At 12 45 P.M., traveling over the uneven barren, and in a burning sirocco, we reached Lodge-Pole Station, where we made our "noonin.” The hovel fronting the creek was built like an Irish shanty, or a Beloch hut, against a hill side, to save one wall, and it presented a fresh phase of squalor and wretchedness. The mud walls were partly papered with “Harper's Magazine," “Frank Leslie," and the "New York Illustrated News;" the ceiling was a fine festoon-work of soot, and the floor was much like the ground outside, only not nearly so clean. In a corner stood the usual "bunk," a mass of mingled rags and buffalo robes; the centre of the room was occupied by a rickety table, and boxes, turned up on their long sides, acted as chairs. The unescapable stove was there, filling the interior with the aroma of meat. As usual, the materials for ablution, a "dipper" or cup, a dingy tin skillet of scanty size, a bit of coarse gritty soap, and a public towel, like a rag of gunny bag, were deposited upon a rickety settle outside.
There being no "lady" at the station on Lodge-Pole Creek, milk was unprocurable. Here, however, began a course of antelope venison, which soon told upon us with damaging effect. I well knew the consequences of this heating and bilious diet in Asia and Africa; but thinking it safe to do at Rome as the Romans do, I followed in the wake of my companions, and suffered with them. Like other wild meats, bear, deer, elk, and even buffalo, antelope will disagree with a stranger; it is, however, juicy, fat, and well-flavored, especially when compared with the hard, dry, stringy stuff which the East affords; and the hunter and trapper, like the Indian, are loud in its praise.
At Lodge-Pole Station, the mules, as might be expected from animals allowed to run wild every day in the week except one, were like newly-caught mustangs. The herdsman-each station boasts of this official-mounted a nag barebacked, and, jingling a bell, drove the cattle into the corral, a square of twenty yards, formed by a wall of loose stones, four to five feet high. He wasted three quarters of an hour in this operation, which a well-trained shepherd's dog would have performed in a few minutes. Then two men entering with lassos or lariats, thongs of flexible plaited or twisted hide, and provided with an iron ring at one end to form the noose -- the best are made of hemp, Russian, not Manilla-proceeded, in a great “muss" on a small scale, to secure their victims. The lasso in their hands was by no means the "unerring necklace" which the Mexican vaquéro has taught it to be: they often missed their aim, or caught the wrong animal. The effect, however, was magical: a single haul at the noose made the most stiff-necked mule tame as a costermonger's ass. The team took, as usual, a good hour to trap and hitch up: the latter was a delicate operation, for the beasts were comically clever with their hoofs.
At 3 P.M., after a preliminary ringing, intended to soothe the fears of Madame, we set out au grand galop, with a team that had never worked together before. They dashed down the cahues with a violence that tossed us as in a blanket, and nothing could induce them, while fresh, to keep the path. The yawing of the vehicle was ominous: fortunately, however, the road, though self-made, was excellent; the sides were smooth, and the whole country fit to be driven over. At first the view was sadly monotonous. It was a fair specimen of the rolling prairie, in nowise differing from any other land, except in the absence of trees. According to some travelers, there is in several places an apparently progressive decay of the timber, showing that formerly it was more extensive than it is now. Others attribute the phenomenon to the destruction of forests in a former era by fires or by the aborigines. It is more satisfactory to account for it by a complication of causes—a want of proper constituents, an insufficiency of rain, the depth of the water below the surface, the severity of the eight months of winter snow, the fierce winds — the hardiest growths that present their heads above the level of the prairies have dead tops—the shortness of the summers, and last, but not least, the clouds of grasshoppers. According to Lieutenant Warren, whose graphic description is here borrowed, these insects are “nearly the same as the locusts of Egypt; and no one who has not traveled on the prairie, and seen for himself, can appreciate the magnitude of the swarms. Often they fill the air for many miles of extent, so that an inexperienced eye can scarcely distinguish their appearance from that of a shower of rain or the smoke of a prairie fire. The height of their flight may be somewhat appreciated, as Mr. E. James saw them above his head, as far as their size would render them visible, while standing on the top of a peak of the Rocky Mountains, 8,500 feet above the plain, and an elevation of 14,500 above that of the sea, in the region where the snow lies all the year. To a person standing in one of these swarms as they pass over and around him, the air becomes sensibly darkened, and the sound produced by their wings resembles that of the passage of a train of cars on a railroad when standing two or three hundred yards from the track. The Mormon settlements have suffered more from the ravages of these insects than probably all other causes combined. They destroyed nearly all the vegetables cultivated last year at Fort Randall, and extended their ravages east as far as Iowa.
As we advanced, the horizon, every where within musket-shot —a wearying sight!-widened out, and the face of the country notably changed. A scrap of blue distance and high hills—the “Court-house" and others-appeared to the northwest. The long, curved lines, the gentle slopes, and the broad hollows of the divide facing the South Fork changed into an abrupt and precipitous descent, "gullied” like the broken ground of sub-ranges attached to a mountain chain. Deep ravines were parted by long narrow ridges, sharp-crested and water-washed, exposing ribs and backbones of sandstone and silicious lime, like the vertebræ of some huge saurian: scatters of kunker, with a detritus of quartz and granite, clothed the ground, and, after passing Lodge-Pole Creek, which bears away to the west, the rocky steps required the perpetual application of the brake. Presently we saw a dwarf cliff inclosing in an elliptical sweep a green amphitheatre, the valley of our old friend the Platte. On the far bank of its northern fork lay a forty-mile stretch of sandy, barren, glaring, heat-reeking ground, not unlike that which the overland traveler looking southward from Suez sees. We left far to the right a noted spot, Ash Hollow, situated at the mouth of the creek of the same prenomen. It is described as a pretty bit in a barren land, about twenty acres, surrounded by high bluffs, well timbered with ash and cedar, and rich in clematis and other wild flowers. Here, in 1855, the doughty General Harney, with 700 to 800 men, “gave Jessie" to a large war-party of Brûlé Sioux under their chief Little Thunder, of whom more anon, killing 150, and capturing 60 squaws and children, with but seven or eight casualties in his own force.
Descending into the bed of a broad "arroyo," at this season bone dry, we reached, at 5:45 P.M., Mud-Spring Station, which takes its name from a little run of clear water in a black miry hollow. A kind of cress grows in it abundantly, and the banks are bright with the "morning-glory” or convolvulus. The station-house was not unlike an Egyptian Fellah's hut. The material was sod, half peat with vegetable matter; it is taken up in large flakes after being furrowed with the plow, and is cut to proper lengths with a short-handled spade. Cedar timber, brought from the neighboring hills, formed the roof. The only accommodation was an open shed, with a sort of doorless dormitory by its side. We dined in the shed, and amused ourselves with feeding the little brown-speckled swamp-blackbirds that hopped about us tame and "peert” as wrens, and when night drew near we sought shelter from the furious southern gale, and heard tales of Mormon suffering which made us think lightly of our little hardships. Dreading the dormitory-if it be true that the sultan of fleas inhabits Jaffa and his vizier Grand Cairo, it is certain that his vermin officials have settled pro tem. on Emigration Road—I cast about for a quieter retreat. Fortune favored me by pointing out the body of a dismantled wagon, an article-like the Tyrian keels which suggested the magalia-often used as a habitation in the Far West, and not unfrequently honored by being converted into a bridal-chamber after the short and sharp courtship of the “Perraries." The host, who was a kind, intelligent, and civil man, lent me a “buffalo” by way of bedding; the water-proof completed my outfit, provided with which I bade adieu for a while to this weary world. The thermometer sank before dawn to 62° (F.). After five nights more or less in the cramping wagon, it might be supposed that we should have enjoyed the unusual rest; on the contrary, we had become inured to the exercise; we could have kept it up for a month, and we now grumbled only at the loss of time.
Past the Court-house and Scott's Bluffs. August 13th.
At 8 A.M., after breaking our fast upon a tough antelope steak, and dawdling while the herdsman was riding wildly about in search of his runaway mules—an operation now to become of daily occurrence—we dashed over the Sandy Creek with an élan calculated to make timid passengers look “skeery," and began to finish the rolling divide between the two forks. We crossed several arroyos and “criks” heading in the line of clay highlands to our left, a dwarf sierra which stretches from the northern to the southern branch of the Platte. The principal are Omaha Creek, more generally known as “Little Punkin," and Lawrence Fork. The latter is a pretty bubbling stream, running over sand and stones washed down from the Court-house Ridge; it bifurcates above the ford, runs to the northeast through a prairie four to five miles broad, and swells the waters of old Father Platte: it derives its name from a Frenchman slaughtered by the Indians, murder being here, as in Central Africa, ever the principal source of nomenclature. The heads of both streams afford quantities of currants, red, black, and yellow, and cherry-sticks which are used for spears and pipe-stems.