History Mormon Battalion Chapter 25 Section A
Troublesome Fires in the Brush-Discouraging Prospect-No Water-Alas for Human Hopes-a Trying March-Great Suffering From Thirst-Meet Fresh Mules and Some Beeves-Freezing At Night and Scorching By Day-Arrival At the Coriza-Happy Relief-Good Water to Drink-Novel Style of Boots
The fire set by the guide, which seemed the only method of getting a road, annoyed us very much. In some cases the wagons were in danger of being consumed, and, in others, the mules’ feet were liable to be ruined, by the live coals from the burning brush. A quantity of the mezquit fruit was gathered for the animals, by the very wise direction of our commander. There was but very little grass at our camp.
The following will show that the Colonel was not insensible of our true situation. “I was met by a man who told me there was not a drop of water” (in the well). The worst prospect for sixty miles ahead instantly arose to frighten me for the 360 nearly worn-out footmen, who confide all to me.”
When he arrived at the camping place about 9 p.m., on the 11th, he found a portion of the men cleaning out and sinking the old well, while another party were digging a new one. Some mud and a little water were struck in the old well, but the quicksand ran in and not only obscured the water, but endangered the lives of the men, who were now ten feet or more below the surface. How to remedy the evil was a question. Some one suggested that the wife of one of the Captains had a wash tub, which, by boring holes in the bottom, might answer as a curbing. The Captain’s team soon came up and the vessel was called for, but the good lady, who perhaps had brought it all the way from Nauvoo or even farther, could not consent, on any account, to part with it. It was, however, pressed into service, and bored, and sunk in the sand. This proved a failure. Then the bottom was ordered to be knocked out, when it worked better; some water came in, but, alas, for human hopes! the fluid soon disappeared and all seemed lost. In this emergency, Weaver, one of the guides and an old mountaineer trapper, was sent for, to ascertain the practibility of traveling sixty miles more or less down the river. He thought, with our weak teams and worn-out men, it would be next to impossible. According to Cooke’s account, which is doubtless correct, he now cast one more anxious look down the old well, and, as a last but faint hope of success, ordered a fresh detail to further sink the new well, which was already more than two feet below the old one, with no better prospect. A half hour later all hearts were made glad with the tidings of water deep enough to fill our camp kettles.
Colonel Cooke says, of the news of water: “It was like a great light bursting on darkness and gloom.” Further on, the anxious commander adds: “Eighteen hours of unceasing labor has been my lot to-day, with anxiety enough to turn one gray.” With all this anxiety, the ever hopeful officer says: “My faith had not failed.” Lieutenant Oman, with twelve picked men, was ordered to go on a forced march the next day, as far as Alamo Mocho, to dig a well or wells, that we might have water on our arrival.
On the morning of the 12th, the mules of three out of the five companies were watered from the well by 11 o’clock, when those three companies resumed the march, leaving the others to water their animals and follow on afterwards. That night a dry camp was made, and not until two o’clock next day did we reach the well, Alamo Mocho, where we found Lieutenant Oman and party had cleaned out the old well and dug another; but very little water had been obtained, and that of a poor quality. It did not seem to satisfy the thirst of either men or animals, and the latter had to be forced away from the well in order to get them to browse upon the scant squaw bushes. About twenty bushels of tornia, gathered by the men near the Colorado and carried along for the use of the mules, helped to keep those poor animals alive.
On the morning of the 14th, Lieutenant Stoneman and Weaver, with about twenty-five men, started early to hasten on to the next well, called the Pozo Hondo, and make preparations for the arrival of the command. Leaving two of the wagons which the famishing animals were unable to take any farther, the Battalion proceeded on and camped again without water. A portion of the way we had heavy sand, but, in other places, solid clay, so hard that neither animals nor wagons made much impression on it. In the sandy places were signs of large herds of cattle and horses, which had been driven to Sonora, to prevent them falling into the hands of the Americans. Sea-shells and salt were also found on the great clay flat, which led to the conclusion that at some time in the distant past, the Gulf of California may have extended over these parts.
On the 15th, we marched seven miles to the Pozo Hondo wells. A rainbow was visible in the morning, a sight rarely seen on these arid deserts.
On arriving at the well, one of our guides, who had been sent ahead to purchase fresh mules and beef cattle, met us with thirty-five mules, all in good condition. He had started with fifty-seven, but unfortunately the other twenty-two were lost by the way. Ten fat beeves were also brought and one was killed, which was a great treat to the men, after having little else than worn-out oxen since leaving Santa Fe. The most of the mules were wild and some got away. One broke loose from three men and made good his escape, harness and all.
The well afforded us but a little very poor water; it served, however, to save life until better could be reached. We left Pozo Hondo at about 4 p.m., and continued our march until 11 p.m., making about ten miles, when we halted until 2 a.m., of the 16th.
As usual, the night was very cold, and the half-naked men suffered for want of more and better clothing. The contrast between an almost tropical sun in the day time and a December cold atmosphere at night was very hurtful and weakening to both man and beast. The Indians call that region “the hot land”-a name which strikes the writer as being quite appropriate, as it is by far the hottest region he ever saw.
We continued our march twenty miles farther to the Cariza, a small creek known to the Battalion as the “first running water,” on account of it being the first seen since leaving the Colorado river. The march of the last five days was the most trying of any we had made, on both men and animals. We here found the heaviest sand, hottest days and coldest nights, with no water and but little food. Language fails to provide adjectives strong enough to describe our situation; it must be left to the imagination of the reader to picture it.
At about noon, the best teams reached camp. The last, however, did not arrive until the next morning. There were many occasions, during our travels through the deserts, when twenty well-armed men might have nearly used up the command, in our scattered condition.
John Lawson reached camp after dark; he was riding and packing a private mule, on which was carried his clothing, blankets, gun, etc. He left the mule packed for a few minutes, and was not able to find either the animal or its loading afterwards, although a thorough search was made that night and the next morning.
At this time the men were nearly barefooted; some used, instead of shoes, rawhide wrapped around their feet, while others improvised a novel style of boots by stripping the skin from the leg of an ox. To do this, a ring was cut around the hide above and below the gambrel joint, and then the skin taken off without cutting it lengthwise. After this, the lower end was sewed up with sinews, when it was ready for the wearer, the natural crook of the hide adapting it somewhat to the shape of the foot. Others wrapped cast-off clothing around their feet, to shield them from the burning sand during the day and the cold at night.
Before we arrived at the Cariza, many of the men were so nearly used up from thirst, hunger and fatigue, that they were unable to speak until they reached the water or had it brought to them. Those who were strongest reported, when they arrived, that they had passed many lying exhausted by the way-side. Among that number was the author, who was then on sick report and in such a feeble condition that, after riding a few rods on a poor government mule, he was obliged to lay down on his back to ease the pain, which seemed to be seated in his back and loins. At one time, it was even supposed that he was dead. This supposition was strengthened by the fact that his riding mule got loose and marched into camp. It happened, however, that there were other men in the rear of him, one of whom had a mule which he placed him upon and allowed him to ride until he reached the creek at about eight o’clock in the evening.
About sixteen or more mules gave out entirely during the two last days’ travel and were abandoned. During that part of our journey made in the morning, it was piercing cold. The guides got lost and we traveled a mile or more out of our way, through very heavy sand. Our fresh animals were nearly exhausted.