Raphael Pumpelly.

Travels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer online

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In the afternoon, as we came near the influence of the
mountain, the country became uneven, dry watercourses
appeared, the surface bore grasses of the semiarid region,
and cattle betokened the presence of ranches. We
camped near the site of Fort Buchanan.

Scarcely a trace remains of the fort nor of its suc-
cessor, Camp Crittenden. Looking at the site I remem-
bered the mingled feelings with which I last left it, and
our easy conscience in stealing the Colonel's pointer in
revenge, and how well the dog justified the theft.

A long drive along the Sonoita, and then a long ascent
among diabolically weird rock forms, brought us at
about 4,500 feet into the zone of live-oaks and mesquite
acacias. Here, too, charming small cacti nestled among
the bare rocks, and the yucca, the amole good substi-
tute for soap the Spanish bayonet and century plant.
Those yuccas! On lonely night rides along this same
route my imagination had seen in their dark bodies and
tall stems possible lance-bearing Apaches.

We were now on the Santa Rita property. It was be-
yond recognition. In my time live-oak and mesquite
trees gave the rolling country the appearance of a vast
orchard of old apple trees, and the surface was covered
with the semi-arid grasses and small cacti. Now all was
bare. The trees had been cut off; cloudbursts had
stripped the surface.

In a solitary adobe hut lived a Mexican with a pic-
turesque family. He tried to show the old hacienda.
There were ruins of houses, much later than my time ;
but my furnace was standing as part of the wall of one
of these, and the girls took as mementos pieces of the
slag that lay near.


In spite of the general desolation the grander features
of the scenery remained. On the north the great moun-
tain stood unchanged, its structural lines all leading up to
where at nearly 10,000 feet rose the ice-crowned peak.
On the south, above a steep ascent, were the long cliffs
that Grosvenor loved to sketch, and far in the west the
peak of Baboquivari.

The Mexican found for us the grave of Grosvenor in
a dense growth of brush. I had marked the spot with a
stone cut from a white volcanic tufa and had carved on
it a brief inscription. On the stone we now found the
legend was so well chiselled that I could not be sure that
it had not replaced mine.

I knew now that the curtain was again rising on the
dark drama of 1861, and that day by day memory would
reenact tragedies of those days. In the first of these
Grosvenor had been the victim. In every sense a man,
and lovable, his career had ended far from wife and
children. Mine was then beginning, and with it im-
portant phases of education. For one the still standing
fragment of my adobe furnace symbolized the end of a
struggle to use European methods in metallurgy in Ari-
zona, and the necessity of building anew on a founda-
tion of chemistry in theory, and adapting in practice
methods of Pliny, Agricola, and Mexico.

Another phase was the life among the most varied ele-
ments of a society living without the restraint of any
semblance of constituted authority, a condition that had
made possible the murder of my two predecessors and
two successors.

We did not succeed in finding the exact spot where
Grosvenor was killed so great a change had come over
the surface through cloudbursts burying the old road
and destroying vegetation. The Mexican who showed


us around the region was killed by lightning a few days
after we left.

On the way back to Tucson my left foot gave me some
trouble in walking for exercise, and in undressing about
midnight I found one of my toes wholly black so black
that I called for a doctor. He said it was gangrene and
the toe must be cut off at once.

" I don't believe it," I answered. " I'll wait and see."

" It is surely gangrene, senile gangrene," he insisted.
" You shouldn't wait. There was a man who came here
last year from Seattle with just such a toe. He waited
before letting me take it off, and then it was too late,
and I had to amputate at the ankle and again below the
hip. I'll come before ten to-morrow."

I went to bed. " At my age a toe more or less won't
make much difference," I thought, and slept soundly.
When in the morning I told the children, they went to
Captain Burgess. He gave the names of doctors to con-
sult, but none of them would meet with mine. On the
way back they met and told our head chauffeur.

He laughed and explained : " I saw Mr. Pumpelly
drop a big rock yesterday morning. Judging by his lan-
guage it must have hurt a lot ! "

When they told me this, I remembered that I had tried
to place stepping stones across a brook near the camp.
Standing with my left foot on the low bank and with
the right one on a wobbly stone behind, I had dropped a
large round stone, and at the same instant my right foot
had slipped into the icy cold water. Hence the " lan-
guage." The cold water had made me forget the little
incident of the impact of the stone.

When the doctor came prepared to operate, I dismissed
him with his fee for the night call. The next day the toe
was as good as ever.


In planning the journey I had intended to find some-
where in the high mountains a grassy watered valley with
an outlook far over the desert, but we had come too
early in the season. As an alternative we decided to
strike out boldly to a point about 100 miles distant on the
Mexican border where we should reach the *' Old Yuma
Trail " on which Poston and I had escaped from Arizona.
We would follow this for about 150 miles to Yuma. It
seemed a simple thing to do with three Ford cars and
three drivers. With the chauffeurs we made a party of

eight. Bancroft Librwf

Our blankets were in canvas rolls and lashed to the
automobile hoods. Tins of gasoline, boxes of food, and
cooking utensils were strapped to the running boards and
canvas bags of water hung on the sides of the cars.

The first day out our head chauffeur gave part of our
gasoline to a man in need thereof who said we could
replenish at Indian Oases.

Our first camp was among sahuaras by a clear brook
rushing down from the high gorges of Baboquivari
the only running water we were to see during the desert

MacDonald, the head chauffeur, a Scotchman born in
New England, had a fund of humor. I believe I have
abstained from telling any one else's stories, but he had
one that I can't help repeating. On a ship nearing the
equator there was an Irishman who was anxious to see
the " line " he had heard of. Next day the mate stretched
a hair from his own head across the lense of a telescope
and calling the Irishman said : " Now look quick and
you'll see the line." The victim took a look.

"Well, do you see the line?"

" Yes, and begorrah there's a camel walking on it."

Naturally there was no gasoline at Indian Oases.


" We would have to go to A jo," which meant at least a
three days' detour. In our disappointment we did not
realize that gift of gasoline was to bring luck.

I had heard Poston tell of his discovery of a mountain
of copper ore in the Ajo range in the fifties. I knew that
much later a herd of camels had been brought from
Arabia to bring water there, probably from the forty
miles distant Gila River, and that the only result was the
failure of the enterprise and the present belief in the
occasional appearance of a lone camel in the desert soli-

On the way thither we camped one night on a sheep
ranch where a large tank was full of water from a deep-
drilled well. The water contained great numbers of the
larvae of both the malarial Anopheles mosquito and the
innocent variety.

At last we looked down on Ajo. Capital and engineer-
ing were here preparing to create wealth in the waterless
waste ; wells hundreds of feet deep had tapped reservoirs.
We had a cordial welcome from Mr. Curley, the manager
of the New Cornelia Mining Company. But there was
no gasoline, only a chance that some might soon arrive.
It did arrive before night. Both detour and delay at Ajo
were doubly lucky, for I learned that for the rest of the
trip a guide would be absolutely necessary. With much
difficulty I engaged the only Indian who had seen the
Tina j as Alias on the Old Yuma Trail. These mountain
potholes must be reached and water found in them with-
out delay in trying to find them. Tomaso was eighty-
five, and his knowledge dated from forty years back. It
became evident later that the difficulty with Tomaso was
that he was torn between the call of the desert and the
risk of braving its dangers with eight " tender feet."


Three dollars a day and a promise to return him to his
home carried the day.

The other piece of luck less romantic was that the
delay enabled me to see the property, and this led me to
telegraph, later from Yuma, to buy a block of stock in
the Company which I soon sold for more than enough to
pay twice for the whole expedition.

The next day out from A jo we came to an abandoned
deep well where we were to fill our canvas bags with
water. Now it seems that new sacks hold water properly
only after soaking for two or more days. As ours had
been filled less than a day they were fast emptying. It
seems also that after hard work in raising a gallon or two
out of the well the chauffeurs decided that the water was
bad, and that anyway the supply in the bags would last to
the next water. They little knew the real desert.

After we had passed a party returning from hunting
wild sheep near the Gulf of California, two of their
guides galloped to overtake us. When they heard we
were going to Yuma they said it would be impossible for
us to make the journey in automobiles. It had never been
done and to fail would be extremely dangerous; but
since they thought we would, that year, find water at the
Tina j as Alt as we went on, We heard later that the
hunters on their return to Ajo wired to Yuma to send out
a party to rescue us.

Before long worse things began to happen. We had
come to a region where cloudbursts had cut broad shallow
channels in the sand plain. They varied from a few
yards to several rods in width, with banks a few inches
to a foot or more high. The first of these was very low,
but it took a long time and hard work to get one machine
after another over the banks with the aid of the engines


and with all hands pushing. The water was low in the
radiators and in the sacks. The dry air was hot and nine
throats were thirsty. Tomaso examined the water supply
and looked anxious. Then we came into a channel with
higher banks, where we stalled. No amount of effort
availed. Tomaso said we must not drink water. He
had already refused it for himself.

There was clearly an element of real danger in our
situation. An examination showed that many similar ob-
structions lay before us. Our sacks were losing water;
so, too, were three radiators. Unless we could find some
way to avoid this stalling we should die of thirst, for on
the dry desert one cannot live two days without water,
nor could the automobiles.

Fortunately I remembered having brought twelve yards
of wide canvas to pull over us at night if it should rain.
This we stretched so that the bank was under the middle.
Then with one man driving and the others pushing we
triumphed. As there had been no rain that canvas would
probably have been left by the way if the drivers, being
afraid of skunks, hadn't slung it, like a boat, between two
cars to sleep in. By its aid we got over the bad tract and
before dark came on to the smooth hard floor of a playa.
Here in 1861 a cloudburst had saved the lives of my
party. We were now on the Old Yuma Trail.

It was probably on the bad stretch just described that,
shortly after our experience, three men tried to cross the
desert in an automobile. Two of them died, and one was
strong enough to reach a point where he was rescued in
an exhausted condition.

We felt that we were now out of danger. We were on
the trail and only about fifteen miles from the Tide well.

The next night we camped at the abandoned Tule
well. Its water was both brackish and offensive, but on


the desert one may not be squeamish. Several months
later a friend who had been over that route on a survey
asked :

" How did you like the Tule well water?"

" Not much," I answered.

*' Naturally," he said, " for we found and left a man
in it two years ago."

From there to the Tina j as Alias we passed between
granite mountains that were disintegrating into the weird-
est of desert rock forms often deeply honeycombed by
sand blasting.

The Tina j as Alias (high tanks) are a series of holes
one above the other on the side of a bare granite moun-
tain. They seem to lie in a crack rather than in a ravine,
and the ascent from one to the other is a dangerous climb
up a precipice. My son found eight or nine of these
holes full of water, for during the last two years there
had been many cloudbursts on the mountains, and unusual
rains over all Arizona. Ordinarily the holes are dry un-
less there has occurred a cloudburst within a few weeks.
In 1 86 1 they stood half-way in a waterless stretch of a
hundred miles or more, and to find them empty meant al-
most certain death to man and beast. This was the
chance Poston and I had to face, and we were saved by a
downpour on the playa.

It is a matter of history that more than two thousand
persons have died of thirst and exhaustion on this part
of the " Old Yuma Trail." I remembered now, too well,
tales about these potholes to dare to peer towards the
bottom; the surface swarmed with larvae of mosquitoes,
malarial and others.

The lapse of half a century had wrought a great
change. I had seen on the trail along the base of the
Tinaji range, near the potholes, great numbers of dried


carcases of cattle and horses that had died there of
thirst, on their way to California, when gold was abun-
dant and meat almost unobtainable. Of these there
was now no sign. They had been buried under debris
washed by cloudbursts down from the ever-crumbling

Only Raphael succeeded in reaching the upper holes,
where at the top he took a panoramic photograph. There,
too, he found the sun-cracked horns of the bighorn.

Although it was early in March the mercury stood at
over 100 F. In September, 1861, it marked 126 in the

In 1861 our trail ran thirty miles on the east side of
the mountains to the Gila River, but the later discovery
of a gold mine, supplied by water from the high moun-
tain, made possible a route on the west side. Without
this watering place we could not have got through to the
Gila, so fast did our supply vanish and thirst increase.
One car gave out and had to be left with its driver to
make repair.

At last we reached Yuma. And now there was a real
city on the very spot where Poston's ready wit had led
him to survey an imaginary city in order to pay the
ferryman in corner lots. We drove through good streets,
where the goods behind big plate-glass windows betok-
ened families of rich farmers.

In the old days this region was the land of the Yumas,
a particularly savage tribe armed with war clubs and
bitter enemies of both Papagoes and Apaches. Many
of them swaggered along the streets and showed unwel-
come interest in Tomaso, who was anxious because he
was off his tribal ground. So we planned to protect him
till he should take the train to go home.

We made a sorry looking procession into a large and


comfortable hotel. The sun had burned the skin off the
back of my hands. The girls hid, behind thick veils, lips
swollen to exceed in size those of a Congo Venus.

That night Raphael and Amelie started homeward, tak-
ing Tomaso as far as Gila Bend, whence he could reach
A jo by stage. The old man, with his money well stored
out of sight, left us with a more smiling face than one
often sees on an Indian. He was a fine specimen of the
old time agricultural Pimas.

The next day we, my two girls and I, started for
Phoenix on the way to Globe where I wanted to see the
Miami mine, not so much on account of my interest in
the mine as an excuse to see the country and the Roosevelt

In order to cross the Gila River we went up it to Dome,
passing, on the way, through the spot where, in the old
time, Poston and I and the rest of the party weathered
through an all-night sandstorm that, in pitch darkness,
threatened to bury us.

A rickety ferry boat managed to get us and the cars to
the opposite bank.

We had left the golden desert, its painted mountains, its
mysteries and dangers, but we already felt the call to
return, and if we had still had Tomaso with us we could
hardly have resisted the temptation.

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Online LibraryRaphael PumpellyTravels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer → online text (page 23 of 23)