James Cox.

My Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th online

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make it a purchasing station, which shall buy of the farmers of the West
the horses needed by the army, and train the animals for regular use
before sending them to the various posts.

Present plans also include an increase in the number of soldiers
stationed at Fort Riley to 3,000. If the proposed increase in the
standing army is carried out, there may be more than that. The
Government evidently has faith in the location of the fort. While it has
abandoned and consolidated other stations, it has all the time been
increasing its expenditures here, and the estimates for the next year
aggregate expenditures of over $500,000, provided the Appropriation
Committee does its duty. There are plans of still further beautifying
the grounds, and the addition of more turnpikes and macadamized roads.

The State of Kansas, and especially Geary and Riley Counties, in which
the fort is situated, reap a considerable benefit from its location. The
perishable produce of the commissary department comes from the country
around. Hundreds of horses are bought at round prices, while the soldier
trade has sent Junction City, four miles west, ahead of all competitors
in Central Kansas for volume of business and population. Naturally,
Kansas is glad to see Fort Riley a permanency, and hopes that it may be
made the Government's chief Western post.

Kansas has been spoken of as the most wonderful State in the Union, and
in many respects it is fully entitled to its reputation in this respect.
It has had enough discouragements and drawbacks to ruin half a dozen
States, and nothing but the phenomenal fertility of the soil, and the
push and go of the pioneers who claim the State as their own, has
enabled Kansas to withstand difficulties and to sail buoyantly through
waves of danger into harbors of refuge. In its early days, border
warfare hindered development and drove many most desirable settlers to
more peaceful spots. Since then the prefix "Bleeding" has again been
used repeatedly in connection with the State, because of the succession
of droughts and plagues of grasshoppers and chinch bugs, which have
imperiled its credit and fair name. But Kansas remains to-day a great
State, with a magnificent future before it. The fertility of the soil is
more than phenomenal. Kansas corn is known throughout the world for its
excellency, and at the World's Fair in 1893 it took highest awards for
both the white and yellow varieties. In addition to this, it secured the
gold medal for the best corn in the world, as well as the highest awards
for red winter wheat flour, sorghum sugar and apples. Indeed, Kansas
soil produces almost anything to perfection, and the State, thanks
largely to works of irrigation in the extreme western section, is
producing larger quantities of indispensable agricultural products every

The very motto of the State indicates the early troubles through which
it went, the literal interpretation being "To the stars (and stripes)
through difficulties." The State is generally known now as the
"Sunflower State," and for many years the sword has given place to the
plowshare. But the very existence of Fort Riley shows that t his was not
always the condition of affairs. Early in the Eighteenth Century, French
fur-traders crossed over into Kansas, and, later on, Spanish explorers
were struck with the possibilities of the fertile plains. Local Indian
tribes were then at war, but a sense of common danger caused the
antagonistic red men to unite, and the white immigrants were massacred
in a body. After the famous Missouri Compromise of 1820, and the
Kansas-Nebraska Act of thirty years later, the slave issue became a very
live one in Kansas, and for some time the State was in a condition
bordering upon civil war. The convention of 1859, at Wyandotte, settled
this difficulty, and placed Kansas in the list of anti-slavery States.

Some ten years ago, after Kansas had enjoyed a period of the most unique
prosperity, from an agricultural standpoint, the general impression
began to prevail that the State was destined to become almost
immediately the greatest in the nation. Corn fields were platted out
into town sites, and additions to existing cities were arranged in every
direction. For a time it appeared as though there was little
exaggeration in the extravagant forecast of future greatness. Town lots
sold in a most remarkable manner, many valuable corners increasing in
value ten and twenty-fold in a single night. The era of railroad
building was coincident with the town boom craze, and Eastern people
were so anxious to obtain a share of the enormous profits to be made by
speculating in Kansas town lots, that money was telegraphed to agents
and banks all over the State, and options on real estate were sold very
much on the plan adopted by traders in stocks and bonds in Wall Street.

The greed of some, if not most, of the speculators, soon killed the
goose which laid the golden egg. The boom burst in a most pronounced
manner. People who had lost their heads found them again, and many a
farmer who had abandoned agriculture in order to get rich by trading in
lots, went back to his plow and his chores, a sadder and wiser, although
generally poorer, man. Many hundreds of thousands of dollars changed
hands during the boom. Exactly who "beat the game," to use the gambler's
expression, has never been known. Certain it is, that for every man in
Kansas who admits that he made money out of the excitement and
inflation, there are at least fifty who say that the boom well-nigh
ruined them.

Kansas is as large as Great Britain, larger than the whole of New
England combined, and a veritable empire in itself. It is a State of
magnificent proportions, and of the most unique and delightful history.
Three and a half centuries ago, Coronado, the great pioneer prospector
and adventurer, hunted Kansas from end to end in search of the precious
metals which he had been told could be found there in abundance. He
wandered over the immense stretch of prairies and searched along the
creek bottoms without finding what he sought. He speaks in his records
of "mighty plains and sandy heaths, smooth and wearisome and bare of
wood. All the way the plains are as full of crooked-back oxen as the
mountain Serena in Spain is of sheep."

These crooked-back oxen were of course buffaloes, or, more correctly
speaking, species of the American bison. No other continent was ever
blessed with a more magnificent and varied selection of beasts and birds
in forests and prairies than was North America. Kansas in particular was
fortunate in the possession of thousands of herds of buffaloes. Now it
has none, except a few in a domesticated state, with their old regal
glory departed forever. When we read the reports of travelers and
trappers, written little more than half a century ago, and treating of
the enormous buffalo herds that covered the prairies as far as the eye
could reach, we wonder whether these descriptions can be real, or
whether they are not more in the line of fables and the outgrowth of a
too vivid imagination.

If, thirty years ago, some wiseacre had come forward and predicted that
it would become necessary to devise means for the protection of this
enormous amount of game, he would have been laughed out of countenance.
Yet this extraordinary condition of affairs has actually come to pass.
Entire species of animals which belonged to the magnificent fauna of
North America are already extinct or are rapidly becoming so. The
sea-cow is one of these animals; the last specimens of which were seen
in 1767 and 1768. The Californian sea-elephant and the sea-dog of the
West Indies have shared a like fate. Not a trace of these animals has
been found for a long time. The extinction of the Labrador duck and the
great auk have often been deplored. Both of these birds may be regarded
as practically extinct. The last skeleton of the great auk was sold for
$600, the last skin for $650, and the last egg brought the fabulous sum
of $1,500.

Last, not least, the American bison is a thing of the past!

It has been historically proven that at the time of the discovery of
America, the buffalo herds covered the entire enormous territory from
Pennsylvania to Oregon and Nevada, and down to Mexico, and thirty years
ago the large emigrant caravans which traveled from the Eastern States
across the Mississippi to the gold fields of California, met with herds
of buffaloes, not numbering thousands, but hundreds of thousands. The
construction trains of the first Pacific Railroad were frequently
interrupted and delayed by wandering buffalo herds.

Today the United States may be traversed from end to end, and not a
single buffalo will be seen, and nothing remains to even indicate their
presence but the deep, well-trodden paths which they made years ago.
Rain has not been able to wash away these traces, and they are counted
among the "features" of the prairies, where the bisons once roamed in
undisturbed glory. It was a difficult task for the Government to gather
the last remnants, about 150 to 200 head, to stock Yellowstone Park with
them, and to prevent their complete extinction.

Undoubtedly, the buffalo was the most stupid animal of the prairies. In
small flocks, he eluded the hunter well enough; but in herds of
thousands, he cared not a whit for the shooting at the flanks of his
army. Any Indian or trapper, stationed behind some shrubs or earth hill,
could kill dozens of buffalo without disturbing the herd by the swish of
the arrow, the report of the rifle, or the dying groans of the wounded
animals. A general stampede ensued at times, which often led the herd
into morasses, or the quick-sand of the rivers, where they perished
miserably. The destruction was still greater when the leader of the herd
came upon some yawning abyss. Those behind drove him down into the deep,
and the entire herd followed blindly, only to be dashed to death.

The very stupidity of the bison helped to exterminate the race, where
human agency would have seemed well nigh inadequate.

Among the large game of the continent, the bison was the most important,
and furnished the numerous Indian tribes not only with abundant food,
but other things as well. They covered their tents with the thick skins,
and made saddles, boats, lassoes and shoes from them. Folded up, they
used them as beds, and wore them around their shoulders as a protection
against the winter's cold. Spoons and other utensils for the household
could be made from their hoofs and horns, and their bones were shaped
into all kinds of arms and weapons. The life and existence of the
prairie Indian depended almost entirely upon that of the buffalo. There
is no doubt that the Indians killed many buffaloes, but while the damage
may have been great, there was not much of a reduction noticeable in
their numbers, for the buffalo cow is an enormous breeder.

Conditions were changed, however, when the white man arrived with his
rifle, settled down on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and began to
drive the aborigines of the American continent further and further West.
With this crowding back of the Indians began that also of the buffalo,
and the destruction of the latter was far more rapid than that of the

It was about the middle of the Seventeenth Century when the first
English colonists climbed the summits of the Allegheny Mountains.
Enormous herds of buffalo grazed then in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and in the famous blue grass regions of
Kentucky. How fast the buffaloes became exterminated may best be
illustrated by the fact that, at the beginning of the present century,
the bison had entirely disappeared from the eastern banks of the
Mississippi. A few isolated herds could be found in Kentucky in 1792. In
1814 the animal had disappeared in Indiana and Illinois. When the white
settlers crossed the Mississippi, to seek connection with the
territories on the Pacific coast, the buffalo dominion, once so vast,
decreased from year to year, and finally it was split in two and divided
into a northern and southern strip. The cause of this division was the
California overland emigration, the route of which followed the Kansas
and Platte Rivers, cutting through the center of the buffalo regions.
These emigrants killed hundreds of thousands of animals, and the
division became still greater after the completion of the Union Pacific
line and the settlement of the adjacent districts.

The buffaloes of the southern strip were the first to be exterminated,
particularly when the building of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
Railroad facilitated entrance to the southern range.

Aside from the pleasure and excitement from a buffalo hunt, the yield
was a rich one, and troops of hunters swarmed over the Western prairies;
buffalo hunting became an industry which gave employment to thousands of
people. But human avarice knew no bounds, and massacred senselessly the
finest game with which this continent was stocked. The dimensions to
which this industry grew may best be guessed when it is stated that in
1872 more than 100,000 buffaloes were killed near Fort Dodge in three
months. During the summer of 1874, an expedition composed of sixteen
hunters killed 2,800 buffaloes, and during that same season one young
trapper boasted of having killed 3,000 animals. The sight of such a
slaughter scene was gruesome to behold. Colonel Dodge writes of it:
"During the fall of 1873 I rode across the prairie, where a year ago I
had hunted several herds. At the time we enjoyed the aspect of a myriad
of buffaloes, which were grazing peacefully over the prairies. Now we
rode past myriads of decaying cadavers and skeletons, which filled the
air with an insufferable stench. The broad plain which, a year ago, had
teemed with animals, was nothing more than a dead, foul desert."

Mr. Blackmore, another traveler, who went through Kansas at about the
same time, says that he counted, on four acres of ground, no less than
sixty-seven buffalo carcasses. As was to be expected, this wholesale
and, indeed, wanton slaughter brought its own reward and condemnation.
The price of buffalo skins dropped to 50 cents, although as much as
$3.00 had been paid regularly for them. Moreover, as the number of
animals killed was greater than could be removed, the decaying carcasses
attracted wolves, and even worse foes, to the farmyard, and terrible
damage to cattle resulted.

The Indians also were disturbed. "Poor Lo" complained of the wanton and
senseless killing of the principal means of his sustenance, and when the
white man with a laugh ignored these complaints, the Indians got on the
war-path, attacked settlements, killed cattle and stole provisions, thus
giving rise to conflicts, which devoured not only enormous sums of
money, but cost the lives of thousands of people. When the locust plague
swept over the fields of Kansas and destroyed the entire crop, the
settlers themselves hungered for the buffalo meat of which they had
robbed themselves, and vengeance came in more ways than one.

The extermination of the buffalo of the southern range was completed
about 1875; to the bisons of the northern range were given a few years'
grace. But the same scenes which were enacted in the South, repeated
themselves in the North, and the white barbarians were not satisfied
until they had killed the last of the noble game in 1885. When the
massacre was nearly over, a few isolated herds were collected and
transported to Yellowstone Park, where they have increased to about 400
during the last few years, protected by the hunting laws, which are
strictly enforced. With the exception of a very few specimens, tenderly
nursed by some cattle raisers in Kansas and Texas, and in some remote
parts of British America, these are the last animals of a species, which
two decades ago wandered in millions over the vast prairies of the West.



The Pilgrimage Across the Bad Lands to Utah - Incidents of the
March - Success of the New Colony - Religious Persecutions - Murder of an
Entire Family - The Curse of Polygamy - An Ideal City - Humors of Bathing
in Great Salt Lake.

About half a century ago one of the most remarkable pilgrimages of
modern times took place. Across what was then, not inaptly, described by
writers as an arid and repulsive desert, there advanced a procession of
the most unique and awe-inspiring character. History tells us of bands
of crusaders who tramped across Europe in order to rescue the Holy Land
from tyrants and invaders. On that occasion, all sorts and conditions of
men were represented, from the religious enthusiast, to the ignorant
bigot, and from the rich man who was sacrificing his all in the cause
that he believed to be right, to the tramp and ne'er-do-well, who had
allied himself with that cause for revenue only.

But the distance traversed by the crusaders six or seven hundred years
ago was insignificant compared with the distance traversed by the
pilgrims to whom we are referring. In addition to this, the country to
be crossed presented difficulties of a far more startling and
threatening character. There was before them a promised land in the
extreme distance, but there intervened a tract of land which seemed as
impassable a barrier as the much talked-of, but seldom inspected,
Chinese Wall of old. There was a region of desolation and death,
extending from the Sierra Nevadas to the border lines of Nebraska, and
from the Yellowstone to the Colorado Rivers. A profane writer once
suggested that the same Creator could hardly have brought into existence
this arid, barren and inhospitable region and the fertile plains and
beautiful mountains which surrounded it on all sides.

Civilization and irrigation have destroyed the most awful
characteristics of this region, but at the time to which we are
referring, it was about as bad from the standpoint of humanity and human
needs as could well be imagined. Here and there, there were lofty
mountains and deep cañons, as there are now, but the immense plains,
which occupy the bulk of the land, were unwatered and uncared for,
giving forth volumes of a penetrating alkali dust, almost as injurious
to human flesh as to human attire. Here and there, there were, of
course, little oases of comparative verdure, which were regarded by
unfortunate travelers not only as havens of refuge, but as little
heavens in the midst of a sea of despair. The trail across the desert,
naturally, ran through as many as possible of these successful efforts
of nature to resist decay, and along the trail there were to be found
skeletons and ghastly remains of men whose courage had exceeded their
ability, and who had succumbed to hunger and thirst in this great,
lonesome desert.

That no one lived in this region it would seem superfluous to state.
Occasionally a band of Indians would traverse it in search of hunting
grounds beyond, though, as a general rule, the red man left the country
severely alone, and made no effort to dispute the rights of the coyotes
and buzzards to sole possession.

Along the trail mentioned, there advanced at the period to which we have
referred, a procession which we have likened, in some respects, to the
advance of the crusaders in mediaeval days. Those who happened to see it
pass described this cavalcade as almost beyond conception. The first
impression from a distance was that an immense herd of buffalo were
advancing and creating the cloud of dust, which seemed to rise from the
bare ground and mount to the clouds. As it came nearer, and the figures
became more discernible, it was seen that the caravan was headed by a
band of armed horsemen. The animals were jaded and fatigued, and walked
with their heads low down and their knees bent out of shape and form.
Their riders seemed as exhausted as the animals themselves, and they
carried their dust-begrimed guns in anything but military fashion.
Behind them came hundreds, nay, thousands, of wagons, of all shapes and
builds, some of them entirely open and exposed, and others protected
more or less by canvas tilts. These wagons seemed to stretch back
indefinitely into space, and even when there was no undulation of the
surface to obstruct the view, the naked eye could not determine to any
degree the length of the procession. Near the front of the great
cavalcade was a wagon different in build and appearance to any of the
others. It was handsomely and even gaudily decorated, and it was covered
in so carefully that its occupants could sleep and rest as secure from
annoyance by the dust as though they were in bed at home.

Instead of two broken-down horses, six well-fed and well-watered steeds
were attached to the wagon, and it was evident that no matter how short
had been the supply of food and water, the horses and occupants of this
particular conveyance had had everything they desired. The occupant of
this wagon was a man who did not look to be more than thirty years of
age, but whose face and manner indicated that he was in the habit of
being obeyed rather than obeying. A great portion of his time was
occupied in reading from a large vellum-bound book, but from time to
time he laid it on one side to settle disputes which had arisen among
some of his ten thousand followers, or to issue orders of the most
emphatic and dogmatic character.

This man was Brigham Young, the successor of Joseph Smith, and the
chosen Prophet of the Mormons, who were marching across the desert in
search of the promised land, which they were informed had been set aside
for their purpose by the Ruler of the Universe.

We need not follow the fortunes and misfortunes of the zealous, if
misguided, men and families who followed their leader across the great
unwatered and almost unexplored desert. No one knows how many fell by
the wayside and succumbed to hunger, exhaustion or disease. The bulk of
the column, however, persevered in the march, and, through much sadness
and tribulation, finally arrived at a country which, while it was not
then by any means up to expectation or representation, at least
presented facilities and opportunities for living. When the great
valleys of Utah were reached, men who a few months before had been
strong and hardy, but who now were lank and lean, fell on their knees
and offered up thanksgiving for their deliverance, while the exhausted
women and children sought repose and rest, which had been denied them
for so many long, wearisome days.

But there was no time to be wasted in rejoicings over achievements, or
regrets over losses. The virgin acres before them were theirs for the
asking, or rather taking, and the Mormon colony set to work at once to
parcel out the land and to commence the building of homes. Whatever may
be said against the religious ideas of these pilgrims, too much credit
cannot be given them for the business-like energy which characterized
their every movement. A site was selected for what is now known as Salt
Lake City. Broad streets were laid out, building plans and rules
adopted, and every arrangement made for the construction of a handsome
and symmetrical city. Houses, streets and squares appeared almost by
magic, and in a very few weeks quite a healthy town was built up. Those
who in more Eastern regions had learned different trades were set to
work at callings of their choice, and for those who were agriculturally
disposed, farms were mapped out and reserved.

Fortunately for the newcomers, industry was a watchword among them, and
a country which had been up to that time a stranger to the plow and
shovel was drained and ditched, and very speedily planted to corn and
wheat. So fertile did this so-called arid ground prove to be, that one
year's crop threw aside all fears of further poverty, and prosperity
began to reign supreme. Had the Mormons confined themselves to work, and
had abandoned extreme religious and social ideas, impossible in an
enlightened age and country, they would have risen long before this into
an impregnable position in every respect.

But polygamy, hitherto restrained and checked by laws of Eastern States
and Territories, was now indulged in indiscriminately. The more wives a
member of the Mormon church possessed, the greater was his standing in
the community. The man who had but two or three wives was censured for
his want of enthusiasm, and he was frequently fined heavily by the
church, which was not above levying fines, and thus licensing alleged
irregularities. Some of the elders had more than a hundred wives each,
and these were maintained under relations of a most peculiar character.

Online LibraryJames CoxMy Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th → online text (page 5 of 24)