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The Sand Hills (les Buttes de Sable) present their most characteristic appearance just north of Calamus river, spread out in every direc
tion to the extreme verge of the horizon. (See sketch.) The sand is nearly white, or lightish yellow, and is about three fourths covered with coarse grass and other plants, their roots penetrating so deep that it is almost impossible to pull them out.
The sand is formed into limited basins, over the rims of which you are constantly passing up one side and down the other, the feet of the animals frequently sinking so as to make the progress excessively laborious.
The scenery is exceedingly solitary, silent, and desolate, and depressing to one's spirits. Antelope, and at sometimes buffalo, are numerous. This is the common war ground for the Dacotas, Crows, Omahas, Poncas, and Pawnees. The character of the country is well calculated to cover a stealthy approach or retreat, and if one keeps as much as possible to the hollows he may even fire his rifle within a quarter of a mile of an enemy's camp without the faintest sound reaching it. Two parties may pass close without being aware of each other's presence, and I consider it hopeless to attempt to capture any who had sought refuge in the Sand Hills. Further west, these hills, I am told, increase in height, and are impassable for horses. Their east and west limits are not well known, but they undoubtedly occupy nearly all the country between Loup Fork and l'Eau qui Court, and form a lasting barrier to any direct economical wheel communication between them. Their width where we crossed is sixty miles. The country lying between the Republican Fork of the Kansas, and the South Fork of the Platte, described by Captain Fremont, (Senate Doc. No. 174, 2d sess. 28th Congress, pp. 109, 110,) is most probably a similar region.
The Coteau du Missouri, in Minnesota, has a soil of only two or three inches, beneath which is the gravel, &c., of the boulder formation; it extends cast nearly to the Vermilion river.
The Missouri is the most important river as regards our dealings with the Dacotas. Flowing through the middle of their country, it furnishes us with a base from which, with short lines of march, we can reach almost any portion of their lands, and many of them have their permanent home upon its banks. My remarks upon it will be confined wholly to that portion below the mouth of the Shyenne, and which came under my own observation.
The bottom lands and some of the larger islands are from fifteen to twenty feet above low water, and rarely overflowed, though during the melting of the snows this sometimes happens. The wood on these bottom lands, from being large and dense, as in the State of Missouri, gradually becomes thinner as we ascend to the mouth of the Vermilion, and above this it generally is only a narrow belt, varying from a single tree to groves half a mile in width, alternating on either side, or occupying a few of the larger islands; sometimes these, as Farm island, below Fort Pierre, and the large island below the mouth of the Shyenne, contain prairies in their interior. I believe, however, that timber sufficient for the wants of a military post exists everywhere within reasonable distance on the Missouri, as high up as the Big Shyenne, and above this the timber is said to improve.
The bottom lands on the Missouri, along the western boundary of Iowa, as well as the prairie lands on either side, are very fertile. The valley of the Big Sioux, above its mouth, forms the continuation in direction of that of the Missouri below, and is said to be fertile. The Hupan Kutey prairie, lying between this stream and the Vermilion, is low and fertile, and is about the last of the continuous fertile country as you advance up the Missouri, which here comes from the west. Above this the bottom lands of the Missouri are sometimes one and two miles wide, and will give but precarious support to an agricultural people; it is doubtful whether even this can be said of the high prairie lying back from the stream. On both sides of l'Eau qui Court, at its mouth, is a little of very beautiful country, and the Poncas raise considerable corn in this neighborhood, and winter here; it would furnish a handsome site for a military post. The same is true of the right bank of the Missouri, from White river to the Great Bend, at the former situation of old Fort Aux Cedres and Fort Lookout. Another eligible site is on the point ten to fifteen miles below the Shyenne. It is my opinion that no point above the Vermilion could be relied upon for many years to come to raise corn for the support of a cavalry post; above this it must be transported.
The crossing of the Missouri at low water is very difficult by any means. It cannot easily be forded, and shoals would prevent à bat from floating across, except she be of very light draft and small dimensions. I am convinced, however, from what I have seen during a season of unparalleled difficulties to navigation, that, with suitable preparation, the Missouri can always be relied upon as a channel to convey any necessary amount of supplies. The removal of some of the snags and boulders would greatly improve it, but even as it is, with a better knowledge of the channel on the part of those navigating it, and more suitably constructed boats, this stream would lose much of its terror to them.
L'Eau qui Court, during floods, throws out large quantities of sani, and leaves a bad bar in the Missouri. Another bad bar exists just below the month of White river, and some boulder obstructions are found in the Great Bend.
The wood used by steamboats above the mouth of the Big Siou is cut by their crews as they proceed, and, consequently, only dead trees will answer. Such wood is most often in places inaccessible for steamboats in moderate stages of the river, and hence the great scarcity of it that is complained of. There is, nevertheless, wood enough for steam navigation for many years, and no scarcity would be felt if there were men to cut it in the autumn, and haul it to good landings in the spring.
My trip was made in the steamboat Clara, drawing 5$ feet of water. She had to be lightened at the mouth of l’Eau qui Court, and again at the bar above the mouth of White river, and at the foot of the Great Bend. She was 39 days from St. Louis to Fort Pierre.
The Clara was so hard to handle when the wind blew strong, that she frequently could not be kept in the channel. The requisites of a good steamboat for Missouri navigation are, a strong bottom, a boiler that burns the minimum amount of wood, as little as possible of top hamper, wheels well forward, and considerable breadth of beam, so as to give as much control over her motions as possible. The Clara was the reverse of all this, but Captain Cheever, her commander, was a most skilful river man, and his untiring efforts overcame all difficulties.
The main rise on the Missouri occurs between April 20, and June 1.
The Platte river is the most important tributary of the Missouri in the region under consideration; its broad and grass-covered valley leading to the west, furnishes one of the best wagon roads of its length in America. From its mouth to the forks, the bluffs are from two to five miles from the water, making an intermediate bottom valley of from four to eight miles wide. From the forks to Fort Laramie, the bluffs occasionally come down to the water's edge, and the road has to cross the points of the ridges. From Ash Hollow to Fort Laramie, the road is sometimes heavy with sand. Fine cotton wood grows along the banks, and on the islands, from the mouth to Fort Kearny; from here up it is scarce, and of small size. Cedar is found in the ravines of the bluffs, in the neighborhood of the forks, and above. The river is about a mile wide, and flows over a sandy bottom; when the banks are full, it is about six feet deep throughout, having a remarkably level bed; but it is of no use for navigation, as the bed is so broad that the water seldom attains sufficient depth, and then the rise is of short duration. The water is sometimes so low, as was the case last season,
that it can be crossed anywhere without difficulty, the only care requisite being to avoid quicksands.
The manner in which this stream spreads out over its entire bed in low water, is one of its most striking features, and it is peculiar to the rivers of the sandy region. A short distance above Fort Laramie, the Platte comes out from among the gorges and cañons, and its character there is that of a mountain stream.
Loup river, a large branch of the Platte, some 200 yards wide, is, where I saw it, in every respect similar to the latter below the forks, and a fine road could, without doubt, be made along its valley, which is about two miles wide. Its banks are low, like those of the Platte, but are much better wooded. The Pawnees lived in numbers on this stream, till the hostility of the Dacotas drove them from their homes. I have no knowledge of how far west this stream heads, but judge from its size that it must be about the meridian of Ash Hollow. It drains a portion of the Sand Hills, and has several large tributaries.
L'Eau qui Court or Rapid river has its source just west of Rawhide Peak, about twenty-five miles north of Fort Laramie, and flows for the most part through a sterile country: Where I crossed it, August 15th, it was about 200 yards wide, the banks one hundred and forty feet high, and the river difficult to approach. High precipices of soft, calcareous sandstone stood in places at the water's edge. The valley was very narrow, and it was impossible to course along it without frequently taking to the ridges. The water was clear and flowed swiftly over a sandy bed. In the side ravines, which are all filled with pine or scrubby oak, are numerous springs. The stream
might answer for rafting in the floods, but would furnish no navigation.
White river rises about 35 miles east of the source of Rapid river, and in about the same latitude. Its course for the first 15 or 20 miles is through a narrow gorge, thence it emerges into a broad, open valley, through which it flows for 90 miles, and then enters the high, precipitous cliffs of the Bad Lands; it winds through these to the South Fork, and thence to its mouth it has a beautifully wooded and grassy valley of about one mile wide. Below the Bad Lanus, its valley cannot be followed without frequently taking to the high prairie bluffs. At the forks, the river is about 140 vards wide; a short distance above the mouth, about 200 yards. The south fork has large pines upon it, and so have most of the southern branches above this stream, and they are much resorted to by the Indians. The water from these streams is clear, and similar to Rapid river.
The Bad river, Wahpa Shicha, Teton, or Little Missouri ricer, is about 90 miles long, rising just east of the Bad Lands. The same difficulty is experienced as with the lower part of White river, if via attempt to follow along its valley. The valley is from one-half to one mile wide, well grassed and wooded. The bed of the stream is soft and miry, and generally not fordable. The approach to the valley is not difficult for wagons in dry weather. Cottonwood exists in considerable quantities mixed with willow, and in some places, ash and oak. Wild plum trees are abundant. A portion of this valles is adapted to raising Indian corn. When flooded, the river is from 25 to 40 yards wide, and cannot then be crossed without a good bridge or ferry. I am not informed of the extent to which it overflows its immediate banks, which are about 10 feet high. This stream fles through a section abounding in salt springs, and salt incrustations are almost everywhere visible, but the water is generally palatable.
Big Shyenne, Washté Wahpa or Good river, rises west of the Black Hills. The north fork, it is said, breaks through, as in the case of Laramie river. The forks are about 100 miles from the mouth. The south fork rises not far from the source of l'Eau qui Court. After learing the Black Hills this stream flows between high clay bluffs, winding about in its valley, and is in many respects similar to White river and Bad river, being dislicult to pursue with wagons. The stream near its mouth is about 200 yards wide, the bottom is generally mudds, and not easily crossed. Fine cottonwood exists along its banks, and pine on its sources in the Black Hills. The stream could be used for rafting.
The Rivière à Jaques, or James river, rises near Mini Wakan, or Devil's lake, in latitude 47° 30' north, and flows through a valley about one mile wide, the stream in the lower part being 80 yards wide. It entirely overflows its valley at high water, and must then be ferried. There is a rapid formed by boulders nearly in the direct line from Sioux city to Fort Pierre, which makes a good crossing when the river is low. Below this, loaded wagons cannot cross without a bridge or ferry. Canoes can navigate this stream at all times, and steamboats could go a long way up at high water. There is not