For the past few months, I've been interested in a very interesting book, a handbook for traveling the American west written by US Army captain Randolph B. Marcy, published with the authority of the US War Department in 1859. In the first place, it's a useful first-hand account of the country in that time, and Marcy's perspective on the character of the land, rustic life, and the inhabitants of that increasingly imperiled region serve as an interesting historical note. As a guidebook for overland travel, I like to think it also offers some interesting details for role-playing games which may feature many of the same difficulties that settlers faced on the way to occupying land in the west.
More so than my previous set of book notes, there is a tension between these two reading goals. In the past fifty years, much hay has been made in discussing the relationship between games like Dungeons and Dragons and the epoch of Western frontier wars. Never would a discussion be more apt than when literally applying the advice of a literal settler to your D&D game. My notes will largely be excerpts, and most of the handbook touches on neutral topics like how to cook beans and cross rivers, but a thoughtful reader should keep this context in mind and draw their own conclusions.
Because so many of the handbook's details are interesting to me, there will be an order of magnitude more excerpted text. Those whose interest is piqued by my excerpts can find the entire handbook on Project Gutenberg.
|SKETCH of the DIFFERENT ROADS|
"Emigrants or others desiring to make the overland journey to the Pacific should bear in mind that there are several different routes which may be traveled with wagons, each having its advocates in persons directly or indirectly interested in attracting the tide of emigration and travel over them. Information concerning these routes coming from strangers living or owning property near them, from agents of steam-boats or railways, or from other persons connected with transportation companies, should be received with great caution, and never without corroborating evidence from disinterested sources,"
"Persons living in the Northeastern States can, with about equal facility and dispatch, reach the eastern terminus of any one of the routes they may select by means of public transport. And, as animals are much cheaper upon the frontier than in the Eastern States, they should purchase their teams at or near the point where the overland journey is to commence,"
"...Another road leaves Fort Smith and runs up the south side of the Canadian River to Santa Fé and Albuquerque in New Mexico. This route is set down upon most of the maps of the present day as having been discovered and explored by various persons, but my own name seems to have been carefully excluded from the list. Whether this omission has been intentional or not, I leave for the authors to determine. I shall merely remark that I had the command and entire direction of an expedition which in 1849 discovered, explored, located, and marked out this identical wagon road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Santa Fé, New Mexico, and that this road, for the greater portion of the distance, is the same that has been since recommended for a Pacific railway,"
"After a particular route has been selected to make the journey across the plains, and the requisite number have arrived at the eastern terminus, their first business should be to organize themselves into a company and elect a commander. The company should be of sufficient magnitude to herd and guard animals, and for protection against Indians.
From 50 to 70 men, properly armed and equipped, will be enough for these purposes, and any greater number only makes the movements of the party more cumbersome and tardy.
In the selection of a captain, good judgment, integrity of purpose, and practical experience are the essential requisites, and these are indispensable to the harmony and consolidation of the association. His duty should be to direct the order of march, the time of starting and halting, to select the camps, detail and give orders to guards, and, indeed, to control and superintend all the movements of the company.
An obligation should then be drawn up and signed by all the members of the association, wherein each one should bind himself to abide in all cases by the orders and decisions of the captain, and to aid him by every means in his power in the execution of his duties; and they should also obligate themselves to aid each other, so as to make the individual interest of each member the common concern of the whole company. To insure this, a fund should be raised for the purchase of extra animals to supply the places of those which may give out or die on the road; and if the wagon or team of a particular member should fail and have to be abandoned, the company should obligate themselves to transport his luggage, and the captain should see that he has his share of transportation equal with any other member. Thus it will be made the interest of every member of the company to watch over and protect the property of others as well as his own,"
"Wagons should be of the simplest possible construction—strong, light, and made of well-seasoned timber, especially the wheels, as the atmosphere, in the elevated and arid region over which they have to pass, is so exceedingly dry during the summer months that, unless the wood-work is thoroughly seasoned, they will require constant repairs to prevent them from falling to pieces.
Wheels made of the bois-d'arc, or Osage orange-wood, are the best for the plains, as they shrink but little, and seldom want repairing. As, however, this wood is not easily procured in the Northern States, white oak answers a very good purpose if well seasoned,"
"Wagons with six mules should never, on a long journey over the prairies, be loaded with over 2000 pounds, unless grain is transported, when an additional thousand pounds may be taken, provided it is fed out daily to the team. When grass constitutes the only forage, 2000 pounds is deemed a sufficient load. I regard our government wagons as unnecessarily heavy for six mules. There is sufficient material in them to sustain a burden of 4000 pounds, but they are seldom loaded with more than half that weight,"
"There has been much discussion regarding the relative merits of mules and oxen for prairie traveling, and the question is yet far from being settled. Upon good firm roads, in a populated country, where grain can be procured, I should unquestionably give the preference to mules, as they travel faster, and endure the heat of summer much better than oxen; and if the journey be not over 1000 miles, and the grass abundant, even without grain, I think mules would be preferable. But when the march is to extend 1500 or 2000 miles, or over a rough sandy or muddy road, I believe young oxen will endure better than mules; they will, if properly managed, keep in better condition, and perform the journey in an equally brief space of time. Besides, they are much more economical, a team of six mules costing six hundred dollars, while an eight-ox team only costs upon the frontier about two hundred dollars. Oxen are much less liable to be stampeded and driven off by Indians, and can be pursued and overtaken by horsemen; and, finally, they can, if necessary, be used for beef,"
"Bacon should be packed in strong sacks of a hundred pounds to each; or, in very hot climates, put in boxes and surrounded with bran, which in a great measure prevents the fat from melting away.
If pork be used, in order to avoid transporting about forty per cent. of useless weight, it should be taken out of the barrels and packed like the bacon; then so placed in the bottom of the wagons as to keep it cool. The pork, if well cured, will keep several months in this way, but bacon is preferable.
Flour should be packed in stout double canvas sacks well sewed, a hundred pounds in each sack.
Butter may be preserved by boiling it thoroughly, and skimming off the scum as it rises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in tin canisters and soldered up. This mode of preserving butter has been adopted in the hot climate of southern Texas, and it is found to keep sweet for a great length of time, and its flavor is but little impaired by the process.
Sugar may be well secured in India-rubber or gutta-percha sacks, or so placed in the wagon as not to risk getting wet.
Desiccated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and are put up in such a compact and portable form as easily to be transported over the plains. They have been extensively used in the Crimean war, and by our own army in Utah, and have been very generally approved,"
"The following table shows the amount of subsistence consumed per day by each man of Dr. Rae's party, in his spring journey to the Arctic regions of North America in 1854:
Pemmican- 1.25 lbs.
Biscuit- 0.25 lbs.
Edward's preserved potatoes- 0.10 lbs.
Flour 0.33 lbs.
Tea 0.03 lbs.
Sugar 0.14 lbs.
Grease or alcohol, for cooking lbs.
Total- 2.35 lbs.
This allowance of a little over two pounds of the most nutritious food was found barely sufficient to subsist the men in that cold climate,"
"I would advise all persons who travel for any considerable time through a country where they can procure no vegetables to carry with them some antiscorbutics, and if they can not transport desiccated or canned vegetables, citric acid answers a good purpose, and is very portable. When mixed with sugar and water, with a few drops of the essence of lemon, it is difficult to distinguish it from lemonade. Wild onions are excellent as antiscorbutics; also wild grapes and greens. An infusion of hemlock leaves is also said to be an antidote to scurvy,"
"The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz.: 150 lbs. of flour, or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 lbs. of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 lbs. of coffee, and 25 lbs. of sugar; also a quantity of saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper," [That's 215 pounds, plus beef, yeast, salt, and pepper.]
"It is true that if persons choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons *happen* to be in an amiable mood, supplies may sometimes be procured from them; but those who have visited them well know how little reliance is to be placed upon their hospitality or spirit of accommodation,"
"Wool, being a non-conductor, is the best material for this mode of locomotion, and should always be adopted for the plains. The coat should be short and stout, the shirt of red or blue flannel, such as can be found in almost all the shops on the frontier: this, in warm weather, answers for an outside garment. The pants should be of thick and soft woolen material, and it is well to have them re-enforced on the inside, where they come in contact with the saddle, with soft buckskin, which makes them more durable and comfortable.
Woolen socks and stout boots, coming up well at the knees, and made large, so as to admit the pants, will be found the best for horsemen, and they guard against rattlesnake bites.
In traveling through deep snow during very cold weather in winter, moccasins are preferable to boots or shoes, as being more pliable, and allowing a freer circulation of the blood. In crossing the Rocky Mountains in the winter, the weather being intensely cold, I wore two pairs of woolen socks, and a square piece of thick blanket sufficient to cover the feet and ankles, over which were drawn a pair of thick buckskin moccasins, and the whole enveloped in a pair of buffalo-skin boots with the hair inside, made open in the front and tied with buckskin strings. At the same time I wore a pair of elkskin pants, which most effectually prevented the air from penetrating to the skin, and made an excellent defense against brush and thorns.
My men, who were dressed in the regulation clothing, wore out their pants and shoes before we reached the summit of the mountains, and many of them had their feet badly frozen in consequence. They mended their shoes with pieces of leather cut from the saddle-skirts as long as they lasted, and, when this material was gone, they covered the entire shoe with green beeve or mule hide, drawn together and sewed upon the top, with the hair inside, which protected the upper as well as the sole leather. The sewing was done with an awl and buckskin strings… Without the awl and buckskins we should have been unable to have repaired the shoes. They should never be forgotten in making up the outfit for a prairie expedition,"
"We also experienced great inconvenience and pain by the reflection of the sun's rays from the snow upon our eyes, and some of the party became nearly snow-blind. Green or blue glasses, inclosed in a wire net-work, are an effectual protection to the eyes; but, in the absence of these, the skin around the eyes and upon the nose should be blackened with wet powder or charcoal, which will afford great relief,"
"The following list of articles is deemed a sufficient outfit for one man upon a three months' expedition, viz.:
2 blue or red flannel overshirts, open in front, with buttons.
2 woolen undershirts.
2 pairs thick cotton drawers.
4 pairs woolen socks.
2 pairs cotton socks.
4 colored silk handkerchiefs.
2 pairs stout shoes, for footmen.
1 pair boots, for horsemen.
1 pair shoes, for horsemen.
1 gutta percha poncho. [ed. a natural thermoplastic substance derived from a tree of the same name]
1 broad-brimmed hat of soft felt.
1 comb and brush.
1 pound Castile soap.
3 pounds bar soap for washing clothes.
1 belt-knife and small whetstone.
Stout linen thread, large needles, a bit of beeswax, a few buttons, paper of pins, and a thimble, all contained in a small buckskin or stout cloth bag.
The foregoing articles, with the coat and overcoat, complete the wardrobe,"
"The bedding for each person should consist of two blankets, a comforter, and a pillow, and a gutta percha or painted canvas cloth to spread beneath the bed upon the ground, and to contain it when rolled up for transportation.
Every mess of six or eight persons will require a wrought-iron camp kettle, large enough for boiling meat and making soup; a coffee-pot and cups of heavy tin, with the handles riveted on; tin plates, frying and bake pans of wrought iron, the latter for baking bread and roasting coffee. Also a mess pan of heavy tin or wrought iron for mixing bread and other culinary purposes; knives, forks, and spoons; an extra camp kettle; tin or gutta percha bucket for water—wood, being liable to shrink and fall to pieces, is not deemed suitable; an axe, hatchet, and spade will also be needed, with a mallet for driving picket-pins. Matches should be carried in bottles and corked tight, so as to exclude the moisture.
A little blue mass, quinine, opium, and some cathartic medicine, put up in doses for adults, will suffice for the medicine-chest," [ed. I don't recommend all of these substances. Blue mass is a mercury-based medicine now deemed toxic.]
"Each ox wagon should be provided with a covered tar-bucket, filled with a mixture of tar or resin and grease, two bows extra, six S's, and six open links for repairing chains. Every set of six wagons should have a tongue, coupling pole, king-bolt, and pair of hounds extra.
Every set of six mule wagons should be furnished with five pairs of hames, two double trees, four whipple-trees, and two pairs of lead bars extra.
Two lariats will be needed for every horse and mule, as one generally wears out before reaching the end of a long journey. They will be found useful in crossing deep streams, and in letting wagons down steep hills and mountains; also in repairing broken wagons. Lariats made of hemp are the best.
One of the most indispensable articles to the outfit of the prairie traveler is buckskin. For repairing harness, saddles, bridles, and numerous other purposes of daily necessity, the awl and buckskin will be found in constant requisition,"
"Every man who goes into the Indian country should be armed with a rifle and revolver, and he should never, either in camp or out of it, lose sight of them. When not on the march, they should be placed in such a position that they can be seized at an instant's warning; and when moving about outside the camp, the revolver should invariably be worn in the belt, as the person does not know at what moment he may have use for it.
A great diversity of opinion obtains regarding the kind of rifle that is the most efficient and best adapted to Indian warfare, and the question is perhaps as yet very far from being settled to the satisfaction of all. A large majority of men prefer the breech-loading arm, but there are those who still adhere tenaciously to the old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifle as preferable to any of the modern inventions. Among these may be mentioned the border hunters and mountaineers, who can not be persuaded to use any other than the Hawkins rifle, for the reason that they know nothing about the merits of any others. My own experience has forced me to the conclusion that the breech-loading arm possesses great advantages over the muzzle-loading, for the reason that it can be charged and fired with much greater rapidity.
Colt's revolving pistol is very generally admitted, both in Europe and America, to be the most efficient arm of its kind known at the present day,"
US settlers on a prairie tour,
Footmen: Half the group has: gutta percha poncho, breech-loading rifle, pistol
Cavalry: The other half is mounted on riding horses and has: gutta percha poncho, boots, muzzle-loading rifle, revolver
Organization: For every 50 settlers, there is a captain (4th level fighter). Leaders ride war horses and have: gutta percha poncho, buckskin moccasins, buffalo boots, elkskin pains breech-loading rifle, colt revolver, and medicine chest. For every 6-8 settlers, there is a wagon with six mules or oxen, a wrought-iron camp kettle, a coffee-pot, and bake pans of wrought iron.
"Drivers should be closely watched, and never, unless absolutely necessary, permitted to beat their animals, or to force them out of a walk, as this will soon break down the best teams. Those teamsters who make the least use of the whip invariably keep their animals in the best condition. Unless the drivers are checked at the outset, they are very apt to fall into the habit of flogging their teams. It is not only wholly unnecessary but cruel, and should never be tolerated,"
"In traveling with ox teams in the summer season, great benefit will be derived from making early marches; starting with the dawn, and making a "nooning" during the heat of the day, as oxen suffer much from the heat of the sun in midsummer. These noon halts should, if possible, be so arranged as to be near grass and water, where the animals can improve their time in grazing. When it gets cool they may be hitched to the wagons again, and the journey continued in the afternoon. Sixteen or eighteen miles a day may thus be made without injury to the beasts, and longer drives can never be expedient, unless in order to reach grass or water,"
"During a season of the year when there are occasional showers, water will generally be found in low places where there is a substratum of clay, but after the dry season has set in these pools evaporate, and it is necessary to dig wells. The lowest spots should be selected for this purpose when the grass is green and the surface earth moist.
In searching for water along the dry sandy beds of streams, it is well to try the earth with a stick or ramrod, and if this indicates moisture water will generally be obtained by excavation. Streams often sink in light and porous sand, and sometimes make their appearance again lower down, where the bed is more tenacious; but it is a rule with prairie travelers, in searching for water in a sandy country, to ascend the streams, and the nearer their sources are approached the more water will be found in a dry season.
Where it becomes necessary to sink a well in a stream the bed of which is quicksand, a flour-barrel, perforated with small holes, should be used as a curb, to prevent the sand from caving in. The barrel must be forced down as the sand is removed; and when, as is often the case, there is an undercurrent through the sand, the well will be continually filled with water,
The fresh tracks and trails of animals converging toward a common centre, and the flight of birds and water-fowl toward the same points, will also lead to water. In a section frequented by deer or mustangs, it may be certain that water is not far distant, as these animals drink daily, and they will not remain long in a locality after the water has dried up. Deer generally go to water during the middle of the day, but birds toward evening.
A supply of drinking water may be obtained during a shower from the drippings of a tent, or by suspending a cloth or blanket by the four corners and hanging a small weight to the centre, so as to allow all the rain to run toward one point, from whence it drops into a vessel beneath. India-rubber, gutta-percha, or painted canvas cloths answer a very good purpose for catching water during a rain, but they should be previously well washed, to prevent them from imparting a bad taste.
When there are heavy dews water may be collected by spreading out a blanket with a stick attached to one end, tying a rope to it, dragging it over the grass, and wringing out the water as it accumulates. In some parts of Australia this method is practiced,"
"Water taken from stagnant pools, charged with putrid vegetable matter and animalculæ, would be very likely to generate fevers and dysenteries if taken into the stomach without purification. It should therefore be thoroughly boiled, and all the scum removed from the surface as it rises; this clarifies it, and by mixing powdered charcoal with it the disinfecting process is perfected. Water may also be purified by placing a piece of alum in the end of a stick that has been split, and stirring it around in a bucket of water. Charcoal and the leaves of the prickly pear are also used for the same purpose," [ed. I don't know if all of this is true. Don't try it based on 150-year-old advice.]
"When a party makes an expedition into a desert section, where there is a probability of finding no water, and intend to return over the same track, it is well to carry water as far as convenient, and bury it in the ground for use on the return trip,"
"A few men, well mounted, should constitute the advance and rear guards for each train of wagons passing through the Indian country. Their duty will be to keep a vigilant look-out in all directions, and to reconnoitre places where Indians would be likely to lie in ambush. Should hostile Indians be discovered, the fact should be at once reported to the commander, who (if he anticipates an attack) will rapidly form his wagons into a circle or "corral," with the animals toward the centre, and the men on the inside, with their arms in readiness to repel an attack from without. If these arrangements be properly attended to, few parties of Indians will venture to make an attack, as they are well aware that some of their warriors might pay with their lives the forfeit of such indiscretion.
I know an instance where one resolute man, pursued for several days by a large party of Comanches on the Santa Fé trace, defended himself by dismounting and pointing his rifle at the foremost whenever they came near him, which always had the effect of turning them back. This was repeated so often that the Indians finally abandoned the pursuit, and left the traveler to pursue his journey without farther molestation. During all this time he did not discharge his rifle; had he done so he would doubtless have been killed,"
"One of the most important considerations that should influence the choice of a locality is its capability for defense. If the camp be pitched beside a stream, a concave bend, where the water is deep, with a soft alluvial bed inclosed by high and abrupt banks, will be the most defensible, and all the more should the concavity form a peninsula. The advantages of such a position are obvious to a soldier's eye, as that part of the encampment inclosed by the stream is naturally secure, and leaves only one side to be defended. The concavity of the bend will enable the defending party to cross its fire in case of attack from the exposed side. The bend of the stream will also form an excellent corral in which to secure animals from a stampede, and thereby diminish the number of sentinels needful around the camp. In herding animals at night within the bend of a stream, a spot should be selected where no clumps of brush grow on the side where the animals are posted,"
"In camping away from streams, it is advisable to select a position in which one or more sides of the encampment shall rest upon the crest of an abrupt hill or bluff. The prairie Indians make their camps upon the summits of the hills, whence they can see in all directions, and thus avoid a surprise,"
"When a party is sufficiently strong, a picket guard should be stationed during the night some two or three hundred yards in advance of the point which is most open to assault, and on low ground, so that an enemy approaching over the surrounding higher country can be seen against the sky, while the sentinel himself is screened from observation,"
"During the day the pickets should be posted on the summits of the highest eminences in the vicinity of camp, with instructions to keep a vigilant lookout in all directions; and, if not within hailing distance, they should be instructed to give some well-understood telegraphic signals to inform those in camp when there is danger. For example, should Indians be discovered approaching at a great distance, they may raise their caps upon the muzzles of their pieces, and at the same time walk around in a circle; while, if the Indians are near and moving rapidly, the sentinel may swing his cap and run around rapidly in a circle. To indicate the direction from which the Indians are approaching, he may direct his piece toward them, and walk in the same line of direction. Should the pickets suddenly discover a party of Indians very near, and with the apparent intention of making an attack, they should fire their pieces to give the alarm to the camp,"
"As there will not often be occasion for any one to pass the chain of pickets during the night, it is a good rule (especially if the party is small), when a picket sentinel discovers any one lurking about his post from without, if he has not himself been seen, to quietly withdraw and report the fact to the commander, who can wake his men and make his arrangements to repel an attack and protect his animals. If, however, the man upon the picket has been seen, he should distinctly challenge the approaching party, and if he receives no answer, fire, and retreat to camp to report the fact,"
"Mules are very keenly sensitive to danger, and, in passing along over the prairies, they will often detect the proximity of strangers long before they are discovered by their riders. Nothing seems to escape their observation; and I have heard of several instances where they have given timely notice of the approach of hostile Indians, and thus prevented stampedes.
Dogs are sometimes good sentinels, but they often sleep sound, and are not easily awakened on the approach of an enemy,"
"A rapid and deep stream, with high, abrupt, and soft banks, probably presents the most formidable array of unfavorable circumstances that can be found. Streams of this character are occasionally met with, and it is important to know how to cross them with the greatest promptitude and safety.
A train of wagons having arrived upon the bank of such a stream, first select the best point for the passage, where the banks upon both sides require the least excavation for a place of ingress and egress to and from the river. As I have before remarked, the place of entering the river should be above the coming-out place on the opposite bank, as the current will then assist in carrying wagons and animals across. A spot should be sought where the bed of the stream is firm at the place where the animals are to get out on the opposite bank. If, however, no such place can be found, brush and earth should be thrown in to make a foundation sufficient to support the animals, and to prevent them from bogging. After the place for crossing has been selected, it will be important to determine the breadth of the river between the points of ingress and egress, in order to show the length of rope necessary to reach across. A very simple practical method of doing this without instruments is found in the French "Manuel du Génie." It is as follows:
The line AB (the distance to be measured) is extended upon the bank to D, from which point, after having marked it, lay off equal distances, DC and Cd; produce BC to b, making CB=Cb; then extend the line db until it intersects the prolongation of the line through CA at a. The distance between ab is equal to AB, or the width of the crossing.
A man who is an expert swimmer then takes the end of a fishing-line or a small cord in his mouth, and carries it across, leaving the other end fixed upon the opposite bank, after which a lariat is attached to the cord, and one end of it pulled across and made fast to a tree; but if there is nothing convenient to which the lariat can be attached, an extra axle or coupling-pole can be pulled over by the man who has crossed, firmly planted in the ground, and the rope tied to it. The rope must be long enough to extend twice across the stream, so that one end may always be left on each shore. A very good substitute for a ferry-boat may be made with a wagon-bed by filling it with empty water-casks, stopped tight and secured in the wagon with ropes, with a cask lashed opposite the centre of each outside. It is then placed in the water bottom upward, and the rope that has been stretched across the stream attached to one end of it, while another rope is made fast to the other end, after which it is loaded, the shore-end loosened, and the men on the opposite bank pull it across to the landing, where it is discharged and returned for another load, and so on until all the baggage and men are passed over,"
"... Suppose, for example, a party of mounted men arrive upon the bank of the stream. There will always be some good swimmers in the party, and probably others who can not swim at all. Three or four of the most expert of these are selected, and sent across with one end of a rope made of lariats tied together, while the other end is retained upon the first bank, and made fast to the neck of a gentle and good swimming horse; after which another gentle horse is brought up and made fast by a lariat around his neck to the tail of the first, and so on until all the horses are thus tied together. The men who can not swim are then mounted upon the best swimming horses and tied on, otherwise they are liable to become frightened, lose their balance, and be carried away in a rapid current; or a horse may stumble and throw his rider. After the horses have been strung out in a single line by their riders, and every thing is in readiness, the first horse is led carefully into the water, while the men on the opposite bank, pulling upon the rope, thus direct him across, and, if necessary, aid him in stemming the current. As soon as this horse strikes bottom he pulls upon those behind him, and thereby assists them in making the landing, and in this manner all are passed over in perfect safety,"
"In herding mules it is customary among prairie travelers to have a bell-mare, to which the mules soon become so attached that they will follow her wherever she goes. By keeping her in charge of one of the herdsmen, the herds are easily controlled; and during a stampede, if the herdsman mounts her, and rushes ahead toward camp, they will generally follow,"
"To prevent an animal from kicking, take a forked stick and make the forked part fast to the bridle-bit, bringing the two ends above the head and securing them there, leaving the part of the stick below the fork of sufficient length to reach near the ground when the animal's head is in its natural position. He can not kick up unless he lowers his head, and the stick effectually prevents that,"
There's a lot of comparison of different kinds of saddle, which I bet is interesting, but I lack the vocab and the know-how to tell what I should excerpt.
"In the vicinity of the South Pass, upon the Humboldt River, and in some sections upon other routes to California, alkaline water is found, which is very poisonous to animals that drink it, and generates a disease known in California as "alkali." This disease first makes its appearance by swellings upon the abdomen and between the fore legs, and is attended with a cough, which ultimately destroys the lungs and kills the animal. If taken at an early stage, this disease is curable, and the following treatment is generally considered as the most efficacious. The animal is first raked, after which a large dose of grease is poured down its throat; acids are said to have the same effect, and give immediate relief. When neither of these remedies can be procured, many of the emigrants have been in the habit of mixing starch or flour in a bucket of water, and allowing the animal to drink it. It is supposed that this forms a coating over the mucous membrane, and thus defeats the action of the poison.
Animals should never be allowed to graze in the vicinity of alkaline water, as the deposits upon the grass after floods are equally deleterious with the water itself,"
Next we come to one of my favorite passages, which is the captain's advice on rattlesnake bites. I should warn you that his advice is very seriously wrong from what I understand.
"Upon the southern routes to California rattlesnakes are often met with, but it is seldom that any person is bitten by them; yet this is a possible contingency, and it can never be amiss to have an antidote at hand.
Hartshorn applied externally to the wound, and drunk in small quantities diluted with water whenever the patient becomes faint or exhausted from the effects of the poison, is one of the most common remedies.
In the absence of all medicines, a string or ligature should at once be bound firmly above the puncture, then scarify deeply with a knife, suck out the poison, and spit out the saliva,"
"Andersson, in his book on Southwestern Africa, says: "In the Cape Colony the Dutch farmers resort to a cruel but apparently effective plan to counteract the bad effects of a serpent's bite. An incision having been made in the breast of a living fowl, the bitten part is applied to the wound. If the poison be very deadly, the bird soon evinces symptoms of distress, becomes drowsy, droops its head, and dies. It is replaced by a second, a third, and more if requisite. When, however, the bird no longer exhibits any of the signs just mentioned, the patient is considered out of danger. A frog similarly applied is supposed to be equally efficacious.""
"I was present upon one occasion when an Indian child was struck in the fore finger by a large rattlesnake. His mother, who was near at the time, seized him in her arms, and, placing the wounded finger in her mouth, sucked the poison from the puncture for some minutes, repeatedly spitting out the saliva; after which she chewed and mashed some plantain leaves and applied to the wound. Over this she sprinkled some finely-powdered tobacco, and wrapped the finger up in a rag. I did not observe that the child suffered afterward the least pain or inconvenience. The immediate application of the remedies probably saved his life,"
"Cedron, which is a nut that grows on the Isthmus of Panama, and which is sold by the druggists in New York, is said to be an infallible antidote to serpent-bites. In the Bullet. de l'Acad. de Méd. for February, 1858, it is stated that a man was bitten at Panama by a coral snake, the most poisonous species on the Isthmus. During the few seconds that it took him to take the cedron from his bag, he was seized with violent pains at the heart and throat; but he had scarcely chewed and swallowed a piece of the nut about the size of a small bean, when the pains ceased as by magic. He chewed a little more, and applied it externally to the wound, when the pains disappeared, and were followed by a copious evacuation of a substance like curdled milk. Many other cases are mentioned where the cedron proved an antidote,"
"Should a party traveling with pack animals, and without ambulances or wagons, have one of its members wounded or taken so sick as to be unable to walk or ride on horseback, a litter may be constructed by taking two poles about twenty feet in length, uniting them by two sticks three feet long lashed across the centre at six feet apart, and stretching a piece of stout canvas, a blanket, or hide between them to form the bed. Two steady horses or mules are then selected, placed between the poles in the front and rear of the litter, and the ends of the poles made fast to the sides of the animals, either by attachment to the stirrups or to the ends of straps secured over their backs.
The elasticity of the long poles gives an easy motion to the conveyance, and makes this method of locomotion much more comfortable than might be supposed,"
"Small parties with good animals, light vehicles, and little lading, may traverse the Plains rapidly and comfortably, if the following injunctions be observed.
The day's drive should commence as soon as it is light, and, where the road is good, the animals kept upon a slow trot for about three hours, then immediately turned out upon the best grass that can be found for two hours, thus giving time for grazing and breakfast. After which another drive of about three hours may be made, making the noon halt about three hours, when the animals are again harnessed, and the journey continued until night.
In passing through a country infested by hostile Indians, the evening drive should be prolonged until an hour or two after dark, turning off at a point where the ground is hard, going about half a mile from the road, and encamping without fires, in low ground, where the Indians will find it difficult to track or see the party.
These frequent halts serve to rest and recruit the animals so that they will, without injury, make from thirty to forty miles a day for a long time. This, however, can only be done with very light loads and vehicles, such, for example, as an ambulance with four mules, only three or four persons, and a small amount of luggage,"
"The mountaineers and trappers exercise a very wise precaution, on laying down for the night, by placing their arms and ammunition by their sides, where they can be seized at a moment's notice. This rule is never departed from, and they are therefore seldom liable to be surprised. In Parkyns's "Abyssinia," I find the following remarks upon this subject:
"When getting sleepy, you return your rifle between your legs, roll over, and go to sleep. Some people may think this is a queer place for a rifle; but, on the contrary, it is the position of all others where utility and comfort are most combined. The butt rests on the arm, and serves as a pillow for the head; the muzzle points between the knees, and the arms encircle the lock and breech, so that you have a smooth pillow, and are always prepared to start up armed at a moment's notice."
I have never made the experiment of sleeping in this way, but I should imagine that a gun-stock would make rather a hard pillow,"
"In passing near the "Medicine-Bow Butte" during the spring of 1858, I most unexpectedly encountered and fired at a full-grown grizzly bear; but, as my horse had become somewhat blown by a previous gallop, his breathing so much disturbed my aim that I missed the animal at the short distance of about fifty yards, and he ran off. Fearful, if I stopped to reload my rifle, the bear would make his escape, I resolved to drive him back to the advanced guard of our escort, which I could see approaching in the distance; this I succeeded in doing, when several mounted men, armed with the navy revolvers, set off in pursuit. They approached within a few paces, and discharged ten or twelve shots, the most of which entered the animal, but he still kept on, and his progress did not seem materially impeded by the wounds. After these men had exhausted their charges, another man rode up armed with the army revolver, and fired two shots, which brought the stalwart beast to the ground. Upon skinning him and making an examination of the wounds, it was discovered that none of the balls from the small pistols had, after passing through his thick and tough hide, penetrated deeper than about an inch into the flesh, but that the two balls from the large pistol had gone into the vitals and killed him. This test was to my mind a decisive one as to the relative efficiency of the two arms for frontier service, and I resolved thenceforth to carry the larger size,"
"I remember, upon one occasion, as I was riding with a Delaware upon the prairies, we crossed the trail of a large party of Indians traveling with lodges. The tracks appeared to me quite fresh, and I remarked to the Indian that we must be near the party. "Oh no," said he, "the trail was made two days before, in the morning," at the same time pointing with his finger to where the sun would be at about 8 o'clock. Then, seeing that my curiosity was excited to know by what means he arrived at this conclusion, he called my attention to the fact that there had been no dew for the last two nights, but that on the previous morning it had been heavy. He then pointed out to me some spears of grass that had been pressed down into the earth by the horses' hoofs, upon which the sand still adhered, having dried on, thus clearly showing that the grass was wet when the tracks were made,"
CHAPTER VI (the challenging chapter)
"It is highly important that parties making expeditions through an unexplored country should secure the services of the best guides and hunters, and I know of none who are superior to the Delawares and Shawnee Indians. They have been with me upon several different occasions, and I have invariably found them intelligent, brave, reliable, and in every respect well qualified to fill their positions. They are endowed with those keen and wonderful powers in woodcraft which can only be acquired by instinct, practice, and necessity, and which are possessed by no other people that I have heard of, unless it be the khebirs or guides who escort the caravans across the great desert of Sahara,"
"The ignorance evinced by this Indian regarding the uses of the compass is less remarkable than that of some white men who are occasionally met upon the frontier.
While surveying Indian lands in the wilds of Western Texas during the summer of 1854, I encountered a deputy surveyor traveling on foot, with his compass and chain upon his back. I saluted him very politely, remarking that I presumed he was a surveyor, to which he replied, "I reckon, stranger, I ar that thar individoal."
I had taken the magnetic variation several times, always with nearly the same results (about 10° 20'); but, in order to verify my observations, I was curious to learn how they accorded with his own working, and accordingly inquired of him what he made the variation of the compass in that particular locality. He seemed struck with astonishment, took his compass from his back and laid it upon a log near by, then facing me, and pointing with his hand toward it, said,
"Straanger, do yer see that thar instru-ment?" to which I replied in the affirmative. He continued,
"I've owned her well-nigh goin on twenty year. I've put her through the perarries and through the timber, and now look yeer, straanger, you can just bet your life on't she never var-ried arry time, and if you'll just follow her sign you'll knock the centre outer the north star. She never lies, she don't."
He seemed to consider my interrogatory as a direct insinuation that his compass was an imperfect one, and hence his indignation. Thinking that I should not get any very important intelligence concerning the variation of the needle from this surveyor, I begged his pardon for questioning the accuracy of his instru-ment, bid him good-morning, and continued on my journey,"
After the guide Black Beaver claims to be a coward: "I expressed my surprise that he should, if what he told me was true, have gained such a reputation as a warrior; whereupon he informed me that many years previous, when he was a young man, and before he had ever been in battle, he, with about twenty white men and four Delawares, were at one of the Fur Company's trading-posts upon the Upper Missouri, engaged in trapping beaver. While there, the stockade fort was attacked by a numerous band of Blackfeet Indians, who fought bravely, and seemed determined to annihilate the little band that defended it.
After the investment had been completed, and there appeared no probability of the attacking party's abandoning their purpose, "One d——d fool Delaware" (as Black Beaver expressed it) proposed to his countrymen to make a sortie, and thereby endeavor to effect an impression upon the Blackfeet. This, Beaver said, was the last thing he would ever have thought of suggesting, and it startled him prodigiously, causing him to tremble so much that it was with difficulty he could stand.
He had, however, started from home with the fixed purpose of becoming a distinguished brave, and made a great effort to stifle his emotion. He assumed an air of determination, saying that was the very idea he was just about to propose; and, slapping his comrades upon the back, started toward the gate, telling them to follow. As soon as the gate was passed, he says, he took particular care to keep in the rear of the others, so that, in the event of a retreat, he would be able to reach the stockade first.
They had not proceeded far before a perfect shower of arrows came falling around them on all sides, but, fortunately, without doing them harm. Not fancying this hot reception, those in front proposed an immediate retreat, to which he most gladly acceded, and at once set off at his utmost speed, expecting to reach the fort first. But he soon discovered that his comrades were more fleet, and were rapidly passing and leaving him behind. Suddenly he stopped and called out to them, "Come back here, you cowards, you squaws; what for you run away and leave brave man to fight alone?" This taunting appeal to their courage turned them back, and, with their united efforts, they succeeded in beating off the enemy immediately around them, securing their entrance into the fort.
Beaver says when the gate was closed the captain in charge of the establishment grasped him warmly by the hand, saying, "Black Beaver, you are a brave man; you have done this day what no other man in the fort would have the courage to do, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
In relating the circumstance to me he laughed most heartily, thinking it a very good joke, and said after that he was regarded as a brave warrior.
The truth is, my friend Beaver was one of those few heroes who never sounded his own trumpet; yet no one that knows him ever presumed to question his courage,"
Captain Marcy gives his view of Indian tribes as a military threat: "To act against an enemy who is here to-day and there to-morrow; who at one time stampedes a herd of mules upon the head waters of the Arkansas, and when next heard from is in the very heart of the populated districts of Mexico, laying waste haciendas, and carrying devastation, rapine, and murder in his steps; who is every where without being any where; who assembles at the moment of combat, and vanishes whenever fortune turns against him; who leaves his women and children far distant from the theatre of hostilities, and has neither towns or magazines to defend, nor lines of retreat to cover; who derives his commissariat from the country he operates in, and is not encumbered with baggage-wagons or pack-trains; who comes into action only when it suits his purposes, and never without the advantage of numbers or position—with such an enemy the strategic science of civilized nations loses much of its importance, and finds but rarely, and only in peculiar localities, an opportunity to be put in practice.
Our little army, scattered as it has been over the vast area of our possessions, in small garrisons of one or two companies each, has seldom been in a situation to act successfully on the offensive against large numbers of these marauders, and has often been condemned to hold itself almost exclusively upon the defensive. The morale of the troops must thereby necessarily be seriously impaired, and the confidence of the savages correspondingly augmented. The system of small garrisons has a tendency to disorganize the troops in proportion as they are scattered, and renders them correspondingly inefficient. The same results have been observed by the French army in Algeria, where, in 1845, their troops were, like ours, disseminated over a vast space, and broken up into small detachments stationed in numerous intrenched posts. Upon the sudden appearance of Abd el Kader in the plain of Mitidja, they were defeated with serious losses, and were from day to day obliged to abandon these useless stations, with all the supplies they contained. A French writer, in discussing this subject, says:
"We have now abandoned the fatal idea of defending Algeria by small intrenched posts. In studying the character of the war, the nature of the men who are to oppose us, and of the country in which we are to operate, we must be convinced of the danger of admitting any other system of fortification than that which is to receive our grand depôts, our magazines, and to serve as places to recruit and rest our troops when exhausted by long expeditionary movements.
"These fortifications should be established in the midst of the centres of action, so as to command the principal routes, and serve as pivots to expeditionary columns.
"We owe our success to a system of war which has its proofs in twice changing our relations with the Arabs. This system consists altogether in the great mobility we have given to our troops. Instead of disseminating our soldiers with the vain hope of protecting our frontiers with a line of small posts, we have concentrated them, to have them at all times ready for emergencies, and since then the fortune of the Arabs has waned, and we have marched from victory to victory.
"This system, which has thus far succeeded, ought to succeed always, and to conduct us, God willing, to the peaceful possession of the country,"" [To my understanding the US army did in time concentrate its forces in this way and enacted a terrible effect in occupying the west.]
"In reading a treatise upon war as it is practiced by the French in Algeria, by Colonel A. Laure, of the 2d Algerine Tirailleurs, published in Paris in 1858, I was struck with the remarkable similarity between the habits of the Arabs and those of the wandering tribes that inhabit our Western prairies. Their manner of making war is almost precisely the same, and a successful system of strategic operations for one will, in my opinion, apply to the other.
As the Turks have been more successful than the French in their military operations against the Arab tribes, it may not be altogether uninteresting to inquire by what means these inferior soldiers have accomplished the best results.
The author above mentioned, in speaking upon this subject, says:
"In these latter days the world is occupied with the organization of mounted infantry, according to the example of the Turks, where, in the most successful experiments that have been made, the mule carries the foot-soldier.
"The Turkish soldier mounts his mule, puts his provisions upon one side and his accoutrements upon the other, and, thus equipped, sets out upon long marches, traveling day and night, and only reposing occasionally in bivouac. Arrived near the place of operations (as near the break of day as possible), the Turks dismount in the most profound silence, and pass in succession the bridle of one mule through that of another in such a manner that a single man is sufficient to hold forty or fifty of them by retaining the last bridle, which secures all the others; they then examine their arms, and are ready to commence their work. The chief gives his last orders, posts his guides, and they make the attack, surprise the enemy, generally asleep, and carry the position without resistance. The operation terminated, they hasten to beat a retreat, to prevent the neighboring tribes from assembling, and thus avoid a combat.
"The Turks had only three thousand mounted men and ten thousand infantry in Algeria, yet these thirteen thousand men sufficed to conquer the same obstacles which have arrested us for twenty-six years, notwithstanding the advantage we had of an army which was successively re-enforced until it amounted to a hundred thousand.
"Why not imitate the Turks, then, mount our infantry upon mules, and reduce the strength of our army?
"The response is very simple:
"The Turks are Turks—that is to say, Mussulmans—and indigenous to the country; the Turks speak the Arabic language; the Deys of Algiers had less country to guard than we, and they care very little about retaining possession of it. They are satisfied to receive a part of its revenues. They were not permanent; their dominion was held by a thread. The Arab dwells in tents; his magazines are in caves. When he starts upon a war expedition, he folds his tent, drives far away his beasts of burden, which transport his effects, and only carries with him his horse and arms. Thus equipped, he goes every where; nothing arrests him; and often, when we believe him twenty leagues distant, he is in ambush at precisely rifle range from the flanks of his enemy.
"It may be thought the union of contingents might retard their movements, but this is not so. The Arabs, whether they number ten or a hundred thousand, move with equal facility. They go where they wish and as they wish upon a campaign; the place of rendezvous merely is indicated, and they arrive there.
"What calculations can be made against such an organization as this?
"Strategy evidently loses its advantages against such enemies; a general can only make conjectures; he marches to find the Arabs, and finds them not; then, again, when he least expects it, he suddenly encounters them.
"When the Arab despairs of success in battle, he places his sole reliance upon the speed of his horse to escape destruction; and as he is always in a country where he can make his camp beside a little water, he travels until he has placed a safe distance between himself and his enemy,"" [I find this line of reasoning interesting. In the modern day, we still think of certain groups, disparate in time and locale, as having a fundamentally similar way of fighting colonizing powers. In our fantasy literature we often mingle inspiration from such groups into one fictional culture group. And here are military men of colonizing forces making the same connection.]
There are a lot of rough and mean sentiments expressed in this chapter, and reporting all of them would be redundant. Let this one stand in for many longer sections: "I have never yet been able to discover that the Western wild tribes possessed any of those attributes which among civilized nations are regarded as virtues adorning the human character. They have yet to be taught the first rudiments of civilization, and they are at this time as far from any knowledge of Christianity, and as worthy subjects for missionary enterprise, as the most untutored natives of the South Sea Islands.
The only way to make these merciless freebooters fear or respect the authority of our government is, when they misbehave, first of all to chastise them well by striking such a blow as will be felt for a long time, and thus show them that we are superior to them in war. They will then respect us much more than when their good-will is purchased with presents,"
"On approaching strangers these people put their horses at full speed, and persons not familiar with their peculiarities and habits might interpret this as an act of hostility; but it is their custom with friends as well as enemies, and should not occasion groundless alarm.
When a party is discovered approaching thus, and are near enough to distinguish signals, all that is necessary in order to ascertain their disposition is to raise the right hand with the palm in front, and gradually push it forward and back several times. They all understand this to be a command to halt, and if they are not hostile it will at once be obeyed.
After they have stopped the right hand is raised again as before, and slowly moved to the right and left, which signifies "I do not know you. Who are you?" As all the wild tribes have their peculiar pantomimic signals by which they are known, they will then answer the inquiry by giving their signal. If this should not be understood, they may be asked if they are friends by raising both hands grasped in the manner of shaking hands, or by locking the two fore-fingers firmly while the hands are held up. If friendly, they will respond with the same signal; but if enemies, they will probably disregard the command to halt, or give the signal of anger by closing the hand, placing it against the forehead, and turning it back and forth while in that position,"
"They are always desirous of procuring, from whomsoever they meet, testimonials of their good behavior, which they preserve with great care, and exhibit upon all occasions to strangers as a guarantee of future good conduct.
On meeting with a chief of the Southern Comanches in 1849, after going through the usual ceremony of embracing, and assuring me that he was the best friend the Americans ever had among the Indians, he exhibited numerous certificates from the different white men he had met with, testifying to his friendly disposition. Among these was one that he desired me to read with special attention, as he said he was of the opinion that perhaps it might not be so complimentary in its character as some of the others. It was in these words:
"The bearer of this says he is a Comanche chief, named Senaco; that he is the biggest Indian and best friend the whites ever had; in fact, that he is a first-rate fellow; but I believe he is a d——d rascal, so look out for him."
I smiled on reading the paper, and, looking up, found the chief's eyes intently fixed upon mine with an expression of the most earnest inquiry. I told him the paper was not as good as it might be, whereupon he destroyed it.
Five years after this interview I met Senaco again near the same place. He recognized me at once, and, much to my surprise, pronounced my name quite distinctly,"
"I was about locating and surveying a reservation of land upon which the government designed to establish the Comanches, and was desirous of ascertaining whether they were disposed voluntarily to come into the measure. In this connection, I stated to him that their Great Father, the President, being anxious to improve their condition, was willing to give them a permanent location, where they could cultivate the soil, and, if they wished it, he would send white men to teach them the rudiments of agriculture, supply them with farming utensils, and all other requisites for living comfortably in their new homes. I then desired him to consult with his people, and let me know what their views were upon the subject.
After talking a considerable time with his head men, he rose to reply, and said, "He was very happy to learn that the President remembered his poor red children in the Plains, and he was glad to see me again, and hear from me that their Great Father was their friend; that he was also very much gratified to meet his agent who was present, and that he should remember with much satisfaction the agreeable interview we had had upon that occasion." After delivering himself of numerous other non-committal expressions of similar import, he closed his speech and took his seat without making the slightest allusion to the subject in question.
On reminding him of this omission, and again demanding from him a distinct and categorical answer, he, after a brief consultation with his people, replied that his talk was made and concluded, and he did not comprehend why it was that I wanted to open the subject anew. But, as I continued to press him for an answer, he at length said, "You come into our country and select a small patch of ground, around which you run a line, and tell us the President will make us a present of this to live upon, when every body knows that the whole of this entire country, from the Red River to the Colorado, is now, and always has been, ours from time immemorial. I suppose, however, if the President tells us to confine ourselves to these narrow limits, we shall be forced to do so, whether we desire it or not."
He was evidently averse to the proposed change in their mode of life, and has been at war ever since the establishment of the settlement,"
"It is conceived that scattered bands of mounted hunters, with the speed of a horse and the watchfulness of a wolf or antelope, whose faculties are sharpened by their necessities; who, when they get short of provisions, separate and look for something to eat, and find it in the water, in the ground, or on the surface; whose bill of fare ranges from grass-seed, nuts, roots, grasshoppers, lizards, and rattlesnakes up to the antelope, deer, elk, bear, and buffalo, and who have a continent to roam over, will be neither surprised, caught, conquered, overawed, or reduced to famine by a rumbling, bugle-blowing, drum-beating town passing through their country on wheels at the speed of a loaded wagon,"
"The Indians are in the habit of using a small instrument which imitates the bleat of the young fawn, with which they lure the doe within range of their rifles. The young fawn gives out no scent upon its track until it is sufficiently grown to make good running, and instinct teaches the mother that this wise provision of nature to preserve the helpless little quadruped from the ravages of wolves, panthers, and other carnivorous beasts, will be defeated if she remains with it, as her tracks can not be concealed. She therefore hides her fawn in the grass, where it is almost impossible to see it, even when very near it, goes off to some neighboring thicket within call, and makes her bed alone. The Indian pot-hunter, who is but little scrupulous as to the means he employs in accomplishing his ends, sounds the bleat along near the places where he thinks the game is lying, and the unsuspicious doe, who imagines that her offspring is in distress, rushes with headlong impetuosity toward the sound, and often goes within a few yards of the hunter to receive her death-wound.
This is cruel sport, and can only be justified when meat is scarce, which is very frequently the case in the Indian's larder.
It does not always comport with a man's feelings of security, especially if he happens to be a little nervous, to sound the deer-bleat in a wild region of country. I once undertook to experiment with the instrument myself, and made my first essay in attempting to call up an antelope which I discovered in the distance. I succeeded admirably in luring the wary victim within shooting range, had raised upon my knees, and was just in the act of pulling trigger, when a rustling in the grass on my left drew my attention in that direction, where, much to my surprise, I beheld a huge panther within about twenty yards, bounding with gigantic strides directly toward me. I turned my rifle, and in an instant, much to my relief and gratification, its contents were lodged in the heart of the beast,"
[Not relevant to us.]
"When Indians are pursued by a large force, and do not intend to make resistance, they generally scatter as much as possible, in order to perplex and throw off those who follow their trail, but they have an understanding where they are to rendezvous in advance. Sometimes, however, circumstances may arise during a rapid flight making it necessary for them to alter these plans, and turn their course in another direction. When this happens, they are in the habit of leaving behind them some well-understood signals to indicate to their friends in the rear the change in their-movements.
For instance, they will sometimes leave a stick or other object to attract attention, and under this bury an arrow pointing in the new direction they intend to take. They will then continue on for a time in the course they have been pursuing, until they get upon hard ground, where it is difficult to see their tracks, then gradually turn their course in the new direction,"