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doomed to death like myself for such an indiscretion. He
saw in a flash what my thoughts were. But before he could
make any defense, I threw down my revolver and the double-
barreled rifle that lay across my knees. Then I began a
violent invective against him and his rabble. I told him in
the most scathing terms that Mr. Moellhausen and I were
men, whereas he and his men were vile squaws whom the
great Sioux would not deem worth scalping.

This produced an immediate change. The great cacique
proffered me his hand and called me a great chief. In a
moment the scene had changed, and all my former tormen-
tors crowded up to me to beg my pardon.

The chieftain offered to trade his handsome horse for
my mule or his English rifle for a bearskin I had. The latter
I presented to him with my respects, but I declined every
offer of barter with disdain.

We were just getting ready to start now when there
was a slight commotion among the savages. Another chief-
tain rode up, evidently attracted by curiosity. He was also
of superb stature and knightly bearing, a man of middle
age. At the sight of me he stopped short. A cloud passed
momentarily across his brow, then passed. There appeared
a glad look, a look of recognition in his eyes. Then he
stepped on the wheel, opened his arms, and embraced.

"My benefactor !" he cried in good English, "My king !
You do not know me? Do you recall the battle of my people
with the Mandans? Do you remember the chief of the
Pawnees, Pawoka, the Eagle's Head, after our people were


crushed in the ambuscade of the Coulee? The Eagle's Head
was to die, and I, his son, to be held as bondsman. But you
pleaded for his life and my liberty with your friend, the
great Mandan chief, and you moved the great heart of the
man. You asked that our nations should make a treaty
of friendship. That treaty was made, and for thirty-one
summers it has lasted. The God of the Pale Faces be
blessed !" And the man wept, a rare sight in a great war-
rior. Then he turned and spoke to his people. They shouted
in a very paeon of acclaim. I was offered horses, the choice
of their herd. But, whatsoever may have been my reason,
I refused them. Many times was I to regret my stupid lack
of foresight.

It seemed almost discourteous to break oif this welcome
encounter. But with mutual expressions of lasting friend-
ship we parted, and I drove away with a lighter heart.

The day after this adventure a furious windstorm
swept over the prairie from the east. This gradually veered
until it blew directly in our faces. During the night the
prairie fire reached us and soon a wall of flames surrounded
us. It drove a rain of glowing embers against our leather
tent to the very edge of the Little River where we lay
encamped. A superb spectacle it was, but also a fear-inspir-
ing one.

We would have fallen victims to the unchained elements
had we not been just in time to reach the shelter of a little
island in the middle of the stream. Here our horses were
grazing calmly as if utterly unaware that a terrible death
was lurking only a few steps away. They had come across
to this haven of their own accord.

I cannot to this day understand how the poor beasts
escaped death from suffocation. For, brief though the
actual exposure to the terrific heat, it seemed in the smoke,
the glowing sparks, the pitiless sting of cinders, the mael-
strom of ashes whirled about in a blind fury, that every liv-
ing thing must perish.

As to ourselves, I believe that it was only due to the
tightly closed walls of our tent that we passed through the
frightful visitation alive.

At the mouth of a slough not far from the lower end
of this island, I observed a mighty buffalo which the prairie
fire had probably driven there. I crept up toward him and
with a shot through is heart I was so fortunate as to procure
for us a large supply of excellent game-meat for the on-
coming days.


The storm wind blew with such violence that I led the
horses down into the slough for shelter. It was tolerably
comfortable for them in the hollow, and the grass in the
soft muck was still green and tender. We decided to stay
in the shelter of this little refuge until the wild storm

The hurricane, however, never abated even for a

The wagon was constantly in danger of being blown
over, and we were unable to find any place where it was not
exposed to the full fury of the storm. In this extremity I
decided to break up camp. But although the wind was blow-
ing from the side, the poor beasts could scarcely drag the
wagon forward. The sand and dust were so dense that our
eyes and nostrils were filled, and our faces and hands were
pelted so mercilessly that we had to protect them with cloths.

One who has never travelled on the steppes of Western
America during the winter season can have no idea of its
terrors. There is not a moment's surcease from the raging
violence of the furious blast. It overwhelms the stoutest-
hearted to be exposed to it through endless hours. The hope-
lessness, the utter loneliness are appalling. No human
creature is fitted by nature to endure its numbing chill.

I have travelled through the vast deserts of Africa and
Arabia when the simoon raged for days and nights. There
the heat and thirst become so terrible that only children of
the desert or white men of iron nerve can live through it.
These extremes of heat and cold are equally intolerable,
just as are the effects of the blinding sand.

We reached the headwaters of the Little Blue the same
evening. It was impossible however, to make a fire. But
fortunately there was a dead tree which the conflagration
had set on fire. It was not entirely consumed by the flames,
and Mr. Moellhausen was able to make coffee and roast some
buffalo meat over the remaining embers. The wind never
abated in fury and the cold increased throughout the night.
Our suffering was intense although we slept in the wagon.
The wagon cover, made of stout sailcloth, was whipped and
lashed so that it cracked constantly like the report from a

The trail along the Little Blue leads through many deep
and declivitous defiles. At one of these we lost over three
hours. Although we hitched a horse ahead of the team in
order to drag the small, lightly-loaded wagon up the steep
slope the poor beasts were dragged back down to the bot-


torn three times, slipping and falling on their knees until
these were bleeding cruelly. Then we decided to unload the
wagon. After that we just barely succeeded in reaching the
top of the incline, carrying the contents up to the wagon in

The banks of the little stream are bordered by low, but
steep bluffs. It is a pretty little river, about thirty feet in
width and two in depth. The water is clear, but so much ice
floated by that we could not find out whether there were any
fish in it.

The grass was still fairly good where the fire had not
touched it, so that the horses were not suffering for want
of pasture. One of them, a mustang, and also mule, had
until now kept in condition and fine spirits. So it was with
an American-bred chestnut mare, though this latter was no
longer in good flesh.

For four days the journey along the Little Blue con-
tinued, through mucky, narrow bottoms, and across smaller
creeks. A short time after breaking camp on the morning
of the fifth day, it happened that the horse that carried the
pack and was following the wagon without a lead-strap ran
into a bog hole and sank so deep that it was impossible to
pull it out. We were forced, after long and futile efforts to
free the animal from its plight, to camp on this spot.

That night, November 11, a fearful snowstorm swept
down upon us from the north and we had to lie over. The
temperature was between 20 and 22 degrees below zero
Fahrenheit. The horse had perished in the morass. Dread
winter had set in in all its fury. This in view of the endless
road ahead of us, filled me with a palsying dread.

According to my reckonings we were still 30 miles from
the Big Blue and 120 miles from the Catholic Mission, the
latter the nearest place where we might be able to obtain
shelter and provisions.

Sugar, coffee, and flour were about gone. Fortunately
we still had some buffalo meat left, also two whole smoked
hams, about six pounds of bacon and the same amount of
lard, and in addition some rice and salt.

This supply offered little encouragement for the dreary
prospect of having to pass the winter on this bleak spot.
If we had been halted on the Big Blue or the Vermillion,
more subsistance might have been conceivable, as these
rivers are full of fine, savory fish which it is easy to catch
with bait when one chops holes through the ice crust. It
would be possible to exist on such a simple diet ; though, of


course, the prospect was not particularly attractive. Of
maize I still had about two bushels on hand, which I re-
served for my chestnut who was not by nature adapted to
subsist solely on the grass of the prairies.

The weather had grown considerably worse by the
following morning. The glass was now down to about 30
below zero, Fahrenheit. The storm wind that was now
partly laden with sharp icicles had become so frightful that
my chestnut mare which had up to now held out uncommonly
well froze to death during the night. This reduced my
motive resources to the mule and the scrawny Indian pony.
In the night the wind fell, but it continued to snow. The
tent, too, had become so cracked and full of little holes that
it was no longer snow-proof ; and whenever we tried to build
a fire in it the smoke threatened to strangle us. For this
reason we could no longer have a fire by which to warm our-

This frightfully pungent smoke had come to affect my
eyesight so seriously that I was suffering untold tortures.
This condition grew worse and worse during the following
day until I could see only as through a dense veil. Soon I
was no longer able to read my own writing. Moellhausen's
left eye became affected with the same trouble.

Now I became afflicted also with colic and unremitting
headache. The glare of the snow grew constantly more
intense and unbearable.

Notwithstanding my almost total blindness and pains
in the vitals, I arose on the fourth day of our encampment
on this accursed spot and we dragged ourselves fifteen miles
farther onward until it grew dark, setting up our miserable
tent, our sole refuge from the killing cold, on the bank of an
almost dry and treeless creek.

The following morning it was November 17 the
miserable beasts were hitched to the wagon again, but they
refused to pull it up the slope. Therefore we had to unload
and carry everything to the top of the little hill. Even the
empty vehicle they were hardly able to draw up the gentle
acclivity. This consumed the better part of the forenoon,
and during the rest of the day, our way leading over very
slippery, hilly prairie which was crossed by a great number
of ravines, we were able to make an advance of only seven
miles in spite of the cruellest efforts.

On the morning of the eighteenth we again started out
in order to make a creek called Sandy Hill Creek, where we


found a goodly supply of wood and running water. Here
we stopped and pitched our tent.

We had scarcely finished the task when suddenly a
storm arose accompanied with snow so dense that we could
not distinguish the nearest objects. With the great snow
masses that already covered the earth, and the lowering of
the temperature to a point where my glass could no longer
register, it seemed that the end of everything was near.
The wind blew down the tent as often as we tried to pitch it

A new horror was added! Great numbers of wolves
appeared, it seemed out of nowhere. Their howl was cease-
less. They approached to the very door of our tent, and we
were in momentary danger of being eaten up by them. Grad-
ually our tent became buried in the piling snow masses.

Our supplies were now at their lowest ebb. My body
was so injured from the cold and so exhausted from famine
that it had now become too stiff to permit me to rise from
my comfortless couch on the ground.

Through eight unending days and nights we were in
these desperate straits, and death seemed imminent, not an
hour away. Mr. Moellhausen, who was twenty-four against
my fifty-four years, proved himself still stout-hearted and the
personification of devotion. His courage did not desert him
even in this fearful extremity. How my heart went out to
him in this terrible crisis, I cannot tell in words. I resolved
from the exercise of all the will-power I could still command
to continue to face the impossible at the side of this intrepid
companion of mine if God only willed to deliver us from this

Our last horse, the Indian pony, now sickened and died.
The same symptoms appeared with each of our horses before
their misery came to an end. First of all their spine became
cramped and extremely sensitive to the touch. Thick mucus
was discharged from the nostrils, as if they had become
afflicted with an acute attack of the glanders. This was fol-
lowed by a sudden emaciation and deathlike f aintness.

On November 25, when our situation had become at last
hopeless and we had resigned ourselves to die, God sent us
help. The mailstage from Fort Laramie came along. The
driver and the passengers found us. But there was scarcely
enough room for one more person.

Even this space was very unwillingly offered, and only
after long entreaties and the promise of a large sum of


money. In addition I had to give the mule and a saddle to
the passenger who was to be incommoded. 3

Now it was to be a question of who should remain be-
hind. We agreed to leave it to the toss of a coin, and chance
decided in my favor. With deep grief and sorrow I left my
loyal, gallant companion, with the promise to send him help
from the colony at the Catholic Mission. A few miles on the
way we chanced upon a band of Otoe Indians who were
camping in the shelter of a little copse of brushwood. As
these were settled rather comfortably, my new friends
deemed it wise to arrange with these kindly disposed In-
dians to bring Mr. Moellhausen to their encampment and to
give him good care and attention until he full recovered.
The nobility of these children of nature was the more evi-
dent when they refused a generous compensation which my
new travelling companions offered them for their promise to
bring Mr. Moellhausen to Independence as soon as he should
be able to resume the journey.

As for me, I soon saw that my new companions were
fine, good-hearted people who showed a most sympathetic
understanding for the terrible experiences through which
my companion and I had passed. This feeling of friendship
cheered me beyond words. My gloom over the thought of
Moellhausen had disappeared as soon as those arrangements
with the Otoes had been made, and I was soon beginning to
take a new interest in my future.

The succeeding ten days, however, were as hard as any
through which I had passed before the mailcoach found me.
The nights were terrible, exposed as we were to the deadly
blasts of the gale. My body and limbs were frost bitten so
that I could find no relief from the suffering that wracked

At last we arrived at the Catholic Mission of the Puto-
watomies. But these gentlemen of the cloth showed little
sympathy toward me, nor even the slightest consideration
for the fate of my companion, the memory of whose pallid

3. In another manuscript, a more detailed duplicate of the one on which
this translation is based, Paul Wilhelm writes that on this outward journey he had
hidden a considerable store of provisions, and with these a large sum of money on a
spot on the Little Blue, to be available on the return trip. When he looked for this
cache on his arrival from the West, it was not to be found. He concluded that some
camping party must have by chance discovered it and appropriated it. This accounts
for his moneyless condition when the mailcarrier took him to Kansastown. After
reaching that point he was able to command ample credit through communicating by
telegraph with his bankers in St. Louis. The Translator.


features I was unable to keep out of my mind even when my
own body was passing through martyrdom.

When my disappointment on account of the cold and
inhospitable reception by the Jesuit Brothers was so appar-
ent, a Canadian half-breed of the same faith as theirs, but
of Samaritan mould, volunteered to make a search for Mr.
Moellhausen, and to bring him back to civilization even
sooner than he might be able to return with the help of the
Otoes. But I learned later that he never found Moellhausen,
and he himself was not seen again. So it must be supposed
that he lost his life on this unfortunate and tragic mission.

The Anglo-Americans who did not wish to be outdone in
generosity collected among themselves the sum of two hun-
dred dollars as a reward and gave it to the man.

We remained at the mission over night. The ill-con-
cealed hostility of our hosts chilled us even more than the
howling snowstorms, and the even lower temperatures that
had set in during the night, after the brief spell of thawing
weather of the preceding day due to a warm wind from the

Undoubtedly on account of this sudden warm spell the
river Kansas had become released from its icy fetters; for
huge ice-floes were rushing down in the rising torrent that
threatened a score of times to crush the sides of our frail,
flatbottomed ferry-boat.

On the opposite side a Swede was living on a lonely
homestead. This kindly fellow insisted that we stay with
him until we had recovered our strength and spirits. For
my companions also were showing the effects of the indes-
cribably harsh experiences of the trip. For the first time
since my brief stay in Scott's Bluffs I had the blissful luck
of sleeping in a comfortable bed. I have good reason to
remember this noble fellow, Gustaf Larson, as long as I live.

The rest of the distance to Independence was again over
slippery ice and through mountain-high snowdrifts. My
condition when we arrived at this hospitable little place was
critical. But every aid in the power of its citizens was
offered me to raise my spirits and renew my strength for the
rest of the trip to St. Louis.

My miraculous deliverance had been telegraphed from
Kansastown to St. Louis and New Orleans. All the news-
papers in the United States manifested their sympathy and
rejoicing over my return to civilization which had long been
despaired of. After a month of suffering I was now able
again to find sleep on a comfortable bed.


From lovable, hospitable Independence I travelled to
Booneville in a post-wagon which in the west is called "mail-
stage," and which is merely a lumbering farm-wagon useful
only because of its high wheels and broad tires which render
possible the passage over the endless miles of boggy forest-
roads. The distance to Booneville is 104 miles by way of
Marshall and Arrowrock. Booneville is just across the river
from Franklin. There I stopped over a fortnight for rest
and in order to recover my health which had been shattered.

There is a splendid tavern in Booneville where I enjoyed
for the first time since I left St. Louis the comforts of civili-
zation. Among my new friends I remember with great
pleasure two countrymen, one of them Dr. Knickelaand,
from Hanover, the other the leading merchant of the town,
Mr. Kehle, from Gera, both of whom urged me to make my
home with them.

There are still 180 miles intervening between here and
St. Louis, and the roads are miserable, the conveyances
wretched surely a sore trial for an exhausted wayfarer
to face !

Continuing my journey I made another halt of four
days at Jefferson City. On the evening of my arrival I
found that great demonstrations of rejoicing had been
arranged here in my honor. My reception at the capitol of
this great pioneer state was cordial beyond description.

Farther down the Gasconade had to be crossed twice.
The ice was very unsafe. But with the aid of a long pole I
managed to reach the other side. A part of my luggage
slipped through and was lost, and several persons broke
through. These were saved only with the greatest difficulty
and at considerable risk to the rescuers. We had to spend
the night in the open although we were wet to the skin
and utterly unprepared for such an emergency.

The rest of the way to St. Louis was by way of Manches-
ter and was very rough and tedious. Our post-chaise stuck
fast in the quagmire a number of times, and we had to fin-
ish the last eighteen miles in a two-wheeled-ox-cart.

Just as in Jefferson City so was I received in St. Louis
with a welcome that moved me to the depths of my heart.
But I was obsessed with the fixed conviction that I would
never get well in this city with the endless number of enter-
tainments that I soon learned were being planned in my
honor. I wanted, for the first time in my life, to rest, rest,
rest! I longed for the warm, balmy air and the "dolce far
niente" of the dreamy Southland.


The cold increased hourly. Never was such terrible
cold known within the memory of the oldest settlers. In
such weather, with the roads in an unspeakably bad condi-
tion and often blocked for days, with navigation interrupted,
if not for long periods entirely stopped, it will be most diffi-
cult for the inhabitants of towns and cities to provide them-
selves with supplies of fuel and foodstuffs, even though the
latter are plentiful on farms, and though the forest primeval
is at no great distance from any populations, even from
St. Louis itself.

The prevailing wind is from north-northwest, with the
sky clear and the ground bare of snow. The temperature is
15' Reamur (34 F.) .

The general character of the dwelling houses is of a
lightness and a flimsiness that is surprising in a people like
the Americans who love comfort and have every means near
at hand to arrange their mode of living accordingly. It is
for this lack of foresight that the people suffer so severely
in times of cold. Fireplaces and castiron stoves radiate heat
only within a short radius. Beyond that there reigns an
arctic temperature, and walls, windows, and doors are
hoary-white with frost.

(Post-script written after Paul Wilhelm's convalescence
in New Orleans.)

My heart wells up many times during the day, and my
eyes grow dimmed as I recall the deep sympathy and affection
which was shown me by the people of the cities through the
Missouri State, especially of Independence and Booneville.
Many of the inhabitants offered me substantial pecuniary
aid, a high proof of disinterestedness and philanthropy when
you reflect that at this time money is lamentably scarce and
times are hard because a great number of banks have gone
into bankruptcy throughout the republic leaving the depos-
iters penniless.

Of all the great virtues in the character of the Anglo-
American the two most desirable are their magnanimity and
self-effacement to alleviate sickness and misfortune, and
their natural and spontaneous hospitality. This is the
magnificent legacy born out of the earliest of the founders of
the Republic, of their Franklin, their Jefferson, their

I have observed wherever I have been a guest that there
is a natural devotion, a common interest in the home. In the
most humble cabin, as well as in the finest mansion, I see
that the housewife and mother in one is idealized.


Nowhere else in all my extensive travels over the planet
have I seen such downright adoration manifested toward

And as long as these lofty traits, the hallmark of true
knighthood, are the dominant and basic virtues of the Amer-
ican people the Ship of State will ride secure through any
storms that may betide.




(Found among the journals of Duke Paul Wilhelm, a
companion-piece to the latter's "Adventures in the Great
American Desert.")


WHEN I SAW the postwagon disappear on the bleak,
frozen horizon I felt that the nadir of my misfortunes
had been reached. Within the rude vehicle were the only

Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 30 of 33)