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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 5.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Letter to W. H. Palmer—Fremont's Return to St. Louis, and increased Illness—Expedition under charge of Delawares—Camp Proceeds to "Smoky Hills"—Fort Riley—Solomon's Fork—First Buffalo—Barometers go on a Buffalo Hunt—Encampment on "Salt Creek"—Indian Method of Cooking Buffalo Meat—Olla Podrida—Wasting of Provisions—Kinnikinick—Havana Segars—Indian Amusements—Camp Life—Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water—Author's Opinion of Col. Fremont—He Nominates him for the Presidency.

After remaining at this camp two days, Mr. Strobel arrived with a letter from Col. Fremont to Mr. Palmer, stating that his increasing illness made it necessary that he should return to St. Louis for medical advice, and directed us to proceed as far as Smoky Hills, and encamp on the Saline fork of the Kansas River, where there were plenty of buffalo, and remain there until he joined us, which he hoped would be in a fortnight.

The expedition, during encampment, was to be under the supervision of Mr. Palmer. Accordingly, we continued our journey, and crossed the Kansas River at its junction with the Republican, within half a mile from Fort Riley thence to Solomon's Fork, in crossing which creek, some of the baggage of the camp became saturated with water.

Immediately after crossing Solomon's Fork, we saw our first buffalo. As soon as he was discovered, our Delawares gave a whoop, and they all started, helter skelter, the officers and muleteers following, leaving the baggage animals to take care of themselves Our engineer, Mr.

Egloffstien, after the first excitement had passed, suddenly drew rein—I did so likewise.

He remarked, "I have been at full speed for a mile, with both barometers slung across my back."

I never saw any one look so alarmed as he did. I had exchanged ponies, to give him an easy-going animal, so as not to shake the instruments, and now his rashness had probably injured them. He alighted and examined them; luckily, they were well packed with cotton, and they were not at all disarranged, Our buffalo was soon killed; and that night we made an encampment on a beautiful site, near Salt Creek, and about four miles from the Kansas River, with buffalo steaks for supper.

[Extract from a Letter]

Dear S—:

We are now encamped, as it were, for a pleasure excursion, for all the day is employed in hunting, gunning, shooting at a mark with rifles, and preparing buffalo meat in all the modes in which it is said to be good.

I was much amused, the first day we encamped here, to see the Indians go into the woods on the creek, and bring out straight green sticks, the size of a small walking-cane, and proceed to divest them of their outer peeling—also pointing them at both ends.

I soon discovered their use: they cut the buffalo meat in strips about an inch thick, four wide, and twelve to fifteen long. The stick is then inserted in the meat, as boys do a kite stick; one end of the stick is then stuck in the ground, near the fire, and the process of roasting is complete—the natural juice of the meat is retained, in this manner, and I think it the most preferable way to cook game. The breast of a fat antelope prepared thus is a most fitting dish for a hungry man.

Several kinds of game were brought into camp this evening, buffalo, antelope, and deer, by the Indians, and our most successful gunner, Mr. Fuller, brought in two wild turkeys, three ducks, a rabbit, and a prairie hen, the result of his day's sport. Our cook for the nonce is making a splendid Olla Podrida. This is our first week in camp, and we are living sumptuously—coffee, tea, and sugar three or four times a day.

I have no control of the commissariat department, but I very much fear that we shall want some of the good things which are now being inconsiderately wasted. Our quarter-master is determined to enjoy himself--his motto is "dum vivimus vivamus. "

While I am writing, I am smoking a pipe filled with "Kinnikinick," the dried leaves of the red sumach; it is pleasant and not intoxicating—a very good substitute for tobacco. The Delawares have been preparing some for their journey. They smoke it mixed with tobacco.

My quarter-box of Havanas are all gone, already; they were the only ones in camp, and every time I took out my pouch, I of course handed it round to my companions, which soon diminished my store. I close this letter by giving you a description of an Indian game, which our Delawares participated in last night.

A large fire of dried wood is brightly burning—around it sit, cross-legged, all our Delawares; behind them are the rest of us, standing looking on. I contributed the article (which was a large imitation seal ring, several of which I bought to exchange with the Indians for moccasins) with which they amused themselves. One of them took the ring, and while the rest are chanting Highya, Highya, he makes sundry contortions of his limbs, and pretends to place it in the hands of the one next to him. This one goes through with the same antics, until all have had it or are supposed to have had it. The first one then guesses who has the ring; if successful, he wins the ring; if not, he contributes tobacco for a smoke; a pipe is filled, which is generally a tomahawk with a bowl at the butt-end; the handle is hollow, and communicates with the bowl, thus forming a weapon of war, as well as the calumet of peace; each one takes two or three puffs and then passes it around.

Dear S—:

The duties of camp life are becoming more onerous as the weather gets colder. It is expected that each man in camp will bring in a certain quantity of fire-wood! My turn came to day, and I am afraid I shall make a poor hand in using the axe; first I have not the physical strength, and secondly, I do not know how. I managed by hunting through the woods to find several decayed limbs, which I brought in on my shoulder. I made three trips, and I have at all events supplied the camp with kindling wood for the night.

I certainly, being a "Republican," do not expect to warm myself at the expense of another; therefore, arduous as it is, I must, to carry out the principle of equality, do as the rest do, although it is not a very congenial occupation.

'Tis very strange how fallacious ideas of mankind obtain stronghold in the minds of those who should know better. The night previous to leaving home, I was asked how I could venture my life with such a man as Col. Fremont? "A mountaineer"—"an adventurer"—"a man of no education."

During my voyage up the Missouri, I had continued opportunities of conversing with Col. Fremont.

If you ever see Mr. - and Mrs. -, please say to them, that the character of Col. Fremont as a gentleman of "high literary attainments," "great mental capacity," and "solid scientific knowledge," is firmly established in my own mind.

These personal observations, added to the knowledge I gained of him from report, has brought me to the conclusion that he is not only a "man of education," but a "man of genius and a gentleman." One would suppose that the "conqueror of California," the successful commander and governor," would have a little to say about himself—some deeds to vaunt of—some battle to describe. I found him reserved, almost to taciturnity, yet perfectly amiable withal. No one, to see him, would ever imagine that a man of great deeds was before him.

My estimation of character is seldom wrong. I may have been imprudent in undertaking this journey, which already "thunders in the index," and on which I shall have to encounter many personal difficulties; but, if I felt safe enough to impulsively decide to accompany him, without personally knowing him—how much safer do I now feel from the short time I have known him!

All the men in camp have the same opinion of him.

Yesterday, while discussing the merits of the most prominent men who were likely to be placed before the people for the "next President," I mentioned the name of "Col. Fremont." It was received with acclamation, and he is the first choice of every man in camp. So you see I am safe enough with the man—it is only the mountains which are the "stumbling blocks." Yet I have full faith that I shall return once more to you in safety.

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