Travels of the Main Army-Two Wagons Left-Antics of Oxen on Being Packed-Muskets Used for Tent Poles-First Indian Wigwams-Ancient Earthenware and Glass-Leave the Rio Grande-Ancient Gold Mine-Goats Killed-Table Land-Road Turns to Mexican Settlements-Council Decides to Go That Way-Prayers for the Colonel’s Mind to be Changed-a Scare-Prayer Answered-Men March Ahead of Teams to Break the Road-Charboneaux Kills His Mule
Our narrtive left the main army of the Battalion on the Rio Grande del Norte, on the 10th of November, to follow the travels of the detachments. Let us now return to that point, and follow the fortunes of the army journeying under command of Colonel Cooke.
Having parted with Lieutenant Willis and his detachment, with many prayers and much anxiety for their safety, but with a strong desire to meet them all again, we naturally turned our attention to the task before us; and no very promising picture did it present. However, our trust was in our Father in Heaven, and the promises made to us by His servants previous to our enlistment, and the sequel will show that the trust was not in vain.
Deeming it impracticable to take all of the wagons farther, Colonel Cooke issued an order requiring the acting assistant quartermaster to leave there the two remaining ox wagons, the teams for them being absolutely necessary for the further march of the Battalion. The commanders of companies were also required to reduce their number of tents to one for nine instead of six men, and for all the upright poles and the extra camp kettles to be left there.
We did some packing that same day of both oxen and mules. The former created much merriment, and took away for the moment some of the monotony of our surroundings. It was certainly very laughable to witness the antics of our frightened bullocks, which scarcely knew which end they stood upon, nor we either for that matter, for as some of the boys had it, “they kicked up before and reared up behind;” they bellowed and snorted, pawed and plowed the ground with their horns, whirling and jumping in every direction. Even our very sedate commander for once had his nature overcome sufficiently to get off the following: “Thirty-six mules were lightly packed, besides oxen; some of which performed antics that were irresistibly ludicrous (owing to the crupper perhaps), such as jumping high from the ground in quick-step time [he might have said double-quick time] turning round the while-a perfect jig.”
On the 11th, we marched about fifteen miles, and while Charboneaux, one of the guides, had gone some miles ahead in search of water for camp, Colonel Cooke, seeing a patch of willows and cane grass, rode into it and followed down the bottom for near a mile, where he found water and grass plentiful. We camped on the bluff.
Here, for the first time, we tried our commander’s new invention of using our muskets for tent poles. This was done simply by setting the breeches of the guns on the grounds, one in front and another in the rear of the tent, with bayonets off; in the muzzle of each a peg large enough to fill it was inserted, the upper end of which entered the ridge pole, the same as the iron peg in our former poles. The backs of the tents were opened and a gore inserted, which gave them a rather low pyramidal shape, and made them more roomy; but I must be excused from going into extacies over the external beauties of our camp, under this new arrangement. The height of our tents was reduced about six inches.
We saw, the same day, for the first time during our journey, some Indian wigwams, although we were traveling through a country where Indians were numerous. Their hostility to the whites led them to keep their families secluded.
We also found a large amount of ancient pottery-ware, which lay in broken fragments over the ground. Some of it was glazed and flowered. There were also some pieces of glass.
According to the estimate of the commanding officer, eight days’ rations had been saved to the Battalion by the return of Lieutenant Willis’ detachment. This estimate did not include the twenty-two, out of the twenty-seven days’ rations, for the detachment of fifty-six men overlooked and not sent as ordered, and for the want of which they so severely suffered.
While traveling on the 13th, we received directions from our guides to turn off to the right; so we took final leave of the Rio Grande del Norte and traveled in a south-westerly direction, camping the following night near a natural reservoir in the rocks in a deep ravine. This well was about thirteen feet in diameter and probably a hundred feet deep. The route which we were now taking was perfectly new to the guides even, as they had never traveled in this direction.
During our next day’s travel, we found the ruins of an ancient building, about thirty-six feet square, and containing five rooms.
The 15th of November being Sunday, we concluded to lay by on the bank of a small stream. An old white ox which had seen at least a dozen summers, and which we had driven all the way from Fort Leavenworth, having given out the day before a few miles back, was brought into camp, butchered and issued as rations. He was a mere skeleton, and his small amount of remaining flesh was more like a sickly jelly than real meat. In consequence of this incident we named the valley in which we were encamped “White Ox Valley,” and the little rivulet “White Ox Creek.”
The day was stormy, snow and rain falling alternately. Some of the hunters went about five miles from the camp, up a ravine, and found an old deserted vineyard, with some good grapes still hanging on the vines, upon which they feasted.
Passing around the base of a mountain on the 16th to a narrow canyon, we found a marshy water hole, which was given the name of “Cooke’s Spring” a name which it still bears. Here, again, we found much broken earthen ware scattered all over the ground. By whom it had been made or why it was scattered so extensively, could only be conjectured.
The next day we passed through the gap in the mountains, and came to a place where mining, for precious metals, had evidently been carried on at some time in the distant past. There were at least thirty holes cut in the solid rock, from ten to fourteen inches deep, and from six to ten inches in diameter, evidently for the purpose of catching and retaining water when showers occurred. Here we also found, for the first time, California partridges or quail. These birds do not differ much in size from those of the Eastern and Middle States, but are of a bluish color, with oblong bodies, and beautiful top-knots. They are swift runners. They are common in some parts of Utah.
A new variety of oak was also found here, which has since received the name of quercus emoryi; also a new and very beautiful variety of ooze, or Spanish beyonet, some of the leaves of which were a yard long, with edges resembling saw-teeth and stalks running up the center from fifteen to eighteen feet high.
One of our guides here killed two goats which must have strayed from some passing herd or been stolen and then lost by some Indians, as both were ear marked.
On the 18th, we marched north-west eighteen miles and camped on a stream of clear water, which, however, like most of the creeks in this country, sank in the sand a short distance below. This place is known as the Mimbres. For beauty of landscape, this part of the country can scarcely be excelled. It is what is known as “table land.” There are flats of thousands of acres of good soil, but with no timber or rocks of any note, extending several miles each way. When you leave one of these tables or flats, it is only to ascend or descend, as the case may be, to another. Elevated to the highest of these, no matter which way you cast your eye, a most beautiful, grassy plain attracts your vision, stretching out as far as you can discern. But alas! as “every rose has its thorn,” this “paradise found” has drawbacks so serious that it cannot be inhabited. There are no seasonable rains to moisten the earth nor sufficient water with which to irrigate it.
On the 17th, we struck the copper mine road leading from the mine to Yonas. Along this we marched eighteen miles over a gradually ascending prairie to Ojo de Vaca, or Cow Springs.
On the 20th, we laid by, and the guides, having been twelve miles ahead, and being able to see from there much farther without being able to discover any indication of water, returned disheartened, declaring that they did not think any more would be found short of the Gila river, a distance of about one hundred miles. As David Crockett would define it, the Colonel was “dumbfounded.” To turn back was starvation and chagrin; to go forward seemed rashness; and to follow the road to Yonos and thence to other Mexican settlements was, at best (if we escaped the enemy, which we were not likely to do), to fall in under General Wool, and find ourselves in Old Mexico, instead of California, at the end of the war or the term of our enlistment, on the 16th of July following.
The commander called his staff and the captains of companies together in council. The decision was to follow the road, which was said, by the guides, to lead in a south-westerly direction, through settlements where food and fresh teams could be obtained.
A gloom was cast over the entire command. All of our hopes, conversation and songs, since we had to leave Nauvoo were centered on California; somewhere on that broad domain we expected to join our families and friends.
In this critical moment, brother David Pettegrew, better known as Father Pettegrew, owing to his silver locks and fatherly counsels, and Brother Levi W. Hancock, went from tent to tent, and in a low tone of voice counseled the men to “pray to the Lord to change the Colonel’s mind.” Then they invited a few to accompany them to a secret place where they could offer up their petitions and not be seen by those in camp. That night over three hundred fervent prayers ascended to the throne of grace for that one favor.
While we remained at this place an amusing incident occurred, which reflected rather badly on the courage of one of the men. One of the guides ascended a hill not far from our camp and raised a signal smoke, in hopes of attracting some Mexicans, and learning from them something concerning the country over which we proposed to travel, and negotiating, if possible, for provisions and animals. The smoke had the desired effect; it attracted a number of Mexicans. It happened, however, that one of our men was in the vicinity of this hill gathering fuel, and seeing the Mexicans approaching, without knowing what their purpose was, he dropped his wood and ran into camp terribly excited, creating considerable merriment among his comrades at his expense. But, although the guides talked with the Mexicans, and some of the latter even came to the camp and stayed all night, no information of importance could be obtained from them, nor could any purchases be made.
On the morning of the 21st, the command resumed its journey marching in a southern direction for about two miles, when it was found that the road began to bear south-east, instead of south-west, as stated by the guides. The Colonel looked in the direction of the road, then to the south-west, then west, saying, “I don’t want to get under General Wool, and lose my trip to California.” He arose in his saddle and ordered a halt. He then said with firmness: “This is not my course. I was ordered to California; and,” he added with an oath, “I will go there or die in the attempt!” Then, turning to the bugler, he said, “Blow the right.”
At this juncture, Father Pettegrew involuntarily exclaimed, “God bless the Colonel!” The Colonel’s head turned and his keen, penetrating eyes glanced around to discern whence the voice came, and then his grave, stern face for once softened and showed signs of satisfaction.
The next day we traveled about eighteen miles and camped without water. Here it was decided and ordered that the men walk in double file in front of the wagons, just far enough apart to make trails for the wheels, and that at the end of an hour’s march the leading companies and teams halt and allow the others to precede them and take their turn at breaking the road. This gave all an equal share of the burden. This plan was followed subsequently in traveling over all the heavy, sandy road until we reached the coast. It was much like tramping snow-very hard on the men, especially those who took the lead, as we had no road or trail to follow.
Here, also, Charboneaux, one of the guides, came into camp, packing his saddle and pistols on his back. He said he got off to let his mule graze, when the animal kicked him, ran off and would not be caught; hence he shot him down to save his saddle and pistols, as he claimed, from falling into the hands of the Apache Indians.