CHAPTER II:Trip Across The Plains—Concluded
Camp at Sand Creek.—First Buffalo killed.—Cimmarron River.—Indian Fright.—Padre and his Pistols.—Mishap.—Country.—Stranger's Grave.—Flap-jacks.—Prairie Dogs: their Habits—Appearance.—Rock Creek.—Geological Formation.—Buffalo Hunters.—Murder of Mrs. White.—Mountains in View.—Murder of a Mail Party.—Fort Union.—Las Vegas.—Tecalota.—Old Pecos.—Ruins of Pueblo.—Cañon.—Arrival at Santa Fé.
The reader left us, at the close of the last chapter, encamped at Sand Creek for breakfast. Here we shot and made captive our first buffalo. As we were sitting around our camp-fire, discussing the remains of our morning's meal, five buffaloes were seen approaching a small pool of water a little way in front. Booth seized his rifle as soon as he saw them coming toward us, and, stealing along the edge of the pond until he obtained a good position, waited for them to come up. They advanced with stately dignity, ignorant that an enemy was concealed so near. They were led, some yards in advance, by a noble-looking old bull, who had probably piloted the herd across the Plains for many years. When they had approached within a hundred yards, Booth fired, and struck the leader under the fore shoulder. He wheeled around and staggered, but did not fall; then braced himself, and turned his head with an angry look in the direction whence the shot came. The others trotted off a few yards, but soon returned and took their stand beside their wounded companion. Booth, in the mean time, remained lying close to the ground where he
The same afternoon we drove fifteen miles to the Cimmarron, or Lost River, where we halted for dinner. The only evidence of a river to be seen was the dry bed of the stream which wound before us across the Plain. In some parts there is running water in the old channel, while in other places it sinks into the sand, and does not make its appearance for some miles. The storms upon the Cimmarron are terrific, and apparently as much dreaded as were the "fierce Bermotha" that Shakspeare wrote about in times of yore. Sometimes the hail comes down as large as hens' eggs, and the wind blows with the fury of a West India hurricane. The mail-men had often spoken of the fierce storms we might expect upon the Lost River, and we were therefore rejoiced to see it for the first time beneath a clear sky.
While we were waiting dinner, our little camp was startled by the cry, ‘‘Look at the Indians!’’ when, casting our eyes toward the west, we saw what we supposed to be a party of some thirty savages just rising a swell in the prairie. The anticipations of dinner were at an end for the present, and all hands stood to their arms. Then there was "mustering in hot haste"—all was bustle and confusion. Each man was putting himself upon a war footing: one was hallooing, ‘‘Where is my rifle?’’ another asking for his six-shooter; while a third was crying out, ‘‘I have lost my knife.’’ Our friend the padre was a good deal alarmed, and some of his actions were quite amusing. When the alarm was first given he ran for the baggage-wagon and called for his box, which was at the bottom of the load. We did not know but that he was after a crucifix to confess the whole party, and therefore one of the men got the box and placed it before him. He opened it, and took therefrom a pair of old shoes, in which were stowed away a brace of pocket pistols about six inches long. His weapons were duly loaded, and the man of peace was prepared to stand upon the defensive. The arms being placed in order, we next caught up the mules and hitched them to the wagons; and I venture to say that the same number of animals were never harnessed in quicker time, nor the dinner fixings cleared away with less ceremony. About the time we were ready to drive on, we discovered the supposed Indians to be a party of teamsters on their return to the States, having conducted a train of wagons to Santa Fé. Of course we were a good deal relieved to find that the imaginary foes were friends, but for the time being they answered the purpose of bona fide Indians, and caused us a genuine alarm.
The country along the Cimmarron is very sandy. Wood is scarce, and the only water to be had for a great distance is found in stagnant pools in the old bed of the river. The following day we drove some fifty miles, and encamped in the evening at a place that bears no name. We breakfasted and supped upon buffalo-meat, and many thanks were given to the cook for the savory dishes. The night was cold and frosty, and sleeping upon the ground was very uncomfortable. We continued the next day through the same barren country, and again struck the Cimmarron. We dined at a place known as the "Stranger's Grave." Here lie the remains of some poor fellow, who probably died on his way home after a long absence. The grave is near the road, and a plain board has been erected by some friendly hand to mark the spot where the stranger sleeps. Upon one side the letters "J.M.," and upon the other the name of "Isam B. Monson" have been cut into the wood. What a lonely
We harnessed up early, and drove sixteen miles to breakfast, to Cedar Spring. The padre made himself useful to-day, and in a manner that was pleasing to the whole party. We had flap-jacks for breakfast, and the cook had tried in vain to turn them without the aid of a knife. Our priestly friend watched with attention, and, seeing him at fault, came to his assistance. He understood the operation well, having probably been taught the same in some lonely cell in the Holy Land, and turned them with ease, making them perform sundry gyrations in the air before they struck the pan again. Ever after, when the pan and batter were brought into requisition, they were turned over to him, with the polite request that he would make himself useful, and his kindness of heart never permitted him to refuse. As we looked westward to-day, we could see away in the distance, like fleecy clouds hanging in the atmosphere, the faint outlines of what proved to be the Mesa Mayor, the first of a succession of table-lands we were approaching. At dinner one of the mail-men seriously shocked the feelings of our spiritual friend by asking him if the Pope had a wife. The question was asked with such a sober countenance that the padre was at a loss to determine
We were now traveling through the region inhabited by the "praire dog," and the whole country seemed one continued village. They are a curious and interesting little animal, and deserve a passing notice. For miles the Plains are dotted with the piles of dirt before their holes, which resemble large ant-hills. They dig a deep hole in the ground, four or six inches in diameter, and carry up the dirt and place it in a heap of the mouth in the shape of a cone, and about a foot high. Their holes are unequal distances apart, and are arranged without order. It is said by some that they live on friendly terms with the owl and rattlesnake, but, from the best information I could obtain of their manners and habits, I do not think such is the case. It is quite amusing to see the little canine citizens manœuvre when a party of strangers invade their dominions. In the first place you will observe some of the little fellows, in various parts of the settlement, putting their heads out of their holes and peeping over the sand-hills in front to see what is going on. Next they venture all the way out, and sit on their hind legs upon the top of the sand-hills in order to obtain a better view of matters and things. After having made a satisfactory reconnaissance, you will see them running in different directions as though giving intelligence through the village. They skip from hole to hole with great agility; soon the whole population is aroused, and "heads out" seems to be the order of the day.
The next day we made Round Mound, and encamped upon the open plain. It began to rain soon after we left camp in the morning, and continued all day and night. We halted on the Rabatier Creek for breakfast, fourteen miles from where we had slept the night before, and
The camp was astir early the next morning, but we did not leave until about eight o'clock. We breakfasted at Rock Creek, the rain holding up while we ate. The geological formation of the rocks along the stream is rather interesting. The banks are abrupt, and in many places perpendicular. The rocks were originally formed by deposition in water, and the strata can yet be distinctly traced, as though they had been laid by a stonemason. The layers have not been disturbed from their horizontal position, and the attrition of water in times of freshets has worn many of the softer stones away, and left the harder ones projecting over the bed of the stream. The formation appears to have been subjected to the action of fire at a subsequent period, as it bears evidence of having undergone intense heat. Many of the rocks are partially crumbled, and in places they are almost a blood red, caused by the action of the atmosphere upon the chemicals in their composition. In places they exhibit seams and ridges upon their flat surface, probably caused by a softer overlying stone having been reduced to a liquid state, portions of which remained and became hardened.
The rain set in again soon after we were under way in the afternoon, and continued nearly all night. We had traveled but a few miles when it became dark, and, as the storm increased, we concluded to halt and encamp until morning. The mules were picketed near the wagons, and also well blanketed to keep them from freezing; but the rain came down in such torrents that it was out of the question to cook. We all passed the night in the wagons, as it was too wet to lie out: some dozed upright on their seats, while others had the privilege of lying down. I was one of the perpendicular snoozers; and to keep the rain from beating in the wagon, I hung an India-rubber cloth up in front. The night seemed of an interminable length, and we were all greatly rejoiced when the morning broke, and showed a clear sky looking down upon us.
During the travel of yesterday, between Whetstone Branch and Rock Creek, we passed the spot where a small party of Americans were killed, a few years before, by the Jicarilla Apache Indians. Mr. White had been
When the affair was known in Santa Fé, a company of dragoons, with Kit Carson as guide, were sent in pursuit. They struck the trail, and followed it for three or four days, when they came up with and attacked the Indians. They succeeded in killing several of the savages, but during the fight the latter murdered both Mrs. White and her child. Several of the women and children of the Indians perished in a severe snow-storm that came on. The troops came nigh sharing the same fate, but their guide, who was well acquainted with the country, conducted them to timber, where they obtained shelter from the storm and wood to keep them warm.
The morning of the twentieth was clear and cold, and the mountains within sight were covered with snow. We drove to the Point of Rocks to breakfast, dined ten miles beyond, and encamped for the night on the west bank of the Canadian Fork of the Arkansas. To-day we crossed the first of the series of mesas that terminate the western boundary of the Plains, and came within range of the mountainous regions. Captain Reynolds and myself walked two miles across this beautiful stretch of table-land. The road ascends in a winding course until the plateau is reached, when it runs away toward the west in nearly a straight line. When fairly upon the mesa, we halted to admire the prospect that opened before us. The country is almost as level as a floor for miles in every direction. A rim of mountains, broken and serrated, but not high, bounds it in the distance on three sides, while toward the east you look upon the boundless plain stretching away until the earth and sky appear to meet. At that elevation, near seven thousand feet above the level of the sea, the sky shone as bright and clear as crystal, and there seemed hardly a limit to the vision. The rarity of the atmosphere sensibly affected our respiration, and the least exertion created
The last few miles of the road was wet and muddy, and we did not reach the crossing of the river until nearly midnight. The stream is narrow but rapid, and the banks steep and rather difficult of descent. The crossing was in bad repair, but we made the passage without accident. The place of camping was damp and soft from recent rains, but, as there was no choice of lodgings to one who had an outside ticket, I threw myself upon the wet ground, and soundly slept away the fatigues of the day.
When we awoke in the morning the ground was white with a heavy frost. We breakfasted at the Ocaté, where we consumed the last of our rations except a little ham and coffee, and halted at four in the afternoon to graze the animals. There was no wood to be obtained, and we were obliged to fast for the remainder of the day. The mules were grazed upon the grass that abounded; and one of the passengers remarked that the landlord of the hotel was liable in damages because he did not furnish entertainment for man as well as beast. The road was bad, and we made but little progress.
Near this point is the Wagon Mound, in the vicinity of which the United States mail-party was cut off by the Indians in the winter of 1850. They were en route from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fé, and were ten in number, all of whom were killed, together with their mules, and the wagon rifled of its contents. From information afterward obtained, it was the combined work of a party of Apache and Utah Indians. The first attack was made in the morning, and the fight lasted all day, without much damage being done, only a man or two wounded. This was by the Apaches alone. In the evening they
We encamped for the night in a little wet valley, and again lay down to sleep, supperless, and without fire. We were astir early the next morning, and got under way in good season. The distance from this point to Fort Union is ten miles, and the remainder of our journey to that post lay mostly through the mountain valleys. In a drive of five miles we came to a region of snow, which lay three or four inches deep upon the ground. As we crossed the ridge some three miles distant, the fort came into view, which at first sight appeared like a cluster of dark spots upon the white surface, close to the foot of a range of mountains. As we drew nearer we could distinctly see the quarters of officers and men; soon the flash of the sentinels' muskets caught the eye, and objects could be distinctly seen moving about. We reached the fort about eleven o'clock, and were landed at the suttler's store, that being the post-office.
Fort Union, a hundred and ten miles from Santa Fé, is situated in the pleasant valley of the Moro. It is an open post, without either stockades or breastworks of any kind, and, barring the officers and soldiers who are seen about, it has much more the appearance of a quiet frontier village than that of a military station. It is laid out with broad and straight streets crossing each other at right angles. The huts are built of pine logs, obtained from the neighboring mountains, and the quarters of both officers and men wore a neat and comfortable appearance. I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of several of the officers, and among others Lieutenant-colonel Cook, of the dragoons, commanding the post. I dined at the hospitable board of Colonel Cook, and, after having eaten but one meal for the past forty-eight hours, the reader will readily believe that I did full justice to the repast.
We left the fort about three in the afternoon, and drove two miles beyond Barclay's Fort, where we encamped for the night. This is a private trading-post, and was built during the war with Mexico. It is a large adobe establishment, and, like the immense caravansaries of the East, serves as an abode for men and animals. From the outside it presents rather a formidable as well as a neat appearance, being pierced with loop-holes and ornamented with battlements. The rooms within were damp and uncomfortable, and all the surroundings looked so gloomy, the hour being twilight, that it reminded me of some old state prison where the good and great of former times have languished away their lives. As we were now in a country abounding with wood, and no danger to be apprehended from the Indians, we built up a large fire at our place of camping, and slept with some degree of comfort.
It was near two o'clock in the afternoon when we reached Tecalota, where we halted long enough to feed the animals and dine. This place looks enough like Las Vegas to be a twin sister, and has a population of some five hundred, living in miserable mud houses. As we drove into the town, a lad was in the belfry of the old mud church, tolling the bell for the death of one of the inhabitants, which he effected by striking the clapper against the opposite sides of the bell with the hand. Here a teacher of the Methodist Church had just located, and was about to open a school for the instruction of the
We drove fourteen miles the next morning before daylight, and halted for breakfast near the little village of San José. In the route we crossed the Pecos River, a beautiful stream, and abounding in trout. While we were eating, a Mexican and his boy came to our camp with a few articles to sell, and as they were both cold and hungry, we shared with them our food and fire, and sent them away with well-filled stomachs. We dined at old Pecos on a fine sheep which one of the mail-men was fortunate enough to purchase. Within a short distance of our camp are the remains of the old Indian pueblo of Pecos; and while the men were harnessing up the mules, I started across to examine the ruins. The
We congratulated ourselves that this was the last night before reaching Santa Fé, and were quite rejoiced that our long journey was so nearly terminated. The cañon serves as a great funnel, and at all seasons of the year a current of air draws through it from west to east. We left camp next morning at eight o'clock, and drove to the Arroyo Hondo for breakfast, where we remained