Submitted by scott on Tue, 02/28/2017 - 16:41

From Orion: Friday, Aug. 2.—3 o’clock, A. M., passed over North Platte bridge, 760 miles from St. Joseph. 2 P. M., reached “Sweet water” creek, “Independence Rock,” the “Devil’s Gap,” the “Cold Spring,” an ice water spring, issuing near one of the Stations,. Now, or at any time of the year, the men at this Station by scraping off the soil, sometimes only to the depth of six inches, can cut out pretty, clear, square blocks of ice. This “cold spring” is 36 miles from “Independence Rock,” and 847 miles from St. Joseph.

17th August. To the Valley of the Sweetwater. 

The morning was bright and clear, cool and pleasant. The last night's abstinence had told upon our squeamishness: we managed to secure a fowl, and with its aid we overcame our repugnance to the massive slices of eggless bacon. At 6 30 A.M. we bitched up, crossed the rickety bridge at a slow pace, and proceeded for the first time to ascend the left bank of the Platte. The valley was grassy; the eternal sage, however, haunted us; the grouse ran before us, and the prairie-dogs squatted upon their house-tops, enjoying the genial morning rays. After ten miles of severe ups and downs, which, by-the-by, nearly brought our consort, the official's wagon, to grief, we halted for a few minutes at an old-established trading-post called “Red Buttes."* The feature from which it derives its name lies on the right bank of, and about five miles distant from the river, which here cuts its way through a ridge. These bluffs are a fine bold formation, escarpments of ruddy argillaceous sandstones and shells, which dip toward the west: they are the eastern wall of the mass that hems in the stream, and rear high above it their conical heads and fantastic figures. The ranch was on the margin of a cold, clear spring, of which we vainly attempted to drink. The banks were white, as though by hoar-frost, with nitrate and carbonate of soda efflorescing from the dark mould. Near Red Buttes the water is said to have a chalybeate flavor, but of that we were unable to judge.

Having allowed the squaws and half-breeds a few minutes to gaze, we resumed our way, taking off our caps in token of adieu to old Father Platte, our companion for many a weary mile. We had traced his course upward, through its various phases and vicissitudes, from the dignity and portliness of his later career as a full-grown river to his small and humble youth as a mountain rivulet, and—interest, either in man or stream, often results from the trouble we take about them--I looked upon him for the last time with a feeling akin to regret. Moreover, we had been warned that from the crossing of the North Platte to the Sweetwater all is a dry, and dreary, and desolate waste.

On the way we met a mounted Indian, armed with a rifle, and habited in the most grotesque costume. “Jack”-he was recognized by the driver — wore a suit of buckskin, and a fool's cap made out of an old blanket, with a pair of ass-ear appendages that hung backward viciously like a mule's; his mouth grinned from ear to ear, and his eyes were protected by glass and wire goggles, which gave them the appearance of being mounted on stalks like a crustacean's. He followed us for some distance, honoring us by riding close to the carriage, in hopes of a little black-mail; but we were not generous, and we afterward heard something which made us glad that we had not been tempted to liberality. He was followed by an ill-favored squaw, dressed in a kind of cotton gown, remarkable only for the shoulders being considerably narrower than the waist. She sat her bare nag cavalierly, and eyed us as we passed with that peculiarly unpleasant glance which plain women are so fond of bestowing.

After eighteen miles' drive we descended a steep hill, and were shown the Devil's Backbone. It is a jagged, broken ridge of huge sandstone boulders, tilted up edgeways, and running in a line over the crest of a long roll of land: the tout ensemble looks like the vertebræ of some great sea-serpent or other long crawling animal; and, on a nearer view, the several pieces resolve themselves into sphinxes, veiled nuns, Lot's pillars, and other freakish objects. I may here remark that the aut Cæsar aut diabolus of the medieval European antiquary, when accounting for the architecture of strange places, is in the Far West consigned without partnership to the genius loci, the fiend who, here as in Europe, has monopolized all the finest features of scenery. We shall pass successively the Devil's Gate, the Devil's Post-office, and the Devil's Hole in fact, we shall not be thoroughly rid of his satanic majesty's appurtenances till Monte Diablo, the highest of the Californian coast range, dips slowly and unwillingly behind the Pacific's tepid wave.

We nooned at Willow Springs, a little doggery boasting of a shed and a bunk, but no corral; and we soothed, with a drink of our whisky, the excited feelings of the rancheros. The poor fellows had been plundered of their bread and dried meat by some petty thief, who had burrowed under the wall, and they sorely suspected our goggled friend, Jack the Arapaho. Master Jack's hair might have found itself suspended near the fireplace if he had then been within rifle-shot; as it was, the two victims could only indulge in consolatory threats about wreaking their vengeance upon the first “doggond red-bellied crittur” whom good fortune might send in their way. The water was unusually good at Willow Springs; unfortunately, however, there was nothing else.

At 2 30 P.M. we resumed our way through the yellow-flowered rabbit-bush — it not a little resembled wild mustard — and a thick sage-heath, which was here and there spangled with the bright blossoms of the wilderness. After about twenty miles we passed, to the west of the road, a curious feature, to which the Mormon exodists first, on dit, gave the name of Saleratus Lake.  It lies to the west of the road, and is only one of a chain of alkaline waters and springs whose fetor, without exaggeration, taints the land. Cattle drinking of the fluid are nearly sure to die; even those that eat of the herbe salée, or salt grass growing upon its borders, and known by its reddish-yellow and sometimes bluish tinge, will suffer from a disease called the “ Alkali,” which not unfrequently kills them. The appearance of the Saleratus Lake startles the traveler who, in the full blaze of midday upon this arid waste, where mirage mocks him at every turn, suddenly sees outstretched before his eyes a kind of Wenham Lake solidly overfrozen. The illusion is so perfect that I was completely deceived, nor could the loud guffaws of the driver bring me at once to the conclusion that seeing in this case is not believing. On a near inspection, the icy surface turns out to be a dust of carbonate of soda, concealing beneath it masses of the same material, washed out of the adjacent soil, and solidified by evaporation. The Latter-Day Saints were charmed with their trouvaille, and laid in stores of the fetid alkaline matter, as though it had been manna, for their bread and pastry. It is still transported westward, and declared to be purer than the saleratus of the shops. Near the lake is a deserted ranch, which once enjoyed the title of "Sweetwater Station."

 

Citations

Burton, Richard. 1861. The City Of The Saints. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.

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