Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index


 The tourist who to-day, in a palace car, surrounded by all the
 conveniences of our American railway service, commences his tour of
 the prairies at the Missouri River, enters classic ground the moment
 the train leaves the muddy flood of that stream on its swift flight
 toward the golden shores of the Pacific.
 He finds a large city at the very portals of the once far West,
 with all the bustle and energy which is so characteristic of American
 Gradually, as he is whirled along the iron trail, the woods lessen;
 he catches views of beautiful intervales; a bright little stream
 flashes and foams in the sunlight as the trees grow fewer, and soon
 he emerges on the broad sea of prairie, shut in only by the great
 circle of the heavens.
 Dotting this motionless ocean everywhere, like whitened sails, are
 quiet homes, real argosies ventured by the sturdy and industrious
 people who have fought their way through almost insurmountable
 difficulties to the tranquillity which now surrounds them.
 A few miles west of Topeka, the capital of Kansas, when the train
 reaches the little hamlet of Wakarusa, the track of the railroad
 commences to follow the route of the Old Santa Fe Trail.  At that
 point, too, the Oregon Trail branches off for the heavily timbered
 regions of the Columbia.  Now begins the classic ground of the once
 famous highway to New Mexico; nearly every stream, hill, and wooded
 dell has its story of adventure in those days when the railroad was
 regarded as an impossibility, and the region beyond the Missouri as
 a veritable desert.
 After some hours' rapid travelling, if our tourist happens to be a
 passenger on the "California Limited," the swift train that annihilates
 distance, he will pass by towns, hamlets, and immense cattle ranches,
 stopping only at county-seats, and enter the justly famous Arkansas
 valley at the city of Hutchinson.  The Old Trail now passes a few
 miles north of this busy place, which is noted for its extensive
 salt works, nor does the railroad again meet with it until the site
 of old Fort Zarah is reached, forty-seven miles west of Hutchinson,
 though it runs nearly parallel to the once great highway at varying
 distances for the whole detour.
 The ruins of the once important military post may be seen from the
 car-windows on the right, as the train crosses the iron bridge
 spanning the Walnut, and here the Old Trail exactly coincides with
 the railroad, the track of the latter running immediately on the
 old highway.
 Three miles westward from the classic little Walnut the Old Trail ran
 through what is now the Court House Square of the town of Great Bend;
 it may be seen from the station, and on that very spot occurred the
 terrible fight of Captains Booth and Hallowell in 1864.
 Thirteen miles further mountainward, on the right of the railroad,
 not far from the track, stands all that remains of the once dreaded
 Pawnee Rock.  It lies just beyond the limits of the little hamlet
 bearing its name.  It would not be recognized by any of the old
 plainsmen were they to come out of their isolated graves; for it is
 only a disintegrated, low mass of sandstone now, utilized for the base
 purposes of a corral, in which the village herd of milch cows lie down
 at night and chew their cuds, such peaceful transformation has that
 great civilizer, the locomotive, wrought in less than two decades.
 Another five or six miles, and the train crosses Ash Creek, which,
 too, was once one of the favourite haunts of the Pawnee and Comanche
 on their predatory excursions, in the days when the mules and horses
 of passing freight caravans excited their cupidity.  A short whirl
 again, and the town of Larned, lying peacefully on the Arkansas and
 Pawnee Fork, is reached.  Immediately opposite the centre of the
 street through which the railroad runs, and which was also the course
 of the Old Trail, lying in the Arkansas River, close to its northern
 bank, is a small thickly-wooded island, now reached by a bridge, that
 is famous as the battle-ground of a terrible conflict thirty years ago,
 between the Pawnees and Cheyennes, hereditary enemies, in which the
 latter tribe was cruelly defeated.
 The railroad bridge crosses Pawnee Fork at the precise spot where
 the Old Trail did.  This locality has been the scene of some of the
 bloodiest encounters between the various tribes of savages themselves,
 and between them and the freight caravans, the overland coaches,
 and every other kind of outfit that formerly attempted the passage of
 the now peaceful stream.  In fact, the whole region from Walnut Creek
 to the mouth of the Pawnee, which includes in its area Ash Creek
 and Pawnee Rock, seemed to be the greatest resort for the Indians,
 who hovered about the Santa Fe Trail for the sole purpose of robbery
 and murder; it was a very lucky caravan or coach, indeed, that passed
 through that portion of the route without being attacked.
 All the once dangerous points of the Old Trail having been successively
 passed--Cow Creek, Big and Little Coon, and Ash Creek, Fort Dodge,
 Fort Aubrey,[73] and Point of Rocks--the tourist arrives at last at
 the foot-hills.  At La Junta the railroad separates into two branches;
 one going to Denver, the other on to New Mexico.  Here, a relatively
 short distance to the northwest, on the right of the train, may be
 seen the ruins of Bent's Fort, the tourist having already passed the
 site of the once famous Big Timbers, a favourite winter camping-ground
 of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes; but everywhere around him there reigns
 such perfect quiet and pastoral beauty, he might imagine that the
 peaceful landscape upon which he looks had never been a bloody arena.
 I suggest to the lover of nature that he should cross the Raton Range
 in the early morning, or late in the afternoon; for then the
 magnificent scenery of the Trail over the high divide into New Mexico
 assumes its most beautiful aspect.
 In approaching the range from the Old Trail, or now from the railroad,
 their snow-clad peaks may be seen at a distance of sixty miles.
 In the era of caravans and pack-trains, for hour after hour, as they
 moved slowly toward the goal of their ambition, the summit of the
 fearful pathway on the divide, the huge forms of the mountains seemed
 to recede, and yet ascend higher.  On the next day's journey their
 outlines appeared more irregular and ragged.  Drawing still nearer,
 their base presented a long, dark strip stretching throughout their
 whole course, ever widening until it seemed like a fathomless gulf,
 separating the world of reality from the realms of imagination beyond.
 Another weary twenty miles of dusty travel, and the black void slowly
 dissolved, and out of the shadows lines of broken, sterile,
 ferruginous buttes and detached masses of rocks, whose soilless
 surface refuses sustenance, save to a few scattered, stunted pines
 and lifeless mosses, emerged to view.
 The progress of the weary-footed mules or oxen was now through ravines
 and around rocks; up narrow paths which the melting snows have
 washed out; sometimes between beetling cliffs, often to their very
 edge, where hundreds of feet below the Trail the tall trees seemed
 diminished into shrubs.  Then again the road led over an immense broad
 terrace, for thousands of yards around, with a bright lake gleaming
 in the refracted light, and brilliant Alpine plants waving their
 beautiful flowers on its margin.  Still the coveted summit appeared
 so far off as to be beyond the range of vision, and it seemed as if,
 instead of ascending, the entire mass underneath had been receding,
 like the mountains of ice over which Arctic explorers attempt to reach
 the pole.  Now the tortuous Trail passed through snow-wreaths which
 the winds had eddied into indentations; then over bright, glassy
 surfaces of ice and fragments of rocks, until the pinnacle was reached.
 Nearer, along the broad successive terraces of the opposite mountains,
 the evergreen pine, the cedar, with its stiff, angular branches, and
 the cottonwood, with its varied curves and bright colours, were
 crowded into bunches or strung into zigzag lines, interspersed with
 shrubs and mountain plants, among which the flaming cactus was
 conspicuous.  To the right and left, the bare cones of the barren
 peaks rose in multitude, with their calm, awful forms shrouded in snow,
 and their dark shadows reflected far into the valleys, like spectres
 from a chaotic world.
 In going through the Raton Pass, the Old Santa Fe Trail meandered up
 a steep valley, enclosed on either side by abrupt hills covered with
 pine and masses of gray rock.  The road ran along the points of
 varying elevations, now in the stony bed of Raton Creek, which it
 crossed fifty-three times, the sparkling, flitting waters of the
 bubbling stream leaping and foaming against the animals' feet as they
 hauled the great wagons of the freight caravans over the tortuous
 passage.  The creek often rushed rapidly under large flat stones,
 lost to sight for a moment, then reappearing with a fresh impetus and
 dashing over its flinty, uneven bed until it mingled with the pure
 waters of Le Purgatoire.
 Still ascending, the scenery assumed a bolder, rougher cast; then
 sudden turns gave you hurried glimpses of the great valley below.
 A gentle dell sloped to the summit of the pass on the west, then,
 rising on the east by a succession of terraces, the bald, bare cliff
 was reached, overlooking the whole region for many miles, and this is
 Raton Peak.[74]
 The extreme top of this famous peak was only reached after more than
 an hour's arduous struggle.  On the lofty plateau the caravans and
 pack-trains rested their tired animals.  Here, too, the lonely trapper,
 when crossing the range in quest of beaver, often chose this lofty
 spot on which to kindle his little fire and broil juicy steaks of the
 black-tail deer, the finest venison in the world; but before he
 indulged in the savoury morsels, if he was in the least superstitious
 or devout, or inspired by the sublime scene around him, he lighted
 his pipe, and after saluting the elevated ridge on which he sat by the
 first whiff of the fragrant kinnikinick, Indian-fashion, he in turn
 offered homage in the same manner to the sky above him, the earth
 beneath, and to the cardinal points of the compass, and was then
 prepared to eat his solitary meal in a spirit of thankfulness.
 Far below this magnificent vantage-ground lies the valley of the
 Rio Las Animas Perdidas.  On the other verge of the great depression
 rise the peerless, everlastingly snow-wreathed Spanish Peaks,[75]
 whose giant summits are grim sentinels that for untold ages have
 witnessed hundreds of sanguinary conflicts between the wily nomads
 of the vast plains watered by the silent Arkansas.
 All around you snow-clad mountains lift their serrated crowns above
 the horizon, dim, white, and indistinct, like icebergs seen at sea
 by moonlight; others, nearer, more rugged, naked of verdure, and
 irregular in contour, seem to lose their lofty summits in the intense
 blue of the sky.
 Fisher's Peak, which is in full view from the train, was named from
 the following circumstance: Captain Fisher was a German artillery
 officer commanding a battery in General Kearney's Army of the West in
 the conquest of New Mexico and was encamped at the base of the peak
 to which he involuntarily gave his name.  He was intently gazing at
 the lofty summit wrapped in the early mist, and not being familiar
 with the illusory atmospheric effects of the region, he thought that
 to go there would be merely a pleasant promenade.  So, leaving word
 that he would return to breakfast, he struck out at a brisk walk for
 the crest.  That whole day, the following night, and the succeeding
 day, dragged their weary hours on, but no tidings of the commanding
 officer were received at the battery, and ill rumours were current
 of his death by Indians or bears, when, just as his mess were about
 to take their seats at the table for the evening meal, their captain
 put in an appearance, a very tired but a wiser man.  He started to go
 to the peak, and he went there!
 On the summit of another rock-ribbed elevation close by, the tourist
 will notice the shaft of an obelisk.  It is over the grave of George
 Simpson, once a noted mountaineer in the days of the great fur
 companies.  For a long time he made his home there, and it was his
 dying request that the lofty peak he loved so well while living should
 be his last resting-place.  The peak is known as "Simpson's Rest,"
 and is one of the notable features of the rugged landscape.
 Pike's Peak, far away to the north, intensely white and silvery in the
 clear sky, hangs like a great dome high in the region of the clouds,
 a marked object, worthy to commemorate the indefatigable efforts of
 the early voyageur whose name it bears.
 In this wonderful locality, both Pike's Peak and the snowy range over
 two hundred miles from our point of observation really seem to the
 uninitiated as if a brisk walk of an hour or two would enable one to
 reach them, so deceptive is the atmosphere of these elevated regions.
 About two miles from the crest of the range, yet over seven thousand
 feet above the sea-level, in a pretty little depression about as
 large as a medium-sized corn-field in the Eastern States, Uncle
 Dick Wooton lived, and here, too, was his toll-gate.  The veteran
 mountaineer erected a substantial house of adobe, after the style
 of one of the old-time Southern plantation residences, a memory,
 perhaps, of his youth, when he raised tobacco in his father's fields
 in Kentucky.[76]
 The most charming hour in which to be on the crest of Raton Range is
 in the afternoon, when the weather is clear and calm.  As the night
 comes on apace in the distant valley beneath, the evening shadows
 drop down, pencilled with broad bands of rosy light as they creep
 slowly across the beautiful landscape, while the rugged vista below
 is enveloped in a diffused haze like that which marks the season of
 the Indian summer in the lower great plains.  Above, the sky curves
 toward the relatively restricted horizon, with not a cloud to dim
 its intense blue, nowhere so beautiful as in these lofty altitudes.
 The sun, however, does not always shine resplendently; there are
 times when the most terrific storms of wind, hail, and rain change
 the entire aspect of the scene.  Fortunately, these violent bursts
 never last long; they vanish as rapidly as they come, leaving in
 their wake the most phenomenally beautiful rainbows, whose trailing
 splendours which they owe to the dry and rare air of the region, and
 its high refractory power, are gorgeous in the extreme.
 In 1872 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad entered the
 valley of the Upper Arkansas.  Twenty-four years ago, on a delicious
 October afternoon, I stood on the absolutely level plateau at the
 mouth of Pawnee Fork where that historic creek debouches into the
 great river.  The remembrance of that view will never pass from my
 memory, for it showed a curious temporary blending of two distinct
 civilizations.  One, the new, marking the course of empire in its
 restless march westward; the other, that of the aboriginal, which,
 like a dissolving view, was soon to fade away and be forgotten.
 The box-elders and cottonwoods thinly covering the creek-bottom were
 gradually donning their autumn dress of russet, and the mirage had
 already commenced its fantastic play with the landscape.  On the sides
 and crests of the sparsely grassed sand hills south of the Arkansas
 a few buffaloes were grazing in company with hundreds of Texas cattle,
 while in the broad valley beneath, small flocks of graceful antelope
 were lying down, quietly ruminating their midday meal.
 In the distance, far eastwardly, a train of cars could be seen
 approaching; as far as the eye could reach, on either side of the
 track, the virgin sod had been turned to the sun; the "empire of
 the plough" was established, and the march of immigration in its
 hunger for the horizon had begun.
 Half a mile away from the bridge spanning the Fork, under the grateful
 shade of the largest trees, about twenty skin lodges were irregularly
 grouped; on the brown sod of the sun-cured grass a herd of a hundred
 ponies were lazily feeding, while a troop of dusky little children
 were chasing the yellow butterflies from the dried and withered
 sunflower stalks which once so conspicuously marked the well-worn
 highway to the mountains.  These Indians, the remnant of a tribe
 powerful in the years of savage sovereignty, were on their way,
 in charge of their agent, to their new homes, on the reservation
 just allotted to them by the government, a hundred miles south of
 the Arkansas.
 Their primitive lodges contrasted strangely with the peaceful little
 sod-houses, dugouts, and white cottages of the incoming settlers on
 the public lands, with the villages struggling into existence, and
 above all with the rapidly moving cars; unmistakable evidences that
 the new civilization was soon to sweep the red men before it like
 chaff before the wind.
 Farther to the west, a caravan of white-covered wagons loaded with
 supplies for some remote military post, the last that would ever
 travel the Old Trail, was slowly crawling toward the setting sun.
 I watched it until only a cloud of dust marked its place low down
 on the horizon, and it was soon lost sight of in the purple mist
 that was rapidly overspreading the far-reaching prairie.
 It was the beginning of the end; on the 9th of February, 1880, the
 first train over the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived
 at Santa Fe and the Old Trail as a route of commerce was closed
 forever.  The once great highway is now only a picture in the memory
 of the few who have travelled its weary course, following the windings
 of the silent Arkansas, on to the portals that guard the rugged
 pathway leading to the shores of the blue Pacific.