July 29.—Saw the first Indians, 75 miles from Kearney, with Buffalo skin wigwams, the hide dressed on both sides, and put up on poles, sugar loaf shape. Here we found Buffalo robes at three to six dollars, beautifully dressed, and some of them wonderfully large. This is the Buffalo region, and robes are higher as you go further, either east or west. Saw an Indian child’s grave on a scaffold about eight feet from the ground, supported by four stakes. Sand Hills and Platte river still in sight. [Orion Clemens]
The flies chasing away the musquetoes - even as Aurora routs the lingering shades of night - having sounded our reveillée at Cotton Wood Station, we proceeded by means of an "eye opener," which even the abstemious judge could not decline, and the use of the "skillet," to prepare for a breakfast composed of various abominations, especially cakes of flour and grease, molasses and dirt, disposed in pretty equal parts. After paying the usual 50 cents, we started in the high wind and dust, with a heavy storm brewing in the north, along the desert valley of the dark, silent Platte, which here spread out in broad basins and lagoons, picturesquely garnished with broad-leafed dock and beds of préle, flags and water-rushes, in which, however, we saw nothing but traces of Monsieur Maringouin. On our left was a line of subconical buttes, red, sandy clay pyramids, semi- detached from the wall of the rock behind them, with smooth flat faces fronting the river, toward which they slope at the natural angle of 45 d. The land around, dry and sandy, bore no traces of rain; a high wind blew, and the thermometer stood at 78 F, which was by no means uncomfortably warm. Passing Junction House Ranch and Frémont Slough - whisky-shops both - we halted for "dinner," about 11 AM, at Frémont Springs, so called from an excellent little water behind the station. The building is of a style peculiar to the South, especially Florida, - two huts connected by a roof work of thatched timber, which acts as the best and coolest of verandas. The station- keeper, who receives from the proprietors of the line $30 per month, had been there only three weeks; and his wife, a comely young person, uncommonly civil and for a "lady," supplied us with the luxuries of pigeons, onions, and light bread, and declared her intention of establishing a poultry-yard.
An excellent train of mules carried us along a smooth road at a slapping pace, over another natural garden even more flowery than that passed on the last day's march. There were beds of lupins, a brilliant pink and blue predominating, the green plant locally known as Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album); the streptanthis; the milk-weed, with its small white blossoms; the anemone; the wild flax, with its pretty blue flowers, and growths which appeared to be clematis, chamomile and digitalis. Distant black dots - dwarf cedars, which are yearly diminishing, - lined the bank of the Platte and the long line of River Island; they elicited invidious comparisons from the Pennsylvanians of the party. We halted at Halfway House, near O'Fallon's Bluffs, at the quarters of Mr M-, a compagnon de voyage who had now reached his home of twenty years, and therefore insisted upon "standing drinks." The business is worth $16,000 per annum; the contents of the store somewhat like a Parsee's shop in Western India - everything from a needle to a bottle of Champagne. A sign-board informed us that we were now distant 400 miles from St Jo, 120 from Fort Kearney, 68 from the upper, and 40 from the lower crossing of the Platte. As we advanced the valley narrowed, the stream shrank, the vegetation dwindled, the river islands were bared of timber, and the only fuel became buffalo chip and last year's artemisia. This hideous growth which is to weary our eyes as far as central valleys of the Sierra Nevada, ...
At 5 PM, as the heat began to mitigate, we arrived at Alkali Lake Station and discovered some "exiles from Erin," who supplied us with antelope meat and the unusual luxury of ice taken from the Platte. We attempted to bathe in the river, but found it flowing liquid mire. The Alkali Lake was out of sight; the driver, however, consoled me with the reflection that I should "glimpse" alkali lakes till I was sick of them.
At 6 P.M. we resumed our route, with a good but fidgety train, up the Dark Valley, where musquetoes and sultry heat combined to worry us. Slowly traveling and dozing the while, we arrived about 9:15 P.M. at Diamond Springs, a bright little water much frequented by the "lightning-bug” and the big-eyed “Devil's darning-needle," where we found whisky and its usual accompaniment, soldiers. The host related an event which he said had taken place but a few days before. An old mountaineer, who had married two squaws, was drinking with certain Cheyennes, a tribe famous for ferocity and hostility to the whites. The discourse turning upon topics stoical, he was asked by his wild boon companions if he feared death? The answer was characteristic: “You may kill me if you like!” Equally characteristic was their acknowledgment; they hacked him to pieces, and threw the corpse under a bank. In these regions the opposite races regard each other as wild beasts; the white will shoot an Indian as he would a coyote. He expects to go under whenever the “all-fired, red-bellied varmints" - I speak, O reader, Occidentally -- get the upper hand, and vice versa.
The Platte River divides at N. lat. 40° 05' 05", and W. long. (G.) 101° 21' 24". The northern, by virtue of dimensions, claims to be the main stream. The southern, which is also called in obsolete maps Padouca, from the Pawnee name for the Iatans, whom the Spaniards term Comanches, averages 600 yards, about 100 less than its rival in breadth, and according to the prairie people, affords the best drinking. Hunters often ford the river by the Lower Crossing, twenty-eight miles above the bifurcation. Those with heavily-loaded wagons prefer this route, as by it they avoid the deep loose sands on the way to the Upper Crossing. The mail-coach must endure the four miles of difficulty, as the road to Denver City branches off from the western ford.
At 10 P.M., having “caught up” the mules, we left Diamond Springs and ran along the shallow river which lay like a thin sheet of shimmer broken by clumps and islets that simulated under the imperfect light of the stars, houses and towns, hulks and ships, wharves and esplanades. On the banks large bare spots, white with salt, glistened through the glooms, the land became so heavy that our fagged beasts groaned, and the descents, watercuts and angles were so abrupt that holding on constituted a fair gymnastic exercise. The air was clear and fine. My companions snored while I remained awake enjoying a lovely aurora, and, Epicurean-like, reserving sleep for the Sybaritic apparatus, which, according to report, awaited us at the grand établissement of the Upper Crossing of La Grande Platte.