Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

Chavez, his wife, crossed a river and came a long distance to administer to their comforts.

Shortly after this occurrence the American traders came up, escorted by two hundred United States dragcons, under the command of Capt. Cook. Col. Snively, with a hundred men, being then encamped on the south side of the Arkansas river, some ten to fifteen miles below the point called the Caches, he crossed the river and met Capt. Cook, who made known bis intention of disarming him. Cook, however, when he put this into execution, was cleverly deceived by the Texans, who gave up the worthless fusils they had taken from the Mexicans, concealing their rifles, which they afterwards took possession of. Snively and some forty others were taken as prisoners into the United States, while the rest, under Warfield, uselessly pursued the caravan. Santa Anna, shortly after, on the refusal of the United States to grant an indemnity for these injuries, put an end to the Santa Fé trade, August 7,1843, by a decree issued from his palace of Tacubaya. Such is a brief history of the rise and fall of the Santa Fé trade; the details of this commerce are far more interesting, however, than the historical portion.

St. Louis and Franklin, on the Missouri river, have been variously mentioned as the emporium of the Santa Fé trade, but the true spot is Independence, twelve miles from the Indian border, and two or three south of the Missouri river. From this thriving and beautiful spot the Santa Fé caravans, the Rocky Mountain traders and trappers, as well as the Oregon emigrants, make their start. In the month of May in each year the congregation begips, and merchants buy waggons and teams to convey their calicoes, cotton, cloths, boots, shoes, &c. to the distant market, and also lay in a stock of food. The ordinary supply for each man's consumption during the journey is about fifty pounds of flour, as many more of bacon, ten of coffee, and twenty of sugar, besides salt. Beans, crackers, or biscuits, and trifles of that description, are looked upon as comfortable appendages, but being luxuries are rarely found in any of the stores. The prairie is often taken to by the sick, as we go to a watering-place, and Gregg says, “An invalid myself, I can answer for the efficacy of the remedy, at least in my own case. Though, like other valetudinarians, I was disposed to provide an ample supply of such commodities as I deemed necessary for my comfort and health, I was not long upon the prairies before I discovered that most of such extra preparations were unnecessary, or at least quite dispensible. A few knick-knacks, as a little tea, rice, fruits, crackers, &c. suffice very well for the first fortnight, after which the invalid is generally able to take the fare of the hunter.' The buffalo is chiefly depended

on for fresh meat, and great is the joy of the traveller when that noble animal first appears in sight.

The waggons in use are manufactured at Pittsberg, and are usually drawn by eight mules or oxen, though larger vehicles have of late been used with twelve mules and a load of five thousand weight. Before the mule was easily procured, the horse was much used, and oxen were introduced by Major Riley, since when they have been very much patronized, though mules are generally considered the best. The supplies being procured, the trader begins the difficult task of loading his waggons. Those who understand their business take every precaution so to stow away their packages that no jolting on the road can afterwards disturb the order in which they had been disposed. The ingenuity displayed on these occasions has frequently been such, that after a tedious journey of eight hundred miles the goods have been found to have sustained much less injury than they would have experienced on a turnpike-road.

The next great difficulty the traders have to encounter is in training those animals that have never been worked. Farnham, in his very amusing work, gives a graphic sketch: “The mules are harnessed in a team, two upon the shaft, and the remaining two abreast in long swinging iron traces; and then, by way of initiatory intimation that they have passed from a life of monotonous contemplation, in the seclusion of their nursery pastures, to the bustling duties of the Santa Fé trade, a hot iron is applied to the thigh or shoulder of each, with an embrace so cordially warm as to leave there in blistered perfection the initials of their last owner's name. This done, a Mexican Spaniard, as chief muleteer, mounts the right-hand-wheel mule, and another the left-hand one of the spar next the leaders, while four or five others, as a foot-guard, stand on either side, armed with whips and thongs. The team is straightened; and now comes the trial of passive obedience. The chief muleteer gives the shout of march, and drives his long spurs into the sides of the animal that bears him; his companion before follows his example: but there is no movement. A bray-an unearthly bray is the only response of these martyrs to human supremacy. Again the team is straightened, again the rowel is applied, the body-guard on foot raise the shout, and all as one obey the lash. The untutored animals kick and leap, rear and plunge, and fall in their harness. In fine, they act the mule, and generally succeed in breaking neck or limb of some one of their number, and in raising a tumult that would do credit to any order of animals accustomed to long ears. After a few trainings, however, of this description, they move off in fine style ; and although some luckless one may, at intervals, brace himself up to an uncompromising resistance of such encroachment upon his freedom, still the majority, preferring passive obedience to active pelting, drag him onward, till, like themselves, he submits to the discipline of the traces.'

In order to make a secure shelter for the cargo, it is necessary to spread upon each waggon a pair of stout Osnaburgh sheets, with one of sufficient width to reach the bottom of the body on each side, so as to protect the goods from driving rains. On outward trips, a pair of Machanaw blankets are spread between the two sheets, which effectually secures the roof against the worst of storms. This contrivance has also the advantage of enabling the owners to evade the custom-house officers, who would otherwise seize them as contraband articles. These cares all attended to, the journey commences, and the caravan makes the best of its way to Council Grove; the extreme care of the pioneers in the overland Santa Fé trade may immediately be noticed

by their successors, their trail being distinctly visible, and never within musket-shot of timber.

The prairies are now entered, and many a storm is regularly encountered, while the character of their travelling economy may be judged from the following: 'We pitched our tent snugly by a copse of wood within a few yards of it; staked down our animals near at hand, and prepared and ate, in the usual form, our evening repast. Our company was divided into two messes, seven in one and eight in the other. On the ground with each a tin pint cup and small round plate of the same material; the first filled with coffee, tea, or water, the last with fried side bacon and dough fried in fat; each with a butcher-knife in hand, and each mess sitting tailor-like around its own frying-pan, eating with the appetite of tigers.'

After some difficulties the straggling parties of traders meet at Council Grove, a place about one hundred and fifty miles from Independence, and consisting of a continuous strip of timber nearly half a mile in width, comprising the richest variety of trees, such as oak, walnut, ash, elm, hickory, &c. and extending all along the valleys of a small stream known as Council Grove Creek, a branch of the Neosho river. The country is fertile and beautiful, and though not a desert, will doubtless one day,be a flourishing settlement. Many travellers have invested this spot with a romantic interest; among others, one has said, · Here the Paunee, Arapako, Comanche, Loup, and Eutaw Indians, all of whom were at war with each other, meet and make the pipe once a year.' These Indians, however, never come so near the settlements. The fact which has gained for it this name is simply this: in 1825, Messrs. Reeves, Sibley, and Mathers here concluded a treaty with the Osage Indians, on which occasion they called it Council Grove.

The name is, however, very appropriate, as here a 'grand council' of the traders is held, and the several claims of the different aspirants to office are considered, leaders selected, and a system of government agreed upon. Much electioneering and party spirit is shown on these occasions. The captain of the caravan is the principal officer elected on these occasions, whose powers, being undefined by any constitutional provision, are very vague and uncertain; orders are received as requests, and are obeyed or neglected at pleasure. The captain, however, is expected to direct the order of travel during the day, and to designate the camping ground at night. After this comes the principal task of organization. The proprietors furnish a list of their men and waggons, and the latter are usually apportioned into four divisions; to each of these divisions a lieutenant is appointed, whose duty it is to inspect every ravine and creek on the route, select the best crossings, and superintend what is called in prairie parlance the forming of each encampment. Nothing is more dreaded by inexperienced travellers than guard duty, but there is not the smallest chance of evading it. The usual number of watches is eight, each standing a fourth of every alternate night. When the party is small the number is generally reduced, while very sınall bands are sometimes, for safety's sake, compelled to keep one watch on duty half the night. The guard is stationed among the animals, standing motionless near them, or crouching so as to discover every moving spot upon the horizon of night. The reasons assigned for this are, that a guard in motion could be discovered and fired upon before he was aware of the presence of his assailant, and that it is impossible to discern the approach of an Indian among

the
grass
unless the

eye

of the observer be on the same horizontal level. If the camp be attacked, the guard fire and retreat to the waggons. The whole body then take positions for defence; sometimes sallying out and rescuing their animals from the grasp of the Indians, or concealed behind their waggons, load and fire upon the intruders with all possible skill and rapidity.

At Council Grove another duty is attended to, that of procuring timber for axle-trees and other waggon repairs, of which a supply is always laid in before leaving the region of substantial growths. Early on the morning of the day fixed for a final departure, the note of preparation, 'catch up! catch up!' sounds from the captain's camp, and reechoes from every division and scattered group along the valley. The woods and dales resound with the gleeful yells of the light-hearted waggoners; each teamster vies with his fellow who shall be soonest ready, and it is a matter of boastful pride to be the first to cry 'all's set!' We borrow a picture of the scene from Gregg : "The uproarious bustle which follows, the halloing of those in pursuit of the animals, the exclamations which the unruly brutes call forth from their wrathful drivers, together with the clatter of bells, the rattle of yokes and barness, the jingle of chains, all conspire to produce a confusion which would be altogether incomprehensible without the assistance of the eyes ; while these alone would hardly suffice to unravel the labyrinthian maneuvres and hurly-burly of this precipitate breakingup. It is sometimes amusing to observe the athletic waggoner hurrying an animal to its post,—to see him 'heave upon ’ the halter of a stubborn mule, while the brute as obstinately 'sets back, determined not to move a peg' till bis own good pleasure thinks it proper to do so-his whole manner seeming to say 'wait till your hurry's over.''

* All's set !' is finally heard from some teamster. ‘All's set ! is responded from every quarter. • Stretch out!' vociferates the captain. 'Fall in!' and the waggons are forth with strung out upon a long inclined plain which stretches to the heights beyond Council Grove. Diamond Spring is the next point of note, and then the cotton wood fall of the Neosho, which is crossed and the camp pitched. When caravans can cross in the evening they seldom stop on the near side of a stream, because if it happens to rain during the night it may cause detention and trouble, and because teams pull better when fresh geared, that is, in the progress of a day's travel, than in "cold collar. The next incident to interest is the reaching of the buffalo grounds, when

every man turns hunter, and wild and sometimes ridiculous scenes ensue: and then an arrival upon the Little Arkansas opens up a new feature in prairie travelling. It is the practice upon crossing a river for several men to go in advance with axes, spades, and mattocks, and by digging the banks and erecting temporary bridges, to have all in readiness by the time the waggons arrive. A bridge over a quagmire is made in a few minutes, by crosslaying it with brush - willows are best, but even long grass is employed as a substitute-and covering it with earth, across which a hundred waggons will often pass

After passing the Paunee fall each of the four divisions ordinarily proceeds in single file; by moving in long lines the march is continually interrupted, for every accident which delays a waggon a-head stops all those behind. Occasionally they march four

in safety.

« ForrigeFortsæt »