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 5 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 5 of 62)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a minute's notice, an' if a man traveled alone, he took his life in his

"It wa'nt long though till we got some kind o' government. Cali-
forny was made a State the year after I got there, but that didn't sig-
nify in the mountains; an' at Angell's Camp we chipped in together
and hired regular guards to look after every suspicious man. The
worst thing was to get down from the mines to Frisco; for if it was
known that a man was a goin' to leave, it was 'sposed he'd made his
pile, an' had it with him. At last I made a little raise that was in


the spring of '52 an' concluded to come home. Me an' my partner
jest laid down our tools one night right where we worked, an' packed
up, an' when the camp was asleep lit out over the hills 'thout sayin' a
word to any human bein.' Got home 'round by Panama all right, an'
found every thing chipper, an' when I figured up I was just three
hundred a head on the three year's trip. Better stayed at home for
yold but it saved the boys."

" Then you stayed at home and took comfort for the rest of your
life, I suppose."

There was dead silence. The " old woman " rose and retired to the
other cabin ; the youths had long before ascended the ladder which led
to their bed in the garret, and my host seemed to have finished. But
it was evident there was something more, and it was the most painful
part of his story. The old wall-sweep clock struck nine in a loud,
aggressive tone, which roused the old man, and he resumed in a dif-
ferent manner a mingling of regret and indignation:-

" It was a bad thing, a mighty bad thing, for old Tennessee, when the
Whig party died. I felt in my bones no good could come of it. But
I didn't think it would touch me so close as it did. I knowed trouble
would come, but couldn't sec jist how. You know all about that. Our
folks was all agin the war from the start. I was down at Manchester
the day they hauled down the stars an' stripes, -an' sez I, l Men, you've
bit off more'n you can chaw ;' an' they laughed at me. But I knowed
them Northern men seed 'em in Californy. Slow, mighty slow, to
start a fight, but awful to hold on.

" But I sha'u't dwell on this. In less'n three mouths, sir, both my
boys was in it. I held up a year or more ; then come both armies
swecpin' South, an' what our folks left the Federals took. I thought
to make a crop yet, an' fixed up a good deal ; then come both armies
back north 'rd agin an' swep' me clean. But my old woman an' the
girls turned out an' helped, an' in '63 we 'scaped a long time. Then
they come South agin, an' we give it up. I really believed they'd
drive each other back an' for'rd there for years. Next year I got up
one mornin', an' there was a letter stuck under the door by some gew-
rillers, an' it said both my boys was bad shot, an' in the hospital at
Atlanta. I felt death in my bosom right then. But I sha'n't dwell on
this. An hour after sundown I was off on the only hoss we had left,
an' by daylight I was in the sand-hills along the Tennessee. The
country was full o' soldiers, but I got round all of 'em an' to Atlanta.
It was no good no good. Men was dyin' all round, an' families broke
up an' scattered, an' women an' children naked an' starvin'! What


was my troubles to them ? The boys was fur gone, an' no medicines
an' nothin' to help 'em could be got It was a might o' comfort,
though, to see 'em 'fore they died, an' take back some keepsakes to
their mother. Oh, stranger, that war was a powerful sight o' trouble
to us all !

"They was buried, along with hundreds of others, an' I was gettiu'
ready to start back, when up steps a chap, an' sez he, ' Old man, we
want you can't spare a man now that can shoot.' An' I jist had a
chance to send word home, an' then took the place my oldest boy had ;
an' nigh a year after, when that regiment give in to old Sherman, I
was one of the thirty-six all that was left of a big regiment.

" * * * I found my folks at a neighbors, but on my place they
wasn't a stick nor a rail. I hadn't the heart to try it there agin. We
got word that my wife's mother had died in the Cherokee Nation, an'
left a good claim ; so I turned over the Tennessee land to my son-in-
law (he married my only girl), an' had him take the other grand-chil-
dren, too, an' he outfitted us for the Nation.

" My wife proved up on her Cherokee blood, an' I was let in under
their law as bein' married to a Cherokee that had head-rights, an' we
took her mother's place. Nice fixed up, too, it was, on Grand River,
jist across from Fort Gibson, an' there my grandsons that come with
us made two crops, an' then all at once the troubles about the Chero-
kees started up again. I turned cold 'round the heart when I heard
it I did want rest so bad. Then I looked back only forty years, to
the time when all the country, from Tennessee here, was wild, an'
President, Congress, an' all said if the Cherokees would only come out
here they wouldn't be bothered for ages an' ages, an' now this country's
older 'n Tennessee was then. Neither did any man own his land in
the Cherokee Nation; it was common, an' we owned jist the improve-
ments. So I took a good long look at the matter, an' sez I, l Once
more, Natie, dear (that's my wife), we've got to go once more ; this is
too good a country for Injins to keep if white men want it, an' you can
swear they will long 'fore we die.'

" So I traded that claim for this piece up here, an' my grandsons
stuck, an' I guess we'll get along. What I dread more'n any thing is
another war."

" Why, what reason have you to dread it ?"

t(t Burnt child,' you know. All my life I've been a man of peace,
an' yet every fuss that come up hurt me. Three times I've been broke
up an' ruined by wars an' troubles I had no hand in briugiu' on. Don't
you think they'll keep peace while I live?"


There was for a brief moment a new look in his eye the eager,
pleading look of a hunted animal. I reassured him, and his face re-
sumed its usual air of placid humor and homely philosophy.

" The story's about done. Hope I hav'nt bored you. It's a sorter
queer world, aint it? Sometimes I think it jist was to be so, an' no
help, an' sometimes I conceit I ought to done better; but anyhow, all I
git outen the whole of my experience is that a man must keep peggin'
away. But you're noddin'. Better you go to sleep early." And di-
recting me to the ladder, this uncomplaining heir of adverse fortune
sought his bed in the other cabin.

Here was a man who had traveled over half the continent, been
farmer, boatman, miner, soldier, and Indian trader, and never imagined
that he had done more than his duty. Perhaps there is no moral to
be extracted from his story ; yet it somehow seems to me one on which
discontented respectability, cushioned in an easy chair, might profita-
bly ponder.



IT was an era of change and fierce excitement. Omaha was in her
speculative period. Daily hundreds of adventurous fortune-seekers set
out for the mountains, and daily the refluent tide landed half as many
of the returning a very few fortunate beyond their hopes, many about
as well oft as when they started, and quite as many utterly bankrupt.
Such a country could not but develop strange characters ; a man either
failed, lost hope, and sank into a " floater," or developed an amazing
capacity for lighting on his feet at every fall.

There, for instance, was my friend Will Wylie, who had seen the el-
ephant in its entirety, from trunk to tail. He went out in 1862, and
" struck it rich " on his first vent-
ure in the mines of Montana;
started with teams and wagons to
California, and on the way was
robbed of every ounce of his
"dust" by the then swarming
" road agents." They kindly left
him his stock, with which he got
through to California, and thence
made a highly successful trip to
Arizona. There he turned his
means into a freighting company,
and beguiled the lonesome hours
of his long drives over mountains and deserts by calculating his certain
wealth and early return to the States. When near Fort Whipple, and
not three hours ride from a well-manned United States post, the
Apaches attacked his train, stampeded all his stock but the mule he
rode, and burnt all his property they could not carry oif. By the light
of his blazing wagons he fled, with an arrow sticking in his cheek ; his
frightened animal ran till it dropped dead, but fortunately not till it
had carried him into the quadrangle of the fort. He was picked up in-
sensible, and in six weeks was out again with the loss of one eye. He-
turning to Montana, he joined the Vigilantes, and had the pleasure




of presiding at a " neck-tie sociable " where two of the men who had
robbed him were hanged. Some more " dust " was obtained out of the
old claim in which he still held an interest, and in 1867 he came down
on the Union Pacific as a trader. He had what he called a " big biz "
at each successive terminus town, and was now in Omaha to buy a
" little bill " of ten thousand dollars' worth of provisions, tobacco and
" bitters " for the new metropolis beyond Cheyenne. Three years after
I found him away up in the mountains of Utah, where he had put all
his available means in a new and half-developed mine, and was sinking
on the vein with tireless energy, in the daily hope of striking a bonanza.
These hopeful ones rarely make the most money, but without them
when would the Great West ever have been developed ?

There, too, was Jim Garraway (who, however, will never recognize
himself by this name), born and reared a gambler never knew much
else from boyhood. His father, companions, friends, all were gam-
blers ; as a baby he played with faro checks, and learned English in
the atmosphere of pool rooms. At twenty gaming was his (infatu-
ation. Now he had thoroughly reformed, never touched a card, and
was in a responsible position in Wells, Fargo & Co.'s employ. Two
years after he surprised me by a call at my office in Corinne, Utah.
He was freighting thence to Montana, the owner of mules and wagons
worth five thousand dollars. One evening, when idle time hung heavy
on his hands, he strayed into one of our " sporting rooms." The
smooth-spoken proprietor who so styled it, might have added, " What
is sport to us is death to you," for Jim's old infatuation returned. He
staked a pile of " chips " and won ; then made and lost, and made and
lost alternately, selling his stock when " broke," and scarcely ate or
slept till the tail of his last mule was "coppered on the jack."

Repentant and returning Mormons were numerous, but seldom
noisy. One I met who had been back and forth, in and out of the
Church, three times. Now he declared with profane emphasis that
this was the last time ; he had seen enough. One little party of a
hundred recusant Saints, of all ages from six months to seventy years,
had made the journey in primitive style with slow and patient ox-
teams, all the adults walking. They had left Salt Lake Valley as
soon as the caflons were clear of snow, and been three months on the
road. Their condition was wretched; for in those days, under the
iron-clad laws of Utah, no apostate ever got out of the Territory
with any thing worth leaving. The Mormon priesthood taught the
apostolic doctrine of "laying on of hands," and, the dissenters added,
what they laid hands on they generally got away with. These people




were destined to a "Josephite" settlement in . Iowa, and at Council
Bluffs they met three hundred new converts on their way to Utah, in
charge of a bishop and platoon of elders. But there was very little
intercourse between the two. The latter were fresh, hopeful, cheery,
singing the "songs of Zion," and rejoicing in their speedy escape from
"Babylon;" the recusants sad, weary, half mad and wholly heart-
sick. Quick to curse Brigham, they were yet but half cured of their
folly, and prepared to
surrender mind and
conscience to another
phase of the same delu-
sion. The elders watch-
ed their new recruits
without appearing to do
so, and at sight of the
others were full of
warnings and allusions
to Demas and those who
kept not the faith, and
were given over to be damned. In those days most of the dissenting
Saints left Utah; now they remain, and with the skeptical young Mor-
mons are building up a party which is very troublesome to Brigham.

Council Bluifs was once almost a Mormon town, and many places
in the vicinity were settled entirely by that sect. Apostates by thou-
sands are scattered through Iowa, in faith "half Mormon and half
nothing," but in practice good and industrious citizens. Mormonism
does not make a man a fanatic, unless he goes where the Church has
the majority and rules the country. Florence, six miles above Omaha,
with as pretty a site as I saw in Nebraska, was the original winter
quarters of the main body in their great exodus ; and according to the
sanguine belief of the Gentiles who succeeded them, was to have been
the great city instead of Omaha. It had the start, and no man can
say why it should not have held .it. But there is a mysterious law
which governs the location of great cities, and Florence is now only
a pretty suburb to the metropolis of Nebraska.

The last of July, 1868, 1 took the evening train for Laramie, then the
terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad. For a hundred and fifty miles
from Omaha the Platte Valley, which the road follows, is one of the rich-
est in the world. Then a change begins, and the country is higher,
dryer, and more barren with every hour's travel toward the mountains.
It is all the way up-hill. Omaha is 912 feet above sea-level; Cheyenne


5,600; and through all that long incline of 525 miles, the road-bed
maintains a nearly uniform up-grade of ten feet to the mile. At a few
places it sinks to a level, and for two short stages there is a down
grade westivard : from the Omaha level to the Platte Valley, and from
the " divide " down to Crow Creek, on which Cheyenne is situated.
Nature evidently designed this valley for a railroad route. The Indian
had used it from time immemorial; the voyageur and trapper trailed
it for a hundred years before California was known in the East ; then
the gold-hunters, Oregon settlers and Mormons turned the trail into a
broad wagon road, and lastly came the railroad, obedient to the same
necessities for water and a smooth route. West of Loup Fork we
found the soil a little more sandy, and the grass shorter, with a dry and
withered look ; and this change went on till at last we saw the heavy
verdure of the Missouri Valley no more, and were introduced to the
bunched and seeded grasses of the high plains and Rocky Mountains.
North Platte, where we took breakfast, was once a roaring terminus
"city ;" now a way station, with hotel and saloon attachment. Jules-
burg, 377 miles out, had been a busy city of 5,000 inhabitants; now
it was a wilderness of blackened chimneys and falling adobe walls, the
debris of a dead metropolis. In the old days of the overland stage, one
Julia, a Cherokee exile, kept the station hotel there ; and in the cheer-
ful frankness of Western life the place was known as " Dirty Jule's
Ranche." Thence " Jule's," and finally Julesburg. Similarly " Rob-
ber's Roost'' has been softened to Roosaville, and "Black Bills" to
Blackville. For three hundred miles we follow the course of the
Platte, a broad but dirty and uninviting stream, differing only from
a slough in having a swift current. Often a mile wide, but with no
more water than would fill an average canal, three inches of fluid run-
ning on top of several feet of moving quicksand; too thin to walk
on, too thick to drink, too shallow for navigation, too deep for safe
fording, too yellow to wash in, and too pale to paint with, it is the
most disappointing and useless river in America. Nevertheless, many
attempts have been made to navigate it, all ending in disaster. Nota-
ble among these was the venture of a party of hunters from New
England, who started from Laramie in the spring of 1843 to run two
flats loaded with furs to St. Louis. After two months arduous toil,
often unloading and dragging their boats over sand-bars, they at last
abandoned them, cached the property, N and walked to Council Bluffs,
where they arrived in July, nearly dead from fatigue and starvation.

Three hundred miles out, and the plains in all their vastness are
around us. The land rises into long ridges, stretching away swell on



swell as far as the eye can reach, as if the heaving ocean had suddenly
become firm fixed earth ; and immense pampas spread away alternating
flint and gravel with strips of wiry, curly grass, or at rare intervals
a protected growth of stunted shrubs. Only the lowest vales contain
any cultivable land, and that, to be productive, requires irrigation ; the
bright flowers of the Missouri Valley are seen no more, the lark-spur
alone retaining its hues; the wild sunflower and yellow saffron become
dust-hued and dwarfish, while milk-weed and resin-weed sustain a
sort of dying life, and cling with sickly hold to the harsh and forbid-


ding soil. Now appear depressed basins, with saline matter dried
upon the soil, and long flats white with alkali, as if they had been
sowed with lime. This is the "Great American Desert" of early
geographers, a region practically worthless to the agriculturist, though
half its surface is of some value for grazing. Antelope and prairie dog
show themselves in considerable numbers, but it is too late for the
buffalo; the main line of their northward migration passed two months
before, nor are they to be seen as in the good old time the hunters tell
about. I shall not inflict upon the reader the standard description of
these animals, much less the account of dog, owl and rattlesnake as a


happy family in one burrow; for this is meant to be a veracious chron-
icle, and though I have since spent many hours in "dog-towns," I do
not know such association to be a fact.

Passing the last and worst stage of the barren plains, we run down
into the Jittle oasis on Crow Creek, and to the " Magic City" of Chey-
enne. Its rapid rise and mad career had given it a national fame. On
the 3d of July, 1867, the first house was erected; on the 1st of No-
vember there was a population of 7,000, with a city government, a
municipal debt, and three daily papers. When spring dissolved the
snow banks and ice-packs from Sherman summit, the railroad pushed
on ; Laramie became the metropolis, and Cheyenne sank to a quiet
town of perhaps 1,200 people. Its further decay was arrested by the
development of sheep-ranching, and its location as the junction of the
Denver Pacific ; and now as the capital of Wyoming and most conven-
ient outfitting point for the Black Hills, it looks forward to another
era of prosperity.

While I rested a few days at Cheyenne, the railroad was rapidly
pushing westward, and soon another "metropolis" was laid off be-
yond Laramie. From Cheyenne the road bed is nearly level to
Hazard Station, officially pronounced the eastern base of the Rocky
Mountains; and thence the grade rises eighty feet per mile to Sher-
man, 8,342 feet above sea-level, and highest point on the Union
Pacific. Beyond that we have the magnificent scenery of Granite
Canon and Virginia Dale, the last now seeming peaceful as an Ar-
cadian dell, but with as bloody a history as any spot in the Rocky
Mountains. In the olden time it was the favorite abode of land
pirates, and every ravine in the vicinity was the scene of a murder.
Thence the road makes a sharp bend to the north, and we run rapidly
downward for forty miles to the new city of Laramie, already past
its greatness, and many of its inhabitants leaving for the next "me-
tropolis." Laramie Plains, though 7,000 feet above sea-level, abound
in rich pastures; but westward the grassy slopes yield rapidly to bar-
renness, and at Medicine Bow we enter fairly on the three-hundred-
mile desert. In the worst part of this waste we found Benton, the
great terminus town, six hundred and ninety-eight miles from Omaha.
Far as eye could see around the town, there was not a green tree,
shrub, or spear of grass. The red hills, scorched and bare as if
blasted by the lightnings of an angry God, bounded the white basin
on the north and east, while to the south and west spread the gray
desert till it was interrupted by another range of red and yellow hills.
The whole basin looked as if it might originally have been filled with


lye and sand, then dried to the consistency of hard soap, with glisten-
ing surface, tormenting alike to eye and sense.

Yet here had sprung up in two weeks as if by the touch of Alad-
din's Lamp a city of three thousand people; there were regular
squares arranged into five wards, a city government of mayor and
aldermen, a daily paper, and a volume of municipal ordinances. It
was the end of the freight and passenger, and beginning of the con-
struction division; twice every day immense trains arrived and de-
parted, and stages left for Utah, Montana and Idaho. All the goods
formerly hauled across the plains came here by rail, and were reship-
ped, and for ten hours daily the streets were thronged with motley
crowds of railroad men, Mexicans and Indians, gamblers, "cappers,"
and saloon-keepers, merchants, miners, and mule-whackers. The
streets were eight inches deep in white dust as I entered the city of
canvas tents and pole-houses ; the suburbs appeared as banks of dirty
white lime, and a new arrival with black clothes looked like nothing
so much as a cockroach struggling through a flour barrel.


Benton is only a memory now. A section house by the road-side, a
few piles of adobes, tin cans and other debris mark the site where sales
to the amount of millions were made in two months. The genesis and
evolution of these evanescent railroad cities was from the overland
trade. Two hundred thousand people in Colorado, Utah, Montana and
Idaho had to be supplied from the States, and every ounce of freight
sent them was formerly hauled from six to sixteen hundred miles. This
trade successively built up Independence, Westport, Kansas City, Atch-
ison, Leavenworth and Omaha ; but as soon as the Union Pacific was
started it took that route. Hence those "roaring towns" at the suc-
cessive termini, which sprang up like Jonah's gourd, and in most cases
withered away as suddenly when the road passed on. First on the list
was Columbus, Nebraska, and then Fort Kearney, where George
Francis Train confidently located the geographical center of the United
States, and future capital, and invested his money and his hopes.
Kearney is now a prosperous country village and Train a harmless
lunatic. North Platte suddenly rose from a bare sand bank to a city
of 4,000 people, with banks, insurance offices and city government, an


aristocracy and common people, old settlers and first families. Three
months after it consisted, in the sarcastic language of the Julesburgers,
of a hotel, two saloons, a bakery, section-house and another saloon.
Then came Julesburg, the wickedest city on the list. For sixty-three
days there was a homicide every day ; ten dance houses ran all night,
and thirty saloons paid license to the evanescent corporation.

The rise culminated at Cheyenne; thenceforward Laramie, Benton,
Green River City and Bryan grew successively smaller, and Bear
River City closed the chapter with a carnival of crime ending in a
pitched battle between citizens and roughs, in which twelve men were
killed and twenty wounded. But the history would be incomplete
without the annals of Wahsatch, built upon the summit of Wasatch
Mountains, 7,000 feet above the sea, in ten days of January, 1869,
while the mercury ranged from zero to ten degrees below. Despite
the intense cold, the sound of hammer and saw was heard day and
night, and restaurants were fitted up in such haste that meals were
served while the carpenters were putting on the second thickness of
weatherboarding. I ate my first breakfast there in one where the mer-
cury stood at five degrees below zero ! A drop of the hottest coffee
spilled upon the cloth froze in a minute, while gravy and butter solid-
ified in spite of the swiftest eater.

It was a " wicked city." During its lively existence of three
months it established a graveyard with forty -three occupants, of whom

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 5 of 62)