Page images

tude of beautiful streams and rivulets, and in every respect well adapted to cultivation; whereas on the west, it is an ocean of barren prairie, but here and there a feeble stream and a few solitary trees.

It would seem as if the Creator had designed this as an immense natural barrier, beyond which agriculturists should not pass-leaving the great prairies for the savage to roam over at will.

There are no ranges of mountains to cross over on our road, and but few hills of any magnitude; and these could in most cases be avoided entirely by passing around them, or their slopes made very gradual and easy. Generally, the face of the country is extremely uniform and smooth.

I am, therefore, of the opinion, that but few localities could be found upon the continent which (for as great a distance) would present as few obstacles to the construction of a railway as upon this route. It is true that, upon the western extremity, there is but little timber except cottonwood; but, in many places destitute of timber, there are large quarries of lime and sandstone, whose divisional structures are so perfectly smooth and uniform that the masses could easily be wrought into shape, and in many cases made use of as substitutes for timber. The surface of the ground is generally so perfectly even and level that but little labor would be required to grade the road; and as there are but few hills or ravines, there would not be much excavation or embankment.

The following summary respecting the route from Dona Anna to Fort Smith, copied from the concluding pages of Captain Marcy's report contains, as we believe, the only authentic account that has ever been published of the country between the sources of the Red river and El Paso on the Rio Grande :

I shall now close my report with a few general remarks in reference to the country we have passed over, the relative merits of the two routes, and the probability of finding other better lines of communication between the Mississippi river, New Mexico, and California.

In the first place, I beg leave to remark, that before leaving Fort Smith for Santa Fe I had been led into very erroneous notions in regard to the geography of the country lying between the Rio Grande and the heads of the rivers running into the United States and Gulf of Mexico. From the best maps I could find, I was in luced to believe that there were extensive ranges of lofty mountains running across the route from El Paso to Fort Smith, which could not be avoided, and that there were large streams in some places, where upon examination none are found ; that in other places there were no streams, where indeed there are many. For instance, upon many of the modern and most approved maps, the Rio Pecos, or, as it is improperly termed by some, the Rio Puerco, is laid down as running from north to south nearly parallel to the Rio del Norte, and at a distance of about forty or fifty miles from it, when its course for nearly a hundred miles, that we have followed it, is but aout 25° south of east; and instead of being fifty miles from the Rio del Norte, it is two hundred and four in nearly a direct line. This opinion has been so general, that several parties of emigrants on their way to New Mexico left the Rio Pecos in the morning, expecting to reach the Rio Grande the same night; and some of them falling into a route where there was no water, travelled several days in a westerly direction, suffering greatly, and in some instances perishing before they reached the river. The inhabitants at El Paso in one instance sent out water to the relief of emigrants who were too much exhausted to get it, and who would otherwise have probably died upon the plains.

Disturnell's map of Mexico, &c., upon which the boundary between the United States and Mexico is by the treaty defined, is one of the most inaccurate of all those I have seen, so far as relates to the country over which I have passed. He makes a greater error than most others in laying down the Pecos, and has the Colorado, Brazos, and Red river all inaccurately placed. Upon the Red river he has a very large branch coming from far west, near El Paso, which he calls “Ensenado Choctaw." This is altogether an imaginary stream, as no one who has been in the country ever heard of it; neither does any branch of Red River extend to within three hundred miles of the Rio del Norte. There are but three principal tributaries to Red river above Fort Washita; these are the Big and the Little Witchita and the Ke-che-a-qua-ho-no, but neither flows far from towards El Paso. These, with the Main branch of Red river and the Brazos, all have their sources in extensive salt plains far east of the Rio Pecos. Their waters are strongly saline and unpalatable, and for a long distance run through a country poorly watered, and bordered by rugged cliffs and deep ravines. Hence it appears to me in practicable to find a road to the Rio Grande which shall follow up the course of either of these streams. Even if the road could be made to the head of one of them, it would terminate at the eastern border of the Llano Estacado; for no man, as I have remarked before, attempts to cross that desert, except at certain points.

It therefore appears to me, that if a route could be found in nearly a direct line from a desirable point in the United States, which would skirt the border of the plain, and at the same time have sufficient water and wood upon it at all seasons of the year for the traveller's use, that would be the best location for a road, as, in this case, the road would cross the head branches of streams where there would be an abundance of water, and no heavy hills or large rivers to pass. Fortunately, on our return from New Mexico we fell in a route of this description, and had no difficulty in finding an abundant supply of wood, water and grass upon nearly the whole route.

On leaving the valley of the Rio del Norte, our road passed through a gap or pass in the first chain of mountains in a direction which would have taken me near Fort Smith, but I was obliged here to change our course to avoid the Sacramento chain of mountains lying across our route, as our guide told me there was no practicable pass for wagons through there. I therefore bore south, and crossed the level plain dividing the two ranges to the “Sierra Waco.” Our road thus far is but little more elevated than the table land adjacent to the valley of the Rio Grande. From this point we ascended about two hundred feet through a sinuous valley or canon of gentle grade to the second bench, at the southern extremity of the Sierra Alto. We then

crossed another extensive plain of about eighty miles in width, which brought us to the Sierra Guadalupe: here we encountered the margin of another high plain, which forms the third and highest bench between the Rio Grande and the Rio Pecos, the difference between the summit level at this point and Dona Ana not being over five hundred feet. From this chain of mountains the road descends to the valley of the Pecos, about two hundred feet. Thus, from the Rio Grande to the Pecos, a distance of two hundred and four miles, there are but three hills of any magnitude to ascend in coming east, and those with a little expense could be made as good as any road in our country. From the valley of the Pecos to the sand hills the road ascends probably two hundred feet, but the slope is so uniform that it is hardly perceptible. These hills are near ihe southern extremity of the great desert of the Llano Estacado, and stand upon the summit of the plain dividing the waters of the Rio Pecos from those that run east and south into the United States.

Our road from here runs across the “Llano Estacado" for seventy miles upon a perfect level prairie as firm and smooth as marble. It then descends from the high table land about fifty feet into a rolling prairie country, where the Colorado of Texas has its source. Thus far there is but little timber or water upon our route, except at certain points noted upon the map; but these points can be made from day to day with loaded teams. As if, however, in compensation for the absence of other favors, nature, in her wise economy, has adorned the entire face of the country with a luxuriant verdure of different kinds of grama grass, affording the most nutritious sustenance for animals, and rendering it one of the best countries for grazing large flocks and herds that can be conceived of.

Immediately after we descended from the high table lands, we struck upon an entirely different country from the one we had been passing over before. By a reference to the map it will be seen that we kept near the plain upon the head branches of the Colorado and the Clear Fork of the Brazos. Here we found a smooth road over a gently undulating country of prairies and timber, and abounding with numerous clear spring branches for two hundred miles, and in many places covered with large groves of mezquite timber, which makes the very best of fuel. The soil cannot be surpassed for fertility. The grass remains green during the entire winter, and the climate is salubrious and healthy; indeed, it possesses all the requisites that can be desired for making a fine agricultural country, and I venture to predict that at no very distant period it will contain a very dense population. It is only necessary for our practical farmers to see it and have protection from the incursion of the Indians, to settle it at once.

Soon after crossing the Rio Brazos, our road strikes out upon the high ridge lying between the waters of the Trinity and Red river; and it appears as if nature had formed this expressly for a road, as it runs for a hundred miles through a country which is frequently much broken up upon each side with hills and deep ravines ; and the only place where wagons can pass is directly upon the crest of this natural defile. It is as firm and smooth as a turnpike, with no streams of magnitude or other obstructions through the entire distance to near Preston, where we left it and crossed Red river. From Preston to Fort Washita, and thence to our outward route upon Gains's creek, the road passes through the Chickasaw country, which is rolling, and in many places covered with a great variety of large timber, and well watered, with no mountains or high hills to pass over. Hence you will perceive that from Dona Ana to Fort Smith, a distance of 994 miles, our road passes over smooth and very uniformly level ground, crossing no mountains or deep valleys, and for five hundred miles upon the eastern extremity runs through the heart of a country possessing great natural advantages. I conceive this to be decidedly the best overland wagon route to California for several reasons, among which are the following:

1. I was assured by several of the best guides in New Mexico among others Messrs. Lereux, Kit Carson, Hatcher, and Thomasthat there was no point upon the Rio Grande north of San Diego from which wagons could pass through the extensive ranges of mountains lying west of that river, and that it would be necessary to take Colonel Cook's route to the head of the Gila. Should emigrants go to Santa Fe therefore, they have to travel three hundred miles down the river to reach this point, whereas our return route leaves this road almost directly at the placer.

2. The roads from Fort Smith and Indpendence to Santa Fe being over eight hundred miles, and the distance down the Rio Grande three hundred more over a very sandy road, makes these routes longer than the southern route from Fort Smith by two hundred miles.

3. As there is grass upon this route at all seasons of the year, it can be travelled at any time. It is true that the old grama grass dries

up early in the spring, but appears to cure like hay, and does not lose its nutritious properties.

4. As San Diego on the Rio Grande, the mouth of the Gila River, and San Diego on the Pacific, are all very nearly upon the same parallel of latitude, (32° 45' 54",) our southern route would form a direct line of communication with Cooke's road from the United States through to the Pacific, and probably shorter by several hundred miles than any other.

There is a difference of thirteen degrees longitude between Fort Smith and Dona Ana, and ten degrees difference between Dona Ana and San Diego, in California. The probable distance, therefore, from Fort Smith through to the Pacific would not be more than about seventeen hundred miles. Emigrants with good cattle, and well supplied with the proper "outfit” for the journey, should go through in four months with ease.

As I have remarked before, I consider oxen to be the best description of cattle for the prairies; and emigrants, before leaving for California, should provide themselves with one or two extra pairs to be ready to supply the places of any which may fail or die upon the road. They should take light, strong wagons, and transport nothing but provisions and such other articles as are absolutely required upon the journey. Their provisions should be secured in small packages, and not suffered to become wet. Each wagon should have a double cover, a water-cask, and extra axle-pole and pair of hounds, before going out into the plains, as after this no timber is to be found suitable for such purposes. They should form parties or companies of from seventy-five to a hundred men each, which would be sufficient for protection, guarding animals, &c. While travelling through the Indian country they should herd their animals, night and day, with the utmost vigilance and care, and never allow them to move from camp without an armed guard.

The best season for emigrants to leave the United States for California, upon the southern road, is about the first of June. There would then be good grass and water to the Rio Grande, and they would reach there about the last of July. This would give them time to stop two or three weeks to graze and recruit their animals, and lay in additional suppliıs, should they require any, for the remainder of their journey. Flour, corn, vegetables, and beef cattle, as also many articles of merchandize that travellers require—such as clothing, shoes, &c.—can be obtained for moderate prices at Dona Ana or El Paso.

Leaving the Rio Grande about the first of August, they would reach the Colorado of California after the annual flood, which occurs in July and August, overflows the banks for several miles on each side, and renders it utterly impassable for wagons; and in this way they would arrive at San Diego during the healthy season.

From all I can learn of the other routes to California, I am induced to believe that, should our government, at any future time, determine upon making a national road of any description across the conLinent, the southern route we have travelled is eminently worthy of consideration. We find upon none of the northern routes as much water, timber, or rich, fertile soil, as upon this. There are many more mountains to pass over, and during a part of the year they are buried in deep snows.

I have been kindly allowed the perusal of a letter written by an officer of the army (an attentive and experienced observer of nature) who has recently passed over that portion of the northern route between Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie, in which he speaks of the country in the following language : "The country between Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie is a vast, undulating, sandy desert—but little wood or water-totally destitute of interest, and utterly worthless, and must remain so forever: it never can be inhabited to any extent, as there is no soil, and the seasons are too short."

The distance between these two places is three hundred and sixtyfour miles. In one place, wood for cooking has to be carried for three consecutive days in wagons, and in several places it is necessary to carry water.

The road from Independence, after passing through a country of poor soil, and very destitute of wood, for a great distance, passes over lofty and rugged mountains, near Santa Fe. Lieutnant Colonel Emory states that the arable soil upon

this road extends to the 99th degree of longitude. Therefore, if a road could be made from the Missouri river to California, it would pass through a very barren country, which could not be settled or improved ; whereas one constructed through the country we have passed over froin Dona Ana to Fort Smith, with the protection which a chain of military posts along the route would afford, would open a vast tract of

« PreviousContinue »