COMMERCE OF THE PRAIRIES, by Josiah Gregg: Volume I



Incidents of a Return Trip from Santa Fe Calibre of our Party Return Caravans Remittances Death of Mr. Langham Burial in the Desert A sudden Attack Confusion in the Camp A Wolfish Escort Scarcity of Buffalo Unprofitable Delusion Arrival Table of Camping Sites and Distances Condition of the Town of Independence The Mormons Their Dishonesty and Immorality Their high-handed Measures, and a Rising of the People A Fatal Skirmish A chivalrous Parade of the Citizens Expulsion of the Mormons The Meteoric Shower, and Superstition, etc. Wanderings and Improprieties of the 'Latter-day Saints' Gov. Boggs' Recipe The City of Nauvoo Contemplated Retribution of the Mormons.

     I DO not propose to detain the reader with an account of my journeyings between Mexico and the United States, during the seven years subsequent to my first arrival at Santa Fe. I will here merely remark, that I crossed the plains to the United States in the falls of 1833 and 1836, and returned to Santa Fe with goods each succeeding spring. It was only in 1838, however, that I eventually closed up my affairs in Northern Mexico, and prepared to take my leave of the country, as I then supposed, forever. But in this I was mistaken, as will appear in the sequel.

     The most usual season for the return of the


caravans to the United States is the autumn, and no one has elapsed since the commencement of the trade which has not witnessed some departure from Santa Fe with that destination. They have also crossed occasionally in the spring, but without any regularity or frequency, and generally in very small parties. Even the 'fall companies,' in fact, are small when compared with the outward-bound caravans; for besides the numbers who remain permanently in the country, many of those who trade southward return to the United States via Matamoros or some other Southern port. The return parties of autumn are therefore comparatively small, varying in number from fifty to a hundred men. They leave Santa Fe some four or five weeks after their arrival generally about the first of September. In these companies there are rarely over thirty or forty wagons; for a large portion of those taken out by the annual caravans are disposed of in the country. Some of the traders who go out in the spring, return the ensuing fall, because they have the good fortune to sell off their stock promptly and to advantage: others are compelled to return in the fall to save their credit; nay, to preserve their homes, which, especially in the earlier periods, have sometimes been mortgaged to secure the payment of the merchandise they carried out with them. In such cases, their goods were not unfrequently sold at great sacrifice, to avoid the penalties which the breaking of their engagements at home


would involve. New adventurers, too, are apt to become discouraged with an unanticipated dullness of times, and not unfrequently sell off at wholesale for the best price they can get, though often at a serious loss. But those who are regularly engaged in this trade usually calculate upon employing a season perhaps a year in closing an enterprise in selling off their goods and making their returns. The wagons of the return caravans are generally but lightly laden: one to two thousand pounds constitute the regular return cargo for a single wagon; for not only are the teams unable to haul heavy loads, on account of the decay of pasturage at this season, but the approaching winter compels the traders to travel in greater haste; so that this trip is usually made in about forty days. The amount of freight, too, from that direction is comparatively small. The remittances, as has already been mentioned, are chiefly in specie or gold and silver bullion. The gold is mostly dust, from the Placer or gold mine near Santa Fe: the silver bullion is all from the mines of the South chiefly from those of Chihuahua. To these returns may be added a considerable number of mules and asses some buffalo rugs, furs, and wool, which last barely pays a return freight for the wagons that would otherwise be empty. Coarse Mexican blankets, which may be obtained in exchange for merchandise, have been sold in small quantities to advantage on our border.


On the 4th of April, 1838, we departed from Santa Fe. Our little party was found to consist of twenty-three Americans, with twelve Mexican servants. We had seven wagons, one dearborn, and two small field-pieces, besides a large assortment of small-arms. The principal proprietors carried between them about $150,000 in specie and bullion, being for the most part the proceeds of the previous year's adventure.

     We moved on at a brisk and joyous pace until we reached Ocate creek, a tributary of the Colorado, a distance of a hundred and thirty miles from Santa Fe, where we encountered a very sudden bereavement in the death of Mr. Langham, one of our most respected proprietors. This gentleman was known to be in weak health, but no fears were entertained for his safety. We were all actively engaged in assisting the more heavily laden wagons over the miry stream, when he was seized with a fit of apoplexy and expired instantly. As we had not the means of giving the deceased a decent burial, we were compelled to consign him to the earth in a shroud of blankets. A grave was accordingly dug on an elevated spot near the north bank of the creek, and on the morning of the 13th, ere the sun had risen in the east, the mortal remains of this most worthy man and valued friend were deposited in their last abode, without a tomb-stone to consecrate the spot, or an epitaph to commemorate his virtues. The deceased was from St. Louis,


though he had passed the last eleven years of his life in Santa Fe, during the whole of which period he had seen neither his home nor his relatives.

     The melancholy rites being concluded, we resumed our line of march. We now continued for several days without the occurrence of any important accident or adventure. On the 19th we encamped in the Cimarron valley, about twelve miles below the Willow Bar. The very sight of this desolate region, frequented as it is by the most savage tribes of Indians, was sufficient to strike dismay into the hearts of our party; but as we had not as yet encountered any of them, we felt comparatively at ease. Our mules and horses were 'staked' as usual around the wagons, and every man, except the watch, betook himself to his blanket, in anticipation of a good night's rest. The hour of midnight had passed away, and nothing had been heard except the tramping of the men on guard, and the peculiar grating of the mules' teeth, nibbling the short grass of the valley. Ere long, however, one of our sentinels got a glimpse of some object moving stealthily along, and as he was straining his eyes to ascertain what sort of apparition it could be, a loud Indian yell suddenly revealed the mystery. This was quickly followed by a discharge of fire-arms, and the shrill note of the Pawnee whistle, which at once made known the character of our visitors. As usual, the utmost confusion prevailed in our camp: some, who had been snatched

Page 310 NO HARM DONE.

from the land of dreams, ran their heads against the wagons others called out for their guns while they had them in their hands. During the height of the bustle and uproar, a Mexican servant was observed leaning with his back against a wagon, and his fusil elevated at an angle of forty-five degrees, cocking and pulling the trigger without ceasing, and exclaiming at every snap, "Carajo, no sirve!" Curse it, it's good for nothing.

     The firing still continued the yells grew fiercer and more frequent; and everything betokened the approach of a terrible conflict. Meanwhile a number of persons were engaged in securing the mules and horses which were staked around the encampment; and in a few minutes they were all shut up in the corral a hundred head or more in a pen formed by seven wagons. The enemy failing in their principal object to frighten off our stock, they soon began to retreat; and in a few minutes nothing more was to be heard of them. All that we could discover the next morning was, that none of our party had sustained any injury, and that we had not lost a single animal.

     The Pawnees have been among the most formidable and treacherous enemies of the Santa Fe traders. But the former have also suffered a little in turn from the caravans. In 1832, a company of traders were approached by a single Pawnee chief, who commenced a parley with them, when he was shot down by a Pueblo Indian of New Mexico who hap-


pened to be with the caravan. Though this cruel act met with the decided reprobation of the traders generally, yet they were of course held responsible for it by the Indians.

     On our passage this time across the 'prairie ocean' which lay before us, we ran no risk of getting bewildered or lost, for there was now a plain wagon trail across the entire stretch of our route, from the Cimarron to Arkansas River.

     This track, which has since remained permanent, was made in the year 1834. Owing to continuous rains during the passage of the caravan of that year, a plain trail was then cut in the softened turf, on the most direct route across this arid desert, leaving the Arkansas about twenty miles above the 'Caches.' This has ever since been the regular route of the caravans; and thus a recurrence of those distressing sufferings from thirst, so frequently experienced by early travellers in that inhospitable region, has been prevented.

     We forded the Arkansas without difficulty, and pursued our journey to the Missouri border with comparative ease; being only now and then disturbed at night by the hideous howlings of wolves, a pack of which had constituted themselves into a kind of 'guard of honor,' and followed in our wake for several hundred miles in fact to the very border of the settlements. They were at first attracted no doubt by the remains of buffalo which were killed by us upon the high plains, and


afterwards enticed on by an occasional fagged animal, which we were compelled to leave behind, as well as by the bones and scraps of food, which they picked up about our camps. Not a few of them paid the penalty of their lives for their temerity. Had we not fortunately been supplied with a sufficiency of meat and other provisions, we might have suffered of hunger before reaching the settlements; for we saw no buffalo after crossing the Arkansas river. It is true that, owing to their disrelish for the long dry grass of the eastern prairies, the buffalo are rarely found so far east in autumn as during the spring; yet I never saw them so scarce in this region before. In fact, at all seasons, they are usually very abundant as far east as our point of leaving the Arkansas river. Upon reaching the settlements, I had an opportunity of experiencing a delusion which had been the frequent subject of remark by travellers on the Prairies before. Accustomed as we had been for some months to our little mules, and the equally small-sized Mexican ponies, our sight became so adjusted to their proportions, that when we came to look upon the commonest hackney of our frontier horses, it appeared to be almost a monster. I have frequently heard exclamations of this kind from the new arrivals: "How the Missourians have improved their breed of horses!" "What a huge gelding!" "Did you ever see such an animal!" This delusion is frequently availed of by the frontiers-


men to put off their meanest horses to these deluded travellers for the most enormous prices. On the 11th of May we arrived at Independence, after a propitious journey of only thirty-eight days.* We found the town in a thriving condition, although it had come very near being laid waste a few years before by the Mormons, who had originally selected this section of the country for the site of their New Jerusalem. In this they certainly displayed far more taste and good sense than they are generally supposed to be endowed

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* Having crossed the Prairies between Independence and Santa Fe six times, I can now present a table of the most notable camping sites, and their respective intermediate distances, with approximate accuracy which may prove acceptable to some future travellers. The whole distance has been variously estimated at from 750 to 800 miles yet I feel confident that the aggregate here presented is very nearly the true distance.
From INDEPENDENCE to        M. Agg.Round Grove,               35Narrows,                   30    65110-mile Creek,            35   100  Bridge Cr.,                 8   108Big John Spring,(crossing sev'l Crs.)      40   148 Council Grove,              2   150Diamond Spring,            12   165 Lost Spring,               15   180Cottonwood Cr.,            12   192Turkey Cr.                 25   217Little Arkansas,           17   234Cow Creek, Arkansas River, 16   270Walnut Cr.(up Ark. r.)      8   278Ash Creek,                 19   297Pawnee Fork,                6   303Coon Creek,                33   336Caches,                    36   372Ford of Arkansas,          20   392                           M.  Agg.Sand Cr. (leav. Ark. r,)   50  442Cimarron r.(Lower sp.)      8  450Middle Spr. (up Cim. r.)   36  486Willow Bar,                26  512Upper Spring,              18  530Cold spr.(leav.Cim. r.)     5  535M'Nees's Cr.,              25  560Rabbit-ear Cr.,            20  580Round Mound,                8  588Rock Creek,                 8  596Point of Rocks,            19  615Rio Colorado,              20  635Ocate,                      6  641Santa Clara Spr.,          21  662Rio Mora,                  22  684Rio Gallinas (Vegas),      20  704Ojo de Bernal (spr.),      17  721San Miguel,                 6  727 Pecos village,             23  750 SANTA FE,                  25  775 


with: for the rich and beautiful uplands in the vicinity of Independence might well be denominated the 'garden spot' of the Far West. Their principal motive for preferring the border country, however, was no doubt a desire to be in the immediate vicinity of the Indians, as the reclamation of the 'Lost tribes of Israel' was a part of their pretended mission. Prior to 1833, the Mormons, who were then flocking in great swarms to this favored region, had made considerable purchases of lots and tracts of land both in the town of Independence and in the adjacent country. A general depot, profanely styled the 'Lord's Store,' was established, from which the faithful were supplied with merchandise at moderate prices; while those who possessed any surplus of property were expected to deposit it in the same, for the benefit of the mass. The Mormons were at first kindly received by the good people of the country, who looked upon them as a set of harmless fanatics, very susceptible of being moulded into good and honest citizens. This confidence, however, was not destined to remain long in the ascendant, for they soon began to find that the corn in their cribs was sinking like snow before the sun-rays, and that their hogs and their cattle were by some mysterious agency rapidly disappearing. The new-comers also drew upon themselves much animadversion in consequence of the immorality of their lives, and in particular their disregard for the sacred rites of marriage.


Still they continued to spread and multiply, not by conversion but by immigration, to an alarming extent; and in proportion as they grew strong in numbers, they also became more exacting and bold in their pretensions. In a little paper printed at Independence under their immediate auspices, everything was said that could provoke hostility between the 'saints' and their 'worldly' neighbors, until at last they became so emboldened by impunity, as openly to boast of their determination to be the sole proprietors of the 'Land of Zion ;' a revelation to that effect having been made to their prophet. he people now began to perceive, that, at the rate the intruders were increasing, they would soon be able to command a majority of the county, and consequently the entire control of affairs would fall into their hands. It was evident, then, that one of the two parties would in the course of time have to abandon the country; for the old settlers could not think of bringing up their families in the midst of such a corrupt state of society as the Mormons were establishing. Still the nuisance was endured very patiently, and without any attempt at retaliation, until the 'saints' actually threatened to eject their opponents by main force. This last stroke of impudence at once roused the latent spirit of the honest backwoodsmen, some of whom were of the pioneer settlers of Missouri, and had become familiar with danger in their terrific wars with the savages. They were therefore by no


means appropriate subjects for yielding what they believed to be their rights. Meetings were held for the purpose of devising means of redress, which only tended to increase the insolence of the Mormons. Finally a mob was collected, which proceeded at once to raze the obnoxious printing establishment to the ground, and to destroy all the materials they could lay hands upon. One or two of the Mormon leaders who fell into the hands of the people, were treated to a clean suit of 'tar and feathers,' and otherwise severely punished. The 'Prophet Joseph,' however, was not then in the neighborhood. Having observed the storm-clouds gathering apace in the frontier horizon, he very wisely remained in Ohio, whence he issued his flaming mandates.

     These occurrences took place in the month of October, 1833, and I reached Independence from Santa Fe while the excitement was raging at its highest. The Mormons had rallied some ten miles west of the town, where their strongest settlements were located. A hostile encounter was hourly expected: nay, a skirmish actually took place shortly after, in which a respectable lawyer of Independence, who had been an active agent against the Mormons, was killed. In short, the whole country was in a state of dreadful fermentation.

     Early on the morning after the skirmish just referred to, a report reached Independence that the Mormons were marching in a


body towards the town, with the intention of sacking and burning it. I had often heard the cry of "Indians!" announcing the approach of hostile savages, but I do not remember ever to have witnessed so much consternation as prevailed at Independence on this memorable occasion. The note of alarm was sounded far and near, and armed men, eager for the fray, were rushing in from every quarter. Officers were summarily selected without deference to rank or station: the 'spirit-stirring drum' and the 'ear-piercing fife' made the air resound with music, and a little army of as brave and resolute a set of fellows as ever trod a field of battle, was, in a very short time, paraded through the streets. After a few preliminary exercises, they started for a certain point on the road where they intended to await the approach of the Mormons. The latter very soon made their appearance, but, surprised at meeting with so formidable a reception, they never even attempted to pull a trigger, but at once surrendered at discretion. They were immediately disarmed, and subsequently released upon condition of their leaving the country without delay.

     It was very soon after this affair that the much talked of phenomenon of the meteoric shower (on the night of November 12th) occurred. This extraordinary visitation did not fail to produce its effects upon the superstitious minds of a few ignorant people, who began to wonder whether, after all, the Mor-


mons might not be in the right; and whether this was not a sign sent from heaven as a remonstrance for the injustice they had been guilty of towards that chosen sect.* Sometime afterward, a terrible misfortune occurred which was in no way calculated to allay the superstitious fears of the ignorant. As some eight or ten citizens were returning with the ferry-boat which had crossed the last Mormons over the Missouri river, into Clay county, the district selected for their new home, the craft filled with water and sunk in the middle of the current; by which accident three or four men were drowned! It was owing perhaps to the craziness of the boat, yet some persons suspected the Mormons of having scuttled it by secretly boring auger-holes in the bottom just before they had left it.

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* In Northern Mexico, as I learned afterwards, the credulity of the superstitious was still more severely tried by this celestial phenomenon. Their church had been deprived of some important privileges by the Congress but a short time before, and the people could not be persuaded but that the meteoric shower was intended as a curse upon the nation in consequence of that sacrilegious act.

     After sojourning a few months in Clay county, to the serious annoyance of the inhabitants (though, in fact, they had been kindly received at first), the persecuted 'Latter day Saints' were again compelled to shift their quarters further off. They now sought to establish themselves in the new county of Caldwell and founded their town of Far West, where they lingered in comparative peace for a few years. As the county began to fill up with settlers, however, quarrels re-


peatedly broke out, until at last, in 1838, they found themselves again at open war with their neighbors. They appear to have set the laws of the state at defiance, and to have acted so turbulently throughout, that Governor Boggs deemed it necessary to order out a large force of state militia to subject them: which was easily accomplished without bloodshed. From that time the Mormons have harbored a mortal enmity towards the Governor: and the attempt which was afterwards made to assassinate him at Independence, generally believed to have been instigated, if not absolutely perpetrated, by that deluded sect.

     Being once more forced to emigrate, they passed into Illinois, where they founded the famous 'City of Nauvoo.' It would seem that their reception from the people of this state was even more strongly marked with kindness and indulgence than it had been elsewhere, being generally looked upon as the victims of persecution on account of their religious belief; yet it appears that the good people of Illinois have since become about as tired of them as were any of their former neighbors. It seems very clear then, that fanatical delusion is not the only sin which stamps the conduct of these people with so much obliquity, or they would certainly have found permanent friends somewhere; whereas it is well known that a general aversion has prevailed against them wherever they have sojourned.

     Before concluding this chapter, it may be


proper to remark, that the Mormons have invariably refused to sell any of the property they had acquired in Missouri, but have on the contrary expressed a firm determination to reconquer their lost purchases. Of these, a large lot, situated on an elevated point at Independence, known as the 'Temple Lot,' upon which the 'Temple of Zion' was to have been raised, has lately been 'profaned,' by cultivation, having been converted into a cornfield.


southwestern-style woven rope chain

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