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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 13.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Sand-hill Pass—San Louis Valley—Natural Deer-park—Smoked Venison—Last sight of Game—Rio Grande del Norte—Sarawatch—Cochotope Pass—First Snow in Mountains—Gunnison's Wagon Trail—Summit of Pass—Waters commence to flow towards the Pacific—Encampment—Immense Rugged Mountain—Impracticability of ascent by Mules—The Author ascends on Foot—Col. Fremont accompanies him—Daguerreotype Panorama from its Summit—Col. Fremont's Consideration for his Men—Sublimity—First View of Grand River—Reflections—Return to Camp.

We entered the San Louis Valley through the Sand-hill Pass, and camped at the mouth. Travelling up the valley about twenty miles, we ascended one of the verdant and gentle slopes of the mountains, along which meandered a stream of living water, fringed on its banks with cottonwood and elms. We selected a camp-ground in an immense natural deer-park, and raised our tents under the shelter of wide-spreading cedars.

Scarcely were we comfortably fixed, when a herd of black-tail deer came down the mountain to water within sight of our camp. Cautiously our Indian hunters sallied out, and ere many minutes, the sound of one, two, three—a dozen rifles were heard in quick succession. Every shot brought down a fine fat buck, and our supper that night, consisted of as fine roast venison as ever graced the table of an epicure.

Col. Fremont determined to remain here for several days in order to have a quantity of the meat cured for our use in the mountains. I exercised my skill in rifle shooting for the last time at this camp. Game of all kinds which had hitherto been plentiful, disappeared almost entirely after we left it.

We travelled up the San Louis Valley, crossing the Rio Grande del Norte, and entered the Sarawatch Valley through a perfectly level pass. Our journey continued along the valley until we came to the Cochotope, where we camped.

That night it snowed on us for the first time. The snow obliterated the wagon tracks of Capt. Gunnison's expedition, but Col. Fremont's unerring judgment conducted us in the precise direction by a general ascent through trackless, though sparsely timbered forests, until we approached the summit, on which grew an immense number of trees, still in leaf, with only about four inches of snow on the ground.

As we approached this dense forest, we soon perceived that the axe of the white man had forced a passage through for a wagon-road. Many of the larger trees on both sides of the track were deeply cut with a cross, as an emblem of civilization, which satisfied us that Capt. Gunnison and Lieut. Beale had penetrated through to the other side. In this forest, we were surrounded by immense granite mountains, whose summits were covered probably with everlasting snow. The streams from them which had previously been running towards us, now took the opposite direction, supplying us with the gratifying proof that we had completed our travel to the summit, and were now descending the mountains towards the Pacific. After issuing from these woods we camped on the edge of a rivulet.

At this camp Col. Fremont exhibited such unmistakable marks of consideration for me, that it induced my unwavering perseverance in the exercise of my professional duties subsequently, when any other man would have hesitated, and probably given up, and shrunk dismayed from the encounter.

Near by our camp, a rugged mountain, barren of trees, and thickly covered with snow, reared its lofty head high in the blue vault above us. The approach to it was inaccessible by even our surefooted mules. From its summit, the surrounding country could be seen for hundreds of miles. Col. Fremont regretted that such important views as might be made from that point, should be lost, and gave up the idea as impracticable from its dangerous character. I told him that if he would allow two men to assist me in carrying my apparatus up the mountain, I would attempt the ascent on foot, and make the pictures; he pointed out the difficulties, I insisted. He then told me if I was determined to go he would accompany me; this was an unusual thing for him and it proved to me, that he considered the ascent difficult and dangerous, and that his superior judgment might be required to pick the way, for a misstep would have precipitated us on to the rugged rocks at its base; and it also proved that he would not allow his men or officers to encounter perils or dangers in which he did not participate.

After three hours' hard toil we reached the summit and beheld a panorama of unspeakable sublimity spread out before us; continuous chains of mountains reared their snowy peaks far away in the distance, while the Grand River plunging along in awful sublimity through its rocky bed, was seen for the first time. Above us the cerulean heaven, without a single cloud to mar its beauty, was sublime in its calmness.

Standing as it were in this vestibule of God's holy Temple, I forgot I was of this mundane sphere; the divine part of man elevated itself, undisturbed by the influences of the world. I looked from nature, up to nature's God, more chastened and purified than I ever felt before.

Plunged up to my middle in snow, I made a panorama of the continuous ranges of mountains around us. Col. Fremont made barometrical and thermometrical observations, and occupied a part of his time in geological examinations. We descended safely, and with a keen appetite, discussed the merits of our dried buffalo and deer meat.

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