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Category: The Border and the Buffalo
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Early in the spring of 1874, I started for Santa Fé, New Mexico, stopping off at Granada, Colorado, for a short time. Granada was at that time the end of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. From Granada, I went to Las Animas, and traveled over the Dry Cimarron route, through Rule cañon, on over the Raton mountains, through Dick Hooten pass, and on into Las Vegas, New Mexico, where I arrived in May.

There I fell in company with the Eighth United States regulars, whose commanding officer was Major Alexander, and who gave me permission to travel with his command to Santa Fé. At Santa Fé I met a Dr. Strand, one of the notorious Star Route mail contractors at the time. We two, with an assayer, H. C. Justice, formed a company to prospect for gold in the Saint Mary's range, near the head-waters of the Picorice, Lumbay, and Bean creeks, all tributaries of the Rio Grande river.
Leaving Santa Fé, we packed up under the base of Baldy mountain, and struck camp near timberline, at the head of the North Picorice. Here we stayed several days, and prospected out different ways from camp.
It was now past midsummer. The mountains were grand! The scenery sublime and awe-inspiring! From our camp, at this place, we had only to climb a short distance to where we could look west and northwest across the Rio Grande and behold the San Juan range. Nearly due north of us were the towering Spanish Peaks; and on still further the Greenhorn mountains; and east of us the Pecos river. Still on south, down, over and beyond Santa Fé, the Placer Mountains loomed up as out of a desert. The whole formed a grand and imposing scene. Once this panoramic view is seen, it is never to be forgotten.
We were in a broken, distorted and chopped-up country. I was reminded of the story I had heard of the atheist and some cowboys, which I will here relate. A herd of cattle had been contracted for to be delivered at Taos, New Mexico. They were being driven up the Arkansas river from near where the Great Bend is. The atheist fell in with the outfit near old Fort Dodge. He was an excellent and interesting conversationalist, and after each day's drive, in the evenings around the camp-fire, the boys would get him started; he was always wound up. They gave him respectful hearings, which were always entertaining and interesting to them. He got to injecting his favorite doctrine from time to time in his talks; and finally, as they were approaching the mountains, he gave them a fine discourse upon "The beauties of nature," telling his hearers that "this was a world of chance; that it was an absurd idea that it had been made by Divine hands, as there was no such thing as a Supreme Being," etc.
When they got well up into the mountains they came one day to a place where Nature had seemed to do her best, by way of cañons, storm-scarred peaks, broken and castellated buttes, wild and yawning gorges or chasms; and as they were gazing, far and near, on the grand sublimity of the scene, the atheist remarked: "O, what magnificence! How beautiful! How remarkable! How unsurpassingly grand and awe-inspiring!" One of the cowboys drawled out—"Yes sir-ee. You've been preachin' no God to us fellers; but I'm right here to tell you that if there ain't any God now there has been one, sometime."
Near this camp there was a place where we could gather mountain dewberries and huckleberries at the same time. Not more than fifty feet away we could make snowballs and shy at the saucy magpies. We had grass in abundance for our saddle-horses and pack-burros. Our camp was at the margin of a clear, beautiful rivulet bordered with water-cress and fringed with quaking-asp. At night we tied our riding-horses to trees, and turned them loose in the daytime. Mr. Justice's mountain-climber was a free lance, the doctor's was hobbled, and mine had a bell on.
In the daytime the burros would graze off a hundred yards or more, but as twilight came on they would edge in toward camp. And all night long they would stay close to the camp-fire. This was instinct. They seemed to act on the principle that caution was the parent of safety. The loud, piercing, scream of the mountain lion had terrified their ancestry since Cortez had made the conquest of Mexico.
The second night we were at this camp we were awakened by the cries of one of these creatures, which appeared not more than 300 yards south of us. Just north of us was a sheer, almost perpendicular battlement of decomposed quartz rising some ten or twelve hundred feet higher than where we were. This weird, almost human cry would echo back to us. It was not a roar, but more like a cry of distress, which the brute kept up at intervals for nearly half an hour, without seeming to change position. At the first outcry we all got up. I "chunked up" our camp-fire, replenished it with dry fuel, and soon we had a big blaze. As the flames leaped up and the flitting shadows appeared among the scattering spruce and aspen along the little prong of the Picorice, together with the sound of the water-fall just above us, the neighing of my own horse, the closely huddled burros at the fireside, the long-drawn-out wail of the lion, the superstitious Mexican cook, crossing himself and muttering something about the Virgin Mary, made a show worth going a long ways to see and hear.
At this camp our daily routine was about as follows: Breakfast about 7 A. M. Old Mr. Justice, the mineralogist, would take his gun and fishing-tackle and start down the cañon to where two other little brooks came into the one on which we were camped. He, generally, was not absent more than two or three hours, when he would come back with a fine string of mountain trout. The Doctor and myself would leave camp just after breakfast, each carrying a stout tarpaulin pouch about the size of an army haversack hung over our shoulders regulation style. We carried a stone-hammer, a small pick, a hatchet, our guns, and lunch. We would take a certain direction for the hunting of specimens. Neither of us knew anything about mining or minerals. When we found anything that we thought might contain precious metals, we would take a chunk of it, number it, pasting a piece of paper on it, marking the spot where we found it with a corresponding number.
But it is safe to say that after one of these day cruises, we could not go back and find half the places where we had picked up specimens, especially when we were above timber-line around Old Baldy; for here we would zigzag around minor buttes, cross over gorges, up slopes, and down steep inclines, ever keeping in our mind the way back to camp, and a weather eye out for old Ephraim, or a cinnamon bear, whose territory we were then in. When the afternoon was pretty well gone we would head for camp, and never failed but once to strike it all right.
Arriving at camp, the assayer would mortar and pan out our specimens. The Mexican would soon have our hot coffee, frying-pan bread, some canned fruit, and our daily ration of trout, ready. Then supper was eaten. Mr. Justice would then handle the specimens in mining parlance. He would talk: "Pyrites of iron, porphyry, cinnabar, decomposed quartz, base metal, the mother lode, dips, spurs cross," and the Lord only knows what else,—which to me, a man with scarcely any education at all, was hopeless confusion; for, gold or no gold was the knowledge I was seeking. Then the Doctor would give an account of the day's events, a description of the route we had taken, and wind up with the opinion that "we were in a very rich mineral region." The horses brought in and tied, we would sit around the camp-fire and talk for awhile, then to bed.
Not a mosquito; no fleas; no flies; and such grand nights for sound sleep, under a pair of double blankets, with spruce boughs for a mattress to lie on.
We stayed at this particular place eight days, then broke camp and went to the head-waters of the Lumbay, about three miles away. Here we camped in the edge of a glade, where two branches of the stream proper converged. We were at this camp four days, and while here I shot my first bear, but did not kill him. He was on the opposite side of a cañon from me, and some forty yards away. I was on the brink of the cañon, which would be called a close cañon. It was about sixty feet across, with perpendicular walls, and was fully eighty feet deep at this place. The bear was in an opening of timber, and the ground was covered with a dense growth of mountain dewberries, which were then in their prime. The bear was about twenty yards from the opposite brink from which I was on. He was nearly upright; using his front paws, drawing the tops of the bushes to his mouth, stripping off the berries, leaves, and twigs, eating all ravenously as though he were hungry. His body was slightly quartering to me. He was wholly unconscious of my near presence. I had a 44 center-fire Winchester, the first magazine gun I had owned. I had practiced with it until it had gained my confidence completely as _the_ gun. I raised the Winchester, took deliberate aim, thinking to give him a heart shot. At the crack of the gun he threw his right arm across his breast, under his left arm, and seemed to slap his left side, leaped forward, and as I gave him the next shot, he rose straight up, standing on his hind feet, and seemed to be looking straight at me. From that on I worked the breech-block as fast as I could until the magazine was empty.
By this time the bear was not more than ten or twelve feet from the brink of the cañon. I started up the stream on a run, and as I ran I was taking cartridges out of my belt and reloading the magazine. Our camp was less than a quarter of a mile above, and on the same side the bear was on, and the head of the cañon proper was just a little way below the camp. My rapid firing had attracted the attention of my companions in camp, and they were hurrying down the cañon on the opposite side. When we got opposite each other, I said, "Wait; don't go down there or you will get into a fight with a wounded cinnamon." They all turned and came back, and as we met at the head of the cañon, I explained how the situation was when I left.
Mr. Justice said:
"All right. Now let's all get in line and keep abreast and go, step by step, as easy as we can, and look carefully, and if we should meet or find him, we ought surely to be able to down him before he can injure any of us."
I was placed on the side next to the cañon, the same being on my right, Mr. Justice on my left about twenty feet from me, the Mexican next, and Doctor Strand on the extreme left. By this time I had got myself pulled together. That I had "buck ager" and "bear fright" together, goes without saying; for had I taken the second thought I should have known that it was physically impossible for a bear to have crossed that cañon, at or near there, and that I could have stood where I fired my first shot and shot the other thirty-two cartridges at him, if he had stayed in sight, with all impunity. My first shot was a cool, deliberate, dead aim, and I shall always believe that a small berry twig had deflected the bullet.
We started our line of march and search, and had proceeded cautiously about two hundred yards, when Mr. J. stopped and said, "Wope!" His quick eye had noticed some bushes shaking straight ahead of him. "Boys," he said, "we are close onto him; be very careful and make no bad shot; they are desperate creatures when wounded; Doctor, you and the Mexican [whose name was Manuel] stay here and Cook and I will go a little further."
We went about thirty-five yards and came to a large log or fallen tree. Mr. Justice and I were then not above two paces apart. He whispered to me saying, "I'll cautiously get up on this trunk, where I can get a good view." As he straightened himself up, he looked in the direction that he had seen the bushes moving. He raised his rifle, took a deliberate aim and fired. He had killed "my bear," the ball entering the butt of the left ear and going into the brain. Upon examining the carcass it was found that I had made seven hits, but only one that would have proved fatal.
From this camp we moved on down the Lumbay to the mouth of the cañon, some seven or eight miles. We cut our own trail as we went. I generally went ahead on foot and with a squaw-ax lopped off such limbs as would strike our packs. It was a slow, tedious transit. We had to pass through a timber-fall for nearly two miles, where there had been a tornado and the trees had uprooted, and in many places piled one on top of another, crossed and interlocked in such a formidable barricade that we could not pass through; in which case we would zigzag back and work our way around. We met several such obstacles that day, and went only five miles from early morning till late in the evening. We camped on a mountain spur, tired out, arriving at the mouth of the cañon the next day.
About noon we met a party of Greasers, fifteen in number, who lived down in the valley of the Lumbay. Manuel's father was a member of the party. They had not seen each other for more than a year. When they met they hugged and kissed each other, a custom among the peon classes. We learned that a mountain lion had been killing their sheep, and they had gathered together to hunt it to its death, but so far had failed to stalk him, and were going back home.
From this camp, down the cañon, it was fifteen miles to the Mexican town of Lumbay, and a clear open trail all the way except now and then a tree that had fallen across it.
At this camp I saw the evidence of preceding generations of more than 200 years before. It was in the form of an acequia or irrigation ditch, and this ditch, to reach and water the fertile valley of the Lumbay, had followed from just a few rods above the head of the cañon, a sinuous, tortuous course, around the heads of gorges and fairly clinging to the face of perpendicular walls a distance of forty-five miles. This statement about the length of the ditch I want my readers to take as hearsay. But I personally saw enough of it to be convinced that it was a wonderful piece of engineering skill.
We prospected here three days, then broke camp for the valley proper, where we camped near a Catholic church. Here we saw a type of humanity that for downright superstition beats anything I ever heard of. During the season, if a cloud would appear and lightning and thunder accompanied it, they would hang an image of Christ in an exposed place, to appease the wrath of the storm king, hoping to avert a hail-storm. When there was an excessive drought they would fire off old muskets, beat drums and blow horns to bring rain. I saw this same thing done at Las Vegas. Many of the women were tattooed on face, neck, breast and arms, for indiscretions. In the rear of this church were two large piles of crosses. The timbers in them nearly as large as a railroad tie. When doing penance these superstitious beings of the peon class were compelled by their priests to shoulder these crosses and march around the church for a given length of time, according to the gravity of the sin committed. Another mode of punishment was for the penitent to walk bare-kneed on beans strewn on hard ground.
At this place was a water grist-mill of the most primitive kind. Also, was to be seen here the forked wood plow. The mode of grain-threshing was to place the bundles of grain on the ground in a circle and chase a band of goats around over the grain in a circle, until their feet had hulled the grain from the straw. While at this camp we feasted on roasting-ears, melons, string beans, cabbage, onions, and potatoes.
While here we all suddenly recovered from the "gold fever." The Apache Indians had gone on the war-path, and were terrorizing the people south of Santa Fé. We moved down to Santa Fé, sold our burros, and dissolved partnership. I then left Santa Fé, and went to Casa La Glorieta, and early in October I left Casa La Glorieta for the Panhandle of Texas.
In those days it was the custom of the Mexicans to go each fall to border New Mexico and Texas on "meat hunts." They would organize parties consisting of from fifteen to twenty-five men, never taking any women along, and they would take from four to ten wagons with from two to four yoke of oxen to the wagon. There would be from ten to fifteen lance horses, and each lancer would be armed with a lance-blade about fourteen inches long, fastened by sinews to a staff seven to eight feet long.
There was generally some elderly man in charge of each outfit. They were usually gone from six weeks to three months on these hunting trips, and would return with great loads of jerked dried buffalo meat, which found a ready sale.
While at La Glorieta, New Mexico, I became acquainted with Antonio Romero, whose family was among the higher class of Mexicans. He had had some dealing with my uncle, General Robert Mitchell, who had been Territorial Governor of New Mexico. Upon finding out that I was a relative of the general's, Romero invited me to partake of the hospitality of his home. His English was meager, but we could understand each other by engaging in a tedious conversation. He, upon learning that I wished to get to Fort Elliott, in the Panhandle of Texas, informed me that he and his son, two sons-in-law, and some neighbors, were going on a meat hunt and would be glad to have me accompany them; that we would go as far east as the "Adobe Walls," in the Panhandle of Texas, and that it was not far from there to Fort Elliott.
We left Romero's ranch on the 10th of October, 1874. We followed the old Santa Fé Trail to Bernal Springs, and from there followed a trail slightly southeastward, and came to the South Canadian river at old Fort Bascom, which had recently been abandoned as a military garrison, and was then being used as the headquarters for a large cattle ranch. Here we overtook another meat-hunting party from Galisteo, about eight miles below Bascom. Four lancers rode out from the Galisteo outfit and lanced two range steers. Others of their party went to the place of killing and got the meat.
Our outfit kept straight on to where we camped that evening, not far from an out-camp of the main ranch. I asked Romero if such work as I had seen was the custom of the country. He said:
"No; and them Galisteo people are liable to get us all into trouble."
"Well," I said, "I am opposed to traveling with them. Don't let's use any of that meat in our camp, and to-morrow let's separate from them." This we did.
Just before we got to the mouth of Blue Water, we discovered off to our right, and about two miles away, the first buffalo. They were lying down, and the wind was nearly straight from them to us. Soon everything was hurry and excitement. Lances were gotten out, lance horses saddled, hats discarded, and handkerchiefs tied around the heads like turbans. I was offered a horse and lance, which seemed to surprise the whole party when I readily accepted the offer; for nothing ever pleased me better than a wild, pell-mell ride. One of the party who could talk fairly good English, gave me some instructions, how to do when I came alongside of a buffalo. But I did the opposite, and got the worst of it.

Illustration: THE OLDEST INHABITANT. (Copyrighted.—Used by permission of the Union Pacific Railroad Company.


We rode out from the wagons, and getting a mound between us and the herd, we cantered up to the mound and separated, some going around on opposite sides. When we came in view of the herd we were not more than one hundred and seventy yards from them, and we were riding full tilt. Before they could arise and get in full motion we were up to them. There were about thirty-five in all. I was on the left, and the first Mexican on my right was a little in the advance. He gave his horse a quick spurt and was alongside of, and lanced a fat cow. I was close in behind one, and raised my lance to a poise, when my horse veered slightly to the left and with a quick lurch forward I lanced a buffalo. But in doing so I had thrust more backward instead of _vice versa_, as instructed, and in undertaking to withdraw the lance, I lost my balance and was flat on the ground.
Springing to my feet, I saw everybody and everything had passed me. My horse went on a short distance, stopped, and went to grazing. I stood still and took the situation all in. The buffalo I lanced fell on its right side about 200 yards ahead of me with the staff of the lance almost perpendicular. I thought to get my horse, but just then I saw, off to my front and right, a horse and rider fall, and for a few moments witnessed the most thrilling and exciting scene of my life. Buffaloes were reeling and staggering out of line of the run. A lancer would dash up to one that had not been struck yet, make a quick thrust and retrieve, rush on to the next one, and repeat until his horse was winded. Some, whose horses were not as speedy as others, had singled out one certain buffalo and were a mile away before getting to use the lance.
When the chase was over we had sixteen bison for that effort. We dressed the meat and loaded it into empty wagons, and proceeded on to Blue Water, better known in those days as Ona Sula. Here we stayed several days, jerking and drying meat. The lancers were out every day looking for buffalo, but found very few.
From this place we moved about four miles. The lancers that went north that day came in and reported that "we would soon all have plenty of work, as the buffaloes were coming south, in a solid mass as far as they could see, east or west."
The next morning Romero asked me for my Winchester, saying he wished to go north and see if he could see buffaloes. I went to my bed, got the gun and handed it to him. He rode off, and it was many days before I saw him again.
About an hour after he left camp, one of the lancers came in and told me that four Americans were camped about a mile down the Blue Water and on a little stream a half-mile up from the Canadian river. Without taking a second thought, I started for their camp. I had heard scarcely nothing but the Spanish lingo for more than five weeks, and was homesick for my own kind.

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