Part 1 out of 5
Produced by William Boerst and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: Captain William F. Drannan, Chief of Scouts.]
CAPT. W.F. DRANNAN,
CHIEF OF SCOUTS,
As Pilot to Emigrant and Government Trains, Across the Plains of the
Wild West of Fifty Years Ago.
AS TOLD BY HIMSELF,
AS A SEQUEL TO HIS FAMOUS BOOK "THIRTY ONE YEARS ON THE PLAINS AND IN
_Copiously Illustrated by E. BERT SMITH._
The kindly interest with which the public has received my first book,
"Thirty-one Years on the Plains and in the Mountains," has tempted me
into writing this second little volume, in which I have tried to portray
that part of my earlier life which was spent in piloting emigrant
and government trains across the Western Plains, when "Plains" meant
wilderness, with nothing to encounter but wild animals, and wilder,
hostile Indian tribes. When every step forward might have spelt
disaster, and deadly danger was likely to lurk behind each bush or
thicket that was passed.
The tales put down here are tales of true occurrences,--not fiction.
They are tales that were lived through by throbbing hearts of men and
women, who were all bent upon the one, same purpose:--to plow onward,
onward, through danger and death, till their goal, the "land of gold,"
was reached, and if the kind reader will receive them and judge them
as such, the purpose of this little book will be amply and generously
[Illustration: The Attack Upon the Train.]
FROM DRAWINGS BY E. BERT SMITH.
Captain W.F. Drannan, Chief of Scouts
With the exception of Carson, we were all scared
As soon as they were gone, I took the Scalp off the dead Chief's head
The first thing we knew the whole number that we had first seen were
Waving my hat, I dashed into the midst of the band
Fishing with the girls
They raced around us in a circle
The mother bear ran up to the dead cub and pawed it with her feet
The next morning we struck the trail for Bent's Fort
I took the lead
I bent over him and spoke to him, but he did not answer
[Illustration: With the exception of Carson, we were all scared.]
At the age of fifteen I found myself in St. Louis, Mo., probably five
hundred miles from my childhood home, with one dollar and a half in
money in my pocket. I did not know one person in that whole city, and no
one knew me. After I had wandered about the city a few days, trying to
find something to do to get a living, I chanced to meet what proved to
be the very best that could have happened to me. I met Kit Carson, the
world's most famous frontiersman, the man to whom not half the credit
has been given that was his due.
The time I met him, Kit Carson was preparing to go west on a trading
expedition with the Indians. When I say "going west" I mean far beyond
civilization. He proposed that I join him, and I, in my eagerness for
adventures in the wild, consented readily.
When we left St. Louis, we traveled in a straight western direction, or
as near west as possible. Fifty-eight years ago Missouri was a sparsely
settled country, and we often traveled ten and sometimes fifteen miles
without seeing a house or a single person.
We left Springfield at the south of us and passed out of the State of
Missouri at Fort Scott, and by doing so we left civilization behind, for
from Fort Scott to the Pacific coast was but very little known, and was
inhabited entirely by hostile tribes of Indians.
A great portion of the country between Fort Scott and the Rocky
Mountains that we traveled over on that journey was a wild, barren
waste, and we never imagined it would be inhabited by anything but wild
Indians, Buffalo, and Coyotes.
We traveled up the Neosha river to its source, and I remember one
incident in particular. We were getting ready to camp for the night
when Carson saw a band of Indians coming directly towards us. They were
mounted on horses and were riding very slowly and had their horses
packed with Buffalo meat.
With the exception of Carson we were all scared, thinking the Indians
were coming to take our scalps. As they came nearer our camp Carson
said, "Boys, we are going to have a feast".
On the way out Carson had taught me to call him "Uncle Kit." So I said,
"Uncle Kit, are you going to kill an Indian and cook him for supper?"
He laughed and answered, "No, Willie, not quite as bad as that. Besides,
I don't think we are hungry enough to eat an Indian, if we had one
cooked by a French cook; but what will be better, to my taste at least,
the Indians are bringing us some Buffalo meat for our supper," and sure
enough they proved to be friendly.
They were a portion of the Caw tribe, which was friendly with the whites
at that time. They had been on a hunt, and had been successful in
getting all the game they wanted. When they rode up to our camp they
surrounded Carson every one of them, trying to shake his hand first. Not
being acquainted with the ways of the Indians, the rest of us did not
understand what this meant, and we got our guns with the intention of
protecting him from danger, but seeing what we were about to do, Carson
sang out to us, "Hold on, boys. These are our friends," and as soon, as
they were done shaking hands with him Carson said something to them in a
language I did not understand, and they came and offered their hands to
shake with us. The boys and myself with the rest stood and gazed at the
performance in amazement, not knowing what to do or say. These were the
first wild Indians we boys had ever seen. As soon as the hand shaking
was over, Carson asked me to give him my knife which I carried in my
belt. He had given the knife to me when we left St. Louis. I presume
Carson had a hundred just such knives as this one was in his pack, but
he could not take the time then to get one out. For my knife he traded a
yearling Buffalo, and there was meat enough to feed his whole crew three
or four days. That was the first Indian "Pow-wow" that I had ever seen
or heard of either.
The Indians ate supper with us, and after that they danced "the Peace
Dance" after smoking the Pipe of Peace with Uncle Kit. The smoking and
dancing lasted perhaps an hour, and then the Indians mounted their
horses and sped away to their own village.
I was with Carson off and on about twelve years, but I never saw him
appear to enjoy himself better than he did that night. After the Indians
had gone, Uncle Kit imitated each one of us as he said we looked when
the Indians first appeared in sight. He had some in the act of running
and others trying to hide behind the horse, and he said that if the
ground had been loose we would have tried to dig a hole to crawl into.
One of the party he described as sitting on his pack with his mouth wide
open, and he said he could not decide whether the man wanted to swallow
an Indian or a Buffalo.
The next morning we pulled out from there, crossing the divide between
this stream and the Arkansas. Just before we struck the Arkansas river,
we struck the Santa-Fe trail. This trail led from St-Joe on the Missouri
river to Santa-Fe, New Mexico, by the way of Bent's Fort, as it was
called then. Bent's Fort was only a Trading Station, owned by Bent and
Robedoux. These two men at that time handled all the furs that were
trapped from the head of the North Platte to the head of the Arkansas;
the Santa-Fe trail, as it was then called, was the only route leading to
that part of the country.
After traveling up the Arkansas river some distance, above what is known
as Big Bend, we struck the Buffalo Country, and I presume it was a week
that we were never out of the sight of Buffalos. I remember we camped on
the bank of the river just above Pawne Rock that night; the next morning
we were up early and had our breakfast, as we calculated to make a big
drive that day. Carson had been telling us how many days it would take
us to make Bent's Fort, and we wanted to get there before the Fourth of
July. Just as we had got our animals packed and every thing in readiness
to start, a herd of Buffalo commenced crossing the river about a half a
mile above our camp. The reader will understand that the Buffalo always
cross the river where it is shallow, their instinct teaching them that
where the water is shallow, there is a rock bottom, and in crossing
these places they avoid quicksand. This was the only crossing in fifteen
miles up or down the river. We did not get to move for twenty-four
hours. It seems unreasonable to tell the number of Buffalo that crossed
the river in those twenty-four hours. After crossing the river a half a
mile at the north of the ford, they struck the foot hill; and one could
see nothing but a moving, black mass, as far as the eye could see.
I do not remember how long we were going from there to Bent's Fort, but
we got there on the second of July, 1847, and every white man that was
within three hundred miles was there, which were just sixteen. At this
present time, I presume there are two or three hundred thousand within
the same distance from Bent's Fort, and that is only fifty-eight years
ago! In view of the great change that has taken place in the last half
century, what will the next half century bring? The reader must remember
that the increase must be three to one to what it was at that time.
After staying at Bent's Fort eight days we pulled out for "Taos,"
Carson's home. He remained at Taos, which is in New Mexico, until early
in the fall, about the first of October, which is early autumn in New
Mexico; then we started for our trapping ground, which was on the head
of the Arkansas river, where Beaver was as numerous as rats are around a
We were very successful that winter in trapping. It was all new to me, I
had never seen a Beaver, or a Beaver trap. Deer, Elk, and Bison, which
is a species of Buffalo, was as plentiful in that country at that time
as cattle is now on the ranch. I really believe that I have seen more
deer in one day than there is in the whole State of Colorado at the
In the autumn, just before the snow commences to fall, the deer leave
the high mountains, and seek the valleys, and also the Elk and Bison; no
game stays in the high mountains but the Mountain Sheep, and he is very
peculiar in his habits. He invariably follows the bluffs of streams.
In winter and summer, his food is mostly moss, which he picks from the
rocks; he eats but very little grass. But there is no better meat than
the mountain sheep. In the fall, the spring lambs will weigh from
seventy-five to a hundred pounds, and are very fat and as tender as
a chicken; but this species of game is almost extinct in the United
States; I have not killed one in ten years.
We stayed in our camp at the head of the Arkansas river until sometime
in April, then we pulled out for Bent's Fort to dispose of our pelts. We
staid at the Fort three days. The day we left the Fort, we met a runner
from Col. Freemont with a letter for Carson. Freemont wanted Carson to
bring a certain amount of supplies to his camp and then to act as a
guide across the mountains to Monterey, California. The particulars of
the contract between Freemont and Carson I never knew, but I know this
much, that when we got to Freemont's camp, we found the hardest looking
set of men that I ever saw. They had been shut up in camp all winter,
and the majority of them had the scurvy, which was brought on by want
of exercise and no vegetable food. The most of the supplies we took him
were potatoes and onions, and as soon as we arrived in camp the men did
not wait to unpack the animals, but would walk up to an animal and tear
a hole in a sack and eat the stuff raw the same as if it was apples.
In a few days the men commenced to improve in looks and health. Uncle
Kit had them to exercise some every day, and in a short time we were on
the road for the Pacific Coast. We had no trouble until we crossed
the Main Divide of the Rocky Mountains. It was on a stream called the
"Blue," one of the tributaries of the Colorado river.
We were now in the Ute Indian country, and at this time they were
considered one of the most hostile tribes in the west. Of course there
was no one in the company that knew what the Ute Indians were but Kit
Carson. When we stopped at noon that day Carson told us as we sat eating
our luncheon that we were now in the Ute country, and every one of us
must keep a look out for himself. He said, "Now, boys, don't any one of
you get a hundred yards away from the rest of the company, for the Utes
are like flees liable to jump on you at any time or place."
That afternoon we ran on a great deal of Indian sign, from the fact that
game was plentiful all over the country, and at this time of the year
the Indians were on their spring hunt. When we camped for the night, we
camped on a small stream where there was but very little timber and no
underbrush at all. As soon as the company was settled for the night,
Carson and I mounted our horses and took a circle of perhaps a mile or
two around the camp. This was to ascertain whether there were any Indians
in camp near us. We saw no Indians. We returned to camp thinking we would
have no trouble that night, but about sundown, while we were eating
supper, all at once their war whoop burst upon us, and fifteen or more
Utes came dashing down the hill on their horses. Every man sprang for
his gun, in order to give them as warm a reception as possible; nearly
every man tried to reach his horse before the Indians got to us, for at
that time a man without a horse would have been in a bad fix, for there
were no extra horses in the company.
I think this must have been the first time these Utes had ever heard a
gun fired, from the fact that as soon as we commenced firing at them,
and that was before they could reach us with their arrows, they turned
and left as fast as they had come. Consequently we lost no men or
horses. We killed five Indians and captured three horses.
When the Indians were out of sight, Carson laughed and said, "Boys, that
was the easiest won battle I have ever had with the Indians, and it was
not our good marksmanship that done it either, for if every shot we
fired had taken effect, there would not have been half Indians enough to
go around. It was the report of our guns that scared them away."
It was figured up that night how many shots were fired, and they
amounted to two hundred. Carson said, "Boys, if we get into another
fight with the Indians, for God's sake don't throw away your powder and
lead in that shape again, for before you reach Monterey, powder and lead
will be worth something, as the Red skins are as thick as grass-hoppers
Of course this was the first skirmish these men had ever had with the
Indians, and they were too excited to know what they were doing.
About six years ago I met a man whose name was Labor. He was the last
survivor of that company, with the exception of myself, and he told me
how he felt when the yelling Red skins burst upon us. Said he, "I don't
think I could have hit an Indian if he had been as big as the side of a
horse, for I was shaking worse than I would if I had had the third-day
Ague. Not only shaking, but I was cold all over, and I dreamed all night
of seeing all kinds of Indians."
The next day we were traveling on the back bone of a little ridge. There
was no timber except a few scattering Juniper trees. We were now in
Arizona, and water was very scarce. The reader will understand that
Carson invariably rode from fifty to one hundred yards ahead of the
command, and I always rode at his side.
I presume it was between two and three o'clock in the afternoon when
Col. Freemont called out to Carson, "How far are you going tonight?"
Carson studied a minute and answered, "I think, in seven or eight miles
we will find good water and a plenty of grass."
A few minutes after this Freemont said, "Say, Carson, why not go to that
lake there and camp? There is plenty of grass and water," at the same
time pointing to the south. Carson raised his head and looked at the
point indicated. Then he said, "Col. there is no water or grass there."
Freemont replied, "Damn it, look. Can't you see it?" at the same time
pointing in the direction of what he supposed to be the lake. Carson
checked his horse until Freemont came up near him and then said, "Col.,
spot this place by these little Juniper trees, and we will come back
here tomorrow morning, and if you can see a lake there then I will admit
that I don't know anything about this country."
Freemont was out of humor all the evening. He had nothing to say to any
The next morning after breakfast was over and the herder had driven in
the horses Carson said, "Now Colonel, let's go and see that lake."
Under the circumstances Freemont could not say "no." I think five of us
besides Carson and Freemont went back. When we came to the place where
the little Juniper trees were, Freemont's face showed that he was badly
whipped, for sure enough there was no lake there; he had seen what is
called a mirage.
I have seen almost everything in mirage form, but what causes
this Atmospheric optical illusion has never been explained to my
satisfaction. Some men say it is imagination, but I do not think it is
On our way back to camp a man by name of Cummings was riding by my side.
He made the remark in an undertone, "I am sorry this thing happened."
I asked him, "Why?" In reply he said, "Colonel Freemont won't get over
this in many a day, for Carson has shown him that he can be mistaken."
We laid over at this camp until the next day as this was good water and
exceptionally good grass. Nothing interfered with us until we struck the
Colorado river. Here we met quite a band of Umer Indians. Without any
exception they were the worst-looking human beings that I have ever seen
in my life. A large majority of them were as naked as they were when
they were born. Their hair in many instances looked as if it never had
been straightened out. They lived mostly on pine nuts. The nuts grow on
a low, scrubby tree, a species of Pine, and in gathering the nuts they
covered their hands with gum which is as sticky as tar and rubbed it on
their bodies and in their hair. The reader may imagine the effect; I am
satisfied that many of these Indians had never seen a white man before
they saw us. Very few of them had bows and arrows; they caught fish. How
they caught them I never knew, but I often saw the squaws carrying fish.
When we reached the Colorado river we stayed two days making rafts to
cross the river on. The last day we were there, laying on the bank of
the river, I presume there came five hundred of these Indians within
fifty yards of our camp. Most of them laid down under the trees. One of
our men shot a bird that was in a tree close by, and I never heard such
shouting or saw such running as these Indians did when the gun cracked.
This convinced me that we were the first white men they had ever seen,
and this the first time they had heard the report of a gun. This
incident occurred in forty-eight, which was fifty-eight years ago. I
have seen more or less of these Indians from that time until now, and
these Indians as a tribe have made less progress than any other Indians
in the west. Even after the railroad was put through that part of the
country, they had to be forced to cover themselves with clothes.
After crossing the Colorado river we came into the Ute country, but we
traveled several days without seeing any of this tribe. About five
days after we crossed the Colorado river, we came on to a big band of
Sighewash Indians. The tribe was just coming together, after a winter's
trapping and hunting. At this time the Sigh washes were a powerful
tribe, but not hostile to the whites.
We camped near their village that night. After supper Carson and I went
over to this village, at the same time taking a lot of butcher knives
and cheap jewelry with us that he had brought along to trade with the
Indians. When we got into their camp, Carson inquired where the chief's
wigwam, was. The Indians could all speak Spanish; therefore we had no
trouble in finding the chief. When we went into the chief's wigwam,
after shaking hands with the old chief and his squaw, Carson pulled some
of the jewelry out of his pocket and told the chief that he wanted to
trade for furs. The old chief stepped to the entrance of the wigwam
and made a peculiar noise between a whistle and a hollo, and in a few
minutes there were hundreds of Indians there, both bucks and squaws.
The old chief made a little talk to them that I did not understand; he
then turned to Carson and said, "Indian heap like white man."
Carson then spoke out loud so they could all hear him, at the same time
holding up some jewelry in one hand and a butcher knife in the other,
telling them that he wanted to trade these things for their furs.
The Indians answered, it seemed to me by the hundreds, saying, "Iyah
oyah iyah," which means "All right." Carson then told them to bring
their furs over to his camp the next morning, and he would then trade
with them. He was speaking in Spanish all this time. On our way back to
our camp Carson said to me, "Now Willie, if I trade for those furs in
the morning I want you and the other two boys to take the furs and go
back to Taos; I know that you will have a long and lonesome trip, but I
will try and get three or four of these Indians to go with you back to
the head of the Blue, and be very careful, and when you make a camp
always put out all of your fire as soon as you get your meal cooked.
Then the Indians can not see your camp."
The next morning we were up and had an early breakfast. By that time the
squaws had commenced coming in with their furs. Uncle Kit took a pack of
jewelry and knives and got off to one side where the Indians could get
all around him. In a very short time I think there must have been a
hundred squaws there with their furs.
They brought from one to a dozen Beaver skins each, and then the Bucks
began coming in and then the trading began. Carson would hold up a
finger ring or a knife and call out in Spanish, "I'll give this for so
many Beaver skins!"
It really was amusing to see the Indians run over each other to see who
should get the ring or knife first.
This trading did not last over half an hour because Carson's stock of
goods was exhausted. Carson then said to the Indians, "No more trade no
more knives, no more rings, all gone."
Of course a great many of the Indians were disappointed, but they soon
left us. As soon as they were gone Freemont came to Carson and said,
"What in the name of common sense are you going to do with all those
Uncle Kit said, "Col., I'm going to send them to Taos, and later on they
will go to Bent's Fort." The Col. said, "Yes, but by whom will you send
them to Taos?" Carson replied, "By Willie, John and the Mexican boy."
The Col. said, "Don't you think you are taking a great many chances?"
"Oh, no, not at all. Willie here is getting to be quite a mountaineer.
Besides, I am going to get some of these Indians to go with the boys
as far as the head of the Blue, and when they get there they are,
comparatively speaking, out of danger."
He then said, "Colonel, we will lay over here today, and that will give
me a chance to pack my furs and get the boys ready to start in the
We then went to work baling the hides; by noon we had them all baled.
After dinner Carson and I went over to the Indian camp. We went directly
to the Chief's wigwam. When the Indians saw us coming they all rushed
up to us. I presume they thought we had come to trade with them again.
Uncle Kit then told the Chief that he wanted eight Indian men to go with
us boys to the head of the Blue River. At the same time he sat down
and marked on the ground each stream and mountain that he wanted us
to travel over. He told them that he would give each one of them one
butcher knife and two rings, and said they must not camp with the Utes.
I think there were at least twenty Indians that wanted to go. Carson
then turned to the Chief and told him in Spanish to pick out eight good
Indians to go with us, and told him just what time we wanted to start
in the morning. We then went back to our camp and commenced making
arrangements for our journey to Taos.
Carson and I were sitting down talking that afternoon when Col. Freemont
came and sat beside us and said to Uncle Kit, "Say, Kit, ain't you
taking desperate chances with these boys?"
This surprised me, for I had never heard him address Carson as Kit
before in all the time I had known him.
Carson laughed and answered, "Not in the least; for they have got a good
escort to go with them." Then he explained to Freemont that he had hired
some Indians to go with us through the entire hostile country, telling
him that the boys were just as safe with those Indians as they would be
with the command, and more safe, for the Indians would protect them,
thinking they would get his trade by so doing. Uncle Kit then explained
to him that the Sighewashes were known to all the tribes on the coast
and were on good terms with them all, and therefore there was no danger
whatever in sending the boys through the Indian country. The Col.
answered, "Of course, you know best; I admit that you know the nature
of the Indian thoroughly, but I must say that I shall be uneasy until I
hear from the boys again."
Uncle Kit said, "Wait until tomorrow morning, and I will convince you
that I am right."
The next morning we were up early and had breakfast, and before we had
our animals half packed the old chief and hundreds of the Indians were
there. Those that the chief had selected to accompany us were on horse
back, and the others had come to bid us farewell, and that was one of
the times I was tired shaking hands.
When we were about ready to mount our horses and had shaken hands with
Uncle Kit and the balance of the company, the Indians made a rush for
us. Both bucks and squaws shouted, "Ideose, ideose," which means, "good
bye, good bye," and every one trying to shake our hands at once, and of
all the noise I ever heard, this was the worst. After this racket had
been going on some fifteen or twenty minutes, I turned and saw Uncle Kit
and Col. Freemont standing on a big log laughing like they would split
their sides. Finally Uncle Kit motioned for me to mount my horse. I
mounted and the other boys followed suit, and when we started of all the
noise that ever was made this beat any I ever heard in all my life. At
the same time the Indians were waving their hands at us.
As soon as we left the crowd of Indians Uncle Kit and Col. Freemont
joined us. The Col. said to me, "Willie, this is one of the times you
have had your hand well shaken, I really felt sorry for you, but I
didn't see how I could assist you, and I am in hopes you will not get
such a shaking up in a good while. Now, my boy, be very careful, and try
and get through safe and sound, and when we come along back next fall,
we will all go to St. Louis together."
Uncle Kit told me to not let the Indians turn back until we crossed the
divide at the head of Blue river. He said, "Then you will be out of the
Ute country, and all danger to you will be over, but do not put too much
confidence in these Indians although I think they are reliable and will
do just as I have told them to do. But I want you to be on the lookout
all the time yourself. I know there will be no danger in the daytime,
and when night comes be sure and put your fire out before it gets dark,
and when you get to Taos rest up a few days, and then hunt up Jim
Bridger or Jim Beckwith, and they will advise you what to do. It may
be that I will get home myself, in which case you will not need their
We now bid them "good bye" and started on what would be called now a
long, tedious and dangerous journey, but at that time we thought nothing
How long a time it took us to make this trip I do not remember. The
Indians traveled in the lead the most of the time. When near the middle
of the afternoon, I would ask them in Spanish how far they were going
tonight, and they would tell me the number of hours it would take to go
but seemed not to understand the distance by miles. The Indians showed
more judgment in selecting the camping ground than I expected they
In a few days we were in the Ute country, and we saw plenty of Indian
sign every day. I think it was on one of the tributaries of the Green
river we were traveling along one afternoon, we came in sight of a band
of Ute Indians. They were in camp. We were in about a half a mile of
them when we first saw them; they were directly to the north of us,
and they discovered us at the same time we saw them. As soon as the
Sighewashes saw the Utes they stopped, and two of the Sighewashes rode
back to us and said in Spanish, "We go see Utes," and they rode over to
the Ute camp. Probably they were gone a half hour or more, when they
returned, and we surely watched every move the Utes made till the
Sighewashes came back to us. When they came back they were laughing and
said to us, "Utes heap good." Then I was satisfied that we were in no
We traveled on some five or six miles when we came to a nice little
stream of water where there was fine grass. I said to the boys, "We'll
camp here. Now you boys unpack the animals and take them out to grass,
and I will go and kill some meat for supper."
I picked up my gun and started; I didn't go over a quarter of a mile
till I saw four Bison cows, and they all had calves with them. I crawled
up in shooting distance and killed one of the calves. At the crack of my
gun the cows ran away. I commenced dressing the calf and here came four
of my Sighewash Indians running to me, and when they saw what I had
killed, I believe they were the happiest mortals that I ever saw.
As soon as I got the insides out I told them to pick up the calf and we
would go to camp. Some of them picked up the carcass and others picked
up the entrails. I told them we did not want the entrails. One of the
Indians spoke up and said, "Heap good, all same good meat". I finally
persuaded them to leave the insides alone.
When we got back to camp, the boys had a good fire, and it was not long
before we had plenty of meat around the fire, and I never saw Indians
eat as they did that night. After they had been eating about an hour,
Jonnie West said to me, "Will, you will have to go and kill more meat,
or we won't have any for breakfast."
We soon turned in for the night and left the Indians still cooking. In
the morning we were surprised to see the amount of meat they had got
away with. What they ate that night would have been plenty for the same
number of white men three or four days. The nature of the Indian is to
eat when he has the chance and when he hasn't he goes without and never
For the next three days we traveled through a country well supplied
with game, especially Elk, Deer, and black bear. It was now late in the
summer and all game was in a fine condition, it was no unusual thing to
see from twenty five to a hundred Elk in a band. I have never seen since
that time so many Elk with so large horns as I saw on that trip, which
convinced me that there had been no white hunters through that part of
the country before.
In traveling along there were times we were not out of sight of deer for
hours; consequently we never killed our game for supper until we went
into camp, and as a rule, the boys always picked me to get the meat
while they took care of the horses. I remember one evening I was just
getting ready to start out on my hunt. I asked the boys what kind of
meat they wanted for supper. Jonnie West said, "Give us something new."
Well, I answered, "How will a cub bear do?" They all answered, "That is
just what we want." That moment I turned my eyes to the south, and on
a ridge not more than three hundred yards from camp, I saw three bears
eating sarvis berries. I was not long in getting into gun shot of them.
There was the old mother bear and two cubs. I had to wait several
minutes before I could get a good sight on the one I wanted, as they
were in the brush and I wanted a sure shot. I fired and broke his neck;
he had hardly done kicking before Jonnie West and some of the Indians
were there. We made quick work getting the meat to camp and around the
fire cooking, and it was as fine a piece of meat as I ever ate.
The next morning we bid the Indians good bye, but before they left us
one of them stooped down and with a finger marked out the route we
should take, thinking we did not know the country we must pass over, and
strange to say, the route this wild Indian marked out in the sand was
accurate in every particular. He made dots for the places where we
should camp and a little mark for a stream of water, then little piles
of sand for mountains, some large and some small, according to the size
of the mountain we were to cross. After he had finished his work, I
examined the diagram and I found he had marked out every place where we
From there to the head of the Arkansas river, I called Jonnie West and
asked him to look at it. He examined it at every point and said, "This
beats any thing I ever saw or heard tell of; with this to guide us, we
could not get lost if we tried to."
We were now ready to start. Jonnie said to me, "Well, I feel we owe this
Indian something. How many butcher knives have you?"
I said, "I have two." "Alright, I will give him this finger ring and you
give him one of your knives."
We did so, and I think he was the proudest Indian I ever saw; he jumped
up and shouted, "Hy-you-scu-scum, white man," which meant "Good white
The Indians all shook hands with us and then mounted their horses and
were gone. We now pulled out on our long and dangerous trip to Taos, New
Mexico, and strange to say, we never missed a camping ground that the
Indians had marked out for us, until we reached the head of the Arkansas
river, and the beauty of it was, we had good grass and good water at
every camping place, which was very essential for ourselves and our
When we struck the head of the Arkansas river we considered ourselves
out of danger of all hostile Indians. Besides, we knew every foot of the
ground we had to travel over from here to Taos, New Mexico. We camped
one night on the river, down below where Leadville stands now, and I
never saw so many huckleberries at one place as I saw there. After we
had our horses unpacked and staked out to grass, I said to the boys,
"Now you go and pick berries, and I will try and find some meat for
supper." I did not go far when looking up on a high bluff I saw a band
of mountain sheep. I noticed they had not seen me yet and were coming
directly towards me. When they got in gun-shot, I fired and killed a
half-grown sheep, and he did not stop kicking until he was nearly at my
feet. This was the first mountain sheep I had ever killed, and it was as
fine a piece of meat as I ever ate, and until this day, mountain sheep
is my favorite wild meat. This was one of the nights to be remembered,
fine fresh meat, and ripe huckleberries, what luxuries, for the wilds to
In a few days we reached Taos, and here I met my old friend Jim Bridger.
After laying around a few days and resting up, Jonnie West said to me,
"Will, what are we going to do this winter? You are like me, you can't
lay around without going wild."
I said, "That's so, Jonnie. Let's go and hunt up Jim Bridger, and ask
him what he is going to do this winter."
We went to the house where Jim was boarding and we found him in one of
his talkative moods. We asked him what he proposed doing this winter; he
said, "I am going out a trapping, and I want you boys to go with me."
I asked him where he was going to trap, and he said he thought he would
trap on the head of the Cache-la-Poudre, and the quicker we went the
better it would be for us. "I have all the traps we will need this
winter," he said; "now you boys go to work and mould a lot of bullets."
The reader will understand that in those days we used the muzzle-loading
gun, and we had to mould all of our bullets. In a few days we were ready
to pull out. I asked Jim if we could keep our horses with us through
the winter. He said, "Yes, as the snow does not get very deep in that
country, and there is plenty of Cotton Wood and Quaker Asp for them to
browse on in case the snow gets deep. Besides, it will save one of us a
long tramp in the spring, for we will have to have the horses in order
to pack our furs on."
In a few days we were ready to pull for trapping ground. Each one of us
took a saddle horse and two pack horses. We were on the road nine days
from the day we left Taos until we reached our trapping ground.
We traveled down Cherry Creek from its source to its mouth, and across
the Platte, where Denver City, Colorado, now stands. At that time there
was not a sign of civilization in all that country.
After crossing the Platte a little below where Denver now stands, we met
about five hundred Kiawah Indians, led by their old chief. The Kiawas
were friendly to us, and the chief was a particular friend of Jim. He
wanted to trade for some of our beaver traps. He kept bidding until he
offered two horses for one trap. Jim refused to trade, but he made the
chief a present of a trap. After Jim refused to take the horses, a young
squaw came running out and offered to give me as fine a buffalo robe as
I ever saw; I was in the act of taking it and was congratulating myself
on what a fine bed I would have that winter when Jim said, "Will, don't
take that. There is more stock on that robe than we can feed this
winter. Open the hair and look for yourself."
I did so, and I saw the Grey Backs all through the hair as thick as they
could crawl. I had never seen such a sight before, and the reader can
imagine my horror. I dropped it so quick that Jonnie West laughed and
asked me if it burnt me. The boys had the joke on me the balance of the
winter. Most every day they would ask me if I didn't want a present of a
Buffalo robe from a young squaw.
A few days after this, we were on our trapping ground, and our winter's
work of toil, hardship, and pleasure had begun. We soon had our cabin
built in a little valley, which was from a half mile to a mile wide and
about eight miles long. On each side of the valley were high cliffs. In
places there was a half a mile or more where neither man or beast could
climb these cliffs, and we were surprised later on to see the quantity
of game of various kinds that came into this valley to winter, such as
Elk, Deer, and Antelope. I never, before or since, have seen so many
Wild Cats, or Bob Cats, as they were called at that time, and also some
I remember one little circumstance that occurred later on; it was about
the middle of the afternoon; we had all been to our traps and had
returned to the cabin with our furs. Jim said, "Will, we will stretch
your furs if you will go and shoot a deer for supper."
This suited me, so I took my gun and went outside the door to clean it.
Just as I had got through, Jonnie West looked out and said, "Look, Will,
there is your deer now; you won't have to hunt him."
I looked, and sure enough, there he was, in about a hundred yards of the
cabin. Jim Bridger fired at him and knocked him down, but he got up and
ran into a little bunch of brush. I ran to the spot, thinking he was
only wounded and that I should have to shoot him again. When I reached
the brush, to my surprise, I found five big wildcats, and they all
came for me at once. I fired at the leader, and then I did some lively
running myself. As soon as I got out of the brush, I called the boys,
and we got the cats, the whole of the bunch, and the deer besides, which
had not been touched by the cats.
We skinned the cats, and Jim afterwards made a cap out of one of them,
and he wore it for several years.
Jonnie West and I were out hunting one day for deer when we discovered
two cougars in the grass, and we could not make out what it meant.
Finally one made a spring, and it seemed to us that he jumped at least
twenty feet, and he landed on a deer, and for a minute or two there was
a tussle. While this was going on Jonnie and I were getting closer to
them, and when they had the deer killed we were within gunshot of them,
and they didn't eat much before we killed them both. We skinned the
deer, and also the cougars, and took them to camp, and when we went to
Bent's Fort the next spring we got twenty dollars apiece for them, for
they were extra large cougars, or mountain lions as they are sometimes
called, and their hides are very valuable.
It seems wonderful to me when I think of the amount of game I saw
through the country at that time, of all descriptions, some of which in
their wild state are now extinct, especially the buffalo and the bison,
and all other game that was so plentiful at that time is very scarce all
over the west. I believe a man could have seen a thousand antelope
any day in the year within five miles of where the city of Denver now
We had splendid success this winter in trapping beaver. It was late in
the spring when we left our trapping ground. Just before we pulled out
Jim Bridger said, "Boys, I saw a pretty sight this evening out at the
point of rocks," which was about a quarter of a mile from our cabin.
Jonnie West said, "What did you see, Jim?"
"I saw an old Cinnamon bear and two cubs." Jonnie said, "Why didn't you
"I didn't have anything to kill with," Jim replied. "I left my gun in
the cabin, but we will all go out in the morning and see if we can find
We were all up early in the morning and ready for the bear hunt. Jim
told us what route each should take. He said, "Now boys, be careful, for
she is an old whale, and if you get in to a fight with her some one will
get hurt, or there will be some running done."
I had not gone far when I looked up on a ridge ahead of me and saw what
I took to be Mrs. Bruin; I crawled up within gun shot and fired and
broke the bear's neck. I rushed up to her expecting to see the cubs.
Imagine my surprise when I found only a small bear. In a few moments the
boys were there; Jonnie laughed and asked Jim if that bear was the whale
he set out to kill. Jim stood and looked at the bear quite a bit before
answering. Then he said, "That is a Cinnamon Bear, but where are the
cubs?" Jonnie said, "I will bet my hat you didn't see any cubs, Jim, you
dreamed it." Jim grinned and answered, "Well, boys I guess you have the
drop on me this time."
From then on, all the spring Jim's cubs was a standing joke. In a few
days, we pulled out for Bent's Fort; we were late in getting to the Fort
with our furs this spring. Mr. Bent asked us why we were so late in
getting in. Jonnie replied that Jim kept us hunting for Cub bears all
the spring, and as we couldn't find any, it took all our time. Of course
they all wanted to know the joke, and when Jonnie told it in his droll
way, it made a laugh on Jim. "If you will only quit talking about the
cubs," Jim said, "I'll treat all around," which cost him about ten
After laying around the Fort a few days, Col. Bent and Mr. Roubidoux
hired Jonnie and me to kill meat to supply the table at the boarding
house for the summer, that being the only time of the year that the
boarding house at the Fort did any business. At this time of the year
all of the trappers and hunters were staying at the fort with nothing to
do but eat, drink and spend their money that they had earned the winter
before. It was no uncommon thing for some of these men to bring from
three to four hundred dollars worth of furs to Bent's Fort in the
spring, and when fall came and it was time to go back to the trapping
ground, they wouldn't have a dollar left, and some of them had to go in
debt for their winter outfit.
Jonnie and I had no trouble in keeping plenty of meat on hand, from the
fact that buffalo and antelope were very plentiful eight or ten miles
from the fort. I remember one little circumstance that occurred this
summer. We were out hunting, not far from the Arkansas river, near
the city now known as Rocky Ford, Colo. We had camped there the night
before. We went out early in the morning to kill some antelope, leaving
our horses staked where we had camped. We hadn't gone more than half a
mile when we heard a Lofa wolf howl just ahead of us. The Lofa wolf was
a very large and ferocious animal and was a terror to the buffalo. When
we reached the top of a ridge just ahead of us, looking down into a
little valley two or three hundred yards away, we saw five Buffalo cows
with their calves, and one large bull, and they were entirely surrounded
by Lofa wolves. Jonnie said, "Now, Will, we will see some fun." The cows
were trying to defend their calves from the wolves, and the bull started
off with his head lowered to the ground, trying to drive the wolves away
with his horns. This he continued to do until he had driven the wolves
thirty yards away. All at once a wolf made a bark and a howl which
seemed to be a signal for a general attack, for in a moment, the wolves
were attacking the Buffalo on every side, and I don't think it was five
minutes before they had the bull dead and stretched out. Until then I
had never thought that wolves would attack a well Buffalo, but this
sight convinced me that they could and would kill any buffalo they chose
We went back to camp, packed up our meat, and pulled out for the fort.
When we got there I told Jim Bridger about the fight the wolves had with
the buffalos, and he said, "If you had seen as much of that as I have,
you would know that wolves signal to each other and understand each
other the same as men do."
It was early in the spring of fifty when Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, and
myself met at Bent's Fort, which was on the head waters, of the Arkansas
river. Bridger and I had just got in from our winter's trapping ground
and had disposed of our furs to a very good advantage; Carson had just
returned from a trip back east. Carson said to Bridger, "Now Jim, I'll
tell you what I want you to do. I want you and Will (meaning me) to
go over to Fort Kerney and escort emigrants across to California this
season, for the gold excitement back in the eastern states is something
wonderful, and there will be thousands of emigrants going to the gold
fields of California, and they do not know the danger they will have to
contend with, and you two men can save thousands of lives this summer by
going to Fort Kerney and meeting the emigrants there and escorting them
through. Now boys, you must understand that this undertaking is no
child's play. In doing this apparently many times you will seem
to take your lives in your own hands, for the Indians will be worse on
the plains this year than they ever have been. At the present time there
is no protection for the emigrant from the time they get twenty-five
miles west of Fort Kerney, until they cross the Sierra Nevada mountains,
and there are to be so many renegades from justice from Illinois and
Missouri that it is going to be fearful this season, for the renegade
is really worse in some respects than the Indian. He invariably has two
objects in view. He gets the Indian to commit the murder which is a
satisfaction to him without any personal risk besides the plunder he
gets. I know, boys, you can get good wages out of this thing, and I want
you to take hold of it, and you, Jim, I know have no better friend than
Gen. Kerney, and he will assist you boys in every way he can. I almost
feel as though I ought to go myself, but I cannot leave my family at
the present time; now, Jim, will you go?" Bridger jumped up, rubbed his
hands together and said, "I'll be dog goned if I won't, if Will goes
[Illustration: As soon as they were gone I took the scalp off the dead
To which I replied, "I will go with you, and I think the quicker we
start the better it will be for all parties concerned." Carson said,
"You can't start too soon, for the emigrants will be arriving at Fort
Kerney by the time you get there."
The next morning Jim and I were up and had an early breakfast and were
ready to start. Uncle Kit said to us, "Now boys, when you come back this
fall I want you to come and see me and tell me what kind of luck you
have had, and all the news."
We now bid him good bye, and we were off.
I will here inform the reader that Carson had taught me to call him
Uncle Kit when I was fourteen years old, and I always addressed him in
that way. Jim and I were off for Fort Kerney, which was a journey of
about three hundred miles and not a sign of civilization on the whole
trip. It was a wild Indian country the entire distance, but we
knew where the hostile Indians were and also the friendly Indians.
Consequently we reached Fort Kerney without having any trouble.
We met Gen. Kerney, who was glad to see us. He said, "Boys, where in the
name of common sense are you going to?"
We explained to him in a few words our business. After hearing our plans
the Gen. said, "I am certainly glad to know that someone will take hold
of this thing, for I am sure that there will be more emigrants massacred
this year than has ever been in any other. I will tell you why I think
so. All the Indians from here to the Sierra-Nevada mountains are in the
war-path; in the second place the emigrants who are coming from the
east have no idea what they have to contend with, and I dread the
While this conversation was taking place a soldier rode in that had been
on picket duty and said to the Gen., "I saw some covered wagons going
into camp down on Deer Creek about five miles from here. Where do you
suppose they are going, Gen?"
To which Gen. Kerney replied, "They are going to California, and you
will see hundreds of them inside the next two weeks."
Jim Bridger said, "Well, Willie, come on and let's see what we can do
As we were leaving the Fort Gen. Kerney said to us, "Boys, come back and
stay all night with me, I want you to make my quarters your home while
you are waiting for the emigrants to arrive."
Bridger answered, "Thank you, Gen. We will be glad to do so, and we may
want you to recommend us to the emigrants."
To which the Gen. answered, "I will take pleasure in doing so."
Bridger and I rode down to where the emigrants were in camp, and we
found the most excited people I ever saw in my life. They had passed
through one of the most terrible experiences that had ever occurred on
the frontier. There were thirty wagons in the train, and they were all
from the southeastern part of Missouri, and it seemed that there was one
man in the train by the name of Rebel who at the time they had left
home had sworn that he would kill the first Indian he came across. This
opportunity occurred this morning about five miles back of where we met
them. The train was moving along slowly when this man "Rebel" saw a
squaw sitting on a log with a papoose in her arms, nursing. He shot her
down; she was a Kiawah squaw, and it was right on the edge of their
village where he killed her in cold blood. The Kiawahs were a very
strong tribe, but up to this time they had never been hostile to the
whites; but this deed so enraged the warriors that they came out in a
body and surrounded the emigrants and demanded them to give up the man
who had shot the squaw. Of course, his comrades tried not to give him to
them, but the Indians told them if they did not give the man to them,
they would kill them all. So knowing that the whole train was at the
mercy of the Indians, they gave the man to them. The Indians dragged him
about a hundred yards and tied him to a tree, and then they skinned
him alive and then turned him loose. One of the men told us that the
butchered creature lived about an hour, suffering the most intense
agony. They had just buried him when we rode into the camp. The woman
and some of the men talked about the dreadful thing; one of the men said
it was a comfort to know that he had no family with him here or back
home to grieve at his dreadful death.
On hearing this remark Jim said, "You are the most lucky outfit I ever
saw. Any other tribe of Indians this side of the Rocky Mountains would
not have left one of you to have told the tale, and it is just such
darned fools as that man that stir up the Indians, to do so much
Until this time there had been but a few of the emigrants near us. We
were both dressed in buck-skin, and they did not know what to make of
us. The young girls and some of the young men were very shy. They had
never seen anyone dressed in buck-skin before. An elderly woman came
to us and said, "Ain't you two men what they call mountaineers?" Jim
answered, "Yes, marm, I reckon, we are."
She replied, "Well, if you are, my old man wants you to come and eat
supper with we'ns."
Jim turned to me and laughed. "Shall we go and eat with them, Willie?"
he asked. I answered, "Yes, let's get acquainted with everybody."
We went with the old lady to their tent, which was but a few steps from
where we stood. When she had presented us to her old man as she called
him, she said to him, "Jim, I know these men can tell you what to do."
He shook hands with us, saying, "I don't know what in the world we are
going to do. I believe the Indians will kill us all if we try to go any
further, and I know they will if we go back."
By this time there was quite a crowd around us.
I said to Jim, "Why don't you tell the people, what we can do for them?"
Jim then said, "why, dog gorn it, this boy and I can take you all
through to California and not be troubled with the Indians if there is
no more durned fools among you to be a-shooting squaws. But you will
have to do just as we tell you to do." And looking over the ground he
asked, "Who is your captain? I want to see him."
The old man said, "Want to see our Capt'n? We hain't got any capt'n, got
no use for one." Jim then asked, "Who puts out your guards around the
camp at night?"
"Guards? Didn't know we had to have any."
Jim looked the astonishment he felt as he said, "Why, dad-blame-it
man, you won't get a hundred miles from here before all of you will be
At that moment one of the men said, "Who is this coming?"
We all looked in the direction he was, and we saw it was Gen. Kerney.
When he rode up to us Bridger said, "Gen., what do you think? These
people have no captain and have no one to guard the camp at night."
The Gen. answered, "Is that possible? How in the name of god have they
got here without being massacred?" And then, addressing the men that
stood near he said, "Gentlemen, you had better make some arrangement
with my friends here to pilot you across to California; for I assure you
that if these men go with you and you follow their directions, you will
reach your journey's end in safety."
Just then the Gen. looked down the road, and he said, "Look there!"
We all looked, and we saw another long train of emigrants coming towards
us. They drove up near us and prepared to go into camp. This was a mixed
train. Some came from Illinois, some from Indiana, and a few families
from the state of Ohio.
Jim and I mounted our horses and rode with the Gen. down among the new
emigrants. They had heard all about the skinning of the white man and
were terribly excited about it. They asked the Gen. what was best for
them to do. A great many of them wanted to turn and go back. Finally
the Gen. said to them, "Here are two as good men as there are in the
mountains. They are thoroughly reliable and understand the Indians'
habits perfectly. Now, my friends, the best thing you can do is to
organize yourselves into company, select your captain and then make some
arrangement with these men to pilot you through, for I tell you now,
there will be more trouble on the plains this year than has ever been
known before with the Indians. Now gentlemen, we must leave you, but we
will come back in the morning and see what decision you have come to."
At this time two men stepped up to Jim Bridger and me and said, "Why
can't you two stay all night with us? We've got plenty to eat, and you
both can sleep in our tent."
Jim answered, "We don't want to sleep in any tent. We've got our
blankets, and we will sleep under that tree," pointing to a tree near
The Gen. said, "Mr. Bridger, you boys had better stay here tonight, for
you have lots of business to talk over."
Jim and I dismounted, staked our horses out and went to supper. After
supper Jim said, "Now, you want to get together and elect a captain."
One man said, "All right, I'll go and notify the entire camp, and we
will call a meeting at once." Which was done. As soon as the crowd
gathered, they called on Jim to tell them what to do. Jim mounted the
tongue of a wagon and said, "Now, men, the first thing to do is to elect
a Captain, and we must take the name of every able-bodied man in this
outfit, for you will have to put out camp guards and picket guards every
night. Now, pick out your men, and I'll put it to a vote."
Some called for Mr. Davis, and some for Mr. Thomas; both men came
forward. Jim said, "now, Mr. Davis, get up on this wagon tongue and I'll
make a mark, and we'll see if the crowd wants you for their Captain." Jim
took a stick and made a mark on the ground from the wagon tongue clear
out through the crowd. He then said, "All that want Mr. Davis for
Captain will step to the right of this line, and they that favor Mr.
Thomas will keep to the left of the line." About three fourths of the men
stepped to the right of the line, which made Davis Captain. As soon as
Davis was declared Captain, he said, "Now friends, we must hire these
men to escort us to California; if there is anybody here that is not in
favor of this let him say so now."
But everyone shouted, "Yes! yes!"
Davis turned to us and said, "What is your price for the trip?"
Jim said to me, "What do you say, Will?"
I replied, "It is worth four dollars a day each."
Jim told the Captain that we would go for four dollars a day to be paid
each of us every Saturday night, and if at the end of the first week we
had not given satisfaction, we would quit. Davis put it to a vote, and
it was carried in our favor.
The balance of the evening was spent in making arrangements to commence
drilling the men. In the morning Jim said to me, "Now, Will, I'll take
charge of the wagons and you take charge of the scouts."
I told the Captain that I wanted him to select seven good men that owned
their horses. I wanted to drill them to act as scouts. Jim said, "Yes,
we want to get to drilling every body tomorrow morning."
We put in four hard days' work at this business, and then we were ready
for the trail, and we pulled out on our long and tedious journey to the
land of gold.
There were four hundred and eighty-six men and ninety women in the
train, and they had one hundred and forty-eight wagons. Every thing
moved smoothly until we were near the head of the North Platte river.
We were now in the Sioux country, and I began to see a plenty of Indian
sign. Jim and I had arranged that a certain signal meant for him to
corral the wagons at once. As I was crossing the divide at the head
of Sweet Water, I discovered quite a band of Indians coming directly
towards the train, but I did not think they had seen it yet. I rode back
as fast as my horse could carry me. When I saw the train, I signaled
to Jim to corral, and I never saw such a number of wagons corralled so
quickly before or since, as they were. Jim told the women and children
to leave the wagon and go inside the corral, and he told the men to
stand outside with their guns, ready for action, but to hold their fire
until he gave the word, and he said, "When you shoot, shoot to kill; and
do your duty as brave men should."
In a moment, the Indians were in sight, coming over the hill at full
speed. When they saw the wagons, they gave the war whoop. This scared
the women, and they began to cry and scream and cling to their children.
Jim jumped up on a wagon tongue and shouted at the top of his voice "For
God's sake, women, keep still, or you will all be killed."
This had the effect that he desired, and there was not a word or sound
out of them. When the Indians were within a hundred yards from us, their
yelling was terrible to hear.
Jim now said, "Now boys, give it to them, and let the red devils have
something to yell about," and I never saw men stand up and fight better
than these emigrants. They were fighting for their mothers' and wives'
and children's lives, and they did it bravely. In a few minutes the
fight was over, and what was left of the Indians got away in short
order. We did not lose a man, and only one was slightly wounded. There
were sixty-three dead warriors left on the field, and we captured twenty
It was six miles from here to the nearest water, so we had to drive that
distance to find a place to camp. We reached the camping ground a little
before sunset. After attending to the teams and stationing the guards
for the night Cap't. Davis came to Jim and me and said, "The ladies want
to give you a reception tonight."
Jim said, "What for?" Davis replied, "Saving our lives from those
horrible savages." Jim answered, "Why, durn it all, ain't that what you
are paying us for? We just done our duty and no more, as we intend to do
all the way to California."
By this time there was a dozen women around us. With the others was a
middle-aged woman. She said, "Now, you men with the buck-skin clothes,
come and take supper with us. It is now all ready."
Jim said, "Come, Willie, let's go and eat, for I am hungry and tired
While we were eating supper, three or four young ladies came up to us
and asked me if I didn't want to dance.
"The boys are cleaning off the ground now, and I want you for my first
pardner," she said with a smile and a blush. Jim said, "Will can't dance
anything but the scalp dance." One of the girls said, "What kind of a
dance is that?"
Jim replied, "If the Indians had got some of your scalps this afternoon
you would have known something about it by this time."
Jim told them that when the Indians scalped a young girl, they took the
scalp to their wigwam and then gave a dance to show the young squaws
what a brave deed they had done, "and all you girls had better watch out
that they don't have some of your scalps to dance around before you get
to California; but if you wish us to, Will and I will dance the scalp
dance tonight, so you can see how it is done."
When they had the ground all fixed for the dance, Jim and I took our
handkerchiefs and put them on a couple of sticks, stuck the sticks into
the ground and went through the Indian scalp dance, making all the
hideous motions with jumps and screams, loud enough to start the hair
from its roots, after which Jim explained to them this strange custom,
telling them that if any of them was unfortunate enough to fall into the
Indians' hands this was the performance that would be had around their
The girls said with a shudder they had seen enough of that kind of
dancing without the Indians showing them. The lady who had invited us to
supper said, "Now girls, you see what these men have done for us, they
have saved our lives, and do you realize the obligation we are under to
them? Now let us do everything we can for their comfort until we reach
And I must say I never saw more kind-hearted people than these men and
women were to us all the way, on this long and dangerous journey.
We had no more trouble with the Indians until we had crossed Green
river. We were now in the Ute country. At this time the Utes were
considered to be one of the most hostile tribes in the West. That night
Jim asked me what route I thought best to take, by the way of Salt Lake
or Landers Cut Off. I said, "Jim, Landers Cut Off is the shortest and
safest route from the fact that the Indians are in the southern part of
the territory at this time of year, and I do not believe we shall have
much more trouble with them on this trip." Which proved to be true. We
saw no more Indians until we reached the Humbolt river. Just above the
Sink of Humbolt about the middle of the afternoon I saw quite a band of
Indians heading directly for the train. I signaled Jim to corral, which
he did at once.
In a few moments they were upon us. As we were out on an open prairie,
we had a good sight of the Indians before they reached us; I saw by the
leader's dress that it was a chief that was leading them. His head dress
was composed of eagles' feathers, and he rode some thirty or forty yards
ahead of the other warriors. When in gun shot of me I fired at him and
brought him down. When he fell from his horse the rest of the Indians
wheeled their horses and fled, but the chief was the only one that fell.
As soon as they were gone I took the scalp off the dead chief's head.
When we went into camp that evening, Jim told the emigrants what a great
thing I had done in shooting the chief. "There is no knowing how many
lives he saved by that one shot in the right time."
Then all the emigrants gathered around me to see the scalp of the
Indian; they had never seen such a sight before; each of the young
ladies wanted a quill from the Indian's head dress; and they asked me
what I would take for one of them; I told them the quills were not for
At this time the lady who had invited Jim and me to eat with her so many
times came up to us, and she said, "Girls, I can tell you how you can
get these quills." They all asked at once, "How is that, aunty?"
"Each one of you give him a kiss for a quill," she laughed, and of all
the blushing I ever saw the young girls that surrounded me beat the
record. Jim grinned and said, "I'll be dog goned if I don't buy the
scalp and the feathers and take all the kisses myself."
This made a general laugh. I told Jim that he was too selfish, and that
I would not share the kisses with him, that I would give the scalp
to him and the feathers to the elder lady, and she could divide the
feathers among the girls. The girls clapped their hands and shouted,
Jim said that was just his luck, he was always left out in the cold.
In a few days we were on the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We told
the emigrants that they were entirely out of danger and did not need our
services any longer, so we would not put them to any more expense by
going further with them. As this was Saturday evening the emigrants
proposed going into camp until Monday morning and that Jim and I should
stay and visit with them. We accepted the invitation, and Sunday was
passed in pleasant converse with these most agreeable people, and I will
say here that of all the emigrants I ever piloted across the plains none
ever exceeded these men and women in politeness and good nature, not
only to Jim and me, but to each other, for through all that long and
trying journey there was no unkindness shown by any of them, and if we
would have accepted all the provisions they offered us it would have
taken a pack train to have carried it through. Every lady in the train
tried to get up some little extra bite for us to eat on the way back.
The reader may imagine our surprise when Monday morning came and we saw
the amount of stuff they brought to us. Jim said, "Why ladies we haven't
any wagon to haul this stuff, and we have only one pack horse and he can
just pack our blankets and a little more. Besides, we won't have time to
eat these goodies on the road. Supposing the Indians get after us? We
would have to drop them and the red skins would get it all."
We now packed up and were ready to put out. We mounted our horses, bid
them "good bye" and were off.
Nothing of interest occurred until we got near Green river. Here we met
Jim Beckwith and Bob Simson. Jim Bridger and I had just gone into camp
when they rode up. After they had shaken hands with us Jim Beckwith
said, "Boys, you are just the parties we are looking for."
Bridger asked Beckwith what he had been doing and where he had been
since we parted at Bent's Fort last spring. Beckwith replied that he
had been with a train of emigrants just now who were on the way to
California, and they had camped over on Black's Fort. The cholera had
broken out among them soon after they crossed the Platte River, and from
then up to yesterday they had buried more or less every day. There had
been no new cases since yesterday, and they were laying over to let
the people rest and get their strength, and they expected to start out
tomorrow morning, and turning to me Beckwith said, "Will, I want you to
go with us for there is another train of emigrants over on the Salt Lake
At this time there were two routes between the Green river and the
Humboldt; one by the way of Salt Lake and the other by Lander's Cut off.
Beckwith said, "Those emigrants going by the Salt Lake route have no
guide, and I am afraid when they strike the Humboldt they will all be
massacred, for they will be right in the heart of the Pi-Ute country,
and you know this tribe is on the war path, and I want you to go on and
overtake them and see them safely through, or else stay with this train
and I will go myself and take care of them. We want the two trains to
meet at the mouth of Lone Canyon, and then we will go up Long Canyon to
Honey lake and then cross the Sierra Nevada."
I turned to Jim Bridger and said, "Jim, what do you think of this
Jim said he thought it a good thing for me to do; the responsibility
would give me more confidence in myself. "You know, Will, you have
always depended on Carson or me at all times, and this trip will teach
you to depend on yourself."
I saddled my horse and went with Beckwith back to the emigrants' camp.
It was arranged that I was to take charge of the scouts and Simson to
take charge of the other train, and Beckwith would go on and overtake
the other train, and the train that reached the mouth of Long Canyon
where it empties into Truckey river first must wait for the other train.
At this point the two trails divided, one going up the Truckey by the
Donna lake route and the other up Long Canyon by Honey lake, the latter
being considered the best route.
The next morning we pulled out. I had good luck all the way through,
having no trouble with the Indians, arriving at Long Canyon three days
ahead of Jim Beckwith.
In my train there was an old man with his wife and a son and daughter;
they seemed to be very peculiar dispositioned people, always wanting to
camp by themselves and having nothing to say to any one. When we reached
Long Canyon, Simson told the emigrants that we would wait until the
other train arrived, which news greatly pleased the most of them, but
the old man and his family seemed to be all upset at the idea of laying
over, and the next morning they harnessed up their horses. While they
were doing this, Simson called my attention to them and said, "Let's go
and see what they mean."
I asked the man what he was going to do with his team. He replied that
he was going to hook them to the wagon and was going to California. I
said, "You certainly are not going to start on such a journey alone,
are you? You are liable to be all killed by the Indians before you get
twenty miles from here."
The old man shrugged his shoulders and said, "Why, gol darn it, we
hain't seen an Injin in the last three hundred miles, and I don't
believe there is one this side of them mountains," and he pointed
towards the Sierra Nevada mountains. "And if we did meet any they
wouldn't bother us for we hain't got much grub, and our horses is too
poor for them to want."
I told him, he must not go alone, the road was too dangerous, and
besides the other train might come at any moment, and then we could all
pull out in safety. He said, "I own that wagon and them horses, and I
own pretty much every thing in that wagon and I think I will do just as
I please with them." I insisted on his waiting until the other train
came up, he said, he would not wait any longer, that he was going to go
right now. I left him and walked back to the camp; I asked the men if
any of them had any influence with that old man out there.
"If you have for god's sake use it and persuade him to not leave us, for
if he starts out alone he, nor any of his family will reach Honey lake
Just then one of the men said, "I have known that man ten years and I
know that all the advice all these people could give him would be wasted
breath and the less said to him the better it will be."
I then went back to Simson who had charge of the wagons and said to him,
"What shall we do with that old man? He is hitching up to leave us which
will be sure death to him and his family. If he goes had we not better
take his team away from him and save his life and his family's?"
Simson said, he would consult with the other men and see what they
thought about it. After he had talked with the other men a short time,
twenty or thirty of them went out where the old man was hitching up his
team. What they said to him I do not know. When I got to him he was
about ready to pull out; he said, "I'm going now and you men can come
when you please and I don't give a D'. whether you come at all of not."
This was the last we ever saw of the old man or his son.
Three days later Jim Bridger arrived with his train, and then we all
pulled out together by the way of Honey lake. The first night after
leaving camp Jim Bridger, Simson and myself had a talk about the old man
who had left us. Jim said. "I don't suppose we shall ever hear of him
again," and turning to me he said, "Will, it will take us two days to go
to Honey Lake; now tomorrow morning suppose you pick out of your scout
force eight good men, take two days' rations and your blankets with you
and rush on ahead to the Lake and see if you can find them. It may be
possible that some of them are alive, but I don't think you will find
one of them. Now, Will, be careful and don't take any desperate chances;
if you find they have been taken prisoners keep track of them until we
The next morning I and my men were off bright and early. We reached the
lake about three o'clock in the afternoon, where we struck the lake
there was scattering timber for quite a ways up and down and here we
found the old man's wagon. The wagon cover, his tent, and his team, were
gone; his cooking utensils were setting around the fire which was still
burning. Almost every thing was gone from the wagon, but there was
no sign of a fight. Neither could we see any white men's tracks; but
moccasin tracks were plenty. We sat down and ate our luncheon: as soon
as we finished eating we started to trail the Indians to find out what
had become of the whites. We had gone but a short distance when I
discovered the tracks of the two women; then we knew that they had been
captured by the Indians. I said, "I want you men to take this side of
the ridge and watch for Indians all the time, and you must watch me
also; when you see me throw up my hat come at once and be sure to not
shout, but signal to each other by whistling or holding up your hands
and be sure to have your signals understood among yourselves. And
another thing I want to say to you, if you see any Indian, signal to me,
at once. Now I am going to take the trail of these white women, and if I
need your assistance I will signal, and you must all get to me as quick
All being understood I started on the trail of the white women. I hadn't
followed the trail over a half a mile, when I saw one of the men running
towards me at full speed; when he reached me he said, "We have found a
dead man, and he is stuck full of arrows."
I mounted my horse and accompanied him to where the body lay. I
recognized it at once; it was the son of the old man who had left us
three days before. His clothes were gone except his shirt and pants,
and his body was almost filled with arrows. I said, "This is one of the
party, and the other is a prisoner, or we shall find his body not
far from here. Let us scatter out and search this grove of timber
thoroughly; perhaps we may find the other body; and be careful to watch
out for the Indians, for they are liable to run upon us any time."
We had not gone more than two hundred yards before we found the old
man's body; it was laying behind a log with every indication of a
hand-to-hand fight. One arrow was stuck in his body near the heart, and
there were several tomahawk's wounds on the head and shoulders, which
showed that he died game.
It was getting late in the afternoon so I proposed to the men that we
take the bodies back to where we had found their camp, as we had no way
of burying the bodies in a decent manner, we had to wait until the train
came up to us. We laid the bodies side by side under a tree and then we
went into camp for the night as there was good grass for the horses. We
staked them out close to camp. We had seen no Indians all day, so we did
not think it necessary to put out guards around the camp that night, and
we all laid down and went to sleep.
The next morning we were up and had an early breakfast; that done, I
said, "Now, men I want two of you to go back and meet Bridger and tell
him what we have found and pilot him here to this camp, and he will
attend to the burying of these bodies; I would rather you should choose
among your selves who shall go back."
One man by the name of Boyd and another whose name was Taluck said they
would go. These men were both from Missouri; I then told them to tell
Bridger that I was a going to start on the trail of the white women at
once, and for him to camp here and that he would hear from me tonight,
whether I found them or not.
The rest of the men and I started on the trail; three went on one side
and three on the other, and I took the trail; I cautioned the men to
keep a sharp look out for the Indians all the time, and if they saw any
Indians to signal to me at once. I had followed the trail some five or
six miles when it led me to a little stream of water in a small grove of
timber. Here I found where the Indians had camped; the fire was still
burning which convinced me that the Indians had camped there the night
before. I also saw where the two women had been tied to a tree. I
followed them a short distance and saw that the band we were following
had met a larger band, and they had all gone off together in a northerly
direction. We were now near the north end of Honey lake, and I had about
given up hopes of ever seeing the women again, but I did not tell my
thoughts to my companions. The trail was so plain that I now mounted my
horse; we followed at a pretty rapid gate two or three miles, when we
saw that a few tracks had turned directly towards the lake. I dismounted
and examined them and found the two shoe tracks went with the small
party. I was now convinced that this was a party of squaws going to the
lake to fish; and I felt more encouraged to keep up the pursuit. We were
within a mile of the lake at this time. We rode as fast as we could and
keep the trail in sight. We soon came in sight of the lake; looking to
the right I saw a small band of squaws building a fire. I called the men
to me and told them that I believed the women we were looking for were
with those squaws, and if they were, I thought we could rescue them.
"I think our best plan will be to ride slowly until they see us and then
make a dash as fast as our horses can carry us; if the white women are
with them, we will ride right up to them, if they are tied I will jump
down and cut them loose," and pointing at two of the men I said, "You
two men will take them up behind you and take the lead back, and the
rest of us will protect you."
We did not ride much farther before the squaws discovered us at which
they began to shout, "Hyha," which meant "They're coming they're
In a moment we were in their midst, and sure enough the women were there
and tied fast to a small tree, a short distance from where the squaws
were building the fire.
What happened in the next few minutes I could never describe. The
women knew me at once and with cries and laughter, touching, beyond
description greeted me.
In an instant I was off my horse and cutting them loose from the tree,
at the same time the men were circling around us with guns cocked ready
to shoot the first squaw that interfered with us.
To my great surprise I did not see a bow or arrow among them or a
tomahawk either; as quick as I had the women loose I helped them up
behind the men I had selected to take them away from captivity back to
meet the train. As soon as we had left them of all the noise I ever
heard those squaws made the worst. I think they did this so the bucks
might know that they had lost their captives and might come to their
assistance. Where the bucks were I never knew. After riding four or five
miles we slacked our speed, and the women began telling us how the whole
thing had occurred. It seemed they had got to the camping ground early
in the afternoon of the second day after leaving us and instead of
staking out their horses they turned them loose, and about dusk the old
man and his son went out to look for the horses, were gone a couple of
hours and came back without them. This made them all very uneasy. The
next morning just at break of day the old man and his son took their
guns and started out again to hunt for their horses, and the mother and
daughter made a fire and cooked breakfast. The sun was about an hour
high, and they were sitting near the fire waiting for the men to come
back when they heard the report of a gun; they thought the men were
coming back and were shooting some game. They had no idea there was an
Indian near them. In the course of a half an hour they heard the second
shot, and in a few minutes the Indians were upon them, and they knew
that the men were both dead, because the Indians had both of their guns
and were holding them up and yelling and dancing with fiendish glee. The
Indians grabbed them and tied their hands behind them and then they tore
down their tent, took the wagon cover off and everything out of the
wagon that they could carry off.
"The bucks did the things up in bundles, and the squaws packed them on
their backs, and they were expecting every minute to be killed. After
the squaws had gone the bucks ate everything they could find that was
cooked, and the squaws that you found us with made us go with them to
the north end of the lake and there they camped that night. They tied us
with our backs to a little tree; we could not lay down and what little
sleep we got we took sitting up; we had not had a bit of breakfast that
morning when the Indians came upon us; it was all ready, and we were
waiting for our men folks to come back, and we have had nothing since,
but a little piece of broiled fish with no salt on it."
Until now I had not said anything about our finding the dead bodies of
their men, I thought it better to tell them now rather than wait until
we reached camp, as I thought the shock would be less when they came to
see the condition they were in.
Before I had finished telling the condition of the bodies when we found
them, I was afraid the young lady would faint, she seemed to take the
horrid news much harder than her mother did.
When we got to camp we found that Bridger had been there some two hours
ahead of us and had men digging the graves and others tearing up the
wagon box to make coffins to bury the bodies in.
We took the women to a family they were acquainted with and left them in
their care. After they had been given something to eat they went where
the bodies lay and looked at them, and with sobs of bitter grief bent
over them; which made my heart ache in sympathy for them in their
The next morning we laid them away into their lonely graves in as decent
a manner as we could, and in sadness left them.
Through the influence of Jim Bridger arrangements were made with two
families to take these two ladies with them to California. Just before
noon Jim came to me and said, "We will stay here until tomorrow morning;
I would like you to take four or five men who have good horses and go
around the north end of the lake and find out, if you can, if the Piutes
are gathering together in a large band. It is about the time of year for
the Piutes to leave this part of the country, but if they are gathering
in a large band they are bent on giving us trouble, and we will have to
make preparations to defend our selves. In three days more if we have
good luck we shall be out of the hostile Indian country."
We had an early dinner and four others and myself set out for the head
of the lake, we rode hard all that afternoon and to our great surprise
we never saw an Indian. We passed a number of camps where they had been,
but their trails all showed that they had pulled out for the north.
Seeing this we turned back and struck the emigrant trail about ten miles
from where Jim was camped. Just as we struck the emigrants trail I
looked off to the south about a quarter of a mile and saw nine head of
horses, and they were heading in the same direction we were going. I
called the other men's attention to them and said, "Let's capture those
Indian ponies." You may imagine our surprise when we got near them to
find they were not Indian ponies but good American horses and several of
them had collar marks on them showing that they had been worked lately.
We drove them on to camp, and when we put them in the corral we found
them to be perfectly gentle. Bridger and the balance of the men came to
see them, and every man had his own view where they had come from. But
we never knew for certain whom they belonged to. The next morning we
pulled out very early. The third day we crossed the Sierra Nevada
mountains without any thing of interest happening to us. In two days
more we reached the Sacramento river. We were now about forty miles
above Sacramento City, California. We camped here about the middle of
the afternoon. It being Saturday Jim thought we would rest the balance
of the day. After we had eaten our dinner Jim called all the men of the
train together and told them that they were out of all danger now from
the Indians and would have no further use for a guide and that our
contract with them was ended, and that he and I would like to start back
for New Mexico Monday morning. In a short time they settled up with us,
paying us our due with grateful thanks for our care of them on their
dangerous journey. I now went to the men who were with me when I found
the horses. I said, "Some of those horses belong to you, how many do you
They all looked surprised, and one said, "They are not our horses, they
are yours. You found them."
I answered, "Now, boys, that is not fair; drive them up and let me
select three and you may have the balance to divide as you choose among
This seemed to please them; and they drove the horses up at once. I
chose the three I liked best, and I afterwards found them all to be good
saddle horses. Bridger and I now went to work making our pack saddles
and getting ready for our long and tedious journey back to New Mexico, a
journey where wild beasts and still wilder savages might lurk behind
any tree or bush, a journey where at that time all one could see for
hundreds of miles was thick forests, and trackless prairies; a journey
of danger and fatigue which the people of this later day of rapid travel
could not be made to understand.
The next morning after breakfast was over a man came to me and said,
Mrs. Lynch and her daughter Lizzie would like to see me. These were the
two ladies I had rescued from the Indians. I had not spoken to them
since I left them with Bridger at the camp near Honey Lake. As I came
near to the elder lady she came to meet me and holding out her hand,
clasping mine she said, "Are you going to leave us tomorrow?"
I answered, "That is what we intended to do."
She then burst into tears, and amid her sobs said, "We can never pay you
for what you have done for us."
At this moment the young girl appeared, and as she gave me her hand her
mother said, "He is going to leave us, and we can never pay him for what
he has done for us"; at this the girl commenced to cry too and it was
some minutes before I could talk to them. When they had quieted down I
said, "Ladies, you owe me nothing, I only done my duty, and I would
do the same thing over again for you or any one else under the
circumstances that existed." Then the elder lady said, "If it hadn't
been for you we might never have seen a white person again."
I asked her, what state they were from. She said they came from Wright
country, Missouri, and that she had a brother there that was amply able
to come and take them back, but she would not ask him to do so for she
never wanted to cross the plains again. She said she had a few dollars
left that the Indians didn't get, and she thought Lizzie and she could
find something to do to get a living. I gave them all the encouragement
I could, bid them good bye and went back to Jim.
By the time dinner was ready Jim and I had our pack saddles and every
thing ready to put on our horses. While we were eating dinner as many as
thirty ladies came to us to inquire what they could give us to take with
us to eat on our journey. I was amused at Bridger. After each lady had
told what she had to give us, some had cakes, some had pie, and some
had boiled meat and some had bread; Jim straightened up and said, "Why
dog-gorn it ladies, we ain't got no wagon and we couldn't take one if we
had one the route we are going which will be through the mountains all
the way with no road or trail. We are going horse back and we can only
take about a hundred pounds on our pack horses. Now, ladies, we are a
thousand times obliged to you all but all we want is some bread and a
little meat, enough to do us a couple of days, and then we will be where
we can shoot all the meat we want; it is a poor hunter that could not
get enough grub for himself in the country we are going through."
The next morning when we were getting ready to start the women commenced
bringing in bread and meat for us and we had to take enough to last us
a week, we could not take less without hurting their feelings. When we
were all ready to start, the whole company came to bid us "good bye."
Men and women, old and young, all came, and amid hand clasps from the
men and tears and smiles from the women we mounted our horses and were
We followed the trail we had come, back as far as Truckey river, and
just below where Reno stands now, we met the remnant of an emigrant
train and according to their story they had had nothing but trouble from
the time they struck the head of Bitter Creek until the day before we
met them. They said they had lost twenty seven men and fourteen women
and a number of cattle and horses. They were very much surprised when we
told them of the train we had just piloted through to California without
losing one that staid with us. We told them of the dreadful fate of old
Mr. Lynch and his son.
As night was coming on we camped in company with these people. Next
morning we crossed Truckey river and struck out in a south east
direction, leaving the site where Virginia city now stands a little to
our right going by the sink of the Carson River. Here we camped and laid
over one day to give our horses a rest. Before we left here we filled
our canteens with water. Bridger told me that for the next fifty miles
it was the poorest watered country in the United States. Said he: "There
is plenty of water, but it is so full of alkali it is not fit to drink;
it is dangerous for both men and beasts."
Jim took the lead all day, and when we came to a little stream of water
he would get down and taste the water while I held the horses to keep
them from drinking. It was about four o'clock that afternoon before we
found water that was fit to drink; here we camped for the night.
Jim said, "From this on we may look for Indians; we are now in the Ute
country and tomorrow night we will be in the Apache country. Now we must
avoid the large streams for the Apaches are almost always to be found
near the large streams at this time of year. Their hunting season is
about over now, and they go to the large streams to catch fish and for
the benefit of a milder climate. If we keep on the high ridges and
mountains away from the large streams we will have no trouble with
the Indians and what is better for us we can get all the game we want
without any exertion."
The next day we were traveling along on a high ridge in the south east
corner of what is now the State of Nevada. We looked off to the south at
a little valley that was perhaps a half a mile from us, and there we saw
a grand sight. There must have been at least a hundred elk and amongst
them two very large old bucks fighting. Their horns were something
immense, and strange to say all the rest of the band stood still,
watching the fight. At last Jim said, "Will, I believe I will break up
He jumped to the ground, raised his gun and fired. At the sound of the
gun all of the band ran away except the two who were fighting. I laughed
and said, "Jim, I thought you were going to stop that fight."
He replied, "Give me your gun, and I will stop it."
This time I handed him my gun, and he squatted down and took a rest on
his knee and fired. At the crack of the gun one of the elks fell to his
knees, but got up and ran for all that was in him, and that was the last
we saw of the elk. I told Jim he had spoilt the fun, and we had got no
meat out of it. He grinned and said, "Oh durn it that old elk was too
old to eat any way."
We went on and camped at the head of a little stream that emptied into
Green river. The sun was perhaps an hour high, when we went into camp.
As soon as we had staked out our horses Jim said, "Now Will, I will get
the supper, if you will go out and see if you can get some meat."
I answered, "That suits me to a T. Jim."
I took my gun and started for a little ridge. I had not gone over a
hundred yards when I saw five deer coming directly towards me. Among
them were two spring fawns. I dropped down at the root of a tree and
waited until they came to within fifty yards of me; I then fired and
broke one of the fawns' necks, and the rest of the flock came near
running over me, and over Jim also. I picked up my fawn and went back to
camp. Jim said, "I don't want you to go hunting anymore Will."
I said, "Why not?" He said, "If you do I shall have to stand guard over
the camp to keep the deer from tramping every thing we have into the
ground"; and he pointed to the tracks of the deer not ten feet from the
fire. This convinced us that these deer had never heard the report of a
gun before. We were now in the extreme south east end of Nevada, and I
don't imagine a white man had ever been through that part of the country
before. On this trip we traveled some twelve or fifteen hundred miles,
and we never saw a white person the whole way, and not even the sign of
At this time when a little more than a half of a century has passed
there are portions of this same country that could not be rode over from
the fact that it is all fenced in and cultivated. If we had been told
then that we would live to see railroads crossing every part of this
country we would have thought the person insane to ever think of such a
thing at a time when there was not a foot of rail-road as far west as
We had broiled venison for supper that night, the first we had eaten for
some time, and the reader may be sure we enjoyed it.
Next morning we pulled out of here quite early and crossed Green river
just above the mouth of Blue River. We were now in the greatest game
country I had ever seen then or ever have seen since. We traveled up
this stream three days, and I do not think there was a half an hour at
any one time that we were out of sight of game of some kind. There was
the Bison which is a species of Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Black Bear, and
Antelope. We crossed the main divide of the Rocky Mountains at the head
of the Arkansas River. That night we camped within a few miles of what
since has become the far-famed camp and now city of Leadville.
We were now out of the hostile Indian country, and so we did not have to
be so cautious in traveling days or camping at night.
While we were traveling down the Arkansas river I saw a sight I had
never seen before and never have since. Two Buck Deer locked fast
together by their horns. I had been told of such things and have since,
but that is the only time I ever saw it myself. We were very near them
before we saw them. They were in a little open prairie. I called Jim's
attention to them as soon as I saw them. He said, "I'll be gol durned if
that ain't the second time I ever saw such a sight, and now we will have
some fun out of them bucks."
We dismounted and walked up near them, and by the looks of the ground
which was torn and tramped for quite a distance we decided that they
had been in that condition quite a while. Jim said, "How in the plague,
Will, are we going to get these critters apart? They are too plaguey
poor to eat, so we don't want to kill them, and they will die if we
leave them in this fix; what shall we do, Will?"
I thought a minute and said, "Can't we take our little ax and chop one
of their horns off?"
He said, "I hadn't thought of that, but bring me the ax and I will try
I ran to the pack horse and got the ax. He said, "Now you go back to the
horses; for if I get them loose they may want to fight us."
So I went to the horses and looked back to see what Jim was doing. He
went up to them with the ax drawn ready to strike but it was quite a bit
before they were quiet enough for him to get a good hit at them. At last
he made a strike and down went one of the deer. Instead of striking
the deer's horn he struck him right back of the horn and killed him
instantly; when Jim saw what he had done he made another hit at the dead
buck's horn and freed the live one, which ran thirty or forty yards and
stopped and turned around and shook his head at us a half a dozen times
and then he trotted away as if nothing had happened.
Jim laughed and said, "He never stopped to thank us, did he? Well he
ain't much different from some people." I said, "Why, Jim he meant
"thank you" when he shook his head at us; that is all the way he could
say it, you know," to which he replied, "Well, I saved one of them any
Nothing occurred of interest from this time on until we reached our
journey's end at Taos, New Mexico. Here we found Uncle Kit and his wife
both enjoying good health and a warm welcome for his boy Willie, and his
old friend Jim Bridger.
After supper that night we told Uncle Kit that we had traveled from the
Sacramento river, California to Taos, New Mexico in thirty-three days,
and that we never saw a hostile Indian on the trip, and neither had had
any trouble of any kind to detain us a half an hour on the whole trip.
He said, "That is a wonderful story to hear, when there are so many wild
Indians in that part of the country. Now boys tell me what route you
We marked out the route by different streams and mountains. He looked at
the map we had drawn and said, "I will venture to say there is not two
men in all the country that could make that trip over that route and get
through alive. I will say again, boys, it is some thing wonderful to
think of, and you must have been protected by a higher power than your
selves to get through in safety."
We staid with Uncle Kit a couple of weeks and rested up, and then we
struck out for Bent's Fort to make up our crew to go to our trapping
ground for our winter's work.
Uncle Kit accompanied us to Bent's Fort; and all the trappers were
anxious to get in his employ from the fact that the report had gone out
that the Sioux and the Utes were on the war path, and all the trappers
knew that these two tribes were the strongest hostile tribes in the
west, and when fifty miles from Bent's Fort we never knew that we were
safe and the trappers all had confidence in Uncle Kit's judgment that he
seldom made a mistake in locating his trapping ground, and further
more he had more influence with the Indians than any other man in the
country, so they worked rather for him than take chances with any one
The next morning after we reached Bent's Fort I heard Mr. Bent and Mr.
Roubidoux talking with Carson in regard to the trappers. Mr. Bent said,
"Carson, I wish you would take as many as you can handle, for they all
have an Indian scare on them and are afraid to go out, and every one of
them is indebted to us for board now; and we can not afford to support
them if they loaf around here all winter," to which Carson replied, "I
can handle five or six of them, and that is all I want, I can not afford
to take men out in the mountains and board them all winter for nothing."
After thinking a minute Carson asked, "How many of the men have their
own traps and blankets?"
Mr. Roubidoux said, he thought nearly all of the trappers at the Fort
had their own trapping outfits with them. Carson said he would think
it over and see what he could do for them. That afternoon Carson and
Bridger had a talk with regard to how many men they should take with
them. Uncle Kit said, "We haven't horses enough to carry more than
three or four besides us three." Bridger said, "That will not make any
difference, if they want to go they can foot it from here to the head of
South Platte as that's where we are going to trap this winter; and when
they are through in the spring they can foot it back again. We have
nine pack horses besides our saddle horses, and we can pack out to the
trapping grounds, an outfit for five or six men besides our own all in
That afternoon Uncle Kit and Bridger made arrangements with six men
to go with us to the head of South Platte to trap Beaver that winter.
Carson and Bridger agreed to furnish them with flour, coffee, salt, and
tobacco for which Carson and Bridger were to have half of the furs that
each man caught, Carson and Bridger to pack the grub and every thing
else out to the trapping ground and also to pack the furs and all their
other things back to Bent's Fort in the Spring. After Carson and Bridger
had selected the six men they wanted, it seemed as though all the
trappers at the Fort wanted to go with them. Carson told them he had
engaged all he could handle. The next two days we spent in getting ready
to go to our trapping grounds. On the morning of the third day every
thing in readiness we bid farewell to all the people at the Fort and
struck out for the trapping grounds and our winter's work. The men
that had to walk did not wait for us but started as soon as they had
Uncle Kit told them where we would camp the first night. They got there
before we did, and they had killed the fattest deer I ever saw and had
killed a Cub Bear. They were skinning them when we got to camp. The deer
was a spike buck and when he was skinned he was as white as a sheep
from pure fat. The reader may be sure we were not long in unpacking and
getting ready for supper; every one was tired and hungry for we had not
had any thing to eat since morning. For my supper I roasted two of the
cub's feet, and I have never enjoyed a meal since that tasted better.
While we were eating Jim Bridger looked at me and said, "Will, you have
the best of me tonight, but when we get to the Beaver grounds I'll have
a Beaver's tail roasted for my supper and then I'll be even with you."
I never saw a band of men enjoy a meal more than those men did that
night. In this climate people have better appetites than any climate I
have ever been. I think the reason for this was the air was so pure and
invigorating and it naturally required more food to sustain the body and
keep it in good health, and at that time sickness was very rare in that
part of the country. It would seem unreasonable to tell how much meat a
man ate at one meal, especially when out on a trip like this when he was
out in the open air all the time, night as well as day.
The third day after leaving this camp we struck the South Platte river,
and now we had another change of meat, which was mountain sheep. This is
in my opinion the best wild game that roams the forest.
We made an early camp that night and Uncle Kit said to Jim Bridger and
me, "You two boys get the meat for supper and the rest of us will look
after the horses." We picked up our guns and started up the river; we
had not gone far when in looking up on a high bluff we saw a band of
mountain sheep. Jim said, "Now if we can reach that little canyon," and
he pointed to one just ahead of us, "without them fellows seeing us we
will sure have something good for supper." This we succeeded in doing
and then we crawled around until we were within fifty yards of our game.
We selected a couple of spring lambs and fired and brought them both
down. When the men at the camp heard the firing a couple of the men came
running to help us bring our game to camp. We soon had it dressed and
ready for cooking, and it was good and every one of the men ate as if
they enjoyed it as much as I did. While we were eating supper Jim told
us a story of his coming in contact with a panther that had just killed
a sheep, and he said it was a miracle that it did not kill him. He was
coming down a bluff on a little trail and as good luck had it he had
his gun in his hand. The panther had the sheep behind a rock and as the
panther sprang at him he fired and broke its neck.
"It was the luckiest shot I ever fired," said he, "for if I had not had
my gun all ready to fire he would have torn me to pieces before I could
have helped myself."
Uncle Kit said, "Well, Jim, you were in about as close a place as I got
into once. I went out from my camp fire one night perhaps forty yards to
a small tree. I didn't have any pistol or gun with me, I had nothing but
my hunting knife to protect myself with when a half-grown panther sprang
out of the tree on me and, maybe you think I didn't have a lively time
there with him for a few minutes, but I finally got the best of him by
cutting him almost to pieces. He tore my buck skin breeches and coat
pretty near off me and left this scar on my arm before I finished him,"
and Carson pulled his sleeve up and showed us a scar that must have been
torn almost to the bone.
Two days from this we reached the place where we made our headquarters
for the winter. That night the men talked it over and made their plans
how many should camp together. They agreed that there should be three in
each camp as there were nine of us in all. That made the number even in
each camp. Next morning they all put out leaving me to look out for the
horses and things in general.
For the benefit of the reader I will explain how we arranged a camp
where a number of men were associated together in trapping beaver. We
built our camps about four miles apart which gave each camp two miles
square to work on, and this was ample room, for this was a new field and
Beaver was as thick as rats around a wharf.