CAPT. W.F. DRANNAN,
CHIEF OF SCOUTS,
As Pilot to Emigrant and Government Trains, Across the Plains of the Wild West of Fifty Years Ago.
AS TOLD BY HIMSELF,
AS A SEQUEL TO HIS FAMOUS BOOK "THIRTY ONE YEARS ON THE PLAINS AND IN THE MOUNTAINS."
Copiously Illustrated by E. BERT SMITH.
The kindly interest with which the public has received my first book, "Thirty-one Years on the Plains and in the Mountains," has tempted me into writing this second little volume, in which I have tried to portray that part of my earlier life which was spent in piloting emigrant and government trains across the Western Plains, when "Plains" meant wilderness, with nothing to encounter but wild animals, and wilder, hostile Indian tribes. When every step forward might have spelt disaster, and deadly danger was likely to lurk behind each bush or thicket that was passed.
The tales put down here are tales of true occurrences,—not fiction. They are tales that were lived through by throbbing hearts of men and women, who were all bent upon the one, same purpose:—to plow onward, onward, through danger and death, till their goal, the "land of gold," was reached, and if the kind reader will receive them and judge them as such, the purpose of this little book will be amply and generously fulfilled.
FROM DRAWINGS BY E. BERT SMITH.
Captain W.F. Drannan, Chief of Scouts
With the exception of Carson, we were all scared
As soon as they were gone, I took the Scalp off the dead Chief's head
The first thing we knew the whole number that we had first seen were upon us
Waving my hat, I dashed into the midst of the band
Fishing with the girls
They raced around us in a circle
The mother bear ran up to the dead cub and pawed it with her feet
The next morning we struck the trail for Bent's Fort
I took the lead
I bent over him and spoke to him, but he did not answer
At the age of fifteen I found myself in St. Louis, Mo., probably five hundred miles from my childhood home, with one dollar and a half in money in my pocket. I did not know one person in that whole city, and no one knew me. After I had wandered about the city a few days, trying to find something to do to get a living, I chanced to meet what proved to be the very best that could have happened to me. I met Kit Carson, the world's most famous frontiersman, the man to whom not half the credit has been given that was his due.
The time I met him, Kit Carson was preparing to go west on a trading expedition with the Indians. When I say "going west" I mean far beyond civilization. He proposed that I join him, and I, in my eagerness for adventures in the wild, consented readily.
When we left St. Louis, we traveled in a straight western direction, or as near west as possible. Fifty-eight years ago Missouri was a sparsely settled country, and we often traveled ten and sometimes fifteen miles without seeing a house or a single person.
We left Springfield at the south of us and passed out of the State of Missouri at Fort Scott, and by doing so we left civilization behind, for from Fort Scott to the Pacific coast was but very little known, and was inhabited entirely by hostile tribes of Indians.
A great portion of the country between Fort Scott and the Rocky Mountains that we traveled over on that journey was a wild, barren waste, and we never imagined it would be inhabited by anything but wild Indians, Buffalo, and Coyotes.
We traveled up the Neosha river to its source, and I remember one incident in particular. We were getting ready to camp for the night when Carson saw a band of Indians coming directly towards us. They were mounted on horses and were riding very slowly and had their horses packed with Buffalo meat.
With the exception of Carson we were all scared, thinking the Indians were coming to take our scalps. As they came nearer our camp Carson said, "Boys, we are going to have a feast".
On the way out Carson had taught me to call him "Uncle Kit." So I said, "Uncle Kit, are you going to kill an Indian and cook him for supper?"
He laughed and answered, "No, Willie, not quite as bad as that. Besides, I don't think we are hungry enough to eat an Indian, if we had one cooked by a French cook; but what will be better, to my taste at least, the Indians are bringing us some Buffalo meat for our supper," and sure enough they proved to be friendly.
They were a portion of the Caw tribe, which was friendly with the whites at that time. They had been on a hunt, and had been successful in getting all the game they wanted. When they rode up to our camp they surrounded Carson every one of them, trying to shake his hand first. Not being acquainted with the ways of the Indians, the rest of us did not understand what this meant, and we got our guns with the intention of protecting him from danger, but seeing what we were about to do, Carson sang out to us, "Hold on, boys. These are our friends," and as soon, as they were done shaking hands with him Carson said something to them in a language I did not understand, and they came and offered their hands to shake with us. The boys and myself with the rest stood and gazed at the performance in amazement, not knowing what to do or say. These were the first wild Indians we boys had ever seen. As soon as the hand shaking was over, Carson asked me to give him my knife which I carried in my belt. He had given the knife to me when we left St. Louis. I presume Carson had a hundred just such knives as this one was in his pack, but he could not take the time then to get one out. For my knife he traded a yearling Buffalo, and there was meat enough to feed his whole crew three or four days. That was the first Indian "Pow-wow" that I had ever seen or heard of either.
The Indians ate supper with us, and after that they danced "the Peace Dance" after smoking the Pipe of Peace with Uncle Kit. The smoking and dancing lasted perhaps an hour, and then the Indians mounted their horses and sped away to their own village.
I was with Carson off and on about twelve years, but I never saw him appear to enjoy himself better than he did that night. After the Indians had gone, Uncle Kit imitated each one of us as he said we looked when the Indians first appeared in sight. He had some in the act of running and others trying to hide behind the horse, and he said that if the ground had been loose we would have tried to dig a hole to crawl into. One of the party he described as sitting on his pack with his mouth wide open, and he said he could not decide whether the man wanted to swallow an Indian or a Buffalo.
The next morning we pulled out from there, crossing the divide between this stream and the Arkansas. Just before we struck the Arkansas river, we struck the Santa-Fe trail. This trail led from St-Joe on the Missouri river to Santa-Fe, New Mexico, by the way of Bent's Fort, as it was called then. Bent's Fort was only a Trading Station, owned by Bent and Robedoux. These two men at that time handled all the furs that were trapped from the head of the North Platte to the head of the Arkansas; the Santa-Fe trail, as it was then called, was the only route leading to that part of the country.
After traveling up the Arkansas river some distance, above what is known as Big Bend, we struck the Buffalo Country, and I presume it was a week that we were never out of the sight of Buffalos. I remember we camped on the bank of the river just above Pawne Rock that night; the next morning we were up early and had our breakfast, as we calculated to make a big drive that day. Carson had been telling us how many days it would take us to make Bent's Fort, and we wanted to get there before the Fourth of July. Just as we had got our animals packed and every thing in readiness to start, a herd of Buffalo commenced crossing the river about a half a mile above our camp. The reader will understand that the Buffalo always cross the river where it is shallow, their instinct teaching them that where the water is shallow, there is a rock bottom, and in crossing these places they avoid quicksand. This was the only crossing in fifteen miles up or down the river. We did not get to move for twenty-four hours. It seems unreasonable to tell the number of Buffalo that crossed the river in those twenty-four hours. After crossing the river a half a mile at the north of the ford, they struck the foot hill; and one could see nothing but a moving, black mass, as far as the eye could see.
I do not remember how long we were going from there to Bent's Fort, but we got there on the second of July, 1847, and every white man that was within three hundred miles was there, which were just sixteen. At this present time, I presume there are two or three hundred thousand within the same distance from Bent's Fort, and that is only fifty-eight years ago! In view of the great change that has taken place in the last half century, what will the next half century bring? The reader must remember that the increase must be three to one to what it was at that time.
After staying at Bent's Fort eight days we pulled out for "Taos," Carson's home. He remained at Taos, which is in New Mexico, until early in the fall, about the first of October, which is early autumn in New Mexico; then we started for our trapping ground, which was on the head of the Arkansas river, where Beaver was as numerous as rats are around a wharf.
We were very successful that winter in trapping. It was all new to me, I had never seen a Beaver, or a Beaver trap. Deer, Elk, and Bison, which is a species of Buffalo, was as plentiful in that country at that time as cattle is now on the ranch. I really believe that I have seen more deer in one day than there is in the whole State of Colorado at the present time.
In the autumn, just before the snow commences to fall, the deer leave the high mountains, and seek the valleys, and also the Elk and Bison; no game stays in the high mountains but the Mountain Sheep, and he is very peculiar in his habits. He invariably follows the bluffs of streams. In winter and summer, his food is mostly moss, which he picks from the rocks; he eats but very little grass. But there is no better meat than the mountain sheep. In the fall, the spring lambs will weigh from seventy-five to a hundred pounds, and are very fat and as tender as a chicken; but this species of game is almost extinct in the United States; I have not killed one in ten years.
We stayed in our camp at the head of the Arkansas river until sometime in April, then we pulled out for Bent's Fort to dispose of our pelts. We staid at the Fort three days. The day we left the Fort, we met a runner from Col. Freemont with a letter for Carson. Freemont wanted Carson to bring a certain amount of supplies to his camp and then to act as a guide across the mountains to Monterey, California. The particulars of the contract between Freemont and Carson I never knew, but I know this much, that when we got to Freemont's camp, we found the hardest looking set of men that I ever saw. They had been shut up in camp all winter, and the majority of them had the scurvy, which was brought on by want of exercise and no vegetable food. The most of the supplies we took him were potatoes and onions, and as soon as we arrived in camp the men did not wait to unpack the animals, but would walk up to an animal and tear a hole in a sack and eat the stuff raw the same as if it was apples.
In a few days the men commenced to improve in looks and health. Uncle Kit had them to exercise some every day, and in a short time we were on the road for the Pacific Coast. We had no trouble until we crossed the Main Divide of the Rocky Mountains. It was on a stream called the "Blue," one of the tributaries of the Colorado river.
We were now in the Ute Indian country, and at this time they were considered one of the most hostile tribes in the west. Of course there was no one in the company that knew what the Ute Indians were but Kit Carson. When we stopped at noon that day Carson told us as we sat eating our luncheon that we were now in the Ute country, and every one of us must keep a look out for himself. He said, "Now, boys, don't any one of you get a hundred yards away from the rest of the company, for the Utes are like flees liable to jump on you at any time or place."
That afternoon we ran on a great deal of Indian sign, from the fact that game was plentiful all over the country, and at this time of the year the Indians were on their spring hunt. When we camped for the night, we camped on a small stream where there was but very little timber and no underbrush at all. As soon as the company was settled for the night, Carson and I mounted our horses and took a circle of perhaps a mile or two around the camp. This was to ascertain whether there were any Indians in camp near us. We saw no Indians. We returned to camp thinking we would have no trouble that night, but about sundown, while we were eating supper, all at once their war whoop burst upon us, and fifteen or more Utes came dashing down the hill on their horses. Every man sprang for his gun, in order to give them as warm a reception as possible; nearly every man tried to reach his horse before the Indians got to us, for at that time a man without a horse would have been in a bad fix, for there were no extra horses in the company.
I think this must have been the first time these Utes had ever heard a gun fired, from the fact that as soon as we commenced firing at them, and that was before they could reach us with their arrows, they turned and left as fast as they had come. Consequently we lost no men or horses. We killed five Indians and captured three horses.
When the Indians were out of sight, Carson laughed and said, "Boys, that was the easiest won battle I have ever had with the Indians, and it was not our good marksmanship that done it either, for if every shot we fired had taken effect, there would not have been half Indians enough to go around. It was the report of our guns that scared them away."
It was figured up that night how many shots were fired, and they amounted to two hundred. Carson said, "Boys, if we get into another fight with the Indians, for God's sake don't throw away your powder and lead in that shape again, for before you reach Monterey, powder and lead will be worth something, as the Red skins are as thick as grass-hoppers in August."
Of course this was the first skirmish these men had ever had with the Indians, and they were too excited to know what they were doing.
About six years ago I met a man whose name was Labor. He was the last survivor of that company, with the exception of myself, and he told me how he felt when the yelling Red skins burst upon us. Said he, "I don't think I could have hit an Indian if he had been as big as the side of a horse, for I was shaking worse than I would if I had had the third-day Ague. Not only shaking, but I was cold all over, and I dreamed all night of seeing all kinds of Indians."
The next day we were traveling on the back bone of a little ridge. There was no timber except a few scattering Juniper trees. We were now in Arizona, and water was very scarce. The reader will understand that Carson invariably rode from fifty to one hundred yards ahead of the command, and I always rode at his side.
I presume it was between two and three o'clock in the afternoon when Col. Freemont called out to Carson, "How far are you going tonight?"
Carson studied a minute and answered, "I think, in seven or eight miles we will find good water and a plenty of grass."
A few minutes after this Freemont said, "Say, Carson, why not go to that lake there and camp? There is plenty of grass and water," at the same time pointing to the south. Carson raised his head and looked at the point indicated. Then he said, "Col. there is no water or grass there." Freemont replied, "Damn it, look. Can't you see it?" at the same time pointing in the direction of what he supposed to be the lake. Carson checked his horse until Freemont came up near him and then said, "Col., spot this place by these little Juniper trees, and we will come back here tomorrow morning, and if you can see a lake there then I will admit that I don't know anything about this country."
Freemont was out of humor all the evening. He had nothing to say to any person.
The next morning after breakfast was over and the herder had driven in the horses Carson said, "Now Colonel, let's go and see that lake."
Under the circumstances Freemont could not say "no." I think five of us besides Carson and Freemont went back. When we came to the place where the little Juniper trees were, Freemont's face showed that he was badly whipped, for sure enough there was no lake there; he had seen what is called a mirage.
I have seen almost everything in mirage form, but what causes this Atmospheric optical illusion has never been explained to my satisfaction. Some men say it is imagination, but I do not think it is so.
On our way back to camp a man by name of Cummings was riding by my side. He made the remark in an undertone, "I am sorry this thing happened." I asked him, "Why?" In reply he said, "Colonel Freemont won't get over this in many a day, for Carson has shown him that he can be mistaken."
We laid over at this camp until the next day as this was good water and exceptionally good grass. Nothing interfered with us until we struck the Colorado river. Here we met quite a band of Umer Indians. Without any exception they were the worst-looking human beings that I have ever seen in my life. A large majority of them were as naked as they were when they were born. Their hair in many instances looked as if it never had been straightened out. They lived mostly on pine nuts. The nuts grow on a low, scrubby tree, a species of Pine, and in gathering the nuts they covered their hands with gum which is as sticky as tar and rubbed it on their bodies and in their hair. The reader may imagine the effect; I am satisfied that many of these Indians had never seen a white man before they saw us. Very few of them had bows and arrows; they caught fish. How they caught them I never knew, but I often saw the squaws carrying fish.
When we reached the Colorado river we stayed two days making rafts to cross the river on. The last day we were there, laying on the bank of the river, I presume there came five hundred of these Indians within fifty yards of our camp. Most of them laid down under the trees. One of our men shot a bird that was in a tree close by, and I never heard such shouting or saw such running as these Indians did when the gun cracked. This convinced me that we were the first white men they had ever seen, and this the first time they had heard the report of a gun. This incident occurred in forty-eight, which was fifty-eight years ago. I have seen more or less of these Indians from that time until now, and these Indians as a tribe have made less progress than any other Indians in the west. Even after the railroad was put through that part of the country, they had to be forced to cover themselves with clothes.
After crossing the Colorado river we came into the Ute country, but we traveled several days without seeing any of this tribe. About five days after we crossed the Colorado river, we came on to a big band of Sighewash Indians. The tribe was just coming together, after a winter's trapping and hunting. At this time the Sigh washes were a powerful tribe, but not hostile to the whites.
We camped near their village that night. After supper Carson and I went over to this village, at the same time taking a lot of butcher knives and cheap jewelry with us that he had brought along to trade with the Indians. When we got into their camp, Carson inquired where the chief's wigwam, was. The Indians could all speak Spanish; therefore we had no trouble in finding the chief. When we went into the chief's wigwam, after shaking hands with the old chief and his squaw, Carson pulled some of the jewelry out of his pocket and told the chief that he wanted to trade for furs. The old chief stepped to the entrance of the wigwam and made a peculiar noise between a whistle and a hollo, and in a few minutes there were hundreds of Indians there, both bucks and squaws.
The old chief made a little talk to them that I did not understand; he then turned to Carson and said, "Indian heap like white man."
Carson then spoke out loud so they could all hear him, at the same time holding up some jewelry in one hand and a butcher knife in the other, telling them that he wanted to trade these things for their furs.
The Indians answered, it seemed to me by the hundreds, saying, "Iyah oyah iyah," which means "All right." Carson then told them to bring their furs over to his camp the next morning, and he would then trade with them. He was speaking in Spanish all this time. On our way back to our camp Carson said to me, "Now Willie, if I trade for those furs in the morning I want you and the other two boys to take the furs and go back to Taos; I know that you will have a long and lonesome trip, but I will try and get three or four of these Indians to go with you back to the head of the Blue, and be very careful, and when you make a camp always put out all of your fire as soon as you get your meal cooked. Then the Indians can not see your camp."
The next morning we were up and had an early breakfast. By that time the squaws had commenced coming in with their furs. Uncle Kit took a pack of jewelry and knives and got off to one side where the Indians could get all around him. In a very short time I think there must have been a hundred squaws there with their furs.
They brought from one to a dozen Beaver skins each, and then the Bucks began coming in and then the trading began. Carson would hold up a finger ring or a knife and call out in Spanish, "I'll give this for so many Beaver skins!"
It really was amusing to see the Indians run over each other to see who should get the ring or knife first.
This trading did not last over half an hour because Carson's stock of goods was exhausted. Carson then said to the Indians, "No more trade no more knives, no more rings, all gone."
Of course a great many of the Indians were disappointed, but they soon left us. As soon as they were gone Freemont came to Carson and said, "What in the name of common sense are you going to do with all those furs?"
Uncle Kit said, "Col., I'm going to send them to Taos, and later on they will go to Bent's Fort." The Col. said, "Yes, but by whom will you send them to Taos?" Carson replied, "By Willie, John and the Mexican boy."
The Col. said, "Don't you think you are taking a great many chances?" "Oh, no, not at all. Willie here is getting to be quite a mountaineer. Besides, I am going to get some of these Indians to go with the boys as far as the head of the Blue, and when they get there they are, comparatively speaking, out of danger."
He then said, "Colonel, we will lay over here today, and that will give me a chance to pack my furs and get the boys ready to start in the morning."
We then went to work baling the hides; by noon we had them all baled. After dinner Carson and I went over to the Indian camp. We went directly to the Chief's wigwam. When the Indians saw us coming they all rushed up to us. I presume they thought we had come to trade with them again. Uncle Kit then told the Chief that he wanted eight Indian men to go with us boys to the head of the Blue River. At the same time he sat down and marked on the ground each stream and mountain that he wanted us to travel over. He told them that he would give each one of them one butcher knife and two rings, and said they must not camp with the Utes.
I think there were at least twenty Indians that wanted to go. Carson then turned to the Chief and told him in Spanish to pick out eight good Indians to go with us, and told him just what time we wanted to start in the morning. We then went back to our camp and commenced making arrangements for our journey to Taos.
Carson and I were sitting down talking that afternoon when Col. Freemont came and sat beside us and said to Uncle Kit, "Say, Kit, ain't you taking desperate chances with these boys?"
This surprised me, for I had never heard him address Carson as Kit before in all the time I had known him.
Carson laughed and answered, "Not in the least; for they have got a good escort to go with them." Then he explained to Freemont that he had hired some Indians to go with us through the entire hostile country, telling him that the boys were just as safe with those Indians as they would be with the command, and more safe, for the Indians would protect them, thinking they would get his trade by so doing. Uncle Kit then explained to him that the Sighewashes were known to all the tribes on the coast and were on good terms with them all, and therefore there was no danger whatever in sending the boys through the Indian country. The Col. answered, "Of course, you know best; I admit that you know the nature of the Indian thoroughly, but I must say that I shall be uneasy until I hear from the boys again."
Uncle Kit said, "Wait until tomorrow morning, and I will convince you that I am right."
The next morning we were up early and had breakfast, and before we had our animals half packed the old chief and hundreds of the Indians were there. Those that the chief had selected to accompany us were on horse back, and the others had come to bid us farewell, and that was one of the times I was tired shaking hands.
When we were about ready to mount our horses and had shaken hands with Uncle Kit and the balance of the company, the Indians made a rush for us. Both bucks and squaws shouted, "Ideose, ideose," which means, "good bye, good bye," and every one trying to shake our hands at once, and of all the noise I ever heard, this was the worst. After this racket had been going on some fifteen or twenty minutes, I turned and saw Uncle Kit and Col. Freemont standing on a big log laughing like they would split their sides. Finally Uncle Kit motioned for me to mount my horse. I mounted and the other boys followed suit, and when we started of all the noise that ever was made this beat any I ever heard in all my life. At the same time the Indians were waving their hands at us.
As soon as we left the crowd of Indians Uncle Kit and Col. Freemont joined us. The Col. said to me, "Willie, this is one of the times you have had your hand well shaken, I really felt sorry for you, but I didn't see how I could assist you, and I am in hopes you will not get such a shaking up in a good while. Now, my boy, be very careful, and try and get through safe and sound, and when we come along back next fall, we will all go to St. Louis together."
Uncle Kit told me to not let the Indians turn back until we crossed the divide at the head of Blue river. He said, "Then you will be out of the Ute country, and all danger to you will be over, but do not put too much confidence in these Indians although I think they are reliable and will do just as I have told them to do. But I want you to be on the lookout all the time yourself. I know there will be no danger in the daytime, and when night comes be sure and put your fire out before it gets dark, and when you get to Taos rest up a few days, and then hunt up Jim Bridger or Jim Beckwith, and they will advise you what to do. It may be that I will get home myself, in which case you will not need their advice."
We now bid them "good bye" and started on what would be called now a long, tedious and dangerous journey, but at that time we thought nothing of it.
How long a time it took us to make this trip I do not remember. The Indians traveled in the lead the most of the time. When near the middle of the afternoon, I would ask them in Spanish how far they were going tonight, and they would tell me the number of hours it would take to go but seemed not to understand the distance by miles. The Indians showed more judgment in selecting the camping ground than I expected they would.
In a few days we were in the Ute country, and we saw plenty of Indian sign every day. I think it was on one of the tributaries of the Green river we were traveling along one afternoon, we came in sight of a band of Ute Indians. They were in camp. We were in about a half a mile of them when we first saw them; they were directly to the north of us, and they discovered us at the same time we saw them. As soon as the Sighewashes saw the Utes they stopped, and two of the Sighewashes rode back to us and said in Spanish, "We go see Utes," and they rode over to the Ute camp. Probably they were gone a half hour or more, when they returned, and we surely watched every move the Utes made till the Sighewashes came back to us. When they came back they were laughing and said to us, "Utes heap good." Then I was satisfied that we were in no danger.
We traveled on some five or six miles when we came to a nice little stream of water where there was fine grass. I said to the boys, "We'll camp here. Now you boys unpack the animals and take them out to grass, and I will go and kill some meat for supper."
I picked up my gun and started; I didn't go over a quarter of a mile till I saw four Bison cows, and they all had calves with them. I crawled up in shooting distance and killed one of the calves. At the crack of my gun the cows ran away. I commenced dressing the calf and here came four of my Sighewash Indians running to me, and when they saw what I had killed, I believe they were the happiest mortals that I ever saw.
As soon as I got the insides out I told them to pick up the calf and we would go to camp. Some of them picked up the carcass and others picked up the entrails. I told them we did not want the entrails. One of the Indians spoke up and said, "Heap good, all same good meat". I finally persuaded them to leave the insides alone.
When we got back to camp, the boys had a good fire, and it was not long before we had plenty of meat around the fire, and I never saw Indians eat as they did that night. After they had been eating about an hour, Jonnie West said to me, "Will, you will have to go and kill more meat, or we won't have any for breakfast."
We soon turned in for the night and left the Indians still cooking. In the morning we were surprised to see the amount of meat they had got away with. What they ate that night would have been plenty for the same number of white men three or four days. The nature of the Indian is to eat when he has the chance and when he hasn't he goes without and never complains.
For the next three days we traveled through a country well supplied with game, especially Elk, Deer, and black bear. It was now late in the summer and all game was in a fine condition, it was no unusual thing to see from twenty five to a hundred Elk in a band. I have never seen since that time so many Elk with so large horns as I saw on that trip, which convinced me that there had been no white hunters through that part of the country before.
In traveling along there were times we were not out of sight of deer for hours; consequently we never killed our game for supper until we went into camp, and as a rule, the boys always picked me to get the meat while they took care of the horses. I remember one evening I was just getting ready to start out on my hunt. I asked the boys what kind of meat they wanted for supper. Jonnie West said, "Give us something new." Well, I answered, "How will a cub bear do?" They all answered, "That is just what we want." That moment I turned my eyes to the south, and on a ridge not more than three hundred yards from camp, I saw three bears eating sarvis berries. I was not long in getting into gun shot of them. There was the old mother bear and two cubs. I had to wait several minutes before I could get a good sight on the one I wanted, as they were in the brush and I wanted a sure shot. I fired and broke his neck; he had hardly done kicking before Jonnie West and some of the Indians were there. We made quick work getting the meat to camp and around the fire cooking, and it was as fine a piece of meat as I ever ate.
The next morning we bid the Indians good bye, but before they left us one of them stooped down and with a finger marked out the route we should take, thinking we did not know the country we must pass over, and strange to say, the route this wild Indian marked out in the sand was accurate in every particular. He made dots for the places where we should camp and a little mark for a stream of water, then little piles of sand for mountains, some large and some small, according to the size of the mountain we were to cross. After he had finished his work, I examined the diagram and I found he had marked out every place where we should camp.
From there to the head of the Arkansas river, I called Jonnie West and asked him to look at it. He examined it at every point and said, "This beats any thing I ever saw or heard tell of; with this to guide us, we could not get lost if we tried to."
We were now ready to start. Jonnie said to me, "Well, I feel we owe this Indian something. How many butcher knives have you?"
I said, "I have two." "Alright, I will give him this finger ring and you give him one of your knives."
We did so, and I think he was the proudest Indian I ever saw; he jumped up and shouted, "Hy-you-scu-scum, white man," which meant "Good white man."
The Indians all shook hands with us and then mounted their horses and were gone. We now pulled out on our long and dangerous trip to Taos, New Mexico, and strange to say, we never missed a camping ground that the Indians had marked out for us, until we reached the head of the Arkansas river, and the beauty of it was, we had good grass and good water at every camping place, which was very essential for ourselves and our horses.
When we struck the head of the Arkansas river we considered ourselves out of danger of all hostile Indians. Besides, we knew every foot of the ground we had to travel over from here to Taos, New Mexico. We camped one night on the river, down below where Leadville stands now, and I never saw so many huckleberries at one place as I saw there. After we had our horses unpacked and staked out to grass, I said to the boys, "Now you go and pick berries, and I will try and find some meat for supper." I did not go far when looking up on a high bluff I saw a band of mountain sheep. I noticed they had not seen me yet and were coming directly towards me. When they got in gun-shot, I fired and killed a half-grown sheep, and he did not stop kicking until he was nearly at my feet. This was the first mountain sheep I had ever killed, and it was as fine a piece of meat as I ever ate, and until this day, mountain sheep is my favorite wild meat. This was one of the nights to be remembered, fine fresh meat, and ripe huckleberries, what luxuries, for the wilds to produce.
In a few days we reached Taos, and here I met my old friend Jim Bridger. After laying around a few days and resting up, Jonnie West said to me, "Will, what are we going to do this winter? You are like me, you can't lay around without going wild."
I said, "That's so, Jonnie. Let's go and hunt up Jim Bridger, and ask him what he is going to do this winter."
We went to the house where Jim was boarding and we found him in one of his talkative moods. We asked him what he proposed doing this winter; he said, "I am going out a trapping, and I want you boys to go with me."
I asked him where he was going to trap, and he said he thought he would trap on the head of the Cache-la-Poudre, and the quicker we went the better it would be for us. "I have all the traps we will need this winter," he said; "now you boys go to work and mould a lot of bullets."
The reader will understand that in those days we used the muzzle-loading gun, and we had to mould all of our bullets. In a few days we were ready to pull out. I asked Jim if we could keep our horses with us through the winter. He said, "Yes, as the snow does not get very deep in that country, and there is plenty of Cotton Wood and Quaker Asp for them to browse on in case the snow gets deep. Besides, it will save one of us a long tramp in the spring, for we will have to have the horses in order to pack our furs on."
In a few days we were ready to pull for trapping ground. Each one of us took a saddle horse and two pack horses. We were on the road nine days from the day we left Taos until we reached our trapping ground.
We traveled down Cherry Creek from its source to its mouth, and across the Platte, where Denver City, Colorado, now stands. At that time there was not a sign of civilization in all that country.
After crossing the Platte a little below where Denver now stands, we met about five hundred Kiawah Indians, led by their old chief. The Kiawas were friendly to us, and the chief was a particular friend of Jim. He wanted to trade for some of our beaver traps. He kept bidding until he offered two horses for one trap. Jim refused to trade, but he made the chief a present of a trap. After Jim refused to take the horses, a young squaw came running out and offered to give me as fine a buffalo robe as I ever saw; I was in the act of taking it and was congratulating myself on what a fine bed I would have that winter when Jim said, "Will, don't take that. There is more stock on that robe than we can feed this winter. Open the hair and look for yourself."
I did so, and I saw the Grey Backs all through the hair as thick as they could crawl. I had never seen such a sight before, and the reader can imagine my horror. I dropped it so quick that Jonnie West laughed and asked me if it burnt me. The boys had the joke on me the balance of the winter. Most every day they would ask me if I didn't want a present of a Buffalo robe from a young squaw.
A few days after this, we were on our trapping ground, and our winter's work of toil, hardship, and pleasure had begun. We soon had our cabin built in a little valley, which was from a half mile to a mile wide and about eight miles long. On each side of the valley were high cliffs. In places there was a half a mile or more where neither man or beast could climb these cliffs, and we were surprised later on to see the quantity of game of various kinds that came into this valley to winter, such as Elk, Deer, and Antelope. I never, before or since, have seen so many Wild Cats, or Bob Cats, as they were called at that time, and also some cougars.
I remember one little circumstance that occurred later on; it was about the middle of the afternoon; we had all been to our traps and had returned to the cabin with our furs. Jim said, "Will, we will stretch your furs if you will go and shoot a deer for supper."
This suited me, so I took my gun and went outside the door to clean it. Just as I had got through, Jonnie West looked out and said, "Look, Will, there is your deer now; you won't have to hunt him."
I looked, and sure enough, there he was, in about a hundred yards of the cabin. Jim Bridger fired at him and knocked him down, but he got up and ran into a little bunch of brush. I ran to the spot, thinking he was only wounded and that I should have to shoot him again. When I reached the brush, to my surprise, I found five big wildcats, and they all came for me at once. I fired at the leader, and then I did some lively running myself. As soon as I got out of the brush, I called the boys, and we got the cats, the whole of the bunch, and the deer besides, which had not been touched by the cats.
We skinned the cats, and Jim afterwards made a cap out of one of them, and he wore it for several years.
Jonnie West and I were out hunting one day for deer when we discovered two cougars in the grass, and we could not make out what it meant. Finally one made a spring, and it seemed to us that he jumped at least twenty feet, and he landed on a deer, and for a minute or two there was a tussle. While this was going on Jonnie and I were getting closer to them, and when they had the deer killed we were within gunshot of them, and they didn't eat much before we killed them both. We skinned the deer, and also the cougars, and took them to camp, and when we went to Bent's Fort the next spring we got twenty dollars apiece for them, for they were extra large cougars, or mountain lions as they are sometimes called, and their hides are very valuable.
It seems wonderful to me when I think of the amount of game I saw through the country at that time, of all descriptions, some of which in their wild state are now extinct, especially the buffalo and the bison, and all other game that was so plentiful at that time is very scarce all over the west. I believe a man could have seen a thousand antelope any day in the year within five miles of where the city of Denver now stands.
We had splendid success this winter in trapping beaver. It was late in the spring when we left our trapping ground. Just before we pulled out Jim Bridger said, "Boys, I saw a pretty sight this evening out at the point of rocks," which was about a quarter of a mile from our cabin. Jonnie West said, "What did you see, Jim?"
"I saw an old Cinnamon bear and two cubs." Jonnie said, "Why didn't you kill her?"
"I didn't have anything to kill with," Jim replied. "I left my gun in the cabin, but we will all go out in the morning and see if we can find them."
We were all up early in the morning and ready for the bear hunt. Jim told us what route each should take. He said, "Now boys, be careful, for she is an old whale, and if you get in to a fight with her some one will get hurt, or there will be some running done."
I had not gone far when I looked up on a ridge ahead of me and saw what I took to be Mrs. Bruin; I crawled up within gun shot and fired and broke the bear's neck. I rushed up to her expecting to see the cubs. Imagine my surprise when I found only a small bear. In a few moments the boys were there; Jonnie laughed and asked Jim if that bear was the whale he set out to kill. Jim stood and looked at the bear quite a bit before answering. Then he said, "That is a Cinnamon Bear, but where are the cubs?" Jonnie said, "I will bet my hat you didn't see any cubs, Jim, you dreamed it." Jim grinned and answered, "Well, boys I guess you have the drop on me this time."
From then on, all the spring Jim's cubs was a standing joke. In a few days, we pulled out for Bent's Fort; we were late in getting to the Fort with our furs this spring. Mr. Bent asked us why we were so late in getting in. Jonnie replied that Jim kept us hunting for Cub bears all the spring, and as we couldn't find any, it took all our time. Of course they all wanted to know the joke, and when Jonnie told it in his droll way, it made a laugh on Jim. "If you will only quit talking about the cubs," Jim said, "I'll treat all around," which cost him about ten dollars.
After laying around the Fort a few days, Col. Bent and Mr. Roubidoux hired Jonnie and me to kill meat to supply the table at the boarding house for the summer, that being the only time of the year that the boarding house at the Fort did any business. At this time of the year all of the trappers and hunters were staying at the fort with nothing to do but eat, drink and spend their money that they had earned the winter before. It was no uncommon thing for some of these men to bring from three to four hundred dollars worth of furs to Bent's Fort in the spring, and when fall came and it was time to go back to the trapping ground, they wouldn't have a dollar left, and some of them had to go in debt for their winter outfit.
Jonnie and I had no trouble in keeping plenty of meat on hand, from the fact that buffalo and antelope were very plentiful eight or ten miles from the fort. I remember one little circumstance that occurred this summer. We were out hunting, not far from the Arkansas river, near the city now known as Rocky Ford, Colo. We had camped there the night before. We went out early in the morning to kill some antelope, leaving our horses staked where we had camped. We hadn't gone more than half a mile when we heard a Lofa wolf howl just ahead of us. The Lofa wolf was a very large and ferocious animal and was a terror to the buffalo. When we reached the top of a ridge just ahead of us, looking down into a little valley two or three hundred yards away, we saw five Buffalo cows with their calves, and one large bull, and they were entirely surrounded by Lofa wolves. Jonnie said, "Now, Will, we will see some fun." The cows were trying to defend their calves from the wolves, and the bull started off with his head lowered to the ground, trying to drive the wolves away with his horns. This he continued to do until he had driven the wolves thirty yards away. All at once a wolf made a bark and a howl which seemed to be a signal for a general attack, for in a moment, the wolves were attacking the Buffalo on every side, and I don't think it was five minutes before they had the bull dead and stretched out. Until then I had never thought that wolves would attack a well Buffalo, but this sight convinced me that they could and would kill any buffalo they chose to attack.
We went back to camp, packed up our meat, and pulled out for the fort. When we got there I told Jim Bridger about the fight the wolves had with the buffalos, and he said, "If you had seen as much of that as I have, you would know that wolves signal to each other and understand each other the same as men do."
It was early in the spring of fifty when Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, and myself met at Bent's Fort, which was on the head waters, of the Arkansas river. Bridger and I had just got in from our winter's trapping ground and had disposed of our furs to a very good advantage; Carson had just returned from a trip back east. Carson said to Bridger, "Now Jim, I'll tell you what I want you to do. I want you and Will (meaning me) to go over to Fort Kerney and escort emigrants across to California this season, for the gold excitement back in the eastern states is something wonderful, and there will be thousands of emigrants going to the gold fields of California, and they do not know the danger they will have to contend with, and you two men can save thousands of lives this summer by going to Fort Kerney and meeting the emigrants there and escorting them through. Now boys, you must understand that this undertaking is no child's play. In doing this apparently many times you will seem to take your lives in your own hands, for the Indians will be worse on the plains this year than they ever have been. At the present time there is no protection for the emigrant from the time they get twenty-five miles west of Fort Kerney, until they cross the Sierra Nevada mountains, and there are to be so many renegades from justice from Illinois and Missouri that it is going to be fearful this season, for the renegade is really worse in some respects than the Indian. He invariably has two objects in view. He gets the Indian to commit the murder which is a satisfaction to him without any personal risk besides the plunder he gets. I know, boys, you can get good wages out of this thing, and I want you to take hold of it, and you, Jim, I know have no better friend than Gen. Kerney, and he will assist you boys in every way he can. I almost feel as though I ought to go myself, but I cannot leave my family at the present time; now, Jim, will you go?" Bridger jumped up, rubbed his hands together and said, "I'll be dog goned if I won't, if Will goes with me."
To which I replied, "I will go with you, and I think the quicker we start the better it will be for all parties concerned." Carson said, "You can't start too soon, for the emigrants will be arriving at Fort Kerney by the time you get there."
The next morning Jim and I were up and had an early breakfast and were ready to start. Uncle Kit said to us, "Now boys, when you come back this fall I want you to come and see me and tell me what kind of luck you have had, and all the news."
We now bid him good bye, and we were off.
I will here inform the reader that Carson had taught me to call him Uncle Kit when I was fourteen years old, and I always addressed him in that way. Jim and I were off for Fort Kerney, which was a journey of about three hundred miles and not a sign of civilization on the whole trip. It was a wild Indian country the entire distance, but we knew where the hostile Indians were and also the friendly Indians. Consequently we reached Fort Kerney without having any trouble.
We met Gen. Kerney, who was glad to see us. He said, "Boys, where in the name of common sense are you going to?"
We explained to him in a few words our business. After hearing our plans the Gen. said, "I am certainly glad to know that someone will take hold of this thing, for I am sure that there will be more emigrants massacred this year than has ever been in any other. I will tell you why I think so. All the Indians from here to the Sierra-Nevada mountains are in the war-path; in the second place the emigrants who are coming from the east have no idea what they have to contend with, and I dread the consequences."
While this conversation was taking place a soldier rode in that had been on picket duty and said to the Gen., "I saw some covered wagons going into camp down on Deer Creek about five miles from here. Where do you suppose they are going, Gen?"
To which Gen. Kerney replied, "They are going to California, and you will see hundreds of them inside the next two weeks."
Jim Bridger said, "Well, Willie, come on and let's see what we can do with them."
As we were leaving the Fort Gen. Kerney said to us, "Boys, come back and stay all night with me, I want you to make my quarters your home while you are waiting for the emigrants to arrive."
Bridger answered, "Thank you, Gen. We will be glad to do so, and we may want you to recommend us to the emigrants."
To which the Gen. answered, "I will take pleasure in doing so."
Bridger and I rode down to where the emigrants were in camp, and we found the most excited people I ever saw in my life. They had passed through one of the most terrible experiences that had ever occurred on the frontier. There were thirty wagons in the train, and they were all from the southeastern part of Missouri, and it seemed that there was one man in the train by the name of Rebel who at the time they had left home had sworn that he would kill the first Indian he came across. This opportunity occurred this morning about five miles back of where we met them. The train was moving along slowly when this man "Rebel" saw a squaw sitting on a log with a papoose in her arms, nursing. He shot her down; she was a Kiawah squaw, and it was right on the edge of their village where he killed her in cold blood. The Kiawahs were a very strong tribe, but up to this time they had never been hostile to the whites; but this deed so enraged the warriors that they came out in a body and surrounded the emigrants and demanded them to give up the man who had shot the squaw. Of course, his comrades tried not to give him to them, but the Indians told them if they did not give the man to them, they would kill them all. So knowing that the whole train was at the mercy of the Indians, they gave the man to them. The Indians dragged him about a hundred yards and tied him to a tree, and then they skinned him alive and then turned him loose. One of the men told us that the butchered creature lived about an hour, suffering the most intense agony. They had just buried him when we rode into the camp. The woman and some of the men talked about the dreadful thing; one of the men said it was a comfort to know that he had no family with him here or back home to grieve at his dreadful death.
On hearing this remark Jim said, "You are the most lucky outfit I ever saw. Any other tribe of Indians this side of the Rocky Mountains would not have left one of you to have told the tale, and it is just such darned fools as that man that stir up the Indians, to do so much deviltry."
Until this time there had been but a few of the emigrants near us. We were both dressed in buck-skin, and they did not know what to make of us. The young girls and some of the young men were very shy. They had never seen anyone dressed in buck-skin before. An elderly woman came to us and said, "Ain't you two men what they call mountaineers?" Jim answered, "Yes, marm, I reckon, we are."
She replied, "Well, if you are, my old man wants you to come and eat supper with we'ns."
Jim turned to me and laughed. "Shall we go and eat with them, Willie?" he asked. I answered, "Yes, let's get acquainted with everybody."
We went with the old lady to their tent, which was but a few steps from where we stood. When she had presented us to her old man as she called him, she said to him, "Jim, I know these men can tell you what to do." He shook hands with us, saying, "I don't know what in the world we are going to do. I believe the Indians will kill us all if we try to go any further, and I know they will if we go back."
By this time there was quite a crowd around us.
I said to Jim, "Why don't you tell the people, what we can do for them?" Jim then said, "why, dog gorn it, this boy and I can take you all through to California and not be troubled with the Indians if there is no more durned fools among you to be a-shooting squaws. But you will have to do just as we tell you to do." And looking over the ground he asked, "Who is your captain? I want to see him."
The old man said, "Want to see our Capt'n? We hain't got any capt'n, got no use for one." Jim then asked, "Who puts out your guards around the camp at night?"
"Guards? Didn't know we had to have any."
Jim looked the astonishment he felt as he said, "Why, dad-blame-it man, you won't get a hundred miles from here before all of you will be killed."
At that moment one of the men said, "Who is this coming?"
We all looked in the direction he was, and we saw it was Gen. Kerney. When he rode up to us Bridger said, "Gen., what do you think? These people have no captain and have no one to guard the camp at night."
The Gen. answered, "Is that possible? How in the name of god have they got here without being massacred?" And then, addressing the men that stood near he said, "Gentlemen, you had better make some arrangement with my friends here to pilot you across to California; for I assure you that if these men go with you and you follow their directions, you will reach your journey's end in safety."
Just then the Gen. looked down the road, and he said, "Look there!"
We all looked, and we saw another long train of emigrants coming towards us. They drove up near us and prepared to go into camp. This was a mixed train. Some came from Illinois, some from Indiana, and a few families from the state of Ohio.
Jim and I mounted our horses and rode with the Gen. down among the new emigrants. They had heard all about the skinning of the white man and were terribly excited about it. They asked the Gen. what was best for them to do. A great many of them wanted to turn and go back. Finally the Gen. said to them, "Here are two as good men as there are in the mountains. They are thoroughly reliable and understand the Indians' habits perfectly. Now, my friends, the best thing you can do is to organize yourselves into company, select your captain and then make some arrangement with these men to pilot you through, for I tell you now, there will be more trouble on the plains this year than has ever been known before with the Indians. Now gentlemen, we must leave you, but we will come back in the morning and see what decision you have come to."
At this time two men stepped up to Jim Bridger and me and said, "Why can't you two stay all night with us? We've got plenty to eat, and you both can sleep in our tent."
Jim answered, "We don't want to sleep in any tent. We've got our blankets, and we will sleep under that tree," pointing to a tree near us.
The Gen. said, "Mr. Bridger, you boys had better stay here tonight, for you have lots of business to talk over."
Jim and I dismounted, staked our horses out and went to supper. After supper Jim said, "Now, you want to get together and elect a captain."
One man said, "All right, I'll go and notify the entire camp, and we will call a meeting at once." Which was done. As soon as the crowd gathered, they called on Jim to tell them what to do. Jim mounted the tongue of a wagon and said, "Now, men, the first thing to do is to elect a Captain, and we must take the name of every able-bodied man in this outfit, for you will have to put out camp guards and picket guards every night. Now, pick out your men, and I'll put it to a vote."
Some called for Mr. Davis, and some for Mr. Thomas; both men came forward. Jim said, "now, Mr. Davis, get up on this wagon tongue and I'll make a mark, and we'll see if the crowd wants you for their Captain." Jim took a stick and made a mark on the ground from the wagon tongue clear out through the crowd. He then said, "All that want Mr. Davis for Captain will step to the right of this line, and they that favor Mr. Thomas will keep to the left of the line." About three fourths of the men stepped to the right of the line, which made Davis Captain. As soon as Davis was declared Captain, he said, "Now friends, we must hire these men to escort us to California; if there is anybody here that is not in favor of this let him say so now."
But everyone shouted, "Yes! yes!"
Davis turned to us and said, "What is your price for the trip?"
Jim said to me, "What do you say, Will?"
I replied, "It is worth four dollars a day each."
Jim told the Captain that we would go for four dollars a day to be paid each of us every Saturday night, and if at the end of the first week we had not given satisfaction, we would quit. Davis put it to a vote, and it was carried in our favor.
The balance of the evening was spent in making arrangements to commence drilling the men. In the morning Jim said to me, "Now, Will, I'll take charge of the wagons and you take charge of the scouts."
I told the Captain that I wanted him to select seven good men that owned their horses. I wanted to drill them to act as scouts. Jim said, "Yes, we want to get to drilling every body tomorrow morning."
We put in four hard days' work at this business, and then we were ready for the trail, and we pulled out on our long and tedious journey to the land of gold.
There were four hundred and eighty-six men and ninety women in the train, and they had one hundred and forty-eight wagons. Every thing moved smoothly until we were near the head of the North Platte river. We were now in the Sioux country, and I began to see a plenty of Indian sign. Jim and I had arranged that a certain signal meant for him to corral the wagons at once. As I was crossing the divide at the head of Sweet Water, I discovered quite a band of Indians coming directly towards the train, but I did not think they had seen it yet. I rode back as fast as my horse could carry me. When I saw the train, I signaled to Jim to corral, and I never saw such a number of wagons corralled so quickly before or since, as they were. Jim told the women and children to leave the wagon and go inside the corral, and he told the men to stand outside with their guns, ready for action, but to hold their fire until he gave the word, and he said, "When you shoot, shoot to kill; and do your duty as brave men should."
In a moment, the Indians were in sight, coming over the hill at full speed. When they saw the wagons, they gave the war whoop. This scared the women, and they began to cry and scream and cling to their children. Jim jumped up on a wagon tongue and shouted at the top of his voice "For God's sake, women, keep still, or you will all be killed."
This had the effect that he desired, and there was not a word or sound out of them. When the Indians were within a hundred yards from us, their yelling was terrible to hear.
Jim now said, "Now boys, give it to them, and let the red devils have something to yell about," and I never saw men stand up and fight better than these emigrants. They were fighting for their mothers' and wives' and children's lives, and they did it bravely. In a few minutes the fight was over, and what was left of the Indians got away in short order. We did not lose a man, and only one was slightly wounded. There were sixty-three dead warriors left on the field, and we captured twenty horses.
It was six miles from here to the nearest water, so we had to drive that distance to find a place to camp. We reached the camping ground a little before sunset. After attending to the teams and stationing the guards for the night Cap't. Davis came to Jim and me and said, "The ladies want to give you a reception tonight."
Jim said, "What for?" Davis replied, "Saving our lives from those horrible savages." Jim answered, "Why, durn it all, ain't that what you are paying us for? We just done our duty and no more, as we intend to do all the way to California."
By this time there was a dozen women around us. With the others was a middle-aged woman. She said, "Now, you men with the buck-skin clothes, come and take supper with us. It is now all ready."
Jim said, "Come, Willie, let's go and eat, for I am hungry and tired too."
While we were eating supper, three or four young ladies came up to us and asked me if I didn't want to dance.
"The boys are cleaning off the ground now, and I want you for my first pardner," she said with a smile and a blush. Jim said, "Will can't dance anything but the scalp dance." One of the girls said, "What kind of a dance is that?"
Jim replied, "If the Indians had got some of your scalps this afternoon you would have known something about it by this time."
Jim told them that when the Indians scalped a young girl, they took the scalp to their wigwam and then gave a dance to show the young squaws what a brave deed they had done, "and all you girls had better watch out that they don't have some of your scalps to dance around before you get to California; but if you wish us to, Will and I will dance the scalp dance tonight, so you can see how it is done."
When they had the ground all fixed for the dance, Jim and I took our handkerchiefs and put them on a couple of sticks, stuck the sticks into the ground and went through the Indian scalp dance, making all the hideous motions with jumps and screams, loud enough to start the hair from its roots, after which Jim explained to them this strange custom, telling them that if any of them was unfortunate enough to fall into the Indians' hands this was the performance that would be had around their scalps.
The girls said with a shudder they had seen enough of that kind of dancing without the Indians showing them. The lady who had invited us to supper said, "Now girls, you see what these men have done for us, they have saved our lives, and do you realize the obligation we are under to them? Now let us do everything we can for their comfort until we reach California."
And I must say I never saw more kind-hearted people than these men and women were to us all the way, on this long and dangerous journey.
We had no more trouble with the Indians until we had crossed Green river. We were now in the Ute country. At this time the Utes were considered to be one of the most hostile tribes in the West. That night Jim asked me what route I thought best to take, by the way of Salt Lake or Landers Cut Off. I said, "Jim, Landers Cut Off is the shortest and safest route from the fact that the Indians are in the southern part of the territory at this time of year, and I do not believe we shall have much more trouble with them on this trip." Which proved to be true. We saw no more Indians until we reached the Humbolt river. Just above the Sink of Humbolt about the middle of the afternoon I saw quite a band of Indians heading directly for the train. I signaled Jim to corral, which he did at once.
In a few moments they were upon us. As we were out on an open prairie, we had a good sight of the Indians before they reached us; I saw by the leader's dress that it was a chief that was leading them. His head dress was composed of eagles' feathers, and he rode some thirty or forty yards ahead of the other warriors. When in gun shot of me I fired at him and brought him down. When he fell from his horse the rest of the Indians wheeled their horses and fled, but the chief was the only one that fell. As soon as they were gone I took the scalp off the dead chief's head. When we went into camp that evening, Jim told the emigrants what a great thing I had done in shooting the chief. "There is no knowing how many lives he saved by that one shot in the right time."
Then all the emigrants gathered around me to see the scalp of the Indian; they had never seen such a sight before; each of the young ladies wanted a quill from the Indian's head dress; and they asked me what I would take for one of them; I told them the quills were not for sale.
At this time the lady who had invited Jim and me to eat with her so many times came up to us, and she said, "Girls, I can tell you how you can get these quills." They all asked at once, "How is that, aunty?"
"Each one of you give him a kiss for a quill," she laughed, and of all the blushing I ever saw the young girls that surrounded me beat the record. Jim grinned and said, "I'll be dog goned if I don't buy the scalp and the feathers and take all the kisses myself."
This made a general laugh. I told Jim that he was too selfish, and that I would not share the kisses with him, that I would give the scalp to him and the feathers to the elder lady, and she could divide the feathers among the girls. The girls clapped their hands and shouted, "Good! good!"
Jim said that was just his luck, he was always left out in the cold.
In a few days we were on the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We told the emigrants that they were entirely out of danger and did not need our services any longer, so we would not put them to any more expense by going further with them. As this was Saturday evening the emigrants proposed going into camp until Monday morning and that Jim and I should stay and visit with them. We accepted the invitation, and Sunday was passed in pleasant converse with these most agreeable people, and I will say here that of all the emigrants I ever piloted across the plains none ever exceeded these men and women in politeness and good nature, not only to Jim and me, but to each other, for through all that long and trying journey there was no unkindness shown by any of them, and if we would have accepted all the provisions they offered us it would have taken a pack train to have carried it through. Every lady in the train tried to get up some little extra bite for us to eat on the way back. The reader may imagine our surprise when Monday morning came and we saw the amount of stuff they brought to us. Jim said, "Why ladies we haven't any wagon to haul this stuff, and we have only one pack horse and he can just pack our blankets and a little more. Besides, we won't have time to eat these goodies on the road. Supposing the Indians get after us? We would have to drop them and the red skins would get it all."
We now packed up and were ready to put out. We mounted our horses, bid them "good bye" and were off.
Nothing of interest occurred until we got near Green river. Here we met Jim Beckwith and Bob Simson. Jim Bridger and I had just gone into camp when they rode up. After they had shaken hands with us Jim Beckwith said, "Boys, you are just the parties we are looking for."
Bridger asked Beckwith what he had been doing and where he had been since we parted at Bent's Fort last spring. Beckwith replied that he had been with a train of emigrants just now who were on the way to California, and they had camped over on Black's Fort. The cholera had broken out among them soon after they crossed the Platte River, and from then up to yesterday they had buried more or less every day. There had been no new cases since yesterday, and they were laying over to let the people rest and get their strength, and they expected to start out tomorrow morning, and turning to me Beckwith said, "Will, I want you to go with us for there is another train of emigrants over on the Salt Lake route."
At this time there were two routes between the Green river and the Humboldt; one by the way of Salt Lake and the other by Lander's Cut off. Beckwith said, "Those emigrants going by the Salt Lake route have no guide, and I am afraid when they strike the Humboldt they will all be massacred, for they will be right in the heart of the Pi-Ute country, and you know this tribe is on the war path, and I want you to go on and overtake them and see them safely through, or else stay with this train and I will go myself and take care of them. We want the two trains to meet at the mouth of Lone Canyon, and then we will go up Long Canyon to Honey lake and then cross the Sierra Nevada."
I turned to Jim Bridger and said, "Jim, what do you think of this proposition?"
Jim said he thought it a good thing for me to do; the responsibility would give me more confidence in myself. "You know, Will, you have always depended on Carson or me at all times, and this trip will teach you to depend on yourself."
I saddled my horse and went with Beckwith back to the emigrants' camp. It was arranged that I was to take charge of the scouts and Simson to take charge of the other train, and Beckwith would go on and overtake the other train, and the train that reached the mouth of Long Canyon where it empties into Truckey river first must wait for the other train.
At this point the two trails divided, one going up the Truckey by the Donna lake route and the other up Long Canyon by Honey lake, the latter being considered the best route.
The next morning we pulled out. I had good luck all the way through, having no trouble with the Indians, arriving at Long Canyon three days ahead of Jim Beckwith.
In my train there was an old man with his wife and a son and daughter; they seemed to be very peculiar dispositioned people, always wanting to camp by themselves and having nothing to say to any one. When we reached Long Canyon, Simson told the emigrants that we would wait until the other train arrived, which news greatly pleased the most of them, but the old man and his family seemed to be all upset at the idea of laying over, and the next morning they harnessed up their horses. While they were doing this, Simson called my attention to them and said, "Let's go and see what they mean."
I asked the man what he was going to do with his team. He replied that he was going to hook them to the wagon and was going to California. I said, "You certainly are not going to start on such a journey alone, are you? You are liable to be all killed by the Indians before you get twenty miles from here."
The old man shrugged his shoulders and said, "Why, gol darn it, we hain't seen an Injin in the last three hundred miles, and I don't believe there is one this side of them mountains," and he pointed towards the Sierra Nevada mountains. "And if we did meet any they wouldn't bother us for we hain't got much grub, and our horses is too poor for them to want."
I told him, he must not go alone, the road was too dangerous, and besides the other train might come at any moment, and then we could all pull out in safety. He said, "I own that wagon and them horses, and I own pretty much every thing in that wagon and I think I will do just as I please with them." I insisted on his waiting until the other train came up, he said, he would not wait any longer, that he was going to go right now. I left him and walked back to the camp; I asked the men if any of them had any influence with that old man out there.
"If you have for god's sake use it and persuade him to not leave us, for if he starts out alone he, nor any of his family will reach Honey lake alive."
Just then one of the men said, "I have known that man ten years and I know that all the advice all these people could give him would be wasted breath and the less said to him the better it will be."
I then went back to Simson who had charge of the wagons and said to him, "What shall we do with that old man? He is hitching up to leave us which will be sure death to him and his family. If he goes had we not better take his team away from him and save his life and his family's?"
Simson said, he would consult with the other men and see what they thought about it. After he had talked with the other men a short time, twenty or thirty of them went out where the old man was hitching up his team. What they said to him I do not know. When I got to him he was about ready to pull out; he said, "I'm going now and you men can come when you please and I don't give a D'. whether you come at all of not."
This was the last we ever saw of the old man or his son.
Three days later Jim Bridger arrived with his train, and then we all pulled out together by the way of Honey lake. The first night after leaving camp Jim Bridger, Simson and myself had a talk about the old man who had left us. Jim said. "I don't suppose we shall ever hear of him again," and turning to me he said, "Will, it will take us two days to go to Honey Lake; now tomorrow morning suppose you pick out of your scout force eight good men, take two days' rations and your blankets with you and rush on ahead to the Lake and see if you can find them. It may be possible that some of them are alive, but I don't think you will find one of them. Now, Will, be careful and don't take any desperate chances; if you find they have been taken prisoners keep track of them until we get there."
The next morning I and my men were off bright and early. We reached the lake about three o'clock in the afternoon, where we struck the lake there was scattering timber for quite a ways up and down and here we found the old man's wagon. The wagon cover, his tent, and his team, were gone; his cooking utensils were setting around the fire which was still burning. Almost every thing was gone from the wagon, but there was no sign of a fight. Neither could we see any white men's tracks; but moccasin tracks were plenty. We sat down and ate our luncheon: as soon as we finished eating we started to trail the Indians to find out what had become of the whites. We had gone but a short distance when I discovered the tracks of the two women; then we knew that they had been captured by the Indians. I said, "I want you men to take this side of the ridge and watch for Indians all the time, and you must watch me also; when you see me throw up my hat come at once and be sure to not shout, but signal to each other by whistling or holding up your hands and be sure to have your signals understood among yourselves. And another thing I want to say to you, if you see any Indian, signal to me, at once. Now I am going to take the trail of these white women, and if I need your assistance I will signal, and you must all get to me as quick as possible."
All being understood I started on the trail of the white women. I hadn't followed the trail over a half a mile, when I saw one of the men running towards me at full speed; when he reached me he said, "We have found a dead man, and he is stuck full of arrows."
I mounted my horse and accompanied him to where the body lay. I recognized it at once; it was the son of the old man who had left us three days before. His clothes were gone except his shirt and pants, and his body was almost filled with arrows. I said, "This is one of the party, and the other is a prisoner, or we shall find his body not far from here. Let us scatter out and search this grove of timber thoroughly; perhaps we may find the other body; and be careful to watch out for the Indians, for they are liable to run upon us any time."
We had not gone more than two hundred yards before we found the old man's body; it was laying behind a log with every indication of a hand-to-hand fight. One arrow was stuck in his body near the heart, and there were several tomahawk's wounds on the head and shoulders, which showed that he died game.
It was getting late in the afternoon so I proposed to the men that we take the bodies back to where we had found their camp, as we had no way of burying the bodies in a decent manner, we had to wait until the train came up to us. We laid the bodies side by side under a tree and then we went into camp for the night as there was good grass for the horses. We staked them out close to camp. We had seen no Indians all day, so we did not think it necessary to put out guards around the camp that night, and we all laid down and went to sleep.
The next morning we were up and had an early breakfast; that done, I said, "Now, men I want two of you to go back and meet Bridger and tell him what we have found and pilot him here to this camp, and he will attend to the burying of these bodies; I would rather you should choose among your selves who shall go back."
One man by the name of Boyd and another whose name was Taluck said they would go. These men were both from Missouri; I then told them to tell Bridger that I was a going to start on the trail of the white women at once, and for him to camp here and that he would hear from me tonight, whether I found them or not.
The rest of the men and I started on the trail; three went on one side and three on the other, and I took the trail; I cautioned the men to keep a sharp look out for the Indians all the time, and if they saw any Indians to signal to me at once. I had followed the trail some five or six miles when it led me to a little stream of water in a small grove of timber. Here I found where the Indians had camped; the fire was still burning which convinced me that the Indians had camped there the night before. I also saw where the two women had been tied to a tree. I followed them a short distance and saw that the band we were following had met a larger band, and they had all gone off together in a northerly direction. We were now near the north end of Honey lake, and I had about given up hopes of ever seeing the women again, but I did not tell my thoughts to my companions. The trail was so plain that I now mounted my horse; we followed at a pretty rapid gate two or three miles, when we saw that a few tracks had turned directly towards the lake. I dismounted and examined them and found the two shoe tracks went with the small party. I was now convinced that this was a party of squaws going to the lake to fish; and I felt more encouraged to keep up the pursuit. We were within a mile of the lake at this time. We rode as fast as we could and keep the trail in sight. We soon came in sight of the lake; looking to the right I saw a small band of squaws building a fire. I called the men to me and told them that I believed the women we were looking for were with those squaws, and if they were, I thought we could rescue them.
"I think our best plan will be to ride slowly until they see us and then make a dash as fast as our horses can carry us; if the white women are with them, we will ride right up to them, if they are tied I will jump down and cut them loose," and pointing at two of the men I said, "You two men will take them up behind you and take the lead back, and the rest of us will protect you."
We did not ride much farther before the squaws discovered us at which they began to shout, "Hyha," which meant "They're coming they're coming."
In a moment we were in their midst, and sure enough the women were there and tied fast to a small tree, a short distance from where the squaws were building the fire.
What happened in the next few minutes I could never describe. The women knew me at once and with cries and laughter, touching, beyond description greeted me.
In an instant I was off my horse and cutting them loose from the tree, at the same time the men were circling around us with guns cocked ready to shoot the first squaw that interfered with us.
To my great surprise I did not see a bow or arrow among them or a tomahawk either; as quick as I had the women loose I helped them up behind the men I had selected to take them away from captivity back to meet the train. As soon as we had left them of all the noise I ever heard those squaws made the worst. I think they did this so the bucks might know that they had lost their captives and might come to their assistance. Where the bucks were I never knew. After riding four or five miles we slacked our speed, and the women began telling us how the whole thing had occurred. It seemed they had got to the camping ground early in the afternoon of the second day after leaving us and instead of staking out their horses they turned them loose, and about dusk the old man and his son went out to look for the horses, were gone a couple of hours and came back without them. This made them all very uneasy. The next morning just at break of day the old man and his son took their guns and started out again to hunt for their horses, and the mother and daughter made a fire and cooked breakfast. The sun was about an hour high, and they were sitting near the fire waiting for the men to come back when they heard the report of a gun; they thought the men were coming back and were shooting some game. They had no idea there was an Indian near them. In the course of a half an hour they heard the second shot, and in a few minutes the Indians were upon them, and they knew that the men were both dead, because the Indians had both of their guns and were holding them up and yelling and dancing with fiendish glee. The Indians grabbed them and tied their hands behind them and then they tore down their tent, took the wagon cover off and everything out of the wagon that they could carry off.
"The bucks did the things up in bundles, and the squaws packed them on their backs, and they were expecting every minute to be killed. After the squaws had gone the bucks ate everything they could find that was cooked, and the squaws that you found us with made us go with them to the north end of the lake and there they camped that night. They tied us with our backs to a little tree; we could not lay down and what little sleep we got we took sitting up; we had not had a bit of breakfast that morning when the Indians came upon us; it was all ready, and we were waiting for our men folks to come back, and we have had nothing since, but a little piece of broiled fish with no salt on it."
Until now I had not said anything about our finding the dead bodies of their men, I thought it better to tell them now rather than wait until we reached camp, as I thought the shock would be less when they came to see the condition they were in.
Before I had finished telling the condition of the bodies when we found them, I was afraid the young lady would faint, she seemed to take the horrid news much harder than her mother did.
When we got to camp we found that Bridger had been there some two hours ahead of us and had men digging the graves and others tearing up the wagon box to make coffins to bury the bodies in.
We took the women to a family they were acquainted with and left them in their care. After they had been given something to eat they went where the bodies lay and looked at them, and with sobs of bitter grief bent over them; which made my heart ache in sympathy for them in their loneliness.
The next morning we laid them away into their lonely graves in as decent a manner as we could, and in sadness left them.
Through the influence of Jim Bridger arrangements were made with two families to take these two ladies with them to California. Just before noon Jim came to me and said, "We will stay here until tomorrow morning; I would like you to take four or five men who have good horses and go around the north end of the lake and find out, if you can, if the Piutes are gathering together in a large band. It is about the time of year for the Piutes to leave this part of the country, but if they are gathering in a large band they are bent on giving us trouble, and we will have to make preparations to defend our selves. In three days more if we have good luck we shall be out of the hostile Indian country."
We had an early dinner and four others and myself set out for the head of the lake, we rode hard all that afternoon and to our great surprise we never saw an Indian. We passed a number of camps where they had been, but their trails all showed that they had pulled out for the north. Seeing this we turned back and struck the emigrant trail about ten miles from where Jim was camped. Just as we struck the emigrants trail I looked off to the south about a quarter of a mile and saw nine head of horses, and they were heading in the same direction we were going. I called the other men's attention to them and said, "Let's capture those Indian ponies." You may imagine our surprise when we got near them to find they were not Indian ponies but good American horses and several of them had collar marks on them showing that they had been worked lately. We drove them on to camp, and when we put them in the corral we found them to be perfectly gentle. Bridger and the balance of the men came to see them, and every man had his own view where they had come from. But we never knew for certain whom they belonged to. The next morning we pulled out very early. The third day we crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains without any thing of interest happening to us. In two days more we reached the Sacramento river. We were now about forty miles above Sacramento City, California. We camped here about the middle of the afternoon. It being Saturday Jim thought we would rest the balance of the day. After we had eaten our dinner Jim called all the men of the train together and told them that they were out of all danger now from the Indians and would have no further use for a guide and that our contract with them was ended, and that he and I would like to start back for New Mexico Monday morning. In a short time they settled up with us, paying us our due with grateful thanks for our care of them on their dangerous journey. I now went to the men who were with me when I found the horses. I said, "Some of those horses belong to you, how many do you want?"
They all looked surprised, and one said, "They are not our horses, they are yours. You found them."
I answered, "Now, boys, that is not fair; drive them up and let me select three and you may have the balance to divide as you choose among you."
This seemed to please them; and they drove the horses up at once. I chose the three I liked best, and I afterwards found them all to be good saddle horses. Bridger and I now went to work making our pack saddles and getting ready for our long and tedious journey back to New Mexico, a journey where wild beasts and still wilder savages might lurk behind any tree or bush, a journey where at that time all one could see for hundreds of miles was thick forests, and trackless prairies; a journey of danger and fatigue which the people of this later day of rapid travel could not be made to understand.
The next morning after breakfast was over a man came to me and said, Mrs. Lynch and her daughter Lizzie would like to see me. These were the two ladies I had rescued from the Indians. I had not spoken to them since I left them with Bridger at the camp near Honey Lake. As I came near to the elder lady she came to meet me and holding out her hand, clasping mine she said, "Are you going to leave us tomorrow?"
I answered, "That is what we intended to do."
She then burst into tears, and amid her sobs said, "We can never pay you for what you have done for us."
At this moment the young girl appeared, and as she gave me her hand her mother said, "He is going to leave us, and we can never pay him for what he has done for us"; at this the girl commenced to cry too and it was some minutes before I could talk to them. When they had quieted down I said, "Ladies, you owe me nothing, I only done my duty, and I would do the same thing over again for you or any one else under the circumstances that existed." Then the elder lady said, "If it hadn't been for you we might never have seen a white person again."
I asked her, what state they were from. She said they came from Wright country, Missouri, and that she had a brother there that was amply able to come and take them back, but she would not ask him to do so for she never wanted to cross the plains again. She said she had a few dollars left that the Indians didn't get, and she thought Lizzie and she could find something to do to get a living. I gave them all the encouragement I could, bid them good bye and went back to Jim.
By the time dinner was ready Jim and I had our pack saddles and every thing ready to put on our horses. While we were eating dinner as many as thirty ladies came to us to inquire what they could give us to take with us to eat on our journey. I was amused at Bridger. After each lady had told what she had to give us, some had cakes, some had pie, and some had boiled meat and some had bread; Jim straightened up and said, "Why dog-gorn it ladies, we ain't got no wagon and we couldn't take one if we had one the route we are going which will be through the mountains all the way with no road or trail. We are going horse back and we can only take about a hundred pounds on our pack horses. Now, ladies, we are a thousand times obliged to you all but all we want is some bread and a little meat, enough to do us a couple of days, and then we will be where we can shoot all the meat we want; it is a poor hunter that could not get enough grub for himself in the country we are going through."
The next morning when we were getting ready to start the women commenced bringing in bread and meat for us and we had to take enough to last us a week, we could not take less without hurting their feelings. When we were all ready to start, the whole company came to bid us "good bye." Men and women, old and young, all came, and amid hand clasps from the men and tears and smiles from the women we mounted our horses and were off.
We followed the trail we had come, back as far as Truckey river, and just below where Reno stands now, we met the remnant of an emigrant train and according to their story they had had nothing but trouble from the time they struck the head of Bitter Creek until the day before we met them. They said they had lost twenty seven men and fourteen women and a number of cattle and horses. They were very much surprised when we told them of the train we had just piloted through to California without losing one that staid with us. We told them of the dreadful fate of old Mr. Lynch and his son.
As night was coming on we camped in company with these people. Next morning we crossed Truckey river and struck out in a south east direction, leaving the site where Virginia city now stands a little to our right going by the sink of the Carson River. Here we camped and laid over one day to give our horses a rest. Before we left here we filled our canteens with water. Bridger told me that for the next fifty miles it was the poorest watered country in the United States. Said he: "There is plenty of water, but it is so full of alkali it is not fit to drink; it is dangerous for both men and beasts."
Jim took the lead all day, and when we came to a little stream of water he would get down and taste the water while I held the horses to keep them from drinking. It was about four o'clock that afternoon before we found water that was fit to drink; here we camped for the night.
Jim said, "From this on we may look for Indians; we are now in the Ute country and tomorrow night we will be in the Apache country. Now we must avoid the large streams for the Apaches are almost always to be found near the large streams at this time of year. Their hunting season is about over now, and they go to the large streams to catch fish and for the benefit of a milder climate. If we keep on the high ridges and mountains away from the large streams we will have no trouble with the Indians and what is better for us we can get all the game we want without any exertion."
The next day we were traveling along on a high ridge in the south east corner of what is now the State of Nevada. We looked off to the south at a little valley that was perhaps a half a mile from us, and there we saw a grand sight. There must have been at least a hundred elk and amongst them two very large old bucks fighting. Their horns were something immense, and strange to say all the rest of the band stood still, watching the fight. At last Jim said, "Will, I believe I will break up that fight."
He jumped to the ground, raised his gun and fired. At the sound of the gun all of the band ran away except the two who were fighting. I laughed and said, "Jim, I thought you were going to stop that fight."
He replied, "Give me your gun, and I will stop it."
This time I handed him my gun, and he squatted down and took a rest on his knee and fired. At the crack of the gun one of the elks fell to his knees, but got up and ran for all that was in him, and that was the last we saw of the elk. I told Jim he had spoilt the fun, and we had got no meat out of it. He grinned and said, "Oh durn it that old elk was too old to eat any way."
We went on and camped at the head of a little stream that emptied into Green river. The sun was perhaps an hour high, when we went into camp. As soon as we had staked out our horses Jim said, "Now Will, I will get the supper, if you will go out and see if you can get some meat."
I answered, "That suits me to a T. Jim."
I took my gun and started for a little ridge. I had not gone over a hundred yards when I saw five deer coming directly towards me. Among them were two spring fawns. I dropped down at the root of a tree and waited until they came to within fifty yards of me; I then fired and broke one of the fawns' necks, and the rest of the flock came near running over me, and over Jim also. I picked up my fawn and went back to camp. Jim said, "I don't want you to go hunting anymore Will."
I said, "Why not?" He said, "If you do I shall have to stand guard over the camp to keep the deer from tramping every thing we have into the ground"; and he pointed to the tracks of the deer not ten feet from the fire. This convinced us that these deer had never heard the report of a gun before. We were now in the extreme south east end of Nevada, and I don't imagine a white man had ever been through that part of the country before. On this trip we traveled some twelve or fifteen hundred miles, and we never saw a white person the whole way, and not even the sign of one.
At this time when a little more than a half of a century has passed there are portions of this same country that could not be rode over from the fact that it is all fenced in and cultivated. If we had been told then that we would live to see railroads crossing every part of this country we would have thought the person insane to ever think of such a thing at a time when there was not a foot of rail-road as far west as Missouri.
We had broiled venison for supper that night, the first we had eaten for some time, and the reader may be sure we enjoyed it.
Next morning we pulled out of here quite early and crossed Green river just above the mouth of Blue River. We were now in the greatest game country I had ever seen then or ever have seen since. We traveled up this stream three days, and I do not think there was a half an hour at any one time that we were out of sight of game of some kind. There was the Bison which is a species of Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Black Bear, and Antelope. We crossed the main divide of the Rocky Mountains at the head of the Arkansas River. That night we camped within a few miles of what since has become the far-famed camp and now city of Leadville.
We were now out of the hostile Indian country, and so we did not have to be so cautious in traveling days or camping at night.