Submitted by scott on Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:47

Wednesday, July 31.—Sunrise. Court House Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scott’s Bluffs, in sight. At noon passed through Scott’s Bluff’s pass., 580 miles from St. Joseph. This was the first high ground, since entering upon the plains. All was vast, prairie, until we reached Fort Kearney. Soon afterwards, we struck the barren region, and thenceforward we had a level expanse covered with sage brush, and that was the character of the growth until we arrived here, the plains being more or less elevated, or broken, but in other respects preserving the same characteristics. After we crossed the South Platte we found a great deal of cactus. When we crossed Scotts Bluff’s we had been traveling in sight of the North Platte river all day. In the afternoon we found alkali water in the road, giving it a soapy appearance, and the ground in many places appearing as if whitewashed. About 6 P. M., crossed the range of Sand hills which had been stretching along our left in sight, since Sunday. We crossed this long low range near the scene of the Indian mail robbery and massacre in 1856, wherein Babbitt alone was saved, though left for dead. The whole party was killed, including some passengers. There was some treasure in the coach, which the Indians got.  (Orion's Notes)

We rattled through Scott’s Bluffs Pass, by and by. It was along here somewhere that we first came across genuine and unmistakable alkali water in the road, and we cordially hailed it as a first-class curiosity, and a thing to be mentioned with eclat in letters to the ignorant at home. This water gave the road a soapy appearance, and in many places the ground looked as if it had been whitewashed. I think the strange alkali water excited us as much as any wonder we had come upon yet, and I know we felt very complacent and conceited, and better satisfied with life after we had added it to our list of things which we had seen and some other people had not. In a small way we were the same sort of simpletons as those who climb unnecessarily the perilous peaks of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, and derive no pleasure from it except the reflection that it isn’t a common experience. But once in a while one of those parties trips and comes darting down the long mountain-crags in a sitting posture, making the crusted snow smoke behind him, flitting from bench to bench, and from terrace to terrace, jarring the earth where he strikes, and still glancing and flitting on again, sticking an iceberg into himself every now and then, and tearing his clothes, snatching at things to save himself, taking hold of trees and fetching them along with him, roots and all, starting little rocks now and then, then big boulders, then acres of ice and snow and patches of forest, gathering and still gathering as he goes, adding and still adding to his massed and sweeping grandeur as he nears a three thousand-foot precipice, till at last he waves his hat magnificently and rides into eternity on the back of a raging and tossing avalanche!"

(Roughing It)


After twelve miles' drive we fronted the Court-house, the remarkable portal of a new region, and this new region teeming with wonders will now extend about 100 miles. It is the mauvaises terres, or Bad lands, a tract about 60 miles wide and 150 long, stretching in a direction from the northeast to the southwest, or from the Mankizitah (White-Earth) River, over the Niobrara  (Eau qui court)  and Loup Fork to the south banks of the Platte: its eastern límit is the mouth of the Keya Paha. The term is generally applied by the trader to any section of the prairie country where the roads are difficult, and by dint of an ill name the Bad lands have come to be spoken of as a Golgotha, white with the bones of man and beast. American travelers, on the contrary, declare that near parts of the White River “some as beautiful valleys are to be found as any where in the Far West,” and that many places “abound in the most lovely and varied forms in endless variety, giving the most striking and pleasing effects of light and shade.” The formation is the pliocene and miocene tertiary, uncommonly rich in vertebrate remains: the mauvaises terres are composed of nearly horizontal strata, and "though diversified by the effects of denuding agencies, and presenting in different portions striking characteristics, yet they are, as a whole, a great uniform surface, gradually rising toward the mountains, at the base of which they attain an elevation varying between 3000 and 5500 feet above the level of the sea."

The Court-house, which had lately suffered from heavy rain, resembled any thing more than a court-house; that it did so in former days we may gather from the tales of many travelers, old Canadian voyageurs, who unanimously accounted it a fit place for Indian spooks, ghosts, and hobgoblins to meet in pow-wow, and to "count their coups” delivered in the flesh. The Court-house lies about eight miles from the river, and three from the road; in circumference it may be half a mile, and in height 300 feet; it is, however, gradually degrading, and the rains and snows of not many years will lay it level with the ground. The material is a rough conglomerate of hard marl; the mass is apparently the flank or shoulder of a range forming the southern buttress of the Platte, and which, being composed of softer stuff, has gradually  melted away, leaving this remnant to rise in solitary grandeur above the plain. In books it is described as resembling a gigantic ruin, with a huge rotunda in front, windows in the sides, and remains of roofs and stages in its flanks: verily potent is the eye of imagination! To me it appeared in the shape of an irregular pyramid, whose courses were inclined at an ascendable angle of 35°, with a detached outwork composed of a perpendicular mass based upon a slope of 45°; in fact, it resembled the rugged earthworks of Sakkara, only it was far more rugged. According to the driver, the summit is a plane upon which a wagon can turn. My military companion remarked that it would make a fine natural fortress against Indians, and perhaps, in the old days of romance and Colonel Bonneville, it has served as a refuge for the harried fur-hunter. I saw it when set off by weather to advantage. A blazing sun rained fire upon its cream-colored surface -- at 11 A.M. the glass showed 95° in the wagon-and it stood boldly out against a purple-black nimbus which overspread the southern skies, growling distant thunders, and flashing red threads of "chained lightning."


Shortly after “ liquoring up" and shaking hands, we found ourselves once more in the valley of the Platte, where a lively green relieved eyes which still retained retina-pictures of the barren, Sindh-like divide. The road, as usual, along the river-side, was rough and broken, and puffs of Simum raised the sand and dust in ponderous clouds. At 12:30 P.M., we nooned for an hour at a little hovel called a ranch, with the normal corral; and I took occasion to sketch the far-famed Chimney Rock. The name is not, as is that of the Court-house, a misnomer: one might almost expect to see smoke or steam jetting from the summit. Like most of these queer malformations, it was once the knuckle-end of the main chain which bounded the Platte Valley; the softer adjacent strata of marl and earthy limestone were disintegrated by wind and weather, and the harder material, better resisting the action of air and water, has gradually assumed its present form. Chimney Rock lies two and a half miles from the south bank of the Platte. It is composed of a friable yellowish marl, yielding readily to the knife. The shape is a thin shaft, perpendicular and quasi conical. Viewed from the southeast it is not unlike a giant jack-boot based upon a high pyramidal mound, which, disposed in the natural slope, rests upon the plain. The neck of sandstone connecting it with the adjacent hills has been distributed by the floods around the base, leaving an ever-widening gap between. This “Pharos of the prairie sea" towered in former days 150 to 200 feet above the apex of its foundation, and was a landmark  visible for 40 to 50 miles: it is now barely 35 feet in height. It has often been struck by lightning; imber edax has gnawed much away, and the beginning of the end is already at hand. It is easy to ascend the pyramid; but, while Pompey's Pillar, Peter Botte, and Ararat have all felt the Anglo-Scandinavian foot, no venturous scion of the race has yet trampled upon the top of Chimney Rock. Around the waist of the base runs a white band which sets off its height and relieves the uniform tint. The old sketches of this curious needle now necessarily appear exaggerated; moreover, those best known represent it as a column rising from a confused heap of boulders, thus conveying a completely false idea. Again the weather served us: nothing could be more picturesque than this lone pillar of pale rock lying against a huge black cloud, with the forked lightning playing over its devoted head.

After a frugal dinner of biscuit and cheese we remounted and pursued our way through airy fire, which presently changed from our usual pest — a light dust-laden breeze — into a Punjaubian dust-storm, up the valley of the Platte. We passed a ranch called “Robidoux' Fort," from the well-known Indian trader of that name;* it is now occupied by a Canadian or a French Creole,  who, as usual with his race in these regions, has taken to himself a wife in the shape of a Sioux squaw, and has garnished his quiv. er with a multitude of whitey-reds. The driver pointed out the grave of a New Yorker who had vainly visited the prairies in search of a cure for consumption. As we advanced the storm increased to a tornado of north wind, blinding our cattle till it drove them off the road. The gale howled through the pass with all the violence of a khamsin, and it was followed by lightning and a few heavy drops of rain. The threatening weather caused a large party of emigrants to "fort themselves" in a corral near the base of Scott's Bluffs.

The corral, a Spanish and Portuguese word, which, corrupted to “kraal,” has found its way through Southern Africa, signifies primarily a square or circular pen for cattle, which may be made of tree-trunks, stones, or any other convenient material. The corral of wagons is thus formed. The two foremost are brought near and parallel to each other, and are followed by the rest, disposed aslant, so that the near fore wheel of the hinder touches the off hind wheel of that preceding it, and vice versâ on the other side. The “tongues," or poles, are turned outward, for conven. ience of yoking, when an attack is not expected, otherwise they are made to point inward, and the gaps are closed by ropes and yoke and spare chains. Thus a large oval is formed with a single opening fifteen to twenty yards across; some find it more convenient to leave an exit at both ends. In dangerous places the passages are secured at night either by cords or by wheeling round the near wagons; the cattle are driven in before sundown, especially when the area of the oval is large enough to enable them to graze, and the men sleep under their vehicles. In safer travel the tents are pitched outside the corral with their doors outward, and in front of these the camp-fires are lighted. The favorite spots with teamsters for corraling are the re-entering angles of deep streams, especially where these have high and precipitous banks, or the crests of abrupt hills and bluffs—the position for nighting usually chosen by the Australian traveler—where one or more sides of the encampment is safe from attack, and the others can be protected by a cross fire. As a rule Indians avoid attacking strong places; this, however, must not always be relied upon; in 1844 the Utah Indians attacked Uintah Fort, a trading - post belonging to M. A. Robidoux, then at St. Louis, slaughtered the men, and carried off the women. The corral is especially useful for two purposes: it enables the wagoners to yoke up with ease, and it secures them from the prairie traveler's prime dread—the stampede. The Western savages are perfectly acquainted with the habits of animals, and in their marauding expeditions they instinctively adopt the system of the Bedouins,  the Gallas, and the Somal. Providing themselves with rattles and other implements for making startling noises, they ride stealthily up close to the cattle, and then rush by like the whirlwind with a volley of horrid whoops and screams. When the “cavallard” flies in panic fear, the plunderers divide their party; some drive on the plunder, while the others form a rear-guard to keep off pursuers. The prairie-men provide for the danger by keeping their fleetest horses saddled, bridled, and ready to be mounted at a moment's notice. When the animals have stampeded, the owners follow them, scatter the Indians, and drive, if possible, the madriña, or bell-mare, to the front of the herd, gradually turning her toward the camp, and slacking speed as the familiar objects come in sight. Horses and mules appear peculiar. ly timorous upon the prairies. A band of buffalo, a wolf, or even a deer, will sometimes stampede them; they run to great distances, and not unfrequently their owners fail to recover them.

“Scott's Bluffs," situated 285 miles from Fort Kearney and 51 from Fort Laramie, was the last of the great marl formations which we saw on this line, and was of all by far the most curious. In the dull uniformity of the prairies, it is a striking and attractive object, far excelling the castled crag of Drachenfels or any of the beauties of romantic Rhine. From a distance of a day's march it appears in the shape of a large blue mound, distinguished only by its dimensions from the detached fragments of hill around. As you approach within four or five miles, a massive medieval city gradually defines itself, clustering, with a wonderful fullness of detail, round a colossal fortress, and crowned with a royal castle. Buttress and barbican, bastion, demilune, and guard-house, tower, turret, and donjon-keep, all are there: in one place parapets and battlements still stand upon the crumbling wall of a fortalice like the giant ruins of Château Gaillard, the “Beautiful Castle on the Rock;" and, that nothing may be wanting to the resemblance, the dashing rains and angry winds have cut the old line of road at its base into a regular moat with a semicircular sweep, which the mirage fills with a mimic river. Quaint figures develop themselves; guards and sentinels in dark armor keep watch and ward upon the slopes, the lion of Bastia crouches un. mistakably overlooking the road; and as the shades of an artifi. cial evening, caused by the dust-storm, close in, so weird is its aspect that one might almost expect to see some spectral horseman, with lance and pennant, go his rounds about the deserted streets, ruined buildings, and broken walls. At a nearer aspect again, the quaint illusion vanishes; the lines of masonry become yellow layers of boulder and pebble imbedded in a mass of stiff, tamped, bald marly clay; the curtains and angles change to the gashings of the rains of ages, and the warriors are metamorphosed into dwarf cedars and dense shrubs, scattered singly over the surface. Travelers have compared this glory of the mauvaises terres to Gibral. tar, to the Capitol at Washington, to Stirling Castle. I could think of nothing in its presence but the Arabs' “City of Brass," that mysterious abode of bewitched infidels, which often appears at a distance to the wayfarer toiling under the burning sun, but ever eludes his nearer search.

Scott's Bluffs derive their name from an unfortunate fur-trader there put on shore in the olden time by his boat's crew, who had a grudge against him: the wretch, in mortal sickness, crawled up the mound to die. The politer guide-books call them “Capitol Hills :" methinks the first name, with its dark associations, must be better pleasing to the genius loci. They are divided into three distinct masses. The largest, which may be 800 feet high, is on the right, or nearest the river. To its left lies an outwork, a huge, detached cylinder whose capping changes aspect from every direction; and still farther to the left is a second castle, now divided from, but once connected with the others. The whole affair is a spur springing from the main range, and closing upon the Platte so as to leave no room for a road.

After gratifying our curiosity we resumed our way. The route lay between the right-hand fortress and the outwork, through a degraded bed of softer marl, once doubtless part of the range. The sharp, sudden torrents which pour from the heights on both sides, and the draughty winds—Scott's Bluffs are the permanent head-quarters of hurricanes—have cut up the ground into a laby. rinth of jagged gulches steeply walled in. We dashed down the drains and pitch-holes with a violence which shook the nave-bands from our sturdy wheels.* Ascending, the driver showed a place where the skeleton of an "elephant” had been lately discovered. On the summit he pointed out, far over many a treeless hill and barren plain, the famous Black Hills and Laramie Peak, which has been compared to Ben Lomond, towering at a distance of eighty miles. The descent was abrupt, with sudden turns round the head of earth-cracks deepened to ravines by snow and rain; and one place showed the remains of a wagon and team which had lately come to grief. After galloping down a long slope of twelve miles, with ridgelets of sand and gravel somewhat raised above the bottom, which they cross on their way to the river, we found ourselves, at 5 30 P.M., once more in the valley of the Platte. I had intended to sketch the Bluffs more carefully from the station, but the western view proved to be disappointingly inferior to the eastern. After the usual hour's delay we resumed our drive through alternate puffs of hot and cold wind, the contrast of which was not easy to explain. The sensation was as if Indians had been firing the prairies—an impossibility at this season, when whatever herbage there is is still green. It may here be mentioned that, although the meteorology of the earlier savans, namely, that the peculiar condition of the atmosphere known as the Indian summer* might be produced by the burning of the plain-vegetation, was not thought worthy of comment, their hypothesis is no longer considered trivial. The smoky canopy must produce a sensible effect upon the temperature of the season. “During a still night, when a cloud of this kind is overhead, no dew is produced; the heat which is radiated from the earth is reflected or absorbed, and radiated back again by the particles of soot, and the coating of the earth necessary to prevent the deposition of water in the form of dew or hoar-frost is prevented.” According to Professor Henry, of Washington, “it is highly probable that a portion of the smoke or fog-cloud produced by the burning of one of the Western prairies is carried entirely across the eastern portion of the continent to the ocean.”

Presently we dashed over the Little Kiowa Creek, forded the Horse Creek, and, enveloped in a cloud of villainous musquetoes,  entered at 8 30 P.M. the station in which we were to pass the night. It was tenanted by one Reynal, a French Creole--the son of an old soldier of the Grand Armée, who had settled at St. Louis, a companionable man, but an extortionate: he charged us a florin for every “drink" of his well-watered whisky. The house boasted of the usual squaw, a wrinkled old dame, who at once began to prepare supper, when we discreetly left the room. These bard-working but sorely ill-favored beings are accused of various horrors in cookery, such as grinding their pinole, or parched corn, in the impurest manner, kneading dough upon the floor, using their knives for any purpose whatever, and employing the same pot, unwashed, for boiling tea and tripe. In fact, they are about as clean as those Eastern pariah servants who make the knowing Anglo-Indian hold it an abomination to sit at meat with a new arrival or with an officer of a “home regiment." The daughter was an unusually fascinating half-breed, with a pale face and Franco-American features. How comes it that here, as in Hindostan, the French half-caste is pretty, graceful, amiable, coquettish, while the Anglo-Saxon is plain, coarse, gauche, and ill-tempered? The beauty was married to a long, lean down-Easter, who appeared most jealously attentive to her, occasionally hinting at a return to the curtained bed, where she could escape the admiring glances of strangers. Like her mother, she was able to speak English, but she could not be persuaded to open her mouth. This is a truly Indian prejudice, probably arising from the savage, childish sensitiveness which dreads to excite a laugh; even a squaw married to a white man, after uttering a few words in a moment of épanchement, will hide her face under the blanket.


The day had been fatiguing, and our eyes ached with the wind and dust. We lost no time in spreading on the floor the buffalo robes borrowed from the house, and in defying the smaller tenants of the ranch. Our host, M. Reynal, was a study, but we deferred the lesson till the next morning.


Our breakfast was prepared in the usual prairie style. First the coffee—three parts burnt beans, which had been duly ground to a fine powder and exposed to the air, lest the aroma should prove too strong for us—was placed on the stove to simmer till every noxious principle was duly extracted from it. Then the rusty bacon, cut into thick slices, was thrown into the fry-pan: here the gridiron is unknown, and if known would be little appreciated, because it wastes the “drippings," which form with the staff of life a luxurious sop. Thirdly, antelope steak, cut off a corpse suspended for the benefit of flies outside, was placed to stew within influence of the bacon's aroma. Lastly came the bread, which of course should have been “cooked” first. The meal is kneaded with water and a pinch of salt; the raising is done by means of a little sour milk, or more generally by the deleterious yeast-powders of the trade. The carbonic acid gas evolved by the addition of water must be corrected, and the dough must be expanded by saleratus or prepared carbonate of soda or alkali, and other vile stuff, which communicates to the food the green-yellow tinge, and suggests many of the properties of poison. A hundred-fold better, the unpretending chapati, flapjack, scone, or, as the Mexicans prettily called it, “ tortilla!" The dough, after being sufficiently manipulated upon a long, narrow, smooth board, is divided into “biscuits” and “dough-nuts,'* and finally it is placed to be half cooked under the immediate influ. ence of the rusty bacon and graveolent antelope. “Uncle Sam's stove," be it said with every reverence for the honored name it bears, is a triumph of convenience, cheapness, unwholesomeness, and nastiness—excuse the word, nice reader. This travelers' bane has exterminated the spit and gridiron, and makes every thing taste like its neighbor: by virtue of it, mutton borrows the flavor of salmon trout, tomatoes resolve themselves into greens. I shall lose my temper if the subject is not dropped.

We set out at 6 A.M. over a sandy bottom, from which the musquetoes rose in swarms.


At 10 20 A.M. we halted to change mules at Badeau's Ranch, or, as it is more grandiloquently called, “Laramie City." The "city," like many a Western "town,” still appertains to the category of things about to be; it is at present represented by a single large “store,” with out-houses full of small half-breeds. The principal articles of traffic are liquors and groceries for the whites, and ornaments for the Indians, which are bartered for stock (i. e., animals) and peltries. The prices asked for the skins were from $1–$1 30 for a fox or a coyote, $3 for wolf, bear, or deer, $6—$7 for an elk, $5 for a common buffalo, and from $8 to $35 for the same painted, pictographed, and embroidered. Some of the party purchased moccasins, for which they paid $1—$2; the best articles are made by the Snakes, and when embroidered by white women rise as high as $25. I bought, for an old friend who is insane upon the subject of pipes, one of the fine marble-like sandstone bowls brought from the celebrated Côteau (slope) des Prairies, at the head of Sioux River

“On the mountains of the Prairie,
On the Great Red Pipe-stone Quarry."

This instrument is originally the gift of Gitchie Manitou, wbo, standing on the precipice of the Red Pipe-stone Rock, broke off a fragment and moulded it into a pipe, which, finished with a reed, he smoked over his children to the north, south, east, and west. It is of queer shape, not unlike the clay and steatite articles used by the Abyssinians and the Turi or Sinaitic Bedouins. The length of the stick is 23 inches, of the stem 9:50, and of the bowl 5 inches; the latter stands at a right angle upon the former; both are circular; but the 2:75 inches of stem, which project beyond the bowl, are beveled off so as to form an edge at the end. The peculiarity of the form is in the part where the tobacco is insert. ed; the hole is not more than half an inch broad, and descends straight without a bulge, while the aperture in the stem is exactly similar. The red color soon mottles and the bowl clogs if smoked with tobacco; in fact, it is fit for nothing but the “kinnikinik" of the Indians. To prepare this hard material with the rude tools of a savage must be a work of time and difficulty; also the bowls are expensive and highly valued : for mine I paid $5, and farther West I could have exchanged it for an Indian pony.

Having finished our emplettes at M. Badeau's, we set out at 11 30 P.M. over a barren and reeking bit of sandy soil. Close to the station, and a little to the right of the road, we passed the barrow which contains the remains of Lieutenant Grattan and his thirty men. A young second lieutenant of Irish origin and fiery temper, he was marching westward with an interpreter, a small body of men, and two howitzers, when a dispute arose, it is said, about a cow, between his party and the Brûlés or Burnt-Thigh Indians. The latter were encamped in a village of 450 to 500 lodges, which, reckoning five to each, gives a total of 2200 to 2500 souls. A fight took place; the whites imprudently discharged both their cannon, overshooting the tents of the enemy; their muskets, however, did more execution, killing Matriya, the Scattering Bear," who had been made chief of all the Sioux by Colonel Mitchell of the Indian Bureau. The savages, seeing the fall of Ursa Major, set to in real earnest; about 1200 charged the soldiers before they could reload; the little detachment broke, and not a man survived to tell the tale. The whites in the neighborhood narrowly preserved their scalps—M. Badeau owned that he owed his to his Sioux squaw—and among other acts of violence was the murder and highway robbery which has already been recounted. Both these events occurred in 1854. As has been said, in 1855, General W. S. Harney, who, whatever may be his faults as a diplomatist, is the most dreaded “Minahaska"* in the Indian country, punished the Brûlés severely at Ash Hollow. They were led by their chosen chief Little Thunder, who, not liking the prospect, wanted to palaver; the general replied by a charge, which, as usual, scattered the "chivalry of the prairies” to the four winds. “Little Thunder” was solemnly deposed, and Mato Chigukesa, * Bear's Rib,” was ordered to reign in his stead ; moreover, in 1856, a treaty was concluded, giving to whites, among other things, the privilege of making roads along the Platte and WhiteEarth Rivers (Mankisita Wakpa-Smoking-earth Water) to Forts Pierre and Laramie, and to pass up and down the Missouri in boats. Since that time, with the exception of plundering an English sportsman, Sir G- G- , opposing Lieutenant Warren's expedition to the Black Hills, and slaughtering a few traders and obscure travelers, the Brûlés have behaved tolerably to their paleface rivals.

As we advanced the land became more barren; it sadly wanted rain : it suffers from drought almost every year, and what vegetable matter the soil will produce the grasshopper will devour. Dead cattle cumbered the way-side; the flesh had disappeared; the bones were scattered over the ground; but the skins, mummified, as it were, by the dry heat, lay life-like and shapeless, as in the Libyan Desert, upon the ground. This phenomenon will last till we enter the humid regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Ocean, and men tell wonderful tales of the time during which meat can be kept. The road was a succession of steep ascents and jumps down sandy ground. A Sioux “buck," mounted upon a neat nag, and wrapped up, despite sun and glare, as if it had been the depth of winter, passed us, sedulously averting his eyes. The driver declared that he recognized the horse, and grumbled certain Western facetiæ concerning “hearty-chokes and caper sauce.”

In these lands the horse-thief is the great enemy of mankind; for him there is no pity, no mercy; Lynch-law is held almost too good for him; to shoot him in flagrante delicto is like slaying a man-eating Bengal royal tiger—it entitles you to the respect and gratitude of your species. I asked our conductor whether dandiness was at the bottom of the “buck's” heavy dress. “'Guess," was the reply, “what keeps cold out, keeps heat out tew!"

At 12 15 P.M., crossing Laramie's Fork, a fine clear stream about forty yards broad, we reached Fort Laramie — another "fort” by courtesy, or rather by order— where we hoped to recruit our exhausted stores.

(The City of the Saints)

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