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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
Uncle Sam's Camels

Lewis Burt Lesley

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

The text is in the public domain.

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


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Part III

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p106  The Journal of May Humphreys Stacey, supplemented by selections from the Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale

(continued: October 1857)

October 1. Thursday. This morning as we were going in, we discovered a broad fresh trail made by loose animals, and very soon afterwards we saw the camels' tracks. We at once knew that they had found water, and had driven the mules and camels to water. After riding two miles farther, we met Mr. Beale and the train coming to water. Mr. Davis and Alexander had found it in a canyon yesterday. They also found three springs which when dug out will yield an abundance of water. Today the time of the Big Sandy scout expires. There has been a big fire kept burning on a small peak near camp all day, with a view to attract the attention of the party, as it comes through the pass.​1 It is difficult to realize that this is the first of October. One is so accustomed to see harvest and the other things that come with summer at home, that we unthinkingly are  p107 constantly looking forward to something which we know has passed. This summer has been to me a very long one, and yet it seems as though I had seen no summer. Such is the effect of new scenes and change of living.

October 2. Friday. The train started for our pass, and it will remain until Mr. Thorburn comes in.​2 We cannot afford to tarry much on the road, because our provisions are getting low. We have now left provisions for twelve days, with a journey of three hundred and fifty miles before us before we can get fresh supplies. It has been raining nearly all day. We hope that it will continue for a week so as to give us water in advance. Camped on the south side of the pass beside the base of a red jut.

October 3. Saturday. Today the mules were returned to water, there to remain until sent for. We are beginning to be very utilize about Mr. Thorburn. He ought to have been in two days ago. I went on top of a mesa, near camp, about a mile high, and had a magnificent view of forty miles around. On the top we found most beautiful sandstone dressed by the hand of nature more beautifully than any mechanic could have done it. We also found a few fossils in a stratum of limestone near the top. One was an ammonite not less than a foot in diameter.

October 4. Sunday. This morning to our great delight, Mr. Thorburn arrived. His delay was occasioned by a mistake. He, instead of coming through this pass, went up through Lecko Pass and then on to King's Creek. Not finding us there of course he followed the trail and got in today. He went to Big Sandy and found it dry.​3 The road  p108 was not difficult for wagons except in one or two places. We will start tomorrow afternoon.

October 5. Monday. The animals arrived this evening (at) about 4, and as soon as the men had eaten something, we hitched up and drove out 13½ miles through Dornin's Pass. The road was magnificent and a beautiful moon guided us.

October 6. Tuesday. This morning we continued our journey and got within 16 miles of the spring and then camped.​4 The obstructions prevented a nearer approach. The mules were sent in to the water and returned after night.

October 7. Wednesday. This morning Messrs. Beale, Thorburn, Davis, Butler, Bell, Porter and myself, together with Savidra and Antone, started on an exploring tour. We rode Southwest over very bad country about four miles when we struck a beautiful valley. At last by following it down we found a dry stream but a fine spring.

October 8. Thursday. We were compelled to sleep out of camp last night on account of Savidra's mule breaking down. We came on slowly in the morning and met the train, which shortly after meeting us, stopped, and we  p109 breakfasted. It was not bad, — especially to us who had had nothing to eat since yesterday at twelve. Camped at the Spring. Road nearly all day good, and grass abundant.

October 9. Friday. Continued down the canyon over a very bad road for about a mile where the canyon opened out into a small valley which gradually widened. We followed an Indian trail and the road was very good except in one or two places. Grass plentiful, and we passed water in the bed of a stream which appeared occasionally. Camped in a very pretty valley; no water, grass tolerably good.

October 10. Saturday. Sent all the mules back to water except 8 with which we intended to make an exploration. About 10 (o'clock) Mr. Williams, who had been taking a stroll on the mountain near camp, came in very much agitated and reported that while he was examining a rock a few feet from his gun, an Indian came and unperceived, took it. He then gave a grunt and Mr. Williams turned round and saw three Indians, one with Williams' gun and the other two with their bows pointed at him. Mr. Williams was very much alarmed, and upon the Indian with the gun giving him a sign that his company was no longer desirable, he took to his heels and never stopped until he came in sight of camp. When he made this report, Porter, Bell and myself immediately volunteered to go out and see if we could find the thieves. We came to the spot where this ludicrous scene had been enacted and found the trail of the Indians. We found for about a mile and a half up in the mountains, and then lost it. We turned to come back, and as we were returning we saw two Indians crossing the valley in front of us about three hundred yards distant. We gave chase and gained upon them very rapidly.  p110 At last by great exertions we got within gun shot and commenced firing on the savages. The report of our arms brought the whole camp out and we cut the Indians off and drove them onto an isolated peak that rose about two hundred feet high in the valley. It was immediately surrounded and after some trouble both Indians were secured. They turned out to be a boy about 15 and a man of about 45 or 50. During the pursuit and subsequently they fired (at us) with their bows and arrows frequently. One (arrow) came near striking Mr. Williams just passing over his head, and another went about three feet to the right of Ham Porter. The two Indians were taken into camp and we gave them something to eat. We also gave them a pair of pantaloons, a shirt and a blanket apiece. But we did not give them liberty. About seven (o'clock) we saw a fire about two miles distant and sent the boy to it. He at first did not seem to desire to leave the old man, who was most likely his father. But when the old gentleman spoke a few words to him, he went off, and that was the last of him. The man will be guarded all night. We wish him to guide us to the Colorado, and show us (the way to) water.

October 11. Sunday. This morning one of most extraordinary circumstances occurred that I ever heard of. Just as we were hitching up, an Indian came walking boldly into camp with Mr. Williams' gun on his shoulder. He walked up to Mr. Beale and handed the gun to him, and then made a long speech of which we, of course, understood nothing. To stop his mouth we gave him half a sheep, a Navajo blanket and some calico. This pleased the fellow mightily and he immediately commenced diving into the sheep meat. Mr. Beale happening to look over his shoulder  p111 espied a black head looking at the camp about 200 yards off. He picked up a very flashy (sash?) and walked out of camp to this poor devil of an Indian and gave him the serape and then turned round and walked back followed by this elegant specimen of humanity. He had no leggings and nothing in the world around his body but a short fore piece made of rabbit skins. I thought how this human being must suffer during the time of snow and rain. As it was, this morning he stood shivering and shaking by our fire like one with the ague. Presently he sat down and all three (Indians) went to work on the mutton, and there we left two (of them), taking with us our captive, who had promised to show us a spring, — which he did, at about ten (o'clock). It was situated up a canyon about a mile in a place inaccessible to wagons and we therefore were obliged to drive the animals to it, which consumed much time. The old fellow wanted very much to go, and we informed him that if he would show us water once more we would let him go. Mounting our animals with the Indian for guide we struck out for his water, which we found in a sort of well about 14 miles from camp. We returned to camp, and tonight there will be no guard set over old "John Indian" and if he wants to go he may.

October 12. Monday. Today when we got up we found that the old Indian had "vamoosed" in the night. He left his bow and arrows, — which if the old fellow had waited until morning we would have given back to him with other presents besides. We left the bow and arrows in camp, however, and if he comes back he can get them.

Tucker, Savidra, Porter, Bell, and myself found a spring today. It was in a canyon which led into another canyon  p112 down which the wagons will pass. Water good, little wood, no grass.

October 13. Tuesday. The wagons got to the water about 9 (o'clock) over a pretty good road except in one place, — just at the head of the canyon. The mules were very thirsty but the supply was very abundant and they all got sufficient.

Mr. Beale, Thorburn, Tucker, Savidra, Porter, Bell, and myself started before the wagons to find a spring which Savidra (said he) had seen 14 years before. We passed out of the mouth of the canyon​5 and crossed the valley between Edwards' Mountain and the (Colorado range?) and then camped for the night.

October 14. Wednesday. Found the spring at about 8 (o'clock) this morning up a canyon as usual. Beautiful water. Rode up on top of the mountain​6 and to our exquisite delight beheld the Colorado burning in the sunlight about 18 miles distant, and the blue Sierra-Nevadas, capped with snow, flashing in the sun's rays about 100 miles away.​7

We returned and met camp. Camped and got dinner. Savidra and myself found another spring. We camped at the first water.

October 15. Thursday. Today we have been off on a scout in search of water. Bell, Porter, and myself, with  p113 Savidra, made up the party. After riding over the most rocky, hilly, damnable country I have ever seen, and breaking down two mules of the party, we concluded to return to camp, which we reached after very great exertions about 7 o'clock. Sat down to a good supper of pork and beans which we did ample justice to, — thanks to Ab's cooking and our hard ride.

October 16. Friday. We commenced this morning the descent of the Colorado range — got the wagons to a place where it was necessary to take off the mules and let the wagons down by hand. The mules were returned to the water; I accompanied them. When we returned (we) found all the wagons safely over the bad place except the small ambulance which was smashed to pieces.

October 17. Saturday. Today has been unusually severe on the men. They have had nothing to eat except meat for two days and have been working extremely hard the whole time. Today some Mohave Indians came into camp. They are very good looking Indians and are apparently friendly.​8 We have got over the worst part of the road and this afternoon the road has been very good. Camped about 2 miles from the river.

October 18. Sunday. Today soon after sunrise the Indians (Mohaves) came into camp. They had pumpkins, watermelons and muskmelons to trade, but they were very  p114 hard to deal with, as they wanted a shirt for everything. The camel party are still separated from us. The Indians stopped Mr. Beale from going down to the river. The camp is in readiness for a fight. Started the camp towards the river. Met many Indians. Whole party again united. Reached the river and camped on the bank.

October 19. Monday. The India-rubber boat got up (was set up) and preparations made for crossing.​9 I was put in charge of boat. — Trial trip very successful. — (Attitude of) Indians very precarious and not at all permanent. Have been in water all day busily engaged in transporting baggage across the river. Expecting a fight all day — Men in readiness.

October 20. Tuesday. Much astonished to wake up this morning and find my hair safe! (i.e., unscalped). No Indians in the camp early in the morning. Recommenced crossing the goods. At eight o'clock plenty of Indians in camp. Trading better — getting corn meal, corn, and pinole. Indians rather better disposed. — Swam the camels down very well. — Late in the afternoon dispatched the mules  p115 across the river. — Lost ten (mules) and two horses — Indians ate the drowned ones. Crossed everything by sundown.

October 21. Wednesday. The first thing today began loading the wagons. Crossed twice this morning in the boat for Indian Chiefs. Mr. Beale has been trying to get a guide to go down the river to Fort Yuma. Got one who afterwards backed out. Wagon train started and went across country about a mile and a half. Camped on good grass. Plenty of water. Passed Indian villages.


At this point Stacey's Journal ends. After the crossing of the Colorado River by the party, a difficult feat, Lieutenant Beale planned to send Stacey and three others down the Colorado to Fort Yuma to see whether the river was navigable for that distance, which plan was abandoned. Young Stacey sent a manly letter to his father, about October 22, describing in his characteristic manner his ideas about the proposed journey:

"My dear Father,

I make this break in my note book to write you a few lines. I together with Ham, Bell, and Ab am going down the Colorado to Fort Yuma for the purpose of ascertaining whether the river is navigable for steamboats up to this point. It is an enterprise attended with much danger, and we, perhaps, may all lose our lives in the undertaking.

But my motto is and will be 'Nothing risked, nothing gained,' and therefore I go.

 p116  I write this to tell you, my dearest and best beloved father, that if your son falls, you may rely on it, that he died doing his duty as well as he was able, — and that he was no reproach to you.

Remember me to the few dear friends that I have,

And believe me,

Yours ever truly,

May H. Stacey."

The Author's Notes:

1 Named Pass Dornin, by Beale, after Captain Dornin, U. S. N.

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2 The "Big Sandy Scout."

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3 Thorburn had explored over one hundred and fifty miles of the country to the west and southwest of King's Creek.

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4 Near the Aulick Range, just northwest of Partridge Creek, and east of the Juniper Mountains. On this day Beale penned another eulogy to the noble beast of burden: "I rarely think of mentioning the camels now. It is so universally acknowledged in camp, even by those who were most opposed to them at first, that they are the salt of the party and the noblest brutes alive, that to mention them at all would only be to repeat what I have so often said of them before. They have been used on every reconnoissance whilst the mules were resting, and having gone down the precipitous sides of rough volcanic mesas, which mules would not descend until the camels were first taken down as an example. With all this work they are perfectly content to eat anything, from the driest greasewood bush to a thorny prickly pear, and, what is better, keep fat on it." Beale Report, 67.

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5 This pass was named the Boys' Pass, "after May, Ham, and Joe, who were the first to enter it." Beale Report, 73.

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6 Frank Murray's Peak.

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7 "We had arrived at the end of our long journey," records Beale, "so far, without an accident. Only those who have toiled so far, with life, reputation, everything staked upon the result, can imagine the feelings with which I looked down from the heights of this mountain . . . I shall go into Fort Tejon to recruit and refit, as we have but ten days' provisions, at half rations, left." Beale Report, 74.

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8 These Mohave Indians attracted the attention of Beale also. "They were a fine-looking, comfortable, fat and merry set; naked excepting a very small piece of cotton cloth around the waist; and, though barefooted, ran over the sharp rock and pebbles as easily as if shod with iron. We were soon surrounded on all sides by them. Some had learned a few words of English from trafficking with the military posts two hundred and fifty miles off, and one of them saluted me with 'God damn my soul eyes. How de do! How de do!' " Beale Report, 75.

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9 One of the difficulties anticipated by Lieutenant Beale in crossing the Colorado was due to the fact that he had been told that the animals could not swim. At the river's edge the first camel refused to take to the water. Anxious, but not discouraged, Beale ordered the largest and the finest animal brought to the river. One can readily imagine Beale's relief when this animal took to the water and swam "boldly across the rapidly flowing river. We then tied them, each one to the saddle of another, and without the slightest difficulty, in a short time swam them all to the opposite side in gangs, five in a gang; to my delight, they not only swam with ease, but with apparently more strength than horses or mules. One of them, heading up stream, swam a considerable distance against the current, and all landed in safety on the other side." (Letter of Lieutenant Beale to Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, dated Colorado River, October 18, 1857. Reproduced in S. Bonsal, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, 216.) The crossing was made a few miles north of where the border line of California strikes the Colorado River, near Fort Mojave.

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