J. H. (John Hanson) Beadle.

Western wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... online

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Online LibraryJ. H. (John Hanson) BeadleWestern wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... → online text (page 13 of 62)
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only water to produce thirty and sixty and a hundred-fold. But
between one such valley and the next, intervene from five to fifty
miles of rocky ridges, gravel plains or alkali beds, the first two per-
haps yielding bunch grass, the last a waste. In Nevada the propor-
tion of good land is much less- in Wyoming least of all, though that
Territory has immense tracts of good grazing land. Up to 5,000 feet
above the sea all the fruits and grains of the temperate zones are
produced in abundance, above that the products lessen rapidly. In a
few places wheat can be grown at or above . the 6,000 foot level ; rye
and oats 2,000 feet higher, and near Central City, Colorado, I have
seen heavy crops of potatoes produced at 9,000 feet above the sea.
Even the highest parks, where the snow is six feet deep in winter, and
does not melt away till the middle of May, often produce heavy crops
of grass ; but neither fruit nor grain can be grown there.

The want of water hinders settlement in many places where the
land is fertile. If every drop in Utah were utilized, it would not
irrigate one-tenth of the Territory. If the Ohio River were turned
into the north-west corner of the Great Basin, not a drop of it would
ever reach the Colorado above ground; the hot sun, dry air, gravel
beds and alkali plains would absorb it all. Southward this difficulty
steadily increases ; the water is scantier while more is needed. In the
Rio Grande Valley a given area requires from two to three times as
much water as in the Platte Valley. The Mormons in Arizona put five
times as much water on an acre as the Mormons in Idaho. The trav-
eler among the mountains of the Great Basin finds in the higher
cafions hundreds of streams of which not one survives to reach the
valley ; scores of " rivers " are marked upon the maps, which do not
contain a drop of water after the first of June. South of latitude 37


or 38, even the attempt to secure a reservoir for the summer irriga-
tion fails; when the water above the dam has risen two or three
feet, it seeks an underground course through the porous soil, and
when most needed the aguada is dry. In Arizona I found evidences
that the old race (Aztec or Toltec?) had tried to remedy this by "pud-
dling" the bottom of the aguada, in places even laying it with bricks
made of most tenacious clay ; but even they were in time compelled to
abandon most of the valleys by the ever-increasing drought.

A Western man may be allowed a smile at the suggestion of Pres-
ident Grant, that all the streams issuing eastward from the Rocky Mount-
ains might be utilized by a great National work, so as to irrigate all
the plains. Such a work would cost hundreds of millions, while every
drop of water in all those streams would not irrigate one-tenth of the
vast slope extending three hundred miles eastward from the mountains.
Many suggestions are made as to new methods of cultivation to meet
the difficulties. Drought might possibly be overcome, but I see not
how rocky flats, gravel -beds and plains of sand and alkali can ever be
made productive. If there is a total change in the climate, corres-
ponding changes in the land will of course follow in due time; but
that does not seem to me imminent. To sum up : At least nine-tenths
of America between longitude 100 and 120 seem to me irredeemable
(for agriculture) by any art now known to man.

Important political consequences follow. Such a country can never
sustain a dense population. The isolated trading town or mining
hamlet, with perhaps half a dozen cities of 50,000 people, and detached
farming settlements, will occupy a very small portion of the whole
area; all the rest will be the range of the nomadic hunter or herds-
man. The limit of rapid settlement, (unless from a mining excite-
ment,) is already reached ; the phenomena of swiftly growing States
like Iowa and Illinois will never be witnessed again in this country.
None of the Territories, except possibly Dakota, is increasing in popu-
lation as fast as are the States. Utah, for instance, has been settled
thirty years by a race whose constant boast is their prolificacy ; it has
barely 100,000 people. This, the most loudly blowed and persistently
advertised of the whole sisterhood, has been knocking for admission
into the Union since 1849 ; yet it has but one-tenth the population of
New York City, two-fifths that of Cincinnati, and nothing like the
wealth or intelligence of a first-class county in Ohio. In the pro-
posed State one Mormon would have a power in the United States
Senate equal to that of thirty Christians in Ohio, or fifty in New
York. In Nevada the inequality is far worse, though that State has


wealth and intelligence to aid us. Wyoming can not sustain a popu-
lation equal to that of Rhode Island ; Idaho is scarcely more fertile ;
the child is not born that will live to see half a million people
resident in the Great Basin. Colorado, has a population nearly equal
to that of Utah ; New Mexico has a population equal perhaps to that
it had three hundred years ago.

It is evident that our form of government must be modified for
such communities. Ideal civil systems may furnish amusement for
scholars ; but a people can only use such a goverment as it has grown
to. That "lynch law" should largely prevail all over the West, was
as natural, nay, as imperative, as that common and statute law should
prevail in New England. Wyoming, for instance, contains 98,000
square miles^ and less than 20,000 people; an area more than twice the
size of Pennsylvania, with half the population of an average county !
Along the Pacific Railway, in the southern part of the Territory, are
a few trading towns ; all the rest is grassy plains, mountain and desert,
traversed only by mining, wooding, hunting or herding parties. A
criminal can take a horse from any town and be in the trackless wilder-
ness in two hours. When arrested according to statute a posse must
convey him perhaps hundreds of miles, to the nearest jail, and all the
witnesses must take the same trip three or four times. Perhaps before
final trial there is a mining " stampede," or an, Indian war, and all the
witnesses leave. It would never do. Justice must be brought home


to every little hamlet, and so the Themis of the Rocky Mountains is a
wild huntress. The few inhabitants must act promptly before the
criminal has time to escape ; if it is rape, arson, murder or an aggra-
vated case of horse-stealing, he dies ; if a minor offense, a severe cow-
hiding suffices. Who shall blame them ? Justice must be administered,
or no man's life is safe an hour. It is charged that they sometimes
make mistakes. I have not heard that the regular courts are infallible.
The Territories will soon present an awkward question. It will
never do to admit any more "rotten-borough" States; it would de-
moralize the Senate, and destroy all decent respect for the Federal
system. We have already gone dangerously near to that consumma-
tion. In certain contingencies one-fifth of the people could elect a
President against the united voice of the four-fifths. And yet the
territorial condition is anomalous, and to some extent unrepublican.
A great reform would be to allow them to choose all their executive
officers; the President to appoint only such officials as attend to
United States business. Utah might be annexed entire to Nevada;
the two would then make a State with population enough for one


Representative in Congress this to be done after Brigham Young
dies, and the Mormon Church ceases to rule. The other Territories
might be given more self-government, without the gross injustice of
making them States, which is almost as great a wrong to them as
to the older States. It is self-evident that an alpine region like
Wyoming, needs a totally different government from that of a level
State like Illinois. Perhaps the cantonal system might be the best, as
far as it gives each little valley local self-government.

The present system is an affliction to the pioneers. Had not Utah
stood in the way as a possible danger, it would have been remedied
ere this. The demand for good appointees from the President is al-
most futile. The sad fact is: Government can not afford good men
in office in most of the Territories ; the salaries are so much less than
they can make at any legitimate business. And worse still, when
they try to do their duty they are almost certain to be removed be-
fore they learn how. An Eastern man is worth very little his first
year or two in any Territory. The official, if honest, is exposed to a
constant pressure from those ruled over, and a constant war on the
President to have him removed. If he had no care but doing his
duty, he would still have trouble enough ; but efficiency and duty are
no dependence upon the favor of the administration ; * and while the
official in the Territory is harassed by complaints, by a salary insuffi-
cient for himself and family, by the damning criticisms or equally
damning overpraise of the local press, he is more and more disquieted
by notes from his friends at Washington, where the fiat of Executive
wrath hangs daily over his official head, like the ever-trembling
sword of Damocles suspended by a single hair. There are men in
every territorial capital who turn uneasily upon their beds from
some dark hint in the evening paper, and whose matin slumbers are
disquieted by anxiety for the morning paper, to see " the latest from
Washington." Let certain members and senators die, or resign, or
be defeated, or differ with the President on some pet scheme, and
away their heads would go like pins from the alley; and the more
they had done their duty the more they might expect decapitation.
Hear, then, my conclusion of the whole matter : the system should be
completely reorganized, so as to give the Territories self-government,
and allow their delegates in the House to vote as well as talk ; then
they should so remain, to be hunting and roving ground for the rest of
the nation till climate and soil change, or some other cause shall have
made them rich and populous.

* Written previous to March 4, 1877.



AT noon of a scorching day, our party landed from a Missouri Pa-
cific train in Kansas City a modern Rome built on seventeen hills
instead of seven. Its citizens have ambitious hopes equal to those of
ancient Romans, but for commerce instead of war. Real estate is set
on edge in Kansas City; so it logically follows there is twice the profit
in it. So the citizens would seem to judge, from the prices they ask
for lots. A new-comer, looking for an investment, was pointed to a
cone-shaped tract by the owner who was willing to sell.

" But is n't it too steep and rough ?" he asked.

"Just what you want," was the reply; " see that lot down there?"
pointing to a funnel-shaped plat some hundreds of feet below "well,
the man that owns that will give you $5,000 for this hill to level up
his lot with."

Next day he was approached by the owner of the lower lot. "Is n't
it too low and wet?" he asked. "Oh, my goodness, no ! D'you see
that hill ? Well, the owner of that has got to level it, and he'll give
you $1,000 for the privilege of dumping it on this lot." The " pil-
grim " did not invest.

Tli is is the metropolis of western Missouri and eastern Kansas, and
adds immensely to the wealth and population of Jackson County the
" Land of Zion," according to the revelations of Joe Smith. Hither
in the spring of 1831, came the Mormon Prophet and followers, lo-
cated the New Jerusalem at Independence, and prophesied a greater
glory than earth had ever known. They notified the citizens that it
was idle for them to open farms or build houses ; they were standing
in the way of the Lord, who would sweep the land with destruction.
But the Gentiles saw the matter in a different light ; they gathered
their forces, and after a sharp fight, in which two were killed and
many hurt, drove the Saints across the Missouri into Clay County,
Jackson now contains a population equal to that of Utah, and five
times as much wealth. It is indeed a goodly land. Prairie and grove
alternate in pleasing variety ; every commanding knoll is the site of a

neat hamlet, every little grove contains a tasteful farm-house, while the
9 V*



open prairie is rich in all the fruits and grains of this clime. The
.Saints made a good selection for Zion. Could they have held it, they
would doubtless have prospered as have the Gentiles; but the Prophet
proposed, and the Missourians disposed, and things are as they are.

Thence we crossed the Kaw into Kansas, and in a two hours' ride
up the heavily wooded valley of that stream reached Lawrence, the
Athens of the Missouri valley, a town rich in historic interest and
pleasant to dwell in. In the summer of 1849, a party of gold-hunters
camped for the night near the junction of the Kaw and Wakarusa,
where the level prairie of the lower valley begins to yield to high
ridges and rolling plains. They were enchanted with the beauty of
the spot, and on their return from California organized a company in
Massachusetts ; again sought this spot, and founded Lawrence, a lone
settlement of "Free-State men," forty miles from the slave border.
The city has already an ancient and a modern history, a mythical and
a heroic age. In its first three years it suffered four regular invasions
from Missouri. In March, 1855, the "border ruffian? "came, and
made a population of nine hundred and sixty-two appear to cast a vote
of a thousand and thirty-four. In November, 1855, occurred the
" Wakarusa War ; " the town was regularly besieged, and several men
killed. May 21, 1856, Sheriff Jones " executed the writ" of Judge
Lecompte, by burning the Free-State Hotel, and pillaging the town.
But freedom gained the day in Kansas, and the city grew. The Eld-
ridge House was built on the site of the Free-State Hotel, and Kansas
went through the war for the Union " 5,000 men ahead of all drafts."

But the worst was to come. At daylight of August 21, 1863,
Quantrell and his gang of two hundred murderers dashed into the
place; the rising sun saw the city in flames, and a hundred , and
twenty-five citizens lying dead among the ruins. Eighteen more
afterwards died of their wounds. In the horrid annals of Western
barbarism, only the Mountain Meadow Massacre can rival it : this,
'by a community educated under the discipline of slavery; that, by a
community educated under the discipline of polygamy. At one house
two men were killed, and, in the presence of their shrieking wives,
their heads were cut off, and stuck upon the gate-posts ! Again the
city rose from its ruins, and grew more rapidly than ever. Verily, it
took men to settle such a place and hold it for freedom. But

" The grain of God springs up
From ashes beneatli ;
And the crown of His harvest
Is life out of death."
And Lawrence is now beyond question the most moral and intelli-


gent city in the Far West. Ten churches, two daily, two semi-
weekly and four weekly papers, all well supported by a population
of 15,000, attest this statement. It is one of the very few places I
visit in 'the West at which I always want to stop and pitch my tent
for a life-time.

Thence by way of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston
Railroad, we journey up the valley of the Wakarusa, and through
a dense grove of elm, walnut, ash, and hackberry. But a few miles
bring us out upon the high and rolling prairies, covered with a
variety of bright flowers and native grasses, where we find a strange
mingling of Northern and Southern scenery. The year 1871, that
of our journey, was the wettest Kansas had ever known; but it
is never too wet, and farm products of all kinds were abundant.
Three years later came drought, with it chintz-bugs and grass-
hoppers, and after it destitution. Experience has shown that these
dry seasons must be looked for at least once in seven years. At
Ottawa, in the rich valley of the Marais des Cygnes, we find a more
Southern population than that of Lawrence, but no less active in
their own interests. A Southern "Yankee" is the most crafty of
the class, as witness this little incident : In the early days a popular
clergyman of Ottawa sold what he averred to be a " blooded mare "
to one of his deacons.' Shortly after, the deacon observed some
motions in his purchase he did not like, and sought the minister's
study with

"Brother K , that mare I bought of you seems a little stiff

in the shoulders."

Drawing a fine Partaga from "between his lips, the reverend
pleasantly rejoined,

"Better not mention that, deacon; it might injure the sale of

New light broke into the deacon's mind. He " farewelled," and
took his leave.

South of the Marais des Cygnes we rise to the Ozark Ridge,
" divide " between the waters flowing North and those draining into
the Neosho, a high and rocky tract which for ten miles or more in
width is of little value except for grazing. The rock lies in thin
layers but a few inches below the surface, which is largely dotted
with " buffalo stamps." These are said to have been caused by buf-
faloes crowding together, stamping and licking the ground, led thereto
by a saline element in the soil. Our domestic cattle, naturalized in
Kansas, sometimes acquire the same habit. Thence we run down


a long and beautiful slope, fertility increasing with every mile, into
Allen County, the agricultural center of Southern Kansas. Ten
days we traveled about in Allen, gathering figures as to climate,
crops, and the price of lands all included in a later chapter. This
county already contains a population of twelve or fifteen thousand,
an enterprising and intelligent people, Iron bridges span the Ne-
osho ; the roads are equal to those in the East ; churches and schools
abound, and the immigrant finds himself in the center of an organ-
ized and progressive commonwealth. There are more intelligent
men than new communities can usually boast; music is extensively
cultivated, and the common schools are modeled after the plan of
those of Massachusetts.

Seeing that we were eager for information (our business was to
furnish facts to intending emigrants), the old settlers gave us good
measure. In their account there never was so rich, so great, so
prosperous a region, never such another chance to make money ; the
towns were all certain to make great cities ; lots were sure to double
in price in a year; pure fat might run in the furrows, and corn be
made to tassle and silk in greenbacks; one's children would grow fat
by mere contact with the soil, and his wife resume the beauty of her
youth ; roasted shoats, with knife and fork stuck in their backs, would
in due time rub against him and beg to be eaten, and such robust
health enliven his frame that when he longed for death he must move
back East. One resident of Deer Creek, we were assured, had lived
so long that life was a burden (to his heirs, probably). Weary of
existence, he moved back to Illinois, and there succeeded in giving
up the ghost, having first stipulated that he should be buried on his
Kansas farm. But such were the life-giving properties of this soil,
that, when laid in it, animation returned to his limbs, his heart
resumed its pulsations, and the incorrigible centenarian walked forth,
to the disgust of his heirs, and the confusion of those who had doubts
about Kansas.

Three years after our visit came the notable dry year; seven years
of good crops had made them careless, and from 1873 till 1875 some
of the people of Southern Kansas actually suffered for the necessaries
of life. Will experience make them more provident, or will it con-
tinue to be a feast or a famine with them?

Continuing our examination of rural Kansas, by successive stages
southward, we passed next into Neosho County, a tract of great fertil-
ity, but largely unsettled, much of the land still belonging to the rail-
roads. Thence we bore down into Montgomery County, and traversed


the beautiful slopes bordering the Verdigris River : a region of inex-
haustible richness, and dotted at irregular intervals by those cone-
shaped mounds of rock and gravel, which are the delight of the trav-
eler and the despair of science. Some are perfectly circular, rising
abruptly from the plain with a rocky wall of from ten to thirty feet in
height, upon which stands the cone of loam and clay, often crowned
with a pretty clump of trees and bushes. Others rise in long swells,
abrupt at one end and sloping gradually to the plain at the other;
and still others are mole-shaped, of every length from fifty to ten
thousand feet, and from fifty to a hundred feet in height. A few have
large tracts of fertile land on top, and farms have been located on
their summits. Cherryvale, then terminus of the L. L. & G. R. R.,
was our last stopping- place a lively town of great pretensions. As
laid off, it is about the size of Cincinnati ; but only a half dozen
squares are built up yet. Thence, late in July, we turned northward
to hunt the cooler sections of the valley.

The Southern Kansian we found to be a good fellow, but somewhat
prone to the marvelous and romantic. " Snake stories " were abun-
dant. Those reptiles are common, but seldom dangerous. The most
formidable looking is the "bull-snake," so called, an immense thing
of four or five feet in length, which gets its name from its blunt head
and thick, clumsy body. Strangers often mistake its resonant hiss
for the rattle of the real crotalus horridus, or rattlesnake. The only
dangerous snakes are the little " prairie rattlers," seldom over two
feet long; they are dull and sluggish, rarely bite, and their bite, I
believe, never proves fatal. But they serve an admirable purpose for
local romancers. A settler told us of one which bit his horse : the
animal fell dead, and when he examined the wound, the marks of the
upper and lower fangs were four inches apart! Discount sixty per
cent, when a Kansian talks about snakes. Another told of stirring
up an immense rattler while he was hoeing corn. He aggravated it
till it struck its fangs into the hoe-handle, then killed it, and was
proceeding with his work, when he observed the handle growing
larger, perceptibly swelling with the poison. This continued for an
hour, when "the eye of the hoe popped out." Of course the trichina-
spiralis was peculiarly bad in such a country. We were told of one
man in Doniphan County, who read all the accounts of that news-
paper epidemic, and in turn felt all the symptoms described. He had
the "spirals" bore through his skin; in fact got decidedly "wormy."
So he took a powerful emetic, and threw up three or four handfuls
of pork worms, three lizards, a section of the worm of the still,


two bull-snakes, and a few rods of worm-fence, after which, adds the
local chronicle, he began to feel better.

From Ottawa we took the Kansas City branch of the road, passing
through the beautiful farming regions of Johnson County ; and from
Kansas City the Missouri Valley Road to Leavenworth. Railroads
have been built for future rather than present demands in Kansas;
and the reaction in 1873, as it prevented the rapid growth which was
expected, has caused many an investor to wail for his money in rail-
way stocks. Ten years from now Kansas railroads will pay div-
idends; at present running expenses only are counted on. The first
station out is Wyandotte, with perhaps 3,000 people, once a rival, now
" merely a feeder of Kansas City." A little farther on is the twice-
dead Quindaro, once the great city (to be) of this valley. In 1857
and 1858, it supported a rattling daily paper known as the Quindaro
Chindowan. The first was the name of the Delaware Indian woman
who sold the plat to the whites; the second, in the same tongue,
means " a bundle of rods " the sign of authority. Its bright and
saucy editorials excelled all specimens extant of Kansas blowing.
Here was to be a second Babylon, a city founded on a rock, while
Wyandotte, on the sand, would sink to nothingness; here was to be the
entrepot of all travel from the plains; Kansians would certainly pat-
ronize their own town rather than cross the Kaw into Missouri, and
here would be the metropolis of the glorious free and boundless West.
But an inscrutable law of nature has determined the location of great
cities ; Kansas City got all the trade, Wyandotte stood still, and Quin-
daro disappeared. The site was entirely abandoned for some years,

Online LibraryJ. H. (John Hanson) BeadleWestern wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... → online text (page 13 of 62)