CHAPTER VI. EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS (Continued).
Passage Through Grand Canyon of James White, Prospector—Personnel of Prospecting Party — Attacked by Indians — Part of Party Killed—Making of Raft by White and One Companion—Voyage Through Canyon — White's Companion Drowned — White Continues Alone — Experience With Indians — Arrival at Callville.
One of the most interesting stories contained in this book (New Tracks in North America), is an account of the passage of James White down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado upon a raft. It was written up by one of the surveying party from statements made to him by White, and, as he was the first man who ever descended the Colorado from its source to Callville, below the Canyon, it is worthy of reproduction here:‘‘
Twenty years ago the trapper and hunter were the romantic characters of the Far West. They still figure in fiction, and there is a fascination about their daring deeds which, in America, makes Boone a household name, and throws an air of chivalry, seldom to be felt now-a-days, around the exploits of such men as Carson, Crockett, and Williams. Nor is our admiration for these hardy men undeserved; they have trapped on every Western stream, and hunted on every mountainside, despite the opposition of the Indian and the barrier of winter snows. They have been the skirmish line of that great army of occupation which is daily pushing westward, and they have taught the savage to respect the white man's courage and to fear the white man's power.
Looking into the First Granite Gorge, Grand Canyon, Foot of Bright Angel Trail. Including marble Canyon division, this gorge is nearly 300 miles long. Total depth between 5000 and 6000 feet.
While the field for the trapper and hunter has been gradually growing less, another class of adventurers has come into existence—the 'prospectors' in search of precious metals. Within the last nineteen years these men have traversed every mountain slope, from the rugged peaks of British Columbia to the rich plateaux of Old Mexico; and have searched the sands of every stream from the Mississippi to the shores of the Pacific, stimulated by the same hope of reward that led the early Spaniards to explore places, still unsettled, in their search for an 'El Dorado.' Could the varied and adventurous experience of these searchers for gold be written we should have a record of daring and peril that no fiction could approach, and the very sight of gold would suggest to our minds some scene of startling tragedy, some story of hair-breadth escape. Could we but gather and set down in proper form the geographical knowledge possessed by these men, we should know as much of the western wilds as we now do of the long settled portions of the American continent.
It has fallen to the lot of one of these prospectors to be the hero of an adventure more thrilling than any heretofore recorded, while, at the same time, he has solved a geographical problem which has long attracted the attention
James White, our hero, now lives at Callville, Arizona Territory, the present head of navigation on the Colorado River. His home is in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is thirty-two years of age, and in person is a good type of the Saxon; being of medium height and heavy build, with light hair and blue eyes. He is a man of average intelligence, simple and unassuming in his manner and address, and without any of the swagger or bravado peculiar to the majority of frontier men. Like thousands of our own young men, well enough off at home, he grew weary of the slow but certain method of earning his bread by regular employment at a stated salary. He had heard of men leaping into wealth at a single bound in the Western goldfields, and for years he yearned to go to the land where fortune was so lavish of her favors.
He readily consented then to be one of a party from his neighborhood who, in the spring of 1867, started for the plains and the goldfields beyond. When they left Fort Dodger, on the Arkansas River, April 13th, 1867, the party consisted of four men, of whom Captain Baker, an old miner and ex-officer in the Confederate Army, was the acknowledged leader. The destination of this little party was the San Juan valley west of the Rocky Mountains, about the gold fields of which prospectors spoke in the most extravagant terms, stating that they were only deterred from working the rich placers of
The journey was undertaken on foot, with two pack mules to carry the provisions, mining tools, and the blankets they considered necessary for the expedition. On the 25th of May they left Colorado 'city,' and crossing the Rocky Mountains, through the Ute Pass, they entered South Park, being still on the Atlantic slope of the continent. Ninety miles brought them across the Park to the Upper Arkansas, near the Twin Lakes. They then crossed the Snowy Range, or Sierra Madre, and descended towards the Pacific. Turning southwest, they passed around the head waters of the Rio Grande del Norte, and after a journey of 400 miles, they reached in safety the Animas, the most northern branch of the San Juan river, which flows into the Great Colorado from the east.
They were now in the land where their hopes centered, and to reach which they had crossed plains and mountains, and forded rapid streams, leaving the nearest abodes of the white man hundreds of miles to the east. Their prospecting for gold began in the bed of the Animas, and though they were partially successful, the result did not by any means reach their expectations; so they followed down the stream into the main valley of the San Juan. There was gold there, but not in the quantity they expected; so they gradually moved west, along the beautiful valley, for 200 miles, when they found that the San Juan entered a deep and gloomy canyon. To avoid this they forded the river to the right bank, and struck across a rough timbered country, directing their course towards the Great Colorado.
Having traveled through this rough country for a distance estimated at fifty miles, they reached Grand River, being still above the junction of Green river, the united waters of which two streams form the Colorado proper. At the point where they struck the river it was hemmed in by cliffs of perpendicular rock, down which they could gaze at the coveted water, dashing and foaming two thousand feet below. Men and animals were suffering for water, so they pushed up the stream along the rocky uneven canyon wall, hoping to find a place where they could descend to the river. After a day spent in clambering over and around the huge rocks that blocked their way, they came upon a side canyon, which they succeeded in descending
On the night of the 23rd of August they encamped at the bottom of the canyon, where they found plenty of fuel, and grass in abundance for their animals. As they sat around the camp fire they lamented their failure in the San Juan country, and Strole began to regret that they had undertaken the expedition. But Baker, who was a brave, sanguine fellow, spoke of placeres up the river about which he had heard, and promised his companions that all their hopes should be realized, and that they should return to their homes to enjoy the gains and laugh at the trials of their trip. So glowingly did he picture the future, that his companions even speculated as to how they should spend their princely fortunes when they returned to the States. Baker sang songs of home and hope, and the others lent their voices to the chorus till, far into the night, they sank to sleep unguarded, to dream of coming opulence, and to rise refreshed for the morrow's journey.
Early next morning they breakfasted, and began the ascent of the side canyon up the opposite bank to that by which they had entered it. Baker was in the advance with his rifle slung at his back, gaily springing up the rocks towards the table lands above. Behind him came White; Strole, with the mules, brought up the rear. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the beautiful summer morning but the tramping of the mules and the short heavy breathing of the climbers. They had ascended but half
Then slowly they began to retreat, followed by the exultant Indians, who, stopping to strip and mutilate the dead body in their path, gave the white men a chance to secure their animals, and retrace their steps into the side canyon, beyond the immediate reach of the Indians' arrows. Here they held a hurried consultation. To the east, for 300 miles, stretched an uninhabited country, over which, if they attempted to escape in that direction, the Indians, like bloodhounds, would follow their track. North, south, and west, was the Colorado with its tributaries, all flowing through deep chasms across which it would be impossible for men or animals to travel. Their deliberations were
They found considerable quantities of drift wood along the banks from which they collected enough to enable them to construct a raft capable of floating themselves, with their arms and provisions. This raft consisted of three sticks of cottonwood, about ten feet in length and eight inches in diameter, lashed firmly together with their lariats. Procuring two stout poles with which to guide the raft, and fastening the bag of provisions to the logs, they waited for midnight to come with the waning moon, so as to drift off unnoticed by the Indians. They did not consider that even the sun looked down into that chasm for but one short hour in the twenty-four, and then left it to the angry waters and blackening shadows; and that the faint moonlight reaching the bottom of the canyon would hardly serve to reveal the horror of their situation. Midnight came, as they thought, by the measurement of the dark, dreary hours; when seizing the poles, they untied the rope that held the raft, and, tossed about by the current, they rushed through the yawning canyon on
They prayed for the daylight, which came at last, and with it a smoother current and less rugged banks, though the canyon walls appeared to have increased in height. Early in the morning (August 25th) they found a spot where they could make a landing, and went ashore. After eating a little of their water-soaked provisions, they returned and strengthened their raft by the addition of some light pieces of cedar, which had been lodged in clefts of the rocks by recent floods. White estimates the width of the river where they landed at 200 yards, and the current at three miles per hour. After a short stay at this place they again embarked, and during the rest of the day they had no difficulty in avoiding the rocks and whirlpools that met them at every bend of the river.
In the afternoon, and after having floated over a distance estimated at thirty miles from the point of starting, they reached the mouth of Green river, or rather where the Green and the Grand unite to form the Colorado proper. Here the canyons of both streams form one of but little greater width, but far surpassing either in the height and grandeur of its walls. At the junction, the walls were estimated at 4,000 feet in height. Detached pinnacles appeared to rise, one above the other, for
The night of the day upon which they entered the Great Canyon, and indeed on nearly all the subsequent nights of the voyage, the raft was fastened to a loose rock, or hauled up on some strip of bottom land, where they rested till daylight next morning.
As they floated down the canyon the grey sandstone walls increased in height; the lower portion was smooth from the action of floods, but the perpendicular wall rock above became more and more rugged, until the far off sky appeared to rest upon a fringe of pinnacles on either side. Here and there a stunted cedar clung to the cliff side 2,000 feet overhead, or a prickly cactus tried to suck sustenance from the bare rock. No living thing in sight beyond the raft, for even the wing of bird which could pass the chasms in the upper world never fanned the dark air in those subterranean depths. Naught to gaze upon but their own pale faces and the cold grey walls that hemmed them in, and mocked at their escape. Here and there the raft shot past side canyons, black and forbidding, like cells set in the walls of a mighty prison.
Forty miles below their entrance into the canyon of the Colorado, they reached the mouth of the San Juan River. They attempted to enter it, but its swift current cast them back. The perpendicular walls, high as those of the Colorado, with the water flowing from bank to bank, forbade their abandoning their raft to attempt escape in that direction. So they floated away. At every bend of the river it seemed as if they were descending deeper into the earth, and that the walls were coming closer together above them, shutting out the narrow belt of sky, thickening the black shadows, and redoubling the echoes that went up from the foaming waters.
Four days had elapsed since they embarked on the frail raft; it was now August 28th. So far they had been constantly wet, but the water was comparatively warm, and the current more regular than they could have expected. Strole had taken it upon himself to steer the raft, and, against the advice of White, he often set one end of the pole against the bank of some opposing rock, and then leaned with the other end against his shoulder, to push the raft away. As yet they had seen no natural bridge spanning
White still clung to the logs, and it was only when the raft seemed to be floating smoothly, and the sound of the rapids was left behind, that he dared to look up; then it was to find himself alone, the provisions lost, and the lengthening shadows warning him of the approaching night. A feeling of despair seized him, and
Gradually the dawn, long perceptible in the upper world, began to creep down the black canyon, and gave him light to strengthen his raft, and launch it again into the treacherous river. As he floated down he remembered the sad fate of Strole, and took the precaution to lash himself firmly to the raft so as to preclude the possibility of his being separated from it. This forethought subsequently saved his life. His course through the canyon was now over a succession of rapids, blocked up by masses of rock, over which his frail raft thumped and whirled, at times wholly submerged in the foaming water. At one of these rapids, in the distance of about a hundred yards, he thinks the
About four miles below where the raft separated he reached the mouth of a large stream which he afterwards learned was the Colorado Chiquito. The canyon through which it enters the main river is very much like that of the San Juan, and though it does not discharge so large a body of water, the current is much more rapid, and sweeps across the Great Colorado, causing, in a black chasm on the opposite bank, a large and dangerous whirlpool. White saw this and tried to avoid it, but he was too weak for the task. His raft, borne by the current of the Colorado proper, rushed down with such force, that aided by his paddle, he hoped to pass the waters that appeared to sweep at right angles across his course from the Chiquito. When he reached the mouth of the latter stream the raft suddenly stopped, and swinging round for an instant as if balanced on a point, it yielded to the current of the Chiquito and was swept into the whirlpool.
White felt now that all further exertion was useless, and dropping his paddle, he clasped his hands and fell upon the raft. He heard the gurgling waters around him, and every moment he felt that he must be plunged into the boiling vortex. He waited with his eyes closed for some minutes, when, feeling a strange swinging sensation, he opened them and found that he was circling around the whirlpool, sometimes close to the vortex, and at others thrown back by some invisible cause to the outer edge only to whirl again towards the centre. Thus borne by the circling waters he looked up, up, up, through the mighty chasm that seemed bending over him as if about to fall and crush him. He saw in the blue belt of sky which hung above him like an ethereal river the red tinged clouds floating, and knew that the sun was setting in the upper world. Still around the whirlpool the raft swung, like a circular pendulum measuring the long moments before expected death. He felt a dizzy sensation, and thinks he must have fainted; he knows he was unconscious for a time, for when again he looked up between the walls, whose rugged summits towered 5,000 feet above him, the red clouds had changed to black, and the heavy shadows of night had crept into the canyon.
Then, for the first time, he remembered that there was a strength greater than that of man, a power that holds the ocean in the hollow of His hand. ‘‘I fell on my knees,’’ he said, 'and as the raft swept round in the current, I asked God to aid me. I spoke as if from my very soul, and said, ‘‘Oh, God! if there is a way out of this fearful
This statement is the only information White volunteered; all the rest was obtained by close questioning. One of his friends who was present during the examination smiled when White repeated his prayer. He noticed it, and said with some feeling: ‘‘It is true, Bob, and I'm sure God took me out.’’
Below the mouth of the Colorado Chiquito the current was very slow, and White felt what he subsequently found to be the case—viz., that the rapids were past, though he was not equally fortunate in guessing his proximity to Callville. The course of the river below this he describes as exceedingly 'crooked, with short, sharp turns,' the view on every side being shut in by flat precipitous walls of 'white sand rock.' These walls presented white perpendicular surfaces to the high water level, which had a distinct mark of about forty feet above the August stage. The highest part of the canyon, White thinks, is between the San Juan and the Colorado Chiquito, where the wall appeared to him more than one mile (5,280 feet) in perpendicular height, and at a few points even higher. Dr. Newberry states, from barometrical observations, that for a long distance the altitude is nearly 7,000 feet. But we must not begin to
The current bore White from the Colorado Chiquito slowly down the main river. His clothing was torn to shreds, and the few rags which clung to his frame were constantly saturated with water. Each noon the sun looked into the canyon only to pour his almost vertical rays on the famishing man, and to burn and blister those parts of his body that the scanty rags did not cover. One, two, three, four days dragged slowly past since he tasted food, and still the current bore him through the towering walls of the canyon. The hunger maddened him. He felt it burning into his vitals. His thoughts were of food! food! food! and his sleeping moments were filled with Tantalus-like dreams. Once he raised his arm to open some vein and draw nutriment from his own blood, but its shrivelled, blistered length frightened him. For hours as he floated down he would sit looking into the water, yet lacking courage to make the plunge that would rid him of all earthly pain. On the morning of the fifth day since he had tasted food, he saw a flat bank with some mezquite bushes upon it, and by using all his strength he succeeded in reaching it with his raft. He devoured the few green pods and the leaves of the bushes, but they only increased his desire for more. The journey was resumed, and he remembers that during the last two days of unbroken canyon wall, the rocks became very black, with shining surfaces—probably where igneous took the place of the cretaceous rocks.
Six days without food, save the few green leaves, and eleven days since starting, and still the uneven current bore on the raft with its wretched occupant. He saw occasional breaks in the wall, with here and there a bush. Too weak to move his raft, he floated past and felt no pain, for the overwrought nerves refused to convey sensation.
On the afternoon of this, the sixth day, he was roused by hearing the sound of human voices, and raising himself on one arm, he looked toward the shore, and saw men beckoning to him. A momentary strength came to his arms, and, grasping the paddle, he urged the raft to the bank. On reaching it he found himself surrounded by a band of Yampais Indians (Havasupais), who for many years have lived on a low strip of alluvial land along the bottom of the canyon, the trail to which, from the upper world, is only known to themselves. One of the Indians made fast the raft, while another seized White roughly and dragged him up the bank. He could not remonstrate; his tongue refused to give a sound, so he pointed to his mouth and made signs for food. The fiend that pulled him up the bank, tore from his blistered shoulder the shreds that had once been a shirt, and was proceeding to take off the torn trousers, when, to the credit of the savage be it said, one of the Indians interfered, and pushed back his companions. He gave White some meat, and roasted mezquite beans to eat, which the famished man devoured, and after a little rest he made signs that he wanted to go to the nearest dwellings of the white men. The Indians told
Early the next morning he tottered to the bank, and again pushed into the current. The first day out he gave way to the yearnings for food, and, despite his resolution to the contrary, he ate up his entire stock of provisions, which did not, by any means, satisfy his craving. Three long days of hope and dread passed slowly by, and still no signs of friends. Reason tottered, and White stretched himself on the raft; all his energies exhausted, life and death were to him alike indifferent.
Late in the evening of the third day after leaving the Indians, and fourteen days from the time of starting on this perilous voyage, White again heard voices, accompanied by the rapid dash of oars. He understood the words, but could make no reply. He felt a strong arm thrown around him, and he was lifted into a boat, to see manly bearded faces looking on him with pity. The great objective point, Callville, was reached at last; the battle for a life was won, but with the price of unparalleled suffering. The people of this Mormon settlement had warm, generous hearts, and, like good Samaritans, lavishly bestowed every care on the unfortunate man, so miraculously thrown into their midst from the bowels of the unknown canyon. His constitution, naturally strong, soon recovered its terrible shock, and he told his new found friends his wonderful story, the
Charles McAllister, at present an assistant in the store of Mr. Todd at Fort Mojave, was one of the three men who went in the boat to White's assistance. He said that he never saw so wretched a looking man as White when he first met him; his feet, legs, and body were literally flayed, from exposure to drenching from water and the scorching rays of the sun. His reason was almost gone, his form stooped, and his eyes were so hollow and dreary, that he looked like an old and imbecile man. Mr. W. H. Hardy, of Hardyville, near Fort Mojave, brought White thither, that we might see and talk with him. Mr. Hardy corroborates the statements of McAllister, and from his knowledge of the country above Callville, says that it would be impossible for White to have come for any distance by the river, without travelling through the whole length of the Great Canyon of the Colorado. Mr. Ballard, a mail contractor, in whose employment White is now earning money to take him home, says he believes him to be a sober, truthful man; but, apart from White's statement, Ballard is confident he must have traversed, and in the manner stated, that hitherto unexplored chasm which completes the missing link between the upper and lower course of the Great Colorado.