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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 18.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Careless Packing of Animals—Mule Missing—Their value as Roadsters—Col. Fremont's Horse gives out—His Humanity Exemplified—Wolf killed for Food—Raven Shot—River Bottom—Original Forest—Large Camp Fires—Terrible Rain Storm—Disagreeable Bed—Darkness—Fires Extinguished—Value of Rain—Glorious Sunrise—Contrast with Home Comforts.


FROM careless packing of the mules, many of our party were often detained on the road. A bale of blankets or buffalo robes, would be displaced while descending some steep mountain; the mule, finding himself free from his load, would dart off in an opposite direction at full speed; a chase ensued, sometimes for over an hour before he could be-captured, repacked, and again placed on the trail.

After performing a most arduous and difficult day's journey of fifteen miles, over continuous ranges of snowy ridges, we discovered that the mule on which was packed the bales of red cloth and blankets, intended for trading with the Indians, was missing. The muleteers did not remember to have seen him during the day. The animal was well trained, and was considered as one of the most willing and docile mules in the lot. Two men were sent back to look for him; it was easy to see if he had left the track, for the snow was unbroken except on the trail made by our own party.

The men not returning in good time, we became alarmed; they, however, made their appearance late in the night, with our lost mule; he was found standing, exactly in the same place where he was packed, behind a tree.

When the animals were driven out of camp, he was partly out of sight, escaped the vigilance of the men, and remained stationary, until our men found him in the evening; a lapse of at least twelve hours.

This incident is related to show the value of Mexican mules as faithful beasts of burthen, on which a great deal of dependence can always be placed. I consider them much preferable for travelling over the plains and mountains; they possess greater powers of endurance under privations. A mule will thrive on provender, that would starve a horse. If a mule gives out from exhaustion; with a day's rest, and a good meal, he will start on his journey, and appear as fresh as he ever was; but if a horse once stops and gives up, it is over with him, he is never fit for travel again. I suppose the noble and willing spirit of the horse, incites him to work until he is incapable of further exertion.


Col. Fremont started from Westport with a splendid dark bay horse; he was the pride of the party; he was always at the head of the cavalcade, and would sometimes look around, as it were disdainfully on his more humble companions. He felt his breeding, and I have no doubt, knew that he was carrying a gallant officer on his back. The Indians on the plains would have stolen him, and the Indians of the mountains would have given half-a-dozen mustangs for him. Mr. Palmer's horse gave out, and, was consequently on foot. We had at this time, the Doctor's mule, which we called "the Doctor," after he left us at Bent's Fort—running loose, as a spare animal, to carry the scientific apparatus. Col. Fremont the next day, rode the Doctor, and mounted Mr. W. H. Palmer on his own horse, which be continued to ride for ten days, until he was so exhausted for want of food, that he stopped on the road, and could not be brought into camp. Mr. Palmer came into camp on foot, and told Col. Fremont that his horse was left about five miles on the road, that it was impossible to bring him in.

I shortly afterwards heard Col. Fremont give orders to the Delaware camp, to send out a couple of men to find the horse and shoot it through the head. He had too much affection for the noble animal, to allow him to become a living sacrifice to the voracious wolves. The finer feelings of his heart seemed to govern all his actions, as well towards man as beast.

When it became necessary to slaughter our animals for food, I refrained from eating it in the vain hope of killing game, until exhausted nature demanded recuperation. I then partook of the strange and forbidden food with much hesitation, and only in small quantities. The taste of young fat horse meat is sweet and nutty, and could scarcely be distinguished from young beef, while that of the animal after it is almost starved to death, is without any flavor; you know you are eating flesh, but it contains no juices—it serves to sustain life, it contains but little nutritive matter, and one grows poor and emaciated, while living on it alone. Mule meat can hardly be distinguished from horse meat, I never could tell the difference. During one of the intervals when we were, from our own imprudence, entirely without food, a Delaware killed a coyote, brought it into camp, and divided it equally between our messes—my share remained untouched. I had fasted 24 hours, and preferred to remain as many hours longer rather than partake of it. The habits of the horse and mule are clean; their food consists of grass and grain; but I was satisfied that my body could receive no benefit from eating the flesh of an animal that lived on carrion. Those who did partake of it were all taken with cramps and vomiting.

An old raven that had been hovering around us for several days, "to gather the crumbs from the rich man's table," paid at last the penalty of his temerity by receiving a rifle ball through his head. One of the men picked the feathers from its fleshless body and threw the carcass on the ground before us. It lay there undevoured when we left camp. I have no doubt it subsequently gave employment to a brother raven.


At the close of a long day's journey we descended into a fertile, although unknown, narrow valley, covered with dense forests of trees; a clear stream of water glided over its rocky bed, in the centre, and immense high sandstone mountains enclosed us; we chose a camp near the entrance of the valley, having deviated from our course, which was over the table land 500 feet above us, to obtain wood and water.

It is not at all improbable that our party were the first white men that ever penetrated into it-it was in reality a primeval forest. Our feet sank deep into the bed of dead leaves, huge trunks of trees in all stages of decay lay strewed around us, while trees of many kinds, were waving aloft their majestic limbs covered with spring foliage, shading our pathway. On the margin of the river grass of good quality grew in abundance, which afforded a delightful meal for our wearied animals. Although there was no snow visible around us, still the weather was cold and raw, the heavens were filled with floating clouds which seemed to increase as the night advanced. Large camp fires were soon burning, and another of our faithful horses was shot for food.

Selecting as I thought a comfortable place for my sleeping apartment, I made up my bed, placing as usual my India-rubber blanket on the decayed leaves. After supper I laid myself down to rest my exhausted body.

I had been on foot all day, travelling over a rugged country of volcanic formation, with an apology for moccasins on my lacerated and painful feet. I slept soundly until twelve o'clock, when I felt the cold water insinuating itself between my clothes and body. I uncovered my head, over which I had my robe and blankets, to find it raining fast and steadily. In an hour, I found myself laying in water nearly a foot deep. I could not escape from my present situation. Wrapping my India-rubber closely around me, I remained perfectly passive, submitting to the violence of the heaviest and most drenching rain-storm I experienced on the whole journey.

Darkness reigned supreme. Our camp-fires were extinguished, and but for the occasional ejaculations of our men, only the furious raging of the tempest, and the roar of the streams that came bounding in torrents from the table land above, could be heard. My blankets and robe became saturated with water, while my clothes were wet to the skin.

I had ample time to reflect on my position; but while I experienced much personal inconvenience from the storm, the parched earth, over which we had travelled miles without a drop of water, received fresh sustenance from the refreshing shower. The dry and withered grass on our forward path, would be replaced by young tender shoots for our animals to sustain themselves. It is a happy thing for us that futurity is impenetrable, else my fond and fragile friends at home would endure more anguish than they do now, in their ignorance of the situation their husband and son is placed in.

Morning at last dawned, and with it appeared the sun, dissipating the clouds. Our camp equipage was all Soaked. The daguerreotype apparatus was unhurt; my careful precaution always securing it against snow or rain. My polishing buffs I used the next day, when we ascended the mountain; I found them perfectly dry, and worked successfully with them. We remained late in camp the next morning to dry our blankets, etc. This was the first and only real storm of rain, we encountered in a six months' journey.

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