Thursday, the 27th of September, was spent by our party at and about Fort John Buford, on the Laramie Plains. Mr. Evans and myself took a leisurely ride in the afternoon, of some seven or eight miles down the Laramie River, for the purpose of inspecting one of the crossings proposed for the Union Pacific Railroad. Mr. Williams employed himself in posting up his notes, writing letters, and examining maps and profiles with General Dodge. And the General himself examined, with his military eye, in company with Colonel Mizner, the extensive warehouses, barracks, etc., which were in process of construction for the better accommodation and protection of the troops and their supplies.
The following letter was written by Mr. Williams on the day of our sojourn at the Fort, a copy of which he has kindly furnished me:—
FORT JOHN BUFORD, DAKOTAH TERRITORY, September 27, 1866.
To the Editor of the Fort Wayne Gazette—
My last was from Berthoud Pass, September 18th. The day was delightful. The next day we encountered a snow storm. Stopping half way down the eastern slope of the mountain, we found the snow
* Name since changed to "Fort Saunders."
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All preparations being perfected, we bade our friends at the Fort adieu, at an early hour on Friday morning, and started on our backward course. The weather was now, and had during the past few days, been perfectly delightful. The sun, perhaps a little too hot during mid-day, had blistered our ears and noses somewhat; but the soft, balmy air of the Plains tended to elevate our spirits; and the hazy, dreamy state of the atmosphere, rendered the dissolving views of the distant mountains truly enchanting. Our road for several miles was the same which we had previously followed to the Fort.
On reaching a point some six miles from the Fort, in the vicinity of a beautiful lake, we were electrified by the appearance of a very large and beautiful Elk-Stag upon the verge of the lake; and apparently transfixed to the spot by some mysterious and fatal power which he could not control. Several shots were fired almost simultaneously, and after staggering a few rods he fell. When we reached the noble animal, life was extinct.
Modesty, while it will not justify any material departure from truth, always forbids the historian of any great achievement from arrogating to himself peculiar prowess,
or writing himself down the hero of the occasion. Suffice it to say, therefore, that Mr. Williams, whose knowledge of the sporting laws will be unquestioned by those who know him, decided that the splendid horns of the elk, the acknowledged trophies in all game cases of this kind, should be appropriated to me, with the understanding that I should take them to New York and present them, with the united compliments of the party, to Dr. Durant, Vice-President and General Manager of the Union Pacific Railroad; and that a sufficient quantity of steaks for the subsistence of our party during the trip, should be gratuitously distributed. All which was satisfactorily done, and the immense horns made fast to our wagon.*
The animal was estimated to weigh at least eight hundred pounds.
After following the travelled road to a point within about two miles of the Willow Spring Station, we diverged to the left, in a more northerly direction, and ascended the westerly slope of the Black Hills to a depression in their summit, some miles north of Antelope Pass, and considerably to the south of Cheyenne Pass, named Evans' Pass, in honor of the Engineer of that name, who formed one of our party; and to whose energy, and skill in his profession, the Railroad Company are indebted for most of the information in their possession respecting the region over which we were travelling.
* These horns have been elegantly mounted, and may now be seen at the office of the Company in New York,
We reached our camping ground, in the beautiful valley of Dale Creek, at four o'clock in the afternoon, having ridden about sixteen miles. Gen. Dodge had promised to regale us with plenty of speckled trout, from the clear, cold mountain streams along our route; but up to this time, the only ones we had seen or tasted were upon the dinner table of our excellent and hospitable friend, Gen. Pierce, of Denver City.
As we were watering our animals in Dale Creek, just previous to our halt for the day, the General declared that he saw several speckled trout in the stream; and immediate preparations were therefore made to secure sufficient for our supper. The General and myself trolled the stream for a half mile in each direction, Mr. Williams following with a gunny-sack in which to bag our prey; but it was of no avail; not a bite, nor even the faintest nibble, did I have; but the General protested to at least one fair bite, and some half-dozen glimpses of the little rascals as they dodged around the bends in the stream. We were therefore compelled to fall back upon our regular bill of fare for dinner, aided by our elk-steaks, which, being fried with bacon, we found most excellent.
We had at last reached the realization of our hopes and dreams, and were actually "camping out" in the mountains. We could roll in the long grass, drink our fill from the sparkling stream, sing and halloo as loud as we pleased, without disturbing any one outside of our own little party. The Indians might be watching us from some of the surrounding crags, and coveting our
scalps as trophies for the adornment of their wigwams; or might be planning an escapade for our stock; but what matter—we all felt that innate sense of security and reliance upon ourselves, which always accompanies a wild and roving mountain life; and which, we felt confident, would enable us to cope successfully with five times our number of these savage denizens of the forest.
Our "headquarters" had been furnished, through the kindness of Col. Mizner, with two wedge tents, each capable of sheltering and sleeping two persons comfortably; these were pitched near our wagon; and the wagons and tents of our escort were distributed at a respectful distance in our rear. The General gave the necessary instructions to the Sergeant in command of the escort, respecting the careful picketing of our stock, and the posting of the guard for the protection of our camp from surprise during the night; and after we had indulged in our most comfortable evening talk and smoke, by the light of our waning camp-fire, we were admonished by the cool evening air, and the noiseless quiet which reigned around us, that it was time for us to retire to rest.
After an early breakfast the following morning, we pursued our way over the high and somewhat broken divides till we reached the plain which stretches itself between the valleys of Lone Tree and Crow Creeks. On passing an immense detached pile of granite rock, eighty feet high, and fifty feet square at the base, Gen. Dodge and Mr. Evans ascended with some difficulty to its summit, and reported a most extended view of the surrounding country.
A little further on, while most of our party were col-
lected upon an eminence, some of the escort started up an antelope at some distance from us, which, from the shouts and firing of its pursuers, became almost frantic with fright; and, after circling partly round the hill, actually approached so near to where we stood that we could distinctly see its wild, staring eyes, and panting chest. Stopping for a moment immediately in front of us, it seemed to take in the situation at a glance, when it turned and left us like the wind. Several shots were fired at the beautiful animal, but it seemed to have a charmed life.
Still further on we espied, at a distance of about a quarter of a mile in advance, a herd of some thirty elk, quietly reposing in the valley. Gen. Dodge, Mr. Evans, and myself immediately dismounted, and endeavored to make our way to the shelter of an intervening ledge before they should discover us; but what was our chagrin upon reaching the desired spot, which was within easy range of our carbines, to find that some of the escort, in hurrying over a hill to our right, had alarmed the herd; and that they were flying from us at full speed. These, with an occasional shot at a sage hen, or far-off antelope, comprised the only sporting recreations of the day. We made our camp in the valley of Lone Tree Creek at four P. M., having travelled eighteen miles from our camp of the previous night.
After partaking of our frugal dinner, and arranging matters for the night, Mr. Evans and myself strolled a few miles up the creek, in the faint hope of meeting again with the herd of elk which had fled in this direction; but they were nowhere to be seen.
The next day being Sunday; and, as
"The sound of the church-going bell,
These valleys and rocks never heard—"
we concluded to work our way out upon the Plains by easy stages, and camp sufficiently far in advance to enable us to reach Laporte for dinner on the following day. We stopped an hour or so in the middle of the day, at Jack's Springs, where General Dodge regaled us with lunch from a French patti of plover, which was most excellent, and should form a staple for all self-subsisting travellers. At four P. M. we reached the valley of Box-Elder Creek, and encamped for the night.
Our route during most of the day had passed over the heavy swells, or sedimentary formations, which lie between the former base of the mountains and the present level of the plains; and which were formed, undoubtedly, by débris of the more perishable rocks, brought down by the mountain torrents, and deposited in long, irregular slopes at their base.
On Monday morning we resumed our course towards Laporte, having left our escort to await orders at Camp Box-Elder. Our route lay over very much the same character of country as we had traversed the previous day. When at a distance of about two miles from camp, Mr. Williams, who was riding in advance, observed an antelope, lying down, some three or four hundred yards directly in our front. He quietly halted until the balance of the party came up, when General Dodge and myself dismounted and prepared for action; Messrs. Williams and Evans remaining in their saddles, the better to observe the effect of our guns.
The General, from his long practice, was able to unlim-
ber his carbine and bring it to bear before I was quite prepared, and consequently obtained the first shot, upon which the animal, evidently aroused from a quiet sleep, quickly arose to its feet, and looked toward us for an explanation.
Seeing my advantage, and having observed that the General's ball struck the ground some distance short of the antelope, I concluded that the distance was too great for a point blank range, and therefore decided to fire upon the ricochet principle, which proved entirely successful. The animal fell instantly, and when we reached the spot was almost lifeless from loss of blood, caused by the passage of the ball through the neck, and severing the carotid artery. Mr. Williams, although evidently entertaining some doubts as to the legitimacy of the shot, manifested great delight at the result; and, without intending any disrespect to General Dodge, whose reputation for skill in bagging much larger game had become so well established during the late war, immediately pronounced me the huntist of the party, and awarded me the beautiful skin as an additional trophy. Our commissary, McLain, on coming up soon afterward, hung the antelope upon the elk-horns at the rear of the wagon, and thus followed us triumphantly into Laporte, where we arrived at eleven A.M.
Thus ended the equestrian part of our excursion. The exercise had been long and somewhat severe; but the natural as well as professional interest which Mr. Williams and myself had taken in the features of the country (150 miles of which we had traversed on horseback during the past six days), together with, to us, the unusual
and exciting incidents connected with mountain camp-life, had made the time pass most pleasantly; and caused us to regret the pressure of other engagements which would soon compel us to leave it, and part, for a time, at least, with our most attentive and agreeable travelling companions.
My faithful horse had also become an object of sincere attachment. His fast, ambling gait was most easy and comfortable, after the first one or two days of back-climation; and he had never failed me, either in a sudden dash across the plain after an antelope, or the difficult crossing of a mountain-ledge or chasm; and I parted from him with sincere regret.
But I fear it was not so with my friend Mr. Williams, whose black horse "Chug-water" (which name he gave him on account of some peculiarity in his gait) came near failing him on several occasions; once, I recollect, when he stumbled and broke his saddle-girth; and quite frequently when he would persistently try to descend a hill upward, or, rather I should say, sideways or backward, instead of the straightforward way downward.