William Lewis Manly.

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little pallet where the baby was sleeping. It was a bare looking kitchen
for hungry folks.

I now went to the top of a high butte and scanned the country very
carefully, especially to the west and north, and found it very barren.
There were no trees, no fertile valleys nor anything green. Away to the
west some mountains stood out clear and plain, their summits covered
white with snow. This I decided was our objective point: Very little
snow could be seen elsewhere, and between me and the snowy mountains lay
a low, black rocky range, and a wide level plain, that had no signs of
water, as I had learned them in our trip thus far across the country.
The black range seemed to run nearly north and south, and to the north
and northwest the country looked volcanic, black and desolate.

As I looked and thought, I believed that we were much farther from a
fertile region then most of our party had any idea of. Such of them as
had read Fremont's travels, and most of them going to California had
fortified themselves before starting by reading Fremont; said that the
mountains were near California and were fertile from their very summits
down to the sea, but that to the east of the mountains it was a desert
region for hundred of miles. As I explained it to them, and so they soon
saw for themselves, they believed that the snowy range ahead of us was
the last range to cross before we entered the long-sought California,
and it seemed not far off, and prospect quite encouraging.

Our road had been winding around among the buttes which looked like the
Indian baskets turned upside down on the great barren plain. What water
we found was in small pools in the wash-out places near the foothills at
the edge of the valley, probably running down the ravines after some
storm. There were dry lake beds scattered around over the plain, but it
did not seem as if there had ever been volume of water enough lately to
force itself out so far into the plain as these lakes were. All the
lakes appeared about the same, the bed white and glistening in the sun,
which made it very hard for the eyes, and so that a man in passing over
it made no visible track. It looked as if it one time might have been a
smooth bed of plastic mortar, and had hardened in the sun. It looked as
if there must have been water there sometime, but we had not seen a
drop, or a single cloud; every day was clear and sunny, and very warm,
and at night no stars forgot to shine.

Our oxen began to look bad, for they had poor food. Grass had been very
scarce, and now when we unyoked them and turned them out they did not
care to look around much for something to eat. They moved slowly and
cropped disdainfully the dry scattering shrubs and bunches of grass from
six inches to a foot high. Spending many nights and days on such dry
food and without water they suffered fearfully, and though fat and sleek
when we started from Salt Lake, they now looked gaunt and poor, and
dragged themselves slowly along, poor faithful servants of mankind. No
one knew how long before we might have to kill some of them to get food
to save our own lives.

We now traveled several days down the bed of a broad ravine, which led
to a southwest direction. There seemed to be a continuous range of
mountains on the south, but to the north was the level plain with
scattered buttes, and what we had all along called dry lakes, for up to
this time we had seen no water in any of them. I had carried my rifle
with me every day since we took this route, and though I was an
experienced hunter, a professional one if there be such a thing, I had
killed only one rabbit, and where no game lived I got as hungry as other

Our line soon brought us in sight of a high butte which stood apparently
about 20 miles south of our route, and I determined to visit and climb
it to get a better view of things ahead. I walked steadily all day and
reached the summit about dusk. I wandered around among the big rocks,
and found a projecting cliff where I would be protected from enemies,
wind or storm, and here I made my camp. While the light lasted I
gathered a small stock of fuel, which consisted of a stunted growth of
sage and other small shrubs, dry but not dead, and with this I built a
little fire Indian fashion and sat down close to it. Here was a good
chance for undisturbed meditation and someway I could not get around
doing a little meditating as I added a new bit of fuel now and then to
the small fire burning at my side. I thought it looked dark and
troublesome before us. I took a stone for a pillow with my hat on it for
a cushion, and lying down close under the shelving rock I went to sleep,
for I was very tired, I woke soon from being cold, for the butte was
pretty high, and so I busied myself the remainder of the night in adding
little sticks to the fire, which gave me some warmth, and thus in
solitude I spent the night. I was glad enough to see the day break over
the eastern mountains, and light up the vast barren country I could see
on every hand around me. When the sun was fairly up I took a good survey
of the situation, and it seemed as if pretty near all creation was in
sight. North and west was a level plain, fully one hundred miles wide it
seemed, and from anything I could see it would not afford a traveler a
single drink in the whole distance or give a poor ox many mouthfuls of
grass. On the western edge it was bounded by a low, black and rocky
range extending nearly north and south for a long distance and no pass
though it which I could see, and beyond this range still another one
apparently parallel to it. In a due west course from me was the high
peak we had been looking at for a month, and lowest place was on the
north side, which we had named Martin's Pass and had been trying so long
to reach. This high peak, covered with snow, glistened to the morning
sun, and as the air was clear from clouds or fog, and no dust or haze to
obscure the view, it seemed very near.

I had learned by experience that objects a day's walk distant seemed
close by in such a light, and that when clear lakes appeared only a
little distance in our front, we might search and search and never find
them. We had to learn how to look for water in this peculiar way. In my
Wisconsin travel I had learned that when I struck a ravine I must go
down to look for living water, but here we must invariably travel upward
for the water was only found in the high mountains.

Prospects now seemed to me so hopeless, that I heartily wished I was not
in duty bound to stand by the women and small children who could never
reach a land of bread without assistance. If I was in the position that
some of them were who had only themselves to look after, I could pick up
my knapsack and gun and go off, feeling I had no dependent ones to leave
behind. But as it was I felt I should be morally guilty of murder if I
should forsake Mr. Bennett's wife and children, and the family of Mr.
Arcane with whom I had been thus far associated. It was a dark line of
thought but I always felt better when I got around to the determination,
as I always did, to stand by my friends, their wives and children let
come what might.

I could see with my glass the train of wagons moving slowly over the
plain toward what looked to me like a large lake. I made a guess of the
point they would reach by night, and then took a straight course for it
all day long in steady travel. It was some time after dark, and I was
still a quarter of a mile from the camp fires, where in the bed of a
cañon I stepped into some mud, which was a sign of water. I poked around
in the dark for a while and soon found a little pool of it, and having
been without a drop of it for two days I lay down and took a hasty
drink. It did not seem to be very clear or clean, but it was certainly
wet, which was the main thing just then. The next morning I went to the
pond of water, and found the oxen had been watered there. They stirred
up the mud a good deal and had drank off about all the clean part, which
seemed to refresh them very much. I found the people in the camp on the
edge of the lake I had seen from the mountain, and fortunately it
contained about a quarter of an inch of water. They had dug some holes
here, which filled up, and they were using this water in the camp.

The ambitious mountain-climbers of our party had by this, time,
abandoned that sort of work, and I was left alone to look about and try
to ascertain the character of the road they were to follow. It was a
great deal to do to look out for food for the oxen and for water for the
camp, and besides all this it was plain there were Indians about even if
we did not see them. There were many signs, and I had to be always on
the lookout to outgeneral them. When the people found I was in camp this
night they came around to our wagons to know what I had seen and found,
and what the prospects were ahead. Above all they wanted to know how far
it was, in my opinion to the end of our journey. I listened to all their
inquiries and told them plainly what I had seen, and what I thought of
the prospect. I did not like telling the whole truth about it for fear
it might dampen their spirits, but being pressed for an opinion I told
them in plain words that it would at least be another month before their
journey would be ended. They seemed to think I ought to be pretty good
authority, and if I was not mistaken, the oxen would get very poor and
provisions very scarce before we could pull through so long. I was up at
day break and found Mr. Bennett sitting by the fire. About the first
thing he said: - "Lewis, if you please I don't want you hereafter to
express your views so openly and emphatically as you did last night
about our prospects. Last night when I went to bed I found Sarah (his
wife) crying and when pressed for the cause, she said she had heard your
remarks on the situation, and that if Lewis said so it must be correct,
for he knows more about it than all of you. She felt that she and the
children must starve."

In the morning Jayhawkers, and others of the train that were not
considered strictly of our own party, yoked up and started due west
across the level plain which I had predicted as having no water, and I
really thought they would never live to get across to the western
border. Mr. Culverwell and Mr. Fish stayed with us, making another wagon
in our train. We talked about the matter carefully, I did not think it
possible to get across that plain in less than four or six days, and I
did not believe there was a drop of water on the route. To the south of
us was a mountain that now had considerable snow upon its summit, and
some small pine trees also. Doubtless we could find plenty of water at
the base, but being due south, it was quite off our course. The
prospects for reaching water were so much better in that way that we
finally decided to go there rather than follow the Jayhawkers on their
desolate tramp over the dry plain.

So we turned up a cañon leading toward the mountain and had a pretty
heavy up grade and a rough bed for a road. Part way up we came to a high
cliff and in its face were niches or cavities as large as a barrel or
larger, and in some of them we found balls of a glistening substance
looking something like pieces of varigated candy stuck together. The
balls were as large as small pumpkins. It was evidently food of some
sort, and we found it sweet but sickish, and those who were so hungry as
to break up one of the balls and divide it among the others, making a
good meal of it, were a little troubled with nausea afterwards. I
considered it bad policy to rob the Indians of any of their food, for
they must be pretty smart people to live in this desolate country and
find enough to keep them alive, and I was pretty sure we might count
them as hostiles as they never came near our camp. Like other Indians
they were probably revengeful, and might seek to have revenge on us for
the injury. We considered it prudent to keep careful watch for them, so
they might not surprise us with a volley of arrows.

The second night we camped near the head of the cañon we had been
following, but thus far there had been no water, and only some stunted
sage brush for the oxen, which they did not like, and only ate it when
near the point of starvation. They stood around the camp looking as
sorry as oxen can. During the night a stray and crazy looking cloud
passed over us and left its moisture on the mountain to the shape of a
coat of snow several inches deep. When daylight came the oxen crowded
around the wagons, shivering with cold, and licking up the snow to
quench their thirst. We took pattern after them and melted snow to get
water for ourselves.

By the looks of our cattle it did not seem as if they could pull much,
and light loads were advisable on this up grade. Mr. Bennett was a
carpenter and had brought along some good tools in his wagon. These he
reluctantly unloaded, and almost everything else except bedding and
provisions, and leaving them upon the ground, we rolled up the hills
slowly, with loads as light as possible.

Rogers and I went ahead with our guns to look out the way and find a
good camping place. After a few miles we got out of the snow and out
upon an incline, and in the bright clear morning air the foot of the
snowy part of the mountain seemed near by and we were sure we could
reach it before night. From here no guide was needed and Rogers and I,
with our guns and canteens hurried on as fast as possible, when a camp
was found we were to raise a signal smoke to tell them where it was. We
were here, as before badly deceived as to the distance, and we marched
steadily and swiftly till nearly night before we reached the foot of the

Here was a flat place in a table land and on it a low brush hut, with a
small smoke near by, which we could plainly see as we were in the shade
of the mountain, and that place lighted up by the nearly setting sun. We
looked carefully and satisfied ourselves there was but one hut, and
consequently but few people could be expected. We approached carefully
and cautiously, making a circuit around so as to get between the hut and
the hill in case that the occupants should retreat in that direction. It
was a long time before we could see any entrance to this wickiup, but we
found it at last and approached directly in front, very cautiously
indeed: We could see no one, and thought perhaps they were in ambush for
us, but hardly probable, as we had kept closely out of sight. We
consulted a moment and concluded to make an advance and if possible
capture some one who could tell us about the country, as we felt we were
completely lost. When within thirty yards a man poked out his head out
of a doorway and drew it back again quick as a flash. We kept out our
guns at full cock and ready for use, and told Rogers to look out for
arrows, for they would come now if ever. But they did not pull a bow on
us, and the red-man, almost naked came out and beckoned for us to come
on which we did.

We tried to talk with the fellow in the sign language but he could
understand about as much as an oyster. I made a little basin in the
ground and filled it with water from our canteens to represent a lake,
then pointed in an inquiring way west and north, made signs of ducks and
geese flying and squawking, but I did no seem to be able to get an idea
into his head of what we wanted. I got thoroughly provoked at him and
may have shown some signs of anger. During all this time a child or two
in the hut squalled terribly, fearing I suppose they would all be
murdered. We might have lost our scalps under some circumstances, but we
appeared to be fully the strangest party, and had no fear, for the
Indian had no weapon about him and we had both guns and knives. The poor
fellow was shivering with cold, and with signs of friendship we fired
off one of the guns which waked him up a little and he pointed to the
gun and said "Walker," probably meaning the same good Chief Walker who
had so fortunately stopped us in our journey down Green River. I
understood from the Indian that he was not friendly to Walker, but to
show that he was all right with us he went into the hut and brought out
a handful of corn for us to eat. By the aid of a warm spring near by
they had raised some corn here, and the dry stalks were standing around.

As we were about to leave I told him we would come back, next day and
bring him some clothes if we could find any to spare, and then we
shouldered our guns and went back toward the wagons, looking over our
shoulders occasionally to see if we were followed. We walked fast down
the hill and reached the camp about dark to find it a most unhappy one
indeed. Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. Arcane were in heart-rending distress. The
four children were crying for water but there was not a drop to give
them, and none could be reached before some time next day. The mothers
were nearly crazy, for they expected the children would choke with
thirst and die in their arms, and would rather perish themselves than
suffer the agony of seeing their little ones gasp and slowly die. They
reproached themselves as being the cause of all this trouble. For the
love of gold they had left homes where hunger had never come, and often
in sleep dreamed of the bounteous tables of their old homes only to be
woefully disappointed in the morning. There was great gladness when John
Rogers and I appeared in the camp and gave the mothers full canteens of
water for themselves and little ones, and there was tears of joy and
thankfulness upon their cheeks as they blessed us over and over again.

The oxen fared very hard. The ground was made up of broken stone, and
all that grew was a dry and stunted brush not more than six inches high,
of which the poor animals took an occasional dainty bite, and seemed
hardly able to drag along.

It was only seven or eight miles to the warm spring and all felt better
to know for a certainty that we would soon be safe again. We started
early, even the women walked, so as to favor the poor oxen all we could.
When within two miles of the water some of the oxen lay down and refused
to rise again, so we had to leave them and a wagon, while the rest
pushed on and reached the spring soon after noon. We took water and went
back to the oxen left behind, and gave them some to drink. They were
somewhat rested and got up, and we tried to drive them in without the
wagons, but they were not inclined to travel without the yoke, so we put
it on them and hitched to the wagon again. The yoke and the wagon seemed
to brace them up a good deal, and they went along thus much better than
when alone and scattered about, with nothing to lean upon.

The warm spring was quite large and ran a hundred yards or more before
the water sank down into the dry and thirsty desert. The dry cornstalks
of last years crop, some small willows, sagebrush, weeds and grass
suited our animals very well, and they ate better than for a long time,
and we thought it best to remain two or three days to give them a chance
to get rest. The Indian we left here the evening before had gone and
left nothing behind but a chunk of crystallized rock salt. He seemed to
be afraid of his friends.

The range we had been traveling nearly parallel with seemed to come to
an end here where this snow peak stood, and immediately north and south
of this peak there seemed to be a lower pass. The continuous range north
was too low to hold snow. In the morning I concluded to go to the summit
of that pass and with my glass have an extensive view. Two other boys
started with me, and as we moved along the snow line we saw tracks of
our runaway Indian in the snow, passing over a low ridge. As we went on
up hill our boys began to fall behind, and long before night I could see
nothing of them. The ground was quite soft, and I saw many tracks of
Indians which put me on my guard. I reached the summit and as the shade
of its mountain began to make it a little dark, I built a fire of sage
brush, ate my grub, and when it was fairly dark, renewed the fire and
passed on a mile, where in a small ravine with banks two feet high I lay
down sheltered from the wind and slept till morning. I did this to beat
the Indian in his own cunning.

Next morning I reached the summit about nine o'clock, and had the
grandest view I ever saw. I could see north and south almost forever.
The surrounding region seemed lower, but much of it black, mountainous
and barren. On the west the snow peak shut out the view in that
direction. To the south the mountains seemed to descend for more than
twenty miles, and near the base, perhaps ten miles away, were several
smokes, apparently from camp fires, and as I could see no animals or
camp wagons anywhere I presumed them to be Indians. A few miles to the
north and east of where I stood, and somewhat higher, was the roughest
piece of ground I ever saw. It stood in sharp peaks and was of many
colors, some of them so red that the mountain looked red hot, I imagined
it to be a true volcanic point, and had never been so near one before,
and the most wonderful picture of grand desolation one could ever see.

Toward the north I could see the desert the Jayhawkers and their
comrades had under taken to cross, and if their journey was as
troublesome as ours and very much longer, they might by this time be all
dead of thirst. I remained on this summit an hour or so bringing my
glass to bear on all points within my view, and scanning closely for
everything that might help us or prove an obstacle to our progress. The
more I looked the more I satisfied myself that we were yet a long way
from California and the serious question of our ever living to get there
presented itself to me as I tramped along down the grade to camp. I put
down at least another month of heavy weary travel before we could hope
to make the land of gold, and our stock of strength and provisions were
both pretty small for so great a tax upon them. I thought so little
about anything else that the Indians might have captured me easily, for
I jogged along without a thought of them. I thought of the bounteous
stock of bread and beans upon my father's table, to say nothing about
all the other good things, and here was I, the oldest son, away out in
the center of the Great American Desert, with an empty stomach and a dry
and parched throat, and clothes fast wearing out with constant wear. And
perhaps I had not yet seen the worst of it. I might be forced to see
men, and the women and children of our party, choke and die, powerless
to help them. It was a darker, gloomier day than I had ever known could
be, and alone I wept aloud, for I believed I could see the future, and
the results were bitter to contemplate. I hope no reader of this history
may ever be placed in a position to be thus tried for I am not ashamed
to say that I have a weak point to show under such circumstances. It is
not in my power to tell how much I suffered in my lonely trips, lasting
sometimes days and nights that I might give the best advice to those of
my party. I believed that I could escape at any time myself, but all
must be brought through or perish, and with this all I knew I must not
discourage the others. I could tell them the truth, but I must keep my
worst apprehensions to myself lest they loose heart and hope and faith

I reached the camp on the third day where I found the boys who went part
way with me and whom I had out-walked. I related to the whole camp what
I had seen, and when all was told it appeared that the route from the
mountains westerly was the only route that could be taken, they told me
of a discovery they had made of a pile of squashes probably raised upon
the place, and sufficient in number so that every person could have one.
I did not approve of this for we had no title to this produce, and might
be depriving the rightful owner of the means of life. I told them not
only was it wrong to rob them of their food, but they could easily
revenge themselves on us by shooting our cattle, or scalp us, by
gathering a company of their own people together. They had no experience
with red men and were slow to see the results I spoke of as possible.

During my absence an ox had been killed, for some were nearly out of
provisions, and flesh was the only means to prevent starvation. The meat
was distributed amongst the entire camp, with the understanding that
when it became necessary to kill another it should be divided in the
same way. Some one of the wagons would have to be left for lack of
animals to draw it. Our animals were so poor that one would not last

Online LibraryWilliam Lewis ManlyDeath Valley in '49 → online text (page 9 of 36)