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 6 of 62)
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not one died of disease. Some were killed by accident; a few got
drunk and were frozen ; three were hanged, and several killed in a fight
or murdered; one "girl" stifled herself with charcoal fumes, and
another inhaled sweet death from subtle chloroform.

Transactions in real estate in all these towns were, of course, most
tiUcertain ; and every thing that looked solid was a sham. Red brick
fronts, brown stone fronts, and stuccoed walls, were found to have been
made to order in Chicago, and shipped in (pine) sections. Ready->
made houses were finally sent out in lots, boxed, marked and num-
bered ; half a dozen men could erect a block in a day, and two boys
with screw-drivers put up a " habitable dwelling " in three hours. A
very good gray-stone stucco front, with plain sides, twenty by forty
tent, could be had for three hundred dollars ; and if one's business hap-
pened to desert him, or the town moved on, he only had to take his
store to pieces, ship it on a platform car to the next city, and set up
again. There was a pleasing versatility of talent in the population of
such towns.

To return to Benton. The Mormon converts were going forward


in large parties; 4,000 left Europe for Utah in 1868, that being the
largest emigration of any year since the Church was founded. The
number of arrivals now scarcely equals that of the apostates. Freight-
ing to Salt Lake was also active, and teamsters being in demand, I
took a position as engineer of a six-mule team, at a salary of forty dol-
lars per month. Our " outfit " numbered ten wagons, sixty-one mules
and sixteen men, including a night-herder, wagon-boss and four passen-
gers. The four hundred miles to Salt Lake occupied four weeks, two-
thirds of the way being through deserts of sand, soda and alkali, where
we thought ourselves fortunate in finding a patch of bunch-grass once
every twenty-four hours. The first night we formed corral at Raw-
lins Springs, and the next in a walled basin on the old stage* road, at
what is called " Dug Springs." In the center of the basin was an alka-
line lake which, moved by the evening breeze, looked like foaming
soapsuds; but on its margin was a spring of pure water. Thence we
moved on to the " Divide of the Continent," a plateau of sand and rock,
dotted with alkaline lakes in which "cat-fish with legs," as plainsmen
style them, are abundant. I afterward saw tne same species at Cafion
Bonito, Arizona, where the Navajo boys shot their arrows through
them to secure me a few specimens. Science classes them as siredons,
a species of lizards.

Leaving this unpleasant country by way of Bridger's Pass, we were
soon upon the westward slope, and for three days toiled down Bitter
Creek the horror of overland teamsters where all possible ills of
western travel are united. At daybreak we rose, stiff with cold, to
catch the only temperate hour for driving. By nine A. M. the heat
\vas most exhausting. The road was worked up into a bed of blinding
white dust by the laborers on the railroad grade, and a gray mist of
ash and earthy powder hung over the valley, which obscured the sun,
but did not lessen its heat. At intervals the " Twenty-mile Desert,"
the " Red Sand Desert," and the " White Desert " crossed our way,
presenting beds of sand and soda, through which the half-choked men
and animals toiled and struggled, in a dry air and under a scorching
sky. In vain the yells and curses of the teamsters doubled and re-
doubled, blasphemies that one might expect to inspire a mule with dia-
bolical strength; in vain the fearful "black-snake" curled and popped
over the animals' backs, sometimes gashing the skin, and sometimes
raising welts the size of one's finger. For a few rods they would strug-
gle on, dragging the heavy load through the clogging banks, and then
stop exhausted, sinking to their knees in the hot and ashy heaps. Then
two of us would unite our teams and drag through to the next solid



piece of ground, where, for a few Hundred yards, the wind had remove^
the loose heaps, and left bare the flinty and gravelly subsoil. Thus,
by most exhausting labor, we accomplished ten or twelve miles a day.
Half an hour or more of temperate coolness then gave us respite till
soon after sundown, when the cold wind came down, as if in heavy vol-
umes, from the snowy range, ami tropic heat was succeeded by arctic
cold with amazing suddenness. On the 27th of August my mules
were exhausted with heat; that night ice formed in our buckets as
thick as a pane of glass.

Thence across Green River we found Bridger Plains and the valley

of Bear River delightful by comparison,
and at noon of September 4th passed the
summit of the Wasatch and entered Echo
Canon. Two days we traveled down this
great ravine, enjoying a succession of ro-
mantic views sometimes down in the very
bed of the stream, and sometimes far up
the rocky sides of the cliff, where the
"dug- way" wound in and out along the
projecting " benches." Emerging thence
into Weber Valley, we came upon the first
gardens and cultivated fields I had seen for
a thousand miles. The Mormon dwellings
would have appeared poor and mean in-
deed in the States, but to one just from the
barren plains the valley was pretty enough.
The railroad now runs down Weber Cafion,
but we followed the old stage and wagon road southward up the Weber
and over the divide into Parley's Park.

Thence down the wild gorge known as Parleys Cafion, where every
turn brings to view a fresh delight in the sublime and beautiful ; and
out upon the " bench," on the evening of September 9th, we saw the
great valley of Jordan, and the Salt Lake spreading far to the north
and west. Twenty miles westward the Oquirrh Range glowed in the
clear air, a shining mass of blue and white. Great Salt Lake ex-
tended beyond our sight to the northward, its surface glisten-
ing in the light of the declining sun, while to our right the
" City of the Saints " as yet appeared but a white spot on the land-
scape. To our left the caflon of the Jordan seemed to close, giving the
impression that that stream poured from the hills, while down the cen-
ter of the valley the river shone like a glimmering band of silver. A




little farther and I marked the great dome of the Tabernacle, and then
the smaller buildings of Salt Lake City, rise out of the evening mirage,
with only the interest of a traveler, and little thinking of the years in
which that was to be my home, or in what mysterious ways I was to be
identified with its social and political combats.


But before I enter on the hackneyed themes of Utah and Mormon-
ism, allow me, indulgent reader, to relieve the tedium of a merely per-
sonal narrative by giving the story of one who sought the Westera
Wilds from more heroic motives than mine.



WE sat, my partner Robert Geffroy and I, upon the rocky slope of
Griffith Mountain, that looks down upon Georgetown, Colorado. Two
thousand feet below us the city seemed sunk in. a great cleft in the
earth ; around it rose on all sides precipitous mountains, their summits
still covered with snow, though the June sun shone Avarm upon them,
and the little pools fed by rivulets from the snow banks were bordered

by bright flowers. At our feet
the brawling brook formed a
clear pool, the usual resting
place of those who walked to
the summit; a little below it
plunged by a series of musical
cascades into a granite cafion,
and was lost among the foot
hills. While our side of the
mountain was still in shadow,
beyond the town the line of
shade and morning sunlight
crept slowly down the face of
Republican Mountain. My
companion gazed long and
earnestly upon the sublime
"WB SAT UPON THE .ROCKY SLOPE OF GRIFFITH scenery with that gentle melan-
MOUNTAIN." choly which habitually shaded

his fine countenance. At length his dark eye, beautiful Avith the clear
depth peculiar to the Swiss mountaineer, moistened a little, and he fell
into one of his rare poetical moods. I had shared Avith him the vicis-
situdes of a miner's life, and had found the usually taciturn man of
some fifty years a most pleasing companion. Never intemperate, as
were so many of the older miners, never garrulous or boastful, there
were yet times when some undercurrent of intense thought bubbled to
the surface ; then, in free converse in our cabin, he Avas the most fas-
cinating of men. His language, with just enough of foreign accent,



was that of one who had learned it from books rather than men ; his
musical voice gave utterance to sentences loaded with poetic thoughts,
and his lightest remark would have borne the test of severest criticism.
To me he seemed a man of naturally ardent temperament and high
aims, but thwarted and long repressed, with mind turned perhaps to
unhealthful introspection. But to-day he was in an unusual mood ; he
had just passed through one of his seasons of deep sadness, and, as it
were, unconsciously, sought relief in friendly confidences. A light re-
mark from me on the many uncertainties and disappointments of a
miner's life led us on to a free discussion of the vexed questions of free
will and destiny.

"Are we," he asked, " indeed the authors of our course ? do we suc-
ceed by our own endeavors or fail by our own errors? or is there a
chain of circumstances running concurrent with our daily lives, and
ever shaping them to alien issues ?"

I defended with vehemence my views that we all make or mar our
own fortunes. He listened calmly, and replied :

" Hear, then, my story, and learn how often the great movements of
war and politics crush the humblest lives, and that not his own acts
merely, but the acts of all his contemporaries, determine one's destiny."

Thus began a series of confidences, which, continued some evenings
in our cabin, gave me the incidents of an eventful though humble life.
* # # # * * #

" I am, as you know, a native of beautiful Geneva, and my first rec-
ollections are of grand mountains, mirror-like lakes, and old monu-
ments. Mine was a childhood of rare happiness. My Swiss mother
united to the earnest vigor of her race that wondrous insight into the
nature and feelings of childhood, which seems a special gift of God to
the German people. My French father, while he had none of that
levity or cynic indifference to all religions which so many of that race
affect, was yet happily free from superstition, jealous of priestcraft, and,
for one in his position, quite a devotee of learning. From our English
visitors and customers I early acquired a smattering of their language,
and some vague ideas of that liberty which I then, in childish igno-
rance, supposed they enjoyed.

" Our family life is now present to my memory as a happy union of
social love and intellect. My father recited the poems of Racine and
Corneille, my mother rehearsed the fairy legends of her people ; both
delighted in the heroic annals of the Genevese, and loved to dwell on
the better days of that people. Around us was the sublime scenery of
Switzerland; our associations were largely with cultivated travelers,


and poetry was inwrought with ray childish nature. But my father
was still Frenchman enough to be given to the contemplation of vast
systems of social philosophy that peculiarly French philosophy which
takes great and comprehensive principles on trust, and believes that
man, once they are taught him, charmed by their beauty and symme-
try, will gladly embrace them. The federation of the world, the equal-
ization of conditions, the abolition of poverty these were the themes
that charmed his leisure hours, when not employed in the struggle to
further increase the inequality that was already great between him and
his poorer neighbors. How pleasing is that philosophy by which great
principles are first to be established, upon which society and govern-
ment are to be constructed like geometrical figures, and people mod-
eled to fit and adopt them ; but how much more practical and sensible
that cautious progress of your people and the English, which is taught
by events, and is sometimes willing to learn humbly at the tribunal of

"On such a nature as mine the daily hearing of these things had
momentous influence. Had I been bred to trade, it might have gone
well. Commerce would have corrected the errors of an overheated
imagination, and contact w r ith men as they are, proved a healthful cor-
rective to too much contemplation of them as they might bt,. But my
ambitious parents, who were vastly improved in circumstances by the
prosperous years that succeeded the general peace, and the return tide
of English travel, determined to bestow upon their only son a classical
education, at that day in Geneva thought to be the key to all prefer-
ments in church or state. Even now I feel a pang at what must have
been the keenness of their disappointment. Once entered upon my
classical studies, a new world was opened to my impressible mind.
Mythology I found but dull how could so grand a people have be-
lieved in such filthy deities? but the heroes of classic annals set my
very soul on fire. Could it be that such men had lived men that died
by battalions for the honor of their country, or ran upon their swords
rather than survive her liberty? I panted as I read, I breathed the
very spirit of Livy ; I shed tears over what other school-boys called
the dull pages of Tacitus. In moments of such enthusiasm, I had but
to close my eyes and recite the sonorous lines, and at once before me
rushed the awful pageant of the returning conqueror: his triumphal
car, the captured enemies of his country walking behind it, the blare
of trumpets, the tramp of victorious legions, while the welkin rang
with the shouts of Roman thousands. I struggled with the patriots
of Thermopylae, I defended the bridge with Horatius, with Dcntaltis


I bared my breast to traitors, I ran upon my sword in the despair of

" But when I read the bright annals of Geneva's better days, it was
as though I had breathed an intoxicating incense; and in the Refor-
mation I found a vein of antique heroism. Calvin, Pascal, the Wai-
dense, the Albigense, I wept over their sorrows and trials, was warmed
with their struggles, and glad in their triumphs. Not their religion,
but the exaltation of their patriotism excited me. How dull, then,
seemed the common-place life of our trading town, how mean its petty
economies; and how unworthy the destiny my parents had so fondly
imagined for me. The beautiful land and city which patriot reformers
had early saved from papal Rome, now seemed given up to the gods of
materialism and sold wholly to the commercial Satan. I was blinded
to the heroism of common life the true greatness of the many who
daily toil and suffer for those they love.

"Before reaching my eighteenth year I fully determined to seek a
land where political systems were yet to be developed, and might be
modeled upon abstract equity. I would be a citizen of the Republic
of Humanity. But where was such a land to be found ? The revolu-
tion of 1830 had only resulted in giving France another king; and
their so-called moderate monarchy I looked upon with abhorrence.
Like my classic models, I believed the very name of king incompatible
with freedom. England was still less tolerable. I associated it with
all that was hateful in titles and hereditary privileges. The New
World was the place to look for the Brotherhood of Man ; for the very
air of Europe was poisoned with priestcraft, and its soil barren of high
resolve. The South American States were struggling toward an auton-
omy, but, with the subtle instinct of the Teutonic blood, I distrusted
the lofty professions of a Latin race. Their short-lived liberty dem-
onstrated an inherent incapacity to respect the individual right, and
their young republic was only old despotism under new names and
forms. Republics, I was persuaded, could not coexist with priests ; for
with their politics I had nearly rejected my people's religion.

" With the little sum I could gain by long pleading with my parents,
I sought this republic, persuaded that here, when one met a man, he
met a brother.

" Need I say that I was cruelly disappointed. Without nobility, there
was almost equal caste ; and without old families, there was equal
tyranny in the new. Wealth and color made classes as widely diver-
gent as rank and birth, and in the boasted land of liberty, one-tenth
of the whole population were bondsmen. The republic was ruled by


an oligarchy of slaveholders, and along the same paths trod by Wash-
ington, black men were chased by republicans, or torn by blood-hounds,
for the crime of seeking freedom, in sight of the very school-houses
where boys declaimed in praise of William Tell. I visited the various
communes, where a few enthusiastic spirits had sought to establish the
Human Brotherhood on a basis of perfect equality. At New Harmony
I found the short-lived experiment already a failure. Communia was
even less satisfactory. The religious communes I found intolerable
from their plentiful lack of common sense ; and in the others observed
a grossness of conception that raised in my mind a wonder, not that
they failed, but that they should ever have been established. I turned
my steps toward Nauvoo, then rising into prominence as the last and
greatest attempt to establish a religious brotherhood. But there I
found all the evils of the old systems, with few of their corresponding
benefits : priestcraft without its paternal care, greed without a thought
of future reckoning insuring the defeat of its own aims, and a fanat-
icism which scorned the commonest suggestions of prudence. That
such a community would soon or late come into conflict with the
neighboring Americans, was certain.

"From Nauvoo, in the early months of 1842, I visited St. Louis,
meeting there an agent of the American Fur Company, with whom I
took employment. I was nearly cured of my early dreams, but still
hoped that a land might be found where humanity would have a fairer
chance, and rank and wealth confer no greater power than morals and
intellect. I sought the Western Wilds to commune with nature in her
unbroken solitudes, convinced that there, at least, the few residents were
as brothers. But humanity's weakness is common alike to the city and
the desert. On the vast plains, and amid the majestic mountains, wherever
man meets man, the struggle goes on even more fiercely, though not
more earnestly, than beneath the smooth surface of urban society.
Every-where the strong and ambitious are struggling to the front, the
weak and unskillful falling to the rear. Under the pressure of com-
mon danger or common want, the pioneers do indeed become 'as
brothers, for the safety of each is the good of all ; but the danger
passed or the want supplied, egotism asserts itself even more fiercely
for its temporary repression. Even as you have seen the unhurt buffa-
loes gore a wounded mate to death, lest its struggles and bellowings
attract the beast of prey, so the rushing crowd can not pause, lest he
who is up to-day go down to-morrow.

"February, 1843, found me at Fort Lancaster on the Platte, without
any particular aim. There I met Colonel Warfield, in the service of


the young republic of Texas, bearing a commission adorned with the
bold signature of Sam Houston, President. I was then twenty-two
years of age, and seriously debating with myself whether I should not
gladden the hearts of my parents by a return to the sober life of
Geneva. A few years had done wonders for me. Practical life had
taught me to dream no more of the Brotherhood of Man ; that liberty
and progress are to be secured by no cunningly devised schemes, but
earned by slow and toilsome steps of the individual, and that
priestcraft and despotism can not be argued out, but must be suffered
out. But I saw more clearly that a free republic, with all its faults, is
still the best attainable government, and a brief acquaintance with
Colonel Warfield revived much of my old enthusiasm. The Texans
had freed themselves from the tyrannous domination of another race,
and were struggling toward a more perfect liberty, and instinctively I
sympathized with them. With heightened color and eye glowing with
patriotic ardor, Colonel Warfield recounted the undying glories of the
Alamo, where Crockett, Travis and their brave companions died fight-
ing to the last; of Goliad, Corpus Christi and San Jacinto. It was
to me the classic age restored. Heroes walked the earth again. There
were giants in that land and in those days. But when he unfolded the
bullet-riddled flag that had waved over Corpus Christi, and told of
the brave men who there died beneath its folds, I was filled with zeal
to emulate their heroism.

" When he called for volunteers, a start only was needed, and, fol-
lowing my example, a dozen men promptly enrolled their names. We
were to be part of a volunteer company of riflemen, the remainder to
join us at the rendezvous just beyond the Arkansas, on the Rio de las
Animas, in what was then Mexican territory. We were to act as
a corps of observation to assist the main army, then on its way from
Texas, and were enlisted for nine months, each man to furnish his own
horse, gun, and accoutrements. The others accompanied Colonel
Warfield at once, but settlement with the company detained me ten
days, and I set out alone on the 9th of March. A snow-storm had
raged for a week, and, with a great deal of suffering, I made my way
alone to the mouth of the Fontaine Que Bouille, and thence, with a
single companion, to the rendezvous. Disappointment awaited me.
The expected detachment from the States had not arrived, and our
whole force numbered but twenty-four men adventurers, apparently,
from every clime under heaven, and well supplied as to arms and
horses. They were uniformed in dazzling variety, but in one respect
harmoniously a uniform of furs, blankets, and rags !




If I was amazed at the appearance of these patriots, how much
more was I confounded by their language ! Can I record their con-
versation, their absurd views of political morality, their desires, their
hopes ! A few were, I trust, like myself, acting from pure love of
liberty, a few for the good of the republic, more from a hope of gain,
and most from the pure abandon of Western character. But from the
eyes of all gleamed a good nature that gave hope of social comfort and
safety among them, while the cheerful frankness with which they spoke
of their past indicated too plainly that a few of them felt more comfortable


beyond the reach of legal process. One young man, whose conversa-
tion showed some culture, evinced great anxiety to form a junction
with the main army, and penetrate at once into the Mexican settle-
ments and no wonder. I afterwards learned that he had left St.
Louis impromptu, somewhat in arrears in his accounts with a bank in
which he had been employed. His most intimate companion was
equally eager for an early advance. The friends of a lady in Ohio, he
frankly stated, had given him a great deal of trouble all uncalled for,


he insisted ; but the laws of that Puritanic commonwealth were odi-
ous and tyrannical upon social subjects. He was an ardent advocate
of individual liberty. Another avowed himself weary of a life of
hardships on the mountains and plains; he was going down into
Mexico for a little rest. His right-hand neighbor had left the
States because he was tired of a humdrum life ; he wanted a change.
One went for variety, another to find a location ; all seemed to think
the expedition a brief holiday, which was to end in victory and abun-
dance. They had our future course fully settled: we should travel
leisurely across prairies rich in grass, thread cafions alive with game,
and effect a junction with the Texan Invincibles. a thousand strong;
then march on the settlements, encounter perhaps some thousands of
Mexican soldiers, scatter them like the wind, dictate terms to Old Armijo,
in Santa Fe, make an advantageous peace, and settle down in the mild
climate and on the fertile soil of the Rio Grande to a life of dreamful
ease. There was much talk of dark-eyed senoritas, dowered with vast
ranches, where the contented owner would ride amid his thousands of
sheep and cattle, pluck the luscious grape, and drink from great casks

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 6 of 62)