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19: Across the Rocky Mountains

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The frontier of to-day is on the plains and in the mountains. In that immense territory bounded by the Pacific on the west, and on the east by a line running irregularly from the sources of the Red River of the North to the Platte, one hundred miles from Omaha, and thence to the mouth of the Brazos in Texas, wherever a settlement is isolated, there is the frontier.

Life in these remote regions is affected, of course, by external surroundings. The same is true of the passage of the pioneer battalions from the eastern settlements through the country westward. The mountain-frontier presents, both to the settler who makes her abode there, and to her who passes through its wild pathways, a distinct set of difficulties and dangers besides those which are incident to every family which settles far from the more populous districts.

The enormous extent of the mountain region can be measured in linear and square miles; it can be bounded roughly by the Pacific Ocean and the fountains of the great rivers which course through the Mississippi valley; it can be placed before the eye in an astronomical position between such and such latitudes and longitudes, but such descriptions convey to the mind only an idea which is quite vague and general. When we say that one hundred and fifty states like Connecticut, or twenty states like New York or Illinois, spread over that infinitude of peaks and ranges, would scarcely cover them, we gain a somewhat more adequate idea of their extent. But it is only by actually traversing this wilderness of hills and mountains, east and west, north and south, that we can more fully comprehend its extent and the difficulties to be encountered by the emigrant who crosses it.

A straight line from Cheyenne on the east, to Placer at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California, is eight hundred and fifty miles; by the shortest traveled route between these points it is upward of one thousand miles. A straight line from the same point in the east to Oregon City, among the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, measures nine hundred and fifty miles; by the traveled routes it is more than twelve hundred.

Thirty years ago, when railroads were unknown west of Buffalo, the journey by ox-teams across the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was more than three thousand miles, and might occupy from one year to eighteen months, according to circumstances.

After leaving the regions where roads and settlements made their march comparatively comfortable and secure, they struck boldly across the plains, fording rivers, hewing their way through forests, toiling across wide tracks of desert, destitute of food, herbage, and water, until they reached the Rocky Mountains. The region they were now to pass through had been penetrated by scarcely any but hunters, fur traders, soldiers, and missionaries. It was to the peaceful settler who was seeking a home, a terra incognita, an unknown land. Those mountain peaks were veiled in clouds, those devious labyrinthine valleys were the abode of darkness. The awful majesty of nature's works, the Titanic wonder-shapes which God hath wrought, are calculated to burden the imagination and subdue the aspiring soul of man by their vastness. Those mountain heights, seen from which the files of travelers passing through the profound defiles, look like insects; the relentless sway of nature's great forces—the storm roaring through the gorges, the flood plunging from the precipice and wearing trenches a thousand feet deep in the flinty rock; the walls which rear themselves into giant ramparts which human power can never scale; the wide circles of desolation, where hunger and thirst have their domain; such spectacles must indeed have thrilled the hearts, awed the minds, and filled the imaginations of the early pioneers with forebodings of difficulty and danger.

And yet the actual difficulties encountered by the emigrants, the actual toils, dangers, and hardships endured then in conquering a passage through and over the Rocky Mountains and their kindred ranges, must have surpassed the anticipations of the shrewdest forethought, and the bodings of the gloomiest imagination. Tongue cannot tell, nor pen describe, nor hath it entered into the heart of the eastern home-dweller to conceive of the forlorn and terrible stories of those early mountain passages. We may wonder whether the fortunate traveler of these days, who is whirled up and down those perilous slopes by a forty-ton locomotive, often looks back to the time when those rickety wagons and lean oxen jogged along, drearily, eight or ten miles a day through those terrible fastnesses, or reverting to such a scene, expends upon it a merited sympathy. Now a seven days' journey from Manhattan to the Golden Gate, sitting in a palace car, well fed by day, well rested by night, scarcely more fatigued when one steps on the streets of San Francisco than by a day's journey on horseback in the olden time! Then a year's journey in the emigrant wagon, scantily fed, poorly nourished with sleep, footsore and haggard, the weary emigrant and his wife dragged themselves into the spot in the valley of the Sacramento, or the Columbia, where they were to commence anew their homely toils!

Who can sit down calmly, and, casting his eyes back to those heroes and heroines—the Rocky Mountain pioneers—and not feel his heart swell with pride and gratitude! Pride, in that, as an American, he can count such men and women among his countrymen; gratitude, in that he and the whole country are reaping fruits from their heroic courage, fortitude, and enterprise. Dangers met with an undaunted heart, hardships endured with unshrinking fortitude, trials and sufferings borne with cheerful patience, forgetfulness of self, devotion and sacrifice for others: such, in brief words, is the record of woman in those first journeys of the pioneers who crossed the continent for the purpose of making homes, forming communities, and building states on the Pacific slope.

Among these histories, which illustrate most clearly the virtues of the pioneer women, we count those which display her battling with the difficulties of the passage through the mountains, as proving that the heroine of our own time may be matched with those who have lived before her in any age or clime. One of these histories runs as follows: In the corps of pioneers who, in 1844, were pushing the outposts of civilization farther towards the setting sun, was a young couple who left Illinois late in the summer of that year, and, journeying with a white-tilted wagon, drawn by four oxen, crossed the Missouri near the site of old Fort Kearney, and moving in a bee line over the prairie, early in November, encamped for the winter just beyond the forks of the Platte.

A low cabin, built of cotton-wood, banked up with earth, and consisting of a single room, which contained their furniture, farming utensils, and stores, sufficed as a shelter against the severe winds which sweep over those plains in the inclement season; their oxen, not requiring to be housed, were allowed to roam at large and browse upon the sweet grass which remains nourishing in that region throughout the winter.

At that period immense herds of bison roved through that section, and in a few days after the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Hinman—for this was their name—they had each shot, almost without stirring from their camp, three fat buffalo cows, whose flesh was dried and added to their winter's store. A supply of fresh meat was thus near at hand, and for five weeks they fared sumptuously on buffalo soup and ribs, tender-loin and marrow bones, roasted with succulent tidbits from the hump, and tongue, which, with boiled Indian meal, formed the staple of their repasts.

Both Mr. Hinman and his wife were scions of that hardy stock which had, even before the Revolutionary War, set out from Connecticut, and, cutting their way through the forest, had crossed the Alleghany Mountains and river, and pitched their camp in the rich valley of the Muskingum, near the site of the present city of Marietta. Both had also grown up amid the surroundings of true frontier life, and were endowed with faculties, as well as fitted by experience, to engage in the bold enterprise wherein they were now embarked, namely, to cross the Rocky Mountains with a single ox-team and establish themselves in the fertile vale of the Willamette in Oregon.

The spare but well-knit frame, the swarthy skin, the prominent features, the deep-set eyes, the alert and yet composed manner; marked in them the true type of the born borderer. To these physical traits were united the qualities of mind and heart which are equally characteristic of the class to which they belonged; an apparent insensibility to fear, a capacity for endurance that exists in the moral nature rather than in the body, and a self-reliance that never faltered, formed a combination which fitted them to cope with the difficulties that environed their perilous project.

As early in the spring of 1845 as the ground would permit, they re-packed their goods and stores, hung out the white sails of their prairie schooner and pursued their journey up the north fork of the Platte, crossed the Red Buttes, went through Devil's Gate, skirted the banks of the Sweet Water River, and winding through the great South Pass, diverted their course to the north in the direction of the head-waters of Snake River, which would guide them by its current to the Columbia.

At this stage in their journey they consulted a rough map of the route on which two trails were laid down, either of which would lead to the stream they were seeking. With characteristic boldness they chose the shorter and more difficult trail.

Following its tortuous course in a northwesterly direction they reached a point where the path was barely wide enough for the wagon to pass, and was bounded on the one side by a wall of rock and on the other by a ragged precipice descending hundreds of feet into a dark ravine.

Here Mrs. Hinman dismounted from her seat in the wagon to assist in conducting the team past this dangerous point. Her husband stood between the oxen and the precipice when the hind wheel of the wagon slipped on a smooth stone, the vehicle tilted and being top-heavy upset and was precipitated into the abyss, dragging with it the oxen who, in their fall, carried down Mr. Hinman who stood beside the wheel yoke.

He gave a loud cry as he fell, and gazing horror-stricken over the brink Mrs. Hinman saw him bounding from rock to rock preceded by the wagon and oxen which rolled over and over till they disappeared from view.

In the awful stillness of that solitude the beating of her heart became audible as she rapidly reviewed her terrible situation, and taxed her mind to know what she should do. Summoning up all her resolution she ran swiftly along the edge of the precipice in search of a place where she could descend, in the hope that by some rare good fortune her husband might have survived his fall. Half a mile back of the spot where the accident occurred she found a more gradual descent into the ravine, and here, by swinging herself from bush to bush she managed at length with the utmost difficulty and danger to reach the bottom of the ravine, but could find there no trace either of her husband or of the ox-team.

Scanning the face of the precipice she saw, at last, one hundred feet above her the wreck of the wagon, and the bodies of the oxen, which had landed upon a projecting ledge.

At great risk of being dashed to pieces, she succeeded in climbing to the spot. The patient beasts which had carried them so far upon their way were crushed to a jelly; among the remains of the wagon scarcely a vestige appeared of the furniture, utensils, and stores with which it was laden. She marked the track it had made in its descent, and digging her fingers and toes into the crevices of the rock, and drawing herself from point to point in a zigzag course, by means of bushes and projecting stones, she slowly scaled the declivity and reached a narrow ledge some three hundred feet from the ravine, where she paused to take breath.

A low moan directed her eyes to a clump of bushes some fifty feet above her, and there she caught sight of a limp arm hanging among the stunted foliage. Climbing to the spot she found her husband breathing but unconscious. He was shockingly bruised, and although no bones had been broken, the purple current trickling slowly from his mouth showed that some internal organ had been injured. While there is life there is hope. If he could be placed in a comfortable position he might still revive and live. Feeling in his breast pocket she found a leather flask filled with whisky with which she bathed his face after pouring a large draught down his throat. In a few moments he revived sufficiently to comprehend his situation.

"Don't leave me, Jane," whispered the suffering man, "I shan't keep you long." It was unnecessary to prefer such a request to a woman who had gone through such perils to save one whom, she loved dearer than life. "I'll bring you out safe and sound, Jack," returned she, "or die right here with you."

While racking her brain for means to remove him fifty feet lower to the ledge from which she had first spied him, a welcome sight met her eye. It was the axe and the coil of rope which had fallen from the wagon during its descent, and now lay within easy reach. Passing the rope several times around his body so as to form a sling she cut a stout bush, and trimming it, made a stake which she firmly fastened into a crevice, and with, an exertion of strength, such as her loving and resolute heart could have alone inspired her to put forth, she extricated him from his position, and laying the ends of the rope over the stake gently lowered him to the ledge, and gathering moss made a pillow for his bleeding head. Then descending to the spot where the carcasses of the oxen lay she quickly flayed one, and cutting off a large piece of flesh she ransacked the wreck of the wagon and found a blanket and a pot. Returning to her husband she kindled a fire, and made broth with some water which she found in the hollow of a rock.

Gathering moss and lichens she made a comfortable couch upon the rock, and gently stretched her groaning patient upon it, covering him with the blanket for the mountain air was chill even in that August afternoon. The wounded man's breathing grew more regular, the bloody ooze no longer flowed from his white lips, but his frame was still racked by agonizing pains.

The hours sped away as the devoted wife bent over him; the height of the mountains in that region materially shortens the day to such as are in the valleys, but though the sun sets early behind the western summits twilight lingers long after his departure. When the orb of day had disappeared, Mrs. H. still viewed with wonder, not unmixed with fear, the savage grandeur of the mountains which lifted their heads still glittering in the passing light; and gazing into the profound below she watched the shades as they deepened to blackness.

The ledge on which the forlorn pair lay was barely four feet wide and less than ten feet long. There, on the face of that precipice, one hundred miles from the nearest settlement, all through the lonely watches of the night, the strong-hearted wife, with tear-dimmed eyes, hung over the sufferer. Many a silent prayer in the weary hours of that moonless night did she send up to the Father of mercies. Many a plan for bringing succor or for alleviating pain on the morrow did she devise.

Will-power is the most potent factor in giving a satisfactory solution of the problem of vitality. Just as the gray light was shimmering in the eastern sky the wounded man moaned as if he wished to speak. His wife understood that language of pain and weakness, and placed her ear to his lips. "I won't die, Jane," he said scarcely above a whisper. "You shan't die, Jack," was the reply. A great hope dawned like a sun upon her as those four magic syllables were uttered.

He fell into a doze, and when he woke the sun was up. "Can you stay here all alone for a few hours," inquired Mrs. H———, after feeding her patient, "I am going to see if I can fetch some one to help us out of this." "Go," he answered. Placing the flask and broth within reach of her husband, and kissing him, she sprang up the acclivity as though she had wings, reached the trail and sped along it southward. Fifteen miles would bring her to the spot where the two trails met: here she hoped to meet some wayfaring train of emigrants, or some party of hunters coursing through the defiles of the mountains.

Sooner than she expected, after reaching the fork, her wish was gratified. In less than half an hour six hunters came up with her, and, hearing her story, three of them volunteered to go and bring her husband to their cabin, which stood half a mile away from the trail. A horse was furnished to Mrs. H———, and the three hunters and she rode rapidly to the scene of the disaster.

Skipping down the declivity like chamois, and helping their brave companion, who was now quite fatigued with her exertion, they reached the rocky shelf. The mountain air and the delicious consciousness that he would live, coupled with implicit confidence in the success of his wife's errand, had acted like a charm on the vigorous organization of the wounded man, and he begged that he might be immediately removed.

He was accordingly carried carefully to the trail, and placed astride of one of the horses in front of one of the hunters. After a slow march of four hours, he was safely stowed in the cabin of the hunters, where, in a few weeks, he entirely recovered from his injuries.

It might be readily supposed after such a grave experience of the dangers of mountain life, that our heroine and her husband would have been inclined to return to their old home on the sunny prairies of Illinois. On the contrary, they strongly desired to continue the prosecution of their Oregon enterprise, and were only prevented from carrying it out by the lack of a team and the necessary utensils, etc.

The hunters, learning their wishes, returned to the scene of the mishap, and scoured the side of the mountain in search of the articles which had been thrown from the wagon in its descent. They succeeded in recovering uninjured a large number of articles, including a few which still remained in the wrecked vehicle. Then clubbing together, they made up a purse and bought two pair of oxen and a wagon from a passing train of emigrants, who also generously contributed articles for the use and comfort of the resolute but unfortunate pair. Such deeds of charity are habitual with the men and women of the frontier, and the farther west one goes the more spontaneously and warmly does the heart bound to relieve the sufferings and supply the wants of the unfortunate, particularly of those who have been injured or reduced while battling with the hardships and dangers incident to a wild country. The more rugged the region on our western border, the more boundless becomes the sympathetic faculty of its inhabitants. Nowhere is a large and unselfish charity more lavishly exercised than among the Rocky Mountain men and women. Free as the breezes that sweep those towering summits, warm as the sun of midsummer, bright as the icy peaks which lift themselves into the sky, the spirit of loving kindness for the unfortunate animates the bosoms of the sons and daughters of that mountain land.

After wintering with their hospitable friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hinman pursued their journey the following spring, and, after a toilsome march, attended by no further startling incidents, reached their destination in Oregon.

There in their new home, which Mrs. H———, by her industry and watchfulness, contributed so largely to make, they found ample scope for the exercise of those qualities which they had proved themselves to possess. It is men and women like these whom we must thank for building up our empire on that far off coast.

The old hunters and gold-seekers in that region are the faithful depositaries of the mountain legends respecting the adventures of the early emigrants, and the observers and annotators, as it were, of the passages made by the pioneers in later times. Around their camp fires at night, when their repast is made and their pipes lighted, they beguile the lonely hours with tales of dreadful suffering, or of hairbreadth escapes from danger, or of heroism displayed by mountain wayfarers. This, as we have elsewhere remarked, is the hunters' pastime.

While a hunting party were once threading the defiles of the mountain, they espied below them in the valley certain suspicious signs. Approaching the spot, they discovered that a train of emigrants had been attacked by the savages, their wagons robbed, their oxen killed, a number of the party massacred and scalped, and the rest dispersed.

One of the hunters proceeds with the story from this point.

"Thirsting for a speedy revenge, the men at once divided. With Augur-eye as guide, I took command of the detachment who had to search the river bank; the old Sergeant commanded the scouting party told off to cross the ford and scour the timber on the right side of the river; whilst the third band was appropriated to the Doctor. The weather was cold, and the sky, thickly covered with fleecy clouds, foreboded a heavy fall of snow. The wind blew in fitful gusts, and seemed to chill one's blood with its icy breath, as, sweeping past, it went whistling and sighing up the glen. The rattle of the horses' hoofs, as the receding parties galloped over the turf, grew fainter and fainter, and when our little band halted on a sandy reach, about a mile up the river, not a sound was audible, save the steady rhythm of the panting horses and the noisy rattle of the stream, as, tumbling over the craggy rocks, it rippled on its course. The 'Tracker' was again down; this time creeping along upon the sand on his hands and knees, and deliberately and carefully examining the marks left on its impressible surface, which, to his practiced eye, were in reality letters, nay, even readable words and sentences. As we watched this tardy progress in impatient silence, suddenly, as if stung by some poisonous reptile, the Indian sprang upon his legs, and, making eager signs for us to approach, pointing at the same time eagerly to something a short distance beyond where he stood. A near approach revealed a tiny hand and part of an arm pushed through the sand.

"At first we imagined the parent, whether male or female, had thus roughly buried the child—a consolatory assumption which Augur-eye soon destroyed. Scraping away the sand partially hiding the dead boy, he placed his finger on a deep cleft in the skull, which told at once its own miserable tale. This discovery clearly proved that the old guide was correct in his readings, that the savages were following up the trail of the survivors. A man who had escaped and just joined us, appeared so utterly terror-stricken at this discovery, that it was with difficulty he could be supported on his horse by the strong troopers who rode beside him. We tarried not for additional signs, but pushed on with all possible haste. The trail was rough, stony, and over a ledge of basaltic rocks, rendering progression not only tedious but difficult and dangerous; a false step of the horse, and the result might have proved fatal to the rider. The guide spurs on his Indian mustang, that like a goat scrambles over the craggy track; for a moment or two he disappears, being hidden by a jutting rock; we hear him yell a sort of 'war-whoop,' awakening the echoes in the encircling hills; reckless of falling, we too spur on, dash round the splintered point, and slide rather than canter down a shelving bank, to reach a second sand-beach, over which the guide is galloping and shouting. We can see the fluttering garments of a girl, who is running with all her might towards the pine trees; she disappears amongst the thick foliage of the underbrush ere the guide can come up to her, but leaping from off his horse, he follows her closely, and notes the spot wherein she has hidden herself amidst a tangle of creeping vines and maple bushes. He awaited our coming, and, motioning us to surround the place of concealment quickly, remained still as a statue whilst we arranged our little detachment so as to preclude any chance of an escape. Then gliding noiselessly as a reptile through the bushes, he was soon hidden. It appeared a long time, although not more than a few minutes had elapsed from our losing sight of him, until a shrill cry told us something was discovered. Dashing into the midst of the underbrush, a strange scene presented itself. The hardy troopers seemed spell-bound, neither was I the less astonished.

"Huddled closely together, and partially covered with branches, crouched two women and the little girl whose flight had led to this unlooked-for discovery. In a state barely removed from that of nudity, the unhappy trio strove to hide themselves from the many staring eyes which were fixed upon them, not for the purpose of gratifying an indecent curiosity, but simply because no one had for the moment realized the condition in which the unfortunates were placed. Soon, however, the fact was evident to the soldiers that the women were nearly unclad, and all honor to their rugged goodness, they stripped off their thick topcoats, and throwing them to the trembling females, turned every one away and receded into the bush. It was enough that the faces of the men were white which had presented themselves so unexpectedly. The destitute fugitives, assured that the savages had not again discovered them, hastily wrapped themselves in the coats of the soldiers, and, rushing out from their lair, knelt down, and clasping their arms round my knees, poured out thanks to the Almighty for their deliverance with a fervency and earnestness terrible to witness. I saw, on looking round me, streaming drops trickling over the sunburnt faces of many of the men, whose iron natures it was not easy to disturb under ordinary circumstances.

"It was soon explained to the fugitives that they were safe, and as every hour's delay was a dangerous waste of time, the rescued women and child were as carefully clad in the garments of the men as circumstances permitted, and placed on horses, with a hunter riding on either side to support them. Thus reinforced, the cavalcade, headed by Augur-eye, moved slowly back to the place where we had left the pack-train encamped, with all the necessary supplies. I lingered behind to examine the place wherein the women had concealed themselves. The boughs of the vine-maple, together with other slender shrubs constituting the underbrush, had been rudely woven together, forming, at best, but a very inefficient shelter from the wind, which swept in freezing currents through the valley. Had it rained, they must soon have been drenched, or if snow had fallen heavily, the 'wickey' house and its occupants soon would have been buried. How had they existed? This was a question I was somewhat puzzled to answer.

"On looking round I observed a man's coat, pushed away under some branches, and on the few smouldering embers by which the women had been sitting when the child rushed in and told of our coming, was a small tin pot with a cover on it, the only utensil visible. Whilst occupied in making the discoveries I was sickened by a noisome stench, which proceeded from the dead body of a man, carefully hidden by branches, grass, and moss, a short distance from the little cage of twisted boughs. Gazing on the dead man a suspicion too revolting to mention suddenly flashed upon me. Turning away saddened and horror-stricken, I returned to the cage and removed the cover from the saucepan, the contents of which confirmed my worst fears. Hastily quitting the fearful scene, the like of which I trust never to witness again, I mounted my horse and galloped after the party, by this time some distance ahead.

"Two men and the guide were desired to find the spot where the scouting parties were to meet each other, and to bring them with all speed to the mule camp. It was nearly dark when we reached our destination, the sky looked black and lowering, the wind appeared to be increasing in force, and small particles of half-frozen rain drove smartly against our faces, telling in pretty plain language of the coming snowfall. Warm tea, a good substantial meal, and suitable clothes, which had been sent in case of need by the officers' wives stationed at the 'Post,' worked wonders in the way of restoring bodily weakness; but the shock to the mental system time alone could alleviate. I cannot say I slept much during the night. Anxiety lest we might be snowed in, and a fate almost as terrible as that from which we had rescued the poor women, should be the lot of all, sat upon me like a nightmare. More than this, the secret I had discovered seemed to pall every sense and sicken me to the heart, and throughout the silent hours of the dismal darkness I passed in review the ghostly pageant of the fight and all its horrors, the escape of the unhappy survivors, the finding of the murdered boy and starving women, and more than all—the secret I had rather even now draw a veil over, and leave to the imagination."

A fugitive woman in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains is indeed an object of pity; but when she boldly faces the dangers that surround her in such a position, and succeeds by her courage, endurance, and ingenuity in holding her own, and finally extricating herself from the perils by which she is environed, she may fairly challenge our admiration. Such a woman was Miss Janette Riker, who proved how strong is the spirit of self-reliance which animates the daughters of the border under circumstances calculated to daunt and depress the stoutest heart.

The Riker family, consisting of Mr. Riker, his two sons, and his daughter Janette, passed through the Dacotah country in 1849, and late in September had penetrated to the heart of the mountains in the territory now known as Montana. Before pursuing their journey from this point to their destination in Oregon, they encamped for three days in a well-grassed valley for the purpose of resting their cattle, and adding to their stock of provisions a few buffalo-humps and tongues.

On the second day after their arrival at this spot, the father and his two sons set out on their buffalo hunt with the expectation of returning before nightfall. But the sun set and darkness came without bringing them back to the lonely girl, who in sleepless anxiety awaited their return all night seated beneath the white top of the Conestoga wagon. At early dawn she started on their trail, which she followed for several miles to a deep gorge where she lost all trace of the wanderers, and was after a long and unavailing search compelled in the utmost grief and distraction of mind, to return to the camp.

For a week she spent her whole time in seeking to find some trace of her missing kinsmen, but without success. As the lonely maiden gazed at the mighty walls which frowned upon her and barred her egress east and west from her prison-house, hope died away in her heart, and she prayed for speedy death. This mood was but momentary; the love of life soon asserted its power, and she cast about her for some means whereby she could either extricate herself from her perilous situation, or at least prolong her existence.

To attempt to find her way over the mountains seemed to her impossible. Her only course was to provide a shelter against the winter, and stay where she was until discovered by some passing hunters, or by Indians, whom she feared less than an existence spent in such a solitude and surrounded by so many dangers.

Axes and spades among the farming implements in the wagon supplied her with the necessary tools, and by dint of assiduous labor, to which her frame had long been accustomed, she contrived to build, in a few weeks, a rude hut of poles and small logs. Stuffing the interstices with dried grass, and banking up the earth around it, she threw over it the wagon-top, which she fastened firmly to stakes driven in the ground, and thus provided a shelter tolerably rain-tight and weather-proof.

Thither she conveyed the stoves and other contents of the wagon. The oxen, straying through the valley, fattened themselves on the sweet grass until the snow fell; she then slaughtered and flayed the fattest one, and cutting up the carcase, packed it away for winter's use. Dry logs and limbs of trees, brought together and chopped up with infinite labor, sufficed to keep her in fuel. Although for nearly three months she was almost completely buried in the snow, she managed to keep alive and reasonably comfortable by making an orifice for the smoke to escape, and digging out fuel from the drift which covered her wood-pile. Her situation was truly forlorn, but still preferable to the risk of being devoured by wolves or mountain lions, which, attracted by the smell of the slaughtered ox, had begun to prowl around her shelter before the great snow fall, but were now unable to reach her beneath the snowy bulwarks. She suffered more, however, from the effect of the spring thaw which flooded her hut with water and forced her to shift her quarters to the wagon, which she covered with the cotton top, after removing thither her blankets and provisions. The valley was overflowed by the melting of the snows, and for two weeks she was unable to build a fire, subsisting on uncooked Indian meal and raw beef, which she had salted early in the winter.

Late in April, she was found in the last stages of exhaustion, by a party of Indians, who kindly relieved her wants and carried her across the mountains with her household goods, and left her at the Walla Walla station. This act on the part of the savages, who were a wild and hostile tribe, was due to their admiration for the hardihood of the "young white squaw," who had maintained herself through the rigors of the winter and early spring in that awful solitude—a feat which, they said, none of their own squaws would have dared perform. The fate of her father and brothers was never ascertained, though it was conjectured that they had either lost their way or had fallen from a precipice.

Miss Riker afterwards married, and, as a pioneer wife, found a sphere of usefulness for which her high qualities of character admirably fitted her.

Among the most authentic histories of these bands of early pioneers which undertook to make the passage of this region thirty years since, when it involved such difficulties and dangers, is the following:

In the year 1846, soon after the commencement of the Mexican War, a party of emigrants undertook to cross the Continent, with the intention of settling on the Pacific coast. The party consisted of J. F. Reed, wife, and four children; Jacob Donner, wife, and seven children; William Pike, wife, and two children; William Foster, wife, and one child; Lewis Kiesburg; wife, and one child; Mrs. Murphy, a widow woman, and five children; William McCutcheon, wife, and one child; W. H. Eddy, wife, and two children; W. Graves, wife, and eight children; Jay Fosdicks, and his wife; John Denton, Noah James, Patrick Dolan, Samuel Shoemaker, C. F. Stanton, Milton Elliot, ——— Smith, Joseph Rianhard, Augustus Spized, John Baptiste, ——— Antoine, ——— Herring, ——— Hallerin, Charles Burger, and Baylie Williams, making a total of sixty-five souls, of whom ten were women, and thirty-one were children.

Having supplied themselves with wagons, horses, cattle, provisions, arms, ammunition, and other articles requisite for their enterprise, they set out on their journey from the Mississippi, and, after a toilsome march of many weeks across the prairies, they reached, late in the summer of that year, the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains. Resting for a few days in a grassy valley, and, gazing with wistful eyes on the mighty peaks which towered beyond them, they girded up their loins for the novel toils and perils they were soon to encounter, and pushed on, expecting to follow the great military route which would conduct them, before the winter snows, to the sunny slopes which are fanned by the breezes of the peaceful ocean.

They reached the Sweet-Water River, on the eastern side of the mountains, late in August. While in camp there, they were induced, by the representations of one Lansford W. Hastings, to take a new route to the Pacific coast. Relying on the truth of these statements, and full of hope that they would thus shorten their journey, they left the beaten track and started onward through an unknown region. Long before they had reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake, they began to encounter the greatest difficulties. At one time they found themselves in a dense forest, and, seeing no outlet or passage, were forced to cut their way through, making only forty miles progress in thirty days.

In September, they were passing through the Utah Valley, since occupied by the Mormons. Here death invaded their ranks, and removed Mr. Hallerin. This and an accident to one of the wagons, detained them two days.

Pursuing their march, they were next forced to travel across a desert tract without grass or water, and lost many cattle.

At this point of the journey, the gloomiest forebodings seized the stoutest heart. They were in a rugged and desolate region, far from all hope of succor, surrounded by hostile Indians, their cattle dying, and their stock of provisions lessening rapidly, with the sad conviction hourly forcing itself upon their minds, that they had been betrayed by one of their own countrymen.

Some of the families had already been completely ruined by the loss of their cattle and by being forced to abandon their goods and property. They were in complete darkness as to the character of the road before them. To retreat across the desert to Bridger, was impossible. There was no way left to them but to advance; and this they now regarded as perilous in the extreme. The cattle that survived were exhausted and broken down; but to remain there was to die. Some of the men, broken by their toils and sufferings, lay down and declared they might as well die there as further on; others cursed the deception of which they had been the victims; others uttered silent prayers, and then sought to raise the drooping spirits of their comrades, and encourage them to press forward. Of these last were the females of the party—wives, who never faltered in these hours of trial, but sustained their husbands in their dark moods; and mothers, who fought the dreadful battle, thinking more of their children than of themselves.

Once more the party resumed their journey, but only to meet fresh disasters.

"Thirty-six head of working cattle were lost, and the oxen that survived were greatly injured. One of Mr. Reed's wagons was brought to camp; and two, with all they contained, were buried in the plain. George Donner lost one wagon. Kiesburg also lost a wagon. The atmosphere was so dry upon the plain, that the wood-work of all the wagons shrank to a degree that made it next to impossible to get any of them through.

"Having yoked some loose cows, as a team for Mr. Reed, they broke up their camp, on the morning of September 16th, and resumed their toilsome journey, with feelings which can be appreciated by those only who have traveled the road under somewhat similar circumstances. On this day they traveled six miles, encountering a very severe snow storm. About three o'clock in the afternoon, they met Milton Elliot and William Graves, returning from a fruitless effort to find some cattle that had strayed away. They informed them that they were in the immediate vicinity of a spring."

This spring they succeeded in reaching, and there they encamped for the night. At the early dawn, on September 17th, they resumed their journey, and, at four o'clock A. M. of the 18th, they arrived at water and grass, some of their cattle having meanwhile perished, and the teams which survived being in a very enfeebled condition. Here the most of the little property which Mr. Reed still had was burned, or cached, together with that of others. Mr. Eddy now proposed putting his team on Mr. Reed's wagon, and letting Mr. Pike have his wagon so that the three families could be taken on. This was done. They remained in camp during the day of the 18th, to complete these arrangements, and to recruit their exhausted cattle.

The journey was continued, with scarcely any interruption or accident, until the first of October, when some Indians stole a yoke of oxen from Mr. Graves. Other thefts followed, and it became evident that the party would suffer severely from the hostility of the Indians.

A large number of cattle were stolen or shot by the merciless marauders. The women were kept in a perpetual state of alarm by the proximity of the savages. Maternal love and anxiety for those thirty-one innocent children now exposed to captivity and death at the hands of the prowling redskins, made the lives of those unfortunate matrons one long, sad vigil. They could meet death locked in the fastnesses of the mountains, or in the desolate plain; they could even lay the remains of those dear to them, far from home, in the darkest cañon of those terrible mountains, but the thought of seeing their children torn from their embrace and borne into a barbarous captivity, was too much for their woman's natures. The camp was the scene of tears and mourning from an apprehension more dreadful even than real sufferings.

The fear of starvation, also, at this stage in their journey, began to be felt. An account was taken of their stock of provisions, and it was found that they would last only a few weeks longer, and that only by putting the party on allowances.

Here, again, the self-sacrificing spirit that woman always shows in hours of trial, shone out with surpassing brightness. Often did those devoted wives and mothers take from their own scanty portion to satisfy the cravings of their husbands and children.

For some weeks after the 19th of October, 1846, the forlorn band moved slowly on their course through those terrible mountains. Sometimes climbing steeps which the foot of white man had never before scaled, sometimes descending yawning cañons, where a single misstep would have plunged them into the abyss hundreds of feet below. The winter fairly commenced in October. The snow was piled up by the winds into drifts in some places forty feet deep, through which they had to burrow or dig their way. A sudden rise in the temperature converted the snow into slush, and forced them to wade waist deep through it, or lie drenched to the skin in their wretched camp.

One by one their cattle had given out, and their only supply of meat was from the chance game which crossed their track. At last their entire stock of provisions was exhausted, and they stood face to face with the grim specter of starvation. They had now encamped in the mountains, burrowing in the deep snow, or building rude cabins, which poorly sufficed to ward off the biting blast, and every day their condition was growing more pitiable.

On the 4th of January, 1847, Mr. Eddy, seeing that all would soon perish unless food were quickly obtained, resolved to take his gun and press forward alone. He informed the party of his purpose. They besought him not to leave them. But some of the women, recognizing the necessity of his expedition, and excited by the feeble wails of their perishing children, bade him God-speed. One of them, Mary Graves, who had shown an iron nerve and endurance all through their awful march, insisted that she would accompany him or perish. The two accordingly set forward. Mr. Eddy soon afterwards had the good fortune to shoot a deer, and the couple made a hearty meal on the entrails of the animal.

The next day several of the party came up with them, and feasted on the carcass of the deer. Their number during the preceding night had again been lessened by the death of Jay Fosdicks. The survivors, somewhat refreshed, returned to their camp on the following day.

The Indians Lewis and Salvadore, being threatened with death by the famished emigrants, had some days before stolen away. After the deer had been consumed, and while Mr. Eddy's party were returning to camp, they fell upon the tracks of these fugitives; Foster, who was at times insane through his sufferings, followed the trail and overtook and killed them both. He cut the flesh from their bones and dried it for future use. Mr. Eddy and a few of the party, in their wanderings, at length reached an Indian village, where their immediate sufferings were relieved.

The government of California being informed of the imminent peril of the emigrants in the mountain camp, took measures to send out relief, and a number of inhabitants contributed articles of clothing and provisions. Two expeditions, however, failed to cross the mountains in consequence of the depth of the snow. At length, a party of seven men, headed by Aquilla Glover, and accompanied by Mr. Eddy, who, though weak, insisted on returning to ascertain the fate of his beloved wife and children, succeeded in crossing the mountains and reaching the camp.

The last rays of the setting sun were fading from the mountain-tops as the succoring party arrived at the camp of the wanderers. All was silent as the grave. The wasted forms of some of the wretched sufferers were reposing on beds of snow outside the miserable shelters which they had heaped up to protect them from the bitter nights. When they heard the shouts of the new comers, they feebly rose to a sitting posture and glared wildly at them. Women with faces that looked like death's heads were clasping to their hollow bosoms children which had wasted to skeletons.

Slowly the perception of the purpose for which their visitors had come, dawned upon their weakened intellects; they smiled, they gibbered, they stretched out their bony arms and hurrahed in hollow tones. Some began to stamp and rave, invoking the bitterest curses upon the mountains, the snow, and on the name of Lansford W. Hastings; others wept and bewailed their sad fate; the women alone showed firmness and self-possession; they fell down and prayed, thanking God for delivering them from a terrible fate, and imploring His blessing upon those who had come to their relief.

Upon going down into the cabins of this mountain camp, the party were presented with sights of woe and scenes of horror, the full tale of which never will and never should be told; sights which, although the emigrants had not yet commenced eating the dead, were so revolting that they were compelled to withdraw and make a fire where they would not be under the necessity of looking upon the painful spectacle.

Fourteen, nearly all men, had actually perished of hunger and cold. The remnant were in a condition beyond the power of language to describe, or even of the imagination to conceive. A spectacle more appalling was never presented in the annals of human suffering. For weeks many of the sufferers had been living on bullocks' hides, and even more loathsome food, and some, in the agonies of hunger, were about to dig up the bodies of their dead companions for the purpose of prolonging their own wretched existence.

The females showed that fertility of resource for which woman is so remarkable in trying crises. Mrs. Reed, who lived in Brinn's snow-cabin, had, during a considerable length of time, supported herself and four children by cracking and boiling again the bones from which Brinn's family had carefully scraped all the meat. These bones she had often taken and boiled again and again for the purpose of extracting the least remaining portion of nutriment. Mrs. Eddy and all but one of her children had perished.

The condition of the unfortunates drew tears from the eyes of their preservers. Their outward appearance was less painful and revolting, even, than the change which had taken place in their minds and moral natures.

Many of them had in a great measure lost all self-respect. Untold sufferings had broken their spirits and prostrated everything like an honorable and commendable pride. Misfortune had dried up the fountains of the heart; and the dead, whom their weakness had made it impossible to carry out, were dragged from their cabins by means of ropes, with an apathy that afforded a faint indication of the change which a few weeks of dire suffering had produced in hearts that once sympathized with the distressed and mourned the departed. With many of them, all principle, too, had been swept away by this tremendous torrent of accumulated, and accumulating calamities. It became necessary to place a guard over the little store of provisions brought to their relief; and they stole and devoured the rawhide strings from the snow-shoes of those who had come to deliver them. But some there were whom no temptation could seduce, no suffering move; who were

'Among the faithless faithful still.'

The brightest examples of these faithful few were to be found among the devoted women of that doomed band. In the midst of those terrible scenes when they seemed abandoned by God and man, the highest traits of the female character were constantly displayed. The true-hearted, affectionate wife, the loving, tender mother, the angel of mercy to her distressed comrades—in all these relations her woman's heart never failed her.

On the morning of February 20th John Rhodes, Daniel Tucker, and R. S. Mootrey, three of the party, went to the camp of George Donner, eight miles distant, taking with them a little beef. These sufferers were found with but one hide remaining. They had determined that, upon consuming this, they would dig up from the snow the bodies of those who had died from starvation. Mr. Donner was helpless. Mrs. Donner was weak, but in good health, and might have come into the settlements with Mr. Glover's party, yet she solemnly but calmly declared her determination to remain with her husband, and perform for him the last sad offices of affection and humanity. And this she did in full view of the fact that she must necessarily perish by remaining behind.

The rescuing party, after consultation, decided that their best course would be to carry the women and children across the mountains, and then return for the remnant of the sufferers. Accordingly, leaving in the mountain-camp all the provisions that they could spare, they commenced their return to the settlement with twenty-three persons, principally women and children, from whom, with a kind thoughtfulness, they concealed the horrible story of the journey of Messrs. Eddy and Foster.

A child of Mrs. Pike, and one of Mrs. Kiesburg, were carried in the arms of two of the party. Hardly had they marched two miles through the snow, when two of Mrs. Reed's children became exhausted—one of them a girl of eight, the other a little boy of four.

There were but two alternatives: either to return with them to the mountain-camp, or abandon them to death. When the mother was informed that it would be necessary to take them back, a scene of the most thrilling and painful interest ensued. She was a wife, and her affection for her husband, who was then in the settlement, dictated that she should go on; but she was also a mother, and all-powerful maternal love asserted its sway, and she determined to send forward the two children who could walk, and return herself with the two youngest, and die with them.

No argument or persuasion on the part of Mr. Glover could shake her resolution. At last, in response to his solemn promises that, after reaching Bear River, he would return to the mountain-camp and bring back her children, after standing in silence for some moments, she turned from her darling babes and asked Mr. Eddy, "Are you a mason?" A reply being given in the affirmative, she said, "will you promise me, upon the word of a mason, that when you arrive at Bear River Valley, you will return and bring back my children if we do not meantime meet their father going for them?" "I do thus promise," Mr. Glover replied. "Then I will go on," said the mother, weeping bitterly as she pronounced the words. Patty, the little girl, then took her mother by the hand and said, "Well, mamma, kiss me good-bye! I shall never see you again. I am willing to go back to our mountain-camp and die, but I cannot consent to your going back. I shall die willingly if I can believe that you will see papa. Tell him good-bye for his poor little Patty."

The mother and the children lingered in a long embrace. As Patty turned from her mother to go back to the camp, she whispered to Mr. Glover and Mr. Mootrey, who were to take her, that she was willing to go back and take care of her little brother, but that she should never see her mother again.

Before reaching the settlement Mrs. Reed met her husband, who had been driven, for some cause, from the party several weeks before, and had succeeded in crossing the mountains in safety.

Messrs. Reed and McCutchen next headed a relief party, and crossed the mountains with supplies for the remainder of the emigrants. The Reed children were alive, but terribly wasted from their dreadful sufferings.

Hunger had driven the emigrants to revolting extremities. In some of the cabins were found parts of human bodies trussed and spitted for roasting, and traces of these horrid feasts were seen about the space in front of the doors where offal was thrown.

The persons taken under Mr. Reed's guidance on the return, were Patrick Brinn, wife and five children; Mrs. Graves, and four children; Mary and Isaac Donnor, children of Jacob Donner; Solomon Work, a stepson of Jacob Donner, and two of his children. They reached the foot of the mountain without much difficulty; but they ascertained that their provisions would not last them more than a day and a half. Mr. Reed then sent three men forward with instructions to get supplies at a cache about fifteen miles from the camp. The party resumed its journey, crossed the Sierra Nevada, and after traveling about ten miles, encamped on a bleak point, on the north side of a little valley, near the head of the Yuba River. A storm set in, and continued for two days and three nights. On the morning of the third day, the clouds broke away and the weather became more intensely cold than it had been during the journey. The sufferings of the emigrants in their bleak camp were too dreadful to be described. There was the greatest difficulty in keeping up the fire, and during the night the women and children, who had on very thin clothing, were in great danger of freezing to death; when the storm passed away, the whole party were very weak, having passed two days without food. Leaving Patrick Brinn and his family and the rest of the party who were disabled, Mr. Reed, and his California friends, his two children, Solomon Hook and a Mr. Miller, pressed forward for supplies, and in five days they succeeded in reaching the settlement.

It was some weeks before a new relief party organized by Messrs. Eddy and Foster were successful in reaching the party which Reed had left. A shocking spectacle was presented to the eyes of the adventurers at the "Starved Camp" as they rightly named it. Patrick Brinn and his wife were sunning themselves with a look of vacuity upon their faces. They had eaten the two children of Jacob Donner: Mrs. Graves' body was lying near them with almost all the flesh cut from the arms and limbs. Her breasts, heart, and liver were then being boiled over the fire. Her child sat by the side of the mangled remains crying bitterly.

After being supplied with food they were left in charge of three men who undertook to conduct them to the settlement. Meanwhile Messrs. Eddy and Foster went on to the horrible mountain-camp only to be shocked and revolted by new scenes of horror. Strewed about the cabins and burrows, in the snow, were the fragments of human bodies from which the flesh had been stripped; among the débris of the hideous feasts sat the emaciated survivors looking more like cannibal-demons than human beings. Kiesburg had dug up the corpse of one of Mr. Eddy's children and devoured it, even when other food could be obtained, and the enfuriated father could with difficulty be restrained from killing the monster on the spot. Of the five surviving children at the mountain-camp, three were those of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Donner. When the time came for the party of unfortunates to start for the settlement under the guidance of their generous protectors, Mr. Donner's condition was so feeble that he was unable to accompany them, and though Mrs. Donner was capable of traveling, she utterly refused to leave her husband while he survived. In response to the solicitations of those who urged that her husband could live but a little longer, and that her presence would not add one moment to the remaining span of his life, she expressed her solemn and unalterable purpose which no hardship or danger could change, to remain and perform for him the last sad offices of duty and affection. At the same time she manifested the profoundest solicitude for her beloved children, and implored Mr. Eddy to save them, promising all that she possessed if he would convey them in safety to the settlement. He pledged himself to carry out her wishes without recompense, or perish in the attempt.

No provisions remained to supply the needs of these unhappy beings. At the end of two hours Mr. Eddy informed Mrs. Donner that a terrible necessity constrained him to depart. It was certain that Jacob Donner would never rise from the wretched couch on which he lay, worn out with toil and wasted by famine. It was almost equally certain that unless Mrs. Donner then abandoned her unfortunate partner and accompanied Mr. Eddy and his party to the settlement, she would die of wasting famine or perish violently at the hands of some lurking cannibal. By accompanying her children she could minister to their wants and perhaps be the means of saving their lives. The all-powerful maternal instinct combined with the love of life, urged her to fly with her children from the scene of so many horrors and dangers. Well might her reason have questioned her, "Why stay and meet inevitable death since you cannot save your husband from the grave which yawns to receive him? and when your presence, your converse and hands can only beguile the few remaining hours of his existence?" Time passed. By no entreaties could she enlarge the hour of departure which had now arrived. Nor did she seek to and thus endanger the lives of those who were hastening to depart. She must decide the dread question that moment.

Rarely in the long suffering record of woman, has she been placed in circumstances of such peculiar trial, but the love of life, the instinct of self-preservation, and even maternal affection, could not triumph over her affection as a wife. Her husband begged her to save her life and leave him to die alone, assuring her that she could be of no service to him, as he could not probably survive under any circumstances until the next morning; with streaming eyes she bent over him, kissed his pale, emaciated, haggard, and even then, death-stricken cheek, and said:

"No! no! dear husband, I will remain with you, and here perish rather than leave you to die alone, with no one to soothe your dying sorrows, and close your eyes when dead. Entreat me not to leave you. Life, accompanied with the reflection that I had thus left you, would possess for me more than the bitterness of death; and death would be sweet with the thought in my last moments, that I had assuaged one pang of yours in your passage into eternity No! no! no!" She repeated, sobbing convulsively.

The parting interview between the parents and the children is represented to have been one that can never be forgotten as long as reason remains or the memory performs its functions. In the dying father the fountain of tears was dried up; but the agony on his death-stricken face and the feeble pressure of his hand on the brow of each little one as it bade him adieu for ever, told the story of his last great sorrow. As Mrs. Donner clasped her children to her heart in a parting embrace, she turned to Mr. Eddy with streaming eyes and sobbed her last words, "O, save, save, my children!"

This closing scene in the sad and eventful careers of those unfortunate emigrants was the crowning act in a long and terrible drama which illustrated, under many conditions of toil, hardship, danger, despair, and death, the courage, fortitude, patience, love, and devotion of woman.

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