By William Worthington Fowler in 1877
The frontier of the late 1800s was on the plains and in the mountains. In that immense territory bounded by the Pacific on the west, and on the east by a line running irregularly from the sources of the Red River of the North to the Platte River, 100 miles from Omaha, and then to the mouth of the Brazos River in Texas, wherever a settlement is isolated, there is the frontier.
Life in these remote regions is affected, of course, by external surroundings. The same is true of the passage of the pioneer battalions from the eastern settlements through the country westward. The mountain-frontier presents, both to the settler who makes her abode there and to her who passes through its wild pathways, a distinct set of difficulties and dangers besides those which are incident to every family which settles far from the more populous districts.
The enormous extent of the mountain region can be measured in linear and square miles; it can be bounded roughly by the Pacific Ocean and the fountains of the great rivers which course through the Mississippi Valley; it can be placed before the eye in an astronomical position between such and such latitudes and longitudes, but such descriptions convey to the mind only an idea which is quite vague and general. When we say that one hundred and fifty states like Connecticut, or twenty states like New York or Illinois, spread over that infinitude of peaks and ranges, would scarcely cover them, we gain a somewhat more adequate idea of their extent. But it is only by actually traversing this wilderness of hills and mountains, east and west, north and south, that we can more fully comprehend its extent and the difficulties to be encountered by the emigrant who crosses it.
A straight line from Cheyenne on the east, to Placer at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California, is 850 miles; by the shortest traveled route between these points it is upward of one thousand miles. A straight line from the same point in the east to Oregon City, among the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, measures nine hundred and fifty miles; by the traveled routes it is more than twelve hundred.
Thirty years ago, when railroads were unknown west of Buffalo, the journey by ox-teams across the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was more than three thousand miles, and might occupy from one year to eighteen months, according to circumstances.
After leaving the regions where roads and settlements made their march comparatively comfortable and secure, they struck boldly across the plains, fording rivers, hewing their way through forests, toiling across wide tracks of desert, destitute of food, herbage, and water, until they reached the Rocky Mountains. The region they were now to pass through had been penetrated by scarcely any but hunters, fur traders, soldiers, and missionaries. It was to the peaceful settler who was seeking a home, a “terra incognita,” an unknown land. Those mountain peaks were veiled in clouds, those devious labyrinthine valleys were the abode of darkness. The awful majesty of nature’s works, the Titanic wonder-shapes which God hath wrought, are calculated to burden the imagination and subdue the aspiring soul of man by their vastness. Those mountain heights, seen from which the files of travelers passing through the profound defiles, look like insects; the relentless sway of nature’s great forces–the storm roaring through the gorges, the flood plunging from the precipice and wearing trenches a thousand feet deep in the flinty rock; the walls which rear themselves into giant ramparts which human power can never scale; the wide circles of desolation, where hunger and thirst have their domain; such spectacles must indeed have thrilled the hearts, awed the minds, and filled the imaginations of the early pioneers with forebodings of difficulty and danger.
And yet the actual difficulties encountered by the emigrants, the actual toils, dangers, and hardships endured then in conquering a passage through and over the Rocky Mountains and their kindred ranges, must have surpassed the anticipations of the shrewdest forethought, and the bodings of the gloomiest imagination. Tongue cannot tell, nor pen describe, nor hath it entered into the heart of the eastern home-dweller to conceive of the forlorn and terrible stories of those early mountain passages. We may wonder whether the fortunate traveler of these days, who is whirled up and down those perilous slopes by a forty-ton locomotive, often looks back to the time when those rickety wagons and lean oxen jogged along, drearily, eight or ten miles a day through those terrible fastnesses, or reverting to such a scene, expends upon it a merited sympathy.
Now a seven days’ journey from Manhattan to the Golden Gate, sitting in a palace car, well-fed by day, well-rested by night, scarcely more fatigued when one steps on the streets of San Francisco than by a day’s journey on horseback in the olden time! Then a year’s journey in the emigrant wagon, scantily fed, poorly nourished with sleep, footsore and haggard, the weary emigrant and his wife dragged themselves into the spot in the valley of the Sacramento, or the Columbia, where they were to commence anew their homely toils!
Who can sit down calmly, and, casting his eyes back to those heroes and heroines–the Rocky Mountain pioneers–and not feel his heart swell with pride and gratitude! Pride, in that, as an American, he can count such men and women among his countrymen; gratitude, in that he and the whole country are reaping fruits from their heroic courage, fortitude, and enterprise. Dangers met with an undaunted heart, hardships endured with unshrinking fortitude, trials and sufferings borne with cheerful patience, forgetfulness of self, devotion and sacrifice for others: such, in brief words, is the record of a woman in those first journeys of the pioneers who crossed the continent for the purpose of making homes, forming communities, and building states on the Pacific slope.
Among these histories, which illustrate most clearly the virtues of the pioneer women, we count those which display her battling with the difficulties of the passage through the mountains, as proving that the heroine of our own time may be matched with those who have lived before her in any age or clime. One of these histories runs as follows: In the corps of pioneers who, in 1844, were pushing the outposts of civilization farther towards the setting sun, was a young couple who left Illinois late in the summer of that year, and, journeying with a white-tilted wagon, drawn by four oxen, crossed the Missouri River near the site of old Fort Kearney, and moving in a beeline over the prairie, early in November, encamped for the winter just beyond the forks of the Platte.
A low cabin, built of cotton-wood, banked up with earth and consisting of a single room, which contained their furniture, farming utensils, and stores, sufficed as a shelter against the severe winds which sweep over those plains in the inclement season; their oxen, not requiring to be housed, were allowed to roam at large and browse upon the sweet grass which remains nourishing in that region throughout the winter.
At that period immense herds of bison roved through that section, and in a few days after the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Hinman–for this was their name–they had each shot, almost without stirring from their camp, three fat buffalo cows, whose flesh was dried and added to their winter’s store. A supply of fresh meat was thus near at hand, and for five weeks they fared sumptuously on buffalo soup and ribs, tender-loin and marrow bones, roasted with succulent tidbits from the hump, and tongue, which, with boiled Indian meal, formed the staple of their repasts.
Both Mr. Hinman and his wife were scions of that hardy stock which had, even before the Revolutionary War, set out from Connecticut, and, cutting their way through the forest, had crossed the Alleghany Mountains and river, and pitched their camp in the rich valley of the Muskingum, near the site of the present city of Marietta. Both had also grown up amid the surroundings of true frontier life, and were endowed with faculties, as well as fitted by experience, to engage in the bold enterprise wherein they were now embarked, namely, to cross the Rocky Mountains with a single ox-team and establish themselves in the fertile vale of the Willamette in Oregon .
The spare but well-knit frame, the swarthy skin, the prominent features, the deep-set eyes, the alert and yet composed manner; marked in them the true type of the born borderer. To these physical traits were united the qualities of mind and heart which are equally characteristic of the class to which they belonged; an apparent insensibility to fear, a capacity for endurance that exists in the moral nature rather than in the body, and self-reliance that never faltered, formed a combination which fitted them to cope with the difficulties that environed their perilous project.
As early in the spring of 1845 as the ground would permit, they re-packed their goods and stores, hung out the white sails of their prairie schooner and pursued their journey up the north fork of the Platte, crossed the Red Buttes, went through Devil’s Gate, skirted the banks of the Sweet Water River, and winding through the great South Pass, diverted their course to the north in the direction of the head-waters of Snake River, which would guide them by its current to the Columbia. At this stage in their journey they consulted a rough map of the route on which two trails were laid down, either of which would lead to the stream they were seeking. With characteristic boldness they chose the shorter and more difficult trail. Following its tortuous course in a northwesterly direction they reached a point where the path was barely wide enough for the wagon to pass, and was bounded on the one side by a wall of rock and on the other by a ragged precipice descending hundreds of feet into a dark ravine.
Here Mrs. Hinman dismounted from her seat in the wagon to assist in conducting the team past this dangerous point. Her husband stood between the oxen and the precipice when the hind wheel of the wagon slipped on a smooth stone, the vehicle tilted and being top-heavy upset and was precipitated into the abyss, dragging with it the oxen who, in their fall, carried down Mr. Hinman who stood beside the wheel yoke.
He gave a loud cry as he fell, and gazing horror-stricken over the brink Mrs. Hinman saw him bounding from rock to rock preceded by the wagon and oxen which rolled over and over till they disappeared from view.
In the awful stillness of that solitude the beating of her heart became audible as she rapidly reviewed her terrible situation, and taxed her mind to know what she should do. Summoning up all her resolution she ran swiftly along the edge of the precipice in search of a place where she could descend, in the hope that by some rare good fortune her husband might have survived his fall. Half a mile back of the spot where the accident occurred she found a more gradual descent into the ravine, and here, by swinging herself from bush to bush she managed at length with the utmost difficulty and danger to reach the bottom of the ravine but could find there no trace either of her husband or of the ox-team.
Scanning the face of the precipice she saw, at last, one hundred feet above her the wreck of the wagon, and the bodies of the oxen, which had landed upon a projecting ledge.
At great risk of being dashed to pieces, she succeeded in climbing to the spot. The patient beasts which had carried them so far upon their way were crushed to a jelly; among the remains of the wagon scarcely a vestige appeared of the furniture, utensils, and stores with which it was laden. She marked the track it had made in its descent, and digging her fingers and toes into the crevices of the rock, and drawing herself from point to point in a zigzag course, by means of bushes and projecting stones, she slowly scaled the declivity and reached a narrow ledge some three hundred feet from the ravine, where she paused to take a breath.
A low moan directed her eyes to a clump of bushes some fifty feet above her, and there she caught sight of a limp arm hanging among the stunted foliage. Climbing to the spot she found her husband breathing but unconscious. He was shockingly bruised, and although no bones had been broken, the purple current trickling slowly from his mouth showed that some internal organ had been injured. While there is life there is hope. If he could be placed in a comfortable position he might still revive and live. Feeling in his breast pocket she found a leather flask filled with whisky with which she bathed his face after pouring a large draught down his throat. In a few moments, he revived sufficiently to comprehend his situation.
“Don’t leave me, Jane,” whispered the suffering man, “I shan’t keep you long.” It was unnecessary to prefer such a request to a woman who had gone through such perils to save one whom, she loved dearer than life. “I’ll bring you out safe and sound, Jack,” returned she, “or die right here with you.”
While racking her brain for means to remove him fifty feet lower to the ledge from which she had first spied him, a welcome sight met her eye. It was the axe and the coil of rope which had fallen from the wagon during its descent, and now lay within easy reach. Passing the rope several times around his body so as to form a sling she cut a stout bush, and trimming it, made a stake which she firmly fastened into a crevice, and with, an exertion of strength, such as her loving and resolute heart could have alone inspired her to put forth, she extricated him from his position, and laying the ends of the rope over the stake gently lowered him to the ledge, and gathering moss made a pillow for his bleeding head. Then descending to the spot where the carcasses of the oxen lay she quickly flayed one, and cutting off a large piece of flesh she ransacked the wreck of the wagon and found a blanket and a pot. Returning to her husband she kindled a fire, and made broth with some water which she found in the hollow of a rock.
Gathering moss and lichens she made a comfortable couch upon the rock, and gently stretched her groaning patient upon it, covering him with the blanket for the mountain air was chill even in that August afternoon. The wounded man’s breathing grew more regular, the bloody ooze no longer flowed from his white lips, but his frame was still racked by agonizing pains.
The hours sped away as the devoted wife bent over him; the height of the mountains in that region materially shortens the day to such as are in the valleys, but though the sun sets early behind the western summits twilight lingers long after his departure. When the orb of day had disappeared, Mrs. H. still viewed with wonder, not unmixed with fear, the savage grandeur of the mountains which lifted their heads still glittering in the passing light; and gazing into the profound below she watched the shades as they deepened to blackness.
The ledge on which the forlorn pair lay was barely four feet wide and less than ten feet long. There, on the face of that precipice, one hundred miles from the nearest settlement, all through the lonely watches of the night, the strong-hearted wife, with tear-dimmed eyes, hung over the sufferer. Many a silent prayer in the weary hours of that moonless night did she send up to the Father of mercies. Many a plan for bringing succor or for alleviating pain on the morrow did she devise.
Will-power is the most potent factor in giving a satisfactory solution of the problem of vitality. Just as the gray light was shimmering in the eastern sky the wounded man moaned as if he wished to speak. His wife understood that language of pain and weakness and placed her ear to his lips. “I won’t die, Jane,” he said scarcely above a whisper. “You shan’t die, Jack,” was the reply. A great hope dawned like sun upon her as those four magic syllables were uttered.
He fell into a doze, and when he woke the sun was up. “Can you stay here all alone for a few hours,” inquired Mrs. Hinman, after feeding her patient, “I am going to see if I can fetch some one to help us out of this.” “Go,” he answered. Placing the flask and broth within reach of her husband, and kissing him, she sprang up the acclivity as though she had wings, reached the trail and sped along it southward. Fifteen miles would bring her to the spot where the two trails met: here she hoped to meet some wayfaring train of emigrants, or some party of hunters coursing through the defiles of the mountains.
Sooner than she expected, after reaching the fork, her wish was gratified. In less than half an hour six hunters came up with her, and, hearing her story, three of them volunteered to go and bring her husband to their cabin, which stood half a mile away from the trail. A horse was furnished to Mrs. Hinman, and the three hunters and she rode rapidly to the scene of the disaster.
Skipping down the declivity like chamois, and helping their brave companion, who was now quite fatigued with her exertion, they reached the rocky shelf. The mountain air and the delicious consciousness that he would live, coupled with implicit confidence in the success of his wife’s errand, had acted like a charm on the vigorous organization of the wounded man, and he begged that he might be immediately removed.
He was accordingly carried carefully to the trail and placed astride of one of the horses in front of one of the hunters. After a slow march of four hours, he was safely stowed in the cabin of the hunters, where, in a few weeks, he entirely recovered from his injuries.
It might be readily supposed after such a grave experience of the dangers of mountain life, that our heroine and her husband would have been inclined to return to their old home on the sunny prairies of Illinois. On the contrary, they strongly desired to continue the prosecution of their Oregon enterprise, and were only prevented from carrying it out by the lack of a team and the necessary utensils, etc.
The hunters, learning their wishes, returned to the scene of the mishap, and scoured the side of the mountain in search of the articles which had been thrown from the wagon in its descent. They succeeded in recovering uninjured a large number of articles, including a few which still remained in the wrecked vehicle. Then clubbing together, they made up a purse and bought two pair of oxen and a wagon from a passing train of emigrants, who also generously contributed articles for the use and comfort of the resolute but unfortunate pair. Such deeds of charity are habitual with the men and women of the frontier, and the farther west one goes the more spontaneously and warmly does the heart bound to relieve the sufferings and supply the wants of the unfortunate, particularly of those who have been injured or reduced while battling with the hardships and dangers incident to a wild country.
The more rugged the region on our western border, the more boundless becomes the sympathetic faculty of its inhabitants. Nowhere is a large and unselfish charity more lavishly exercised than among the Rocky Mountain men and women.
Free as the breezes that sweep those towering summits, warm as the sun of midsummer, bright as the icy peaks which lift themselves into the sky, the spirit of loving-kindness for the unfortunate animates the bosoms of the sons and daughters of that mountain land.
The old hunters and gold-seekers in that region are the faithful depositaries of the mountain legends respecting the adventures of the early emigrants, and the observers and annotators, as it were, of the passages made by the pioneers in later times. Around their camp fires at night, when their repast is made and their pipes lighted, they beguile the lonely hours with tales of dreadful suffering, or of hairbreadth escapes from danger, or of heroism displayed by mountain wayfarers. This, as we have elsewhere remarked, is the hunters’ pastime.
While a hunting party were once threading the defiles of the mountain, they espied below them in the valley certain suspicious signs. Approaching the spot, they discovered that a train of emigrants had been attacked by Indians, their wagons robbed, their oxen killed, a number of the party massacred and scalped, and the rest dispersed.
One of the hunters proceeds with the story from this point.
“Thirsting for speedy revenge, the men at once divided. With Augur-eye as a guide, I took command of the detachment who had to search the river bank; the old Sergeant commanded the scouting party told off to cross the ford and scour the timber on the right side of the river; whilst the third band was appropriated to the Doctor. The weather was cold, and the sky, thickly covered with fleecy clouds, foreboded a heavy fall of snow. The wind blew in fitful gusts and seemed to chill one’s blood with its icy breath, as, sweeping past, it went whistling and sighing up the glen. The rattle of the horses’ hoofs, as the receding parties galloped over the turf, grew fainter and fainter, and when our little band halted on a sandy reach, about a mile up the river, not a sound was audible, save the steady rhythm of the panting horses and the noisy rattle of the stream, as, tumbling over the craggy rocks, it rippled on its course. The ‘Tracker’ was again down; this time creeping along upon the sand on his hands and knees, and deliberately and carefully examining the marks left on its impressible surface, which, to his practiced eye, were in reality letters, nay, even readable words and sentences. As we watched this tardy progress in impatient silence, suddenly, as if stung by some poisonous reptile, the Indian sprang upon his legs, and, making eager signs for us to approach, pointing at the same time eagerly to something a short distance beyond where he stood. A near approach revealed a tiny hand and part of an arm pushed through the sand.
“At first we imagined the parent, whether male or female, had thus roughly buried the child — a consolatory assumption which Augur-eye soon destroyed. Scraping away the sand partially hiding the dead boy, he placed his finger on a deep cleft in the skull, which told at once its own miserable tale. This discovery clearly proved that the old guide was correct in his readings, that the savages were following up the trail of the survivors. A man who had escaped and just joined us, appeared so utterly terror-stricken at this discovery, that it was with difficulty he could be supported on his horse by the strong troopers who rode beside him. We tarried not for additional signs but pushed on with all possible haste. The trail was rough, stony, and over a ledge of basaltic rocks, rendering progression not only tedious but difficult and dangerous; a false step of the horse, and the result might have proved fatal to the rider. The guide spurs on his Indian mustang, that like a goat scrambles over the craggy track; for a moment or two he disappears, being hidden by a jutting rock; we hear him yell a sort of ‘war-whoop,’ awakening the echoes in the encircling hills; reckless of falling, we too spur on, dash round the splintered point, and slide rather than canter down a shelving bank, to reach a second sand-beach, over which the guide is galloping and shouting. We can see the fluttering garments of a girl, who is running with all her might towards the pine trees; she disappears amongst the thick foliage of the underbrush ere the guide can come up to her, but leaping from off his horse, he follows her closely and notes the spot wherein she has hidden herself amidst a tangle of creeping vines and maple bushes. He awaited our coming, and, motioning us to surround the place of concealment quickly, remained still as a statue whilst we arranged our little detachment so as to preclude any chance of an escape. Then gliding noiselessly as a reptile through the bushes, he was soon hidden. It appeared a long time, although not more than a few minutes had elapsed from our losing sight of him, until a shrill cry told us something was discovered. Dashing into the midst of the underbrush, a strange scene presented itself. The hardy troopers seemed spell-bound, neither was I the less astonished.
“Huddled closely together, and partially covered with branches, crouched two women and the little girl whose flight had led to this unlooked-for discovery. In a state barely removed from that of nudity, the unhappy trio strove to hide from the many staring eyes which were fixed upon them, not for the purpose of gratifying an indecent curiosity, but simply because no one had for the moment realized the condition in which the unfortunates were placed.
Soon, however, the fact was evident to the soldiers that the women were nearly unclad, and all honor to their rugged goodness, they stripped off their thick topcoats, and throwing them to the trembling females, turned everyone away and receded into the bush. It was enough that the faces of the men were white which had presented themselves so unexpectedly. The destitute fugitives, assured that the savages had not again discovered them, hastily wrapped themselves in the coats of the soldiers, and, rushing out from their lair, knelt down, and clasping their arms round my knees, poured out thanks to the Almighty for their deliverance with a fervency and earnestness terrible to witness. I saw, on looking round me, streaming drops trickling over the sunburnt faces of many of the men, whose iron natures it was not easy to disturb under ordinary circumstances.
“It was soon explained to the fugitives that they were safe, and as every hour’s delay was a dangerous waste of time, the rescued women and child were as carefully clad in the garments of the men as circumstances permitted, and placed on horses, with a hunter riding on either side to support them. Thus reinforced, the cavalcade, headed by Augur-eye, moved slowly back to the place where we had left the pack-train encamped, with all the necessary supplies. I lingered behind to examine the place wherein the women had concealed themselves. The boughs of the vine-maple, together with other slender shrubs constituting the underbrush, had been rudely woven together, forming, at best, but a very inefficient shelter from the wind, which swept in freezing currents through the valley. Had it rained, they must soon have been drenched, or if snow had fallen heavily, the ‘wickey’ house and its occupants soon would have been buried. How had they existed? This was a question I was somewhat puzzled to answer.
“On looking round I observed a man’s coat, pushed away under some branches, and on the few smoldering embers by which the women had been sitting when the child rushed in and told of our coming, was a small tin pot with a cover on it, the only utensil visible. Whilst occupied in making the discoveries I was sickened by a noisome stench, which proceeded from the dead body of a man, carefully hidden by branches, grass, and moss, a short distance from the little cage of twisted boughs. Gazing on the dead man a suspicion too revolting to mention suddenly flashed upon me. Turning away saddened and horror-stricken, I returned to the cage and removed the cover from the saucepan, the contents of which confirmed my worst fears. Hastily quitting the fearful scene, the like of which I trust never to witness again, I mounted my horse and galloped after the party, by this time some distance ahead.
“Two men and the guide were desired to find the spot where the scouting parties were to meet each other and to bring them with all speed to the mule camp. It was nearly dark when we reached our destination, the sky looked black and lowering, the wind appeared to be increasing in force, and small particles of half-frozen rain drove smartly against our faces, telling in pretty plain language of the coming snowfall.
Warm tea, a good substantial meal, and suitable clothes, which had been sent in case of need by the officers’ wives stationed at the ‘Post,’ worked wonders in the way of restoring bodily weakness; but the shock to the mental system time alone could alleviate. I cannot say I slept much during the night. Anxiety lest we might be snowed in, and a fate almost as terrible as that from which we had rescued the poor women, should be the lot of all, sat upon me like a nightmare. More than this, the secret I had discovered seemed to pall every sense and sicken me to the heart, and throughout the silent hours of the dismal darkness I passed in review the ghostly pageant of the fight and all its horrors, the escape of the unhappy survivors, the finding of the murdered boy and starving women, and more than all–the secret I had rather even now draw a veil over, and leave to the imagination.”
A fugitive woman in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains is indeed an object of pity; but when she boldly faces the dangers that surround her in such a position, and succeeds by her courage, endurance, and ingenuity in holding her own, and finally extricating herself from the perils by which she is environed, she may fairly challenge our admiration. Such a woman was Miss Janette Riker, who proved how strong is the spirit of self-reliance which animates the daughters of the border under circumstances calculated to daunt and depress the stoutest heart.
The Riker family, consisting of Mr. Riker, his two sons, and his daughter Janette, passed through the Dakota country in 1849, and late in September had penetrated to the heart of the mountains in the territory now known as Montana. Before pursuing their journey from this point to their destination in Oregon, they encamped for three days in a well-grassed valley for the purpose of resting their cattle and adding to their stock of provisions a few buffalo-humps and tongues.
On the second day after their arrival at this spot, the father and his two sons set out on their buffalo hunt with the expectation of returning before nightfall. But the sun set and darkness came without bringing them back to the lonely girl, who in sleepless anxiety awaited their return all night seated beneath the white top of the Conestoga wagon. At early dawn she started on their trail, which she followed for several miles to a deep gorge where she lost all trace of the wanderers and was after a long and unavailing search compelled in the utmost grief and distraction of mind, to return to the camp.
For a week she spent her whole time seeking to find some trace of her missing kinsmen, but without success. As the lonely maiden gazed at the mighty walls which frowned upon her and barred her egress east and west from her prison-house, hope died away in her heart, and she prayed for speedy death. This mood was but momentary; the love of life soon asserted its power, and she cast about her for some means whereby she could either extricate herself from her perilous situation or at least prolong her existence.
To attempt to find her way over the mountains seemed to her impossible. Her only course was to provide a shelter against the winter and stay where she was until discovered by some passing hunters, or by Indians, whom she feared less than an existence spent in such solitude and surrounded by so many dangers.
Axes and spades among the farming implements in the wagon supplied her with the necessary tools, and by dint of assiduous labor, to which her frame had long been accustomed, she contrived to build, in a few weeks, a rude hut of poles and small logs. Stuffing the interstices with dried grass, and banking up the earth around it, she threw over it the wagon-top, which she fastened firmly to stakes driven in the ground, and thus provided a shelter tolerably rain-tight and weather-proof.
Thither she conveyed the stoves and other contents of the wagon. The oxen, straying through the valley, fattened themselves on the sweet grass until the snow fell; she then slaughtered and flayed the fattest one, and cutting up the carcass, packed it away for winter’s use. Dry logs and limbs of trees, brought together and chopped up with infinite labor, sufficed to keep her in fuel. Although for nearly three months she was almost completely buried in the snow, she managed to keep alive and reasonably comfortable by making an orifice for the smoke to escape, and digging out fuel from the drift which covered her wood-pile. Her situation was truly forlorn, but still preferable to the risk of being devoured by wolves or mountain lions, which, attracted by the smell of the slaughtered ox, had begun to prowl around her shelter before the great snow fall, but were now unable to reach her beneath the snowy bulwarks. She suffered more, however, from the effect of the spring thaw which flooded her hut with water and forced her to shift her quarters to the wagon, which she covered with the cotton top, after removing thither her blankets and provisions. The valley was overflowed by the melting of the snows, and for two weeks she was unable to build a fire, subsisting on uncooked Indian meal and raw beef, which she had salted early in the winter.
Late in April, she was found in the last stages of exhaustion, by a party of Indians, who kindly relieved her wants and carried her across the mountains with her household goods, and left her at the Walla Walla station. This act on the part of the savages, who were a wild and hostile tribe, was due to their admiration for the hardihood of the “young white woman,” who had maintained herself through the rigors of the winter and early spring in that awful solitude–a feat which, they said, none of their own women would have dared perform. The fate of her father and brothers was never ascertained, though it was conjectured that they had either lost their way or had fallen from a precipice.
Miss Riker afterward married, and, as a pioneer wife, found a sphere of usefulness for which her high qualities of character admirably fitted her.