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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 31.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Corn Creek—Meadow Creek—Exploration of Vinegar Lake—Mephitic Gas—Sulphuric Acid—Sulphur—Alum—Volcanic Appearance of the Country—Beaver River Valley—Lieut. Beale's Pass into the Valley of the Parowan—Col. Fremont's Pass in the same Valley—Author crosses his own Trail made three Months before—His Feelings on the Occasion—Red Creek Cañon—Hieroglyphics—Granite Rocks—Remains of a Town—Arrival at Parowan—Brigham Young—Old Acquaintances.
 

MAY 15th. On rising this morning I found a snow storm raging on the mountains; in the valley it was raining, and the temperature 38, cold enough to make great coats desirable. We left camp at 8 o'clock, and after travelling ten miles, crossed a fine stream of water called Meadow Creek, banked with willows; two miles further we crossed another rivulet, also fringed with willows and a few cottonwood trees.

The soil in Parvain Valley is rich and highly productive; the earth is covered with parterres of beautiful wild flowers, which are quite refreshing to the eye, contrasted with the snowy mountains all round us.

At 6 o'clock we camped on Corn Creek, 33 miles from Fillmore City; this is the only water from Meadow Creek, a distance of twenty-one miles.

The whole country in this neighborhood is of volcanic origin. Black cinders abound on the mountains, and a kind of grey pumice stone is found in the valleys. Sulphur in large quantities lies on the open ground in the ravines.

Mountains of pure solid transparent rocksalt rear their majestic heads in Juab Valley, a few miles south.

16th. Wakara, the Utah chief, one of the Indians who accompanied us, informed me that a few miles from our present camp there was a most extraordinary vinegar lake, where all bad spirits dwell; a place where a living animal never was seen, and near which there was no vegetation. Our interpreter told me he had heard before of such a lake, but he placed no faith in it. Wakara said he would go along and show us the place. Being anxious and determined to explore, and make some discovery which might benefit science, if any was to be made on this journey, I induced several Mormons to make up a party sufficiently large to insure us against an Indian surprise. The next morning we left the main trail, and proceeded about two miles in an easterly direction towards the base of the Warsatch range. Our path was covered with large quantities of obsidian, and presented every indication that the lake we were approaching was of volcanic origin. Before the lake was in sight, the atmosphere gradually became unpleasant to inhale, leaving a sulphurous taste on your palate. The approach to the lake was, for the last five hundred yards, over limestone rock, carbonized evidently from great heat, at some remote period. The air was greatly charged with sulphuric hydrogen gas, which caused me to feel an inclination to vomit. It affected the rest of the party in a similar manner. Being determined to examine further, we descended the lime formation for about one hundred feet; this brought us immediately on the spot. Its appearance indicated from the character of the surrounding country, that it evidently had been a lake; it now looked like the dry bed of what was once a lake. The surface was covered with an efflorescence to the depth of a foot, more solid, however, as you dig into it, composed of impure alum, and most probably formed by the action of sulphuric acid on feldspathic rock.

Further towards the base of the mountain which bounded it on the east side, I found large quantities of pure crystalized alum, and also pure sulphur. The efflorescence which covers the lake, might be composed by the spontaneous evaporation of a mixture of sulphate of iron, and tersulphate of alumina, excess of sulphuric acid being present.

We with great caution commenced to walk over this surface, and discovered that it undulated with the weight of our bodies. I felt as if walking on thin ice, which bent, without breaking beneath my weight. As we approached the centre, we heard a roaring, which our Indian said was caused from "big fire below." I put my ear close to the earth, and was almost sure it proceeded from the escape of either gas or the passage of water. With a pickaxe, brought for exploring purposes, an orifice about a foot in diameter was dug. The axe was suddenly driven through, when a yellow, muddy liquid gushed forth in a continued stream. I tasted the liquid, when to my surprise, it was a strong acid, which immediately set my teeth on edge. Sulphuric acid in large proportions was present; this crust of over a mile in diameter, was resting on the surface of this immense body of diluted sulphuric acid. Oxide of iron in large quantities is to be found cropping out of the base of the mountains; sulphur in large quantities is also present. These materials, acted upon by volcanic heat, will produce a white powder, which partakes of the character of the substance, forming the covering to the lake. In the neighborhood of some volcanoes, sulphuric acid is found impregnated with lime and baryta, both of which are abundant on the margins of this wonderful lake. The roaring is evidently produced by the force of the liquid through some subterranean cavern; over this vast field of efflorescent sulphate of oxide of iron, there are no signs of vegetation.

On the mountains, and towards its southern boundary, some few Norway pines and cedars grow. The sulphuretted hydrogen gas which impregnates the atmosphere, prevents birds or animals from inhabiting or resorting near its neighborhood. This gas I judge to be generated by the action of diluted sulphuric acid, on proto-sulphate of iron, all which ingredients are to be found here. Feeling ill effects from inspiring this gas, I finished my examinations quickly, and sought a purer atmosphere. I made a drawing of the lake, and surrounding mountains. This extraordinary place had probably never before been examined by a white man. None of the many Mormons who were present, and to whom I related the particulars, ever explored it. It lies directly at the base of the Warsatch Mountains, in about 38º 26' latitude, and the same longitude as Fillmore City, and nearly 35 miles south of it. We rejoined our caravan at their noon camp.

About one o'clock we resumed our ride, and after a gentle ascent through a beautiful pass in the mountains, we emerged into a large and fertile valley called "Beaver Valley." We camped on Beaver River, thirty miles from Corn Creek. This stream is twenty-five feet wide, and two feet deep at the crossing; it rises and sinks alternately to the Seveir Lake, into which it empties. Only small willows grow on its banks. Beaver River abounds in wild ducks, snipe, and other water-fowl.

17th.—This morning, at daylight, there was a severe frost—water froze in camp half an inch thick. We left camp at half past seven, and after a drive of six hours, the caravan camped on Little Creek cañon—the pass through which Lieut. Beale entered Little Salt Lake Valley, a few months previously.

We harnessed up again, and in an hour crossed the trail which Col. Fremont and our party made on entering this valley from the Warsatch mountains, on the 6th of February preceding. Under what different circumstances I travelled the same road at that time! When I turned to survey the snowy mountains among which we had suffered so much, and from the dangers of which we had been so miraculously preserved, tears involuntarily flowed from my eyes—I was completely overcome.

I made a drawing of this pass, and also of Lieut. Beale's.

On Red Creek cañon, six miles north of Parowan there are very massive, abrupt granite rocks, which rise perpendicularly out of the valley to the height of many hundred feet. On the surface of many of them, apparently engraved with some steel instrument, to the depth of an inch, are numerous hieroglyphics, representing the human hand and foot, horses, dogs, rabbits, birds, and also a sort of zodiac. These engravings present the same time-worn appearance as the rest of the rocks; the most elaborately engraved figures were thirty feet from the ground. I had to clamber up the rocks to make a drawing of them. These engravings evidently display prolonged and continued labor, and I judge them to have been executed by a different class of persons than the Indians, who now inhabit these valleys and mountainsages seem to have passed since they were done.

When we take into consideration the compact nature of the blue granite and the depth of the engravings, years must have been spent in their execution. For what purpose were they made? and by whom, and at what period of time? It seems physically impossible that those I have mentioned as being thirty feet from the valley, could have been worked in the present position of the rocks. Some great convulsion of nature may have thrown them up as they now are. Some of the figures are as large as life, many of them about one-fourth size.

On Red Creek cañon, a mile further down the valley, there are the remains of a town, built of adobes; ancient articles of housekeeping have been found there. These remains were remarked by the first "Mormons" who came in the valley. Indians never live in adobe houses; their lodges are always of umbrageous foliage, or skins of animals.

As soon as our party were descried from the observatory at Parowan, the authorities of the town, and numbers of other gentlemen, came out to welcome the arrival of his excellency, Governor Young; and I never could have imagined the deep idolatry with which he is almost worshipped. There is no aristocracy or presuming upon position about the Governor; he is emphatically one of the people; the boys call him Brother Brigham, and the elders also call him Brother Brigham They place implicit confidence in him, and if he were to say he wanted a mountain cut through, instantly every man capable of bearing a pick-axe would commence the work, without asking any questions, or entertaining expectation of payment for services.

We entered Parowan about five o'clock. I was affectionately greeted by those persons who administered to my sufferings some few weeks before. I had changed so much, and grown so fat, that not one of them knew me.

Mrs. Heap, my old landlady, could not believe I was the ugly, emaciated person whose face she washed only three months before.
 

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