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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 16.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Grand River—Descent of Mounted Indians into Camp—Military Reception—Their demands—Trouble Expected—Excitement of the Author—Exhibition of Colt's Revolvers—Col. Fremont's Knowledge of Indian Character—The Great Captain in his Lodge—Alarm of the Indian—Quadruple Guard—Departure of Indians—Vigilance the price of Safety—Crossing of the Grand River—Horse Killed for Food—Review of Our Position—Impressive Scene—Cold Night—Mr. Fuller—Whites without Food—Beaver Shot—The Camp under Arms—False Alarm.

WHEN we left the Utah village, we travelled a long day's journey, and camped on the Grand River, thirty miles from the last camp; my pony behaved admirably well on the road, and I would not have parted with him on any account.

While at supper, the guard on the look-out gave the alarm that mounted Indians were approaching, the word was given to arm and prepare to receive them.

About fifty or sixty mounted Utah Indians, all armed with rifles, and bows and arrows, displaying their powder horns and cartouche boxes most conspicuously, their horses full of mettle, and gaily caparisoned, came galloping and tearing into camp.

They had also come to be compensated for the horse we had paid for the night before; they insisted that the horse did not belong to the woman, but to one of the men then present, and threatened, if we did not pay them great deal of red cloth, blankets, vermilion, knives, and gunpowder, they would fall upon us and massacre the whole party.

On these occasions, Col. Fremont never showed himself, which caused the Indians to have considerable more respect for the "Great Captain," as they usually called him; nor did he ever communicate directly with them, which gave him time to deliberate, and lent a mysterious importance to his messages. Very much alarmed, I entered Col. Fremont's lodge, and told him their errand and their threats. He at once expressed his determination not to submit to such imposition, and at the same time, laughed at their threats; I could not comprehend his calmness. I deemed our position most alarming, surrounded as we were by armed savages, and I evidently betrayed my alarm in my countenance. Col. Fremont without apparently noticing my nervous state, remarked that he knew the Indian character perfectly, and he did not hesitate to state, that there was not sufficient powder to load a single rifle in the possession of the whole tribe of Utahs. "If," continued he, "they had any ammunition, they would have surrounded and massacred us, and stolen what they now demand, and are parleying for."

I at once saw that it was a most sensible deduction, and gathered fresh courage. The general aspect of the enemy was at once changed, and I listened to his directions with a different frame of mind than when I first entered.

He tore a leaf from his journal, and handing it to me, said: here take this, and place it against a tree, and at A distance near enough to hit it every time, discharge Your Colt's Navy six shooters, fire at intervals of from ten to fifteen seconds-and call the attention of the Indians to the fact, that it is not necessary for white men to load their arms.

I did so; after the first shot, they pointed to their own rifles, as much as to say they could do the same, (if they had happened to have the powder), I, without lowering my arm, fired a second shot, this startled them.

I discharged it a third time—their curiosity and amazement were increased: the fourth time, I placed the pistol in the hands of the chief and told him to discharge it, which he did, hitting the paper and making another impression of the bullet.

The fifth and sixth times two other Indians discharged it, and the whole six barrels being now fired it was time to replace it in my belt.

I had another one already loaded, which I dexterously substituted, and scared them into an acknowledgment that they were all at our mercy, and we could kill them as fast as we liked, if we were so disposed.

After this exhibition, they forgot their first demand, and proposed to exchange some of their horses for blankets, etc.

We effected a trade for three or four apparently sound, strong animals; "Moses," one of the Delaware chiefs, also traded for one, but in a few days they all proved lame and utterly useless as roadsters, and we had to kill them for food.

The Indians with the consent of Col. Fremont, remained in camp all night; they had ridden thirty miles that day, and were tired. On this occasion, eleven men, fully armed, were on guard at one time.

The Indians who no doubt waited in camp to run our horses off during the night, were much disappointed in not having an opportunity. They quietly departed the next morning, while our whole camp listened to the energetic exclamation of Col. Fremont, that the "price of safety is eternal vigilance."

The crossing of the Grand River, the eastern fork of the Colorado, was attended with much difficulty and more danger. The weather was excessively cold, the ice on the margin of either side of the river was over eighteen inches thick; the force of the stream always kept the passage in the centre open; the distance between the ice, was at our crossing, about two hundred yards. I supposed the current in the river to run at the rate of six miles an hour. The animals could scarcely keep their footing on the ice, although the men had been engaged for half an hour in strewing it with sand. The river was about six feet deep, making it necessary to swim our animals across; the greatest difficulty was in persuading them to make the abrupt leap from the ice to the roaring gulph, and there was much danger from drowning in attempting to get on the sharp ice on the other side, the water being beyond the depth of the animals, nothing but their heads were above water, consequently the greater portion of their riders' bodies were also immersed in the freezing current.

To arrive at a given point, affording the most facilities for getting upon the ice, it was necessary to swim your horse in a different direction to allow for the powerful current. I think I must have been in the water, at least a quarter of an hour. The awful plunge from the ice into the water, I never shall have the ambition to try again; the weight of my body on the horse, naturally made him go under head and all; I held on as fast as a cabin boy to a main-stay in a gale of wind. If I had lost my balance it is most probable I should have been drowned. I was nearly drowned as it was, and my clothes froze stiff upon me when I came out of it. Some of the Delawares crossed first and built a large fire on the other side, at which we all dried our clothes standing in them.

It is most singular, that with all the exposure that I was subjected to on this journey, I never took the slightest cold, either in my head or on my chest; I do not recollect ever sneezing. While at home, I ever was most susceptible to cold.

The whole party crossed without any accident; Col. Fremont was the first of our party to leap his horse into the angry flood, inspiring his men, by his fearless example to follow.

"Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with an immense army; streams of blood followed in his path through the countries he subdued, to his arrival at the Eternal City, where he was declared dictator and consul."

On a former expedition, Col. Fremont crossed the Grand River with a handful of men; but no desolation followed in his path. With the flag of his country in one hand and the genius of Liberty resting on his brow, he penetrated through an enemy's country, converting all hearts as he journeyed, conquering a country of greater extent than Caesar's whole empire, until be arrived at San Francisco, where he became military commandant and governor in chief of California, by the simple will of the people. Fremont's name and deeds, will become as imperishable as Caesar's.

At last we are drawn to the necessity of killing our brave horses for food. The sacrifice of my own pony that had carried me so bravely in my first buffalo hunt, was made; he had been running loose for a week unable to bear even a bundle of blankets. It was a solemn event with me, and rendered more so by the impressive scene which followed.

Col. Fremont came out to us, and after referring to the dreadful necessities to which we were reduced, said "a detachment of men whom he had sent for succor on a former expedition, had been guilty of eating one of their own number." He expressed his abhorrence of the act, and proposed that we should not under any circumstances whatever, kill our companions to prey upon them. "If we are to die, let us die together like men." He then threatened to shoot the first man that made or hinted at such a proposition.

It was a solemn and impressive sight to see a body of white men Indians, and Mexicans, on a snowy mountain, at night, some with bare head and clasped hands entering into this solemn compact. I never until that moment realized the awful situation in which I, one of the actors in this scene, was placed.

I remembered the words of the sacred Psalmist, (Psalm cviii. 4-7) and felt perfectly assured of my final deliverance.—"They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way: They found no city to dwell in.

"Hungry and thirsty their souls fainted within them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.

"And he led them forth by the right way that they might go to a city of habitation.

"Oh, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men."

It was a clear, cold night, on the Eagle Tail River, after a long fast, and a dreary walk, our men had returned supperless to sleep on their snowy bed, and with no prospect of anything to eat in the morning, to refresh them for another day's tramp. It was a standing rule in camp that a rifle discharged between the set of watch at night until daylight, was a signal that Indians were approaching, and this rule had been strictly observed, as a safeguard to the party. I have seen our camp on Salt Creek surrounded with wolves—they even came within its precincts and stole our buffalo meat, but our Delawares would never allow an arm to be discharged. On this occasion, Mr. Fuller was on guard, and it was a few days before he gave out. We had been twenty-four hours without a meal, and as may be supposed, he was as hungry as the rest of us; while patrolling up and down the river on the banks of which we were encamped, his keen eye discovered a beaver swimming across the stream; he watched it with rifle to his shoulder, and as it landed, he fired and killed it.

The sudden discharge of a rifle during a still night, under overhanging mountains, and in the valley of the river where we expected to find Indians, made a tremendous explosion. The sound reverberated along the rocks, and was re-echoed by the valley. Instantly the whole camp was on duty. Col. Fremont who had been making astronomical observations, had but a few moments previously retired to rest. He rushed out of his lodge, completely armed, the party assembled around it and all were filled with the utmost anxiety and alarm. We did not know the number or character of the enemy, but we were all prepared to do battle to the death. In a few moments, one of the Delawares approached camp dragging after him an immense beaver, which he said Mr. Fuller had killed for breakfast. The sight of something to eat, instead of something to fight, created quite a revolution of feeling; and taking into consideration the extremity, which caused Mr. Fuller to break through the rule, Col. Fremont passed it off quietly enough. Poor Fuller did not realize the excited condition of the camp, until he was relieved from duty. Our beaver for breakfast, when Fuller told Col. Fremont so anxious and delighted at seeing the beaver entirely forgot the rule of the camp.

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