary cart may be constructed out of the remaining portion. The tires should be examined just before commencing the journey, and, if not perfectly snug, reset.

One of the chief causes of accidents to carriages upon the plains arises from the nuts coming off from the numerous bolts that secure the running gearing. To prevent this, the ends of all the bolts should be riveted; it is seldom necessary to take them off, and when this is required the ends of the bolts may easily be filed away.

Wagons with six mules should never, on a long journey over the prairies, be loaded with over 2000 pounds, unless grain is transported, when an additional thousand pounds may be taken, provided it is fed out daily to the team. When grass constitutes the only forage, 2000 pounds is deemed a sufficient load. I regard our government wagons as unnecessarily heavy for six mules. There is sufficient material in them to sustain a burden of 4000 pounds, but they are seldom loaded with more than half that weight. Every wagon should be furnished with substantial bows and double osnaburg covers, to protect its contents from the sun and weather.

There has been much discussion regarding the relative merits of mules and oxen for prairie traveling, and the question is yet far from being settled. Upon good firm roads, in a populated country, where grain can be procured, I should unquestionably give the preference to mules, as they travel faster, and endure the heat of summer much better than oxen; and if the journey be not over 1000 miles, and the grass abundant, even without grain, I think mules would be preferable. But when the march is to extend 1500 or 2000 miles, or over a rough sandy or muddy road, I believe young oxen will endure better than mules; they will, if properly managed, keep in better condition, and perform the journey in an equally brief space of time. Besides, they are much more economical, a team of six mules costing six hundred dollars, while an eight-ox team only costs upon the frontier about two hundred dollars. Oxen are much less liable to be stampeded and driven off by Indians, and can be pursued and overtaken by horsemen; and, finally, they can, if necessary, be used for beef.

In Africa oxen are used as saddle animals, and it is said that they perform good service in this way. This will probably be regarded by our people as a very undignified and singular method of locomotion, but, in the absence of any other means of transportation upon a long journey, a saddle-ox might be found serviceable.

Andersson, in his work on Southwestern Africa, says: "A short strong stick, of peculiar shape, is forced through the cartilage of the nose of the ox, and to either end of this stick is attached (in bridle fashion) a tough leathern thong. From the extreme tenderness of the nose he is now more easily managed." "Hans presented me with an ox called 'Spring,' which I afterward rode upward of two thousand miles. On the day of our departure he mounted us all on oxen, and a curious sight it was to see some of the men take their seats who had never before ridden on ox-back. It is impossible to guide an ox as one would guide a horse, for in the attempt to do so you would instantly jerk the stick out of his nose, which at once deprives you of every control over the beast; but by pulling both sides of the bridle at the same time, and toward the side you wish him to take, he is easily managed.[1] Your seat is not less awkward and difficult; for the skin of the ox, unlike that of the horse, is loose, and, notwithstanding your saddle may be tightly girthed, you keep rocking to and fro like a child in a cradle. A few days, however, enables a person to acquire a certain steadiness, and long habit will do the rest."

[1] A ring instead of the stick put through the cartilage of the nose would obviate this difficulty.—AUTHOR.

"Ox traveling, when once a man becomes accustomed to it, is not so disagreeable as might be expected, particularly if one succeeds in obtaining a tractable animal. On emergencies, an ox can be made to proceed at a tolerable quick pace; for, though his walk is only about three miles an hour at an average, he may be made to perform double that distance in the same time. Mr. Galton once accomplished 24 miles in four hours, and that, too, through heavy sand!"

Cows will be found very useful upon long journeys when the rate of travel is slow, as they furnish milk, and in emergencies they may be worked in wagons. I once saw a small cow yoked beside a large ox, and driven about six hundred miles attached to a loaded wagon, and she performed her part equally well with the ox. It has been by no means an unusual thing for emigrant travelers to work cows in their teams.

The inhabitants of Pembina, on Red River, work a single ox harnessed in shafts like a horse, and they transport a thousand pounds in a rude cart made entirely of wood, without a particle of iron. One man drives and takes the entire charge of eight or ten of these teams upon long journeys. This is certainly a very economical method of transportation.


Supplies for a march should be put up in the most secure, compact, and portable shape.

Bacon should be packed in strong sacks of a hundred pounds to each; or, in very hot climates, put in boxes and surrounded with bran, which in a great measure prevents the fat from melting away.

If pork be used, in order to avoid transporting about forty per cent. of useless weight, it should be taken out of the barrels and packed like the bacon; then so placed in the bottom of the wagons as to keep it cool. The pork, if well cured, will keep several months in this way, but bacon is preferable.

Flour should be packed in stout double canvas sacks well sewed, a hundred pounds in each sack.

Butter may be preserved by boiling it thoroughly, and skimming off the scum as it rises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in tin canisters and soldered up. This mode of preserving butter has been adopted in the hot climate of southern Texas, and it is found to keep sweet for a great length of time, and its flavor is but little impaired by the process.

Sugar may be well secured in India-rubber or gutta-percha sacks, or so placed in the wagon as not to risk getting wet.

Desiccated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and are put up in such a compact and portable form as easily to be transported over the plains. They have been extensively used in the Crimean war, and by our own army in Utah, and have been very generally approved. They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven, becomes almost as hard as a rock. A small piece of this, about half the size of a man's hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men. It is believed that the antiscorbutic properties of vegetables are not impaired by desiccation, and they will keep for years if not exposed to dampness. Canned vegetables are very good for campaigning, but are not so portable as when put up in the other form. The desiccated vegetables used in our army have been prepared by Chollet and Co., 46 Rue Richer, Paris. There is an agency for them in New York. I regard these compressed vegetables as the best preparation for prairie traveling that has yet been discovered. A single ration weighs, before being boiled, only an ounce, and a cubic yard contains 16,000 rations. In making up their outfit for the plains, men are very prone to overload their teams with a great variety of useless articles. It is a good rule to carry nothing more than is absolutely necessary for use upon the journey. One can not expect, with the limited allowance of transportation that emigrants usually have, to indulge in luxuries upon such expeditions, and articles for use in California can be purchased there at less cost than that of overland transport.

The allowance of provisions for men in marching should be much greater than when they take no exercise. The army ration I have always found insufficient for soldiers who perform hard service, yet it is ample for them when in quarters.

The following table shows the amount of subsistence consumed per day by each man of Dr. Rae's party, in his spring journey to the Arctic regions of North America in 1854:

Pemmican 1.25 lbs. Biscuit 0.25 " Edward's preserved potatoes 0.10 " Flour 0.33 " Tea 0.03 " Sugar 0.14 " Grease or alcohol, for cooking 0.25 " —— 2.35 lbs.

This allowance of a little over two pounds of the most nutritious food was found barely sufficient to subsist the men in that cold climate.

The pemmican, which constitutes almost the entire diet of the Fur Company's men in the Northwest, is prepared as follows: The buffalo meat is cut into thin flakes, and hung up to dry in the sun or before a slow fire; it is then pounded between two stones and reduced to a powder; this powder is placed in a bag of the animal's hide, with the hair on the outside; melted grease is then poured into it, and the bag sewn up. It can be eaten raw, and many prefer it so. Mixed with a little flour and boiled, it is a very wholesome and exceedingly nutritious food, and will keep fresh for a long time.

I would advise all persons who travel for any considerable time through a country where they can procure no vegetables to carry with them some antiscorbutics, and if they can not transport desiccated or canned vegetables, citric acid answers a good purpose, and is very portable. When mixed with sugar and water, with a few drops of the essence of lemon, it is difficult to distinguish it from lemonade. Wild onions are excellent as antiscorbutics; also wild grapes and greens. An infusion of hemlock leaves is also said to be an antidote to scurvy.

The most portable and simple preparation of subsistence that I know of, and which is used extensively by the Mexicans and Indians, is called "cold flour." It is made by parching corn, and pounding it in a mortar to the consistency of coarse meal; a little sugar and cinnamon added makes it quite palatable. When the traveler becomes hungry or thirsty, a little of the flour is mixed with water and drunk. It is an excellent article for a traveler who desires to go the greatest length of time upon the smallest amount of transportation. It is said that half a bushel is sufficient to subsist a man thirty days.

Persons undergoing severe labor, and driven to great extremities for food, will derive sustenance from various sources that would never occur to them under ordinary circumstances. In passing over the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1857-8, our supplies of provisions were entirely consumed eighteen days before reaching the first settlements in New Mexico, and we were obliged to resort to a variety of expedients to supply the deficiency. Our poor mules were fast failing and dropping down from exhaustion in the deep snows, and our only dependence for the means of sustaining life was upon these starved animals as they became unserviceable and could go no farther. We had no salt, sugar, coffee, or tobacco, which, at a time when men are performing the severest labor that the human system is capable of enduring, was a great privation. In this destitute condition we found a substitute for tobacco in the bark of the red willow, which grows upon many of the mountain streams in that vicinity. The outer bark is first removed with a knife, after which the inner bark is scraped up into ridges around the sticks, and held in the fire until it is thoroughly roasted, when it is taken off the stick, pulverized in the hand, and is ready for smoking. It has the narcotic properties of the tobacco, and is quite agreeable to the taste and smell. The sumach leaf is also used by the Indians in the same way, and has a similar taste to the willow bark. A decoction of the dried wild or horse mint, which we found abundant under the snow, was quite palatable, and answered instead of coffee. It dries up in that climate, but does not lose its flavor. We suffered greatly for the want of salt; but, by burning the outside of our mule steaks, and sprinkling a little gunpowder upon them, it did not require a very extensive stretch of the imagination to fancy the presence of both salt and pepper. We tried the meat of horse, colt, and mules, all of which were in a starved condition, and of course not very tender, juicy, or nutritious. We consumed the enormous amount of from five to six pounds of this meat per man daily, but continued to grow weak and thin, until, at the expiration of twelve days, we were able to perform but little labor, and were continually craving for fat meat.

The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz.: 150 lbs. of flour, or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 lbs. of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 lbs. of coffee, and 25 lbs. of sugar; also a quantity of saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper.

These are the chief articles of subsistence necessary for the trip, and they should be used with economy, reserving a good portion for the western half of the journey. Heretofore many of the California emigrants have improvidently exhausted their stocks of provisions before reaching their journey's end, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbitant prices in making up the deficiency.

It is true that if persons choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons happen to be in an amiable mood, supplies may sometimes be procured from them; but those who have visited them well know how little reliance is to be placed upon their hospitality or spirit of accommodation.

I once traveled with a party of New Yorkers en route for California. They were perfectly ignorant of every thing relating to this kind of campaigning, and had overloaded their wagons with almost every thing except the very articles most important and necessary; the consequence was, that they exhausted their teams, and were obliged to throw away the greater part of their loading. They soon learned that Champagne, East India sweetmeats, olives, etc., etc., were not the most useful articles for a prairie tour.


A suitable dress for prairie traveling is of great import to health and comfort. Cotton or linen fabrics do not sufficiently protect the body against the direct rays of the sun at midday, nor against rains or sudden changes of temperature. Wool, being a non-conductor, is the best material for this mode of locomotion, and should always be adopted for the plains. The coat should be short and stout, the shirt of red or blue flannel, such as can be found in almost all the shops on the frontier: this, in warm weather, answers for an outside garment. The pants should be of thick and soft woolen material, and it is well to have them re-enforced on the inside, where they come in contact with the saddle, with soft buckskin, which makes them more durable and comfortable.

Woolen socks and stout boots, coming up well at the knees, and made large, so as to admit the pants, will be found the best for horsemen, and they guard against rattlesnake bites.

In traveling through deep snow during very cold weather in winter, moccasins are preferable to boots or shoes, as being more pliable, and allowing a freer circulation of the blood. In crossing the Rocky Mountains in the winter, the weather being intensely cold, I wore two pairs of woolen socks, and a square piece of thick blanket sufficient to cover the feet and ankles, over which were drawn a pair of thick buckskin moccasins, and the whole enveloped in a pair of buffalo-skin boots with the hair inside, made open in the front and tied with buckskin strings. At the same time I wore a pair of elkskin pants, which most effectually prevented the air from penetrating to the skin, and made an excellent defense against brush and thorns.

My men, who were dressed in the regulation clothing, wore out their pants and shoes before we reached the summit of the mountains, and many of them had their feet badly frozen in consequence. They mended their shoes with pieces of leather cut from the saddle-skirts as long as they lasted, and, when this material was gone, they covered the entire shoe with green beeve or mule hide, drawn together and sewed upon the top, with the hair inside, which protected the upper as well as the sole leather. The sewing was done with an awl and buckskin strings. These simple expedients contributed greatly to the comfort of the party; and, indeed, I am by no means sure that they did not, in our straitened condition, without the transportation necessary for carrying disabled men, save the lives of some of them. Without the awl and buckskins we should have been unable to have repaired the shoes. They should never be forgotten in making up the outfit for a prairie expedition.

We also experienced great inconvenience and pain by the reflection of the sun's rays from the snow upon our eyes, and some of the party became nearly snow-blind. Green or blue glasses, inclosed in a wire net-work, are an effectual protection to the eyes; but, in the absence of these, the skin around the eyes and upon the nose should be blackened with wet powder or charcoal, which will afford great relief.

In the summer season shoes are much better for footmen than boots, as they are lighter, and do not cramp the ankles; the soles should be broad, so as to allow a square, firm tread, without distorting or pinching the feet.

The following list of articles is deemed a sufficient outfit for one man upon a three months' expedition, viz.:

2 blue or red flannel overshirts, open in front, with buttons. 2 woolen undershirts. 2 pairs thick cotton drawers. 4 pairs woolen socks. 2 pairs cotton socks. 4 colored silk handkerchiefs. 2 pairs stout shoes, for footmen. 1 pair boots, for horsemen. 1 pair shoes, for horsemen. 3 towels. 1 gutta percha poncho. 1 broad-brimmed hat of soft felt. 1 comb and brush. 2 tooth-brushes. 1 pound Castile soap. 3 pounds bar soap for washing clothes. 1 belt-knife and small whetstone. Stout linen thread, large needles, a bit of beeswax, a few buttons, paper of pins, and a thimble, all contained in a small buckskin or stout cloth bag.

The foregoing articles, with the coat and overcoat, complete the wardrobe.


The bedding for each person should consist of two blankets, a comforter, and a pillow, and a gutta percha or painted canvas cloth to spread beneath the bed upon the ground, and to contain it when rolled up for transportation.

Every mess of six or eight persons will require a wrought-iron camp kettle, large enough for boiling meat and making soup; a coffee-pot and cups of heavy tin, with the handles riveted on; tin plates, frying and bake pans of wrought iron, the latter for baking bread and roasting coffee. Also a mess pan of heavy tin or wrought iron for mixing bread and other culinary purposes; knives, forks, and spoons; an extra camp kettle; tin or gutta percha bucket for water—wood, being liable to shrink and fall to pieces, is not deemed suitable; an axe, hatchet, and spade will also be needed, with a mallet for driving picket-pins. Matches should be carried in bottles and corked tight, so as to exclude the moisture.

A little blue mass, quinine, opium, and some cathartic medicine, put up in doses for adults, will suffice for the medicine-chest.

Each ox wagon should be provided with a covered tar-bucket, filled with a mixture of tar or resin and grease, two bows extra, six S's, and six open links for repairing chains. Every set of six wagons should have a tongue, coupling pole, king-bolt, and pair of hounds extra.

Every set of six mule wagons should be furnished with five pairs of hames, two double trees, four whipple-trees, and two pairs of lead bars extra.

Two lariats will be needed for every horse and mule, as one generally wears out before reaching the end of a long journey. They will be found useful in crossing deep streams, and in letting wagons down steep hills and mountains; also in repairing broken wagons. Lariats made of hemp are the best.

One of the most indispensable articles to the outfit of the prairie traveler is buckskin. For repairing harness, saddles, bridles, and numerous other purposes of daily necessity, the awl and buckskin will be found in constant requisition.


Every man who goes into the Indian country should be armed with a rifle and revolver, and he should never, either in camp or out of it, lose sight of them. When not on the march, they should be placed in such a position that they can be seized at an instant's warning; and when moving about outside the camp, the revolver should invariably be worn in the belt, as the person does not know at what moment he may have use for it.

A great diversity of opinion obtains regarding the kind of rifle that is the most efficient and best adapted to Indian warfare, and the question is perhaps as yet very far from being settled to the satisfaction of all. A large majority of men prefer the breech-loading arm, but there are those who still adhere tenaciously to the old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifle as preferable to any of the modern inventions. Among these may be mentioned the border hunters and mountaineers, who can not be persuaded to use any other than the Hawkins rifle, for the reason that they know nothing about the merits of any others. My own experience has forced me to the conclusion that the breech-loading arm possesses great advantages over the muzzle-loading, for the reason that it can be charged and fired with much greater rapidity.

Colt's revolving pistol is very generally admitted, both in Europe and America, to be the most efficient arm of its kind known at the present day. As the same principles are involved in the fabrication of his breech-loading rifle as are found in the pistol, the conviction to me is irresistible that, if one arm is worthy of consideration, the other is equally so. For my own part, I look upon Colt's new patent rifle as a most excellent arm for border service. It gives six shots in more rapid succession than any other rifle I know of, and these, if properly expended, are oftentimes sufficient to decide a contest; moreover, it is the most reliable and certain weapon to fire that I have ever used, and I can not resist the force of my conviction that, if I were alone upon the prairies, and expected an attack from a body of Indians, I am not acquainted with any arm I would as soon have in my hands as this.

The army and navy revolvers have both been used in our army, but the officers are not united in opinion in regard to their relative merits. I prefer the large army size, for reasons which will be given hereafter.


Marching. Treatment of Animals. Water. Different methods of finding and purifying it. Journadas. Methods of crossing them. Advance and Rear Guards. Selection of Camp. Sanitary Considerations. Dr. Jackson's Report. Picket Guards. Stampedes. How to prevent them. Corraling Wagons.


The success of a long expedition through an unpopulated country depends mainly on the care taken of the animals, and the manner in which they are driven, herded, and guarded. If they are broken down or lost, every thing must be sacrificed, and the party becomes perfectly helpless.

The great error into which inexperienced travelers are liable to fall, and which probably occasions more suffering and disaster than almost any thing else, lies in overworking their cattle at the commencement of the journey. To obviate this, short and easy drives should be made until the teams become habituated to their work, and gradually inured to this particular method of traveling. If animals are overloaded and overworked when they first start out into the prairies, especially if they have recently been taken from grain, they soon fall away, and give out before reaching the end of the journey.

Grass and water are abundant and good upon the eastern portions of all the different overland routes; animals should not, therefore, with proper care, fall away in the least before reaching the mountains, as west of them are long stretches where grass and water are scarce, and it requires the full amount of strength and vigor of animals in good condition to endure the fatigues and hard labor attendant upon the passage of these deserts. Drivers should be closely watched, and never, unless absolutely necessary, permitted to beat their animals, or to force them out of a walk, as this will soon break down the best teams. Those teamsters who make the least use of the whip invariably keep their animals in the best condition. Unless the drivers are checked at the outset, they are very apt to fall into the habit of flogging their teams. It is not only wholly unnecessary but cruel, and should never be tolerated.

In traveling with ox teams in the summer season, great benefit will be derived from making early marches; starting with the dawn, and making a "nooning" during the heat of the day, as oxen suffer much from the heat of the sun in midsummer. These noon halts should, if possible, be so arranged as to be near grass and water, where the animals can improve their time in grazing. When it gets cool they may be hitched to the wagons again, and the journey continued in the afternoon. Sixteen or eighteen miles a day may thus be made without injury to the beasts, and longer drives can never be expedient, unless in order to reach grass or water. When the requisites for encamping can not be found at the desired intervals, it is better for the animals to make a very long drive than to encamp without water or grass. The noon halt in such cases may be made without water, and the evening drive lengthened.


The scarcity of water upon some of the routes across the plains occasionally exposes the traveler to intense suffering, and renders it a matter of much importance for him to learn the best methods of guarding against the disasters liable to occur to men and animals in the absence of this most necessary element.

In mountainous districts water can generally be found either in springs, the dry beds of streams, or in holes in the rocks, where they are sheltered from rapid evaporation. For example, in the Hueco tanks, thirty miles east of El Paso, New Mexico, upon the Fort Smith road, where there is an immense reservoir in a cave, water can always be found. This reservoir receives the drainage of a mountain.

During a season of the year when there are occasional showers, water will generally be found in low places where there is a substratum of clay, but after the dry season has set in these pools evaporate, and it is necessary to dig wells. The lowest spots should be selected for this purpose when the grass is green and the surface earth moist.

In searching for water along the dry sandy beds of streams, it is well to try the earth with a stick or ramrod, and if this indicates moisture water will generally be obtained by excavation. Streams often sink in light and porous sand, and sometimes make their appearance again lower down, where the bed is more tenacious; but it is a rule with prairie travelers, in searching for water in a sandy country, to ascend the streams, and the nearer their sources are approached the more water will be found in a dry season.

Where it becomes necessary to sink a well in a stream the bed of which is quicksand, a flour-barrel, perforated with small holes, should be used as a curb, to prevent the sand from caving in. The barrel must be forced down as the sand is removed; and when, as is often the case, there is an undercurrent through the sand, the well will be continually filled with water.

There are many indications of water known to old campaigners, although none of them are absolutely infallible. The most certain of them are deep green cottonwood or willow trees growing in depressed localities; also flags, water-rushes, tall green grass, etc.

The fresh tracks and trails of animals converging toward a common centre, and the flight of birds and water-fowl toward the same points, will also lead to water. In a section frequented by deer or mustangs, it may be certain that water is not far distant, as these animals drink daily, and they will not remain long in a locality after the water has dried up. Deer generally go to water during the middle of the day, but birds toward evening.

A supply of drinking water may be obtained during a shower from the drippings of a tent, or by suspending a cloth or blanket by the four corners and hanging a small weight to the centre, so as to allow all the rain to run toward one point, from whence it drops into a vessel beneath. India-rubber, gutta-percha, or painted canvas cloths answer a very good purpose for catching water during a rain, but they should be previously well washed, to prevent them from imparting a bad taste.

When there are heavy dews water may be collected by spreading out a blanket with a stick attached to one end, tying a rope to it, dragging it over the grass, and wringing out the water as it accumulates. In some parts of Australia this method is practiced.

In traversing the country upon the head waters of Red River during the summer of 1852, we suffered most severely from thirst, having nothing but the acrid and bitter waters from the river, which, issuing from a gypsum formation, was highly charged with salts, and, when taken into the stomach, did not quench thirst in the slightest degree, but, on the contrary, produced a most painful and burning sensation, accompanied with diarrhoea. During the four days that we were compelled to drink this water the thermometer rose to 104 deg. in the shade, and the only relief we found was from bathing in the river.

The use of water is a matter of habit, very much within our control, as by practice we may discipline ourselves so as to require but a small amount. Some persons, for example, who place no restraint upon their appetites, will, if they can get it, drink water twenty times a day, while others will not perhaps drink more than once or twice during the same time. I have found a very effectual preventive to thirst by drinking a large quantity of water before breakfast, and, on feeling thirsty on the march, chewing a small green twig or leaf.

Water taken from stagnant pools, charged with putrid vegetable matter and animalculae, would be very likely to generate fevers and dysenteries if taken into the stomach without purification. It should therefore be thoroughly boiled, and all the scum removed from the surface as it rises; this clarifies it, and by mixing powdered charcoal with it the disinfecting process is perfected. Water may also be purified by placing a piece of alum in the end of a stick that has been split, and stirring it around in a bucket of water. Charcoal and the leaves of the prickly pear are also used for the same purpose. I have recently seen a compact and portable filter, made of charcoal, which clarifies the water very effectually, and draws it off on the siphon principle. It can be obtained at 85 West Street, New York, for one dollar and a half. Water may be partially filtered in a muddy pond by taking a barrel and boring the lower half full of holes, then filling it up with grass or moss above the upper holes, after which it is placed in the pond with the top above the surface. The water filters through the grass or moss, and rises in the barrel to a level with the pond. Travelers frequently drink muddy water by placing a cloth or handkerchief over the mouth of a cup to catch the larger particles of dirt and animalculae.

Water may be cooled so as to be quite palatable by wrapping cloths around the vessels containing it, wetting them, and hanging them in the air, where a rapid evaporation will be produced. Some of the frontier-men use a leathern sack for carrying water: this is porous, and allows the necessary evaporation without wetting.

The Arabs also use a leathern bottle, which they call zemsemiyah. When they are en route they hang it on the shady side of a camel, where the evaporation keeps the water continually cool.

No expedition should ever set out into the plains without being supplied with the means for carrying water, especially in an unknown region. If wooden kegs are used they must frequently be looked after, and soaked, in order that they may not shrink and fall to pieces. Men, in marching in a hot climate, throw off a great amount of perspiration from the skin, and require a corresponding quantity of water to supply the deficiency, and unless they get this they suffer greatly. When a party makes an expedition into a desert section, where there is a probability of finding no water, and intend to return over the same track, it is well to carry water as far as convenient, and bury it in the ground for use on the return trip.

"Captain Sturt, when he explored Australia, took a tank in his cart, which burst, and, besides that, he carried casks of water. By these he was enabled to face a desert country with a success which no traveler had ever attained to. For instance, when returning homeward, the water was found to be drying up from the country on all sides of him. He was at a pool, and the next stage was 118 miles, at the end of which it was doubtful if there remained any water. It was necessary to send to reconnoitre, and to furnish the messenger with means of returning should the pool be found dry. He killed a bullock, skinned it, and, filling the skin with water (which held 150 gallons), sent it by an ox dray 30 miles, with orders to bury it and to return. Shortly after he dispatched a light one-horse cart, carrying 36 gallons of water; the horse and man were to drink at the hide and go on. Thus they had 36 gallons to supply them for a journey of 176 miles, or six days at 30 miles a day, at the close of which they would return to the ox hide—sleeping, in fact, five nights on 36 gallons of water. This a hardy, well-driven horse could do, even in the hottest climate."[2]

[2] F. Galton's Art of Travel, p. 17 and 18.


In some localities 50 or 60 miles, and even greater distances, are frequently traversed without water; these long stretches are called by the Mexicans "journadas," or day's journeys. There is one in New Mexico called Journada del Muerto, which is 78-1/2 miles in length, where, in a dry season, there is not a drop of water; yet, with proper care, this drive can be made with ox or mule teams, and without loss or injury to the animals.

On arriving at the last camping-ground before entering upon the journada, all the animals should be as well rested and refreshed as possible. To insure this, they must be turned out upon the best grass that can be found, and allowed to eat and drink as much as they desire during the entire halt. Should the weather be very warm, and the teams composed of oxen, the march should not be resumed until it begins to cool in the afternoon. They should be carefully watered just previous to being hitched up and started out upon the journada, the water-kegs having been previously filled. The drive is then commenced, and continued during the entire night, with 10 or 15 minutes rest every two hours. About daylight a halt should be made, and the animals immediately turned out to graze for two hours, during which time, especially if there is dew upon the grass, they will have become considerably refreshed, and may be put to the wagons again and driven until the heat becomes oppressive toward noon, when they are again turned out upon a spot where the grass is good, and, if possible, where there are shade trees. About four o'clock P.M. they are again started, and the march continued into the night, and as long as they can be driven without suffering. If, however, there should be dew, which is seldom the case on the plains, it would be well to turn out the animals several times during the second night, and by morning, if they are in good condition, the journada of 70 or 80 miles will have been passed without any great amount of suffering. I am supposing, in this case, that the road is firm and free from sand.

Many persons have been under the impression that animals, in traversing the plains, would perform better and keep in better condition by allowing them to graze in the morning before commencing the day's march, which involves the necessity of making late starts, and driving during the heat of the day. The same persons have been of the opinion that animals will graze only at particular hours; that the remainder of the day must be allowed them for rest and sleep, and that, unless these rules be observed, they would not thrive. This opinion is, however, erroneous, as animals will in a few days adapt themselves to any circumstances, so far as regards their hours of labor, rest, and refreshment. If they have been accustomed to work at particular periods of the day, and the order of things is suddenly reversed, the working hours changed into hours of rest, and vice versa, they may not do as well for a short time, but they will soon accustom themselves to the change, and eat and rest as well as before. By making early drives during the summer months the heat of the day is avoided, whereas, I repeat, if allowed to graze before starting, the march can not commence until it grows warm, when animals, especially oxen, will suffer greatly from the heat of the sun, and will not do as well as when the other plan is pursued.

Oxen upon a long journey will sometimes wear down their hoofs and become lame. When this occurs, a thick piece of raw hide wrapped around the foot and tied firmly to the leg will obviate the difficulty, provided the weather is not wet; for if so, the shoe soon wears out. Mexican and Indian horses and mules will make long journeys without being shod, as their hoofs are tough and elastic, and wear away very gradually; they will, however, in time become very smooth, making it difficult for them to travel upon grass.

A train of wagons should always be kept closed upon a march; and if, as often happens, a particular wagon gets out of order and is obliged to halt, it should be turned out of the road, to let the others pass while the injury is being repaired. As soon as the broken wagon is in order, it should fall into the line wherever it happens to be. In the event of a wagon breaking down so as to require important repairs, men should be immediately dispatched with the necessary tools and materials, which should be placed in the train where they can readily be got at, and a guard should be left to escort the wagon to camp after having been repaired. If, however, the damage be so serious as to require any great length of time to repair it, the load should be transferred to other wagons, so that the team which is left behind will be able to travel rapidly and overtake the train.

If the broken wagon is a poor one, and there be abundance of better ones, the accident being such as to involve much delay for its repair, it may be wise to abandon it, taking from it such parts as may possibly be wanted in repairing other wagons.


A few men, well mounted, should constitute the advance and rear guards for each train of wagons passing through the Indian country. Their duty will be to keep a vigilant look-out in all directions, and to reconnoitre places where Indians would be likely to lie in ambush. Should hostile Indians be discovered, the fact should be at once reported to the commander, who (if he anticipates an attack) will rapidly form his wagons into a circle or "corral," with the animals toward the centre, and the men on the inside, with their arms in readiness to repel an attack from without. If these arrangements be properly attended to, few parties of Indians will venture to make an attack, as they are well aware that some of their warriors might pay with their lives the forfeit of such indiscretion.

I know an instance where one resolute man, pursued for several days by a large party of Comanches on the Santa Fe trace, defended himself by dismounting and pointing his rifle at the foremost whenever they came near him, which always had the effect of turning them back. This was repeated so often that the Indians finally abandoned the pursuit, and left the traveler to pursue his journey without farther molestation. During all this time he did not discharge his rifle; had he done so he would doubtless have been killed.


The security of animals, and, indeed, the general safety of a party, in traveling through a country occupied by hostile Indians, depends greatly upon the judicious selection of camps. One of the most important considerations that should influence the choice of a locality is its capability for defense. If the camp be pitched beside a stream, a concave bend, where the water is deep, with a soft alluvial bed inclosed by high and abrupt banks, will be the most defensible, and all the more should the concavity form a peninsula. The advantages of such a position are obvious to a soldier's eye, as that part of the encampment inclosed by the stream is naturally secure, and leaves only one side to be defended. The concavity of the bend will enable the defending party to cross its fire in case of attack from the exposed side. The bend of the stream will also form an excellent corral in which to secure animals from a stampede, and thereby diminish the number of sentinels needful around the camp. In herding animals at night within the bend of a stream, a spot should be selected where no clumps of brush grow on the side where the animals are posted. If thickets of brush can not be avoided, sentinels should be placed near them, to guard against Indians, who might take advantage of this cover to steal animals, or shoot them down with arrows, before their presence were known.

In camping away from streams, it is advisable to select a position in which one or more sides of the encampment shall rest upon the crest of an abrupt hill or bluff. The prairie Indians make their camps upon the summits of the hills, whence they can see in all directions, and thus avoid a surprise.

The line of tents should be pitched on that side of the camp most exposed to attack, and sentinels so posted that they may give alarm in time for the main body to rally and prepare for defense.


When camping near rivers and lakes surrounded by large bodies of timber and a luxuriant vegetation, which produces a great amount of decomposition and consequent exhalations of malaria, it is important to ascertain what localities will be the least likely to generate disease, and to affect the sanitary condition of men occupying them.

This subject has been thoroughly examined by Dr. Robert Johnson, Inspector General of Hospitals in the English army in 1845; and, as his conclusions are deduced from enlarged experience and extended research, they should have great weight. I shall therefore make no apology for introducing here a few extracts from his interesting report touching upon this subject:

"It is consonant with the experience of military people, in all ages and in all countries, that camp diseases most abound near the muddy banks of large rivers, near swamps and ponds, and on grounds which have been recently stripped of their woods. The fact is precise, but it has been set aside to make way for an opinion. It was assumed, about half a century since, by a celebrated army physician, that camp diseases originated from causes of putrefaction, and that putrefaction is connected radically with a stagnant condition of the air.

"As streams of air usually proceed along rivers with more certainty and force than in other places, and as there is evidently a more certain movement of air, that is, more wind on open grounds than among woods and thickets, this sole consideration, without any regard to experience, influenced opinion, gave currency to the destructive maxim that the banks of rivers, open grounds, and exposed heights are the most eligible situations for the encampment of troops. They are the best ventilated; they must, if the theory be true, be the most healthy.

"The fact is the reverse; but, demonstrative as the fact may be, fashion has more influence than multiplied examples of fact experimentally proved. Encampments are still formed in the vicinity of swamps, or on grounds which are newly cleared of their woods, in obedience to theory, and contrary to fact.

"It is prudent, as now said, in selecting ground for encampment, to avoid the immediate vicinity of swamps and rivers. The air is there noxious; but, as its influence thence originating does not extend beyond a certain limit, it is a matter of some importance to ascertain to what distance it does extend; because, if circumstances do not permit that the encampment be removed out of its reach, prudence directs that remedies be applied to weaken the force of its pernicious impressions.

"The remedies consist in the interposition of rising grounds, woods, or such other impediments as serve to break the current in its progress from the noxious source. It is an obvious fact, that the noxious cause, or the exhalation in which it is enveloped, ascends as it traverses the adjacent plain, and that its impression is augmented by the adventitious force with which it strikes upon the subject of its action.

"It is thus that a position of three hundred paces from the margin of a swamp, on a level with the swamp itself, or but moderately elevated, is less unhealthy than one at six hundred on the same line of direction on an exposed height. The cause here strikes fully in its ascent; and as the atmosphere has a more varied temperature, and the succussions of the air are more irregular on the height than on the plain, the impression is more forcible, and the noxious effect more strongly marked. In accord with this principle, it is almost uniformly true, coeteris paribus, that diseases are more common, at least more violent, in broken, irregular, and hilly countries, where the temperature is liable to sudden changes, and where blasts descend with fury from the mountains, than in large and extensive inclined plains under the action of equal and gentle breezes only.

"From this fact it becomes an object of the first consideration, in selecting ground for encampment, to guard against the impression of strong winds on their own account, independently of their proceeding from swamps, rivers, and noxious soils.

"It is proved by experience, in armies as in civil life, that injury does not often result from simple wetting with rain when the person is fairly exposed in the open air, and habitually inured to the contingencies of weather. Irregular troops, which act in the advanced line of armies, and which have no other shelter from weather than a hedge or tree, rarely experience sickness—never, at least, the sickness which proceeds from contagion; hence it is inferred that the shelter of tents is not necessary for the preservation of health. Irregular troops, with contingent shelter only, are comparatively healthy, while sickness often rages with violence in the same scene, among those who have all the protection against the inclemencies of weather which can be furnished by canvas. The fact is verified by experience, and the cause of it is not of difficult explanation. When the earth is damp, the action of heat on its surface occasions the interior moisture to ascend. The heat of the bodies of a given number of men, confined within a tent of a given dimension, raises the temperature within the tent beyond the temperature of the common air outside the tent. The ascent of moisture is thus encouraged, generally by a change of temperature in the tent, and more particularly by the immediate or near contact of the heated bodies of the men with the surface of the earth. Moisture, as exhaled from the earth, is considered by observers of fact to be a cause which acts injuriously on health. Produced artificially by the accumulation of individuals in close tents, it may reasonably be supposed to produce its usual effects on armies. A cause of contagious influence, of fatal effect, is thus generated by accumulating soldiers in close and crowded tents, under the pretext of defending them from the inclemencies of the weather; and hence it is that the means which are provided for the preservation of health are actually the causes of destruction of life.

"There are two causes which more evidently act upon the health of troops in the field than any other, namely, moisture exhaled direct from the surface of the earth in undue quantity, and emanations of a peculiar character arising from diseased action in the animal system in a mass of men crowded together. These are principal, and they are important. The noxious effects may be obviated, or rather the noxious cause will not be generated, under the following arrangement, namely, a carpet of painted canvas for the floor of the tent; a tent with a light roof, as defense against perpendicular rain or the rays of a vertical sun; and with side walls of moderate height, to be employed only against driving rains. To the first there can be no objection: it is useful, as preventing the exhalations of moisture from the surface of the earth; it is convenient, as always ready; and it is economical, as less expensive than straw. It requires to be fresh painted only once a year."

The effect of crowding men together in close quarters, illy ventilated, was shown in the prisons of Hindostan, where at one time, when the English held sway, they had, on an average, 40,000 natives in confinement; and this unfortunate population was every year liberated by death in proportions varying from 4000 to 10,000. The annual average mortality by crowded and unventilated barracks in the English army has sometimes been enormous, as at Barrackpore, where it seldom fell far short of one tenth; that is to say, its garrisons were every year decimated by fever or cholera, while the officers and other inhabitants, who lived in well-ventilated houses, did not find the place particularly unhealthy.

The same fact of general exemption among the officers, and complete exemption among their wives, was observed in the marching regiments, which lost by cholera from one tenth to one sixth of the enlisted men, who were packed together at night ten and twelve in a tent, with the thermometer at 96 deg.. The dimensions of the celebrated Black Hole of Calcutta—where in 1756, 123 prisoners out of 140 died by carbonic acid in one night—was but eighteen feet square, and with but two small windows. Most of the twenty-three who survived until morning were seized with putrid fever and died very soon afterward.

On the 1st of December, 1848, 150 deck passengers of the steamer Londonderry were ordered below by the captain and the hatches closed upon them: seventy were found dead the next morning.

The streams which intersect our great prairies have but a very sparse growth of wood or vegetation upon their banks, so that one of the fundamental causes for the generation of noxious malaria does not, to any great extent, exist here, and I believe that persons may encamp with impunity directly upon their banks.


When a party is sufficiently strong, a picket guard should be stationed during the night some two or three hundred yards in advance of the point which is most open to assault, and on low ground, so that an enemy approaching over the surrounding higher country can be seen against the sky, while the sentinel himself is screened from observation. These sentinels should not be allowed to keep fires, unless they are so placed that they can not be seen from a distance.

During the day the pickets should be posted on the summits of the highest eminences in the vicinity of camp, with instructions to keep a vigilant lookout in all directions; and, if not within hailing distance, they should be instructed to give some well-understood telegraphic signals to inform those in camp when there is danger. For example, should Indians be discovered approaching at a great distance, they may raise their caps upon the muzzles of their pieces, and at the same time walk around in a circle; while, if the Indians are near and moving rapidly, the sentinel may swing his cap and run around rapidly in a circle. To indicate the direction from which the Indians are approaching, he may direct his piece toward them, and walk in the same line of direction.

Should the pickets suddenly discover a party of Indians very near, and with the apparent intention of making an attack, they should fire their pieces to give the alarm to the camp.

These telegraphic signals, when well understood and enforced, will tend greatly to facilitate the communication of intelligence throughout the camp, and conduce much to its security.

The picket guards should receive minute and strict orders regarding their duties under all circumstances, and these orders should be distinctly understood by every one in the camp, so that no false alarms will be created. All persons, with the exception of the guards and herders, should after dark be confined to the limits of the chain of sentinels, so that, if any one is seen approaching from without these limits, it will be known that they are strangers.

As there will not often be occasion for any one to pass the chain of pickets during the night, it is a good rule (especially if the party is small), when a picket sentinel discovers any one lurking about his post from without, if he has not himself been seen, to quietly withdraw and report the fact to the commander, who can wake his men and make his arrangements to repel an attack and protect his animals. If, however, the man upon the picket has been seen, he should distinctly challenge the approaching party, and if he receives no answer, fire, and retreat to camp to report the fact.

It is of the utmost importance that picket guards should be wide awake, and allow nothing to escape their observation, as the safety of the whole camp is involved. During a dark night a man can see better himself, and is less exposed to the view of others, when in a sitting posture than when standing up or moving about. I would therefore recommend this practice for night pickets.

Horses and mules (especially the latter), whose senses of hearing and smelling are probably more acute than those of almost any other animals, will discover any thing strange or unusual about camp much sooner than a man. They indicate this by turning in the direction from whence the object is approaching, holding their heads erect, projecting their ears forward, and standing in a fixed and attentive attitude. They exhibit the same signs of alarm when a wolf or other wild animal approaches the camp; but it is always wise, when they show fear in this manner, to be on the alert till the cause is ascertained.

Mules are very keenly sensitive to danger, and, in passing along over the prairies, they will often detect the proximity of strangers long before they are discovered by their riders. Nothing seems to escape their observation; and I have heard of several instances where they have given timely notice of the approach of hostile Indians, and thus prevented stampedes.

Dogs are sometimes good sentinels, but they often sleep sound, and are not easily awakened on the approach of an enemy.

In marching with large force, unless there is a guide who knows the country, a small party should always be sent in advance to search for good camping-places, and these parties should be dispatched early enough to return and meet the main command in the event of not finding a camping-place within the limits of the day's march. A regiment should average upon the prairies, where the roads are good, about eighteen miles a day, but, if necessary, it can make 25 or even 30 miles. The advance party should therefore go as far as the command can march, provided the requisites for camping are not found within that distance. The article of first importance in campaigning is grass, the next water, and the last fuel.

It is the practice of most persons traveling with large ox trains to select their camps upon the summit of a hill, where the surrounding country in all directions can be seen. Their cattle are then continually within view from the camp, and can be guarded easily.

When a halt is made the wagons are "corraled," as it is called, by bringing the two front ones near and parallel to each other. The two next are then driven up on the outside of these, with the front wheels of the former touching the rear wheels of the latter, the rear of the wagons turned out upon the circumference of the circle that is being formed, and so on until one half the circle is made, when the rear of the wagons are turned in to complete the circle. An opening of about twenty yards should be left between the last two wagons for animals to pass in and out of the corral, and this may be closed with two ropes stretched between the wagons. Such a corral forms an excellent and secure barricade against Indian attacks, and a good inclosure for cattle while they are being yoked; indeed, it is indispensable.


Inclosures are made in the same manner for horses and mules, and, in case of an attempt to stampede them, they should be driven with all possible dispatch into the corral, where they will be perfectly secure. A "stampede" is more to be dreaded upon the plains than almost any disaster that can happen. It not unfrequently occurs that very many animals are irretrievably lost in this way, and the objects of an expedition thus defeated.

The Indians are perfectly familiar with the habits and disposition of horses and mules, and with the most effectual methods of terrifying them. Previous to attempting a stampede, they provide themselves with rattles and other means for making frightful noises; thus prepared, they approach as near the herds as possible without being seen, and suddenly, with their horses at full speed, rush in among them, making the most hideous and unearthly screams and noises to terrify them, and drive them off before their astonished owners are able to rally and secure them.

As soon as the animals are started the Indians divide their party, leaving a portion to hurry them off rapidly, while the rest linger some distance in the rear, to resist those who may pursue them.

Horses and mules will sometimes, especially in the night, become frightened and stampeded from very slight causes. A wolf or a deer passing through a herd will often alarm them, and cause them to break away in the most frantic manner. Upon one occasion in the Choctaw country, my entire herd of about two hundred horses and mules all stampeded in the night, and scattered over the country for many miles, and it was several days before I succeeded in collecting them together. The alarm occurred while the herders were walking among the animals, and without any perceptible cause. The foregoing facts go to show how important it is at all times to keep a vigilant guard over animals. In the vicinity of hostile Indians, where an attack may be anticipated, several good horses should be secured in such positions that they will continually be in readiness for an emergency of this kind. The herdsmen should have their horses in hand, saddled and bridled, and ready at an instant's notice to spring upon their backs and drive the herds into camp. As soon as it is discovered that the animals have taken fright, the herdsmen should use their utmost endeavors to turn them in the direction of the camp, and this can generally be accomplished by riding the bell mare in front of the herd, and gradually turning her toward it, and slackening her speed as the familiar objects about the camp come in sight. This usually tends to quiet their alarm.


Repairing broken Wagons. Fording Rivers. Quicksand. Wagon Boats. Bull Boats. Crossing Packs. Swimming Animals. Marching with loose Horses. Herding Mules. Best Methods of Marching. Herding and guarding Animals. Descending Mountains. Storms. Northers.


The accidents most liable to happen to wagons on the plains arise from the great dryness of the atmosphere, and the consequent shrinkage and contraction of the wood-work in the wheels, the tires working loose, and the wheels, in passing over sidling ground, oftentimes falling down and breaking all the spokes where they enter the hub. It therefore becomes a matter of absolute necessity for the prairie traveler to devise some means of repairing such damages, or of guarding against them by the use of timely expedients.

The wheels should be frequently and closely examined, and whenever a tire becomes at all loose it should at once be tightened with pieces of hoop-iron or wooden wedges driven by twos simultaneously from opposite sides. Another remedy for the same thing is to take off the wheels after encamping, sink them in water, and allow them to remain over night. This swells the wood, but is only temporary, requiring frequent repetition; and, after a time, if the wheels have not been made of thoroughly seasoned timber, it becomes necessary to reset the tires in order to guard against their destruction by falling to pieces and breaking the spokes.

If the tires run off near a blacksmith's shop, or if there be a traveling forge with the train, they may be tied on with raw hide or ropes, and thus driven to the shop or camp. When a rear wheel breaks down upon a march, the best method I know of for taking the vehicle to a place where it can be repaired is to take off the damaged wheel, and place a stout pole of three or four inches in diameter under the end of the axle, outside the wagon-bed, and extending forward above the front wheel, where it is firmly lashed with ropes, while the other end of the pole runs six or eight feet to the rear, and drags upon the ground. The pole must be of such length and inclination that the axle shall be raised and retained in its proper horizontal position, when it can be driven to any distance that may be desired. The wagon should be relieved as much as practicable of its loading, as the pole dragging upon the ground will cause it to run heavily.

When a front wheel breaks down, the expedient just mentioned can not be applied to the front axle, but the two rear wheels may be taken off and placed upon this axle (they will always fit), while the sound front wheel can be substituted upon one side of the rear axle, after which the pole may be applied as before described. This plan I have adopted upon several different occasions, and I can vouch for its efficacy.

The foregoing facts may appear very simple and unimportant in themselves, but blacksmiths and wheelwrights are not met with at every turn of the roads upon the prairies; and in the wilderness, where the traveler is dependent solely upon his own resources, this kind of information will be found highly useful.

When the spokes in a wheel shrink more than the felloes, they work loose in the hub, and can not be tightened by wedging. The only remedy in such cases is to cut the felloe with a saw on opposite sides, taking out two pieces of such dimensions that the reduced circumference will draw back the spokes into their proper places and make them snug. A thin wagon-bow, or barrel-hoops, may then be wrapped around the outside of the felloe, and secured with small nails or tacks. This increases the diameter of the wheel, so that when the tire has been heated, put on, and cooled, it forces back the spokes into their true places, and makes the wheel as sound and strong as it ever was. This simple process can be executed in about half an hour if there be fuel for heating, and obviates the necessity of cutting and welding the tire. I would recommend that the tires should be secured with bolts and nuts, which will prevent them from running off when they work loose, and, if they have been cut and reset, they should be well tried with a hammer where they are welded to make sure that the junction is sound.


Many streams that intersect the different routes across our continent are broad and shallow, and flow over beds of quicksand, which, in seasons of high water, become boggy and unstable, and are then exceedingly difficult of crossing. When these streams are on the rise, and, indeed, before any swelling is perceptible, their beds become surcharged with the sand loosened by the action of the under-current from the approaching flood, and from this time until the water subsides fording is difficult, requiring great precautions.

On arriving upon the bank of a river of this character which has not recently been crossed, the condition of the quicksand may be ascertained by sending an intelligent man over the fording-place, and, should the sand not yield under his feet, it may be regarded as safe for animals or wagons. Should it, however, prove soft and yielding, it must be thoroughly examined, and the best track selected. This can be done by a man on foot, who will take a number of sharp sticks long enough, when driven into the bottom of the river, to stand above the surface of the water. He starts from the shore, and with one of the sticks and his feet tries the bottom in the direction of the opposite bank until he finds the firmest ground, where he plants one of the sticks to mark the track. A man incurs no danger in walking over quicksand provided he step rapidly, and he will soon detect the safest ground. He then proceeds, planting his sticks as often as may be necessary to mark the way, until he reaches the opposite bank. The ford is thus ascertained, and, if there are footmen in the party, they should cross before the animals and wagons, as they pack the sand, and make the track more firm and secure.

If the sand is soft, horses should be led across, and not allowed to stop in the stream; and the better to insure this, they should be watered before entering upon the ford; otherwise, as soon as they stand still, their feet sink in the sand, and soon it becomes difficult to extricate them. The same rule holds in the passage of wagons: they must be driven steadily across, and the animals never allowed to stop while in the river, as the wheels sink rapidly in quicksand. Mules will often stop from fear, and, when once embarrassed in the sand, they lie down, and will not use the slightest exertion to regain their footing. The only alternative, then, is to drag them out with ropes. I have even known some mules refuse to put forth the least exertion to get up after being pulled out upon firm ground, and it was necessary to set them upon their feet before they were restored to a consciousness of their own powers.

In crossing rivers where the water is so high as to come into the wagon-beds, but is not above a fording stage, the contents of the wagons may be kept dry by raising the beds between the uprights, and retaining them in that position with blocks of wood placed at each corner between the rockers and the bottom of the wagon-beds. The blocks must be squared at each end, and their length, of course, should vary with the depth of water, which can be determined before cutting them. This is a very common and simple method of passing streams among emigrant travelers.

When streams are deep, with a very rapid current, it is difficult for the drivers to direct their teams to the proper coming-out places, as the current has a tendency to carry them too far down. This difficulty may be obviated by attaching a lariat rope to the leading animals, and having a mounted man ride in front with the rope in his hand, to assist the team in stemming the current, and direct it toward the point of egress. It is also a wise precaution, if the ford be at all hazardous, to place a mounted man on the lower side of the team with a whip, to urge forward any animal that may not work properly.

Where rivers are wide, with a swift current, they should always, if possible, be forded obliquely down stream, as the action of the water against the wagons assists very materially in carrying them across. In crossing the North Platte upon the Cherokee trail at a season when the water was high and very rapid, we were obliged to take the only practicable ford, which ran diagonally up the stream. The consequence was, that the heavy current, coming down with great force against the wagons, offered such powerful resistance to the efforts of the mules that it was with difficulty they could retain their footing, and several were drowned. Had the ford crossed obliquely down the river, there would have been no difficulty.

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