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Death Valley in '49
CHAPTER XIOut of Death Valley we surely were. To Rogers and I, the case seemed hopeful, for we had confidence in the road and believed all would have power to weather difficulties, but the poor women--it is hard to say what complaints and sorrows were not theirs. They seemed to think they stood at death's door, and would about as soon enter, as to take up a farther march over the black, desolate mountains and dry plains before them, which they considered only a dreary vestibule to the dark door after all. They even had an idea that the road was longer than we told them, and they never could live to march so far over the sandy, rocky roads. The first day nearly satisfied them that it was no use to try, Rogers and I counted up the camps we ought to reach each day and in this way could pretty near convince them of time that would be consumed in the trip. We encouraged them in every way we could; told them we had better get along a little every day and make ourselves a little nearer the promised land, and the very exercise would soon make them stronger and able to make a full day's march.
John and I told them we felt in much better spirits now than we did when we set out alone, and now that nothing but the arrows of an Indian could stop us. We said to them. "We are not going to leave you two ladies out here to die for there is not a sign of a grave to put you in,--" and it was a pretty tough place to think of making one. We told them of the beautiful flowery hillsides over the other side and begged them to go over there to die, as it would be so much better and easier to perform the last sad rites there instead of here on the top of the dismal mountain. It seemed quite like a grim joke, but it produced a reaction that turned the tide of thoughts and brought more courage. We only laid out the march for this day as far as the falls and after a little prepared to move. The cattle seemed to have quit their foolishness, and they were loaded without trouble. The children fitted into the pockets better than usual, and the mothers with full canteens strapped across their shoulders picked out soft places on which to place their poor blistered feet at every step. They walked as if they were troubled with corns on every toe and on their heels into the bargain, and each foot was so badly affected, that they did not know on which one to limp. But still they moved, and we were once more on our way westward. They often stopped to rest, and Arcane waited for them with Old Crump, while they breathed and complained awhile and then passed on again. The route was first along the foot of the high peak, over bare rocks and we soon turned south somewhat so as to enter the cañon leading down to the falls. The bottom of this was thick with broken rock, and the oxen limped and picked out soft places about as bad as the women did. A pair of moccasins would not last long in such rocks and we hoped to get out of them very soon. Rogers and I hurried along, assisting Arcane and his party as much as we could, while Bennett staid behind and assisted the women as much as possible, taking their arms, and by this means they also reached camp an hour behind the rest.
A kettle of hot steaming soup, and blankets all spread out on which to rest, was the work Rogers and I had done to prepare for them, and they sank down on the beds completely exhausted. The children cried some but were soon pacified and were contented to lie still. A good supper of hot soup made them feel much better all around.
The first thing Bennett and Arcane did was to look round and see the situation at the falls, and see if the obstacle was enough to stop our progress, or if we must turn back and look for a better way. They were in some doubt about it, but concluded to try and get the animals over rather than to take the time to seek another pass, which might take a week of time. We men all went down to the foot of the fall, and threw out all the large rocks, then piled up all the sand we could scrape together with the shovel, till we had quite a pile of material that would tend to break a fall. We arranged everything possible for a forced passage in the morning, and the animals found a few willows to browse and a few bunches of grass here and there, which gave them a little food, while the spring supplied them with enough water to keep them from suffering with thirst.
Early in the morning we took our soup hastily and with ropes lowered our luggage over the small precipice, then the children, and finally all the ropes were combined to make a single strong one about thirty feet long. They urged one of the oxen up to the edge of the falls, put the rope around his horns, and threw down the end to me, whom they had stationed below. I was told to pull hard when he started so that he might not light on his head and break his neck. We felt this was a desperate undertaking, and we fully expected to lose some of our animals, but our case was critical and we must take some chances. Bennett stood on one side of the ox, and Arcane on the other, while big Rogers was placed in the rear to give a regular Tennessee boost when the word was given. "Now for it," said Bennett, and as I braced out on the rope those above gave a push and the ox came over, sprawling, but landed safely, cut only a little by some angular stones in the sand pile. "Good enough," said some one and I threw the rope back for another ox. "We'll get 'em all over safely" said Arcane, "if Lewis down there, will keep them from getting their necks broken." Lewis pulled hard every time, and not a neck was broken. The sand pile was renewed every time and made as high and soft as possible, and very soon all our animals were below the falls. The little mule gave a jump when they pushed her and lighted squarely on her feet all right. With the exception of one or two slight cuts, which bled some, the oxen were all right and we began loading them at once.
Bennett and Arcane assisted their wives down along the little narrow ledge which we used in getting up, keeping their faces toward the rocky wall, and feeling carefully for every footstep. Thus they worked along and landed safely by the time we had the animals ready for a march. We had passed without disaster, the obstacle we most feared, and started down the rough cañon, hope revived, and we felt we should get through. After winding around among the great boulders for a little while we came to the two horses we had left behind, both dead and near together. We pointed to the carcasses, and told them those were the horses we brought for the women to ride, and that is the way they were cheated out of their passage. The bodies of the animals had not been touched by bird or beast. The cañon was too deep and dark for either wolves or buzzards to enter, and nothing alive had been seen by us in the shape of wild game of any sort. Firearms were useless here except for defence against Indians, and we expected no real trouble from them.
From what we could see, it was my opinion that no general rain ever fell in that region. There was some evidence that water had at times flowed down them freely after cloud bursts, or some sudden tempest, but the gravel was so little worn that it gave no evidence of much of a stream.
We hurried on as rapidly as possible so as to get into the Jayhawker's beaten trail which would be a little easier to follow. When we reached the lowest part of the valley we had to turn south to get around a little, slow running stream of salt water, that moved north and emptied into a Salt Lake. No source of the stream could be seen from this point, but when we reached a point where we could cross, we had a smooth, hard clay bed to march over. It seemed to have been, some day, a bed of mortar, but now baked hard, and the hoofs of the oxen dented into it no more than half an inch. On our left hand was a perpendicular cliff, along which we traveled for quite a little way. The range of mountains now before us to cross was black, nothing but rocks, and extremely barren, having no water in it that we knew of, so when we reached the summit we camped, tied all our animals to rocks, where they lay down and did not rise till morning. The women were so tired they were over two hours late, and we had the fire built, the soup cooked and the beds made. As we did not stop at noon all were very hungry, and ate with a relish. The poor animals had to go without either grass or water. When Old Crump and the party came in the men were carrying the babies, and their wives were clinging to their arms, scarcely able to stand. When they reached the beds they fell at full length on them, saying their feet and limbs ached like the tooth ache. It seemed to be best for them to rest a little before eating. Mrs. Bennett said that the only consolation was that the road was getting shorter every day, but were it not for the children she would sooner die than follow the trail any farther. Their soup was carried to them in the bed, and they were covered up as they lay, and slept till morning. This day's walk was the hardest one yet, and probably the longest one of the whole journey, but there was no other place where we could find a place large enough to make a camp and free enough of rocks so that a bed could be made.
Rogers and I had the kettle boiling early, and put in the last of the meat, and nearly all that was left of the flour. At the next camp an ox must be killed. Just as it was fairly light I went about 200 yards south where the dead body of Mr. Fish lay, just as he died more than a month before. The body had not been disturbed and looked quite natural. He was from Oscaloosa, Iowa.
The folks arose very reluctantly this morning, and appeared with swollen eyes and uncombed hair, for there was no means of making a toilet, without a drop of water, except what we had used in getting breakfast. We set the soup kettle near the foot of the bed so the women could feed the children and themselves. Now as we loaded the oxen, it was agreed that Rogers and I should go ahead with all but Old Crump, and get in camp as soon as possible, and they were to follow on as best they could. There was a little water left in the canteens of Bennett and Arcane, to be given only to the children, who would cry when thirsty, the very thing to make them feel the worst.
We were to kill an ox when we reached camp, and as each of the men had an equal number on the start each was to furnish one alternately and no disputing about whose were better or stronger, in any emergency.
Our road now led down the western slope of the mountain, and loose, hard, broken rocks were harder on the feet of our animals than coming up, and our own moccasins were wearing through. The cattle needed shoes as well as we. Any one who has never tried it can imagine how hard it is to walk with tender feet over broken rock. It was very slow getting along at the best, and the oxen stumbled dreadfully in trying to protect their sore feet. At the foot of the mountain we had several miles of soft and sandy road. The sun shone very hot, and with no water we suffered fearfully. A short way out in the sandy valley we pass again the grave of Mr. Isham, where he had been buried by his friends. He was from Rochester, N.Y. He was a cheerful, pleasant man, and during the forepart of the journey used his fiddle at the evening camps to increase the merriment of his jolly companions. In those days we got no rain, see no living animals of any kind except those of our train, see not a bird nor insect, see nothing green except a very stunted sage, and some dwarf bushes. We now know that the winter of 1849-50 was one of the wettest ever seen in California, but for some reason or other none of the wet clouds ever came to this portion of the State to deposit the most scattering drops of moisture.
Quite a long way from the expected camp the oxen snuffed the moisture, and began to hurry towards it with increased speed. A little while before it did not seem as if they had ambition enough left to make a quick move, but as we approached the water those which had no packs fairly trotted in their haste to get a drink. This stream was a very small one, seeping out from a great pile of rocks, and maintaining itself till it reached the sands, where it disappeared completely. A few tufts of grass grew along the banks, otherwise everything surrounding was desolate in the extreme.
As soon as we could get the harness off the oxen, we went to look for our little buried sack of wheat, which we were compelled to leave and hide on our way out. We had hidden it so completely, that it took us quite a little while to strike its bed but after scratching with our hands awhile, we hit the spot, and found it untouched. Although the sand in which it was buried seemed quite dry, yet the grain had absorbed so much moisture from it, that the sack was nearly bursting. It was emptied on a blanket, and proved to be still sound and sweet.
Our first work now was to kill an ox and get some meat to cook for those who were coming later. We got the kettle over boiling with some of the wheat in it, for the beans were all gone. We killed the ox saving the blood to cook. Cutting the meat all off the bones, we had it drying over a fire as soon as possible, except what we needed for this meal and the next. Then we made a smooth place in the soft sand on which to spread the blankets, the first good place we had found to sleep since leaving Death Valley.
The next job was to make moccassins for ourselves and for the oxen, for it was plain they could not go on another day barefooted. We kept busy indeed, attending the fires under the meat and under the kettle, besides our shoemaking, and were getting along nicely about sundown, when Old Christian Crump appeared in sight followed by the women and the rest of the party. The women were just as tired as ever and dropped down on the blankets the first thing. "How many such days as this can we endure?"--they said. We had them count the days gone by, and look around to see the roughest part of the road was now behind them. They said that only five days had passed, and that two thirds of the distance still remained untraveled, and they knew they could never endure even another five day's work like the last. We told them to be brave, and be encouraged, for we had been over the road and knew what it was, and that we felt sure of being able to do it nicely. They were fed in bed as usual, and there they lay till morning. We men went to making moccasins from the green hide, and when we had cut out those for the men and women the balance of the hide was used in preparing some also for the oxen, particularly the worst ones, for if I remember correctly there was not enough to go round.
The morning came, bright and pleasant, as all of them were, and just warm enough for comfort in the part of the day. The women were as usual, and their appearance would remind one quite strongly of half-drowned hens which had not been long out of trouble. Hair snarled, eyes red, nose swollen, and out of fix generally. They did not sleep well so much fatigued, for they said they lived over their hard days in dreams at night, and when they would close their eyes and try to go to sleep, the visions would seem to come to them half waking and they could not rest.
There was now before us a particularly bad stretch of the country as it would probably take us four or five days to get over it, and there was only one water hole in the entire distance. This one was quite salt, so much so that on our return trip the horses refused to drink it, and the little white one died next day. Only water for one day's camp could be carried with us, and that was for ourselves alone and not for the animals.
When the moccasins were finished in the morning we began to get our cattle together when it was discovered that Old Brigham was gone, and the general belief was that the Indians had made a quiet raid on us and got away with the old fellow. We circled around till we found his track and then Arcane followed it while we made ready the others. Arcane came in with the stray namesake of the polygamous saint about this time shouting:--"I've got him--No Indians." The ox had got into the wash ravine below camp and passed out of sight behind, in a short time. He had been as easily tracked as if he walked in snow. There was larger sage brush in the wash than elsewhere, and no doubt Brigham had thought this a good place to seek for some extra blades of grass.
Immediately south of this camp now known as Providence Springs, is the salt lake to which Rogers and I went on the first trip and were so sadly disappointed in finding the water unfit to use.
As soon as ready we started up the cañon, following the trail made by the Jayhawkers who had proceeded us, and by night had reached the summit, but passed beyond, a short distance down the western slope, where we camped in a valley that gave us good large sage brush for our fires, and quite a range for the oxen without their getting out of sight. This being at quite a high elevation we could see the foot as well as the top, of the great snow mountain, and had a general good view of the country.
This proved to be the easiest day's march we had experienced, and the women complained less than on any other night since our departure. Their path had been comparatively smooth, and with the new moccasins their feet had been well protected, they had come through pretty nicely. We told them they looked better, and if they would only keep up good courage they would succeed and come out all right to the land where there was plenty of bread and water, and when safely out, they might make good resolutions never to get in such a trap again. Mrs. Bennett said such a trip could never be done over again, and but for the fact that Rogers and I had been over the road, and that she believed all we had said about it; she never would have had the courage to come thus far. Now, for the children's sake, she wished to live, and would put forth any effort to come through all right.
The next day we had a long cañon to go down, and in it passed the dead body of the beautiful white mare Rogers had taken such a fancy to. The body had not decomposed, nor had it been disturbed by any bird or beast. Below this point the bed of the cañon was filled with great boulders, over which it was very difficult to get the oxen along. Some of them had lost their moccasins and had to suffer terribly over the rocks.
Camp was made at the salt water hole, and our wheat and meat boiled in it did not soften and get tender as it did in fresh water. There was plenty of salt grass above; but the oxen did not eat it any more than the horses did, and wandered around cropping a bite of the bitter brush once in awhile, and looking very sorry. This was near the place where Rogers and I found the piece of ice which saved our lives. The women did not seriously complain when we reached this camp, but little Charley Arcane broke out with a bad looking rash all over his body and as he cried most of the time it no doubt smarted and pained him like a mild burn. Neither his mother nor any one else could do anything for him to give him any relief. We had no medicines, and if he or any one should die, all we could do would be to roll the body in a blanket and cover it with a light covering of sand.
From this camp to the next water holes at the base of the great snow mountain, it was at least 30 miles, level as to surface, and with a light ascending grade. The Jayhawkers had made a well marked trail, and it it was quite good walking. The next camp was a dry one, both for ourselves and the oxen, nothing but dry brush for them, and a little dried meat for ourselves, but for all this the women did not complain so very much. They were getting use to the work and grew stronger with the exercise. They had followed Old Crump and the children every day with the canteens of water and a little dried meat to give them if they cried too much with hunger, and Arcane had led his ox day after day with a patience that was remarkable, and there was no bad temper shown by any one. This was the way to do, for if there were any differences, there was no tribunal to settle them by.
In all this desert travel I did not hear any discontent and serious complaint, except in one case, and that was at the Jayhawker's camp, where they burned their wagons at the end of the wagon road, in Death Valley. Some could not say words bad enough to express their contempt, and laid all the trouble of salt water to Lot's wife. Perhaps she was in a better position to stand the cursing than any of the party present.
The next day we reached the water holes at the place where Rogers and I stole up to camp fire in the evening, supposing it to be Indians, but finding there Capt. Doty and his mess, a part of the Jayhawker's band. By dipping carefully from these holes they filled again, and thus, although there was no flow from them we gradually secured what water we needed for the camp, which was a small amount after so long a time without. There was some low brush here called greasewood, which grew about as high as currant bushes, and some distance up the mountain the oxen could find some scattery bunch grass, which, on the whole, made this camp a pretty good one. The women, however, were pretty nearly exhausted, and little Charley Arcane cried bitterly all day and almost all night. All began to talk more and feel more hopeful of getting through. The women began to say that every step brought them so much nearer to the house we had told them about on the other side and often said the work was not so very hard after all. Really it was not so bad travelling as we had at first. We were now nine days from the wagons. "Are we half way?" was the question they began to ask. We had to answer them that more than one half the hard days were over, if one half the distance had not been traveled, and with the better walking and getting hardened to the work, they would get over the last half better than the first. One thing was a little hard. All of our beans and flour had been used up, and now the wheat was about gone also. We had cooked it, and it seemed best, trying to build up our strength, where it was most needed for the greatest trials, and now we thought they would be able to get along on the meat. We had reached the base of the great snow mountain. It seems strange with the mass of snow resting above, and which must be continually thawing more or less, no ravines or large streams of water were produced flowing down this side. It seemed dry all around its base, which is is very singular, with the snow so near.
We had now our barren cañon to go down, and right here was the big trail coming down from the north, which we took and followed. We said all these good things about the road, and encouraged the people all we could to keep in good spirits and keep moving. We told them we thought we knew how to manage to get them safe over the road if they only fully endeavored to do it. We were all quite young, and not in the decline of life as were most of them who had perished by the way. No reader can fully realize how much we had to say and do to keep up courage, and it is to this more than anything else that we did which kept up the lagging energies and inspired the best exertion. I don't know but we painted some things a little brighter than they were, and tried to hide some of the most disheartening points of the prospects ahead, for we found the mind had most to do with it after all. We have no doubt that if we had not done all we could to keep up good courage, the women would have pined away and died before reaching this far. Whenever we stopped talking encouragingly, they seemed to get melancholy and blue.
There was some pretty good management to be exercised still. The oxen were gradually growing weaker, and we had to kill the weakest one every time, for if the transportation of our food failed, we should yet be open to the danger of starvation. As it was, the meat on their frames was very scarce, and we had to use the greatest economy to make it last and waste nothing. We should now have to kill one of our oxen every few days, as our other means of subsistence had been so completely used up. The women contracted a strange dislike to this region and said they never wanted to see any part of it again.
As the sun showed its face over the great sea of mountains away to the east of Death Valley, and it seemed to rise very early for winter season we packed up and started west on the big trail. Rogers and I took the oxen and mule and went on, leaving the others to accompany Old Crump and his little charges. Arcane had found it best to carry Charley on his back, as it relieved the burning sensation, caused by the eruption on his skin, which was aggravated by the close quarters of the pockets. Thus leaving the pockets unbalanced, Bennett had to carry his baby also. This made it harder for them, but every one tried to be just as accommodating as they could and each one would put himself to trouble to accommodate or relieve others.
Rogers and I made camp when we reached the proper place which was some distance from the mountain, on a perfectly level plain where there was no water, no grass, nothing but sage brush would grow on the dry and worthless soil. We let the oxen go and eat as much of this as they chose, which was very little and only enough to keep them from absolute starvation. The great trail had a branch near here that turned north, and went up a ravine that would seem to reach the snow in a little while. This was believed to be impassable at this time of year. This route is known as Walker's Pass, leading over a comparatively low ridge, and coming out the south fork of the Kern River.
We made our camp here because it was as long a march as the women could make, and, for a dry one, was as good a location as we could find. The cool breeze came down from the snow to the north of us, not so very many miles away, and after a little it became uncomfortably cold. We gathered greasewood bushes and piled them up to make a wind-break for our heads. The oxen, even, would come and stand around the fire, seeming greatly to enjoy the warm smoke, which came from burning the greasewood brush, which by the way, burns about the best of any green wood. When we were ready to lie down we tied the animals to bunches of brush, and they lay contentedly till morning.
To the north of us, a few miles away we could see some standing, columns of rock, much reminding one of the great stone chimney of the boiler house at Stanford Jr., University; not quite so trim and regular in exterior appearance, but something in that order. We reckon the only students in the vicinity would be lizards.
When the women arrived in camp they were very tired, but encouraged themselves that they were much nearer the promised land than they were in the morning. Mrs. Bennett said she was very careful never to take a step backward, and to make every forward one count as much as possible. "That's a good resolution, Sally," said Mr Bennett. "Stick to it and we will come out by and bye."
From near this camp we have a low range of mountains to cross, a sort of spur or offshoot of the great snow mountain that reaches out twenty miles or more to the southeast, and its extremity divides away into what seems from our point of view a level plain. We had attained quite an elevation without realizing it, so gradual had been the ascent, and our course was now down a steep hillside and into a deep cañon. In its very bottom we found a small stream of water only a few yards long, and then it sank into the sands. Not a spear of grass grew there, and if any had grown it had been eaten by the cattle which had gone before. This was the same place, where Rogers and I had overtaken the advance portion of the Jayhawkers when we were on our outward trip in search of relief, and where some of the older men were so discouraged that they gave us their home addresses in Illinois so that we could notify their friends of their precarious situation, and if they were never otherwise heard from they could be pretty sure they had perished from thirst and starvation when almost at their journey's end.
The scenes of this camp on that occasion made so strong an impression on my memory that I can never forget it. There were poor dependent fellows without a morsel to eat except such bits of poor meat as they could beg from those who were fortunate enough to own oxen. Their tearful pleadings would soften a heart of stone. We shared with some of them even when we did not know the little store upon our backs would last us through. Our oxen here had water to drink, but nothing more. It might be a little more comfortable to drink and starve, than both choke and starve, but these are no very pleasant prospects in either one.
Both ourselves and the oxen were getting barefoot and our feet very tender. The hill we had just come down was very rough and rocky and our progress very slow, every step made in a selected spot. We could not stop here to kill an ox and let the remainder of them starve, but must push on to where the living ones could get a little food. We fastened the oxen and the mule to keep them from wandering, and slept as best we could. The women and children looked worse than for some time, and could not help complaining. One of the women held up her foot and the sole was bare and blistered. She said they ached like toothache. The women had left their combs in the wagons, and their hair was getting seriously tangled. Their dresses were getting worn off pretty nearly to their knees, and showed the contact with the ground that sometimes could not be avoided. They were in a sad condition so far as toilet and raiment were concerned. Life was in the balance, however, and instead of talking over sad things, we talked of the time when we would reach the little babbling brook where Rogers and I took such long draughts of clear, sweet water and the waiter at our dinner gave us the choice of _Crow_, _Hawk_ or _Quail_, and where we took a little of all three.
In the morning we were off again down the cañon, limping some as we trod its coarse gravelly bed with our tender feet and stiffened joints, but getting limbered up a little after a bit, and enduring it pretty well. We set out to try to reach the bunch of willows out on the level plain, where the cattle could get some water and grass, but night overtook us at the mouth of the cañon, and we were forced to go into camp. This cañon is now called Red Cañon. This was on an elevated plain, with a lake near by, but as we had been so often deceived by going to the lake for water, and finding them salt in every instance, or poison on account of strong alkali, we did not take the trouble to go and try this one.
Near us was some coarse grass and wet ground where we found water enough for our moderate use, and the oxen, by perseverance, could get something to eat and drink. After supper we were out of meat and we would have to kill an ox to get some food for breakfast. In the night a storm came on, much to our surprise, for we had seen none since the night on the mountain east of Death Valley more than two months before. We tried to fix up a shelter to protect the children and ourselves, but were not very successful. We tried to use our guns for tent poles, but could not keep them in place. We laid down as close as pigs in cold weather, and covered up as best we could, but did not keep dry, and morning found us wet to the skin, cold and shivering. We gathered big sage brush for a fire in the morning, and the tracks of our nearly bare feet could be plainly seen in the snow which lay like a blanket awhile over the ground, about two inches deep. Some lay in bed and we warmed blankets before the fire and put over them to keep them comfortable till the sun should rise and warm the air. We selected an ox and brought him up before the fire where I shot him, and soon there was meat roasting over the fire and blood cooking in the camp kettle. We had nothing to season the blood pudding with but salt, and it was not very good, but answered to sustain life. We ate a hasty meal, then packed our animals and started for the willow patch about four miles away. The snow was about gone.
I staid in camp to keep it till they could get through to the willows and some one to come back with the mule to carry forward the portion of meat that could not be taken at first. We intended to dry it at the willows, and then we could carry it along as daily food over the wide plain we had yet to cross. Having carried the meat forward, we made a rack of willows and dried it over the fire, making up a lot of moccasins for the barefooted ones while we waited. We were over most of the rocky road, we calculated that our shoemaking would last us through. This was a very pleasant camp. The tired ones were taking a rest. No one needed it more than our women and children, who were tired nearly out. They were in much better condition to endure their daily hardships than when they started out, and a little rest would make them feel quite fresh again. They understood that this was almost on the western edge of this desert country and this gave them good hope and courage.
This wonderful spot in the level plain, with a spring of pure water making an oasis of green willows and grass has been previously spoken of as:--"A spring of good water, and a little willow patch in a level desert away from any hill." In all our wanderings we had never seen the like before. No mountaineer would ever think of looking here for water, much less ever dream of finding a lone spring away out in the desert, several miles from the mountain's base. Where the range we just came through leaves the mother mountain stands a peak, seemingly alone, and built up of many colored rocks, in belts, and the whole looks as if tipped with steel.
Arcane's boy Charley still suffered from his bogus measles or whatever else his disorder might be, and Bennett's little Martha grew more quiet and improved considerably in health, though still unable to walk, and still abdominally corpulent. The other two children George and Melissa seemed to bear up well and loved to get off and walk in places where the trail was smooth and level. Bennett, Arcane and Old Crump usually traveled with the same party as the women, and as each of them had a small canteen to carry water, they could attend to the wants of the children and keep them from worrying and getting sick from fretfulness. They often carried the two younger ones on their backs to relieve and rest them from their cramped position on the ox.
Arcane used to say he expected the boys--meaning Rogers and I--would try to surprise the party by letting them get very near the house before they knew how near they were. "Be patient Mr. Arcane," said we, "we can tell you just how many camps there must be before we reach it, and we won't fool you or surprise you in any way." "Well," said he. "I was almost in hopes you would, for I like to be disappointed in that way." "What do you think the folks will say when we tell them that our little mule packed most of the meat of an ox four miles from one camp to another?" "What will they say when we tell them that the oxen were so poor that there was no marrow in the great thigh bones?" Instead of marrow there was a thick dark liquid something like molasses in consistency, but streaked with different colors which made it look very unwholesome. Arcane said the whole story was so incredible, that he never should fight anyone, even if he should tell him he lied when he related the strange sad truth. He said he had no doubt many a one would doubt their story, it was so much beyond what people had ever seen or heard of before, and they might be accused of very strong romancing in the matter.
They all felt more like talking; for we were thus far safe and sound, and though there was a desperate struggle of seventy-five miles or more, from this place to the next water in the foot-hills. Possibly the snow storms had left a little in some of the pools, but we made no calculations on any. The promised land we had so steadily been approaching, and now comparatively so near, gave us great hope, which was better than food and drink to give us strength.
There were surely two camps between this and the little pond John and I found, among the Cabbage trees, and not more than six by ten feet square. As we worked away at our foot-wear we talked more in an hour than we had in a whole day before. We were slowly leaving Death Valley behind us with its sad memories and sufferings. We were leaving behind the dead bodies of several who had traveled with us and been just as strong and hopeful as we. We had left behind us all in our possession in that terrible spot, and simply with our lives we hoped to escape, and trust to Providence and humanity on the other side. Arcane now admitted that they could not have got along half as well, if we had not gone ahead and looked out the land. It was such a gain to know exactly where the next water hole was, so it could be steered for and struggled toward. He even went so far as to say they would have no chance alone, and that as he now saw the road, he was sure they have would all perished even before reaching as far as this. We had strong hopes of the morrow, when we would be all rested, all were shod, and would make every footstep count in our western progress.
It seems quite a strange occurrence that the only two storms we had had since we turned westward on this route, Nov. 4th, were snow storms, and that both had come while we were asleep, so that all our days were cloudless. Sometimes the sun was uncomfortably warm even in the heart of the winter. One would have naturally expected that the great rainfall all over the California coast in the winter of 1849-50, and the deep snows that came in the Sierra Nevada mountains the same winter, would have extended southerly the few hundred miles that separated the two places. Modern science has shown the tracks of the storms and partially explains the reasons for this dry and barren nature of this region. When rains do come they are so out of the regular order, that they are called cloud-bursts or waterspouts, and the washes in the cañons and their mouths show how great has been the volume of water that sometimes rushed down the slope. If clouds at a warm or moderate temperature float against these snow peaks all the water they contain is suddenly precipitated. The country is an arid one and unless wealth should appear in the shape of mines, the country can never be inhabited. We considered ourselves very fortunate in finding the little pools and holes of water which kept us alive. It was not very good drinking water, but to us thirsty folks it was a blessing and we never passed it by on account of any little stagnant bitter taste. Salt water we could not drink of course, though we sometimes used it to cook with.
We were as well prepared next morning as possible for a move, and the long walk before us, the last one between us and the fertile land. They all talked of how delighted they would be to see once more a running brook, green grass and trees, and such signs of life as they had seen and been used to in the good land they had left behind. The women said they could endure the march of four or five days, if when all over, they could sleep off the terrible fatigue and for once drink all the pure sweet water they could desire. No more forced marches. No more grey road, stretching out its dusty miles as far as the eye could reach. The ladies thought the oxen would be as happy as themselves, and the little mule, the most patient one of the whole train deserved a life of ease for her valuable services. This little black, one-eyed lady wandered here and there at will seeking for grass, but never going astray or getting far enough from the track to alarm us in the least. She seldom drank much water, was always ready, never got foot-sore, and seemed made expressly for such a life and for such a desert.
A good kettleful of soup for breakfast, dried meat fixed in packages, kegs and canteens filled with water, and we were ready for an advance. There is one less ox to lead, and very little load for those we have, still the load is all such poor weak fellows ought to bear. Old Crump was not thus favored by a gradually lightened load. He bore the same four children every day, faithfully, carefully, with never a stumble nor fall, as though fully aware of the precious nature of his burden.
In this new march John and I took the oxen and pushed on as usual, leaving the families to follow on, at a slower pace, the trail we made. The trail was slightly inclined. The bushes stunted at the best, getting smaller as we proceeded, and the horse bones, new and ancient are now thickly scattered along the way. The soil is different from that we have had. We can see the trail, winding gently here and there, swept clean by the wind, and the surface is hard and good; but when the mule gets the least bit off of it she sinks six inches deep into the soft sand, and the labor of walking is immense. I stepped out to examine the peculiar soil, and found it finer than superfine flour. It was evident that a strong wind would lift it in vast clouds which might even darken the sky, but we were fortunate in this respect, for during all the time we were on this peculiar soil, there was no wind at all, and we escaped a sand-storm, a sort of storm as peculiar to this region as are blizzards to some of the states of the great west.
Our first night's camp was out on the barren waterless plain, now known as the Mojave Desert. There were no shrubs large enough to make a fire of, and nothing to tie our cattle to, so we fastened all our animals together to keep them from scattering and getting lost. We ate a little dry meat and drank sparingly of the water, for our scanty stock was to last us another day, when we might reach prospective water holes. Starting early, John and I took all but Old Crump and the other travelers, and hurried on to try and find the water holes as early as possible. We, as well as the oxen were very dry, for we left all the water we had with the party, for the children, for they cannot endure the thirst as the older people can. We reached the camping place before night. Quite a time before we reached it, the cattle seemed to scent the water and quickened their pace, so we were confident it had not dried up. We got ahead of the oxen and kept there until we reached the little pond and then guarded it to keep them from wading into it, in their eagerness to reach some drink. They all satisfied their thirst, and then we removed the harness, built a fire of the dead cabbage trees which we found round about, laid down the beds and arranged them neatly, and had all nicely done before the rear guard came up, in charge of Captain Crump. The party was eager for water and all secured it. It was rain water and no doubt did not quench thirst as readily as water from some living spring or brook. There was evidence that there had been a recent shower or snow to fill this depression up for our benefit. The Jayhawkers had passed not more than a half mile north of this spot, but no sign appeared that they had found it, and it was left to sustain the lives of the women and children.
It often occurs to me that many may read incredulously when I speak of our party eating the entire flesh of an ox in four or five days. To such I will say that one cannot form an idea how poor an ox will get when nearly starved so long. Months had passed since they had eaten a stomachful of good nutritious food. The animals walked slowly with heads down nearly tripping themselves up with their long, swinging legs. The skin loosely covered the bones, but all the flesh and muscles had shrunk down to the smallest space. The meat was tough and stringy as basswood bark, and tasted strongly of bitter sage brush the cattle had eaten at almost every camp. At a dry camp the oxen would lie down and grate their teeth, but they had no cud to chew. It looked almost merciless to shoot one down for food, but there was no alternative. We killed our poor brute servants to save ourselves. Our cattle found a few bunches out among the trees at this camp and looked some better in the morning. They had secured plenty of water and some grass.
Young Charlie Arcane seemed to grow worse rather than better. His whole body was red as fire, and he screamed with the pain and torment of the severe itching. Nothing could be done to relieve him, and if his strength lasted till we could get better air, water and food he might recover, but his chances were very poor.
Not much rest at this camp for in the morning we aimed to start early and reach the water in the foothills. We thought we could do it if we started early, walked rapidly and took no resting spell at noon. Such a poor soil as this we were anxious to get away from, and walk once more on a soil that would grow something besides stunted sage brush. From all appearances the Jayhawkers were here in about the same predicament Rogers and I were when we lost the trail. By their tracks we could see they had scattered wide and there was no road left for us to follow, and they had evidently tried to follow our former tracks. Having no trail to follow we passed on as best we could and came to a wide piece of land on which were growing a great many cabbage trees. The soil was of the finest dust with no grit in it, and not long before a light shower had fallen, making it very soft and hard to get along in with the moccasins. The women had to stop to rest frequently, so our progress was very slow. Rogers and I had feet about as hard as those of the oxen, so we removed our moccasins and went barefoot, finding we could get along much easier in that way, but the others had such tender feet they could not endure the rough contact with the brush and mud. Only a few miles had been made before the women were so completely tired out that we had to stop and eat our little bit of dried meat and wait till morning. The little mule now carried all our stock of food, and the precious burden lightened every day. This delay was not expected, but we had to endure it and bear it patiently, for there was a limit to strength of the feeble ones of our party. We had therefore to make another barren camp. Relief seemed so near at hand we kept good courage and talked freely of the happy ending which would soon come. If we had any way to set a good table we would feast and be merry like the prodigal son, but at any rate we shall be safe if we can reach the fertile shore.
When the sun went down we tied the mule and oxen to cabbage trees, and shortly after dusk lay down ourselves, for we had enjoyed a good fire made of the trunks of cabbage trees, the first really comfortable one in a long time. The air was cooler here, for we were on higher ground, and there was some snow on the range of mountains before us, which sent these cool breezes down to us, a change of climate quite pleasing.
For breakfast in the morning we had only dried meat roasted before the fire, without water, and when we started each one put a piece in his or her pocket to chew on during the day as we walked along. As we went ahead the ground grew dryer and the walking much improved. The morning overhead was perfectly lovely, as away east, across the desert the sun early showed his face to us. Not a cloud anywhere, not even over the tops of the high peaks where great white masses sometimes cluster but dissolve as soon as they float away, and there was not wind enough to be perceptible. We remarked the same lack of animal life which we had noticed on our first passage over this section, seeing not a rabbit, bird, or living thing we could use for food. Bennett had the same load in his gun he put there when we left the wagons, and all the powder I had burned was that used in killing the oxen we had slain whenever it became necessary to provide for our barren kitchen.
As we approached the low foot-hills the trail became better travelled and better to walk in, for the Jayhawkers who had scattered, every one for himself apparently, in crossing the plain, seemed here to have drawn together and their path was quite a beaten one. We saw from this that they followed the tracks made by Rogers and myself as we made our first trip westward in search of bread. Quite a little before the sun went out of sight in the west we reached our camping place in the lower hills at the eastern slope of a range we must soon cross. Here was some standing water in several large holes, that proved enough for our oxen, and they found some large sage brush and small bushes round about, on which they browsed and among which they found a few bunches of grass. Lying about were some old skulls of cattle which had sometime been killed, or died. These were the first signs of the sort we had seen along this route. They might have been killed by Indians who doubtless used this trail.
The next day in crossing the range before us, we reached the edge of the snow, which the sun had softened, and we dare not attempt to cross. Early in the morning, when it was frozen hard the cattle could travel it very well. The snow belt was five or six miles wide, and the snow two or three feet deep. This was a very good camping place except that we had to melt snow for all our water, but this being coarse and icy it was not a great job as we found enough dry juniper trees and twigs to make a very good fire. Here we also had to kill another ox. This one in its turn was Arcane's, and left him only two, and Bennett three, but we think that if we have no accident we shall get them along with us till we can get other food, as they have very light loads to pack. When the ox is killed and the meat prepared the mule has, for a time, a larger load than all the oxen have, but seems content and nips a bite of food whenever it can see a chance anywhere along the road, giving us no more trouble than a dog. And by the way, I think I have not mentioned our faithful camp dog, a worthy member of our party who stood watch always and gave us a sure alarm if anything unusual happened anywhere about. He was perhaps only one of a hundred that tried to cross the plains and had to be abandoned when they reached the upper Platte, where the alkali dust made their feet so sore they could not travel, and as they could not be hauled on wagons they were left behind. But this dog Cuff did not propose to be left behind to starve, and crippled along after us, we doing all we could for him, and proved as tough as the best of us. Bennett and I had trained him as a hunting dog in the East, and he was very knowing and handy in every particular.
We were out of this camp at daylight. Very little rest for some of us, but we must make the best of the cool morning while the snow is hard, and so move on as soon as we can see the way. As it gets lighter and the sun comes up red and hot out of the desert we have a grand view of the great spread of the country to south and of the great snow mountain to the north and east, the peak standing over the place where we left our wagons nineteen days before, on the edge of Death Valley. The glare of the snow on the sun makes us nearly blind, but we hurry on to try to cross it before it becomes so soft as to slump under our feet. It is two or three feet in the deepest places, and probably has been three times as deep when freshly fallen, but it is now solid and icy. Our rawhide moccasins protect our feet from cold, and both we and the animals got along fairly well, the oxen breaking through occasionally as the snow softened up, but generally walking on the top as we did ourselves. The snow field reached much farther down the western slope than we had hoped, much farther than on the eastern side. Before we got out of it, we saw the track of some animal which had crossed our route, but as it had been made some days before and now could be seen only as some holes in the surface, we could not determine what sort of an animal it was.
A mile or two down the hill we were at last out of the snow, and a little farther on we came to the little babbling brook Rogers and I had so long painted in the most refreshing colors to the tired women, with water, wood and grass on every hand, the three greatest blessings of a camper's life. Here was where Rogers and I had cooked and eaten our meat of crow, quail and hawk, pretty hard food, but then, the blessed water!
There it danced and jumped over the rocks singing the merriest song one ever heard, as it said--Drink, drink ye thirsty ones your fill--the happiest sweetest music to the poor starved, thirsty souls, wasted down almost to haggard skeletons. O! if some poet of wildest imagination could only place himself in the position of those poor tired travelers to whom water in thick muddy pools had been a blessing, who had eagerly drank the fluid even when so salt and bitter us to be repulsive, and now to see the clear, pure liquid, distilled from the crystal snow, abundant, free, filled with life and health--and write it in words--the song of that joyous brook and set it to the music that it made as it echoed in gentle waves from the rocks and lofty walls, and with the gentle accompaniment of rustling trees--a soft singing hush, telling of rest, and peace, and happiness.
New life seemed to come to the dear women. "O! What a beautiful stream!" say they, and they dip in a tin cup and drink, then watch in dreaming admiration the water as it goes hurrying down; then dip and drink again, and again watch the jolly rollicking brook as if it were the most entertaining thing in the whole wide earth. "Why can't such a stream as that run out of the great Snow Mountain in the dry Death Valley?" say they--"so we could get water on the way."
The men have felt as glad as any of them, but have gathered wood and made a fire, and now a camp kettle of cut up meat is boiling for our supper. It was not yet night, but we must camp in so beautiful a place as this, and though the food was poor, we were better off than we had been before.
Bennett proposed that I take the mule and go back to where we saw the track of the animal in the snow and follow it in hope that we might get some game for we had an idea it might be an elk or bear or some large game, good to kill and give us better meat: So I saddled the mule and took the trail back till I came to the track, then followed it as best I could, for it was very dull and gave me no idea what it was. I traced out of the snow and then in a blind way through bushes as high as the mule's back--Chaparral we called it now--among which I made my way with difficulty. I could now see that the track was made by an ox or cow--perhaps an elk--I could not tell for sure it was so faint. This chaparral covered a large piece of table land, and I made my way through it, following the track for a mile or two, till I came to the top of a steep hill sloping down into a deep cañon and a creek, on the bank of which grew sycamore and alder trees, with large willows. I stopped here some minutes to see if I could see or hear the movement of of anything. Across the creek I could see a small piece of perhaps half an acre of natural meadow, and in it some small bunches of sycamore trees. After a little I discovered some sort of a horned animal there, and I reckoned this was good enough game for me to try and capture, so led the mule out to one side and down the hill near the creek, then tied her, and crept along the bank, about four feet high, toward the little meadow. When about right, as I thought, I climbed up behind a bunch of sycamores, and when I slowly and cautiously raised up I was within fifty yards of a cow or steer of some sort which I could dimly see. I put a ball square in its forehead and it fell without a struggle. I loaded again quick as possible, and there saw two other smaller cattle stepping very high as though terrified, but not aware of the nature or location of the danger. I gave a low whistle and one of them looked toward me long enough for me to put a ball in it. The third one was now behind a clump of sycamores, and I soon saw its face through a little opening not more than three inches wide. I made a shot, and wounded it, and then rushed up and gave it a fatal one.
I examined my game and found the first one was a poor old cow, but the others were yearlings, one of them very fat and nice, and I soon had the hind quarters skinned out, and all the fat I could find, which made a big load for the mule. It was now almost dark, and the next problem was to get back to camp again. The brushy hills would be terrible to cross with a load of meat, and by the way the ground lay I concluded our camp was on this same creek farther down.
The only way that seemed at all feasible was to follow the course of the stream if possible, rather than return the course over which I had come. There were so many bushes and trees along the bank that I had to take to the bed and follow in the water, and as it was rocky and rough, and so dark I could not see well how to step, I stumbled into holes and pools up to my waist, wet as a rat. Coming to a small open place I decided I had better camp for the night and not attempt further progress in the darkness, and the decision was hastened by dark clouds, which began to gather and a few sprinkles of rain began to come. There was a good patch of grass for the mule, but all was uncomfortable for me, with the prospect for a rainy night, but as wood was plenty I decided to make a fire and take the chances. I looked for matches and scratched one. No go--they were damp, and scratch as careful and quickly as I could, there was no answering spark or flame, and darkness reigned supreme. A camp without a fire in this wet place was not to be thought of, so I concluded I might as well be slowly working my way down along the stream, through thick brush and cold water, as to sit here in the cold and wait.
So the little mule and I started on, wading the creek in thick darkness, getting only the most dim reflected light from the sky through now and then an opening in the trees. I did not know then how easy it was for a grizzly to capture myself, the mule and meat and have quite a variety for supper. But the grizzly stayed at home and we followed on through brambles and hard brush, through which it was almost impossible to force one's way. As it turned out, I was not in the track of the storm and did not suffer much from it. Soon the cañon grew wider, and I could make out on the right hand a piece of table land covered with brush that seemed easier to get through than the creek bed.
The hill up to the table land was very steep, but not more than fifty yards high, and when the mule tried to get up she got along very well till near the top, when she slipped in the wet earth and never stopped till she reached the bottom and lay down. She was helped up to her feet again and we tried it in another place, I holding her from slipping when she stopped to rest, and at last we reached the top. The mule started on, seeming to follow a trail, but I could not see whether there was a trail or not, so thick was the darkness, but there was evidently something of the kind, for the brush was two or three feet high and very thick.
After proceeding some distance the mule stopped and did not seem to wish to go any farther. I was pretty sure there was something in front of her that blocked the way, and so worked my way through the brush and carefully past her. I could partly see and partly hear something just ahead, and in a moment found it was our good faithful Cuff, and no frightful spook at all. The good fellow had discovered our approach and came out to meet us, and I am sure the mule was as glad as I was to see him. He crawled through the brush and smelled at the mule's load and then went forward in the trail, which we followed. It was a long time after midnight when we reached camp. There was a good fire burning, but all were asleep till I led the mule up to the fire and called out--"Wake Up," when they were most of them on their feet in a minute without stopping to dress, for all had slept a long time without taking off their clothes.
John took charge of the mule and unloaded it, telling me to get into his warm bed. I took off my wet clothes and told him to dry them, and then got between the dry, warm blankets in greatest comfort. Daylight came very quickly, it seemed to me, and before I finally rose, the sun had been up some hours before me. Before I fell asleep I could hear the women say, as they cut off the pieces of meat to roast--"See the fat! Only see how nice it is!" Quickly roasted on the coals they ate the delicate morsels with a relish and, most of all, praised the sweet fat. "We like to have it all fat," said they, showing how their system craved the nourishment the poor starved beef could not give. No one went to bed after I came, but all sat and roasted meat and ate till they were satisfied.
This sporting trip was quite different from deer hunting in Wisconsin, and nothing like looking for game in Death Valley where nothing lived. It was the hardest night's work that ever came to me in many a day, and not the wild sport I generally looked for when on the chase. I felt pretty well when I got up, and a chunk of my last night's prize which had been toasted for me was eaten with a relish, for it was the best of meat and I, of course, had a first class appetite. I had to tell them my last hunting story, and was much praised as a lucky boy.
We would not be compelled to kill any more of our poor oxen in order to live. So far we had killed six of them, and there were five left. Our present situation was much appreciated, compared with that of a few days ago when we were crawling slowly over the desert, hungry, sore-footed and dry, when to lie was far easier than to take steps forward. We felt like rejoicing at our deliverance and there was no mourning now for us. The surrounding hills and higher mountains seemed more beautiful to us. They were covered with green trees and brush, not a desert place in sight. The clear little singing brook ran merrily on its way, the happiest, brightest stream in all my memory. Wild birds came near us without fear, and seemed very friendly. All was calm, and the bright sunshine exactly warm enough so that no one could complain of heat or cold.
When ready to move it was announced that I had lost my saddle blanket in my adventure, so they substituted another one and I took the back track to the place where the mule slipped down the bank, and there I found it. I soon overtook them again just as they were going to camp on Mrs. Bennett's account, as she had been suddenly taken sick with severe pain and vomiting, something as Rogers and I had been after eating our first California corn meal. The rich, fat meat was too strong for her weak stomach.
Arcane all along had an idea that Rogers and I meant to surprise them by leading them to believe the house we had visited was quite a distance off, and then to so manage it that it should appear upon their sight suddenly. We assured them it would take two or more camps before we could get there, and if Mrs. Bennett did not soon recover, even more than that. Our camp here was under a great live oak, the ground deep covered with dry leaves, and near by a beautiful meadow where our cattle and mule ate, drank and rested, the oxen chewing their cud with such an air of comfort as had not come to them since leaving their far-off eastern pastures. They seemed as much pleased as any one. They would lie down and rest and eat at the same time in perfectly enjoyable laziness.
Here we all rested and washed such clothes as we could do without long enough to dry, and washed our faces and hands over and over again to remove the dirt which had been burned and sweated in so completely as not to come off readily. We sat on the bank of the brook with our feet dangling in the water, a most refreshing bath, and they too began to look clean again. We often saw tracks of the grizzly bear about, but in our ignorance had no fear of them, for we did not know they were a dangerous animal. An owl came and hooted in the night, but that was the only challenge any wild beast or bird gave to our peaceful and restful camp. We were out of the dreadful sands and shadows of Death Valley, its exhausting phantoms, its salty columns, bitter lakes and wild, dreary sunken desolation. If the waves of the sea could flow in and cover its barren nakedness, as we now know they might if a few sandy barriers were swept away, it would be indeed, a blessing, for in it there is naught of good, comfort or satisfaction, but ever in the minds of those who braved its heat and sands, a thought of a horrid Charnel house, a corner of the earth so dreary that it requires an exercise of strongest faith to believe that the great Creator ever smiled upon it as a portion of his work and pronounced it "Very good." We had crossed the great North American Continent, from a land of plenty, over great barren hills and plains, to another mild and beautiful region, where, though still in winter months, we were basking in the warmth and luxuriance of early summer. We thought not of the gold we had come to win. We were dead almost, and now we lived. We were parched with thirst, and now the brightest of crystal streams invited us to stoop and drink. We were starved so that we had looked at each other with maniac thoughts, and now we placed in our mouth the very fat of the land. We had seen our cattle almost perishing; seen them grow gaunt and tottering; seen them slowly plod along with hanging heads and only the supremacy of human will over animal instinct had kept them from lying down never to rise again. Now they were in pastures of sweet grass, chewing the cud of content and satisfaction. Life which had been a burden grew sweet to us, and though it may be that our words of praise to Him, whose will was to deliver us out of the jaws of death, were not set nor formal, yet His all-seeing eye saw the truth in our hearts, and saw there the fullest expression of our gratitude and thankfulness. Who shall say the thanks that arose were less acceptable, because not given on bended knees before gilded altars?
Though across the desert and evidently in the long promised land our troubles and trials were not through by any means, but evidently we were out of danger. Our lives seemed to be secure, and we were soon to meet with settlers who would no doubt extend to us the hand of human sympathy. Many long miles yet remained between us and the rivers in whose sands were hidden the tiny grains of gold we came to seek.
The rest in the lovely camp had answered to cause Mrs. Bennett to feel quite well again by the next morning, and we made ready to proceed. We had the trail of the Jayhawkers to follow, so the vines, brambles and tangles which had perplexed Rogers and myself in our first passage were now somewhat broken down, and we could get along very well without further clearing of the road until the hills came down so close on both sides that there was no room except in the very bed of the stream. There was no other way, so we waded among after the oxen as best we could. Sometimes the women fell down, for a rawhide moccasin soaked soft in water was not a very comfortable or convenient shoe, however it might be adapted to hot, dry sands. The creek was shaded and the water quite cool. The trail, such as it was, crossed the creek often and generally was nothing else than the stream itself. The constant wading, and wet, cold clothing caused the women to give out soon and we selected the first dry suitable place which offered food for the oxen, as a place to camp.
Wood was plenty and dry, so a good fire was soon burning, and the poor women, wet to the waist and even higher, were standing before it, turning round and round to get warm and dry. Someone remarked that they resembled geese hanging before the fire to roast, as they slowly revolved, and it was all owing to their fatigue that the suggester did not receive merited punishment then and there at their hands. As they got a little dry and comfortable they remarked that even an excess of water like this was better than the desert where there was none at all, and as to their looks, there were no society people about to point their fingers at them, and when they reached a settled country they hoped to have a chance to change their clothes, and get two dresses apiece, and that these would be long enough to hide their knees which these poor tatters quite failed to do. One remarked that she was sure she had been down in the brook a dozen times and that she did not consider cold water baths so frequently repeated were good for the health.
Young Charley Arcane had been getting better for some days. No medicine had been given him, and it was no doubt the change of air and water that had begun to effect a cure. Arcane had a hard time of it to keep the brush from pulling George and Melissa off of Old Crump into the water. It was indeed one of the hardest day's work of the whole journey, but no one was low spirited, and all felt very well. The camping place was in a deep cañon, surrounded by thick brush, so that no wind came in to chill us. Everybody was cook and nobody was boss. Not a cent of money among us, nor any chance to use any if we had possessed it. We had nice, sweet, fat meat, cooked rare or well done as each one preferred, and no complaints about the waiters. The conditions were so favorable, compared with the terrible Death Valley and its surroundings that every one remarked about it, and no one felt in the least like finding fault with the little inconveniences we were forced to put up with. It might cure an inveterate fault-finder to take a course of training in the desert.
The next day we did not wade half as much, and after a few hours of travel we suddenly emerged from the brush into a creek bottom which was much wider, with not a tree to obstruct our way. The soil was sandy and covered more or less with sage brush, and the stream which had been strong and deep enough to make us very wet now sank entirely out of sight in the sandy bottom. The hills were thinly timbered on the left side but quite brushy on the right, and we could see the track of cattle in the sand. No signs of other animals, but some small birds came near, and meadow larks whistled their tune, quite familiar to us, but still sounding slightly different from the song of the same bird in the East. High in the air could be seen a large sailing hawk or buzzard.
We stopped to rest at noon and noticed that the water ran a little in the creek bed; but, by the time we were ready to start we found none with which to fill our canteens. No doubt this water was poured into the cañon somewhere near the place where we killed the three cattle, and we had got out of it before the flood came down. It was astonishing to see how the thirsty sand drank up the quite abundant flow.
The next day we came down to the point of hill that nearly crossed the valley, and we crossed the low ridge rather than make a longer trip to get around by way of the valley. As we reached the summit there appeared before us as beautiful a rural picture as one ever looked upon. A large green meadow, of a thousand acres, more or less; its southwest side bounded by low mountains, at the base of which oak trees were plenty, but no brush or undergrowth. It was like a grand old park, such as we read of in English tales. All over the meadow cattle of all sorts and sizes grazed, the "Ring-streaked and speckled" of old Jacob's breed being very prominent. Some lazily cropped the grass; some still more lazily reclined and chewed their cud; while frisky calves exercised their muscles in swift races and then secured their dinner from anxious mothers. We camped at once and took the loads from all the animals that they might feed in comfort on the sweet grass that lay before them.
We tarried here perhaps two hours, till the cattle stopped eating, and amply enjoyed the scene. Never again would any one of the party go back over that dreary desert, they said, and everyone wondered why all places could not be as green and beautiful as this one. I cannot half tell how we felt and acted, nor what we said in our delight over this picture of plenty. The strong contrasts created strong impressions, and the tongues so long silent in our dry and dreary trouble were loosened to say everything the heart inspired. Think as much as you can; you cannot think it all.
We felt much better after our rest, and the oxen seemed stronger and better able, as well as more willing to carry their loads, so we soon prepared to move on down the valley, toward the house we had spoken of as the goal we were to reach. It was now the 7th day of March 1850, and this date, as well as the 4th day of November 1849 will always remain an important one in memory. On the last named day we left the trail to take the unfortunate cut-off, and for four long months we had wandered and struggled in terrible hardship. Every point of that terrible journey is indelibly fixed upon my memory and though seventy-three years of age on April 6th 1893 I can locate every camp, and if strong enough could follow that weary trail from Death Valley to Los Angeles with unerring accuracy. The brushy cañon we have just described is now occupied by the Southern Pacific Railroad, and the steep and narrow ridge pierced by a tunnel, through which the trains pass. The beautiful meadow we so much admired has now upon its border a railroad station, Newhall, and at the proper season some portion of it is covered with thousands of trays of golden apricots, grown in the luxuriant orchards just beyond the hills toward the coast, and here drying in the bright summer sun. The cattle in the parti-colored coats are gone, but one who knows the ground can see our picture.
Loaded up again we start down the beautiful grassy valley, the women each with a staff in hand, and everything is new and strange to us. Rogers and I know that we will soon meet people who are strangers to us; who speak a strange language of which we know nothing, and how we, without a dollar, are to proceed to get our food and things we need, are questions we cannot answer nor devise any easy way to overcome. The mines are yet five hundred miles away, and we know not of any work for us to do nearer. Our lives have been given back to us, and now comes the problem of how to sustain them manfully and independently as soon as possible. If worse comes to worst we can walk to San Francisco, probably kill enough game on the way and possibly reach the gold mines at last, but the way was not clear. We must trust much to luck and fortune and the ever faithful Providence which rarely fails those who truly try to help themselves.
We began to think some very independent thoughts. We had a mule to carry our camp kettle and meat. Our cattle were now beginning to improve and would soon get fat; these could carry our blankets and odd loads, while Old Crump the christian could still carry the children; Bennett and I knew how to hunt, and had good rifles; so we could still proceed, and we determined that, come what may, _we will be victorious_.
These were some of the plans we talked over at our camps and resting places, and as we walked along. If we could get the two families fixed in some way so they could do without Rogers and I, we could strike for the mines quite rapidly and no doubt soon get ourselves on good footing. We were younger than the rest and could endure more hardship. We decide to remain together till we get to Los Angeles, and then see what is best.
We reached our camping place at the foot of the hill, about a hundred yards from the house we have so long striven to reach. Here we unloaded in the shade of a large willow tree, and scarcely had we removed the harness from the oxen when the good lady of the house and her little child came down to see us. She stood for a moment and looked around her and at the two small children on the blankets, and we could hear her murmur _mucha pobre_ (very poor.) She could see our ragged clothes and dirty faces and everything told her of our extreme destitution. After seeing our oxen and mule which were so poor she said to herself "_flaco, flaco_" (so thin.) She then turned to us, Rogers and I, whom she had seen before, and as her lively little youngster clung to her dress, as if in fear of such queer looking people as we were, she took an orange from her pocket and pointing to the children of our party, wanted to know if we had given them the four oranges she sent to them by us. We made signs that we had done as she requested, when she smiled and said "_Buenos Muchachos_" (good boys.) In all this talk neither could say a word the other could understand, and the conversation was carried on by signs.
Arcane said to her--"Me Catholic" which she seemed partly to comprehend and seemed more friendly. About this time two men rode up and took a look at us. Arcane, who was a mason, gave the masonic sign, as he told me afterward, but neither of them recognized it. We used such words of Spanish as I had taken down in my pass book and committed to memory and by motions in addition to these made them understand something of the state of affairs and that Mr. French who had assisted us before had told us we could get some meat (_carne_) from them. These men were finely mounted, wore long leggins made of hide, dressed with the hair on, which reached to their hips, stiff hats with a broad rim, and great spurs at their heels. Each had a coil of braided rawhide rope on the pommel of the saddle, and all these arrangements together made a very dashing outfit.
They seemed to understand what we had said to them, for they rode off with a rush and came back in a short time, leading a fine, fat two-year-old heifer. When near our camp the rider who was behind threw his _riata_ and caught both hind feet of the animal when by a sudden movement of the horses the heifer was thrown. One of them dismounted, and at the command the horse backed up and kept the rope tight while the man went up to the prostrate beast and cut its throat. As soon as it had ceased struggling, they loosened their ropes and coiled them up: they came to us and pointed to the dead heifer in a way which said--"Help yourselves."
We were much gratified at the generosity of the people, and at once dressed the animal as it lay, cutting off some good fat pieces which we roasted over the fire and ate with a relish. It seemed as if meat never tasted so good as that did sweet, fragrant, and juicy. If some French cook could only cook a steak that would smell and taste to his customers as that meal tasted to us, his art would be perfect. We separated a hind quarter and hung it to a tree, and when the lady came back we told her that the piece we had selected was enough for our present use, so she caused the remainder with the hide to be taken to the house. Toward night they drove up a lot of cows and calves and other cattle into their cattle yard or corral, as it is called all over California, a stockade of strong oak posts set deep in the ground and close together, enclosing a space of about half an acre. The horsemen now rode in and began to catch the calves with their ropes. It seemed as if they were able to throw a rope over a calf's head or around either leg they desired, with better aim, and at as great a distance as one could shoot a Colt's revolver, and we saw at once that a good raw-hide rope, in the hands of an experienced man and well-trained horse, was a weapon in many respects superior to firearms of any kind. A man near the gate loosened the ropes and pushed the calves into a separate corral till they had as many as they desired.
Rogers watched the circus till it was over and then returned to camp, meeting on the way Bennett and Arcane, with their wives and children, carrying some blankets, for the good lady had invited them to come up to the house and sleep. They said we could go down and keep camp if old dog Cuff was willing, for they had left him guarding the property. He was pleased enough to have us come and keep him company, and we slept nicely, disturbed only a little by the barking of the house dogs and the hooting of an owl that came to visit our tree.
The people came back to camp in the morning and had their experience to relate. Their hosts first baked some kind of flapjacks and divided them among their guests; then gave them beans seasoned hot with pepper: also great pieces of squash cooked before the fire, which they said was delicious and sweet--more than good. Then came a dish of dried meat pounded fine, mixed with green peppers and well fried in beef tallow. This seemed to be the favorite dish of the proprietors, but was a little too hot for our people. They called it _chili cum carne_--meat with pepper--and we soon found this to be one of the best dishes cooked by the Californians. The children were carefully waited on and given special attention to by these good people, and it was nearly ten o'clock before the feast was over: then the household had evening worship by meeting in silence, except a few set words repeated by some in turn, the ceremony lasting half an hour or more. Then they came and wished them _buenos noches_ in the most polite manner and left them to arrange their blankets on the floor and go to sleep.
The unaccustomed shelter of a roof and the restless worrying of the children, who required much attention, for the change of diet had about the same effect on them as on Rogers and myself when we first partook of the California food, gave them little sleep, but still they rested and were truly grateful for the most perfect hospitality of these kind hearted people.
In the morning the two horsemen and two Indians went to the corral, when the riders would catch a cow with their ropes and draw her head up to a post, binding it fast, while an Indian took a short piece of rope and closely tied the hind legs together above the gambrel joint, making the tail fast also. They had a large bucket and several gourds. The Indians then milked the cows they had made fast, getting from a pint to two quarts from each one, milking into a gourd and pouring into the bucket till they had all they desired. The calves were separated the night before so they could secure some milk. Cows were not trained to stand and be milked as they were at home. Setting down the bucket of milk before us, with some small gourds for dippers, we were invited to drink all we wished. This was a regular banquet to us, for our famished condition and good appetites made food relish wonderfully.
When we made a sign of wishing to pay them for their great kindness they shook their heads and utterly refused. It was genuine sympathy and hospitality on their part, and none of us ever forgot it; the sight of a native Californian has always brought out thoughts of these good people, and respect and thankfulness to the race. This rancho, at which we were so kindly entertained was called San Francisquito, or Little San Francisco Rancho.
This morning Mr. Arcane, with our assistance, made an arrangement with these people to give them his two oxen; and they were to take him and his wife and child, to the sea-shore, at a place called San Pedro, from which place he hoped, in some way, to get passage to San Francisco in a sailing vessel. He had no money, and no property to sell, except perhaps his spy-glass, worth about ten dollars. With this poor prospect before him he started for the sea. He bade Bennett's folks good-bye, then came to me and put a light gold ring on my finger, saying that it and his interest in the little mule were mine. Then he gave his silver watch to Rogers and said it was all he had to give him, but if he had a million dollars, he would divide, and still think it a small compensation for the faithful services we had rendered him. "I can never repay you," said he, "for I owe you a debt that is beyond compensation. You have saved our lives, and have done it when you knew you could get nothing for it. I hope we will meet again, and when we do you will be welcome. If you hear of me anywhere, come and see me, for I want to tell my friends who Manly and Rogers are, and how you helped us. Good Bye!" There were tears in his eyes, voice full of emotion, and the firm clasp of his hand told how earnest he was, and that he felt more than he could speak.
He helped Mrs. Arcane on her horse, then gave Charlie to her, and, amid waving hands and many _adios_ from our new-found friends, with repeated "good byes" from the old ones, they rode away. Mrs. Arcane could hardly speak when she bade us farewell, she was so much affected. They had about sixty miles to ride to reach the sea, and as she rode on a man's saddle, and was unused to riding, I knew she would be sadly wearied before she reached the coast.
Our little train now seemed much smaller. Three oxen and a mule were all our animals, and the adults must still walk, as they had done on our desert route. But we were comparatively happy, for we had plenty of good meat to eat, plenty of sweet water to drink, and our animals were contented and improving every day; grass and water seemed plenty everywhere. We put our luggage on the oxen and the mule, loaded the children on Old Crump as we had done before, and were ready to move again. Our good friends stood around and smiled good-naturedly at our queer arrangements, and we, not knowing how to say what our hearts would prompt us to, shook their hands and said good bye in answer to their "_adios amigos_" as we moved away, waving hands to each other.
The men then detained me a little while to ask me more about the road we had come over, how far it was, and how bad the Indians were, and other particulars. I told him by signs that we had been twenty-two days on the road, and that the _Indianos_, as they called them, had not troubled us, but that there was very little grass or water in all that land. He made a sort of map on the ground and made me understand he would like to go back and try to bring out the wagons we had left behind, and he wanted me to go back with him and help him. I explained to him by the map he had made, and one which I made myself, that I considered it impossible to bring them over. He seemed much disappointed, and with a shrug of his shoulders said "_mucho malo_" (very bad) and seemed to abandon the idea of getting a Yankee wagon. They very much admired an American wagon, for their own vehicles were rude affairs, as I shall bye-and-bye describe. We bade each other many _adios_, and I went on my way, soon catching up with the little party. We had been informed that it was ten leagues, or thirty miles to Los Angeles, whither we were now headed.
We had now been a whole year on the road between Wisconsin and California, much of the time with the ground for a bed, and though our meals had been sometimes scanty and long between, very few of us had missed one on account of sickness. Some, less strong than we, had lain down to perish, and had been left behind, without coffin or grave; but we were here, and so far had found food to nourish us in some degree with prospects now of game in the future if nothing better offered. We still talked of going to the gold mines on foot, for with good food and rest our courage had returned, and we wanted to succeed.
Our camp this night was in a nice watering place, where dry oak wood was plenty and grass abundant. It was at the foot of the San Fernando Mountain, not rocky, as we had found our road some time before, but smooth and covered with grass. It was rather steep to climb, but an infant compared with the great mountains so rough and barren, we had climbed on our way from Death Valley. Our present condition and state of mind was an anomalous one. We were happy, encouraged, grateful and quite contented in the plenty which surrounded us, and still there was a sort of puzzling uncertainty as to our future, the way to which seemed very obscure. In the past we had pushed on our very best and a kind Providence had kept us. This we did now, but still revolved the best plans and the most fortunate possibilities in our minds. We talked of the time when we should be able to show hospitality to our friends, and to strangers who might need our open hand as we had needed the favors which strangers had shown us in the last few days.
We ate our supper of good meat, with a dessert of good beans our kind friends had given us, and enjoyed it greatly. As we sat in silence a flock of the prettiest, most graceful birds came marching along, and halted as if to get a better view of our party. We admired them so much that we made not a move, but waited, and they fearlessly walked on again. We could see that there were two which were larger than the rest, and from twelve to twenty smaller ones. The little top-knot on the head and their symmetrical forms made them specially attractive, and Mrs. Bennett and the children were much pleased. The beauty of the California quail is especially striking to one who sees them for the first time.
In the morning we began to climb the hill, getting along very well indeed, for our raw-hide moccasins were now dry and hard and fitted the foot perfectly. We did not try to make great speed, but kept steadily on, and as we were used to climbing, we reached the summit easily. From this elevation we could get a fine view of the big grassy plain that seemed to extend as far as the eye could reach and, not far from us, the buildings and gardens of the San Fernando Mission. If we could shut out the mountains the landscape would remind us of a great Western prairie. We never could get over comparing this country with the desolate Death Valley, for it seemed as if such strange and striking opposites could hardly exist.
We rested here a little while and then wound our way down the hill to the level land. A few miles brought us to the mission houses and the church of San Fernando. There was not much life about them, in fact they seemed comparatively deserted, for we saw only one man and a few Indians. The man brought some oranges and gave the children one each. After a little rest we moved on over our road which was now quite smooth and gently descending. Night overtook us in a place where there was no water, but we camped and suffered no inconvenience. A stream was passed next day, and a house near by unoccupied. The road now began to enter gently rolling hills covered with big grass and clover, which indicated rich soil, and we never get tired of talking about it.
At the top of these hills we had another beautiful view as far south and west as the eye could reach. Small objects, probably horses and cattle, were scattered about the plain, grazing in the midst of plenty. Our own animals were given frequent opportunities to eat, and again and again we rejoiced over the beauty. Of course it was not such a surprise and wonder as it was when such a view first burst upon our sight, but it pleased and delighted us ever. On the east was a snow-capped peak, and here we were in the midst of green fields of grass and wild flowers, in the softest climate of an early spring. These strong contrasts beat anything we had ever seen. Perhaps the contrast between the great snow mountain and the hot Death Valley was greater in point of temperature, but there the heat brought only barrenness, and of the two the snow seemed the more cheerful. Here the vegetation of all sorts was in full balance with the balmy air, and in comparison the snow seemed a strange neighbor. It was quite a contrast to our cold, windy March in Wisconsin, and we wonder if it is always summer here. We were satisfied that even if we could get no further we could live in such a land as this. The broad prairie doubtless belonged to the United States, and we could have our share and own a little piece of it on very easy terms, and raise our own cattle and corn. If the people were all as kind as those we had met we were sure at least of neighborly treatment. I have endeavored to write this just as it seemed to us then and not clothe the impressions with the cover of later experience. The impressions we then daily received and the sights we saw were stranger than the wildest fiction, and if it so strikes you, my friendly reader, do not wonder.
As we came over the hills we could see a village near the southern base and it seemed quite near us. It was a new and strange sight to us as we approached. The houses were only one story high and seemed built of mud of a gray color, the roofs flat, and the streets almost deserted. Occasionally a man could be seen, sometimes a dog, and now and then an Indian, sitting with his back to the house. The whole view indicated a thinly populated place, and the entire absence of wagons or animals was a rather strange circumstance to us. It occurred to us at first that if all the emigrants were gone our reception might be a cool one in this city of mud. One thing was in its favor and that was its buildings were about fire proof for they had earthen floors and flat roofs.
We rested half an hour or so just outside, and then ventured down the hill into the street. We met an American almost the first man, and when we asked about a suitable camping place, he pointed out the way and we marched on. Our strange appearance attracted the attention of the children and they kept coming out of the houses to see the curious little train with Old Crump carrying the children and our poor selves following along, dirty and ragged. Mrs. Bennett's dress hardly reached below her knees, and although her skirts were fringed about the bottom it was of a kind that had not been adopted as yet in general circle of either Spanish-American or good United States society. The shortness of the dress made the curious raw-hide moccasins only the more prominent, and the whole make-up of the party was a curious sight.
We went down the hill a little further to the lower bottom to camp, while the barefooted, bareheaded urchins followed after to get a further look at the strangers. Before we selected a suitable place, we saw two tents and some wagons which looked like those of overland travelers, and we went toward them. When within fifty yards two men suddenly came to their feet and looked at our little party approaching as if in wonder, but at twenty steps they recognized Bennett and came rushing forward. "My God! It's Bennett" said they, and they clasped hands in silence while one greeted Mrs. Bennett warmly. The meeting was so unexpected they shed tears and quietly led the way back to camp. This was the camp of R.G. Moody and H.C. Skinner, with their families. They had traveled together on the Platte and became well acquainted, the warmest of friends, and knowing that Bennett had taken the cut off, they more than suspected he and his party had been lost, as no sight of them had come to their eyes. They had been waiting here six weeks in order to get some reliable news, and now Mr. Bennet answered for himself. Rogers and I, belonging to another party, were of course strangers.
Leaving them to compare notes, Rogers and I took charge of Old Crump, the oxen, and the mule, unpacked them, and arranged camp under a monstrous willow tree. Bennett and his wife were taken into Mr. Moody's tent, and an hour or so later when Mrs. Bennett appeared again, she had her face washed clean, her hair combed, and a new clean dress. It was the first time we had found soap, and the improvement in her looks and feelings was surprising. Bennett looked considerably cleaned up too, and appeared bright and fresh. The children had also been taken in hand and appeared in new clothes selected from the wardrobe of the other children, and the old dirty clothes were put in process of washing as soon as possible.
Supper came, and it was so inviting. There was real bread and it looked so nice we smiled when it was offered to us. Mrs. Bennett broke pieces for the children and cautioned them not to eat too much. It did seem so good to be among friends we could talk with and be understood. After supper was over and the things cleared away we all sat down in a circle and Bennett told the story of where he had been these many days on the cut off that was to shorten the trail. Mr. Moody said he had about given the party up and intended to start up the coast to-morrow. The story was so long that they talked till they were sleepy and then began again after breakfast, keeping it up till they had a good outline of all our travels and tribulations. This Mr. R.G. Moody, his wife and daughter, Mrs. Quinby, and son Charles, all lived in San Jose and are now dead. H.C. Skinner was a brother-in-law of Moody and also lived a long time in San Jose, but himself, son and one daughter, are now dead.
Rogers and I now took the pack-saddle we had borrowed of Mr. French to use on our trip to Death Valley and return, and carried it to the saloon on the east side of the plaza, where we were to place it if we got back safely, and delivered it to the man in charge, with many thanks to Mr. French for his favors to us, and sent him word that we would always remember him and be ready to do him a similar or equal favor if ever we were able. We considered him a good benevolent man, and such he proved to be when he offered us fat oxen, good beans, and any other thing we needed. He told the people in the house who we were, which no doubt influenced them kindly in our favor when we arrived.
At the saloon there was a large room with tables in it and gambling going on actively. Money changed hands very rapidly, drinks at the bar were frequent, and the whole affair moved forward with the same regularity as any mercantile business. The door stood wide open and any one could come and go at his pleasure. Quite a number of black-eyed, fair looking women circulated among the crowd, and this, to us, seemed quite out of place, for we had never seen women in saloons before. We watched the game awhile to see some losing and some gaining, the result being quite exciting; but as neither of us had any money, we could not have joined in the game had we been so disposed; so we looked on awhile and then took a seat on the ground outside of the house.
Here we talked over our chances of getting to the mines. All the clothes we had were on our backs and feet and those were the poorest of the poor. We had no money. I had the little black-eyed mule, and Rogers had the watch Arcane had given him. Mr. Moody had said it was 500 miles to San Francisco, and 150 miles further to the mines, so that after the hard travel of a year we were still a long way off from the place we started for.
We could not see any way to make a living here. There was no land cultivated, not a fence, nothing to require labor of any kind. The valley was rich enough and produced great crops of grass, and the cattle and horses we had seen grazing seemed to be about all the use they put it to. It looked as if the people must live principally on meat. I thought if we could manage to get a little provision together, such as flour and beans, that I could pack there on the mule, and I was pretty sure I could find game that would be better meat than we had lived on during the last two months on the desert.
We looked around to see if we could find something to do to earn a little for a start, but were not successful. In our walk about this city of mud we saw many things that seemed strange to us. There were more women than men, and more children than grown-up people, while the dogs were plenty. At the edge of the town, near the river were some grape vines fenced in with living willows, interlaced in some places with dry vines. The Indians moved very moderately around and no doubt had plenty of beef to eat, with very few wants to provide for. We noticed some few people paying for small things at the stores with small money. The women all dressed much alike. The dress was of some cheap material, sandals on feet, and a kind of long shawl worn over the head and thrown over the shoulder. There seemed to be neither hoops nor corsets in their fashions. The men wore trousers of white cotton or linen, with a calico shirt, sandals, and a broad rimmed snuff colored hat. The Indians and their wives went bareheaded.
Near the end of the street we came to a boarding house and went in and sat down in the empty room. Soon a man came in, better dressed than ourselves, and much to our surprise it was one of the old Death Valley travelers, the Rev. J.W. Brier whom I last saw in his lone camp in the desert, discoursing to his young sons on the benefits of an early education. I know the situation struck me very strangely, with death staring them in the face and he preaching!
We had a long talk about the hard journey we had each experienced. As his party had not waited they had come through ahead of us. He said himself and Mr. Granger had started a boarding house when they arrived, and had been doing a good business. He said that as long as the emigrants continued to come he could get along very well. We asked him if there was any chance for us to work and get money to get some provisions to help us on the way to the mines. He said he could give work to one of us hauling water for the house with oxen and cart, and the one who could manage oxen was the man. I was an ox driver and so told him I would take his team and cart and set out with the work. He said he could pay fifty dollars a month, and I accepted the offer quickly as I saw it was a good chance to build up my exhausted strength and flesh.
I turned the little mule out in the hills near by, and began my work. It was not hard, for the boarders were thinning out. The natives did not patronize this hotel very much, but grub disappeared pretty fast at my corner of the table, for my appetite began to be ravenous. There was not much variety to the food and very few luxuries or delicacies, which were hard to obtain on such a bare market, but all seemed satisfied with the food, and to me it tasted extra good.
Rogers went back to the old camp and helped them there, and I often went over after dark, when my work was done. Moody and Skinner had been active in trying to get Mr. Bennett ready to go up the coast with them. Bennett had sold his repeating rifle and with the proceeds and the help of his friends had got another ox, making two yoke for him. They fixed up a wagon for him, and yokes enough could be found where people had traded off their oxen for horses. Provisions enough had been gathered by Moody and Skinner for them all, and Rogers would go along with the party to help them with the teams.
I was left alone after they started, and it was my idea to quit when I had worked a month, and if my mule staid with me, to start for the mines even if I went alone. The majority of the male inhabitants of this town had gone to the mines, and this accounted for the unusual proportion of women. We learned that they would return in November, and then the gambling houses would start up in full blast, for these native Californians seemed to have a great natural desire to indulge in games of chance, and while playing their favorite game of monte would lay down their last reale (12-1/2 cents) in the hope of winning the money in sight before them on the table.
As the boarding house business got dull I was taken over to a vineyard and set to work, in place of hauling water. The entire patch was as green as a meadow with weeds, and I was expected to clean them out. I inquired of Brier how he came to get hold of this nice property, and he said that during the war the soldiers had taken possession of this piece of ground, and had their camp here, so he considered it was government land, and therefore had squatted on it and was going to hold it, and pay for it as regular government land, and that he already considered it his own, for said he, "I am an American, and this is a part of the public domain." "All right," said I, "I will kill weeds for you, if you wish, when I have time to spare, and you don't want the oxen worked at any other work ".
I could see every day that I was improving in health and weight and would soon become myself again, able to take the road to the mines. When about two weeks of my time had expired two oldish men came to the house to stop for a few days and reported themselves as from Sacramento, buying up some horses for that market. Thus far they had purchased only six or eight, as they had found the price too high to buy and then drive so far to a market to sell again. They had about decided to go back with what they had and undertake some other kind of business. I thought this would be a pretty good chance for me to go, as I would have company, and so went to Brier and Granger and told them what I would like to do, and that with their permission I would quit and go on with them. They readily consented, for their money was coming in rather slow, and they paid me twenty five dollars for half a month's work. This made me feel pretty rich and I thought this would give me food enough to reach the mines.
Having two or three days to get ready in, I began doing the best I could. I found an old saddle tree which had been thrown away, and managed to fix it up so I could use it. I also found an old gun some traveler had left, and with a little work I fitted the breech of that to my own gun which was broken, and had been roughly tied together with strips of raw-hide. I now had a good sound gun if it was not very handsome. I bought a Spanish blanket, not so wide as ours, but coarse and strong, and having a hole in the center through which to put the head and wear it as a garment in case of storm, or at night. I went to a native store and bought a supply of carné seca (dried beef) and some crackers, put some salt in my pocket and was now provisioned for another trip. I found my mule in the hills back of town, not far from where I left her, and the rest and good feed had made her look better and feel better, as well as myself.
The drovers had found two other men who wanted to go with them and help drive the horses for their board. I put my blanket on under the saddle, packed my little sack of meat and crackers on behind, and when I was in the saddle with my gun before me I considered I was pretty well fixed and able to make my way against almost anything. I said to myself that the only way now to keep me from getting to the gold mines was to kill me. I felt that there was not a mountain so high I could not climb, and no desert so wide and dry that I could not cross it. I had walked and starved and choked and lived through it, and now I felt so strong and brave I could do it again--any way to reach the gold mines and get some of the "dust."
I had not much idea how the gold from the mines looked. Everybody called it gold dust, and that conveyed an idea to me that it was fine as flour, but how to catch it I did not know. I knew other people found a way to get it, and I knew I could learn if any body could. It was a great longing that came to me to see some of the yellow dust in its native state, before it had been through the mint.
At the last meal I took at the house there were only a few at the table. Among them was a well dressed Californian who evidently did not greatly fancy American cooking, but got along very well till Mrs. Brier brought around the dessert, a sort of duff. This the Californian tasted a few times and then laid down his spoon saying it was no bueno, and some other words I did not then understand, but afterward learned that they meant "too much grease." The fellow left the table not well pleased with what we generally consider the best end of a Yankee dinner, the last plate.
While here I had slept in a small store room, where I made my pallet out of old rags and blankets. While I was looking round for material to make my bed I came across a bag partly full of sugar, brought from Chili. It was in very coarse crystals, some as large as corn. There were some other treasures end luxuries there that perhaps I was expected guard. I however had a sweet tooth and a handful or so of the sweet crystals found their way into my pocket.
I bade Mr. Brier and the rest good bye and rode away to join my company.
Death Valley in '49 - Table of Contents - Chapter 11 - Previous < > Next
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