Submitted by scott on Tue, 02/28/2017 - 22:54

From Roughing It:
"During the afternoon we passed Sweetwater Creek, Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate and the Devil’s Gap. The latter were wild specimens of rugged scenery, and full of interest—we were in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, now. And we also passed by “Alkali” or “Soda Lake,” and we woke up to the fact that our journey had stretched a long way across the world when the driver said that the Mormons often came there from Great Salt Lake City to haul away saleratus. He said that a few days gone by they had shoveled up enough pure saleratus from the ground (it was a dry lake) to load two wagons, and that when they got these two wagons-loads of a drug that cost them nothing, to Salt Lake, they could sell it for twenty-five cents a pound." (Roughing It)

About a mile beyond Independence Rock we forded the Sweet water. We had crossed the divide between this stream and the Platte, and were now to ascend our fourth river valley, the three others being the Missouri, the Big Blue, and the Nebraska. The Canadian voyageurs have translated the name Sweetwater from the Indian Pina Pa; but the term is here more applicable in a metaphorical than in a literal point of view. The water of the lower bed is rather hard than otherwise, and some travelers have detected brackishness in it, yet the banks are free from the saline hoar, which deters the thirstiest from touching many streams on this line. The Sweetwater, in its calmer course, is a perfect Naiad of the mountains; presently it will be an Undine hurried by that terrible Anagke, to which Jove himself must bend his omniscient head, into the grisly marital embrace of the gloomy old Platte. Passing pleasant after the surly ungenial silence of the Shallow River, is the merry prattle with which she answers the whisperings of those fickle flatterers, the winds, before that wedding day when silence shall become her doom. There is a something in the Sweetwater which appeals to the feelings of rugged men: even the drivers and the station keepers speak of "her" with a bearish affection. (p 150-1)

After fording the swift Pina Pa, at that point about seventy feet wide and deep to the axles, we ran along its valley about six miles, and reached at 9:15 PM the muddy station kept by M Plante, the usual Canadian. En route we had passed by the Devil's Gate, one of the great curiosities of this line of travel. It is the beau ideal of a kanyon, our portal opening upon the threshold of the Rocky Mountains: I can compare its form from afar only with the Breche de Roland in the Pyrenees. The main pass of Aden magnified twenty fold is something of the same kind, but the simile is too unsavory. The height of the gorge is from 300 to 400 feet: perpendicular, and on the south side threatening to fall, it has already done so in parts, as the masses which cumber the stream-bed show. The breadth varies from a minimum of 40 to a maximum of 105 feet, where the fissure yawns out, and the total length of the cleft is about 250 yards. The material of the walls is a gray granite, traversed by dikes of trap: and the rock in which the deep narrow crevasse has been made, runs right through the extreme southern shoulder of a ridge, which bears appropriately enough the name of "Rattlesnake Hills." Through this wild gorge the bright stream frets and forces her way, singing, unlike Liris, with a feminine u-ntaciturnity, that awakes the echoes of the pent_up channel, - tumbling and gurgling, dashing and foaming over the snags, blocks, and boulders which, fallen from the cliffs above, obstruct the way, and bedewing the cedars and bright shrubs which fringe the ragged staples of the gate. Why she should not have promenaded gently and quietly round, instead of through, this grisly barrier of rock, goodness only knows: however, willful and womanlike, she has set her heart upon an apparent impossibility, and, as usual with her sex under the circumstances, she has had her way. Sermons in stones - I would humbly suggest to my gender. (p 151)

Procrastination once more stole my chance: I had reserved myself for sketching the Devil's Gate from the southwest, but the station proved too distant to convey a just idea of it. For the truest representation of the gate, the curious reader will refer to the artistic work of Mr Frederick Piercy; that published in Captain Marcy's "List of Itineraries" is like any thing but the Devil's Gate; even the rough lithograph in Colonel Fremont's report is more truthful. (p 151)

We supped badly as mankind well could at the cabaret, where a very plain young person, and no neat handed Phyllis withal, supplied us with a cock whose toughness claimed for it the honors of grandpaternity. Chickens and eggs there were none; butcher's meat, of course, was unknown, and our hosts ignored the name of tea; their salt was a kind of saleratus, and their sugar at least half Indian meal. When asked about fish, they said that the Sweetwater contained nothing but suckers, and that these, though good eating, can not be caught with a hook. They are a queer lot these French Canadians who have "located" themselves in the Far West. Travelers who have hunted with them speak highly of them as a patient, submissive, and obedient race, inured to privations, and gifted with the reckless abandon - no despicable quality in prairie traveling - of the old Gascon adventurer, armed and ever vigilant, hardy, handy, and hearty children of Nature, combining with the sagacity and the instinctive qualities all the superstitions of the Indians; enduring as mountain-goats; satisfied with a diet of wild meat, happiest when it could be followed by a cup of strong milkless coffee, a "chasse cafe" and a "brule gueule"; invariably and contagiously merry; generous as courageous; handsome, active, and athletic; sashed, knived, and dressed in buckskin, to the envy of every Indian "brave," and the admiration of every Indian belle, upon whom, if the adventurer's heart had not fallen into the snares of the more attractive half-breed he would spend what remained of his $10 a month, after coffee, alcohol, and tobacco had been extravagantly paid for, in presents of the gaudiest trash. Such is the voyageur of books; I can only speak of him as I found him, a lazy dog, somewhat shy and proud, much addicted to loafing, and to keeping cabarets, because, as the old phrase is, the cabarets keep him - in idleness too. Probably his good qualities lie below the surface: - those who hide a farthing rush light under a bushel can hardly expect us, in this railway age, to take the trouble of finding it. I will answer, however, for the fact, that the bad points are painfully prominent. By virtue of speaking French and knowing something of Canada, I obtained some buffalo robes, and after a look at the supper, which had all the effect of a copious feed, I found a kind of out house, and smoked till sleep weighed down my eyelids. (p 152)

Up the Sweelwater 19th August
We arose at 6 AM,, before the rest of the household, who, when aroused "hifered" and sauntered about all desceuvres till their wool-gathering wits had returned. The breakfast was a little picture of the supper, for watered milk, half baked bread, and unrecognizable butter, we paid the somewhat "steep" sum of 75 cents, we privily had our grumble and set out at 7 AM to ascend the Valley of the Sweetwater. The river plain is bounded by two parallel lines of hills, or rather rocks, running nearly due east and west. Those to the north are about a hundred miles in extreme length, and rising from a great plateau lie perpendicular to the direction of the real Rocky Mountains toward which they lead: half the course of the Pina Pa subtends their southern base. The Western men know them as the Rattlesnake Hills, while the southern are called after the river. The former, a continuation of the ridge in which the Sweetwater has burst a gap - is one of those long lines of lumpy, misshapen, barren rock, that suggested, to the Canadians for the whole region the name of Les Montagnes Rocheuses. In parts they are primary, principally syenite and granite, with a little gneiss, but they have often so regular a line of cleavage, perpendicular as well as horizontal, that they may readily be mistaken for stratifications. The stratified are slaty, micaceous shale and red sandstone, dipping northward and cut by quartz veins and trap dikes. The remarkable feature in both formations is the rounding of the ridges or blocks of smooth naked granite: hardly any angles appeared: the general effect was, that they had been water-washed immediately after birth. The upper portions of this range shelter the bighorn, or American moufflon, and the cougar the grizzly bear and the wolf. The southern or Sweetwater range is vulgarly known as the Green River Mountains: seen from the road their naked, barren and sandy flanks appear within cannon shot, but they are distant seven miles. (p 153)

After a four miles drive up the pleasant valley of the little river-nymph, to whom the grisly hills formed an effective foil, we saw on the south of the road "Alkali Lake," another of the Trona formations with which we were about to become familiar; in the full glare of burning day it was undistinguishable as to the surface from the round pond in Hyde Park. Presently ascending a little rise, we were shown for the first time a real bit of the far-famed Rocky Mountains, which was hardly to be distinguished from, except by a shade of solidity, the fleecy sunlit clouds resting upon the horizon: it was Fremont's Peak, the sharp snow-clad apex of the Wind River range. Behind us and afar rose the distant heads of black hills. The valley was charming with its bright glad green, a tapestry of flowery grass, willow copses where the grouse ran in and out, and long lines of aspen, beech and cotton wood, while pine and cedar, cypress and scattered evergreens crept up the cranks and crannies of the rocks. In the midst of this Firdaus - so it appeared to us after the horrid unwithering artemisia Jehennum of last week - flowed the lovely little stream, transparent as crystal, and coquettishly changing from side to side in her bed of golden sand. To see her tamely submit to being confined within those dwarf earthen cliffs you would not have known her to be the same that had made that terrible breach in the rock-wall below. "Varium et mutabile semper," etc: I will not conclude the quotation, but simply remark that the voyageurs have called her "She." And every where, in contrast with the deep verdure and the bright flowers of the valley, rose the stern forms of the frowning rocks, some apparently hanging as though threatening a fall, others balanced upon the slenderest foundations, all split and broken, as though earthquake-riven, loosely piled into strange figures, the lion couchant, sugar-loaf, tortoise and armadillo, - not a mile in fact was without its totem. (p 154)

The road was good, especially when hardened by frost. We are now in altitudes where, as in Tibet, parts of the country long centuries never thaw. After passing a singular stone bluff, on the left of the road, we met a party of discharged soldiers, who were traveling eastward comfortably enough in wagons drawn by six mules. Not a man saluted Dana, though he was in uniform, and all looked surly as Indians after a scalpless raid. Speeding merrily along, we were shown on the right of the road a ranch belonging to a Canadian, a "mighty mean man" said the driver, who onst gin me ole mare's meat for b'ar." We were much shocked by this instance of the awful depravity of the unregenerate human heart, but melancholy musings were presently interrupted by the same youth, who pointed out on the other side of the path, a mass of clay (conglomerate, I presume), called the Devil's Post-office. It has been lately washed with rains so copious that half the edifice lies at the base of that which is standing. The structure is not large: it is highly satisfactory - especially to a man who in this life has suffered severely as the Anglo-Indian ever must endless official and semi-official correspondence - to remark that the London Post office is about double its size.(p 154)

Beyond the Post-office was another ranch belonging to a Portuguese named Luis Silva, married to an Englishwoman who had deserted the Salt Lake Saints. We "staid a piece" there but found few inducements to waste our time. Moreover, we had heard from afar of an "ole 'ooman," an Englishwoman, a Miss Moore - Miss is still used for Mrs by Western men and negroes - celebrated for cleanliness, tidiness, civility, and housewifery in general, and we were anxious to get rid of the evil flavor of Canadians, squaws, and "ladies." (p 154)

At 11 AM we reached "Three Crossings" when we found the "miss" a stout, active, middle-aged matron, deserving of all the praises that had so liberally been bestowed upon her. The little ranch was neatly swept and garnished, papered and ornamented. The skull of a full-grown bighorn hanging over the doorway represented the spoils of a stag of twelve. The table cloth was clean, so was the cooking, so were the children; and I was reminded of Europe by the way in which she insisted upon washing my shirt, an operation which after leaving the Missouri ca va sans dire, had fallen to my own lot. In fact, this day introduced me to the third novel sensation experienced on the western side of the Atlantic. The first is to feel (practically) that all men are equal; that you are no man's superior, and that no man is yours. The second - this is spoken as an African wanderer - to see one's quondam acquaintance, the Kaffir, laying by his grass kilt and coat of grease, invest himself in broadcloth, part his wool on one side, shave what pile nature has scattered upon his upper lip, chin, and cheeks below a line drawn from the ear to the mouth-corner after the fashion of the times when George the Third was king, and call himself, not Sambo, but Mr Scott. The third was my meeting in the Rocky Mountains with this refreshing specimen of that far Old World, where, on the whole, society still lies in strata, as originally deposited, distinct, sharply defined and rarely displaced, except by some violent upheaval from below, which, however, never succeeds long in producing total inversion. Miss Moore's husband, a decent appendage, had transferred his belief from the Church of England to the Church of Utah, and the good wife, as in duty bound, had followed in his wake whom she was bound to love, honor, and obey. But when the serpent came and whispered in Miss Moore's modest, respectable, one-idea'd ear that the Abrahams of Great Salt Lake City are mere "sham Abrams," that not content with Sarahs they add to them an unlimited supply of Hagars, then did our stout Englishwoman's power of endurance break down never to rise again. "Not an inch would she budge"; not a step toward Utah Territory would she take. She fought pluckily against the impending misfortune, and - a quelque chose malheur est bon! - she succeeded in reducing her husband to that state which is typified by the wife using certain portions of the opposite sex's wardrobe, and in making him make a good livelihood as station master on the wagon line. (p 155)

After a copious breakfast, which broke the fast of the four days that had dragged on since our civilized refection at Fort Laramie, we spread our buffalos and water-proofs under the ample eaves of the ranch, and spent the day in taking time with the sextant, - every watch being wrong - in snoozing, dozing, chatting, smoking, and contemplating the novel view. Straight before us rose the Rattlesnake Hills, a nude and grim horizon, frowning over the soft and placid scene below, while at their feet flowed the little river, - splendidior vitro, - purling over its pebbly bed with graceful meanderings through clover prairillons and garden spots full of wild currants, strawberries, gooseberries, and rattlesnakes; while contrasting with the green River Valley, and the scorched and tawny rock-wall, patches of sand-hill raised by the winds, here and there cumbered the ground. The variety of the scene was much enhanced by the changeful skies. The fine breeze which had set in at 8 AM had died in the attempt to thread these heat-refracting ridges, and vapory clouds, sublimated by the burning sun, floated lazily in the empyrean, casting fitful shadows that now intercepted, then admitted, a blinding glare upon the mazy stream and its rough cradle. (p 156)

In the evening we bathed in the shallow bed of the Sweetwater. It is vain to caution travelers against this imprudence. Video meliora proboque: - it is doubtless unwise - but it is also mera slullitia to say to men who have not enjoyed ablutions for a week or ten days, "If you do take that delicious dip you may possibly catch fever." Deteriora sequor, - bathed. Miss Moore warned us strongly against the rattlesnakes, and during our walk we carefully observed the Indian rule, to tread upon the log and not to overstep it. The crotalus, I need hardly say, like other snakes, is fond of lurking under the shade of fallen or felled trunks, and when a heel or a leg is temptingly set before it, it is not the beast to refuse a bite. Accidents are very common, despite all precautions, upon this line, but they seldom, I believe, prove fatal. The remedies are almost endless: eg hartshorn, used externally and drunk in dilution; scarification and irrumation of the part, preceded, of course, by a ligature between the limb and the heart; application of the incised breast of a live fowl or frog to the wound; the dried and powdered blood of turtle, of this two pinches to be swallowed and a little dropped upon the place bitten; a plaster of chewed or washed plantain-leaves - it is cooling enough, but can do little more - bound upon the puncture, peppered with a little finely powdered tobacco; pulverized indigo made into a Poultice with water; cauterization by gunpowder, hot iron, or lunar caustic; cedron, a nut growing on the Isthmus of Panama = of this remedy I heard, in loco, the most wonderful accounts, dying men being restored, as if by magic, after a bit about the size of a bean had been placed in their mouths. As will be seen below, the land is rich in snakeroots, but the superstitious snake-stone of Hindostan - which acts, if it does act, as an absorbent of the virus by capillary attraction - is apparently unknown. The favorite remedy now in the United States is the "whisky cure," which, under the form of arrack, combined in the case of a scorpion-sting with a poultice of chewed tobacco, was known for the last fifty years to the British soldier in India. It has the advantage of being a palatable medicine; it must also be taken in large quantities, a couple of bottles sometimes producing little effect. With the lighted end of a cigar applied as moxa to the wound, a quantum sufficit of ardent spirits, a couple of men to make me walk about when drowsy by the application of a stick, and above all, with the serious resolution not to do any thing so mean as to "leap the twig". I should not be afraid of any snake yet created. The only proviso is that our old enemy must not touch an artery, and that the remedies must be at hand. Fifteen minutes lost you are "down among the dead men." The history of fatal cases always shows some delay. (p 157)

We supped in the evening merrily. It was the best coffee we had tasted since leaving New Orleans; the cream was excellent, so was the cheese. But an antelope had unfortunately been brought in; we had insisted upon a fry of newly killed flesh, which was repeated in the morning, and we had bitterly to regret it. While I was amusing myself by attempting to observe an immersion of Jupiter's satellites, with a notable failure in the shape of that snare and delusion a portable telescope, suddenly there arose a terrible hubbub. For a moment it was believed that the crotalus horridus had been taking liberties with one of Miss Moore's progeny. The seat of pain, however, soon removed the alarming suspicion, and - the rattlesnake seldom does damage at night - we soon came to the conclusion that the dear little fellow who boo-hoo'd for forty had been bitten by a musqueto somewhat bigger than its fellows. The poor mother soon was restored to her habits of happiness and hard labor. Not contented with supporting her own family, she was doing supererogation by feeding a little rat-eyed, snub nosed, shark-mouthed, half-breed girl, who was, I believe, in the market as a "chattel". Mrs Dana pointed out to me one sign of demoralization on the part of Miss Moore. It was so microscopic that only a woman's acute eye could detect it. Miss Moore was teaching her children to say "Yes surr!" I to every driver.
(p 157)


Twain, Mark. 1872. Roughing It. American Publishing Company.
Burton, Richard. 1861. The City Of The Saints. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.