Lambourne, Alfred, [Reminiscences], Deseret Evening News, 21 December 1912, part 2, p. 3.
As the years have gone, time has not only cast a glamor over the old pioneer journey, but has also given to men an opportunity to reflect seriously and in calmness and intelligence upon that same journey. It now assumes greatness in our eyes both in its inception and in its achievement. It finds a prominent place in the history of the west, and will ever stand forth among events. Indeed, the world has heretofore seen nothing like it, and in the very nature of things its repetition is improbable, if not impossible. It must now be read; it cannot be experienced.
O the long, plodding; the slow progress of seemingly endless days! Incidents of many kinds thrust themselves upon one's memory. Sometimes the experiences recalled were pleasureable; sometimes they were sad. But mirthful or tragic, pathetic or terrible, the imagination goes over them again, and the twelve hundred miles, nay the fifteen hundred considering the circuitous route that each company was compelled to follow, pass before one like a moving panorama. Prairies, hills, streams, mountains, canyons follow each other in quick succession—all the ever changing prospect between the banks of the Missouri river and the valley of Inland Sea.
How rapidly we have grown; what was once but a dream of the future first changed to reality, and then sunk away until now they are but dreams of the past. No more the long train of dust covered wagons, drawn by the slow and patient oxen, winds across the level plains or passes through the deep defile. No more the pony express or the lumbering stage-coach runs between the intermountain region and "the states." How hard it is to understand the briefness of time that has passed since this great intermountain country was practically a howling wilderness inhabited by bands of savage Indians and penetrated only by intrepid trappers or hunters. As we are whirled along over the Laramie plains, through the Echo and Weber canyons reclining on luxuriously cushioned seats, and but a few hours away from the Atlantic seaboard, we can scarcely realize it. We are in a land where peace, wealth and happiness go hand in hand and where already it is well nigh impossible for the youths of today to fully comprehend the struggles and privations of its pioneer fathers.
For weeks ahead was studied the meager information of "the route." We learned the names, suggestingly odd or quaintly poetic; we pictured in the mind the places themselves. The imagination was heated to the utmost. Before us was a region of wonder. We had met the "boss" of the frontier, the western tough who had kindly offered with the help of his bowie knife to slit or cut off my youthful ears. Before us was the land of Kit Carson; we should pass through the domain of the Cheyenne, the Sioux, the Crow and the Ute. In our path were the villages of prairie dog, the home of the coyote, and the rattlesnake, of the antelope, of the buffalo, the big Horn and the grizzly bear. Prairie creek, Loup Fork, Fort Laramie, South Pass, Wind River mountains, Echo canyon—O many a name seized upon imagination and held it fast!
And the name of Indians chiefs—Mad Wolf, Spotted Eagle, Two Axe, Rain in the Face, they were as from some unwritten western Iliad.
After these years it is the Human Comedy, the Life—Drama that interests one in thinking of the Pioneer journey. It is the desires, hopes, trials, pleasures, the sorrows of the race. It is the remembered action, not the scenes, that makes us recall those days.
The action! The searcher for the Fountain of Youth, the desire for Knowledge, the thirst for gold, these have led men into the wilds; these have taken them to brave unknown dangers in unknown lands. Yes, these the Propaganda and the Love of Freedom, but neither of them is so strong as the desire for religious liberty. Ponce de Leon in the Land of Flowers; Lewis and Clarke making their way along the Oregon; the Catholic Fathers, the gold seekers of California, and the Puritans of New England—these are our examples. And like the latter, were the pioneers who preceded us along our way. And our company, too, such is was that led them. He, who fain would have discovered the magic waters, the home and the gold seeker left behind them many a lonely grave. The Propagandist, the Lover of Freedom, left their bones in many an unknown spot. And the Pioneers! They, too, must leave their dead. But the seekers of Religious Liberty, they surely more than others must have found the greater consolation in the hour of trial, to them must have come more quickly the thought of peace.
Action! It is true, one might have become easily wearied of the adventurous trip. The shifting panorama might have become monotonous in its shifting. Monotonous, I mean, were it not for—I repeat the word—the action. The plains, the hills, the rocks, the streams all become important because these led the way. Ever my thought is of the road.
It was tantalizing at times to keep to the road. How could one resist the temptation to throw off restraint and putting the prudence aside look deeper into the wilds! This, of course, was on those days when having taken "The winds and sunshine unto the veins" we felt stirred within us the instincts of primal man. At other times we were sober-minded enough. One's spirits were terribly chilled by an inclement sky. A few days of drizzling rain tried the most ardent spirited. Then it was that the disagreeableness of the time made the true mettle of the immigrant show itself. Whatever traits of character he possessed—selfishness, senseless fault-finding, or those rarer qualities of kindness, cheerful content and ready helpfulness—all came out. In Mark Tapley's own phrase, it was all very well to "come out strong" when by the warm glow of the camp fire or when moving along with the bright blue sky above us, but it was quite another thing to remain cheerful when the incessant rain made impossible even the smallest of the small sheltered campfires, and one crept into his bed upon the ground with wet clothes, and with flesh chilled to the bone, without even the solace of a cup of hot tea or coffee. Hardly less trying were the days of dust storms. What misery it was when the wind blew from the front and the whole cloud of dust raised by over 300 yoke of cattle, and the motion of 65 wagons, drove into our faces! How intolerably our eyes and our nostrils burned and how quickly our ears were filled with the flying sand or alkali.
Dearly we learned to love the Platte. Even if the way was dreary at time, we forgot it when passing along the river banks. Day after day we trudged along and day after day its fringe of cottonwood trees, or the red sandstone hills, looked down upon us. The days grew into weeks. The weeks became a month, and still the cattle, freed from the yoke, hastened to stake their thirst at the well-loved stream. During that month, we ate, each one of us, that peck of dirt—if sand may be classed as dirt—which every man is said to eat in his life time. It filled our eyes, too, and our ears and our nostrils. It was in the food. It sprinkled the pancakes, it was in the syrup that we poured upon them. Half suffocated we were at times by it as we lay at night beneath the wagons. O ye sandhills of the Platte. Indeed we have cause to remember!
For the Overland traveler of today, the Platte is almost unknown, at least but little noticed.
On what a joy it was after a day's dust and toil to plunge, into the cooling, cleansing waters of plain or mountain stream! How many streams I recall: The Elkhorn, the Platte, the Big and Little Laramie. Now it is the "three crossings" of the Sweetwater, now the Big Sandy creek—the glistening gravel water of the Indians—or it is the deep cold waters of Horseshoe creek. One day as I bathed in the Platte, Spotted Tail, the famous Sioux chieftain, and his band of braves passed along the banks of the river. Open mouthed I stared at the wild cavalcade, and while wading ashore, I struck my foot against-as it proved to be upon examination a great stone battleaxe. Perhaps it once belonged at some remote period of time, to another great chief in that famed and haughty warrior's ancestry.
It did produce upon one a disturbing sensation, that hawk eye, of how often the eyes of savage Indians might be fixed upon us. And the wild animals, too. From a distance they watched. Herds of buffalo, perhaps, or of deer, looked upon our moving trains from the plateau tops. Beyond the flaming yellow sunflowers, amid the bright red of the rocky hills, the Sioux was often concealed. His face was painted of the same gaudy colors, and he looked with blood—lust upon us. We knew not when this might be, yet that it was always possible gave a sort of aspect of menace to the bluffs and hills along the way.
Many a time had Captain Holliday [Holladay] with his caution gained from experience and his natural sagacity given a timely warning, the girls must not be led too far by the passion for gathering flowers. How often had the desire to possess some especially beautiful or brilliant, some alluring bunch of desert blooms tempted them beyond the lines of safety. Especially true was this among the Black Hills. There was danger also in going for water; the dipping places were often at quite a distance from the camp. How terrible an experience was that which occurred in one of the trains which crossed the hills the year before our own. It was on the banks of the La Bonte river. A band of five Sioux suddenly dashed out from amid a clump of trees on the river bank and carried away beyond all hope of rescue, one of two girls who had rashly gone too far up the stream. The train remained at the river for a period of three days, the Indians were pursued for many miles, but it was all in vain. The young husband never saw his young wife again. One of the young girls was slightly in advance of the other and those few steps made this difference, that one was lost and the other saved. And the young woman who escaped was the writer's sister.
This sister had crossed, of course, the year before. But there was one stronger than this Sioux who took away a sister at last. Death, who is not to be gainsaid. We took the oaken wagon seats to make her little coffin and she was buried beneath the groves where ripple the waters of the Little Laramie river. Hardly was the soil replaced in the grave ere we must depart. And, O the wild night of storm and darkness through which, later, we passed!
Life, Romance, Death—indeed they were trying in our little world! The space between the two semi-circles of wagons made a wide division, it was like two sides of a street each wagon a dwelling. One could hardly believe that in such a company, isolated from the rest of mankind, such a separation could exist, yet it did. At times the members of one side hardly knew what was happening among those of the other. As we proceeded on our way what changes came! I mean into the lives and hearts of many. But come there new joy or come there new sorrow, the pioneer must live the pioneer life. There were always the labor, the privations, a certain kind of pleasure. There were left but little time in which to brood, except it might be in the silent watches of the night. There was something remarkable, too, about the manner in which the cattle became imbued with the spirit of the driver. Quickly they reflected the mental condition of the one who drove them. Be he calm, be he dejected, or be he peevish, and the cattle knew it at once.
The night drives were among the most trying experiences upon the Overland journey. Usually they were made necessary from the drying up of some spring or stream where we had expected to make evening camp, and the consequent lack of water for the people as well as the cattle, so that we must move forward. Our worst drive of this kind was to reach the La Prelle river after leaving Fort Laramie. There was a terrible storm. Wildly the lightning glared, the lurid tongues licked the ground beside us. The ground was deluged in the downpour of rain; and what with the sudden flashes of light, the crashing of thunder, the poor cattle were quite panic stricken. It was hard work to make the poor brutes face the storm. Yet, after all, their sagacity was greater than ours. Several times we would have driven them over the face of a precipice had not their keener senses warned them back. We would have shuddered, so we afterwards learned, had we seen where the tracks of our wagons wheels were made that night.
The Chimney Rock, or the half-way post, as it was sometimes suggestively called, was a most picturesque object. It was one of the most noted landmarks to be seen on the entire trip across the plains. After we had just sighted through the western opening of a noon corral, the pale blue shaft, wavy through the haze that rose from the heated ground, it seemed to us that the slow going oxen would never reach it, or rather, that they would never arrive at the point on the road opposite that natural curiosity, for the immigrant trail passed several miles to the northward of that low range of bluffs of which the Chimney Rock is a part. One evening several members of our party tried to walk from our nearest camp to the terraced slopes of the Chimney's base, but the distance proved too great. That was one lesson in the deceptiveness of space in that rarified atmosphere-the distance to hills and mountains.
In the picture, the Chimney Rock is shown as it appeared from the banks of Lawrence creek. Our train, that under command of Captain John D. Holladay, is seen fording the shallow stream. The Pioneers had made an early start, just as the light of the rising sun was breaking from behind a mass of clouds that lay along the eastern horizon. The captain was keeping a watchful eye upon the safe passage of each wagon through the water, for in the bed of the creek were quicksands, and a stop was attended with danger. Eternal vigilance was the price that the captain must pay to bring his company safely over the wilderness of plains and mountains. On the left hand of the picture is seen a grave, that of one of the earlier immigrants.
"All Hail, ye snow-capped mountains!
Golden sunbeams smile."
We made in the South Pass, if I count correctly, our two hundredth camp fire. Delightsome days were ours as we moved slowly forward through that broad and famous highway with the Wind River mountains all the while looking down upon us. Joyfully we burst into song. That dividing line, that mighty ridge was the "Backbone of the Continent." Indeed, and with our first descent we were in the west. From their summits one might discern the summits of other mountains, ranging further to the west, those whose bases were near the shores of the Inland Sea. A far cry it was over the heights and vales, and yet it brought a message—"You are near the place of rest."
Who shall blame us for the time of merriment! There was a jubilation at Chimney Rock, at Rock Independence and at the Devil's Gate. O it was, indeed, a time of gaiety when the evening meal was over and the call of the clarinet assembled all in the open circle! Men and women, the young and the old ones, too, danced the hours away. Who would have thought that they had passed the time thus at the end of a hard's day's journey? Forgotten were the fatigues that were past. It was such hours as those that atoned for those that had been wearisome or sad. And the clarinet! What an important part it held. It voiced the general feeling of the company. Be they sad or merry, like a voice it spoke. Merrily on the banks of the Missouri it sounded at the moment of starting: mournfully it spoke as each one that fell by the roadside was laid to rest. And shrilly it awoke us for that last start near the journey's end. Its remembered strains bring back the scent of the prairie flowers and of the mountain sage.
Small need to tell how expectancy grew upon us as the number of miles ahead grew less and less. Even those who at last had grown apathetic and walked silently along, or sat questionless on the wagons, began to again manifest the same eager interest that had marked the starting out. "Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Roll into the Valley." What welcome words! Not one in the company but felt the heart swell with joy and emotion at the first sight of the valley and mountains, and the Inland Sea beyond. Danger and fatigue were all forgotten. The stubborn, interminable miles were conquered. "The Journey" was at an end.