Home page Jews in the Wild West Fremont's 1846 Expedition Jews in the Civil War History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 3.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Landing of Camp Equipage—Westport—First Camp Ground—Preparations—Extortion—Author and Companions—First Daguerreotypes—Rain Storm—Distribution of Arms and Ammunition—Engagement of Delaware Chiefs—Branding of Animals—California Saddle-Horses—Selects his Pony—Becomes his own Ostler—Description of Catching a Mule on the Mountains—Examination of Camp Equipage—Trial Start—First Camp.

WHEN we landed, we met Mr. Palmer and several of the men who were to accompany the Expedition as muleteers, etc. The equipage of the camp that had been previously shipped from St. Louis, had arrived safely. As soon as our baggage was landed, it, together with the rest of the material, was transported by wagons to camp near Westport, a few miles in the interior.

Our tents were raised, and active preparation for our journey was immediately commenced. Several droves of mules came in next day from which Col. Fremont selected a few. Very near two prices were exacted by the owners; it being necessary that we should proceed without delay, we were obliged to submit to extortion.

Mr. Egloffstien, Mr. Bomar and myself, found comfortable quarters at a hotel where we put up, in order to be ready for the journey, our various apparatus.

Mr. Bomar, proposed to make photographs by the wax process, and several days were consumed in preparing the paper, etc. I was convinced that photographs could not be made by that process a quickly as the occasion required, and told Col. Fremont to have one made from the window of our room, to find out exactly the time. The preparations not being entirely completed, a picture could not be made that day; but on the next, when we were all in camp, Col. Fremont requested that daguerreotypes and photographs should be made. In half an hour from the time the word was given, my daguerreotype was made; but the photograph could not be seen until next day, as it had to remain in water all night, which was absolutely necessary to develop it. Query, where was water to be had on the mountains, with a temperature of 20º below zero? To be certain of a result, even if water could be procured, it was necessary by his process, to wait twelve hours, consequently, every time a picture was to be made, the camp must be delayed twelve hours. Col. Fremont finding that he could not see immediate impressions, concluded not to incur the trouble and expense of transporting the apparatus, left it at Westport, together with the photographer. The whole dependence was now on me. Col. Fremont told in, if I had the slightest doubts of succeeding, it were better to say so now, and he would cancel the agreement on my part, and pay me for my time, etc.

On the night of the 20th, all hands slept in camp, a heavy rain-storm drenched us completely, giving to the party an introduction to a life on the prairies. The necessity of India-rubber blankets became evident, and I was dispatched to Westport to procure them. There were none to be had. I sent a man to Independence to purchase two dozen; he travelled thirty miles that night, and by ten next morning I had them in camp. They were the most useful articles we had with us; we placed the India-rubber side on the snow, our buffalo robes on the top of that for a bed, and covered with our blankets, with an India-rubber blanket over the whole—India-rubber side up, to turn the rain. We generally slept double, which added to our comfort, as we communicated warmth to each other, and had the advantage of two sets of coverings. During the whole journey, exposed to the most furious snow-storms, I never slept cold, although when I have been called for guard I often found some difficulty in rising from the weight of snow coating on me.

The distribution of arms and ammunition to the men occupied a portion of the next day. Each person had a and Colt's revolver. Some of the Delawares had horsemen's pistols also. The messenger Col. Fremont sent to the Delaware camp returned, with a number of braves, some of whom had accompanied Col. Fremont on a former expedition—he selected ten, among whom was a chief named Solomon, who had been with him before, and for whom Col. Fremont felt a great friendship. They were entertained with dinner, and after a smoke, each had a small quantity of the brandy we brought for medicinal purposes. They left us, to make preparations for the expedition, and to join us near the Kansas River, about one hundred miles westward.

A most amusing scene, although attended with some pain to the animals, was enacted to-day; it was the process of branding them with a distinctive mark. We had an iron made with the letter F, which we used to designate ours from those belonging to others.

A long rope with a noose and slip knot was fastened round the neck of the mule, the other round a tree; two man with another rope twisted it about its legs, when with a sudden jerk it was thrown to the ground; the red hot iron is now applied to the fleshy part of the hip—a terrible kicking and braying ensues, but it was always the sign that the work was done effectually.

In California, the most beautiful and valuable saddle horses are branded with a large unseemly mark on some prominent part of the body or neck, which would in this locality depreciate the value of the animals. I selected an Indian pony for myself; he was recommended as being a first rate buffalo horse; that is to say, he was trained to hunt buffaloes This animal was given into my own charge, and I only then began to realize that I had entered into duties which I was unqualified to perform. I had never saddled a horse myself. My sedentary employment in a city, never having required me to do such offices; and now I was to become my own ostler, and ride him to water twice a day, besides running after him on the prairie for an hour sometimes before I could catch him. This onerous duty I finally performed as well as my companions. But, dear reader, follow me to a camp on the mountains of snow, where I exchanged my horse for a mule, at daylight, with the thermometer 20º below zero. Do you see, far away on the hillside, animal moving slowly? That is my mule; be is searching among the deep snows for a bite of blighted grass or the top of some wild bush to break his fast on. How will you get him? I will go for him; watch me while I tramp through the frozen snow. My mule sees me, and knowing that my errand is to prepare him for his day's journey, without first giving him provender to enable him to perform it, prefers to eat his scanty breakfast first, and moves leisurely along; his lariat, about thirty feet in length, trails along the ground. I have reached it, and at the moment I think I have him securely, he dashes away at a full gallop, pulling me after him through the snow; perfectly exhausted, I loose my hold; my hands lacerated and almost frozen. I lie breathless on the icy carpet. I am now a mile from camp, and out of sight of my companions.

I renew my exertions, and gently approach him; this time he stands quiet, and I gather the rope in my hand, and pat him for a low minutes, and then mount him bare backed. The life and activity he possessed a few moments before, is entirely gone; he stands like a mule in the snow, determined not to budge a step. I coax, I kick him. I use the other end of the rope over his head; he dodges the blow; but his fore-feet are immovably planted in the snow, as if they grew there. I, worn out, and almost frozen, remain chewing the cud of bitter reflection, until one of my comrades comes to seek and assist me; he goes behind the mule and gives him a slight touch á posteriori; when, awakening from his trance, he starts at a hard trot into camp, quietly submits to be saddled, and looks as pleasantly at me as if he were inquiring how I liked the exercise of catching him. Similar scenes occurred daily; if it were not with myself it was with another. "Stubborn as a mule," is an o'er true adage, as I can fully testify.

A general examination of the equipage resulted in the knowledge that everything requisite for our journey, had been procured, and scales were in requisition to apportion the weight of luggage; 65 to 90 lb. at each mule. The personal luggage of the men was restricted to a certain number of pounds--and all useless apparel, books, etc., etc., were packed up and sent back to town. We intended to pack on mules all the way, and it was necessary to take as little as possible of what we did not absolutely require.

A trial start was made, and the cavalcade started in excellent order and spirits, and we camped at the Methodist mission, about six miles from Westport.

Go Back Index Next Chapter