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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 21.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Unsuccessful Attempt to Force a Passage in the Mountains—Delawares sent out to Explore—Their Return—Col. Fremont, Capt. Wolff, and Solomon in Council—Unfavorable Report of Capt. Wolff—Col. Fremont's Determination—Astronomical Observations at Midnight—Col. Fremont's Correctness and Skill Illustrated—Tremendous Mountains of Snow—Successful Ascent on Foot, without Shoes or Moccasins—Tribute to the Genius of Fremont—Col. Fremont's Lodge at Meal-Time—Mr. Oliver Fuller's Death—Sorrow of his Companions—His Last Hours—His Virtues—Indian Camp—Arrival at Parowan—Burial of Mr. Fuller—Author's Physical Condition—Mormon Sympathies—Mr. Heap and his Wives—Mormon Hospitality.
 

FOUR days before we entered the Little Salt Lake Valley, we were surrounded by very deep snows; but as it was necessary to proceed, the whole party started, to penetrate through what appeared to be a pass, on the Warsatch Mountains. The opening to this depression was favorable, and we continued our journey, until the mountains seemed to close around us, the snow in the canon got deeper, and further progress on our present course was impossible.

It was during this night, while encamped in this desolate spot, that Col. Fremont called a council of Capt. Wolff and Solomon of the Delawares—they had been sent by Col. Fremont to survey the canon and surrounding mountains, to see if a passage could be forced. On their return, this council was held; Capt. Wolff reported it impossible to proceed, as the animals sank over their heads in snow, and he could see no passage out. The mountains which intercepted our path, were covered with snow four feet deep. The ascent bore an angle of forty-five degrees, and was at least one thousand feet from base to summit. Over this, Captain Wolff said it was also impossible to go. "That is not the point," replied Col. Fremont, "we must cross, the question is, which is most practicable—and how we can do it."

I was acting as assistant astronomer at this time. After the council, Col. Fremont told me there would be an occultation that night, and he wanted me to assist in making observations. I selected a level spot on the snow, and prepared the artificial horizon. The thermometer indicated a very great degree of cold; and standing almost up to our middle in snow, Col. Fremont remained for hours making observations, first with one star, then with another, until the occultation took place. Our lantern was illuminated with a piece of sperm candle, which I saved from my pandora box, before we buried it; of my six sperm candles this was the last one. I take some praise to myself for providing some articles which were found most necessary. These candles, for instance, I produced when they were most required, and Col. Fremont little thought where they were procured.

The next morning, Col. Fremont told me that Parowan, a small settlement of Mormons, forty rods square, in the Little Salt Lake Valley, was distant so many miles in a certain direction, immediately over this great mountain of snow; that in three days he hoped to be in the settlement, and that he intended to go over the mountain, at all hazards.

We commenced the ascent of this tremendous mountain, covered as it were, with an icy pall of death, Col. Fremont leading and breaking a path; the ascent was so steep and difficult, that it was impossible to keep on our animals; consequently, we had to lead them, and travel on foot—each man placed his foot in the tracks of the one that preceded him; the snow was up to the bellies of the animals. In this manner, alternately toiling and resting, we reached the summit, over which our Delawares, who were accustomed to mountain travel, would not of themselves have ventured. When I surveyed the distance, I saw nothing but continued ranges of mountains of everlasting snow, and for the first time, my heart failed me—not that I had lost confidence in our noble leader, but that I felt myself physically unable to overcome the difficulties which appeared before me, and Capt. Wolff himself told me, that he did not think we could force a passage. We none of us had shoes, boots it was impossible to wear. Some of the men had raw hide strapped round their feet, while others were half covered with worn out stockings and moccasins; Col. Fremont's moccasins were worn out, and he was no better off than any of us.

After we were all rested, Col. Fremont took out his pocket compass, and pointing with his hand in a certain direction, commenced the descent. I could see no mode of extrication, but silently followed the party, winding round the base of one hill, over the side of another, through defiles, and, to all appearance, impassable canons, until the mountains, which were perfectly bare of vegetation, gradually became interspersed with trees. Every half hour, a new snow scape presented itself, and as we overcame each separate mountain, the trees increased in number.

By noon, we were in a defile of the mountains, through which was a dry bed of a creek. We followed its winding course, and camped at about two o'clock in a valley, with plenty of grass. Deer tracks were visible over the snow, which gave fresh life to the men. The Delawares sallied out to find some. Col. Fremont promised them, as an incentive to renewed exertions, that he would present the successful hunter, who brought in a deer, a superior rifle.

They were out several hours, and Weluchas was seen approaching, with a fine buck across his saddle.

He received his reward, and we again participated in a dish of wholesome food.

We had now triumphantly overcome the immense mountain, which I do not believe human foot, whether civilized or Indian, had ever before attempted, from its inaccessibility; and on the very day and hour previously indicated by Col. Fremont, he conducted us to the small settlement of Parowan, in Little Salt Lake Valley, which could not be distinguished two miles off, thus proving himself a most correct astronomer and geometrician.

Here was no chance work—no guessing—for a deviation of one mile, either way, from the true course, would have plunged the whole party into certain destruction. An island at sea may be seen for forty miles; a navigator makes his calculations, and sails in the direction of the land, which oftentimes extends many miles; when he sees the land, he directs his course to that portion of it where he is bound; he may have been fifty miles out of his way, but the well-known land being visible from a great distance, he changes his course until he arrives safely in port.

Not so with a winter travel over trackless mountains of eternal snow, across a continent of such immense limits, suffering the privations of cold and hunger, and enervated by disease.

It seems as if Col. Fremont had been endowed with supernatural powers of vision, and that he penetrated with his keen and powerful eye through the limits of space, and saw the goal to which all his powers had been concentrated to reach. It was a feat of scientific correctness, probably without comparison in the records of the past. His firmness of purpose, determination of character, and confidence in his own powers, exercised under such extraordinary circumstances, alone enabled him, successfully, to combat the combination of untoward and unforeseen difficulties which surrounded him, and momentarily threatened the annihilation of his whole party.

It is worthy of remark, and goes to show the difference between a person "to the manor born," and one who has "acquired it by purchase." That in all the varied scenes of vicissitude, of suffering and excitement, from various causes, during a voyage when the natural character of a man is sure to be developed, Col. Fremont never forgot he was a gentleman; not an oath, no boisterous ebullutions of temper, when, heaven knows, he had enough to excite it, from the continued blunders of the men. Calmly and collectedly, he gave his orders, and they were invariably fulfilled to the utmost of the men's abilities. To the minds of some men, excited by starvation and cold, the request of an officer is often misconstrued into a command, and resistance follows as a natural consequence; but in no instance was a slight request of his received with anything but the promptest obedience. He never wished his officers or men to undertake duties which he did not readily share. When we were reduced to rations of dried horse meat, and he took his scanty meal by himself, he was, I am sure, actuated by the desire to allow his companions free speech, during meal time; any animadversion on the abject manner in which we were constrained to live would, no doubt, have vibrated on his sensitive feelings, and to prevent the occurrence of such a thing, he, as it were, banished himself to the loneliness of his own lodge.

Col. Fremont's lodge, at meal time, when we had good, wholesome buffalo and deer meat presented quite a picturesque appearance. A fire was always burning in the centre; around it cedar bushes were strewn on which buffalo robes were placed. Sitting around, all of us on our hams, cross-legged, with our tin plates and cups at each side of us, we awaited patiently the entrance of our several courses; first came the camp kettle, with buffalo soup, thickened with meat-biscuit, our respective tin plates were filled and replenished as often as required. Then came the roast or fry, and sometimes both; the roast was served on sticks, one end of which was stuck in the ground, from it we each in rotation cut off a piece. Then the fried venison. In those days we lived well, and I always looked forward to this social gathering, as the happiest and most intellectually spent hour during the day. Col. Fremont would often entertain us with his adventures on different expeditions; and we each tried to make ourselves agreeable.

Although on the mountains, and away from civilization, Col. Fremont's lodge was sacred from all and every thing that was immodest, light or trivial; each and all of us entertained the highest regard for him. The greatest etiquette and deference were always paid to him, although he never ostensibly required it. Yet his reserved and unexceptionable deportment, demanded from us the same respect with which we were always treated, and which we ever took pleasure in reciprocating.

MR. FULLER'S DEATH.

The death of Mr. Fuller filled our camp with deep gloom; almost at the very hour he passed away, succor was at hand. Our party was met by some Utah Indians, under the chieftainship of Ammon, a brother of the celebrated Wakara, (anglicized Walker) who conducted us into the camp on Red Creek Canon. At this spot our camp was informed by Mr. Egloffstien, that our companion in joy and in sorrow, was left to sleep his last sleep on the snows. The announcement took some of us by surprise, although I was prepared for his death at any moment. I assisted him on his mule that morning, and roasted the prickles from some cactus leaves, which we dug from the snow, for his breakfast; he told me that he was sure he would not survive, and did not want to leave camp.

A journey like the one we had passed through, was calculated to expose the thorough character of individuals; if there were any imperfections, they were sure to be developed. My friend, Oliver Fuller, passed through the trials of that ordeal victoriously. No vice or evil propensity made any part of his character. His disposition was mild and amiable, and generous to a fault. Slow to take offence, yet firm and courageous as a lion; he bore his trials without a murmur, and performed his duties as assistant astronomer and engineer to the hour he was stricken down. After he was unable to walk, he received the assistance of every man in camp.

His companions who were suffering dreadfully, though not to such an imminent degree, voluntarily deprived themselves of a portion of their small rations of horse meat to increase his meal, as he seemed to require more sustenance than the rest of us. His death was deeply regretted.

Not having any instruments by which a grave could be dug in the frozen ground, Col. Fremont awaited his arrival at Parowan, from which place he sent out several men to perform the last sad duties to our lamented friend.

I was riding side by side with Egloffstien after Mr. Fuller's death, sad and dejected. Turning my eyes on the waste of snow before me, I remarked to my companion that I thought we had struck a travelled road. He shook his head despondingly, replying "that the marks I observed, were the trails from Col. Fremont's lodge poles." Feeling satisfied that I saw certain indications, I stopped my mule, and with very great difficulty alighted, and thrust my hand into the snow, when to my great delight I distinctly felt the ruts caused by wagon wheels. I was then perfectly satisfied that we were "saved!" The great revulsion of feeling from intense despair to a reasonable hope, is impossible to be described; from that moment, however, my strength perceptibly left me, and I felt myself gradually breaking up. The nearer I approached the settlement, the less energy I had at my command; and I felt so totally incapable of continuing, that I told Col. Fremont, half an hour before we reached Parowan, that he would have to leave me there; when I was actually in the town, and surrounded with white men, women and children, paroxysms of tears followed each other, and I fell down on the snow perfectly overcome.

I was conducted by a Mr. Heap to his dwelling, where I was treated hospitably. I was mistaken for an Indian by the people of Parowan. My hair was long, and had not known a comb for a month, my face was unwashed, and grounded in with the collected dirt of a similar period. Emaciated to a degree, my eyes sunken, and clothes all torn into tatters from hunting our animals through the brush. My hands were in a dreadful state; my fingers were frost-bitten, and split at every joint; and suffering at the same time from diarrhoea, and symptoms of scurvy, which broke out on me at Salt Lake City afterwards. I was in a situation truly to be pitied, and I do not wonder that the sympathies of the Mormons were excited in our favor, for my personal appearance being but a reflection of the whole party, we were indeed legitimate subjects for the exercise of the finer feelings of nature. When I entered Mr. Heap's house I saw three beautiful children. I covered my eyes and wept for joy to think I might yet be restored to embrace my own.

During the day I submitted to the operation of having my face and hands washed, and my hair cut and combed. Our combs might have been lost, and this would account for the condition of our hair, but how about the dirty faces? Alas, we had no water, nothing but frozen snow; and although we laved our faces with it, we had no towels to wipe with, and the dirt dried in.

Mr. Heap was the first Mormon I ever spoke to, and although I had heard and read of them, I never contemplated realizing the fact that I would have occasion to be indebted to Mormons for much kindness and attention, and be thrown entirely among them for months.

It was hinted to me that Mr. Heap had two wives; I saw two matrons in his house, both performing to interesting infants the duties of maternity; but I could hardly realize the fact that two wives could be reconciled to live together in one house. I asked Mr. Heap if both these ladies were his wives, he told me they were. On conversing with them subsequently, I discovered that they were sisters, and that there originally were three sets of children; one mother was deceased, and she was also a sister. Mr. Heap had married three sisters, and there were living children from them all. I thought of that command in the bible,—"Thou shalt not take a wife's sister, to vex her." But it was no business of mine to discuss theology or morality with them—they thought it right.

These two females performed all the duties which devolve on a country home. One of them milked the cow, churned the butter, and baked the bread; while the other cared for the children, attended to the making, washing, and ironing of the clothes. Mr. Heap was an Englishman, and his wives were also natives of London. Mr. Heap was a shoemaker by trade, and a preacher by divine inspiration. Mammon was the god he worshipped, for he gave away nothing without an equivalent—not even a piece of old cloth to line a pair of moccasins with. His wives differed from him in this respect, daily they furnished "Shirt-cup," the "Utah," with everything edible, for numbers of miserable Indians who surrounded their door. The eldest in particular, was a kind-hearted woman; they all, however, showed me as much attention as they could afford, for one dollar and fifty cents a day, which amount Col. Fremont paid for my board while with them, a period of fourteen days.
 

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