Chapter XV.


Our Food Exhausted--Rawhides Cooked and Eaten--Our

Fast-Day--An Unexpected Supper--A Providential Food Supply

THE MAIL company went down fifty miles to Platte Bridge to winter. Marshal Heywood decided to remain with us and live or die, as the case might be, preferring to be with his brethren. There were no provisions to be had at the Bridge, for three of us had been down to see if we could get supplies. We barely got enough to last us back. The mountaineers there had some cattle but no bread, they lived by hunting.

[81] Game soon became so scarce that we could kill nothing. We ate all the poor meat; one we get hungry eating it. Finally that was all gone, nothing now but hides were left. We made a trial of them. A lot was cooked and eaten without any seasoning and it made the whole company sick. Many were so turned against the stuff that it made them sick to think of it.

We had coffee and some sugar, but drinking coffee seemed to only destroy the appetite, and stimulate for only a little while. One man became delirious from drinking so much of it.

Things looked dark, for nothing remained but the poor raw hides taken from starved cattle. We asked the Lord to direct us what to do. The brethren did not murmur, but felt to trust in God. We had cut the hide, after soaking and scraping the hair off until it was soft and then ate it, glue and all. This made it rather inclined to stay with us longer than we desired. Finally I was impressed how to fix the stuff and gave the company advice, telling them how to cook it; for them to scorch and scrape the hair off; this had a tendency to kill and purify the bad taste that scalding gave it. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of water, throwing the water away which had extracted all the glue, then wash and scrape the hide thoroughly, washing in cold water, then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat with a little sugar sprinkled on it. This was considerable trouble, but we had little else to do and it was better than starving.

We asked the Lord to bless our stomachs and adapt them to this food. We hadn't the faith to ask him to bless the raw-hide for it was "hard stock." On eating now all seemed to relish the feast. We were [82] three days without eating before this second attempt was made. We enjoyed this sumptuous fare for about six weeks, and never had the gout.

In February the first Indian came to our camp. He was of the Snake tribe, his people were located a day's travel up the river. At the time of his arrival we were out of everything, having not only eaten the hides taken from cattle killed, but had eaten the wrappings from the wagon-tongues, old moccasin-soles were eaten also, and a piece of buffalo hide that had been used for a foot mat for two months.

The day the Indian came was fast-day, and for us fast-day in very truth. We met as usual for we kept our monthly fast-day. During meeting we became impressed that there were some wrongs existing among the brethren in camp that should be corrected, and that if we would make a general cleaning up, and present our case before the Lord, He would take care of us, for we were there on His business. On questioning some of the company privately, we found that several had goods in their possession not belonging to them. When we felt satisfied all goods were replaced we went en masse and cut a hole in the ice on the river. There were several carcasses of cattle that had died lying near the fort, that the wolves had not devoured. Some of the boys, contrary to counsel, had cut steaks from them during the time we were eating the hides; it made them quite sick. There was a pile of offal in the butcher shop from the poor cattle killed. But what looked more tempting than all to starving men was a pile of more than one hundred fat wolf carcasses, skinned, piled up and frozen near the fort. They lived very much like nice fat mutton. Many of the company asked my opinion about eating them. I told them if they would all do as I [83] advised we would have a good clean supper of healthy food; that these carcasses were unclean; that we were on the Lord's service, and did not believe He wanted us to suffer so much, if we only had faith to trust Him and ask for better.

We all became united in this feeling. Accordingly we hauled all these carcasses of cattle, the wolves, also the offal from the store-house and shoved them into the hole cut in the ice, where they floated off out of our reach. We then went and washed out our store-house and presented it before the Lord empty, but clean.

Near sundown the Indian spoken of came to our quarters. Some of the boys hunted up a small piece of raw hide and gave it to him. He said he had eaten it before. None of us were able to talk much with him; we invited him to remain with us over night. Evening came on and no supper; eight o'clock, no word from any one. And the word had been positively given that we should have supper. Between eight and nine o'clock all were sitting waiting, now and then good-naturedly saying it was most suppertime. No one seemed disheartened.

Bro. Heywood was still with us. All at once we heard a strange noise resembling human voices down the road. Bro. Heywood rushed out explaining, "Here comes our supper." The voices were loud and in an unknown tongue. Bro. H. came back a little frightened saying there was something strange going on down the road. Several of us, taking our arms, started in the direction of the noise. On getting nearer we recognized the voices. The Magraw party under Jesse Jones was making another effort to get through with their coaches; they got stuck in a snow drift and the noise we heard was Canadian Frenchmen swearing at their mules. [84] We helped them out and guided them into the fort. It was a bitter cold night but we had good houses with rousing fires.

After unhitching and turning out Jesse said, "I am glad to get here." I replied, "I am as glad to see you." "Why are you so glad to see us?" he asked. I told him we had not had a mouthful of anything to eat, nor had we tasted food that day. "Then what are you stopping here for?" I replied, "We were waiting for you to bring our supper." He laughed and said, "Well you shall have it if it takes the last bite we have got." He gave to our cook all of his provisions. About ten o'clock twenty-six hungry men sat down to about as thankfully a received supper as was ever partaken of by mortal man.

In January when this party passed through to Platte bridge, I sent word by them to the mountaineers there that we would pay a good price for meat brought to us. Two of the best hunters, Messrs. Maxim and Plant, made the attempt to get us meat, but failed, almost starving themselves on the hunt. They never reached our fort but returned to their homes on the Platte.

When Jesse Jones left us going down we had but little provisions on hand. Maxim and Plant's failure to reach us with food caused the people at Platte bridge to suppose we had all perished. Jesse told me he fully expected to find our skeletons.

Some may ask why we did not leave. There was no time during the winter but what the attempt would have been certain death to some of us. The company at no time was strong enough to make the trip to Platte bridge, neither did we wish to abandon our trust that we had accepted with our eyes wide open to the perils around us.

[85] After supper we found there was scarcely enough left for breakfast. Jesse asked what we proposed doing. One of the mail company, a Frenchman, commenced talking with the Indian explaining our situation to him. He said their camp was also out of meat; that they were hungry, and that he was out prospecting for game, as there was none in the neighborhood of their camp; but he thought he could find game next day if some one would go with him to protect him from the Crow Indians, who were supposed to be in the direction of the game. This seemed the only show, so Jesse decided to "lay over" and send out his hunter with some pack animals; also ten of our company, the stoutest and most willing. They, no doubt, would have fought the whole Crow nation to have protected our Indian friend.

Late that evening the Frenchmen and Indian came into the fort with their animals loaded with good buffalo meat. I asked about the boys of our company who went out on foot. The Frenchmen answered, "I left them about twenty-five miles from here roasting and eating bones and entrails; they are all right." They got in next day, each man loaded with meat. They were all delighted with the Indian, telling how he killed the buffalo with his arrows, the Frenchmen shooting first and wounding the animal and the Indian doing the rest.

These Indians of the plains years back killed a great many buffalo with arrows. They would stick two arrows into a buffalo's heart, crossing their direction so that as the buffalo ran these arrows would work and cut his heart almost in two. This would soon bring the poor brute down; whereas with a single arrow in the heart they would run a long distance.

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