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October 1857

This webpage reproduces a section of
Uncle Sam's Camels

by
Lewis Burt Lesley


Harvard University Press,
Cambridge [Mass.], 1929
As republished by The Rio Grande Press, Inc.
Glorieta, NM 1970

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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February
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

The Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale to the Secretary of War concerning the Wagon Road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River
April 26, 1858
35th Congress, 1st Session,
House of Representatives
Ex. Doc., No. 124

 p261  p76 Saturday, January 23, 1858. We reached the Colorado river early in the morning, having encamped in a rainstorm the night previous a few miles from it. Shortly after leaving camp, my clerk, F. E. Kerlin, who with two of my party had been despatched the day previous in order to have my boat ready for crossing, was seen returning. Various surmises were immediately started as to the cause, and as soon as he was within speaking distance he was questioned eagerly for the news. He gave us a joyful surprise by the information that the steamer General Jesup, Captain Johnson, was at the crossing waiting to convey us to the opposite side. It is difficult to conceive the varied emotions with which this news was received. Here, in a wild, almost unknown country, inhabited only by savages,  p262 the great river of the west, hitherto declared unnavigable, had, for the first time, borne upon its bosom that emblem of civilization, a steamer. The enterprise of a private citizen had been rewarded by success, for the future was to lend its aid in the settlement of our vast western territory. But alas! for the poor Indians living on its banks and rich meadow lands. The rapid current which washes its shores will hardly pass more rapidly away. The steam whistle of the General Jesup sounded the death knell of the river race.

p77 Accompanying Captain Johnson, was Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.White, of the United States army, and fifteen soldiers as an escort, which, with as many rugged mountain men, and the steamer as a fort, made a dangerous party to meddle with.

In a few minutes after our arrival the steamer came alongside the bank, and our party was transported at once, with all our baggage, to the other side. We then swam the mules over, and bidding Captain Johnson good-bye, he was soon steaming down the river towards Fort Yuma, three hundred and fifty miles below. I confess I felt jealous of his achievement, and it is to be hoped the government will substantially reward the enterprising spirit which prompted a citizen, at his own risk and at great hazard, to under take so perilous and uncertain an expedition.

I had brought the camels with me, and as they stood on the bank, surrounded by hundreds of wild unclad savages, and mixed with these the dragoons of my escort and the steamer slowly revolving her wheels preparatory to a start, it was a curious and interesting picture.

The camels, immediately on my arrival, for the sake of testing their capability of withstanding cold, I had placed  p263 in camp within a few hundred yards of the summit of the Sierra Nevada, and to this date they have lived in two or three feet of snow, fattening and thriving wonderfully all the while. Lately, in a terrible snowstorm, the wagon, carrying provisions to the camp, could proceed no further. The camels were immediately sent to the rescue, and brought the load through the snow and ice to camp, though the six strong mules of the team were unable to extricate the empty wagon.

At the river I bade farewell to Major Blakea and the officers who had accompanied me, and the same evening commenced my homeward journey. My object in undertaking a winter journey is to test the practicability of the road surveyed last summer for winter transit. For this purpose I have taken with me a party of twenty men, and hope to reach home in March.

We did not go far the first day, and shall not tomorrow, as I desire a day to regulate my party, and the mules cannot find very good grass for the first forty miles of the road. We encamped in a clump of willows, fifteen miles from the river.

January 24. — Started late and crossed the mountain to Murray's springs; the Indians of this side of the mountain, who are not friendly, yelling at us as we passed down the cañon, and showing themselves at a respectful distance on the high bluff on either side.

Grass tolerably good. Willow and mesquite wood plenty. Water is abundant, much more so than when we passed last summer. The weather cold.

January 25. — Breakfasted at 4 and off at 7. The night was passed without trouble from the Indians, though they shouted at us as we left camp from the hills where we saw  p264 their camp fires, which had been divided from ours by a small intervening ridge. The morning was cold and raw, and a keen easterly wind made walking much more agreeable than riding; accordingly, most of us walked for ten or fifteen miles towards Saevedra's spring. We passed close under Frank Murray's Peak, and, by going around the p78base, avoided a steep hill which we came over on the previous journey, and which is the only pull for a loaded wagon between Saevedra's spring and the summit of John Howell's Pass.

I am pleased to find how clearly our wagons have defined the road we explored last summer. The Indians have already commenced to follow our broad well beaten trail, and horse, mule, moccasin and bare footed tracks are quite plenty on the road. At Saevedra's spring we found the greatest abundance of water, and our mules having drunk, we filled our canteens and came on to the end of the "Boys' Pass," and encamped, having made twenty-five miles.

Grass abundant, and wood, though small, in quite sufficient quantities.

I ascended this evening the steep mesa or rocky bluff which forms the pass, and found an extensive table-land, stretching in every direction, and covered everywhere with excellent grass.

The latter part of the day pleasant, though the morning was cool. At noon the barometerº was 50°.

January 26. — Up at 4 and left camp at 7. Coming out of the "Boys' Pass," we left our wagon trail road, and striking a direct course down the broad and beautiful valley  p265 for our former day camp, we travelled until we entered the cañon of our first camp, from Hemphill spring. The valley we have travelled today is one of the most beautiful and extensive on the entire road. It is in extreme length not less than sixty miles, by a width of fifteen, and is filled with the most luxuriant grass in every part. As yet we have only discovered three waters in it, Via's spring, Butler's well, and a small spring at the head of it; but subsequent explorations will doubtless discover more, as there is evidently a number of Indians living in it. Although surrounded by high mountains — Buchanan, Benton, and Harry Edwards' — it is very easy of access and egress from the character of the passes. A large number of deer, antelope, and big horn tracks, show it to be well supplied with game, which, finding abundant grass, probably seek its warmth in winter, and retreat to the neighboring mountains during the heat of summer.

The grass is gramma.

It was my intention to have encamped today at the spring where we sent our horses to water from the Cosmino camp, but arriving in the night we were unable to discover the locality, and having passed Via's spring, Butler's well, and the little one, we were obliged to seek our blankets supperless; but our mules fared well, the grass being excellent, and the cañon smooth, level, and a mile wide.

Thermometer 48° at 8 P.M.

January 27. Determined to lay by and shoe the mules. Up at 4 and found the spring a short distance from us. It is a beautiful one; the water pouring over the rock is received in a basin of some twenty feet diameter and eight or ten deep. Coming down the cañon it lies to the right  p266 hand, where a cañon coming in from the left widens the valley to a beautiful camp full of fine grass. The spring of the first water, on entering the cañon at its commencement, is three or four miles above. The weather clear and cool. Thermometer 50° at noon.

p79 This morning, at 2 o'clock, we had a skirmish with the Indians. We lost one mule, killed with arrows, and another badly wounded.

At 2 o'clock thermometer 30°.

Two of the Indians who attacked us last night were slain this morning.

January 28. — Up at 4 and off at 6.30. Left Truxton's spring, travelled up the cañon by White Rock spring, ana entered the wide valley leading to Hemphill's spring.

There is snow on the ground in patches which are rapidly passing away. Leaving our road at the head of the valley, we took a course nearly east, through some low hills covered with fine grass, and encamped among some cedars near the valley into which we entered by Dornin's Pass.

Gramma grass abundant.

Thermometer at sun down 45°.

A few Indian tracks seen today.

January 29. Up at 4 o'clock and off at 6.30. The night pleasant. At midnight the thermometer was 36°, and at noon 76°. We rode all day in our shirt sleeves. Crossed some easy hills, through a fine forest of cedar and a little piñon pine. Grass everywhere abundant. By crossing the low hills we came directly east and entered the broad valley opposite Tucker's Pass, bearing straight for Dornin's Pass, and keeping along the foot of the hills which we passed some distance to our left as we were going over, and  p267 which form the boundary on that side of the valley into which both Dornin's and Tucker's Passes enter. We found some snow on the hills, but not enough to cover the ground, except where it had drifted. In the valley there was none. Encamped among the cedars at Dornin's Pass. Grass luxuriant and green. Saw a large band of antelope, and killed some rabbits. Indian tracks have been seen today, but old, probably a week.

Thermometer at sun-down 65°, at 8 P.M. 39°.

January 30. Up at 2 and off at 3. The morning bright and clear. At daybreak the thermometer 31°. We found no snow on the road, and but very little at Worley's cañon, or Smith's spring, where the water was abundant and grass excellent. Encamped in a grove of cedar trees, with which the country hereabouts is covered. Here I determined to pass the day, as we had yesterday a fatiguing march, and our mules want rest.

It is pleasant to see our old camps again, and to recall the anxious hours we passed at them when in doubt as to what we were to find ahead of us. At present we are under Floyd's Peak, which, for so long a time on our previous journey was our landmark in returning from our exploring expeditions, and its snow-capped summit looks as pleasant now as the face of an old friend.

At noon the sun was bright and warm, and the thermometer at 75°.

January 31. — Up at 4 and off at 6. Travelled directly east from Alexander's cañon, in which we found abundance of water, and left our road at that place and travelled in a straight line for San Francisco mountain, the snow-covered peak of which made an excellent p80guide. Our way today  p268 has been over a country of great beauty, and exceedingly rich in grass and cedar timber. The face of the country is undulating, and the landscape most pleasing to the eye. Passed large tracts of land, on which we found a red sandstone, apparently fit for building purposes without any further labor than selecting the size of the stone required. The surface is flat, smooth, and shiny, and enough of it to build a dozen towns without making any apparent diminution of its quantity. All day long we have found abundance of water in every little hollow. These streams and holes I do not suppose are permanent, but caused by recent rains and snows, spots and patches of the latter being still upon the ground.

Thermometer, at 4 A.M., 31°; at noon, 61°; at 3 P.M., 61°; at sundown, 50°.

Encamped in a cedar grove. Grass abundant. Weather bright, clear, and cloudless.


Thayer's Note:

a George Alexander Hamilton Blake: born in Pennsylvania, appointed from Pennsylvania. First Lieutenant in the 2d Dragoons 11 Jun 1836; Captain 3 Dec 1839; Major in the 1st Dragoons 25 Jul 1850; Lieutenant-Colonel 13 May 1861; transferred to the 1st Cavalry 3 Aug 1861; Colonel 15 Feb 1862; retired 15 Dec 1870; Brevet Major 17 Aug 1847 for gallant and meritorious conduct in the affair at San Augustine, Mex., and Brigadier General 13 Mar 1865 for gallant and efficient service during the Gettysburg campaign. Died 27 Oct 1884. (Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army)


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