77. Bryant August 3, 1846

I rose from my bivouac this morning at half-past one o'clock. The moon appearing like a ball of fire, and shining with a dim and baleful light, seemed struggling downwards through the thick bank of smoky vapor that overhung and curtained the high ridge of mountains to the west of us. This ridge, stretching far to the north and the south as the eye can reach, forms the western wall (if I may so call it) of the desert valley we had crossed yesterday, and is composed of rugged, barren peaks of dark basaltic rock, sometimes exhibiting misshapen outlines; at others, towering upwards, and displaying a variety of architectural forms, representing domes, spires, and turreted fortifications. Our encampment was on the slope of the mountain; and the valley lay spread out at our feet, illuminated sufficiently by the red glare of the moon, and the more pallid effulgence of the stars, to display imperfectly its broken and frightful barrenness, and its solemn desolation. No life, except in the little oasis occupied by our camp, and dampened by the sluggish spring, by excavating which with our hands we had obtained impure water sufficient to quench our own and our animals' thirst, existed as far as the eye could penetrate over mountain and plain. There was no voice of animal, no hum of insect, disturbing the tomb-like solemnity. All was silence and death. The atmosphere, chill and frosty, seemed to sympathize with this sepulchral stillness. No wailing or whispering sounds sighed through the chasms of the mountains, or over the gulfy and waterless ravines of the valley. No rustling zephyr swept over the scant dead grass, or disturbed the crumbling leaves of the gnarled and stunted cedars, which seemed to draw a precarious existence from the small patch of damp earth surrounding us. Like the other elements sustaining animal and vegetable life, the winds seemed stagnant and paralyzed by the universal dearth around. I contemplated this scene of dismal and oppressive solitude until the moon sunk behind the mountain, and object after object became shrouded in its shadow. Rousing Mr. Jacob, who slept soundly, and after him the other members of our small party, (nine in number, we commenced our preparations for the long and much-dreaded march over the great Salt Desert. Mr. Hudspeth, the gentleman who had kindly conducted us thus far from Fort Bridger as our pilot, was to leave us at this point, for the purpose of exploring a route for the emigrant wagons farther south. He was accompanied by three gentlemen, Messrs. Ferguson, Kirkwood, and Minter. Consequently, from this time forward we are without a guide, or any reliable index to our destination, except our course westward, until we strike Mary's river and the emigrant trail to California, which runs parallel with it, some two hundred miles distant. The march across the Salt Plain, without water or grass, was variously estimated by those with whom I conversed at Fort Bridger, at from sixty to eighty miles. Captain Walker, an old and experienced mountaineer, who had crossed it at this point as the guide of Captain Fremont and his party, estimated the distance at seventy-five miles, and we found the estimate to be nearly correct. We gathered the dead limbs of the cedars which had been cut down by Captain Fremont's party when encamped here last autumn, and igniting them, they gave us a good light during the preparation and discussion of our frugal breakfast; which consisted to-day of bread and coffee, bacon being interdicted in consequence of its incitement to thirst – a sensation which at this time we desired to avoid, as we felt uncertain how long it might be before we should be able to gratify the unpleasant cravings it produces. Each individual of the party busied himself around the blazing fires in making his various little but important arrangements, until the first gray of the dawn manifested itself above the vapory bank overhanging the eastern ridge of mountains, when the word to saddle up being given, the mules were brought to the camp-fires, and every arm and muscle of the party was actively employed in the business of saddling and packing “with care!”—with unusual care, as a short detention during the day's march to readjust the packs might result in an encampment upon the desert for the coming night, and all its consequent dangers, the death or loss by straying in search of water and grass of our mules, (next to death to us,) not taking into the account our own suffering from thirst, which for the next eighteen or twenty hours we had made up our minds to endure with philosophical fortitude and resignation. A small powder-keg, holding about three or four pints of coffee, which had been emptied of its original contents for the purpose, and filled with that beverage made from the brackish spring near our camp, was the only vessel we possessed in which we could transport water, and its contents composed our entire liquid refreshment for the march. Instructions were given to Miller, who had charge of this important and precious burden, to husband it with miserly care, and to make an equitable division whenever it should be called into use. Every thing being ready, Mr. Hudspeth, who accompanied us to the summit of the mountain, led the way. We passed upwards through the cuñada (pronounced kanyeada] or mountain-gorge, at the mouth of which we had encamped, and by a comparatively easy and smooth ascent reached the summit of the mountain after travelling about six miles. Most of us were shivering with cold, until the sun shone broadly upon us after emerging, by a steep acclivity, from the gorge through which we had passed to the top of the ridge. Here we should have had a view of the mountain at the foot of which our day's journey was to terminate, but for the dense smoke which hung over and filled the plain, shutting from the vision all distant objects. Bidding farewell to Mr. Hudspeth and the gentleman with him, (Mr. Ferguson,) we commenced the descent of the mountain. We had scarcely parted from Mr. H. when, standing on one of the peaks, he stretched out his long arms, and with a voice and gesture as loud and impressive as he could make them, he called to us and exclaimed—“Now, boys, put spurs to your mules and ride like h-!” The hint was timely given and well meant, but scarcely necessary, as we all had a pretty just appreciation of the trials and hardships before us.


We left, to us, in our tired condition, the seemingly interminable plain of salt, and entered upon the sagey slope of the mountain about 10 o'clock. Hallooing as loudly as we could raise our voices, we obtained, by a response, the direction of our party who had preceded us, and after some difficulty in making our way through the sage, grass, and willows, (the last a certain indication of water in the desert,) we came to where they had discovered a faint stream of water, and made their camp. Men and mules, on their first arrival, as we learned, had madly rushed into the stream and drank together of its muddy waters, - made muddy by their own disturbance of its shallow channel and sluggish current. Delay of gratification frequently gives a temporary relief to the cravings of hunger. The same remark is applicable to thirst. Some hours previously I had felt the pangs of thirst with an acuteness almost amounting to an agony. Now, when I had reached the spot where I could gratify my desires in this respect, they were greatly diminished. My first care was to unsaddle my mule and lead it to the stream, and my next to take a survey of the position of our encampment. I then procured a cup of muddy water, and drank it off with a good relish. The fires before noticed were still blazing brightly above us on the side of the mountain, but those who had lighted them, had given no other signal of their proximity. The moon shone brilliantly, and Jacob, Buchanan, McClary, and myself, concluded we would trace the small stream of water until we could find the fountain spring. After considerable search among the reeds, willow, and luxuriant grass, we discovered a spring. Buchanan was so eager to obtain a draught of cold, pure water, that in dipping his cup for this purpose, the yielding weeds under him gave way, and he sank into the basin, from which he was drawn out after a good “ducking,” by one of those present. The next morning this basin was sounded to the depth of thirty five feet, and no bottom found. We named this spring “Buchanan's well.”