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A Trek Out West - Part 8

[Otto Franc] Wednesday, Sept 4 - The cold drizzly rain continues, a strong chilly wind blows. The cold damp atmosphere produces in us quite a desire for fat, we melt deer & antelope tallow & consume great quantities of the same with our meals, we sit and stand around the fire all day & pass the time with telling yarns.

[Dr. Ferber] 4th - Of course, we did not get much sleep, and at 9 a.m. we rose with an unpleasant feeling. A steaming hot cup of fragrant coffee made us all feel very comfortable again. We passed this long rainy day with eating, drinking, smoking, and telling stories, in which latter Jack was very strong. Jack has such a wonderful memory that he very often remembers more than really happens. It rained all day long, and we lay down in our damp coverings again to find it the next morning still raining.

[Otto Franc] Thursday, Sept 5 - Towards morning hear an Elk bellowing close to camp; I get up & can just see his outlines through the rain & fog but it is too dark to shoot. The fog lifts in the afternoon & L & I go out for a short hunt; 1/2 mile from camp we see 2 Elk feeding in a valley, we crawl up & find them to be bucks: a large one & a smaller one, we kill the large one, while we butcher him the small is circling around us looking for his companion, he approaches to 50 yards several times but we spare him on account of his great youth & small horns.

[Dr. Ferber] 5th - In the afternoon it cleared up, and Frank and Lancken took their rifles, and strolling around the camp they killed an elk with a nice little pair of horns. I stayed in camp to have our beddings dried. The night was awful cold, and we felt so chilly that we got up early in the morning of the 6th of September.

[Otto Franc] Friday, Sept 6 - The weather having entirely cleared up, we break camp & enter the Bad Lands; they are a vast plain intersected by deep winding cuts which make traveling very difficult. There is hardly any vegetation except the inevitable sagebrush; springs are few & far between & they are mostly strong by alkali. Around them there is generally a patch of several acres of good grass which affords food for a few Antelope & the traveling herds of Buffaloes; the presence of the latter is generally taken as an indication of good water in the vicinity, while Antelope can either do without water for some time or can subsist on strong alkali water. The two days rain has dissolved the alkali in the ground & has produced a soft sticky mass which is very tiring on the horses, we follow the usually dry bed of a small creek but which is now in running order occasioned by the rains; during the march, I kill a good Antelope, we see a number of Buffaloes but do not hunt them.

Close to the mountains, we start a large grizzly bear. He beats a hasty retreat without giving us a shot, we have an opportunity to notice the great speed & endurance possessed by this apparently clumsy & awkward animal. He is 5-6 miles from the mountains & makes a beeline for the same at the speed of an average running horse & as far as we can see him through our glasses he keeps it up although the ground is very soft & he must sink in deeply with every jump on account of his great weight. We make 15 miles & camp at the creek, the water is composed of equal parts of mud & rainwater for drinking purposes we mix it with a little whiskey, the coffee tastes a 1itt1e muddy.

[Dr. Ferber] 6th - We entered the Bad Lands, and after having traveled about sixteen miles we put camp up near a little creek. Frank had killed an antelope.

[Otto Franc] Saturday, Sept 7 - Thinking the creek to be a tributary of the Wind River we intend to follow it but after going 4-5 miles we find it takes us in a northeasterly direction, while we want to go northwest, we, therefore, leave it & head due west hoping to find a certain creek whose bed we have seen from the top of the mountains & which perhaps will lead us in the desired direction; at noon we reach a low flat with pools of good water & several small bunches of Buffalo feeding around. We stop to water the horses & I having a lively pony embrace the opportunity to have a Buffalo chase. I head for the nearest band of bulls at a slow canter. They let me approach to within a hundred yards before they take to their heels, as I let my horse go faster they also increase their pace until it is a well-contested measuring of speed, the buffalo pounding the ground with great force & making the dirt fly in all directions while I am gaining on them fast. I finally get abreast of them and compel them to change their course. When I give up the chase, not wishing to tire my pony unnecessarily, I stop & dismount being only 25 yds from the Buffalo. When they see me hold back they also lessen their speed & finally come to stop, looking at me not more than 100 yards away. Not wishing to waste powder at such miserable game, I return to our party & the buffalo go off at a slow trot, all my illusions about buffalo hunting formed from books of western adventure are dispelled & I look upon it as the worst kind of sport hunting in which no true sportsman will indulge. I am speaking here only of hunting the Bulls, we have seen no cows or calves yet but we hear they are much more wary and wild. I will also add that while in the Rattlesnake we tried some of the Buffalo hunting which is so often mentioned in the various works of sensational writers, we took pieces of a young Bull which the Dr. had killed we cooked in several styles & found it in all cases almost entirely unfit for food being tough & stringy. At six o'clock we reach the bed of the creek which we are looking for but find it entirely dry; we look around a little while for water but find none. The horses & ourselves 10 hours in the saddle are tired & hungry, a severe hailstorm arises & we conclude to camp without water, consequently, we have not coffee for supper, which seemed quite a privation, as it is very cold.

[Dr. Ferber] 7th. We started early and tried to find another creek in a northwesterly direction. Twenty-five miles off we found it at last, but no water in it: we had to make a dry camp—very hard for our poor ponies. Soon after our arrival it began to rain, and having no tent poles, because there are no trees in the Bad Lands, we had, after a little supper without coffee, to sleep in the open air without a tent. Two or three hours later we found that the rain had turned into snow, and in the morning we found ourselves covered with snow! At midnight we were alarmed by the tramping of the ponies; they were scared by a large number of coyotes who came close to our camp.

[Otto Franc] Sunday, Sept 8 - We could not put up our tents for want of poles, but we find comfortable shelter under some sagebrush, we have not turned in long when a band of prairie wolves comes so close to camp & sets up such a howling that it frightens the horses & we have to get up to fasten them securely. At midnight it beings to snow hard. The snow finds its way under my blankets where it melts producing a very unpleasant moisture which soon drives me out of my bed, I start a huge fire & am joined by the other members of the party which have been befallen by the same misfortune; we gather snow & melt it thus getting enough water for coffee & drinking purposes. After devouring a huge breakfast L & I start on foot amidst a big snowstorm & without our guns down the creek to see if we can find some water for the horses, after going perhaps 1000 yards we see a Buck Elk standing against the bank of the creek seeking shelter from the storm. He does not notice us & we turn back to camp for our guns, on returning we find him in the same place & position a bend of the creek enables us to approach him alone. We fire & he makes off apparently unhurt, but on examining his tracks in the snow we find drops of black blood which indicates that his heart is pierced. The blood gets more plentiful as we advance & we find him dead 500 yards from where we wounded him. He is a powerful animal with a pair of very large abnormal horns, one of the beams being entirely bare of prongs, while the other is more resembling an apple tree than an Elk horn. How does the Elk get here? The storm abates somewhat in the afternoon, but it is very cold, the thermometer being down to 32 degrees. We are clad quite thinly & have to keep up a good fire to keep us somewhat comfortable. Sagebrush being abundant around camp there is, fortunately, no lack of fuel. We have all our vessels full with snow-water & are therefore safe in that respect, but we intend to travel on tomorrow as our horses do not seem to thrive very well on snow but keep looking around for water; With the aid of sagebrush, we erect our tent to prevent a similar occurrence as last night.

[Dr. Ferber] 8th. In the morning it was snowing yet, but we had the satisfaction of making coffee of the melted snow, and the horses need not suffer of thirst. It was an unpleasant day. When it stopped snowing F. and L. took a walk up the dry creek, but soon came back for their guns; they had found a large elk. L. succeeded in killing it; the horns of it were abnormal, having on one side a very heavy beam with eight prongs, while on the other side wore only four short prongs direct out of the. crown. The weight of the animal was estimated at 800 or 900 pounds. Toward evening the snowstorm commenced again, and we passed a most disagreeable night in our wet coverings.

[Otto Franc] Monday, Sept 9 - It snowed very hard during the night, we had to get up several times to knock the snow off the tents as the great weight threatened to break them down; It clears up in the forenoon, the thermometer is at or near 32 degrees all day; at noon we break camp & follow the course of the creek hoping to find water before night, after going 6 miles we see a Buffalo ahead of us quietly grazing & we conclude good water cannot be far off, we march on the buffalo retires & leaves us in possession of a pool of clear slightly sulphuric water & a good piece of pasture for the horses; before we retire we notice the thermometer down to 28 degrees (altitude 5200 feet.)

[Dr. Ferber] 9th. ln the morning of the 9th, the snow stopped. The thermometer showed 33½ deg., elevation was 5000 feet. After dinner, we packed up, and at half-past 2 o’clock p.m. we left this most nasty camp. We did not travel very far when we found good water and grass; here we stopped, dried our blankets and quilts, and slept a sound sleep, although it was so cold that we found one-half inch thick ice in our water pail.

[Otto Franc] Tuesday, Sept 10 - Break camp early & proceed northerly in the direction of the Bighorn mountains which are now in plain sight it is so cold we have to walk most of the time & lead our horses in order to keep the blood in circulation. We find the first indication of the presence of Indians, in the shape of the fresh tracks of a party of 8-10, who's evidently only a few hours old, & a little after find the tracks of a smaller party. The Shoshones, Bannocks, & Cheyennes frequent this part of the country in going & coming from the resorts of the large herds of Buffalo in northeastern Wyoming & also in their hunting excursion to the Big Horn Basin. We cannot find any good water & are compelled to camp at a spring whose water sufficiently impregnated by alkali to make it unfit for drinking but the coffee made out of it does not taste unpleasant; the horses do not seem to object to the alkali but drink it in great quantities. Altitude 4700 feet.

[Dr. Ferber] 10th. At six o'clock we had only 30½ deg Fahr., and after breakfast hurried away from this cold place, following the creek about twenty miles, where we stopped for this day. As Lancken had told us before, we found the water containing a great deal of alkali, soda, and magnesia. The coffee made out of this water did not taste much of alkali, but still, we felt thirsty after it, and I tried to make lemonade of it with citric acid and sugar, but it tasted like citrate of magnesia, and nobody could drink it.

[This story will continue, following the summer trek of Texas Jack, Otto Franc, and Dr. Ferber in Part 9.]

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