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- The Great Salt Lake Trail - 8/86 -


was dotted with the various animals which at that early period were so numerous on the grand prairies of the Platte. Conspicuous, of course, were vast herds of buffalo, and near the outer edge of the nearest could be distinctly seen a pack of hungry wolves, eagerly watching for a chance to hamstring one of the superannuated bulls which stood alone, remote from all his companions, in all the misery of his forlorn abandonment.

In the afternoon, as the party were riding silently along the trail by the margin of the river, a rumbling, muffled sound was heard, like the mutterings of thunder below the horizon. One of the Indians whom Captain Williams had induced to accompany him for some distance farther into the wilderness, told him that the noise was made by a stampeded herd of buffalo, and the sound became clearer and more distinct. He believed the frightened animals were rushing in the direction of the company, and if his surmises were true, there was danger in store. For more than an hour the rumbling continued, sounding louder and louder, until at last a surging, dark-looking mass of rapidly moving animals was visible on the horizon, seeming to cover the entire surface of the prairie as far as the eye could see.

There was but one thing to do; either the herd must be divided by some means, or death to all was inevitable. Accordingly the horses were hobbled, and the men rushed toward the approaching mass of surging animals, firing off their rifles as rapidly and shouting as loudly as they could. Luckily for the hunters, as the vast array of frightened buffaloes came toward them, the leaders, with bloodshot eyes, stared for a moment at the new object of terror, divided to the right and left, passing the now thoroughly alarmed men with only about fifty or sixty yards between them.

For more than an hour the hard work of yelling and firing off their rifles had to be kept up before the danger was over. The buffalo appeared to be more badly frightened at the yells of the Indian than at anything else that confronted them. One of the beautiful greyhounds belonging to the company became demoralized, and, running into the midst of the rushing herd as it passed by, was cruelly trampled to death in an instant.

In the early days it was generally believed that, when buffalo were seen stampeding in the manner described, they were being chased by Indians; and the party, surmising this to be the cause of the present onward rush of the animals, although getting short of their meat rations, did not deem it prudent to kill any, so the vast herd of the coveted animals was allowed to pass by without a shot being fired at them.

The delay caused by the stampede made the party very late in making their usual afternoon camp, and when they started on their hard march again, three of the men were detailed to hunt for game. They were told to join the company at a bunch of timber just visible low down on the western horizon, apparently about six miles distant, but as afterward proved it was much farther.

The men who were ordered out by the captain were warned to observe the strictest vigilance, and particularly not to separate from each other, as it was evident they were in a dangerous country, and their safety depended upon their keeping within supporting distance.

The main body of the party arrived at the bunch of timber about sundown, and partook of a very slight repast, as the meat, upon which they depended almost entirely, was nearly exhausted. About dark, however, two of the hunters who had left in the afternoon came into camp bringing with them a fine deer. They reported that their companion had left them to get a shot at a herd of elk a mile away, and while going after the deer which they had killed they lost sight of him. They also stated that they had seen three horsemen going in the direction which the missing man had taken. This painful news created the greatest alarm in the camp; it was too late and dark to go out in search of their missing comrade, and if he were still alive he would be compelled to remain entirely unprotected during the night on the prairie. The captain at first thought of kindling a large fire, hoping that the lost man would see the light and find his way in. As this plan would betray the presence of the whole party to any Indians who might be prowling about, it was wisely abandoned. So the little camp-fires were extinguished, and a double guard posted, for it was believed that, if the Indians had killed their comrade, they would be likely to attack the main camp at dawn, the hour usually selected for such raids.

The night passed slowly on; nothing disturbed the hunters except their anxiety for their lost comrade. At the faintest intimation of the coming dawn, ten of the party, including the two who had been with the missing man the previous afternoon, set out on their quest for their lost companion. They first went back to the spot where they remembered having last seen him, but there was not a sign of him; not even the track of his horse's hoofs could be seen. The men fired off their rifles as they rode along, and occasionally called out his name, but not a sound came back in response. At last they were rewarded by the sight of a horse standing in a bunch of willows. As they approached him, they were welcomed by his neighing. They then halted, and continued their shouting and calling by name, but not an answer did they get. They were now confirmed in their belief that their comrade had been killed by the Indians, who were in possession of his horse, and at that moment hidden in the bunch of willows before them. They were determined to know positively, so they approached the spot very cautiously, with their fingers on the triggers of their rifles, ready to repel an attack. When they had approached sufficiently near, they saw that the horse was carefully fastened to the brush, and a short distance away was Carson[7] lying down with his head resting on the saddle! At first the men thought him dead, but found out that he was only in a profound sleep, indeed, really enjoying the most delightful dreams. When they aroused him he appeared bewildered for a moment, but soon recovered his normal condition, and related his story to his now happy companions. He said that in his eagerness to get the elk he lost his bearings, and wandered about until midnight. He hoped that he might catch a glimpse of their camp-fire, but failing in that, being tired and hungry, he laid himself down and tried to sleep; but pondering upon his danger he lay awake until daylight, and had just dropped into a deep slumber when they found him, and he slept so soundly that he failed to hear them call. He said that he saw the Indians on horseback seen by the other men; they passed by him within a hundred yards, but did not see him, as he was already hidden in the willows where he was found.

The lost man being found, the party returned to camp and resumed its journey, exercising renewed caution, as the signs of Indians grew thicker as they moved on. Tracks of the savages' horses and the remains of their camp-fires were now of frequent occurrence, and the game along the trail was easily frightened, another sign of the late presence of Indians.

About noon some mounted Indians were discovered by the aid of the captain's field-glass, on a divide, evidently watching the movements of the party. They were supposed to be runners of some hostile tribe, who intended that night to steal upon them and take their horses, and possibly attempt to take their scalps. Toward night the same Indians were again observed following the trail of the party, and they were now satisfied the savages were dogging them. Having arrived at the margin of a small stream of very pure water, they halted for an hour or more, allowing the Indians, who were evidently watching every movement, to believe their intention was to camp for the night at that spot. As soon as the animals were sufficiently rested, however, and had filled themselves with the nutritious grass growing so luxuriantly all around them, they saddled up, first having added a large amount of fresh fuel to their fires, and started on. They made a detour to the north in order to deceive the savages as much as possible as to their real course. The ruse had the desired effect, for after travelling about ten miles farther, they slept soundly until the next morning, without fires, on a delicious piece of green sod.

At the first streak of dawn the men were in their saddles again, having outwitted the Indians completely. It was about the first of June; and one day, soon after they had gotten rid of their savage spies, one of the party was stricken down with a severe sickness, and they were compelled to lie in camp and attend to the sufferings of their unfortunate comrade. He had a high fever, grew delirious, and as in those days bleeding was considered a panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to, the captain made several abortive attempts to draw the diseased blood from the poor man, but failed completely. He also dosed his victim with copious draughts of calomel, but the result was far from salutary; the man grew worse, but the party determined to remain with him until he did get better or death relieved him of his sufferings. Accordingly, to make themselves more secure from probable attacks of the Indians, they threw up a rude breastwork of earth, behind which they established themselves and felt thereafter a greater degree of security.

Some of the men were despatched on a hunt for meat, and shortly returned with part of the carcass of a young buffalo cow, and one antelope, which was the first they had been able to kill. The man who killed it said that he resorted to the tactics generally adopted by the Indians. The timid animal would not allow him to approach within rifle-shot, until he had excited its curiosity by fastening a handkerchief on the end of his ramrod. As soon as the antelope saw it, it gradually walked toward him until so near that he was assured that his piece would carry that far. It actually came within thirty yards of him, and he shot it while lying prone on the ground, the graceful animal noticing nothing but the white rag that had attracted its attention.

On the afternoon of that day a band of savages, mounted on fine horses, made their appearance near the camp, and looked upon the white men with great curiosity. It was soon learned that they were Pawnees, and with some little trouble they were enticed to come in, and a talk was had with their leader. They proved to be a party out after some Osages who had stolen a number of horses. They had been lucky enough to overtake them, and had killed nearly all the thieves, regained their horses, and had a number of the enemies' scalps. The Pawnees had met Captain Lewis the year before, and having received some presents from him were inclined to regard the whites as a friendly people. This impression the captain further confirmed by himself making them gifts of some tobacco and trifling trinkets. They were shown around the camp, and seemed to sympathize deeply with the sick man, who was lying on his blankets in a dying condition. They gathered some roots from the prairie, and assured the captain that if the man would take them he would certainly recover; they also urged their manner of sweating and bathing, but the appliances were not at hand, so the advice had to be declined.[8]

That evening the sick man died; an event that was looked for, but not so soon. His body was immediately wrapped in his blanket and deposited in a grave. On the bark of a tree standing near, his name, “William Hamilton,” and the date of his death were rudely carved with a jack-knife by one of the party.

Early in the morning the occupants of the camp were shocked at the sight of a pack of wolves most industriously at work on the grave trying to unearth the body of their unfortunate comrade. All the men suddenly and almost simultaneously attempted to fire their rifles


The Great Salt Lake Trail - 8/86

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