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 7 of 62)
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of red wine. This was their romance ; the reality is to come.

"After brief consultation, a division of forces was agreed upon.
Fourteen men, including the Colonel, were to go down to the ' Cross-
ing' (where the Santa Fe trail crossed the Arkansas), and await the
main body of riflemen from the States, or obey any orders from the
Texan force, while the remainder, among them myself, were to proceed
to the point where the Taos trail crossed the Las Animas, and act as a
scouting party until further orders. We set out on the 21st of March,
under command of a lieutenant, a gallant and graceful polyglot, who
gave command in three languages, and joked and swore in a dozen
more with inspiring fluency. That day we marched up the Timpas,
then turned south south-west, toward the Las Animas. Having started
with but one day's supply of provisions, and that of dried buffalo meat,
we soon suffered for food. Our dependence was upon game, but at
that season there is little grass, and animals are poor and shy. Two
days and three nights did we toil over the high and barren lands with-
out food, and only supplied with water from the pools filled by melting
snow. Our horses were so exhausted that we walked most of the time,
chewing only the cud of bitter fancies. Already the bright visions
with which we set out were dissipated, and an awful sense of impend-
ing calamity seemed to weigh down the spirits of every one. The
third day we killed a straggling wolf, which furnished us a miserable
meal just enough to excite a ravenous desire for something better.


Three days more we fasted, and came, completely exhausted, upon an
old Indian camp, where we found some green buffalo hides, which the
wolves had abandoned. These we scraped and boiled till we had a
pasty mixture resembling glue thickened with scraps of leather, upon
which we made a hearty meal. Again we fasted two days, and at
last, faint from starvation, descended into the valley of Las Animas.

" The green growth here and there greatly restored our horses, and,
despite the warning of the more experienced, some of the men ventured
to eat the cactus bulb, insisting that its rank properties might be erad-
icated by roasting it in hot sand and ashes, in the same manner as the
California Indians neutralize the virus of various roots. The first who
partook felt no immediate effects, and praised it highly, upon which we
all ate greedily, drinking freely at the same time of the slightly miner-
alized water of the Las Animas. But two hours' time showed that the
inherent properties of the cactus were but slightly neutralized, if at all.
Strange tremblings shook our frames, succeeded by dizziness and a de-
sire to vomit. These were followed soon by agonizing pains, in which
the sufferers rolled upon the ground in fearful contortions, and uttering
heart-rending cries. It was a night of unmitigated misery. All recov-
ered, but so weak that only three of the party were able to move about.
It was simply impossible to proceed, or even hunt for game. Accord-
ingly lots were cast between the horses, and the one thus condemned
was slaughtered for food. On this we made a most delicious meal, al-
ternately resting and eating at frequent intervals all day. Late at
night we were so far restored that we feasted with glad hearts, and
again the camp resounded with jokes, songs, and laughter. All were
clamorous to advance at once on the Mexican settlements. Daily I
saw more and more that mountaineers are much like children unduly
confident when all goes well, and correspondingly gloomy under the
pressure of distress. The equal mind, preserved in arduous toils and
fortune's sunshine, product of a higher mental cultivation, is not often
theirs; they are elated by good omens, and cast down by auguries of
ill ; their plans are often disturbed by the suggestion of night-mare
dreams, and gloomy apprehensions seize them from the unseasonable
flights of birds or other strange outgivings of animal instinct.

" With restored strength, and some few days' supply of food, we trav-
eled up stream, and were soon in the grand canon of the Rio de las An-
imas, as it is called by the Catholic Spaniards. This strange river,
with such extremes of delightful valley, barren waste, or gloomy and
forbidding caflon, has received corresponding names from all races.
The Indians call it the Wild River, the French christened it Piquer



L'Eau, or water of suffering, but the pious Spaniards name it River of
Souls, which your unpoetic but practical race have shortened to Purga-
tory. We soon entered the grand cafion where the stream cuts its
way through a high and barren table-land, running in a deep gorge, with
almost perpendicular sides. Sometimes these crowd
in upon the stream, and fallen rocks choke up its bed,
producing a series of beautiful cascades ; again, the
cliffs recede, and leave a little oval valley, inclosed
by red and yellow walls, rich in grass and timber,
and often abounding in game. At length we
reached a gorge too narrow and difficult for pass-
age, and were compelled to turn into a side gulch
and climb the almost perpendicular cliff, at least six
hundred feet in height. All day we toiled along a
series of rocky offsets, again and again lifting our
horses over the rocks by means of ropes attached
to their bodies, and at night-fall camped upon the
high mesa. Thence we followed only the general
course of the Las Animas until we arrived at our "*'
destined post, which was in a large grove of cot-
tonwoods just below where the Taos trail crosses
the stream. North and east were the sandy des-
erts, southward the tierras templadas that skirt the
heads of the Cimarron and the Colorado tributary to CASON DE LAS ANIMAS -
the Canadian ; but westward a more fertile plat rose even to the foot of
the Huaquetories, which your people now call the Spanish Peaks. There
we kept close guard upon the trail, expecting to capture some of the
enemy's scouts, but beyond that and herding our stock, were free from
care. Grass, game and pure water were abundant, and in a few days
every man felt equal to a hundred Mexicans. Again songs were heard,
and merriment reigned around the camp-fire; again did we hear of
that glorious future in Mexico. All the omens were propitious ; the
restored mountaineers had good dreams, and the birds again flew in
unison with their brightest hopes.

" Doubts of my companions, which had slumbered in time of toil and
trouble, returned amid abundance, but were happily set. at rest by a
circumstance that soon occurred. One day our guards hailed a small
. party, who fled northward, but were captured after a sharp chase of sev-
eral miles. They proved to be two Americans and an Englishman,
with two Mexican guides and servants, on their way from Santa Fe to
Fort Lancaster, and thence to the States. Having been successful


traders, they were well equipped, and had with them a large quantity
of gold and silver ; but, after hearing their account, our party released
them. It was evident then, that whatever our men might be, and how-
ever unworthy the motives of some, they were not marauders.

" From these travelers we received news that greatly disheartened us.
A European Spaniard, who had been in the Texan army of invasion
in 1842, and was then suspected of being a spy, had reported himself
for reenlistment, and been assigned to Colonel Warfield's command.
This action caused unusual confidence to be reposed in him, and after
gleaning all the information possible, he proceeded by the shortest
route to Santa Fe, and laid the whole case before the Mexican Gov-
ernor, Armijo. But that worthy had received still more circumstantial
accounts of us from some resident American traders, who had agents
out upon the plains, and who were base enough to betray the cause of
liberty for such favors in the remission of tariff duties, and other com-
mercial advantages, as a Mexican Governor at that time could extend.

" Soon after came a messenger from Colonel Warfield with orders to
join him at Rabbit Ears, a noted landmark midway between the
Cimarron and Arkansas. We had enough of the Las Animas, and our
lieutenant mapped out a new route, thus : south two and a half days to
the Cimarron, thence down it five days to the Santa Fe trail, and
thence north-west to Rabbit Ears. We entered at once upon the sandy
plain, which continued all the way to the Cimarron. Sometimes
cacti covered the sand so close that every step was dangerous, or thick
clusters of greasewood excluded all useful growth; and again naked
sterility denied footing to vegetable life. As we neared the Cimarron,
the region grew still more forbidding. Behind us was the desolate
table-land, before us the gloomy mountains; the few water holes were
poisonous with alkali or other mineral salts, and the men, half crazed
with thirst, declared with profane emphasis that such a country was
little worth fighting for. We descended through a side gorge into the
cafion of the Cimarron, winding along a buffalo trail, and upon a rocky
bench barely wide enough for our animals. The walls of this fissure
were at least eight hundred feet high, and facing each other at a
distance not exceeding twenty-five yards. A large stone, loosened at
the beginning of our descent, shot downward with the velocity of a
cannon-ball, while the echoes sounded from side to side in gloomy re-
vefberations. Once down to the bottom of the canon, our route was
easy enough along the course of the stream; at times in an oval
vale, adorned by heavy grovqs and vocal with the songs of birds,
again in a narrow cafion, and again out upon bare plats of burning sand.


But whether the few green plats were the beginning of mother nature's
mighty reform, to redeem the whole desert, or the last survivals in the
long struggle against increasing barrenness, we could not know. The
stream is large, and the water pure through this part of its course,
but as soon as we emerged upon the great plain, the Cimarron shrunk
to a mere rivulet, and in a little while vanished entirely. Thence for
hundreds of miles, it is said, scarcely a shrub or spear of grass adorns
its banks. The high plains between the Cimarron and Arkansas we
found even more desolate. There only the transient showers and melt-
ing snows of spring produce, in the most fa-
vored spots, a faint tinge of green. Then a

few pearly drops spatter eras; and peak, or "'^^KjS^^SSK^L^ //
.. & J . f . , . & , , *. ' \^mmftmmHir'-\ Hi
lmg( v , Q on the plain as though desolation halt

relented the work she had to do, or mother
nature sorrowed for her short-lived offspring ;
but soon all this is passed, and summer with
scorching days and dewless nights hastens to
ravish the evanescent beauties of spring and,
turn her green to stubble.

" Reaching the Santa Fe trail, we met a
friendly party of Arapahoes, who told us that
four hundred Mexican cavalry had gone
north in search of us only two days before. GETTING DOWN TO THE CIM-
As this was confirmed by evidences on

the trail, we strained every nerve to get across the desert and effect
a junction with the rest of the force. The season was already well
advanced, and, to avoid heat and thirst, we traveled as far as possible
that night. During the entire distance of some forty miles we found
no water, and till late the next afternoon men and horses suffered the
agonies of thirst. The animals finally became almost unmanageable,
and our principal pack-horse stampeded, carrying off considerable
ammunition, and could not be recovered. Coming up to the rendez-
vous, what was our disappointment to find, not the expected detach-
ment from the States, but the handful we had left a few weeks before
on the Arkansas. Discouragement and discontent now threatened
open mutiny. The season was late, and the hottest weather approach-
ing ; the water-holes were fast drying up, the Mexicans fully apprised
of our plans, and the whole country on our line of advance scoured
by their cavalry. Colonel Warfield hurriedly set forth the situation ;
then, with one of his nervous magnetic appeals, urged us to strike at
least one blow before retiring. By unanimous vote a new plan was


agreed upon. It would never do for us to return the way we had
come, as every water-hole was guarded, and an ambush set in every
mountain pass. We must strike one blow, and then, if the Texan
army never came, reach the Arkansas by a less frequented course.

" It was decided to go westward up the arroyo we were on, and then
straight south to the Cimarron again. The two days we followed the
arroyo, grass was abundant, and water enough found in the limestone
"pockets," which appear occasionally along these cafions. Thence
southward we pressed with all possible speed day and night over the
barren mesa, and when men and horses were frantic with thirst, again
arrived at the Cimarron. There we cached our surplus baggage, and
thence made another forced march across the rocky table-lands-' and
over a spur of the Taos Mountains, toward the nearest Me$icanftSttle-
ments. Halting in a green depression of the divide between the
waters flowing east and those of the Rio Grande, our scouts reported a
body of sixty Mexican cavalry in a fortified camp just ahead, and com-
manding the only pass to the settlements. Further scouting dis-
covered a point from which our whole force might overlook their
camp. This point we gained by a circuitous route next day, and
camped in a dense thicket of cedars and pines. Below was a consider-
able valley, through which ran a small stream bordered by cotton-
wood and willow ; in a dense grove of the former, and on the farther
bank of the stream, was the Mexican camp, beyond it a narrow pass
leading to a small town. It was agreed that we should effect a sur-
prise just beyond daylight next morning, capture the force if possible,
then make a dash into the town and retreat before they could raise a
force sufficient to oppose us.

" Soon after midnight we cautiously descended by a detour of some
five miles, which brought us down into the cottonwood thicket nearest
the enemy's camp. Thence we moved on slowly to the bank of the
stream, but were disconcerted to find it three times as large as it had
appeared from the hill. After a whispered consultation, it was de-
cided that the enemy's guards were upon the opposite bank and might
be surprised and disarmed. With this view we waded the almost ice-
cold stream so noiselessly that we were ascending the opposite bank
when the first sentinel hailed :

" l Quienes veniren ? ' (Who comes?)

" ' Que dijo ? ' (What do you say ?)

" ' Quienes veniren ! Caraho /' was his response, as he discharged his
piece at the nearest man, and fled into camp. We followed close, and
were upon the soldiers as they rose from sleep.


" 'Munchos Tejanos !' (Many Texans !) yelled the other sentinels,
as our men rushed upon and disarmed them.

'"Si, si, munckos Tejanos quieron los scoupdas!' was the cry, as
we sprang to prevent them. The five men named for that duty had
secured most of the arms, but a short, sharp struggle ensued, in which
five of the Mexicans were killed and as many wounded. But the sur-
prise was so complete that most of them fled precipitately toward the
pass. It was impossible to secure our prisoners and the captured
arms, and collect our horses in time to make the intended attack upon
the village before they could have been fully aroused and prepared.
We therefore hastily collected the arms and horses of the fugitives,
paroled the prisoners, destroyed every thing we could not carry off,
and pushed with all speed for the spur by which we might reach the
table-lands to the eastward. Reaching, late in the afternoon, a high
point in the eastward pass, we thought ourselves beyond pursuit, and
halted for a rest. In the general gayety, discipline was relaxed, and
the guards stationed with the horses ventured to leave their posts for a
few moments and enter camp. In the midst of our meal the shout was
heard : ' There go our horses ! ' and all hands sprang up only to witness
our noble cavallard under full headway before a body of Mexican
horsemen, while at the same instant a brisk fire was opened upon us
from flank and rear. For an instant we were paralyzed ; then seized
our arms, and, at the word of command, charged upon the enemy on the
hill in front. The panic-stricken Mexicans rushed down the opposite
slope, leaving three dead upon the ground ; we followed, and soon
cleared the field in all directions, till not an enemy was in sight.
One of the Mexicans had been holding two mustangs in the rear of
the attacking party, and though shot dead, still held the halters tight
gripped in his hands. Hurriedly cutting them loose, the St. Louis
man and I sprang upon the animals, and, despite the warning cry from
Colonel Warfield, dashed after the cavallard, now on the brow of the
plateau, two or three miles away, and going at full speed.

" It was madness, but we had little time to think. It was death, we
considered, to lose our horses in such a place, and to die in an attempt
to regain them could not be worse. A gallop of a few miles, without
gaining on the cavallard, gave us time to reconsider, and we turned re-
gretfully toward the camp. But as we did so, a party of at least fifty
Mexican horsemen appeared on the way we had come. A wild yell of
triumph rose upon the air, followed by a shower of scoupeta balls, one
of which laid my companion's horse dead, leaving its rider senseless
upon the ground. One instant I thought of surrender as a prisoner of


war. But quickly came the thought that, in the heated condition of
the enemy, certain death awaited me ; or, if not that, a lingering death
in a Spanish dungeon. I was nerved by desperation, and dashed down
a long slope to the right.

"From every hollow, from behind every sandy hillock, horsemen
seemed to rise, and still I cleared them all. The mustang was compar-
atively fresh, and, by frequent doubling and turning, I gained the ad-
vance on a long slope, which led westward to the plain. A hundred
Mexican cavalry were strung out behind me, the nearest just out of
range. Slowly I gained upon them, plying the spur savagely, and was
just beginning to breathe more freely, when suddenly there yawned
before me an arroyo with perpendicular sides, not more than twenty
feet wide, but of unknown depth. I reined my mustang back upon
his haunches at the very edge of the chasm, then turned to look my
last upon the earth. How fair then seemed the desert, but a little
while ago so wild and waste how bright the sun how majestic the
snowy mountains, glowing far to the north through the calm air !

"A yell of triumph from the enemy came with sudden jar upon my
ears, and close after it a shower of scoupeta balls ; one cut my coat-
sleeve, while another plowed a furrow along my cheek. The sharp
"sting of pain, the flow of warm blood, the insulting yell, maddened me.
I would not die would not consent to their triumph ; or, if die I must,
I would sell my life dearly. I turned and galloped fiercely towards the
foe, discharging my pistol as I advanced. In sheer astonishment at my
desperation, they drew up. Again animal fear reasserted itself the
mad instinct for one moment more of life and I turned towards the
chasm. Again the fierce, insulting yell of the mongrel cut-throats
again a shower of scoupeta balls. And now the enemy were near
enough for me to hear their insulting laugh their discussion in bastard
Spanish of the best method to finish me without danger. They came
on more and more slowly. Again a few scoupeta balls whistled around
me, and I felt the sting of another slight wound.

"Could my mustang leap the chasm? These mountain-trained
beasts were active ; he was young and strong ; at the worst it was but
death death sudden and bravely dared. Thus swifter than lightning
ran my thoughts in the awful presence of the unknown.

" Putting him at full speed, I spurred him to the very edge, then,
rising in my stirrups, loosed the reins as he bravely took the leap. I
hear, as if it were but yesterday, the loud yell from the astonished
Mexicans; I see again the frightful gorge in awful dreams again I
urge him to the fearful leap.



" With a tremendous bound he cleared the chasm, landing with his
fore feet on the opposite side. For one brief instant the life of horse
and man trembled in the balance. Hope, despair, joy, resignation
how rapidly I felt them all, but only for an instant. With deadly re-
bound, I felt myself thrown violently downward, and against the op-
posite side. Pure sunlight changed to fiery red, and again to dazzling


gray ; my mother's sad, sweet face looked down an instant from the
narrowed sky; streams of fire darted from the firmament, and after
them came darkness blacker than tongue can tell. Blow after blow
was rained upon my head ; my flesh was cut as with sharp knives. I
was an age in falling, and yet all was over in an instant. Conscious-
ness yielded, and I sank down, down, down into darkness, oblivion !
Was it death ?



" WAS I in the land of spirits ? Had the awful River of Souls in-
deed swallowed me up ? Dense darkness, blackness that could be felt,
was around me. Every faculty was suspended, except simple con-
sciousness ; of past or future I had no conception I only knew that I
was. It must be that I had passed from earth, and this was the region
into which philosophy had never penetrated.

" There was a slight rustle near me, and, exerting all my force of
will, I attempted to move ; there shot through me such a pang of agony
that I screamed aloud.

" ( Ah, povritta ! ' said a soft, musical voice, and delicate fingers
touched my forehead, and then were pressed upon my lips. I dimly
comprehended that I was to remain silent and still; but my pain
was too great, and I groaned again and again. I now perceived that
my left arm and leg were tightly bandaged, and held in rude wooden
frames ; my head also was covered with some tenacious strips. I was
helpless as a mummy. The gloom seemed to soften; a ray of light ap-
peared here and there, and a distant tinkling was heard, like the sound
of sheep bells. A cup was pressed to my lips ; I drank of a bitter de-
coction, and soon sank into a profound sleep.

"When I awoke, comparatively free from pain, there was light
enough to show that I was lying on a couch in a small room, in which
some one was moving about. The blanket which served for a door
was put aside, admitting the bright rays of the morning sun, and the
same soft voice spoke in Spanish.

" 'Are they out of sight, Gomez ?'

" ' Beyond El Sentinel, senorita,' was the reply.

" 'And gone ?'

"'To join the main body, maestro, mia; they will never look here.'

" I understood barely enough of the language to know that this im-
plied safety. The curtain was slowly drawn aside, and the speakers
departed. For hours I sought in vain to take up the tangled thread
of my existence. Geneva was clear in my mind, and I fancied myself
in some cave in the hills of Switzerland. I thought, and thought, and



thought again, ' Much wondering what I was, whence hither brought,
and how.' Beyond my school days I could not get the clew. Again
I slept, and awaking memory brought back my journey to the States,
the Texan expedition, and all at once I was again at the rendezvous ;
again I rushed madly on the chasm, again I dared the awful leap,
and, with a shriek, relapsed into insensibility.

" I was dimly conscious of two persons about my bed, both men ;
but men of a garb and color I had seen only in dreams. The one
who seemed to have most authority again pressed the bitter draught to
my lips, and I sank into a long refreshing sleep. When I awoke it
was midday, and I saw that I was in a room half cave, half cabin,
such as the Mexican herdsmen build far up the mountains. On the
wall were pictures of the Virgin and some saints, at the foot of the bed
a crucifix, while a few adornments of some elegance were scattered
about. It was evidently the abode of rude herdsmen, hastily refitted
by a woman. All this I saw in a few seconds of half-waking con-
sciousness. But only for an instant. As I moved, some one came
forward holding a cup, and at
sight of her, the red blood rushed
over my enfeebled frame. She
spoke. Away flew all my dreams
of Texan independence, away my
heroic plans for the Brotherhood

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 7 of 62)