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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
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We noticed many fine rivers rolling from the northward into the Kaw, which stream we found was known by that name only after receiving the Republican, at Junction City. Above that point, under the name of the Smoky Hill, it stretches far out across the plains, and into the eastern portion of Colorado. Along its desolate banks we afterward saw the sun rise and set upon many a weary and many a gorgeous day.

 

All the large tributaries of the Kansas river, consisting of the Big Blue, Republican, Solomon, and Saline, came in on our right. Upon our left, toward the South, only small creeks joined waters with the Kaw, the pitch of the great "divides" there being towards the Arkansas and its feeders, the Cottonwood and Neosho.

We had now fairly entered on the great Smoky Hill trail. Here Fremont marked out his path towards the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific, and on many of the high _buttes_ we discovered the pillars of stone which he had set up as guides for emigrant trains, looking wonderfully like sentinels standing guard over the valleys beneath. Indeed we did at first take them for solitary herders, watching their cattle in some choice pasture out of sight.

Most of our party had expected to find Indians in promiscuous abundance over the entire State, and we were therefore surprised to see the country, after passing St. Mary's Mission, entirely free of them. Muggs asked Gripe if the American Indian was hostile to all nationalities alike, or simply to those who robbed him of his hunting-grounds. The orator replied as follows:

"Sir, the aborigine of the western plains cares not what color or flavor the fruit possesses which hangs from his roof tree. The cue of the Chinaman is equally as acceptable as hairs from the mane of the English lion. A red lock is as welcome as a black one, and disputes as to ownership usually result in a dead-lock. His abhorrence is a wig, which he considers a contrivance of the devil to cheat honest Indian industry. I would advise geologists on the plains to carry, along with their picks for breaking stones, a bottle of patent hair restorative. It is handy to have in one's pocket when his scalp is far on its way towards some Cheyenne war-pole. The scalping process, gentlemen, is the way in which savages levy and collect their poll-tax. Any person in search of romantic wigwams can have his wig warmed very thoroughly on the Arkansas or Texas borders. On the plains along the western border of Kansas, however, geologists can find a rich and comparatively safe field for exploration. It is doubtful if the savages ever wander there again.

"Of the Indian warrior on the plains we may well say, _requiescat in pace_, and may his pace be rapid towards either civilization or the happy hunting ground. History shows that his reaching the first has generally given him quick transit to the second. The white man's country has proved a spirit-land to Lo, whose noble soul seems to sink when the scalping-knife gathers any other rust than that of blood, and whose prophetic spirit takes flight at the prospect of exchanging boiled puppies and dirt for the white brother's pork and beans. Very often, however, it must be said, Lo's soul is gathered to his fathers by reason of its tabernacle being smitten too sorely by corn lightning."

As Gripe paused, the Professor took up the subject in a somewhat different strain:

"We have here in this State," remarked he, "a tribe which may well be called the Indian Ishmael. Its hand is and ever has been, since history took record of it, against its brethren, and its brethren's against it. I refer to the pitiful remnant of the once great Delawares. From the shores of the Atlantic they have steadily retreated before civilization, marking their path westward by constant conflicts with other races of red men. The nation in its eastern forests once numbered thousands of warriors. Now, three hundred miserable survivors are hastening to extinction by way of their Kansas reservation.

"A number of their best warriors have been employed as scouts by the government, when administering well merited chastisement to other murdering bands. The Delawares, I have often thought, are like blood-hounds on the track of the savages of the plains. They take fierce delight in scanning the ground for trails and the lines of the streams for camps. There is something strangely unnatural in the wild eyes of these Ishmaelites, as they lead the destroyers against their race, and assist in blotting it from the face of the continent. Themselves so nearly joined to the nations known only in history, it is like a plague-stricken man pressing eagerly forward to carry the curse, before he dies, to the remainder of his people."

The valleys of the Saline, Solomon, and Smoky Hill, as we passed them in rapid succession, seemed very rich and were already thickly dotted with houses. This is one of the best cattle regions of the state, and vast herds of the long-horned Texan breed covered the prairies. We were informed that they often graze throughout the entire winter. As early in the spring as the grass starts sufficiently along the trail from Texas to Kansas, the stock dealers of the former State commence moving their immense herds over it. The cattle are driven slowly forward, feeding as they come, and reach the vicinity of the Kansas railroads when the grass is in good condition for their summer fattening. As many as five hundred thousand head of these long horns have been brought into the State in a single season. Some are sold on arrival and others kept until fall, when the choicest beeves are shipped East for packing purposes, or into Illinois for corn feeding. The latter is the case when they are destined eventually for consumption in Eastern markets, grass-fed beef lacking the solid fatness of the corn-fed, and suffering more by long transportation.

This very important trade in cattle, when fully developed, will probably be about equally divided between southern and central Kansas, each of which possesses its peculiar advantages for the business. While the valley of the Arkansas has longer grass, and more of it, the dealers in the Kaw region claim that their "feed" is the most nutritious. My own opinion, carefully formed, is that both sections are about equally good, and that the whole of western Kansas, with Colorado, will yet become the greatest stock-raising region of the world. The climate is peculiarly favorable. Two seasons out of three, on an average, cattle and sheep can graze during the winter, without any other cover than that of the ravines and the timber along the creeks.

The herders who manage these large bodies of cattle are a distinctive and peculiar class. We saw numbers of them scurrying along over the country on their wild, lean mustangs, in appearance a species of centaur, half horse, half man, with immense rattling spurs, tanned skin, and dare-devil, almost ferocious faces. After an extensive acquaintance with the genus Texan, and with all due allowance for the better portion of it, I must say, as my deliberate judgment, that it embraces a larger number of murderers and desperadoes than can be found elsewhere in any civilized nation. A majority of these herders would think no more of snuffing out a life than of snuffing out a candle. Texas, in her rude solitude, formerly stretched protecting arms to the evil doers from other states, and to her these classes flocked. She offered them not a city but a whole empire of refuge.

Just beyond Brookville, two hundred miles from the eastern border of Kansas, our road commenced ascending the Harker Bluffs, a series of sandstone ridges bordering on the plains.

On our left, Mushroom Rock was pointed out to us, a huge table of stone poised on a solitary pillar, and strangely resembling the plant from which it is named. As the professor informed us, we were on the eastern shore of a once vast inland ocean, the bed of which now forms the plains. Sachem thought the rock might be a petrified toad-stool, on a scale with the gigantic toads which hopped around in the mud of that age of monsters. The professor thought it was fashioned by the waters, in their eddyings and washings.

Subsequent examinations showed this entire region to be one of remarkable interest to the geologist. A few miles east of Mushroom Rock, near Bavaria, as we learned from the conductor, human foot-prints had been discovered in the sandstone. The professor, who had long ascribed to man an earlier existence upon earth than that given him by geology, was greatly excited, and at his earnest request, when the down train was met, we returned upon it to Bavaria.

BUREAU OF ILLUSTRATION_MUSHROOM ROCK,On Alum Creek, near Kansas Pacific R. R.--From a Photograph.

BUREAU OF ILLUSTRATION_INDIAN ROCK, on Smoky Hill River, Kansas--From a Photograph.

That place we found to consist of two buildings, each serving the double purpose of house and store, the track running between them. Two sandstone blocks, each weighing several hundred pounds, lay in front of one of the stores, and there, sure enough, impressed clearly and deeply upon their surface were the tracks of human feet. They had been discovered by a Mr. J. B. Hamilton on the adjacent bluffs.

There was something weird and startling in this voice from those long-forgotten ages--ages no less remote than when the ridge we were standing upon was a portion of a lake shore. The man who trod those sands, the professor informed us, perished from the face of the earth countless ages before the oldest mummy was laid away in the caves of Egypt; and yet people looked at the shriveled Egyptian, and thought that they were holding converse with one who lived close upon the time of the oldest inhabitant. They wrested secrets from his tomb, and called them very ancient. And now this dweller beside the great lakes had lifted his feet out of the sand to kick the mummy from his pedestal of honor in the museum, as but a being of yesterday, in comparison with himself.

This discovery was soon afterward extensively noticed in the newspapers, and the specimens are now in the collection made by our party at Topeka. It is but fair to say that a difference of opinion exists in regard to these imprints. Many scientific men, among whom is Professor Cope, affirm that they must be the work of Indians long ago, as the age of the rock puts it beyond the era of man, while others attribute them to some lower order of animal, with a foot resembling the human one. For my own part, after careful examination, I accept our professor's theory, that the imprints are those of human feet. The surface of the stone has been decided by experts to be bent down, not chiseled out. Science not long ago ridiculed the primitive man, which it now accepts. It is not strange, therefore, that science should protest against its oldest inhabitant stepping out from ages in which it had hitherto forbidden him existence.

We also found on the rocks fine impressions of leaves, resembling those of the magnolia, and gathered a bushel of petrified walnuts and butternuts. There were no other indications whatever of trees, the whole country, as far as we could see, being a desolate prairie.

"Gentlemen," said the professor, "as surely as you stand on the shore of a great lake, which passed away in comparatively modern times, science stands on the brink of important revelations. We have here the evidence of the rocks that man existed on this earth when the vast level upon which you are about to enter was covered by its mass of water. The waves lapped against the Rocky Mountains on the west, and against the ridges on which you are standing, upon the east. From previous explorations, I can assure you that the buffalo now feed over a surface strewn with the remains of those monsters which inhabited the waters of the primitive world, and the grasses suck nutriment from the shells of centuries. Geology has held that man did not exist during the time of the great lakes. I assert that he did, gentlemen, and now an inhabitant of that period steps forward to confirm my position. This man walked barefooted, and yet the contour of one of the feet, so different in shape from that of any wild people's of the present day, shows that it had been confined by some stiff material, like our leather shoes. The appearance of the big toe is especially confirmatory of this. I would call your attention, gentlemen, to the block which contains companion impressions of the right and left foot. The latter is deep, and well defined, every toe being separate and perfect. The former is shallow, and spread out, with bulged-up ridges of stone between each toe. These are exactly the impressions your own feet would make, on such a shore to-day, were the sand under the right one to be of such a yielding nature that in moving you withdrew it quickly, and rested more heavily on the other, the material under which was firmer. Your right track would spread, the mud bulging up between the toes, and forcing them out of position, and the material nearly regaining its level, with a misshapen impression upon its surface.

"You will also perceive that the sand was already hardening into rock when our ancient friends walked over it. I use the plural because, if I may venture an opinion from this hasty examination, I should say the two tracks were those of a female, the single one that of a man. From the position of the blocks they were probably walking near each other at that precise time when the new rock was soft enough to receive an impression and hard enough to retain it. You will perceive that the surface of the stone is bent down into the cavities, as that of a loaf of half-raised bread would be should you press your hand into it."

Sachem thought that the couple might have been an ancient Paul and Virginia telling their love on the shores of the old-time lake.

The Professor continued: "You notice close beside the two imprints an oval, rather deep hole in the rock, precisely like that a boy often makes by whirling on one heel in the sand."

Sachem again interrupted: "Perhaps the maiden went through the fascinating evolution of revolving her body while her mind revolved the 'yes' or 'no' to her swain's question. It might be a refined way of telling her lover that she was well 'heeled,' and asking if he was."

The Professor very gravely replied: "In those days the world had not run to slang. If one of Noah's children had dared to address him with the modern salutation of 'governor,' the venerable patriarch would have flung his child overboard from the ark. Taking your view of the case, Mr. Sachem, the whirl in the sand, which gave the lover his answer, is telling us to-day that same old story. And the coquette of that remote period caused the tell-tale walk upon the sand, which has proved the greatest geological discovery of modern times. I believe that it will be followed up and sustained by others equally as important, all tending to date man's birth thousands of years anterior to the time geology has hitherto assigned him an existence upon earth."

We spent many hours of the night in getting the rocks to the depot for shipment to Topeka, the few inhabitants of Bavaria assisting us. Soon after a westward train came along, and we were again in motion toward the home of the buffalo.

Before we slept the Professor gave us the following information: The vast plateau lying east of the Rocky Mountains, and which we were now approaching, was once covered by a series of great fresh-water lakes. At an early period these must have been connected with the sea, their waters then being quite salty, as is abundantly demonstrated by the remains of marine shells. During the time of the continental elevation these lakes were raised above the sea level, and their size very much diminished. Over the new land thus created, and surrounding these beautiful sheets of water, spread a vegetation at once so beautiful and so rich in growth that earth has now absolutely nothing with which to compare it. Amid these lovely pastures roved large herds of elephants, with the mastodon, rhinoceros, horse, and elk, while the streams and lakes abounded with fish. But the drainage toward the distant ocean continued, the water area diminished, the hot winds of the dry land drank up what remained of the lakes, and, in process of time, lo! the great grass-covered plains that we wander over delightedly to-day. What folly to suppose that such a land, so peculiarly fitted for man's enjoyment, should remain, through a long period of time, tenanted simply by brutes, and be given up to the human race only after its delightful characteristics had been entirely removed.

 

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