Chapter Thirteen

Difficulties with Indians and Trails of the Desert

        The next morning we recrossed the bridge over the Jordan, and crossing the city in a westerly direction, took the road around the northern side of Great Salt Lake. A few miles outside the city limits we passed some hot springs throwing steam up from their depths. A little further on we passed through a country of wheat and barley fields, which promised a bountiful harvest. At night we camped close to the foot of the mountains, from which some canyons came down, and where we drove our stock for food. We were about a week in making our way around the lake, which was almost constantly in view on our left. We must have passed through or near the sites of Weber, Ogden and Brigham cities. On reaching Bear River we ferried our wagons, swimming our horses and cattle in safety. Here we met with the only serious accident of our whole journey. We had recently joined another company from Illinois, as the Indians were reported bad, a little farther on, and it was considered also a good idea to present a strong front to the Mormons. The Mountain Meadow Massacre was of too recent date to be forgotten. Therefore, it was the custom for a number of companies to unite for one or two hundred miles through the Mormon country and that of their allies, the Indians. In crossing a river, it was the custom to mount our horses and rush the loose stock in and prevent them from turning back, and then cross with our saddle horses on the boat. In the Illinois company was a dare-devil of a young man, and when the cattle were well into the river he followed them on his horse. He had about reached the middle, the horse swimming gallantly, when the man and horse suddenly disappeared. After a time the horse came to the surface further across, but we never saw the young man again. We camped on the bank and all hands turned out to search for the body. The ferryman assured us that it was entirely useless, that Bear River never gave up its dead. This was the only death in all the parties we were connected with during the entire journey. Satisfied that further search would be useless, the next morning we continued on our way, and during the day we crossed the Malad on a rude bridge. This small stream looks stagnant, but has a great depth. The water was said to be very poisonous and was of a green, sickly color. We were glad to leave it far behind.

        Our road for the next week led through the Goose Creek Mountains, the City of Rocks, and down into Thousand Springs Valley. This part of the way was very rough and hilly, with little feed and uncertain water, and the mountains were reported full of Indians. We had, at this time, joined in with a number of other companies, and had a force of about one hundred men and nearly a thousand head of cattle.

        On about the fourth day out, in going down a very steep hill, the key came out of the bow on one of my wheel oxen. He was a big, wild fellow, and hard to catch. Our four wagons pulled out to one side of the road and all of our own force started in to capture him, while the balance of the train and all of the driven cattle, including our own, passed by. It was one of the longest day’s drives on the whole trip, twenty-five miles to the next water. We were detained nearly three hours before we could start. The hills were full of Indians and we miles behind the main body of the train. However, we started on and made the best time we could over the miserable roads. We kept on until about nine o’clock that night. It was pitch dark, and we were not sure we were on the road. There was nothing to do but stop until daylight. We loosened the teams from the wagons and chained them to trees. If we had turned them loose as usual, they would have wandered off for water. Without food for man or beast, not daring to start a fire, we put the women and children in the wagons and stood around with our guns until morning. It certainly was as miserable and anxious a night as I ever spent. As soon as it was light enough we started on and in about five miles came up with the camp on a stream of water with some feed. We turned our teams loose to drink their fill and to feast on the grass while we gathered wood and soon had our supper and breakfast all in one. We considered it a great breach not only of common decency, but of all discipline that they had not waited for us or at least sent back a company of the loose men to help guard our women and children.

        As one of our company had been elected captain a few days before, we called a meeting that was pretty warm before it was over. A man named Webster and one Charlie Wingfield who had been with us all the way took our side of the controversy. After a time, seeing nothing could be arranged satisfactorily, and as we were about out of the Indian country, we told the balance of the company to go to -----, well, some warmer place, and separating our cattle from theirs, including those of the two that sided with us, we moved down the creek and lay over for a day, while they hitched up and pulled out. We never saw them again, though I heard that in the desert farther on, they had lost most of their cattle and a number of lives in trying some new cut-off on the road.

        The next day we crossed into Thousand Springs Valley, and camped on some low hills. The valley is almost level, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of springs bubbling up all over it. Some are small and others are as much as three feet in diameter and as the whole plain is covered with vegetation it is dangerous for stock, for if they should fall into one of the larger springs it would be impossible for them to get out. These springs, form the head waters of the Humboldt River, down which stream we traveled from this point for nearly three hundred miles following in a general way the line of the present Central Pacific Railroad. Our course lay as near the river as possible, as there are but few tributaries, and we camped on the banks of the river every night.

        In places the mountains come down to the stream, forming high bluffs. In such places the road would leave the river and wind through the rocky hills, in one place for at least twenty miles, it taking a full day over rough roads without water to reach the stream again. The feed all the way down the Humboldt was rather sparse and in some places nothing but sage brush. Yet our stock seemed to get on surprisingly well. Since then this has become a great stock country, cattle subsisting on the bunch grass and sage brush.

        In about three weeks we had traveled the whole length of the Humboldt River, without incident, and pitched our camp at the sink of that river, where we found some good springs of water and hundreds of acres of grass standing two or three feet high, something like the California wild oats, just before ripening. Here we camped for a week, allowing our teams to recuperate on the fine grass and to prepare for crossing the forty mile desert marked on the old maps "Mirage Plains." Camped near us was a band of two hundred Digger Indians. Their Chief who called himself "Captain Jack" said he had lived a good many years at Stockton, California, and spoke English fairly well. He visited our camp and wasvery friendly until a young steer belonging to Mr. Webster was missed from our herd. Webster was a very excitable man and went direct to the Indian Camp and complained to Captain Jack that his band had stolen his steer. That afternoon the Captain appeared at our camp arrayed in his war paint, and with many oaths worthy of an Indian who had the whole California vocabulary at his command, said that Webster had lied about his people, and that he must have satisfaction. He threatened the old man’s life and the lives of the whole party unless the offense was adjusted to his satisfaction. Things looked pretty blue for us, as there were only about fifteen men half armed in our party, with a large herd to guard beside our women and children. My brother-in-law, Patton, was the captain of the company, and he and I finally got the irate Indian to one side and told him that the old man was crazy, "heap loco." We had heard that the Indians have a great fear of, and even reverence, for insane people, and when we made him believe us, he went away, however unsatisfied. We then went after Webster pretty roughly and ordered him not to open his mouth again or go near the Indian camp. If he did we would surrender him to the Indians rather than to endanger the lives of our wives and children. However, fortune came to our rescue. That night a long horned steer gored a large and very valuable mare belonging to my father, so severely that we were compelled to shoot her. When the Indians heard of it the next morning, they came and asked for the dead animal, and when we gave her to them, they cut her in pieces and carried her away, body limbs and entrails, leaving nothing behind. After that they had a big feast and gave us no more trouble. I have no doubt they had Webster’s steer also.

        We now spent a day or two in cutting as much of the long grass as we could possibly tie and stow away in our wagons, filling our water barrels, and preparing food for the next day. At the end of the week, having made all the provision possible, we broke camp at daylight and started out on the desert. Our road led almost due south for the Carson River forty miles distant. A few miles out on the desert, we crossed a beautiful clear running stream of as nice looking water as I ever saw. We had been warned that this water was deadly poison, so rushed our teams and cattle across it without giving them a chance to take even a mouthful. I have often wondered since if it was poisonous, and if so what the poison was. At the time I supposed it was alkali but having seen so much alkali water since, I know it could not have been that, as it is never clear.

        For the first ten miles the road was fairly good, then the sand commenced growing deeper and looser, making the traveling very slow. At the end of twenty miles, and about four o’clock P.M., we reached some wells of brackish water, which had been dug by some enterprising parties, and called the half way wells. Here we unyoked our cattle, bought some of the brackish water for them, and gave them the grass we had brought on our wagons – not a very large feed when divided among so many. When they had finished they lay down to rest while we had a hearty meal, though cold, except some coffee which we made over a few little sticks of wood we had picked up. About sundown we were all hitched up and started out on the hardest and most perilous part of our journey. The moon rose about eight o’clock and we had a clear night and no difficulty in keeping the road. The silence of the desert was intense, not a living thing within miles, save our own caravan, and we traveled on through the loneliness almost without sound. The hoofs of the horses and cattle and the wheels of the wagons moved through the sands silently as the night, nothing was heard, save the voices of the drivers and the impact of their long whips on the oxen as they urged them on.

        Strive as we might, we could not advance more than two miles an hour. And oh, the weariness of it! The wagons inches deep and the teams half way to their knees in the shifting sands, while we trudged along by their sides, slipping back more than half way at every step, yet compelled by voice and whip to keep every animal, all the time, up to the limit of his endurance.

        On either side of the road we could see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of carcasses of dead cattle in the ghastly moonlight. The air of the desert is so dry that dead animals never decay, but dry up with hides, hair and horns intact, and so remain for years. Through the long hours of the weary night we struggled on. The moon was low down in the West. In the East dawn began to lighten up the horizon and just as the sun came up, when as it seemed neither man nor beast could have endured more, we came out on to the Carson River, not having lost an animal. Unyoking the cattle and allowing them to go down to the river to drink, we stretched ourselves under the wagons and in a minute we slept the sleep of exhaustion.