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

 p31  The Journal of May Humphreys Stacey, supplemented by selections from the Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale

(continued: September 1857)

September 1. Tuesday. The road today has improved. It is less heavy and more level. The grass has likewise improved.  p90 We reached Jacob's Well at ten o'clock. It would be well to give a brief description of this most singular place. It is a hole a hundred and twenty-five feet deep, surrounded by a perfectly level plain, so level, indeed, that if you did not know its locality you might easily pass it at a distance of a quarter of a mile. Its circumference measured by myself with a chain is five hundred yards and eighty feet. There are one or two large arroyos leading down to the water, one of which was followed by our animals. The water was rather brackish, but the animals being dry, drank copiously. This afternoon's drive was to Antelope Springs, two and a half miles from Jacob's Well.​1 The grass and water here were excellent.

September 2. Wednesday. Soon after sunrise the train was again in motion. We reached the Puerco at about two o'clock. It is nothing but a dry bottom at present. At times, I suppose after rains, it runs, but like all these Western rivers it sinks very soon through the porous soil. We camped and got our breakfast in the bottom and did ample justice to our meal. Near our camp was a singular freak of nature. We discovered a large piece of timber, petrified, right in the midst of a tremendous rock. It looked as if it grew right out of the rock; the most singular thing I ever saw of the kind. This afternoon's drive was over a rough road and much cut up into canyons. We made a dry camp. Distance traveled today nineteen miles.

September 3. Thursday. Set in with cold rain. It reminded one of winter which is now approaching. The camp was in motion after six o'clock and we breakfasted upon the Rio del Xara. The road was heavy and the country  p91 much cut up on each side of the road. The grass at our camp is good, and we were fortunate enough to find water in sufficient quantity for the animals. At twelve we were again in motion, and camped without anything occurring worthy of mention, eight and a half miles from our last camping place. We found no permanent water.

September 4. Friday. We drove eight and a half miles to breakfast and reached the Rio Colorado Chiquito.​2 From bank to bank it measures about two hundred yards. The stream itself is about twenty yards wide and very muddy. The road has been soft, grass good and wood plenty. Camp No. 5 was made six and a half miles from the last one, upon a ridge where we found tolerable grass. The river is distant about a mile. Distance fifteen miles.

September 5. Saturday. Rain last evening and this morning. After starting it discontinued, leaving the road very soft, the mules at each step up to their fetlocks in the yielding soil. It got so very bad finally that Mr. Beale ordered the train to camp. Distance four and three-quarter miles. The sun came out just after camping, very warm, and by the time we were ready to make another start, the road had improved so much as to make it, comparatively speaking, easy pulling. Our evening camp was made at a place where we found grass in spots but scarcely in sufficient quantity for the mules. It rained again in showers during the whole night. Distance fourteen and a quarter miles.3

 p92  September 6. Sunday. The rain last night made the road today in places nearly impassable. It was a steady drag, without let up, upon the mules. We will be glad to leave this river bottom. This morning we made five and a half miles. We crossed the Colorado Chiquito this afternoon for the last time,​4 after some delay. The water was high from the recent rains, but the fording was good except the coming out place was slightly boggy. Camped for the night on the left bank. The cooks found fuel in abundance near camp in the shape of dead wood. The whole distance made today, ten and a half miles.5

September 7. Monday. Leaving our camp soon after sunrise, our course lay along the side of a tributary of the Rio Colorado, which, after some difficulty, we crossed at its junction with the main river, and camped a few hundred yards from the ford. This stream having no name was called after our Wagon Master, Mr. Davis, and will be marked on the map as Davis Creek. This afternoon had very good road except at one point, where we hitched ten and twelve mules to a wagon. The ascent was made to save  p93 going over some boggy ground. We went onto a table and camped, with plenty of grass but no water. The animals did not suffer from the want of water because they had a drink late in the afternoon from a small stream which we found in a large valley. Distance eleven miles.6

September 8. Tuesday. Left camp twenty minutes past five; the road generally good and grass abundant, watered from a pond on the line of march. Saw some antelopes. Camped this afternoon near the Cañon Diablo and Rio Colorado Chiquito.​7 Grass not very good. Distance nineteen miles.8

September 9. Wednesday. Started at sunrise and drove four miles. We camped at a pass between two rocks. Found grass plenty but no water. The animals were driven back to the river. When they returned we again got underway. Our road lay over a most beautiful rolling country upon which there was plenty of grass, enough to supply the wants of an unlimited number of cattle. Camped near a rocky canyon where we found water in natural basins formed in the rocks. Mr. Beale sent Ham, Bell and myself some three miles from camp to examine a place where there were a number of trees, in the hope that we would find a spring. We examined the place and found a dry water course. The trees were cedars.

 p94  September 10. Thursday. Tucker, Ham, Bell and myself were left behind in camp to await the arrival of our two herders who had gone in pursuit of a mule which ran away last evening. They returned about six hours after the camp had left, but were unsuccessful. They had tracked the mule for sixteen miles back to last camp, but had then lost the trail. The trail made by the wagons was very district, and we pushed along without trouble. Every now and then herds of antelope would dart across our path. After traveling for an hour and a half we came into a cedar grove of very beautiful trees. As I was riding I saw a coyote among the bushes about forty yards off. I shot him dead and cut off his tail as a trophy. When within about a half mile of camp we met three soldiers, and upon inquiring what was the matter we were informed that they had lost one of their men, about a mile from camp, and were going in search of him. We found the train encamped in a beautiful little valley, surrounded by lofty pines. Old Ab gave us a bite (breakfast was over) which we did ample justice to, and by the time we had finished the train was again ready to move forward. Just before starting the soldiers came in to report that they had found their comrade's trail for about a half mile, but had then lost it. They had also fired several shots and shouted but the rocks alone answered their calls. We moved along the mountain about three miles and found water. Mr. Beale in order to give the lost man every chance in his power, camped for the night, and sent back another party to search and to build fires upon the mountains. They returned just before dark unsuccessful. We now give the man up, and if he is ever found it will be through his own exertions. I have learned that  p95 he left the line of march in pursuit of a rabbit totally disregarding the commands of his officer. Some think that he was crazy, and others that he deserted. He has served five years in the Army and this is his second enlistment. At this place we found Cosnino Caves described by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Whipple,​9 and computed by him to be one thousand in number. They are very singular. One has three apartments opening into each other.

September 11. Friday. At a quarter of six camp was underway. The road has been very fine with one or two exceptions. We drove ten miles to the morning camp. Nothing heard of the missing man. This afternoon after considerable difficulty we found San Francisco Spring, or that which we judged it to be. Old Savidra did not know whether it was or not. There was not enough water for the animals, and the men were set to digging. Very soon a sufficient supply was found.10

September 12. Saturday. This morning after sunrise Mr. Thorburn, Tucker, the two guides and myself started ahead to look for Leroux's Spring. After a cool ride of seven miles, we were guided to it by Savidra. It issues from the side of the western extremity of San Francisco Mountain, and flows down a canyon about four hundred yards where it is lost in the ground. The water is of superior quality, perfectly soft and sweet, and cold as ice. The  p96 valley into which this spring flows is certainly the most magnificent and beautiful I have ever beheld. The valley is shut in by lofty mountains, covered with unsurpassable pine trees, and the valley itself is verdant with gramma grass in profuse quantities. It extends about seven miles one way and three the other. In the afternoon we left this charming spot, and continued our way through the pines in a West by North direction. After dark we camped among the lofty pines, that waved over our heads with the melancholy murmur which has been spoken of so often by poets and prose writers. Dead wood was lying in abundance around us, and we very soon dispelled the gloom of the forest with a roaring fire, made beside the trunk of a fallen giant at least five feet in diameter. When the guard was set numerous fires were lighted around the camp, making a circle in the center of which were the wagons. The mules had ample space within the fires to graze and could not stray without being seen. It was very pretty, these many fires blazing and crackling among the pines, and the men on watch as they walked from one fire to another, against the dark background, looked like specters who were holding some infernal rite in a secluded spot. Gradually as night deepened the groups around the fire became thinner and thinner, until all had sought out the spots on which they intended to repose, and the sleepy watch alone was seen keeping vigil. It was a time for thought and vigilance. It was a time when a man feels the responsibilities of his position, whatever it may be, more keenly than at others.

September 13. Sunday. Daylight showed to our eyes a heavy white frost. The air was damp and chilly, making a blanket over one's coat feel very comfortable. We started  p97 at six, our road continuing through the pines in the same direction as yesterday over stones which jolted the wagons considerably. We came quite unexpectedly upon a fine spring which we named Breckenridge's Spring.​11 Camped here. Found the grass very good. Distance made this morning 11 miles. Continuing down the valley we struck this morning previous to finding Breckenridge's Spring, we found the road admirable and plenty of grass. We made an evening camp at a pretty little spring 7 miles from the last camp. Whole distance today 18 miles.12

September 14. Monday. It moderated very much last night, making today warm and agreeable. The road has been in a measure difficult today, scrubby cedars and ravines obstructing our passage. We found water among the rocks at the base of a small mountain. Heretofore we have been following as nearly as possible the trail of Whipple. Not finding it as good as he supposed it would be, Mr. Beale, upon the advice of one of the guides, Lecko, who came through with Aubrey​13 in 1854 when he made the passage between the Great and Little Colorado in nine days, struck off in a North Westerly direction to strike the  p98 valley which Aubrey ascended all the way from the Colorado Grande to San Francisco Mountain. Lecko says there is plenty of water, grass, and wood, and the road is excellent. He also says he can make the passage in one half the time that we can by Whipple's route. So taking the valley indicated to us by our guide, we struck down along an Indian Trail over very excellent ground until we came to the bed of a dry stream, where we camped for the night, having made a distance of eleven miles from our last camp.

September 15. Tuesday. This morning cool but no frost. After descending the valley we turned into yesterday, a short distance further it opened out into an extensive plain. Our course was about West Northwest. The road was good but grass scarce. A reconnoissance to the right of the line of march showed a country cut into canyons. One in particular that we struck was very extensive being about seventy feet deep and a hundred and fifty yards wide, from verge to verge. Water was discovered by old Savidra this afternoon, much to our delight, about two and a half miles from our course. The animals were dry and drank deeply of this excellent water. Savidra found it in a dry water course which flows NNW by SSE. Mr. Beale intends remaining here for a day to allow the animals to rest.

September 16. Wednesday. Yesterday, early in the morning, Savidra went in search of water. When he started it was agreed that if he found water, he was to raise a smoke, in order to acquaint us with the fact. Tucker was ordered to follow Savidra very slowly, but keep in sight of the train, and if he saw Savidra's smoke, he was to raise another. Mr. Alexander went out hunting, and during the afternoon fell in with Tucker, and they rode together during the afternoon.  p99 About four they met Savidra, who told them he had found water, and they raised a smoke which was seen by the advance party who rode up and were guided to the water. We all thought that Tucker had seen Lecko's smoke, and was continuing the signal, but it was as I have stated. Lecko did not come in that night, nor had he arrived up to two o'clock. Mr. Beale, fearing that some accident had befallen him, dispatched at two today, Mr. Davis, Tucker and Alexander to search for him and ascertain, if possible, what has become of him. They have not yet returned and will not until tomorrow. We will stay at this place another day.​14 I do not make any conjectures of what has befallen this unfortunate man, because they are useless. We will wait and let time determine, but I fear the worst.

September 17. Thursday. About three today the party sent out in search of Lecko came in having found him about thirty miles from this place. When they started from here they made a southwest course and struck Lecko's trail. They followed it until dark, and then camped. Next morning they continued following, and found the guide about ten. His mule had escaped from him night before last. He had followed her all day yesterday, and recovered her last evening about fifteen miles from the place where he lost her. The mule had torn up the bush to which she was tied. Lecko was very hungry and thirsty and much exhausted. It was the opinion of Mr. Davis that he could not have stood it longer than night.

September 18. Friday. To the next water according to the guide it is forty miles. In order to save the animals as  p100 much as possible, we started a little before twelve and drove until four, when we took supper. At dark we were again moving and traveling over a beautiful level road until eleven, when we halted, having gone a distance of over thirty (?) miles.

September 19. Saturday. Our guide has again deceived us. He finds himself off Aubrey's Trail and lost. He has brought us to this place, where there is neither grass nor water, where we cannot go ahead because an impassable canyon is before us, extending both ways for many miles. Mr. Beale and a party, one of whom was myself, left camp to explore and discovered a wonderful canyon four thousand feet deep. Everybody in the party admitted that he never before saw anything to match or equal this astonishing natural curiosity.​a This proved to us that it was useless to attempt a further march in this direction, so after descending into the canyon in the hope of finding some water, we made a circuit and returned to camp. We traveled about twenty miles, I think, in all. When Mr. Beale reached camp orders were issued to return to last camp at King's Run immediately. Bell, Porter and myself and two other men were sent ahead with fifteen loose animals to get them back to water as soon as possible. We started at dark and after a tedious ride of eleven hours we reached water just at break of day.

September 20. Sunday. About six Mr. Beale came in with the instrument wagon and about ten the camels arrived with all the loose and team mules, which had been turned out fifteen miles back and driven to water. They stayed at water all day, and were then sent back. We have been doing nothing but sleep all day, this being the most rational  p101 mode of spending your time, as there was nothing to eat and nothing to do.

September 21. Monday. The wagons came in today at ten. From this place a reconnoissance will be made to see if we cannot find a pass and water to the southwest. The party will consist of Messrs. Beale, Thorburn, Davis, Porter, Bell, Alexander, myself, black Ab, Frank, a Mexican, and Savidra. We started at four, having with us the light ambulance, three pack camels loaded with water, and two riding dromedaries. Tonight drove ten miles and camped.

September 22. Tuesday. This morning got underway from camp No. 1 about sunrise, and continued a southwesterly course for fourteen and one half miles. Camped at twelve; found no water but game very abundant, indicating the vicinity of water, but notwithstanding our exertions we are not able to find it. Continued our journey at two after giving the mules half a bucket of water all around. Game as this morning plenty and many signs of water. Found none. Road extremely rough, making traveling difficult for the ambulance, and hard on the mules. Lost the guide and camped at sundown. Gave another half bucket to the mules.

September 23. Wednesday. Finding the ambulance only a detainer, and feeling confident that we would be obliged to abandon it along with the valuable instruments it contained if we took it any further, Mr. Beale sent it back in charge of Hampden Porter and black Ab. We, however, dispatched a dromedary with Frank back to camp to tell them to send out camels with water and fresh mules on our trail, to meet the ambulance and assist it in. We packed  p102 everything on the camels and our party now reduced to seven started again after giving the animals two small panfuls of water (I mean the mules only). Road this morning very bad, rough, and difficult even for the saddle animals. At noon we made a short stop, just after leaving a canyon down which we had come for six or seven miles. In this canyon we saw upon a rock some Indian figures of a most singular design. Giving our animals a little more water we again started and came through a pass in the mountains supposed to be the Aztec pass of Whipple.​15 Camped for the night at Partridge Creek, a dry stream marked on Whipple's map as running water. We gave the mules the scanty allowance of a pan and a half (of water) and turned them loose to graze, but the poor beasts would not eat and kept coming back into camp smelling around the barrels for a little more water. But stern necessity would not permit us to give them more. The road has been very bad until this afternoon, when we struck a fine broad open valley. Distance fifty miles.

September 24. Thursday. Through the negligence of the guard the mules were permitted to wander off a mile from camp and this delayed our departure considerably. Today our course was southerly, all day. Have now determined to return to camp as soon as possible and in truth nothing more remains for us to do. Our mules can hardly stand another day of hard traveling without water and our supply is nearly gone. Our distance from camp is about twenty-five miles in a direct course. At ten, finding the mules were failing very fast we gave half the water we had  p103 to Mr. Beale's grey horse, the freshest animal in the party, and dispatched him with Tucker to camp for assistance. We gave our animals two pans full (of water) and then moved on. Came on slowly and about three miles from the place where we watered, Mr. Beale and Mr. Davis found a large water hole in a deep canyon. He gave the signal and we all came up. We were much rejoiced and happy to offer some relief to our poor animals. As soon as my mule was watered Mr. Beale sent me after Tucker to bring him back. This I accomplished after a very hard ride of about eight miles over very bad country. We camped for the night at this place. The camels, up to twelve o'clock today, had not had a single drop of water since we left. It is a remarkable thing how they stood it so well as they did, traveling under a hot sun all day and packing two hundred pounds apiece.

September 25. Friday. Today at twelve made fresh start for camp. Animals much improved but too full of water to travel well. Found another large water hole near the first. After crossing over a portion of Bill Williams Mountain, struck a large valley leading to the North, and found good traveling. Camped, having made about fifteen miles. Got supper, and then Mr. Beale, Mr. Thorburn, Davis, and Tucker, went on into camp, while Breckenridge, Bell, Alexander, with the camels, and myself, remained all night where we were.

September 26. Saturday. Got in this morning at eleven, found camp moved a mile higher up King's River. Mr. Beale had last night a narrow escape. He rode ahead of his party and got to camp before the rest. He stopped on a hill over­looking camp, and not seeing anyone around the  p104 fires, he thought all hands were asleep on watch. So he thought he would wake them up in a hurry.​b He fired his pistol, gave a yell, and cried out, "Indians, Indians! Here they are, the d–––––n rascals, give them hell, boys." Instantly the whole camp was up, two or three muskets were fired and the men charged right towards the place where Mr. Beale was standing. His horse took fright and ran with him seven miles over hills and into canyons and at last fell with him, hurting him very much. The horse would have escaped if had not entangled himself in the lariat — which stopped him. Mr. Beale was very sick all night, vomiting, and in much pain. He was obliged to remain out all night without a coat, blankets or fire.16

September 27. Sunday. The Big Sandy scout left today.​17 I went with them about four miles, and then the devilish mule that I was riding threw me, and I was compelled to walk back to camp in pursuit of him. About a mile from camp I lost sight of him, and took it for granted that he had returned into camp. When I got in I found  p105 that he had not yet returned. I immediately got another mule and went to find him. While out on this duty I met Mr. Mosby who was returning to camp from Mr. Thorburn to know what had become of the camels. I sent him in the direction that they had gone with a message to Mr. Thorburn, that I would probably not be able to join the party, and therefore not to expect me. Shortly after leaving Mosby, I found the mule and returned to camp and told Mr. Beale the circumstances. He said that he did not think it hardly worth while (for me) to go. Therefore I remained in camp. We sent back four wagons belonging to the quartermaster at Albuquerque together with twelve of the escort who preferred to return. Seven remain with us determined to go to California and run all risks. Our train is now reduced to four heavy wagons and two ambulances. Our party numbers all told forty-four men. There is nothing doing in camp except restowing the wagons.

September 28. Monday. This afternoon we started for the water discovered by our scout a few days ago. Course from King's Creek nearly South. Road pretty good, but very little grass. Camped after having made nine and a half miles.

September 29. Tuesday. Reached water at about twelve and camped. Found the water much reduced in quantity, and the little that was left the mules drank, and then did not get sufficient. It is a pretty tight prospect. One of two things must be done and that very soon. We either must find water or return. Sent mules back to the water we left. Parties have been out all day looking for water, and they have all returned unsuccessful.

September 30. Wednesday. Tucker, Butler and myself  p106 started according to orders very early this morning, to find water and to find Whipple's Trail if possible. We struck South for about fifteen miles, and then turned to the Southwest. Then inclined due West, and continued that course up to a pass, supposed to be the one that Aubrey came through, and the same that we came through a few days ago on the scout. Not finding water anywhere, and our animals being very far gone, we deemed it most prudent to return to camp as soon as we could. We struck a Northeast course and went about fourteen miles, and then camped for the night, without fire and very little water for ourselves to drink in our canteens. The country over which we passed this morning was very rough but generally we did not find it very bad. I suppose we have ridden about fifty miles.

The Editor's Notes:

1 Northeast of Holbrook, Arizona.

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2 The Little Colorado.

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3 Beale marvelled at the evidences of a dense population that once inhabited this region; everywhere he and his party saw mounds of earth and bits of broken pottery. At this spot, near what is now Holbrook, Arizona, he found parts of baked earthen pipes that had been used in some irrigation system. "The sites of all these places show some eye for beauty of scenery, too; nearly all are placed on gentle eminences over­looking the river and valleys and not on steep mesas, like those of modern times, and which were built under influence of fear, after those Bedouins of America, the Apaches, had commenced their ravages over this part of the country." Beale Report, 43.

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4 Near Apache Butte.

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5 Speaking of the camels at this stage of the journey Beale says: "The camels are so quiet and give so little trouble that sometimes we forget they are with us. Certainly there never was anything so patient and enduring and so little troublesome as this noble animal. They pack their heavy load of corn, of which they never taste a grain; put up with any good food offered them without complaint, and are always up with the wagons, and, withal, so perfectly docile and quiet that they are the admiration of the whole camp. . . . They are better today than they were when we left Camp Verde with them; especially since our men have learned, by experience, the best mode of packing them." Beale Report, 44.

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6 That this country would some day have a great population was Beale's prediction. "The grass throughout the day has been most abundant, and we have constantly exclaimed, 'What a stock country.' . . . The Indians once removed, or kept in check by military posts, this country would be immediately settled with a large population." Beale Report, 45.

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7 Near Leupp, in Coconino County, Arizona.

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8 During the difficult ascent of the Cañon Diablo, "and where it was necessary to double teams, the camels packed their heavy loads without the least apparent difficulty, and without a stop, some of them having nearly a thousand pounds, including the cumbersome and heavy saddle." Beale Report, 47.

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9 The railroad survey along the 35th parallel, under the authorization of Congress, in 1853, was made by Lieut. A. W. Whipple, and was from March 3 until August 5, 1853. The party left Fort Smith, and went on to Albuquerque, then to Zuñi, along the Little Colorado to the canyon west to Needles, and across the desert to Los Angeles. (C. F. Coan, History of New Mexico, I, 357‑358.)

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10 Camp was made at the base of San Francisco Mountain. This camp was named Stacey Spring after May Stacey. Near Flagstaff, Arizona.

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11 Between Mt. Sitgreaves and Mt. Kendrick.

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12 The camels are once more lauded for their part in the expedition. "Our general course today has been west — and we have made nineteen miles," says Beale. "Could any amount of writing say more for a road? . . . The camels continue undisturbed by the stony character of the country, and can any day go twice as far as the wagons, for they can eat whatever they may chance to get, or do without anything, and drink only when the water happens to be perfectly convenient to camp." Beale Report, 53.

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13 Francis Xavier Aubrey, the "Skimmer of the Plains," made a volunteer survey across northern Arizona. He left Tejon Pass, in California, on July 10, 1853, with a group of about eighteen men. He went as far as east as Zuñi. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad followed the line indicated by Aubrey through Arizona. (J. H. McClintock, Arizona, I, 117‑119.)

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14 King's Creek, so named after one of Beale's party.

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15 This pass is between the Juniper and Santa Maria Mountains, in Yavapai County, Arizona.

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16 In his journal entry of September 26, Beale writes: "My admiration for the camels increases daily with my experience of them. The harder the test they are put to the more fully they seem to justify all that can be said of them. They pack water for others four days under a hot sun and never get a drop; they pack heavy burdens of corn and oats for months and never get a grain; and on the bitter greasewood and other worthless shrubs not only subsist but keep fat; withal, they are so perfectly docile and so admirably contented with whatever fate befalls them. No one could do justice to their merits or value in expeditions of this kind, and I look forward to the day when every mail route across the continent will be conducted and worked altogether with this economical and noble brute." Beale Report, 61.

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17 Thorburn and a party of ten men, sent to Bill Williams River to explore for a road. The explorations which Beale had conducted North and West had convinced him that in that direction water was too scarce for a road. The country just explored was that described by Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sitgreaves on his expedition from Zuñi to the Colorado River in 1852.

Thayer's Notes:

a This is the Grand Canyon, of course; properly not a discovery, although only a handful of European explorers had seen it: the last time before that may have been as far back as 1776. Stacey does not make it quite clear that the party reached the bottom of the canyon, but Beale's Report (p58) is explicit: they did.

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b See Beale Report, 21.

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