The last of the plainsme.., p.1
Produced by Mary Starr. HTML version by Al Haines.
THE LAST OF THE PLAINSMEN
Buffalo Jones needs no introduction to American sportsmen, but to theseof my readers who are unacquainted with him a few words may not beamiss.
He was born sixty-two years ago on the Illinois prairie, and he hasdevoted practically all of his life to the pursuit of wild animals. Ithas been a pursuit which owed its unflagging energy and indomitablepurpose to a singular passion, almost an obsession, to capture alive,not to kill. He has caught and broken the will of every well-known wildbeast native to western North America. Killing was repulsive to him. Heeven disliked the sight of a sporting rifle, though for years necessitycompelled him to earn his livelihood by supplying the meat of buffaloto the caravans crossing the plains. At last, seeing that theextinction of the noble beasts was inevitable, he smashed his rifleover a wagon wheel and vowed to save the species. For ten years helabored, pursuing, capturing and taming buffalo, for which the Westgave him fame, and the name Preserver of the American Bison.
As civilization encroached upon the plains Buffalo Jones ranged slowlywestward; and to-day an isolated desert-bound plateau on the north rimof the Grand Canyon of Arizona is his home. There his buffalo browsewith the mustang and deer, and are as free as ever they were on therolling plains.
In the spring of 1907 I was the fortunate companion of the oldplainsman on a trip across the desert, and a hunt in that wonderfulcountry of yellow crags, deep canyons and giant pines. I want to tellabout it. I want to show the color and beauty of those painted cliffsand the long, brown-matted bluebell-dotted aisles in the grand forests;I want to give a suggestion of the tang of the dry, cool air; andparticularly I want to throw a little light upon the life and nature ofthat strange character and remarkable man, Buffalo Jones.
Happily in remembrance a writer can live over his experiences, and seeonce more the moonblanched silver mountain peaks against the dark bluesky; hear the lonely sough of the night wind through the pines; feelthe dance of wild expectation in the quivering pulse; the stir, thethrill, the joy of hard action in perilous moments; the mystery ofman's yearning for the unattainable.
As a boy I read of Boone with a throbbing heart, and the silentmoccasined, vengeful Wetzel I loved.
I pored over the deeds of later men--Custer and Carson, those heroes ofthe plains. And as a man I came to see the wonder, the tragedy of theirlives, and to write about them. It has been my destiny--what a happyfulfillment of my dreams of border spirit!--to live for a while in thefast-fading wild environment which produced these great men with thelast of the great plainsmen.
1. THE ARIZONA DESERT 2. THE RANGE 3. THE LAST HERD 4. THE TRAIL 5. OAK SPRING 6. THE WHITE MUSTANG 7. SNAKE GULCH 8. NAZA! NAZA! NAZA! 9. THE LAND OF THE MUSK-OX 10. SUCCESS AND FAILURE 11. ON TO THE SIWASH 12. OLD TOM 13. SINGING CLIFFS 14. ALL HEROES BUT ONE 15. JONES ON COUGARS 16. KITTY 17. CONCLUSION
THE ARIZONA DESERT
One afternoon, far out on the sun-baked waste of sage, we made campnear a clump of withered pinyon trees. The cold desert wind came downupon us with the sudden darkness. Even the Mormons, who were findingthe trail for us across the drifting sands, forgot to sing and pray atsundown. We huddled round the campfire, a tired and silent littlegroup. When out of the lonely, melancholy night some wandering Navajosstole like shadows to our fire, we hailed their advent with delight.They were good-natured Indians, willing to barter a blanket orbracelet; and one of them, a tall, gaunt fellow, with the bearing of achief, could speak a little English.
"How," said he, in a deep chest voice.
"Hello, Noddlecoddy," greeted Jim Emmett, the Mormon guide.
"Ugh!" answered the Indian.
"Big paleface--Buffalo Jones---big chief--buffalo man," introducedEmmett, indicating Jones.
"How." The Navajo spoke with dignity, and extended a friendly hand.
"Jones big white chief--rope buffalo--tie up tight," continued Emmett,making motions with his arm, as if he were whirling a lasso.
"No big--heap small buffalo," said the Indian, holding his hand levelwith his knee, and smiling broadly.
Jones, erect, rugged, brawny, stood in the full light of the campfire.He had a dark, bronzed, inscrutable face; a stern mouth and square jaw,keen eyes, half-closed from years of searching the wide plains; anddeep furrows wrinkling his cheeks. A strange stillness enfolded hisfeature the tranquility earned from a long life of adventure.
He held up both muscular hands to the Navajo, and spread out hisfingers.
"Rope buffalo--heap big buffalo--heap many--one sun."
The Indian straightened up, but kept his friendly smile.
"Me big chief," went on Jones, "me go far north--Land of LittleSticks--Naza! Naza! rope musk-ox; rope White Manitou of Great SlaveNaza! Naza!"
"Naza!" replied the Navajo, pointing to the North Star; "no--no."
"Yes me big paleface--me come long way toward setting sun--go cross BigWater--go Buckskin--Siwash--chase cougar."
The cougar, or mountain lion, is a Navajo god and the Navajos hold himin as much fear and reverence as do the Great Slave Indians the musk-ox.
"No kill cougar," continued Jones, as the Indian's bold featureshardened. "Run cougar horseback--run long way--dogs chase cougar longtime--chase cougar up tree! Me big chief--me climb tree--climb highup--lasso cougar--rope cougar--tie cougar all tight."
The Navajo's solemn face relaxed
"White man heap fun. No."
"Yes," cried Jones, extending his great arms. "Me strong; me ropecougar--me tie cougar; ride off wigwam, keep cougar alive."
"No," replied the savage vehemently.
"Yes," protested Jones, nodding earnestly.
"No," answered the Navajo, louder, raising his dark head.
"Yes!" shouted Jones.
"BIG LIE!" the Indian thundered.
Jones joined good-naturedly in the laugh at his expense. The Indian hadcrudely voiced a skepticism I had heard more delicately hinted in NewYork, and singularly enough, which had strengthened on our way West, aswe met ranchers, prospectors and cowboys. But those few men I hadfortunately met, who really knew Jones, more than overbalanced thedoubt and ridicule cast upon him. I recalled a scarred old veteran ofthe plains, who had talked to me in true Western bluntness:
"Say, young feller, I heerd yer couldn't git acrost the Canyon fer thedeep snow on the north rim. Wal, ye're lucky. Now, yer hit the trailfer New York, an' keep goin'! Don't ever tackle the desert, 'speciallywith them Mormons. They've got water on the brain, wusser 'n religion.It's two hundred an' fifty miles from Flagstaff to Jones range, an'only two drinks on the trail. I know this hyar Buffalo Jones. I knowedhim way back in the seventies, when he was doin' them ropin' stuntsthet made him famous as the preserver of the American bison. I knowabout that crazy trip of his'n to the Barren Lands, after musk-ox. An'I reckon I kin guess what he'll do over there in the Siwash. He'll ropecougars--sure he will--an' watch 'em jump. Jones would rope the devil,an' tie him down if the lasso didn't burn. Oh! he's hell on ropin'things. An' he's wusser 'n hell on men, an' hosses, an' dogs."
All that my well-meaning friend suggested made me, of course, only themore eager to go with Jones. Where I had once been interested in theold buffalo hunter, I was now fascinated. And now I was with him in thedesert and seeing him as he was, a simple, quiet man, who fitted themountains and the silences, and the long reaches of distance.
"It does seem hard to believe--all this about Jones," remarked Judd,one of Emmett's men.
"How could a man have the strength and the
Quick as speech could flow, Jones quoted: "And God said, 'Let us makeman in our image, and give him dominion over the fish of the sea, thefowls of the air, over all the cattle, and over every creeping thingthat creepeth upon the earth'!"
"Dominion--over all the beasts of the field!" repeated Jones, his bigvoice rolling out. He clenched his huge fists, and spread wide his longarms. "Dominion! That was God's word!" The power and intensity of himcould be felt. Then he relaxed, dropped his arms, and once more grewcalm. But he had shown a glimpse of the great, strange and absorbingpassion of his life. Once he had told me how, when a mere child, he hadhazarded limb and neck to capture a fox squirrel, how he had held on tothe vicious little animal, though it bit his hand through; how he hadnever learned to play the games of boyhood; that when the youths of thelittle Illinois village were at play, he roamed the prairies, or therolling, wooded hills, or watched a gopher hole. That boy was father ofthe man: for sixty years an enduring passion for dominion over wildanimals had possessed him, and made his life an endless pursuit.
Our guests, the Navajos, departed early, and vanished silently in thegloom of the desert. We settled down again into a quiet that was brokenonly by the low chant-like song of a praying Mormon. Suddenly thehounds bristled, and old Moze, a surly and aggressive dog, rose andbarked at some real or imaginary desert prowler. A sharp command fromJones made Moze crouch down, and the other hounds cowered closetogether.
"Better tie up the dogs," suggested Jones. "Like as not coyotes rundown here from the hills."
The hounds were my especial delight. But Jones regarded them withconsiderable contempt. When all was said, this was no small wonder, forthat quintet of long-eared canines would have tried the patience of asaint. Old Moze was a Missouri hound that Jones had procured in thatState of uncertain qualities; and the dog had grown old overcoon-trails. He was black and white, grizzled and battlescarred; and ifever a dog had an evil eye, Moze was that dog. He had a way of wagginghis tail--an indeterminate, equivocal sort of wag, as if he realizedhis ugliness and knew he stood little chance of making friends, but wasstill hopeful and willing. As for me, the first time he manifested thisevidence of a good heart under a rough coat, he won me forever.
To tell of Moze's derelictions up to that time would take more spacethan would a history of the whole trip; but the enumeration of severalincidents will at once stamp him as a dog of character, and willestablish the fact that even if his progenitors had never taken anyblue ribbons, they had at least bequeathed him fighting blood. AtFlagstaff we chained him in the yard of a livery stable. Next morningwe found him hanging by his chain on the other side of an eight-footfence. We took him down, expecting to have the sorrowful duty ofburying him; but Moze shook himself, wagged his tail and then pitchedinto the livery stable dog. As a matter of fact, fighting was hisforte. He whipped all of the dogs in Flagstaff; and when our bloodhounds came on from California, he put three of them hors de combat atonce, and subdued the pup with a savage growl. His crowning feat,however, made even the stoical Jones open his mouth in amaze. We hadtaken Moze to the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, and finding itimpossible to get over to the north rim, we left him with one ofJones's men, called Rust, who was working on the Canyon trail. Rust'sinstructions were to bring Moze to Flagstaff in two weeks. He broughtthe dog a little ahead time, and roared his appreciation of the reliefit to get the responsibility off his hands. And he related many strangethings, most striking of which was how Moze had broken his chain andplunged into the raging Colorado River, and tried to swim it just abovethe terrible Sockdolager Rapids. Rust and his fellow-workmen watchedthe dog disappear in the yellow, wrestling, turbulent whirl of waters,and had heard his knell in the booming roar of the falls. Nothing but afish could live in that current; nothing but a bird could scale thoseperpendicular marble walls. That night, however, when the men crossedon the tramway, Moze met them with a wag of his tail. He had crossedthe river, and he had come back!
To the four reddish-brown, high-framed bloodhounds I had given thenames of Don, Tige, Jude and Ranger; and by dint of persuasion, hadsucceeded in establishing some kind of family relation between them andMoze. This night I tied up the bloodhounds, after bathing and salvingtheir sore feet; and I left Moze free, for he grew fretful and surlyunder restraint.
The Mormons, prone, dark, blanketed figures, lay on the sand. Jones wascrawling into his bed. I walked a little way from the dying fire, andfaced the north, where the desert stretched, mysterious andillimitable. How solemn and still it was! I drew in a great breath ofthe cold air, and thrilled with a nameless sensation. Something wasthere, away to the northward; it called to me from out of the dark andgloom; I was going to meet it.
I lay down to sleep with the great blue expanse open to my eyes. Thestars were very large, and wonderfully bright, yet they seemed so muchfarther off than I had ever seen them. The wind softly sifted the sand.I hearkened to the tinkle of the cowbells on the hobbled horses. Thelast thing I remembered was old Moze creeping close to my side, seekingthe warmth of my body.
When I awakened, a long, pale line showed out of the dun-colored cloudsin the east. It slowly lengthened, and tinged to red. Then the morningbroke, and the slopes of snow on the San Francisco peaks behind usglowed a delicate pink. The Mormons were up and doing with the dawn.They were stalwart men, rather silent, and all workers. It wasinteresting to see them pack for the day's journey. They traveled withwagons and mules, in the most primitive way, which Jones assured me wasexactly as their fathers had crossed the plains fifty years before, onthe trail to Utah.
All morning we made good time, and as we descended into the desert, theair became warmer, the scrubby cedar growth began to fail, and thebunches of sage were few and far between. I turned often to gaze backat the San Francisco peaks. The snowcapped tips glistened and grewhigher, and stood out in startling relief. Some one said they could beseen two hundred miles across the desert, and were a landmark and afascination to all travelers thitherward.
I never raised my eyes to the north that I did not draw my breathquickly and grow chill with awe and bewilderment with the marvel of thedesert. The scaly red ground descended gradually; bare red knolls, likewaves, rolled away northward; black buttes reared their flat heads;long ranges of sand flowed between them like streams, and all slopedaway to merge into gray, shadowy obscurity, into wild and desolate,dreamy and misty nothingness.
"Do you see those white sand dunes there, more to the left?" askedEmmett. "The Little Colorado runs in there. How far does it look toyou?"
"Thirty miles, perhaps," I replied, adding ten miles to my estimate.
"It's seventy-five. We'll get there day after to-morrow. If the snow inthe mountains has begun to melt, we'll have a time getting across."
That afternoon, a hot wind blew in my face, carrying fine sand that cutand blinded. It filled my throat, sending me to the water cask till Iwas ashamed. When I fell into my bed at night, I never turned. The nextday was hotter; the wind blew harder; the sand stung sharper.
About noon the following day, the horses whinnied, and the mules rousedout of their tardy gait. "They smell water," said Emmett. And despitethe heat, and the sand in my nostrils, I smelled it, too. The dogs,poor foot-sore fellows, trotted on ahead down the trail. A few moremiles of hot sand and gravel and red stone brought us around a low mesato the Little Colorado.
It was a wide stream of swiftly running, reddish-muddy water. In thechannel, cut by floods, little streams trickled and meandered in alldirections. The main part of the river ran in close to the bank we wereon. The dogs lolled in the water; the horses and mules tried to run in,but were restrained; the men drank, and bathed their faces. Accordingto my Flagstaff adviser, this was one of the two drinks I would get onthe desert, so I availed myself heartily of the opportunity. The waterwas full of sand, but cold and gratefully thirst-quenching.
The Little Colorado seemed no more to me than a shallow creek; I heardnothi
"Doesn't look bad, eh?" queried Emmett, who read my thought. "You'd besurprised to learn how many men and Indians, horses, sheep and wagonsare buried under that quicksand."
The secret was out, and I wondered no more. At once the stream and wetbars of sand took on a different color. I removed my boots, and wadedout to a little bar. The sand seemed quite firm, but water oozed outaround my feet; and when I stepped, the whole bar shook like jelly. Ipushed my foot through the crust, and the cold, wet sand took hold, andtried to suck me down.
"How can you ford this stream with horses?" I asked Emmett.
"We must take our chances," replied he. "We'll hitch two teams to onewagon, and run the horses. I've forded here at worse stages than this.Once a team got stuck, and I had to leave it; another time the waterwas high, and washed me downstream."
Emmett sent his son into the stream on a mule. The rider lashed hismount, and plunging, splashing, crossed at a pace near a gallop. Hereturned in the same manner, and reported one bad place near the otherside.
Jones and I got on the first wagon and tried to coax up the dogs, butthey would not come. Emmett had to lash the four horses to start them;and other Mormons riding alongside, yelled at them, and used theirwhips. The wagon bowled into the water with a tremendous splash. Wewere wet through before we had gone twenty feet. The plunging horseswere lost in yellow spray; the stream rushed through the wheels; theMormons yelled. I wanted to see, but was lost in a veil of yellow mist.Jones yelled in my ear, but I could not hear what he said. Once thewagon wheels struck a stone or log, almost lurching us overboard. Amuddy splash blinded me. I cried out in my excitement, and punchedJones in the back. Next moment, the keen exhilaration of the ride gaveway to horror. We seemed to drag, and almost stop. Some one roared:"Horse down!" One instant of painful suspense, in which imaginationpictured another tragedy added to the record of this deceitful river--amoment filled with intense feeling, and sensation of splash, and yell,and fury of action; then the three able horses dragged their comradeout of the quicksand. He regained his feet, and plunged on. Spurred byfear, the horses increased their efforts, and amid clouds of spray,galloped the remaining distance to the other side.
Jones looked disgusted. Like all plainsmen, he hated water. Emmett andhis men calmly unhitched. No trace of alarm, or even of excitementshowed in their bronzed faces.
"We made that fine and easy," remarked Emmett.
So I sat down and wondered what Jones and Emmett, and these men wouldconsider really hazardous. I began to have a feeling that I would findout; that experience for me was but in its infancy; that far across thedesert the something which had called me would show hard, keen,perilous life. And I began to think of reserve powers of fortitude andendurance.
The other wagons were brought across without mishap; but the dogs didnot come with them. Jones called and called. The dogs howled andhowled. Finally I waded out over the wet bars and little streams to apoint several hundred yards nearer the dogs. Moze was lying down, butthe others were whining and howling in a state of great perturbation. Icalled and called. They answered, and even ran into the water, but didnot start across.
"Hyah, Moze! hyah, you Indian!" I yelled, losing my patience. "You'vealready swum the Big Colorado, and this is only a brook. Come on!"
This appeal evidently touched Moze, for he barked, and plunged in. Hemade the water fly, and when carried off his feet, breasted the currentwith energy and power. He made shore almost even with me, and waggedhis tail. Not to be outdone, Jude, Tige and Don followed suit, andfirst one and then another was swept off his feet and carrieddownstream. They landed below me. This left Ranger, the pup, alone onthe other shore. Of all the pitiful yelps ever uttered by a frightenedand lonely puppy, his were the most forlorn I had ever heard. Timeafter time he plunged in, and with many bitter howls of distress, wentback. I kept calling, and at last, hoping to make him come by a show ofindifference, I started away. This broke his heart. Putting up hishead, he let out a long, melancholy wail, which for aught I knew mighthave been a prayer, and then consigned himself to the yellow current.Ranger swam like a boy learning. He seemed to be afraid to get wet. Hisforefeet were continually pawing the air in front of his nose. When hestruck the swift place, he went downstream like a flash, but still keptswimming valiantly. I tried to follow along the sand-bar, but found itimpossible. I encouraged him by yelling. He drifted far below, strandedon an island, crossed it, and plunged in again, to make shore almostout of my sight. And when at last I got to dry sand, there was Ranger,wet and disheveled, but consciously proud and happy.
After lunch we entered upon the seventy-mile stretch from the Little tothe Big Colorado.
Imagination had pictured the desert for me as a vast, sandy plain, flatand monotonous. Reality showed me desolate mountains gleaming bare inthe sun, long lines of red bluffs, white sand dunes, and hills of blueclay, areas of level ground--in all, a many-hued, boundless world initself, wonderful and beautiful, fading all around into the purple hazeof deceiving distance.
Thin, clear, sweet, dry, the desert air carried a languor, adreaminess, tidings of far-off things, and an enthralling promise. Thefragrance of flowers, the beauty and grace of women, the sweetness ofmusic, the mystery of life--all seemed to float on that promise. It wasthe air breathed by the lotus-eaters, when they dreamed, and wanderedno more.
Beyond the Little Colorado, we began to climb again. The sand wasthick; the horses labored; the drivers shielded their faces. The dogsbegan to limp and lag. Ranger had to be taken into a wagon; and then,one by one, all of the other dogs except Moze. He refused to ride, andtrotted along with his head down.
Far to the front the pink cliffs, the ragged mesas, the dark, volcanicspurs of the Big Colorado stood up and beckoned us onward. But theywere a far hundred miles across the shifting sands, and baked day, andragged rocks. Always in the rear rose the San Francisco peaks, cold andpure, startlingly clear and close in the rare atmosphere.
We camped near another water hole, located in a deep, yellow-coloredgorge, crumbling to pieces, a ruin of rock, and silent as the grave. Inthe bottom of the canyon was a pool of water, covered with green scum.My thirst was effectually quenched by the mere sight of it. I sleptpoorly, and lay for hours watching the great stars. The silence waspainfully oppressive. If Jones had not begun to give a respectableimitation of the exhaust pipe on a steamboat, I should have beencompelled to shout aloud, or get up; but this snoring would havedispelled anything. The morning came gray and cheerless. I got up stiffand sore, with a tongue like a rope.
All day long we ran the gauntlet of the hot, flying sand. Night cameagain, a cold, windy night. I slept well until a mule stepped on mybed, which was conducive to restlessness. At dawn, cold, gray cloudstried to blot out the rosy east. I could hardly get up. My lips werecracked; my tongue swollen to twice its natural size; my eyes smartedand burned. The barrels and kegs of water were exhausted. Holes thathad been dug in the dry sand of a dry streambed the night before in themorning yielded a scant supply of muddy alkali water, which went to thehorses.
Only twice that day did I rouse to anything resembling enthusiasm. Wecame to a stretch of country showing the wonderful diversity of thedesert land. A long range of beautifully rounded clay stones borderedthe trail. So symmetrical were they that I imagined them works ofsculptors. Light blue, dark blue, clay blue, marine blue, cobaltblue--every shade of blue was there, but no other color. The other timethat I awoke to sensations from without was when we came to the top ofa ridge. We had been passing through red-lands. Jones called the placea strong, specific word which really was illustrative of the heat amidthose scaling red ridges. We came out where the red changed abruptly togray. I seemed always to see things first, and I cried out: "Look! hereare a red lake and trees!"
"No, lad, not a lake," said old Jim, smiling at me; "that's what hauntsthe desert traveler. It's only mirage!"
So I awoke to the realization of that illusive thing, the mirage, abeautiful lie, false
Two days passed by, all hot sand and wind and glare. The Mormons sangno more at evening; Jones was silent; the dogs were limp as rags.
At Moncaupie Wash we ran into a sandstorm. The horses turned theirbacks to it, and bowed their heads patiently. The Mormons coveredthemselves. I wrapped a blanket round my head and hid behind a sagebush. The wind, carrying the sand, made a strange hollow roar. All wasenveloped in a weird yellow opacity. The sand seeped through the sagebush and swept by with a soft, rustling sound, not unlike the wind inthe rye. From time to time I raised a corner of my blanket and peepedout. Where my feet had stretched was an enormous mound of sand. I feltthe blanket, weighted down, slowly settle over me.
Suddenly as it had come, the sandstorm passed. It left a changed worldfor us. The trail was covered; the wheels hub-deep in sand; the horses,walking sand dunes. I could not close my teeth without grating harshlyon sand.
We journeyed onward, and passed long lines of petrified trees, some ahundred feet in length, lying as they had fallen, thousands of yearsbefore. White ants crawled among the ruins. Slowly climbing the sandytrail, we circled a great red bluff with jagged peaks, that had seemedan interminable obstacle. A scant growth of cedar and sage again madeits appearance. Here we halted to pass another night. Under a cedar Iheard the plaintive, piteous bleat of an animal. I searched, andpresently found a little black and white lamb, scarcely able to stand.It came readily to me, and I carried it to the wagon.
"That's a Navajo lamb," said Emmett. "It's lost. There are NavajoIndians close by."
"Away in the desert we heard its cry," quoted one of the Mormons.
Jones and I climbed the red mesa near camp to see the sunset. All thewestern world was ablaze in golden glory. Shafts of light shot towardthe zenith, and bands of paler gold, tinging to rose, circled away fromthe fiery, sinking globe. Suddenly the sun sank, the gold changed togray, then to purple, and shadows formed in the deep gorge at our feet.So sudden was the transformation that soon it was night, the solemn,impressive night of the desert. A stillness that seemed too sacred tobreak clasped the place; it was infinite; it held the bygone ages, andeternity.
More days, and miles, miles, miles! The last day's ride to the BigColorado was unforgettable. We rode toward the head of a gigantic redcliff pocket, a veritable inferno, immeasurably hot, glaring, awful. Ittowered higher and higher above us. When we reached a point of this redbarrier, we heard the dull rumbling roar of water, and we came out, atlength, on a winding trail cut in the face of a blue overhanging theColorado River. The first sight of most famous and much-heraldedwonders of nature is often disappointing; but never can this be said ofthe blood-hued Rio Colorado. If it had beauty, it was beauty thatappalled. So riveted was my gaze that I could hardly turn it across theriver, where Emmett proudly pointed out his lonely home--an oasis setdown amidst beetling red cliffs. How grateful to the eye was the greenof alfalfa and cottonwood! Going round the bluff trail, the wheels hadonly a foot of room to spare; and the sheer descent into the red,turbid, congested river was terrifying.
I saw the constricted rapids, where the Colorado took its plunge intothe box-like head of the Grand Canyon of Arizona; and the deep,reverberating boom of the river, at flood height, was a fearful thingto hear. I could not repress a shudder at the thought of crossing abovethat rapid.
The bronze walls widened as we proceeded, and we got down presently toa level, where a long wire cable stretched across the river. Under thecable ran a rope. On the other side was an old scow moored to the bank.
"Are we going across in that?" I asked Emmett, pointing to the boat.
"We'll all be on the other side before dark," he replied cheerily.
I felt that I would rather start back alone over the desert than trustmyself in such a craft, on such a river. And it was all because I hadhad experience with bad rivers, and thought I was a judge of dangerouscurrents. The Colorado slid with a menacing roar out of a giant splitin the red wall, and whirled, eddied, bulged on toward its confinementin the iron-ribbed canyon below.
In answer to shots fired, Emmett's man appeared on the other side, androde down to the ferry landing. Here he got into a skiff, and rowedlaboriously upstream for a long distance before he started across, andthen swung into the current. He swept down rapidly, and twice the skiffwhirled, and completely turned round; but he reached our bank safely.Taking two men aboard he rowed upstream again, close to the shore, andreturned to the opposite side in much the same manner in which he hadcome over.
The three men pushed out the scow, and grasping the rope overhead,began to pull. The big craft ran easily. When the current struck it,the wire cable sagged, the water boiled and surged under it, raisingone end, and then the other. Nevertheless, five minutes were all thatwere required to pull the boat over.
It was a rude, oblong affair, made of heavy planks loosely puttogether, and it leaked. When Jones suggested that we get the agonyover as quickly as possible, I was with him, and we embarked together.Jones said he did not like the looks of the tackle; and when I thoughtof his by no means small mechanical skill, I had not added a cheerfulidea to my consciousness. The horses of the first team had to bedragged upon the scow, and once on, they reared and plunged.
When we started, four men pulled the rope, and Emmett sat in the stern,with the tackle guys in hand. As the current hit us, he let out theguys, which maneuver caused the boat to swing stern downstream. When itpointed obliquely, he made fast the guys again. I saw that this servedtwo purposes: the current struck, slid alongside, and over the stern,which mitigated the danger, and at the same time helped the boat across.
To look at the river was to court terror, but I had to look. It was aninfernal thing. It roared in hollow, sullen voice, as a monstergrowling. It had voice, this river, and one strangely changeful. Itmoaned as if in pain--it whined, it cried. Then at times it would seemstrangely silent. The current as complex and mutable as human life. Itboiled, beat and bulged. The bulge itself was an incompressible thing,like a roaring lift of the waters from submarine explosion. Then itwould smooth out, and run like oil. It shifted from one channel toanother, rushed to the center of the river, then swung close to oneshore or the other. Again it swelled near the boat, in great, boiling,hissing eddies.
"Look! See where it breaks through the mountain!" yelled Jones in myear.
I looked upstream to see the stupendous granite walls separated in agigantic split that must have been made by a terrible seismicdisturbance; and from this gap poured the dark, turgid, mystic flood.
I was in a cold sweat when we touched shore, and I jumped long beforethe boat was properly moored.
Emmett was wet to the waist where the water had surged over him. As hesat rearranging some tackle I remarked to him that of course he must bea splendid swimmer, or he would not take such risks.
"No, I can't swim a stroke," he replied; "and it wo
"You've had bad accidents here?" I questioned.
"No, not bad. We only drowned two men last year. You see, we had to towthe boat up the river, and row across, as then we hadn't the wire. Justabove, on this side, the boat hit a stone, and the current washed overher, taking off the team and two men."
"Didn't you attempt to rescue them?" I asked, after waiting a moment.
"No use. They never came up."
"Isn't the river high now?" I continued, shuddering as I glanced out atthe whirling logs and drifts.
"High, and coming up. If I don't get the other teams over to-day I'llwait until she goes down. At this season she rises and lowers every dayor so, until June then comes the big flood, and we don't cross formonths."
I sat for three hours watching Emmett bring over the rest of his party,which he did without accident, but at the expense of great effort. Andall the time in my ears dinned the roar, the boom, the rumble of thissingularly rapacious and purposeful river--a river of silt, a red riverof dark, sinister meaning, a river with terrible work to perform, ariver which never gave up its dead.
The Last of the Plainsmen by Zane Grey / Western have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes