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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 12.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Journey up the Arkansas—Bent's Fort-Huerfano River and Valley—Description of the Country—Huerfano Butte—Behind Camp—Daguerreotypes—Scientific Observations—Approach of Night—Trail Lost, and Encampment in the Woods—Buffalo Robes and Blankets—Col. Fremont sends to find us—Bear Hunt—Roubidoux Pass—Emotion of Col. Fremont when Looking upon the Scene of his Terrible Disaster on a Former Expedition—Found a Half Starved Mexican—Col. Fremont's Humanity—His Skill in Pistol Shooting.
 

WE travelled up the Arkansas, and passing the ruins, of Bent's Fort on the opposite side of the river, struck the mouth of the Huerfano; we followed that river to the Huerfano Valley—which is by far the most romantic and beautiful country I ever beheld. Nature seems to have, with a bountiful hand, lavished on this delightful valley all the ingredients necessary for the habitation of man; but in vain the eye seeks through the magnificent vales, over the sloping hills, and undulating plains, for a single vestige to prove that even the foot of an Indian has ever preceded us. Herds of antelope and deer roam undisturbed through the primeval forests, and sustain themselves on the various cereals which grow luxuriantly in the valley.

But where are the people?

Were there ever any inhabitants in this extraordinarily fertile country?

Will the progress of civilization ever extend so far in the interior?

At present, not even the smoke from an Indian wigwam taints the pure air which plays around, and imparts healthful vigor to my frame.

After crossing the Huerfano River, we saw the immense pile of granite rock, which rises perpendicularly to the height of four or five hundred feet, from a perfectly level valley. It appeared like a mammoth sugar loaf, (called the Huerfano Butte).* Col. Fremont expressed a desire to have several views of it from different distances.

*"The Orphan."

The main party proceeded on the journey, leaving under my charge the mules which carried our apparatus, and also the blankets and buffalo robes of the whole camp; it being necessary in equalizing the weight, to distribute the different boxes on three or four animals. Mr. Egloffstien, Mr. Fuller, and two Delawares, remained with me.

To make a daguerreotype view, generally occupied from one to two hours, the principal part of that time, however, was spent in packing, and reloading the animals. When we came up to the Butte, Mr. Fuller made barometrical observations at its base, and also ascended -to the top to make observations, in order to ascertain its exact height. The calculations have not yet been worked out.

If a railroad is ever built through this valley, I suggest that an equestrian statue of Col. J. C. Fremont, be placed on the summit of the Huerfano Butte; his right hand pointing to California, the land he conquered.

When we had completed our work, we found that we were four hours behind camp, equal to twelve miles.

We followed the trail of our party, through the immense fields of artemisia, until night overtook us, travelling until we could no longer distinguish the trail.

Our arms were discharged as a signal to the camp; they answered it by firing off their rifles, but the wind being then high, we could not determine their exact distance or position. Then, taking counsel together, we determined to encamp for the night, on the side of a mountain covered with pines, near by.

We soon had a large fire burning, for the weather was intensely cold and disagreeable. Upon unloading our animals we found that we had with us all the baggage and buffalo robes of the camp, but nothing to eat or drink; the night was so dark that although not more than half a mile from a creek, we preferred to suffer from thirst rather than incur fresh danger which might lurk about it.

I had with me three tin boxes, containing preserved eggs and milk, but I preferred to go supperless to bed, rather than touch the small supply which I had, unknown to the rest, carefully hid away in my boxes, to be used on some more pressing occasion.

Our absence was most keenly felt by the camp, for they had to remain up, around their fires all night, not having any thing to sleep on.

We also watched all night, fearful that our animals should stray away, or that we should be attacked by Indians.

At day dawn we reloaded our animals, found our lost trail, and soon met some of our party whom Colonel Fremont had sent to look for us.

When we got to camp, they were all ready for a start, and waiting for us. A delicious breakfast of buffalo and venison had been prepared, and we discussed its merits an appetite sharpened by a twenty-four hours fast.

At the very base of the Rocky Mountains, while we approaching the Sand-hill Pass, fresh bear track were discovered by our Delawares, who determined to follow in search of the animal. Diverging a little from our line among the trees on the side of the mountain, our bruin was first seen. "A bear hunt! a bear hunt!" was quickly re-echoed by the whole company. The baggage animals were left to themselves while Colonel Fremont and the whole party darted off at full speed to the chase.

Two of our Delawares who first spied him, were half a mile in advance, for they gave the reins to their animals the instant they saw the bear. His bearship seeing strangers approaching at full speed, and being unused to their ways, thought it most prudent to make himself scarce; he turned and slowly descended the hill in an opposite direction; our loud huzzas finally alarmed him and off he went in full tilt, the whole party surrounding a him; the first shot from the Delaware brought him to his knees. Three shots killed him.

He was an enormous black bear, and very fat; I partook of but small quantities of it, it being too luscious and greasy for my palate. The meat was brought into camp and served several days for food for the whole party.

The next day I accompanied Col. Fremont into the Roubidoux Pass, from the summit of which I had the first view into the San Louis Valley, the head waters of the "Rio Grande del Norte." On the opposite side forty Miles across are the "San Juan Mountains," the scene of Col. Fremont's terrible disaster on a former expedition.

He pointed out to me the direction of the spot and with a voice tremulous with emotion, related some of the distressing incidents of that awful night. I made a daguerreotype of the pass with the San Louis Valley and mountains in the distance.

While exploring in the pass we accidentally came upon a Mexican, almost naked, who had deserted or been left behind by some hunters. Col. Fremont, whose great heart beats in sympathy for the suffering of his fellow men, made him follow to camp, and although he knew that this man would be an incubus upon the party from his inability to walk, allowed him to accompany the expedition, and supplied him with a part of his own wardrobe. The man subsequently proved perfectly worthless.

On our way down from the pass, Col. Fremont took out his revolver, and at a distance of about twenty paces killed a small, white, delicately formed animal, very like an ermine. This was an excellent shot with a sightless pistol.
 

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