University of New Mexico.

New Mexico historical review (Volume 17) online

. (page 20 of 33)
Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 20 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a deep gulch. This is some ten miles in length, extending into
the North Fork. The bed of this gulch consists of fine deep
sand. The walls are mountain-high and girded at the crest
by a layer of rim-rock. This is perpendicular and about
sixty feet from the crest to the upper edge of the talus below.
It is only broken enough in one place to permit a wagon
along a most hazardous passage to pass down. The sides
up to the rimrock are densely grown over with scrub cedars
and ash-trees. From these latter this colossal rift in the
earth is by the Americans called Ash-Hollow, and Creux des
Freres (Hollow of the Brothers) by the Canadian French.

The level plains of the prairies across the divide, where
the grass is now everywhere very short, are formed mostly

6. Prince Paul in 1834 had the rank of Major General conferred upon him by
order of Frederick William IV of Prussia. The latter was a kinsman of his. The Tr.


of a very firm sandy loam which during the dry season is
hard as a threshing floor. The hills and valleys are criss-
crossed by innumberable paths made by the buffaloes that
are found here at this season in incredibly great numbers.
These paths point out definitely the direction in which the
huge animals travel, far northward in the spring, and start-
ing southward again in the early fall so as to reach the
country of the Red River before the severe winter season

The approach to this vast abrupt depression is not even
suspected until one arrives at its very edges. There is no
place within twenty-five miles in either direction from this
pass where one can safely descend down to the river. Nor
is there any other place, except at the mouth of this gulch,
where it is safe to ford the North Platte for fifty miles or
more in either direction.

Just as we neared the edge we heard the sound of a
bugle issuing from far down the causeway. A company of
infantry was marching up. It was strung out in twos for
quite a distance down the gorge, and following them were
a number of light covered wagons. Still farther down ap-
peared the van of a wagon-train that was emerging from
the green of the trees and shrubs far below, in a serpentine
movement, slow, deliberate, like a huge python that needs
to have no fear of any creature. It seemed endless. At cer-
tain periods it would halt to give the horses a breathing spell.

At last they reached the upper level where they stopped
long enough to prepare the noon meal and to permit the
horses to graze and rest.

They were bound for Kansastown where they expected
to change their cargoes of hides and furs and to stay there
till the following spring.

The drivers were rough of speech, but really very fine
at least, as I found out later from my talk with them.

The view from the crest of the rimrock is of an enchant-
ing beauty. There was a haze in the air that was not mist.
In Germany, when the atmosphere is like this, it is called
"Old women's summer." In spite of this one could appar-
ently look into immeasurable distances, and the nearby
objects were grotesquely magnified.

In the train with the soldiers travelled also men without
uniform, some of whom were driving milch cows, others
the baggage wagons of the military unit. The gentlemanly
officers relished the luxury of fresh milk and butter. It


perhaps compensated them for the rigors of a soldier's life
in a savage country. It is downright incredible what a mass
of baggage often accompanies such military movements.

Hardly had we reached the bank of the North Fork and
made camp, when a Sioux Indian came along, giving us to
understand that Mr. G. Choteau was coming toward us from
up the river and would arrive very shortly.

And so it was. There were a number of Indians whom
he was taking to Washington. An old acquaintance of mine,
a man of great renown throughout the West, accompanied
them. This was the Indian scout Fitz-Patrick. I was over-
joyed to see this lovable old huntsman of the Rocky Moun-
tains again.

The Indians were Cheyennes, trim, neat figures, with
the features characteristic of their race, narrow, thin, aqui-
line, their carriage proud and self-reliant. They are splendid
horsemen and hunters.

From the ford the way now leads up along the north
bank of the river. The south bank is bordered by steep rock-
walls and fantastic shapes of tertiary rock, to which I have
already alluded, whereas the opposite bank runs out into
undulating, grass-covered hills of a firm soil. Dry creeks and
two small streams, both called Horse Creek, empty into the
Platte river along its course here. Some sixty miles farther
up-stream from this wild region there begin to appear
groups of hilly formation of exceedingly picturesque aspect.
These are covered with a thick layer of clay, and, insofar as
their outer appearance is concerned, they have not their
equal on our entire planet.

To this group belongs the far-famed Chimney Rock (La
Cheminee) and the equally noted Scott's Bluffs. John C.
Fremont and Dr. Preiss have not been guilty of any exag-
geration in their respective descriptions of these colossal
wonders of nature; and when one bears in mind that this
Chimney Rock was at one time at least 100 feet taller and its
girth many times greater as the height of the mountain
ruins in the vicinity shows, then it is clear that it belongs
beyond contradiction to the wonders of the globe, to behold
which is alone worth a journey to this western country.

The Scott's Bluffs are also a most peculiar group, in the
form of a vast oval which, toward the north, slopes down to
the La Platte. It encloses a perfectly level plain some ten
miles broad at its widest.


In the southwest and the northwest it is encircled by
other mountainous forms which have precipitous walls
pierced in many places by deep, somber gulches crowned
with rim-rock, perpendicular and of dizzying height. These
mountain-like bluffs have wondrous shapes: cones, towers,
castles, all in bewildering disorder that invests the whole
stupendous amphitheater with a savageness that is eerie
even when the sun does shine. At gray dawn and at late
eventide the effect is positively terrifying. These moun-
tain shapes are partly grown over with copses of conifers
and dense brushwood.

From the northern crest of the Bluffs, which at their
loftiest point must be in excess of 2000 feet above the vast
basin they encircle, one can glimpse here and there the saw-
tooth-shaped sky-line, in the west, of the snow-clad Rocky
Mountains, dimly outlined like phantom shapes; also the
Black Hills in the north, and very clearly the vast cone of
Laramie Peak which must have an altitude of 9000 feet
above sea-level. 7

This huge mountain, standing out from the main range
in imposing grandeur, is covered on the crest, on the east
and the north, through the greater part of the year with
ice and snow, whereas on the sides facing the west and the
south it is clad in a somber black, as seen from a great dis-
tance. This is owing to the tremendous growth of conifers
that clothe it from the base to the summit.

The steep canyons that radiate from its slopes are also
grown over with giant pines and spruces, while the moun-
tain brooks that are fed from the snows meander through
exquisite grassy dells and vales to the plain below. The vast
slopes are natural game refuges where huge herds of elk,
deer, and antelope find food and shelter. Here, too, is reg-
nant the giant grizzly bear. The panther, too, and the wolf
and the lynx find ample prey there the whole year round.

I arrived in Scott's Bluffs on October 1. Nearby is Fort
John, one of the trading posts of the American Fur Trad-
ing Company. Here I was most cordially welcomed by my
old friend, Major Tripp, who is in sole charge of this impor-
tant establishment. I was also overjoyed at meeting again
my beloved and reverend old friend, the missionary Pere de

7. It is more nearly 11,000 feet above sea-level. Owing to the fact that no
surveys had been made by the national government at that time, it was impossible for
any one to make adequate estimates of the altitudes. The Translator.


There were a great number of leather tents close by,
along a little brook that issues from a gorge some distance
back from the establishment. These sheltered a body of
Ogallalas, a tribe related to the Sioux nation. This branch
of the Sioux are composed of very good-looking, cleanly
people, but their women could most truthfully be called

To be sure, they were wrapped only in their blankets or
their buffalo robes. But the faces were free from grease and
paint. Their hair was black as night, long and well-combed.
They were overloaded with rings, necklaces of bead-work
and of rattles from rattle snakes. Their foot-wear con-
sisted of the finest of moccasins in which they seemed to take
a delight, parading about and showing them off with child-
like pride.

A young Indian had just come in with three slain ante-
lopes hanging from his led-horse.

The names of the more important of the tribe of Ogalla-
las were White Horse, or Shunka-Kanskas ; Little Cotton-
Tail, or Mastinka ; Red Feather, or Loupee Touta.

Of the Cheyennes the following were most prominent:
White Antelope, or Takshaka ; He-Who-Walks-in-the-Clouds,
or Makpiah-Iapathe.

Of the Arapahoes : Bird's head, or Kalapah.

I visited in the leather tents of different families in
company with the interpreter from the fort. There I found
some very pretty young women and maidens. The little
papooses were neat and all was very clean and orderly inside
their little habitations.

The males go put as far as the Rocky Mountains during
the winter season in order to hunt and trap. The furry ani-
mals are very numerous. These are the badger, beaver,
otter, fox, big gray wolf, prairie wolf, and polecat.

More rare is the panther, a very large and ferocious
feline. Early in the autumn the fur of the black bear, the
cinnamon, and the grizzly is superb. These latter are slain
as much for their flesh as for their coats.

Just before the buffaloes turn southward, when their
furry coats are at their best, the hunters slay uncounted
hundreds of these. Their hides they tan, as they do the elk's,
deer's, and antelope's, with the brains from the same carcass.
This is a process that has never been successfully imitated
by the whites. The flesh of the buffaloes is salted and dried
in enormous quantities, and this food constitutes their main
dependence until the following spring.


October 3 we left the hospitable roof of Major Tripp
and travelled up the La Platte along the California route.
The valley is honey-combed with prairie-dog holes. These
are ground-squirrels, of the gopher family, very pretty
little animals that are common all over the higher prairie
country. In the approaches toward the higher plateau re-
gions, these share their domicile, a quite roomy space far
underground and safe from larger predatory foes, but not
from weasels and minks, with the cotton-tail rabbit, the
ground-owl, and even the rattle snake, though, to be sure,
the latter comes quite uninvited. Presumably these vipers
are attracted by the warm fur of their bedfellows.

As the weather was very warm these serpents still
stayed out in the open during the day and often even at
night. They are very dangerous reptiles, though it must be
admitted in fairness that they invariably give warning,
ominous warning, with their rattles before they attack.

We invariably stopped up all the holes in the vicinity of
every new camping place. But in spite of this precaution I
found one curled up atop of my bed one morning.

Gradually the trail rises until the Great Sierra appears
in all its glory, and on the afternoon of the fourth we reached,
quite fortunately, the cabin of Jean Bourdeau, for the
weather had changed since morning and the rain was fall-
ing in torrents, accompanied by blasts of wind of almost
cyclonic fury. It was indeed a great boon to have found
such opportune shelter. Even our horses were taken to com-
fortable stables.

There were a number of Indians in the big log-house.
A celebrated Sioux chieftain of gigantic stature, called
Great Man or Hans-Ka, was ensconsed in a home-made easy-
chair, with his pipe constantly aglow. An Ogallala chief, of
the Cul-Brule tribe, was a fellow of commanding figure. His
name was Buffalo Tail, or Tatanga-sin-te.

This old fellow had a droll appearance. He was naked
save for a short apron, a pair of moccasins and an old cap
that had once upon a time been the headgear of a cavalry
officer. Whenever this fellow went outside he would throw
a shabby old buffalo robe over his shoulders.

How childish these warriors of the West can appear, at
other times so majestic in their pride and courage! Against
this caricature of an Indian, what a contrast the superb
figures of the males present in the barbaric splendor of their
tribal costumes !


These Sioux and all their related tribes wear their hair
long, on the foretop in two braids which hang down over
the temples. Into these braids are woven pieces of red
flannel cloth ornamented with the beadwork.

Add to this brass rings from 4 to 5 inches in diameter,
which hang suspended from their ears, a number of smaller
rings as big as bracelets, and buttons and spangles braided
into their black hair, with a neckpiece, in addition, into
which are worked porcelain buttons and small, colored rods,
and you may have some idea of the picturesque effect that a
group of males, stalwart as these, present in a vast, silent,
savage wilderness over which they still hold sway almost
without protest or dispute on the part of the white intruders.

Whenever they are sitting around idly they like to
carry an eagle's or a crane's wing in their hand in addition
to their pipe.

Their dogs are trained for the harness. Their horses
draw the lodge pole sleds, often 18 to 20 feet long. On these
they pack several hundred pounds of stuff the sugar loaf
shaped family tent, robes, and covers for the beds, provi-
sions, pots and kettles, the little papooses and even grown-
up maidens and ancient squaws alike.

These savages are very fond of colored cloth-goods.
They have a great predilection for sugar, coffee, rice and
Welsh corn. They are nowise interested in agricultural pur-
suits. Therefore, farm products are the most important
staples of trade among them.

They wear aprons and short drawers, preferably of
green color, and woolen blankets of the same color. These
latter frequently displace the buffalo-robe, especially among
the squaws. At night the males disrobe entirely no matter
what the season may be.

October 5 we arrived at Fort Laramie. The main build-
ing is square and of huge size. It is built of sundried bricks,
or adobes, after the fashion of the Mexicans. This is sur-
rounded by dwelling houses and barracks in which the offi-
cers and privates, respectively, are lodged.

It was Sunday. I could not, therefore, pay my respects
to the commanding officer, Colonel Tott, to whom I had a let-
ter of identification from the Department of War. So I
crossed the Laramie river for a visit with an old friend of
mine, a French Canadian, Monterevier by name, whom I
used to know in the Rocky Mountains twenty years before.


This man, although surrounded by Sioux lodges, is
devoted to the growing of maize and garden vegetables as
well as small fruit. He also has a fine orchard. He is carry-
ing on a fur-trade on a small scale in company with another
man, Richards by name. While visiting Monterevier I met
Lord Fitz-Williams, a daring traveller and globe-trotter,
with whom I spent several hours in delightful talk. He is
unspoiled by high rank and fame, urbane, entertaining, fit-
ting into any level of society with the ease of a nature's gen-
tleman and citizen of the world.

From this vantage-point I was able to enjoy a fine view
of the fort, in which a parade was just then in progress.
Everybody was in gala dress. Quite stirring was the sound
of trumpets, fifes, and drums.

This establishment is quartering several hundred men.
It is kept scrupulously clean. On the north side are spacious,
quadrangular parade grounds. It is, moreover, the last of
the outposts of the governmental and military authority
along the route from Kansas town to Sacramento City, Cali-
fornia, and the Dalles, Oregon. Therefore the key of com-
munication between the East and the West.

On Monterevier's farm there were a great many Oga-
llala Sioux. At this time they were in friendly accord with
the whites. Only a few years before, however, Colonel Fre-
mont had ample occasion to lodge grievous complaints
against them with the Department of War.

Mr. Moellhausen attempted to sketch a few of these
Indians. But though we used a number of strategems, the
undertaking ended in failure. There is a deep-seated super-
stition among these children of nature that any who submit
to being portrayed are irrevocably doomed to die within a
few days thereafter.

Far back from the front range, of which Laramie Peak
is the most noteworthy landmark, rise the Wind River
Mountains. In the extreme northwest are the lofty peaks of
the three Titans, 8 called the Triple Snow Peaks. These are
covered with perpetual ice and snow, perhaps the loftiest
mountains in all the scenery of the North-American Alps.
Between, and farther south, are the Three Knobs. And to
the southwest the mountains of Medicine Bow and the Sierra
Madre, both of imposing grandeur. All these I had visited
in 1830-1831.

8. The Grand Tetons. The Tr.


Beyond these giant ranges however, the Rocky Moun-
tains slope off sharply, a slanting plateau connecting them
with the far western Sierra Nevada and the Cascades and
with the waters of the Columbia and the Gila, or Green
River, which latter courses through the South Pass toward
the Sea of Cortez, or Mar Vermejo.

Southward are the enormous sierras of the Mexican
Andes and the Sangre de Cristo whose towering peaks
seem as if they dominated the world.

The most important domain in the vast wilderness of
sand and stone and barren crags, almost oceanic in extent, is
the region surrounding the salt-lakes of Utah. This is a
veritable oasis, freshened with the waters of lovely, pictur-
esque mountain ranges of comparatively low elevation. It is,
indeed, a most welcome interruption in that rough and
utterly inhospitable desert waste. It lies about half-way be-
tween the junction of the two Plattes and the Sierra Nevada.

The people were led westward, through untold miseries
and hardships, by their peerless leader, the Apostle Brigham
Young. Nothing short of an unfaltering faith and devotion
could have impelled them to undertake such a journey across
uncharted savage distances infested by hundreds of tribes
of hostile Indians. Only the spirit of a Moses with the per-
sonification of such high qualities as sincerity, gentleness,
patience, courage, perseverance and deathless faith, was
able to induce this gentle, industrious folk to leave the flesh-
pots of Illinois and Missouri and to follow their leader into
an unknown land, from which, once started on the journey,
there could be no returning. There is human stuff in this
empire that will be one day sung in an epic great enough to
dim the glory of all the songs of antiquity.

This sect has been criticized most severely by the press
of North America. It has been stigmatized for heresy and
rebellion. Thus were in a like manner branded those first
settlers of the bleak Atlantic Coast, because they refused
to live a spiritual life in accordance 9 with that inner voice,

Who is there to judge? Who is right? Those heroes of
the Mayflower were heretics in the judgment of orthodox
ecclesiasticism. A few generations later there were others
who dared to differ from Puritan orthodoxy, and these in
turn were persecuted as creatures more abhorrent than the
pagan savage.

9. For "in accordance" read "at variance." Ed.


Time will vindicate these stout-hearted pilgrims. Already
they have established a theocracy far more sincere than any
yet founded. Their zeal, devotion and self-sacrificing" nature
they have proven. Amidst the vast desert, a thousand miles
from all civilization, they have set up an orderly government.
They have broken up the soil of the desert and have in truth
made it "to blossom as the rose." They welcome the stranger
to their hearthstone with genuine hospitality. They have
instituted schools. They live in sobriety. They have re-
claimed a large territory unproductive since the beginning
of time, and their toil yields a hundredfold in return for
their industry and thrift.

With respect to these stout-hearted pioneers, their
attitude is of a far gentler Christian spirit than was the
Puritan Fathers'. They do not wage a war of aggression.
They plan no campaign of extermination. Most of the Indian
tribes they have pacified, though, when hostility is implaca-
ble they do not lack in Spartan courage to compel them to
conform to the laws of a civilized commonwealth.

I looked over the country adjacent to Fort Laramie for
the purpose of studying some tribes of Indians which, some-
how, I had missed on former travels. I am therefore indi-
cating those tribes which roam over the eastern slope of the
Rocky Mountains with reference to their attitude of friend-
ship or hostility, as the case may be, toward the whites.

Along the North Fork of the La Platte, I should say as
far as the Laramie, there live two Dakotah tribes, the Oga-
llala Sioux and the Culs Brules people who burn their but-
tocks who are now disposed to be friendly, but who at one
time had an evil reputation.

Southward as far as the South Fork, the Padukah, 10 are
the Cheyennes, generally speaking a squalid, thievish tribe.

South of the Padukah and far up into the foothills of
the Front Range roam the Arapahoes. These are really a
splendid people and in friendly accord with the Anglo-

South of these are the Icarellis who take their name
from a certain fabric they weave called Ica-ra. 10a These are
an off -shoot of the blood-thirsty Apaches, or wild tribe of the
newly acquired Mexican provinces. These Icarellis are for
the most part irreconcilably hostile against the whites, show-
ing mercy to none.

10. The South Platte, as it was called in later years. The. Tr.
lOa. Those are better known as the Jicarilla Apaches, and their jicara baskets.


The Kiowas, too, are a treacherous, vagabond tribe, and
as cowardly as they are murderous.

The Crows are, on the other hand, a fine stock of people,
tall of stature and martial, 11 but well-disposed toward the
federal government.

Last of those I have learned to know by having been
among them are the Utes. These are treacherous, cowardly
savages, attacking only when they far outnumber the white
settlers. They have murdered many whites in wholesale
massacres, having wiped out several American settlements
in their lust for shedding blood. Their habitat is the south-
west, on the upper waters of the Las Animas and the Rio

These Indians traverse all the regions of the Far West
that I have visited in 1830-31 and in 1851, and I have had
ample opportunity for the study of a number of individuals
of all these tribes which I have characterized.

I must say that, although a contact with most of the
tribes in their wigwams, or when they come to the trading
posts of the fur-dealers to trade and barter, is quite free
from danger, nevertheless it is a risky affair to encounter a
band of them when they are out on the warpath.

Among the doubtful and hostile tribes the lone trav-
eller's doom is almost invariably sealed if he happens to fall
into their hands while they are out on a scouting trip or a
raid. Even if he should be turned loose, which is an almost
unheard of occurrence, they will first strip him of all his
belongings, and then subject him to torture and even disfig-

About the beginning of October I had concluded my
journey of explorations as far westward as I had originally
planned, and without a day's delay for the sake of rest I
started on my return to civilization. But I found to my great
disappointment that I had to make a longer stay than I had

Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 20 of 33)