Abbildungen der Seite

continued so, with varying expressions of wrath or sternness, from every point of view. Finally emerging from the terrace region, we came out upon the green and shady Platte bottom, which we had seen just below us for the last hour, and stopped at the ferry-station for our dinner.



We crossed the North Platte by an ingenious contrivance which I here saw for the first time, though I cannot but think that some time or other it must have been employed upon many of our narrow Eastern streams, at places too deep and rapid for fording. This is a ferry-boat whose motive power was the current it had to cross. I venture to believe many of my readers as ignorant as I found myself, and endeavor to give some idea of this ingenious contrivance.

A stout post, square-hewn from an entire trunk, about eighteen inches in diameter, is driven firmly into each of the opposite bluffs, and between the two, tautened by a windlass, extends a heavy hempen cable, roven through a pair of lignum-vitae doubleblocks, of sufficient breadth of eye and depth of groove to run without friction and quite independent of each other, from post to post. The lowest sag of the cable, just over midstream, brings it within eight or ten feet of the water-level. So much for the locomotive apparatus.

The ferry-boat is a rough, strongly built scow, with standing room for a four-in-hand team and as many passengers as choose to wedge themselves in between horses and piles of baggage, – a craft apparently of ten or twelve tons burden. At each of its square ends an iron ring-bolt is securely screwed into the keelson, and to each ring a double pulley-block is attached by a hook. Through each of these blocks a stout line runs to the lower wheel, of the corresponding block on the cable which spans the stream, reeves through it, and, returning inboard, passes around the second pulley of the block hooked to the ring-bolt to the hand of the ferryman, or a convenient cleat, where he fastens it with a half-hitch. By substituting the cable for a boom, a sloop's main-sheet may be made to give a correct idea of this apparatus and its modus operandi. When the two sheets are of equal length, the current strikes the side of the scow at right angles and it remains stationary. To set it in motion, it is only necessary to close-haul the sheet at that end of the scow which is intended for the bow pro tempore, and slacken the one at the other end. The current now performs the function discharged by a wind a-beam in the case of sailing vessels, and takes the ferry-boat across very cleverly. The ferryman was a fine-looking solitary, who spent months at a time camped out under the cotton-woods of the margin without seeing a face except that of the emigrant or the traveller, yet lived in great comfort and contentedness in what might be called the most out-of-the-way spot on the Northern Continent. His calling was certainly of the most valuable character to his fellow-men, and equally so to himself; amounting to a monopoly of the entire transit business on the most important trail between the Missouri and California. . He could not fail to make a fine income, charging, I believe, two dollars a team for all ordinary

ferriage, and having a private arrangement with Mr. Holladay.

I left this place with much regret, having a strong desire to explore the mountains south of us, from which the river issued, and between which for many miles, in the exquisitely clear atmosphere, we could catch glimpses of it in its silvery and sinuous course. Indeed, a month's stay there would not have been thrown away, either for purposes of art or science; the trap dikes, heretofore mentioned, being of the most interesting character, and the fauna and flora of the region tempting one by their marked individuality. I am not aware of a more favorable place for a depot camp of Rocky Mountain explorers than this ferriage. Among the attractions from which I broke in continuing my journey, were the “horned toads” of the rocky plateau, and a species of “fish with legs” which had been seen in the small streams emptying into the Platte not far from here. I suffered the frequent fate of specimen gatherers in the Rocky Mountains, and lost every horned toad I had collected. The scientific student, after a few weeks' experience in a country where transportation is so difficult, learns to expect that much of his material will get destroyed or left behind, even where he has taken the most particular pains to collect and preserve it, and meets his disappointments with cool philosophy; but this particular case of my own was greatly aggravated by being not the result of chance but of a stupid retaliation on the part of a fellow-passenger, who secreted the box in which I had placed my specimens while we were ferrying across our luggage, and opened it on the west bank of the Platte, letting all my morning's collection escape. When it became too late to make the loss good, the stage having started, I was informed of the proceeding as a capital joke.

If my toads shall establish a colony on the west bank, for the convenience of future collectors, I shall not so much regret my own disappointment. I regretted it at the time all the more, because one or two of the animals appeared to me a different species from any of the Phrynosomata I have ever seen described; in their general figure resembling P. Douglassii, and their heads being decidedly like that of P. Cornutum. At several places in the mountains I sought for the “fish with legs,” which almost every old mountaineer has seen, but for none of which, as a matter of course, can anything be obtained like a scientific description. Whenever we stopped near a small stream to water or change horses, I spent all the available time in looking for him, but regret to say that fortune never favored me. I suppose the animal to be a species of Siredon. I need not explain to the student of natural history my anxiety to obtain a fresh specimen, – perhaps even a new species, of a genus thus far represented in cabinets by but two or three species and very few individuals, even these inadequate relics being imperfectly preserved. The animal to which Baird has given the specific name of Lichenoides is one of the most beautiful and interesting of reptiles; having the head without the horns of the cat-fish, and a respiratory apparatus consisting of three branchial flaps on each side of the neck, fringed more delicately than the gills of any fish; and owing its special designation to the yellow spots distributed over the black or brown ground of its skin, like the variegations caused by lichens on the surface of a stone. At Sage Creek, an inconsiderable but unfailing rivulet, fed from the snow-peaks, and about fourteen

« ZurückWeiter »