Chapter XVII.


My Severe Toil in Getting to Camp--Three Stray Cattle Come

to the Fort--The Second Company of the Y. X. Express Passes us--Our Hunt for the Cattle--Two Day's Travel Without Food--Our Safe Return to Camp

I HAD been wearing moccasins all winter, had done a great deal of walking and had felt well and strong; but the winter had commenced to break and there was mud and wet snow to encounter on our trip. Someone had induced me to put on a pair of heavy, stiff-soled English shoes. About sundown I gave out; got so lame that it was impossible for me to where the shoes and travel. We had about ten miles to go yet, and no trail, as the Indian trail was much longer than to cross directly over the country, and we wished to take the shortest cut. Moreover there was still a few inches of snow on the ground part of the way on the most direct route. We were bent on getting to camp that night, if possible, so determined to keep going. I was compelled to pull off my "stoggas" and go in my stocking feet. This did very well till the snow gave out, which it did as we got onto lower country. My socks and failed then, and the ground commenced to freeze hard. Traveling became slightly unpleasant to me. I put on the shoes again, but could not possibly walk; it was as though my shin bones were being broken at every step. (Some may wonder why my companion did not change his foot gear with me. The reason was he wore a number six shoe, and I could squeeze on a number ten. Will that do?) So I determined to go bare-footed. It now became really unpleasant, for the country was spotted with prickly [97] pears (thorny cactus). When I placed my number ten foot, pressed down by my 175-pound body, on these desert ornaments, they had a piercing effect, often causing me to halt. Several times it hurt so badly that I dropped, desiring to take a seat so that I could pull the thorns out of my feet, but on striking the ground I had a sudden desire to rise, as the cactus formed the only place to sit. This was really amusing. Still, I soon had enough of this fun and commenced to figure how to avoid having any more of it. The horses dreaded the cactus, and its left to pick the road would avoid them; so we allowed them to go ahead. I carefully watched their tracks and followed them, getting along much better after this.

About midnight we got in, my feet a little the worse for wear; but so happy were we with our success that my feet soon got well.

Another blessing had befallen the company while we were gone. Three large work oxen, one wearing a big bell, had come into camp. These cattle had traveled nearly one hundred miles from where they had been lost; they were in fair order. We supposed the reason why the wolves had not killed them was that the noise of the bell scared them away.

With the meat on hand and these cattle we felt pretty safe for the balance of the season. We had hopes of keeping a yoke of the cattle to haul wood with, this having been done all winter with a light wagon, ten men for team, or in hand-carts. The ice was melted on the river and in going for wood it had to be waded. This was hard on the boys, and we were very grateful for the cattle.

About this time the second company of the Y. X. express, under Jet Stoddard, passed down. They had [98] but little to spare us, but we were now out of danger. We got a little flour, salt and bacon.

The word was that the next company would bring us flour. The most of us had got so we cared but little for bread if we could have plenty of meat. Our cattle were our pets now. We hauled up a lot of wood. The grass being quite good off toward the east, the cattle were taken out every day. At night someone went and brought them in and corraled them. Our horses were hoppled in sight of camp, where they ran day and night.

One evening the boys who went for the oxen came in rather late without them, saying that they could not hear the bell. We supposed they had laid down for the night; still, we were anxious, as our meat was about out and we expected to soon butcher the fattest of them.

Early next morning Brother Hampton and I saddled up and started out before breakfast to hunt the cattle, not expecting to be gone more than an hour. We soon struck their trail going east, most of the time showing they were on the move, not often feeding. At sundown we were about thirty miles from camp, still trailing and tolerably hungry; but that trail could not be left. We followed on, the tracks running almost parallel with the road but gradually nearing it. It now became too dark to see the trail.

We were continually expecting to hear the bell, but no bell sounded. We continued in the same direction until we reached the main road. After following it a short distance Brother Hampton dismounted and felt for tracks. He soon decided that the cattle were now on the road as he could feel the tracks where the ground had been lately disturbed, the road being dry and soft in places. Thus we continued to travel for some four or five miles feeling for tracks. At length we came to a [99] gulch crossing the road, several feet deep and full of snow. We could see where the cattle had crossed as the moon was now up and we could trail quite well; but on attempting to cross the drift, we sank down. At this season of the year the snow-drifts freeze in the night time, thawing out in the afternoon and gradually melting away so that from noon until after midnight it is impossible for a horse to cross them; men often crossing on hands and knees, or if the snow is quite soft lying down and rolling across. This we could have done but our horses did not feel as anxious as we did to go on; so when we proposed to them to roll across the drift, they pretended not to understand us.

We followed up the drift for quite a distance, but it remained the same white streak of snow as far as we could see by moonlight, so we concluded to turn in until morning when the snow would be hardened. It was now getting quite chilly, we had eaten nothing all day, all the bedding we had was a couple of small saddle blankets, and there was nothing to make a fire with but a little green sagebrush. But if there had been fuel we would have been afraid to light a fire as the Crow Indians were in the country and might steal our horses.

We went to "ground" but did not sleep much. It soon became so cold that we almost froze to death. When we thought the snow was hard enough we got up, but were so chilled we could not saddle our horses. We were almost lifeless, and commenced stirring about to bring life back. We commenced bumping against each other, sometimes knocking one another down. We got to laughing at the ridiculousness of our actions, more life returned, our teeth began chattering and our bodies shaking, but we kept up this jostling each other until we started circulation and were able to saddle up and go on. [100] It was daylight before we got thawed out. We walked until we got well warmed up the trail following right on the road.

About ten o'clock a. m. we found the cattle. They had finally turned off the road to feed. We were now about forty-five miles from home. The first thing I proposed after finding the cattle was to cut their tails off, tie a string around the stubs to keep them from bleeding, roast the tails and eat them, for I felt wolfish. Ben objected, saying it might weaken the cattle and that he believed we could stand it back home; that the cattle were good travelers and may be we could reach the fort by midnight. Our horses (or rather, horse and mule. As I will soon have to deal a little with a mule it will not do to call him a horse now) were all right, having been on good feed the night before. The cattle, on being turned back, took the road in good shape, starting on a trot.

We were anxious to get back and cross the snow-drift before it softened up. This we succeeded in doing, and continued traveling until afternoon before "bating." We had more sympathy for ourselves than for our animals, for we were getting a little hungry and dreaded the thought of having to "go to ground" again. So we kept up our speed. Finally Ben's mule began to weaken. We had considerable trouble to get it along, but by one leading and the other walking and whipping we got to Independence Rock, where there were three or four men camped in some old houses. This was about six miles from our fort. Here we had a trial I think few men would have stood. As we rode up they had a good fire burning, a nice supper cooked and were just ready to commence eating.

They had stayed the night before at our camp where [101] they had arrived destitute and out of provisions. Brother Alexander had told them about us. Our company was very anxious about us. They had given these poor fellows what provisions they could spare, enough to last them to Platte bridge provided they made the trip in reasonable time. One of the party had frozen his feet and was suffering terribly. We soon learned their condition, but they insisted on us eating supper. We thought of the poor lame fellow getting out of food; we were within six miles of home so we pretended that we were not very hungry, and advised them to be careful of what they had and we would go on home. The smell of the food to us was like piercing our stomachs with a dagger. It was really hard to refuse taking a few bites, but we did.

When we had got about half way home I went ahead with the cattle, Ben driving the tired mule. I wished to get in and have supper ready by the time my comrade arrived, which I did not suppose would be over one half hour. On arriving at the fort, most of the company were up waiting in suspense our arrival.

Brother Alexander had a camp kettle full of meat and sued with dumplings ready. It was rations for seven men. He had kept it warm all day, and commenced to dish some up for me, but I told him that I would not eat a bite until Ben came. It was more than an hour before he arrived, the give-out mule having broken loose and ran away from him and he had been following it. Finally he arrived, bringing the mule and feeling very much like beefing it when we he got home.

All now was ready for our supper. We sat down on some wolf skins before the fire, a camp-cattle in reach, and commenced to eat, but not very hurriedly. Before daylight we had emptied the kettle. We relished this [102] feast fully and did not suffer any inconvenience. Both of us were well and feeling first rate next day after having a good sleep. As the cattle were so much bother we concluded to kill them.

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