History Mormon Battalion Chapter 19 Section A


Author’s Birthday-Severe Suffering From Thirst-Mirage-Reach Water-John R. Murdock Sick-Henry G. Boyle Healed in Answer to Prayer-Bear Killed-Crossing the Mountains-Wagons Lowered With Ropes-Dykes Almost Shot While Playing the Spy-Wild Cattle-Killing a Wild Bull-Return of John Allen-His Adventures

The 23rd was the thirtieth anniversary of the author’s birth, and this is how it was celebrated: The command started early, and after about twelve miles’ travel came to a hole or crevice in a rock at the point of a mountain, where there was, perhaps, water enough to give each man a half pint. As the Colonel and staff rode up to it, the former remarked to the latter in a rather low tone, “The men can do without water better than the animals.” He cast a look behind and seemed disappointed at my being so near. His mule with his staff and their mules, drained the spring. The author waited a few moments for a little to seep in and obtained, perhaps, a quarter of a gill of muddy water. In the meantime, others came up, some casting a wistful look into the hole and passing on, while others stopped and dipped with spoons what they could get. In writing on this point, our sympathizing commander says: “In the mountain ridge the water was found, mentioned by Spaniards last night, who thought there would be enough for the men a drink. It was soon gone [of course it was!] and the poor fellows were waiting for it to leak from the rocks, and dipping it with spoons! There was nothing to do but toil on over the ridge.” Six miles beyond, a guide was met with the news of water three leagues (nine miles) further on. While crossing this valley, before meeting the guide, the commander, remarked to some of the men that he had marched with a knapsack on his back, but his sufferings were nothing like theirs, and he feared theirs would be worse before they got through to California.

Here something resembling the deceptive mirage described before in this work, was constantly before us, seeming to keep the same distance off; sometimes it looked like a river, at others like a sea or lake.

After dark, we reached what seemed to be the bottom of a lake or pond, which was dry and solid, and the wagons rolled on it with perfect ease. Colonel Cooke very properly says: “It appeared in the obscurity (of twilight) something between smooth marble and a great sheet of ice; wagons moved with traces unstretched, and made no track.” We followed it only about two or three miles, when, to our great joy, water was found in some swamp holes on its western shore. Here the front rank arrived about 8 o’clock that evening; the rear, about 7 o’clock the next day, having made an arduous and continuous march of about twenty-four hours, and having been without water for about forty-eight hours.

About thirty years previous a terrible treachery and cowardly slaughter of Apache Indians, by one Johnson, who still lived in Sonora, took place here, for the purpose of obtaining scalps, for which the Governor was offering $50 each.

This clay flat is about thirty miles long, and is called by the Mexicans Las Playas. Here John R. Murdock, who drove the Colonel’s baggage wagon, was taken sick, and was unable to drive for a week or more. This was his only sickness on the route. He drove a team from Leavenworth to California.

We did not travel the following day, owing to so many teams and men being exhausted from the previous two days’ and nights’ march.

Our quartermaster purchased some five mules of visiting Mexicans. Here, also, Henry G. Boyle was taken violently sick, through drinking too much water on his arrival when he was very warm and thirsty. It being his turn to go on guard, he had no alternative but to go or report himself on sick list. He chose the latter, and Sanderson, the doctor, gave him the usual dose-calomel-which, however, he did not swallow, but consigned it to the flames. The writer and another Elder or two were called upon to anoint him with oil and lay hands upon him, and before night he was well.

Here pioneers were sent forward to work a road over the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. The down grade was found to be much more difficult than the ascent. The descent, for over a half mile, was at an angle of about forty-five degrees.

On the 25th, Charboneaux, the guide, who was a little ahead of the command, ascended one of the mountains and was confronted by three grizzly bears. He showed great presence of mind and bravery. A second or third shot leveled the most ferocious one. He escaped the others by climbing upon a rock, when they soon retreated in good order. The meat of the one killed was put in the wagons and eaten for supper.

On the 28th we reached the backbone of North America-the summit of the Rocky Mountains. Here we found plenty of deer, bear, antelope and small game. Several of the men went into the Sugar Loaf Mountains for the purpose of hunting. They got lost in their rambles, but all found their way back to camp the following day except John Allen, a worthless fellow, who attached himself to the Church at Fort Leavenworth that he might join the Battalion and obtain passage and protection to California. It was thought by some that he had deserted.

On the 29th, preparations were made for descending the mountain to the valley below. Most all of the animals were packed and sent down the mountain a distance of about six miles, into the valley, where a guard was left in charge of the baggage while the men and animals returned. The next day this process was repeated, and then the work of taking the wagons down was commenced.

The Colonel and his staff, on arriving at the summit of the mountain, estimated that it would require from five to ten days to descend, but it was accomplished in two days. Long ropes were attached to the wagons, upon which the men pulled, and in this manner the wagons were all lowered. One of them, by some accident, got loose, and ran down with such force that it became badly damaged, and was abandoned as worthless. One or two others were slightly injured, but were soon repaired.

During the three days that we were encamped on the ridge the weather was extremely cold and disagreeable, but when we arrived in the valley, which was perhaps three quarters of a mile lower in altitude, it was warm and pleasant.

On the 1st of December we resumed our journey, traveling down a canyon. While encamped that night, Lieutenant George P. Dykes, who was officer of the day, attempted to play the role of spy, in order, as was supposed, to find some cause for complaint against the men. His fault-finding disposition nearly cost him his life in this instance. He sneaked around, got inside the line and was stealthily making his way to where the guns were stacked. When he was discovered by the sentinel, Brother Henry G. Boyle (now a highly respected resident of Payson), who, supposing him to be an enemy, cocked and leveled his gun and was on the point of pulling the trigger when he recognized Dykes. Had he not at that moment discovered who it was, a half ounce ball and ten or twelve buckshot would have ended the sneaking business so far as Lieutenant Dykes was concerned. Brother Boyle says to this day it makes him shudder when he thinks of how narrowly he escaped killing the man, although no blame could have been attached to him had he fired before recognizing him.

Being on the west of the dividing ridge, we found that all of the streams ran westward instead of eastward, as previously. The scenery was most beautiful, with mountain precipices and rocks in all shapes and sizes heaped upon each other. The mezcal, a wild vegetable, sometimes roasted by Indians for food, was found there, as well as the Spanish bayonet, evergreen oaks, cottonwoods and sycamores, the leaves of which were nicely tinted by frost. Everything there, even to the rocks, bore a brilliant shade or tint of some kind.

On the 2nd, we reached the ruins of the rancho, San Bernardino. The spring and dwelling had been surrounded by a wall with two bastions (adobe, if my memory serves me right), but which were now much dilapidated. The country seemed to be mostly mezquit flats or tables.

The first wild cattle were found here. They were of Mexican stock, having been brought here by a Mexican, who was driven out by the Apache Indians and forced to leave his stock behind. One of the guides killed a wild bull and was found drying his meat on our arrival. A few hunters were immediately sent out, and more went out on their own responsibility, the author among the latter. Every now and then a bull bounded past him, having been routed by the hunters.

After following one and another, in the hope of getting a shot, he discovered one standing under a lone tree, at a distance of perhaps half a mile. He crouched and sneaked along from bunch to bunch of the Mezquit until one half the distance was made, when the crack of a musket and a rather sharp screech or lowing of the animal proved that another hunter had found his quiet resting place. His thigh bone was broken. Another shot succeeded in bringing him to the ground. By this time I had approached within a few rods, when the well-known voice of Walter Barney, one of my messmates, directed me to stop until he fired again. I insisted, however, on going up and cutting the animal’s throat to save the waste of ammunition; but as he claimed that there might be danger of the animal rising and goring me, I picked up a rock about the size of a man’s fist and threw it a distance of, perhaps, ten feet, against the horn of the animal. Quick as thought he bounded to his feet, and, with a wild, shrill bellow, hobbled after me on three legs. I fired and he fell again, only to arise and pursue his intended victim with the more fury. I was below him on a hill-side; as he neared me I dodged him, and while he was turning round gained a few feet up the hill. My comrade fired again, and the animal once more fell to the ground. This time a bullet from my musket, a little below the curl in the pate, ended the battle. Six bullet holes, all in fatal places, showed that these cattle could endure as much lead as a buffalo. He had a very large body, with horns about two yards from tip to tip, and he was round and fat. We soon found a way to strip a piece of his hide off, by which we got some meat, and Barney started for camp.

It was now after sunset. We had wandered some four miles from camp, and I, having been sickly from the day before we reached the Arkansas river, was completely exhausted and unable to return; hence, it was agreed that I should remain, and, after dark, keep up a light, in order that my comrades might come with pack-animals and take me and the best part of the meat of the huge animal to camp. I had but little fear of other wild beasts or Indians, although the country abounded with both. I made my supper mainly from the roasted melt or spleen of the animal. My comrade, with others, returned with mules about 10 p. m. We took what meat the mules could pack, I mounted the one with the lightest load, and reached camp about 12 o’clock, some time having been occupied in dressing the beef.

This same evening, John Allen, the desperado and hunter, who was supposed to have deserted, came into camp, having been absent five days. He was minus his gun, coat, vest, shoes and butcher knife, which he said were taken from him by Apache Indians. They made signs to him to take off his shirt, also; but the weather was cold, and he felt that if they did not kill him he must soon perish, hence he bared his breast and signified that he would prefer them to shoot him. They then let him go.

He finally struck our trail, and finding Captain Jesse D. Hunter’s dead horse, gnawed through his posterior like a wolf and got his first meal since leaving the command. He had killed a turkey, but the sound of his gun betrayed him to the Indians, who took it from him. The poor fellow had even picked up the hoofs of dead animals and gnawed off the most tender portions and eaten them.

He was, for once, humbled, and much of his disagreeable, wicked, profane and quarrelsome nature seemed for a time to have left him.

Cooke sets him down as “the only member of the Battalion not a Mormon.”

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