Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

TO PIKE'S PEAK AND DENVER.

BY THOMAS W. KNOX.

READER, were you ever at Pike's Peak? If you have visited that auriferous and Indian-iferous region, where whiskey and white men, sure evidences of civilization, have but recently been introduced, you may read these pages to learn how the author's experience compares with your own. If you have unwisely staid at home when 'out west' is a land covered knee-deep with huge 'nuggets, you may now, without leaving your sofa or easy-chair, journey with me seven hundred miles over the ‘sea of grass and sand' between the Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains, to the Central Dorado of our continent. Packing up a few rough garments, among which woollen shirts form the most important item, we bid adieu to Lucy and the children, and betake ourselves to one of the several out-fitting points on the Missouri river. Omaha, St. Joseph, Atchison, Leavenworth and Kansas City, will each be represented by interested property-holders, as better than all the others combined. As St. Joseph is at present the terminus of the farthest and most direct western råilroad, (the Hannibal and St. Joseph,) and can furnish every thing needed on a Pike Peak's trip, it has a slight advantage over its rivals. The question now is, not the common-place one, ‘How do you do?' but 'How do you go?' As we would cross the plains in the shortest possible time, we book ourselves at the office of the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company,' where we find the affable and genial Jo Roberson, ready to give any desired information. The coaches of this line make tri-weekly trips to and from Denver, and accomplish the distance in a little less than six days. They travel day and night, stopping for about an hour at each of the thirtytwo stations,' where the teams are changed, and the passengers furnished with 'wittles.' Novices generally dread the fatigue of this journey, and are solicitous about the sleeping question ; but after a day out, nature asserts herself, and one finds his sleep as sound, sweet and refreshing, when sitting bolt upright in a rapidly-moving vehicle, as when wrapped in the drapery of his couch, and reclining on the softest of downy pillows. Commend me to the Central Overland' whenever I cross the plains.

Another mode of travel is with a stout but light carriage, or ambulance, drawn by mules — these animals being far better than horses for service on the plains. If this mode is selected, you will camp out at night, and be obliged to keep careful watch over your animals, to prevent gentlemen with confused ideas of meum and tuum appropriating them to their own use and behoof. Many an emigrant, by neglecting this precaution, has waked in the morning and found his wagon minus' motive-power, and himself feeling as much akin to an ass as any of the four-footed beasts of which he had been deprived. The pleasures of sleeping on the ground, with a blanket for a covering, will here be yours. After a day's travel you will find the bosom of Mother Earth a welcome resting-place, and will fall asleep before you can count a hundred stars. In the morning, shake well your blanket before folding it, for the plains and Pike's Peak, like poverty, acquaint one with strange bed-fellows. On several occasions descendants of the celebrity that beguiled Mother Eve have shared my couch, and been with me in my slumbers. Wolves will come quite near-near enough to steal the boots of a sound sleeper — but they will offer no indignity to his person. As these animals have confused notions of the Eighth Commandment, it is well to secure all eatables before retiring for the night. If you do not, farewell to that ten-pound ham you threw under the wagon, and supposed would be 'all right' in the morning. . 'Blessings brighten as they take their flight,' and you now prize cold bacon better than ten hours ago.

In crossing the plains in this manner, you will be initiated into the mysteries of the cuisine — making bread, frying bacon and griddle-cakes, decocting tea and coffee, and washing the dishes. Sometimes you will find yourself destitute of water, an article generally considered indispensable in performing the last-mentioned operation. Never mind — plates can be washed (excuse the term) with a handful of dirt, and two or three wisps of grass, so clean that they can be used for mirrors ; knives and forks by thrusting them into the ground a few times, and wiping them on the grass. What house-wife would have dreamed of such a cleansing process ?

I have not done with the various styles of travel in the free-and-easy-west. There is the slow but sure method, where you pay a stipulated sum for the privilege of walking all the way behind an ox-wagon, boarding at and lodging under the aforesaid vehicle. The passenger hąs as good a bed as his blanket will make; and a leisurely, and, if not varied by an occasional fight, a somewhat monotonous trip of from forty to fifty-five days.

Then there is the mode independent ; where you take your outfit in a hand-cart, or on your back, and trudge along at your own pace. You have an advantage over the express, for that is required to make time,' and you are not. You are better off than those who travel by ambulance, for their mules may be stolen while you can lie down at night, soliloquizing as did the ancient darkey: ‘Blessed am dem what haint got noffin, for dey shan't lose it.' You can look with scorn upon the ox-teams, for they must camp and 'noon' where there are grass and water, while you can snap your fingers at such necessities, and stop when and where you like.

Having completed our preparations, we leave St. Joseph, called “St. Jo,' by the Westerners; and, like the Star of Empire, take our way westward. For a few miles we find the road rough and hilly, after which we strike the open prairie. It is of the kind known in the west as 'rolling,' differing from the almost dead level of Illinois, and a few other States, in having a succession of ridges from a quarter to half-a-mile apart. Bryant's lines are admirably descriptive of the view before us :

* PRAIRIES, gardens of the desert!
Lo! they stretch in airy undulations far away,
As if the ocean in his gentlest swell
Stood still, with all his rounded billows
Fixed and motionless forever.'

Thus is the whole distance of two hundred and eighty miles from St. Joseph to Fort Kearney -- a gentle ascent of a quarter to half a mile, and then a corresponding descent, its regularity broken occasionally by a creek or a river. In May and June the road is alive with an almost continuous caravan, moving westward. Here is a train of twenty-six wagons, twenty-five of them laden with merchandise, and the remaining one carrying the provisions for the attachés of the train. Five yoke of oxen is the motive power for each wagon, and these are urged forward by a 'bull-whacker,' armed with a whip, carrying a lash from six to twelve feet in length, which makes its mark wherever it falls. When the train halts, it ‘goes into corral,' that is, the wagons are placed so as to inclose an oval space, with an opening at one end. When the cattle are to be yoked, they are driven into this corral, and a chain is stretched across the entrance to keep them within. In case of an attack by Indians, the corral makes an excellent barricade; from such a temporary fortress, many a ‘redskin' has received his death-wound. Here are wagons with families, and wagons without families. Here is a sorry-looking team with a load of provisions and mining outfits, and a dozen sorrier-looking followers on foot. The canvas wagon-cover is labeled : ‘Pike's Peak or Bust.' Three months hence it may bear in addition the words : 'Busted, by Thunder. Here is a squad of footmen, and just in advance four men harnessed to a hand-cart, and past them all rolls gracefully along one of the Central Overland coaches. Soon a clatter of hoofs is heard, and 'the Pony,' bearing letters that are to reach San-Francisco in twelve days, sweeps gayly by ; passing alike pedestrian, ox-wagon, ambulance and coach. “Make ten miles an hour, or kill a pony!' is the order given to each rider, and it is faithfully obeyed. Two hundred and eighty miles have been made by this line in twenty-four hours.

Such is a picture of the road from St. Joseph to Denver, on almost any day in the months of the spring migration. It is an almost unbroken line of wagons and pedestrians for the entire distance. In the variety of outfits, the grotesque costumes of the emigrants, the inscriptions upon the wagons, the appearance of the teams, the woe-begone aspect of the weary walkers, and the complacency of those who ride, the rough and unpresentable tout ensemble of the few women to be seen — in all these there is sufficient to give the lover of the ludicrous constant enjoyment. But anon there may be a serious side to the picture. How many in that living panorama will enjoy the realization of their golden dreams? How many, now so joyous, will return at the approach of winter, cursing the day they started on that weary journey? How many will lie down to their long rest where fall the mountain shadows? How many a youth who left the paternal roof, pure and innocent, will return hardened and corrupted by contact with this semi-barbaric life? What deeds of crime, what suffering and penury, sorrow and remorse, will follow this search to satisfy the cursed thirst for gold !

Marysville, in Kansas, is the last village of any importance passed by the traveller to the Western Gold Fields. It is situated on the Big Blue river, at the crossing of the old military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney and California. It was started a few years ago by General Marshal, a noted

'border-ruffian,' but withal an agreeable and affable gentleman. He gallantly called the future metropolis ‘Marysville,' in honor of his wife, and modestly named the county after himself. The city has great prospective and some actual importance. A railroad is confidently talked of to connect it with St. Joseph, the mines, and the Pacific Ocean. If you stop an hour or two, you will encounter a gentleman with a deal of dignity, who will kindly volunteer to show you through the town. After exhibiting the site of the court-house, and of the grand Union dépôt, the location for the cemetery, and several eight-story brick warehouses, he will bring up at a small groggery, and stand treat. At parting, after an affectionate shake of the hand, he will extort from you a promise to invest in Marysville lots on your return, sagely concluding, that if you now had any spare funds you would not be travelling to Pike's Peak. In your perambulations you will doubtless hear of fights and law-suits innumera- . ble, for this little town has the reputation of being fonder of fist, knife and pistol encounters, and of settling them in courts, than any other in Eastern Kansas. Sometimes those who administer the law get strangely mixed up in its violation.· On my first visit several men were arrested for the heinous crime of horse-racing. They anticipated and received an acquittal, for the wearer of the ermine had acted as "judge' at the very race where the crime was committed. His honor had no idea of being particeps criminis in an offence against the law 'in such case made and provided.'

Leaving this frontier town, with its whiskey, its fights and its justice, we pass on to Fort Kearney. The fort is situated on the southern bank of the Platte river, on a fine grassy plain, and consists of scattered adobe and frame buildings, strong enough to afford protection from Indians, but of small avail against regular troops. One or more companies of our country's brave defenders' are always stationed here; and if one has letters of introduction to the officers, a few days can be passed pleasantly; otherwise, twenty-four hours will be dreary, and the visitor glad to move on. Now the road leaves the rolling prairie, and follows the level valley or bottom of the Platte, broken from a smooth track by an occasional creek or water-course. The Platte is a wide and apparently majestic stream, but an examination convinces the traveller of the truth of the adage: 'Appearances are deceptive. Like many a loud-mouthed declaimer, it lacks sadly in depth; it has not sufficient water to afford safe navigation to a good-sized cod-fish. Returning 'pilgrims' often attempt to descend it, but in only a few instances have they succeeded in reaching the Missouri, and then only by dragging their boats for hundreds of miles over shoals and quicksands. Fremont tells of a party of French fur-traders who were twenty-five days in going as many miles. In most cases emigrants are overset in the eddies, and lose their entire outfits. Last year, a poor fellow who had dragged his boat to within a few miles of Fort Kearney, was thus overturned, and lost every thing, reaching that post with only a single shirt. So much for the Platte.

Occasionally on our route we find the bluff coming down to the river's edge, and in such places generally encounter sand. Sometimes in a warm day we see before us beautiful lakes, surrounded by pleasant groves, inviting us to

rest and repose. On a near approach they vanish, and we learn that this mirage of the western plains is just as deceptive as that we read of on the desérts of Africa. At the South Platte Crossing, where the road to California leaves that to Denver, and crosses the Platte river, Indians are usually found. Experience has taught these vagabonds of the plains that it is easier to beg and steal their subsistence from the emigrants than to get it by hunting. If, my dear reader, you have derived your ideas of the red-man from ‘Hiawatha' and Cooper's novels, I am sorry for you, for your fancy will receive a sad check. Instead of a formidable individual, dressed with care and taste, and looking the personification of those beautiful pictures that adorn bank-notes, you will behold a miserable, unwashed and uncombed creature, wrapped in a blanket that may once have been clean and new, but is now sadly the worse for wear, and covered from head to foot with all varieties of the genus pediculus. Take care that he does not come too near, or in a day or two an "itching palm' may not be the only cutaneous affection with which you are afflicted. These rascals will beg for flour, whiskey, sugar and tobacco, with the utmost pertinacity, and will steal whatever they can lay their hands on. The only words of English they are capable of are the names of the articles they desire, the word 'How,' used in salutation ; 'heap' for describing quantity, and, perhaps, a few sentences of profanity.

From Beaver Creek there are two routes leading to Denver. The one by way of the Platte takes you past several old forts or trading-posts, now in ruins. They were erected years ago when the trade with the Indians and trappers of the west was of far greater importance than at present. The prices at which goods were sold in the by-gone days of trapper history would satisfy the most profit-loving of this money-making age. The trapper who had labored and suffered to procure peltries, betook himself to the fort whenever the size of his 'pile' warranted a visit. Here he bartered the furs for coffee, sugar or flour, paying one dollar for a pint of each, for rum four dollars a pint, and tobacco one dollar a plug. The trader had also a boot on the other leg,' for he sold the furs in the St. Louis market at a small advance on first cost. Beaver which he had bought at three dollars per pound, and paid for in goods at the above ‘orful' rates, brought twelve dollars in hard cash. No wonder that traders were able to make their fortunes in a short time. Some of these wilderness forts were splendidly arranged. Bent's Fort, on the head-waters of the Arkansas river, had its principal apartments furnished with mirrors, chairs and sofas, in the highest style of the upholsterer's art. There were billiardtables from the hands of the most approved makers, with a player expressly employed to amuse visitors. Tropical fruits of every variety, and all the adornments of a metropolitan board, were there in abundance. But now, alas! naught marks the sight of the ‘Old Fort,' save a mass of blackened ruins.

Sixty miles below Denver is the “big bend of the Platte,' where that river sweeps around, changing its course from north to east. At this point is Cherokee City, a newly-fledged St. Louis. By reference to the map that adorns the stock certificates of Cherokee, it will be seen that it has the Pacific Railroad passing through it, is environed by gold mines, and other beauties of nature ;

« AnteriorContinuar »