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The Little Colorado to the Foot of the Grand Canyon
August 13.--We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our
boats, tied to a common stake, chafe each other as they are tossed by the
fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we
could desire. We have but a month's rations remaining. The flour has been
resifted through the mosquito-net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried and
worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun
and reshrunken to their normal bulk. The sugar has all melted and gone on its
way down the river. But we have a large sack of coffee. The lightening of the
boats has this advantage: they will ride the waves better and we shall have but
little to carry when we make a portage.
We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river
shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and
cliffs that rise to the world above; the waves are but puny ripples, and we but
pigmies, running up and down the sands or lost among the boulders.
We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls
there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls
rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things. The
men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning;
but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.
With some eagerness and some anxiety and some misgiving we enter the canyon
below and are carried along by the swift water through walls which rise from
its very edge. They have the same structure that we noticed yesterday--tiers of
irregular shelves below, and, above these, steep slopes to the foot of marble
cliffs. We run six miles in a little more than half an hour and emerge into a
more open portion of the canyon, where high hills and ledges of rock intervene
between the river and the distant walls. Just at the head of this open place
the river runs across a dike; that is, a fissure in the rocks, open to depths
below, was filled with eruptive matter, and this on cooling was harder than the
rocks through which the crevice was made, and when these were washed away the
harder volcanic matter remained as a wall, and the river has cut a gateway
through it several hundred feet high and as many wide. As it crosses the wall,
there is a fall below and a bad rapid, filled with boulders of trap; so we stop
to make a portage. Then on we go, gliding by hills and ledges, with distant
walls in view; sweeping past sharp angles of rock; stopping at a few points to
examine rapids, which we find can be run, until we have made another five
miles, when we land for dinner.
Then we let down with lines over a long rapid and start again. Once more the
walls close in, and we find ourselves in a narrow gorge, the water again
filling the channel and being very swift. With great care and constant
watchfulness we proceed, making about four miles this afternoon, and camp in a
August 14.--At daybreak we walk down the bank of the river, on a little sandy
beach, to take a view of a new feature in the canyon. Heretofore hard rocks
have given us bad river; soft rocks, smooth water; and a series of rocks harder
than any we have experienced sets in. The river enters the gneiss! We can see
but a little way into the granite gorge, but it looks threatening.
After breakfast we enter on the waves. At the very introduction it inspires
awe. The canyon is narrower than we have ever before seen it; the water is
swifter; there are but few broken rocks in the channel; but the walls are set,
on either side, with pinnacles and crags; and sharp, angular buttresses,
bristling with wind- and wave-polished spires, extend far out into the river.
Ledges of rock jut into the stream, their tops sometimes just below the
surface, sometimes rising a few or many feet above; and island ledges and
island pinnacles and island towers break the swift course of the stream into
chutes and eddies and whirlpools. We soon reach a place where a creek comes in
from the left, and, just below, the channel is choked with boulders, which have
washed down this lateral canyon and formed a dam, over which there is a fall of
30 or 40 feet; but on the boulders foothold can be had, and we make a portage.
Three more such dams are found. Over one we make a portage; at the other two
are chutes through which we can run.
As we proceed the granite rises higher, until nearly a thousand feet of the
lower part of the walls are composed of this rock.
About eleven o'clock we hear a great roar ahead, and approach it very
cautiously. The sound grows louder and louder as we run and at last we find
ourselves above a long, broken fall, with ledges and pinnacles of rock
obstructing the river. There is a descent of perhaps 75 or 80 feet in a third
of a mile, and the rushing waters break into great waves on the rocks, and lash
themselves into a mad, white foam. We can land just above, but there is no
foothold on either side by which we can make a portage. It is nearly a thousand
feet to the top of the granite; so it will be impossible to carry our boats
around, though we can climb to the summit up a side gulch and, passing along a
mile or two, descend to the river. This we find on examination; but such a
portage would be impracticable for us, and we must run the rapid or abandon the
river. There is no hesitation. We step into our boats, push off, and away we
go, first on smooth but swift water, then we strike a glassy wave and ride to
its top, down again into the trough, up again on a higher wave, and down and up
on waves higher and still higher until we strike one just as it curls back, and
a breaker rolls over our little boat. Still on we speed, shooting past
projecting rocks, till the little boat is caught in a whirlpool and spun round
several times. At last we pull out again into the stream. And now the
other boats have passed us. The open compartment of the Emma Dean is filled
with water and every breaker rolls over us. Hurled back from a rock, now on
this side, now on that, we are carried into an eddy, in which we struggle for a
few minutes, and are then out again, the breakers still rolling over us. Our
boat is unmanageable, but she cannot sink, and we drift down another hundred
yards through breakers--how, we scarcely know. We find the other boats have
turned into an eddy at the foot of the fall and are waiting to catch us as we
come, for the men have seen that our boat is swamped. They push out as we come
near and pull us in against the wall. Our boat bailed, on we go again.
The walls now are more than a mile in height--a vertical distance difficult to
appreciate. Stand on the south steps of the Treasury building in Washington and
look down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol; measure this distance overhead,
and imagine cliffs to extend to that altitude, and you will understand what is
meant; or stand at Canal Street in New York and look up Broadway to Grace
Church, and you have about the distance; or stand at Lake Street bridge
in Chicago and look down to the Central Depot, and you have it again.
A thousand feet of this is up through granite crags; then steep slopes and
perpendicular cliffs rise one above another to the summit.. The gorge is black
and narrow below, red and gray and flaring above, with crags and angular
projections on the walls, which, cut in many places by side canyons, seem to be
a vast wilderness of rocks. Down in these grand, gloomy depths we glide, ever
listening, for the mad waters keep up their roar; ever watching, ever peering
already, for the narrow canyon is winding and the river is closed in so that we
can see but a few hundred yards, and what there may be below we know not; so we
listen for falls and watch for rocks, stopping now and then in the bay of a
recess to admire the gigantic scenery; and ever as we go there is some new
pinnacle or tower, some crag or peak, some distant view of the upper plateau,
some strangely shaped rock or some deep, narrow side canyon.
Then we come to another broken fall, which appears more difficult than the one
we ran this morning. A small creek comes in on the right, and the first fall of
the water is over boulders, which have been carried down by this lateral
stream. We land at its mouth and stop for an hour or two to examine the fall.
It seems possible to let down with lines, at least a part of the way, from
point, to point, along the right-hand wall. So we make a portage over the first
rocks and find footing on some boulders below. Then we let down one of the
boats to the end of her line, when she reaches a corner of the projecting rock,
to which one of the men clings and steadies her while I examine an eddy below.
I think we can pass the other boats down by us and catch them in the eddy. This
is soon done, and the men in the boats in the eddy pull us to their side. On
the shore of this little eddy there is about two feet of gravel beach above the
water. Standing on this beach, some of the men take the line of the little boat
and let it drift down against another projecting angle. Here is a little shelf,
on which a man from my boat climbs, and a shorter line is passed to him, and he
fastens the boat to the side of the cliff; then the second one is let down,
bringing the line of the third. When the second boat is tied up, the two men
standing on the beach above spring into the last boat, which is pulled up
alongside of ours; then we let down the boats for 25 or 30 yards by walking
along the shelf, landing them again in the mouth of a side canyon. Just below
this there is another pile of boulders, over which we make another portage.
From the foot of these rocks we can climb to another shelf, 40 or 50 feet above
On this bench we camp for the night. It is raining hard, and we have no
shelter, but find a few sticks which have lodged in the rocks, and kindle a
fire and have supper. We sit on the rocks all night, wrapped in our ponchos,
getting what sleep we can.
August 15.--This morning we find we can let down for 300 or 400 yards,
and it is managed in this way: we pass along the wall by climbing from
projecting point to point, sometimes near the water's edge, at other places 50
or 60 feet above, and hold the boat with a line while two men, remain aboard
and prevent her from being dashed against the rocks and keep the line from
getting caught on the wall. In two hours we have brought them all down, as far
as it is possible, in this way. A few yards below, the river strikes with great
violence against a projecting rock and our boats are pulled up in a little bay
above. We must now manage to pull out of this and clear the point below. The
little boat is held by the bow obliquely up the stream. We jump in and pull out
only a few strokes, and sweep clear of the dangerous rock. The other boats
follow in the same manner and the rapid is passed.
It is not easy to describe the labor of such navigation. We must prevent the
waves from dashing the boats against the cliffs. Sometimes, where the river is
swift, we must put a bight of rope about a rock, to prevent the boat from being
snatched from us by a wave; but where the plunge is too great or the chute too
swift, we must let her leap and catch her below or the undertow will drag her
under the falling water and sink her. Where we wish to run her out a little way
from shore through a channel between rocks, we first throw in little sticks of
driftwood and watch their course, to see where we must steer so that she
will pass the channel in safety. And so we hold, and let go, and pull, and
lift, and ward-among rocks, around rocks, and over rocks.
And now we go on through this solemn mysterious way. The river is very deep,
the canyon very narrow, and still obstructed, so that there is no steady flow
of the stream; but the waters reel and roll and boil, and we are scarcely able
to determine where we can go. Now the boat is carried to the right, perhaps
close to the wall; again, she is shot into the stream, and perhaps is dragged
over to the other side, where, caught in a whirlpool, she spins about. We can
neither land nor run as we please. The boats are entirely unmanageable; no
order in their running can be preserved; now one, now another, is ahead, each
crew laboring for its own preservation. In such a place we come to another
rapid. Two of the boats run it perforce. One succeeds in landing, but there is
no foothold by which to make a portage and she is pushed out again into the
stream. The next minute a great reflex wave fills the open compartment; she is
water-logged, and drifts unmanageable. Breaker after breaker rolls over her and
one capsizes her. The men are thrown out; but they cling to the boat, and she
drifts down some distance alongside of us and we are able to catch her. She is
soon bailed out and the men are aboard once more; but the oars are lost, and so
a pair from the "Emma Dean" is spared. Then for two miles we find smooth
Clouds are playing in the canyon to-day. Sometimes they roll down in great
masses, filling the gorge with gloom; sometimes they hang aloft from wall to
wall and cover the canyon with a roof of impending storm, and we can peer long
distances up and down this canyon corridor, with its cloud-roof overhead, its
walls of black granite, and its river bright with the sheen of broken waters.
Then a gust of wind sweeps down a side gulch and, making a rift in the clouds,
reveals the blue heavens, and a stream of sunlight pours in. Then the clouds
drift away into the distance, and hang around crags and peaks and pinnacles and
towers and walls, and cover them with a mantle that lifts from time to time and
sets them all in sharp relief. Then baby clouds creep out of side canyons,
glide around points, and creep back again into more distant gorges. Then clouds
arrange in strata across the canyon, with intervening vista views to cliffs and
rocks beyond. The clouds are children of the heavens, and when they play among
the rocks they lift them to the region above.
It rains! Rapidly little rills are formed above, and these soon grow into
brooks, and the brooks grow into creeks and tumble over the walls in
innumerable cascades, adding their wild music to the roar of the river. When
the rain ceases the rills, brooks, and creeks run dry. The waters that fall
during a rain on these steep rocks are gathered at once into the river; they
could scarcely be poured in more suddenly if some vast spout ran from the
clouds to the stream itself. When a storm bursts over the canyon a side gulch
is dangerous, for a sudden flood may come, and the inpouring waters will raise
the river so as to hide the rocks.
Early in the afternoon we discover a stream entering from the north--a clear,
beautiful creek, coming down through a gorgeous red canyon. We land and camp on
a sand beach above its mouth, under a great, overspreading tree with
August 16.--We must dry our rations again today and make oars.
The Colorado is never a clear stream, but for the past three or four days it
has been raining much of the time, and the floods poured over the walls have
brought down great quantities of mud, making it exceedingly turbid now. The
little affluent which we have discovered here is a clear, beautiful creek, or
river, as it would be termed in this western country, where streams are not
abundant. We have named one stream, away above, in honor of the great chief of
the "Bad Angels," and as this is in beautiful contrast to that, we conclude to
name it "Bright Angel."
Early in the morning the whole party starts up to explore the- Bright Angel
River, with the special purpose of seeking timber from which to make oars. A
couple of miles above we find a large pine log, which has been floated down
from the plateau, probably from an altitude of more than 6,000 feet, but not
many miles back. On its way it must have passed over many cataracts and falls,
for it bears scars in evidence of the rough usage which it has received. The
men roll it on skids, and the work of sawing oars is commenced.
This stream heads away back under a line of abrupt cliffs that terminates the
plateau, and tumbles down more than 4,000 feet in the first mile or two of its
course; then runs through a deep, narrow canyon until it reaches the river.
Late in the afternoon I return and go up a little gulch just above this creek,
about 200 yards from camp, and discover the ruins of two or three old houses,
which were originally of stone laid in mortar. Only the foundations are left,
but irregular blocks, of which the houses were constructed, lie scattered
about. In one room I find an old mealing stone, deeply worn, as if it had been
much used. A great deal of pottery is strewn around, and old trails, which in
some places are deeply worn into the rocks, are seen.
It is ever a source of wonder to us why these ancient people sought such
inaccessible places for their homes. They were, doubtless, an agricultural
race, but there are no lands here of any considerable extent that they could
have cultivated. To the west of Oraibi, one of the towns in the Province of
Tusayan, in northern Arizona, the inhabitants have actually built litlle
terraces along the faces of the cliff where a spring gushes out, and thus made
their sites for gardens. It is possible that the ancient inhabitants of this
place made their agricultural lands in the same way. But why should they seek
such spots? Surely the country was not so crowded with people as to demand the
utilization of so barren a region. The only solution suggested of the problem
is this: We know that for a century or two after the settlement of Mexico many
expeditions were sent into the country now comprising Arizona and New Mexico,
for the purpose of bringing the town-building people under the dominion of the
Spanish government. Many of their villages were destroyed, and the inhabitants
fled to regions at that time unknown; and there are traditions among the people
who inhabit the pueblos that still remain that the canyons were these unknown
lands. It may be these buildings were erected at that time; sure it is that
they have a much more modern appearance than the ruins scattered over Nevada,
Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Those old Spanish conquerors had a
monstrous greed for gold and a wonderful lust for saving souls. Treasures they
must have, if not on earth, why, then, in heaven; and when they failed to find
heathen temples bedecked with silver, they propitiated Heaven by seizing the
heathen themselves. There is yet extant a copy of a record made by a heathen
artist to express his conception of the demands of the conquerors. In one part
of the picture we have a lake, and nearby stands a priest pouring water on the
head of a native. On the other side, a poor Indian has a cord about his throat.
Lines run from these two groups to a central figure, a man with beard and full
Spanish panoply. The interpretation of the picture-writing is this: "Be
baptized as this saved heathen, or be hanged as that damned heathen."
Doubtless, some of these people preferred another alternative, and rather than
be baptized or hanged they chose to imprison themselves within these canyon
August 17.--Our rations are still spoiling; the bacon is so badly injured that
we are compelled to throw it away. By an accident, this morning, the saleratus
was lost overboard. We have now only musty flour sufficient for ten days
and a few dried apples, but plenty of coffee. We must make all haste possible.
If we meet with difficulties such as we have encountered in the canyon above,
we may be compelled to give up the expedition and try to reach the Mormon
settlements to the north.
Our hopes are that the worst places are passed, but our barometers are all so
much injured as to be useless, and so we have, lost our reckoning in altitude,
and know not how much descent the river has yet to make.
The stream is still wild and rapid and rolls through a narrow channel. We make
but slow progress, often landing against a wall and climbing around some point
to see the river below. Although very anxious to advance, we are determined to
run with great caution, lest by another accident we lose our remaining
supplies. How precious that little flour has become! We divide it among the
boats and carefully store it away, so that it can be lost only by the loss of
the boat itself.
We make ten miles and a half, and camp among the rocks on the right. We have
had rain from time to time all day, and have been thoroughly drenched and
chilled; but between showers the sun shines with great power and the mercury in
our thermometers stands at 115[ring], so that we have rapid changes from great
extremes, which are very disagreeable. It is especially cold in the rain
to-night. The little canvas we have is rotten and useless; the rubber
ponchos with which we started from Green River City have all been lost;
more than half the party axe without hats, not one of us has an entire suit of
clothes, and we have not a blanket apiece. So we gather driftwood and build a
fire; but after supper the rain, coming down in torrents, extinguishes it, and
we sit up all night on the rocks, shivering, and are more exhausted by the
night's discomfort than by the day's toil.
August 18.--The day is employed in making portages, and we advance but two
miles on our journey. Still it rains.
While the men are at work making portages I climb up the granite to its summit
and go away back over the rust-colored sandstones and greenish-yellow shales to
the foot of the marble wall. I climb so high that the men and boats are lost in
the black depths below and the dashing river is a rippling brook, and still
there is more canyon above than below. All about me are interesting geologic
records. The book is open and I can read as I run. All about me are grand
views, too, for the clouds are playing again in the gorges. But somehow I think
of the nine days' rations and the bad river, and the lesson of the rocks and
the glory of the scene are but half conceived.
I push on to an angle, where I hope to get a view of the country beyond, to see
if possible what the prospect may be of our soon running through this plateau,
or at least of meeting with some geologic change that will let us out of the
granite; but, arriving at the point, I can see below only a labyrinth of black
August 19.--Rain again this morning. We are in our granite prison still, and
the time until noon is occupied in making a long, bad portage.
After dinner, in running a rapid the pioneer boat is upset by a wave. We are
some distance in advance of the larger boats. The river is rough and swift and
we are unable to land, but cling to the boat and are carried down stream over
another rapid. The men in the boats above see our trouble, but they are caught
in whirlpools and are spinning about in eddies, and it seems a long time before
they come to our relief. At last they do come; our boat is turned right side up
and bailed out; the oars, which fortunately have floated along in company with
us, are gathered up, and on we go, without even landing. The clouds break away
and we have sunshine again.
Soon we find a little beach with just room enough to land. Here we camp, but
there is no wood. Across the river and a little way above, we see some
driftwood lodged in the rocks. So we bring two boat loads over, build a huge
fire, and spread everything to dry. It is the first cheerful night we have had
for a week--a warm, drying fire in the midst of the camp, and a few bright
stars in our patch of heavens overhead.
August 20. --The. characteristics of the canyon change this morning. The river
is broader the walls more sloping and composed of black slates that stand on
edge. These nearly vertical slates are washed out in places--that is, the
softer beds are washed out between the harder, which are left standing. In this
way curious little alcoves are formed, in which are quiet bays of water, but on
a much smaller scale than the great bays and buttresses of Marble Canyon.
The river is still rapid and we stop to let down with lines several times, but
make greater progress, as we run ten miles. We camp on the right bank. Here, on
a terrace of trap, we discover another group of ruins. There was evidently
quite a village on this rock. Again we find mealing-stones and much broken
pottery, and up on a little natural shelf in the rock back of the ruins we find
a globular basket that would hold direction from which we came; this brings the
granite in sight again, with its narrow gorge and black crags; but we meet with
no more great falls or rapids. Still, we run cautiously and stop from time to
time to examine some places which look bad. Yet we make ten miles this
afternoon; twenty miles in all to-day.
August 22.--We come to rapids again this morning and are occupied several hours
in passing them, letting the boats down from rock to rock with lines for nearly
half a mile, and then have to make a long portage. While the men are engaged in
this I climb the wall on the northeast to a height of about 2,500 feet, where I
can obtain a good view of a long stretch of canyon below. Its course is to the
southwest. The walls seem to rise very abruptly for 2,500 or 3,000 feet, and
then there is a gently sloping terrace on each side for two or three miles,
when we again find cliffs, 1,500 or 2,000 feet high. From brink of these the
plateau stretches back to the north and south for a long distance. Away down
the canyon on the right wall I can see a group of mountains, some of which
appear to stand on the brink of the canyon. The effect of the terrace is to
give the appearance of a narrow winding valley with high walls on either side
and a deep, dark, meandering gorge down its
middle. It is impossible from this point of view to determine whether or not we
have granite at the bottom; but from geologic considerations, I conclude that
we shall have marble walls below.
After my return to the boats we run another mile and camp for the night. We
have made but little over seven miles to-day, and a part of our flour has been
soaked in the river again.
August 23.--Our way to-day is again through marble walls. Now and then we pass
for a short distance through patches of granite, like hills thrust up into the
limestone. At one of these places we have to make another portage, and, taking
advantage of the delay, I go up a little stream to the north, wading it all the
way, sometimes having to plunge in to my neck, in other places being compelled
to swim across little basins that have been excavated at the foot of the falls.
Along its course are many cascades and springs, gushing out from the rocks on
either side. Sometimes a cottonwood tree grows over the water. I come to one
beautiful fall, of more than 150 feet, and climb around it to the right on the
broken rocks. Still going up, the canyon is found to narrow very
much, being but 15 or 20 feet wide; yet the walls rise on either side many
hundreds of feet, perhaps thousands; I can hardly tell.
In some places the stream has not excavated its channel down vertically through
the rocks, but has cut obliquely, so that one wall overhangs the other. In
other places it is cut vertically above and obliquely below, or obliquely above
and vertically below, so that it is impossible to see out overhead. But I can
go no farther; the time which I estimated it would take to make the portage has
almost expired, and I start back on a round trot, wading in the creek where I
must and plunging through basins. The men are waiting for me, and away we go on
Just after dinner we pass a stream on the right, which leaps into the Colorado
by a direct fall of more than 100 feet, forming a beautiful cascade. There is a
bed of very hard rock above, 30 or 40 feet in thickness, and there are much
softer beds below. The hard beds above project many yards beyond the softer,
which are washed out, forming a deep cave behind the fall, and the stream pours
through a narrow crevice above into a deep pool below. Around on the rocks in
the cavelike chamber axe set beautiful ferns, with delicate fronds and enameled
stalks. The frondlets have their points turned down to form spore cases. It has
very much the appearance of the maidenhair fern, but is much larger. This
delicate foliage covers the rocks all about the fountain, and gives the chamber
great beauty. But we have little time to spend in admiration; so on we go.
We make fine progress this afternoon, carried along by a swift river, shooting
over the rapids and finding no serious obstructions. The canyon walls for 2,500
or 3,000 feet are very regular, rising almost perpendicularly, but here and
there set with narrow steps, and occasionally we can see away above the broad
terrace to distant cliffs.
We camp to-night in a marble cave, and find on looking at our reckoning that we
have run 22 miles.
August 24.--The canyon is wider to-day. The walls rise to a vertical height of
nearly 3,000 feet. In many places the river runs under a cliff in great
curves, forming amphitheaters half-dome shaped.
Though the river is rapid, we meet with no serious obstructions and run 20
miles. How anxious we are to make up our reckoning every time we stop, now that
our diet is confined to plenty of coffee, a very little spoiled flour, and very
few dried apples! It has come to be a race for a dinner. Still, we make such
fine progress that all hands a good cheer, but not a moment of daylight is
August 25.--We make 12 miles this morning, when we come to monuments of lava
standing in the river--low rocks mostly, but some of them shafts more than a
hundred feet high. Going on down three or four miles, we find them increasing
in number. Great quantities of cooled lava and many cinder cones are seen on
either side; and then we come to an abrupt cataract. Just over the fall on the
right wall a cinder cone, or extinct volcano, with a well-defined crater,
stands on the very brink of the canyon. This, doubtless, is the one we saw two
or three days ago. From this volcano vast floods of lava have been poured down
into the river, and a stream of molten rock has run up the canyon three or four
miles and down we know not how far. Just where it poured over the canyon wall
is the fall. The whole north side as far as we can see is lined with the black
basalt, and high up on the opposite wall are patches of the same material,
resting on the benches and filling old alcoves and eaves, giving the wall a
The rocks are broken in two along a line which here crosses the river, and the
beds we have seen while coming down the canyon for the last 30 miles have
dropped 800 feet on the lower side of the line, forming what geologists call a
"fault." The volcanic cone stands directly over the fissure thus formed. On the
left side of the river, opposite, mammoth springs burst out of this crevice,
100 or 200 feet above the river, pouring in a stream quite equal in volume to
the Colorado Chiquito.
This stream seems to be loaded with carbonate of lime, and the water,
evaporating, leaves an incrustation on the rocks; and this process has been
continued for a long time, for extensive deposits are noticed in which are
basins with bubbling springs. The water is salty.
We have to make a portage here, which is completed in about three hours; then
on we go.
We have no difficulty as we float along, and I am able to observe the wonderful
phenomena connected with this flood of lava. The canyon wag doubtless filled to
a height of 1,200 or 1,500 feet, perhaps by more than one flood. This would dam
the water back; and in cutting through this great lava bed, a new channel has
been formed, sometimes on one been contemplating this trip. To leave the
exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon which I
cannot explore, having already nearly accomplished it, is more than I am
willing to acknowledge, and I determine to go on.
I wake my brother and tell him of Howland's determination, and he promises to
stay with me; then I call up Hawkins, the cook, and he makes a like promise;
then Sumner and Bradley and Hall, and they all agree to go on.
August 28.--At last daylight comes and we have breakfast without a word being
said about the future. The meal is as solemn as a funeral. After breakfast I
ask the three men if they still think it best to leave us. The elder Howland
thinks it is, and Dunn agrees with him. The younger Howland tries to persuade
them to go on with the party; failing in which, he decides to go with his
Then we cross the river. The small boat is very much disabled and unseaworthy.
With the loss of hands, consequent on the departure of the three men, we shall
not be able to run all of the boats; so I decide to leave my "Emma Dean."
Two rifles and a shotgun are given to the men who are going out. I ask them to
help themselves to the rations and take what they think to be a fair share.
This they refuse to do, saying they have no fear but that they can get
something to eat; but Billy, the cook, has a pan of biscuits prepared for
dinner, and these he leaves on a rock.
Before starting, we take from the boat our barometers, fossils, the minerals,
and some ammunition and leave them on the rocks. We are going over this place
as light as possible. The three men help us lift our boats over a rock 25 or 30
feet high and let them down again over the first fall, and now we are all ready
to start. The last thing before leaving, I write a letter to my wife and give
it to Howland. Sumner gives him his watch, directing that it be sent to his
sister should he not be heard from again. The records of the expedition have
been kept in duplicate. One set of these is given to Howland; and now we are
ready. For the last time they entreat us not to go on, and tell us that it is
madness to set out in this place ; that we can never get safely through it ;
and, further, that the river turns again to the south into the granite, and a
few miles of such rapids and falls will exhaust our entire stock of rations,
and then it will be too late to climb out. Some tears are shed; it is rather a
solemn parting; each party thinks the other is taking the dangerous course.
My old boat left, I go on board of the "Maid of the Canyon." The three men
climb a crag that overhangs the river to watch us off. The "Maid of the Canyon"
pushes out. We glide rapidly along the foot of the wall, just grazing one great
rock, then pull out a little into the chute of the second fall and plunge over
it. The open compartment is filled when we strike the first wave below, but we
cut through it, and then the men pull with all their power toward the left wall
and swing clear of the dangerous rock below all right. We are scarcely a minute
in running it, and find that, although it looked bad from above, we have passed
many places that were worse.
The other boat follows without more difficulty. We land at the first
practicable point below, and fire our guns, as a signal to the men above that
we have come over in safety. Here we remain a couple of hours, hoping that they
will take the smaller boat and follow us. We are behind a curve in the canyon
and cannot see up to where we left them, and so we wait until their coming
seems hopeless, and then push on.
And now we have a succession of rapids and falls until noon, all of which we
run in safety. Just after dinner we come to another bad place. A little stream
comes in from the left, and below there is a fall, and still below another
fall. Above, the river tumbles down, over and among the rocks, in whirlpools
and great waves, and the waters are lashed into mad, white foam. We run along
the left, above this, and soon see that we cannot get down on this side, but it
seems possible to let down on, the other. We pull upstream again for 200 or 300
yards and cross. Now there is a bed of basalt on this northern side of the
canyon, with a bold escarpment that seems to be a hundred feet high. We can
climb it and walk along its summit to a point where we are just at the head of
the fall. Here the basalt is broken down again, so it seems to us, and I direct
the men to take a line to the top of the cliff and let the boats down along the
wall. One man remains in the boat to keep her clear of the rocks and prevent
her line from being caught on the projecting angles. I climb the cliff and pass
along to a point just over the fall and descend by broken rocks, and find that
the break of the fall is above the break of the wall, so that we cannot land,
and that still below the river is very bad, and that there is no possibility of
a portage. Without waiting further to examine and determine what shall be done,
I hasten back to the top of the cliff to stop the boats from coming down. When
I arrive I find the men have let one of them down to the bead of the fall. She
is in swift water and they are not able to pull her back; nor are they able to
go on with the line, it is not long enough to reach the higher part of the
cliff which is just before them; so they take a bight around a crag. I send two
men back for the other line. The boat is in very swift water, and Bradley is
standing in the open compartment, holding out his oar to prevent her from
striking against the foot of the cliff. Now she shoots out into the stream and
up as far as the line will permit, and then, wheeling, drives headlong against
the rock, and then out and back again, now straining on the line, now striking
against the rock. As soon as the second line is brought, we pass it down to
him; but his attention is all taken up with his own situation, and he does not
see that we are passing him the line. I stand on a projecting rock, waving my
hat to gain his attention, for my voice is drowned by the roaring of the falls.
Just at this moment I see him take his knife from its sheath and step forward
to cut the line. He has evidently decided that it is better to go over with the
boat as it is than to wait for her to be broken to pieces. As he leans over,
the boat sheers again into the stream, the stem-post breaks away and she is
loose. With perfect composure Bradley seizes the great scull oar, places it in
the stern rowlock, and pulls with all his power (and he is an athlete) to turn
the bow of the boat down stream, for he wishes to go bow down, rather than to
drift broadside on. One, two strokes he makes, and a third just as she goes
over, and the boat is fairly turned, and she goes down almost beyond our sight,
though we are more than a hundred feet above the river. Then she comes up again
on a great wave, and down and up, then around behind some great rocks, and is
lost in the mad, white foam below. We stand frozen with fear, for we see no
boat. Bradley is gone! So it seems. But now, away below, we see something
coming out of the waves. It is evidently a boat. A moment more, and we see
Bradley standing on deck, swinging his hat to show that he is all right. But he
is in a whirlpool. We have the stem-post of his boat attached to the line. How
badly she may be disabled we know not. I direct Sumner and Powell to pass along
the cliff and see if they can reach him from below. Hawkins, Hall, and myself
run to the other boat, jump aboard, push out, and away we go over the falls. A
wave rolls over us and our boat is unmanageable. Another great wave strikes us,
and the boat rolls over, and tumbles and tosses, I know not how. All I know is
that Bradley is picking us up. We soon have all right again, and row to the
cliff and wait until Sumner and Powell can come. After a difficult climb they
reach us. We run two or three miles farther and turn again to the northwest,
continuing until night, when we have run out of the granite once more.
August 29.--We start very early this morning. The river still continues swift,
but we have no serious difficulty, and at twelve o'clock emerge from the Grand
Canyon of the Colorado. We are in a valley now, and low mountains are seen in
the distance, coming to the river below. We recognize this as the Grand Wash.
A few years ago a party of Mormons set out from St. George, Utah, taking with
them a boat, and came down to the Grand Wash, where they divided, a portion of
the party crossing the river to explore the San Francisco Mountains. Three
men-Hamblin, Miller, and Crosby -- taking the boat, went on down the river to
Callville, landing a few miles below the mouth of the Rio Virgen. We have their
manuscript journal with us, and so the stream is comparatively well known.
To-night we camp on the left bank, in a mesquite thicket.
The relief from danger and the joy of success are great. When he who has been
chained by wounds to a hospital cot until his canvas tent seems like a dungeon
cell, until the groans of those who lie about tortured with probe and knife are
piled up, a weight of horror on his ears that he cannot throw off, cannot
forget, and until the stench of festering wounds and anaesthetic drugs has
filled the air with its loathsome burthen, -when he at last goes out into the
open field, what a world he sees! How beautiful the sky, how bright the
sunshine, what floods of delirious music pour from. the throats of birds, how
sweet the fragrance of earth and tree and blossom! The first hour of
convalescent freedom seems rich recompense for all pain and gloom and terror.
Something like these are the feelings we experience to-night. Ever before us
has been an unknown danger, heavier than immediate peril. Every waking hour
passed in the Grand Canyon has been one of toil. We have watched with deep
solicitude the steady disappearance of our scant supply of rations, and from
time to time have seen the river snatch a portion of the little left, while we
were a-hungered. And danger and toil were endured in those gloomy depths, where
ofttimes clouds hid the sky by day and but a narrow zone of stars could be seen
at night. Only during the few hours of deep sleep, consequent on hard labor,
has the roar of the waters been hushed. Now the danger is over, now the toil
has ceased, now the gloom has disappeared, now the firmament is bounded only by
the horizon, and what a vast expanse of constellations can be seen!
The river rolls by us in silent majesty; the quiet of the camp is sweet; our
joy is almost ecstasy. We sit till long after midnight talking of the Grand
Canyon, talking of home, but talking chiefly of the three men who left us. Are
they wandering in those depths, unable to find a way out? Are they searching
over the desert lands above for water? Or are they nearing the settlements?
August 30.--We run in two or three short, low canyons to-day, and on emerging
from one we discover a band of Indians in the valley below. They see us, and
scamper away in eager haste to hide among the rocks. Although we land and call
for them to return, not an Indian can be seen.
Two or three miles farther down, in turning a short bend of the river, we come
upon another camp. So near are we before they can see us that I can shout to
them, and, being able to speak a little of their language, I tell them we are
friends; but they all flee to the rocks, except a man, a woman, and two
children. We land and talk with them. They are without lodges, but have built
little shelters of boughs, under which they wallow in the sand. The man is
dressed in a hat; the woman, in a string of beads only. At first they are
evidently much terrified; but when I talk to them in their own language and
tell them we are friends, and inquire after people in the Mormon towns, they
are soon reassured and beg for tobacco. Of this precious article we have none
to spare. Sumner looks around in the boat for something to give them, and finds
a little piece of colored soap, which they receive as a valuable present,
rather as a thing of beauty than as a useful commodity, however. They are
either unwilling or unable to tell us anything about the Indians or white
people, and so we push off, for we must lose no time.
We camp at noon under the right bank. And now as we push out we are in great
expectancy, for we hope every minute to discover the mouth of the Rio Virgen.
Soon one of the men exclaims: "Yonder's an Indian in the river." Looking for a
few minutes, we certainly do see two or three persons. The men bend to their
oars and pull toward them. Approaching, we see that there are three white men
and an Indian hauling a seine, and then we discover that it is just at the
mouth of the long-sought river.
As we come near, the men seem far less surprised to see us than we do to see
them. They evidently know who we are, and on talking with them they tell us
that we have been reported lost long ago, and that some weeks before a
messenger had been sent from Salt Lake City with instructions for them to watch
for any fragments or relics of our party that might drift down the stream.
Our new-found friends, Mr. Asa and his two sons, tell us that they are pioneers
of a town that is to be built on the bank. Eighteen or twenty miles up the
valley of the Rio Virgen there are two Mormon towns, St. Joseph and St. Thomas.
To-night we dispatch an Indian to the last mentioned place to bring any letters
that may be there for us.
Our arrival here is very opportune. When we look over our store of supplies,
we find about 10 pounds of flour, 15 pounds of dried apples, but 70 or 80
pounds of coffee.
August 31.--This afternoon the Indian returns with a letter informing us that
Bishop Leithhead of St. Thomas and two or three other Mormons are coming down
with a wagon, bringing us supplies. They arrive about sundown. Mr. Asa treats
us with great kindness to the extent of his ability; but Bishop Leithhead
brings in his wagon two or three dozen melons and many other little luxuries,
and we are comfortable more.
September 1.--This morning Sumner, Bradley, Hawkins, and Hall, taking on
a small supply of rations, start down the Colorado with the boats. It is their
intention to go to Fort Mojave, and perhaps from there overland to Los
Captain Powell and myself return with Bishop Leithhead to St. Thomas. From St.
Thomas we go to Salt Lake City.
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