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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 35.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Preparations to Cross the Jornada—Fifty-five Miles without Water or Grass—Deserted Wagons on the Road—Dead Oxen and Mules—Emigrant Party—Clouds of Dust—Oasis—Delicious Water—Extraordinary Fresh Water Buoyant Spring—Impossibility for a Man to sink in it—Never before Described—Another Jornada of Forty Miles—Col. Reese's Train—Detention—Reese Cut off—Snow-Capped Mountains—Bad Roads—Mineral Springs—My Mule in Harness—Animals giving out.

28th.—At about three o'clock, the order was given to fill up the water cans, as we were about to traverse this immense desert where water was not to be had; every vessel that could possibly be used, was immediately put in requisition-canteens, kegs, bottles, cans, etc.

At four o'clock, having harnessed up the horses, and saddled my mule, we were on the road, which led through a loose stony ravine, with much sand; it was very heavy travelling, and our animals moved through it with a great deal of difficulty.

We travelled thus for eleven miles, and then gradually ascended the table land, on a harder and better road.

We commenced our journey in the afternoon, that we might have the benefit of the night air to travel in; a cool, north wind tempered the atmosphere, and we continued the journey through this sterile, bare, and uncovered country, until midnight, when we halted and refreshed our animals with water from our reservoirs. After a rest of three hours, we resumed our journey, and at ten o'clock in the morning of the 29th, we had crossed this dreaded Jornada without any accident, and camped on a narrow stream of deliciously cool water, which distributes itself about half a mile further down, in a verdant meadow bottom, covered with good grass.

This camp ground is called by the Mexicans, Las Vegas. Once more, we had plenty of grass for our fatigued animals, and we determined to rest here, during the day and night.

We passed a number of deserted wagons on the road; chairs, tables, bedsteads, and every article of housekeeping, were strewn along our path. The emigrant party who had preceded us about ten days, from Parowan, to lighten their wagons, threw out first one article and then another, until everything they had, was left on the road. It was not difficult to follow their trail; in one hour I counted the putrid carcasses of nineteen oxen, cows, mules and horses; what a lesson to those who travel over such a country, unadvised and unprepared.

A strong north wind blew during the morning, which raised clouds of dust, completely and unresistingly filling our eyes with a fine white dust, although I used goggles to prevent it.

The delightful and refreshing water of this oasis, soon purified me, and now, having crossed the desert, bathed and breakfasted, I feel more comfortable, both mentally and physically.

Mesquite, (alga robia) are the only trees growing near this stream.

30th.—We remained at camp all day yesterday, and left this morning at ten o'clock.

We followed up this delicious stream for about three miles; I was curious to see from whence it flowed, the general character of the country indicating that we were not far from its source. Several of us turned from the road, and at a short distance, we found its head waters. It was a large spring, the water bubbled up as if gas were escaping, acacias in full bloom, almost entirely surrounded it—it was forty-five feet in diameter; we approached through an opening, and found it to contain the clearest and purest water I ever tasted; the bottom, which consisted of white sand, did not seem to be more than two feet from the surface.

Parley Pratt prepared himself for a bathe, while I was considering whether I should go in, I heard Mr. Pratt calling out that he could not sink, the water was so buoyant. Hardly believing it possible that a man could not sink in fresh water, I undressed and jumped in.

What were my delight and astonishment, to find all my efforts to sink were futile. I raised my body out of the water, and suddenly lowered myself, but I bounced upwards as if I had struck a springing-board. I walked about in the water up to my arm-pits, just the same as if I had been walking on dry land.

The water, instead of being two feet deep, was over fifteen, the depth of the longest tent pole we had with us. It is positively impossible for a man to sink over his head in it; the sand on its banks was fine and white. The temperature of the water was 78º, the atmosphere 85º.

1 can form no idea as to the cause of this great phenomenon; Col. Fremont made observations on the spot in 1845, and marked its existence on his map as Las Vegas; but he has since told me he did not know of its buoyant qualities, as he did not bathe in it. In the absence of any other name, I have called it the Buoyant Spring.

Great Salt Lake possesses this quality in a great degree, but that water is saturated with salt; this is deliciously sweet water; probably some of the savans can explain the cause of its peculiar properties. We lingered in the spring fifteen minutes. Twenty-three men were at one time bobbing up and down in it endeavoring to sink, without success. I made drawings of this spot, and the surrounding mountains.

If it were not for this "blessed water," it would be almost impossible for man to travel across these deserts; the next water is at Cottonwood Springs, twenty miles distant.

Twenty miles S. S. W. of us, is a high range of mountains; the two centre ones were covered with snow.

We travelled through them by a romantic pass; the road was level although heavy, being composed of small pebbles, and loose sandstone. I perceived no vegetation, but the usual desert shrubs. In the bosom of these mountains we came to a spring of clear cold water, near which grew luxuriantly, cottonwood, acacias, and a kind of willow in full bloom. We encamped on tolerably good grass.

We have before us another Jornada of forty miles for to-morrow's work.

I collected from the acacias about an ounce of good "gum arabic." I think it is to all appearance the same tree which produces it in the West Indies.

31st.—We made an early start this morning, and commenced ascending to a high pass, in a rocky range of lofty mountains, studded with pine, and cedars; the road was very heavy, with loose cobble-stones, and sand. The ascent occupied four hours. We halted at about a mile on the other side, and found a spring of good water.

We met encamped here, Colonel Reese's train, from San Bernandino, bound for Great Salt Lake City. They were in a most distressed state. They had lost a great many of their animals on the desert, and were unable to proceed with the whole expedition. Their wagons were loaded with necessaries and merchandise for the settlements; they had to send to Cedar City for fresh animals to enable them to continue.

I purchased a small quantity of sugar and tea from them, for which I paid a high price—fifty cents per lb. for brown sugar.

We gave our animals a good rest, and started for the Jornada by a new cut off, discovered by Col. Reese.

We travelled over most uncomfortable roads, the soil, instead of sand as heretofore, is an impalpable white powder, very much like pulverized limestone, sown with large rocks; my eyes, although protected with a veil and goggles, suffered very much the whole way. The old road was south south east, this cut off led south south west. It is said, by this route, forty miles of travel is saved, and you escape the salt and bitter springs.

The country is an extensive barren waste, we continued on it until midnight, without finding a blade of grass. We camped until four o'clock, A. M.

June 1st.-We started at day dawn, and have, by our calculation, travelled over forty miles. The snow capped mountains, observed on the 30th, as bearing S. S. W. now bear directly north.

At three o'clock, we camped at a spring, at the foot of a range of high hills of pudding-stone.

The last twenty miles of this day's work, has had a decidedly bad effect on our animals. My mule has been in harness yesterday and to-day, to assist the Mormon lady. One might, as it were, see the flesh go off his body—he has lost at least thirty pounds in the last forty-eight hours. One of our horses gave out, and was shot on the road, a wagon also broke down and was left on the road.

On examining the spring, I found it to be strongly impregnated with sulphur and iron; it is a very pleasant mineral water, although very warm; the thermometer indicated a temperature of 90º, while, when exposed to the atmosphere, it sunk to 65º—at six o'clock, P. M.

2nd.—Our road, during the last twenty miles, lay along the dry bed of a creek, until we came to a high range of volcanic rock, where we pushed our way through an intricate pass to the spring which is on the road, immediately after emerging from the cañon.

The ground on which the spring is situated, is rather elevated, the earth is elastic to the tread, and almost any where near it, you can get water by digging eighteen inches. This water is also slightly impregnated with iron.

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