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The Arizona Desert








From: The Last Of The Plainsmen

One afternoon, far out on the sun-baked waste of sage, we made camp
near a clump of withered pinyon trees. The cold desert wind came down
upon us with the sudden darkness. Even the Mormons, who were finding
the trail for us across the drifting sands, forgot to sing and pray at
sundown. We huddled round the campfire, a tired and silent little
group. When out of the lonely, melancholy night some wandering Navajos
stole like shadows to our fire, we hailed their advent with delight.
They were good-natured Indians, willing to barter a blanket or
bracelet; and one of them, a tall, gaunt fellow, with the bearing of a
chief, could speak a little English.

"How," said he, in a deep chest voice.

"Hello, Noddlecoddy," greeted Jim Emmett, the Mormon guide.

"Ugh!" answered the Indian.

"Big paleface--Buffalo Jones---big chief--buffalo man," introduced
Emmett, indicating Jones.

"How." The Navajo spoke with dignity, and extended a friendly hand.

"Jones big white chief--rope buffalo--tie up tight," continued Emmett,
making motions with his arm, as if he were whirling a lasso.

"No big--heap small buffalo," said the Indian, holding his hand level
with his knee, and smiling broadly.

Jones, erect, rugged, brawny, stood in the full light of the campfire.
He had a dark, bronzed, inscrutable face; a stern mouth and square jaw,
keen eyes, half-closed from years of searching the wide plains; and
deep furrows wrinkling his cheeks. A strange stillness enfolded his
feature the tranquility earned from a long life of adventure.

He held up both muscular hands to the Navajo, and spread out his
fingers.

"Rope buffalo--heap big buffalo--heap many--one sun."

The Indian straightened up, but kept his friendly smile.

"Me big chief," went on Jones, "me go far north--Land of Little
Sticks--Naza! Naza! rope musk-ox; rope White Manitou of Great Slave
Naza! Naza!"

"Naza!" replied the Navajo, pointing to the North Star; "no--no."

"Yes me big paleface--me come long way toward setting sun--go cross Big
Water--go Buckskin--Siwash--chase cougar."

The cougar, or mountain lion, is a Navajo god and the Navajos hold him
in as much fear and reverence as do the Great Slave Indians the musk-ox.

"No kill cougar," continued Jones, as the Indian's bold features
hardened. "Run cougar horseback--run long way--dogs chase cougar long
time--chase cougar up tree! Me big chief--me climb tree--climb high
up--lasso cougar--rope cougar--tie cougar all tight."

The Navajo's solemn face relaxed

"White man heap fun. No."

"Yes," cried Jones, extending his great arms. "Me strong; me rope
cougar--me tie cougar; ride off wigwam, keep cougar alive."

"No," replied the savage vehemently.

"Yes," protested Jones, nodding earnestly.

"No," answered the Navajo, louder, raising his dark head.

"Yes!" shouted Jones.

"BIG LIE!" the Indian thundered.

Jones joined good-naturedly in the laugh at his expense. The Indian had
crudely voiced a skepticism I had heard more delicately hinted in New
York, and singularly enough, which had strengthened on our way West, as
we met ranchers, prospectors and cowboys. But those few men I had
fortunately met, who really knew Jones, more than overbalanced the
doubt and ridicule cast upon him. I recalled a scarred old veteran of
the plains, who had talked to me in true Western bluntness:

"Say, young feller, I heerd yer couldn't git acrost the Canyon fer the
deep snow on the north rim. Wal, ye're lucky. Now, yer hit the trail
fer New York, an' keep goin'! Don't ever tackle the desert, 'specially
with them Mormons. They've got water on the brain, wusser 'n religion.
It's two hundred an' fifty miles from Flagstaff to Jones range, an'
only two drinks on the trail. I know this hyar Buffalo Jones. I knowed
him way back in the seventies, when he was doin' them ropin' stunts
thet made him famous as the preserver of the American bison. I know
about that crazy trip of his'n to the Barren Lands, after musk-ox. An'
I reckon I kin guess what he'll do over there in the Siwash. He'll rope
cougars--sure he will--an' watch 'em jump. Jones would rope the devil,
an' tie him down if the lasso didn't burn. Oh! he's hell on ropin'
things. An' he's wusser 'n hell on men, an' hosses, an' dogs."

All that my well-meaning friend suggested made me, of course, only the
more eager to go with Jones. Where I had once been interested in the
old buffalo hunter, I was now fascinated. And now I was with him in the
desert and seeing him as he was, a simple, quiet man, who fitted the
mountains and the silences, and the long reaches of distance.

"It does seem hard to believe--all this about Jones," remarked Judd,
one of Emmett's men.

"How could a man have the strength and the nerve? And isn't it cruel to
keep wild animals in captivity? it against God's word?"

Quick as speech could flow, Jones quoted: "And God said, 'Let us make
man in our image, and give him dominion over the fish of the sea, the
fowls of the air, over all the cattle, and over every creeping thing
that creepeth upon the earth'!"

"Dominion--over all the beasts of the field!" repeated Jones, his big
voice rolling out. He clenched his huge fists, and spread wide his long
arms. "Dominion! That was God's word!" The power and intensity of him
could be felt. Then he relaxed, dropped his arms, and once more grew
calm. But he had shown a glimpse of the great, strange and absorbing
passion of his life. Once he had told me how, when a mere child, he had
hazarded limb and neck to capture a fox squirrel, how he had held on to
the vicious little animal, though it bit his hand through; how he had
never learned to play the games of boyhood; that when the youths of the
little Illinois village were at play, he roamed the prairies, or the
rolling, wooded hills, or watched a gopher hole. That boy was father of
the man: for sixty years an enduring passion for dominion over wild
animals had possessed him, and made his life an endless pursuit.

Our guests, the Navajos, departed early, and vanished silently in the
gloom of the desert. We settled down again into a quiet that was broken
only by the low chant-like song of a praying Mormon. Suddenly the
hounds bristled, and old Moze, a surly and aggressive dog, rose and
barked at some real or imaginary desert prowler. A sharp command from
Jones made Moze crouch down, and the other hounds cowered close
together.

"Better tie up the dogs," suggested Jones. "Like as not coyotes run
down here from the hills."

The hounds were my especial delight. But Jones regarded them with
considerable contempt. When all was said, this was no small wonder, for
that quintet of long-eared canines would have tried the patience of a
saint. Old Moze was a Missouri hound that Jones had procured in that
State of uncertain qualities; and the dog had grown old over
coon-trails. He was black and white, grizzled and battlescarred; and if
ever a dog had an evil eye, Moze was that dog. He had a way of wagging
his tail--an indeterminate, equivocal sort of wag, as if he realized
his ugliness and knew he stood little chance of making friends, but was
still hopeful and willing. As for me, the first time he manifested this
evidence of a good heart under a rough coat, he won me forever.

To tell of Moze's derelictions up to that time would take more space
than would a history of the whole trip; but the enumeration of several
incidents will at once stamp him as a dog of character, and will
establish the fact that even if his progenitors had never taken any
blue ribbons, they had at least bequeathed him fighting blood. At
Flagstaff we chained him in the yard of a livery stable. Next morning
we found him hanging by his chain on the other side of an eight-foot
fence. We took him down, expecting to have the sorrowful duty of
burying him; but Moze shook himself, wagged his tail and then pitched
into the livery stable dog. As a matter of fact, fighting was his
forte. He whipped all of the dogs in Flagstaff; and when our blood
hounds came on from California, he put three of them hors de combat at
once, and subdued the pup with a savage growl. His crowning feat,
however, made even the stoical Jones open his mouth in amaze. We had
taken Moze to the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, and finding it
impossible to get over to the north rim, we left him with one of
Jones's men, called Rust, who was working on the Canyon trail. Rust's
instructions were to bring Moze to Flagstaff in two weeks. He brought
the dog a little ahead time, and roared his appreciation of the relief
it to get the responsibility off his hands. And he related many strange
things, most striking of which was how Moze had broken his chain and
plunged into the raging Colorado River, and tried to swim it just above
the terrible Sockdolager Rapids. Rust and his fellow-workmen watched
the dog disappear in the yellow, wrestling, turbulent whirl of waters,
and had heard his knell in the booming roar of the falls. Nothing but a
fish could live in that current; nothing but a bird could scale those
perpendicular marble walls. That night, however, when the men crossed
on the tramway, Moze met them with a wag of his tail. He had crossed
the river, and he had come back!

To the four reddish-brown, high-framed bloodhounds I had given the
names of Don, Tige, Jude and Ranger; and by dint of persuasion, had
succeeded in establishing some kind of family relation between them and
Moze. This night I tied up the bloodhounds, after bathing and salving
their sore feet; and I left Moze free, for he grew fretful and surly
under restraint.

The Mormons, prone, dark, blanketed figures, lay on the sand. Jones was
crawling into his bed. I walked a little way from the dying fire, and
faced the north, where the desert stretched, mysterious and
illimitable. How solemn and still it was! I drew in a great breath of
the cold air, and thrilled with a nameless sensation. Something was
there, away to the northward; it called to me from out of the dark and
gloom; I was going to meet it.

I lay down to sleep with the great blue expanse open to my eyes. The
stars were very large, and wonderfully bright, yet they seemed so much
farther off than I had ever seen them. The wind softly sifted the sand.
I hearkened to the tinkle of the cowbells on the hobbled horses. The
last thing I remembered was old Moze creeping close to my side, seeking
the warmth of my body.

When I awakened, a long, pale line showed out of the dun-colored clouds
in the east. It slowly lengthened, and tinged to red. Then the morning
broke, and the slopes of snow on the San Francisco peaks behind us
glowed a delicate pink. The Mormons were up and doing with the dawn.
They were stalwart men, rather silent, and all workers. It was
interesting to see them pack for the day's journey. They traveled with
wagons and mules, in the most primitive way, which Jones assured me was
exactly as their fathers had crossed the plains fifty years before, on
the trail to Utah.

All morning we made good time, and as we descended into the desert, the
air became warmer, the scrubby cedar growth began to fail, and the
bunches of sage were few and far between. I turned often to gaze back
at the San Francisco peaks. The snowcapped tips glistened and grew
higher, and stood out in startling relief. Some one said they could be
seen two hundred miles across the desert, and were a landmark and a
fascination to all travelers thitherward.

I never raised my eyes to the north that I did not draw my breath
quickly and grow chill with awe and bewilderment with the marvel of the
desert. The scaly red ground descended gradually; bare red knolls, like
waves, rolled away northward; black buttes reared their flat heads;
long ranges of sand flowed between them like streams, and all sloped
away to merge into gray, shadowy obscurity, into wild and desolate,
dreamy and misty nothingness.

"Do you see those white sand dunes there, more to the left?" asked
Emmett. "The Little Colorado runs in there. How far does it look to
you?"

"Thirty miles, perhaps," I replied, adding ten miles to my estimate.

"It's seventy-five. We'll get there day after to-morrow. If the snow in
the mountains has begun to melt, we'll have a time getting across."

That afternoon, a hot wind blew in my face, carrying fine sand that cut
and blinded. It filled my throat, sending me to the water cask till I
was ashamed. When I fell into my bed at night, I never turned. The next
day was hotter; the wind blew harder; the sand stung sharper.

About noon the following day, the horses whinnied, and the mules roused
out of their tardy gait. "They smell water," said Emmett. And despite
the heat, and the sand in my nostrils, I smelled it, too. The dogs,
poor foot-sore fellows, trotted on ahead down the trail. A few more
miles of hot sand and gravel and red stone brought us around a low mesa
to the Little Colorado.

It was a wide stream of swiftly running, reddish-muddy water. In the
channel, cut by floods, little streams trickled and meandered in all
directions. The main part of the river ran in close to the bank we were
on. The dogs lolled in the water; the horses and mules tried to run in,
but were restrained; the men drank, and bathed their faces. According
to my Flagstaff adviser, this was one of the two drinks I would get on
the desert, so I availed myself heartily of the opportunity. The water
was full of sand, but cold and gratefully thirst-quenching.

The Little Colorado seemed no more to me than a shallow creek; I heard
nothing sullen or menacing in its musical flow.

"Doesn't look bad, eh?" queried Emmett, who read my thought. "You'd be
surprised to learn how many men and Indians, horses, sheep and wagons
are buried under that quicksand."

The secret was out, and I wondered no more. At once the stream and wet
bars of sand took on a different color. I removed my boots, and waded
out to a little bar. The sand seemed quite firm, but water oozed out
around my feet; and when I stepped, the whole bar shook like jelly. I
pushed my foot through the crust, and the cold, wet sand took hold, and
tried to suck me down.

"How can you ford this stream with horses?" I asked Emmett.

"We must take our chances," replied he. "We'll hitch two teams to one
wagon, and run the horses. I've forded here at worse stages than this.
Once a team got stuck, and I had to leave it; another time the water
was high, and washed me downstream."

Emmett sent his son into the stream on a mule. The rider lashed his
mount, and plunging, splashing, crossed at a pace near a gallop. He
returned in the same manner, and reported one bad place near the other
side.

Jones and I got on the first wagon and tried to coax up the dogs, but
they would not come. Emmett had to lash the four horses to start them;
and other Mormons riding alongside, yelled at them, and used their
whips. The wagon bowled into the water with a tremendous splash. We
were wet through before we had gone twenty feet. The plunging horses
were lost in yellow spray; the stream rushed through the wheels; the
Mormons yelled. I wanted to see, but was lost in a veil of yellow mist.
Jones yelled in my ear, but I could not hear what he said. Once the
wagon wheels struck a stone or log, almost lurching us overboard. A
muddy splash blinded me. I cried out in my excitement, and punched
Jones in the back. Next moment, the keen exhilaration of the ride gave
way to horror. We seemed to drag, and almost stop. Some one roared:
"Horse down!" One instant of painful suspense, in which imagination
pictured another tragedy added to the record of this deceitful river--a
moment filled with intense feeling, and sensation of splash, and yell,
and fury of action; then the three able horses dragged their comrade
out of the quicksand. He regained his feet, and plunged on. Spurred by
fear, the horses increased their efforts, and amid clouds of spray,
galloped the remaining distance to the other side.

Jones looked disgusted. Like all plainsmen, he hated water. Emmett and
his men calmly unhitched. No trace of alarm, or even of excitement
showed in their bronzed faces.

"We made that fine and easy," remarked Emmett.

So I sat down and wondered what Jones and Emmett, and these men would
consider really hazardous. I began to have a feeling that I would find
out; that experience for me was but in its infancy; that far across the
desert the something which had called me would show hard, keen,
perilous life. And I began to think of reserve powers of fortitude and
endurance.

The other wagons were brought across without mishap; but the dogs did
not come with them. Jones called and called. The dogs howled and
howled. Finally I waded out over the wet bars and little streams to a
point several hundred yards nearer the dogs. Moze was lying down, but
the others were whining and howling in a state of great perturbation. I
called and called. They answered, and even ran into the water, but did
not start across.

"Hyah, Moze! hyah, you Indian!" I yelled, losing my patience. "You've
already swum the Big Colorado, and this is only a brook. Come on!"

This appeal evidently touched Moze, for he barked, and plunged in. He
made the water fly, and when carried off his feet, breasted the current
with energy and power. He made shore almost even with me, and wagged
his tail. Not to be outdone, Jude, Tige and Don followed suit, and
first one and then another was swept off his feet and carried
downstream. They landed below me. This left Ranger, the pup, alone on
the other shore. Of all the pitiful yelps ever uttered by a frightened
and lonely puppy, his were the most forlorn I had ever heard. Time
after time he plunged in, and with many bitter howls of distress, went
back. I kept calling, and at last, hoping to make him come by a show of
indifference, I started away. This broke his heart. Putting up his
head, he let out a long, melancholy wail, which for aught I knew might
have been a prayer, and then consigned himself to the yellow current.
Ranger swam like a boy learning. He seemed to be afraid to get wet. His
forefeet were continually pawing the air in front of his nose. When he
struck the swift place, he went downstream like a flash, but still kept
swimming valiantly. I tried to follow along the sand-bar, but found it
impossible. I encouraged him by yelling. He drifted far below, stranded
on an island, crossed it, and plunged in again, to make shore almost
out of my sight. And when at last I got to dry sand, there was Ranger,
wet and disheveled, but consciously proud and happy.

After lunch we entered upon the seventy-mile stretch from the Little to
the Big Colorado.

Imagination had pictured the desert for me as a vast, sandy plain, flat
and monotonous. Reality showed me desolate mountains gleaming bare in
the sun, long lines of red bluffs, white sand dunes, and hills of blue
clay, areas of level ground--in all, a many-hued, boundless world in
itself, wonderful and beautiful, fading all around into the purple haze
of deceiving distance.

Thin, clear, sweet, dry, the desert air carried a languor, a
dreaminess, tidings of far-off things, and an enthralling promise. The
fragrance of flowers, the beauty and grace of women, the sweetness of
music, the mystery of life--all seemed to float on that promise. It was
the air breathed by the lotus-eaters, when they dreamed, and wandered
no more.

Beyond the Little Colorado, we began to climb again. The sand was
thick; the horses labored; the drivers shielded their faces. The dogs
began to limp and lag. Ranger had to be taken into a wagon; and then,
one by one, all of the other dogs except Moze. He refused to ride, and
trotted along with his head down.

Far to the front the pink cliffs, the ragged mesas, the dark, volcanic
spurs of the Big Colorado stood up and beckoned us onward. But they
were a far hundred miles across the shifting sands, and baked day, and
ragged rocks. Always in the rear rose the San Francisco peaks, cold and
pure, startlingly clear and close in the rare atmosphere.

We camped near another water hole, located in a deep, yellow-colored
gorge, crumbling to pieces, a ruin of rock, and silent as the grave. In
the bottom of the canyon was a pool of water, covered with green scum.
My thirst was effectually quenched by the mere sight of it. I slept
poorly, and lay for hours watching the great stars. The silence was
painfully oppressive. If Jones had not begun to give a respectable
imitation of the exhaust pipe on a steamboat, I should have been
compelled to shout aloud, or get up; but this snoring would have
dispelled anything. The morning came gray and cheerless. I got up stiff
and sore, with a tongue like a rope.

All day long we ran the gauntlet of the hot, flying sand. Night came
again, a cold, windy night. I slept well until a mule stepped on my
bed, which was conducive to restlessness. At dawn, cold, gray clouds
tried to blot out the rosy east. I could hardly get up. My lips were
cracked; my tongue swollen to twice its natural size; my eyes smarted
and burned. The barrels and kegs of water were exhausted. Holes that
had been dug in the dry sand of a dry streambed the night before in the
morning yielded a scant supply of muddy alkali water, which went to the
horses.

Only twice that day did I rouse to anything resembling enthusiasm. We
came to a stretch of country showing the wonderful diversity of the
desert land. A long range of beautifully rounded clay stones bordered
the trail. So symmetrical were they that I imagined them works of
sculptors. Light blue, dark blue, clay blue, marine blue, cobalt
blue--every shade of blue was there, but no other color. The other time
that I awoke to sensations from without was when we came to the top of
a ridge. We had been passing through red-lands. Jones called the place
a strong, specific word which really was illustrative of the heat amid
those scaling red ridges. We came out where the red changed abruptly to
gray. I seemed always to see things first, and I cried out: "Look! here
are a red lake and trees!"

"No, lad, not a lake," said old Jim, smiling at me; "that's what haunts
the desert traveler. It's only mirage!"

So I awoke to the realization of that illusive thing, the mirage, a
beautiful lie, false as stairs of sand. Far northward a clear rippling
lake sparkled in the sunshine. Tall, stately trees, with waving green
foliage, bordered the water. For a long moment it lay there, smiling in
the sun, a thing almost tangible; and then it faded. I felt a sense of
actual loss. So real had been the illusion that I could not believe I
was not soon to drink and wade and dabble in the cool waters.
Disappointment was keen. This is what maddens the prospector or
sheep-herder lost in the desert. Was it not a terrible thing to be
dying of thirst, to see sparkling water, almost to smell it and then
realize suddenly that all was only a lying track of the desert, a lure,
a delusion? I ceased to wonder at the Mormons, and their search for
water, their talk of water. But I had not realized its true
significance. I had not known what water was. I had never appreciated
it. So it was my destiny to learn that water is the greatest thing on
earth. I hung over a three-foot hole in a dry stream-bed, and watched
it ooze and seep through the sand, and fill up--oh, so slowly; and I
felt it loosen my parched tongue, and steal through all my dry body
with strength and life. Water is said to constitute three fourths of
the universe. However that may be, on the desert it is the whole world,
and all of life.

Two days passed by, all hot sand and wind and glare. The Mormons sang
no more at evening; Jones was silent; the dogs were limp as rags.

At Moncaupie Wash we ran into a sandstorm. The horses turned their
backs to it, and bowed their heads patiently. The Mormons covered
themselves. I wrapped a blanket round my head and hid behind a sage
bush. The wind, carrying the sand, made a strange hollow roar. All was
enveloped in a weird yellow opacity. The sand seeped through the sage
bush and swept by with a soft, rustling sound, not unlike the wind in
the rye. From time to time I raised a corner of my blanket and peeped
out. Where my feet had stretched was an enormous mound of sand. I felt
the blanket, weighted down, slowly settle over me.

Suddenly as it had come, the sandstorm passed. It left a changed world
for us. The trail was covered; the wheels hub-deep in sand; the horses,
walking sand dunes. I could not close my teeth without grating harshly
on sand.

We journeyed onward, and passed long lines of petrified trees, some a
hundred feet in length, lying as they had fallen, thousands of years
before. White ants crawled among the ruins. Slowly climbing the sandy
trail, we circled a great red bluff with jagged peaks, that had seemed
an interminable obstacle. A scant growth of cedar and sage again made
its appearance. Here we halted to pass another night. Under a cedar I
heard the plaintive, piteous bleat of an animal. I searched, and
presently found a little black and white lamb, scarcely able to stand.
It came readily to me, and I carried it to the wagon.

"That's a Navajo lamb," said Emmett. "It's lost. There are Navajo
Indians close by."

"Away in the desert we heard its cry," quoted one of the Mormons.

Jones and I climbed the red mesa near camp to see the sunset. All the
western world was ablaze in golden glory. Shafts of light shot toward
the zenith, and bands of paler gold, tinging to rose, circled away from
the fiery, sinking globe. Suddenly the sun sank, the gold changed to
gray, then to purple, and shadows formed in the deep gorge at our feet.
So sudden was the transformation that soon it was night, the solemn,
impressive night of the desert. A stillness that seemed too sacred to
break clasped the place; it was infinite; it held the bygone ages, and
eternity.

More days, and miles, miles, miles! The last day's ride to the Big
Colorado was unforgettable. We rode toward the head of a gigantic red
cliff pocket, a veritable inferno, immeasurably hot, glaring, awful. It
towered higher and higher above us. When we reached a point of this red
barrier, we heard the dull rumbling roar of water, and we came out, at
length, on a winding trail cut in the face of a blue overhanging the
Colorado River. The first sight of most famous and much-heralded
wonders of nature is often disappointing; but never can this be said of
the blood-hued Rio Colorado. If it had beauty, it was beauty that
appalled. So riveted was my gaze that I could hardly turn it across the
river, where Emmett proudly pointed out his lonely home--an oasis set
down amidst beetling red cliffs. How grateful to the eye was the green
of alfalfa and cottonwood! Going round the bluff trail, the wheels had
only a foot of room to spare; and the sheer descent into the red,
turbid, congested river was terrifying.

I saw the constricted rapids, where the Colorado took its plunge into
the box-like head of the Grand Canyon of Arizona; and the deep,
reverberating boom of the river, at flood height, was a fearful thing
to hear. I could not repress a shudder at the thought of crossing above
that rapid.

The bronze walls widened as we proceeded, and we got down presently to
a level, where a long wire cable stretched across the river. Under the
cable ran a rope. On the other side was an old scow moored to the bank.

"Are we going across in that?" I asked Emmett, pointing to the boat.

"We'll all be on the other side before dark," he replied cheerily.

I felt that I would rather start back alone over the desert than trust
myself in such a craft, on such a river. And it was all because I had
had experience with bad rivers, and thought I was a judge of dangerous
currents. The Colorado slid with a menacing roar out of a giant split
in the red wall, and whirled, eddied, bulged on toward its confinement
in the iron-ribbed canyon below.

In answer to shots fired, Emmett's man appeared on the other side, and
rode down to the ferry landing. Here he got into a skiff, and rowed
laboriously upstream for a long distance before he started across, and
then swung into the current. He swept down rapidly, and twice the skiff
whirled, and completely turned round; but he reached our bank safely.
Taking two men aboard he rowed upstream again, close to the shore, and
returned to the opposite side in much the same manner in which he had
come over.

The three men pushed out the scow, and grasping the rope overhead,
began to pull. The big craft ran easily. When the current struck it,
the wire cable sagged, the water boiled and surged under it, raising
one end, and then the other. Nevertheless, five minutes were all that
were required to pull the boat over.

It was a rude, oblong affair, made of heavy planks loosely put
together, and it leaked. When Jones suggested that we get the agony
over as quickly as possible, I was with him, and we embarked together.
Jones said he did not like the looks of the tackle; and when I thought
of his by no means small mechanical skill, I had not added a cheerful
idea to my consciousness. The horses of the first team had to be
dragged upon the scow, and once on, they reared and plunged.

When we started, four men pulled the rope, and Emmett sat in the stern,
with the tackle guys in hand. As the current hit us, he let out the
guys, which maneuver caused the boat to swing stern downstream. When it
pointed obliquely, he made fast the guys again. I saw that this served
two purposes: the current struck, slid alongside, and over the stern,
which mitigated the danger, and at the same time helped the boat across.

To look at the river was to court terror, but I had to look. It was an
infernal thing. It roared in hollow, sullen voice, as a monster
growling. It had voice, this river, and one strangely changeful. It
moaned as if in pain--it whined, it cried. Then at times it would seem
strangely silent. The current as complex and mutable as human life. It
boiled, beat and bulged. The bulge itself was an incompressible thing,
like a roaring lift of the waters from submarine explosion. Then it
would smooth out, and run like oil. It shifted from one channel to
another, rushed to the center of the river, then swung close to one
shore or the other. Again it swelled near the boat, in great, boiling,
hissing eddies.

"Look! See where it breaks through the mountain!" yelled Jones in my
ear.

I looked upstream to see the stupendous granite walls separated in a
gigantic split that must have been made by a terrible seismic
disturbance; and from this gap poured the dark, turgid, mystic flood.

I was in a cold sweat when we touched shore, and I jumped long before
the boat was properly moored.

Emmett was wet to the waist where the water had surged over him. As he
sat rearranging some tackle I remarked to him that of course he must be
a splendid swimmer, or he would not take such risks.

"No, I can't swim a stroke," he replied; "and it wouldn't be any use if
I could. Once in there a man's a goner."

"You've had bad accidents here?" I questioned.

"No, not bad. We only drowned two men last year. You see, we had to tow
the boat up the river, and row across, as then we hadn't the wire. Just
above, on this side, the boat hit a stone, and the current washed over
her, taking off the team and two men."

"Didn't you attempt to rescue them?" I asked, after waiting a moment.

"No use. They never came up."

"Isn't the river high now?" I continued, shuddering as I glanced out at
the whirling logs and drifts.

"High, and coming up. If I don't get the other teams over to-day I'll
wait until she goes down. At this season she rises and lowers every day
or so, until June then comes the big flood, and we don't cross for
months."

I sat for three hours watching Emmett bring over the rest of his party,
which he did without accident, but at the expense of great effort. And
all the time in my ears dinned the roar, the boom, the rumble of this
singularly rapacious and purposeful river--a river of silt, a red river
of dark, sinister meaning, a river with terrible work to perform, a
river which never gave up its dead.





Next: The Range

Previous: Mescal



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