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they were found, to the surprise of the traders,
to perform almost equal to rnules. Since that
time, upon an average about half of the wa-


gons in these expeditions have been drawn
by oxen. They possess many advantages,
such as pulling heavier loads than the same
number of mules, particularly through muddy
01 sandy places ; but they generally fall off in
strength as the prairie grass becomes drier and
shorter, and often arrive at their destination in
a most shocking plight In this condition I
have seen them sacrificed at Santa Fe for ten
dollars the pair; though in more favorable
seasons, they sometimes remain strong enough
to be driven back to the United States the
same fall. Therefore, although the original
cost of a team of mules is much greater, the
loss ultimately sustained by them is usually
less, to say nothing of the comfort of being
able to travel faster and more at ease. The
inferiority of oxen as regards endurance is
partially owing to the tenderness of their
feet ; for there are very few among the thou-
sands who have travelled on the Prairies that
ever knew how to shoe them properly. Many
have resorted to the curious expedient of
shoeing their animals with ' moccasins' made
of raw buffalo-skin, which does remarkably
well as long as the weather remains dry; but
when wet, they are soon worn through.
Even mules, for the most part, perform the
entire trip wiihout being shod at all ; though
the hoofs often become very smooth, which
frequently renders all their movements on
the dry grassy surface nearly as laborious as
if they were treading on ice.

The supplies being at length procured, and


all necessary preliminaries systematically
gone through, the trader begins the difficult
task of loading his wagons. Those who under-
stand their business, take every precaution so
to stow away their packages that no jolting
on the road can afterwards disturb the order
in which they had been disposed. The
ingenuity displayed on these occasions has
frequently been such, that after a tedious
journey of eight hundred miles, the goods
have been found to have sustained much less
injury, than they would have experienced on
a turnpike-road, or from the ordinary hand-
ling of property upon our western steam-boats.
The next great difficulty the traders have to
encounter is in training those animals that
have never before been worked, which is fre-
quently attended by an immensity of trouble.
There is nothing, however, in the mode of
harnessing and conducting teams in prairie
travelling, which differs materially from that
practised on the public highways throughout
the States, the representations of certain
travellers to the contrary, notwithstanding.
From the amusing descriptions which are
sometimes given by this class of writers, one
would be apt to suppose that they had never
seen a wagon or a team of mules before, or
that they had just emerged for the first time
from the purlieu^of a large city. The pro-
pensity evinced by these writers for giving
an air of romance to everything they have
either seen or heard, would seem to imply a
conviction on their part, that no statement of


unvarnished facts can ever be stamped with
the seal of the world's approbation that a
work, in order to prove permanently attrac-
tive, should teem with absurdities and abound
in exaggerated details. How far such an
assumption would be correct, I shall not pause
to inquire.

At last all are fairly launched upon the
broad prairie the miseries of preparation are
over the thousand anxieties occasioned by
wearisome consultations and delays are felt
no more. The charioteer, as he smacks his
whip, feels a bounding elasticity of soul within
him, which he finds it impossible to restrain ;
even the mules prick up their ears with a
peculiarly conceited air, as if in anticipation
of that change of scene which will presently
follow. Harmony and good feeling prevail
everywhere. The hilarious song, the bon
mot and the witty repartee, go round in quick
succession ; and before people have had
leisure to take cognizance of the fact, the
lively village of Independence, with its mul-
titude of associations, is already lost to the

It was on the 15th of May, 1831, and one
of the brightest and most lovely of all the
days in the calendar, that our little party set
out from Independence. The general ren-
dezvous at Council Grove yas our immediate
destination. It is usual for the traders to
travel thus far in detached parties, and to as-
semble there for the purpose of entering into
some kind of organization, for mutual securi-


ty and defence during the remainder of the
journey. It was from thence that the for-
mation of the Caravan was to be dated, and
the chief interest of our journey to com-
mence : therefore, to this point we all looked
forward with great anxiety. The interme-
diate travel was marked by very few events
of any interest As the wagons had gone
before us, and we were riding in a light car-
riage, we were able to reach the Round
Grove, about thirty-five miles distant, on the
first day, where we joined the rear division of
the caravan, comprising about thirty wagons.

On the folio wing "day we had a foretaste of
those protracted, drizzling spells of rain, which,
at this season of the year, so much infest the
frontier prairies. It began sprinkling about
dark, and continued pouring without let or
hinderance for forty-eight hours in succession ;
and as the rain was accompanied by a heavy
north-wester, and our camp was pitched in
the open prairie, without a stick of available
timber within a mile of us, it must be allowed
that the whole formed a prelude anything
but flattering to valetudinarians. For my
own part, finding the dearborn carriage in
wliich I had a berth not exactly water-proof,
I rolled myself in a -blanket and lay snugly
coiled upon a tier of boxes and bales, under
cover of a wagon, and thus managed to
escape a very severe drenching.

It may be proper to observe here, for the
benefit of future travellers, that in order to
make a secure shelter for the cargo, against


the inclemencies of the weather, there should
be spread upon each wagon a pair of stout
Osnaburg sheets, with one of sufficient width
to reach the bottom of the body on each side,
so as to protect the goods from driving rains.
By omitting this important precaution many
packages of merchandise have been seriously
injured. Some have preferred lining the exte-
rior of the wagon-body by tacking a simple
strip of sheeting all around it. On the outward
trips especially, a pair of Mackinaw blankets
can be advantageously spread betwixt the
two sheets, which effectually secures the roof
against the worst of storms. This contri-
vance has also the merit of turning the blan-
kets into a profitable item of trade, by enabling
the owners to evade the custom-house officers,
who would otherwise seize them as contra-
band articles.

The mischief of the storm did not exhaust
itself, however, upon our persons. The loose
animals sought shelter in the groves at a con-
siderable distance from the -encampment, and
the wagoners being loth to turn out in search
of them during the rain, not a few of course,
when applied for, were missing. This, how-
ever, is no uncommon occurrence. Travellers
generally experience far more annoyance
from the straying of cattle during the first
hundred miles, than at any time afterwards;
because, apprehending no danger from the
wild Indians (who rarely approach within
two hundred miles of the border), they seldom
Keep any watch, although that is the v-


time when a cattle-guard is most needed. It
is only after some weeks' travel that the ani-
mals begin to feel attached to the caravan,
which they then consider about as much their
home as the stock-yard of a d^iry farm.

After leaving this spot the troubles
and vicissitudes of our journey began in
good earnest; for on reaching the narrow
ridge which separates the Osage and Kansas
waters (known as 'the Narrows'), we en-
countered a region of very troublesome quag-
mires. On such occasions it is quite com-
mon for a wagon to sink to the hubs in mud,
while the surface of the soil all around would
appear perfectly dry and smooth. To extri-
cate each other'^wagons we had frequently
to employ double and triple teams, with ' all
hands to the wheels' in addition often led
by the proprietors themselves up to the waist
in mud and water.

Three or four days after this, and while
crossing the head branches of the Osage river,
we experienced a momentary alarm. Con-
spicuously elevated upon a rod by the road-
side, we found a paper purporting to have
been written by the Kansas agent, stating that
a band of Pawnees were said to be lurking
in the vicinity ! The first excitement over,
however, the majority of our party came to
the conclusion that it was either a hoax of
some of the company in advance, or else a
stratagem of the Kaws (or Kansas Indians),
who, as well as the Osages, prowl about those
prairies, and steal from the caravans, during



the passage, when they entertain the slightest
hope that their maraudings will be laid to
others. They seldom venture further, how-
ever, than to seize upon an occasional stray
animal, which they frequently do with the
view alone of obtaining a reward for return-
ing it to its owner. As to the Pawnees, the
most experienced traders were well aware
that they had not been known to frequent
those latitudes since the commencement of
the Santa Fe trade. But what contributed
as much as anything else to lull the fears of
the timid, was an accession to our forces of
seventeen wagons which we overtook the
same evening.

Early on the 26th of Maf we reached the
long looked-for rendezvous of Council Grove,
where we joined the main body of the cara-
van. Lest this imposing title suggest to the
reader a snug and thriving village, it should
be observed, that, on the day of our departure
from Independence, we passed the last hu-
man abode upon our route ; therefore, from
the borders of Missouri to those of New Mex-
ico not even an Indian settlement greeted our

This point is nearly a hundred and fifty
miles from Independence, and consists of a
continuous stripe of timber nearly half a mile
in width, comprising the richest varieties of
trees ; such as oak, walnut, ash, elm, hickory,
etc., and extending all along the valleys of a
small stream known as ' Council Grove
creek/ the principal branch of the Neosho


river. This stream is bordered by the most
fertile bottoms and beautiful upland prairies,
well adapted to cultivation : such indeed is
the general character of the country from
thence to Independence. All who have tra-
versed these delightful regions, look forward
with anxiety to the day when the Indian title
to the land shall be extinguished, and flour-
ishing ' white' settlements dispel the gloom
which at present prevails over this uninhabit-
ed region. Much of this prolific country now
belongs to the Shawnees and other Indians
of the border, though some portion of it has
never been allotted to any tribe.

Frequent attempts have been made by
travellers to invest the Council Grove with a
romantic sort of interest, of which the follow-
ing fabulous vagaiy, which I find in a letter
that went the rounds of our journals, is an
amusing sample : " Here the Pawnee, Arapa-
ho, Comanche, Loup and Eutaw Indians, all
of whom were at war with each other, meet
and smoke the pipe once a year." Now it is
more than probable that not a soul of most of
the tribes mentioned above ever saw the
Council Grove. Whatever may be the inte-
rest attached to this place, however, on ac-
count of its historical or fanciful associations,
one thing is very certain, that the novice,
even here, is sure to imagine himself in the
midst of lurking savages. These visionary-
fears are always a source of no little merri-
ment to the veteran of the field, who does not
hesitate to travel, with a single wagon and a


comrade or two, or even alone, from the Ar-
kansas river to Independence.

The facts connected with the designation
of this spot are simply these. Messrs. Reeves,
Sibley and Mathers, having been commission-
ed by the United States, in the year 1825, to
mark a road from the confines of Missouri to
Sante Fe, met on this spot with some bands
of Osages, with whom they concluded a trea-
ty, whereby the Indians agreed to allow all
citizens of the United States and Mexico to
pass unmolested, and even to lend their aid
to those engaged in the Santa Fe trade ; for
which they were to receive a gratification of
eight hundred dollars in merchandise. The
commissioners, on this occasion, gave to the
place the name of * Council Grove.'

But, although the route examined by the
Commissioners named above, was partially
marked out as far as the Arkansas, by raised
mounds, it seems to have been of but little
service to travellers, who continued to follow
the trail previously made by the wagons,
which is now the settled road to the region of
the short ' buffalo grass.'

The designation of ' Council Grove,' after
all, is perhaps the most appropriate that could
be given to this place ; for we there held a
' grand council,' at which the respective
claims of the different ' aspirants to office'
were considered, leaders selected, and a sys-
tem of government agreed upon, as is the
standing custom of these promiscuous cara-
vans. One would have supposed that elec-


tioneering and ' party spirit' would hardly
have penetrated so far into the wilderness :
but so it was. Even in our little community
we had our < office-seekers' and their 'poli-
tical adherents,' as earnest and as devoted as
any of the modern school of politicians in the
midst of civilization. After a great deal of
bickering and wordy warfare, however, all the
'candidates' found it expedient to decline,
and a gentleman by the name of Stanley,
without seeking, or even desiring the
* office,' was unanimously proclaimed ' Cap-
tain of the Caravan.' The powers of this
officer were undefined by any ' constitu-
tional provision,' and consequently vague
and uncertain: orders being only viewed
as mere requests, they are often obeyed or
neglected at the caprice of the subordi-
nates. It is necessary to observe, however,
that the captain is expected to direct the order
of travel during the day, and to designate the
camping-ground at night ; with many other
functions of a general character, in the exer-
cise of which the company find it convenient
to acquiesce. But the little attention that is
paid to his commands in cases of emergency,
I will leave the reader to become acquainted
with, as I did, by observing their manifesta-
tions during the progress of the expedition.

But after this comes the principal task of
organizing. The proprietors are first notified
by < proclamation' to furnish a list of their
men and wagons. The latter are generally
apportioned into four ' divisions,' particularly


when the company is large and ours con-
sisted of nearly a hundred wagons,* besides
a dozen of dearborns and other small vehi-
cles, and two small cannons (a four and six
pounder), each mounted upon a carriage. To
each of these divisions, a 'lieutenant' was ap-
pointed, whose duty it was to inspect every
ravine and creek on the route, select the best
crossings, and superintend what is called in
prairie parlance, the 'forming' of each en-

Upon the calling of the roll, we were found
to muster an efficient force of nearly two hun-
dred men without counting invalids or other
disabled bodies, who, as a matter of course,
are exempt from duty. There is nothing so
much dreaded by inexperienced travellers as
the ordeal of guard duty. But no matter what
the condition or employment of the indivi-
dual may be, no one has the smallest chance
of evading the ' common law of the prairies.'
The amateur tourist and the listless loafer are
precisely in the same wholesome predica-
ment they must all take their regular turn at
the watch. There is usually a set of genteel
idlers attached to every caravan, whose wits
are forever at work in devising schemes for
whiling away their irksome hours at the ex-
pense of others. By embarking in these ' trips
of pleasure,' they are enabled to live without
expense ; for the hospitable traders seldom
refuse to accommodate even a loafing compa-

* About half of these wagons were drawn by ox-teams, the rest
by mules. The capital in merchandise of the whole caravan was
about $200,000.


nion with a berth at their mess without charge.
But then these lounging attaches are expected
at least to do good service by way of guard
duty. None are even permitted to furnish a
substitute, as is frequently done in military ex-
peditions, for he that would undertake to stand
the tour of another besides his own, would
scarcely be watchful enough for the dangers
of the Prairies. Even the invalid must be
able to produce unequivocal proofs of his
inability, or it is a chance if the plea is ad-
mitted. For my own part, although I started
on the ' sick list,' and though the prairie sen-
tinel must v stand fast and brook the severest
storm (for then it is that the strictest watch is
necessary), I do not remember ever having
missed my post but once during the whole

The usual number of watches is eight,
each standing a fourth of every alternate night.
When the party is small the number is gene-
rally reduced ; while in the case of very small
bands, they are sometimes compelled for safe-
ty's sake to keep one watch on duty half the
night. With large caravans the captain usu-
ally appoints eight ' sergeants of the guard,'
each of whom takes an equal portion of men
under his command.

The heterogeneous appearance of our com-
pany, consisting of men from every class and
grade of society, with a little sprinkling of the
softer sex, would have formed an excellent
subject for an artist's pencil. It may appear,
perhaps, a little extraordinary that females


should have ventured across the Prairies under
such forlorn auspices. Those who accompa-
nied us, however, were members of a Span-
ish family who had been banished in 1829, in
pursuance of a decree of the Mexican con-
gress, and were now returning to their homes
in consequence of a suspension of the decree.
Other females, however, have crossed the
prairies to Santa Fe at different times, among
whom I have known two respectable French
ladies, who how reside in Chihuahua.

The wild and motley aspect of the caravan
can be but imperfectly conceived without an
idea of the costumes oi its various members.
The most ' fashionable ' prairie dress is the
fustian frock of the city-bred merchant
furnished with a multitude of pockets capa-
ble of accommodating a variety of ' extra
tackling.' Then there is the backwoodsman
with his linsey or leather hunting-shirt the
farmer with his blue jean coat the wagoner
with his flannel-sleeve vest besides an as-
sortment of other costumes which go to fill up
the picture.

In the article of fire-arms there is also an
equally interesting medley. The frontier
hunter sticks to his rifle, as nothing could in-
duce him to carry what he terms in derision
'the scatter-gun.' The sportsman from the
interior flourishes his double-barrelled fowling-
piece with equal confidence in its superiority.
The latter is certainly the most convenient
description of gun that can be carried on this
journey ; as a charge of buck-shot in night


attacks (which are the most common), will of
course be more likely to do execution than a
single rifle-ball fired at random. The i repeat-
ing 1 arms have lately been brought into use
upon the Prairies, and they are certainly very
formidable weapons, particularly when used
against an ignorant savage foe. A great
many were furnished beside with a bountiful
supply of pistols and knives of every descrip-
tion, so that the party made altogether a very
brigand-like appearance.

During our delay at the Council Grove, the
laborers were employed in procuring timber
for axle-trees and other wagon repairs, of
which a supply is always laid in before leav-
ing this region of substantial growths; for
henceforward there is no wood on the route
fit for these purposes ; not even in the moun-
tains of Santa Fe do we meet with any ser-
viceable timber. The supply procured here
is generally lashed under the wagons, in
which way a log is not unfrequentiy carried
to Santa Fe, and even sometimes back again*


The 'Catch up' Breaking up of the Encampment Perversity
of Mules Under way The Diamond Spring Eccentricities
of Oxen First Glance of the Antelope Buffalo Herds and .
Prairie Novices A John GilpinRace Culinary Preparations
A Buffalo Feast Appetite of Prairie Travellers Troubles
in Fording Streams Fresh Alarms and their Causes A
Wolfish Frolic Arkansas River Pleasing Scenery Cha-
racter of the Country Extraordinary Surgical Operation
The c Pawnee Rock ' Salutary Effects of Alarms New Or-
der of March Prairie Encampment and ' Upholstery ' Hop-
pling and Tethering of the ' Stock' Crossing the Arkansas
Great Battle with Rattlesnakes A Mustang Colt and a Mule
Fracas * The Caches ' Origin and Signification of the

OWING to the delays of organizing and
other preparations, we did not leave the
Council Grove camp till May 27th. Although
the usual hour of starting with the prairie
caravans is after an early breakfast, yet, on
this occasion, we were hindered till in the af-
ternoon. The familiar note of preparation,
" Catch up ! catch up !" was now sounded
from the captain's camp, and re-echoed from
every division and scattered group along the
valley. On such occasions, a scene of confu-
sion ensues, which must be seen to be appre-
ciated. The woods and dales resound with
the gleeful yells of the light-hearted wagon

'CATCH UP.' 51

ers, who, weary of inaction, and filled with
joy at the prospect of getting under way, be-
come clamorous in the extreme. Scarcely
does the jockey on the race-course ply his
whip more promptly at that magic word ' Go,'
than do these emulous wagoners fly to har-
nessing their mules at the spirit-stirring sound
of ' Catch up. 7 Each teamster vies with his
fellows who shall be soonest ready ; and it is a
matter of boastful pride to be the first to cry
out" All's set !"

The uproarious bustle which follows the
hallooing of those in pursuit of animals the
exclamations which the unruly brutes call
forth from their wrathful drivers; together
with the clatter of bells the rattle of yokes
and harness the jingle of chains all con-
spire to produce a clamorous confusion,
which would be altogether incomprehensible
without the assistance of the eyes ; while
these alone would hardly suffice to unravel
the labyrinthian manoeuvres and hurly-burly
of this precipitate breaking up. It is some-
times amusing to observe the athletic wagon-
er hurrying an animal to its post to see him
'heave upon' the halter of a stubborn mule,
while the brute as obstinately * sets back,' de-
termined not to 'move a peg' till his own
good pleasure thinks it proper to do so his
whole manner seeming to say, " Wait till your
hurry's over !" I have more than once seen a
driver hitch a harnessed animal to the halter,
and by that process haul 'his nmlishness' for-
ward, while each of his four projected feet



would leave a furrow behind ; until at last
the perplexed master would wrathfully ex-
claim, " A mule will be a mule any way you
can fix it ! "

" All's set !" is finally heard from some
teamster " All's set," is directly responded
from every quarter. " Stretch out !" immedi-
ately vociferates the captain. Then, the
' heps !' of drivers the cracking of whips
the trampling of feet the occasional creak
of wheels the rumbling of wagons form a
new scene of exquisite confusion, which I
shall not attempt further to describe. " Fall
in !" is heard from head-quarters, and the
wagons are forthwith strung out upon the
long inclined plain, which stretches to the
heights beyond Council Grove.

After fifteen miles' progress, we arrived at
the ' Diamond Spring' (a crystal fountain dis-
charging itself into a small brook), to which,

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