IN the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies
an arid and repulsive desert, which for many a long year served as a
barrier against the advance of civilisation. From the Sierra Nevada to
Nebraska, and from the Yellowstone River in the north to the Colorado
upon the south, is a region of desolation and silence. Nor is Nature
always in one mood throughout this grim district. It comprises
snow-capped and lofty mountains, and dark and gloomy valleys. There are
swift-flowing rivers which dash through jagged cañons; and there are
enormous plains, which in winter are white with snow, and in summer are
grey with the saline alkali dust. They all preserve, however, the common
characteristics of barrenness, inhospitality, and misery.
There are no inhabitants of this land of despair. A band of Pawnees
or of Blackfeet may occasionally traverse it in order to reach other
hunting-grounds, but the hardiest of the braves are glad to lose sight
of those awesome plains, and to find themselves once more upon their
prairies. The coyote skulks among the scrub, the buzzard flaps heavily
through the air, and the clumsy grizzly bear lumbers through the dark
ravines, and picks up such sustenance as it can amongst the rocks. These
are the sole dwellers in the wilderness.
In the whole world there can be no more dreary view than that from
the northern slope of the Sierra Blanco. As far as the eye can reach
stretches the great flat plain-land, all dusted over with patches of
alkali, and intersected by clumps of the dwarfish chaparral bushes. On
the extreme verge of the horizon lie a long chain of mountain peaks,
with their rugged summits flecked with snow. In this great stretch of
country there is no sign of life, nor of anything appertaining to life.
There is no bird in the steel-blue heaven, no movement upon the dull,
grey earth–above all, there is absolute silence. Listen as one may,
there is no shadow of a sound in all that mighty wilderness; nothing but
silence–complete and heart-subduing silence.
It has been said there is nothing appertaining to life upon the broad
plain. That is hardly true. Looking down from the Sierra Blanco, one
sees a pathway traced out across the desert, which winds away and is
lost in the extreme distance. It is rutted with wheels and trodden down
by the feet of many adventurers. Here and there there are scattered
white objects which glisten in the sun, and stand out against the dull
deposit of alkali. Approach, and examine them! They are bones: some
large and coarse, others smaller and more delicate. The former have
belonged to oxen, and the latter to men. For fifteen hundred miles one
may trace this ghastly caravan route by these scattered remains of those
who had fallen by the wayside.
Looking down on this very scene, there stood upon the fourth of May,
eighteen hundred and forty-seven, a solitary traveller. His appearance
was such that he might have been the very genius or demon of the region.
An observer would have found it difficult to say whether he was nearer
to forty or to sixty. His face was lean and haggard, and the brown
parchment-like skin was drawn tightly over the projecting bones; his
long, brown hair and beard were all flecked and dashed with white; his
eyes were sunken in his head, and burned with an unnatural lustre; while
the hand which grasped his rifle was hardly more fleshy than that of a
skeleton. As he stood, he leaned upon his weapon for support, and yet
his tall figure and the massive framework of his bones suggested a wiry
and vigorous constitution. His gaunt face, however, and his clothes,
which hung so baggily over his shrivelled limbs, proclaimed what it
was that gave him that senile and decrepit appearance. The man was
dying–dying from hunger and from thirst.
He had toiled painfully down the ravine, and on to this little
elevation, in the vain hope of seeing some signs of water. Now the great
salt plain stretched before his eyes, and the distant belt of savage
mountains, without a sign anywhere of plant or tree, which might
indicate the presence of moisture. In all that broad landscape there
was no gleam of hope. North, and east, and west he looked with wild
questioning eyes, and then he realised that his wanderings had come to
an end, and that there, on that barren crag, he was about to die. “Why
not here, as well as in a feather bed, twenty years hence,” he muttered,
as he seated himself in the shelter of a boulder.
Before sitting down, he had deposited upon the ground his useless rifle,
and also a large bundle tied up in a grey shawl, which he had carried
slung over his right shoulder. It appeared to be somewhat too heavy for
his strength, for in lowering it, it came down on the ground with some
little violence. Instantly there broke from the grey parcel a little
moaning cry, and from it there protruded a small, scared face, with very
bright brown eyes, and two little speckled, dimpled fists.
“You’ve hurt me!” said a childish voice reproachfully.
“Have I though,” the man answered penitently, “I didn’t go for to do
it.” As he spoke he unwrapped the grey shawl and extricated a pretty
little girl of about five years of age, whose dainty shoes and smart
pink frock with its little linen apron all bespoke a mother’s care. The
child was pale and wan, but her healthy arms and legs showed that she
had suffered less than her companion.
“How is it now?” he answered anxiously, for she was still rubbing the
towsy golden curls which covered the back of her head.
“Kiss it and make it well,” she said, with perfect gravity, shoving
[19] the injured part up to him. “That’s what mother used to do. Where’s
“Mother’s gone. I guess you’ll see her before long.”
“Gone, eh!” said the little girl. “Funny, she didn’t say good-bye; she
‘most always did if she was just goin’ over to Auntie’s for tea, and now
she’s been away three days. Say, it’s awful dry, ain’t it? Ain’t there
no water, nor nothing to eat?”
“No, there ain’t nothing, dearie. You’ll just need to be patient awhile,
and then you’ll be all right. Put your head up agin me like that, and
then you’ll feel bullier. It ain’t easy to talk when your lips is like
leather, but I guess I’d best let you know how the cards lie. What’s
that you’ve got?”
“Pretty things! fine things!” cried the little girl enthusiastically,
holding up two glittering fragments of mica. “When we goes back to home
I’ll give them to brother Bob.”
“You’ll see prettier things than them soon,” said the man confidently.
“You just wait a bit. I was going to tell you though–you remember when
we left the river?”
“Oh, yes.”
“Well, we reckoned we’d strike another river soon, d’ye see. But there
was somethin’ wrong; compasses, or map, or somethin’, and it didn’t
turn up. Water ran out. Just except a little drop for the likes of you
“And you couldn’t wash yourself,” interrupted his companion gravely,
staring up at his grimy visage.
“No, nor drink. And Mr. Bender, he was the fust to go, and then Indian
Pete, and then Mrs. McGregor, and then Johnny Hones, and then, dearie,
your mother.”
“Then mother’s a deader too,” cried the little girl dropping her face in
her pinafore and sobbing bitterly.
“Yes, they all went except you and me. Then I thought there was some
chance of water in this direction, so I heaved you over my shoulder and
we tramped it together. It don’t seem as though we’ve improved matters.
There’s an almighty small chance for us now!”
“Do you mean that we are going to die too?” asked the child, checking
her sobs, and raising her tear-stained face.
“I guess that’s about the size of it.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?” she said, laughing gleefully. “You gave
me such a fright. Why, of course, now as long as we die we’ll be with
mother again.”
“Yes, you will, dearie.”
“And you too. I’ll tell her how awful good you’ve been. I’ll bet she
meets us at the door of Heaven with a big pitcher of water, and a lot
of buckwheat cakes, hot, and toasted on both sides, like Bob and me was
fond of. How long will it be first?”
“I don’t know–not very long.” The man’s eyes were fixed upon the
northern horizon. In the blue vault of the heaven there had appeared
three little specks which increased in size every moment, so rapidly did
they approach. They speedily resolved themselves into three large brown
birds, which circled over the heads of the two wanderers, and then
settled upon some rocks which overlooked them. They were buzzards, the
vultures of the west, whose coming is the forerunner of death.
“Cocks and hens,” cried the little girl gleefully, pointing at their
ill-omened forms, and clapping her hands to make them rise. “Say, did
God make this country?”
“In course He did,” said her companion, rather startled by this
unexpected question.
“He made the country down in Illinois, and He made the Missouri,” the
little girl continued. “I guess somebody else made the country in these
parts. It’s not nearly so well done. They forgot the water and the
“What would ye think of offering up prayer?” the man asked diffidently.
“It ain’t night yet,” she answered.
“It don’t matter. It ain’t quite regular, but He won’t mind that, you
bet. You say over them ones that you used to say every night in the
waggon when we was on the Plains.”
“Why don’t you say some yourself?” the child asked, with wondering eyes.
“I disremember them,” he answered. “I hain’t said none since I was half
the height o’ that gun. I guess it’s never too late. You say them out,
and I’ll stand by and come in on the choruses.”
“Then you’ll need to kneel down, and me too,” she said, laying the shawl
out for that purpose. “You’ve got to put your hands up like this. It
makes you feel kind o’ good.”
It was a strange sight had there been anything but the buzzards to see
it. Side by side on the narrow shawl knelt the two wanderers, the little
prattling child and the reckless, hardened adventurer. Her chubby face,
and his haggard, angular visage were both turned up to the cloudless
heaven in heartfelt entreaty to that dread being with whom they were
face to face, while the two voices–the one thin and clear, the other
deep and harsh–united in the entreaty for mercy and forgiveness. The
prayer finished, they resumed their seat in the shadow of the boulder
until the child fell asleep, nestling upon the broad breast of her
protector. He watched over her slumber for some time, but Nature proved
to be too strong for him. For three days and three nights he had allowed
himself neither rest nor repose. Slowly the eyelids drooped over the
tired eyes, and the head sunk lower and lower upon the breast, until the
man’s grizzled beard was mixed with the gold tresses of his companion,
and both slept the same deep and dreamless slumber.
Had the wanderer remained awake for another half hour a strange sight
would have met his eyes. Far away on the extreme verge of the alkali
plain there rose up a little spray of dust, very slight at first, and
hardly to be distinguished from the mists of the distance, but gradually
growing higher and broader until it formed a solid, well-defined cloud.
This cloud continued to increase in size until it became evident that it
could only be raised by a great multitude of moving creatures. In more
fertile spots the observer would have come to the conclusion that one
of those great herds of bisons which graze upon the prairie land was
approaching him. This was obviously impossible in these arid wilds. As
the whirl of dust drew nearer to the solitary bluff upon which the two
castaways were reposing, the canvas-covered tilts of waggons and the
figures of armed horsemen began to show up through the haze, and the
apparition revealed itself as being a great caravan upon its journey for
the West. But what a caravan! When the head of it had reached the base
of the mountains, the rear was not yet visible on the horizon. Right
across the enormous plain stretched the straggling array, waggons
and carts, men on horseback, and men on foot. Innumerable women who
staggered along under burdens, and children who toddled beside the
waggons or peeped out from under the white coverings. This was evidently
no ordinary party of immigrants, but rather some nomad people who had
been compelled from stress of circumstances to seek themselves a new
country. There rose through the clear air a confused clattering and
rumbling from this great mass of humanity, with the creaking of wheels
and the neighing of horses. Loud as it was, it was not sufficient to
rouse the two tired wayfarers above them.
At the head of the column there rode a score or more of grave ironfaced
men, clad in sombre homespun garments and armed with rifles. On reaching
the base of the bluff they halted, and held a short council among
“The wells are to the right, my brothers,” said one, a hard-lipped,
clean-shaven man with grizzly hair.
“To the right of the Sierra Blanco–so we shall reach the Rio Grande,”
said another.
“Fear not for water,” cried a third. “He who could draw it from the
rocks will not now abandon His own chosen people.”
“Amen! Amen!” responded the whole party.
They were about to resume their journey when one of the youngest and
keenest-eyed uttered an exclamation and pointed up at the rugged crag
above them. From its summit there fluttered a little wisp of pink,
showing up hard and bright against the grey rocks behind. At the sight
there was a general reining up of horses and unslinging of guns, while
fresh horsemen came galloping up to reinforce the vanguard. The word
‘Redskins’ was on every lip.
“There can’t be any number of Injuns here,” said the elderly man who
appeared to be in command. “We have passed the Pawnees, and there are no
other tribes until we cross the great mountains.”
“Shall I go forward and see, Brother Stangerson,” asked one of the band.
“And I,” “and I,” cried a dozen voices.
“Leave your horses below and we will await you here,” the Elder
answered. In a moment the young fellows had dismounted, fastened their
horses, and were ascending the precipitous slope which led up to the
object which had excited their curiosity. They advanced rapidly and
noiselessly, with the confidence and dexterity of practised scouts.
The watchers from the plain below could see them flit from rock to rock
until their figures stood out against the skyline. The young man who had
first given the alarm was leading them. Suddenly his followers saw him
throw up his hands, as though overcome with astonishment, and on joining
him they were affected in the same way by the sight which met their
On the little plateau which crowned the barren hill there stood a
single giant boulder, and against this boulder there lay a tall man,
long-bearded and hard-featured, but of an excessive thinness. His placid
face and regular breathing showed that he was fast asleep. Beside him
lay a little child, with her round white arms encircling his brown
sinewy neck, and her golden haired head resting upon the breast of his
velveteen tunic. Her rosy lips were parted, showing the regular line of
snow-white teeth within, and a playful smile played over her infantile
features. Her plump little white legs terminating in white socks and
neat shoes with shining buckles, offered a strange contrast to the long
shrivelled members of her companion. On the ledge of rock above this
strange couple there stood three solemn buzzards, who, at the sight of
the new comers uttered raucous screams of disappointment and flapped
sullenly away.
The cries of the foul birds awoke the two sleepers who stared about [20]
them in bewilderment. The man staggered to his feet and looked down upon
the plain which had been so desolate when sleep had overtaken him, and
which was now traversed by this enormous body of men and of beasts. His
face assumed an expression of incredulity as he gazed, and he passed his
boney hand over his eyes. “This is what they call delirium, I guess,”
he muttered. The child stood beside him, holding on to the skirt of
his coat, and said nothing but looked all round her with the wondering
questioning gaze of childhood.
The rescuing party were speedily able to convince the two castaways that
their appearance was no delusion. One of them seized the little girl,
and hoisted her upon his shoulder, while two others supported her gaunt
companion, and assisted him towards the waggons.
“My name is John Ferrier,” the wanderer explained; “me and that little
un are all that’s left o’ twenty-one people. The rest is all dead o’
thirst and hunger away down in the south.”
“Is she your child?” asked someone.
“I guess she is now,” the other cried, defiantly; “she’s mine ‘cause I
saved her. No man will take her from me. She’s Lucy Ferrier from this
day on. Who are you, though?” he continued, glancing with curiosity at
his stalwart, sunburned rescuers; “there seems to be a powerful lot of
“Nigh upon ten thousand,” said one of the young men; “we are the
persecuted children of God–the chosen of the Angel Merona.”
“I never heard tell on him,” said the wanderer. “He appears to have
chosen a fair crowd of ye.”
“Do not jest at that which is sacred,” said the other sternly. “We are
of those who believe in those sacred writings, drawn in Egyptian letters
on plates of beaten gold, which were handed unto the holy Joseph Smith
at Palmyra. We have come from Nauvoo, in the State of Illinois, where we
had founded our temple. We have come to seek a refuge from the violent
man and from the godless, even though it be the heart of the desert.”
The name of Nauvoo evidently recalled recollections to John Ferrier. “I
see,” he said, “you are the Mormons.”

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“We are the Mormons,” answered his companions with one voice.
“And where are you going?”
“We do not know. The hand of God is leading us under the person of our
Prophet. You must come before him. He shall say what is to be done with
They had reached the base of the hill by this time, and were surrounded
by crowds of the pilgrims–pale-faced meek-looking women, strong
laughing children, and anxious earnest-eyed men. Many were the cries
of astonishment and of commiseration which arose from them when they
perceived the youth of one of the strangers and the destitution of the
other. Their escort did not halt, however, but pushed on, followed by
a great crowd of Mormons, until they reached a waggon, which was
conspicuous for its great size and for the gaudiness and smartness of
its appearance. Six horses were yoked to it, whereas the others were
furnished with two, or, at most, four a-piece. Beside the driver there
sat a man who could not have been more than thirty years of age, but
whose massive head and resolute expression marked him as a leader. He
was reading a brown-backed volume, but as the crowd approached he laid
it aside, and listened attentively to an account of the episode. Then he
turned to the two castaways.
“If we take you with us,” he said, in solemn words, “it can only be as
believers in our own creed. We shall have no wolves in our fold. Better
far that your bones should bleach in this wilderness than that you
should prove to be that little speck of decay which in time corrupts the
whole fruit. Will you come with us on these terms?”
“Guess I’ll come with you on any terms,” said Ferrier, with such
emphasis that the grave Elders could not restrain a smile. The leader
alone retained his stern, impressive expression.
“Take him, Brother Stangerson,” he said, “give him food and drink,
and the child likewise. Let it be your task also to teach him our holy
creed. We have delayed long enough. Forward! On, on to Zion!”
“On, on to Zion!” cried the crowd of Mormons, and the words rippled down
the long caravan, passing from mouth to mouth until they died away in a
dull murmur in the far distance. With a cracking of whips and a creaking
of wheels the great waggons got into motion, and soon the whole caravan
was winding along once more. The Elder to whose care the two waifs
had been committed, led them to his waggon, where a meal was already
awaiting them.
“You shall remain here,” he said. “In a few days you will have recovered
from your fatigues. In the meantime, remember that now and for ever you
are of our religion. Brigham Young has said it, and he has spoken with
the voice of Joseph Smith, which is the voice of God.”

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