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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 6.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Kansas Territory—Arkansas and Kansas Rivers—Tributaries—Timber—River Bottoms—Varieties of Game—Cereals—Coal—Geological Formation—Adventure in the Woods—Wild Grapes—Indian Method of procuring them—Brandy vs. Poison—Return of the Author's Brandy-flask—He turns Washerwoman—Novel Mode of Mangling Clothes—Lost Mule—Beaver Trappers—Rifle Practice

Kansas lies between the thirty-seventh and fortieth degrees of north latitude. The Indian Territory bounds it on the south, Utah and New Mexico on the west, Nebraska on the north, and Missouri on the east.

There are numberless streams of water in the Territory. The Arkansas which rises in the Rocky Mountains, runs nearly six hundred miles through it. Kansas River, which empties into the Missouri near Kansas City, has many forks of considerable size, viz., the Republican, Solomon Fork, Grand Saline Fork, Vermilion, Little Vermilion, Soldier Creek, Grasshopper Creek, Big Blue, Pawnee Fork, Walnut Creek, Wakarusa, and several others. The country is well watered, and on all the rivers grows timber of large size and in great variety. The river bottoms are very fertile, being covered with an alluvial black soil from twelve to twenty-four inches deep. The bottoms vary in width from four to seven miles.

Another bottom over which the waters must have once flowed, is elevated about sixteen feet from the river, and high up some sixty to seventy feet, lies the immense undulating prairie, teeming with buffalo, blacktail, deer, antelope, sage, and prairie chickens. Thousands of coyotes—a small wolf, make night hideous with their shrill discordant bark. The large white wolf is also found in great numbers on the rivers. We killed wild turkeys and ducks. The second bottoms are studded with groves of timber. The various kinds of oak, maple, elm, redflowered maple, black walnut, locust, beech, box, elder, wild-cherry, and cottonwood, attain a large size, and are to be found on the Kansas River and its many tributaries in quantities.

Grasses of a hundred different kinds, some of them rank and high, but the most of them possessing highly nutritive qualities, grow spontaneously on the prairies, and afford nourishment to immense quantities of game.

The water of the Kansas partakes in color of the character of the soil over which it passes. It is, I am inclined to believe, always turbid. I found it quite unfit for daguerreotype purposes, and had to preserve many of my plates until we approached the crystal streams from the Rocky Mountains, to finish them. During our long camp on Salt Creek, our topographical engineer and myself explored the country for miles. Coal in abundance is to be obtained with but little exertion; it many instances it crops out on the surface of the ground. The general character of the formation of this country is the same as Missouri—a secondary limestone.

Dear S—:

To-day we had a delightful jaunt through the woods which fringe the forests of Salt Creek. Cottonwood, oak, elm, ash, hickory, grow luxuriously, some of them to an immense height. Our Delaware that accompanied Egloffstien and myself suddenly stopped, and pointed upward. There, at a height of over one hundred feet, suspended between to oaks, were grapevines loaded with rich luscious looking fruit.

How were we to obtain them? I could not climb so tall a tree. Mr. Egloffstien declined, and we both depended on our Delaware. He looked very grave and said: "Suppose Delaware want grapes, he know how to get them."

By this time our desire increased to obtain the prize, which seemed to say, "Come and take me." I commenced climbing one tree, and my friend the other. When we had exerted ourselves, and had earned the first limb, on which we stopped to rest, we heard a grunt from our Delaware, and almost at the same moment, the whole vine came tumbling down on his head. He purposely waited until we were in the trees, to see how "white men gathered grapes." He took hold of the grape vine , and with one tremendous pull, down it came; when we descended, he was quietly stowing away the choicest bunches in his hunting shirt. I never would have dreamed of destroying such a noble vine, to gratify my appetite.

The grapes were small, but sweet and well flavored. I ate a great many of them. I had been without fruit or vegetables for four weeks, and they were very grateful to me. I hope I shall not suffer for my imprudence. Good night.

Brandy versus Poison.

Previous to leaving New York, I had two tin flasks made, to contain about a quart each, which I intended to have filled with alcohol for daguerreotype purposes. At Westport, I purchased a quart of the best quality of old cognac, filled one of them for medicinal purposes, and carefully packed my flask in my daguerreotype boxes. One day during our camp at Salt Creek, one of our Indians being ill, I opened my flask and pouring out about an ounce, replaced it. I noticed, however, that a chemical action had taken place, turning the brandy exactly the color of ink. One of our mess saw me open my box and appropriate a portion of the contents of the bottle; I am not certain but that I tasted it myself.

The next day I had occasion to go to my box, when to my utter astonishment, my flask of brandy was gone. I immediately suspected the very person who afterwards proved to be the thief. Keeping my loss a secret, at dinner I carefully watched the countenances and actions of the whole party, and the effects of liquor were plainly visible on the person of this man.

"How excellent," said I, "would a bottle of old cognac be as a digester to our tough old buffalo bull.—Gentlemen, how would you like a drop?" "Bring it forward by all means, Carvalho. You have, I verily believe, Pandora's box; for you can produce everything and anything at a moment's notice, from a choice Havana to old brandy."

"With your leave, gentleman, I will procure it. I have two flasks exactly alike; one contains poison, a mixture of alcohol, and some poisonous chemicals for making daguerreotypes; the other contains the best brandy to be had on the Kansas River."

I went to my box, and turning up my bands with an exclamation of surprise, announced to the mess that the "bottle containing the poison, and which I laid on the top of my box last night, is missing." Like Hamlet I looked into the face of the delinquent, and I never shall forget his expression when I remarked that "the liquid in the purloined flask was poison, and perfectly black, and although it would not kill immediately, an ounce will produce certain death in 48 hours."

"Gentlemen! I shall, in consequence, have to reserve the brandy to make another similar mixture, to substitute for alcohol; therefore I am sorry I cannot treat you as I intended."

Of course the innocent parties felt indignant that my flask had been stolen, and that one of their party was suspected.

The thief was discovered, although he nor any one else knew that I detected him. The next day I went to my box again, and in its proper place, I found my brandy flask about half full. Our friend had taken several strong pulls during the night and morning, and likely enough he looked at the contents, and finding them black as ink, believed all about the poison, and fearing to die, replaced the flask, without detection. When I discovered it, I showed it around and also the color of the contents, and told them it was not poison but "good old brandy." I tasted a little, and divided it among the party.

The man that took it knew I suspected him, and his whole conduct to me during the journey, was influenced by that event, although I never taxed him with it.

Dear S—:

Yesterday being a fine mild day, I thought I would examine my wardrobe, and have such articles as I bad worn during the last three weeks washed. I collected three shirts, as many pairs of stockings, together with handkerchiefs and drawers; I made up a dozen pieces; and I assure you, that how or by whom they were to be washed, never entered into my mind. I offered some compensation to one of our muleteers if he would wash them, but he was perfectly independent of the necessity of obtaining money in that way. I soon discovered, that I would have to become my own washerwoman; and obtaining some soap from the quarter master, I gathered up my duds, and made my way down the banks of the creek, to a convenient place, and there I entered upon my novitiate. I rubbed the skin off my hands during the operation, but after considerable application, I succeeded in cleansing them, and hung them out to dry. I doubled them up, and laid them carefully under my buffalo robe couch, last night; and this morning they are as smooth as if they had been "mangled." To-day I employed myself making a pair of buckskin mitts and shall require them before many weeks; most of the Indians and muleteers are out, looking for a large black mule, the finest animal in the collection, which was missing last night.

Yesterday two beaver trappers came into the Delaware camp, and traded for sugar and coffee with the Delawares. I have my suspicions that our mule conveyed them away, as they are no longer on the creek where they set their traps yesterday.

I must leave off my journal, as it is my usual hour for rifle practice; I have become quite an expert; at one hundred paces, I have hit the "bull's eye" twice in five times, which is not bad shooting, considering I have had no practice since I was a member of a rifle volunteer company in Charleston, some twenty years ago.

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