One afternoon, far out on the sun-baked waste of sage, we made
camp near a clump of withered pinyon trees. The cold desert wind
came down upon us with the sudden darkness. Even the Mormons, who
were finding the trail for us across the drifting sands, forgot to
sing and pray at sundown. We huddled round the campfire, a tired
and silent little group. When out of the lonely, melancholy night
some wandering Navajos stole like shadows to our fire, we hailed
their advent with delight. They were good-natured Indians, willing
to barter a blanket or bracelet; and one of them, a tall, gaunt
fellow, with the bearing of a chief, could speak a little
"How," said he, in a deep chest voice.
"Hello, Noddlecoddy," greeted Jim Emmett, the Mormon guide.
"Ugh!" answered the Indian.
"Big paleface—Buffalo Jones—big chief—buffalo man," introduced
Emmett, indicating Jones.
"How." The Navajo spoke with dignity, and extended a friendly
"Jones big white chief—rope buffalo—tie up tight," continued
Emmett, making motions with his arm, as if he were whirling a
"No big—heap small buffalo," said the Indian, holding his hand
level with his knee, and smiling broadly.
Jones, erect, rugged, brawny, stood in the full light of the
campfire. He had a dark, bronzed, inscrutable face; a stern mouth
and square jaw, keen eyes, half-closed from years of searching the
wide plains; and deep furrows wrinkling his cheeks. A strange
stillness enfolded his feature the tranquility earned from a long
life of adventure.
He held up both muscular hands to the Navajo, and spread out his
"Rope buffalo—heap big buffalo—heap many—one sun."
The Indian straightened up, but kept his friendly smile.
"Me big chief," went on Jones, "me go far north—Land of Little
Sticks—Naza! Naza! rope musk-ox; rope White Manitou of Great Slave
"Naza!" replied the Navajo, pointing to the North Star;
"Yes me big paleface—me come long way toward setting sun—go
cross Big Water—go Buckskin—Siwash—chase cougar."
The cougar, or mountain lion, is a Navajo god and the Navajos
hold him in as much fear and reverence as do the Great Slave
Indians the musk-ox.
"No kill cougar," continued Jones, as the Indian's bold features
hardened. "Run cougar horseback—run long way—dogs chase cougar long
time—chase cougar up tree! Me big chief—me climb tree—climb high
up—lasso cougar—rope cougar—tie cougar all tight."
The Navajo's solemn face relaxed
"White man heap fun. No."
"Yes," cried Jones, extending his great arms. "Me strong; me
rope cougar—me tie cougar; ride off wigwam, keep cougar alive."
"No," replied the savage vehemently.
"Yes," protested Jones, nodding earnestly.
"No," answered the Navajo, louder, raising his dark head.
"Yes!" shouted Jones.
"BIG LIE!" the Indian thundered.
Jones joined good-naturedly in the laugh at his expense. The
Indian had crudely voiced a skepticism I had heard more delicately
hinted in New York, and singularly enough, which had strengthened
on our way West, as we met ranchers, prospectors and cowboys. But
those few men I had fortunately met, who really knew Jones, more
than overbalanced the doubt and ridicule cast upon him. I recalled
a scarred old veteran of the plains, who had talked to me in true
"Say, young feller, I heerd yer couldn't git acrost the Canyon
fer the deep snow on the north rim. Wal, ye're lucky. Now, yer hit
the trail fer New York, an' keep goint! Don't ever tackle the
desert, 'specially with them Mormons. They've got water on the
brain, wusser 'n religion. It's two hundred an' fifty miles from
Flagstaff to Jones range, an' only two drinks on the trail. I know
this hyar Buffalo Jones. I knowed him way back in the seventies,
when he was doin' them ropin' stunts thet made him famous as the
preserver of the American bison. I know about that crazy trip of
his'n to the Barren Lands, after musk-ox. An' I reckon I kin guess
what he'll do over there in the Siwash. He'll rope cougars—sure he
will—an' watch 'em jump. Jones would rope the devil, an' tie him
down if the lasso didn't burn. Oh! he's hell on ropin' things. An'
he's wusser 'n hell on men, an' hosses, an' dogs."
All that my well-meaning friend suggested made me, of course,
only the more eager to go with Jones. Where I had once been
interested in the old buffalo hunter, I was now fascinated. And now
I was with him in the desert and seeing him as he was, a simple,
quiet man, who fitted the mountains and the silences, and the long
reaches of distance.
"It does seem hard to believe—all this about Jones," remarked
Judd, one of Emmett's men.
"How could a man have the strength and the nerve? And isn't it
cruel to keep wild animals in captivity? it against God's
Quick as speech could flow, Jones quoted: "And God said, 'Let us
make man in our image, and give him dominion over the fish of the
sea, the fowls of the air, over all the cattle, and over every
creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth'!"
"Dominion—over all the beasts of the field!" repeated Jones, his
big voice rolling out. He clenched his huge fists, and spread wide
his long arms. "Dominion! That was God's word!" The power and
intensity of him could be felt. Then he relaxed, dropped his arms,
and once more grew calm. But he had shown a glimpse of the great,
strange and absorbing passion of his life. Once he had told me how,
when a mere child, he had hazarded limb and neck to capture a fox
squirrel, how he had held on to the vicious little animal, though
it bit his hand through; how he had never learned to play the games
of boyhood; that when the youths of the little Illinois village
were at play, he roamed the prairies, or the rolling, wooded hills,
or watched a gopher hole. That boy was father of the man: for sixty
years an enduring passion for dominion over wild animals had
possessed him, and made his life an endless pursuit.
Our guests, the Navajos, departed early, and vanished silently
in the gloom of the desert. We settled down again into a quiet that
was broken only by the low chant-like song of a praying Mormon.
Suddenly the hounds bristled, and old Moze, a surly and aggressive
dog, rose and barked at some real or imaginary desert prowler. A
sharp command from Jones made Moze crouch down, and the other
hounds cowered close together.
"Better tie up the dogs," suggested Jones. "Like as not coyotes
run down here from the hills."
The hounds were my especial delight. But Jones regarded them
with considerable contempt. When all was said, this was no small
wonder, for that quintet of long-eared canines would have tried the
patience of a saint. Old Moze was a Missouri hound that Jones had
procured in that State of uncertain qualities; and the dog had
grown old over coon-trails. He was black and white, grizzled and
battlescarred; and if ever a dog had an evil eye, Moze was that
dog. He had a way of wagging his tail—an indeterminate, equivocal
sort of wag, as if he realized his ugliness and knew he stood
little chance of making friends, but was still hopeful and willing.
As for me, the first time he manifested this evidence of a good
heart under a rough coat, he won me forever.
To tell of Moze's derelictions up to that time would take more
space than would a history of the whole trip; but the enumeration
of several incidents will at once stamp him as a dog of character,
and will establish the fact that even if his progenitors had never
taken any blue ribbons, they had at least bequeathed him fighting
blood. At Flagstaff we chained him in the yard of a livery stable.
Next morning we found him hanging by his chain on the other side of
an eight-foot fence. We took him down, expecting to have the
sorrowful duty of burying him; but Moze shook himself, wagged his
tail and then pitched into the livery stable dog. As a matter of
fact, fighting was his forte. He whipped all of the dogs in
Flagstaff; and when our blood hounds came on from California, he
put three of them hors de combat at once, and subdued the pup with
a savage growl. His crowning feat, however, made even the stoical
Jones open his mouth in amaze. We had taken Moze to the El Tovar at
the Grand Canyon, and finding it impossible to get over to the
north rim, we left him with one of Jones's men, called Rust, who
was working on the Canyon trail. Rust's instructions were to bring
Moze to Flagstaff in two weeks. He brought the dog a little ahead
time, and roared his appreciation of the relief it to get the
responsibility off his hands. And he related many strange things.
most striking of which was how Moze had broken his chain and
plunged into the raging Colorado River, and tried to swim it just
above the terrible Sockdolager Rapids. Rust and his fellow-workmen
watched the dog disappear in the yellow, wrestling, turbulent whirl
of waters, and had heard his knell in the booming roar of the
falls. Nothing but a fish could live in that current; nothing but a
bird could scale those perpendicular marble walls. That night,
however, when the men crossed on the tramway, Moze met them with a
wag of his tail. He had crossed the river, and he had come
To the four reddish-brown, high-framed bloodhounds I had given
the names of Don, Tige, Jude and Ranger; and by dint of persuasion,
had succeeded in establishing some kind of family relation between
them and Moze. This night I tied up the bloodhounds, after bathing
and salving their sore feet; and I left Moze free, for he grew
fretful and surly under restraint.
The Mormons, prone, dark, blanketed figures, lay on the sand.
Jones was crawling into his bed. I walked a little way from the
dying fire, and faced the north, where the desert stretched,
mysterious and illimitable. How solemn and still it was! I drew in
a great breath of the cold air, and thrilled with a nameless
sensation. Something was there, away to the northward; it called to
me from out of the dark and gloom; I was going to meet it.
I lay down to sleep with the great blue expanse open to my eyes.
The stars were very large, and wonderfully bright, yet they seemed
so much farther off than I had ever seen them. The wind softly
sifted the sand. I hearkened to the tinkle of the cowbells on the
hobbled horses. The last thing I remembered was old Moze creeping
close to my side, seeking the warmth of my body.
When I awakened, a long, pale line showed out of the dun-colored
clouds in the east. It slowly lengthened, and tinged to red. Then
the morning broke, and the slopes of snow on the San Francisco
peaks behind us glowed a delicate pink. The Mormons were up and
doing with the dawn. They were stalwart men, rather silent, and all
workers. It was interesting to see them pack for the day's journey.
They traveled with wagons and mules, in the most primitive way,
which Jones assured me was exactly as their fathers had crossed the
plains fifty years before, on the trail to Utah.
All morning we made good time, and as we descended into the
desert, the air became warmer, the scrubby cedar growth began to
fail, and the bunches of sage were few and far between. I turned
often to gaze back at the San Francisco peaks. The snowcapped tips
glistened and grew higher, and stood out in startling relief. Some
one said they could be seen two hundred miles across the desert,
and were a landmark and a fascination to all travelers
I never raised my eyes to the north that I did not draw my
breath quickly and grow chill with awe and bewilderment with the
marvel of the desert. The scaly red ground descended gradually;
bare red knolls, like waves, rolled away northward; black buttes
reared their flat heads; long ranges of sand flowed between them
like streams, and all sloped away to merge into gray, shadowy
obscurity, into wild and desolate, dreamy and misty
"Do you see those white sand dunes there, more to the left?"
asked Emmett. "The Little Colorado runs in there. How far does it
look to you?"
"Thirty miles, perhaps," I replied, adding ten miles to my
"It's seventy-five. We'll get there day after to-morrow. If the
snow in the mountains has begun to melt, we'll have a time getting
That afternoon, a hot wind blew in my face, carrying fine sand
that cut and blinded. It filled my throat, sending me to the water
cask till I was ashamed. When I fell into my bed at night, I never
turned. The next day was hotter; the wind blew harder; the sand
About noon the following day, the horses whinnied, and the mules
roused out of their tardy gait. "They smell water," said Emmett.
And despite the heat, and the sand in my nostrils, I smelled it,
too. The dogs, poor foot-sore fellows, trotted on ahead down the
trail. A few more miles of hot sand and gravel and red stone
brought us around a low mesa to the Little Colorado.
It was a wide stream of swiftly running, reddish-muddy water. In
the channel, cut by floods, little streams trickled and meandered
in all directions. The main part of the river ran in close to the
bank we were on. The dogs lolled in the water; the horses and mules
tried to run in, but were restrained; the men drank, and bathed
their faces. According to my Flagstaff adviser, this was one of the
two drinks I would get on the desert, so I availed myself heartily
of the opportunity. The water was full of sand, but cold and
The Little Colorado seemed no more to me than a shallow creek; I
heard nothing sullen or menacing in its musical flow.
"Doesn't look bad, eh?" queried Emmett, who read my thought.
"You'd be surprised to learn how many men and Indians, horses,
sheep and wagons are buried under that quicksand."
The secret was out, and I wondered no more. At once the stream
and wet bars of sand took on a different color. I removed my boots,
and waded out to a little bar. The sand seemed quite firm, but
water oozed out around my feet; and when I stepped, the whole bar
shook like jelly. I pushed my foot through the crust, and the cold,
wet sand took hold, and tried to suck me down.
"How can you ford this stream with horses?" I asked Emmett.
"We must take our chances," replied he. "We'll hitch two teams
to one wagon, and run the horses. I've forded here at worse stages
than this. Once a team got stuck, and I had to leave it; another
time the water was high, and washed me downstream.
Emmett sent his son into the stream on a mule. The rider lashed
his mount, and plunging, splashing, crossed at a pace near a
gallop. He returned in the same manner, and reported one bad place
near the other side.
Jones and I got on the first wagon and tried to coax up the
dogs, but they would not come. Emmett had to lash the four horses
to start them; and other Mormons riding alongside, yelled at them,
and used their whips. The wagon bowled into the water with a
tremendous splash. We were wet through before we had gone twenty
feet. The plunging horses were lost in yellow spray; the stream
rushed through the wheels; the Mormons yelled. I wanted to see, but
was lost in a veil of yellow mist. Jones yelled in my ear, but I
could not hear what he said. Once the wagon wheels struck a stone
or log, almost lurching us overboard. A muddy splash blinded me. I
cried out in my excitement, and punched Jones in the back. Next
moment, the keen exhilaration of the ride gave way to horror. We
seemed to drag, and almost stop. Some one roared: "Horse down!" One
instant of painful suspense, in which imagination pictured another
tragedy added to the record of this deceitful river—a moment filled
with intense feeling, and sensation of splash, and yell, and fury
of action; then the three able horses dragged their comrade out of
the quicksand. He regained his feet, and plunged on. Spurred by
fear, the horses increased their efforts, and amid clouds of spray,
galloped the remaining distance to the other side.
Jones looked disgusted. Like all plainsmen, he hated water.
Emmett and his men calmly unhitched. No trace of alarm, or even of
excitement showed in their bronzed faces.
"We made that fine and easy," remarked Emmett.
So I sat down and wondered what Jones and Emmett, and these men
would consider really hazardous. I began to have a feeling that I
would find out; that experience for me was but in its infancy; that
far across the desert the something which had called me would show
hard, keen, perilous life. And I began to think of reserve powers
of fortitude and endurance.
The other wagons were brought across without mishap; but the
dogs did not come with them. Jones called and called. The dogs
howled and howled. Finally I waded out over the wet bars and little
streams to a point several hundred yards nearer the dogs. Moze was
lying down, but the others were whining and howling in a state of
great perturbation. I called and called. They answered, and even
ran into the water, but did not start across.
"Hyah, Moze! hyah, you Indian!" I yelled, losing my patience.
"You've already swum the Big Colorado, and this is only a brook.
This appeal evidently touched Moze, for he barked, and plunged
in. He made the water fly, and when carried off his feet, breasted
the current with energy and power. He made shore almost even with
me, and wagged his tail. Not to be outdone, Jude, Tige and Don
followed suit, and first one and then another was swept off his
feet and carried downstream. They landed below me. This left
Ranger, the pup, alone on the other shore. Of all the pitiful yelps
ever uttered by a frightened and lonely puppy, his were the most
forlorn I had ever heard. Time after time he plunged in, and with
many bitter howls of distress, went back. I kept calling, and at
last, hoping to make him come by a show of indifference, I started
away. This broke his heart. Putting up his head, he let out a long,
melancholy wail, which for aught I knew might have been a prayer,
and then consigned himself to the yellow current. Ranger swam like
a boy learning. He seemed to be afraid to get wet. His forefeet
were continually pawing the air in front of his nose. When he
struck the swift place, he went downstream like a flash, but still
kept swimming valiantly. I tried to follow along the sand-bar, but
found it impossible. I encouraged him by yelling. He drifted far
below, stranded on an island, crossed it, and plunged in again, to
make shore almost out of my sight. And when at last I got to dry
sand, there was Ranger, wet and disheveled, but consciously proud
After lunch we entered upon the seventy-mile stretch from the
Little to the Big Colorado.
Imagination had pictured the desert for me as a vast, sandy
plain, flat and monotonous. Reality showed me desolate mountains
gleaming bare in the sun, long lines of red bluffs, white sand
dunes, and hills of blue clay, areas of level ground—in all, a
many-hued, boundless world in itself, wonderful and beautiful,
fading all around into the purple haze of deceiving distance.
Thin, clear, sweet, dry, the desert air carried a languor, a
dreaminess, tidings of far-off things, and an enthralling promise.
The fragrance of flowers, the beauty and grace of women, the
sweetness of music, the mystery of life—all seemed to float on that
promise. It was the air breathed by the lotus-eaters, when they
dreamed, and wandered no more.
Beyond the Little Colorado, we began to climb again. The sand
was thick; the horses labored; the drivers shielded their faces.
The dogs began to limp and lag. Ranger had to be taken into a
wagon; and then, one by one, all of the other dogs except Moze. He
refused to ride, and trotted along with his head down.
Far to the front the pink cliffs, the ragged mesas, the dark,
volcanic spurs of the Big Colorado stood up and beckoned us onward.
But they were a far hundred miles across the shifting sands, and
baked day, and ragged rocks. Always in the rear rose the San
Francisco peaks, cold and pure, startlingly clear and close in the
We camped near another water hole, located in a deep,
yellow-colored gorge, crumbling to pieces, a ruin of rock, and
silent as the grave. In the bottom of the canyon was a pool of
water, covered with green scum. My thirst was effectually quenched
by the mere sight of it. I slept poorly, and lay for hours watching
the great stars. The silence was painfully oppressive. If Jones had
not begun to give a respectable imitation of the exhaust pipe on a
steamboat, I should have been compelled to shout aloud, or get up;
but this snoring would have dispelled anything. The morning came
gray and cheerless. I got up stiff and sore, with a tongue like a
All day long we ran the gauntlet of the hot, flying sand. Night
came again, a cold, windy night. I slept well until a mule stepped
on my bed, which was conducive to restlessness. At dawn, cold, gray
clouds tried to blot out the rosy east. I could hardly get up. My
lips were cracked; my tongue swollen to twice its natural size; my
eyes smarted and burned. The barrels and kegs of water were
exhausted. Holes that had been dug in the dry sand of a dry
streambed the night before in the morning yielded a scant supply of
muddy alkali water, which went to the horses.
Only twice that day did I rouse to anything resembling
enthusiasm. We came to a stretch of country showing the wonderful
diversity of the desert land. A long range of beautifully rounded
clay stones bordered the trail. So symmetrical were they that I
imagined them works of sculptors. Light blue, dark blue, clay blue,
marine blue, cobalt blue—every shade of blue was there, but no
other color. The other time that I awoke to sensations from without
was when we came to the top of a ridge. We had been passing through
red-lands. Jones called the place a strong, specific word which
really was illustrative of the heat amid those scaling red ridges.
We came out where the red changed abruptly to gray. I seemed always
to see things first, and I cried out: "Look! here are a red lake
"No, lad, not a lake," said old Jim, smiling at me; "that's what
haunts the desert traveler. It's only mirage!"
So I awoke to the realization of that illusive thing, the
mirage, a beautiful lie, false as stairs of sand. Far northward a
clear rippling lake sparkled in the sunshine. Tall, stately trees,
with waving green foliage, bordered the water. For a long moment it
lay there, smiling in the sun, a thing almost tangible; and then it
faded. I felt a sense of actual loss. So real had been the illusion
that I could not believe I was not soon to drink and wade and
dabble in the cool waters. Disappointment was keen. This is what
maddens the prospector or sheep-herder lost in the desert. Was it
not a terrible thing to be dying of thirst, to see sparkling water,
almost to smell it and then realize suddenly that all was only a
lying track of the desert, a lure, a delusion? I ceased to wonder
at the Mormons, and their search for water, their talk of water.
But I had not realized its true significance. I had not known what
water was. I had never appreciated it. So it was my destiny to
learn that water is the greatest thing on earth. I hung over a
three-foot hole in a dry stream-bed, and watched it ooze and seep
through the sand, and fill up—oh, so slowly; and I felt it loosen
my parched tongue, and steal through all my dry body with strength
and life. Water is said to constitute three fourths of the
universe. However that may be, on the desert it is the whole world,
and all of life.
Two days passed by, all hot sand and wind and glare. The Mormons
sang no more at evening; Jones was silent; the dogs were limp as
At Moncaupie Wash we ran into a sandstorm. The horses turned
their backs to it, and bowed their heads patiently. The Mormons
covered themselves. I wrapped a blanket round my head and hid
behind a sage bush. The wind, carrying the sand, made a strange
hollow roar. All was enveloped in a weird yellow opacity. The sand
seeped through the sage bush and swept by with a soft, rustling
sound, not unlike the wind in the rye. From time to time I raised a
corner of my blanket and peeped out. Where my feet had stretched
was an enormous mound of sand. I felt the blanket, weighted down,
slowly settle over me.
Suddenly as it had come, the sandstorm passed. It left a changed
world for us. The trail was covered; the wheels hub-deep in sand;
the horses, walking sand dunes. I could not close my teeth without
grating harshly on sand.
We journeyed onward, and passed long lines of petrified trees,
some a hundred feet in length, lying as they had fallen, thousands
of years before. White ants crawled among the ruins. Slowly
climbing the sandy trail, we circled a great red bluff with jagged
peaks, that had seemed an interminable obstacle. A scant growth of
cedar and sage again made its appearance. Here we halted to pass
another night. Under a cedar I heard the plaintive, piteous bleat
of an animal. I searched, and presently found a little black and
white lamb, scarcely able to stand. It came readily to me, and I
carried it to the wagon.
"That's a Navajo lamb," said Emmett. "It's lost. There are
Navajo Indians close by."
"Away in the desert we heard its cry," quoted one of the
Jones and I climbed the red mesa near camp to see the sunset.
All the western world was ablaze in golden glory. Shafts of light
shot toward the zenith, and bands of paler gold, tinging to rose,
circled away from the fiery, sinking globe. Suddenly the sun sank,
the gold changed to gray, then to purple, and shadows formed in the
deep gorge at our feet. So sudden was the transformation that soon
it was night, the solemn, impressive night of the desert. A
stillness that seemed too sacred to break clasped the place; it was
infinite; it held the bygone ages, and eternity.
More days, and miles, miles, miles! The last day's ride to the
Big Colorado was unforgettable. We rode toward the head of a
gigantic red cliff pocket, a veritable inferno, immeasurably hot,
glaring, awful. It towered higher and higher above us. When we
reached a point of this red barrier, we heard the dull rumbling
roar of water, and we came out, at length, on a winding trail cut
in the face of a blue overhanging the Colorado River. The first
sight of most famous and much-heralded wonders of nature is often
disappointing; but never can this be said of the blood-hued Rio
Colorado. If it had beauty, it was beauty that appalled. So riveted
was my gaze that I could hardly turn it across the river, where
Emmett proudly pointed out his lonely home—an oasis set down amidst
beetling red cliffs. How grateful to the eye was the green of
alfalfa and cottonwood! Going round the bluff trail, the wheels had
only a foot of room to spare; and the sheer descent into the red,
turbid, congested river was terrifying.
I saw the constricted rapids, where the Colorado took its plunge
into the box-like head of the Grand Canyon of Arizona; and the
deep, reverberating boom of the river, at flood height, was a
fearful thing to hear. I could not repress a shudder at the thought
of crossing above that rapid.
The bronze walls widened as we proceeded, and we got down
presently to a level, where a long wire cable stretched across the
river. Under the cable ran a rope. On the other side was an old
scow moored to the bank.
"Are we going across in that?" I asked Emmett, pointing to the
"We'll all be on the other side before dark," he replied
I felt that I would rather start back alone over the desert than
trust myself in such a craft, on such a river. And it was all
because I had had experience with bad rivers, and thought I was a
judge of dangerous currents. The Colorado slid with a menacing roar
out of a giant split in the red wall, and whirled, eddied, bulged
on toward its confinement in the iron-ribbed canyon below.
In answer to shots fired, Emmett's man appeared on the other
side, and rode down to the ferry landing. Here he got into a skiff,
and rowed laboriously upstream for a long distance before he
started across, and then swung into the current. He swept down
rapidly, and twice the skiff whirled, and completely turned round;
but he reached our bank safely. Taking two men aboard he rowed
upstream again, close to the shore, and returned to the opposite
side in much the same manner in which he had come over.
The three men pushed out the scow, and grasping the rope
overhead, began to pull. The big craft ran easily. When the current
struck it, the wire cable sagged, the water boiled and surged under
it, raising one end, and then the other. Nevertheless, five minutes
were all that were required to pull the boat over.
It was a rude, oblong affair, made of heavy planks loosely put
together, and it leaked. When Jones suggested that we get the agony
over as quickly as possible, I was with him, and we embarked
together. Jones said he did not like the looks of the tackle; and
when I thought of his by no means small mechanical skill, I had not
added a cheerful idea to my consciousness. The horses of the first
team had to be dragged upon the scow, and once on, they reared and
When we started, four men pulled the rope, and Emmett sat in the
stern, with the tackle guys in hand. As the current hit us, he let
out the guys, which maneuver caused the boat to swing stern
downstream. When it pointed obliquely, he made fast the guys again.
I saw that this served two purposes: the current struck, slid
alongside, and over the stern, which mitigated the danger, and at
the same time helped the boat across.
To look at the river was to court terror, but I had to look. It
was an infernal thing. It roared in hollow, sullen voice, as a
monster growling. It had voice, this river, and one strangely
changeful. It moaned as if in pain—it whined, it cried. Then at
times it would seem strangely silent. The current as complex and
mutable as human life. It boiled, beat and bulged. The bulge itself
was an incompressible thing, like a roaring lift of the waters from
submarine explosion. Then it would smooth out, and run like oil. It
shifted from one channel to another, rushed to the center of the
river, then swung close to one shore or the other. Again it swelled
near the boat, in great, boiling, hissing eddies.
"Look! See where it breaks through the mountain!" yelled Jones
in my ear.
I looked upstream to see the stupendous granite walls separated
in a gigantic split that must have been made by a terrible seismic
disturbance; and from this gap poured the dark, turgid, mystic
I was in a cold sweat when we touched shore, and I jumped long
before the boat was properly moored.
Emmett was wet to the waist where the water had surged over him.
As he sat rearranging some tackle I remarked to him that of course
he must be a splendid swimmer, or he would not take such risks.
"No, I can't swim a stroke," he replied; "and it wouldn't be any
use if I could. Once in there a man's a goner."
"You've had bad accidents here?" I questioned.
"No, not bad. We only drowned two men last year. You see, we had
to tow the boat up the river, and row across, as then we hadn't the
wire. Just above, on this side, the boat hit a stone, and the
current washed over her, taking off the team and two men."
"Didn't you attempt to rescue them?" I asked, after waiting a
"No use. They never came up."
"Isn't the river high now?" I continued, shuddering as I glanced
out at the whirling logs and drifts.
"High, and coming up. If I don't get the other teams over to-day
I'll wait until she goes down. At this season she rises and lowers
every day or so, until June then comes the big flood, and we don't
cross for months."
I sat for three hours watching Emmett bring over the rest of his
party, which he did without accident, but at the expense of great
effort. And all the time in my ears dinned the roar, the boom, the
rumble of this singularly rapacious and purposeful river—a river of
silt, a red river of dark, sinister meaning, a river with terrible
work to perform, a river which never gave up its dead.