Part 5 out of 6
Chardon, cupbearer, stood regarding the two wild souls whom he never in
his own more timid nature was to understand. The two mountain men shook
hands. The alcohol had no more than steadied them in their rifle work,
but the old exultation of their wild life came to them now once more.
Bridger clapped hand to mouth and uttered his old war cry before he
drained his share of the fiery fluid.
"To the ol' days, friend!" said he once more; "the days that's gone,
when men was men, an' a friend could trust a friend!"
"To the ol' days!" said Jackson in turn. "An' I'll bet two better shots
don't stand to-day on the soil o' Oregon! But I got to be goin', Jim.
I'm goin' on to the Columby. I may not see ye soon. It's far."
He swung into his saddle, the rifle in its loop at the horn. But Bridger
came to him, a hand on his knee.
"I hate to see ye go, Bill."
"Shore!" said Jackson. "I hate to go. Take keer yerself, Jim."
The two Indian women had uncovered their faces and gone inside the
lodge. But old Jim Bridger sat down, back against a cottonwood, and
watched the lopping figure of his friend jog slowly out into the desert.
He himself was singing now, chanting monotonously an old Indian refrain
that lingered in his soul from the days of the last Rendezvous.
At length he arose, and animated by a sudden thought sought out his
tepee once more. Dang Yore Eyes greeted him with shy smiles of pride.
"Heap shoot, Jeem!" said she. "No kill-um. Why?"
She was decked now in her finest, ready to use all her blandishments on
her lord and master. Her cheeks were painted red, her wrists were heavy
with copper. On a thong at her neck hung a piece of yellow stone which
she had bored through with an awl, or rather with three or four awls,
after much labor, that very day.
Bridger picked up the ornament between thumb and finger. He said no
word, but his fingers spoke.
"Other pieces. Where?"
"White man. Gone--out there." She answered in the same fashion.
"How, cola!" she spoke aloud. "Him say, 'How, cola,' me." She smiled
with much pride over her conquest, and showed two silver dollars.
In silence Bridger went into the tepee and pulled the door flaps.
Midsummer in the desert. The road now, but for the shifting of the
sands, would have been marked by the bodies of dead cattle, in death
scarcely more bone and parchment than for days they had been while
alive. The horned toad, the cactus, the rattlesnake long since had
replaced the prairie dogs of the grassy floor of the eastern Plains. A
scourge of great black crickets appeared, crackling loathsomely under
the wheels. Sagebrush and sand took the place of trees and grass as they
left the river valley and crossed a succession of ridges or plateaus. At
last they reached vast black basaltic masses and lava fields, proof of
former subterranean fires which seemingly had forever dried out the life
of the earth's surface. The very vastness of the views might have had
charm but for the tempering feeling of awe, of doubt, of fear.
They had followed the trail over the immemorial tribal crossings over
heights of land lying between the heads of streams. From the Green
River, which finds the great canons of the Colorado, they came into the
vast horseshoe valley of the Bear, almost circumventing the Great Salt
Lake, but unable to forsake it at last. West and south now rose bold
mountains around whose northern extremity the river had felt its way,
and back of these lay fold on fold of lofty ridges, now softened by the
distances. Of all the splendid landscapes of the Oregon Trail, this one
had few rivals. But they must leave this and cross to yet another though
less inviting vast river valley of the series which led them across the
Out of the many wagons which Jesse Wingate originally had captained, now
not one hundred remained in his detachment when it took the sagebrush
plateaus below the great Snake River. They still were back of the
Missouri train, no doubt several days, but no message left on a cleft
stick at camp cheered them or enlightened them. And now still another
defection had cut down the train.
Woodhull, moody and irascible, feverish and excited by turns, ever since
leaving Bridger had held secret conclaves with a few of his adherents,
the nature of which he did not disclose. There was no great surprise and
no extreme regret when, within safe reach of Fort Hall, he had announced
his intention of going on ahead with a dozen wagons. He went without
obtaining any private interview with Molly Wingate.
[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture.
The Covered Wagon_.
CAMPED FOR THE NIGHT ALONG THE OLD TRAIL.]
These matters none the less had their depressing effect. Few illusions
remained to any of them now, and no romance. Yet they went on--ten
miles, fifteen sometimes, though rarely twenty miles a day. Women fell
asleep, babes in arms, jostling on the wagon seats; men almost slept as
they walked, ox whip in hand; the cattle slept as they stumbled on,
tongues dry and lolling. All the earth seemed strange, unreal. They
advanced as though in a dream through some inferno of a crazed
About them now often rose the wavering images of the mirage, offering
water, trees, wide landscapes; beckoning in such desert deceits as they
often now had seen. One day as the brazen sun mocked them from its
zenith they saw that they were not alone on the trail.
"Look, mother!" exclaimed Molly Wingate--she now rode with her mother on
the seat of the family wagon, Jed driving her cart when not on the cow
column. "See! There's a caravan!"
Her cry was echoed or anticipated by scores of voices of others who had
seen the same thing. They pointed west and south.
Surely there was a caravan--a phantom caravan! Far off, gigantic,
looming and lowering again, it paralleled the advance of their own
train, which in numbers it seemed to equal. Slowly, steadily,
irresistibly, awesomely, it kept pace with them, sending no sign to
them, mockingly indifferent to them--mockingly so, indeed; for when the
leaders of the Wingate wagons paused the riders of the ghostly train
paused also, biding their time with no action to indicate their intent.
When the advance was resumed the uncanny _pari passu_ again went on, the
rival caravan going forward as fast, no faster than those who regarded
it in a fascinated interest that began to become fear. Yonder caravan
could bode no good. Without doubt it planned an ambush farther on, and
this sinister indifference meant only its certainty of success.
Or were there, then, other races of men out here in this unknown world
of heat and sand? Was this a treasure train of old Spanish _cargadores_?
Did ghosts live and move as men? If not, what caravan was this, moving
alone, far from the beaten trail? What purpose had it here?
The girl's voice rose eagerly again, but this time with a laugh in it.
And her assurance passed down the line, others laughing in relief at the
"It's ourselves!" said Molly. "It's the Fata Morgana--but how marvelous!
Who could believe it?"
Indeed, the mirage had taken that rare and extraordinary form. The
mirage of their own caravan, rising, was reflected, mirrored, by some
freak of the desert sun and air, upon the fine sand blown in the air at
a distance from the train. It was, indeed, themselves they saw, not
knowing it, in a vast primordial mirror of the desert gods. Nor did the
discovery of the truth lessen the feeling of discomfort, of
apprehension. The laughter was at best uneasy until at last a turn in
the trail, a shift in the wizardry of the heat waves, broke up the
ghostly caravan and sent it, figure by figure, vehicle by vehicle, into
the unknown whence it had come.
"This country!" exclaimed Molly Wingate's mother. "It scares me! If
Oregon's like this--"
"It isn't, mother. It is rich and green, with rains. There are great
trees, many mountains, beautiful rivers where we are going, and there
are fields of grain. There are--why, there are homes!"
The sudden pathos of her voice drew her mother's frowning gaze.
"There, there, child!" said she. "Don't you mind. We'll always have a
home for you, your paw and me."
The girl shook her head.
"I sometimes think I'd better teach school and live alone."
"And leave your parents?"
"How can I look my father in the face every day, knowing what he feels
about me? Just now he accuses me of ruining Sam Woodhull's life--driving
him away, out of the train. But what could I do? Marry him, after all? I
can't--I can't! I'm glad he's gone, but I don't know why he went."
"In my belief you haven't heard or seen the last of Sam Woodhull yet,"
mused her mother. "Sometimes a man gets sort of peeved--wants to marry a
girl that jilts him more'n if she hadn't. And you certainly jilted him
at the church door, if there'd been any church there. It was an awful
thing, Molly. I don't know as I see how Sam stood it long as he did."
"Haven't I paid for it, mother?"
"Why, yes, one way of speaking. But that ain't the way men are going to
call theirselves paid. Until he's married, a man's powerful set on
having a woman. If he don't, he thinks he ain't paid, it don't scarcely
make no difference what the woman does. No, I don't reckon he'll forget.
About Will Banion--"
"Don't let's mention him, mother. I'm trying to forget him."
"Yes? Where do you reckon he is now--how far ahead?"
"I don't know. I can't guess."
The color on her cheek caught her mother's gaze.
"Gee-whoa-haw! Git along Buck and Star!" commanded the buxom dame to the
swaying ox team that now followed the road with no real need of
guidance. They took up the heat and burden of the desert.
TWO LOVE LETTERS
"The families are coming--again the families!" It was again the cry of
the passing fur post, looking eastward at the caravan of the west-bound
plows; much the same here at old Fort Hall, on the Snake River, as it
was at Laramie on the North Platte, or Bridger on the waters tributary
to the Green.
The company clerks who looked out over the sandy plain saw miles away a
dust cloud which meant but one thing. In time they saw the Wingate train
come on, slowly, steadily, and deploy for encampment a mile away. The
dusty wagons, their double covers stained, mildewed, torn, were
scattered where each found the grass good. Then they saw scores of the
emigrants, women as well as men, hastening into the post.
It was now past midsummer, around the middle of the month of August, and
the Wingate wagons had covered some twelve hundred and eighty miles
since the start at mid-May of the last spring--more than three months of
continuous travel; a trek before which the passage over the
Appalachians, two generations earlier, wholly pales.
What did they need, here at Fort Hall, on the Snake, third and last
settlement of the two thousand miles of toil and danger and exhaustion?
They needed everything. But one question first was asked by these
travel-sick home-loving people: What was the news?
News? How could there be news when almost a year would elapse before
Fort Hall would know that on that very day--in that very month of
August, 1848--Oregon was declared a territory of the Union?
News? How could there be news, when these men could not know for much
more than a year that, as they outspanned here in the sage, Abraham
Lincoln had just declined the governorship of the new territory of
Oregon? Why? He did not know. Why had these men come here? They did not
But news--the news! The families must have the news. And here--always
there was news! Just beyond branched off the trail to California. Here
the supply trains from the Columbia brought news from the Oregon
settlements. News? How slow it was, when it took a letter more than two
years to go one way from edge to edge of the American continent!
They told what news they knew--the news of the Mormons of 1847 and 1848;
the latest mutterings over fugitive negro slaves; the growing feeling
that the South would one day follow the teachings of secession. They
heard in payment the full news of the Whitman massacre in Oregon that
winter; they gave back in turn their own news of the battles with the
Sioux and the Crows; the news of the new Army posts then moving west
into the Plains to clear them for the whites. News? Why, yes, large news
enough, and on either hand, so the trade was fair.
But these matters of the outside world were not the only ones of
interest, whether to the post traders or the newly arrived emigrants.
Had others preceded them? How many? When? Why, yes, a week earlier fifty
wagons of one train, Missouri men, led by a man on a great black horse
and an old man, a hunter. Banion? Yes, that was the name, and the scout
was Jackson--Bill Jackson, an old-time free trapper. Well, these two had
split off for California, with six good pack mules, loaded light. The
rest of the wagons had gone on to the Snake. But why these two had
bought the last shovels and the only pick in all the supplies at old
Fort Hall no man could tell. Crazy, of course; for who could pause to
work on the trail with pick or shovel, with winter coming on at the
But not crazier than the other band who had come in three days ago, also
ahead of the main train. Woodhull? Yes, that was the name--Woodhull. He
had twelve or fifteen wagons with him, and had bought supplies for
California, though they all had started for Oregon. Well, they soon
would know more about the Mary's River and the Humboldt Desert. Plenty
of bones, there, sure!
But even so, a third of the trains, these past five years, had split off
at the Raft River and given up hope of Oregon. California was much
better--easier to reach and better when you got there. The road to
Oregon was horrible. The crossings of the Snake, especially the first
crossing, to the north bank, was a gamble with death for the whole
train. And beyond that, to the Blue Mountains, the trail was no trail at
all. Few ever would get through, no one knew how many had perished.
Three years ago Joe Meek had tried to find a better trail west of the
Blues. All lost, so the story said. Why go to Oregon? Nothing there when
you got there. California, now, had been settled and proved a hundred
years and more. Every year men came this far east to wait at Fort Hall
for the emigrant trains and to persuade them to go to California, not to
But what seemed strange to the men at the trading post was the fact that
Banion had not stopped or asked a question. He appeared to have made up
his mind long earlier, and beyond asking for shovels he had wanted
nothing. The same way with Woodhull. He had come in fast and gone out
fast, headed for the Raft River trail to California, the very next
morning. Why? Usually men stopped here at Fort Hall, rested, traded, got
new stock, wanted to know about the trail ahead. Both Banion and
Woodhull struck Fort Hall with their minds already made up. They did not
talk. Was there any new word about the California trail, down at
Bridger? Had a new route over the Humboldt Basin been found, or
something of that sort? How could that be? If so, it must be rough and
needing work in places, else why the need for so many shovels?
But maybe the emigrants themselves knew about these singular matters, or
would when they had read their letters. Yes, of course, the Missouri
movers had left a lot of letters, some for their folks back East next
year maybe, but some for people in the train. Banion, Woodhull--had they
left any word? Why, yes, both of them. The trader smiled. One each. To
the same person, yes. Well, lucky girl! But that black horse now--the
Nez Perces would give a hundred ponies for him. But he wouldn't trade. A
sour young man. But Woodhull, now, the one with the wagons, talked more.
And they each had left a letter for the same girl! And this was Miss
Molly Wingate? Well, the trader did not blame them! These American
girls! They were like roses to the old traders, cast away this lifetime
out here in the desert.
News? Why, yes, no train ever came through that did not bring news and
get news at old Fort Hall--and so on.
The inclosure of the old adobe fur-trading post was thronged by the men
and women of the Wingate train. Molly Wingate at first was not among
them. She sat, chin on her hand, on a wagon tongue in the encampment,
looking out over the blue-gray desert to the red-and-gold glory of the
sinking sun. Her mother came to her and placed in her lap the two
letters, stood watching her.
"One from each," said she sententiously, and turned away.
The girl's face paled as she opened the one she had felt sure would find
her again, somewhere, somehow. It said:
DEAREST: I write to Molly Wingate, because and only because I know
she still is Molly Wingate. It might be kinder to us both if I did
not write at all but went my way and left it all to time and
silence. I found I could not.
There will be no other woman, in all my life, for me. I cannot lay
any vow on you. If I could, if I dared, I would say: "Wait for a
year, while I pray for a year--and God help us both."
As you know, I now have taken your advice. Bridger and I are joined
for the California adventure. If the gold is there, as Carson
thinks, I may find more fortune than I have earned. More than I
could earn you gave me--when I was young. That was two months ago.
Now I am old.
Keep the news of the gold, if it can be kept, as long as you can.
No doubt it will spread from other sources, but so far as I
know--and thanks only to you--I am well ahead of any other
adventurer from the East this season, and, as you know, winter soon
will seal the trails against followers. Next year, 1849, will be
the big rush, if it all does not flatten.
I can think of no one who can have shared our secret. Carson will
be East by now, but he is a government man, and close of mouth with
strangers. Bridger, I am sure--for the odd reason that he worships
you--will tell no one else, especially since he shares profits
with me, if I survive and succeed. One doubt only rests in my mind.
At his post I talked with Bridger, and he told me he had a few
other bits of gold that Carson had given him at Laramie. He looked
for them but had lost them. He suspected his Indian women, but he
knew nothing. Of course, it would be one chance in a thousand that
any one would know the women had these things, and even so no one
could tell where the gold came from, because not even the women
would know that; not even Bridger does, exactly; not even I myself.
In general I am headed for the valley of the Sacramento. I shall
work north. Why? Because that will be toward Oregon!
I write as though I expected to see you again, as though I had a
right to expect or hope for that. It is only the dead young man,
Will Banion, who unjustly and wrongly craves and calls out for the
greatest of all fortune for a man--who unfairly and wrongly writes
you now, when he ought to remember your word, to go to a land far
from you, to forget you and to live down his past. Ah, if I could!
Ah, if I did not love you!
But being perhaps about to die, away from you, the truth only must
be between you and me. And the truth is I never shall forget you.
The truth is I love you more than anything else and everything else
in all the world.
If I were in other ways what the man of your choice should be,
would this truth have any weight with you? I do not know and I dare
not ask. Reason does tell me how selfish it would be to ask you to
hold in your heart a memory and not a man. That is for me to
do--to have a memory, and not you. But my memory never can content
It seems as though time had been invented so that, through all its
aeons, our feet might run in search, one for the other--to meet,
where? Well, we did meet--for one instant in the uncounted ages,
there on the prairie. Well, if ever you do see me again you shall
say whether I have been, indeed, tried by fire, and whether it has
left me clean--whether I am a man and not a memory.
That I perhaps have been a thief, stealing what never could be
mine, is my great agony now. But I love you. Good-by.
WILLIAM HAYS BANION.
To MARGARET WINGATE,
_Fort Hall_, in Oregon.
For an hour Molly sat, and the sun sank. The light of the whole world
* * * * *
The other letter rested unopened until later, when she broke the seal
and read by the light of a sagebrush fire, she frowned. Could it be that
in the providence of God she once had been within one deliberate step of
marrying Samuel Payson Woodhull?
MY DARLING MOLLY: This I hope finds you well after the hard journey
from Bridger to Hall.
They call it Cruel to keep a Secret from a Woman. If so, I have
been Cruel, though only in Poor pay for your Cruelty to me. I have
had a Secret--and this is it: I have left for California from this
Point and shall not go to Oregon. I have learned of Gold in the
State of California, and have departed to that State in the hope
of early Success in Achieving a Fortune. So far as I know, I am the
First to have this news of Gold, unless a certain man whose name
and thought I execrate has by his Usual dishonesty fallen on the
same information. If so, we two may meet where none can Interfear.
I do not know how long I may be in California, but be Sure I go for
but the one purpose of amassing a Fortune for the Woman I love. I
never have given you Up and never shall. Your promise is mine and
our Engagement never has been Broken, and the Mere fact that
accident for the time Prevented our Nuptials by no means shall ever
mean that we shall not find Happy Consumation of our most Cherished
Desire at some later Time.
I confidently Hope to arrive in Oregon a rich man not later than
one or two years from Now. Wait for me. I am mad without you and
shall count the Minutes until then when I can take you in my Arms
and Kiss you a thousand Times. Forgive me; I have not Heretofore
told you of these Plans, but it was best not and it was for You.
Indeed you are so much in my Thought, my Darling, that each and
Everything I do is for You and You only.
No more at present then, but should Opportunity offer I shall get
word to you addressed to Oregon City which your father said was his
general Desstination, it being my own present purpose Ultimately to
engage in the Practise of law either at that Point or the
settlement of Portland which I understand is not far Below. With my
Means, we should soon be Handsomely Settled.
May God guard you on the Way Thither and believe me, Darling, with
more Love than I shall be ever able to Tell and a Thousand Kisses.
Your Affianced and Impatient Lover,
SAM'L. PAYSON WOODHULL.
The little sagebrush fire flared up brightly for an instant as Molly
Wingate dropped one of her letters on the embers.
JIM BRIDGER FORGETS
"What's wrong with the people, Cale?" demanded Jesse Wingate of his
stouthearted associate, Caleb Price. The sun was two hours high, but not
all the breakfast fires were going. Men were moody, truculent, taciturn,
as they went about their duties.
Caleb Price bit into his yellow beard as he gazed down the irregular
lines of the encampment.
"Do you want me to tell you the truth, Jesse?"
"Well, then, it seems to me the truth is that this train has lost
"I don't know what you mean."
"I don't know that I'm right--don't know I can make my guess plain. Of
course, every day we lay up, the whole train goes to pieces. The thing
to do is to go a little way each day--get into the habit. You can't wear
out a road as long as this one by spurts--it's steady does it.
"But I don't think that's all. The main trouble is one that I don't like
to hint to you, especially since none of us can help it."
"Out with it, Cale!"
"The trouble is, the people don't think they've got a leader."
Jesse Wingate colored above his beard.
"That's pretty hard," said he.
"I know it's hard, but I guess it's the truth. You and I and Hall and
Kelsey--we're accepted as the chief council. But there are four of us,
and all this country is new to all of us. The men now are like a bunch
of cattle ready to stampede. They're nervous, ready to jump at anything.
Wrong way, Jesse. They ought to be as steady as any of the trains that
have gone across; 1843, when the Applegates crossed; 1846, when the
Donners went--every year since. Our folks--well, if you ask me, I really
think they're scared."
"That's hard, Cale!"
"Yes, hard for me to say to you, with your wife sad and your girl just
now able to sit up--yes, it's hard. Harder still since we both know it's
your own personal matter--this quarrel of those two young men, which I
don't need explain. That's at the bottom of the train's uneasiness."
"Well, they've both gone now."
"Yes, both. If half of the both were here now you'd see the people
quiet. Oh, you can't explain leadership, Jesse! Some have it, most
don't. He had. We know he had. I don't suppose many of those folks ever
figured it out, or do now. But they'd fall in, not knowing why."
"As it is, I'll admit, there seems to be something in the air. They say
birds know when an earthquake is coming. I feel uneasy myself, and don't
know why. I started for Oregon. I don't know why. Do you suppose--"
The speculations of either man ceased as both caught sight of a little
dust cloud far off across the sage, steadily advancing down the slope.
"Hum! And who's that, Jesse?" commented the Ohio leader. "Get your big
Wingate went to his wagon and returned with the great telescope he
sometimes used, emblem of his authority.
"One man, two packs," said he presently. "All alone so far as I can see.
He's Western enough--some post-trapper, I suppose. Rides like an Indian
and dressed like one, but he's white, because he has a beard."
"Let me see." Price took the glass. "He looks familiar! See if you don't
think it's Jim Bridger. What's he coming for--two hundred miles away
from his own post?"
It was Jim Bridger, as the next hour proved, and why he came he himself
was willing to explain after he had eaten and smoked.
"I camped twelve mile back," said he, "an' pushed in this mornin'. I
jest had a idee I'd sornter over in here, see how ye was gittin' along.
Is your hull train made here?"
"No," Wingate answered. "The Missouri wagons are ahead."
"Is Woodhull with ye?"
"Whar's he at?"
"We don't know. Major Banion and Jackson, with a half dozen packs, no
wagons, have given up the trip. They've split off for California--left
"An' so has Sam Woodhull, huh?"
"We suppose so. That's the word. He took about fifteen wagons with him.
That's why we look cut down."
"Rest of ye goin' on through, huh?"
"I am. I hope the others will."
"Hit's three days on to whar the road leaves for Californy--on the Raft
River. Mebbe more'll leave ye thar, huh?"
"We don't know. We hope not. I hear the fords are bad, especially the
crossing of the Snake. This is a big river. My people are uneasy about
"Yes, hit's bad enough, right often. Thar's falls in them canons
hundreds o' feet high, makin' a roarin' ye kin hear forty mile, mebbe.
The big ford's erroun' two hunderd mile ahead. That'd make me four
hunderd mile away from home, an' four hunderd to ride back agin' huh? Is
that fur enough fer a ol' man, with snow comin' on soon?"
"You don't mean you'd guide us on that far? What charge?"
"I come fer that, mainly. Charge ye? I won't charge ye nothin'. What do
ye s'pose Jim Bridger'd care ef ye all was drownded in the Snake? Ain't
thar plenty more pilgrims whar ye all come from? Won't they be out here
next year, with money ter spend with my pardner Vasquez an' me?"
"Then how could we pay you?"
"Ye kain't. Whar's Miss Molly?"
"You want to see her?"
"Yes, else why'd I ask?"
"Come," said Wingate, and led the way to Molly's little cart. The girl
was startled when she saw the old scout, her wide eyes asking her
"Mornin', Miss Molly!" he began, his leathery face wrinkling in a smile.
"Ye didn't expect me, an' I didn't neither. I'm glad ye're about well o'
that arrer wound. I kerried a arrerhead under my shoulder blade sever'l
years oncet, ontel Preacher Whitman cut hit out. Hit felt right crawly
all the time till then.
"Yes, I jest sorntered up couple hundred mile this mornin', Miss Molly,
ter see how ye all was gettin' along--one thing er another."
Without much regard to others, he now led Molly a little apart and
seated her on the sage beside him.
"Will Banion and Bill Jackson has went on to Californy, Miss Molly,"
said he. "You know why."
"Ye'd orto! Ye told him."
"Yes, I did."
"I know. Him an' me had a talk. Owin' you an' me all he'll ever make,
he allowed to pay nothin'! Which is, admittin' he loves you, he don't
take no advice, ter finish that weddin' with another man substertuted.
No, says he, 'I kain't marry her, because I love her!' says he. Now,
that's crazy. Somethin' deep under that, Miss Molly."
"Let's not talk about it, please."
"All right. Let's talk erbout Sam Woodhull, huh?"
"Then mebbe I'd better be goin'. I know you don't want ter talk erbout
me!" His wrinkling smile said he had more to tell.
"Miss Molly," said he at last, "I mout as well tell ye. Sam Woodhull is
on the way atter Will Banion. He's like enough picked out a fine bunch
o' horse thiefs ter go erlong with him. He knows somethin' erbout the
gold--I jest found out how.
"Ye see, some men ain't above shinin' up to a Injun womern even, such
bein' mebbe lonesome. Sam Woodhull wasn't. He seed one o' my fam'ly
wearin' a shiny thing on her neck. Hit were a piece o' gold Kit give me
atter I give you mine. He trades the womern out o' her necklace--fer all
o' two pesos, Mexican. But she not talkin' Missoury, an' him not talkin'
Shoshone, they don't git fur on whar the gold come from.
"She done told him she got hit from me, but he don't say a word ter me
erbout that; he's too wise. But she did tell him how Will Banion gits
some mules an' packs o' me. From then, plain guessin', he allows ter
"My womern keeps sayin'--not meanin' no harm--thet thar's plenty more
necklaces in Cal'for; because she's heard me an' Banion say that word,
"Slim guessin' hit were, Miss Molly, but enough fer a man keen as Sam,
that's not pertickler, neither. His plan was ter watch whar the packs
went. He knowed ef Banion went ter Oregon he'd not use packs.
"Huh! Fine time he'll have, follerin' that boy an' them mules with
wagons! I'm easier when I think o' that. Because, Miss Molly, ef them
two does meet away from friends o' both, thar's goin' to be trouble, an'
trouble only o' one kind."
Again Molly Wingate nodded, pale and silent.
"Well, a man has ter take keer o' his own self," went on Bridger. "But
that ain't all ner most what brung me here."
"What was it then?" demanded Molly. "A long ride!"
"Yeh. Eight hunderd mile out an' back, ef I see ye across the Snake,
like I allow I'd better do. I'm doin' hit fer you, Miss Molly. I'm ol'
an' ye're young; I'm a wild man an' ye're one o' God's wimern. But I had
sisters oncet--white they was, like you. So the eight hunderd mile is
light. But thet ain't why I come, neither, or all why, yit."
"What is it then you want to tell me? Is it about--him?"
Bridger nodded. "Yes. The only trouble is, I don't know what it is."
"Now you're foolish!"
"Shore I am! Ef I had a few drinks o' good likker mebbe I'd be
foolisher--er wiser. Leastways, I'd be more like I was when I plumb
forgot what 'twas Kit Carson said to me when we was spreein' at Laramie.
He had somethin' ter do, somethin' he was goin' ter do, somethin' I was
ter do fer him, er mebee-so, next season, atter he got East an' got
things done he was goin' ter do. Ye see, Kit's in the Army."
"Was it about--him?"
"That's what I kain't tell. I jest sorntered over here a few hunderd
mile ter ask ye what ye s'pose it is that I've plumb fergot, me not
havin' the same kind o' likker right now.
"When me an' Bill was havin' a few afore he left I was right on the
p'int o' rememberin' what it was I was fergittin'. I don't make no
doubt, ef Kit an' me er Bill an' me could only meet an' drink along day
er so hit'd all come plain to me. But all by myself, an' sober, an' not
sociable with Dang Yore Eyes jest now, I sw'ar, I kain't think o'
nothin'. What's a girl's mind fer ef hit hain't to think o' things?"
"It was about--him? It was about Kit Carson, something he had--was it
about the gold news?"
"Mebbe. I don't know."
"Did he--Mr. Banion--say anything?"
"Mostly erbout you, an' not much. He only said ef I ever got any mail
to send it ter the Judge in the Willamette settlements."
"He does expect to come back to Oregon!"
"How can I tell? My belief, he'd better jump in the Percific Ocean. He's
a damn fool, Miss Molly. Ef a man loves a womern, that's somethin' that
never orto wait. Yit he goes teeterin' erroun' like he had from now ter
doomsday ter marry the girl which he loves too much fer ter marry her.
That makes me sick. Yit he has resemblances ter a man, too, some
ways--faint resemblances, yes. Fer instance, I'll bet a gun flint these
here people that's been hearin' erbout the ford o' the Snake'd be a hull
lot gladder ef they knew Will Banion was erlong. Huh?"
Molly Wingate was looking far away, pondering many things.
"Well, anyways, hit's even-Stephen fer them both two now," went on
Bridger, "an' may God perteck the right an' the devil take the
him'mostest. They'll like enough both marry Injun wimern an' settle down
in Californy. Out o' sight, out o' mind. Love me little, love me long.
Lord Lovell, he's mounted his milk-white steed. Farewell, sweet sir,
partin' is such sweet sorrer; like ol' Cap'n Bonneville uster say. But
o' all the messes any fool bunch o' pilgrims ever got inter, this is the
worstest, an' hit couldn't be no worser.
"Now, Miss Molly, ye're a plumb diserpintment ter me. I jest drapped in
ter see ef ye couldn't tell me what hit was Kit done told me. But ye
kain't. Whar is yer boasted superiorness as a womern?
"But now, me, havin' did forty mile a day over that country yan, I need
sustenance, an' I'm goin' to see ef ol' Cap' Grant, the post trader, has
ary bit o' Hundson Bay rum left. Ef he has hit's mine, an' ef not, Jim
Bridger's a liar, an' that I say deliberate. I'm goin' to try to git
inter normal condition enough fer to remember a few plain, simple
truths, seein' as you all kain't. Way hit is, this train's in a hell of
a fix, an' hit couldn't be no worser."
WHEN THE ROCKIES FELL
The news of Jim Bridger's arrival, and the swift rumor that he would
serve as pilot for the train over the dangerous portion of the route
ahead, spread an instantaneous feeling of relief throughout the hesitant
encampment at this, the last touch with civilization east of the
destination. He paused briefly at one or another wagon after he had made
his own animals comfortable, laughing and jesting in his own independent
way, _en route_ to fulfill his promise to himself regarding the trader's
In most ways the old scout's wide experience gave his dicta value. In
one assertion, however, he was wide of the truth, or short of it. So far
from things being as bad as they could be, the rapid events of that same
morning proved that still more confusion was to ensue, and that
There came riding into the post from the westward a little party of
old-time mountain men, driving their near-spent mounts and packs at a
speed unusual even in that land of vast distances. They were headed by a
man well known in that vicinity who, though he had removed to California
since the fur days, made annual pilgrimage to meet the emigrant trains
at Fort Hall in order to do proselyting for California, extolling the
virtues of that land and picturing in direst fashion the horrors of the
road thence to Oregon and the worthlessness of Oregon if ever attained.
"Old Greenwood" was the only name by which he was known. He was an old,
old man, past eighty then, some said, with a deep blue eye, long white
hair, a long and unkempt beard and a tongue of unparalleled profanity.
He came in now, shouting and singing, as did the men of the mountains
making the Rendezvous in the old days.
"How, Greenwood! What brings ye here so late?" demanded his erstwhile
crony, Jim Bridger, advancing, tin cup in hand, to meet him. "Light.
Eat. Special, drink. How--to the old times!"
"Old times be damned!" exclaimed Old Greenwood. "These is new times."
He lifted from above the chafed hips of his trembling horse two sacks of
something very heavy.
"How much is this worth to ye?" he demanded of Bridger and the trader.
"Have ye any shovels? Have ye any picks? Have ye flour, meal,
"Gold!" exclaimed Jim Bridger. "Kit Carson did not lie! He never did!"
And they did not know how much this was worth. They had no scales for
raw gold, nor any system of valuation for it. And they had no shovels
and no pickaxes; and since the families had come they now had very
little flour at Fort Hall.
But now they had the news! This was the greatest news that ever came to
old Fort Hall--the greatest news America knew for many a year, or the
world--the news of the great gold strikes in California.
Old Greenwood suddenly broke out, "Have we left the mines an' come this
fur fer nothin'? I tell ye, we must have supplies! A hundred dollars fer
a pick! A hundred dollars fer a shovel! A hundred dollars fer a pair o'
blankets! An ounce fer a box of sardines, damn ye! An ounce fer half a
pound o' butter! A half ounce fer a aig! Anything ye like fer anything
that's green! Three hundred fer a gallon o' likker! A ounce for a box o'
pills! Eight hundred fer a barrel o' flour! Same fer pork, same fer
sugar, same fer coffee! Damn yer picayune hides, we'll show ye what
prices is! What's money to us? We can git the pure gold that money's
made out of, an' git it all we want! Hooray fer Californy!"
He broke into song. His comrades roared in Homeric chorus with him,
passing from one to another of the current ditties of the mines. They
declared in unison, "Old Grimes is dead, that good old man!" Then they
swung off to yet another classic ballad:
_There was an old woman who had three, sons--
Joshua, James and John!
Josh got shot, and Jim got drowned,
And John got lost and never was found,
And that was the end of the woman's three sons,
Joshua, James and John_.
Having finished the obsequies of the three sons, not once but many
times, they went forward with yet another adaptation, following Old
Greenwood, who stood with head thrown back and sang with tones of
_Oh, then Susannah,
Don't you cry fer me!
I'm goin' to Californuah,
With my wash pan on my knee_.
The news of the gold was out. Bridger forgot his cups, forgot his
friends, hurried to Molly Wingate's cart again.
"Hit's true, Miss Molly!" he cried--"truer'n true hitself! Yan's men
just in from Californy, an' they've got two horseloads o' gold, an' they
say hit's nothin'--they come out fer supplies. They tried to stop Will
Banion--they did trade some with Woodhull. They're nigh to Humboldt by
now an' goin' hard. Miss Molly, gal, he's in ahead o' the hull country,
an' got six months by hisself! Lord give him luck! Hit'll be winter,
afore the men back East kin know. He's one year ahead--thanks ter yer
lie ter me, an ter Kit, and Kit's ter his General.
"Gold! Ye kain't hide hit an' ye kain't find hit an' ye kain't dig hit
up an' ye kain't keep hit down. Miss Molly, gal, I like ye, but how I do
wish't ye was a man, so's you an' me could celerbrate this here fitten!"
"Listen!" said the girl. "Our bugle! That's Assembly!"
"Yes, they'll all be there. Come when ye kin. Hell's a-poppin' now!"
The emigrants, indeed, deserted their wagons, gathering in front of the
stockade, group after group. There was a strange scene on the far-flung,
unknown, fateful borderlands of the country Senator McDuffie but now had
not valued at five dollars for the whole. All these now, half-way
across, and with the ice and snow of winter cutting off pursuit for a
year, had the great news which did not reach publication in the press of
New York and Baltimore until September of 1848. It did not attain notice
of the floor of Congress until December fifth of that year, although
this was news that went to the very foundation of this republic; which,
indeed, was to prove the means of the perpetuity of this republic.
The drunken hunters in their ragged wools, their stained skins, the
emigrants in their motley garb--come this far they knew not why, since
men will not admit of Destiny in nations--also knew not that they were
joying over the death of slavery and the life of the Union. They did not
know that now, in a flash, all the old arguments and citations over
slavery and secession were ancient and of no avail. The wagoners of the
Sangamon, in Illinois, gathered here, roistering, did not know that they
were dancing on the martyr's grave of Lincoln, or weaving him his crown,
or buying shot and shell for him to win his grievous ordeal, brother
against brother. Yet all those things were settled then, beyond that
range of the Rockies which senators had said they would not spend a
dollar to remove, "were they no more than ten feet high."
Even then the Rockies fell. Even then the great trains of the covered
wagons, driven by men who never heard of Destiny, achieved their places
on the unwritten scroll of Time.
The newcomers from beyond the Sierras, crazed with their easy fortune,
and now inflamed yet further by the fumes of alcohol, even magnified the
truth, as it then seemed. They spent their dust by the handful. They
asked for skillets, cooking pans, that they could wash more gold. They
wanted saws, nails, axes, hammers, picks. They said they would use the
wagon boxes for Long Toms. They said if men would unite in companies to
dam and divert the California rivers they would lay bare ledges of
broken gold which would need only scooping up. The miners would pay
anything for labor in iron and wood. They would buy any food and all
there was of it at a dollar a pound. They wanted pack horses to cross
the Humboldt Desert loaded. They would pay any price for men to handle
horses for a fast and steady flight.
Because, they said, there was no longer any use in measuring life by the
old standards of value. Wages at four bits a day, a dollar a day, two
dollars, the old prices--why, no man would work for a half hour for such
return when any minute he might lift twenty dollars in the hollow of an
iron spoon. Old Greenwood had panned his five hundred in a day. Men had
taken two thousand--three--in a week; in a week, men, not in a year!
There could be no wage scale at all. Labor was a thing gone by. Wealth,
success, ease, luxury was at hand for the taking. What a man had dreamed
for himself he now could have. He could overleap all the confining
limits of his life, and even if weak, witless, ignorant or in despair,
throw all that aside in one vast bound into attainment and enjoyment.
Rich? Why should any man remain poor? Work? Why should work be known,
save the labor of picking up pure gold--done, finished, delivered at
hand to waiting and weary humanity? Human cravings could no longer
exist. Human disappointment was a thing no more to be known. In
California, just yonder, was gold, gold, gold! Do you mind--can you
think of it, men? Gold, gold, gold! The sun had arisen at last on the
millennial day! Now might man be happy and grieve no more forever!
Arguments such as these did not lack and were not needed with the
emigrants. It took but a leap to the last conclusion. Go to California?
Why should they not go? Had it not been foreordained that they should
get the news here, before it was too late? Fifty miles more and they had
lost it. A week earlier and they would not have known it for a year. Go
to Oregon and plow? Why not go to California and dig in a day what a
plow would earn in a year?
Call it stubbornness or steadfastness, at least Jesse Wingate's strength
of resolution now became manifest. At first almost alone, he stayed the
stampede by holding out for Oregon in the council with his captains.
They stood near the Wingate wagon, the same which had carried him into
Indiana, thence into Illinois, now this far on the long way to Oregon.
Old and gray was Mary Ann, as he called his wagon, by now, the paint
ground from felly, spoke and hub, the sides dust covered, the tilt
disfigured and discolored. He gazed at the time-worn, sturdy frame with
something akin to affection. The spokes were wedged to hold them tight,
the rims were bound with hide, worn away at the edges where the tire
gave no covering, the tires had been reset again and again. He shook the
nearest wheel to test it.
"Yes," said he, "we all show wear. But I see little use in changing a
plan once made in a man's best sober judgment. For me, I don't think all
the world has been changed overnight."
"Oh, well, now," demanded Kelsey, his nomad Kentucky blood dominant,
"what use holding to any plan just for sake of doing it? If something
better comes, why not take it? That stands to reason. We all came out
here to better ourselves. These men have done in six months what you and
I might not do in ten years in Oregon."
"They'd guide us through to California, too," he went on. "We've no
guide to Oregon."
Even Caleb Price nodded.
"They all say that the part from here on is the worst--drier and drier,
and in places very rough. And the two fords of the Snake--well, I for
one wish we were across them. That's a big river, and a bad one. And if
we crossed the Blue Mountains all right, there's the Cascades, worse
than the Blues, and no known trail for wagons."
"I may have to leave my wagons," said Jesse Wingate, "but if I do I aim
to leave them as close to the Willamette Valley as I can. I came out to
farm. I don't know California. How about you, Hall? What do your
"Much as Price says. They're worn out and scared. They're been talking
about the Snake crossings ever since we left the Soda Springs. Half want
to switch for California. A good many others would like to go back
home--if they thought they'd ever get there!"
"But we've got to decide," urged Wingate. "Can we count on thirty wagons
to go through? Others have got through in a season, and so can we if we
His hesitant glance at his staunch trail friend's face decided the
"I'll stick for Oregon!" said Caleb Price. "I've got my wife and
children along. I want my donation lands."
"I'll go with you," said Hall, the third column leader, slowly. "Like to
try a whirl in California, but if there's so much gold there next
year'll do. I want my lands."
"Why, there's almost ten thousand people in Oregon by now, or will be
next year," argued Wingate. "It may get to be a territory--maybe not a
state, but anyways a territory, some time. And it's free! Not like Texas
and all this new Mexican land just coming in by the treaty. What do you
say, finally, Kelsey?"
The latter chewed tobacco for some time.
"You put it to me hard to answer," said he. "Any one of us'd like to try
California. It will open faster than Oregon if all this gold news is
true. Maybe ten thousand people will come out next year, for all we
"Yes, with picks and shovels," said Jesse Wingate. "Did ever you see
pick or shovel build a country? Did ever you see steel traps make or
hold one? Oregon's ours because we went out five years ago with wagons
and plows--we all know that. No, friends, waterways never held a
country. No path ever held on a river--that's for exploring, not for
farming. To hold a country you need wheels, you need a plow. I'm for
"You put it strong," admitted Kelsey. "But the only thing that holds me
back from California is the promise we four made to each other when we
started. Our train's fallen apart little by little. I'm ole Kaintucky.
We don't rue back, and we keep our word. We four said we'd go through.
I'll stand by that, I'm a man of my word."
Imperiously as though he were Pizarro's self, he drew a line in the dust
of the trail.
"Who's for Oregon?" he shouted; again demanded, as silence fell, "This
side for Oregon!" And Kelsey of Kentucky, man of his word, turned the
Wingate, his three friends; a little group, augmenting, crossed for
Oregon. The women and the children stood aloof,--sunbonneted women,
brown, some with new-born trail babes in arms, silent as they always
stood. Across from the Oregon band stood almost as many men, for the
most part unmarried, who had not given hostages to fortune, and were
resolved for California. A cheer arose from these.
"Who wants my plow?" demanded a stalwart farmer, from Indiana, more than
fifteen hundred miles from his last home. "I brung her this fur into
this damned desert. I'll trade her fer a shovel and make one more try
fer my folks back home."
He loosed the wires which had bound the implement to the tail of his
wagon all these weary miles. It fell to the ground and he left it there.
"Do some thinking, men, before you count your gold and drop your plow.
Gold don't last, but the soil does. Ahead of you is the Humboldt Desert.
There's no good wagon road over the mountains if you get that far. The
road down Mary's River is a real gamble with death. Men can go through
and make roads--yes; but where are the women and the children to stay?
Think twice, men, and more than twice!" Wingate spoke solemnly.
"Roll out! Roll out!" mocked the man who had abandoned his plow. "This
way for Californy!"
The council ended in turmoil, where hitherto had been no more than a
sedate daily system. Routine, become custom, gave way to restless
movement, excited argument. Of all these hundreds now encamped on the
sandy sagebrush plain in the high desert there was not an individual who
was not affected in one way or another by the news from California, and
in most cases it required some sort of a personal decision, made
practically upon the moment. Men argued with their wives heatedly; women
gathered in groups, talking, weeping. The stoic calm of the trail was
swept away in a sort of hysteria which seemed to upset all their world
and all its old values.
Whether for Oregon or California, a revolution in prices was worked
overnight for every purchase of supplies. Flour, horses, tools,
everything merchantable, doubled and more than doubled. Some fifty
wagons in all now formed train for California, which, in addition to the
long line of pack animals, left the Sangamon caravan, so called, at best
little more than half what it had been the day before. The men without
families made up most of the California train.
The agents for California, by force of habit, still went among the
wagons and urged the old arguments against Oregon--the savage tribes on
ahead, the forbidding desolation of the land, the vast and dangerous
rivers, the certainty of starvation on the way, the risk of arriving
after winter had set in on the Cascade Range--all matters of which they
themselves spoke by hearsay. All the great West was then unknown.
Moreover, Fort Hall was a natural division point, as quite often a third
of the wagons of a train might be bound for California even before the
discovery of gold. But Wingate and his associates felt that the Oregon
immigration for that year, even handicapped as now, ultimately would run
It was mid-morning of the next blazing day when he beckoned his men to
"Lets pull out," he said. "Why wait for the Californians to move? Bridger
will go with us across the Snake. 'Twill only be the worse the longer we
lie here, and our wagons are two weeks late now."
The others agreed. But there was now little train organization. The old
cheery call, "Catch up! Catch up!" was not heard. The group, the family,
the individual now began to show again. True, after their leaders came,
one after another, rattling, faded wagons, until the dusty trail that
led out across the sage flats had a tenancy stretched out for over a
half mile, with yet other vehicles falling in behind; but silent and
grim were young and old now over this last defection.
"About that old man Greenwood," said Molly Wingate to her daughter as
they sat on the same jolting seat, "I don't know about him. I've saw
elders in the church with whiskers as long and white as his'n, but you'd
better watch your hog pen. For me, I believe he's a liar. It like
enough is true he used to live back in the Rockies in Injun times, and
he may be eighty-five years old, as he says, and California may have a
wonderful climate, the way he says; but some things I can't believe.
"He says, now, he knows a man out in California, a Spanish man, who was
two hundred and fifty years old, and he had quite a lot of money, gold
and silver, he'd dug out of the mountains. Greenwood says he's known of
gold and silver for years, himself. Well, this Spanish man had relatives
that wanted his property, and he'd made a will and left it to them; but
he wouldn't die, the climate was so good. So his folks allowed maybe if
they sent him to Spain on a journey he'd die and then they'd get the
property legal. So he went, and he did die; but he left orders for his
body to be sent back to California to be buried. So when his body came
they buried him in California, the way he asked--so Greenwood says.
"But did they get his property? Not at all! The old Spanish man, almost
as soon as he was buried in California dirt, he came to life again! He's
alive to-day out there, and this man Greenwood says he's a neighbor of
his and he knows him well! Of course, if that's true you can believe
almost anything about what a wonderful country California is. But for
one, I ain't right sure. Maybe not everybody who goes to California is
going to find a mountain of gold, or live to be three hundred years old!
"But to think, Molly! Here you knew all this away back to Laramie!
Well, if the hoorah had started there 'stead of here there'd be dead
people now back of us more'n there is now. That old man Bridger told
you--why? And how could you keep the secret?"
"It was for Will," said Molly simply. "I had given him up. I told him to
go to California and forget me, and to live things down. Don't chide me
any more. I tried to marry the man you wanted me to marry. I'm tired.
I'm going to Oregon--to forget. I'll teach school. I'll never, never
marry--that's settled at last."
"You got a letter from Sara Woodhull too."
"Yes, I did."
"Huh! Does he call that settled? Is he going to California to forget you
and live things down?"
"He says not. I don't care what he says."
"He'll be back."
"Spare his journey! It will do him no good. The Indian did me a
kindness, I tell you!"
"Well, anyways, they're both off on the same journey now, and who knows
what or which? They both may be three hundred years old before they find
a mountain of gold. But to think--I had your chunk of gold right in my
own hands, but didn't know it! The same gold my mother's wedding ring
was made of, that was mine. It's right thin now, child. You could of
made a dozen out of that lump, like enough."
"I'll never need one, mother," said Molly Wingate.
The girl, weeping, threw her arms about her mother's neck. "You ask why
I kept the secret, even then. He kissed me, mother--and he was a thief!"
"Yes, I know. A man he just steals a girl's heart out through her lips.
Yore paw done that way with me once. Git up, Dan! You, Daisy!
"And from that time on," she added laughing, "I been trying to forget
him and to live him down!"
Three days out from Fort Hall the vanguard of the remnant of the train,
less than a fourth of the original number, saw leaning against a gnarled
sagebrush a box lid which had scrawled upon it in straggling letters one
word--"California." Here now were to part the pick and the plow.
Jim Bridger, sitting his gaunt horse, rifle across saddle horn, halted
for the head of the train to pull even with him.
"This here's Cassia Creek," said he. "Yan's the trail down Raft River
ter the Humboldt and acrost the Sierrys ter Californy. A long, dry jump
hit is, by all accounts. The Oregon road goes on down the Snake. Hit's
longer, if not so dry."
Small invitation offered in the physical aspect of either path. The
journey had become interminable. The unspeakable monotony, whose only
variant was peril, had smothered the spark of hope and interest. The
allurement of mystery had wholly lost its charm.
The train halted for some hours. Once more discussion rose.
"Last chance for Californy, men," said old Jim Bridger calmly. "Do-ee
see the tracks? Here's Greenwood come in. Yan's where Woodhull's wagons
left the road. Below that, one side, is the tracks o' Banion's mules."
"I wonder," he added, "why thar hain't ary letter left fer none o' us
here at the forks o' the road."
He did not know that, left in a tin at the foot of the board sign
certain days earlier, there had rested a letter addressed to Miss Molly
Wingate. It never was to reach her. Sam Woodhull knew the reason why.
Having opened it and read it, he had possessed himself of exacter
knowledge than ever before of the relations of Banion and Molly Wingate.
Bitter as had been his hatred before, it now was venomous. He lived
thenceforth no more in hope of gold than of revenge.
The decision for or against California was something for serious
weighing now at the last hour, and it affected the fortune and the
future of every man, woman and child in all the train. Never a furrow
was plowed in early Oregon but ran in bones and blood; and never a
dollar was dug in gold in California--or ever gained in gold by any
man--which did not cost two in something else but gold.
Twelve wagons pulled out of the trail silently, one after another, and
took the winding trail that led to the left, to the west and south.
Others watched them, tears in their eyes, for some were friends.
Alone on her cart seat, here at the fateful parting of the ways, Molly
Wingate sat with a letter clasped in her hand, frank tears standing in
her eyes. It was no new letter, but an old one. She pressed the pages to
her heart, to her lips, held them out at arm's length before her in the
direction of the far land which somewhere held its secrets.
"Oh, God keep you, Will!" she said in her heart, and almost audibly.
"Oh, God give you fortune, Will, and bring you back to me!"
But the Oregon wagons closed up once more and held their way, the stop
not being beyond one camp, for Bridger urged haste.
The caravan course now lay along the great valley of the Snake. The
giant deeds of the river in its canons they could only guess. They heard
of tremendous falls, of gorges through which no boat could pass, vague
rumors of days of earlier exploration; but they kept to the high
plateaus, dipping down to the crossings of many sharp streams, which in
the first month of their journey they would have called impassable. It
all took time. They were averaging now not twenty miles daily, but no
more than half that, and the season was advancing. It was fall. Back
home the wheat would be in stack, the edges of the corn would be seared
The vast abundance of game they had found all along now lacked. Some
rabbits, a few sage grouse, nightly coyotes--that made all. The savages
who now hung on their flanks lacked the stature and the brave trappings
of the buffalo plainsmen. They lived on horse meat and salmon, so the
rumor came. Now their environment took hold of the Pacific. They had
left the East wholly behind.
On the salmon run they could count on food, not so good as the buffalo,
but better than bacon grown soft and rusty. Changing, accepting,
adjusting, prevailing, the wagons went on, day after day, fifty miles, a
hundred, two hundred. But always a vague uneasiness pervaded. The
crossing of the Snake lay on ahead. The moody river had cast upon them a
feeling of awe. Around the sage fires at night the families talked of
little else but the ford of the Snake, two days beyond the Salmon Falls.
It was morning when the wagons, well drawn together now, at last turned
down the precipitous decline which took them from the high plateau to
the water, level. Here a halt was called. Bridger took full charge. The
formidable enterprise confronting them was one of the real dangers of
The strong green waters of the great river were divided at this ancient
ford by two midstream islands, which accounted for the selection of the
spot for the daring essay of a bridgeless and boatless crossing. There
was something mockingly relentless in the strong rippling current, which
cut off more than a guess at the actual depth. There was no ferry, no
boat nor means of making one. It was not even possible to shore up the
wagon beds so they might be dry. One thing sure was that if ever a
wagon was swept below the crossing there could be no hope for it.
But others had crossed here, and even now a certain rough chart existed,
handed down from these. Time now for a leader, and men now were thankful
for the presence of a man who had seen this crossing made.
The old scout held back the company leaders and rode into the stream
alone, step by step, scanning the bottom. He found it firm. He saw wheel
marks on the first island. His horse, ears ahead, saw them also, and
staggeringly felt out the way. Belly-deep and passable--yes.
Bridger turned and moved a wide arm. The foremost wagons came on to the
The men now mounted the wagon seats, two to each wagon. Flankers drove
up the loose cattle, ready for their turn later. Men rode on each side
the lead yoke of oxen to hold them steady on their footing, Wingate,
Price, Kelsey and Hall, bold men and well mounted, taking this work on
The plunge once made, they got to the first island, all of them, without
trouble. But a dizzying flood lay on ahead to the second wheel-marked
island in the river. To look at the rapid surface was to lose all sense
of direction. But again the gaunt horse of the scout fell out, the
riders waded in, their devoted saddle animals trembling beneath them.
Bridger, student of fast fords, followed the bar upstream, angling with
it, till a deep channel offered between him and the island. Unable to
evade this, he drove into it, and his gallant mount breasted up and held
its feet all the way across.
The thing could be done! Jim Bridger calmly turned and waved to the
wagons to come on from the first island.
"Keep them jest whar we was!" he called back to Hall and Kelsey, who had
not passed the last stiff water. "Put the heavy cattle in fust! Hit
maybe won't swim them. If the stuff gets wet we kain't help that. Tell
the wimern hit's all right."
He saw his friends turn back, their horses, deep in the flood, plunging
through water broken by their knees; saw the first wagons lead off and
crawl out upstream, slowly and safely, till within reach of his voice.
Molly now was in the main wagon, and her brother Jed was driving.
Between the lines of wading horsemen the draft oxen advanced, following
the wagons, strung out, but all holding their footing in the green water
that broke white on the upper side of the wagons. A vast murmuring roar
came up from the water thus retarded.
They made their way to the edge of the deep channel, where the cattle
stood, breasts submerged.
Bridger rose in his stirrups and shouted, "Git in thar! Come on
They plunged, wallowed, staggered; but the lead yokes saw where the ford
climbed the bank, made for it, caught footing, dragged the others
Wagon after wagon made it safe. It was desperate, but, being done,
these matter-of-fact folk wasted no time in imaginings of what might
have happened. They were safe, and the ford thus far was established so
that the others need not fear.
But on ahead lay what they all knew was the real danger--the last
channel, three hundred yards of racing, heavy water which apparently no
sane man ever would have faced. But there were wheel marks on the
farther shore. Here ran the road to Oregon.
The dauntless old scout rode in again, alone, bending to study the water
and the footing. A gravel bar led off for a couple of rods, flanked by
deep potholes. Ten rods out the bar turned. He followed it up, foot by
foot, for twenty rods, quartering. Then he struck out for the shore.
The bottom was hard, yes; but the bar was very crooked, with swimming
water on either hand, with potholes ten feet deep and more all
alongside. And worst of all, there was a vast sweep of heavy water below
the ford, which meant destruction and death for any wagon carried down.
Well had the crossing of the Snake earned its sinister reputation.
Courage and care alone could give any man safe-conduct here.
The women and children, crying, sat in the wagons, watching Bridger
retrace the ford. Once his stumbling horse swam, but caught footing. He
joined them, very serious.
"Hit's fordin' men," said he, "but she's mean, she shore is mean. Double
up all the teams, yoke in every loose ox an' put six yoke on each
wagon, er they'll get swep' down, shore's hell. Some o' them will hold
the others ef we have enough. I'll go ahead, an' I want riders all along
the teams, above and below, ter hold them ter the line. Hit can be
did--hit's wicked water, but hit can be did. Don't wait--always keep
By this time the island was packed with the loose cattle, which had
followed the wagons, much of the time swimming. They were lowing
meaningly, in terror--a gruesome thing to hear.
The leader called to Price's oldest boy, driving Molly's cart, "Tie on
behind the big wagon with a long rope, an' don't drive in tell you see
the fust two yoke ahead holdin'. Then they'll drag you through anyhow.
Hang onto the cart whatever happens, but if you do get,' in, keep
upstream of any animile that's swimmin'."
"All set, men? Come ahead!"
He led off again at last, after the teams were doubled and the loads had
been piled high as possible to keep them dry. Ten wagons were left
behind, it being needful to drive back, over the roaring channel, some
of the doubled heavy teams for them.
They made it well, foot by foot, the cattle sometimes swimming gently,
confidently, as the line curved down under the heavy current, but always
enough holding to keep the team safe. The horsemen rode alongside,
exhorting, assuring. It was a vast relief when at the last gravel
stretch they saw the wet backs of the oxen rise high once more.
"I'll go back, Jesse," said Kelsey, the man who had wanted to go to
California. "I know her now."
"I'll go with you," added young Jed Wingate, climbing down from his
wagon seat and demanding his saddle horse, which he mounted bare-backed.
It was they two who drove and led the spare yokes back to repeat the
crossing with the remaining wagons. Those on the bank watched them
anxiously, for they drove straighter across to save time, and were
carried below the trail on the island. But they came out laughing, and
the oxen were rounded up once more and doubled in, so that the last of
the train was ready.
"That's a fine mare of Kelsey's," said Wingate to Caleb Price, who with
him was watching the daring Kentuckian at his work on the downstream and
more dangerous side of the linked teams. "She'll go anywhere."
Price nodded, anxiously regarding the laboring advance of the last
"Too light," said he. "I started with a ton and a half on the National
Pike across Ohio and Indiana. I doubt if we average five hundred now.
They ford light."
"Look!" he cried suddenly, and pointed.
They all ran to the brink. The horsemen were trying to stay the drift of
the line of cattle. They had worked low and missed footing. Many were
swimming--the wagons were afloat!
The tired lead cattle had not been able to withstand the pressure of the
heavy water a second time. They were off the ford!
But the riders from the shore, led by Jim Bridger, got to them, caught a
rope around a horn, dragged them into line, dragged the whole gaunt team
to the edge and saved the day for the lead wagon. The others caught and
held their footing, labored through.
But a shout arose. Persons ran down the bank, pointing. A hundred yards
below the ford, in the full current of the Snake, the lean head of
Kelsey's mare was flat, swimming hard and steadily, being swept
downstream in a current which swung off shore below the ford.
"He's all right!" called Jed, wet to the neck, sitting his own wet
mount, safe ashore at last. "He's swimming too. They'll make it, sure!
He started off at a gallop downstream along the shore, his eyes fixed on
the two black objects, now steadily losing distance out beyond. But old
Jim Bridger put his hands across his eyes and turned away his face. He
It was now plain to all that yonder a gallant man and a gallant horse
were making a fight for life. The grim river had them in its grip at
In a moment the tremendous power of the heavy water had swept Kelsey and
his horse far below the ford. The current there was swifter, noisier,
as though exultant in the success of the scheme the river all along had
As to the victims, the tragic struggle went on in silence. If the man
called, no one could hear him above the rush and roar of the waters.
None long had any hope as they saw the white rollers bury the two heads,
of the horse and the man, while the set of the current steadily carried
them away from the shore. It was only a miracle that the two bobbing
black dots again and again came into view.
They could see the mare's muzzle flat, extended toward the shore; back
of it, upstream, the head of the man. Whichever brain had decided, it
was evident that the animal was staking life to reach the shore from
which it had been swept away.
Far out in midstream some conformation of the bottom turned the current
once more in a long slant shoreward. A murmur, a sob of hundreds of
observers packed along the shore broke out as the two dots came closer,
far below. More than a quarter of a mile downstream a sand point made
out, offering a sort of beach where for some space a landing might be
made. Could the gallant mare make this point? Men clenched their hands.
Women began to sob, to moan gently.
When with a shout Jed Wingate turned his horse and set off at top speed
down the shore some followed him. The horses and oxen, left alone, fell
into confusion, the wagons tangled. One or two teams made off at a run
into the desert. But these things were nothing.
Those behind hoped Jed would not try any rescue in that flood. Molly
stood wringing her hands. The boy's mother began praying audibly. The
voice of Jim Bridger rose in an Indian chant. It was for the dead!
They saw the gallant mare plunge up, back and shoulders and body rising
as her feet found bottom a few yards out from shore. She stood free of
the water, safe on the bar; stood still, looking back of her and down.
But no man rose to his height beside her. There was only one figure on
They saw Jed fling off; saw him run and stoop, lifting something long
and heavy from the water. Then the mare stumbled away. At length she lay
down quietly. She never rose.
"She was standing right here," said Jed as the others came, "He had hold
of the reins so tight I couldn't hardly open his hand. He must have been
dead before the mare hit bottom. He was laying all under water, hanging
to the reins, and that was all that kept him from washing on down."
They made some rude and unskilled attempt at resuscitation, but had
neither knowledge nor confidence. Perhaps somewhere out yonder the
strain had been too great; perhaps the sheer terror had broken the heart
of both man and horse. The mare suddenly began to tremble as she lay,
her nostrils shivering as though in fright. And she died, after bringing
in the dead man whose hand still gripped her rein.
They buried Kelsey of Kentucky--few knew him otherwise--on a hillock by
the road at the first fording place of the Snake. They broke out the top
board of another tail gate, and with a hot iron burned in one more
record of the road:
"Rob't. Kelsey, Ky. Drowned Sept. 7, 1848. A Brave Man."
The sand long ago cut out the lettering, and long ago the ford passed to
a ferry. But there lay, for a long time known, Kelsey of Kentucky, a
brave man, who kept his promise and did not rue back, but who never saw
either California or Oregon.
"Catch up the stock, men," said Jesse Wingate dully, after a time.
"Let's leave this place."
Loads were repacked, broken gear adjusted. Inside the hour the silent
gray wagon train held on, leaving the waters to give shriving. The voice
of the river rose and fell mournfully behind them in the changing airs.
"I knowed hit!" said old Jim Bridger, now falling back from the lead and
breaking oft' his Indian dirge. "I knowed all along the Snake'd take
somebody--she does every time. This mornin' I seed two ravens that flew
acrost the trail ahead. Yesterday I seed a rabbit settin' squar' in the
trail. I thought hit was me the river wanted, but she's done took a
younger an' a better man."
"Man, man," exclaimed stout-hearted Molly Wingate, "what for kind of a
country have you brought us women to? One more thing like that and my
nerve's gone. Tell me, is this the last bad river? And when will we get
"Don't be a-skeered, ma'am," rejoined Bridger. "A accident kin happen
anywheres. Hit's a month on ter Oregon, whar ye're headed. Some fords on
ahead, yes; we got ter cross back ter the south side the Snake again."
"But you'll go on with us, won't you?" demanded young Molly Wingate.
They had halted to breathe the cattle at the foot of lava dust slope.
Bridger looked at the young girl for a time in silence.
"I'm off my country, Miss Molly," said he. "Beyant the second ford, at
Fort Boise, I ain't never been. I done aimed ter turn back here an' git
back home afore the winter come. Ain't I did enough fer ye?"
But he hesitated. There was a kindly light on the worn old face, in the
sunken blue eye.
"Ye want me ter go on, Miss Molly?"
"If you could it would be a comfort to me, a protection to us all."
"Is hit so! Miss Molly, ye kin talk a ol'-time man out'n his last pelt!
But sence ye do want me, I'll sornter along a leetle ways furtherer with
ye. Many a good fight is spoiled by wonderin' how hit's goin' to come
out. An' many a long trail's lost by wonderin' whar hit runs. I hain't
never yit been plumb to Californy er Oregon. But ef ye say I must, Miss
Molly, why I must; an' ef I must, why here goes! I reckon my wimern kin
keep my fire goin' ontel I git back next year."
THE freakish resolves of the old-time trapper at least remained
unchanged for many days, but at last one evening he came to Molly's
wagon, his face grim and sad.
"Miss Molly," he said, "I'm come to say good-by now. Hit's for keeps."
"No? Then why? You are like an old friend to me. What don't I owe to
"Ye don't owe nothin' ter me yit, Miss Molly. But I want ye ter think
kindly o' old Jim Bridger when he's gone. I allow the kindest thing I
kin do fer ye is ter bring Will Banion ter ye."
"You are a good man, James Bridger," said Molly Wingate. "But then?"
"Ye see, Miss Molly, I had six quarts o' rum I got at Boise. Some folks
says rum is wrong. Hit ain't. I'll tell ye why. Last night I drinked up
my lastest bottle o' that Hundson's Bay rum. Hit war right good rum, an
ez I lay lookin' up at the stars, all ter oncet hit come ter me that I
was jest exactly, no more an' no less, jest ter the ha'r, ez drunk I was
on the leetle spree with Kit at Laramie. Warn't that fine? An' warn't
hit useful? Nach'erl, bein' jest even up, I done thought o' everything I
been fergettin'. Hit all come ter me ez plain ez a streak o' lightnin'.
What it was Kit Carson told me I know now, but no one else shall know.
No, not even you, Miss Molly. I kain't tell ye, so don't ask.
"Now I'm goin' on a long journey, an' a resky one; I kain't tell ye no
more. I reckon I'll never see ye agin. So good-by."
With a swift grasp of his hand he caught the dusty edge of the white
woman's skirt to his bearded lips.
Suddenly she reached out a hand. He was gone.
* * * * *
One winter day, rattling over the icy fords of the road winding down the
Sandy from the white Cascades, crossing the Clackamas, threading the
intervening fringe of forest, there broke into the clearing at Oregon
City the head of the wagon train of 1848. A fourth of the wagons
abandoned and broken, a half of the horses and cattle gone since they
had left the banks of the Columbia east of the mountains, the cattle
leaning one against the other when they halted, the oxen stumbling and
limping, the calluses of their necks torn, raw and bleeding from the
swaying of the yokes on the rocky trail, their tongues out, their eyes
glassy with the unspeakable toil they so long had undergone; the loose
wheels wabbling, the thin hounds rattling, the canvas sagged and
stained, the bucket under each wagon empty, the plow at each tail gate
thumping in its lashings of rope and hide--the train of the covered
wagons now had, indeed, won through. Now may the picture of our own Ark
of Empire never perish from our minds.
On the front seat of the lead wagon sat stout Molly Wingate and her
husband. Little Molly's cart came next. Alongside the Caleb Price wagon,
wherein now sat on the seat--hugging a sore-footed dog whose rawhide
boots had worn through--a long-legged, barefoot girl who had walked
twelve hundred miles since spring, trudged Jed Wingate, now grown from a
tousled boy into a lean, self-reliant young man. His long whip was used
in baseless threatenings now, for any driver must spare cattle such as
these, gaunt and hollow-eyed. Tobacco protuberant in cheek, his feet
half bare, his trousers ragged and fringed to the knee, his sleeves
rolled up over brown and brawny arms, Jed Wingate now was enrolled on
the list of men.
"Gee-whoa-haw! You Buck an' Star, git along there, damn ye!" So rose his
voice, automatically but affectionately.
Certain French Canadians, old-time _engages_ of the fur posts, now
become _habitants_, landowners, on their way home from Sunday chapel,
hastened to summon others.
"The families have come!" they called at the Falls, as they had at
But now, though safely enlarged at last of the confinement and the
penalties of the wagon train, the emigrants, many of them almost
destitute, none of them of great means, needed to cast about them at
once for their locations and to determine what their occupations were to
be. They scattered, each seeking his place, like new trout in a stream.
THE SECRETS OF THE SIERRAS
Sam Woodhull carried in his pocket the letter which Will Banion had left
for Molly Wingate at Cassia Creek in the Snake Valley, where the Oregon
road forked for California. There was no post office there, yet Banion
felt sure that his letter would find its way, and it had done so, save
for the treachery of this one man. Naught had been sacred to him. He had
read the letter without an instant's hesitation, feeling that anything
was fair in his love for this woman, in his war with this man. Woodhull
resolved that they should not both live.
He was by nature not so much a coward as a man without principle or
scruple. He did not expect to be killed by Banion. He intended to use
such means as would give Banion no chance. In this he thought himself
fully justified, as a criminal always does.
But hurry as he might, his overdriven teams were no match for the
tireless desert horse, the wiry mountain mount and the hardy mules of
the tidy little pack train of Banion and his companion Jackson. These
could go on steadily where wagons must wait. Their trail grew fainter as
At last, at the edge of a waterless march of whose duration they could
not guess, Woodhull and his party were obliged to halt. Here by great
good fortune they were overtaken by the swift pack train of Greenwood
and his men, hurrying back with fresh animals on their return march to
California. The two companies joined forces. Woodhull now had a guide.
Accordingly when, after such dangers and hardships as then must be
inevitable to men covering the gruesome trail between the Snake and the
Sacramento, he found himself late that fall arrived west of the Sierras
and in the gentler climate of the central valley, he looked about him
with a feeling of exultation. Now, surely, fate would give his enemy
into his hand.
Men were spilling south into the valley of the San Joaquin, coming north
with proofs of the Stanislaus, the Tuolumne, the Merced. Greenwood
insisted on working north into the country where he had found gold,
along all the tributaries of the Sacramento. Even then, too, before the
great year of '49 had dawned, prospectors were pushing to the head of
the creeks making into the American Fork, the Feather River, all the
larger and lesser streams heading on the west slopes of the Sierras; and
Greenwood even heard of a band of men who had stolen away from the lower
diggings and broken off to the north and east--some said, heading far up
for the Trinity, though that was all unproved country so far as most
And now the hatred in Woodhull's sullen heart grew hotter still, for he
heard that not fifty miles ahead there had passed a quiet dark young
man, riding a black Spanish horse; with him a bearded man who drove a
little band of loaded mules! Their progress, so came the story, was up a
valley whose head was impassable. The trail could not be obliterated
back of them. They were in a trap of their own choosing. All that he
needed was patience and caution.
Ships and wagon trains came in on the Willamette from the East. They met
the coast news of gold. Men of Oregon also left in a mad stampede for
California. News came that all the World now was in the mines of
California. All over the East, as the later ships also brought in
reiterated news, the mad craze of '49 even then was spreading.
But the men of '48 were in ahead. From them, scattering like driven game
among the broken country over hundreds of miles of forest, plain, bench
land and valley lands, no word could come out to the waiting world. None
might know the countless triumphs, the unnumbered tragedies--none ever
There, beyond the law, one man might trail another with murder stronger
than avarice in his heart, and none ever be the wiser. To hide secrets
such as these the unfathomed mountains reached out their shadowy arms.
* * * * *
Now the winter wore on with such calendar as altitude, latitude,
longitude gave it, and the spring of '49 came, East and West, in
Washington and New York; at Independence on the Missouri; at Deseret by
the Great Salt Lake; in California; in Oregon.
Above the land of the early Willamette settlements forty or fifty miles
up the Yamhill Valley, so a letter from Mrs. Caleb Price to her
relatives in Ohio said, the Wingates, leaders of the train, had a
beautiful farm, near by the Cale Price Mill, as it was known. They had
up a good house of five rooms, and their cattle were increasing now.
They had forty acres in wheat, with what help the neighbors had given in
housing and planting; and wheat would run fifty bushels to the acre
there. They load bought young trees for an orchard. Her mother had
planted roses; they now were fine. She believed they were as good as
those she planted in Portland, when first she went through
there--cuttings she had carried with her seed wheat in the bureau
drawer, all the way across from the Saganon. Yes, Jesse Wingate and his
wife had done well. Molly, their daughter, was still living with them
and still unmarried, she believed.
There were many things which Mrs. Caleb Price believed; also many things
she did not mention.
She said nothing, for she knew nothing, of a little scene between these
two as they sat on their little sawn-board porch before their door one
evening, looking out over the beautiful and varied landscape that lay
spread before them. Their wheat was in the green now. Their hogs reveled
in their little clover field. "We've done well, Jesse," at length said
portly Molly Wingate. "Look at our place! A mile square, for nothing!
We've done well, Jesse, I'll admit it."
"For what?" answered Jesse Wingate. "What's it for? What has it come to?
What's it all about?"
He did not have any reply. When he turned he saw his wife wiping tears
from her hard, lined face.
"It's Molly," said she.
KIT CARSON RIDES
Following the recession of the snow, men began to push westward up the
Platte in the great 'spring gold rush of 1849. In the forefront of
these, outpacing them in his tireless fashion, now passed westward the
greatest traveler of his day, the hunter and scout, Kit Carson. The new
post of Fort Kearny on the Platte; the old one, Fort Laramie in the
foothills of the Rockies--he touched them soon as the grass was green;
and as the sun warmed the bunch grass slopes of the North Platte and the
Sweetwater, so that his horses could paw out a living, he crowded on
westward. He was a month ahead of the date for the wagon trains at Fort
"How, Chardon!" said he as he drove in his two light packs, riding alone
as was his usual way, evading Indian eyes as he of all men best knew
"How, Kit! You're early. Why?" The trader's chief clerk turned to send a
boy for Vasquez, Bridger's partner. "Light, Kit, and eat."
"Where's Bridger?" demanded Carson. "I've come out of my country to see
him. I have government mail--for Oregon."
"For Oregon? _Mon Dieu_! But Jeem"--he spread out his hands--"Jeem he's
dead, we'll think. We do not known. Now we know the gold news. Maybe-so
we know why Jeem he's gone!"
"Las' H'august-Settemb. H'all of an' at once he'll took the trail
h'after the h'emigrant train las' year. He'll caught him h'on Fort Hall;
we'll heard. But then he go h'on with those h'emigrant beyon' Hall,
beyon' the fork for Californ'. He'll not come back. No one know what has
become of Jeem. He'll been dead, maybe-so."
"Yes? Maybe-so not! That old rat knows his way through the mountains,
and he'll take his own time. You think he did not go on to California?"
"We'll know he'll didn't."
Carson stood and thought for a time.
"Well, its bad for you, Chardon!"
"How you mean, M'sieu Kit?"
"Eat your last square meal. Saddle your best horse. Drive four packs and
two saddle mounts along."
"_Oui?_ And where?"
"To Oregon? _Sacre 'Fan!'_ What you mean?"
"By authority of the Government, I command you to carry this packet on
to Oregon this season, as fast as safety may allow. Take a man with
you--two; pick up any help you need. But go through.
"I cannot go further west myself, for I must get back to Laramie. I had
counted on Jim, and Jim's post must see me through. Make your own plans
to start to-morrow morning. I'll arrange all that with Vasquez."
"But, M'sieu Kit, I cannot!"
"But you shall, you must, you will! If I had a better man I'd send him,
but you are to do what Jim wants done.".
"_Mais, oui_, of course."
"Yes. And you'll do what the President of the United States commands."
"_Bon Dieu_, Kit!"
"That packet is over the seal of the United States of America, Chardon.
It carries the signature of the President. It was given to the Army to
deliver. The Army has given it to me. I give it to you, and you must go.
It is for Jim. He would know. It must be placed in the hands of the
Circuit Judge acting under, the laws of Oregon, whoever he may be, and
wherever. Find him in the Willamette country. Your pay will be more than
you think, Chardon. Jim would know. Dead or alive, you do this for him.
"You can do thirty miles a day. I know you as a mountain man. Ride!
To-morrow I start east to Laramie--and you start west for Oregon!"
And in the morning following two riders left Bridger's for the trail.
They parted, each waving a hand to the other.
THE KILLER KILLED
A rough low cabin of logs, hastily thrown together, housed through the
winter months of the Sierra foothills the two men who now, in the warm
days of early June, sat by the primitive fireplace cooking a midday
meal. The older man, thin, bearded, who now spun a side of venison ribs
on a cord in front of the open fire, was the mountain man, Bill Jackson,
as anyone might tell who ever had seen him, for he had changed but
That his companion, younger, bearded, dressed also in buckskins, was
Will Banion it would have taken closer scrutiny even of a friend to
determine, so much had the passing of these few months altered him in
appearance and in manner. Once light of mien, now he smiled never at
all. For hours he would seem to go about his duties as an automaton. He
spoke at last to his ancient and faithful friend, kindly as ever, and
with his own alertness and decision.
"Let's make it our last meal on the Trinity, Bill. What do you say?"
"Why? What's eatin' ye, boy? Gittin' restless agin?"
"Yes, I want to move."
"We've got enough, Bill. The last month has been a crime. The spring
snows uncovered a fortune for us, and you know it!"
"Oh, yes, eight hundred in one day ain't bad for two men that never had
saw a gold pan a year ago. But she ain't petered yit. With what we've
learned, an' what we know, we kin stay in here an' git so rich that hit
shore makes me cry ter think o' trappin' beaver, even before 1836, when
the beaver market busted. Why, rich? Will, hit's like you say, plumb
wrong--we done hit so damned easy! I lay awake nights plannin' how ter
spend my share o' this pile. We must have fifty-sixty thousand dollars
o' dust buried under the floor, don't ye think?"
"Yes, more. But if you'll agree, I'll sell this claim to the company
below us and let them have the rest. They offer fifty thousand flat, and
it's enough--more than enough. I want two things--to get Jim Bridger his
share safe and sound; and I want to go to Oregon."
The old man paused in the act of splitting off a deer rib from his
"Ye're one awful damn fool, ain't ye, Will? I did hope ter finish up
here, a-brilin' my meat in a yaller-gold fireplace; but no matter how
plain an' simple a man's tastes is, allus somethin' comes along ter bust
"Well, go on and finish your meal in this plain fireplace of ours,
Bill. It has done us very well. I think I'll go down to the sluice a
Banion rose and left the cabin, stooping at the low door. Moodily he
walked along the side of the steep ravine to which the little structure
clung. Below him lay the ripped-open slope where the little stream had
been diverted. Below again lay the bared bed of the exploited water
course, floored with bowlders set in deep gravel, at times with seamy
dams of flat rock lying under and across the gravel stretches; the bed
rock, ages old, holding in its hidden fingers the rich secrets of
Here he and his partner had in a few months of strenuous labor taken
from the narrow and unimportant rivulet more wealth than most could save
in a lifetime of patient and thrifty toil. Yes, fortune had been kind.
And it all had been so easy, so simple, so unagitating, so
matter-of-fact! The hillside now looked like any other hillside,
innocent as a woman's eyes, yet covering how much! Banion could not
realize that now, young though he was, he was a rich man.
He climbed down the side of the ravine, the little stones rattling under
his feet, until he stood on the bared floor of the bed rock which had
proved so unbelievably prolific in coarse gold.
There was a sharp bend in the ravine, and here the unpaid toil of the
little waterway had, ages long, carried and left especially deep strata
of gold-shot gravel. As he stood, half musing, Will Banion heard, on the
ravine side around the bend, the tinkle of a falling stone, lazily
rolling from one impediment to another. It might be some deer or other
animal, he thought. He hastened to get view of the cause, whatever it
And then fate, chance, the goddess of fortune which some men say does
not exist, but which all wilderness-goers know does exist, for one
instant paused, with Will Banion's life and wealth and happiness lightly
a-balance in cold, disdainful fingers.
He turned the corner. Almost level with his own, he looked into the eyes
of a crawling man who--stooped, one hand steadying himself against the
slant of the ravine, the other below, carrying a rifle--was peering
It was an evil face, bearded, aquiline, not unhandsome; but evil in its
plain meaning now. The eyes were narrowed, the full lips drawn close, as
though some tense emotion now approached its climax. The appearance was
that of strain, of nerves stretched in some purpose long sustained.
And why not? When a man would do murder, when that has been his steady
and premeditated purpose for a year, waiting only for opportunity to
serve his purpose, that purpose itself changes his very lineaments,
alters his whole cast of countenance. Other men avoid him, knowing
unconsciously what is in his soul, because of what is written on his
For months most men had avoided Woodhull. It was known that he was on a
man hunt. His questions, his movements, his changes of locality showed
that; and Woodhull was one of those who cannot avoid asseverance,
needing it for their courage sake. Now morose and brooding, now loudly
profane, now laughing or now aloof, his errand in these unknown hills
was plain. Well, he was not alone among men whose depths were loosed.
Some time his hour might come.
It had come! He stared now full into the face of his enemy! He at last