the end of a weary day, after crossing the winding Sweetwater again and
again through deep and bad fords, the tents had to be pitched, the
cattle driven out to graze wherever grass might be, and guards
stationed to see that they did not stray or drink poisoned water.
Buffalo chips had to be gathered for fuel; what food there might be had
to be cooked. Then came the uncertain night. Even after weeks on the
trail, sentries mistook shadows and prowling small animals for Indians
and bears; alarm shots were fired; the encampment would be in an
uproar. Tempers strained and broke. Men shot one another and could give
only trivial reasons.
were many strange things on this long, slow ascent to the South Pass
through the Rocky Mountains. When you dug for a foot or so under a
surface of wild grass on the border of a swamp, you struck not water
but ice, the remnant of a previous wild winter when the morass had been
frozen solid. Tributary streams to the Sweetwater showed
golden-gleaming specks and scales in their beds. Gold! Here where so
many had already passed! But out came the little bottle of nitric acid
and the dreams dissolved. Fool's gold! And in this desolate place, fit
only for a passage to fortune, some white men lived. They came down
from the mountains with their Indian wives and half-breed children to
stand beside the trail and trade with the emigrants.
days, many carcasses had been littering the road—mules, oxen, worn-out
by overexertion in the thin, mountain air. The trail was mounting
higher and higher but imperceptibly, slowly and treacherously. You
could tell it in the way your chest ached and your feet dragged. A
final ford of the Sweetwater up near its source, and then a level road
for almost eight miles to the South Pass!
was not much to look at—no sharp decisive cut through a wall of
rock—only a broad, level way between conical hills or knolls and then a
descent to the first water which flows westerly from the crest, Pacific
Springs (below). To the north, over a broken mountain plain lay the Wind River Mountains, snow-capped and grand.