Mr. Bennett had gone only a short distance out when he had the misfortune to break the axle of his wagon and he then went back to camp and took an axle out of the dead man’s wagon and by night had it fitted into his own. He had to stay until morning, and there were still a few others who were late in getting a start, who camped there also. Among these were J. B. Arcane, wife and child; two Earhart brothers and sons and some two or three other wagons.
When all was ready we followed the others who had gone ahead. The route led at first directly to the north and a pass was said to be in that direction. Of the Green River party only Rodgers and myself remained with this train. After the wagons straightened out nicely, a meeting was called to organize, so as to travel systematically. A feeling was very manifest that those without any families did not care to bind themselves to stand by and assist those who had wives and children in their party and there was considerable debate, which resulted in all the family wagons being left out of the arrangements.
A party who called themselves “The Jayhawkers” passed us, and we followed along in the rear, over rolling hills covered with juniper timber, and small grassy valleys between where there was plenty of water and went well, for those before us had broken out the road so we could roll along very pleasantly.
At the organization Jim Martin was chosen captain. Those who were rejected were Rev. J.W. Brier and, his family, J.B. Arcane and family, and Mr. A. Bennett and family, Mr. Brier would not stay put out, but forced himself in, and said he was going with the rest, and so he did. But the other families remained behind. I attended the meeting and heard what was said, but Mr. Bennett was my friend and had been faithful to me and my property when he knew not where I was, and so I decided to stand by him and his wife at all hazards.
As I had no team to drive I took every opportunity to climb the mountains along the route, reaching the highest elevations even if they were several miles from the trail. I sometimes remained out all night. I took Mr. Arcane’s field glass with me and was thus able to see all there was of the country. I soon became satisfied that going north was not taking us in the direction we ought to go. I frequently told them so, but they still persisted in following on. I went to the leaders and told them we were going back toward Salt Lake again, not making any headway toward California. They insisted they were following the directions of Williams, the mountaineer; and they had not yet got as far north as he indicated. I told them, and Mr. Bennett and others, that we must either turn west, or retrace our steps and get back into the regular Los Angeles road again. In the morning we held another consultation and decided to turn west here, and leave the track we had been following.
Off we turned at nearly right angles to our former course, to the west now, over a piece of table land that gave us little trouble in breaking our own road. When we camped, the oxen seemed very fond of a white weed that was very plenty, and some borrowed a good deal of trouble thinking that perhaps it might be poison. I learned afterwards that this plant was the nutritious white sage, which cattle eat freely, with good results. We now crossed a low range and a small creek running south, and here were also some springs. Some corn had been grown here by the Indians. Pillars of sand stone, fifteen feet high and very slim were round about in several places and looked strange enough. The next piece of table land sloped to the east, and among the sage grew also a bunch grass a foot high, which had seeds like broom-corn seeds. The Indians had gathered the grass and made it in piles of one hundred pounds or so, and used it for food as I found by examining their camps.
One day I climbed a high mountain where some pine grew, in order to get a view of the country. As I neared its base I came to a flat rock, perhaps fifty feet square. I heard some pounding noise as I came near, but what ever it was, it ceased on my approach. There were many signs of the rock being used as a camp, such as pine burrs, bones of various kinds of animals, and other remains of food which lay every where about and on the rock. Near the center was a small oblong stone fitted into a hole. I took it out and found it covered a fine well of water about three feet deep and was thus protected against any small animal being drowned in it. I went on up the mountain and from the top I saw that the land west of us looked more and more barren.
The second night the brave Jayhawkers who had been so firm in going north hove in sight in our rear. They had at last concluded to accept my advice and had came over our road quite rapidly. We all camped together that night, and next morning they took the lead again. After crossing a small range they came to a basin which seemed to have no outlet, and was very barren. Some of the boys in advance of the teams had passed over this elevation and were going quite rapidly over the almost level plain which sloped into the basin, when they saw among the bunches of sage brush behind them a small party of Indians following their road, not very far off, but still out of bow and arrow range. The boys were suddenly able to take much longer steps than usual and a little more rapidly too, and swinging round toward the teams as soon as possible, for they already had some fears that an arrow might be sticking in their backs in an unpleasantly short space of time, for the Indians were good travelers. When they came in sight of the wagons, the Indians vanished as quickly as if they had gone into a hole, with no sign remaining, except a small dog which greatly resembled a prairie wolf, and kept a safe distance away. No one could imagine where the fellows went so suddenly.
We drove to the west side of this basin and camped near the foot of a low mountain. The cattle were driven down into the basin where there was some grass, but at camp we had only the water in our kegs.
Some of the boys climbed the mountain on the north but found no springs: Coming down a cañon they found some rain water in a basin in the rocks and all took a good drink. Lew West lay down and swallowed all he could and then told the boys to kill him for he never would feel so good again. They finished the pool, it was so small, before they left it. In going on down the cañon they saw an Indian dodge behind some big rocks, and searching, they found him in a cave as still as a dead man. They pulled him out and made him go with them, and tried every way to find out from him where they were and where Owen’s Lake was, as they had been told the lake was on their route. But he proved to be no wiser than a man of mud, and they led him along to camp, put a red flannel shirt on him to cover his nakedness, and made him sleep between two white men so he could not get away easily. In the morning they were more successful, and he showed us a small ravine four miles away which had water in it, enough for our use, and we moved up and camped there, while the boys and the Indian started over a barren, rocky mountain, and when over on the western slope they were led to a water hole on a steep rocky cliff where no one but an Indian would ever think of looking for water. They took out their cups and had a good drink all around, then offered the Indian some, but he disdained the civilized way, and laying down his bow and arrows took a long drink directly out of the pool. He was so long in getting a good supply that the boys almost forgot him as they were gazing over the distant mountain and discussing prospects, till attracted by a slight noise they looked and saw Mr. Indian going down over the cliffs after the fashion of a mountain sheep, and in a few bounds he was out of sight. They could not have killed him if they had tried, the move so sudden and unlooked for. They had expected the fellow to show them the way to Owen’s lake, but now their guide was gone, and left nothing to remember him by except his bow and arrows. So they returned to their wagons not much wiser than before.
All kinds of game was now very scarce, and so seldom seen that the men got tired of carrying their guns, and grew fearless of enemies. A heavy rifle was indeed burdensome over so long a road when there was no frequent use for it. The party kept rolling along as fast as possible but the mountains and valleys grew more barren and water more scarce all the time. When found, the water would be in hole at the outlet of some cañon, or in little pools which had filled up with rain that had fallen on the higher ground. Not a drop of rain had fallen on us since we started on this cut-off, and every night was clear and warm. The elevated parts of the country seemed to be isolated buttes, with no running streams between them but instead, dry lakes with a smooth clay bed, very light in color and so hard that the track of an ox could not be seen on its glittering surface. At a distance those clay beds looked like water shining in the sun and were generally about three times as far as any one would judge, the air was so clear. This mirage, or resemblance to water was so perfect as often to deceive us, and almost to our ruin on one or two occasions.
I took Arcane’s field glass and took pains to ascend all the high buttes within a day’s walk of the road, and this enabled me to get a good survey of the country north and west. I would sometimes be gone two or three days with no luggage but my canteen and gun. I was very cautious in regard to Indians, and tried to keep on the safe side of surprises. I would build a fire about dark and then travel on till I came to a small washed place and lie down and stay till morning, so if Mr. Indian did come to my fire he would not find any one to kill. One day I was going up a wide ravine leading to the summit, and before I reached the highest part I saw a smoke curl up before me. I took a side ravine and went cautiously, bowed down pretty low so no one could see me, and when near the top of the ridge and about one hundred yards of the fire I ventured to raise slowly up and take a look to see how many there were in camp: I could see but two and as I looked across the ravine an Indian woman seemed looking at me also, but I was so low she could only see the top of my head, and I sank down again out of sight. I crawled further up so as to get a better view, and when I straightened up again she got a full view of me. She instantly caught her infant off its little pallet made of a small piece of thin wood covered with a rabbit skin, and putting the baby under one arm, and giving a smart jerk to a small girl that was crying to the top of her voice, she bounded off and fairly flew up the gentle slope toward the summit, the girl following after very close. The woman’s long black hair stood out as she rushed along, looking over her shoulder every instant as if she expected to be slain. The mother flying with her children, untrammeled with any of the arts of fashion was the best natural picture I ever looked upon, and wild in the extreme. No living artist could do justice to the scene as the lady of the desert, her little daughter and her babe, passed over the summit out of sight. I followed, but when I reached the highest summit, no living person could be seen. I looked the country over with my glass. The region to the north was black rocky, and very mountainous. I looked some time and then concluded I had better not go any further that way, for I might be waylaid and filled with arrows at some unsuspected moment. We saw Indian signs almost every day, but as none of them ever came to our camp it was safe to say they were not friendly. I now turned back and examined the Indian woman’s camp. She had only fire enough to make a smoke. Her conical shaped basket left behind, contained a few poor arrows and some cactus leaves, from which the spines had been burned, and there lay the little pallet where the baby was sleeping. It was a bare looking kitchen for hungry folks.
I now went to the top of a high butte and scanned the country very carefully, especially to the west and north, and found it very barren. There were no trees, no fertile valleys nor anything green. Away to the west some mountains stood out clear and plain, their summits covered white with snow. This I decided was our objective point: Very little snow could be seen elsewhere, and between me and the snowy mountains lay a low, black rocky range, and a wide level plain, that had no signs of water, as I had learned them in our trip thus far across the country. The black range seemed to run nearly north and south, and to the north and northwest the country looked volcanic, black and desolate.
As I looked and thought, I believed that we were much farther from a fertile region then most of our party had any idea of. Such of them as had read Fremont’s travels, and most of them going to California had fortified themselves before starting by reading Fremont; said that the mountains were near California and were fertile from their very summits down to the sea, but that to the east of the mountains it was a desert region for hundred of miles. As I explained it to them, and so they soon saw for themselves, they believed that the snowy range ahead of us was the last range to cross before we entered the long-sought California, and it seemed not far off, and prospect quite encouraging.
Our road had been winding around among the buttes which looked like the Indian baskets turned upside down on the great barren plain. What water we found was in small pools in the wash-out places near the foothills at the edge of the valley, probably running down the ravines after some storm. There were dry lake beds scattered around over the plain, but it did not seem as if there had ever been volume of water enough lately to force itself out so far into the plain as these lakes were. All the lakes appeared about the same, the bed white and glistening in the sun, which made it very hard for the eyes, and so that a man in passing over it made no visible track. It looked as if it one time might have been a smooth bed of plastic mortar, and had hardened in the sun. It looked as if there must have been water there sometime, but we had not seen a drop, or a single cloud; every day was clear and sunny, and very warm, and at night no stars forgot to shine.
Our oxen began to look bad, for they had poor food. Grass had been very scarce, and now when we unyoked them and turned them out they did not care to look around much for something to eat. They moved slowly and cropped disdainfully the dry scattering shrubs and bunches of grass from six inches to a foot high. Spending many nights and days on such dry food and without water they suffered fearfully, and though fat and sleek when we started from Salt Lake, they now looked gaunt and poor, and dragged themselves slowly along, poor faithful servants of mankind. No one knew how long before we might have to kill some of them to get food to save our own lives.
We now traveled several days down the bed of a broad ravine, which led to a southwest direction. There seemed to be a continuous range of mountains on the south, but to the north was the level plain with scattered buttes, and what we had all along called dry lakes, for up to this time we had seen no water in any of them. I had carried my rifle with me every day since we took this route, and though I was an experienced hunter, a professional one if there be such a thing, I had killed only one rabbit, and where no game lived I got as hungry as other folks.
Our line soon brought us in sight of a high butte which stood apparently about 20 miles south of our route, and I determined to visit and climb it to get a better view of things ahead. I walked steadily all day and reached the summit about dusk. I wandered around among the big rocks, and found a projecting cliff where I would be protected from enemies, wind or storm, and here I made my camp. While the light lasted I gathered a small stock of fuel, which consisted of a stunted growth of sage and other small shrubs, dry but not dead, and with this I built a little fire Indian fashion and sat down close to it. Here was a good chance for undisturbed meditation and someway I could not get around doing a little meditating as I added a new bit of fuel now and then to the small fire burning at my side. I thought it looked dark and troublesome before us. I took a stone for a pillow with my hat on it for a cushion, and lying down close under the shelving rock I went to sleep, for I was very tired, I woke soon from being cold, for the butte was pretty high, and so I busied myself the remainder of the night in adding little sticks to the fire, which gave me some warmth, and thus in solitude I spent the night. I was glad enough to see the day break over the eastern mountains, and light up the vast barren country I could see on every hand around me. When the sun was fairly up I took a good survey of the situation, and it seemed as if pretty near all creation was in sight. North and west was a level plain, fully one hundred miles wide it seemed, and from anything I could see it would not afford a traveler a single drink in the whole distance or give a poor ox many mouthfuls of grass. On the western edge it was bounded by a low, black and rocky range extending nearly north and south for a long distance and no pass though it which I could see, and beyond this range still another one apparently parallel to it. In a due west course from me was the high peak we had been looking at for a month, and lowest place was on the north side, which we had named Martin’s Pass and had been trying so long to reach. This high peak, covered with snow, glistened to the morning sun, and as the air was clear from clouds or fog, and no dust or haze to obscure the view, it seemed very near.
I had learned by experience that objects a day’s walk distant seemed close by in such a light, and that when clear lakes appeared only a little distance in our front, we might search and search and never find them. We had to learn how to look for water in this peculiar way. In my Wisconsin travel I had learned that when I struck a ravine I must go down to look for living water, but here we must invariably travel upward for the water was only found in the high mountains.
Prospects now seemed to me so hopeless, that I heartily wished I was not in duty bound to stand by the women and small children who could never reach a land of bread without assistance. If I was in the position that some of them were who had only themselves to look after, I could pick up my knapsack and gun and go off, feeling I had no dependent ones to leave behind. But as it was I felt I should be morally guilty of murder if I should forsake Mr. Bennett’s wife and children, and the family of Mr. Arcane with whom I had been thus far associated. It was a dark line of thought but I always felt better when I got around to the determination, as I always did, to stand by my friends, their wives and children let come what might.
I could see with my glass the train of wagons moving slowly over the plain toward what looked to me like a large lake. I made a guess of the point they would reach by night, and then took a straight course for it all day long in steady travel. It was some time after dark, and I was still a quarter of a mile from the camp fires, where in the bed of a cañon I stepped into some mud, which was a sign of water. I poked around in the dark for a while and soon found a little pool of it, and having been without a drop of it for two days I lay down and took a hasty drink. It did not seem to be very clear or clean, but it was certainly wet, which was the main thing just then. The next morning I went to the pond of water, and found the oxen had been watered there. They stirred up the mud a good deal and had drank off about all the clean part, which seemed to refresh them very much. I found the people in the camp on the edge of the lake I had seen from the mountain, and fortunately it contained about a quarter of an inch of water. They had dug some holes here, which filled up, and they were using this water in the camp.
The ambitious mountain-climbers of our party had by this, time, abandoned that sort of work, and I was left alone to look about and try to ascertain the character of the road they were to follow. It was a great deal to do to look out for food for the oxen and for water for the camp, and besides all this it was plain there were Indians about even if we did not see them. There were many signs, and I had to be always on the lookout to outgeneral them. When the people found I was in camp this night they came around to our wagons to know what I had seen and found, and what the prospects were ahead. Above all they wanted to know how far it was, in my opinion to the end of our journey. I listened to all their inquiries and told them plainly what I had seen, and what I thought of the prospect. I did not like telling the whole truth about it for fear it might dampen their spirits, but being pressed for an opinion I told them in plain words that it would at least be another month before their journey would be ended. They seemed to think I ought to be pretty good authority, and if I was not mistaken, the oxen would get very poor and provisions very scarce before we could pull through so long. I was up at day break and found Mr. Bennett sitting by the fire. About the first thing he said:–“Lewis, if you please I don’t want you hereafter to express your views so openly and emphatically as you did last night about our prospects. Last night when I went to bed I found Sarah (his wife) crying and when pressed for the cause, she said she had heard your remarks on the situation, and that if Lewis said so it must be correct, for he knows more about it than all of you. She felt that she and the children must starve.”
In the morning Jayhawkers, and others of the train that were not considered strictly of our own party, yoked up and started due west across the level plain which I had predicted as having no water, and I really thought they would never live to get across to the western border. Mr. Culverwell and Mr. Fish stayed with us, making another wagon in our train. We talked about the matter carefully, I did not think it possible to get across that plain in less than four or six days, and I did not believe there was a drop of water on the route. To the south of us was a mountain that now had considerable snow upon its summit, and some small pine trees also. Doubtless we could find plenty of water at the base, but being due south, it was quite off our course. The prospects for reaching water were so much better in that way that we finally decided to go there rather than follow the Jayhawkers on their desolate tramp over the dry plain.
So we turned up a cañon leading toward the mountain and had a pretty heavy up grade and a rough bed for a road. Part way up we came to a high cliff and in its face were niches or cavities as large as a barrel or larger, and in some of them we found balls of a glistening substance looking something like pieces of varigated candy stuck together. The balls were as large as small pumpkins. It was evidently food of some sort, and we found it sweet but sickish, and those who were so hungry as to break up one of the balls and divide it among the others, making a good meal of it, were a little troubled with nausea afterwards. I considered it bad policy to rob the Indians of any of their food, for they must be pretty smart people to live in this desolate country and find enough to keep them alive, and I was pretty sure we might count them as hostiles as they never came near our camp. Like other Indians they were probably revengeful, and might seek to have revenge on us for the injury. We considered it prudent to keep careful watch for them, so they might not surprise us with a volley of arrows.
The second night we camped near the head of the cañon we had been following, but thus far there had been no water, and only some stunted sage brush for the oxen, which they did not like, and only ate it when near the point of starvation. They stood around the camp looking as sorry as oxen can. During the night a stray and crazy looking cloud passed over us and left its moisture on the mountain to the shape of a coat of snow several inches deep. When daylight came the oxen crowded around the wagons, shivering with cold, and licking up the snow to quench their thirst. We took pattern after them and melted snow to get water for ourselves.
By the looks of our cattle it did not seem as if they could pull much, and light loads were advisable on this up grade. Mr. Bennett was a carpenter and had brought along some good tools in his wagon. These he reluctantly unloaded, and almost everything else except bedding and provisions, and leaving them upon the ground, we rolled up the hills slowly, with loads as light as possible.
Rogers and I went ahead with our guns to look out the way and find a good camping place. After a few miles we got out of the snow and out upon an incline, and in the bright clear morning air the foot of the snowy part of the mountain seemed near by and we were sure we could reach it before night. From here no guide was needed and Rogers and I, with our guns and canteens hurried on as fast as possible, when a camp was found we were to raise a signal smoke to tell them where it was. We were here, as before badly deceived as to the distance, and we marched steadily and swiftly till nearly night before we reached the foot of the mountain.
Here was a flat place in a table land and on it a low brush hut, with a small smoke near by, which we could plainly see as we were in the shade of the mountain, and that place lighted up by the nearly setting sun. We looked carefully and satisfied ourselves there was but one hut, and consequently but few people could be expected. We approached carefully and cautiously, making a circuit around so as to get between the hut and the hill in case that the occupants should retreat in that direction. It was a long time before we could see any entrance to this wickiup, but we found it at last and approached directly in front, very cautiously indeed: We could see no one, and thought perhaps they were in ambush for us, but hardly probable, as we had kept closely out of sight. We consulted a moment and concluded to make an advance and if possible capture some one who could tell us about the country, as we felt we were completely lost. When within thirty yards a man poked out his head out of a doorway and drew it back again quick as a flash. We kept out our guns at full cock and ready for use, and told Rogers to look out for arrows, for they would come now if ever. But they did not pull a bow on us, and the red-man, almost naked came out and beckoned for us to come on which we did.
We tried to talk with the fellow in the sign language but he could understand about as much as an oyster. I made a little basin in the ground and filled it with water from our canteens to represent a lake, then pointed in an inquiring way west and north, made signs of ducks and geese flying and squawking, but I did no seem to be able to get an idea into his head of what we wanted. I got thoroughly provoked at him and may have shown some signs of anger. During all this time a child or two in the hut squalled terribly, fearing I suppose they would all be murdered. We might have lost our scalps under some circumstances, but we appeared to be fully the strangest party, and had no fear, for the Indian had no weapon about him and we had both guns and knives. The poor fellow was shivering with cold, and with signs of friendship we fired off one of the guns which waked him up a little and he pointed to the gun and said “Walker,” probably meaning the same good Chief Walker who had so fortunately stopped us in our journey down Green River. I understood from the Indian that he was not friendly to Walker, but to show that he was all right with us he went into the hut and brought out a handful of corn for us to eat. By the aid of a warm spring near by they had raised some corn here, and the dry stalks were standing around.
As we were about to leave I told him we would come back, next day and bring him some clothes if we could find any to spare, and then we shouldered our guns and went back toward the wagons, looking over our shoulders occasionally to see if we were followed. We walked fast down the hill and reached the camp about dark to find it a most unhappy one indeed. Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. Arcane were in heart-rending distress. The four children were crying for water but there was not a drop to give them, and none could be reached before some time next day. The mothers were nearly crazy, for they expected the children would choke with thirst and die in their arms, and would rather perish themselves than suffer the agony of seeing their little ones gasp and slowly die. They reproached themselves as being the cause of all this trouble. For the love of gold they had left homes where hunger had never come, and often in sleep dreamed of the bounteous tables of their old homes only to be woefully disappointed in the morning. There was great gladness when John Rogers and I appeared in the camp and gave the mothers full canteens of water for themselves and little ones, and there was tears of joy and thankfulness upon their cheeks as they blessed us over and over again.
The oxen fared very hard. The ground was made up of broken stone, and all that grew was a dry and stunted brush not more than six inches high, of which the poor animals took an occasional dainty bite, and seemed hardly able to drag along.
It was only seven or eight miles to the warm spring and all felt better to know for a certainty that we would soon be safe again. We started early, even the women walked, so as to favor the poor oxen all we could. When within two miles of the water some of the oxen lay down and refused to rise again, so we had to leave them and a wagon, while the rest pushed on and reached the spring soon after noon. We took water and went back to the oxen left behind, and gave them some to drink. They were somewhat rested and got up, and we tried to drive them in without the wagons, but they were not inclined to travel without the yoke, so we put it on them and hitched to the wagon again. The yoke and the wagon seemed to brace them up a good deal, and they went along thus much better than when alone and scattered about, with nothing to lean upon.
The warm spring was quite large and ran a hundred yards or more before the water sank down into the dry and thirsty desert. The dry cornstalks of last years crop, some small willows, sagebrush, weeds and grass suited our animals very well, and they ate better than for a long time, and we thought it best to remain two or three days to give them a chance to get rest. The Indian we left here the evening before had gone and left nothing behind but a chunk of crystallized rock salt. He seemed to be afraid of his friends.