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Though it was to be a drouth summer throughout the West, the prairies had one of their wettest springs. The citizenry of Independence had built •six miles of macadam road to the Missouri in order to keep their commerce, but had omitted grading their own streets. It was still raining in early May, wagons bogged to the hubs, and one waded to Colonel Noland's tavern or Robert Weston's blacksmith shop through a knee-deep solution of red Missouri clay. Either was worth the miring, however. Weston's was the most celebrated of the frontier's smithies, though only one of a dozen or more in Independence, all overburdened with this spring's preparations. Smallwood Noland's inn was even more famous, the westernmost hotel in all America, the last one this side of the Sandwich Islands, with accommodations for up to four hundred guests if they didn't mind sleeping two or more in a bed.
Franklin had slid into the Missouri and there was only Westport, •some ten miles away (now a part of Kansas City), to challenge the priority of Independence in the Western trade. This year a few wagon trains moved west from St. Joseph, and in the future Leavenworth, Atchison, Plattsmouth, and finally Council Bluffs would feed traffic to the trail. But Independence was the traditional jumping‑off place, the beginning alike of New Mexico and Oregon and romance, fully as important in history as it has become in legend.
Quite properly, a son of Daniel Boone was the first white man to visit it. He named it Eden and was later confirmed by inspiration. "The land of Missouri," God revealed to Joseph the Seer in 1831 "is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the Saints. Wherefore this is the land of promise and the place for the city of Zion. . . . Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place [of the earth and of the starry universe as well] and a spot for the temple is lying westward upon a lot which is not far from the court house." Round that courthouse and that still vacant Temple Lot the Saints were to gather when the Latter days should become the Last days, and they are still to gather there when prophecy shall be fulfilled. But though Joseph p138 acquired his most industrious murderer at Independence, Porter Rockwell, Israel's enemies prevailed and the Saints were driven from their gathering place to the less sanctified lands of Clay County. Later still and suffering another persecution, Joseph, in jail at Liberty in 1838, foresaw God's vengeance on Independence. Do not accept some Jackson County land, offered in payment of a debt, he told Alexander Doniphan, his attorney. For "God's wrath hangs over Jackson County. God's people have been ruthlessly driven from it and you will live to see the day when it will be visited by fire and sword. The Lord of Hosts will sweep it with the besom of destruction. The fields and farms and houses will be destroyed, and only the chimneys will be left to mark the desolation." So Doniphan is said to have told a friend in 1863, soon after a Union army swept through the county burning out the guerrillas who had been ravaging it for eighteen months.
But in '46 neither the gathering of the Saints nor the besom of destruction menaced Independence. It was still Eden but with metropolitan additions, and the flood poured through it. All conditions of mankind were there, in all costumes: Shawnee and Kansa from the Territory and wanderers of other tribes, blanketed, painted, wearing their Presidential medals; Mexicans in bells, slashed pantaloons, and primary colors, speaking a strange tongue and smoking shuck-rolled cigarettes; mountain men in buckskins preparing for the summer trade or offering their services to the emigrant trains; the case-hardened bullwhackers of the Santa Fe trail in boots and bowie knives, coming in after wintering at the other end or preparing to go out; rivermen and roustabouts, Negro stevedores, soldiers from Fort Leavenworth, a miscellany of transients whose only motive was to see the elephant wherever the elephant might be. Freight poured in from the steamboat landings, the great wagons careened through the streets, day by day the freshet of movers came in from the east, the lowing of herds pullulated over the town, the smithies and wagon shops rang with iron, whooping riders galloped their ponies through the mud, the groggeries were one long aria, and out from town the little clusters of tents grew and grew.
The town was a first violent shock of the strangeness which was a primary condition of the emigration. From now on the habits within whose net a man lives would be twisted apart and disrupted, and the most powerful tension of pioneering began here at the jumping‑off. Here was a confusion of tongues, a multitude of strange businesses, a horde of strangers — and beyond was the unknown hazard. For all their exuberance and expectation, doubt of that unknown fermented in the movers and they p139 were already bewildered. They moved gaping from wheelwright's to blacksmith's, from tavern to outfitter's, harassed by drovers and merchants trying to sell them equipment, derided by the freighters, oppressed by rumors of Indians and hostile Mormons, oppressed by homesickness, drinking too much forty‑rod, forming combinations and breaking them up, fighting a good deal, raging at the rain and spongy earth, most of them depressed, some of them giving up and going ingloriously home.
They in turn were passing strange to Francis Parkman. He thought the Mexicans' tongue outlandish and he heard with an intense distaste the high Tennessee whine, the Illinois nasals, the cottonmouth Missouri drawl, the slurred syllables, the bad grammar, the idioms and slang of uncouth dialects. The emigrants were loud, rowdy, carelessly dressed, and unmistakably without breeding. They waited for no introduction before accosting a grandson of a China merchant and his cousin whose triply perfumed name was Quincy Adams Shaw — slapping them on the back, prying into their lives and intentions. "How are ye, boys? Are ye for Oregon or California?" None of their damned business: would not have been on Beacon Hill and certainly was not since they were coarse, sallow, unkempt, and dressed in homespun which all too obviously had been tailored for them by their wives. "New England sends but a small proportion but they are better furnished than the rest," he wrote in his notebook — and in his book set down that the movers were "totally devoid of any sense of delicacy or propriety." They would not do. He was perplexed by "this strange migration" and wondered whether mere restlessness went into it, or "a desire of shaking off restraints of law and society," or "an insane hope of a better condition of life." But with that wonder his interest in them reached a full stop. Manifest Destiny was taking flesh under his eyes, his countrymen were putting the map into accord with the logic of geography, but they were of the wrong caste and the historian wanted to see some Indians.
He could not suffer the Pukes or the Suckers. So he joined three Englishmen whom he had met at St. Louis, preparing for a summer on the plains, and who also wanted no truck with the "Kentucky fellows." They were three of God's innocents and one of them had high ranking among God's bores. Captain Chandler had retired from Her Majesty's Army on a competence; he had his brother with him and a Mr. Romaines. This was a faintly literary gentleman who bossed everything, knew nothing, was inept in all things, and expressed his type at the very beginning by leading them off the trail for a full week. Yet he had to be accorded a certain authority since he had been on — and survived — a mountain expedition p140 in 1841.1 Parkman had hired his mountain man, Henry Chatillon, and a humble Canadian pork-eater named Delorier; the Britishers had three engagés. Ten strong altogether, with twenty-three horses and mules, they fled the movers into the prairies, where there would be no worse affliction than the Pawnee. They intended to travel a long way, the Englishmen to the Pacific and Parkman as far as need be to find the noble savage in his unspoiled state. One supposes that Henry Chatillon assumed they must soon join a wagon train; otherwise, to take so small a party was folly.
Parkman had taken care, however, to provide himself with such safeguards as the American Fur Company, the law west of the Missouri, could offer. He had met the principal Chouteau at St. Louis, and had previously met Ramsay Crooks, the New York head. In March Crooks had sent him the necessary letters "to facilitate your contemplated excursion, and by requesting these friends to give you introductions to others on your way to, or in the interior of the country, they will no doubt do so." In St. Louis he had obtained from the Chouteau company, the actual management, a letter, dated April 25 and signed J. B. Clapp. It commended Parkman and Shaw to all employes of the company, wherever they might be met, and ordered given to them any services, supplies, or assistance they might require. It was countersigned by Shaw and Parkman, for recognition. (The Chouteaus had also engaged Chatillon for them.)
The Britishers dressed in the fearful costumes of their kind and were equipped with expensive sporting arms. Parkman and Shaw wore the prairie uniforms supplied by correct outfitters and had the conventional weapons. They packed their miniature train and were off, after calling on the Kickapoo trader, in whose house Parkman saw a loaded pistol resting on the poems of John Milton. At Fort Leavenworth Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny of the First Dragoons (he was clearly a gentleman) had no hint of what the summer was preparing for him, talked of steeplechases and buffalo hunting, and pledged them with a bottle of Madeira. And so westward — if, as a result of British confidence, at first not on the trail.
Alone of the year's travelers who described their journeying, Parkman called this lush country the Great American Desert. He observed at once, however, that "the clouds in this region are afflicted with incontinence of water." The phrase was a trifle high and what survived in his book was a remark that the climate made New England's seem "mild and equable." He was right. It buffeted him, the Mormons, the Santa Fe traders, and the p141 emigrants with a violent succession of deluges, thunderstorms, northers, freezes, and heat waves. Oxen might die of heat beside streams made impassable by yesterday's rain while their owners sniffled with the colds produced by day before yesterday's norther. Sudden gales blowing out of nowhere flattened the tents, barrages of thunder that lasted for many hours might stampede the stock, and Parkman remarked that his bed was soft for he sank into it. Nevertheless the life was enchanting at once: this was a camping trip many times enlarged. He equably accepted the rains, the continual miring and occasional breakdown of the cart, the deadly mosquitoes, the dor bugs, and the ineptitudes of the British. It was wild, free, and rewarding, an intensification of the tramps and canoe trips through upper New England that had laid the ground plans of the books he would write. He quickly learned the knacks of prairie travel, could pitch camp, hitch a pack, find wood or water, track a strayed horse, extricate the mired cart.
They got back on their course after a lost week's travel — they had been trying to strike the new trail from St. Joseph2 — and reached the Oregon trail proper near the crossing of the Blue in late May. The next month was pleasant, routine travel, and exciting only as climate. They got through the Pawnee country without the pillage to which their defenselessness exposed them, and such specimens of these prairie pirates as they met only delighted Parkman. There was little game at first — as the Mormons to the eastward had already found — but the prairies were populous. They met parties on their way back from the mountains, Papin the bourgeois of Fort Laramie with eleven bullboats of furs precariously navigating the Platte (he gave them a letter to his understudy at the fort), a half-dozen Canadian engagés of some other fur company who gathered round their fire in a desolate rain. Nearly every day there were companies of emigrants, whom Parkman could not love. The notebook records a girl at the head of one of them on horseback, delicately holding a parasol, various quarrels and debates along the trail, "a true specimen of the raw Western way, 'Hullo boys — where do you water your horses?' " But he could commend the appearance of one group who, though as inquisitive as the rest came from "one of the least barbarous of the frontier counties" and were "fine looking fellows with an air of frankness, generosity and even courtesy." That was a sizable admission and presently he was able to accept without too much distaste the small band of movers who joined his party on Mr. Romaine's invitation — four wagons, ten men, one woman, and a child. These traveled with or just ahead of them for two weeks, and though Parkman fumed he spent part of the night p142 with one of them on guard duty and found him not too bad. The young man had an intelligent face and his manners and conversation showed the essential characteristics of a gentleman. He was not, however, an Indian.
Good fun, good food, the nightly ritual of camp and fire. The rains ended, though there was a vicious sleet storm in June. Vegetation grew sparse, the land sloped and broke up. Traveling grew monotonous but had a pleasant languor. Parkman had some symptoms of illness but did not realize how ominous they were. His notebook says occasionally that he was "hipped," meaning the fits of depression that were to grow stronger and darker in his middle years.
Then they met the buffalo and the fantasy of all American boys was fulfilled. Parkman's horse, which he had duly named Pontiac, was not broken to buffalo running but he made a frenzied and ecstatic chase. Drenched with sweat, his heart pounding, armed only with a saddle pistol, he missed his first one and nearly got lost in the prairie sea to boot, but before long he was a veteran. By June 10 he and Shaw had had all they could stand of British fumbling and bumbling. "The folly of Romaine — the old womanism of the Capt. combine to disgust us" is one notebook entry. They decided to go it alone. There would be only four of them — and they were now at the Lower California Crossing of the Platte — but that would be all right. Pretty soon they would find some Indians.
And pretty soon they did. Something was coming down a butte on the horizon and Parkman took it to be a file of buffalo. But Henry Chatillon shouted that it was Old Smoke's village of Sioux.3 Shortly a young buck in robe and moccasins, with bow and quiver, an eagle-bone whistle thrust in his topknot, gorgeously rode up and Parkman had a foretaste of his desire. The visitor rode on with them, the village was camped at Horse Creek, and here was Old Smoke in person, and Old Smoke's youngest squaw was a beauty in fringed and beaded white deerskin, her cheeks vermilioned. Here were other chiefs in a tableau of savage dignity, formally posed, with their robes thrown over their shoulders like Roman knights. Squaws and children boiled about, hundreds of dogs were howling, and the old women, "ugly as Macbeth's witches," worked feverishly and added a high screaming over the mingled noises that made Parkman's heart run over. He had reached the threshold of adventure.
He noted an emigrant train, "dragging their slow, heavy procession" across Horse Creek at that moment. The thought struck him that these people and their descendants would finish the Western Indians in the course of a century.
He gave a noon feast for some chiefs and camped on the Platte that p143 night, within sight of the Sioux. The next day, June 15, he hurried on to Fort Laramie and began to make arrangements. Leave him there for a while.
* * *
The emigration moved beside Parkman, ahead of him, and behind him. We will follow it mainly in the experiences of several persons, already introduced, who started a little after him. In early May an enormous wagon train was forming at Indian Creek, a few miles out of Independence. We are concerned with its itinerary and experience, though this narrative calls at need on the whole summer's movement and on what is typical in the history of such travel. This particular train was nearer the eastern than the western end of the long line of wagons that stretched in its entirety for several hundreds of miles, making from the Missouri to the Pacific in this summer of '46. It was not to be a unit for very long and the units that formed of its components were themselves to shift, interchange, break up, and reunite. Ahead of it moved at least twenty trains that had left Independence, Westport, and St. Joseph as units, and these too underwent similar fractures and transformations. Behind it were an undetermined but smaller number of similar trains which had a similar history. . . . Remember that this was a drouth year already in the mountains and would soon become one in the plains. Earlier trains had diminished the originally plentiful grass, and the trail, where it was fixed, was dusty from the wheels of those that had gone before. The prairie air was full of rumors, and there was doubt of one's welcome in Oregon, which might be British when one arrived, or in California, which might be at war.
The Oregon and California Trails
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Edwin Bryant, the transplanted Yankee, left Independence with his two companions4 for the rendezvous on May 5. They had hired a sub-mountain‑man named Brownell to drive for them, had bought and outfitted an emigrant wagon, and had provided it with three yoke of oxen at $21.67 per span.5 The asthmatic Thornton had already been nominated a colonel, probably because he used such beautiful language, when he left Independence with his Nancy and two hired drivers on May 12. He joined Governor Boggs's party and when they reached the rendezvous, the fifteenth, they brought its census to 72 wagons, 130 men, 65 women, 125 children. For a brief space it was to be more than twice as large as that. A few days later Reed and the Donners came up, and the populous Breens had joined them. They were probably the most luxuriously equipped emigrants on the plains that summer, and an undercurrent of p144 resentment began. One of Reed's wagons was not only outsize but had been filled with bunks, cushions, a stove, and various contrivances for comfort. Virginia Reed's blooded riding mare was envied. The Donners had three spare yoke of oxen, more milch cows than seemed necessary, some yearlings for beef, and five saddle horses. An even more ambitious effort was made. Messrs. J. Baker and David Butterfield undertook to make the crossing with a herd of 140 cattle.6 After a few days they were required to leave the train, on the formal verdict that so large a herd would be a danger when they should reach the desert country, but more likely because they refused to butcher their calves.
Parkman's judgment on these people, that of a tory and a Brahmin, has been quoted. Thornton, who was a Virginian by origin, something of a cosmopolite, and as genteel as possible, did not agree.7 "The majority were plain, honest, substantial, intelligent, enterprising, and virtuous," he says. "They were indeed much superior to those who usually settle in a new country." Both halves of his judgment are unquestionably correct. A frontier that could be reached only by •eighteen hundred miles of hard travel was not an easy recourse for brush dwellers squatters and butcher-knife boys. From the Connecticut and the Kenawha on to the Missouri the "new country" had always offered opportunities to the shiftless and the shifty, but this was different. The migration was drawn from the stable elements of society, if only because the stable alone could afford it. A customary family outfit had a value of from seven to fifteen hundred dollars. The only way in which a really poor man could make the passage was to hire out as driver or helper.8 Most trains had a number of such young men (and sometimes, as with the Donners, young women) who were working their passage, but the bulk were, at least in a moderate degree, men of property and therefore substantial citizens. A certain fraction, of course, if not "squatters" (generically, "poor whites") were of the butcher-knife type, and the fraction increased as travel cheapened. (In the last stages of the Gold Rush it got fairly large.) A good many had the Big Bear of Arkansaw exuberance that distressed Parkman, but even they were likely to be farmers who had sold their farms at a profit. Farmers predominated but it was a heterogeneous mass. The train we are following included lawyers, journalists, students, teachers, day laborers, two ministers of the gospel, a carriage maker, a cabinet-maker, a stonemason, a jeweler, a gunsmith, and several blacksmiths. It had Germans, Hollanders, Frenchmen, and Englishmen, but was native American in the overwhelming majority. Companions of Thornton's alluded to in a few successive entries of his journal are named Crump, Clark, Lard, Van Bibber p145 (Lazarus!), Mootrey, Savage, Croiyers, Dunbar, Luce, Hill, Norris, Perkins, and Burns. It is a voting list of any town from Concord to Sedalia.
They were Americans and would therefore organize. An impressive staff of officers — captain, vice captains, secretary, treasurer, judges, committees of appeal, and so forth — was proposed and these honors implied electioneering. Candidates mounted stumps or wagon boxes to confess their personal excellences and praise the patriotism of emigration. Cliques formed, votes were cast, and whoever lost began to store up resentment that would make trouble later on. The committees could meet by night and make recommendations, which one obeyed at his pleasure but was more likely to disregard. The captain's duties were large but his authority was theory; everyone had the inalienable privilege of dissent and especially of criticism. Few trains ever got to South Pass, and still fewer to the Pacific, under the same officers or even the same organization they had voted in at the start. But organizing was fun and as native as a town meeting.
The election went to Owl Russell, described at this very moment as a tall man in a panama hat which had an oiled-silk cover, "courtesy to all around him — how kindly he takes every man who is introduced to him by the hand, exceedingly delighted to have the privilege of meeting him."9 He was a mighty orator and therefore a predestined captain. The stock had exhausted the near‑by grass and he got his unwieldy train in motion — somehow, by sections mostly — and the start was made. It was too big, and it had a fundamental inner conflict in that some of the Osnaburg wagon-covers had "California" painted on them and others "Oregon," "The Whole or None," or "54°40′." They waddled through the mire, the oxen unused to the routine and stubborn and stupid, the horses alert to slip away and turn back to the settlements, no order of camp life yet established, and the movers rebellious, vociferous, and bewildered by the strangeness of the country.
As they started, rumor raised up sizable dangers. The Kansa were supposed to be mobilized beside the trail, waiting to slaughter the emigration — a degenerate tribe fluent at theft but no longer hardy enough to make trouble. Bryant heard that a party of five Englishmen were moving down the trail on Her Majesty's business, to incite all Indians between here and the place "to attack [the] trains, rob, murder, and annihilate them." This was the passage of Francis Parkman among the half barbarous, or was it mere air — though it is true that a surprising number of British Army officers went out to hunt buffalo or commune p146 with the prairie gods while Oregon and California hung in the balance. More immediate was the threat of the Mormons who were now loose beyond the frontier, five or ten or twenty thousand of them, with "ten brass field pieces" and every man "armed with a rifle, a bowie knife, and a brace of large revolving pistols." Their homes having been burned behind them, it seemed likely that they intended slaughter and neither mob nor police would head them off. "No one," Parkman said, "could predict what would be the result when large armed bodies of these fanatics should encounter the most impetuous and reckless of their old enemies on the prairie." Here were many Illini and more Missourians and here, specifically, was Lillburn Boggs, who had ordered his militia to exterminate them, who was responsible for the massacre of their relatives, who had sought the death of their prophet, and who had his share in producing that martyrdom by keeping alive the prosecution of Porter Rockwell, the Destroying Angel who had filled him with buckshot in his own home. The worst seemed exceedingly likely. The emigrants kept their rifles primed and their suspicions at half cock — and sent an express to Colonel Kearny at Fort Leavenworth, asking his advice and protection. Kearny answered that they need fear no trouble if they behaved themselves. (He repeated the suggestion to other trains which expressed the same anxiety.) But the emigrants were not reassured till the border was far behind them, and whenever Parkman approached a train hard characters with their rifles cocked were apt to ride out on the chance that this descendant of John Cotton and son of the pastor of the New North Church might be a Mormon. Parkman suffered no greater indignity anywhere in the West.
(Meanwhile, making a few weary miles a day across Iowa, •a hundred miles north and a good way east of the emigration, the Mormons kept their guns loaded but hidden, in fear that, now they were beyond the settlements, the Missourians would annihilate them. They walked warily and behaved themselves, but they had bad dreams. So did the Missourians, to whom a hundred miles of prairies seemed an insufficient buffer. They kept memorializing the Adjutant General, the Secretary of War, and President Polk himself. Why, they demanded, were the Saints "armed to the teeth and supported by batteries of heavy ordnance?" Why were they without their families? — this, when the discreet Mormon Battalion was marched toward Fort Leavenworth to get its equipment. They meant no good to Missouri and had already given the neighboring Indians "a more savage bearing and more bold assurance." They were "depredating" Missouri property and were, in the belief of the memorialists, "British emissaries, intending by insidious means to accomplish diabolical purposes." So it p147 was clearly the duty of the President, "in defence of 'the brave and hardy men of the frontier' to take the necessary measures to disarm them and expel them from our border." In short, the brave and hardy men of the frontier had a bad conscience and a violent scare. . . . And not only in Missouri. As far south as Texas it was believed that the Mormons were coming with sword and firebrand, various Californians were panicky with the same expectation, even Larkin was uneasy, and dispatches were hurried eastward calling on Polk in much the same vocabulary. These representations had a part in Polk's decision to raise a new regiment of Mountain Rifles for border duty. Also, the moment he had a war on his hands, the Camp of Israel, pitched far out in the country that was his main objective, acquired an importance that his best humanitarian rhetoric had not previously attributed to it.)
As soon as Colonel Russell got his train moving, the Reverend Mr. Dunleavy was dissatisfied, and turned back to await more congenial companions. Five days later, Mr. Gordon decided that the going was too slow for him and persuaded a total of thirteen wagons to strike out ahead. Four days after that, Governor Boggs, Reed, George Donner, Bryant, and Thornton (probably the best minds in the train) convened besides the swollen Big Blue to take counsel on disorder and delay. So the next morning (perhaps further exasperated by the tumultuous storm of the same night) one hearty democrat who had aspired to office and been defeated assailed Russell and his lieutenant with violent language. All other activity stopped while the protestant demanded that the whole corps of officers be tried for misfeasance and malfeasance. The officers submitted their resignations. Voted to accept. Debate followed, and second thoughts. Voted to reinstate the officers.
Already there had been absorbing incidents. On May 19, several wagons stayed behind, so it was delicately explained, to "hunt cattle." Dr. Rupert of Independence, who had ridden out for a last few days with a consumptive brother traveling to California for his health, stayed with them and presently delivered Mrs. Hall of twin boys. The Thorntons would be cooing about them for weeks to come. That day Mr. Burns got himself plentifully lost in the prairies and established a precedent that the greenhorns would act on till they learned better.
And on May 16 they got the last news from the States that they would hear until they reached the Pacific. A horseman hurrying to catch up with a train ahead of them brought a copy of the St. Louis Republican containing word of hostilities in Mexico. The next day Mr. Webb, the editor of an Independence newspaper, rode into camp to confirm the story. p148 On the Rio Grande a Captain Thornton of the Dragoons had been attacked and his command had been captured after a great loss of life, and the situation of Zachary Taylor was said to be extremely perilous. Excitement stirred among those who were bound to California — and the success of Lansford Hastings was now assured — but Bryant noted that no one thought of giving up the emigration. And Jessy Thornton, experiencing an access of patriotism exactly like that which had foamed up in the State, knew what to do. He felt that Old Rough and Ready (who was about to receive that title) would come through and "add additional luster to a name already greatly endeared to his admiring countrymen." Therefore, on the right bank of the Kansas, he nominated Zachary Taylor to be President of the United States.
* * *
These people were greenhorns: what the West came to call tenderfeet. Most of them were schooled in the culture that had served American pioneering up to now. The unfitness for the West of that experience shows at the beginning of the journey. The Oregon and California emigrants had a much harder time of it than they would have had if they had understood the conditions. They did not have to face the cholera that made the Gold Rush and certain later passages hazardous, or the Indian troubles that began in the fifties and lasted as long as there were Indians along the trail. But they experienced hardships, disease, great strain, and aimless suffering of which the greater part was quite unnecessary. The mountain men avoided it almost altogether.
We have already seen them breaking up and without trail discipline. A caravan of mountain men passing this way was an efficient organization. The duties of every member were stated — and attended to in an awareness that both safety and comfort depended on their being done right. The fur caravan was a co‑operative unit, the emigrant train an uncohesive assemblage of individualists. The mountain man had mastered the craft of living off the country, finding grass and water, managing the stock, making camp, reading buffalo sign and Indian sign. All such matters were hidden from the emigrants, who besides were tired men at the end of any day and prone to let someone else do the needful tasks. So their wagons were not kept up, horses and oxen strayed, and many hours, counting up to many days, were squandered. This added to the delay and we have already seen them moving much too slowly even at the beginning of the trip. The passage must be made with the greatest possible p149 speed consonant with the good condition of the animals — but the movers dallied, strolling afield to fish or see the country, stopping to stage a debate or a fist fight, or just wandering like vacationists. It was necessary to press forward, not only because the hardest going of the whole journey was toward the western end and would be far worse if they did not pass the mountains before snowfall, but also because every day diminished the food in the wagons, wore down the oxen by so much more, and laid a further increment of strain on man and beast. They lingered. And also, expert as they might be at living healthfully in the oak openings, they did not know how to take care of themselves here. The mountain men suffered bountifully from scalping but you seldom hear of one who is sick, and when you do he is suffering from a hangover or a decayed tooth. Whereas from the first days on, the emigrants are preyed upon by colds, agues, and dysenteries that are their own damned fault. . . . All this has its part in the stresses put on human personality by emigration.
The train is moving along the Oregon trail. But the movement must not be thought of as the orderly, almost military procession of spaced wagons in spaced platoons that Hollywood shows us, and the trail must not be thought out as a fixed avenue through the wilds. The better discipline of the freight caravans on the Santa Fe trail did impose a military order of march. On the southern trail wagons moved in something like order; in single file where the route was narrow, in columns of twos or fours when there was room for such a formation and it was needed for quick formation of the corral in case of Indian attack. Every night they were parked in a square or circle, the stock was driven inside after feeding, guard duty was enforced on everyone in his turn. Wagons which had led a file on one day (and so escaped the dust) dropped back to the end on the next day and worked their way up again. Wood, water, herding, hunting, cooking, and all the routine of travel and camp were systematized and the system was enforced. But that was the profit motive; men with an eye on business returns managed it. And they had no problems of family travel and few of cliques.
Every emigrant train that ever left the settlements expected to conduct itself according to this tested system. None except the Mormons ever did. Brigham Young had a disciplined people and the considerable advantage that his orders rested on the authority of Almighty God — and even so, among a submissive and believing people on the march, he had constantly to deal with quarrels, dissension, rebellions, complaints, and ineffectiveness. Among the emigrants there was no such authority as God's or p150 Brigham's. A captain who wanted to camp here rather than there had to make his point by parliamentary procedure and the art of oratory. It remained the precious right of a free American who could always quit the job if he didn't like the boss, to camp somewhere else at his whim or pleasure — and to establish his priority with his fists if some other freeborn American happened to like the cottonwood where he had parked his wagon. Moreover, why should anyone take his appointed dust when he could turn off the trail? Why should he stand guard on the herd of loose cattle, if he had no cattle in it? . . . They combined readily but with little cohesiveness and subdued themselves to the necessities of travel only after disasters had schooled them. They strung out along the trail aimlessly, at senseless intervals and over as wide a space as the country permitted. So they traveled fewer miles in any day than they might have, p151 traveled them with greater difficulty than they needed to, and wore themselves and the stock down more than was wise. They formed the corral badly, with too great labor and loss of time, or not at all. They quarreled over place and precedence that did not matter. They postponed decisions in order to debate and air the minority view, when they should have accepted any decision that could be acted on. Ready enough to help one another through any emergency or difficulty, they were unwilling to discipline themselves to an orderly and sensible routine.
The trail, in long stretches, was more a region than an avenue, especially in those earlier portions. Where the prairie was open and the streams easily fordable, it might be many miles wide and a train would fan out at the individual's judgment or whim. Farther west, it narrowed at the dictation of hills, rivers, and grass, though there were alternative p152 crossings, fords, and passages through badlands. The valley of the Platte varies •from five to fifteen miles in width and there are many places where choice was free. At Scott's Bluff, for instance, some clung to the riverbank but others, like Thornton, detoured several miles to the south in hope of less precipitous going. Wherever there were steep hills or mountains, the trail contracted still more, and these are the places where it was worn in a few parallel pairs of ruts, or a single pair, so deeply that it can still be followed today.
In general, the route from Independence lay along the Santa Fe trail •some forty miles, to the present site of Gardner, Kansas, where the famous sign pointed its finger northwest with the legend, "Road to Oregon." It crossed to the Waukarusa and then to the Kansas, which it forded near the present Topeka and followed some miles farther before striking overland to the Little Vermillion and then the Vermillion. On to the Big Blue, the Little Blue, and so to the Platte, which was usually reached at or near Grand Island. Here was the great conduit to the West and for many days the wagons groaned up the long slope which became increasingly arid. The valley was an oasis in what seemed to be truly the Great American Desert, the scenery got more alarming as the going got dryer, and the river was one of the most preposterous in the world, a bottomland through which a mile-wide trickle of water you had to chew made its way among cottonwoods and quicksands. Where the river forked, the trail struck up the South Platte, then crossed to the North Platte by several alternative routes. The Lower California Crossing was near the modern town of Brule, Nebraska, and trains which crossed there usually reached the North Platte at the famous Ash Hollow. The Upper California Crossing was •thirty-five miles farther up the South Platte. Once it reached the North Platte, the trail followed it to well beyond Fort Laramie, then left it for good and struck out for the Sweetwater. Before this happens, however, geography will become important to our narrative and will be treated in detail.
The menace of Indians remains to be mentioned. The earliest stretches of the trail ran through the country of the missionized Shawnee and the decayed Kansa (Kaw); potential thieves and persistent beggars, they made trouble for no one who kept an eye on his property. It then passed into the country of the Pawnee — and they were different. They had been a formidable tribe till recently, and later on the government would recruit some of its best scouts, or scabs, from among them; now they were expert thieves, cattle raiders, and banditti who tried to levy blackmail on all passers‑by. They got a steady harvest of strayed and stampeded cattle p153 from the emigrant trains, they demanded tribute and usually got it, and they robbed and sometimes murdered stragglers. It was of the first importance not to wander alone in the Pawnee country.
Some ten days before our emigrants reached their country, in fact, the Pawnee had maceratedº a train. They swept down on the herd and drove it off, netting something over a hundred horses and oxen. Some of the movers quit right there and hurried back to the States. Others kept going — and kept splitting up into smaller groups. They also kept trying to recover their stock. So they lost some more of it. And one day four of them, armed only with black-snake whips, set out to retrieve some animals which the Pawnee had driven off the night before. The Pawnee killed two of them and took over their riding horses and would have killed the other two except that help arrived. . . . The second moral was, don't leave camp unarmed. If they had carried rifles they would probably not have been attacked. . . . In their little fragments, these movers kept going, though some of them turned back still later. The Graves family, who joined the Donners in the Wasatch Mountains, had started out with this train and one of their companions, a man named Trimble, was one of those killed by Pawnee.
It was exceedingly intelligent not to straggle from the train at any place on the trail, though the danger lessened beyond South Pass, but the train itself, in spite of the movers' anxiety, was always safe. No train was attacked during the period we are dealing with. On the Santa Fe trail the Comanche would take on anybody when the mood was on them: during the first half of this summer they were raiding Texas and northern Mexico and solemnly meeting with United States commissioners to assert their purity, but they got back in time to plunder the Quartermaster Corps. But the emigrants faced no actual danger once they were beyond the Pawnee. The pressure that was forcing the Sioux southwest was forcing them toward this country but it was still a kind of Indian no man's land, a hunting ground not dominated or even claimed by any particular tribe. The Sioux, the Crows, the Arapaho, and the Cheyenne all bordered on it, the Shoshoni (Snakes) regularly came into it from the west, and a good many other tribes might occasionally be encountered there. But of these, all but the Arapaho were still well disposed, and the Arapaho (whom Parkman took the greatest care to avoid) saw no profit in raiding well-armed trains.10 Year by year the increasing emigration narrowed the buffalo range and eroded the economy of the tribes who had to live on it; year by year the Indian danger got greater. Finally the Sioux and the Cheyenne rose as nations and made the trail terrible, but there was no p154 premonition of that in the summer of '46. The risks now were that stragglers might be killed for their arms and equipment, that venturesome young bucks might raid the horse herd for glory, or that the antic Indian humor might stampede the oxen. Indians did not covet the ungainly tamed buffalo that drew the white-tops, but it was fun to see them run, especially with some arrows sticking in them.
Fear of Indians was chronic with every train that went west this summer and with most of them it sometimes grew acute — a frantic corralling of wagons when dust swirled up on the horizon or a frantic assembly of the men by night when a guard fired at a bush or the echo of his own footstep. All of them blended with their anxiety a compound of rumors, legendry, and the desperate loneliness of the wilds. But the alarms were not justified. True, not even the Crows, who had a long record of friendship with the whites, were trustworthy when someone strayed. True, the Sioux were feeling very great indeed this summer. When Parkman met the great war parties at Fort Laramie they were swelling with an almost Teutonic brag, beating their chests to the stateliest of furies and telling everybody that they were going to destroy all the whites who had invaded their Lebensraum. But the Sioux were merely making a play for gifts. They still looked on the movers as a kind of circus parade, rich with goods but fundamentally comic.11
* * *
At first the country was lush and fragrant, almost overpoweringly beautiful as the rains ended and the prairie spring came on. Bryant traveled it in amazement. He thought the soil the richest in the world and the scenery — on a scale not imaginable in the settlements — the most magnificent he had ever seen. His fantasy raised great cities here, and farms richer than any in the world, and a race living gorgeously in this electric air. The Thorntons oozed a single, uninterrupted exclamation. The high grass was frequently crowded down by wildflowers. They were more vividly colored than those to the eastward, their perfume hung in the morning air, and Thornton, who had edited James's Rocky Mountain Plants, was dazzled to see its sketches realized before his eyes. On his word, Nancy was "an ardent lover of nature." Her journal filled with a noticeably amorous prose and she botanized furiously. So did Tamsen Donner, that staunch New England schoolmarm who was writing a book, and a good many other ladies of the train, wandering through the grass at nooning p155 or after camp was made, to get these gorgeous blooms and press them for their albums. Such birds, too! — and, seeing two hummingbirds kissing each other, Thornton is almost blasphemous in praise of the Creator's forethought, who had given him an exquisite soul. Flowers, birds, sky, clouds, rivers, willows, cottonwoods, zephyrs — the Thorntons were enraptured and Jessy almost forgot the bundle of sermons he had got from the American Tract Society to distribute among the emigrants. So far he had conferred them only on a Kansa squaw, the wife of the ferryman at the first crossing.
It was one of the great American experiences, this first stage of the trail in the prairie May. It formed the symbols we have inherited. The ladies knitted or sewed patchwork quilts. They extemporized bake ovens for bread, made spiced pickles of the "prairie peas" and experimented with probably edible roots, gathered wild strawberries to serve with fresh cream. They shook down into little cliques, with a chatter of sewing circles, missionary talk, and no charity for any nubile wench who might catch a son's eye. Tamsen Donner wrote home — there was a pause for letter writing whenever someone moving eastward was encountered — that linsey proved the best wear for children. They put a strain on clothes — this was a fairy tale for children: the absorbing train, the more absorbing country, bluffs to scale, coyote pups to catch and tame, the fabulous prairie dogs, the rich, exciting strangeness of a new life with school dismissed. The sight of the twisting file of white-tops from any hill realized all the dreams of last winter along the Sangamon, and the night camp was a deeper gratification still. The wagons formed their clumsy circle, within reach of wood and water. Children whooped out to the creek or the nearest hill. The squealing oxen were watered in an oath-filled chaos, then herded out to graze. Tents went up outside the wagons and fires blazed beside them — the campfire that has ritual significance to Americans. The children crowded back to stand in the perfume of broiling meat. The most Methody of them were singing hymns — Parkman walked into a search party who were settling the question of regeneration while they hunted their oxen. Glee clubs sang profaner songs, sometimes organized by the most meticulous choirmasters. An incurable Yankeeness extemporized debates, political forums, and lectures on the flora of the new country or the manifest destiny of the American nation. Oratory pulsed against the prairie sky. Be sure that nature was served also and the matrons who distrusted the unmarried girls had cause. This was the village on wheels, and the mind and habit of the village inclosed it, beside those carmine fires which Hollywood need only show us against white canvas to awaken p156 our past. The fires lapsed, the oxen came grumping into the inclosure, and one fell asleep hearing the wolves in endless space. . . . This is what the grandfathers remembered when they told us stories.
Nevertheless, already something too subtle to be understood was working a ferment. We have seen Mr. Dunleavy's and Mr. Gordon's groups slip off. The train had both grown and lessened since then (at one time it had numbered almost three hundred wagons), and now a dissension that had simmered from the first boiled over. The train split in halves. The Oregon wagons formed their own train — Thornton belonged to it — and the others, including Bryant, Boggs, the Boone grandsons, and the Donner party, were for California. Bryant saw women weeping at the parting, after only three weeks' association. From now on the two divisions, though they kept on fragmenting and regrouping, traveled more or less on this basis, and the women's tears were premature. They were seldom more than a day's journey apart and visited one another freely.
This division had more behind it than difference of destination, debate over methods, and personal rivalry. It had been preceded by a fist fight between two ordinarily peaceful men, and they drew knives before they could be separated. They were parted when the train split, but immediately there were fist fights and brandished knives and pistols in both halves. From now on the companions of the trail would quarrel violently on the minutest provocation. . . . Cumulative shock. The strains of travel were bad enough. Drenched blankets, cold breakfasts after rainy nights, long hours without water, exhaustion from the labor of double-teaming through a swamp or across quicksands or up a slope, from ferrying a swollen river till midnight, from being roused to chase a strayed ox across the prairie two hours before dawn, from constant shifting of the load to make the going better. Add the ordinary hazards of the day's march: a sick ox, a balky mule, the snapping of a wagon tongue, capsizing at a ford or overturning on a slope, the endless necessity of helping others who had fallen into the pits which your intelligence or good luck had enabled you to avoid. Add the endless apprehension about your stock, the ox which might die, every day's threat that the animals on which your travel depended might be killed by disease or accident or Indians, leaving you stranded in the waste. Such things worked a constant attrition on the nerves, and God Himself seemed hostile when there was added to them a bad storm or some neighbor's obstinacy that reacted to the common loss. The sunniest grew surly and any pinprick could be a mortal insult. The enforced companionship of the trail began to breed the hatred that is a commonplace of barracks. Your best friend's drawl or innocent tic was suddenly intolerable.
p157 Beyond this, which could be understood, was the unseen, steady seepage of the life you had been bred to. The tax of strangeness grew heavier. This was not your known pastureland. The very width and openness of the country was an anxiety. It had no bound; the long heave of the continent never found a limit, and in that waste, that empty and untenanted and lonely waste, the strongest personality diminished. There was no place to hide in, and always there was the sun to hide from, further shrinking the cowering soul. Consciousness dwindled to a point: the little line of wagons was pygmy motion in immensity, the mind became a speck. A spectacle always quivering with an unidentified dread which few could face and which the weaker ones could not control. The trail bred a genuine pathology, a true Angst, proper material for psychiatry to work on. The elements of human personality were under pressure to come out of equilibrium. There was a drive to phobia or compulsion or fugue or dissociation. Some survived it unchanged or strengthened in their identity; some suffered from it, inflicting it on their families, for the rest of their lives. And it grew as the trip went on. Worse country lay ahead and the drained mind was less able to meet it.
Moreover, the trail had begun to collect its toll. The unfit oxen sold to greenhorns at Independence were dying of heat. (What did you do when an ox died? If you had no spare, you yoked up a cow, when you had one; otherwise you threw out Mother's chest of drawers and went on.) But not only the oxen. Parkman passed a plank set up in the prairie and crudely lettered: "Mary Ellis. Died May 7th, 1845. Aged two months." Surprisingly, it was legible after a year. One night Bryant noted the death of Judge Bowlin's child in a train ahead. Thornton passed the graves of two other children, one with a cross on it, "the other with a stone bearing the simple inscription, 'May 28, 1846' — (mercury at sunrise 46°; sunset, 57°)." And his own train already, before it divided, had dug and marked the grave we have seen Jim Clyman looking at while he thought long thoughts. . . . Mrs. Sarah Keyes, the mother-in‑law of James Frazier Reed, had hoped to reach Fort Hall. The doctors told her that she had not long to live but she was resolved to make this journey. She would not be left behind to die in Illinois when Jim and Peggy started, for her son Caddan had gone to Oregon a couple of years before and this year would be coming back. She would go to meet him — surely God would let her live till they could meet at, say, Fort Hall. But she endured just over two weeks of travel, dying on May 29, when they reached the Big Blue. They dug a grave under an oak some sixty yards off the trail. The Reverend Mr. Cornwall prayed over it in prairie sunlight and in the Western silence and John p158 Denton, the young Englishman who was traveling with the Donners, cut the stone that Clyman read.
Many of them were sick. The Thorntons' uncertain health failed periodically, Nancy languishing in the wagon and Jessy's asthma sometimes so bad that he could not drive. Northers and the rains gave many colds, bronchitis, even pneumonia. Others found the ague that lingered in their blood unseasonably awakened. Their diet was bad and some of them got scurvy.12 Epidemics of diarrhea raged repeatedly. Some of this dysentery was the result of dirty utensils, some was amoebic, more was the natural result of bad cooking and poorly kept food, more still was an endless physicking by drinking water impregnated with Epsom and Glauber's salts. The sun was an additional strain both constitutional and nervous. And as they got to thinner air they encountered a new malady, a prostrating seizure of nausea and violent headaches, frequently complicated by still another kind of dysentery. Bryant, who was stricken with it, attributed it to excessive drinking of milk from cows which had been made unhealthy by overwork and had drunk alkali water and eaten noxious weeds. But it was really "mountain fever," a process of adjustment to diminished oxygen which most people repeat today when they go to high altitudes.
Bryant had studied medicine (of the homeopathic school) before taking up journalism. Word of his experience was carried to near‑by trains, and anxious men frequently rode in for miles of the implore him to attend someone who had been stricken. Thus, on June 14, moving up the South Platte, he met three men who had come from a train •some twenty-five miles ahead to ask him to amputate the leg of a nine-year‑old boy who had fallen under a wagon nine days before. Thornton's train had camped near theirs to spend the Sabbath resting and on their way they made the same request of Thornton, presumably because he used good English. Forgoing his pleasure in hearing Mr. Cornwall preach a sermon, Thornton rode over to the train and saw that the boy was dying. The wound was a compound fracture and gangrene had set in. A Canadian drover who had been a hospital servant was whetting butcher knives for the operation; they were giving the boy laudanum without effect and had bound him to a packing case. Thornton directed them to wait for Bryant. Getting there, Bryant saw that an operation would be wasted agony and refused to perform one, telling the frantic mother that her child should be permitted as painless a death as possible. She rejected his advice and the drover began to operate. Someone held camphor to the boy's nostrils and an incision below the knee freed a gush of pus. The drover started again, above the knee this time, and hacked through the bone with a common hacksaw. After an hour and p159 three-quarters of bloody effort, he was starting to close the wound with a flap the child died.
Bryant stepped past the bereaved mother to diagnose her husband, who had lain for four weeks in the jolting wagon, prostrated by rheumatic fever. Bryant left him some attenuated solutions and enjoined him to take them as they were, for "the propensity of those afflicted with disease on this journey is, frequently, to devour medicines as they would food, under the delusion that large quantities will more speedily and effectually produce a cure." He then voyaged a woman who had thus dosed herself for "intermittent fever" and sunk near the point of death, and a young man whose ailment he diagnosed as heart disease. He told the last sufferer that he could do nothing for him but gave him leave to hope that the journey would effect a cure. He visited and prescribed for "some four or five other persons" who were less seriously ill, and then accepted Thornton's invitation to visit his former companions at their camp.
Reunion on the trail. They were glad to see him, and Nancy ("a lady of education and polished manners," he remarked) spread her white linen to serve roast antilope and stewed buffalo, which the precise Thornton insisted on calling bison, since that was its proper name. Old friends gathered to tell stories and towards nine o'clock the Sabbath had a fitting climax, after rest and general wash‑day. The emigrants gathered at the tent of Mr. Lard, where the Reverend Mr. Cornwallis married Mr. Lard's daughter Mary to young Mr. Riley Septimus Mootrey. The women had got out their finery, had found candles and made a wedding cake. Thornton did not much approve this marrying on the trail. "It looks so much like making a hop, skip and jump into matrimony" — and like a licensing of human desire. But after all it was an occasion of sentiment and he found the bride fair, said some of the younger women were "dressed with a tolerable degree of taste and even elegance," and could praise the males for having shaved and changed to clean pantaloons. Village mores under desert stars.
The guests formed a procession behind a fiddler and conducted Mr. and Mrs. Mootrey to the nuptial tent. •A mile away they saw faint sparks moving by twos in another procession, torches lighting the dead boy's body to its desert grave. A mile or so in the opposite direction still a third train was camped, and there at that same moment a dozen desert-worn women were ministering to one of their sisterhood who writhed and screamed under a dusty wagon cover. They did for her what centuries of old wives' wisdom prescribed for those in travail, and in due time her child was born.
* * *
p160 They were in the sagebrush and alkali country now. Thornton observed "a remarkable peculiarity in the atmosphere, which made it impossible for me to judge with any tolerable degree of accuracy as to the distance of objects." He meant that sun and thin air made distances deceptive. Thornton speaks of the "white efflorescence of salts" but does not set down how it makes one squint, how it glares like snowfields under the sun, how it glimmers and quivers in the snaky heat waves and fills the plain with lakes that quench no thirst. The sage smelled like turpentine to Thornton; it smells so still but he might have mentioned its rich, aromatic perfume in the dawn wind, the pungency it gives to campfires, and the tang that grilled meat picks up from it. Mirages flickered across the plain in that terrible sun and he noted them with scholarly glosses on the Specter of the Brocken and the distant prospect of Dover Castle. They were another strangeness in a country that grew increasingly to look like Hell. On the horizon they thrust up peaks or pinewoods or blue New England ponds, where there were no mountains and no lakes or forests, either.
For some time now the emigrants had been making their nightly fires out of what Thornton calls the dried excrement of the bison. Children ranged out from the plodding train to collect it in gunny-sacks, and it made red coals for cooking in long, shallow pits. Moreover, they were well into the arid country, in a summer drier than usual. The never-ending whirl of the plains blew up dust from the wheels in twisting columns that moved with it. It "filled the lungs, mouth, nose, ears, and hair, and so covered the face that it was sometimes difficult to recognize each other," and "we suffered from this almost insupportable flying sand or dust for weeks if not for months together." Thornton had neglected to supply himself with goggles which "can be purchased in the United States for thirty-seven and a half cents"; near Independence Rock he would have given fifty dollars for a pair. Right. The tortured eyes tortured the brain. The immense sun, the endless wind, and the gritty, smothering, inescapable dust reddened and swelled the eyes, granulated the lids, inflamed the sockets. The excited nerves make shadows horrible — such shadows as there are — and produce illusions of color and shape. The illusions are not less disturbing in that the heat mirage distorts size and pattern so that a healthy eye may see a jack rabbit as a buffalo at a hundred yards or a clump of sage at •half a mile as mounted Indians charging down. Trachoma was endemic among the Indians, a number of emigrants went blind, and few came through this country without eye trouble of some sort. The medicine chests held solutions of zinc sulphate, which was proper, but simple boric would have been p161 better for it was alkali that made the dust corrosive. It was also driven into the skin by the daily wind. Most of the movers were burned black by now; the rest were burned a less comfortable, fiery red; their cheeks peeled and their lips were deeply cracked by what is, after all, simple lye. . . . When you read of cowboys buying canned tomatoes and laving their cheeks with juice, you observe an elementary reaction in household chemistry.
The hundredth meridian of west longitude, a geographer's symbol of the true beginning of the West (meaning the point beyond which the annual rainfall is les than •twenty inches), strikes the Platte near the present town of Cozad, Nebraska, well east of the Forks. The trail up the North Platte moved mainly west or a little north of west to a point opposite the present town of Ogallala, Nebraska, where it took the due northwest bearing it would maintain for hundreds of miles. And between the sites of the present towns of Broadwater and Bridgeport, Nebraska, it struck the Wildcat Range. Here the scattered buttes and bluffs which had been growing common for a considerable distance became a true badlands. The scenery was spectacular but spectacle was only a momentary solace to the emigrants, who had now reached truly tough going — with cumulative fatigue, anxiety, and mental conflict piling up. In early June the desert still had the miraculous brief carpeting of flowers that delights travelers to this day, but it was late June when the emigrants got there, a wholly different season, and '46 was now a drouth year.13 The slow pitch of the continent which they had been climbing toward the ridgepole so slowly that they seldom felt the grade here lost its monotony. The gentle hills that bordered the valley of the Platte, known as the Coast of the Nebraska, suddenly became eroded monstrosities. Jail Rock, Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Scott's Bluff, were individual items in creation's slag heap that had got named, but the whole formation was fantastic. The learned Thornton called it Tadmor of the Desert and sketched a gift-book description of reunited cities, defeated armies, and ancient peoples put to the sword. (But exactly opposite Chimney Rock one of his hubs locked for want of grease and he had to interrupt his poetry.) Even such prosy diarists as Joel Palmer and Overton Jackson were startled into rhetoric, the realistic Bryant saw Scott's Bluff against the green and purple murk of an oncoming storm and committed phrases like "ruins of some vast city erected by a race of giants, contemporaries of the Megatherii and the Ichtyosaurii," and Frémont composed a resounding tutti passage about "The City of the Desert."
The emigrants had had premonitions and foretastes. As far back as Ash Hollow our travelers had met stalled parts of the train which the Pawnee had broken up, the survivors abandoning half their possessions p162 and combining what was left of their teams. (Parkman also met these unfortunates, farther east.) At the Forks still another train was near dissolution. In Bryant's train the orotund Russell had been deposed from the captaincy, though his constituents allowed him to save face on the plea that his ague had returned. Governor Boggs had been elected in his place and there was also a new legislature and judiciary on whom resentment could now focus. Russell, probably a better than average captain, was just a victim to the hastened tensions of the trip. A good many dissenters had broken away to catch up with, or wait beside the trail for, other trains in the hope that the going would be more companionable and pleasant with them. It never was. The same bickering and atomization was occurring in the Oregon train, where some wagons departed for Boggs's or other companies and, one day, Thornton's Dutch driver suddenly conspired with Mr. Dunbar, who had succeeded the earlier captain, and laid claim to owning two yoke of Thornton's oxen. The scholar, whose asthma had been so galled by the dust that he lay in the wagon spitting blood, chased the Dutchman through camp with one of Mr. Colt's patent five-shooters and reclaimed his property.14 Since his other driver had joined the rebellion, he would hereafter try to manage alone, but his neighbors frequently had to do his work for him. By now they had met a good many parties coming east along the trail, full of information. One of these included Joel Palmer in person, going home to write his book and also of the meet the party which had been raided by the Pawnee, on the strength of which he would fill the settlements with stories of Indian depredations and movers scared into going home again. (By the end of July the St. Louis Republican would falsely report that some sixty emigrants to California, including a Mr. Cunningham, had "starved on the route, having lost their way and run out of provisions.") They had also met one sizable wagon train of permanent re‑emigrants. Also they were close to the main buffalo herds, had got sophisticated about them, and, developing several mighty hunters, had learned efficient butchering and connoisseurship about the cuts.
The grade was steep now, and once they were in the badlands the trail narrowed and was frequently precipitous. Crazy gullies and canyons cut every which way, and whoever gave up in anger and tried to find better going elsewhere only found worse troubles. The ropes came out and wagons had to be lowered by manpower down a steep pitch or hauled up the vertical side of a gully or between immense boulders — while those not working sat and swore in level dust and intolerable sun, far from water. When they moved, the dry axles added a torturing shriek to the split-reed p163 soprano of the wheels and the scrape of tires on stone or rubble. Dry air had shrunk the wheels, too, and without warning tires rolled off or spokes pulled out and the wagon stalled.15 The same brittleness might make a wagon tongue break, which was disastrous unless a spare pole had been slung beneath the bed, and the violent stresses sometimes snapped the metal hounds, the side bars which connected tongue and fore-carriage to reach and hind-carriage. Sometimes the ropes broke at a cliff or pulled off the snubbing post, and a wagon crashed. Or crazed oxen capsized one, or defective workmanship or cheap material could stand no more and the thing went to pieces like the one‑hoss shay. Sometimes half a wrecked wagon could be converted by desert blacksmithing into a cart; sometimes a sound wagon had to be so converted because some of the oxen had died. In any event, here was where the "ancient claw-footed tables, well waxed and rubbed" which Parkman saw began to litter the trail, along with "massive bureaus of carved oak." Parkman speculated on these "relics on ancestral prosperity in the colonial time." He saw them as cherished through successive periods of decline (from the grace of the seaboard) as their owners took them across the Alleghenies to Kentucky and on to Illinois or Missouri. . . . Allocate the abandoned household goods as another stress of desert travel, for something of personality and spiritual heritage died when they had to go. Their owners were in the grip of necessity. The desert beat triphammer blows, an overmastering realism, on one's soul, and something permanent came from that forging, the old confirmed forever or the new, frequently the lesser, formed forever.
In sun and dust they went on, the daily distance shortening and no end to the country ahead. They were not yet to South Pass, not yet halfway to the Pacific! Horses and oxen bloated from foul water; many of them died. Their hooves swelled and festered. Even the soundest grew gaunt as the grass diminished: sparse along the upper Platte at any time, it had failed quickly in the drouth summer and many trains had cropped it before our travelers. Men got as gaunt as their stock in this country, and alkali water was just as bad for them. They saw suddenly that food was limited, and there was an anxious computation of the days ahead, with Hastings' or Frémont's or Parker's mile-by‑mile itineraries reckoned over and over. Add to the increasing strain the altitude making the nerves tauter. Though the violent sun was hot and the dust pall breathless, there were sudden viciously cold days too and all nights were cold. Water froze in the pails — and you remembered how early snow fell in the mountains that were still so far ahead. . . . It was the triphammer, the test itself. You stood it. You went on. Sometimes, in the badlands, you remembered p164 the moist coolness by the elm‑bordered pool in the east pasture back home, and how the brook sang falling into it.
Bryant's mind strained toward California and chafed as the train fell steadily farther behind the schedules printed in the books. He talked it over with some friends; they decided that, on reaching Fort Laramie, they would trade their wagons for a mule pack-outfit and press on by this more rapid means. Nine of them rode out ahead. They rolled up the tape of trains that had unrolled ahead of them, now broken up in fragments, among them the seceders from their own train whom Mr. Gordon had led and who were now led by Mr. Dickinson. From one train Bryant was able to replace a tin cup he had lost: strange how valuable the wilds could make a simple, cheap cup. At Horse Creek the drouth was broken by a short, torrential downpour which saturated their outfit and left them to a freezing night. A cold mist hung over the valley the next morning but they got a fire going and managed coffee and bacon for breakfast. They hurried on up the Platte, much contracted in the badlands, and at about two in the afternoon sighted the first building they had seen since they left the border.
It was the half-finished trading post maintained by the Richard brothers, in a loose association with Pratte, Cabanne & Company, as a local preparation to the American Fur Company's Fort Laramie, which was •some six or eight miles away. It stood on the flat ground where Laramie Creek empties into the Platte, where various other short-lived forts had been located, and was called Fort Bernard. Traders from Taos were there, having recently arrived with mules and goods and Taos Lightning for the summer trade, and Bryant had a letter for Richard, the bourgeois, who invited the party to spend the night. But they hurried on to Fort Laramie. He made it •642 miles out from Independence.
Another violent storm broke before they got there, just at sunset. And, coming out the trees that lined Laramie Creek for their first sudden glimpse of the famous trading post, they saw that the plain beneath the bluffs and in the V between the rivers was crawling with Indians. At least six hundred lodges were pitched there. A war dance was ending when Bryant reached the fort, and the whole Sioux nation, bucks and squaws, were working up an ecstasy. They rode whooping everywhere, they shouted their personal histories of coups, they beat skin rattles and invoked their deities for scalps. For, Bryant found, they were preparing to take to the warpath, maybe against those routine villains, the Crows, certainly against the Snakes, one of whose hunting parties had encountered a band of Sioux, last year, and cleaned it up.
p165 Bryant was dazzled. Hundreds of yelling Indians tricked out for war and now met suddenly in the desert stunned him, and he gaped. Wild and savage as the bucks were, he found them not merely impressive but genuinely handsome too. Distaste of the squaws, who were drunk with dancing and fell into attitudes bordering on the indecent, yielded to admiration. They were graceful, their complexions were surprisingly fair — except when they were, as Bryant put it, rouged. Their limbs were seductively rounded, their feet small, their robes clean, and their beadwork beautiful.16 . . . He marveled but their horses had cleaned the grass round the fort, so he went •six miles farther and camped for the night.
He came back to Fort Laramie, the next morning, among still more panoplied bucks and beautiful maidens with delicate hands riding prancing steeds — or so the yellowback novels would be saying in another year or two. There were more villagers at the fort and others were coming in. He dined with the bourgeois on corned beef, biscuit, and milk — no one raised vegetables at Fort Laramie — and then retraced his path to Fort Bernard. It too was now crawling with Sioux on their way to the rendezvous. One party camped just outside the stockade, displaying twenty-five Pawnee scalps which they had taken on a recent foray. Two emigrant trains crawled up and formed their corrals. The Sioux settled on them like locusts, demanding a feast, which Captain Casper provided. The next day the plain filled with entertainment, both Indians and movers displaying their skills, and there was a shooting match, firearms against bows. Some of the movers had Mr. Colt's revolvers, for which the Indians had already learned a profound respect. Meanwhile Bryant and his companions bargained with the Taos trappers for mules. It was a realistic trade. •Seven hundred miles from the border, coffee, sugar, and tobacco were a dollar a pound, whiskey a dollar a pint, flour fifty cents a pound — and those prices would worsen fast during the next few days. After prolonged talk, Bryant and his partner Jacob exchanged their wagon and oxen (still behind them with the train) for seven mules and packsaddles. Their companions made similar terms. So they settled down at Fort Bernard, in a village fair of Indians and emigrants, to wait for the wagons to come up.
* * *
All this time, Hastings and Jim Clyman had been coming east. Over the Sierra on May 1, down to Truckee Lake, along the Truckee in bitter cold with Diggers skulking just out of range, and on to the Humboldt Sink. (Before they reached it, the little spaniel who had slept on Jim's buffalo robe every night since he left Milwaukee in '44 dashed into a spring p166 for a drink. It was a boiling spring and the dog died.) They started up for Humboldt. It was a new country to Jim, fearfully barren; he studied it and did not like it. The mules sneezed in the alkali and the going got tougher. They reached the place (near Halleck, Nevada) where Frémont's trail of 1845 made a straight line eastward while the established trail swung northeast toward Fort Hall. Some of the party wanted to keep to the safe, familiar way. But Hastings was hurrying to change the destiny of nations: the empire-builder felt that the Conquest of California might hinge on his choice of a route. In his book he had said that the straight line from the harbor to Great Salt Lake and thence to Fort Bridger was the best, easiest, and quickest California trail. When he commended this trail to the public he had never seen it. In fact, there was no trail in any proper sense and it seemed a good idea, since he was going to recommend it to this year's emigrants, to see what it looked like. He won. The party moved on to the Salt Desert.17
It is the ghastliest country in the United States, but they found, as Frémont had found, more oases — more wood and drinking water — then could reasonably have been expected.18 They got across it without incident, except exhaustion, heard a bird singing on May 30, reached the Great Salt Lake on the next day and Jordan River on June 2. They went up Parley's Canyon and struck the Weber on June 4, Jim making prophetic notes on the difficulty of this journey. On the fifth they reached Bear River and on the seventh their first grand objective, Fort Bridger. But the place was empty and Jim would not see his old companions. Vasquez was to the eastward, bringing trade goods, and Bridger himself, Old Gabe, was off with his Shoshoni, making a hunt.
There was consternation in the little party, and a far more realistic understanding of their situation than the emigrants could feel made Jim Clyman grave. He had expected to find at this miserable little log stockade not only friends but food and companions for his trip through the Indian country. Somehow (and it would be interesting to know just how) he had learned that the Sioux were up. That could be difficult — and it might explain Bridger's absence, maybe the Sioux had old Old Gabe at last. (He had got plenty of them in his time.) Furthermore, Hastings and Hudspeth intended to set up headquarters hereabouts, to turn the emigration to California, whereas Jim and the rest wanted to get supplies and then move on the States. There was a long argument in the pleasant valley,19 then the parties separated. Jim and his party — "4 men of us one woman and one boy" — turned northwest in hope of meeting an eastern-bound party on the older stretch of the Oregon trail in the valley of Bear River.
p167 Hastings and Hudspeth struck northeastward, to reach the Oregon trail sufficiently near South Pass to be east of any new "cut‑offs" that might attract emigrants to Oregon. There they set up their service of information (false) and alarm (meretricious and pumped up). They were going to get recruits for the California revolution, if fate should provide it, and in any event they were going to get prospects for the California real-estate business. No innocent emigrant had to travel ignorantly to disappointment in the uninhabitable, un‑Californian province of Oregon — not while Lansford Hastings lived. The high-pressure salesman camped beside the trail to save the emigration from disaster. If the young man, stuffed with vision, ignorance, and the will to lie for empire's sake has had any romantic appeal so far, he now loses it.20
Jim Clyman found him less than appealing. Jim had just traveled with him the route he intended to recommend to the emigrants. To Jim's intelligence — undeluded, far greater than Hastings', and weathered by a lifetime of pioneering — it was an extremely dangerous route. The mountain man's eyes, faded by years of scanning horizons under desert sun, must have hardened. He also had a duty to the emigration and with his handful of companions he started out to meet it.
He was still hoping to increase the size of his party. A Shoshoni came into camp and said that no one had yet come east along the trail this summer, which, of course, was a thumping error. On one of the alternate stretches of the trail they found signs that a large party had traveled eastward a few days before, and finally, on June 11, near Bridger's hunting camp (not the fort), they met the members of the original party who had stayed behind in the Sierra to await the melting of the snows, and who had taken the orthodox trail by way of Fort Hall. The parties united and moved eastward.21
They crossed La Barge Creek where in 1825 Jim had been attacked by Arapaho and got a shot through his coat, seen a companion axed, and killed one of the attackers. They rafted their small outfit across Green River, moved on to the Big Sandy, and on June 18 they reached South Pass. End of a circle. He was in the Northwest Passage again, moving eastward, against the current, twenty‑two years after he and his companions under Jedediah Smith had found it. And now the promise of that spring morning was in course of fulfillment. He and Smith and Fitzpatrick had found the road of empire, the only route to the West that wagons could take, and now, after traversing the Northwest Passage, he met the westering trains.
Jim had the continental mind: he was on Atlantic waters now and had an invigorating sense of having reached home. The Wind River Mountains p168 were in sight to the north, "the back bone of North America," and the scene of his starving with Bill Sublette. On the Sweetwater the horses stampeded, so maybe there were Indians about. No sign in the morning, however, and they kept on, reaching Independence Rock on June 21. On the next day they judged by the actions of buffalo that they were near the emigration. Sure enough: they crossed toward the Platte on June 23 and — here came the wagons! The old order, traveling counter to the sun, met the new — "eleven wagons nearly oposite the red Butes."22 And "when we came in sight of N. Platte we had the Pleasant sight of beholding the valy to a greate distance dotted with Peopl Horses cattle wagons and Tents their being 3 wagons all Buisily engaged in crossing the River which was found not to be fordable and with the poor material they had to make rafts of it took two trips to carry over one waggon with its lading we however ware not long in crossing as we threw our baggage on the returning rafts and swam our animals over and encamped onc more in the Buisy humm of our own Language." America had come out to meet him.
Next day, June 25th, he went on down the Platte and, company by company, it was "all most one continual stream of Emigrants winding their long and Tedious march to oregon and california." From any bluff, that length of punctuated dust would come out of one horizon and twist its slow, agonized, sunbeaten course to the other while the wheels shrieked and the mirage wavered above the greasewood. Jim wanted to tell "these honest looking open harted people" certain hard facts about their destination and, though he says he hurried on, doubtless he told some of them. Certainly he made occasion to discourse that night and the succeeding two nights. When it was time to camp, they found a small stream where still another company was corralled, "and they came to us with Pail fulls of good new milk which to us was a treat of greate rarity after so many long tiresome days travel." The next day was June 26 and they met six companies, a hundred and seventeen wagons all told. They camped that night with another California company, who "kept us in conversation untill near midnight."
So on June 27 he came eastward along the bluffs that border the Platte and saw, far off, the whitewashed adobe walls of Fort Laramie. He had paused there in August of '44 on his way east, had been unable to buy meat, and had been charged mountain prices for flour and whiskey. It had been pretty lonesome then; it wasn't now. Between the ford of the Platte and the arc of cottonwoods along Laramie Creek (about a mile due west) he saw innumerable white-tops with their herds compactly grazing under guard. Between the post itself and the ridge of barren hills •about two miles p169 to the northwest, the entire plain was populous with Sioux lodges, many hundreds of them, innumerable Indian herds everywhere, a vast movement and shift of herders and riders. It was a stranger, more imposing rendezvous than any he had seen before.
He got from Judge Morin of Thornton's train the first cup of coffee he had had since early winter. And sometime that afternoon, moving on to Fort Bernard, he met a man he had read about and also, in the same company of California-bound emigrants, an old friend. They would want information from the mountain man and he camped with them, ex‑Governor Boggs and his fellow veteran of A. Lincoln's company in the Black Hawk War, James Frazier Reed. "Several of us," Jim sets down for history to read, "continued the conversation until a late hour."
* * *
On June 27, Francis Parkman also rode back to Fort Laramie and on to Fort Bernard. He had reached Fort Laramie on June 15, had stayed there till the twentieth, and then had gone to camp on Laramie Creek at the mouth of the Chugwater. "Arid and desolate, broken with precipitous buttes — Black Hills in the distance — wild sage, absanth, wild tansy, and a variety of strange plants." It was from this camp on the Chugwater that he rode back to the Fort on June 27.
We left him riding toward Fort Laramie from the east on June 15. The night before, a compliment had been paid him. A buck who was called the Hog because of his vast size was wealthy in horses and coveted Parkman's mount, Pontiac. He offered one of his daughters in matrimony. Good omen, even though Parkman declined the match. It showed that Beacon Hill could establish impeccable social relations with the Sioux.
He stopped at Fort Bernard to smoke a ceremonial pipe with Richard, the bourgeois, in "a log room with a rock fireplace and hung with rifles and their equipments, fanfaron bridles, garnished buckskin dresses, smoking apparatus, bows & quivers etc." He bought a pair of moccasins from Richard's squaw and punctiliously invited the residents to drink coffee with him. While they got ready, Parkman and Shaw prepared for the more elegant society of Fort Laramie by washing up and taking their first shave in six weeks. After entertaining Richard, they hurried on. The hills opened out, Laramie Peak stood up, they passed the ruins of Sybille & Adams' old post, and here at last was the fort, people already climbing its wall to welcome them. Henry Chatillon recognized Vasquez, Bridger's partner, and some others. Laramie Creek was bank-full but they found a ford and p170 splashed through with water up to their saddles. The place was in charge of one Bordeau for the bourgeois Papin was, as we have seen, taking robes and furs to St. Louis.23 Bordeau suspected that Shaw and Parkman might be rival traders and had no hospitality till they showed him Papin's letter. Then he took them to Papin's room, furnished chiefly with a couple of chairs, a crucifix, and the scalp over which the Sioux were preparing to make war. However, it was the first room the travelers had seen since they left Fort Leavenworth and seemed luxurious. They arranged their possibles, and "two eyeballs and a visage as black as night looked in on us," an Indian entered and squatted on the floor with a grunt. One by one others came in, grunted, and formed a semicircle on the floor. (They were relatives of squaws who were living with engagés on the post.) They pawed over all of Parkman's equipment but the Brahmin sachem was undisturbed. He lighted a pipe and started it round the circle.
. . . Fort Laramie, the American Fur Company's24 post near the junction of Laramie Creek and the Platte, was by far the largest and most celebrated post in this region and was only less important to the mountain trade than Bent's Fort on the Arkansas. The confluence of these creeks was extremely important in the fur trade. It was central in the no man's land described above, where the plains and mountains meet, at a decisive curve in the route to South Pass, near the immemorial trade route, and within reach of a number of Indian tribes. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Astor's principal rivals, had built a post there, named Fort William after Bill Sublette. It passed to various successors and finally was sold to the American Fur Company, which named it Fort John. Neither name ever stuck — it was always Fort Laramie in the trade. It had recently been torn down and rebuilt on a larger scale a mile or so farther up Laramie Creek, and this later building is the one which our travelers saw, which had become vitally important to emigrants, and which, three years later, was sold to the government as the nucleus of the military establishment that rose on the site.
Thornton has a poetic engraving of it, as regular as a military fortress, prettily buttressed with shrubbery and Indian lodges, and Laramie Peak rising up behind. It stood a few yards up from Laramie Creek and, like all mountain trading posts, had the form of a hollow square. •Fifteen-foot walls of adobe formed the square which Thornton estimated at •a hundred and thirty feet a side. The customary blockhouses stood at opposite corners, an inner square was formed by the various living rooms, storerooms, and blacksmith shops, and beyond that was a corral into which stock could be driven at need. As at Bent's Fort, the entrance, which led down a corridor p171 between apartments, had gates at each end, so that Indians who came to trade could be denied admission to the interior and dealt with in safe handfuls. . . .
Parkman was all eyes, drinking in strangeness. And the next morning Old Smoke's village, the first of the Sioux, swarmed through Laramie Creek and spread out over the flat — hundreds of horses, hundreds of dogs with laden travois, warriors galloping, squaws perched on top of packsaddles, "the slender figure of some lynx-eyed boy clinging fast behind them," babies solemn and scared in their baskets. Dogs howled, the old hags screamed at unmanageable dolts, the squaws got to work and sixty or seventy lodges rose on the plains. Old Smoke and some of his warriors put on their costumes and came into the fort to make a ceremonial petition for presents. Some of the bucks had blackened their faces to commemorate a victory over some Pawnee. By nightfall Parkman could hear the shrill, ululant monotony of medicine songs. . . . His heart swelled and pounded. His dreams had not been too romantic.
But there was an anticlimax. Bordeau looked through a spyglass — and here were "the families." An emigrant train crawled out of the hills, wagon after wagon jolted down the bank, lurched through the creek, strained up the far side, and went on under dust to form the circle •a quarter of a mile from the magnificent Sioux. Soon "tall, awkward men in brown homespun, women with cadaverous faces [no gorgeous squaws here] and long lank figures came thronging in together and, as if inspired by the very demon of curiosity, ransacked every nook and cranny of the fort." Parkman and Shaw fled to their room but these gaunt hags were "without scruple or reserve," not to be snubbed by a withdrawal. Some of them "appeared at our door but were immediately expelled." The humble and ungainly might not aspire to the privilege granted the Sioux.
However, for a moment Parkman almost felt the emigration and again one aches for the book that might have been added to our literature if God had a little thawed the Brahmin snobberies. He saw the "perplexity and indecision" of the families — always at its worst at this pause in the trail — and rightly interpreted it. They were bred, he says, to the forest; in the high, dry country they were out of their element. They were right to be suspicious of the fort, for it unmercifully fleeced them, and their perturbed state of mind could not be cowardice for they were of the same stock as the volunteers for Mexico. He pondered. Though his journal shows that he himself had several times been "hipped" — sunk in depression — he had no premonition of the Angst, akin to the emigrants' anxiety, that would shadow his middle years with the fear of insanity. . . . The moment's p172 sympathy lapsed. The movers were rude and ignorant, they pried into privacies, and there is an exquisite climax when he reproaches them for knowing nothing of the country and for — looking on Francis Parkman with suspicion. The historian succumbed to a parochialism of his class and we lost a great book.
But he could love the Oglala and every day withdrew from the coarse pioneers to Old Smoke's lodge. He sedulously practised the Indian amenities, made himself a bottomless inquiry, and filled his journal with notes on Indian ways, beliefs, and traditions. He observed the cuisine, the games, the jurisdictions and authorities, the old men talking, the young men at their courting. Shaw treated cases of inflamed eyes. The warriors postured, the squaws gabbled, the lodges etched unforgettable patterns against the sunset. And finally he established citizenship: one of Old Smoke's squaws gave a dog feast, he was able to belch to his satisfaction, and he can no longer be called a greenhorn.
He stayed for six days (on one of which the dim‑brained Englishmen passed westward, smoking out the plans for war. The scalp that hung in his apartment had belonged to the son of a minor "chief," whom Parkman calls the Whirlwind. With nine others it had been taken in the buffalo country by the Shoshoni, the preceding summer. Parkman says that, scared by their own rashness, the Shoshoni had thereupon asked Vasquez to intercede for them with the Whirlwind and to propitiate him had left his son's scalp at Fort Laramie.25 The Whirlwind, however, would not be appeased, and this summer he had stirred up most of the Teton Sioux to take the warpath. They would avenge this wrong on the Shoshoni, and incidentally could clean up any Crow hunting parties they might meet. Many villages of them were to rendezvous farther west, where La Bonte Creek flows into the Platte, and by a happy coincidence Henry Chatillon had a squaw and children in the Whirlwind's village.
Parkman rejoiced. The history he had set himself to write required him to understand the Indian character, and now he could see most of a nation gathered together, their "vices and virtues . . . their innate character . . . their government, their superstitions, and their domestic situation." He planned to travel with Old Smoke's village to the rendezvous at La Bonte Creek, but an impressive young buck rode into the fort with word that, at the Whirlwind's village, Henry Chatillon's squaw was very sick. Parkman decided to ride straight to that village so that Henry might see her. He hired another voyageur, a numbskull named Raymond; and one Reynal, a trader, joined the party with his squaw and some of her relatives. On June 20 they rode out to find the Whirlwind.
p173 Before he reached Fort Laramie Parkman had had a mild dysentery. At the fort that curse of prairie travel struck him in earnest, prostrating him. He had taken six grains of opium without arresting it, and was so feeble that he could hardly sit his saddle. But his Puritan heritage forbade him to be deterred by a weakness of the flesh. Giddy, frequently doubled up in agony, he went out to find his Indians. From then on for a long time there were periods when a quality of nightmare colored his mind, distorting the day.
They could not find the Whirlwind and so camped on Laramie Creek at the mouth of the Chugwater, a site which the Indians would probably pass on their way to the rendezvous. Chatillon sent the messenger back to tell his squaw to come to meet him. They stayed here for a week. They fished, smoked, talked, Parkman lying on a robe trying to recruit his strength. It would have been a charming, lazy interlude — except that Parkman's illness would not abate. One night they were saved from a marauding band of Crows only because a mist came up in time. Henry's squaw did not come in, and, worst of all, there was no sign of the Sioux.
Parkman chafed and fretted. Was he, on the brink of satisfaction, to lose his chance? One evening the messenger came back. The Whirlwind's village, he said, was moving slowly and would not arrive for a week — and Chatillon's squaw was dying. The news was intolerable. The next morning, leaving the Reynal family to guard the camp, Shaw rode out with Chatillon to find his squaw, and Parkman, to prevent cafard, rode back to Fort Laramie. It was June 27th.
So here is Francis Parkman, a Brahmin snob and our greatest historian, his strength undermined by a dangerous illness, riding toward history through the Bessemer heat of a June morning in the Wyoming badlands, some miles to the southwest of Fort Laramie. There are cottonwoods along Laramie Creek, the tree of the barrens; wherever a minute stream slinks against the dead land to refresh his heart. Cottonwoods: the desert-born remember them, needing only to see the movement of their leaves on a movie screen to be drawn back again to childhood, blue shade cool on parched skin, and the smell of water. For the rest there is only olive‑dun sage in the long thrust toward the foothills, heated by the sun and a stench in Parkman's nostrils. West of him the ridge of the Laramie Mountains (then called the Black Hills) is notched unevenly below the flattened pyramid‑top of Laramie Peak. Northward a scroll of cottonwoods loops along the base of jagged buttes beyond the Platte. The badlands close in round him, open out, are regrouped as he rides, upthrust fingers, elbows, domes, p174 flying buttresses, haystacks, human breasts, some yellow or red, some gray or white or brown, some black with cedar, but mostly the nameless desert color. They flicker and change under the twitching membrane of heat mirage, and a hot wind driving hot alkali into the skin comes out of them from the west. The sky has turned from blue to powdered gray, which burns the color of steel in the sun's quarter. Where the sage has a dot of shadow round its roots, that shade has a queer, flat tinge of smoke in it and a transparent, unreal brown. There is no perspective; the assaulted eyes can hardly tell whether an object at a distance moves or holds still, whether it is half a mile away and small or tens mile away and gigantic. There is no way for the eye to turn, no way for the mind to turn, but inward. . . . Summer morning in the desert, June 27, 1846.
At Fort Laramie Parkman learned of a ball the emigrants had given. "Such belles!" he wrote in his notebook. But "one woman, of more than suspected chastity [be sure that the Sioux maidens, those of good family at least, were chaste] is left at the Fort and Bordeaux is fool enough to receive her." He met Paul Dorion, to whom he had traded Pontiac, a week before, for a little mare whom he named Pauline. This was the son of the half-breed Pierre Dorion who, for a brief space, had assisted the labors of Sacajawea on the Lewis and Clark expedition and later, with his Iowa squaw Marie, had shared the long privation of the Astorians' trip west under Wilson Hunt. (Marie Aioe is remembered with only less respect and kindness than Sacajawea herself. The child she bore on the trail was Paul Dorion's brother.) Parkman had read about the Dorions in Irving's book, had talked with Paul in a mixture of French and English, had found him a complete Indian and so respected him. The Sioux at Fort Laramie had not made up their airy minds. Dorion said that another great band had arrived at Fort Bernard, where there were also many new emigrants. He wanted to trade Pontiac there. So Parkman rode on with him.
Well, there proved to be only a few Sioux as yet at Fort Bernard, they were Oglala like Old Smoke, but two large villages of their Minneconjou cousins were expected during the day. The emigrants were camped a little in front of the fort. "Some fine-looking Kentucky men," he wrote in his journal, "some of them D. Boone's grandchildren — Ewing, Jacobs [whom he had met in St. Louis] and others with them — altogether more educated than any I have seen." And, in his book he said that the Boones had "clearly inherited the adventurous character of that prince of pioneers [their grandfather] but I saw no signs of the quiet and tranquil spirit that so remarkably distinguished him." At Fort Bernard, no. For the camp was drunk and getting drunker. This California party — he learned it had been p175 captained by Russell, but was now led by Boggs — was lightening its load. It would sell what goods it could to the traders and would sell some of its whiskey to the Indians and would drink the rest. The Indians were drunk already, so were the fort's garrison, so were the traders and the hangers‑on — "maudlin squaws . . . squalid Mexicans . . . long-haired Canadians and trappers, and American backwoodsmen in brown homespun, the well-beloved pistol and bowie-knife displayed openly at their sides." The chinked‑log, unfinished fort resounded with a clamor offensive to well-born ears, and he had never looked on such a miscellany of casehardened men. Men filthy with dust, smelling for want of soap, bearded, their homespun or buckskin in tatters from the trail, some singing Injun, some shouting the frontier balladry, all making what sound they could. . . . They had come a long, hard way, some of their companions had died and more were broken, they had found the country in nothing like the quiet pastures back home, and now for a day or two beside water and within the sound of leaves they could take their ease. So they roared a little, having reached the West.
And here was "a tall, lank man with a dingy broadcloth coat," extremely drunk, drunk as a pigeon the notebook says, and making an oration. On one forearm and crooked elbow, thumb through the handle, he cradled a whiskey jug which was empty now but which from time to time he swung to his mouth with the immemorial deftness. The other hand made stately passages while the oration boomed its periods over the fort's uproar. Richard, the bourgeois, formally presented to this personage making a big drunk the scion of John Cotton and Elias Parkman, grandson of Samuel Parkman the China merchant, son of the Reverend Francis Parkman of the New North Church, Francis Parkman II, A. B. Harvard '44, LL. B. Harvard '46. The personage in liquor recognized another personage, seized the fringe of Parkman's buckskin hoist, and made another speech, with pauses, fist doubled and swung, affecting pathos, and hiccoughs. He had been captain of the train, sir, but a mutiny of envious small men had turned him out. Nevertheless, sir, his was the superior intelligence, instinctively recognized by all men, as all men knew Hector when he passed, sir, and he still commanded, sir, in all but name he was still chief . . . Some threads had come together at Fort Bernard, and Francis Parkman had met Colonel William H. Russell of Kentucky, a bosom friend of Henry Clay.
The splendor was more than he could bear and, calling Dorion, he rode back to Fort Laramie. But on the way, "met a party going to the settlements, to whom Montalon had not given my letters. Sent them by that p176 good fellow Tucker. People at the fort a set of mean swindlers, as witness my purchase of the bacon, and their treatment of the emigrants." A slight swindle thus linked him for the moment with the coarse and ungainly and this brief entry in his notebook ends so. But he had stopped to talk with a party going eastward to the settlements, between Fort Laramie and Fort Bernard, past midafternoon of June 27, and the entry should have had a few lines more. For Francis Parkman had met a genius of the mountains, perhaps had talked with him, had seen a greatness he was not able to recognize. . . . That was Jim Clyman's party.
Parkman reached Fort Laramie just after Bordeau had been defied by one of his own men. The rebel, one Perrault, shouted insults at his scared bourgeois, then in disgust packed up his possibles and started off alone through the Sioux for Fort Union. Just an incident in the mountain trade.26 Parkman spent the night there — the night of June 27 — and the next morning found that the Whirlwind, the focus of his desire, had come to Fort Laramie.
At once things looked bad. For Bordeau, the bourgeois, had been trying to turn the Whirlwind's heart from the warpath, since fighting would have a bad effect on the trade — and on the emigration. The Parkman's alarm, he had made serious headway, and a newly arrived trader reported that six other villages were now talking of going to the La Bonte rendezvous only on the ominous condition that there should be buffalo there, which was unlikely at this season. Worse still, an Indian rode in from Fort Bernard and revealed that the emigrants' whiskey and the traders' Taos Lightning had debauched the Minneconjou, whose villages had arrived after Parkman left. Like Owl Russell they had made a big drunk — and it had done the job. They had shrieked and howled all night, had fallen to quarreling, had worked up a typical Indian contention, beaten and stabbed one another, and losing their purpose had called off their splendid military parade. Racked by hangover, they had abandoned the warpath and were now, at this moment, working back homeward to the Missouri. No Shoshoni scalps for the Minneconjou Sioux.
Pretty serious. (Parkman did not realize that so large a body of Indians could not possibly have held to any purpose, least of all a warlike one.) He understood that the abandonment of the warpath might mean that his life had been saved, but what counted more was that, if it should spread to the Oglala, as the Whirlwind's growing timidity threatened, he would lose his chance. Was he not to see the Indian "under his most fearful and characteristic aspect" after all this travel? Grave and foreboding, he saddled Pauline and started back to his camp at the mouth of the Chugwater. p177 He must wait there for Shaw and Chatillon and hope for the Oglala. As he left the fort, a trapper told him that word had come of the murder of two mountain men, Boot and May, by the Arapaho. As he rode up Laramie Creek, two emigrants shouted at him, suggesting that he keep his eye peeled.
* * *
Fort Bernard, on the North Platte, below the mouth of Laramie Creek, Saturday, June 27, 1846.
On June 24 Edwin Bryant, his partner Mr. Jacob, and those who had decided to join their sprint by pack train had arranged to trade their wagons to the Taos men for mules, and had determined to stay at Fort Bernard till the train should come up. It came up on June 26, under Governor Boggs (vice Colonel Russell, deposed, who now determined to go with Bryant) — with the Donners, James Frazier Reed, and the rest. (Small fragments of the original train were several days ahead; some nearer, at Fort Laramie, where Parkman had seen them.) It was the established custom of the emigrants to pause at or near Fort Laramie to recruit their stock, repair the wagons, and lighten loads and reorganize after the desert just passed and before the desert just ahead. Word that the Sioux had used up the grass at Fort Laramie was what halted the California train here, where the bottom land along the Platte had not been grazed.
Boggs and the California-bound reached Fort Bernard on June 26. At about noon on June 27, the Oregon train with which Thornton was traveling (at this stage, captained by Rice Dunbar) pulled in and camped near by. So they were neighbors again, the two largest fragments of the big train which Owl Russell had led west from Indian Creek. At midafternoon or a little later, Parkman, resentful of drunks, emigrants, and Kentucky colonels, turned his back on Fort Bernard, riding back to Fort Laramie. A few minutes later the Minneconjou began to come in, from the northeast. A little later still a party from the west arrived, nine or ten men, two women, two children, and appropriate horses and packs — Jim Clyman keeping an appointment with destiny.
. . . We must look at the trail again: at three large detours. Make a capital cursive letter S with the curves long but shallow, and turn it on its back. This represents the trail from Fort Laramie to South Pass, with the middle curve of the S reaching its highest (northernmost) point at the present city of Casper, Wyoming. The route obeyed the inexorable conditions of geography. You had to follow the Platte north and northwest to p178 Casper because a more direct route west would have had to cross the waterless desert between the Platte and the Medicine Bow National Forest of today. It would also have had to cross the Medicine Bow Mountains. Beyond Casper (a little west of which you would leave the Platte at last), you had to strike for the one opening through the continental divide by which wagons could be crossed, the South Pass which Jim Clyman and Jed Smith and Tom Fitzpatrick had first used. But you could not go straight west of Casper or even southwest: the desert and mountains (the Rattlesnake Range) of the present Natrona County and the still trackless desert of eastern Fremont County forbade. So the trail took the western half of our recumbent S, bent sharply south of southwest, moved by Fremont's Island and Independence Rock to Devil's Slide and the Sweetwater River, and then up the Sweetwater to South Pass.
Although the last stretch before Fort Laramie had been hard going, all emigrants knew that this next stretch, to South Pass, would be worse. So anxiety sharpened, especially the worry of falling behind schedule, the chance of getting caught in winter snows. We have observed how at Fort Laramie one suddenly realized that time was getting short. The realization especially galled those who were going to California because of the roundabout loops which the California trail made west of South Pass.
The trail came out of the Pass and made due west to Little Sandy Creek (for convenience, the present town of Farson, Wyoming). All the rest of Wyoming was desert; the only possible routes, not many and not much different from one another, were determined by small streams and small patches of grass. The next objective was the famous oasis of Soda Springs, in Idaho. To reach Soda Springs you had to travel southwest from the Little Sandy at least as far as the present town of Granger. After Old Gabe built his trading post you usually went even farther to the southwest, to Fort Bridger. Here the trail made the great bend that so galled the California-bound. It struck northwest to Soda Springs and went on to Fort Hall (for convenience, the present city of Pocatello, Idaho). . . . There was plenty of water on this stretch; the grass was usually abundant; and though there were mountains to cross, they were comparatively gentle and the canyons were open. . . . Beyond Fort Hall, the trail to Oregon took a long westerly course along the Snake River — and here was where, traditionally, the California trains left it for good. (By '46 there were several routes, used only occasionally, which crossed to the south of Fort Hall, going west by Soda Springs, by Raft River, or by Bear Lake — but they all made for the established route and reached it before it struck the Humboldt.) They turned southwestward, beyond Fort Hall, and by a route p179 sufficiently difficult with lava, alkali, sagebrush, and dry drives, but nevertheless a safe route, they reached the Humboldt River almost exactly where a line traced due west from Fort Bridger would have reached it.
That was precisely the trouble — that possible due‑west line from Fort Bridger. The established trail moved from Fort Bridger to the Humboldt along two sides, northwest and southwest, of a right-angle triangle whose due‑west hypotenuse stretched straight past the southern end of Great Salt Lake. . . . Late June at Fort Laramie, the South Pass journey still to come, and beyond it that long, laborious, and apparently senseless detour, several hundred miles long, to Fort Hall. Anyone who studied a map at Fort Laramie, intending to go to California, would look with loathing on that detour. On June 27, 1846, no map ever drawn had filled in the country between Fort Bridger and Great Salt Lake — no map showed what the Wasatch Mountains were like. And no map filled in the country between Great Salt Lake and the north bend of the Humboldt River — which included the Salt Desert. . . .27
June 27. There was visiting between the trains, and no doubt Nancy Thornton was a genteel hostess again, though her linen would be dingier. No doubt Margaret Reed and Tamsen Donner botanized among the cottonwoods, Virginia Reed rode her blooded horse at a gallop for the admiration of young Minneconjou bucks, and the children gazed at hundreds of painted Indians and their dogs and lodges and herds, the marvels learned in books along the Sangamon now magically made real along the Platte. Owl Russell had his big drunk, and so did the Taos trappers, and M. Richard, the hangers‑on of Fort Bernard, the dusty, tired emigrants, and the Sioux. Furniture, clothes, surplus food, were traded to the Taos men for what little they would bring, or just abandoned. Hammers rang on iron as tires were reset and shoes refitted to horses. Laundry bloomed on the cottonwoods, to dry in desert sun. The Sioux yowled and galloped and, as night came on, got drunker still, pounded their chests, counted coups, fell to quarreling, draw their knives, felt their hearts going bad. A big night in the desert, a big night at Fort Bernard.
Lines of campfires dotted the wagon trains, their flames gilding the cottonwoods and shining in the Platte. And at one fire, Jim Clyman says, "several of us continued the conversation until a late hour." Jim had met a messmate of the Black Hawk War, James Frazier Reed, who had sat by him at other campfires, with A. Lincoln. He met some of Mr. Reed's friends and companions. Edwin Bryant and Jessy Thornton and Governor Boggs for certain were at that fire, Owl Russell probably, and by inference George and Jacob Donner — the responsible minds of the two trains. He p180 and his companions met a good many other emigrants, and told them all the same story.
For Jim and the others felt a heavy responsibility. Some of them tried to modify the emigrants' vision of the golden shore, speaking of sparse rain and ruined crops, speaking of the low quality of Americans resident there. Bryant grunted in disgust. He was for California, and it was clear to him that these trail-stained travelers, Clyman in particular, were lying, for some reason not on the surface. He was not credulous enough to believe plain liars but he perceived that many of his associates were. Thornton, who was for Oregon anyway, was detached and believed them.
The wagon train grew quiet but this one fire was kept blazing — a carmine splash against the blue-velvet night, the desert stars near above it, the white bow of a wagon top behind, and, farther away, the singing of drunken Missourians at the fort and the screaming of drunken Sioux. Clyman talked on. He knew Hastings' plans, he knew what Hastings would tell these innocents near South Pass. And he had just crossed — with Hastings — from the bend of the Humboldt to Fort Bridger by way of the Salt Desert, Great Salt Lake, and the Wasatch Mountains. A Sioux yipped, the barking of coyotes ringed the sleeping caravan, and Jim told his listeners: take the familiar trail, the regular, established trail by way of Soda Springs and Fort Hall. Do not try a cutoff, do not try anything but the known, proved way. "It is barely possible to get through [before the snows] if you follow it — and it may be impossible if you don't." Shock and alarm struck the travelers and made them angry, who were still far short of South Pass, whose minds could map that weary angle from Fort Bridger to Fort Hall and back again to the Humboldt. Tense and bellicose, Reed spoke up (Jim records his words), "There is a nigher route, and it is no use to take so much of a roundabout course." Reference to Lansford Hastings' book, Jacob Donner's copy bought at Springfield, back in the States, now scanned by firelight at Fort Bernard, a well-thumbed passage marked with lines. The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California, page 137: "The most direct route, for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, •about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall; thence bearing west southwest to the Salt Lake; and then continuing down to the bay of San Francisco. . . ." Proved. And someone would spit into the fire.
(When Lansford Hastings wrote that passage he had never seen the Humboldt, or Great Salt Lake, or the Wasatch Mountains, or the Salt Desert; neither he nor anyone else had ever taken the trail here blithely imagined by a real-estate man who wanted to be President or mortgagee of California.)
p181 Yes, But Jim has just traveled that route, and if they would save their skins, they will not take it, they will go by way of Fort Hall. "I . . . told him about the great desert and the roughness of the Sierra, and that a straight route might turn out to be impracticable." Told him about the glare of the salt plain under sun and without water. Told him about the chaos of the Wasatch canyons which Jim Clyman and Lansford Hastings, who were on horseback and had no wagons and so no need of a road, had barely got through.
In the tents or in the wagons Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner and Margaret Reed fell asleep. The children slept. All the women and children and most of the men of these two trains were asleep by now, all the men who were not listening to the argument or helping make the noise that sometimes surged through the darkness from Fort Bernard. A tired, strained, bewildered company hemmed in by desolation, the shade and waters of their homes almost forgotten, the dream become more real than memory. Islanded in mountain night, islanded in awe and the unknown, ringed round by drunken Sioux. The cottonwoods rustling, the night cold.
Clyman talked on, repeating his warnings and threats — the mountain man, the man who knew, the master of this wilderness, pleading with the tenderfeet. Till there was no more to say, the fire was only embers shimmering in the dark, and they separated, to lie awake while the coyotes mourned and the Sioux screamed — and think it over. In the desert, where Laramie Creek empties into the Platte: a moment of decision.
Next morning they had made up their minds. Bryant was not deterred. He would take the way he had decided on, and rightly so, for he would travel by pack train and could travel fast. The unappreciated orator Owl Russell would go with him, and the eight original volunteers were steadfast. (Though a few days later Clyman's words seemed sound sense to Mr. Kirkendall, and he rejoined the Oregon train — to soften Thornton's troubles and suffer hardship on another cutoff.) Governor Boggs and Judge Morin, however, had been convinced. They sought out Clyman, before he moved on, and told him they would follow his advice — would go to Oregon by way of Fort Hall. Not Reed and the Donners. Their impatience had not been scotched. They would go on their determined way, and if any cared to join them, they would be welcome.
So be it. Jim repeated his warnings, but he had his own trail to follow and late in the morning he led his party eastward.
Another chapter in the outline of American history, which now had only a few more to go before the peace and satisfaction of its last years. p182 Eastward, in the direction of Scott's Bluff, with Chimney Rock to come, and Ash Hollow, and the crossing to the South Platte. But American history in the person of Jim Clyman had told the Donner party not to take the Hastings Cutoff from the California trail.
(p489) 1 This probably identifies him as the Romaine with whom Father De Smet traveled in that year. The name is unusual, De Smet's sketch of him resembles Parkman's, and he insisted that he was a practised plainsman. His name and those of the Chandlers are given in full in the notebooks. In The Oregon Trail they are mentioned only by initials.
3 The correct name of the Indians with whom Parkman traveled is the Dakota; he spelled it Dacotah. Specifically they belonged to the most populous division, the Teton Dakota, and to the Oglala subdivision or "tribe." He called them Sioux in his notebooks, however, and that has always been their name for laymen. It will be used here.
4 Whom Parkman had met in St. Louis. His notebook speaks of "the impulsive, unobservant, ardent Kentuckian [Ewing] who lays open his character to everyone and sees nothing of those about him" and "the quiet, sedate and manly Jacobs, his companion." If he met Bryant, he does not mention it.
5 Mules for speed, on the prairies, and oxen for endurance. Since, besides, they were cheaper, it was therefore usually oxen. They had the added advantage that the Indians did not covet them. They must be young and, preferably, acclimated by a year's residence in these parts. Much bad stock was sold to the emigrants — and died during the earliest stages of the journey, Bryant should have bought a fourth yoke, for replacements. The price he paid was remarkably low.
(p490) 6 This is the largest single herd I have found in the emigration of '46. It evidences one of the prime expectations in the early migration to Oregon. It was thought — and Frémont's report had endorsed the idea — that Oregon would be a stock breeder's paradise. Large herds had accompanied the emigrations of '43, '44, and '45. The effort to get cattle down the Columbia and over the Cascades, in fact, was a principal cause of the annual disasters.
7 I cannot forbear quoting a sample of Thornton's genteel sensibility: the exquisite kind of sentiment that flooded the gift books of the period and made the mail for St. Valentine's day of '46, so the Postmaster General said, the heaviest yet carried in the United States. On May 12, his heart "drank in the general joy" by way of some birds he saw. "Some were building their nest; one was pouring his love song into the ears of his beloved; and I almost fancied that I could see his eyes sparkle and hear his heart beat as with stooping wing he received a promise from his lady-bird that she would indeed be his." The next day he apostrophizes a mockingbird, advising him to get a mate before emigrating, "and concluded by expressing the opinion that, if he did not, he might have to pair with a blue‑jay or perhaps even with a sparrow hawk." The well-bred had such sentiments — which did not in the least impair Thornton's shrewdness or intelligence or keep him from the greatest usefulness in the new country.
8 The notion that the free lands on the frontier served as a "cushion" to our cyclical depressions is textbook economics. Only a small fraction of the dispossessed even "went west" at any time — they simply could not afford to — and the fraction grew smaller as the frontier got farther from the industrial districts. When a mill at Lowell or Patterson shut down in 1837, how would an operator raise the money to take his family to Illinois, Texas, or Michigan? How would he live there till he could raise a crop? By the time the free land was almost exhausted, however, it was possible for a few of the unemployed to ride the rods west and for greater numbers of them to be recruited by the railroad companies for settlement (under mortgage) on their land grants. Presumably this area of sophisticated railroad management is not what the textbook theory has in mind. (Land was not free till 1862.)
9 Quoted from a MS. in the Missouri Historical Society by Ralph P. Bieber in his edition of Wah‑To‑Yah, p356.
10 Indian warfare was conducted on two principles, superiority of numbers and surprise. The Indian wanted booty and glory, not heroic risk. He made war in swift forays.
(p491) 11 Beyond the mountains the principal nation on the trail was the Shoshoni, who, like most Oregon Indians, were genuinely friendly. The only danger — but a serious one — came from the miserable, cowardly, infinitely treacherous Diggers.
12 The mountain men had anticipated Mr. Stefansson's observation. The meat of the buffalo was a complete diet, one of the healthiest recorded. They ate much of it raw, of course, and fairly swilled the fats and marrow.
13 The upper valley of the North Platte is greener today at all seasons than it was then. Irrigation. If you see it in August, however, you readily perceive how it looked in June of '46.
14 Bancroft's Oregon quotes some memoirs which say that the Dutchman was not Thornton's employe but his partner and was merely claiming his own. The story is unsound, on the evidence, and was probably a by‑product of the resounding Methodist-Presbyterian row that Thornton got mixed up in later on, in Oregon.
15 Treatment for tires: if you were good at blacksmithing, cut out a part, heat, and weld them, and put them on again, drilling new holes; otherwise, slowly and profanely hammer in a series of whittled wedges between tire and felloe. Treatment for collapsed wheels: replace spokes if you had remembered to provide spares, otherwise buy or steal some hardwood and make new spokes with the tools at hand.
16 Bryant was right. The Sioux were big, tall, lithe, Roman-nosed Indians, among the most impressive of the tribes. As Clark Wissler points out, it happens that most of our popular iconography of the Indians is Sioux — the Indian on the nickel, the war bonnet and lance and shield conventionally bestowed on all Indians, the characteristic dress, the characteristic tipis, robes, beadwork, etc. They got a good press early and have come to typify all Indians to most Americans. Probably the Indian most widely remembered in our time is Sitting Bull, who was a Hunkpapa Teton Sioux, and it was the Sioux who disposed of Custer.
17 We had better be explicit about this route and take it from the east, west — as the emigrants did. West of Great Salt Lake is the Salt Desert; before it, whether one travels round the north or the south end of the lake, is a steadily intensifying stretch of typical greasewood desert; west of the Salt Desert another such stretch must be crossed on the way to the Humboldt. The journey thus falls into three divisions. Jedediah Smith had traveled considerably to the south of the Salt Desert on his western passage to California in 1826 (the first ever made by the central route), but, returning in 1827, he had crossed to the southern end of Great (p492) Salt Lake, thus traversing the Salt Desert in a northeasterly direction, the first white man who ever set foot on it. In 1833, Joseph Walker, leading the party which Bonneville sent to California, moved through the badlands north of Great Salt Lake but turned northwestward to strike the Humboldt and so missed the Salt Desert.a In 1841 the "Bartleson party," whose diarist was John Bidwell, abandoned the traditional trail at the northern bend of Bear River, struck overland to the head of Bear River Bay (the eastern arm of Great Salt Lake), moved round the north end of the lake, skirted the western edge of the Salt Desert, and, after terrible suffering, reached the trail again near South Fork. Frémont's route of 1845, which Hastings and Clyman traveled in reverse, led round the southern end of Great Salt Lake to approximately the site of Grantsville, Utah, and then took a due northwest course straight across the Salt Desert to Pilot Peak. As I have said earlier, Frémont deserves more credit for this passage than for any other part of his career as an explorer. He was really being a Pathfinder — Walker instructing him.
18 Frémont, however, remembered more wood and water and much easier going than he actually encountered. He did not, for instance, set down that some fifteen of his horses and mules gave out and had to be abandoned.
19 One of the pleasantest valleys in the island West. Bridger's Fort was built on Black's Fork, a tributary of Green River, in fertile, wooded country with the Wasatch in sight to the west, the Uintas to the south, and similarly timbered peaks in the dooryard. It was especially delightful to the emigrants because they reached it, on the way down from South Pass, after a stretch of hideous desert. It was a humble stockade but the first post built west of the divide for the emigrant trade. Chittenden assigns its establishment in 1843 as the true end of the mountain fur trade. Taking the return of Lewis and Clark as the other limit, the era of the mountain man thus lasted thirty-seven years.
20 By this time word of his intention had reached the Oregon settlements. They hurried out agents of their own equipped with denunciations, manifestoes, corrective statistics, and a sizable propaganda of their own. These agents traveled farther and talked to more prospects than Hastings.
21 Probably old Caleb Greenwood was with this party. At any rate he rejoined Hastings and was still with him, looking for "emigrators," when, at the Green River, they encountered a train captained by Joseph Aram. Hastings gave them his sales talk, promising that they would save a month if they took his road, but Greenwood told them otherwise. They believed (p493) Greenwood and hired him to guide them by the Fort Hall trail. Just as this party reached the place where the Hastings-Frémont trail joined the California trail they heard from some Indians that the Donners were in trouble on the Salt Desert. They actually turned east to see if they could help but, meeting no one in a day's travel, turned back again and went on to California. . . . Presumably the Aram company were the "emigrators" about whose effeminate diet Greenwood was still complaining when Bryant met him in November.
22 Red Buttes, •about twelve miles westward from Casper, Wyoming. Here is where the trail west began a dramatic passage from the still somewhat green and fertile valley of the North Platte to a stretch of bitter desert, on the way to the Sweetwater.
23 Parkman spells it Bordeaux. Otherwise Boudreau, Boudeaux, Bedeau, Bondeau, etc. He probably did not know how to spell it himself.
24 By this time the corporate name of the over‑all company which had inherited the Astor interests was Pierre Chouteau, Jr., & Company. It embraced several management and operating companies. But the original name, The American Fur Company, lingered on, a symbol of power in the mountains.
25 He probably exaggerated. The Shoshoni were able to hold their own with either the Sioux or the Blackfeet and quite willing to take them on at any time. All Indians, however, had sudden mass panics or inexplicable second thoughts, and this may have been one of them.
27 The Humboldt had been so named by Frémont; in '46, however, it was still called Ogden's or Mary's River.
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