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June

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,
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August
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

 p148  p17 July 1. I left Fort Clarke at 10, having started the wagons and camels on at 5 A.M. We travelled over a very dry and uninteresting country to the Piedras Puitados,a a creek containing some fine pools of water, and well stocked with fish, where we encamped early, the animals having had no grass. Caught a few fish this evening. The distance made today but seven miles. Our whole stock of  p149 conversation today has been of the genial cordiality with which we were received at Fort Clarke,º and the hope we may some day have it in our power to return it.

July 2. Started at 4.30 A.M., and travelled about five miles, when we stopped to water at a mud hole in the prairie. Three miles further on we came to the Sycamore creek, and found a fine pool of clear water, at which a large flock of wild turkeys were quietly drinking. Our appearance started them quietly on through the brushwood, where Mr. Thorburn followed them, wounding one, which, however, to our disappointment, got off. The country begins to assume a more arid appearance, though the grass is still plentiful, but dry. On our left the mountains of Mexico have been in plain view all day, a relief to the eye after travelling so long on the level plains and broad plateaus over which our road has carried us.

Captain Leeb and his wife, who are on their road to his post at Fort Davis, joined us today, and we encamped together at a water of the San Felipe. This river, like all others we have heretofore met with in Texas, exists at this season, at least, only in holes, sometimes miles apart. We found the water, however, sweet, and tolerably cool.

The camels are doing better today, and arrived shortly after the wagons. I am very much encouraged to see how eagerly they seek the bushes for food instead of grass, which certainly indicates their ability to subsist much easier than horses and mules in countries where forage is scarce. We encamped at 12.30, and caught some fine fish. Distance made today twenty-four miles.

July 3. Raised camp at 3 A.M., and started at 4. Travelled ten or twelve miles to Devil's river, a clear, broad, and  p150 shallow stream of infinite beauty and picturesqueness. The bottom through which it runs, about a quarter of a mile in width, is filled with a fine growth of cottonwood and mesquite. The stream itself is a hundred yards or so in width, three feet in depth, and the bottom of hard rock. On either side the banks are steep, and in many places entirely precipitous, having the appearance of ruins, fortifications, and regular mason p18work. As our line of wagons ascended the hill the camels appeared on the further side, winding down the steep road, and made a picture well worthy the pen of a great artist. The steep, grey rocks, the beautiful green bottom or meadow, the clear sparkling stream, the loose animals, the wagons and teams, and then old Mahomet, with the long line of his grave and patient followers, winding cautiously, picking step by step their way down the road on the opposite side, was a very interesting and beautiful scene. We encamped here, and will remain until four in the evening, when we shall water the animals, and go on until ten at night, hoping to reach water again tomorrow at noon; the distance from Devil's river to the next water being forty miles. It is at present promising rain, which may give us water on the road. At 4 o'clock a smart shower of rain relieved the sultriness of the evening, and while still raining we started (5 o'clock), and journeyed until eleven, when we encamped for the night. All were sleepy and tired and, except the sentinels, threw themselves on the ground, and were soon fast asleep.

July 4. Awoke this morning at our usual hour (3 o'clock), to find it pouring in torrents. Everything was wet and disagreeable. Blankets were rolled up and thrust into the wagons, and the men cursing their mules with unusual  p151 vigor, as if they were the cause of our discomfort; hitched up in the twilight of the morning and prepared for a start. All day long it rained a cold relentless torrent, accompanied with gusts of wind which drove the chilled water through everything. Clothing and blankets offered no protection, and the party was soon thoroughly drenched. No emotions of patriotism availed to warm one against such a storm. The men sat shivering in dogged silence on their mules, which shivered and humped themselves in return. It was a terrible fourth of July, and the recollection of the jolly times our fellow-countrymen were enjoying at home made our toilsome and miserable day all the more so. Occasionally a wagon would stick deep in softened soil, and then more mules had to be hitched to pull it out, ropes hauled on, wheels pried up, and, of course, all this involved the necessity of straightening one's neck, and bending the body from that peculiar curve which is generally adopted in rain storms; so that we had more cursing, and strange oaths, we had not hitherto heard, were brought out in very great force. Altogether it was a wretched day, and the journey of forty miles without water was made through a deluge. In the very road itself, there was a stream larger and deeper than any we had seen since leaving San Antonio, except Devil's river. At last, when near the summit of Dead Man's Pass, and about noon, we broke the pole of a wagon and were brought to a dead halt. The teams I ordered unhitched and turned loose just where they stood, and some of the men sought what little shelter the wagons afforded, while others, with difficult, raised fire with the damp material at hand. Fortunately at this time (12 o'clock) it ceased raining. A plentiful supply of coffee, bacon and bread,  p152 aided somewhat by a couple of bottles of brandy, which was the remainder of a half dozen presented to me by a friend, the day I left Philadelphia, restored warmth, animation and good humor. In the course of two hours more, the men went cheerfully to work at mending the road, p19and repairing the broken wagon. The sun came out in the afternoon, and our camp was soon as cheerful as it had been the reverse. Arms were cleaned and put in order, for we had encamped upon the scene of an Indian massacre, seven whites of a party of nine having been slain here by the Comanches. The camels, much to my surprise, have kept up remarkably well today, and have stood the storm better than I thought they would, in fact, apparently as well as the mules. We have made but ten miles today, after unremitting labor to man and beast of seven hours.

July 5. Raised camp at 5 A.M., and travelled eleven miles and a half to the second crossing of Devil's river, where we stopped to breakfast, and turned the animals loose to graze. Our road this morning was, for the most part, rocky, and where it was not was rendered heavy by yesterday's rain. This morning we have rain again, in showers, and a dark leaden sky, which threatens us with another bad day. At 9.30 encamped within a few hundred yards of the river. Grass indifferent.

The camels got in an hour after us.

This morning we found at our camp, for the first time, a shrub, of which we are to see a great deal between this and the end of our journey, and in many places shall find no other wood. It is known as greasewood, and I was delighted to see the camels eagerly seek it, and eat it with the greatest apparent relish. It is certainly very gratifying to  p153 find these animals eating, by their own preference, the coarse and bitter herbs, hitherto of no value, which abound always in the most sterile and desolate parts of every road, so far as discovered, which traverses the broad extent of wilderness between the eastern States and our Pacific possessions.

Started at 3, and travelled until 6 P.M.

We passed a military station on Devil's river, but saw none of the officers. It is, I believe, an infantry post,c which, of course, is very useful in protecting this portion of the Indian territory; foot soldiers being especially well adapted to the pursuit of tribes always mounted on the best horse-flesh to be stolen in Texas and Mexico.

We also passed this evening the scenes of several Indian murders, and the graves of the victims. We followed up the bed of the river, over a very rough road, to Pecan spring, where we encamped for the night.

Distance made today twenty‑one and a half miles — a very good journey, considering the condition of the roads.

July 6. We were up last night at 11 o'clock, and the men had already commenced to put the harness on the mules; our wagonmaster, Davis, having mistaken the bright moonlight for daybreak. I had not been in bed long when I was told that the men were hitching up, and on sending for Mr. Davis he was made aware, for the first time, of his error, and, greatly to his surprise, informed of the hour. We had gone too far in one thing, however, to correct it — the mules had already been fed their usual morning's allowance of corn, and had eaten it.

At 4 o'clock we started, and travelled until 8.30 A.M., up the valley of the river. The work was very hard on the animals;  p154 the p20rain having made the ground exceedingly heavy, and in many places washed out deep holes and gullies. At 8.30 we encamped at the spring at the head of the river, and shall leave the river this evening entirely.

We have before us another forty-mile stretch without water, and shall travel as much as possible of it this evening, and if we find no water holes on the road, shall make a dry camp, and reach Howard's spring in the morning.

The camels are rapidly improving; they are now becoming accustomed to the road, and getting over the first soreness occasioned by the want of use. Today they travelled quite as fast as we did, and came into camp nearly at the same time. Encamped this evening at a water hole in the prairie, after travelling all the afternoon in a drizzling rain which made us quite uncomfortable, though, considering the fact that it gives us water where no other is to be found, we were willing to submit to the little discomfort of sleeping in damp clothes upon the wet ground.

We passed today the graves of a party who were killed by Indians last fall. Distance made twenty-five miles.

July 7. We started at 4.30 A.M., and travelled twelve miles, when we encamped for breakfast. Our crossing place was called Cedar bluffs. The grass is very fine, and water abundant in holes, filled by the late rain. We were passed on the road this morning by the monthly El Paso mail, on its way up, by which I received, forwarded by some of my friends at San Antonio, a box of about two feet square, for which the moderate charge of twenty dollars was made.d The dangers of this road, however, justified any price for such matters. Scarcely a mile of it but has its story of Indian murder and plunder; in fact, from El Paso to San  p155 Antonio is but one long battle ground — a surprise here, robbery of animals there. Every spring and watering-place has its history or anecdote connected with Indian violence and bloodshed. The country through which we have travelled today is entirely destitute of timber, except the mesquite bush, which grows always everywhere in Texas. The road, though rolling, is excellent.

July 8. Up at half past two, and off at daybreak without breakfast. We travelled eleven miles to Howard's spring, where we stopped to breakfast and water the animals. This place seems to have been famous for Indian surprises. Near it we passed the graves of seven who horse killed by the savages, and still nearer, within a hundred yards or so, the bones of a sergeant and some two or three dragoons, who were here killed by them. The bodies had, apparently, been disinterred by animals, and the ghastly remains of the poor fellows who had perished there were scattered on the ground. Captain Lee (U. S. Army) gave us the history of the fight, which occurred some months ago.

Howard's spring is a small hole containing, apparently, about a quarter of a barrel of water, but in reality inexhaustible. It is directly under a bluff of rock in the bed of a dry creek, and to get at the water it is necessary to descend about eight feet by rude steps cut in the rock; the water has to be passed up in buckets, and the animals p21 watered from them. There is but little grass here, and no timber but greasewood and mesquite, and not much of that; a few stunted cedars that grow around the bluff of the spring are neither large enough for shade or food.

The rain has brought the grass forward wonderfully, and with it an abundance of beautiful flowers, so that the prairie  p156 for the last few days filled with perfume and richly colored flowers, which would have been no disgrace to the most costly hothouse. The whole of the country is vastly improved by these grateful showers, which have clothed it everywhere with verdure, and filled the air with fragrance.

Of large game we have seen but little, but turkeys and partridges abound in great numbers; in fact, the whistle of "Bob White" is with us all the time.

The camels came into camp with us. We find one great trouble, and the only one, in managing them, is that we know nothing about the method of packing them, and have it all to learn. In consequence of our want of knowledge in this particular, we have several with sore backs, which, however, I am glad to observe, heal much more rapidly than similar abrasures on the backs of horses or mules. As soon as we discover one to be getting sore it is immediately freed of its burden, and in a day or two is ready for service again. They seem almost entirely indifferent to the best grass, and to prefer any kind of bush to it. Today we find another food they seem particularly to relish, the name of which we do not know. The wild grape vine is a great favorite with them, and as it grows plentifully, they will fare well on it. It seems that they like most the herbs and boughs of bitter bushes, which all other animals reject. The more I see of them the more interested in them I become, and the more I am convinced of their usefulness. Their perfect docility and patience under difficulties renders them invaluable, and my only regret at present is that I have not double the number.

After remaining a few hours at Howard's spring we resumed our march, and soon regained the plain. At the  p157 crest of the hill, as we came upon the level land again, we found a new made grave, probably another added of that long list of Indian victims with which the entire trail is filled.

We encamped without water on the open prairie; grass good, but no timber whatever.

This evening many of our party have seen Indians, but for me, "Ah! sinner that I am, I was not permitted to witness so glorious a sight." I encourage the young men, however, in the belief that deer, bushes, &c., which they have mistaken for Indians, are all veritable Comanches, as it makes them watchful on guard at night.e

July 9. Raised camp at 3 A.M., and off before daybreak. We travelled fifteen miles and encamped two miles from Fort Lancaster, on Live Oak creek. While at breakfast, some of the officers called and invited us to the post, of which kindness we shall avail ourselves. The camels got off before us this morning, and arrived at camp at the same time. We are busy today repairing their saddles and doctoring their wounded backs, and to effect this purpose I shall go no p22further, but remain here until tomorrow. Live Oak creek is a clear and beautiful stream of sweet and cool water; the grass very fine, and wood (oak, mesquite, and willow), abundant. Just before descending into the valley of the stream we came to a very steep, rocky hill, overlooking a valley of great beauty and graceful shape. The sides of the hills were covered with the most brilliant verdure and flowers, and our long train, as it wound down the steep descent, and became stretched out on the winding road through the valley, presented a scene of uncommon beauty. It was about sunrise when we arrived at the hill,  p158 and the view was so striking that Thorburn and I remained behind to enjoy it until the whole train had passed some distance into the valley.

July 10. A short after arriving at camp, yesterday, we received a message from the post informing us of the death of the little son of our travelling companion, Captain Lee (U. S. A.). This determined us to remain today at the post, in order to be present with my men at the funeral. We had all become deeply interested in the fate of the child, which, for the past week, had lingered at the door of death, sometimes giving hopes of recovery, and again relapsing, until all hope was entirely lost. It was buried today at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and our train, which was hitched up and ready for the road, immediately afterwards moved on, and travelled to the Pecos spring, a distance of twelve and a half miles from our previous camp. We crossed the Pecos river eight miles from the fort, and found it a turbid, swift running stream, of about three feet in depth and twenty-five in width, the water of which is brackish and unpleasant to both sight and taste.

We were received kindly by the officers at Fort Lancaster, and but for the melancholy occasion of our delay should have passed an agreeable day.

July 11. Travelled all the day up the valley of the Pecos, which has an average width of about three miles, and is chiefly remarkable for the castellated appearance of the hills on each side. There is no timber, and even the mesquite is smaller than usual, though we find the grass abundant and excellent in quality. The river runs through banks so steep that it was noon before we found a place to water our animals. We encamped then and breakfasted,  p159 having made nearly thirteen miles. This afternoon we shall make as much more.

Encamped again this afternoon on the Pecos, having made today twenty-four miles. We found the grass only tolerably good, and the water decidedly bad.

The camels are now keeping up easily with the train, and came into camp with the wagons. My fears as to their feet giving out, as I had been led to believe from those who seemed to know, have so far proved entirely unfounded, though the character of the road is exceedingly trying to brutes of any kind. My dogs cannot travel at all upon it, and after going a short distance run to the wagons and beg to be taken in. The camels, on the contrary, have not evinced the slightest distress or soreness; and this is the more remarkable, as mules or horses, in a very short time, get so sore-footed that shoes are indispensable. The road is very hard and firm, and strewn all p23over it is a fine, sharp, angular, flinty gravel — very small, about the size of a pea — and the least friction causes it to act like a rasp upon the opposing surface. The camel has no shuffle in his gait, but lifts his feet perpendicular from the ground, and replaces them, without sliding, as a horse or other quadrupeds do. This, together with the coarsely granulated and yielding nature of his foot, which, though very tough, like gutta percha, yields sufficiently without wearing off, enables them to travel continuously in a country where no other barefooted beast would last a week.

July 12. Journeyed from 4 to 8½ A.M., and encamped again upon the Pecos, having made nine miles. One of Captain Lee's men went to the river to fish, and soon returned with a cat fish weighing fifty-seven pounds. I had it  p160 carefully weighed by our own steelyards. This started us all to fishing, but we were not so successful; in truth, took nothing. We leave the Pecos this evening, and are all glad of it. A more stupid and uninteresting river cannot be imagined — rapid, muddy, brackish, timberless, and hard to get at. We shall go our this evening about fifteen miles and make a dry camp, that is, without water.

Encamped on the prairie. Mr. Williams, geologist, while some distance from camp, and busy in the pursuit of his scientific investigations, came suddenly on two Indians. The rule in this country being to shoot on first sight, it was rather an awkward predicament.

To the Indians, who were as much surprised as the stone-breaker, the affair was equally embarrassing. One party was armed with musket and revolver, with the pleasant remembrance that the last time he attempted to fire it it refused to go off. The other party had bows and arrows, the former most probably unstrung, as they are usually carried when not expecting immediate use for them. Fortunately there were no seconds on the ground to make the fight imperative, so that after regarding each other attentively for a while they started off briskly in different directions, and the affair was thus "settled honorably to both parties." Our horses stampeded twice last night, but did not go far. Grass very indifferent, and no wood. Francisco, teamster, crushed his hand in the wheel.

July 13. Started at 4 A.M. and traveled over an almost level country until we came to the Escondido spring. This water is beautifully clear, though slightly brackish. There is sufficient grass here, but of coarse innutritious quality. We breakfasted and remained at the spring until noon,  p161 when we left for Comanche spring, and travelled over a very fine and level road for eighteen miles. Encamped at Comanche springs, where there was running water about five feet deep, but no timber. We caught some very fine fish. Here the great Comanche trail, on their inroads to Mexico on horse stealing excursions, passes, and thousands of stolen horses have been carried by this road to the Indian country.

July 14. Raised camp at 4.45 A.M., and travelled ten miles, to Leon spring. Here we found a succession of deep pools of slightly brackish water, but very clear. The road this morning has been excellent, with plenty of grass, but of a coarse quality, and no timber, but a little dwarf mesquite. Our next camp will be a dry one, the p24nearest water being forty miles distant. We shall remain here until two or three in the afternoon, and then travel until dark, and camp wherever night overtakes us. The camels came into camp about an hour after us today, not having been packed in time to start with us this morning.

Leon spring was supposed by our guide to be five hundred feet deep; everybody said so. We exploded this popular fallacy by a very simple process, to wit, sounding it. We found it deep enough to save it from any exaggeration, viz., twenty-five feet. We started again at 3 P.M., and traveled until 10 at night, when we encamped on the prairie. At midnight we were awakened by a stampede of all our loose animals, which during the night we had close to the wagons, under a strong guard. When the stampede first took place I thought but little of it, knowing the animals would not run far, and that the guard would soon bring them back; but presently, mingling with the sound  p162 of the horses' receding footsteps, we heard in rapid succession two shots. This was startling, as we were in the midst of the Indian country, and it became evident that the Indians had run off our horses. Immediately I ordered all hands called, and taking with me five men, who were quickly mounted on the team animals always kept hitched to the wagons, started out in the darkness to the place where the shots had been fired, and expecting to find some of our horse guard killed by the Comanches. We had not gone far, however, before we found our men and the animals, with the exception of six, and discovered that the report of fire-arms we had heard was from the accidental discharge of two barrels of a revolver in the hands of one of our Mexicans. Much relieved, and with our animals driven before us, we returned to camp and to our blankets. The stampede has been of service in one respect, it has shown who are willing to fight, and who are not. Some who have been very loud in the desire to see an Indian skirmish were not as forward last night as I could have desired. The grass is excellent, but there is no wood.

We have made today twenty-eight miles.

July 15. We raised camp at 3 A.M., and prepared a party to go and follow the trail of the animals which we failed to recover last night. At daylight, however, by the aid of glasses, we discovered them grazing on the side of the mountain, about four miles off, so that the party prepared to take their trail was spared the trouble of hunting them up. We encamped at noon at the Hackberry, a mere mud hole, but containing sufficient water for our animals, with tolerable grass, but no timber. Started again at 11, and having watered on the road at a mud hole, arrived at  p163 Barilla spring at about 4. The water at this place is delicious, especially after the brackish stuff we have been drinking.

Our camp this evening is a very pleasant one, on the side of a rugged mountain, and overlooking a green and pretty valley almost shut in by mountains. It is a great relief, after travelling so long over these monotonous plains to find oneself in the mountains again, and in the region of cool, clear streams and springs.

Distance made today twenty miles.

Grass good, but no wood.

p25 July 16. Raised camp at 4, and travelled all the morning through a succession of beautiful valleys, and in the midst of the most enchanting scenery. On both sides of the road the mountain rises to a great height, and is of the most rugged character. On some places, the rock, for miles, is entirely perpendicular for hundreds of yards in height, reminding one very strongly of the palisades along the Hudson; and in others assumes a smooth appearance, but always beautiful. I followed down a chasm, as it seemed, for half a mile, until the rock narrowed to a width of some twenty yards. Here I discovered, to my surprise and delight, a spring of pure and cold water, which found its way through the crevices of the rock, and after running a short distance sank again.

Our camp today is near the summit of the Wild Rose Pass, and although the grass is not very good, it is the most pleasant we have had since leaving Fort Clarke.

The camels arrived nearly as soon as we did. It is a subject of constant surprise and remark to all of us, how their feet can possibly stand the character of the road we have  p164 been travelling over for the last ten days. It is certainly the hardest road on the feet of barefooted animals I have ever known. As for food, they live on anything, and thrive. Yesterday they drank water for the first time in twenty‑six hours, and although the day had been excessively hot they seemed to care but little for it. Mark the difference between them and mules; the same time, in such weather, without water, would set the latter wild, and render them nearly useless, if not entirely break them down.

We started again at 4, and encamped on the Simpia, the stream which runs through the Wild Rose Pass. This evening our ride has been very pleasant, and the scenery still more beautiful than this morning. Oak trees of small growth covered every inch of the mountain not occupied by the solid rock, and the contrast between the gigantic, dark brown rocks, covered with red and grey moss, and the green foliage of the trees, and the still richer green of the cottonwoods and willows which fringed the streamlet on whose bed we are travelling, made a charming character of scenery, and delighted every one in camp.

The road through the pass we found most excellent, and so nearly level that it was impossible, without an examination of the matter, to say which way it inclined.

We have encamped this evening about four miles from Fort Davis, on the spot where two soldiers from the post and the guide were killed, and a drummer boy taken prisoner by the Indians.

The valley is not over a quarter of a mile in width until arriving at our present camp, where it opens to the width of a mile, and the steep palisaded sides of the mountain fall off and give way to an undulating, hilly country, covered everywhere with the finest grass.

 p165  Our travelling companions, Captain Lee and his wife, left us here and went on to Fort Davis. Tomorrow we shall pass half a day at the post, and then off again for El Paso.

Distance made today 23½ miles. Grass rather good, and wood tolerably abundant.

p26 July 17. Raised camp at sunrise, and went on to Fort Davis, where we were kindly entertained by the officers. Having two wagons to be repaired, I determined to go no further today.

Distance made about five miles.

July 18. Employed most of the day at the blacksmith's shop, in driving the repairs of the wagons. In the afternoon we bade adieu to our hospitable friends at the post, and came out about ten miles to Bald Rock spring, where we found excellent water, but no wood or grass. We encamped here for the night.

July 19. Travelled all the morning through rolling hills, bounded by rocky and palisaded mountains on our left, and quite near us, and on the right, but at a great distance, another range apparently of the same character. Everywhere the grass is excellent in the prairie.

At noon we encamped at Bauell springs, where we found a scanty supply of tolerably good water, but no wood.

At 2 we started again, and found a rolling country, and good travelling all the evening to Ojo de las Muertas (Spring of the Dead). We passed the grave of a man who had been killed by the Indians, which had the usual pile of stones, to prevent exhumation by the wolves; a shingle at one end, and a sharp stick at the other.

I am convinced water may be found by sinking wells twelve feet, or less by half, at Smith's run, which we crossed,  p166 and at several other places on the road. The camels are travelling finely. It is worthy of especial notice, and I mention it here, while it is fresh in my mind, that since our leaving San Antonio, where my experience commenced with them, I have never seen or heard of one stumbling, or even making a blunder.

July 20. Raised camp at 4, and travelled until 6 A.M., when we discovered water, about the distance of two miles off the road. It was a mud hole, but served us to water the mules, and was very acceptable, as the nearest known water to that at which we encamped last night is thirty‑six miles distant. About noon we found another mud hole, a most grateful piece of success, as it saves much suffering, and long marches, without water, with the thermometer at 95°.

We encamped at the mud hole, and shall leave this evening, and go on about ten miles further, and make a dry camp, with the view of breakfasting tomorrow at Van Horn's Wells. Our ride this morning has been utterly destitute of interest. The travelling has been most excellent, generally on elevated plateaus, or across broad and level valleys; but entirely without timber of any description. The grass for the most part good, though a little parched and dry.

We have travelled for the past few days parallel with two ranges of mountains, one on each side of us. They present a barren, rugged and repulsive aspect, and are without timber.

Distance made this morning sixteen and a half miles.

We encamped on the prairie at dark, after making eight miles. We saw two Indians this evening, evidently watching our train, and most likely meditating horse thieving operations against us.

 p167  Grass tolerably good; but no wood or water. Whole distance made today twenty-four and a half miles.

July 21. We raised camp at 4 A.M., and travelled nine miles to p27Van Horn's Wells — a pool of water of fair quality, but barely sufficient for our animals. I long to reach a good running stream again, where they can drink without struggling and fighting each other for every mouthful. But for this scarcity of water, this country would excel any other in the world for cattle raising. The grass is superabundant, and of most excellent quality, almost everywhere; but the want of a large supply of water is an insurmountable difficulty, and will remain so, until Pope's experimentf succeeds.

Our road this morning has been over a country almost level, but not at all interesting. The camels are now being rapidly lightened of their loads, as we have eaten almost all our forage. In consequence, they frequently reach camp before the wagons, and can always do so, if hurried at all. We shall leave our present camp this evening, and go on fifteen miles further, which will bring us near to Eagle springs. Tonight we shall make another dry camp, as the drive would be too far for our animals to go on to the next water, without rest.

We encamped for the night on the plains, within ten miles of Eagle spring. Grass excellent; but neither wood nor water.

Distance made today twenty‑two miles.

July 22. Raised camp at 5 A.M., and travelled ten miles to Eagle springs. The country is easy for wagons, although our road passes to the right and left of very rough ranges of mountains. The valleys between them, however, are  p168 broad and level. I think the average width will be ten miles. The most disagreeable feature is the entire want of wood; the mountains being stupendous masses of rock, entirely destitute of timber and running streams, which we generally associate with mountains, and rendering their appearance forbidding in the extreme.

Our encampment this morning is at the scene of quite a number of Indian devilments. Four men were murdered here by them at one time, and various others at different periods, to say nothing of the numerous bands of cattle, mules, and horses which they have taken from emigrants and others passing here.

The spring rises at the base of Eagle mountain, which is a huge pile of perpendicular cliff, palisaded at the top, and rising gradually without the usual accompaniment of foot hills from the valley. There is quite sufficient water for our animals, and having been eighteen hours without, they are glad enough to get it.

The grass here is very poor, both in quality and in quantity. We started on at 3. The sun was intensely warm, but about 4 a most refreshing shower cooled the atmosphere, and rendered the travelling very agreeable. It was particularly so to us, as we had a journey of thirty-four miles before us, without water. We passed on the road, shortly after leaving the spring, the scene of a battle between the Comanches and some Texas emigrants to California, in which the latter were badly worsted. Travelled some twenty miles, and encamped on the plain without water or grass. Today we have made thirty miles; a good journey for loaded wagons.

We met two Mexicans on the road whom we supposed to  p169 be fleeing from justice. They had probably committed some rascality, and were p28in a hurry to get out of danger, as according to their story they had ridden nearly eighty miles since day‑break.

July 23. We got an early start this morning, and after travelling a short distance crossed an easy divide, and followed down a cañon leading directly to the Rio Grande. Very soon we came in sight of the green cotton-woods, which mark the line of the river; a most grateful sight to men who had travelled so far without seeing a piece of wood larger than a mesquite bush. The valley of the Bio Grande is here about twenty-five miles in width, from mountain to mountain, and certainly has no very prepossessing appearance; the mountains on the American side, like those on the Mexican, are destitute of timber, and offer to the eye nought but gloomy masses of rock, where the very spirit of desolation seems to reign. Only the clear fresh green of the cotton-woods in the river bottom creates a point for the eye to rest upon with pleasure; speaking to us, as it did, of a fine stream in which we would bathe our weary limbs; but, like all other anticipations of pleasure, this, too, faded on a nearer approach. We found the river after groping some distance through a dense undergrowth of weeds, briars and willows, a muddy stream about a hundred yards wide; but with such a deposit of mud and quicksand that even our thirsty mules were obliged to go half a mile below, before we could find a place where we could safely take them to water.

Yesterday our corn being nearly exhausted, I ordered all of the remaining packs to be taken from the camels, in order that their backs might have a chance to recover,  p170 where they had become chafed by bad packing. I find they have suffered less than the same number of pack mules would have done on a journey of the same distance. I am convinced that a better and lighter saddle could be easily arranged for them, and shall submit my ideas on this matter fully hereafter. This morning we made twelve and a quarter miles; wood abundant (cotton and willow) and grass enough, but of an inferior quality. We travelled up the valley of the Rio Grande fourteen miles, and encamped for the night. Here I took Mr. Bell and Sandy, and accompanied by Mr. Ford, who had travelled from Fort Davis with us, went on to San Elizario. We travelled until 2 o'clock at night, when we stripped off our saddles, ate a little bread and cheese, and laid down to sleep. After resting two hours, we started again, drowsily saddling our mules in the dim twilight of coming dawn, betook ourselves again with many a yawn to our journey. We travelled on until 11 when we overtook a Mexican train, which gave us breakfast on green peppers and coffee, after which we started once more, and at noon reached San Elizario, hungry and tired. We had ridden, almost without intermission, a distance of ninety-five miles, and had been in the saddle, well nigh constantly, for thirty‑six hours.

July 24. We passed the day pleasantly at the house of Mr. Ford.

July 25. Still at San Elizario.

July 26. Our train arrived this morning, and the whole Mexican population, which, since our getting in, has been in a perfectly feverish state of excitement in relation to the camels, had their curiosity gratified. The street was crowded, and when we went on to camp the p29whole  p171 town followed. I drove up to Franklin this evening, in order to expedite our departure on the following morning.

July 27. Spent the day at Fort Bliss, where I was kindly received by the officers. Dined with Mr. McGoffin, and attended a pleasant party at his house afterwards. At 6 in the evening saddled our mules (Thorburn and I) and trotted out to camp — ten miles distant.

Made today about eighteen miles.

July 28. Started before sunrise, and travelled twelve miles, our road following the river to Willow bar. We found the road heavy nearly all the way from recent rains.

Encamped opposite the mountain, about nine miles distant, in which is situated a valuable silver mine, belonging, I believe, to a Mr. Stephenson, who lives near El Paso. It is said the mine is yielding an abundant fortune to its proprietor. It is situated in a mountain on the American side of the river, and apparently of easy access.

The grass at our camp, and also throughout the entire valley, is very plenty, but of a poor quality. Of wood there is abundance of mesquite and cotton-wood, but no other. We have passed today numerous herds of sheep, of the small kind common to this country. The wool is coarse and the animal, from the pernicious practice of breeding in and in, small and every way inferior to those of the eastern States.

July 29. Started by starlight, and travelled about nine miles, when we encamped at a hole of water, about a mile from Fort Fillmore and one and a half from the river. Grass indifferent; mesquite wood abundant, especially a kind of which the camels are particularly fond, the fornia or screw-bean. This bush bears a fruit in bunches, about an inch and a half in length, in the form of a screw. It is very nutritious,  p172 and is sometimes used to make pinola by both Indians and Mexicans. The camels seem to like both the branches and fruit better than any other we have met with. Although the branches are covered with sharp thorns, larger and stronger than those which grow on the rose bush, the camel seizes them in his mouth and draws the limb through his teeth, rapidly stripping off the leaves and briars and eating both greedily. Sometimes they bite off branches of considerable size and eat them leisurely, with apparent great ease. Their strength of jaw and teeth seems uncommonly great, greater even than in proportion to their size when compared with other brutes.

This evening was passed pleasantly at Fort Bliss with the officers of the post. We encamped six miles beyond the fort, and only stopped the train long enough to put in forage for our animals. The fort is pleasantly situated, overlooking the river and meadow land lying on either side. The ground rises considerably at the post, which is built on the sand hills, and gives it a pretty appearance on approach. At sundown, we rode on to camp, accompanied by Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Myers, Major Morris, and my old friend, George Haywood.

It rained slightly almost all night; but not enough to wet our blankets or disturb our sleep.

July 30. We passed through the towns of Cruces and Dona Ana, where we exhibited the camels to the wondering gaze of the population. Travelled about eighteen and a half miles, and encamped on the river. p30Here we leave the water, and take the much dreaded "Jornada del Muerto," a stretch of ninety miles without water. We are, however, in hopes that our usual good fortune will attend us, and that the rain will come to our assistance.

 p173  This morning our road led us in view of the Organ mountain, about seven miles distant, a most rugged and terribly severe mountain, but containing in its bosom a store of wealth in silver ore which its frowning aspect seems to guard from intrusion; ineffectually, however, as its bowels are being torn and rent by blasting and cutting, in search of the precious contents. This evening we started at 4 o'clock, intending to go out eight miles and make a dry camp; but we had not gone far before it began to drizzle, and soon after the rain came down in torrents. Through the rain we travelled on cheerfully, until a little after dark; cheerfully, for we felt assured of finding rain water in holes on the "Jornada," and for our animals' sake we were willing enough to take the rain.

At night we stopped on the plain, and threw ourselves on the ground, to sleep roundly until the bugle called us in the morning.

After leaving the river, the road ascends about seven miles, which is sandy. At this point the great plain of the "Jornada" is reached, and the road becomes excellent.

July 31. This morning we started at 4, and travelled until 9.30 A.M. Nothing could exceed the beauty of the country we have travelled over this morning. The whole extent, as far as vision reached ahead, was a level plain, covered thickly with the most luxurious grass, and filled with beautiful wild flowers, while on each side the mountains in the distance, nearly covered with clouds, loomed up grandly. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres, containing the greatest abundance of the finest grass in the world, and the richest soil are here lying vacant, and looked upon by the traveller with dread, because of its want of water.

It is worthy of remark, as a curious coincidence, that at every long stretch without water we have come to, since leaving the Atlantic, we have had abundant rains; all the more remarkable, as the people here say that these are the first rains that have fallen on them for more than a year.

This evening we made ten miles; making, for the day's journey, twenty-four and a-half miles.

Encamped without finding water.

Grass abundant and good; slight rain during the night.


Thayer's Notes:

a So the printed edition of Uncle Sam's Camels, but also as found in the original Congressional Report (Vol. 959, p17) which the book reprints. It is a barbarism for the actual Spanish name of the creek, Piedras Pintadas: i.e., "painted" or colored rocks.

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b Arthur Tracy Lee: born in Pennsylvania, appointed from Pennsylvania. Second Lieutenant in the 5th Infantry 8 Oct 1838; transferred to the 8th Infantry 1 Nov 1838; First Lieutenant 4 Mar 1845; Captain 27 Jan 1848; Major in the 2d Infantry 26 Oct 1861; retired 20 Jan 1865; retired with rank of Colonel 28 Jul 1866; Brevet Lieutenant Colonel 2 Jul 1863 for gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa. Died 29 Dec 1879. (Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army)

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c Camp Hudson (later Fort Hudson); it was manned at the time by the 8th Infantry.

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d "Moderate" is sarcastic, as we can see from the next sentence; $20 in 1857 was roughly equivalent, as far as these things can be measured, to about $535 in 2016. (From an online inflation rate calculator).

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e This turned out not to be as sensible as it might seem, and nearly killed Beale: see Stacey's diary, Sept. 26, 1857.

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f From 1853 to 1859, U. S. Army Topographical Engineer Capt. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Pope (later famous as the high-ranking Union Army commander in the early part of the War between the States) was engaged in government-sponsored experiments to procure water by drilling artesian wells on the Staked Plains. The experiments ultimately failed.


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