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´╗┐Title: A Gold Hunter's Experience
Author: Hambleton, Chalkley J., 1829-
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Gold Hunter's Experience" ***

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I have often been asked to write an account of my
Pike's Peak Expedition in search of gold. The following
attempt has been made up partly from memory and partly
from old letters written at the time to my sister in
the east.

                                               C. J. H.

A Gold Hunter's Experience

Early in the summer of 1860 I had a bad attack of gold fever. In Chicago
the conditions for such a malady were all favorable. Since the panic of
1857 there had been three years of general depression, money was scarce,
there was little activity in business, the outlook was discouraging, and
I, like hundreds of others, felt blue.

Gold had been discovered in the fall of 1858 in the vicinity of Pike's
Peak, by a party of Georgian prospectors, and for several years
afterward the whole gold region for seventy miles to the north was
called "Pike's Peak." Others in the East heard of the gold discoveries
and went West the next spring; so that during the summer of 1859 a
great deal of prospecting was done in the mountains as far north as
Denver and Boulder Creek.

Those who returned in the autumn of that year, having perhaps claims and
mines to sell, told large stories of their rich finds, which grew larger
as they were repeated, amplified and circulated by those who dealt in
mining outfits and mills. Then these accounts were fed out to the public
daily in an appetizing way by the newspapers. The result was that by the
next spring the epidemic became as prevalent in Chicago as cholera was a
few years later.

Four of the fever stricken ones, Enos Ayres, T. R. Stubbs, John Sollitt
and myself, formed a partnership, raised about $9,000 and went to work
to purchase the necessary outfit for gold mining. Mr. Ayres furnished a
larger share of the capital than any of the others and was not to go
with the expedition, but might join us the following year. Mr. Stubbs
and I were both to go, while Mr. Sollitt was to be represented by a
substitute, a relative whose name was also John Sollitt, and who had
been a farmer and butcher and was supposed to know all about oxen. Mr.
Stubbs was a good mechanic, an intelligent, well-read man, and ten years
before had been to California in search of gold.

Our outfit consisted of a 12-stamp quartz mill with engine and boiler,
and all the equipments understood to be necessary for extracting gold
from the rock, including mining tools, powder, quicksilver, copper plate
and chemicals; also a supply of provisions for a year. The staple
articles of the latter were flour, beans, salt pork, coffee and sugar.
Then we had rice, cornmeal, dried fruit, tea, bacon and a barrel of
syrup; besides a good supply of hardtack, crackers and cheese for use
while crossing the plains, when a fire for cooking might not be found
practicable. These things were all purchased in Chicago, together with
the fourteen wagons necessary to carry them across the plains. Then all
were shipped by rail to St. Joseph, Mo., where the oxen were to be
purchased. The entire outfit when loaded on the cars, weighed
twenty-four tons.

I stayed in Chicago till the last to help purchase and forward the
outfit and supplies, while Stubbs and Sollitt (the substitute) went to
St. Joe to receive and load them on the wagons and to purchase the oxen.

On the 1st day of August, all was ready, and we ferried our loaded
wagons and teams across the Missouri River into Kansas to make a final
start next morning into regions to us unknown. Stubbs started the same
day by stage for the mountains, to prospect and look out for a
favorable location and then to meet the train when it arrived at Denver.
Sollitt was to be trainmaster, which involved the oversight and
direction of the teams and drivers, and the duty of frequently going
ahead to pick out the best road and select a favorable place to camp at
night, where water and grass could be had. I was the general business
man of the expedition, had full power of attorney from Mr. Ayres to
represent and manage his interest, and hence I had the control and
responsibility in my hands and practically decided all important
questions relating to the business.

The fourteen ox-drivers were all volunteers, who drove without
pay--except their board--for the sake of getting to the gold regions to
make their fortunes there. Most of them were from Chicago--three married
men who left families behind, and one a young dentist. Another was the
son of a prominent public woman who was a rigid Presbyterian, and when I
left Chicago his father gave me a satchel full of religious books to
give to him in St. Joe to read on the plains. He deliberately pitched
them into a loft, where they were left. Another was a young Illinois
farmer, named Tobias, a splendid fellow. Among those we secured in St.
Joe were one German and two Missourians.

The principal article in the outfit of each individual, aside from his
ornaments in the shape of knives and pistols, was a pair of heavy
blankets. One of the Missourians first appeared without any, but next
morning he had a quilted calico bed cover, stuffed with cotton, borrowed
probably from a friendly clothesline, and which, at the end of the
journey, presented a very dilapidated appearance.

Early in the morning of August 2d all were busy yoking oxen and
hitching them to the wagons, but as most of the drivers were green at
the business and did not know "haw" from "gee," and a number of the oxen
were young and not well broken, it was several hours before our train
was in motion and finally headed for "Pike's Peak." The train consisted
of fourteen wagons, a driver for each, forty yoke of oxen, one yoke of
cows and one pony with a Mexican saddle and a rawhide lariat thirty feet
long, with an iron pin at the end to stick in the ground to secure the

For the first two or three miles, while crossing the level valley, all
went well, but when we reached the bluffs and ravines that bounded the
river valley on the west, the green oxen began to balk and back and
refused to pull their loads up the hills, and the new drivers were
nonplused and helpless. The better teams went ahead and were soon out
of sight, while the poorer ones had to double up, taking one wagon up a
hill and then going back for another, and consequently made slow
progress. Instead of riding or walking along like a "boss" at ease, I
soon found myself fully occupied in whipping up the poorly broken oxen
on the off side, while the green drivers whipped and yelled at those on
their side of the team. It was surprising how soon the nice city boys
picked up the strong language in use by teamsters on the Western plains.
The teams got separated, and the train stretched out two or three miles
long. Then Sollitt rode ahead, picked out a camping place, and directed
the drivers to halt and unyoke as they reached it; but when it became
dark three or four teams were still from a quarter of a mile to a mile
behind, and in trouble, so they unhitched the oxen and let them run in
their yokes for the night. Our lunch and our supper that day consisted
of crackers and cheese, as we had no time to cook.

About dark a shower came up, and it drizzled a good part of the
night--the last rain we met with for many weeks. We rolled ourselves up
in our blankets on the ground, under the wagons or in a small tent we
had, for sleep. At daylight next morning we all started in different
directions through the wet bushes that filled the ravines to find the
scattered oxen, and before noon they were all collected at camp. We had
hot coffee and some cooked things for breakfast. But several accidents
had occurred. The cows had fallen into a gully with their yoke on and
broken their necks, one load of heavy machinery had run down hill and
upset, one axle, two wagon tongues, one yoke and some chains were
broken. Sollitt, with two or three of the drivers who were mechanics,
went to work to repair damages. As we seemed short of oxen, I rode back
to St. Joe and bought two yoke more, spending the last of our money
except about fifty dollars.

By next morning we were ready for a new start. Experience had already
taught us something, and we adopted more system and some rules. All the
teams were to keep near together, so as not to leave the weaker ones
behind in the lurch. Our cattle were to be strictly watched all night by
two men on guard at a time--not together, but on opposite sides of the
herd. Two would watch half the night and then be relieved by two others
who stood guard till morning. We all took our turns except the cook, who
was relieved from that duty and from yoking and hitching up his own
team, as cooking for sixteen men while in camp was no sinecure. The man
chosen for cook was one of the drivers from Chicago named Taylor, who
had cooked for campers and for parties at work in the woods. He was
really a good plain cook. His utensils consisted of some large boiling
pots and kettles, a tin bake oven, two or three frying pans, a
two-gallon coffeepot and a few other usual articles.

Each person had a tin plate, a pint tin cup with a handle, and an iron
knife, fork and spoon. The food was placed in the dishes and cups on the
ground, and while eating we stood up, sat on the ground or reclined in
the fashion of the ancient Romans, according to our individual tastes.
The article of first importance at a meal was strong coffee and plenty
of it. Next came boiled beans with pork, whenever there was time to cook
them; and that could generally be done during the night. Then we had
some kind of bread, cake or crackers, and sometimes stewed dried fruit.

About the third day out our open air prairie appetites came, and it
seemed as if we could eat and digest anything. I had been a little out
of health for some time, was somewhat dyspeptic, and had not tasted pork
for years. Soon I could devour it in a manner that would have shocked my
vegetarian friends; and for the next two years I was conscious of a
stomach only when hungry.

The third day the teams went a little better, but we had to double up
sometimes to pull the wagons up the hills and out of the deep gullies we
had frequently to cross, so we only made seven or eight miles. In a few
days we got out on the level prairie and went along faster. But every
morning for a week, one or more of our cattle would be lost from the
herd. They would sneak away during the night and hide in the bushes and
ravines, or start back toward home. As I had no special duties in camp,
or in yoking up in the morning, hunting them fell to my lot. If not
found in the first search before starting time, I would ride back on the
pony for miles, scour the country and hunt through the gullies and
bushes for hours till the lost animal was found; then drive him along
until the train was overtaken. That could easily be followed by the
tracks of the wheels on the prairie. Hiawatha, Kansas, and a few
scattered cabins some miles to the west of it were about the last signs
of settlement and civilization that we saw.

That season was a very dry one in Kansas and on the Western plains. The
prairies were parched and looked like a desert, except a fringe of green
along the water courses. The heat was intense and the distant hills and
everything visible seemed quivering from its effects. The dry ground and
sand reflected the sun's rays into our faces, till a few with weak eyes
were seriously affected. The iron about the wagons, and the chains were
blistering to the touch. The southwest wind was like a blast from a
heated furnace. It was worse than stillness, and I frequently took
shelter behind a wagon to escape its effects.

This heat was very trying and debilitating to the oxen. They would pant,
loll their tongues out of their mouths, refuse to pull, and lie down in
their yokes. Sometimes we were compelled to keep quiet all day, and
drive in the early evening and morning, and during the night when we
could find the way. The most important thing was to find water near
which to camp. Wolves began to surround our camp and the herd of oxen at
night, and break the silence by their piercing howls. After we had gone
to sleep, they would sneak into camp to pick up scraps left from supper,
then come within a few feet of some one rolled up in his blanket and
startle him with a howl. But with all their noise these prairie wolves
were great cowards, and would run from any movement of a man.

Soon after starting out one evening for a night drive, after a very hot
day, one of the weak oxen lay down and refused to go. That the train
might not be delayed, they tied his mate to a wagon, and I concluded to
stay behind with him till morning to see if he would recover. Soon after
dark the wolves seeming to divine his condition and the good meal in
store for them, collected around us a short distance off, and seated on
their haunches, with howls of impatience waited for the feast. They were
plainly visible by their glaring, fire-like eyes. I varied the monotony
of the long night by walking around, sitting down, lying upon the
ground, and occasionally falling asleep beside the sick ox. Then the
wolves emboldened by the stillness, would sneak up close to us and break
out in piercing howls, but they would instantly vanish when I got up
and threw something at them.

Daylight came at last; the ox had grown worse instead of better, and I
left him to his fate and the wolves, and followed the wagon tracks till
I overtook the train in camp, early in the day, with an appetite for a
quart of strong coffee and something to eat.

In this hot weather the oxen with their heavy loads did not make more
than a mile an hour when on the march, so with the numerous delays it
was nearly two weeks before we reached Marysville on the Big Blue River.
This was a small settlement on the verge of civilization, with a few
ranches, saloons and stores, situated on that branch of the old Oregon
trail which started northward from Westport, Mo., and passed near Fort
Leavenworth, Kan. The inhabitants had the reputation of being mostly
outlaws, blacklegs and stock thieves. Their reputation inspired us with
such respect for them that we kept extra watch over our cattle and
possessions while in the vicinity.

About a week after starting, one of the drivers got homesick,
discouraged and disgusted with the trip, left us and started back home
on foot. This compelled Sollitt and me to drive his team. One of our
wagons not being made of properly seasoned wood, became shaky from the
effects of the heat and dry air of the plains. At Marysville I traded it
off to a ranchman for a yoke of oxen and had the load distributed on the
other wagons so that again we had as many drivers as teams. I also
traded some of our younger, weaker oxen for old ones that served our
purpose better, though they were of less market value.

We learned that between this place and the Little Blue, there was no
water to be found to enable us to camp for a night, so we were
compelled to make the trip--some twenty miles--at a single drive. As the
weather was hot we started late in the afternoon, drove all night, and
arrived early next day, at that small river, where we found water and
grass. Sollitt rode ahead much of the time to pick out the road.

Our course for several days was now along the Little Blue in a northwest
direction, toward Fort Kearney on the Platte. To avoid the side gullies
and ravines, which were water courses in the spring, though now dried
up, we frequently circled off two or three miles on to the level
prairie, but had to return near the stream when we camped, in order to
get water.

One day, off to the west, a mile or two away, we saw a single buffalo
which had probably been outlawed and driven from the herd to wander in
solitude over the plains. Our pony had crossed the plains before and
was well used to buffalo. Sollitt mounted him, and, rifle in hand, rode
for the lone beast. When approached he began to run, but the horse soon
overtook him, and he received a bullet. Then he turned savagely on the
horse and rider, and, with head down, chased them at high speed before
trying to escape. The horse overtook him a second time and he received
another bullet. Then he charged after the horse and rider again. When
the horse's turn to chase came next, the buffalo received a third shot
and soon fell dead. This was quite exciting sport for us "tenderfeet"
who had never seen a buffalo hunt.

Sollitt, who was a butcher by trade, was now in his glory. He rode back
to camp, sharpened his knives and with the help of one or two of the men
carved up the animal and brought back a supply of fresh meat. This
proved rather tough as the animal was an old bull, nevertheless the
tongue and the tenderloin were relished, after having eaten only salt
pork for three weeks.

The small stream of water in the Little Blue grew less and less as we
approached its source, and the last night that we camped near it, there
was no running water at all. The little that was to be seen stood in
stagnant pools in the bottom of the river bed. When we would approach
these pools, turtles, frogs and snakes in great variety, that had been
sunning themselves on the banks, would tumble, jump and crawl into the
water, and countless tadpoles wiggled in the mud, at the bottom, so that
the water was soon black and thick. Its taste and smell were anything
but appetizing. The oxen, though without water since morning, refused to
drink it, even after we had dipped it up in pails and allowed it to
settle. We boiled it for the coffee, but the odor and flavor of mud
still remained. The situation had become serious and our only hope was
to reach the Platte river before the oxen were famished from thirst.
Earlier in the season, before the streams dried up, this was a favorite
route of travel, but it was not so at this time of year and we saw very
few passing teams.

By daylight next morning the oxen were yoked and hitched up and we
commenced a forced march for water and salvation. The old trail seemed
still to follow the course of the dried-up stream, bearing much to the
west. We concluded to leave it and steer more to the north with the hope
of striking the Platte at the nearest point. The prairie was hard and
level, the day not excessively hot, and everything was favorable for a
long drive. The rule for keeping together was ignored and each team was
to be urged to its best speed, in the hope that the strong and the swift
would reach the goal though the weak and the weary might fall by the

Before noon the teams were much separated. They halted for a nooning;
the oxen browsed a little on sage brush and dried grass; the men lunched
on crackers, cold coffee and the remnants of breakfast, but our water
keg was empty. By the time the last team was at the nooning place, the
head ones were ready to start on.

Sollitt rode ahead to explore and pick out the road, carrying his rifle
on the saddle, as we were liable at any time to meet bands of
treacherous, pillaging Pawnees, whose haunts were on the lower Platte. I
formed the rear guard with the hindmost wagon, so that it would not be
deserted and alone in case of accident. Each team was always in sight of
the next one ahead of it, though the train was stretched out some three
miles long. Late in the afternoon Sollitt rode back with the cheering
news that he had seen the Stars and Stripes waving over Fort Kearney to
the west and that he had picked out a camping ground near the river a
few miles below. Soon after dark the last team was in camp and the men
and beasts were luxuriating in the clear running water of the Platte.

The next forenoon we drove on to the fort and camped a mile or two west
of it for a day's rest. This was on the 20th of August, so we had been
out twenty days on the road from St. Joe. At the fort was a postoffice
and here we received letters from our friends in the East, and spent a
good part of the day in writing, in response to them. Letters were
brought here by the coaches of the overland express which carried the
United States mail to California.

The fort consisted of a few buildings surrounded by a high adobe wall
for protection; and adjoining was a strong stockade for horses and
oxen. There were a few United States troops here. Just outside the fort
grounds were some ranches, stores, saloons and trading posts. The two
Missourians proceeded forthwith to get dead drunk and it took them till
next day to sober up. By way of apology they said the whisky tasted "so
good" after being so long without it. We had no whisky on our train. It
was one of the very few that crossed the plains in those days without
that, so considered, essential article in frontier life.

Personally, through the entire period of my "Pike's Peak" experience, I
adhered strictly to my custom of not tasting spirituous or malt liquors,
nor using tobacco in any form.

We were now on the main central route of travel from the States to the
mountains, Salt Lake, California and Oregon. We saw teams and trains
daily going in both directions, and Kearney was a favorite place for
them to stop over a day and rest. Our course now lay along the south
side of the Platte, clear to Denver; and with the prospect of level
roads and plenty of grass and water, we looked forward hopefully to a
pleasant trip the rest of the way. The valley of the Platte is a sandy
plain, nearly level, extending westward for hundreds of miles from
Kearney, bounded on the north and the south by low bluffs, some four or
five miles apart. Back of these lie the more elevated, dry plains
extending to great distances.

Winding through this valley is the Platte river, a half a mile or more
wide, with water from an inch to two feet deep, running over a sandy
bottom and filled with numberless islands of shifting sand. The banks
were lined with willows and cottonwood bushes and bordered in many
places by green, grassy meadows, but trees were a rarity and for some
two hundred miles we did not see one larger than a good sized bush.

The day we camped near Kearney we began to see buffalo in small groups
off a few miles to the south and west. When I awoke next morning, soon
after daylight, I saw a lone one quietly eating grass about half a mile
from camp. I got out a rifle and went toward him, stooping or going on
my hands and knees through the wet grass, till within good rifle shot. I
then stood up, took deliberate aim just behind the shoulder, and fired.
He gave a quick jump, looked around and started toward me on the run
with head down, in usual fashion, for a charge. My thought was that I
had hit, but not hurt him. I dropped into the grass and made my way on
hands and knees as fast as possible toward camp, a little agitated.
Losing sight of me the animal soon stopped, stood still a few minutes
and then suddenly dropped to the ground. He had been shot through the

This was my first and last buffalo, as sneaking up to them and shooting
them down did not seem much more like sport than shooting down oxen. I
was neither a sufficiently expert rider nor hunter to chase and shoot
them on horseback. The one I shot was carved by Sollitt and one of the
men, and furnished us fresh meat for breakfast and several meals

During the day we passed a ranch, occupied by a man and his son, twelve
or fourteen years old. The boy had eight or ten buffalo calves in a pen,
which he said he had caught himself and intended to sell to parties
returning to their homes in the East. He had a well-trained little pony,
which he would mount, with a rope in hand that had a noose at the end,
and ride directly into the midst of a small drove of buffalo, and while
they scattered and ran would slip his rope about the neck of a calf and
lead it back to the ranch. The calf would side up to the pony and follow
it along as if under the delusion that it was following its mother. The
man traded in cattle by picking up estrays and buying, for a song, those
that were footsore and sick, keeping them till in condition and then
selling them to passing trains that were in need.

We now began to see buffalo quite plentifully off to the southwest, in
small groups, and in droves of twenty or more. Sometimes hunters on
horseback, who had camped near Kearney, were indulging in the excitement
of the hunt, chasing and shooting, and in turn being chased by the
enraged animals. That evening we camped on the verge of the great herd
that extended some sixty or seventy miles to the westward, and blackened
the bluffs to the south, and the great plains beyond as far as the eye
could reach. This great herd was not a solid, continuous mass, but was
divided up into innumerable smaller herds or droves consisting of from
fifty to two hundred animals each. These kept together when grazing,
marching or running, the bulls on the outside and the cows and calves in
the center. Sometimes these small herds were separated from each other
by a considerable space.

This great herd had probably started northward from the Arkansas in the
spring and had now reached the Platte, where they lingered for water and
the better grass that was found along the river. Following in the wake
and prowling on the outskirts of this slowly moving host, were thousands
of wolves, collected from the distant plains, to feast upon the young
and the weakly, and the carcasses of those that were killed by accident
or the hunter's gun.

The turn for watching the cattle the first half of that night fell to
the lot of two of the boys from Chicago. The cattle were grazing in a
good meadow off toward the river, half a mile from camp. At dusk the
boys went off to take charge of them. After dark the wolves began to
howl in all directions and sometimes it sounded as if a hundred hungry
ones were fighting over a single carcass. Then the buffalo bulls chimed
in with the music and bellowed, apparently by thousands, at the same
time. Pandemonium seemed to reign. The two boys got nervous, then
frightened and finally panic-stricken, and long before midnight came
rushing into camp declaring that they were surrounded by droves of
hungry wolves and furious buffalo. The cattle were also disturbed and
inclined to scatter and wander off.

Next morning early, all of us, except the cook, started off to hunt them
up. Some went up stream, some down, and some back along the road we had
come. Tobias and myself waded the river to the north side to hunt them
there, but we found neither cattle nor cattle tracks. We did find a huge
rattlesnake, which we killed. The river was about three-quarters of a
mile wide, and in no place over two feet deep. Wading it was easy enough
if one kept moving, but if he stood still he would gradually sink into
the quicksand till it was difficult to extricate his feet.

By noon, after this thorough search, we had collected all of our oxen
but two, which could not be found. Sollitt was very suspicious of cattle
thieves, and, whenever an ox was lost, his first opinion was that it had
been stolen. Mine was that it had strayed off and hidden in some ravine
or clump of bushes. He decided that these two lost ones had been taken
by some ranchman or passing train. I believed they had gone off with
the buffalo and that when they wanted drink badly they would come back
to the river. I therefore concluded to let the train go on, while I,
with the pony and some food, would stay behind and patrol the river for
a day or two. I rode back eastward along the river's edge, searching in
the bushes, and at night came to a ranch, near which I picketed the pony
and slept on the ground. Next morning, after first examining the
ranchman's cattle, I started westward again, making another thorough
search as I went along. In the afternoon I found the stragglers quietly
eating grass near the river, and then drove them along as fast as
possible till the train was overtaken.

We were now right in the midst of the great herd, through which we
journeyed for nearly five days. The anxiety they gave us was greater
than that of any of our previous troubles. To avoid having the oxen
stampeded, or run off with the buffalo at night, we wheeled our wagons
into a circle when camping at the end of a day's drive, and thus formed
a corral, into which we put as many oxen as it would hold, for the
night, and chained the rest in their yokes to the wagon wheels on the
outside. This was hard on the oxen, as they could not rest as well as
when free, nor could they graze a part of the night, as was their habit.
Whenever we looked off to the south or southwest, we would see dozens
and dozens of the small droves of one or two hundred buffalo moving
about in all directions. Some of the droves would be quietly eating
grass, some marching in a slow, stately walk, and others on the run,
going back and forth between their grazing grounds and the river. But
each separate drove kept in quite a compact body.

Sometimes they would keep off from the trail along which we traveled,
for several hours at a time and not trouble us. At other times they
would be going in such great numbers across our route, passing to and
from the river, that we had to wait hours for them to get out of our
way. Often a drove would get frightened at a passing wagon, the report
of a gun, the barking of a dog, or some imaginary enemy, and would start
on a run which soon became a furious stampede, the hindermost following
those before them, and in their blind fury crowding them forward with
such irresistible force that the leaders could not stop if they would.
If they came suddenly to a deep gully the foremost would tumble in till
it was full, and thus form a bridge of bone and flesh over which the
rest would pass. Several times these frightened droves passed so near
our wagons as to be alarming.

One drove came within a few yards of one of our wagons, and some of the
drivers peppered them with bullets from their pistols. Though these
frightened droves could not be stopped, they would shy to the right or
left if an unusual commotion was made in time in front of them. When a
drove, at some distance, seemed to be headed toward our train, we often
ran toward it, yelling, firing guns, and waving articles of clothing.
The leaders would shy off, and that would give direction to the whole
body, and thus relieve us from danger for the time being.

Every teamster, traveler and hunter that crossed the plains felt that he
must kill from one to a dozen or more buffalo. The result was that the
plain was dotted and whitened with tens of thousands of their carcasses
and skeletons. With this general slaughter and the increase of travel
induced by the discovery of the Pike's Peak gold fields, no wonder that
this was the very last year that these animals appeared in large
numbers in the Platte valley. We always estimated their numbers by the
million.[1] For some years after they appeared in large numbers in some
parts of the great plains of the West, but they rapidly declined in
number till they became extinct in their wild state.

[Footnote 1: The estimate was probably not an

In a late work it is stated on the authority of railroad
statistics that in the thirteen years from 1868 to 1881
"in Kansas alone there was paid out _two millions five
hundred thousand dollars_ for their bones gathered on
the prairies to be utilized by the various carbon works
of the country, principally in St. Louis. It required
about one hundred carcases to make one ton of bones, the
price paid averaging eight dollars a ton; so the above
quoted enormous sum represented the skeletons of over
thirty-one millions of buffalo."--_The Old Santa Fe
Trail, by Col. Henry Inman p. 203._

The author further says, "In the autumn of 1868 I rode
with Generals Sheridan, Custer, Sully and others for
three consecutive days through one continuous herd,
which must have contained millions. In the spring of
1869 the train on the Kansas Pacific railroad was
detained at a point between Forts Harker and Hays from
nine o'clock in the morning until five in the afternoon
in consequence of the passage of an immense herd of
buffalo across the track."

Horace Greeley crossed the plains in 1859 in a stage
coach, and as stated in his published letters, he saw a
herd of buffalo that he estimated to contain over five

While in their midst we not only had fresh meat at every meal, but we
cut the flesh in strips and tied it to the wagons to dry and thus
provided a small supply of "jerked" meat. In the dry, pure air of this
region, though in the heat of August, fresh meat did not spoil but
simply dried up, if cut in moderate sized pieces. This was also found to
be the case with fresh beef in the mountains. We felt relieved and
heartily glad when the last drove of buffalo was left behind.
Familiarity with them, as with the Indians, destroyed all the poetry and
romance about them. They were not a thing of beauty. An old buffalo bull
with broken horns and numerous scars from a hundred fights, with woolly
head and shaggy mane, his last year's coat half shed and half hanging
from his sides in ragged patches and strips flying in the breeze, the
whole covered over with dirt and patches of dried mud, presented a
picture that was supremely ugly.

On the journey from St. Joe to Kearney we found, along the water courses
and ravines, enough of dry wood and dead trees to supply us plentifully
with fuel for cooking and occasionally to light up the camp in the
evening. To make sure of never being entirely out of wood, a small
supply was carried along on the wagons. Along the Platte there was
practically no wood to be had. For one hundred and fifty miles we did
not see a single tree, but the buffalo supplied us with a good fuel
called "buffalo chips," which was scattered over the plains in
abundance, and which in this dry country, burned freely and made a very
hot fire. When approaching camp in the evening, the drivers would pick
up armsfull of fuel for the use of the cook and for the evening camp
fire, and place it in a pile as they came to a halt.

As soon as we reached camp and while others were taking care of the
oxen, the cook built a fire, drove two forked sticks into the ground,
one on each side of the fire, placed a cross stick on them, and then
hung his pots and kettle over the blaze. A big pot of beans with pork
was boiled or warmed over. Coffee was prepared, and dough made of flour
and baking powder was baked either in the tin oven or a Dutch oven.
Frequently some of the men were seated on the ground around the fire,
stick in hand with a piece of pork on the end of it, held near the coals
to toast. While eating and during the early evening, talking, story
telling and ironical remarks about the prolonged picnic--as the trip was
called--were indulged in.

We were now on the main route of travel between the East and the Pike's
Peak gold fields. Horse and mule teams going West, and traveling faster
than our ox train could go, passed us frequently, and gave us the latest
general news from the States. We also began to meet the vanguard of the
returning army of disappointed gold seekers. They came on foot, on
horse back and in wagons drawn by horses, mules and oxen, and many of
them were a sorry, ragged looking lot. Judging from their requests from
us, their most pressing wants were tobacco and whisky. In those days
Western towns were full of enthusiastic, sanguine, roving men who were
ever ready for any new enterprise, and they were the first to rush to
the gold regions in the spring. But lacking pluck, perseverance and the
staying qualities, they were the first to rush back when the
difficulties and discouragements of the undertaking appeared in their

These returners told sad stories about life in the mountains, the
prospects and the danger from Indians on the road. They said that there
was but little gold to be found, that very few of the miners were making
expenses, that food was scarce, and that before we reached our
destination, nearly everybody there would be leaving for home. Besides,
they said, there were hundreds of Indians along the route, robbing and
murdering the whites. Such stories had a discouraging effect on some of
our drivers and I was very fearful that a few of them would leave us and
join the homeward procession.

Some of these chaps showed a humorous vein in the mottoes painted on the
sides of their wagons. On one was "Pike's Peak or bust," evidently
written on going out; under it was written, "Busted." On another was,
"Ho for Pike's Peak;" under it was, "Ho for Sweet Home."

Each exaggerated account of the Indians made by these people, brought us
nearer and nearer to them and made them seem more and more dangerous.
Finally one morning as we reached the top of a gentle swell in the
plain, a large band of them suddenly appeared in full view, camped at
the side of our road about half a mile ahead of us. From all
appearances there were five or six hundred or more of them. They
belonged to the western branch of the Sioux tribe. We stopped a few
minutes to consider the situation. We had heard and read enough about
Western Indians to know that the safest thing to do was to appear bold
and strong, while a show of weakness and timidity was often dangerous.
So we placed in our belts all our ornaments in the shape of pistols and
ugly looking knives, and those who had rifles carried them. Then we
drove boldly forward toward the camp. I rode the pony beside the driver
of the foremost wagon with my old shot gun in hand. Soon two or three of
their mounted warriors or hunters rode at full speed toward us and then
without stopping circled off on the plain and back to their camp. They
were evidently making observations.

Off to the north several hundred shaggy ponies were grazing in a green
meadow near the river, and the greater part of their men seemed to be
there with them. The camp was made up of some forty lodges, which looked
like so many cones grouped on the plain.

These lodges were formed of poles, some fifteen feet long, the larger
ends of which rested on the ground in a circle, while the smaller ends
were fastened in a bunch at the top, with a covering of dressed buffalo
skins stitched together. On one side was a low opening, which served for
a door.

As we approached we were first greeted by a lot of dirty, hungry looking
dogs, which barked at us, snarled and showed their teeth. Then there was
a flock of shy, naked, staring children who at first kept at a safe
distance, but came nearer as their timidity left them. The boys with
their little bows and arrows were shooting at targets--taking their
first lessons as future warriors of the tribe.

When we got near the edge of the camp several of the old men came
forward to greet us with extended hands, saying "how! how! how!" and we
had to have a handshake all around. Some of them knew a few words of
English. They asked for whisky, powder and tobacco. Instead, we gave
some of them a little cold "grub." They looked over all the wagons and
their contents, so far as they could, and were particularly interested
in the locomotive boiler which was placed on the running gear of a wagon
without the box, and with the help of a little rude imagination,
somewhat resembled a huge cannon. I told them it was a "big shoot," and
that seemed to inspire them with great respect for it. They looked under
it and over it and into it with much interest.

The greater part of the squaws were seated on the ground at the
openings of their lodges, busily at work. Some were dressing skins by
scraping and rubbing them, some making moccasins and leggings for their
lazy lords, some stringing beads and others preparing food. The oldest
ones, thin, haggard and bronzed, looked like witches. The young squaws,
in their teens, round and plump, their faces bedaubed with red paint
toned down with dirt, squatted on the ground and grinned with delight
when gazed at by our crew of young men. We all traded something for
moccasins and for the rest of the trip wore them instead of shoes.

Curious to see inside of the lodges, I took a cup of sugar and went into
two or three under pretence of trading it for moccasins. Their
belongings were lying around in piles, and the stench from the partly
prepared skins and food was intolerable.

One old Indian seemed to think that I was hunting a wife, for he
offered to trade me one of his young squaws for the pony. A pony was the
usual price of a wife with these Western Indians. They exhibited no
hostility whatever toward us. It might have been otherwise, had we been
a weak party of two or three possessing something that they coveted.

They asked us if we saw any buffalo. When we told them that at a
distance of two or three days' travel the plains were covered with them,
they seemed greatly interested and before we got away began to take down
some of their lodges and start off. They were out for their yearly
buffalo hunt to supply themselves with meat for the winter. In moving
they tied one end of their lodge poles in bunches to their ponies and
let the other ends spread out and drag upon the ground, and on these
dragging poles they piled their skins and other possessions. The young
children and old squaws would often climb up on these and ride.

Cactus plants in hundreds of varieties grew in great abundance on these
dry plains. They were beautiful to the eye, but a thorn in the flesh. As
we walked through them their sharp needles would run through trousers
and moccasins and penetrate legs and feet. We often ate the sickishly
sweet little pears that were seen in profusion.

Prairie dogs by the million lived and burrowed in the ground over a vast
region. The plains were dotted all over with the little mounds about two
feet high that surrounded their holes. On these mounds the little
animals would stand up and bark till one approached quite near, then
dart into the holes. In places the ground was honeycombed with their
small tunnels, endangering the legs of horses and oxen, which would
break through the crust of ground into them. I shot at many of them,
but never got a single animal, as they always dropped, either dead or
alive, into the hole and disappeared from sight.

Many small owls sat with a wise look on top of these little mounds, and
rattlesnakes, too, were often found there. When disturbed the owls and
snakes would quickly fly and crawl into the holes. It was a saying that
a prairie dog, an owl and a rattlesnake lived together in peace in the
same hole. Whether the latter two were welcome guests of the little
animal, or forced themselves upon his hospitality, in his cool retreat,
I never knew.

One day we came to a wide stretch of loose dry sand, devoid of
vegetation, over which we had to go. It looked like some ancient lake or
river bottom. The white sand reflected the sun's rays and made it
unpleasantly hot. The wheels sank into the sand and made it so hard a
pull for the oxen that we had to double up teams, taking one wagon
through and going back for another, so we only made about three miles
that day.

The unexpected was always happening to delay us. The trip was dragging
out longer than was first reckoned on, and the early enthusiasm was
dying out. Walking slowly along nine or ten hours a day grew monotonous
and tiresome. Then, after the day's work, to watch cattle one-half of
every third night was a lonely, dreary task, and became intolerably
wearisome. Standing or strolling alone, half a mile from camp, in the
darkness, often not a sound to be heard except the howling of the
wolves, and nothing visible but the sky above and the ground below, one
felt as if his only friends and companions were his knife and his

In the early part of September violent thunderstorms came up every
evening or night, with the appearance of an approaching deluge. Very
little rain fell, however, but the lightning and thunder were the most
terrific I ever saw or heard. There being no trees or other high objects
around, we were as likely to be struck as any thing. For a few wet
nights I crawled into one of the covered wagons to sleep, where some
provisions had been taken out, and right on top of twelve kegs of
powder. I sometimes mused over the probable results, in case lightning
were to strike that wagon. We passed one grave of three men who had been
killed by a single stroke of lightning. Graves of those who had given up
the struggle of life on the way, were seen quite frequently along the
route. They were often marked by inscriptions, made by the companions of
the dead ones on pieces of board planted in the graves.

Now we came to extensive alkali plains, covered with soda, white as new
fallen snow, glittering in the sunshine. No vegetation grew and all was
desolation. An occasional shower left little pools of water here and
there, strongly impregnated with alkali, and from them the oxen would
occasionally take a drink. From that cause, or some other unknown one,
they began to die off rapidly, and within three days one-third of them
were gone. The remainder were too few to pull the heavy train. The
situation was such that it gave us great anxiety.

What was to be done? Either leave part behind and go on to Denver with
what we could take, or else keep things together by taking some of the
wagons on for a few miles and then go back for the rest. The conclusion
was to leave four loads of heavy machinery on the plains and go on with
the other wagons as fast as possible. I asked the drivers if any of them
would stay and guard those to be left. Tobias and the German volunteered
to stay.

We selected a camping spot a mile away from the usually traveled road so
as to avoid the scrutiny of other pilgrims and look like a small party
camping to rest. Then we left them provisions for two or three weeks and
went ahead. We guessed that we were then about 150 miles from Denver.
The two left behind had no mishaps, but found their stay there all alone
for two weeks very dreary and lonesome.

Tobias was for over a year one of my most valuable and agreeable
assistants. The German, when in the mountains a short time, lost his
eyes by a premature blast of powder in a mining shaft. I helped provide
funds to send him East to his friends.

A few days before this misfortune of the death of our oxen and when the
drivers were in their most discontented mood, Sollitt, ever suspicious,
came to me quite agitated with a tale of gloomy forebodings. He said he
had overheard fragments of a talk between the Missourians and some
others who were quite friendly with them, which convinced him that a
conspiracy was hatching to terminate the tiresome trip, by their
deserting us in a body, injuring or driving off the oxen, or committing
some more tragic act. He thereupon armed himself heavily with his small
weapons, and advised me to do the same.

Instead of following the advice, I became more chatty and friendly with
the men and talked of our trials and our better prospects. I discovered
in a few a bitter feeling toward Sollitt, occasioned by some rough words
or treatment they had received. Sollitt was honest and faithful and in
many things very efficient, but was devoid of tact and agreeable ways
toward those under his control, especially if he took a dislike to them.
One man urged me to assert my reserved authority and take direct charge
of the whole business of the train to the exclusion of Sollitt. I had no
longings for the disagreeable task of a train master, and simply poured
oil on the troubled waters, and went ahead.

When the oxen began to die off, Sollitt told me that he thought one of
the Missourians had poisoned them and he disemboweled a number of the
dead animals to see if the cause of death could be discovered. He found
no signs of poison and nothing that looked suspicious in the stomachs;
but he said, the spleens of all of them were in a high state of
inflammation. I did not, however, understand that the oxen got their
ailment from the Missourians.

One evening we saw the clear cut outline of the Rocky Mountains,
including Long's Peak. We differed in opinion, at first, as to whether
it was mountain or cloud and could not decide the question till next
morning, when, as it was still in view, we knew it was mountain. For
several days, though traveling directly toward the mountains, we seemed
to get no nearer, which was rather discouraging.

Small flocks of antelope, fleet and graceful, were frequently seen
gliding over the plain. They were very shy, and kept several gunshots
away. But their curiosity was great, and if a man would lie down on the
ground and wave a flag or handkerchief tied to a stick till they noticed
it, they would first gaze at it intently and then gradually approach. In
this way they were often enticed by hunters to come near enough for a

Forty or fifty miles below Denver we came in view of one picturesque
ruin--old Fort St. Vrain--with its high, thick walls of adobe situated
on the north side of the Platte. It was built about twenty-five years
before, by Ceran St. Vrain, an old trapper and Indian trader. These
adobe walls, standing well preserved in this climate, it seemed to me,
would be leveled to the ground by one or two good eastern equinoxial

We reached Denver on the 18th of September about noon, being forty-nine
days out from St. Joe. Stubbs met us five or six miles out on the road.
This gave him and me a chance, as we walked along, to talk over the
condition of things and our plans for the immediate future. He had been
in Denver over a week waiting for us and had had no tidings of the train
since I wrote him from Fort Kearney. He had considerable liking for
display and had evidently told people in Denver that he was waiting for
the arrival of a large train of machinery and goods in which he was
interested. He thought it would be a scene to be proud of to see
fourteen new wagons, heavily loaded and drawn by forty yoke of oxen,
come marching into town in one close file. When he saw only nine wagons
straggling along over the space of a mile, covered with dust that had
been settling on them for weeks, with oxen lean, footsore, limping and
begrimed with sweat and dirt, and teamsters in clothes faded, soiled and
ragged, his pride sank to a low level, and he did not want to go into
town with the wagons. The train did not tarry, but crossed Cherry
Creek--then entirely dry, though often a torrent--drove up the Platte a
mile or so and camped for the day on the south or east side of the
stream. Stubbs and I spent a couple of hours looking over the town and
calling on some acquaintances and then went to the camp.

Denver was at that time a lively place, with a few dozen frame and log
buildings, and probably a thousand or more people. Most of them lived
and did business in tents and wagons. A Mr. Forrest, whom I had known
in Chicago, was doing a banking business here in a tent. The town
seemed to be full of wagons and merchandise, consisting of food,
clothing and all kinds of tools and articles used in mining. Many people
were preparing to leave for the States, some to spend the winter and to
return, others, more discouraged or tired of gold hunting, to stay for

When I went to the camp in the afternoon Sollitt and all the drivers
wanted to go back to the town to look it over and make a few purchases.
I told them I would look after the oxen till evening, when the herders
for that night would come and relieve me. The afternoon was clear and
warm, though the mountains to the west were carpeted with new-fallen
snow. I went out in my shirt sleeves, without a thought of needing a
coat. The oxen wandered off quite a distance from camp in search of the
best grass, and I leisurely followed them. Late in the afternoon, and
quite suddenly, the wind sprang up and came directly from the mountains,
damp and cold. Soon I was enveloped in a dense fog, and could see but a
few yards away. I lost all sense of the direction of the camp or town,
and the men at camp did not know where or how to find me. When night
came it grew so dark that I could not see my hand a foot from my eyes,
and could only keep with the cattle by the noise they made in walking
and grazing. Later the fog turned into a cold rain, with considerable
wind, and was chilling to the bone, so I was booked for the night in a
cold storm without supper or coat. To keep the blood in circulation I
would jump and run around in a circle for half an hour at a time.
Sometimes I would lean up against one of the quiet old oxen on his
leeward side, and thus get some warmth from his body and shelter from
the wind. When the oxen had finished grazing and had lain down for the
night, I tried to lie down beside one of them to get out of the wind,
but the experiment was so novel to the ox that he would get up at once
and walk off. During the night the oxen strolled off more than a mile
from camp. When morning came I was relieved by the men and was ready for
breakfast, and especially for the strong coffee. In times of exposure
and extra effort, coffee was the greatest solace we found.

When on a visit to Denver, twenty-three years afterwards, I tried to
find out just where I spent that night. An old settler of the place
decided with me that it was on the elevated ground now known as Capitol
Hill. During the day we crossed the Platte and went forward with the
train to the foot of the mountains, and camped some two or three miles
south of where Clear creek leaves the foot-hills. Next morning Sollitt
took twelve yoke of oxen with two drivers, and started back for the four
wagons and two men that had been left behind on the plains. Our
teamsters, who had volunteered to drive oxen to the mountains without
pay, had now fulfilled their agreement, but most of them were glad to
stay with us for awhile at current wages--about a dollar and a half a
day. The prospect was not as golden, and the men were not as anxious to
get to mining as they had been when a thousand miles further east.

Stubbs had spent a month among the mines and mills, and his observations
made him rather blue. The accounts he gave me were most discouraging. He
was inclined to think that the best thing for us to do was to go into
camp for the winter, look around, watch the developments, and in the
spring decide where to locate, if at all, or whether to sell out, give
up the enterprise and go home. The proposition was not a bad one, by
any means; but I was too full of determination to do _something_, to
think of sitting down and quietly waiting six months, after all we had
gone through, to get there. I thought we would all be better satisfied
if we were to pitch in and make a vigorous effort, even if we failed in
the end, rather than to quit at this early stage of the hunt.

The usual route from Denver to the gold fields, was to the north of
Clear creek, by Golden City to Blackhawk, and then to Mountain City.
Stubbs selected a route further south, because there was a fine camping
place, with good grass, about fifteen miles, or half way up to the gold
fields, from the foot of the mountains. The roads were quite passable up
to this camp, though the hills were steep. With the drivers and oxen
that were left after Sollitt started back, the wagons were gradually
taken up to this mountain camp, while he was back on the plains and
Stubbs and I were looking over the gold region to decide on a final
location. The weather was pleasant and rather warm during the day, but
frosty at night. We still slept in the open air, and our blankets were
often frozen to the ground in the morning.

There was more or less gulch mining and prospecting[2] going on over a
large section of the mountains, but the principal part of the lode
mining, and most of the mills that had been located, were confined to a
field not over five or six miles in extent, the center of which was
Mountain City, now Central City. There were fifty or more mills already
up and in running order. They varied in capacity from three to twenty
stamps. Some were running day and night crushing quartz that was
apparently rich in gold; some were running a part of the time,
experimenting on a variety of quartz taken out of different lodes and
prospect holes, and generally not paying, and some were idle, the owners
discouraged, "bust," and trying to sell, or else gone home for the
winter to get more money to work with.

[Footnote 2: "Prospecting" included the searching for
gold in almost any way that was experimental. Going off
into the unexplored mountains to hunt new fields of
gold, whether in gulches or lodes was prospecting.
Digging a hole down through the dirt and loose stones in
the bottom of a gulch to see if gold could be found in
the sand was prospecting. Sinking a shaft into the top
dirt of a hillside in search of a new lode, or into the
lode when discovered to see if gold could be found there
was prospecting. And manipulating a specimen of quartz
by pulverizing and the use of quicksilver to see if it
contained gold was also prospecting.]

The most of these mills were located about Mountain City and Blackhawk
and in Nevada and Russell's gulches. The rest of them were scattered in
other small gulches or mountain valleys in the vicinity. The richest
mines being worked were the Bobtail, Gregory, and others, in Gregory
gulch between Mountain City and Blackhawk. The other principal gold
diggings were some seventy miles further south, near the present site of
Leadville. These I did not then visit. Nearly all of these mills had
been brought out and located during the year 1860. Ours was about the
last one to arrive that season. It was evident that the business was not
generally paying. The reasons given were, that the mills did not save
the gold that was in the quartz, and that those at work in the mines
were nearly all in the "cap rock" which was supposed to overlie the
richer deposits below. The theory was that the deeper they went the
richer the quartz. There were just enough rich "pockets" and streaks
being discovered and good runs made by the few paying mines and mills to
keep everybody hopeful and in expectation that fortune would soon favor
them. So they worked away as long as they had anything to eat, or tools
and powder to work with.

After looking over the fields a number of days, carrying our blankets
and sleeping in empty miners' cabins, Stubbs and I concluded to locate
at the head of Leavenworth gulch, which was about a mile and a half
southwest of Mountain City, between Nevada and Russell's gulches. The
side hills were studded all over with prospect holes and mining shafts.
Several lodes, said to be rich in gold, had recently been discovered,
and a nice stream of water ran down the gulch. Only three mills were in
operation there, and a number of miners who were developing their own
claims strongly encouraged us to come, promising us plenty of quartz to
crush. Several parties were gulch mining there with apparent success,
and during the short time that I watched one man washing out the dirt
and gravel from the bottom of the gulch he picked up several nice
nuggets of shining gold, which was quite stimulating to one's hopes. I
afterwards learned that these same nuggets had been washed out several
times before, whenever a "tenderfoot" would come along, who it was
thought might want to buy a rich claim.

As soon as we located and selected a mill site, we went vigorously to
work, and all was preparation, bustle and activity. Stubbs was a good
mechanic and took charge of the construction. Others were cutting down
trees, hauling and squaring logs, and framing and placing timbers to
support the heavy mill machinery. As soon as Sollitt returned from the
plains, he, with a few of the drivers, went to work to get the wagons,
machinery and provisions from the mountain camp up to our location. In
many places, at first glance, the roads looked impassable. They went up
hills and rocky ledges so steep that six yoke of oxen could pull only a
part of a load; then down a mountain side so precipitous that the four
wheels of each wagon would have to be dead-locked with chains to keep
them from overrunning the oxen; then they would go along mountain
streams full of rocks and bowlders, and upsetting a wagon was quite a
common occurrence. I saw one of our provision wagons turn over into a
running stream, and, among other things, a barrel of sugar start rolling
down with the current.

As soon as everything was brought up to our final location, I sold some
of the wagons, some oxen and the pony, thus securing cash to pay help
and other expenses. I traded others off for sawed lumber, shingles,
etc., for use in building the mill-house and a cabin. Grass was very
scarce in the mining regions. One of the faithful, well-whipped oxen was
killed for beef (a little like eating one of the family). In this dry,
pure air the meat kept in perfect condition for many weeks till all
eaten up, and it was an agreeable change in our diet.

When we had finished the hauling of timber and other things, we sent
the oxen, still on hand, down to the foot of the mountains where there
was grass during the winter; for cattle would pick up a living among the
foot-hills, and come out in good condition in the spring. The distance
was some twenty-five or thirty miles. Early one bright November morning
I started down there on foot to make arrangements with a ranchman to
look after them. The air was so bracing and stimulating to the energies
that I felt as if a fifty-mile walk would be mere recreation. Being
mostly down hill, I arrived at the ranch before noon, did my business,
got a dinner of beef, bread and coffee, and felt so fine that soon after
two o'clock I concluded to start for home, thinking that in any event I
would reach one of the two or three cabins that would be found on the
latter part of the road. Walking up the mountains was slower business
than going down, and long before I reached the expected cabins it
became dark and I was completely tired out. I found a small pile of
dried grass by the roadside which had been collected by some teamster
for his horses. I covered myself up with this as well as I could, and
being very tired, was soon asleep, without supper or blanket. On
awakening in the morning, I found myself covered with several inches of
snow, and felt tired, hungry and depressed. I plodded along toward home
for a few hours, and came to a cabin occupied by a lone prospector, who
got me up a meal of coffee, tough beef and wheat flour bread, baked in a
frying pan with a tin cover over it. Soon after finishing the meal I
felt sick and very weak, and was unable to proceed on my journey till
late in the afternoon, when I went ahead and reached home long after

Leavenworth gulch was crossed by dozens of lodes of gold-bearing quartz,
generally running in a north-easterly and south-westerly direction. In
this district the discoverer of a lode was entitled to claim and stake
off 200 feet in length, then others could in succession take 100 feet
each, in either direction from the discovery hole, and these claims, in
order to be valid, were all recorded in the record office of the
district. Owners of these various claims, to prospect and develop them,
had dug the side hills of the gulch all over with hundreds of holes from
ten to thirty feet deep, partly through top dirt and partly through
rock. A few would find ore rich enough to excite and encourage all the
rest. More would find rich indications that would stimulate them to work
on as long as they had provisions or credit to enable them to go ahead,
hoping each day for the golden "strike." A large majority of these
prospect holes came to nothing. Many of the miners had claims on several
different lodes, and although they might have faith in their richness,
they wanted to sell part of them to get means to work the rest. We had
plenty of chances to buy for a few hundred dollars in money or trade
mines partly opened, showing narrow streaks of good ore, which,
according to the prevailing belief, would widen out and pay richly as
soon as they were down through the "cap rock."

While work was progressing on the mill I spent considerable time in
looking over these mines, and I went down numerous shafts by means of a
rope and windlass, turned by a lone stranger, who I sometimes feared
might let me drop. I listened to glowing descriptions by the owners,
examined the crevises and pay streaks, and took specimens home to
prospect. This was done by pounding a piece of ore to powder in a little
hand mortar, then putting in a drop of quicksilver to pick up the gold,
and then evaporating that fluid by holding it in an iron ladle over a
fire. The richness of the color left in the cup would indicate the
amount of gold in the quartz.[3] I could soon talk glibly of "blossom
rock," "pay streaks," "cap rock," "wall rock," "rich color," and use the
common terms of miners. I bought two or three mines, traded oxen and
wagons for two or three more, and furnished "grub stakes" to one or two
miners--that is, gave them provisions to live on while they worked their
claims on terms of sharing the results.

[Footnote 3: In testing quartz by specimens,
"greenhorns" were sometimes deceived by "loaded"
quicksilver, that is by that which had some gold in it
and would leave a "color" whenever evaporated. I knew
one miner who worked away in his mine, taking out quartz
all winter, and was in good spirits as he tested a
specimen of his ore every day or two and always found a
rich color. When crushed in the spring his quartz did
not "pay." The bottle of quicksilver he had used all
winter was found to be "loaded."]

Quartz mills were nearly all run by steam and the fuel was pine wood cut
from the mountain sides, every one taking from these public domains
whatever he wanted. The principal features of our mill were twelve large
pestles or stamps, weighing 500 pounds each, which were raised up about
eighteen inches by machinery and dropped into huge iron mortars onto
the small pieces of rock which were constantly fed into them by a man
with a shovel. A small stream of water was let into the mortars, and as
the rock was crushed into fine sand and powder it went out with the
water, through fine screens in front, and passed over long tables, a
little inclined, and then over woolen blankets. The tables were covered
with large sheets of brightly polished copper. On these polished plates,
quicksilver was sprinkled and it was held to the copper by the affinity
of the two metals for each other. As the water and powdered rock passed
over the tables, the quicksilver, by reason of its chemical attraction
for gold, would gather up the fine particles of that metal and, as the
two combined, would gradually harden and form an amalgam, somewhat
resembling lead. Coarser grains of gold would lodge in the blankets,
owing to their weight, while the small particles of rock would pass
over with the water. The amalgam was put into a retort and heated over a
fire, when the quicksilver would pass off in vapor through a tube into a
vessel of water, and then condense, to be again used, while the gold
would be left in the retort, to be broken up into small pieces and used
as current money. In order to save as much of the gold as possible,
these copper plates required close watching, constant care and much
rubbing to remove the verdigris that would form.

About the first of November our mill was completed, and we expected to
operate it a good part of the winter with the quartz of other miners,
together with that which we would take out ourselves from our own mines.
A large well, or underground cistern, was dug under the mill house,
which was fed by copious springs, and promised to furnish an abundant
supply of water. To furnish water for the numerous mills about Mountain
City and in Nevada gulch a large ditch had been dug, which started up in
the mountains near the Snowy range, and wound like a huge serpent around
promontories and the sides and heads of numerous gulches, with a slight
incline, for some fifteen miles. It passed around the hills which
bordered Leavenworth gulch, a few hundred yards above our mill site.
About the time the mill was completed the water was turned off from this
ditch on account of freezing weather and the near approach of winter.
Very soon after, the beautiful springs which supplied our tank and the
gulch with water, all dried up. They had been fed by seepage from the
big ditch. With the disappearance of the water vanished all prospect of
running the mill before spring, when the melting snow would furnish a
supply. It seemed like a bad case of "hope deferred." But the bracing
air and climate, outdoor life, constant exercise, coarse food and pure
water were too invigorating and stimulating to the feelings and hopes to
allow one to feel much depressed or discouraged. We looked forward to
the next summer for the golden harvest.

Stubbs built us a one-and-a-half-story-cottage out of sawed lumber,
boards and shingles, with one room below for living, eating, cooking and
storing provisions in, and one above for a dormitory. A corner of the
latter was partitioned off into a small room for him and me, with a bunk
for each, under which we stored our twelve kegs of powder, as being the
safest place we had for it. We slept on beds of hay with our blankets
over us, and in very cold weather piled on our entire stock of coats and
some empty provision sacks. In the room below was a good cook stove, and
there was wood in abundance, so we kept comfortable, though the house
was neither plastered nor sheeted, and considerable daylight came in
through cracks in the siding. We had a table and benches made of boards,
and Stubbs made me an armchair and a desk for my account books, papers
and stationery. What a luxury, after four months camping out, to be able
to sit down in a chair, eat from a table, sleep on a bed, write at a
desk, read by a candle at night and have regular, well-cooked meals.

To a lover of the picturesque in scenery our location was ideal.
Immediately around us was a semicircle of high, steep, pine-covered
hills spotted with prospect holes. To the east, through an opening in
the intervening mountain ranges, the plains were in full view over a
hundred miles away. Sometimes for days, they were covered with shifting
clouds which seemed far below us. Then an east wind would drive the
clouds and mist slowly up into the mountains, swallowing up first one
range and then another, till only a few peaks would stand out, above an
ocean of fog, and finally we would be enveloped ourselves. Ascending a
hill a few hundred yards above our house and looking westward over a
great depression or mountain valley, one had in full view the Snowy
range over twenty miles away, with its crests and peaks covered with
perpetual snow, and Mount Gray still further in the distance. In the
fall and winter almost every day local snowstorms and blizzards were
seen playing over this great basin and on the sides of the distant
range. Our location was some nine or ten thousand feet above the sea.
The lightness of the air gave some inconvenience and many surprises to
new comers. They would get out of breath in a few minutes in walking up
a hill. I would wake up several times in a night with a feeling of
suffocation, draw deep breaths for a few minutes and thus get relief
before going to sleep again. It took ten minutes to boil eggs, two to
three hours for potatoes, and beans for dinner were usually put on the
fire at supper time the day before.

Coin and bank bills were seldom seen. The universal currency was
retorted gold, broken up into small pieces, which went at $16 an ounce.
Every man had his buckskin purse tied with a string, to carry his "dust"
in, and every store and house had its small scales, with weights from a
few grains to an ounce, to weigh out the price when any article from a
newspaper to a wagon was purchased. No laws were in force or observed
except miners' laws made by the people of the different districts. When
a few dozen miners, more or less, settled or went to work in a new place
they soon organized, adopted a set of laws and elected officers,
usually a president, secretary, recorder of claims, justice of the
peace and a sheriff or constable. Appeals from the justice, disputes of
importance over mining claims, and criminal cases were tried at a
meeting of the miners of the district. We were in the district of
Russell's gulch. Sometimes we had a meeting of the residents of our own
gulch. One chap there stole a suit of clothes. The residents were
notified to meet at once, and the same day the culprit was tried and
found guilty, and a committee, of which I was one, was appointed to
notify him to leave our locality within two hours and not to return, on
penalty of death. He went on time. Had he been stubborn and refused to
go, I don't know what course the committee would have taken. This member
of it would have been embarrassed. An adjoining district was made up
mostly of Georgians. They had their own tastes and prejudices. Soon
after we came to the mountains, at their miners' meeting a man was
convicted for some offence and sentenced to receive thirty lashes from a
heavy horsewhip. The day for the execution of the sentence was regarded
as a kind of holiday and the miners collected from all the country
around. All our men, including Sollitt, went to the whipping. Stubbs and
I stayed at home. We had no relish for that sort of amusement. A thief
was more sure of punishment than a murderer. There was so much property
lying around in cabins unguarded, while the owners were off mining or
prospecting, that stealing could not be tolerated, while the loss of a
man now and then by killing or otherwise did not count for much.

When it was found that the mill could not be run during the winter, we
discharged all the men except the cook, and two others, who were kept to
help do a little mining on two of the claims that we had secured by
trade and purchase. A shaft about three feet by six was sunk in each,
which followed the vein of mineral quartz down to a depth of thirty to
fifty feet. In one, the vein was quite rich in places, but only two or
three inches wide, and it would not pay to work it; but the hope that
kept us, like hundreds of others at work, was, that the vein would widen
out when we got a little deeper and grow richer as it went down. This
hope was never realized. The other shaft was on a lode called the
Keystone, and developed a wide vein of black pyrites of iron that much
resembled that which was being taken out of the best paying mines, and
most of the miners that examined it declared that we had a bonanza. Of
course we were in good spirits, but we did not care to run in debt in
order to take out more mineral than we got in sinking the shaft, of
which there were several cords. I worked a part of each day in the
shafts, with the others, to learn the details, drilling, blasting and
picking out the "pay streak." Then I spent a good deal of time looking
around among other mines, and the mills that were at work, to learn what
I could. Quite a number of other miners were at work in the gulch
sinking shafts on their best claims and taking out ore to be crushed in
the spring. To some of these we furnished provisions to enable them to
keep at work. Most of the roving, restless, fickle people had gone home
in the fall and those who stayed were men of grit and determination.
Some of them were well educated and intelligent. Every little while
somebody would strike a small pocket, or a streak of very rich ore,
which would help to make everybody else feel hopeful. And so the winter
wore away.

There were four families in the gulch this winter, including that number
of women, several children and three young ladies. The young men buzzed
around the homes of the latter like bees about a honey dish. These
families united and had a party on Christmas Eve. Three cottages were
used for the occasion, one to receive the guests in, ours for the supper
room, and another with a floor for dancing. We regarded this as the
"coming out" of the youngest of the young ladies. Several ladies from
Russell's and other gulches came to the party. Among those living here
were quite a number who brought a few books with them. No one person had
many, but all together they made quite a library and were freely lent. I
remember borrowing and reading by the light of a candle, in these long
winter evenings, some works on mines, Carlyle's works, a few histories
and several novels. The almost universal amusement with the miners and
others was card playing, confined to euchre and poker. Every miner had
a pack of cards in his cabin if not in his pocket, and generally so
soiled and greasy that one could not tell the jack from the king.
Gambling was common and open in Denver and Mountain City, and not
unusual elsewhere. Playing for gain was never practiced in our cottage.
When poker was played, beans were put in the jackpot instead of money.

Near the junction of Russell's and Leavenworth gulches, and about a
third of a mile from our location, was a mill owned and run by George M.
Pullman, then a comparatively obscure man, but later known to the world
as the great sleeping car magnate. He also had an interest in a general
supply store near Mountain City. He lived much of this winter in a cabin
near the mill, and rode back and forth to town almost daily on an old
mule. He wore common clothes like the rest of us, and the only sign of
greater importance that he exhibited was, that while I walked to town,
he rode the mule. He left the mountains the next summer for Chicago, and
entered upon his sleeping-car enterprise, which led to fame and fortune.

Another young miner that was much in evidence about Mountain City this
winter was Jerome B. Chaffee, who afterwards made a fortune in mines,
took an active interest in local politics and became a United States

In Mountain City there was an enterprising chap who started a pie bakery
and did an extensive business. Miners from all the country around, when
they came to town, crowded his shop for a delightful change from the
usual cabin fare. I went to town every few days for letters and papers,
or to visit the mills, and always indulged in this one dissipation. I
went to his bakery and feasted on pie. He had peach, apple, mince,
berry, pumpkin and custard pie, and never since I was a boy in the land
of pie did the article taste so good.

Within a hundred yards of our mill lived and worked the gulch
blacksmith, named Switzer. He sharpened our drills and did our smith
work generally. He had a bitter feud with a gambler in Mountain City,
which resulted in each vowing to shoot the other on sight. They carried
loaded revolvers for the occasion for nearly a month, and then happened
to meet in broad daylight in the principal street of the town. The other
fellow was the quicker--Switzer fell dead and we had to find another
blacksmith. No notice was taken of the affair by the authorities.

Sollitt became ill with what the doctors pronounced scurvy, and went
East before April. Stubbs and he disliked each other from the first, and
whatever one suggested the other opposed. This made it easier for me to
decide some questions, as I never had both of them against me. The
people here were generally very healthy. I increased much in strength
and vigor, and weighed 175 pounds for the first and only time in my
life. November was windy, stormy and cold, but in December the weather
was settled and pleasant. During the winter the mercury a few times went
below zero; otherwise the climate was delightful. The warm sunshine of
the last half of April melted the snow, thawed the ground and brought a
supply of water for the mill, even before the big ditch began to run. We
soon began crushing the piles of quartz that had been taken out during
the winter by various miners, and tried our own rich-looking black stuff
from the Keystone. The mill was run day and night. I took charge from
midnight till noon and Stubbs from noon till midnight. None of the rock
was found rich enough to pay for mining and milling. That tried in one
or two other mills was no better. General discouragement followed, and
everybody stopped mining in our gulch. Some went to work for wages in
other mines, to get a fresh supply of provisions, etc. Some went off
prospecting and gulch mining in the newer gold regions. Our neighbor,
Farren, moved his mill seventy miles away, to California gulch, near
where Leadville now is. A mill partly erected near our mill site, and
owned by a Mr. Bradley and a Mr. H. H. Honore, the father of Mrs. Potter
Palmer, was moved away to other parts, and our mill was left alone. The
gulch was soon almost deserted. Mines and mills seemed to be of no use
or value. Our whole enterprise had apparently collapsed, and the golden
halo, that for ten months had surrounded it, had vanished. Hope
departed, and for a few days was replaced by feelings of disappointment
and depression of spirits not often experienced by me. Stubbs abandoned
the business and decided to go home and leave me to hold the fort and
look after the wreck, as he called it, to see what could be saved.

He built a boat, had it hauled down to the Platte at Denver, piled in
his provisions and effects, launched it in the river and started down
stream, hoping to reach Omaha in that way. All went well for about a
hundred miles, when the water grew so shallow that he was stranded amid
the small islands and shifting sands. He got ashore, abandoned his boat
and took passage in an eastward-bound mule wagon. He and the principal,
Mr. Sollitt, afterwards sold out their interest in the enterprise to Mr.
Ayres for a small consideration.

In a few days I got over the "dumps," and spent a week or two visiting
the newer gold fields up the south branch of Clear creek, about Idaho,
Georgetown, Empire and Fall river, where new lodes were being discovered
almost daily. Not much gold was being taken out, but everybody was full
of hope and expectation and busy prospecting and staking off claims on
newly discovered lodes. I had some staked off for myself by some men who
had worked for us.

Geo. M. Pullman wanted to experiment on a load of the ore from our noted
Keystone lode, as it looked so rich. When it was going through the mill,
the amalgam piled up so fast on the copper plates and appeared so rich
that he at once came up to see me and proposed that we buy, on joint
account, the adjoining claim on the same lode, as I knew the owner and
had formerly had an option on its purchase. A few hours later, when they
had cleaned up and retorted the amalgam he came galloping up again on
the old mule to stop proceedings, as they got very little of value from
the amalgam, and that mostly silver. Thus that gleam of hope quickly
vanished also.

Late in June, with Tobias as a companion, I took a trip of observation
over the range into the wild regions of Middle park. We carried our
blankets, flour, bacon, coffee and sugar to last a week, also tin cups,
plates and spoons, a frying pan, gun, pistol, hatchet and belt knives.
Walking the first day slowly up the slopes through the pine forests,
around the head of Nevada gulch, and along the high ridge south of
Boulder valley, we camped for the night just below the timber line so as
to have fuel for a fire. A few tracks of Mountain lion were seen in the
afternoon. The trees grew smaller and smaller till the last seen were
old ones covered with moss and only a few feet high. After leaving the
line of timber growth, the ground for some miles was thickly carpeted
with mountain moss, then in full bloom in rich colors of red, white,
blue and yellow. In the afternoon we reached the top of a high peak on
the crest of the range where all was desolation, and nothing grew. The
peak was a vast pile of broken rocks and stones partly covered with
snow. To the North Long's Peak stood out above everything else. To the
East one had a grand view over a wilderness of mountain ranges and peaks
to the great plains in the dim distance. To the South, beyond a range of
other snow-capped peaks, towered Mount Gray. Within a mile of us in full
view, were seven mountain lakes from ten to a hundred acres in size, and
one of them, which was screened from the sun's rays by a steep rocky
ledge, was still solid ice from the freeze of the last winter. To the
west was visible a circle of mountain tops, thirty or forty miles away,
and surrounding the great basin, a mile below us in elevation, which
constituted Middle park. The afternoon was bright and pleasant, and we
decided to spend the night on the peak, to see the sunrise and enjoy the
view in the clear morning air. We made a bed with flat stones and rolled
up in our blankets for sleep. Then the wind blew over us and up through
the crevices in the rocks under us and soon our teeth were chattering
and we were chilled through and through. To keep from freezing we
climbed in the darkness, over the rocks and down the mountain side to a
sheltered nook, then rolled up and went to sleep. During the night I was
awakened by some animal sniffing about my head and pulling at my
blanket. A yell, a start and two or three stones thrown after him, sent
him off among the rocks, and I never knew what it was. At daylight we
again climbed up the peak, saw the sun rise, made a breakfast of bread
and sugar as we had no fuel to make a fire, and then started down the
mountain. The little streams and pools coming from the melting snows the
day before were now all frozen up.

By ten o'clock we were down where the vegetation was luxuriant, the
flowers in bloom and the butterflies flitting about them. Along the
stream that we descended to the westward, was a series of beaver dams
continuing for several miles, covering two or three acres each, with
breasts four or five feet high formed of logs and brush. Out in the
middle of the dams were the beavers' houses, partly under water and
rising a few feet above. Many of the logs, cut off by the beavers to
form the dams, and the stumps on the shore where they had gnawed down
the trees, were twelve to fifteen inches through. Further on we saw bear
tracks in the mud along the stream. When we camped at night we made a
bed of pine boughs, and over it a small shelter with branches of trees
cut with the hatchet. We built a fire on the side hill above our
sleeping place beside a fallen tree. In the night it burned through and
a log rolled down the hill over us, and we awoke with a sudden start. I
thought of bears and instantly seized my hatchet and knife for defense,
before realizing the true situation. Old skulls and bones of buffalo
were plentiful, showing that the animals had once occupied these fertile
valleys. On starting back we followed an old animal trail, the general
course of which was headed toward the range, though it wound around the
mountain sides and gulches in all directions. We felt sure it would lead
over the Snowy range at the easiest passage. After following it two
days, often climbing over and creeping under fallen trees, it brought us
through a low pass to the head waters of South Clear creek, whence we
had an easy trail down hill most of the way home.

Though far away from the seat of the civil war we did not escape its
excitements. The Southerners were numerous in the mountains, and of
course all sided with the South. They and the Northerners were very
suspicious of each other, and each party bought up all the guns they
could get in the mountains. During the summer of 1861 much fear was felt
that a rebel force might march up the Arkansas and, with the help of
their friends here, capture the whole settlement. But when the Southern
troops were defeated and driven out of New Mexico by the Union forces in
the following spring, all danger was over and "Pike's Peak" was loyal.
The Southerners gradually left to join the rebel army. We got news from
the East in six days, by telegraph to Omaha, the overland mail coach to
Julesburg, near the forks of the Platte, and by pony express from there
to Denver. St. Louis papers were eight days old and Chicago papers ten
days old when received.

One of the best known miners in our region was Joe Watson, who came from
near Philadelphia, in 1859, and he came to stay. Though quiet and
unassuming he was nervy, determined, persevering and persistent. He
discovered, staked off, owned and worked many claims in Leavenworth and
other gulches. Sometimes he had streaks of luck and often the reverse.
When lucky he would hire men to help him, when "broke" he would put more
patches on his clothes, sharpen his own tools, borrow a sack of flour
and work away. Some years later he discovered a really rich gold mine,
then worked a silver mine in Utah and became a millionaire. During the
spring of 1861 and the winter previous, he prospected in several of his
claims, but fortune was against him. In July, when most of the other
miners had left our gulch, he came back and quietly went to work in a
claim that he owned on the hillside a few hundred feet above our
cottage. In two or three weeks he took out from a narrow crevice two
cart loads of top quartz which looked like rusty iron (not having got
down to the pyrites), and he persuaded me to start up the mill and crush
it. Very soon the amalgam began to pile up on the copper plates as I had
never before seen it. The result of the "clean up" and retorting was
$1,000 worth of shining gold. The next run, out of the same mine,
produced but little gold, a good example of how that metal was found in
streaks and pockets. Watson paid his debts, got a new suit of clothes,
laid in a stock of provisions, and went to work again developing his
mines. It was related of him that he went to Philadelphia one winter to
try and sell shares in his mines, and that he wore a suit of Quaker
clothes, used the plain language, attended Friends' meetings, and had
good success in selling shares. Of these early workers I might name a
few more who attained wealth or prominence; but the great
majority--those who hoped and struggled and toiled without success, are

The rich strike in Joe's mine made quite an excitement. Some others were
inspired with renewed hopes and many visited the gulch to see the rich
mine they had heard of. There was a small army of miners marching
through the mountains constantly, going in all directions, leaving one
place for some other where rich strikes were reported.

I concluded to make one more trial in the Keystone, dig a little deeper
and see if the ore was any richer there. The result was a pleasant
surprise, and gold enough to more than pay expenses. I hired a gang of
men to work the mine night and day, and thus kept the mill going till
the water gave out in the fall. As I had no skilled assistant I had to
work at least sixteen hours a day in running the mill, procurring
supplies and superintending everything. Some runs proved the quartz to
be quite rich, though it varied greatly. We still believed in the theory
that it would grow richer as we went deeper. I arranged to mine all
winter and pile up the quartz for spring crushing.

In April, 1862, when provisions were nearly used up in the mountains and
the early spring supply trains from the East were about due, there came
an unusual fall of snow, eighteen inches deep, extending far eastward
over the plains, completely blockading teams and transportation. A
famine was threatened and people became panic-stricken. Flour rose as
high as $50 a sack, and one day a small quantity sold for eighty cents a
pound. Coffee and other things also advanced in price. We were on our
last sack of flour, and I decided that when that was gone the men must
all quit work and start eastward to meet the supplies on the plains. But
the incoming trains soon began to arrive in Denver, and provisions were
plentiful at usual prices.

When the mill was started up in the spring our hopes were dashed by
finding that the quartz taken out during the winter did not pay as well
as that of the previous season. The mine was down about a hundred feet,
and the last taken out did not pay expenses, so I discharged the miners
again. I was getting tired and disgusted with the whole business, and
realized that it was about time to return East if I were going back
there to settle down.

About the first of June, Mr. Ayres came out to spend the summer. He was
so delighted with the beauty of the scenery and novelty of the business
that he talked of sending for his family. The mountain sides were gay
with wild flowers in full bloom in gorgeous colors. The shining gold
that he could see taken out by several successful plants, delighted his
eyes and stimulated his imagination nearly up to the point of genuine
gold fever. His coming was of course a great relief to me by dividing
the responsibility and work about the mill. We ran the mill night and
day, crushed all the quartz that could be got and worked over a large
pile of tailings that had accumulated below the mill, which paid a small
profit. The summer's success was very moderate. About midsummer Mr.
Ayres bought out my interest in the enterprise, with the understanding
that I would remain till fall and assist him. He wanted to give the
business a further trial. I determined to return to Chicago and try to
take advantage of the tide of prosperity then beginning to rise in the

Mr. Ayres remained till late in the fall, then went to Chicago for the
winter and returned to the mountains early in the spring of 1863, to
give the business a further trial. But he did not do much mining or
milling. During that spring and the following summer a fever of
speculation prevailed all over the East, brought about by the war and
the deluge of greenbacks. It extended to mining stocks, and especially
to gold mines, as gold was then selling at a high premium--one hundred
dollars in gold bringing $260 in legal tender currency. Mr. Ayres
offered his plant for sale, went to New York in the summer and disposed
of it in Wall street for $30,000. The mill was never afterwards run and
I believe, none of the mines ever worked. Twenty years later I visited
Leavenworth gulch. The mill and all the houses and cabins of my former
days there had disappeared, and most of the old prospect holes and
mining shafts had caved in. One familiar sight, however, remained. A
load or so of black, rich looking ore was lying upon the ground unused
and uncared for at the shaft of the Keystone.

On the 22nd of October, 1862, I left the mountains and gave up the
mining business for ever. The next day at Denver I took passage for
Omaha, in a two-horse covered wagon, with a man and his wife who were
returning to their home in Baraboo, Wis., after spending two years in
the gold fields with only moderate success. Another man also took
passage making a party of four. Leaving the wagon to the man and his
wife, my fellow passenger and I slept on the ground in our blankets,
except occasionally, when near some ranch or settlement, we could enjoy
the luxury of a haystack. When two or three days out of Denver we had a
"cold snap" which froze the vegetables in the wagon and made sleeping
out very uncomfortable. The woman did the cooking and the men collected
the fuel. The other two men had guns and supplied us with small game. We
saw a few dozen buffalo, but they were too far off to shoot. One day the
two men went off on an all-day hunt among the distant hills, the
arrangement being to meet us in camp at evening. I drove the team, and
in the afternoon we came in sight of a camp of Indians with their lodges
set up near our trail. The only thing to do was to drive boldly ahead.
The woman sat on a seat well back in the wagon, and I sat forward with
my feet out on a front step. I hung up a blanket close behind me across
the wagon, so that the Indians could not see how many persons were in
it. As we approached the camp about a dozen of them came out on the
trail in front of us, motioning to me to stop and calling out, "Swap,
swap, swap," meaning for us to stop and trade with them, but intending
doubtless to find out how many were in the wagon, and rob us if they
dared. Suddenly, when within a few yards of them, I whipped the horses
with all my might, and drove furiously past and away from the camp. When
our party met at night, all agreed that the day's experience savored too
much of danger to allow the hunters to go out of sight of the wagon

We passed two or three camps of Sioux Indians along the Platte, but they
gave us no trouble. When driving through the trees and bushes in a
lonely spot about a day's journey below Fort Kearney, we suddenly met a
band of mounted Pawnee warriors, who stopped us and in broken English
asked where we were going, where we came from, if we saw any Sioux
Indians, how big the bands were, if they had many ponies and how many
days' journey they were away. We answered their inquiries, and they told
us to go ahead. They rode westward, doubtless to make a raid on their
enemies, the Sioux.

The weather was now getting cold; we approached the settlements and
enjoyed the haystacks. One night, while camping near an Indian
settlement on the Platte, I crawled well into the middle of a small rick
of hay. The Indians were tramping around it and over it and howling and
yelling all night, but I kept my berth till morning. We reached Omaha in
twenty days from Denver. There I said good-by to my traveling companions
and took stage for Iowa City, whence I could go by rail to Chicago. The
stage trip was two days and nights of continuous travel, except short
stops to change horses and get something to eat. We were packed three on
a seat, with no chance to stretch out our limbs, and no opportunity for
sleep, except such as could be obtained sitting upright and jolting over
the rough roads.

After an absence of about two and a third years, I reached Chicago in
the middle of November, 1862, a wiser if not a richer man.

After selling out my interest in the joint enterprise, I still had left
some fifty claims on various lodes in the newer gold fields of the Clear
creek region. Some I had pre-empted, and some I had bought in job lots
from miners who were "broke" or were about to leave the mountains. Some
had prospect holes dug in them and some were entirely undeveloped. They
may have been worthless, and they may have contained untold millions.
But I had given up the mining business. Some time after returning to
Chicago I was making a real estate trade, and we were a little slow in
adjusting the difference in values and closing the deal, and finally as
"boot" to make things even I threw in these fifty gold mines. Perhaps
this was a mistake and a squandering of wealth and opportunities. Had I
only kept them, and gotten up some artistic deeds of conveyance, in
gilded letters, what magnificent wedding presents they would have made.
And the supply would have been as exhaustless as that of Queen
Victoria's India shawls. In the long list of high-sounding, useless
presents, the present of a gold mine would have led all the rest.

In summing up the losses and gains of the expedition, I have to charge
on one side two years and four months of time devoted to hard work, with
many privations, and about $500 in cash which I was out of pocket. On
the other side, I had built up a fine constitution, increased in
strength and endurance, gained valuable business experience, learned in
a measure to persevere under difficulties, and to bear with patience and
fortitude the back-sets, reverses and disappointments that so often
beset us, and, finally, had learned enough not to be taken in by the
schemers who are constantly enticing eastern people to invest in gold
and silver mines. Did the enterprise pay?


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Gold Hunter's Experience" ***

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