After fifteen miles of tossing and tumbling, we made "Seventeen Mile Station," and halted there to change mules. About twenty miles above the fort the southern bank began to rise into mounds of tenacious clay, which, worn away into perpendicular and precipitous sections, composes the columnar formation called O'Fallon's Bluffs. At 1:15 PM, we reached Plum Creek, after being obliged to leave behind one of the conductors, who had become delirious with the "shakes." The establishment, though new, was already divided into three; the little landlady, though she worked so manfully, was, as she expressed it, "enjoying bad health," in other words, suffering from a "dumb chill." I may observe that the Prairie Traveler's opinions concerning the power of encamping with impunity upon the banks of the streams in this country must not be applied to the Platte. The whole line becomes with early autumn a hotbed of febrile disease. And generally throughout this season the stranger should not consider himself safe on any grounds save those defended from the southern trade wind, which, sweeping directly from the Gulf of Mexico, bears with it noxious exhalations.
About Plum Ranch the soil is rich, clayey, and dotted with swamps and "slews," by which the English traveler will understand sloughs. The dryer portions were a Gulistan of bright red blue and white flowers, the purple aster, and the mallow, with its parsnip-like root, eaten by the Indians, the gaudy yellow helianthus -- we remarked at least three varieties -- the snowy mimulus, the graceful flax, sometimes four feet high, and a delicate little euphorbia, whilst in the damper ground appeared the polar plant, that prairie compass, the plane of whose leaf ever turns toward the magnetic meridian. This is the "weed-prairie," one of the many divisions of the great natural meadows; grass prairie, rolling prairie, motte prairie, salt prairie, and soda prairie. It deserves a more poetical name, for
These are the gardens of the desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name.
Buffalo herds were behind the hills, but we were too full of sleep to follow them. The plain was dotted with blanched skulls and bones, which would have made a splendid bonfire. Apparently the expert voyageur has not learned that they form good fuel, at any rate, he has preferred to them the "chips" of which it is said that a steak cooked with them requires no pepper.
We dined at Plum Creek on buffalo, probably bull beef, the worst and dryest meat, save elk, that I have ever tasted; indeed, without the assistance of pork fat, we found it hard to swallow. As every one knows, however, the two-year old cow is the best eating, and at this season the herds are ever in the worst condition. The animals calve in May and June, consequently they are in August completely out of flesh. They are fattest about Christma,s when they find it difficult to run. All agree in declaring that there is no better meat than that of the young buffalo: the assertion, however must be taken cum grano salis. Wild flesh was never known to be equal to tame, and that monarch did at least one wise thing who made the loin of beef Sir Loin. The voyageurs and travelers who cry up the buffalo as so delicious, have been living for weeks on rusty bacon and lean antelope; a rich hump with its proper menstruum, a cup of café noir as strong as possible, must truly be a "tit bit." They boast that the fat does not disagree with the eater; neither do three pounds of heavy pork with the English ploughboy, who has probably taken less exercise than the Canadian hunter. Before long, buffalo flesh will reach New York, where I predict it will be held as inferior to butcher's meat as is the antelope to park-fed venison. Whilst hunting, Indians cut off the tail to test the quality of the game, and they have acquired by habit a power of judging on the run between fat and lean.
Resuming our weary ride, we watered at "Willow Island Ranch," and then at "Cold Water Ranch," -- drinking shops all -- five miles from Midway Station, which we reached at 8 PM. Here, whilst changing mules, we attempted with sweet speech and smiles to persuade the landlady, who showed symptoms of approaching maternity, into giving us supper. This she sturdily refused to do, for the reason that she had not received due warning. We had, however, the satisfaction of seeing the employés of the line making themselves thoroughly comfortable with bread and buttermilk. Into the horrid wagon again, and "a rollin:" lazily enough the cold and hungry night passed on.
To the Forks of the Platte 11th August
Precisely at 1:35 in the morning we awoke, as we came to a halt at Cotton Wood Station. Cramped with a four days' and four nights' ride in the narrow van, we entered the foul tenement, threw ourselves upon the mattresses, averaging three to each, and ten in a small room, every door, window, and cranny being shut, -- after the fashion of these Western folks, who make up for a day in the open air by perspiring through the night in unventilated log-huts and, despite mosquitos, slept.