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Heroines of the Southwest - Page 3

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Mojave Desert, CaliforniaInstead of returning on the same route by which they came, they resolved to cross the Colorado River higher up and in the neighborhood of the Santa Maria. They reached the Colorado River after a toilsome march, but while searching for a place to pass over, Crossman lost his footing and fell sixty feet down a precipice, surviving only long enough to bequeath his share of the treasure to his partner. Here, too, they had the misfortune to lose one of their four pack-mules, which strayed away. Pressing on in a northwesterly direction they passed through a series of deep valleys and gorges where the only water they could find was brackish and bitter, and reached the edge of the California desert.


They had meanwhile lost another mule which had been dashed to pieces by falling down a canyon. Mr. Whitley's strength becoming exhausted his wife gave up to him the beast she had been riding, and pursued her way on foot, driving before her the other mule, which bore the gold-dust with their scanty supply of food and their only remaining cooking utensils.


Their tents and camp furniture having been lost they had suffered much from the chilly nights in the mountains, and after they had entered the desert, from the rays of the sun. Before they could reach the Mohave river Mr. Whitley became insane from thirst and hunger, and nothing but incessant watchfulness on the part of his wife could prevent him from doing injury to himself. Once while she was gathering cactus-leaves to wet his lips with the moisture they contained, he bit his arm and sucked the blood. Upon reaching the river he drank immoderately of the water and in an hour expired, regaining his consciousness before death, and blessing his devoted wife with his last breath. Ten days later the brave woman had succeeded in reaching Techichipa in so wasted a condition that she looked like a specter risen from the grave. Here by careful nursing she was at length restored to health. The gold-dust which had cost so dearly was found after a long search, beneath the carcass of the mule, twenty miles from Techichipa.

The extraordinary exploits of Mrs. Braxton can only be explained by supposing her to be naturally endowed with a larger share of nerve and hardihood than usually falls to the lot of her sex. Some influence,  too, must be ascribed to the peculiarly wild and free life that prevails in the southwest. Living so much of the time in the open air in a climate peculiarly luxuriant and yet bracing, and environed with dangers in manifold guise, all the latent heroism in woman's nature is brought out to view, her muscular and nervous tissues are hardened, and her moral endurance by constant training in the school of hardship and danger, rests upon a strong and healthy physique. Upon this theory we may also explain the following incident which is related of another border-woman of the  southwest.

Beyond the extreme outer line of settlements in western Texas , near the head waters of the Colorado River, and in one of the remotest and most sequestered sections of that sparsely populated district, there lived in 1867, an enterprising pioneer by the name of Babb, whose besetting propensity and ambition consisted in pushing his fortunes a little farther toward the setting sun than any of his neighbors, the nearest of whom, at the time specified, was some fifteen miles in his rear.


The household of the borderer consisted of his wife, three small children, and a female friend by the name of Mrs. L., who, having previously lost her husband, was passing the summer with the family. She was a veritable type of those vigorous, self-reliant border women, who encounter danger or the vicissitudes of weather without quailing.

Born and nurtured upon the remotest frontier, she inherited a robust constitution, and her active life in the exhilarating prairie air served to develop and mature a healthy womanly physique. From an early age she had been a fearless rider, and her life on the frontier had habituated her to the constant use of the horse until she felt almost more at home in the saddle than in a chair.

Upon one bright and lovely morning in June, 1867, the adventurous borderer before mentioned, set out from his home with some cattle for a distant market, leaving his family in possession of the ranch, without any male protectors from Indian marauders.




Indians on HorsesThey did not, however, entertain any serious apprehensions of molestation in his absence, as no hostile Indians had as yet made their appearance in that locality, and everything passed on quietly for several days, until one morning, while the women were busily occupied with their domestic affairs in the house, the two oldest children, who were playing outside, called to their mother, and informed her that some mounted men were approaching from the prairie.  On looking out, she perceived, to her astonishment, that they were Indians coming upon the gallop, and already very near the house. This gave her no time to make arrangements for defense; but she screamed to the children to run in for their lives, as she desired to bar the door, being conscious of the fact that the prairie warriors seldom attack a house that is closed, fearing, doubtless, that it may be occupied by armed men, who might give them an unwelcome reception.

The children did not, however, obey the command of their mother, believing the strangers to be white men, and the door was left open. As soon as the alarm was given, Mrs. L. sprang up a ladder into the loft, and concealed herself in such a position that she could, through cracks in the floor, see all that passed beneath.

Meantime the savages came up, seized and bound the two children outdoors, and, entering the house, rushed toward the young child, which the terror-stricken mother struggled frantically to rescue from their clutches; but they were too much for her, and tearing the infant from her arms, they dashed it upon the floor; then seizing her by the hair, they wrenched back her head and cut her throat from ear to ear, putting her to death instantaneously.

Mrs. L., who was anxiously watching their proceedings from the loft, witnessed the fiendish tragedy, and uttered an involuntary shriek of horror, which disclosed her hiding-place to the barbarians, and they instantly vaulted up the ladder, overpowered and tied her; then dragging her rudely down, they placed her, with the two elder children, upon horses, and hurriedly set off to the north, leaving the infant child unharmed, and clasping the murdered corpse of its mangled parent.

In accordance with their usual practice, they traveled as rapidly as their horses could carry them for several consecutive days and nights, only making occasional short halts to graze and rest their animals, and get a little sleep themselves, so that the unfortunate captives necessarily suffered indescribable tortures from harsh treatment, fatigue, and want of sleep and food. Yet they were forced by the savages to continue on day after day, and night after night, for many, many weary miles toward the "Staked Plain," crossing en route the Brazos, Wachita, Red, Canadian, and Arkansas Rivers, several of which were at swimming stages.

The warriors guarded their captives very closely, until they had gone so great a distance from the settlements that they imagined it impossible for them to make their escape and find their way home, when they relapsed their vigilance slightly, and they were permitted to walk about a little within short limits from the bivouacs; but they were given to understand by unmistakable pantomime that death would be the certain penalty of the first attempt to escape.

In spite of this, Mrs. L., who possessed a firmness of purpose truly heroic, resolved to seize the first favorable opportunity to get away, and with this resolution in view, she carefully observed the relative speed and powers of endurance of the different horses in the party, and noted the manner in which they were grazed, guarded, and caught; and upon a dark night, after a long, fatiguing day's ride, and while the Indians were sleeping soundly, she noiselessly and cautiously crawled away from the bed of her young companions, who were also buried in profound slumber, and going to the pasture-ground of the horses, selected the best, leaped upon his back à la garçon, with only a lariat around his neck, and without saddle or bridle, quietly started off at a slow walk in the direction of the north star, believing that this course would lead her to the nearest white habitations. As soon as she had gone out of hearing from the bivouac, without detection or pursuit, she accelerated the speed of the horse into a trot, then to a gallop, and urged him rapidly forward during the entire night.

At dawn of day on the following morning she rose upon the crest of an eminence overlooking a vast area of bald prairie country, where, for the first time since leaving the Indians, she halted, and, turning round, tremblingly cast a rapid glance to the rear, expecting to see the savage blood-hounds upon her track; but, to her great relief, not a single indication of a living object could be discerned within the extended scope of her vision. She breathed more freely now, but still did not feel safe from pursuit; and the total absence of all knowledge of her whereabouts in the midst of the wide expanse of dreary prairie around her, with the uncertainty of ever again looking upon a friendly face, caused her to realize most vividly her own weakness and entire dependence upon the Almighty, and she raised her thoughts to Heaven in fervent supplication.

The majesty and sublimity of the stupendous works of the great Author and Creator of the Universe, when contrasted with the insignificance of the powers and achievements of a vivified atom of earth modeled into human form, are probably under no circumstances more strikingly exhibited and felt than when one becomes bewildered and lost in the almost limitless amplitude of our great North American "pampas," where not a single foot-mark or other trace of man's presence or action can be discovered, and where the solitary wanderer is startled at the sound even of his own voice.

The sensation of loneliness and despondency resulting from the appalling consciousness of being really and absolutely lost, with the realization of the fact that but two or three of the innumerable different points of direction embraced within the circle of the horizon will serve to extricate the bewildered victim from the awful doom of death by starvation, and in entire ignorance as to which of these particular directions should be followed, without a single road, trail, tree, bush, or other landmark to guide or direct--the effects upon the imagination of this formidable array of disheartening circumstances can be fully appreciated only by those who have been personally subjected to their influence.

A faint perception of the intensity of the mental torture experienced by these unfortunate victims may, however, be conjectured from the fact that their senses at such junctures become so completely absorbed and overpowered by the cheerless prospect before them, that they oftentimes wander about in a state of temporary lunacy, without the power of exercising the slightest volition of the reasoning faculties.

The inflexible spirit of the heroine of this narrative did not, however, succumb in the least to the imminent perils of the situation in which she found herself, and her purposes were carried out with a determination as resolute and unflinching as those of the Israelites in their protracted pilgrimage through the wilderness, and without the guidance of pillars of fire and cloud.

The aid of the sun and the broad leaves of the pilot-plant by day, with the light of Polaris by night, enabled her to pursue her undeviating course to the north with as much accuracy as if she had been guided by the magnetic needle.

She continued to urge forward the generous steed she bestrode, who, in obedience to the will of his rider, coursed swiftly on hour after hour during the greater part of the day, without the least apparent labor or exhaustion.

It was a contest for life and liberty that she had undertaken, a struggle in which she resolved to triumph or perish in the effort: and still the brave-hearted woman pressed on, until at length her horse began to show signs of exhaustion, and as the shadows of evening began to appear he became so much jaded that it was difficult to coax or force him into a trot, and the poor woman began to entertain serious apprehensions that he might soon give out altogether and leave her on foot.

At this time she was herself so much wearied and in want of sleep that she would have given all she possessed to have been allowed to dismount and rest; but, unfortunately for her, those piratical quadrupeds of the plains, the wolves, advised by their carnivorous instincts that she and her exhausted horse might soon fall an easy sacrifice to their voracious appetites, followed upon her track, and came howling in great numbers about her, so that she dared not set her feet upon the ground, fearing they would devour her; and her only alternative was to continue urging the poor beast to struggle forward during the dark and gloomy hours of the long night, until at length she became so exhausted that it was only with the utmost effort of her iron will that she was enabled to preserve her balance upon the horse.

Wolf PackMeantime the ravenous pack of wolves, becoming more and more emboldened and impatient as the speed of her horse relaxed, approached nearer and nearer, until, with their eyes flashing fire, they snapped savagely at the heels of the terrified horse, while at the same time they kept up their hideous concert like the howlings of ten thousand fiends from the infernal regions.

Every element in her nature was at this fearful juncture taxed to its greatest tension, and impelled her to concentrate the force of all her remaining energies in urging and coaxing forward the wearied horse, until, finally, he was barely able to reel and stagger along at a slow walk; and when she was about to give up in despair, expecting every instant that the animal would drop down dead under her, the welcome light of day dawned in the eastern horizon, and imparted a more cheerful and encouraging influence over her, and, on looking around, to her great joy, there were no wolves in sight.

She now, for the first time in about thirty-six hours, dismounted, and knowing that sleep would soon overpower her, and the horse, if not secured, might escape or wander away, and there being no tree or other object to which he could be fastened, she, with great presence of mind, tied one end of the long lariat to his neck, and, with the other end around her waist, dropped down upon the ground in a deep sleep, while the famished horse eagerly cropped the herbage around her.

She was unconscious as to the duration of her slumber, but it must have been very protracted to have compensated the demands of nature, for the exhaustion induced by her prodigious ride. Her sleep was sweet, and she dreamed of happiness and home, losing all consciousness of her actual situation until she was suddenly startled and aroused by the pattering sound of horses' feet, beating the earth on every side.

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