The first Agricultural Fair of Colorado had been advertised to come off on Thursday, September 20, and be continued on Friday and Saturday; but the severe storm of the preceding Wednesday had made the travelling so bad, that the Committee determined to postpone the commencement till Friday, and continue the exhibition till the following Tuesday.
On Friday morning Mr. Williams and myself were invited to visit the grounds by General Pierce, the Surveyor-General of the Territory, and General Hughes, the general agent and attorney for Holladay's Overland Stage and Express Company. We found that the grounds, which are situated about one and a half miles to the northeast of Denver City, consisted of forty acres of most beautiful plain in the form of a parallelogram, inclosed by a tight wall, composed of concrete, about two feet thick and eight feet high. Upon one side of the rectangle was an elliptical track one half mile in length, for the trial of the speed of horses and mules; and upon the other side were innumerable stalls for the exhibition of domestic animals. In the centre was a large covered amphitheatre, in which were exhibited the products of the soil, and such articles of trade and commerce as the mechanical skill of
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On the afternoon of Saturday, September 22, we again left Denver, by Holladay's Overland Stage Line, for the scene of our future explorations in the Black Hills, north and west of Laporte. The light from the stars and waning moon was barely sufficient to reveal the dim outline of the ragged sides and crest of the mountain ranges as we passed within a few miles of their base, and across Clear, Coal, Boulder, St. Vrain, Little and Big Thomson and Cache la Poudre Creeks, that flow from the huge gorges in their sides.
We reached Laporte, a distance of sixty-seven miles by stage road from Denver, at daybreak on Sunday morning, and found most comfortable quarters at the stage-station, kept by Mr. Taylor; and were joined, in the evening, by General G. M. Dodge, Chief Engineer, and Mr. James A. Evans, Division Engineer, of the Union Pacific Railroad.
We were now about to enter in real earnest upon the rough and adventurous features of our excursion. General Dodge commenced our education by intimating in the most gentle manner, that we would be expected to feed, water and clean our saddle-horses during the trip.
Our host of the Ranch also informed us, that he had no sleeping accomodations for us, and that we had better look around for lodgings.
In view of such an emergency, Mr. Williams and myself had fortunately provided ourselves with plenty of buffalo skins, blankets and ponchos. We therefore intimated to the landlord, that one of us would occupy the lounge in the corner of the dining-room, and the other would sleep on the floor by the stove. Upon this the cook, a buxom middle-aged woman, with a sucking child, called out from the kitchen, in not very gentle tones, that that lounge was her bed. Mr. Chamberlain, an enterprising merchant in the vicinity, here came to our relief, and kindly offered us the use of the floor in the back room of his log-store, which we were very glad to accept.
The following day was spent in making preparations for our intended reconnoissance on horseback, of the Black Hills and Laramie Plains. An easy-going black saddle-horse was procured of Mr. Chamberlain, for the use of Mr. Williams. A chestnut cavalry horse, procured by General Dodge from Fort Collins, was allotted to me. He had previously selected a fine roan from the same place for himself. And Mr. Evans adhered to a large black mule which he had been riding for some days previously. He very kindly offered this mule to Mr. Williams, with the quiet remark, however, that he was apt to buck once in a while, which meant, as he afterward explained, that he would occasionally stick his head down between his fore legs, kick up behind, and throw his rider over his head. Mr. Williams having had some experience with mules, on our trip to Berthoud Pass, very promptly declined the offer.
Hon. Green Clay Smith, Governor of Montana, breakfasted with us as he was passing through with his suite, by stage, on his way to the scene of his future labors.
On Tuesday morning, September 25, our party, consisting of Mr. Williams, General Dodge, Mr. Evans and myself, started from Laporte, fully mounted and equipped as cavalry, and armed to the teeth with breech-loading carbines dangling from our saddles, and revolvers buckled around our waists, accompanied by a supply wagon, in charge of Mr. McLain, one of Mr. Evans' assistants, in which were our bedding, and such supplies as we would be likely to want on our trip.
Our course lay up the valley of the Cache la Poudre a few miles, and then we turned more northerly and followed up the valley of one of its tributaries, which again led us into the valleys of the Pitchfork, Stonewall, Poisen and Dale Creeks.
To the right of us, toward the Plains, were what time had suffered to remain of the rough, jagged crests of the secondary formations as they had rested from the great upheaval of this portion of the earth's surface, when, during some former age, Old Vulcan had undoubtedly fallen asleep, and allowed the subterranean fires, which he used in forging those immense iron wedges and other machinery with which he keeps the universe in equilibrium, to attain too great a degree of heat.
To the left of us were the higher and more imperishable debris of these same formations, flanked in the distance by the snow-clad summits of the primeval rocks, which have for so many centuries withstood the combined attacks of time and the elements. The objects of more immediate interest, however, were the "Stonewall Cañon," with its perpendicular walls of rock several hundred feet in height; and the "Steamboat Butte," which from a distance presents to view all the characteristics of a
steamboat, with upper cabin, chimneys, pilot-house, etc., the passer-by pausing unconsciously to hear the bell ring, and the familiar cry of "All aboard," before it shall start away.
Our wagon, having followed the travelled road, which we were compelled in a great measure to avoid, had obtained some distance the start of us; and we did not overtake it until about two P.M. Having been in the saddle at least six consecutive hours, we were very glad to dismount, and, after unsaddling, watering and picketing our horses, and extending ourselves upon the grass in the shade of the wagon, partake of a lunch which our commissary (McLain) had made ready for us; after which a ride of three hours brought us to Virginia Dale, one of the stations of the Overland Stage Company.
This is a most beautiful amphitheatre, surrounded by mountains, with Dale Creek running through the centre; and is near the boundary line between Colorado and Dakotah. Gen. Dodge here suggested that all the requisites for a good camping ground were at hand, to wit—wood, water, and plenty of grass for our animals; but while the wagon was coming up, I took the liberty of riding forward to the stage ranch, and received the gratifying intelligence that the proprietor was prepared and willing to afford both man and beast very comfortable accommodations for the night. Mr. Williams at first objected, saying that he had come out expecting and fully prepared to rough it in the mountains, sleep on the ground, &c., and he thought it was about time to try it; but he finally yielded very gracefully; and, after providing for the comfort of our horses, we soon found ourselves seated
before a cheerful fire, talking over the peculiarities of the country and incidents of the day.
A most excellent supper of coffee, warm rolls, boiled potatoes and stewed antelope, together with the fatigues of the day, inclined us to seek early repose; but here a new embarrassment awaited us. There was but one spare bed in the ranch, and there were at least three of our party for whom, with proper deference to age and rank, the enjoyment of this luxury would seem quite appropriate; but both Mr. Williams and Gen. Dodge were inexorable; and I, whose romance had nearly oozed out during the day, was obliged to submit to the mortifying necessity of occupying the comfortable bed, while they camped down in their robes and blankets upon the floor, in opposite corners of the same room.
We were again on our way early the following morning. Having ordered the wagon to halt for lunch at the Willow Springs stage station, we followed up the valley of Dale Creek in the direction of Antelope Pass, which we reached at one P. M. This pass is supposed to be the lowest point in a depression extending several miles longitudinally along the crest of the Black Hill range, and is about 8,000 feet above the sea. From this summit we were greeted with our first view of Laramie Plains, extending as far to the northward as the eye could reach, bounded on the east by the Black Hills; and on the west by the much higher range of the Medicine Bow Mountains, which form the easterly side of the North Park.
This pass was named "Antelope" by Gen. Case (who first explored it for the Union Pacific Railroad Company in 1864), on account of the numerous herds of antelope
that he found in its vicinity. We saw several groups, but they were careful to keep beyond the range of our carbines; and we were therefore obliged to proceed on our journey with only a mountain grouse, and jack rabbit in our haversacks, which I had brought down with my Ballard carbine during our morning ride.
Our descent toward the Laramie Plains, soon brought us to an intersection with the stage road, which we followed to the station at Willow Springs, where we found our attentive commissary prepared to receive us, with an excellent lunch for ourselves, and provender for our animals.
A further ride of six or eight miles, brought us to Fort "John Buford," just at sunset, where we were most hospitably received and entertained by Col. Mizner, the officer in command. In addition to his own quarters, which he placed at our disposal, he caused to be put up another fine wall-tent for the accommodation of the balance of the party; and our stay thus far of one night in his camp has been both pleasant and refreshing.