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

. (page 38 of 62)
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 38 of 62)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

rying from a
few acres to

many miles in extent. In the angle between the Mississippi and
Minnesota Rivers is a region rich in scenery and historic interest.
There the Minnehaha plunges down from the prairie level to the Mis-
sissippi by the Minnehaha Falls, so well known to the world through
the genius of Longfellow. On the prairie level are crystal Jakes, syl-
van groves and picturesque knolls, among which the tourist may spend
weeks of enjoyment. The railroad ended at Sauk Rapids, where we
halted for a day. This is to be the great manufacturing city of this
region, the rapids of the Mississippi furnishing unlimited water-power,
but as yet the citizens have done little beyond the preliminary wind
work. In 1859 this was thought to be the head of all navigation,
and only two little steamers plied above St. Anthony Falls; now
smaller boats run from Sauk Rapids to Brainard, and sometimes



farther. The Mississippi parts with its greatness slowly. Away up
here it still has the appearance of a big river.

From Sank we take the stage-coach a little jerky carrying ten
passengers, among them a Sister and Mother Superior of the Order
of St. Francis. These were on their way to Belle Prairie, a mission
in the " Big Woods," to take charge of a frontier academy, and teach
letters, language and religion to little half-breeds and Chippeways.
The Mother Superior was a lady of rare intelligence, just from Eu-
rope, where she had been nursing the sick and wounded of the Franco-
Prussian war. To my remark that I doubted the possibility of con-
verting an Indian, she replied with great feeling : " Oh, perhaps not
in my time, but surely soon, the race will know and accept the truth.
We work for God, and He will take care of it. If we convert one it
will repay us ten thousand fold."

Near midnight we left them at Belle Prairie, a hamlet of a few cab-
ins, with a small school-house, and near by a chapel, its white cross
gleaming in the cold moonlight, fit symbol of the Sisters' life and
work. How wonderful is this wide extended power of the Church of
Rome ! Who can travel beyond the reach of her world-embracing
arms ? Alike on the banks of the St. Lawrence and the Rio Grande,
I have seen the white cross of her chapels ; and on the wild frontier
and in the hut of the savage have met her hardy missionaries, bronzed
by every sun and weather-beaten by the storms of every sky from
Pembina to Arizona. Is it any wonder, considering her celibate
clergy, who make the flock their family and the whole world their
home, and her holy orders of devoted women, to whom suffering and
self-denial are sweet for the sake of the Church is it any wonder that
a quarter of a billion souls attest her power, and, to the reproach of
us Protestants, over half the Christian world still owns allegiance to

Soon after we reached Crow Wing, and remained till near noon
next day. Thence an hour of rapid driving brought us into the Black
Pine Forest, in the center of which we found the " city " of Brainard
on the Northern Pacific Railroad at last. The streets were lively
with representatives of three great races for it was Sunday and all
the railroad employes were in town to drink and trade. The princi-
pal saloonatic had secured a rare attraction : a band of fifteen Chippe-
ways were performing the " war dance " before his door, to. the music
of a drum and buckskin tambourine, and drinks were going as fast as
two men could serve the crowd. After each dance the only " brave "
who could speak English went around with the hat, exclaiming,


" Ten-n-cen-nts a man-n ! ten-n-cen-nts a man-n !" the result being
money enough to treat the band to white sugar, of which they are
passionately fond. Near by a white roud was trying to strike a bar-
gain with a rather pretty Chippeway girl of fourteen years or so, who
was in charge of an older sister, a withered hag at least thirty years
old, and therefore past all show of comeliness, as is the nature of In-
dian women. Behind stood a half-breed squaw, about as " pretty " as
a wild-cat struck with a club. Ten rods away, afternoon service was
in progress at the Episcopal Church, the only one in the place ; and
across the street a maison de joie kept open doors, its inmates at the
windows with a lavish display of mammiferous wealth. No work was
in progress; most of the men had on clean shirts, and the holy Sab-
bath was strictly kept in Far Western fashion.

The " city " had one great advantage over Union Pacific towns : the
houses were all of lumber, and the native pines still lined the streets.
Here the great Mississippi has at last shrunk to a stream no more
than a hundred yards wide and perhaps ten feet deep ; a hundred
miles north would bring us into that circle of lakes Itasca, Leech,
Cass and Plantagenet which jointly form its source. Around,
mostly to the east, are ten thousand square miles covered with the
white and yellow varieties of Norway pine, constituting the great
wealth of Upper Minnesota. Next morning a lowering sky gave no-
tice that the first storm of the season was at hand, and as the train
moved westward the air hinted of snow. For seventy-five miles the
country is nearly worthless for agricultural purposes; then we move
down a gentle slope, and enter the fertile valley of Red River. The
little lakes are beautiful. In winter they are frozen almost solid, and
then is the best time for freighting f the sled routes take a direct line
from point to point without regard to lakes or sloughs.

Moorehead, on the eastern bank of Red River, is the end of a pas-
senger division, and the nominal head of navigation ; but it is only in
the months of June and July that any steamers run to that point.
Frog Point, sixty miles below (northward), is the head of navigation
for the rest of the summer, though boats rarely ply before the latter
part of May. As Red River has a general course due north, the thaw
occurs at the head first, and forces a great break up and massing of the
ice down at Fort Garry and other ports in Winnepeg. Straw-ticks,
beef, bread, and potatoes could be had for $2.00 per day in either of
the new frame hotels then adorning Moorehead; but there was noth-
ing to be seen requiring more than a night's stay. Omnibuses were
not, so we carried our baggage a mile, across the bridge and through


Fargo, Dakota, to the construction train, on which we traversed the
last hundred miles of the road. For fifty miles west of Red
River the country appears as level as the calm ocean; the rank grass
above, and the black soil below, as shown in the cuts, indicate great
fertility. The biting wind from the north-west brought a chilling
rain, and after it sleet and finally snow, which last was a great im-
provement on the sleet. We had been assured by Jay Cooke that
"the isothermal line takes a great northward deflection west of the
Great Lakes," giving this a mild climate ; but a snow storm in Sep-
tember did not indicate it.

We crossed the Shyene River twice, and soon after ran through the
edge of Salt Lake so called, though little like the great one in Utah.
It appears to be about five miles long, is thickly impregnated with
salt and alkali, and has an outlet only in very wet weather. The ter-
minus of the road was then at Jim town, near the western limit of fer-
tile land. The cold was severe and the wind blowing almost a hurri-
cane. As my blue fingers stiffened around the handle of my valise,
and the canvas town clattered in the wind as if it would fly away, the
thermometer standing at 28, and the air full of flying snow, I was in-
clined to set down most I had heard about this " mild and salubrious
climate " as the exuberance of a playful fancy. But in a day or two
the storm yielded to sunshine, October came in gloriously, and good
weather continued a month longer. The storm prevented our excur-
sion beyond the terminus, but from abundant testimony I am con-
vinced there is little to see but rolling plains scantily clothed with
grass, alkali flats and sand-hills. The fertile land lies along the east-
ern border.

From Jimtown eastward to Duluth developed no new features.
First we had a hundred miles of Red River Valley" to Fargo and
Moorehead ; fifty miles of the same on the eastern side ; then the rise
to Detroit lakes, and then the half-barren strip of marsh and pine,
tamarack and scrub-oak flat, till we got within seventy-five miles of
Duluth. Thence the country rapidly improved; the soil and timber
were fine, and scenery on the St. Louis River approaching ihe grand.
Duluth had become historic it is more historic than commercial, still,
for that matter. " The Zenith City of the unsalted seas," as the local
poets modestly styled it, did not appear to advantage just after a Sep-
tember snow-storm ; but it was lively with immigrants, colony agents,
real estate speculators, travelers and freighters.

Since then the German-Russian Mennonites have been pouring into
Southern Dakota by thousands, and it is evident the future population



of our new North-west will consist largely of Scandinavians and kin-
dred races. They are wheat-eaters, Bible-readers, and Calvinists;
they establish schools and
churches, are anchored to
the soil, and constitute a
conservative and most de-
sirable class of citizens.
An old traveler relates
that he was toiling over
the black sandy prairie,
one of the hottest days of
their hot but short sum-
mer, when to his joy he
came upon a dirt-roofed
" log-house with the word
ICE in prominent letters
on the right side of the
door. Drawing near with
thirsty haste he saw on the
left side, in smaller, dim-
mer letters the word
POSTOFF. A Russian or Swedish name, he thought, and called for
ice-water. The woman, ignorant of English, handed him a bundle of
letters with instructions, in pantomime, to pick out what belonged t<
him ! He made out after a lengthy discussion wi^h the woman that the
two signs were to be read together, and meant POST-OFFICE.

I have sufficiently described the climate of our new North-west;
it is severe but healthful. There has been a deal of miscella-
neous lying on this subject. Storms of fifty hours' duration
3,re not uncommon even in Nebraska ; and at Cheyenne I have ex-
perienced weather cold enough to freeze the most hardy animals if un-
sheltered. Five hundred miles south of the Northern Pacific I have
seen cattle frozen stiff in their tracks, horses left in the spring with
only the stump of a tail, birds fallen dead from the air in cold wind
storms, Indians without nose enough left to blow after a winter's jour-
ney, and buffalo by tens of thousands literally frozen to death on the
-plains. But settlers can provide against storms and cold; experience
shows that man comes to perfection in such climates, and the old resi-
dent can truthfully say,

"Man is the noblest growth our realms supply;
And souls are ripened in our Northern sky."




BROWN October found me again rolling through Iowa, in the
palace cars of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, on my
way to Oregon, after a brief visit to the States. The four years and
a half since I crossed the State on foot had added three hundred thou-
sand to its population, and a thousand miles to its working railroads.
And still there is room. The State still has vacant land enough for
two million farmers.

Westward from Omaha there had also been great changes. In 1868
we ran out into open prairie soon after leaving Fremont ; now there is
a nearly continuous line of farms on both sides of the railroad as far as
Loup Fork. Beyond, cattle ranches multiply, and but a few years will
elapse till all this section of the high plains will be utilized by stock-
growers. It is claimed that as ranches increase and farms are opened
the climate changes, grows more moist, and thus carries the border of
fertile land farther west; but, on this point, I will suspend judgment.
My fourteenth trip over the Union Pacific Railroad was more pleasant
than any previous one. The brown plains east of the mountains were
just as brown, the red hills and alkali deserts of Wyoming quite as
monotonous ; but the sublime scenery of Echo and Weber Cafions was
glorified by the rich hues of autumn, and over all the gray-brown
landscape of the plains, hung the soft haze of what would be Indian
summer at the East.

In Utah I found Saint and Gentile in their normal condition of
attack and defense. First one side got a blow ahead, and then the
other, like a pair of badly-matched oxen ; or, as we used to say in
Indiana : " Like a half-sled on ice." It had grown monotonous, and,
after a few days' rest in Salt Lake and Corinne, I took passage in one
of the new silver palace cars of the Central Pacific. In them travel is
a luxury ; one eats, drinks, smokes, sleeps, reads, or writes at the rate
of twenty miles an hour; free to look at the scenery where it deserves
it, and with abundant enjoyment indoors where it does not. Novem-
ber 1st we found the Nevada Desert very bleak, and the Sierras fast
being covered with snow. Between Truckee and Cape Horn the road




is protected by forty miles of snow-sheds, the same of which the
British traveler complained " Blarsted long depot; longest I ever
saw ! " They continue down the western slope to an elevation of only
4,500 feet above the sea, where there is no danger of a blockade ; and
cost a million and a half. No snow can fall sufficient to block the
road, as they are
built against the
cliffs with such a
slope as to shed
the snow into the
deep valleys.

At an elevation
of 3,000 feet, we
were out of the re-
gion of snow, and
soon after among
the brilliant leaves
and yellow grass
which mark the
autumn scenery of
the Pacific Coast.
Only two light
showers have fall-
en ; the stimulating
air and cloudless sky show that the rainy season has not fairly set in.
At Sacramento I find great difference of opinion as to the better route
to Oregon, by land or water, by the weariness of stage-coach pounding,
or the pains and perils of sea-sickness. In order to give an unbiased
opinion, I decided to go by land and return by sea. Through tickets
from Sacramento to Portland, by land, can be had for forty-five dol-
lars ; by sea, for ten dollars less. The railroad terminus was then at
Reading, a hundred and seventy-five miles from Sacramento; thence
one must stage it two hundred and eighty miles to the southern ter-
minus of the Oregon Railroad. The autumn rains came on in due
order, and, as our train moved up the Sacramento River, the summer-
dried grass was taking on a velvety brown, with rare patches of faint
green. Northward, signs of fertility increased ; and, at Chico, the
face of nature was so beautiful, that I halted for a day.

Here General John Bidwell has a ranche of some 20,000 acres, one
of the finest in California. The plains of the Sacramento have a vary-
ing width of from twenty-five to fifty miles, between the foot-hills of



the Sierra and Coast Range ; and his ranche occupies the richest por-
tion of this strip. He is a pioneer of the pioneers, 'having come to
California in 1846, two years before the discovery of gold. The same
year came Governor Boggs and party, from Missouri ; Edwin M. Bry-
ant, first American alcalde of San Francisco, and the unfortunate Don-
ner party, whose sufferings and fate have laid the foundation for many
a thrilling romance. At least five thousand Americans had crossed
the plains and settled in California before the "great rush" of 1849.
They all engaged in cattle-raising, the sole business of the native
Mexicans; for, even as late as 1850, few people believed that these
dry plains would admit of regular farming. A few of them got pos-
session of old Mexican grants, the titles to which were afterwards con-
firmed by treaty, and have since been sustained by the Supreme Court
of the United States. Hence that oppressive land monopoly, which is'
now the worst hinderance to the development of California.

On General Bidwell's ranche are grown all the roots and grains of
the temperate zones ; besides fifty varieties of fruit, from the little
black grape of the North to the fig of the tropics. He had already
made the manufacture of raisins a success, and wine can be produced
almost as cheaply as cider in Ohio. I find all the wines of California
very agreeable to the taste, and most of them healthful. But the old
resident seldom drinks wine. At every hotel the salutation in cool
weather is, " Walk right up to the bar warm you up for four bits, and
heat you red hot for a dollar." This is a " survival " of the tastes
of early settlers, who worked hard with pick and shovel, lived on
bread, beef, pork, and beans, and did not taste milk, wine, or fresh
vegetables for years together.

As we walked around the grounds adjacent to the Bidwell mansion,
we saw oranges, olives, and pomegranates growing luxuriantly, while
the borders were a brilliant maze of white and red, diversified by the
branching palm, pampas grass ten feet high, with beautiful white
plumes, and the delicate tints of the giant oleander. Workmen were
busy covering the young orange trees, which must be shielded from
the coldest winds during the first three or four years, but on the full-
grown trees the growing oranges were nearly of full size, the green
rind beginning to change to a pale yellow. And yet, fifteen hundred
miles straight east of this, at my old home, snow is fast covering the
fields, and no green-growing plant will delight the eye for months to

At Reading, I tarried again, making pleasant excursions among the
surrounding hills and valleys, the most pleasant to Shasta City.


This region was the range of the poet Joaquin Miller, during the
wild days in which he absorbed poetry from free nature, and found
inspiration in the companionship of Shasta squaws. The county rec-
ords contain papers of strange import as to his reputation. The worst
accusation against him is of stealing a horse ; but his friends maintain
that the owner of the horse owed Miller a debt which the latter
could not collect, and therefore levied on the property in a somewhat
irregular way. Be that as it may, the grand jury at Shasta found a
bill of indictment against him; he was in jail for some time, then
broke out and fled to Oregon. Joaquin's native wife was of the Pitt
River band of Diggers, and she now lives near there with an old
mountaineer named Brock. This man and Miller were crack shots,
and supplied themselves and brown families plentifully with game,
living in all other respects as the Indians do. The poetry in Joaquin
(whose real name, by the way, is John Heiner Miller) worked out in
very odd ways for some years. The most charitable opinion in
Shasta is, that he was then slightly " cracked," with a crazy affectation
to imitate the heroes of Spanish romance. His name was adopted
from that of Joaquin Murietta, a noted outlaw, who was long the
terror of the Joaquin River region. He was of the " dashing, chival-
rous" Claude Duval style of bandits, spending his gains freely among
the Mexican senoritas ; and the character fascinated Miller.

From what I saw of the Shasta and Pitt River squaws, I should
say a man must needs be very crazy to live with one of them. The
sight or smell of most of them would turn the stomach of any other
than a poet. Their chief luxury is dried and tainted salmon. White
men not only learn to eat it, but are said to like it even more tainted
than do the Indians. Many old mountaineers are scattered through
these hills, each living with a squaw; and it is common testimony that
after a white man has lived with a squaw some years, he would not
leave her for the best white woman in the country. They learn to do
housework after a fashion, and on gala days rig out in hoops and
waterfalls of most fantastic pattern. But they boil or roast the car-
casses of their dead relatives ; mix the grease with tar, and mat it on
their heads and necks, making a sort of helmet, with only the eyes
and mouth free ; then for seven weeks they howl on the hill-tops every
morning and evening to scare away the evil spirits. I saw one of
these "in mourning," and am convinced that if she don't scare the
devil away, he must be a spirit of some nerve. A white man dis-
posed to Indian life, can adopt all their customs in six months, while
an Indian can not adopt ours in fifty years. Arithmetically speaking,



it is a hundred times as easy for a white man to go wild as for an
Indian to become really civilized, We left Reading by stage at

one o'clock in the morning, seven
men in a little coach, which carried
also seventeen hundred pounds of de-
layed mail. On top, rear, and " boot,"
it was piled as long as it could be
strapped fast, and half the inside was
filled with it. The passes ahead were
fast filling with snow, and delayed mail
and passengers were scattered at every
point along the route. At daylight we
crossed Pitt River, where the valley
of the Sacramento may be said to end,
H as the spurs of the Sierras put out
p westward toward the Coast Range, and,
in mining parlance, "pinch in" upon
| the plain. Pitt River is really the
g Upper Sacramento, being the largest
B of the confluent streams, and preserv-
h ing a general course south-westward,
PH after emerging from the mountains.
Along its right bluff, we preserved
H a general north-east course all day.
< Again and again we thought we had
' left it, as the coach turned directly
2 away and labored up mountainous
passes, and along frightful " dugways "
8 for miles, to an elevation of hundreds
of feet above the stream; then we
would turn to the right, and come
thundering down a long rocky grade
for two or three miles to the water's
edge again. And every time we ap-
peared to be coming back to the same
place; there were the same timbered
hills and rocky bluffs, perpendicular
on one side of the stream and sloping
on the other; the same immense gray
bowlders, rocky islands and towers in
the bed of the stream, and the same white foaming rapids.


For fifty miles the river is a series of cascades; and though,
through our ups and downs, we but kept even with the stream,
we must have been gaining rapidly in general elevation. The
sun rose clear, and the bright day and sublime scenery made us
forget the fatigues of the way. The immense timber through which
this road runs is a constant astonishment to the traveler. For two
hundred miles, broken only by two or three open spaces, stretches a
vast forest of firs and pines of every diameter, from one to ten feet.
Southward the big trees grow more numerous, till they culminate in
the Calaveras Grove and the thirty -two-feet stump, on which there
is room for a dancing party, with musicians and spectators. Here is
inexhaustible wealth in lumber. The fir is harder to work than the
pine, but more durable. With good facilities for shipping, every acre
of this forest would be worth two hundred dollars.

Near night we left the river, and toiled slowly up-hill for two hours
to a mountain plateau. To our right was Mount Shasta, 14,400 feet
high, a scene of indescribable beauty in the cold, clear moonlight.
The lower portion looked like polished marble, shading off by degrees
to the bright green of the pine- forests on the foot-hills; the summit,
covered nearly all the year with snow and ice, shone a monument of
dazzling whiteness. But sentiment was soon overpowered by sense, as
the drivers had lost time, and now took advantage of the down-grade;
the coach bumped over great bowlders, throwing us against the roof
and back against the seats till phrenological development went on at
both ends with uncomfortable rapidity. Lean men can not endure
coaching like plump ones; and if Darwinism be true, in my many
years of travel I should have " developed " a series of gristle-pads.
Our present anatomy is all very well for home life in a level country;
for mountaineering I could suggest an improvement : a cast-iron back-
bone with a hinge in it, terminating below in a sole-leather copper-
lined flap.

At Yreka I had to stop and rest between stages ; and, after nine
hours' sleep, still felt as if I had been pounded all over with a clap-
board. Yreka has the coldest climate of any city in California, and a
location of wonderful beauty. From the town a gently undulating

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 38 of 62)