D. W. (David W.) Belisle.

The American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West online

. (page 18 of 20)
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of their experience the last winter, they collected
stone from beneath the snow, and built themselves
a rough but efficient fire-place, which occupied
nearly one side of the hut, and in which they could
build large fires that diffused their genial warmth
over the room without endangering the frail fabric.



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 309



The cold increases The men take large quantities of fur AVnndart
supplies of game Conversation on various matters Jones and
Cole tell .some of their adventures in the gold regions A boulder
of gold Shooting it from a precipice Jones loaded down with
riches Comfortable condition of the children Howe describes
an adventure he experienced near Lake Superior by falling into
an Indian's deer-pit Whirlwind relates a circumstance that
occurred to himself and Shognaw in reference to their escape
from the Crows The party's resignation to their lot.

As the severity of the winter increased, they
took daily hunting excursions, in order to procure
the necessary furs and skins to help ward off the
cold, always preserving their game, which was
brought home, dried and smoked by the fire, to
preserve it against an hour of need. They soon
had their hut lined throughout with skins, tho
edges joined with sinews or slender strips of hide,
which kept the wind from finding its way to them
through the openings. They also covered the
ground with skins, reserving the fur of the foxes
and beaver which they snared, as well as the lighter
skins, to make themselves new and warm clothing.
Their food was almost entirely animal, as they



810 THE WANDERERS; OR,

rarely succeeded in getting anything of a vegetable
character. They occasionally found a "nut-pine"
tree, from which they gathered its fruits, but they
disliked the taste of them, and gathered them more
for the light they gave when on fire } than for
eating. Though they were not as comfortably
housed, or as well provided with the necessaries of
life, as the winter previously; yet they did not
suffer so as to endanger health, by either hunger
or cold, and their greatest discomfort arose from
the want of vegetable food and salt. For the last
article they had searched in vain, and had come to
the conclusion that there were no saline beds within
many miles of them. Jones and Cole never' grew
tired of listening to their account of the hidden
wealth they had discovered, and they would spend
days speculating on the best plan of opening a
communication with the districts containing the
golden prize.

"I would have kept the urn," said Cole, "if a
whole legion of Indians had been at my back."

"Perhaps not," said Jones. "I myself have
seen the time when gold was a burthen."

" The time you shot the boulder !" remarked
Cole, laughing.

"Laugh as you will," said Jones; "that was a
lucky shot if it was an almost fatal one."

"What is it?" they all asked, seeing there was
more .than Jones felt disposed to tell.

"Why," said Jones, "when among the gold



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 311

mines on the other side of the mountain we wove
not satisfied with the flakes of gold in the sand,
and supposed, of course, that there was a solid bed
of it somewhere up the river, from which it was
washed down by the constant action of the waters.
As we proceeded along the river the ground becamo
more rugged until it led us into a cluster of hills
and precipices jumbled up together. Entering a
narrow ravine we soon came to a curious looking
place with smooth sides standing perpendicularly,
about twenty feet apart, which was gradually con-
tracted to within two feet, leaving the end narrow
and jagged. We soon saw there was ore in it, and
on examining closely we discovered places where
large blocks of the precious metal had been torn
from its bed, with the marks of the mining tools
still plainly visible. Looking around us we picked
up among the loose pieces on the ground some
lumps of pure gold, which were among the speci-
mens we carried home."

" Yes, yes ; that is all very well, and very true,"
said Cole, "but it is not all ; tell the rest."

" They will not believe it if I do. They never
did in the States, so what is the use of it?" said
Jones.

11 We have seen stich wonderful things ourselves
that we are prepared for anything," said the trap-
per.

" He may if he chooses," said Jones, pointing
to Cole. "I shall not, it is of no use."



312 THE WANDERER.S; OR,

" The narrow place," said Cole, " where
found the gold was about fifty feet high, and nearly
half way up to the top we discovered a huge boul-
der of pure gold, as large as a bushel basket, hang-
ing by a slim thread of gold no larger than your
finger. This thread was fully four inches long,
and seemed to have been cut that way by some one
who had been supported while doing so from above,
for the boulder was in that position that if worked
at from below it would crush the artizan in its fall.
We were equally resolved to get hold of this mam-
moth prize, but the question how we could get it
was not so easily solved, as it rested against the
opposite side and would evidently turn and fall if
this narrow thread was broken.

" ' I have it !' said Jones, exulting at the happy
thought. < I'll shoot it off,' for we both had rifles.

"' And be crushed with its weight,' said I; but
the words had not died on my lips when the sharp
crack of the rifle was heard, and down came the
prize. Both turned to fly from the danger, but
Jones's foot caught in some loose stones and he was
prostrated, and the boulder rolling as it fell deposi-
ted itself exactly across him. I removed the un-
comfortable load as soon as possible, but Jones's
stomach has been out of order ever since, especi-
ally when he sees solid bodies overhead."

" What became of the lump of gold ?" asked the
trapper.

"We hid it in the earth ; but should have beeu



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 313

to it again before this time had we not been over-
hauled by the Indians."

" A fortunate escape," said Howe, " equal to
one I made many years ago, ere I learned to
distrust the ground I walked over before test-
ing its security. Being on one of our trapping
expeditions, father and myself found ourselves
on the territory of the St. Croix Indians, who
evinced great friendship for us, insisting we should
take up our abode in their village as long as we
thought fit to remain in their territory. We soon
became domesticated among them, and spent our
nights there although our days were spent in the
most secret recesses of the forest in setting our
traps, curing skins, and in observing the habits of
the wild denizens of the forest. One day father
and myself separated, he to look after our traps set
in one direction, I in another; and as I neared the
place of destination, while walking over ground
smooth and level as you ever saw the ground in
the forest, suddenly it gave way, precipitating me
into a hole full ten feet deep with smooth, perpen-
dicular sides that defied all attempts to climb them.
I had fallen into an Indian's deer trap, dug and
covered over so as to deceive them ; but which
would readily give way precipitating the game
into the snare, the escape from which was impos-
sible. I laughed at my stupidity at first, as I
knew within an hour, father would be along when
with his assistance I could be easily extricated.

27



314 THE WANDERERS; OR,

I soon had enough to do without laughing, for in
half an hour after, I heard a step above, but before
I had time to speculate on it, the nose of a, half
grown cub was thrust over the top, and in the next
moment its ugly carcase came tumbling down and
fell with a crash at my feet, uttering a cry of pain
as it fell, which was answered by a growl from
above, and in a minute more its dam stood on the
brink growling fiercely at me, as she saw her cub
lay helpless and moaning on the ground. With a
spring she lighted on her feet within six feet of
where I stood, for I had retreated into the farthest
corner, not at all relishing a fitrht in such close

' O O

quarters, for the hole was only about eight feet
square and not a very agreeable place to be
cornered in with an enraged bear. Fortunately
I had clung to my rifle, in falling, and had also
my hunting knife in my belt, so I concluded if she
was in for a struggle, not to back out of it. I saw
at once the cub had been killed in the fall, for the
old bear smelt round and moaned softly to it, and
then finding it did not stir, turned it over and over
with her paw. Finding it still exhibited, no signs
of life, she turned towards me with gnashing teeth
and flashing eyes, and then, I must say, I really
felt cornered. You know I told you," he added
apologetically, " that I was young then ; in fact not
more than twenty. Well, the beast raised herself
for a spring at me, when I gave her a pair of
bullets, that made her howl ; but she sprang and



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 315

grasping me in her huge arms, fastened my arms
to my side so that my knife was useless in my belt,
and I was making up my mind that all was over
with me, when father halloed above, he having
been drawn thither, by my calls for help, followed
by a leap into the hole, and a half dozen thrusts
of his knife into the monster's heart, relieved me
from the closest embrace I hope ever to encounter."

" I should suppose you could have seen some
signs to indicate the trap," said Edward.

"The Indians take good care that there are
none ; covering slender poles over with a thick
layer of leaves that hides effectually the abyss
beneath."

"My brother was in danger," said the chief,
laughing at his mishaps, " but it was not equal to
one of my warriors who, with me, went out once
to recover some horses the thieving Crows had
driven away. We found the horses, and starting
for home had proceeded about a mile, when we dis-
covered a whole army of the Crows start in pursuit.
Our only hope of safety for ourselves lay in flight,
arid abandoning our horses for which we had risked
our lives, we went scouring through the forest at
a furious rate. The animals we rode were jaded,
and those of our pursuers fresh, and we soon saw
they gained upon us, and abandoning our horses
Dehiiid a sharp curve that hid us from sight, we
made them gallop away, and then betook ourselves
to trees for safety. In ten minutes after the Crowa



816 THE WANDERERS; OR,

galloped past us, leaving us safely secreted in the
friendly branches in which we had taken shelter.
Shognaw had climbed a large beech tree that stood
within a few feet of the one in which I had taker
shelter. I once or twice thought I heard a growl
like that uttered by cubs, but the excitement I felt
for our safety, dispelled it the next moment. As
soon as we were left alone, and the sounds of the
pursuers died away in the distance, I felt some
alarm, for I knew if there were cubs about, the
old bear would dislodge us, and, in all probability,
our retreat would be discovered by some straggling
Crows. At that moment, Shognaw, calling my
attention in a low tone, said, ' I have got into a
bear's hole, full of young cubs, what shall I do ?
for the old one will not be away long, as she, on
finding a commotion raised by the Crows will, for
her own safety, take refuge in her den.'

" 4 We cannot fight her, that is certain/ said I,
' for we should then be discovered ; but, if we
watch our chance, we may get away from this spot,
and find safety in some other, but we must be very
cautious that no Crows are in sight first.'

"'I think there are none now/ he replied, not
at all relishing the idea of trespassing on the
domicil of madam Bruin.

"'Hist! there they are/ said I, as we saw a
number of them come yelling towards us, and on
looking again, I discovered them in pursuit of
something which, in a few minutes, bounded fronj



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 317

a clump of bushes and made for the tree in which
Shognaw had hid, and then to our dismay, we saw
it was the old bear pursued bj the Crows. He
too saw her coming, and ascended to the topmost
branches high above the hole, and well he did, for
in a moment more, she had crawled in just as
the hunters came to the foot of the tree. They
were foiled of their game, and after consulting for
a moment whether it was best to cut or burn
down the tree, they concluded to burn it, as the
less laborious way to dislodge the old bear. Ac-
cordingly, they dispersed in search of fire, leaving
half their number to guard the tree while away.
I saw at once that we were caught in a trap, and
that nothing but coolness and strategy could save
us. The tree in which I was, being a little out
from the one they were watching, favored my
escape, which I effected by noiselessly descending,
and edging away by darting from tree to tree, until
I had attained a safe position that overlooked the
spot where I feared Shognaw would meet his
doom. The fire was soon kindled, and being fed
with dry brush, soon wound and crackled up the
trunk, and began to scorch and consume the
branches and leaves of the tree. I began to think
I ought to face the whole band single handed, in
an attempt to rescue the poor fellow, when I saw
him swing himself down from limb to limb, and drop
to the ground in the midst of the astonished Crows,
and take to flight. For a moment they were



O

27*



318 THE WANDERERS; OK,

too surprised to comprehend that it was really a
man, and a foe ; but they soon recovered from the
panic, and sounding their war cry, the whole band
gave chase. Shognaw took to a river half a mile
distant, and plunging in, rose among some rushes
that skirted the bank, among which he hid himself
till dark, when he made his way in safety home,
which he reached before I did, f jr I was looking
out for him the whole night, and returned when I
made up my mind that he had at latt fallen into
the hands of the Crows."



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS.



I^parture of winter Joy at the fact of knowing which way they
were travelling Their encampment by the side of a beautiful
lake They reach the first ranges of the Sierra Nevada moun-
tains Whirlwind offers to go to Mr. Duncan's encampment and
guide them through the forests He starts on that expedition
accompanied by Cole The children pursue their journey Dis-
covery of gold They experience great difficulties in crossing the
Sierra Three of their horses dashed to pieces over a precipice -
Narrow escape of Jones Discovery of singular ancient walls
An engraved slab of granite They reach the foot of the Sierra
in safety Their route continued They finally arrive at the
residence of a Spanish Curate They consent to tarry awhile at
his house.

WINTER gradually wore away the snow-girt
hills and valleys were divested of their mantle of
gloom, and were clothed with vestments of green,
spangled with crimson, blue, and gold flowers, the
perfume of which called forth the soft hum of bees
as they flew from flower to flower, extracting the
honied dews. Far from the sunny South the birds
came with their glad, cheering voices, giving forth
a welcome to the dawning spring. The winter had
been long and tedious, cheered only with the cer-
tainty that they knew which way they had to travel
m order to reach the haunts of civilization j and



320 THE WANDERERS; c P. ,

though they had kept the hunger wolf at bay, their
strength gradually gave out under their unhealthy
diet, and when they were ready to travel, they
were in a pitiful condition to endure its fatigues.
Their horses were even worse off than themselves.
Worn with privation to skeletons, they were droop-
ing and spiritless ; and had not the wanderers used
great exertion to collect the young grass for them,
they would have perished, for they were too lari
guid to crop it themselves.

Slowly at first new vigor became infused into
them, and in a few weeks' delay, and the spring
rains being over, their horses gathered strength,
and they determined to proceed on their journey.
Upon mature deliberation they considered it
prudent to cross the mountains to the Pacific
coast, and then send word to Mr. Duncan where
they were, as they did not deem themselves strong
or well enough prepared to make the distance back
to their friends. Whirlwind heard the decision,
and then told them he thought it best that one or
more of them should return to Mr. Duncan, arid as
he could be spared best, offered to go, if either
Jones or Cole would guide him on the road ; " for,"
said the chief, " Duncan and the rest can come to
you better than you can go to them, in your present
condition. "

"Always generous," said Jane, with gratitude
beaming in her eye, for in truth she felt heart-sick
at the thought of placing a still greater distance



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 321

between herself and those her heart yearned
to see.

" It is nothing," said the chief. " Whirlwind
would give Ms life, if it would save the anteicpe a
pang of sorrow or grief."

" I think Duncan would as soon settle here as
in Oregon, his original destination," said the trap-
per ; " and if we can so arrange it as to make it
safe for us, I think myself it would be a better
plan, than for all of us to proceed over the
mountains, and then, when we are able, return
again."

"In doinor this," said Cole, " we can reach Mr.

o

Duncan's camp, if still where you left him, which I
think he is, before midsummer, and then he will
be able to reach you at the nearest settlement by
the time frost again comes. I am willing to acconi'
pany the chief, while Jones can guide you in safety
over the Sierra before you."

Selecting two of the best horses for the use of
Whirlwind and Cole, they took leave of them,
charging them with a multitude of messages for their
friends, and when they started on the homeward
route, they too moved on towards the mountain before
them, whose snow-crested head loomed up among
the clouds. At noon our wanderers halted at the
spot they retreated from when they went into their
winter quarters, and after resting, began to climb
the rugged ascent, Jones leading the way ; and,
save an occasional ~ath beaten by the denizens of

V



822 THE WANDERERS; OR

the forest, their only landmark was the blazed
trees.* Jones had been over the ground before,
and as his memory was very tenacious, he saved
them from much anxiety, and often from danger,
as well as unnecessary fatigue. Their progress was
necessarily slow and painful, but they were still
brave at heart, and bore it in silence. At night
they halted by the side of a beautiful lake, around
which the hills curved gracefully, forming a natural
basin, which held the transparent waters against
the side of the mountain. Its banks were richly
covered with grass, and shaded by aspens which,
with the rugged peaks of the mountains that towered
above, gave it a sylvan appearance.

Numerous flocks of ducks were seen on the sur-
face of the lake, and some of them contributed to
the supper of the travellers, whose appetites, sharp-
ened by the mountain air, relished their delicious
flavor. Following down this lake the next morn-
ing for nearly half a mile, they passed round it,
and commenced the ascent of the range above
them. Innumerable springs dotted the trail on
either side, while shrubs and the earliest spring
flowers hung and overrun every crevice in the
rocks around them. The scenery was wilder here
than any they had met with before in all their
wanderings. Their path led them often between

* Bark cut off from trees to indicate a certain course
through the forests. It is a very com jacn practice among
the pioneers of the West



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 323

atupendous, curious looking rocks, which rose on
either side, narrowing the pass so that they were
obliged to travel in Indian file. It was a singular
place the grey, smooth, rocky precipices the
strip of blue sky far above an open chasm, in
which one would naturally expect if anywhere, to
encounter spirits and hobgoblins. Happily for our
wanderers, they were well aware they had not emi-
grated from the old world, but in their place feared
to encounter hostile Indians. Emerging from this
defile, they continued their course over a rocky
surface, the vegetation every moment growing more
sparse, and when night came on they were nowhere
near water, and all they had to relieve their thirst
was what they found in crevices of rocks that had
collected there during the last rain. A little
scanty herbage was all their horses could find after
their hard day's travel, and had they not brought
a supply of fowl from the lake where they had
camped the night before, they would have gone
supperless to rest.

At early dawn they left that inhospitable spot,
and by sunrise came to the top of the acclivity of
the range. Below them lay a bea-utiful valley
clothed with veidure, through which flowed a con-
siderable river, and beyond the range of hills that
skirted it on the other side, rose the topmost snow-
covered peak of the Sierra. They found the
descent into the valley far more .difficult than the
ascent, the trail often leading them along a narrow



324 THE WANDERERS; OR,

footpath, the rocks rising perpendicularly on one
side, while on the other were yawning chasms a hun-
dred feet below, apparently ready to receive them,
should they stumble, or deviate from the rugged
path before them. They made the descent in
safety, and rested themselves for the remainder of
the day on the bank of the river. On examining
the stream, they found it too deep to be forded in
the usual way of riding their horses over. They
built a raft, on which they crossed, holding the
horses by the halter, making them swim by its
side.

The next morning, with a day's supply of provis-
ions for themselves and animals, they began the as-
cent of the range before them, the summit of which
they gained the next day with perfect safety, and
then began the opposite descent, camping for the
night on the western side. The slope at this point
was less rugged and difficult of descent than the
other, and they encamped at its base, having made
extraordinary marches the "last few days, taking into
consideration the dangerous path over which they
had travelled. There was no valley here, the
ground between this range and the Sierra being a
commingling of rolling hills, shady dells, and
narrow ravines, all densely covered with verdure,
through which small rivulets murmured, taking
their rise at the base of the Sierra, and wound their
way through the broken surface, now in tranquil
beauty, and anon dashing in waterfalls down ledges



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 325

of rocks, their clear limpid waters lashed to a foam.
Large quantities of deer, elk, antelope, and moun-
tain sheep, were found there, as well as wild turkeys,
geese, partridges, duck, and numerous other smaller
fowls. Secure in the mountain fastenesses the
game had multiplied till it had completly filled the
whole country, and Howe declared that during all
his hunting and trapping career, he had never
encountered such a variety and quantity in so
small a space of territory.

"I cannot think it a small space," said Jones.
" In my opinion, it extends many hundred miles
each way, giving game range enough."

They were now at the foot of the last and most
formidable object that debarred them from civili-
zation, and here they thought it prudent to halt a
few days to recruit their own as well as their
animal's strength, and prepare provision to carry
with them. The second day of the halt while they
were in search of the roots of the yampa, they
found on turning up the earth that it was specked
with fine particles of gold. They were highly
elated at this, for now, with a fair prospect of
freeing themselves from the wilds, it had its old
intrinsic value, and doubly valuable would it be to
them, on gaining a settlement, as not one of them
had an article of clothing about them that was not
made of skins, and many ir/ not over good repair.

" We can save this now, I suppose," said Sid
ncy, " that the chief is not by with evil spirits ?"

28



326 THE WANDERERS; OR,

" Certainly, as much as you like," returned the
trapper. " I intend to find some on my own
account."

" You will not find any that will equal in quan-
tities and value, that of the cavern in the oasis,"
said Edward.

" You don't know that," returned his uncle.
" I have always noticed where gold is found in
flakes, mixed with earth, that it has been washed
in ages past into its present bed, from where it
originally was in a pure state. At least such is
the conclusion formed by present appearances.' 3

" No harm in searching for it," said Jones, who


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Online LibraryD. W. (David W.) BelisleThe American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West → online text (page 18 of 20)