The Preacher Train
The "preacher train" of 1853 brought five preachers to the Rogue Valley.
SISKIYOU.--The following items are from the Mountain Herald of the 10th inst.:
ARRIVAL OF EMIGRANTS IN ROGUE RIVER VALLEY.--Mr. J. Rogers, of Cram, Rogers & Co.'s Express, informs us that 30 wagons arrived in Rogue River Valley on Saturday, the 27th ult., principally families from Illinois and Missouri, and on Saturday last, six wagons and about 600 head of beef cattle.
Sacramento Daily Union, September 19, 1853, page 2
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FOR OREGON. S. H. Taylor, Esq., and family, of this city, and Amos Noble, of Emmet, will start this week for Oregon, by the overland route. They will be accompanied by two or three families from Illinois. Mr. T. has promised us a series of letters giving a description of the route, and such information of the country as may be of interest to the general reader. He will also become a regular correspondent of our paper after reaching Oregon. His well-known ability as a writer is a sufficient guarantee that these letters will be full of interest.
Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, March 16, 1853, page 2
Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.
Owen, Ill., April 4, 1853.Friend Hadley--I write merely to gratify the kind interest felt in our success by cherished friends whose hearts we believe are following us here.
We left Watertown Wednesday morning, and my family reached here Sunday, and I on Monday--65 miles--after wading through 40 miles of mud almost to the wagon axle. At the Fort, the first night, one of my cows made her escape, and I did not overtake her until I had got back within 8½ miles of Watertown. I then hurried on and overtook my family at night at Milton, in mizzling rain and sozzling mud. Although the cow had traveled 55 miles since 7 o'clock of the day before, and without rest and with little food, she was again missing in the morning. I found too that my coat while drying was burnt up, and making a rush for my hat, that too was gone--and with my blessings on the landlord, house, cow and mud, and things generally, I put back on the road, missing, the cow at 5 miles, and again going within 3½ miles of Watertown. Supposing her to have been stolen, as she in fact had been, I returned and found her after 45 miles more of literal wading in the mud.
The next day, Saturday, the last of the frost came out, and the roads were the next thing to utterly impassable. At Janesville I navigated 7 miles of road that was in neither wagoning nor boating condition. North of that place, over the low prairies, the surface is too even and the fences too continuous for either the water or traveler to escape. The fate of both is the same--to go right down through. At almost every step I sunk to my ankles, and was thankful for my flat feet that kept me from going down deeper--while my poor cow went down to her knees. And over that whole way I met not a single man, woman or child, from whom to get even the cold comfort that it was 4 miles through. And I assure you it was far from comforting, when I had made that 4 miles to Janesville it was then 8 miles farther and worse!
At Milton, for the first time in Wisconsin, I heard the demoniac, hyena yell of the "train"--so fiercely significant that it neither stays nor turns save of its own will--bating of course the necessities of grease spots and parabolic--though the latter, it seems, in this road, under Mr. Kilbourn's improvements in railroading, are substituted by angles. The cars came in there with a jolting, rattling sound as if running on pavement--and the first thought was that they were off the track running right along over the hubs on a straight cut to the next turn of the road. It was a mizzling, dense, palpable night, and as the cars crept slowly and noiselessly away to the west, it required no great stretch of the fancy to the thought that they were afraid to run in the dark. And if they were animate, it might well be so--for just west of Milton, a mile or so, the track takes a short turn around the point of a gravel ridge, where the first impression of safety is in being ready for a jump, or footing it over the point and taking the train as it comes along. The man whose name is associated with this road will live in the memory of men forever; at least he ought to.
I have been over northern Illinois and 150 miles or so into Indiana--over a region that I traveled 15 years ago. On every hill and valley and stream the Anglo-Saxon has, in this little time, written his character in signs that a half century of barbarism could not efface. After leaving the lake region and going south into Indiana, although the settlement dates back far anterior to that of central Wisconsin, the improvement is much less marked. The southern Hoosier is seen in their roads and fields and buildings and towns, as readily as in the peculiar phrases and wanging tone of voice of the people. Where the country has been settled from the eastern and middle states, the progress has been truly wonderful. Where 15 years ago the traveler threaded his weary and solitary way over the plains and through the openings on Indian trails, finding the rude habitations of men scattered here and there far from each other, and now and then a mere sawmill frame, perhaps, erected, with the miller's cabin by it, the whole country, even the prairies, are covered all over with fields and dwellings, and each "water power" is the nucleus of a "town" now spreading itself over the hills, its streets walled in with massive structures of brick and stone, and presenting an appearance of life and power that might be expected after a half century's labor and growth. Where, a few years ago, men plodded on foot over vast and trackless wastes, seeking vainly for any conveyance, you are now in the tide of a thronging multitude, hurried away by the steam car on its iron track at a speed which the most closely scanned objects flit by you half unseen, and the still water in the pool by the wayside quivers as the ponderous train rolls over the trembling earth.
There is nowhere--at least where I have been--such progress as in Wisconsin. Her agricultural country is better and more universally improved, her towns are larger, better built and more active, there are more evidences of thrift and less of poverty, than anywhere where I have been. I have seen more frame barns on Wisconsin farms in 30 miles, and there are more towns on the 50 miles intervening between Watertown and the state line, down Rock River, than on any 150 miles of the best part of Illinois or Indiana. I am satisfied that there is not in the northern part of these states, an inland town equal in any respect to Janesville or Watertown. No man can open his eyes, and keep them open during opportunities for observation, without being satisfied that Wisconsin is very far superior for all purposes of civilization, to the region lying south of it--and that it is destined to the support of a far more powerful community. Could the people of your state realize the position it now occupies, and that to which it is rapidly and certainly hastening, they would be prouder of their home and labor with more of hope and zeal for the future.
Of Watertown itself--Janesville is the only larger town in this interior. Rockford is now entering into advantages by which it may beat Watertown--perhaps--but remember my prediction that Watertown is bound to outstrip every place on this river except Rockford.
I have fooled away a good deal of time, and it is getting late, so I will just say what I intended to in the beginning. We are all either well or better, and in good spirits--intending, with some dozen other families, to leave to-morrow for Kanesville [Council Bluffs]. In poddling through the mud after my cow, I saw a little of going to Oregon, and if there is any truth in the saying that a "bad beginning makes a good ending," we have good reason to hope for a successful ending.
I expect to write you from Kanesville, which we do not intend to leave till about the 5th of May. Everywhere there are families and crowds of cattle Oregon bound.
I know not what to say to those who gave us such touching evidences of their regard. Please say to them as you meet them, that we find as yet, and I believe we shall find, the parting with our dear friends there, the most painful feature in the undertaking in which we have entered.
Yours &c., S. H. TAYLOR.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, April 13, 1853, page 2
INTERESTING LETTER FROM S. H. TAYLOR.
Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.
Council Bluffs City,Friend Hadley--Yesterday, the 23rd, after 47 days, mostly on one of the worst roads in the world, we arrived at this place, and with about 300 people and 1000 head of cattle, kept back and dammed up by floods and broken bridges, "sat down before the town." The season has been wetter than any that has preceded it for many years, and all the late companies are from eight to fifteen days behind their time. The tide, however, has been up to its flow and swept on. Ten thousand strangers have been here in a month, and are gone again, and the town begins to be desolated and still. It is built of log cabins, one story high, on both sides of a street running about 60 rods down the bottom of a ravine, between high, dirty clay hills, where it can neither see nor be seen. There are perhaps a half dozen two-story buildings in the place, all devoted to gaming, the only business that can afford to live in them. I know not whether there is a frame building in the city. Their stores and offices are all in little log buildings that would be a disgrace to almost any Wisconsin farm, and would not be allowed to stand a week in any Wisconsin village. I have not seen a school house, nor a church, in the town, nor indeed have I in any other Mormon settlement. There is not in the city a trace of taste, pride, enterprise or public spirit. Wherever the Mormons have established themselves in this country, you can see the clearest evidences that society is sinking rapidly downward.
May 24, 1853.
The whole country from Lyons, on the Mississippi, to this city, is under the dominion of the Mormons and Hoosiers, and its condition is what would probably be expected by one acquainted with those settlers. You would hardly believe what I should tell you of it. A man accustomed to the state of things among the Yankees would be unprepared to credit a true statement of the condition of things.
We have traveled 337 miles, across the state, through its capital and in its greatest thoroughfares, and we have not crossed a stream 60 feet wide or over, without paying toll; have not seen a stagecoach nor any other public conveyance, nor a public house out of a village, nor indeed a village as large as Watertown. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the country, showing enterprise. Even at Iowa City, the capital, a village of 1200 inhabitants, where the Iowa is I should think not more than 15 rods wide at high water, they have a toll bridge, and the people pay annually in toll one fourth enough to build a fine bridge. A settlement of Yankees nine miles from the city offered to give $3,000 if the city would give $1,500 to construct a free bridge, and it could not be raised. The city has nothing Yankee in its appearance--neither gardens, orchards, nor many of what you would call even second-rate houses. The capitol is a building little superior to the Jefferson jail, and the public grounds around it are a mere common for the herding of cows and the storage of lumber.
Pella, a village of 400 Dutch and Yankees, is the only town on the road where we saw gardens, fruit and ornamental trees, walks, good buildings, and such other evidences of taste and enterprise as you see in Wisconsin towns.
Lyons has about 200, DeWitt 200, Tipton 400, Iowa City 1200, Pella 400, Kanesville 500 people--in all less than 3000--and there are not 400 more in all the many of what the Hoosiers call "right smart villages" on this road. Instead of taverns, they have here "wagon yards"--the sign of which is over the barnyard bars. The Hoosiers seldom go from home, and go in covered wagons, carrying their living with them, and merely wanting a place where they can cook and feed. Their wants are all supplied in the barnyard--and that is the extent of the hotel. They have no railroads, plank roads, turnpikes, not even bridges--and their public roads are laid generally where the land is poorest and most broken, and there only from two to three rods wide. The Hoosiers, many of them, understand that it will take the Yankees to make anything of the country, and freely expressed the hope that the railroads from Lyons and Savannah to the Bluffs will bring them in.
I believe there is more mail matter delivered in Jefferson County than at all the offices on the great road--and I question, indeed, whether there is not more delivered in Watertown alone. Having seen nothing that looked like the U.S. mail, I asked a postmaster how they got their letters. He said a man brought them on a horse every week from the East through Iowa City. I asked if "in his breeches pocket." He said, "he might." And that is the eastern mail to Kanesville--weekly--but, says the P.M. here, we have two a week from the South!
Until I reached here I have not seen a newspaper since we crossed the Mississippi, and you may be assured that those four Chronicles you sent me to this office were right gladly received. I read one and keep the others to read on "the plains." Our people all seized upon them with the avidity of children. We have plenty of books, but we are all Yankees and need the "news," and shall feel sensibly the want of your paper regularly on the road.
We intend tomorrow to enter upon the great waste wild that lies now west of us. I cannot tell you so that you can relish how we feel as we are about to go. Since we were here I have seen many go out, and I have seen no countenance free from evidences of strong emotion. Our departure is one of those hours, occurring seldom in life, on which the past and the future press heavily. There are painful thoughts of those who are dear to us and with us; visions of sickness and pain that rivers of sympathy cannot relieve, and of death where death comes without any of the consolatory influences that Christianity and humanity can shed about the grave, and of the burial and desertion of precious remains on the desert, where the waves of empire will go over them as unheedingly as the sea goes over its dead, and there are earnest thoughts of friends who are behind and whose passionate love will go after us as vainly as the wind--and we know not how many, but there are many bitter repentings. Many regret that they are going--though few can be induced to say so much, and many more, I apprehend, are conscious that they have not acted wisely in entering upon the enterprise.
We go out in a company of about 20 effective men--three of them Methodist preachers--13 wagons and about 200 head of cattle. The determination is to observe the Sabbath strictly. We go well armed, but I believe generally trusting about as much in God as in our arms.
Horse trains went out on grain as early as April 18th, but companies with cattle did not go out trusting to grass until about ten days ago. It is considered barely safe now to go out with horses and depend on grass solely.
I have seen enough of "going to Oregon" to be enabled to give some advice to those who may hereafter go. We are now past a portion of the route that is acknowledged, in a wet season like the present, to try the ability of teams as fully as any part of it, and I have learned that the condition is more important than the age of cattle. More cattle are supposed to have given out on the road in this state than will, with the same usage, fail hereafter. Those that have failed are of all ages, but in all cases, I presume, in poor condition. It is not well, however, to take heavy cattle. Those that are young, and no more than ordinarily heavy built, travel easiest and longest. Men I have seen who have been through and are going again generally have oxen from 4 to 6 years old, and loose cattle young, and none of them unusually heavy in the body. Cattle must be in good condition. Were I to prepare again for the expedition, I would grain up my oxen all winter, and have them fat when I started. And this is the opinion of all I have heard speak on the subject.
Stags do not make a good team unless they are quick. They are naturally too slow to travel with oxen, but if they are quick, their hardiness renders them far superior. We cannot rely much upon cows for draught. We make nothing of "breaking in" a cow--nor, in fact, anything else--but they are of little service. A young man, who feels himself rather smart, seizes a cow by the horn with one hand, and with the other on her neck to hold her, lets her splurge for a minute or two, when she finds she is fast and allows herself to be quietly led into the yoke, and in an hour is drawing as if proud of her new mission. And so we do with anything we want in the team. I got a stag, 5 years old, quick and strong, that had never been in the yoke, and a bull of the same age, a large, powerful, self-reliant animal, that had never had a restraint upon him, and knew nothing of restraints till we put a log chain on his head, and we have them now both in the team, the best animals in it. Cows, however, are not heavy enough for service, and are not reliable in bad places. I have two cows in the yoke, working very well, but they are of near twice the usual size and weight--while they are the only ones in our company now in the team, though we started with a dozen or so.
Emigrants should be particularly careful to have their wagons right. They should be very light and easy running. The cover should be low, and it is better to have it round at the top. The sloughs--"slews"--of this state are perfectly horrible. A man who has not been across it can form no conception of the evil. On any direct line from here to the Mississippi--397 miles by the road--there are doubtless 2000 miserable "slews." The only way possible to cross them is to have a wagon that will go over them on the turf. This a carriage with a heavy top cannot do. Nor can these "slews" be crossed with heavy loads. We found it necessary to reduce the weight on our wagons below 900 lbs. No wagon, in a wet season like this, can go over the sloughs with certainty with more than about 800 pounds. With such an amount it goes along over the turf, while with 1000 lbs. perhaps it will invariably go down--and such a going down as you never saw! We have had ten good yoke of oxen on one wagon to get it out of a "slew," and that perhaps near ten times in one day. We have sometimes traveled for miles over high wet prairies where the wagon would constantly settle 3 to 6 inches into the ground.
I would advise any man intending to cross this state to go down below Rock Island before crossing the Mississippi. The Indians had a trail striking from a point there, to the Bluffs, keeping a series of "divides" forming the watershed of the Missouri and Des Moines. The road from Dubuque by Cedar Rapids, that from Lyons by Iowa City, and all the others, strike right west or southwest from the Mississippi into this ridge, and keep it. The Mormons, when they went to Salt Lake, took it on the Mississippi, and made the best road, now called "the Mormon Trail," that the ground will admit of. This is a good road. It is serpentine, but even, dry and hard. We came by Lyons and Iowa City, and have had about 140 miles of it, and we had rather our cattle would travel that 140 miles than 50 of the road before we came to it. From Beloit, on the line of Wisconsin and Illinois, an ox team will go to Kanesville, at least in a wet season, in ten days less time by going down to the mouth of Rock River and taking this route, than by the straight roads.
Let no emigrant be fooled by the great efforts made at Iowa City and Cedar Rapids to induce him to purchase there his outfit of provisions. They can be obtained as cheap at Kanesville as at those places, and the extra carriage actually costs as much as they are worth. There are times when provisions are high here--as at this time and for three days now flour is $10 a barrel, bacon from $10 to $15 a hundred &c. but even at such prices, nothing is gained by buying at Iowa City or Cedar Rapids.
Every effort that can be is made everywhere in this route to palm off provisions and forage on the emigrant. He is constantly told that "ahead there is scarcity, corn and oats $1 &c." Such stories are all impositions. This is the farmer's market, and every farmer's interest is to raise such products as it requires. An abundance is produced for it on every road where emigrants go, except within perhaps one hundred miles of Kanesville, where very few people live, and the little that is raised is soon consumed.
We go out with teams in as good condition, perhaps, as any that have left this point. Some fast companies passed us on the road, but we have passed some of them again, and believe we shall pass the remainder. More anon.
Yours &c., in haste,Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, July 6, 1853, pages 2-3
S. H. TAYLOR.
Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.
Pawnee Country, June 4, 1853.Friend Hadley--We are now 90 miles up the Platte on the Loup Fork, in company with about 250 wagons, blocked up here, near what was called a ferry before it was flooded, waiting for the water to subside. We are in the heart of the territory of the Pawnees, the most skillful thieves that can be, and some are paying dearly for their misfortune. In this neighborhood they have stolen about 50 head of oxen, and every morning we hear of from two to six oxen being run off. About 200 Pawnees came here three days ago and are lying here with us, but with what intention we know not. We are not afraid of our lives--but we find them very annoying. During the day we keep our cattle constantly in view, and at night chain them up and keep up a double guard. All do the same--but it is impossible to keep their hands off property when they attempt to get it. They will almost steal a horse from under his rider.
We move very slowly, but are gaining upon those ahead of us. It is the wettest season "known to the earliest settlers," and those who have been through in dry seasons can form no conceptions of the difficulties we have had to encounter. Even the road along the Platte, except a few miles along the base of the highlands, is horrible. Last Wednesday we saw many wagons set on the Platte bottoms, and I am sorry to say mine was one of them. We saw a little of the best of the road just before a rain and when it was very dry, and it was the best I ever saw--in some respects equal and in others superior to a plank road. There are places where 30,000 loaded wagons have, within five years, passed along a track of not over seven feet in breadth, and there is no rut--no depression of one inch below its original level.
The description of this country is generally embodied in the pithy expression that "it can never be settled." The plain truth is, it is the most splendid country in the world, but without timber. From 15 miles this side of the Missouri, to this point, except the river flats, the surface is in fine, easy slopes, or levels, and the soil cannot be excelled. From here back to Elkhorn, 60 miles, there is no timber but the cottonwood groves of the Platte, and that away in the midst of a wet valley from 8 to 15 miles wide. We traversed the banks of the Elkhorn 10 miles, and saw its valley 20 miles more, and it is to that extent skirted with noble cottonwoods, and its hillsides on the east are covered with grand old bur oaks. East of that stream, as we rise to its highlands, the country lies, how far back we know not, in the finest slopes and valleys. No man ever saw a more beautiful region, or one better adapted to agriculture, than that lying along the Elkhorn. It cannot be long before the great depot of supplies will be transferred from the Missouri to this stream. The best opportunity I have seen for emigrants is for 15 or 20 families to locate on that stream, establish a ferry, raise provisions and build up a town. Where we crossed they have ferried about 6000 wagons this season at $2.50 to $3--and that with one old scow and, perhaps, five men. A few Yankees settling at that point would draw all Kanesville there in two years, and make twenty fortunes for those who adventured.
How far the absence of timber will prevent or impede the settlement of this grand country, is, of course, mere conjecture--but it seems impossible that with all its other advantages, it should be allowed to remain long, as it is, a desolation. The construction of the Pacific railroad, by which the Platte country will be admitted to Oregon, and the opening of the great coal bed that is supposed to extend from the Iowa River to the Rocky Mountains, will have much to do with the solution of the question what is to become of this great region.
Since crossing the Nishnabotna, 25 miles beyond Kanesville, we have not seen more than a rock in a place--nor indeed do I know that we have seen one at all. The soil everywhere lies on a formation of clay and fine sand, such as fills the waters of the Missouri. The bluffs and hills about that stream are mere prominences left by the powerful denuding forces to which the country has been exposed. I was told that there was coal on the west side of the stream below Kanesville--but I should not expect it there, and think it doubtful. Coal, in the Missouri country, is probably very deep--having at least the sandstone in place, and this great bed of clay, the depth of which no one knows, above it. 170 miles east of Kanesville, near Pleasantville, and 240 miles near Montezuma, the coal appears in all the ravines, and the indications are that the supply is inexhaustible. With the opening of the railroad to the Mississippi, it must become an important source of revenue to the country.
June 7. We have a prospect of crossing the Loup today. There are about 100 wagons here now--but few coming in. We see many cattle trains of from 100 to 500 head--probably about 1500 head now here. Many wagons have gone up to the fords, one of which is 35 and the other 70 miles above. Fords on this stream are essentially dangerous. Its waters are a mere mass of quicksand, rushing along with the velocity of a mountain stream. In fording our cattle they sink right down into the sand, and the farther they sink the faster they sink, while the current is so swift that even ferriage is attended with some hazard.
I had intended to write more freely, but we just learn that we can cross the river instanter, and so I close for the present.
Yours &c., S. H. TAYLOR.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, July 13, 1853, page 2
(The following letter from Mr. Taylor was enclosed to a friend in this city, from whom it was not received until after our last paper had gone to press. This will account for its late appearance.)
Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.
Wood Creek, June 12, '53.Friend Hadley--I wrote you last Tuesday from the crossing of the Loup Fork--but the men keeping a whisky supply at this point are gone, and we shall probably see no one again going east until we reach Fort Laramie. We are now spending the Sabbath on Wood Creek, 170 and odd miles from Kanesville, and on what may well be called "the plains." We are on a flat, safely above the streams, of almost perfectly even surface and to appearance boundless in extent. It is the "Platte bottoms." On the north, directly abreast, is to be seen, in a good atmosphere, a dim trace of highlands, fading away immediately at the right and left, so far away is it--and at the south, three miles off, is the Platte, indicated by its dark cottonwood groves, and between them you look on in that direction, and there, as forward and back of us, the vast plain stretches away, we know not how far, for it is beyond the reach of our vision. Yesterday, at one time, our road was supposed to be 12 miles from the Platte, and yet, landward, the level flat extended probably 12 miles farther.
These flats are the great range on which the buffalo have herded for centuries. Their bleached bones are everywhere--but it is evident that they are slowly retreating before the whites. All the way to the Loup, the remains were merely the most durable portions of the skeleton; this side of that stream we have seen many of those that perished last year. That stream, however, has been a great barrier to their passage eastward from their great crossings on the Platte, above here, and they have never been so abundant there. They are now seldom seen that side of the Loup.
From the Loup ferry, we kept the valley of that stream about 45 miles--some of the way, for surface, soil, timber and water, as fine a country as is in the world. The flats are in places five miles wide. At 22 miles, where the bluffs approach the river, we go about 3 miles through them, and emerge suddenly upon a great flat extending from the Loup over to the Platte, 20 miles or over, and 10 miles or more in its other width, on which might be surveyed a square of more than 125,000 acres with hardly a depression or elevation sufficient to conceal a horse. The flats of the Loup are fine for farming, and the stream is all the way where we saw it covered by cottonwood groves. Just before leaving the Loup Valley, we saw the first "alkali"--though by testing it we concluded it to be the pure salt. At 45 miles we struck off south and southwest, through steep, barren, naked bluffs of clay and sand; a day's drive, to the Platte bottoms, and another day brought us here. The crossing of the stream is bad, and there is all day a perfect jam and rush of people, teams and wagons, but a sermon from one of our folks holds a part of them for an hour, and on they go again.
June 23. We have traveled less than 5½ days this week and made 119 miles, by our guide. We are where the cattle are seized by the infection of westward fever, and without urging go 20 to 26 miles a day. We are encamped near the Platte forks, by some famous springs, which, in this interminable region of "Platte water" and "slough water," are really gloriously refreshing. There is no point from the Missouri to Fort Laramie to which the emigrant looks with more earnest desire nor where he finds such a real heart-satisfying pleasure. By this time men's natural wants have become strong, and whatever their habit may have been, the appetite for strong drink is overwhelmed by the desire for "good cold water." As the clear liquor comes up silvery and sparkling, rolling up the white, beautiful sand, and flowing off to revive and refresh all the thousands that come, even the drinker forgets his whisky and pays some passionate tribute to the "blessed good water." I sat down and sipped the water on the low bank, where Waldron and Stimpson sat and sipped it four years ago, and I presume thought about what they thought about. There are three graves here, and the inscriptions say the dead of them died in consequence of immoderate drinking of the water. When we reached the springs the mercury was at 112 in the shade, and the warning may have saved some of us.
The weather has been cool and comfortable until yesterday, and then it was about as hot as "the nature of things would admit of."
Since leaving Wood Creek, we have passed over a great deal of alkaline land. The earth is wet and miry where the alkali is found in the water, and where the surface has been dried there is an incrustation of what appears to be saleratus. It is everywhere found in connection with salt.
We have passed over much beautiful bottom land during the week--especially that lying along Wood, Buffalo and Elm creeks--little streams that have almost their whole course in the flats. The timber of the Platte is now fast diminishing, and we traveled by the stream on Friday all day where it was almost naked of wood. It was only now and then that a tree or bush could be seen indicating the course of the river. There is more just here, but it is all on the south side, and we cannot reach it. Buffalo chips are abundant, and for fuel we find them quite a passable substitute for wood. The timber that is here and for 40 miles back is not worth counting in connection with the settlement of the country. Below that the groves are heavy and apparently fine. The Loup also is well timbered along its immediate margin. They will both be settled 100 miles above their confluence, and a great community will grow up there. Unless the Pacific railroad, or some other collateral influences, interfere, there will be in "our day" a city of 10,000 people at the mouth of the Loup. In spite of that or anything else, a city will be there, and soon. Let the Indian title be extinguished and the Yankees get hold of the Platte, Elkhorn and Loup valleys, and there will be from the Missouri up a mighty state, second in moral power to but one in the Northwest--your own.
The alkali has an effect to injure the hoofs of our cattle to such an extent that they wear tender, and crack badly in the heel, and we have much trouble in consequence. Tell your readers who may hereafter come over these plains to be prepared with little thin plates of iron for ox shoes, and flat-headed nails to secure them--without fail.
July 3--We had hoped to be at Ft. Laramie that we might pass the 4th there tomorrow--but the lameness of our cattle delayed us and we are fifteen miles short. I trust that tomorrow about when your folks are sitting down to their independence dinner we shall be driving up to Ft. Laramie.
We have been troubled much by the lameness of our cattle. While the wet season has given us abundant forage, it has aggravated this serious evil. The wetness of the alkaline surface renders the principle more active and fatal, and the feet of our cattle have been subject to its influence until the hoof fails to answer the purpose of a hoof. In spite of close and constant care, one in seven of all our cattle has a hoof worn through, or a heel cracked deeply and badly. This is a great evil on the north side of the Platte. Oiling the hoof once or twice a week has been in ordinary seasons a very good preventive, and it would be well for emigrants to be supplied with it for the purpose--though this season it has failed of the end. We have used alcohol with a better result. Its effect is to harden the hoof and fortify it against wearing; every emigrant should be supplied with it. Few men are supplied with the means of using such remedies, and are obliged to resort to shoeing with leather, fastening with eight-ounce tacks--a poor expedient but much better than nothing. It is remarkable that to within about seventy-five miles of Ft. Laramie the evil increased, and then the feet of the cattle begin to harden, and some are fitted to all the conditions of the road--that is, supposing due diligence to be used in avoiding alkaline grounds. The Platte, through almost its entire course below here, at least, flows along the southern wall of its valley, and on that side there is no flat and of course no alkali. On this, the north side, the extent of surface occupied by it is diminished by the increase of alluvial and detrital deposits. Two hundred miles below here, almost the entire surface is impregnated with alkali, while here perhaps two-thirds of it is covered by alluvium carried on by the stream, and by sand and clay washed down from the hills. The alkali is thus concealed--otherwise it would render this route entirely impassable and uninhabitable high up the stream, for even here, where it is found, the water is so strong as to be fatal and the earth covered with a crust of alkaline salts, resembling the purest saleratus.
I wish to give your readers the best general idea I can of this valley and its peculiarities, but I will wait for a better opportunity than I shall have on the road. When we get through, if in God's providence that event occurs, I shall try to give you a view of this country and of all through which we may pass. It is enough that the last 200 miles of our course has been, so far as wood is concerned, over a total, utter desolation. On this side the river, there is not a thing growing as high as a man's knees. Even this great stream sweeps along without a shadow cast upon its waters--without a tree or bush to indicate its course. Even the "LINE TREE" has been cut down and burned. When we stood by its stump, on ground on which so many thousands have enjoyed its shade, we felt that the man who could destroy it was fit only for murder and arson. But the noble tree is gone, and there is now 200 miles without a shade.
From the Platte forks up to this point, the valley is narrow, from 2 to 6 miles wide, and more uneven, and deeper cut in the surface formation, the high lands being in some cases perhaps over 200 feet high. These are a mixture of clay and sand, and it is curious and interesting to see what freaks the water played here during the glacial period. The bluffs form the most striking feature in the country. They are the broken hills lying along the margin of the valley, more or less detached from the great mass of clay and sand that forms the upper and highest surface.
There are some grand bluffs just below here, on the south side of the river. About 60 miles below is the first deemed worthy of note on our guides--Courthouse Bluff. At a distance of 15 miles it presents a very fine appearance--seeming like a great regular structure of brick with a low dome, but too massive and heavy in its form to be pleasing. At a view of 6 miles, our nearest point, it is unshapely, and with a little feeling of disappointment you turn to those that stand out in finer proportions, farther up the stream. Chimney Bluff, 10 miles ahead, is a tunnel-shaped mass of clay, perhaps 170 feet high, of really fine shape, and its center being a shaft probably 60 feet high and seemingly not more than four feet in diameter. They are both entirely naked of vegetation, and the rains are slowly washing them down. The gutters in the surface of the Courthouse Bluff give to its walls, at a distance, the appearance of a great colonnade, and the effect is so great that you almost look for human forms about it and among its columns. 20 miles still farther up is a bluff--Scotts Bluff--the grandest object of the kind I ever saw. It is nearly divided, but encloses a fine green area like a court, around which, except on the east, rises what seems like an imposing pile of regal buildings in the style of the earlier days of monarchy. It appears as if two immense structures had been raised in the infancy of architecture, and additions had been made showing the progress of the science and the advance of each age. It has no spires--the shafts rising from its wings being like chimneys--but one part is surmounted with a noble dome, and the other has what is more like a great castle rising above the whole mass. The wings are naked, like bare brick walls, but between them the sides seem a little sloping and are grassy, with the summits covered with scattering dwarf cedars that, at the distance of our trail, look like men and really appear like guardsmen looking at us as we pass. East and near it is a beautiful tower, apparently as perfect in its form as the hand of man could make it. It rises about 70 feet with a wall leaning slightly in the center, and then goes up at least 60 feet perpendicularly. In the center, and covering about half its summit, rises a noble perfect dome. In the court there is another like this. They are about 160 feet high and 60 broad at the base. The main bluff is from 200 to 250 feet high. Courthouse Bluff is probably about the same--though some have made it as high as 400, and a book we have here calls it 800. These are mistakes. They are high enough, however, to be worth going far to see, and we have regretted very much that the river cuts off from us the privilege of visiting them.
Yours &c., S. H. TAYLOR.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, September 14, 1853, page 1
Fort Laramie, July 6, 1853.Dear Mrs. Hadley--Feeling that some of our friends in W. would like to hear from me, I improve a leisure moment in writing you.
You will recollect that we left home with a very sick babe. She began to mend from the first day of starting, and continued to do until she, "with the rest of us," is now in the enjoyment of good health. We have had a fine traveling season, although some mud to wade through, and although there is a great deal of sameness in the face of the country we have traversed, yet I find it very interesting and am not yet willing to return. I wish I could paint for you a picture that would not fade of the river, the bluffs, the flats and (by far the best part) the flowers--the most beautiful and splendid, the grandest specimens of the floral kingdom. The cactus grows here in the greatest luxuriance, and many varieties. I wish I could send you a root of the pineapple cactus. I would attempt sending more of the dried flowers, but fear they will break to pieces so you cannot distinguish them. The graves of departed travelers are another interesting feature in this country. We have seen but four of "'53"--three of their tenants were killed by lightning; another was a babe of fifteen days.
We had a very narrow escape from lightning a few days since, as our wagon was leaving camp some distance ahead of the train. The shock from the flash was so great as to almost prostrate our whole team of five yoke, causing every face to blanch and every heart to quake, but the danger was safely passed through, while a smaller object a few rods in our wake was shivered. The rain storms here are tremendous, and you may judge that our cloth house is poor protection.
The fort does not answer my expectations at all. From the distance at which I view it (two miles) it seems nothing more than a few log houses enclosed by a wooden picket fence. I cannot see the men at all. The buildings are on the flats, which gives them a mean appearance after viewing the grandest specimens of bluffs.
In the course of an hour we shall continue our route, soon to cross the Black Hills, which are seen in the distance. Yesterday we met a return train of Californians, by whom Mr. T. sent letters, which may reach you before this. They say that we have passed the worst part of our route, and we hope to find it so. We have had no sickness in our train as yet.
I can give you no idea of the number now en route for California and Oregon, but we have plenty of neighbors. Indians are very scarce, judging from our experience.
Saturday after we had encamped, more than forty wagons passed on our road, and a goodly number was at the same time in sight on the opposite side of the river. A great many cattle and sheep are crossing the plains this season. Our company have lost one horse by accident, and one wagon--sold two head of cattle on account of lameness; the rest are in pretty good heart to continue our journey.
Helen has dried a great many flowers, expecting to send them to her mates in W., and is very much disappointed that a letter will not hold them. I have scribbled thus far seated on the ground in my tent with a rather troublesome babe hanging to my lap. Please excuse, and remember me to all inquirers.
Yours very sincerely,Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, April 13, 1853, page 2
CLARISSA E. TAYLOR.
(Correspondence of the Chronicle.)
July 17, 1853.Friend Hadley--We are now 150 miles only, above Ft. Laramie, after about two weeks of hobbling along with lame cattle and rickety wagons. We all wonder very much that our friends who have been through have not warned us of these two difficulties--especially of the first. For near four weeks we have been compelled to make short drives of five to fifteen miles a day--sometimes stopping entirely. We might have saved much had we known in the beginning what we know now--though we have brought all our cattle through to this point, except two we sold to the traders. Some have lost much more than we have. Within 20 miles of Laramie are probably 25 establishments for trade with emigrants, and their principal traffic is in lame cattle. These traders have now probably in their hands over 1000 head, besides many that have recovered and been sold back to emigrants at from three to five hundred percent profit. The evil begins to show itself about 300 miles below Ft. Laramie; at that point it is at the worst, and above there it stops entirely. From there up, our trouble is entirely with old cases.
Large-chested cattle, treading heavily on their forefeet--those having soft hoofs--those that haul or crowd in team, and those that in the yoke hurry or fret themselves--are almost sure to become lame. Whatever may be effected by treatment, much more may be by the selection of proper cattle. No yoke of oxen, however valuable, should be brought on the route, unless they are true in the draught, and satisfied to do their part in the yoke--and though I have succeeded perfectly with two [of] the heaviest oxen in the train, and one of them a bull, and they working on the tongue, the worst place in the team, yet, knowing what I do, I would not trust such again for the worth of them.
In a previous letter I advised emigrants to prepare themselves with iron shoes. We are not now so much in favor of them. We have found that above Laramie the hoof has hardened so that quite commonly it is out of the question to nail on a shoe. The friends of shoeing are now more in favor of having their oxen shod a hundred miles or so east of Kanesville and depending upon other means to protect their cows. It may be the safest course, though it is generally thought that the foot would thus be unfitted for service after the shoe comes off. I believe, and I think our people are all satisfied from our experience, that a safe and perhaps perfectly sure remedy may be used. Several of our working oxen that became tender in the feet we saved by wetting the bottom of the hoof with alcohol, or alcohol and camphor. With the free use of it, twice a day, oxen went through the Black Hills with feet that were tender and threatened to fail when they went in them. Every one treated with it has recovered without becoming actually footsore--and some of them, too, even when kept constantly in the draught. I have such confidence in it that with two quarts for five or six yoke of oxen and a dozen loose cattle, I would depend entirely upon it. A moccasin of leather, rawhide is best, is much used, and if adopted when the foot is first tender will generally save it, but it is quite a trouble and only defends the hoof while it is hardening, while the alcohol hardens it. It is of great use, in connection with spirits turpentine, or tar well beat in, to cure the heel crack.
An important thing in saving oxen is to have light wagons, light loads and plenty of team. Let the emigrant always bear this in mind. But a wagon should be good, of course--the best. In passing through a dry region like this, every seam in woodwork opens. Few wagons go through here without becoming loose in the felloes and hubs, and producing much trouble. The timber should be of the best kind and perfectly seasoned, and put together by good workmen--otherwise the wagon will fail, or cost more than it's worth to take it through.
July 24--We are now in the mountains--about four days from the South Pass--in the midst of poor feed, but enjoying a little more rain than for a month past.
We have heard nothing of symptoms of scurvy, fever or cholera, though a day back of us there was a death by mountain fever on the 4th of July. I have never known, anywhere, a time of such universal good health as has prevailed this season from the Missouri to this point, on both sides of the Platte. The distance is 740 miles, the time eight weeks, and there has not been 30 deaths among 30,000 emigrants. We have heard of but about three cases of sickness, and have known of no deaths except as we have seen by the way, perhaps six or eight graves of this year. A healthy season has had much to do with this state of things, but to a better habit of living is it to be attributed to a great extent. We see no such thing as living constantly on salt food, nor of exposure to conditions to which the system is unfitted. Everybody has milk, and most everybody has an abundance. One fourth of the draught on the road is done by cows giving milk; a large share of the loose stock is the same--and you would be surprised to see the extent to which milk enters into the living of emigrants. The impression that evening-drawn milk of cows traveling in or out of the team is heated and unhealthy is a mistake. Our cows are warm, of course, when they stop at night--rather, they are so in our warmest weather--but in a few minutes they become cool, and there is nothing in the appearance or taste of the milk showing a disturbance of its natural condition. We all use it freely, and I believe perfectly safely. Everybody has fruit, too, and I believe that has much to do with their immunity from disease. No emigrant should come on this road without plenty of dried sour apples and cows giving milk. Their value is incalculable. It is remarkable that all are excessively fond of cornmeal in every form in which it is cooked. Everyone expresses satisfaction or regret as they happen to have it or not. The "cornstarch" substitute is a failure, because it requires eggs to make it good. We think the milk, fruit and meal save us from the diseased anxiety for potatoes and vinegar, as it does from the necessity of using too much salt meat. We have also fresh meat now and then, which helps along our living very much. The swine has no representative on these plains--so we get no new pork--but the antelope and buffalo furnish us an excellent article of fresh beef. From a young buffalo killed by some neighbors the other day we had steak we called fully equal to any we ever had in Watertown, though Watertown, in that respect, be not a whit behind the very chiefest of cities.
The hard bread manufactured at St. Louis or Kanesville, and obtained at the latter place by emigrants, is bad--always very bad. I believe nobody eats it except when unavoidable. We find we need but very little of such food, and it is about as well to go without as to use that. It is sometimes, though very seldom, needed, and I would advise emigrants to take very little of it. Flour is the staple; it is always the most convenient and the best form of material for bread, except, perhaps, one day in fifteen, when hard bread is needed. Rice seems to be less relished on the road than at home--I presume because we have not eggs to cook with it. The emigrant will find that anything usually cooked with eggs is of little use on the road.
If a man will bring with him proper fishing tackle, he can get good catfish from the Missouri, Elkhorn and Loup, and the Platte as far up as fifty miles below Ft. Laramie. In the Missouri they catch multitudes going up from 50 to 90 lbs. each. Though poorly supplied with tackle we caught a few fine catfish in the Loup and Platte, and some dace in the small streams.
The patent wagon lock is thrown away by everybody who has it, and the simple chain substituted. A lock is indispensable, and the common chain is, I believe, universally preferred.
That which I believe is pronounced the best form of stove is that of the common plate stove, but level at top and bottom, with two holes over the furnace, draught under and over the oven, and flue in the end. 3 or 4 feet perpendicular draught is necessary. We see none such among the hundreds that are thrown away. A stove should be double where most exposed to heat--say half the front end and bottom. At least one camp kettle should be taken besides a dripping pan, coffee kettle, two tin kettles and frying pan.
The best form of tent is just that of the common house roof--not more than 6 to 6½ feet high, and 10 feet wide, well secured with pins at the edges. With such a form we have found brace ropes and all such securities useless--or nearly so. The three poles used with such a tent may be made very light, and the whole be lighter, more convenient and safer and better than any other form.
Great care should be used to have ox yokes and bows right--every way right--chains light but good, of right length, with good hooks, and a half dozen or so of good, heavy false links will be found worth their weight in silver.
Wagon tire should be bolted to the felloe that it may be readily taken off. This is very important. When our tire becomes loose, we take it off, find an old stove by the way and cut it into strips, and put them on the rim of the wheel and set the tire over them. All the irons should be in the common form, because then if one breaks it is easy finding another with which to replace it.
Dry Sandy Creek, July 31.We are 18 miles by the summit of the South Pass, actually descending towards the level of the common earth--though descending very slowly indeed, and through a region of little feed and less water. We are 7840 feet above the level of the sea, our guidebooks say, and almost to the line of perpetual snow. The Wind River Range of mountains, abutting on our right, loom out almost over our trail with their sides white with snow down almost to our level. The wind comes cold from them, and the moment the sun's heat is obstructed the air feels like that of a winter day. We have passed over, perhaps, the highest point of unbroken surface on the continent--yet we should hardly be conscious of being in a high altitude, so gradual has been our ascent. But the remains of the last winter's snow, here and there lingering on the northern hillsides and the abundance of mosses on their summits, the cold chilling air, and the difficulty in weak lungs to breathe when a little wearied, indicate our situation.
I have a word to say here in regard to traveling on the Sabbath--the almost universal habit of the road. When we left home, we commenced the experiment of observing that day with accustomed strictness, and to this time have observed it against the practice of every train and the opinion of almost every man we have met. Our experience, though it be that of but a single train, has so convinced our company of the economy and expediency of resting on Sunday, that I think our irreligious men, if traveling by themselves, would from policy do as we have done. We have been on the road six days less than four months--a time sufficient to test whether our teams need such a rest, and whether the rest is given them at the expense of time. We supposed we should fall behind a little, and that we should have only a good conscience--though that be enough certainly--to console us as other trains left us--but now, after 16 weeks of draught, and four weeks of it on the barren sage plains, our cattle are almost every one in good flesh and some of them good beef. I say only what all admit, that our teams are in better condition than those of any other train we can hear of on the road. For four weeks our oxen have been remarked by those who have seen them for their good condition, while in every train near us there are some failing from leanness, and quite a large share of them are so thin that we would not put them in our yokes. We are quite surprised at this difference--especially that it should be so great. Today a company that was to reach the summit of the Pass a fortnight ahead of us is encamped here, satisfied to stop with us over Sunday. A heavy drover, now going through the third time, is satisfied on the point and now lies by with us. A train composed of very prudent men, acquaintances of some of us, left Illinois one day ahead, traveling Sundays. The character of the men was a guarantee of the best management of their team, and it was predicted that they would go through in ten to twenty days less time than we. At the Missouri they were a week ahead, having gained six days. Fifty miles above Laramie we found a note from them, and they were two days only in advance. Another train starting and traveling under similar circumstances has had to stop to recruit, and is now behind us. We have probably lost a far less percentage of cattle than any other company going over the road.
These are not the only good results of lying by on Sunday--nor are they the most important. Our people have an opportunity that otherwise they cannot possibly enjoy, for those attentions to personal cleanliness, necessary to a healthy condition of body--and for the relaxation and rest required as much by their moral and physical constitutions. While traveling we are necessarily constantly exposed to the vexing, harassing influences incident to the road, and which has done much to deprave and dehumanize those who have gone over it. We need relief from these causes. The patience cannot bear a constant, perpetual abrasion. Even with the healing influences of religion upon us, we feel it. We feel that the mind cannot bear chafing all the time. And Monday morning we feel as we used to, refreshed for another week of toil on the road--another week of the journey of life--another week of the labor of self-control, and of effort to make the most of the enjoyment of the social and domestic relations. I wish all who are to go over this road might hear and believe what I say--that it is no more strange that those who travel Sundays and thus neglect their moral necessities should be prepared to abandon their sick and tumble their dead into holes in the ground than that they should become indifferent to the necessities of their beasts and strew the trail with the carcasses of over-driven and over-beaten cattle.
One great cause of loss on this road is feeding on alkaline lands. Cattle should, in no case, be halted where there are alkaline salts on the surface. This is the great curse of the Upper Platte, the Sweetwater, and all the streams flowing through the great waste from the Summit west to the base of the Bear Mountains. The low grounds are everywhere more or less covered with saleratus, and thousands feed and herd their cattle in it for three or four weeks of time. They have the alkaline principle constantly in their grass, and to some extent in their drink, and even the dust they inhale is impregnated with it. The system resists the poison more effectually than we ought to expect, for comparatively a small percentage die. Where 200,000 cattle have passed this season, there are, for 400 miles, from one to four carcasses to the mile--and probably one half of this 200,000 are fed on the lime grounds and furnish nine-tenths of the dead. Grass can be everywhere found on the high land. It is in spots--dry but nutritious--thin and scanty but very hearty. Our oxen labor on a morning's feeding of it all day as well as on the low ground grass till 2 o'clock. We esteem it the best grass by great odds. It is not so convenient, and so 100,000 cattle this year are grazed on alkaline feed to be killed or injured for months to come. Crossing the plains again, I would not feed on the low grounds after leaving Wood Creek, 170 miles from Kanesville, unless when I found it utterly unavoidable.
Aug. 7--We are at the eastern base of the Bear Mountains--still in the region of sand, clay, gravel, drought and barrenness. The west pass of the Oregon route we found saved by a cutoff. The 48 miles without water from the Big Sandy to the Green River, in the common route, the Sublette Cutoff, is avoided by going down the former to where it is but 13 miles across. The "dry stretch" of 26 miles, from the Platte to a tributary of the Sweetwater, is also by going up the Platte, to about 13 miles. Our company is about determined to go to Rogue River Valley to settle. We shall probably take the Brophy Cutoff from the great Columbia River trail--turning to the left at the great level of Bear River and going well to the head of the Humboldt, then down that stream to within 30 miles of its sink, and from there over the northern terminus of the Sierra Nevadas, at this kind a mere range of hills to Rogue River. We thus take a direct road, without mountain passes, with abundance of feed, and no "horrors" but two "dry stretches" 25 miles each, and a horrible tribe of Indians in the Humboldt.
Speaking of Indians--to this point the Pawnees are the only tribe to be feared, and they only for their proficiency in theft. The emigrant cannot too closely watch and guard his stock till he leaves the Loup Fork. The only safe course, so far, is to have every animal secured nights with a chain and lock, with a man by him with a revolver, and never allow him to go from the hand of the guard during the day. Beyond this there is no risk. From the Loup there is no danger of the kind. The Sioux, Ottoes, Tapoos and Crows are nobler Indians than you have ever seen, and hating the Pawnees implacably. Among all these tribes it is deemed a merit to kill a Pawnee in any place or in any way. They prosecute against them a war of extermination. They are above thefts. I was with them four days in the Black Hills, separated from the train, in search of an ox stolen by a white man, and I found them ever ready to give me the best place in the lodge, with the best buffalo robe and best buffalo meat. I would trust them to any extent. I have not heard of an animal ever having been stolen by an Indian between the Loup Fork and Bear River Mountains, nor do I believe such a thing ever occurred. About the Bear River region were the diggers--miserable robbers--but now, with another tribe, by the agency of the smallpox, they are nearly annihilated. They were a powerful band a year ago, but are now a disunited and wandering handful, hardly recognized as a tribe, and nearly harmless even as thieves.
As additional advice to those who intend going over this road, they should make their calculations to live as nearly as possible as they do at home. The last place to get good whipstocks is on the west side of the Des Moines. There are some, but not the best, on the east side of the Missouri, going up from Kanesville to the upper ferry. Opposite and about 60 rods above the present eastern landing of that ferry, on the west side of the Missouri, is a good place, and the best place to get good hickory for spare oxbows--three or four of which ought to be taken with every team. A man wants about three dozen common screws; 2 papers 3 oz. and 10 oz. tacks; 2 lbs. shingle and 2 lbs. 6d nails; a saw, hammer, good axe, spade, ½, ¾ and inch augers with one handle, wrench, screwdriver and two good pocket knives--one being to lose on the way. So far, a gun is of little use except to fire off, clean out and load up again every three or four days. A family should be supplied with such medicines as they know how to use, especially for such diseases as proceed from a neglected and dirty condition of the skin and overcharging of the bowels with Platte water sand, and colds taken by swimming the Platte for cattle and fuel, and the best of remedies for murrain, alkali, overflowing of the galls, hobnail and other ails of cattle and horses. There is an abundance of a purer and honester article of saleratus in this country than can be got at factories, and a man may get more or less as he pleases at Kanesville. Salt for cattle is unnecessary after striking the Platte--from that point, for some reason, they will not eat it. There are about ten ferries on the road--the aggregate cost on each wagon is about $25 to $30--by all but two of which--the Mississippi and Missouri--we swam our cattle without difficulty. The loss of cattle on the road is just according to the care they have. The loss of sheep, some 15,000 to 20,000 of which are on the way, I am informed by the most judicious drivers to be not much less than 20 percent, or one-fifth. If anyone wishes to take hens, they can manage a half dozen or so with little trouble. There are some in our company, and they ride well, being let out at evening, and have laid nearly all the way. There is no trouble in taking a dog, unless a bad traveler, by seeing to it that he has water supplied to him on the "dry stretches." It is not well to take cows that will "come in" on the road; I have seen many such, and many young calves traveling, but there are great objections, to wit: Good butter cannot be made on the road, and such as we have is little cared for. A can holding 6 to 20 qts. keeps our sour milk and cream, and makes our butter by the motion of our wagon. Everything should be carried in tin cans and bags. Pickles, and, I presume, pork, can be kept in cans while air tight. The flesh of poultry, "cooked down," is found an excellent article of food. The dried eggs were a failure with us. Tinware should be substituted for earthen, and sheet for cast iron. Russia is the only sheet iron that, in a stove, will last through. An excellent substitute for a stove when no baking is to be done is a sheet of iron like a stove top, to be put over a fire hole in the ground, a common means of cooking, and one which the traveler soon learns to make and use. It is just as good as a stove for every purpose but baking. Everyone needs flannel underclothing here. In regard to supplies of clothing for the future, everyone is convinced that anything not needed for the road costs a great deal more than it comes to. Take nothing for use after getting through--excepting money, of course, though I can assure you, you will have much less of that than you expected when you get there. No water should be used for drinking or cooking, nor allowed to cattle, unless in a running stream or containing insects; otherwise it is probably alkaline. Everyone ought to have too much sense to use water from the stinking holes dug by some foolish persons in the margins of "sloughs" and alkaline marshes. No poison water is found east of here that I am aware of, except as the alkaline is called poison. We have seen one alkaline spring, on the upper Platte, but the alkali is too apparent to the taste to be dangerous. To this point it is safe to use all running water, or that which contains the young of mosquitoes and frogs. The guidebooks are full and reliable in their information on this subject. A man wants a guide, of course, and the latest to be got. The "Mormon Guide" is the best as far as it goes. This, as everything else the emigrant wants, is to be got at Kanesville.
I shall probably have no more opportunities to forward letters until I reach [Table] Rock City, two months hence at least, and I may not have one to send this--though I hope for it, for we expect to be, until we leave the Humboldt, on a trail taken by some of the return travel from California and Southern Oregon. If I have time, I will fill up. There are many things I wish to write, but must defer till I get through. I expect, if I live, to hail from [Table] Rock City, Oregon.
Yours &c.,Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, November 2, 1853, page 1
S. H. TAYLOR.
Correspondence of the Chronicle.Letter from Oregon.
Jacksonville, Oregon, Dec. 17, '53.Mr. Editor--We arrived here in the Rogue River Valley Oct. 26th, just five, instead of four, months out from Kanesville, in company with a train of 87 persons, 23 wagons, 334 head of cattle, 1700 sheep and 29 horses and mules--all right save the "ordinary wear and tear" of wagons and teams, and some wear and tear of heart, especially for going hungry now and then, and eating poor dry beef for a fortnight on the road. We were so foolish as to join company with this great multitude at Green River, 60 miles this side of the South Pass, and to come through with them, and dearly we paid for our folly. Our teams were broken down, and we were delayed three weeks and over beyond the time we might have made. There was a great deal of suffering in the train in consequence of the delay--suffering providentially arrested by relief of flour from the valley, meeting us ten days out, near the Sierra Nevadas. We cannot express our obligations to this people for their generosity. It is the noblest community I ever saw. Many had consumed their whole summer in a most sanguinary war of defense with the bloodiest horde of Indians on the continent; all the grain that could be destroyed by fire had been consumed, and many of the dwellings of the settlers burned down; business of all kinds was totally prostrated, and the famine of the past year threatened a continuance for a year to come, but as news reached the valley that emigrants were suffering on the road, a force of fifty rangers immediately volunteered for their defense against the Indians, and under their protection a train of mules with three tons of flour, $1,000 worth--was sent to their relief. The whole road to the Sierra Nevadas, and indeed for a hundred miles beyond, was thus effectually occupied and aid supplied as far as any necessity could be anticipated. Wherever the presence of Indians was suspected, there an efficient detachment of troops was posted and the closest watchfulness maintained; whenever property was plundered from emigrants, the most vigorous efforts were made to recover it--and when families were found destitute of bread, they were supplied at the lowest rates to those having money, and free to those having none. And twice after the first, during the emigrating season, provision trains under escort were sent out that there might be no possible failure of the abundance of their liberality. On account of the great disproportion of prices of labor and food, emigrants experience very great difficulty in getting through the first eight months of their residence here, and no one can realize the intense interest felt in their condition by the citizens of the valley. Every facility within reach of the people is afforded them to obtain food and to find employment. There is a great deal of industry in the valley, and the strangest mixture of economy and liberality I ever saw. With the evidences of friendliness, frankness and generosity a man everywhere meets, he can hardly believe the community to be composed of people from every part of the Union, a year ago all strangers to one another. Land here is good--but not as good as that of Wisconsin generally. It is too gravelly. Much of it, especially that most affected by drought, is quite naked. Generally it is about half covered with a short, thick growth of very rich bunchgrass that seems to spread some by grazing and may in places eventually form a close turf. A very little of the land on the streams has grass that may be mown--but the best of it is not what your farmers would call tolerable wild meadow. On the southern slopes of the mountains grass, much of it clover, takes the place of timber, while the northern slopes are covered with pine (mainly pitch pine), fir and yellow cedar--the latter differing a little from your white cedar, and approaching the famous redwood, palo colorado, of Oregon and California. Much of the southern slopes is grown up to a short, stunted wild sage--Fremont's artemisia--a form of which covers "the plains" from Scott's Bluffs, below Laramie, to the Sierra Nevadas--fit for neither fuel nor food for man or beast. There is soil everywhere. The rock is very seldom exposed. Now and then you see a wall of sandstone or hornblende running along the mountainside, but you see too that time is fast employed whittling them to earth.
The periodical drought produces a necessity for irrigation on almost all soils, for the coarser products. Wheat, oats and barley--all cereal grains--do well. They mature before they suffer. Flax is indigenous on all good soils from the Bear River to the Pacific. There is no three months of dog days to make corn. The summer nights are too cool for it and the drought a little too early. The early kinds are grown, but with no great success. With wheat we can beat the world--and perhaps with oats. With coarse vegetables the country does well. In fat cattle, it can't be beat. Now, at midwinter, there are hundreds of cattle, as fat as your best stall-fed, on the commons--propagating, growing, fatting, with as little human care as the deer on the mountains. The animal grows through all the seasons, and at one year old is as heavy as in your country at two. An ox here is expected to weigh eight to eleven hundred, of course, and you see one yoke performing a labor that two of ours can hardly do. The wheat crop for the next harvest is yet, Dec. 17, but little of it in. They sow till March. The plowing of the season is now from a third to a half done. It commences with the rains late in Nov. and continues to the middle of Feb. or first of March. It requires four or five yoke of oxen to break with a plow cutting 14 inches. We have had now four freezing nights, all in succession. It is called remarkably cold. Men complain of the cold as they do in your country when the mercury is 20 degrees below zero. Their houses are very open--about open enough for comfortable summer houses--and they expect to keep warm in them. The commerce of the country is carried on upon pack mules, and so mild are the winters that the "packers" expect to sleep and live in the open air in all seasons, even without tents. The highest point to which the mercury rose last summer was 112°--but the heat was not oppressive as it is in Wisconsin. The air is balmy from the effect of the sea, and one feels free about the chest in the highest heat of summer. In winter the temperature ranges in the neighborhood of zero to 14° below--seldom, perhaps never, freezing in the daytime, and only now and then nights. Nobody thinks of such a thing as feeding cattle in the winter. You sometimes see a little stack of hay designed for a working team in time of emergency--but this is not common. It is expected that teams will go right along through the winter, plowing and keeping fat on the new growth of grass which is now green and fine. The old Spanish trail and the present inland commercial route is through this valley, from California to Oregon. Thousands of mules are employed on it. Trains are constantly passing. And this multitude, winter and summer, subsist solely on grass. Potatoes and other coarse products are secured when ripe without regard to seasons. The potatoes are not yet all dug--though they ought to be. These things are secured against frost by putting them into houses about as close as a good log house. The mildness of the winter is a very great advantage to this country. The rains and fogs render it an unpleasant season, but far less than you in that country suppose. The rains came on this year about the middle of November. It rained more than half the time for ten or twelve days; since that, for eighteen days, we have had two storms, and enough to keep the ground very wet--that is all. This is the busy time of the year. Last summer and fall they had rains out of their season, and many suppose they may be looked for henceforth--but I apprehend there is no good ground for such a hope. We met these rains on the road and they were called unprecedented. The wet weather is from the south westward brought by a tropical sea wind; I take it to be a diverted western monsoon, ranging along the region of mountains forming the whole western coast country of the continent, and it comes warm almost like a summer shower. We have no cold rain storms.
Hogs do but indifferently. If I were coming out here again, I would bring two or three full-blood grass breed pigs. On the clover they would do as well as the bears and cattle--but those that subsist on roots and mast have a poor time of it. I should think the hogs of the valley were of Spanish stock--but mean and miserable as they are, a pig is worth an ounce of gold. With such as they are the country will soon be supplied and a better breed be called for. The breed of cattle cannot be improved. Everything of the kind becomes Durham in a year after it gets here. The Umpqua Valley, between here and the Willamette (pronounced Wil-lam-et) is said to be best for hogs. Hens may be obtained here for about $2.00 a pair. A family in our train took out a pair, with little trouble. I have seen no geese nor turkeys, and presume there are none in the valley. Surrounded by mountains as this valley is, it cannot, of course, be otherwise than well watered.
I can only say of the Rogue River what I have heard, that it is so large as to require ferries. On either side, down valleys three or four miles wide, flow little creeks--Bear, Butte, Evans, Antelope &c--from the mountains to the river. There are many little brooks that reach the creeks, and there you see everywhere small spring runs that in a little way lose themselves in the soil--and by all of these is afforded an abundant means for irrigation. A few, very few, trout are in the creeks, and some salmon live to get up here from the sea, but so bruised and beaten about by the drift in the swift streams that they are unfit to eat. Of game--on the wooden slopes the deer are really "too numerous to mention." Back a few miles in the mountains, the black, brown and grizzly bears are abundant. The grizzly is one of the noblest animals in the world--more powerful and more fearless than the tiger. There is a species of the American lion, and what is said to be a very fair representative of the hyena, in the mountains--though I doubt whether the latter is vouched for by any very good authority. Myriads of wild geese and sandhill cranes--but their place of resort, so far as we know anything about it, is several lakes in the interior, some of which we pass in coming over from the Humboldt, and of which I may write more fully at another time. The grizzly is an animal of incredible strength. I have seen a cub, five months old, break up a bullock's leg in the joint, stripping away the muscles from the bone with his claws. But they can neither climb a tree nor run along a steep hillside, and so they are not very dangerous. The fiercer animals have never been known to descend into the valley. Small game is scarce. Wild fruit, except the apple, is rather abundant. Of that, no form is found save the tree--a fine crab tree, but bearing only a very few small berries, half as large, perhaps, as a currant, and half as good. The grapes of this valley are abundant and superior. The domestic apple does remarkably well. The native plum grows on a dwarf bush, perhaps 10 to 18 inches high, and has the flavor of the peach. Apple trees for sitting are packed over from the Willamette and sold here for $1.00 each.
This valley is about 75 miles long and perhaps 8 wide, beside the valleys of the creeks. The lower part of the valley, half of it, or thereabouts, is reserved for the present for the Indians. They attempted last summer to drive out the whites, and after a war of three months, during which about 40 whites and 100 Indians were killed, peace was concluded by the surrender of the best half of the valley to the whites. These Indians are a wild, fierce tribe, of kin to the Diggers on the Humboldt, and about the lakes this side of there, and the Snakes of Snake River. They are degraded and cruel beyond measure. It is said that they murder for pastime. They will any of them shoot a man to get his hat. We saw the body of an emigrant that had been dragged from its grave, to be stripped, and left to the ravens. The whole country from the head of the Humboldt to this place, and indeed to the ocean, except the "desert," sixty miles, is infested by them to such an extent that no place is safe. I wrote you what we heard of the Humboldt Indians--the Diggers--of their extinction by the smallpox. We found it partially so--and no one comes over the plains without wishing it were so of all these tribes. At the western junction of the Bear River and Salt Lake roads, we heard of the war of the Utahs and Mormons, the particulars of which you probably had long ago. The opinion of the most intelligent men I saw who came that way was that the war was got up by the Mormons as a pretext for consolidating their military establishment and fortifying the passes to the city. Bad as the Utahs are, all who came that way agree that the Mormons are worse--that they are more adept at theft and more reckless at robbery. Much trouble is yet to be experienced with that community. The cattle trains that came by Salt Lake sustained more loss within striking distance of that city than those by the Bear River road on the whole trip. The closest vigilance was insufficient to prevent the theft of cattle. The property of emigrants is probably no safer there than in the country of the Pawnee. I thought our road over the mountains by the Bear River was the worst possible, but I would advise those having any more than a small number of cattle to come that way rather than run the hazards by Salt Lake. But I am digressing here. More of this anon.
The wood of the valley is mainly pitch pine, fir, cedar and bur oak. This pine cannot be split at all, and is too heavy for convenience--heavier than water. It however makes our lumber, while a mammoth pine of the mountain summits, called the sugar pine, makes our shingles and the shakes with which frame houses are generally covered. Our rail timber is the cedar and fir. The oak is a short, tough, gnarled tree like your bur oak, used only for fuel. The poplar and poorer species of the elm flourish along the streams, and in many places everything is covered with the grape vine. The yew tree grows here and there on the mountains--and so does the laurel. The alder grows to a tree 18 inches in diameter--but it is useless. There is a tree representing the butternut, but it has no fruit save a seed like that of the maple, and one called the manzanita, a more splendid tree than you ever saw; the "mistletoe bough" too, rendering the oak classic with its associations. The maple, linn and hickory are unknown here--though the hazel, a brittle thing in your country, by its singular toughness supplies the place of the latter for some purposes. The chaparral, the crookedest, ugliest and most obstinate bush you ever saw, forms the upland undergrowth.
The best-informed men put the population of the valley at three to four thousand--three to four hundred being in the village of Jacksonville--and among them our old friend, Dr. E. H. Cleveland, of Watertown. He is the only old acquaintance I have seen except Mr. Warren, of Hartland, whom I met on the plains and who called on you at your place. The Doctor is doing well--first rate--and sends his respects to all who remember him. He has actually driven out all competition and is now doing all the business of the valley in the line of his profession. The Dr. is now enjoying as much of wealth and the confidence of the people as any man in the valley. There are few--perhaps ten or twelve--families in the village. The first time I was here I saw but one woman, and she kept a bowling saloon and drunkery. Since that we have found a good society of families. The mass of the men "keep batch"--the merchants in their stores, and mechanics in their shops--even the Justice of the Peace, with several miners, cooks, eats and sleeps in "the office," a circular mosque-like building, made of "shakes," I believe without a board or pane of glass about it. The houses, except one, the Robinson House, are all made of these things, and are generally lighted by the crevices or windows of cotton cloth. The first successful schools in the valley are just started by persons of our company, are in Jacksonville to be the basis of an academy and one in the country. The first religious societies--three Methodist--are now being organized, with five clergymen, of the same denomination, all of our company, in the field. The most flourishing branches of business are those of the bowling saloon, the gambling den and the drunkery--and yet there is less of gambling and drinking in the place than you would expect to see. Merchants and mechanics are doing well. There is no cooper, gunsmith, carriage maker nor shoemaker doing business in the place--though by another year, they might all save the latter succeed well. We have but one sawmill in the valley--though three more, at least, are commenced, and a grist mill is to be ready for the next harvest.
We find it very difficult to become familiarized to the enormous prices in this country. Flour, this winter, ranges from 20¢ to 25¢ a pound, beef is 20¢ and 25¢, bacon, mess 37¢, prime 45¢, potatoes 6¢, squashes &c. 4¢ a pound. Salt is 25¢ a pound, candles 75¢-100¢, coffee 37¢, sugar 33¢, butter $1.25, milk 100¢ a gallon. While domestic staple products, it will be seen, bear from five to ten prices, labor bears but two to four--as, per day, $2.00-$3.00; per month, $50.00-$75.00. This renders it extremely difficult for emigrants to subsist the first few months. Some of our folks say they never before found "existence so much a problem." Some of them, men heretofore well to do in the world, have dug potatoes for every 30th bushel; some have worked for $2.00 a day, with board, and paid $4.80 a bushel for potatoes--the price when we came. I sold a good log chain for five squashes. A neighbor sold a good wagon for 100 hills of potatoes, and got the worth of the wagon, $80.00, and I sold one for 100 lbs. of flour and 750 lbs. or 12½ bushels potatoes. Oxen are worth, by the yoke, but $100 to $160 and cows from $75 to $100 each. The difficulty of obtaining food is increased 100 percent by the voracious wolfish appetites of all newcomers. People eat till they are themselves astonished, and oftener thus than till they are satisfied. I presume four-fifths of those who have been here but three months experience great trouble in getting enough to eat. It is a hard thing to say of the country, but it is true, and tell your readers if they do not wish to realize it, to stay at home. When a man gets to raising and selling agricultural products, or becomes established in any other business the profits of which are three or four times the profits of labor, he can prosper--but not till then. That is too true. And you can tell them that if people were not made over, or rather half unmade, by the dehumanizing processes through which they go from Kanesville here, they would never submit to the conditions of this country. They would never submit to living in such houses, with such an absence of the conveniences and comforts of eastern life, and such a destitution of intellectual and moral opportunities, if they had not already learned on the plains to submit to anything. You can tell them that too, and tell them they can never, in living here, get paid for coming over the plains. I am not homesick; I am not prejudiced; I only tell you facts. And it is in fulfillment of a pledge to many of your readers, to tell them facts, that I tell them much more than half of those, in this country of mild winters, of a fruitful soil and mines of gleaming gold, are dissatisfied and regret having come here. Of those who have come without their friends, I have heard not one express an intention to bring them here. The general expression of such is, "I am glad my family are not here," while the mass of those who stay, stay for other reasons than because they like the country. We are all told that by another year or so we shall prefer it to the East. I know not how that may be, but I know that a large portion of those who have been here eighteen months, the time of the settlement, intend to leave.
Mining is being perhaps fairly paid now. Some are making fortunes and some making nothing, or less. There is room for many thousand miners in this valley. The gold, in some quantity, is exhaustless. And the farther explorations are carried in every direction from us, the more extensive the gold-bearing country is found. New diggings are discovered somewhere every day. There is gold enough--more than can be washed out. And yet mining is a very precarious business. I would advise no one to come here to mine, because he is very likely to expend years of labor without profits and very sure to get less gold than will repay him for what he undergoes in coming and living a miner's life. It is worth something to "see the elephant," and well enough, perhaps, at least for a young man, to waste two years in learning the lesson of a trip to and a residence in this country, and it is "well enough" for them only, as young men are bound to fool away about so much time, and there is no school in which they can learn as fast, or by the discipline of which truths will be so indelibly impressed on their memories. I will write again soon.
My respects to all--accept assurances &c.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, March 29, 1854, page 1
of Yours, S. H. TAYLOR.
Correspondence of the Chronicle.
Letter from Oregon.
Jacksonville, O.T., Jan. 17, '54.Dear Sir--I write to advise you of the occurrence of a new and probably a serious difficulty with the Indians. On the 13th inst. a force of about 30 whites, near the Cottonwood, about 40 miles from here, on the road south to California, in the Shasta Valley, went out in pursuit of Indians who had for some weeks been engaged in the theft of cattle. They had traced them into the mountains to a cave, when they were attacked by about 100 Indians from an ambush, and dispersed with the loss of their rations and ammunition--having four men killed and four seriously wounded. The attack was well sustained by the whites, in a fight continuing in one form or another, all day. The loss of the enemy is unknown.
The Indians are of the Shasta and Rogue River tribes--a portion from a band located but about nine miles from here. It is generally treated as a prelude to certain war. A Capt. Wright, a famous Indian hunter, of this valley, has gone to the scene of the affair, and at Yreka and Cottonwood is raising a volunteer company to pursue them. It was intended to have 200 regular troops stationed in this valley before this time--but they are not here, and no one knows when they may be. But regulars or no regulars, should these tribes renew hostilities, the citizens will make short work with them. I will advise you of the progress of the affair.
Yours &c. S. H. TAYLOR.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, April 5, 1854, page 2
Jacksonville, Feb. 8, '54.Mr. Editor--I had hoped before this to give you the result of the difficulty with the Indians on the Cottonwood, of which I wrote you. The troops from Fort Lane found them in possession of a cave which was entirely inaccessible, and from which it was impossible to dislodge them by any of the ordinary means of warfare. They could not be reached even with shells. The attempt is now being made to open the cave by blasting--and so we yet hope there will soon be an end put to the affair. It is ascertained that the Indians have not the countenance of those portions of our Rogue River tribe who were a party to the war and treaty of last season.
Two Indians are now, today, on trial for murdering a white man before the U.S. Court now sitting here. I understand that the chiefs of this tribe sympathize with the prisoners, and declare their readiness to go to war again in the event of their conviction and execution.
The winter has been very cold. We had about five days during which it did not thaw in the shade, and about six days during which the ground was covered with snow--the deepest one and a half inches. We have had very little rain--the water is low, mining poor and times dull.
Yours, in haste, S. H. TAYLOR.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, May 10, 1854, page 2
BY S. H. TAYLOR.
Geological Description of the Country from Kanesville to Fort Laramie.
The first division of the country over which the emigrant passes is properly that portion of it extending from the Missouri River at Kanesville (Council Bluffs city), if he crosses there, to Fort Laramie--a distance of 500 miles. The first peculiarity that announces our approach to the Missouri River from the eastward is a succession of steep, irregular naked bluffs, or hills, of clay and quicksand mainly. The river sweeps through wide, low flats of the same material, and along the west or right bank appear the same hills again--and on both sides, in places, covered with stunted wood. In going over to the Elk Horn fork of the Platte, about 20 miles, the country is rolling prairie--but from this stream to Laramie the great peculiarity of the country is bluffs--naked bluffs of clay and quicksand. The 60 miles from the Horn to the Loup Fork has much as fine prairie upland as there is in the world--but you see the tendency to bluffs, and from this point you soon go into them, as naked and sterile and sandy as anywhere on the road. At about 300 miles from Kanesville are seen, perhaps, the first indications of gravel. From this the prevailing element of the soil to the Sierra Nevadas is gravel. You see an increase of it for a hundred miles before it becomes so predominant as to produce the sage, the prevailing vegetable of all the gravel plains--though it is not until you pass Laramie that the sage is so luxuriant as to attract much attention.
From the Missouri to Laramie, though embraced in the "Great American Desert" of our geographies, is but a border--a transitive region--between the desert proper and the great alluvial country of the western states, and extending northward to the "barren region" of the Coppermine and McKenzie rivers, and south, with little interruption, to Texas. It generally produces nothing but grass and a few coarse weeds--the former sometimes where the clay prevails assuming a very fine growth; while in some places the sand prevails to such an extent as to produce a total barrenness.
The valleys of the streams, especially along the eastern margin of this region, are characterized by a very fertile soil and an even, level surface. On the upland there is no wood--and on the lowland only heavy groves of cottonwood, wherever the land has been protected by bayous and river channels. Though along some streams flowing through a tenacious clay the elm or willow has ventured an attempt at life, yet the cottonwood is the only tree that seems to flourish. Within 200 miles or so of Laramie, even this wood disappears, and then, at least for a hundred miles, the country, valley and hill assumes the most naked and desolate appearance that can be conceived.
At somewhere about 100 miles from the Missouri, we find the first alkaline evidences. From this point, for near 2000 miles on the route of the emigration, the valleys of the streams are strewn with alkaline salts, and the soil and water impregnated with the alkaline principle either in the form of potash, soda or lime. In the valley of the Platte, up which we travel for eight hundred miles from the Missouri, it is uniformly in the form of potash--sometimes in the condition of black salts, sometimes saleratus, sometimes lye. The alkaline deposit is all on the original diluvial surface, below all the alluvium, or most recent formation. Sometimes, indeed, we saw where there was so much alkali in the surface that alluvial matter brought on by the stream became impregnated with it, and its evidences could be traced in the bank to a depth of several feet; it however generally extends through only a few inches, and is found where everything shows that its age is that of the diluvium or drift.
This whole region is a vast deposit of clay and mud overlying the new red sandstone and coal. In the Silurian period it was the lowest portion of the sea bed between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies. Above the coal, which shows itself near both its eastern and western limits, lies the new red sandstone formation, in one place, above Laramie, showing itself to a depth of more than a thousand feet, and overlying this is the great deposit of clay and sand, the depth of which can only be conjectured. From the immense area over which it extends, and the depth--perhaps 1000 feet--in which denuding forces have cut their channels, as well as from evidences at the western limit, about the Black Hills, it is evident that the depth of this singular formation, still more the depth to the coal, must be estimated by thousands of feet.
This formation exhibits no evidences of volcanic disturbance, and very little of stratification. Though up near Laramie it is more solidified, and sometimes presents a table of clay rock, of very even thickness, quite hard, from the bank, projecting beyond the over- and underlying clay bed. The surface is very uneven. The water was evidently the only agent employed in cutting out the deep channels that convert its surface into a mere succession of bluffs and ravines. The range of the irregularities is nearly north and south, showing the direction of the forces by which they were made. Back from the river valleys, not among but on the bluffs, are some large and very fine plains, and by the surface of these as well as the general line of level of the summits and bluffs may be determined the surface of this formation previous to its denudation. The curiosities of which I wrote--the Courthouse, Scotts and Chimney bluffs--are mere spurs, projections left by the removal of the surrounding earth. We made these bluffs three or four hundred feet high, but as we afterwards became better acquainted with heights and distances in the strange atmosphere of the plains, we were prepared to receive the assurances of those who have visited them that their height is from 700 to 1000 feet. Generally 50 to 150 feet will measure the height of these elevations from the valley of the Platte.
The great wonder of this region is the valley of the Platte up which our road lies. At right angles to the course of all like great rivers in the Northern Hemisphere, and to the direction of all the known forces by which like valleys were created, its existence must be attributed to causes not only peculiar to the time and place, but more powerful than those by which general results were produced. We know that the currents of the glacial period, which have left their traces all over the Northern Hemisphere, were from the north to the south, and with very little eastward or westward bearing. But the direction of this valley is to the east, with a very little southward bearing. There can be no doubt but it was produced by a current of water, and yet its direction is opposed to that of what have been received as the most recent currents.
This valley is one of the most interesting subjects to which the observing emigrant feels his attention directed. He finds himself, if on the north side of the stream, for hundreds of miles constantly traveling over a level plain more extensive than anything he has ever seen--challenging his wonder for its mere extent--at his right a large, irregular line of upland, sometimes near, sometimes so far away as to appear only as a mirage, all everywhere covered with grass, only grass and a few bright little flowers that he finds a strange pleasure in comparing with types more beautiful, perhaps, only because loved hands had fostered them by the paths of the old home, and along the left the dark groves of cottonwood hanging over one of the grandest streams on the continent, a stream he is compelled to admire for its length, its breadth, its depth, its grand rolling flood, sweeping steadily, straightly on, through an almost silent solitude that for vastness compares only with itself. On and on for weeks he travels, wondering at the valley and river more than he ever wondered before--wondering when and how the scene came--by what mighty cause it was produced.
The valley is very straight, so straight that the traveler is never conscious of turning from a direct line to accommodate himself to its course, and nearly all the way widening gradually to its mouth. The river pursues a singularly direct course along the southern wall of the valley, which seems to be everywhere the lowest side, with none of those great bends that characterize western streams. It has few small tributaries--the Horn and the Loup on the north, and the Big Blue and South Platte on the other, all being large enough for commerce, though it is not until we get above the confluence of the latter that we notice the main stream to be materially smaller. For 200 miles it is so large that it may take a heavy stream without an observable change in its volume. At 350 miles from its mouth it is twice as wide as the Mississippi at Fulton, where we crossed it, and certainly much swifter--though probably not so deep.
For near 200 miles up this stream, as well as up the Horn and Loup, agriculture and commerce are destined to flourish, and a great state will grow up.
----From Laramie we enter upon a region of country entirely different in its surface, soil and productions. Like the region we have been considering, this rises rapidly at the westward toward the base of the Wind River chain of mountains, where it forms the summit of the western slope of the Mississippi Valley. Unlike the country below, it has been subject to perhaps every form of volcanic disturbance. When 100 miles below Laramie we are warned of a change in the country by the silvery form of Laramie Peak, still 50 miles above that point, lifting itself 4000 feet above all the world about it. It is one of the Black Hills, on the south side of the Platte, a section of which extends to the north side and lies across our road for a distance of 50 miles. One has been weary of the alkaline plains, and is rather pleased with the diversity that here attracts his attention, but with his tender-footed cattle crippling and hobbling on the sharp quartz and slate gravel, and his rickety wagons reeling, creaking, twisting about on the side hills and pitches, and cracking on the angular rocks--all apparently waiting only for the most unfortunate and uncomfortable place to fall down--he is glad when he escapes from the Black Hills, though it be to find confirmation of his apprehensions that the good road of the overland route is passed.
From Fort Laramie to the South Pass.
The country of the Black Hills was as much broken up as the volcanic force could break it, and has been since as much torn up by water as was in the nature of things possible. Its elevations seem to have no range, no regular direction, and almost every one seems to have been a volcanic focus of its own. The disruptions are only as low as the slates, and wherever they appear they have been removed by water, and only the flanks of sandstone are left, with an interior depression where was once an elevation of the soft clay slate. The northern currents must have been diverted to the eastward, and have swept among these hills with a terrible license. There was nothing here that could resist the water. The slates are everywhere removed--the sandstone broken up and its fragments carried about--the clay formation swept away. Only on the high hills, now and then, is the clay to be seen in its original position and the sandstone and quartz but little disturbed. Through these hills the Platte finds its way, sometimes in a narrow deep, dark canyon, between perpendicular walls that in one place rise to the height of 800 feet.
From the Black Hills the country is for 150 miles much broken up. There are hills of gravel, hills of drifting sand, hills of rock--the new red sandstone--and some very fine valleys, only that they are of sand and gravel, and covered only with sage and grease bush, and white with saleratus. Grass grows among the Platte bottoms, and in the hills we begin to find a "bunchgrass," very fine and very nutritive, growing with the sage on the dry gravel. This is the best feed, and in many places the only feed, on the route. This region has evidently undergone some change by volcanic disturbance since the period of the alkaline deposits and the currents that denuded the valley of the Platte. Among the results of this, the great coal field that in its eastern limit appears over a large part of Iowa in its western limit presents itself here in exposures that may be regarded as among the wonders of the route. In some places extensive beds of it are covered by the merest quantity of earth, and in one place where I was, the Platte had cut its channel to the depth of perhaps 100 feet down through a coal bank having a transverse of ¼ to 2 miles, and longitudinally sweeping away from the river as far as its elevation could be seen--and this was concealed by a surface of soil. There by the wayside are two little springs reported poisonous--one a weak lye, the water circulating probably through an alkaline deposit, and the other coming through coal and bringing particles which it deposits at the bottom, and which give it the appearance of black water. They are probably neither of them poisonous.
In going on up to the summit of the South Pass, about 100 miles, we follow the Sweetwater in its windings among the Rattlesnake Mountains, here mere granite outlines of the Rocky Mountains. These are a singular feature of the country. They are generally mere spurs of naked granite rock, elevated when in a state of partial fusion, and at a very remote period, probably entirely before the deposition of the slates. There is no evidence of the distribution of anything else than the primary rock--no evidence of the existence of anything else at the time when these masses were raised up. Independence Rock is one of these--no more remarkable however than many others. This rock is an unbroken mass, of an oval form, accessible in but one place--said to be 80 rods long, 20 rods wide and 260 feet high. There is not earth enough in the whole mass to sustain a blade of grass. We saw on this rock thousands of names of emigrants who have perpetuated their memories, if not while time, at least while wagon grease, endures. The "Devils Gate" is an immense chasm in one of these rocks, 500 feet deep, and just wide enough to admit the Sweetwater, which dashes and foams among the rocks at the bottom. This chasm is the result of a dislodgement of a part of the mountain, or rather a disruption of the mountain, and is perhaps one of the grandest natural curiosities in the world. The best entrance is from below, and we go up under the mountain wall, by a footpath, climbing over huge boulders, and find the canyon gradually narrow to a fissure perhaps 100 feet wide with perpendicular walls, through which the stream embouches a mere mass of foam. It is so pent up by these walls that sounds ring and reverberate as if in a cavern, and one is astonished as he looks up and sees how very high they are. But these mountains are all curiosities. They are so very naked of earth and vegetation--so precipitous and inaccessible--they look so very ancient and so enduring and so solitary--and we travel through among them and around them--and they are every way so different from anything we have seen or heard of that we view them with the profoundest wonder. I ascended several of these. In one case a company went up with me to a point we supposed over 1000 feet high, and from which, as we looked down on our encampments, our wagons and tents looked like so many sheep. In all these mountains, I saw no other rock than granite, except three or four dikes of brilliant basaltic trap.
We pass out from among these strange elevations, however, as we go up the Sweetwater, and find the mountains low and broad at the base, so that we go over them by good roads. They are mostly covered with drift of quartz and trap gravel, and we are not always aware of it when crossing them. In one place we travel six miles over the basset edges of gneiss in a vertical position, the edges just appearing above the surface and presenting the most singular appearance that can be imagined. The road crosses at least seven miles breadth of the original rock, the slates and old red sandstone in a vertical position forming the flank of the range so that ten miles in depth of the earth's crust is presented by this disruption, and this embracing only the azoric system. It is twenty miles across this mountain, and the Sweetwater flows through a chasm that entirely separates it transversely--probably a fissure produced by a disturbance occurring long after the first upheaval. As the trail approaches this great range it strikes off from the river and by a route a little circuitous crosses it in such a way that were it not for the the appearance of the canyon just where we turn, we might pass without knowing that there is a mountain here.
By a foolhardy adventure, I had the opportunity of learning about as much of "height and depth" of this elevation as any emigrant, perhaps, who has been through. We reached the turn of the road about 1 o'clock, and attracted to the south wall of the canyon by a strong curiosity to study its geology, and hearing that the road came to the river again in five miles, without consulting our guide I took my rifle and crossed the stream, climbing the mountains, which I found covered with a less of drift than there is in the north side, and the rocks consequently better presented. I found much to interest me--traces of an extinct volcano--walls of trap, fragments of lava, metamorphic sandstone &c., and of course stayed too long. Night came on and I found no junction of the road and stream. I hurried till dusk, and still it was mountains ahead. I concluded to cross to the north side and gain the road. So I went down from a peak which I had ascended for observation, and at a half mile or so found myself on the bank of the river--and such a bank! It was more than a thousand feet high, and as I looked down into the deep, dark abyss, I could see the Sweetwater like a mere little line of foam lying at the bottom, and on the opposite side a precipitous wall of rocks, higher than where I stood, and extending as far as I could see up and down the stream. And it was night--but I must cross, and knew I could cross, somewhere and in some way. I had been a good deal in the mountains along the way--had had some adventures--had been out once four days and to gain the trains had swum the Platte in a canyon in the Black Hills, holding to an ox's tail--but this was the first time I had felt very particularly hurried. I effected a very good descent, but found it impossible to ford the stream. The current was so swift that a man could not hold his footing on the slippery rocks in eight inches water. The river was reduced to half its breadth and depth, and was the most frantic stream I ever saw--dashing up on great rocks that had fallen from the walls, and covering them with foam and filling the dark, cold canyon with its spray and the sound of its roaring. I worked along up the stream, climbing over big boulders, crawling over slippery faces of gneiss and slate, creeping through thick, tangled brushwood--all wet with spray, and cold--looking eagerly in the gloom for someplace where the water might be deep and slow--I cared not how deep if it were only slow--someplace where I might cross by swimming, or wading, or leaping from rock to rock. I must have gone up the river in this way several miles, when in the dish of an eddy I effected a crossing. Without much delay, you may believe, I climbed the cliff and struck across the country to find the trail--and by midnight I was in the camp of our train--and much wiser than before, when I learned that in addition to the wolves that had made themselves much more familiar than agreeable, it was a "great place for grizzlies in that canyon," and my rifle had been loaded so carelessly it would not go off.
The surface about the summit is broken by low ranges running in various directions, and everywhere covered with drift. There is no change by which the summit is made apparent to the traveler, any more than there is about the dividing ridge between the waters flowing into the Mississippi and Great Lakes. After the last crossing of the Sweetwater, we went down in the stream and encamped, and the next day before noon we were at the Pacific Springs, a dirty, miry slough, but noted as the first water flowing the other way.
At our right and not far off we see the eastern range of the Rocky Mountains. The absence of any other mountains at the east and west of it gives it a very solitary appearance. From good points of observation we looked away north along its eastern and western banks, but could see no other object of the kind. From a little farther on we saw the Green River Range, corresponding to the Wind River, coming up from the south and terminating suddenly within perhaps 50 miles of us, at our left, and thus leaving a pass of about 40 miles.
----In all this region from Laramie to the summit of the South Pass, there is no soil--no alluvium. It is drift--drift to the surface, and almost totally destitute of fertilizing agents. It is just what your country would be if stripped to the gravel, and that robbed of the hornblende and decomposed vegetable matter. This is properly the "Great American Desert"--though not a desert in the sense in which your readers generally understand it. It is everywhere covered with some form of vegetation--generally sage--what Fremont called artemisia--and grease bush. Here is a little clay along the streams, and in places the grass covers the ground. On the upland where the rocks are presented, there is a little soil in the fissures, and a dwarfed and stunted cedar now and then succeeds in an attempt at existence.
The alkali in some condition increases from where we first see it on the lower Platte, to the summit of the pass. From the Black Hills all the way up we saw depressions in the gravel valleys, where the lye had accumulated during the early rains, and the water evaporating had left a sheet of beautiful white saleratus, sometimes the third of an inch in thickness. Very commonly we found the flats of the rivers and their little tributaries, all white with this substance. Sometimes a brook, losing itself in the gravel, appears in little pools in its bed, and the water standing in these places is so charged with alkali as to be fatal to anything that drinks it. Great care is required all through this region, and sometimes all the effort of which a company is capable to get a train of cattle safely by these places. At one of these brooks, just before reaching the Sweetwater, we saw the carcasses of cattle that had evidently drunk of the water and died without turning around--and for two or three miles we saw more dead cattle, I think, than anywhere else on the plains. The grass of the Sweetwater flats is all charged with alkaline principle and is very hurtful to cattle and sheep. Horses and mules seem but little affected by the alkali, dogs not at all. Our dogs would plunge in the alkaline pools by the wayside and drink with perfect impunity. Just above the bridge or old upper ford of the Platte, 150 miles above Laramie, about two miles back in the high sand hills, is a great plain of grass, the depressions in which are occupied by alkaline pools, which when I visited them were dry, and in some places I found a hard encrustation of saleratus more than half an inch in thickness. Five or six miles beyond this, a little stream flowing along the western border of the plain comes down across the road, and at the crossing presents the appearance of creek flats in this region, but by following up three miles we find it running through thousands of acres of land either covered with saleratus or so impregnated with alkali that it has the peculiarities of the earth about an ashery.
Up to this point we find no hot springs. On the south side of the Platte, 12 miles above Laramie, in the bottom of an immense canyon, a warm spring comes rolling up out of the white gravel, so like the cold springs with which you are familiar that you cannot realize that it is not cold and refreshing, until you have tasted and tasted, and it is so insipid and sickening that your stomach refuses it. On the north side it may be remarked that the water of springs is not generally so cold as in the low country at a distance from mountain ranges. About 50 miles above Laramie, just where we go out of the Black Hills, about two miles, perhaps, before reaching the river, in a ravine at the left of the road, is a spring of sweet water. I supposed it poisonous, of course, but found it good. I found friends encamped there, and as I had been out from the train all day, and traveled from early morning without drink, I was very thirsty. They had used it freely, and I drank of it to excess--same, indeed, as you would drink Saratoga water--and without the least unpleasant result. We could detect in it no flavor, no taste whatever, except its sweetness. We had some chemical and geological talent present, but no "talent" that pretended to even a guess in regard to its origin.
The country from Laramie to the summit may all, in one sense, be called volcanic. Its surface everywhere exhibits traces of volcanic disturbance. The first 50 miles embracing the Black Hills was broken up at the time of the new red [sand]stone, and that with the underlying coal, old red sandstone and slates is exposed. Here for the first time we discover the absence of the lime rock. For it is a fact that on the western slope of the original depression of the Mississippi Valley, as indicated along the upper Platte and the Sweetwater to the summit, this portion of the Silurian system is entirely wanting--as it is known to be from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, except in the Salt Lake Valley. Over this vast region there is probably not a particle of the common limestone to be found. Just before going over an elevation at the head of the Humboldt, I saw a mountain of primary lime rock associated with the hornblende and granite in places, which I had a good opportunity to visit--but nowhere did I find, nor, since leaving the Missouri, have I seen a specimen of the carboniferous limestone.
From the Black Hills to the Rattlesnake Mountains, a distance of 150 miles, the country has been elevated as recently as since the deposit of the alkali, but was not then broken up in its surface, at least along the line of the trail. The Rattlesnake Mountains, as I remarked before, are more granite spurs protruding through the stratified rocks in an undisturbed position. These mountains must be far older than anything else along the way. They were anterior to all the stratified rocks, dating beyond the aqueous formations to the period when fire was the agent employed in the modification of the earth's crust. And what is very remarkable, there has been no subsequent disruption of the stratified rocks. They repose horizontally at the bases of these granite masses, just as they were at first formed. The country has been elevated without local disturbance.
Above the Rattlesnake Mountains the most apparent disturbance was probably at the time of the elevation of the Black Hills--though the condition of things here is much obscured by the immense mass of drift which covers almost everything. The quantity of gravel deposited along this great dividing ridge is incredible. The valleys of one series of mountain ranges are filled with it almost to the summits. The original condition of things is so concealed that as I said before, we go over mountains hardly knowing that they are here.
From this point we commence the descent to the Pacific coast. In running over what I have written, I find I have been somewhat prosy and a little stringy, perhaps--I will endeavor to be more brief and less tedious henceforth. I might be very brief and very near the truth, by saying that this whole country for hundreds of miles in breadth, and extending from Mexico to the Bering's Straits, is all a region of mountains--just as many mountain ranges as can lie side by side, north and south, with a great many traversing them transversely, east and west, and "ever so many" hills and peaks put in to fill up.
(Continued next week.)Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, May 10, 1854, page 1
Oregon Correspondence.Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, May 17, 1854, page 1
BY S. H. TAYLOR.
Geographical and Geological Description of the Country from the Summit or Dividing Ridge to the Soda Springs.
We came to the Bear River cutoff to the Humboldt, from the Humboldt by the South Oregon Road to this little valley, and found it all the way mountains--the answer of those who had been on the North Road, the California Road, and all the other roads, was: "It is about the same that it is along here, only, if anything, a little worse." There is no stopping place for man except that of the floodwood, a lodgment on the margin of a stream. All the back country of Oregon interior, from the Cascade and Siskiyou Mtns., though appearing in the maps as open plains traversed only by the Sierra Nevadas and Black Mtns. is broken into mountains and ravines and covered with a sterile soil producing nothing that can meet human wants. Eastern California and the Utah country is very little better--the Mormons have got a fertile spot there. West of these mountains, towards the coast by some mistake, or failure, or the exhaustion of the volcanic power, perhaps, there is now and then a vacancy between the mountains where a few dozen, or a few hundred, families may subsist, and two valleys, those of the Willamette and Sacramento, sufficient for large communities. Your ideas of this country do, in no respect, approximate to the fact. You have no correct opinion of the relative extent of inhabitable and uninhabitable country.
From the summit of the great dividing ridge to the shore of the Pacific Ocean, there is within the limits of the United States ten hundred thousand square miles of land that to the civilized world is not worth the first red cent. There is six hundred millions of acres that would not pay for cultivation, and which, for the value it has, the world would not miss if it were engulfed by an earthquake. Except for the gold, of course, except for the gold. Except for this, so far as human forecast can discern, the sinking of this vast area as far below the level of the sea as it is above it, would be a blessing to the world by extending the empire of the fishes.
From the summit, by a circuitous route, we cross a level strip of gravel waste, covered with sage and greasewood, about 100 miles wide, before entering the mountains. The first day takes us to the Dry Sandy. We have long been familiar with dry brooks, but this is our first dry river--an actual river and in the dry season without water--and without a blade of grass or a plant, or any other green thing that requires water to live. The next day the California road by Salt Lake bears to the left, going down the Little Sandy and Big Sandy--streams having water enough, but the merest mockery of grass--and the Oregon road by Fort Hall, going to the right and crossing these streams, and making 45 miles over a gravel waste, with no water, to the Green River, from thence striking to the great bend of Bear River, where it forks, one road going towards the Columbia by Fort Hall and the other towards the Humboldt, joining the Salt Lake road again on the way. This road over the 45-mile descent is the noted "Sublette Cutoff" from the Salt Lake road. We came by the "McKinne Cutoff," keeping down the Salt Lake road to where it is but 18 miles from the Big Sandy to the Green River, and there going over by a single easy drive, and then getting back to the Sublette road before going into the mountains.
These mountains extend in a series of ranges from the Green to the Bear river, about sixty miles--and indeed all the way to the Pacific. The rock is generally concealed by drifts of gravel, with a growth of sage and some dwarf cedar and pine. These ranges seem very little broken by canyons and chasms. In the second range, I think, we ascend an elevation on which, in July, trains have encountered heavy snow storms. I should think there was little difference between the height of this range and that of the Sierra Nevadas where the road to the Rogue River crosses. And on this mountain is a fine fir grove, the only fir trees I recollect having seen east of the Nevadas.
A very remarkable peculiarity of very many of these mountains, to the Sierra Nevadas, is that the central portions have been removed by the denuding force of water, and flanks of the original ranges are left, and now constitute two ranges instead of the original one. The disruption only embraces the sandstone, quartz and slates. The latter is a soft clay rock, easily broken up, while the quartz and sandstone are very hard, and were capable of resisting the currents by which the slates were denuded. The slate occupied the highest and main portion of the elevation, and the other rocks an inferior position on the sides. How high the slates were before being disturbed by aqueous currents can only be conjectured. We only know that in some cases the summits of the remaining flanks, the present mountains, are from a mile, perhaps, to six miles separated, and from five hundred to a thousand feet high. This would indicate a very great height to the original range. However this may be, we know that there are now, in many cases, two mountains where there was once but one.
From the summit to the Nevadas, I believe I saw but one place where the disruption extended to primary rock. Not long after leaving the Bear River country, there is a singular place called in our guides the "pyramid circle." We enter a broken valley, surrounded by a wall of mountains, in a form somewhat circular, and enclosing several spurs of loose, crumbling granite, called pyramids, but having more the form of an umbrella. The body of the rock is very loose, but by some cause the surface has been so indurated that it presents great resistance to the action of the elements. At the base, where the rock is more exposed, the disintegution evidently commenced, and has proceeded inward and upward, the lower portion falling off and the upper remaining entire--presenting forms that attract a great deal of curiosity. The shape is nearly that of an oval-headed mushroom, with a very large stalk, or a round house with very large eaves.
In the same region of country, in a valley produced by the denudation of the azoric system, like those referred to before, is the only place where I saw the mica slate, and this, with another like valley, called the "valley of the thousand springs," where the chlorite slate appears, is the only place where I saw the slate of any other character than argillaceous.
----What you would consider, and what you have heard of, as the greatest wonder of the overland route--the soda springs--is on the road by which we came. And as an isolated phenomenon, perhaps it is so--though when viewed in connection with some other facts falling under our observation, we look upon it more as the result of natural laws than as a curiosity. It is not here alone that we find this form of alkali. To this point, the bend of the Bear River, we have noticed it but little, for we have not been prepared to look for it, but from here westward we find it appearing very extensively in the place of the saleratus and lye of the Platte and Sweetwater valleys. This form of alkali has been ejected in inconceivable quantities by the volcanoes of this country, and the waters of the warm and hot springs we find very commonly charged with it. Perhaps in the waters of no spring did we find so much of it, though we saw soda springs discharge a far greater quantity of water. There are peculiarities of the Bear River springs, however, that render them a very great curiosity.
Soda Springs--Crater of an Extinct Volcano.
A day or so back of these springs, by a spring of delicious cold water that rises by the side of the road, is several acres of rock like that commonly known as "petrified moss"--a deposit of the carbonate of lime--and which one sees at once could not have resulted in the ordinary mode of such deposits. This rock we find abundant about, and forming the bowl of these springs. It is not the carbonate of lime--but a carbonate with the principle of sodium instead of calcium--soda instead of lime. As this rock forms at the bottom and sides of a spring, and where the water discharges, the cavity of course fills up, and the wall rises about it, and soon we have a great curiosity in the form of the spring rather than in the character of the water.
As we drive down the valley, the first intimation we have of the neighborhood of these springs is the sight of a great oval grey object, like a haystack at a distance and at the right of the road, and instantly the train is all in a buzz about the "soda springs," for all seem at once conscious that they have something to do with them. A few minutes brings us to one, and we find it the largest mass of solid rock we ever saw except in the Rattlesnake Mtns. and Pyramid Circle--and on the top a little basin not so large as your bath, about half full of strong soda water which is constantly and violently agitated by bubbles of gas escaping from the orifice at the bottom and throwing the water out on the wall, where every drop contributes its particle towards the enlargement of this huge mass. There are other cavities about the summit, but all except one are dry, the water having probably found its way to the surface by other avenues. This mass is about 40 feet high by 70 to 80 broad at the base, though while the rock at the summit appears quite new and fresh, and is hard, that at the base, where it commenced forming, has been much cut down by atmospheric action, and is found to crumble to the hand.
We observe many, perhaps a hundred or more, of these elevations, and covering probably a thousand acres of land on both sides of, and doubtless in, the river. Many of them are dry--some have been dry so long that the rock on the summit is softened. Generally a very little water is discharged. The best one is in the river bank. The water is highly charged with soda, and there is a large quantity, five times as much as at all the others, flowing out. The famous "Steamboat Springs" is one of these. Its water is thrown up perhaps three feet by escaping gas. Just by this are many of these "craters," as they are called, dry--and here we drive over a ridge of this soda rock for 50 rods, and I know not but a half mile. There are places where this rock has evidently formed and crumbled entirely away. There is very little rock deposited about the large spring in the bank, and probably it has been flowing only a comparatively short time--the water having originally escaped by other avenues that have now a higher outlet than this.
The Bear River, at this bend, after having flowed northerly through its whole course, turns suddenly round perhaps the most magnificent mountain wall on the whole route, an almost perpendicular crag a thousand feet high or more, crowned by a dark forest of pine and cedar--and goes off south toward Salt Lake, along the eastern margin of a volcanic plain, while the Fort Hall road goes north along the same margin, and the road to the Humboldt strikes directly across it to the west. This plain was once in a condition differing very little from that of an active volcano. It is a vast tract of sandstone once exposed to a heat so intense and so continued that it is difficult to distinguish it from lava. It was more properly a boiling lake of molten rock than a volcano. The surface has undergone disintegration to such an extent that it is nearly all covered with soil. One portion of the plain has fallen below the other--dropped down--and the broken edge of the upper portion is exposed in a black jagged wall, perhaps, in some places, forty feet high. We see very many chasms produced by the cooling and contracting of the mass--some of which are wide enough for a man to go down in them--though they are choked up with dislodged fragments of rock.
Soon after leaving the river, at the left of the road and about a mile from it, is what our guides called a crater of an extinct volcano. We pronounced against it without going out to it--which we very much regretted it, for some who went out for diversion decided unhesitatingly that it was a "genuine" crater. I presume it was an aperture through which the subterranean heat had vented after the cooling and closing of the surface, but I doubt whether it could have been, further than this, a volcanic focus. No quantity of lava has certainly been expelled to form a bed over the metamorphic sandstone lying at the base, nor has there been an active force sufficient to raise the mass of the crater, nor to produce any disruptions around it.
Fifteen miles, perhaps, of the course of the river where we follow it is through an arm of this plain, and as we go down we easily trace the change of the sandstone from its original and stratified to its high metamorphic condition, and as we go out on the plain itself we find that the rock has been not only melted but boiled, and that in cooling it assumed to some extent the columnar structure of trap. The soda springs are at the lower part of this arm of the plain, but all about in their neighborhood the sandstone is covered by a thermal rock the product of the springs, and the same as the masses through which the water escapes. Before reaching the springs, in a depression produced by the dropping down of a tract of rock, probably while the cooling process was going on--we find the clay surface filled with a white powder, which, on examination, proves to be soda. The same phenomenon occurs about the springs. But through this region I saw no other form of alkali.
----Perhaps the greatest curiosity of the overland route is the hot springs of the Humboldt country, though this region has been so little explored away from the immediate valley of the stream, that comparatively little is known of them. In the last valley before going over to the head of the Humboldt we pass a cluster of warm and hot springs by the roadside, in some of which the water is very near the boiling point--and above this at the head of the valley, three miles at the left, we spent a Sabbath by a beautiful hot spring. The next Sabbath we passed just where the road leaves the river and keeps the bluffs for a day and a half. Here one of our company casually discovered a very remarkable spring in the bluffs just at the margin of the flats on the south side of the stream. His attention was arrested by an immense mass of thermal rock, such as we had seen about the soda springs, and in searching for the cause discovered a great reservoir of hot water that eclipsed everything we had seen in the way of wonders. The wall by which the waters were enclosed was of thermal rock, a little higher than the bluffs on the bluff side of it, and perhaps forty feet higher than the valley on which it rested. It was probably twenty feet from the summit down, inside, to the water--the descent in some places perpendicular, and in others so gradual that we could go down without difficulty--and it was perhaps eight rods across at the top, and as much as six or seven at the surface of the water. As we looked down into the hot steaming dark waters, no bottom, nor material contraction of the banks could be discovered. We dropped in white stones, and watched them as they went down, down into the darkness and were lost to sight. On the steeper side the water was intensely hot--too hot for you to touch it without pain--but on the other side, it was merely warm, and furnished, probably, a delicious bath to multitudes of frogs. We removed several of these reptiles on the other side, to test the heat of the water, and one thrown into the hottest place died instantly, and for aught that we could discover was cooked as quick as he would have been in boiling water. There is no discharge of water at any visible point. It has no external peculiarity of a spring--no visible supply or discharge. It appears merely as a vast basin of hot water, in the rock--a cauldron so immense, so hot, so deep and dark beneath, that one almost fears to venture about it.
Hot and Boiling Springs--Another Crater of an Extinct Volcano.
The waters once escaped over the top of the rim, and I could discover where they last flowed off--but as they built up the wall by deposits, the height and pressure became so great that they were forced off by lower avenues.
We went down from twenty to forty rods from this interesting object, and here, in the river bank, the seething water came hissing and steaming from perhaps twenty fissures in the rock, and with almost the force with which it would escape at the valves of a steam engine. The quantity of boiling water discharged is incredible, and I can give you no idea of the effect of the scene on the mind.
I should have pronounced this, taking it all together, as the greatest wonder we might hope to find anywhere--but I suppose there is a more remarkable boiling spring, a day and a half, I think, below this, on the south side of the river, opposite where we go out of the bluffs to the flats. At a distance of perhaps two or three miles we saw what appeared as a great bluff of thermal rock, and had the curiosity to make inquiries of traders whom we found on the meadows just below, and in whom, for reasons we could confide [sic]. The remarkable peculiarity of this spring is that it has a regular ebb and flow. The water falls back as if to gather strength, and then rushes up with such force as to be thrown several feet into the air. In one of the openings--for there is about a hundred of them, large and small--a rock is lifted from its position where, when it is down, it closes the aperture to a great extent, like a valve, and raised almost to the surface, when the water retires and it falls again to be raised at the next flow.
After seeing these, or either of them, a common hot spring possesses little of interest. And then we see so many that we became quite too familiar with them and pass them by without the least attention, and unless it be to ascertain with what alkaline principle their waters are charged, or to detect some new peculiarity. On the Rogue River road we see one that actually boils, and even that is not considered worth going twenty rods to visit. There was more talk about an unfortunate woodchuck that had by some casualty been boiled up in one of them than about all the hot springs for three hundred miles. Some of these springs are charged with soda, some with lime and some, perhaps, with potash--though it is difficult, by the taste, to determine the form in which the alkali exists, unless the water be cold, or nearly so. I should think there was both soda and lime along the Humboldt, and I know that the lime prevails from the Humboldt to the Nevadas, and the soda from there to the Siskiyou Mtns.--though from thence towards the coast I know not whether there be any alkali at all.
What more interested me than anything else on the route was the phenomena of the desert on the Rogue River or Lawson road. After making about 45 miles from the Humboldt, over a plain of gravel and sage, traversed by two ranges of low mountains, and remarkable only for the absence of grass and good water, we enter a tract forming its western border, where the gravel gives place to clay charged with lime, and the surface becomes totally naked of vegetation--the only barren desert over which we pass. The object at which the road aims is a high, naked point of a mountain range that extends perhaps twenty miles down from the northward, and up the valley lying at the western flank of which our road goes--the road to Shasta Valley turning to the left at this point, where we find a hot spring and a little meadow of grass and rushes, a mere green spot in the midst of a naked plain. From here we find several large hot springs flowing out at the base of this range and watering little meadows, two miles or so apart, and here, twenty miles [omission] we linger about two or three days trying to recruit our cattle from the exhaustion produced by two and a half days of toil without food or drink. The mountain is so steep, so rocky, so broken and black and desolate, and it overlooks such an immense, cheerless, gleaming waste of plain, that we cannot be wearied with looking about it and climbing it and studying its peculiarities.
The extreme point of this range is known on our guides as Black Rock, and the springs at its foot as Black Rock Springs, and they form a great waymark on this road. As we pass we notice a deep indentation of the western side of the mountain, by which the high point seems almost separated. A ridge runs along on the eastern side, still joining the point to the range, and forming its only connection. This indentation is the crater of an extinct volcano from which mud was ejected to form this margin of the plain. We have heard of no such thing as a volcano of this kind in North America--but there can be no doubt of the character of this. The evidences leave no room for doubt. In climbing about over its smoked and blackened walls as they stand yet on the north and south sides, nearly entire, I felt that I was not entirely unpaid for crossing the plains, and I lingered about it till night, and till the moon set, though it was the very gloomiest and most cheerless spot on which I ever spent a night hour. The western wall of the crater has been entirely broken away, so that there is now only a slight elevation running along where it once stood, and you can trace its course and its thickness by the basset edges of the slates that once formed its base. The eastern wall is yet the base of it left, a ridge materially changed in every peculiarity of form. The north and south walls have lost much abrasion and disintegration, but there is so much of their original condition about them that as you look down into the circular basin between them and around on their black and burned remains, you see at once the character of the place. So much have the rocks been changed by continued heat and the influence of escaping gases, and other causes, that they are distinguished with difficulty--though I saw that very little of the sandstone had been exposed to a degree of heat sufficient to destroy its stratification. Successive shocks have rent the mountain, and successive discharges filled its great chasms with clay, once in a heated, now in a hard, indurated condition. Masses of clay, generally white, but black and smoky near the crater, lie all about the mountainsides and summit, where they have had the protection of projecting rocks. Perhaps six miles to the north, the mountain is overlaid by a bed of trap, the first I had seen of a good columnar structure. I suppose its structure is as regular as that of the "Giant's Causeway." The columns appear about four inches in diameter, but after full two hour's labor to reach them, we got where we could see that their diameter was more than four feet, and we retired without one for a specimen.
----On this mountain and that which forms the western wall of the valley are the only places I have seen where the trap has that perfect columnar form, an approach to which characterizes all of that kind of rock. All through these mountains from the summit to the Nevadas, it is observed in immense beds overlying everything else, and showing by its association that since it was ejected there has been no submergence to admit of new formations over it, and by its commonness and its depth showing that the volcanic agency has been immensely active here. Its structure, however, everywhere except along this valley, seems very imperfect. On the side of this mountain we found dislodged fragments of the columns, that in the perfectness of their form equaled anything that art can produce--and from our position we could see the faultless regularity of their arrangement--precisely that of the cells of honeycomb. We did not visit that on the other mountain--but from the trail as we passed we could see it distinctly, having the appearance of a wall of square stone, and running along several miles.
Description of the Desert Region from the Hot Springs to Rogue River Valley.
This arm of the plain is, at the Black Rock, where it opens, about eight miles wide, and the plain itself extends away to the south and southwest we know not how far, for even from the mountain height we look off that way as far as the eye can reach, and except some points of mountain ranges extending out, everything is lost to sight in the mirage of the desert. And over on the east side of this range, the margin of the plain for several miles in width is all clay--the product of this volcano. There are hundreds of square miles of earth, the surface of which must have been once mud flowing out from this source. The amount ejected is incalculable, and goes beyond, at least, all of my conceptions of volcanic effects.
The next day after leaving this valley, we drive right into a mountain--entering, and for more than a day traveling in, a chasm produced by a disruption of a mountain range eighteen miles in breadth at the base. The range is entirely rift asunder--the fissure proceeding both east and west from a volcanic focus the locality of which, somewhere near the center of the mountain, is indicated by great beds of trap of very fair structure, and clay like that of the desert. The first twelve miles of this fissure is called in our guides the Big Rock Canyon--it then widens into a small plain, and then contracting again forms a continuation known as the Little Rock Canyon. The latter is rocky and difficult to pass and some, as we did, drive around over the mountain to avoid it. This is probably one of the most remarkable natural phenomena in the world. We travel twelve miles continually up a gradual and easy ascent, in as good a road as can be, with a wall of rock on each side perhaps but fifty feet from us, rising from 300 to 1200 feet perpendicularly. Sometimes we observed a slope to the wall, when it would be covered with soil and stunted sage. But generally it is naked rock. The canyon pursues a course a little zigzag, so that we can see but a short distance either forward or back of us, and the effect of being thus shut up, as we seem to be, in this cold, gloomy abyss, is more chilling than you can imagine.
Supposing that these walls exhibit a transverse section of the range, there is but one inference--that both mud and lava, at different periods, were ejected from the volcano, and that several valleys once traversing the present range in a longitudinal direction were thus filled up, and the whole afterwards broken asunder.
From the Nevadas to the Siskiyous, the road to this valley pursues a range of depressions occupied by lakes with generally a fine margin of level alluvial surface. The Klamath Lake, of which you have heard, is one of them, and there are three others, the Goose Lake at the foot of the Nevadas, the Tule Lake and Clear Lake. To the careless observer they are only remarkable for the millions of wildfowl with which they are thronged. The number of geese and cranes in them is incredible. A prudent man would hesitate before attempting to give you an idea of it. But the more remarkable fact is that these lakes are so many vast basins of soda water. Whatever you may have heard, you cannot avoid surprise when driving down to the Goose Lake and looking away over it so far. You can taste its waters and find them so strong of soda that however thirsty you may be you cannot drink of them. Whether they are inhabited by fish and insects we know not, for the water was so riled by the fowl wherever we saw it that we could not ascertain. The Clear Lake is not so strong of soda as the others--and perhaps the waters of the Goose Lake are the strongest.
Although the alkali in these waters is in the form of soda, that which seems most extensively diffused over the earth is in the form of potash. We had, about the Goose Creek and from there over to the Humboldt, seen very fine silex, covered with potash, precisely resembling fragments of black glass bottle. After crossing the Nevadas, we saw this substance in such quantities that sometimes the drift seemed composed entirely of it. It sometimes formed the surface of the earth, and in places where the water had washed away the soil as in the brook beds, there was no other rock. At the western foot of the Nevadas we saw perhaps hundreds of tons of it, and generally most beautifully spotted and variegated with black and red. On the Goose Creek Valley we found vegetable putrefactions in the silicate of potash--some of them a little finer than anything of the kind I ever saw. In traveling fifty miles, I saw enough of it to supply the world with glass bottles for a hundred years. I have something more to say upon this subject at another time--and will probably then give you a short chapter on mines and mining in this country.
But few of the many attendants at the many churches that now raise their steeple towards the clouds in this beautiful valley have any knowledge of how the first church was formed and and edifice built to hold meetings in.
PIONEER CHURCHES OF ROGUE RIVER VALLEY.
BY WELBORN BEESON
In October, 1853, a train of immigrants, consisting mostly of preachers and church members, of which Father William Royal appeared to be the leader, arrived in Rogue River Valley.
Mr. Royal had been a noted itinerant methodist preacher in Illinois, often holding conferences in company with the great Peter Cartwright.
When the Royal train, as it was known, arrived, Father Royal wished to hold a meeting.
A messenger was sent around among the settlers far and near that a meeting would be held on the following Sunday at what was then known as the Walton cabin, the remains of which now stand in J. E. Foss' orchard. It was something new in the history of Rogue River Valley and everybody came, mostly on horseback, a few with ox teams. The men came with their spurs clanging and pistols and knives belted to their waists. The cabin was not large enough to hold the crowd, so they adjourned to the shade of a wide-spreading oak that has now, like the people there assembled, disappeared forever from view. Father Royal then delivered a sermon and dedicated this land to the church of Christ and Him crucified. It was probably the first sermon that the sturdy pioneers had heard since they left their faraway home in the East, and although many of them had had hard experiences and were rough in exterior appearance, when the good old man (for if there ever was an honest, sincere Methodist, Father Royal was one) called for assistance to build a church edifice somewhere in the valley, the "boys" chipped in twenty-dollar gold pieces faster than dimes are put in at the present time in Talent.
Father Royal met with such good success that he and his son, Fletcher, went to Jacksonville and preached in the saloons, and the gamblers would quietly listen to the sermon while still bucking at the games, and when the hat was passed around would drop in their winnings let it be much or little. Early in the spring of 1854, Father Wilbur, the presiding elder, and Father Miller came to Rogue River, and it was decided to erect a church edifice at Jacksonville, which by the help of gamblers, horse racers, infidels and all classes was soon built and still stands, a landmark of the past generation.
Whether there has ever been much good to mankind accomplished within its walls is a question, but there has been earnest effort made by some true followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. Among the first Methodist clergymen to come to Rogue River were Stephen Taylor, whose relict, "Grandma" Taylor, still survives; also numerous grandchildren; and Father Gray, five of whose sons are yet members of the church.
Father John Stearns was the first Baptist minister to arrive and also preached his first sermon in the Walton cabin, a few sabbaths later than Father Royal. Numerous descendants of John Stearns are scattered through Oregon. His remains lie buried in the Talent cemetery, he having lived to the ripe old age of a century. I have often heard him relate how when a small boy his mother carried him to a place of safety, during the Revolutionary War. Four sons and two daughters came with him to Rogue River. Two of the sons, Myron and Samuel, were Baptist preachers. Avery P. was the first probate judge of the county, and David E. lived on and improved a farm on Wagner Creek.
They have now all passed to the other side.
His two daughters, Mr. B. J. Pengra and Mrs. I. Williams, are living in Lane County.
Grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren too numerous to mention are with us yet, but few of them are members of the church that Father John Stearns spent his life in trying to establish.
The Revs. Fletcher and James B. Royal are sons of the above-mentioned Father Wm. Royal and reside in the Willamette Valley. Prof. Miller Royal, recently of the Ashland Normal School, was a grandson.
Talent News, October 1, 1892, page 2
Last revised June 29, 2017