Crescent moon above the Camino del Diablo.
The effect of the grand scenery and wonderfully clear atmosphere of this strange land, is to intensify the feelings of pain or pleasure which at the time sway the traveller’s mind. Thus, while under ordinary circumstances, the surroundings of this our first encampment would have been engraved on the memory with all the shading and coloring of a sublime and beautiful night-scene, the events of the past week formed a background on which the picture of that night remains impressed with all the weird gloom of the darkest conceptions of Breughel or Dore. The bright moon-lighted heavens were suddenly overcast, in the northeast, by the first thunder-cloud I had seen in the territory. Above us the sky was clear, but over the mountains we had left all was dark and gloomy. As the thunder rolled in peal after peal, and lightning broke in great columns, its sudden light impressing on the eye the weird rock-forms and frowning cliffs of the Arizona mountains, it seemed a fitting end to the scenes we had left behind, and as though that region were realizing its name, and were in reality the “Gate of Hell.”
[Excerpts from Across America and Asia: Notes of a Five Years’ Journey Around the World, 1870, by Raphael Pumpelly, Professor in Harvard University, and sometime Mining Engineer in the service of the Chinese and Japanese Governments]
Daybreak, Cabeza Prieta Mountains.
Our route lay for two or three days, as far as the Altar river, over hard, gravelly plains, generally bearing grass and scattered mesquit trees and cacti. The Altar river is a mere rivulet at nearly all seasons, but along its course are many places which might become flourishing ranches, were not all attempts at industry rendered hopeless by the raids of the Apache. Following the river we reached Altar, a village built of adobes, and containing a population of about 1,900 souls, including the ranches of the inmediate neighborhood. The productions of this part of Sonora are chiefly maize, wheat, barley, beans, and some sugar and tobacco. Watermelons are raised in large numbers. A solitary date-palm, standing near Altar, is evidence of the attempts of the early missionaries to introduce fruits which seemed suited to the climate.
Mountaintop cross, Ajo.
On the fourth day of our journey we reached Caborca, a village containing about 800 inhabitants, chiefly agriculturists and miners. ... Much to our disappointment, we learned that the coming of the expected vessel to Lobos Bay had been postponed for several months, and it became necessary to choose another way out of the country. ... While we were in Caborca, some of the former peons of the Heintzelman mine, who had been of the assassinating party, were seen walking in conscious security through the streets. We heard that they not only boasted openly of their part in the murder, but that they had formed a party of twelve desperadoes to follow and waylay Poston and myself, for the sake of the large quantity of silver we were supposed to have in our baggage. Our friends warned us of the danger, and advised us to increase our force before continuing the journey.
“Camp Grip,” remote Border Patrol outpost.
At the same time a report was brought in by a Mexican coming from California, that Fort Yuma was to have been already abandoned, and that owing to two successive rainless seasons, many of the usual watering-places on the desert route to the Colorado were dry. There was one distance, he said, of one hundred and twenty miles, without water, and on this some of the party to which he belonged had died from thirst. We decided, however, on this route, as, besides leading directly to California, it exposed us mainly to the dangers of the desert. One thing caused us much uneasiness: this was the question as to how we should cross the Colorado river, supposing the Fort were really abandoned. That river is deep, and broad, and the current rapid; and the abandonment of the fort would, considering the hostile character of the Yuma Indians, necessarily cause the abandonment of the ferry also.
Blanket left by passing immigrant.
There was in Caborca an American, named Williams, who had been found some weeks before dying from hunger and thirst, on the shore at Lobos Bay. Brought into Caborca, and kindly treated by an old lady of that place, he had already recovered, and was seeking an opportunity to leave the country. According to Williams’s story, he had formed one of a party of three who had built a boat on the Colorado river, intending to coast along the Gulf of California to Cedros island, on a “prospecting” expedition. Arriving at Lobos Bay, he said, they had been wrecked, but he was unable to account for the subsequent movements of his companions. We believed his story, and liking the appearance of the man, engaged him to go with us to California, giving him as compensation an outfit consisting of a horse, saddle, rifle, and revolver.
Remnant of a shoe along the road to Agua Caliente.
As soon as we had engaged a Mexican, with several pack-mules, we were ready for our journey. Our party now consisted of four well-armed men, not counting the Mexican muleteer. Several friends escorted us as far as our first encampment, which we reached in the night, and left us the following morning, but not without repeatedly warning us to keep an unceasing watch for the party that was sure to follow us.
Tire tracks on virgin desert.
The first inhabited place we passed was the Coyote gold-placer, near which are the ancient Sales and Tajitos gold and silver mines, and, in the neighboring Vazura mountains, the Coyote copper mine. The ore of the latter is a rich, brilliant black sulphuret. The Sales and Tajitos were worked with profit till the insurrection of the Indians. The next settlement in which we encamped was Quitovac, a place which had some celebrity for its gold placers before the discovery of that metal in California. It had been our intention to take the route to the Colorado river, leading through the Sonoita gold district, in preference to that passing through San Domingo. ... But as soon as we took the road in the morning it became evident that a party of horsemen had passed through Quitovac during the night, stopping for only a short time. The tracks showed them to be twelve in number, and when on reaching the fork of the trails we found that, after evident hesitation, they had taken the Sonoita route, we changed our plan and turned into that leading to San Domingo.
Bandeja Well, abandoned.
In this settlement, containing two or three houses, the last habitations before reaching the Gila river, we found Don Remigo Rivera, a revolutionary Sonoranian general. Don Remigo had withdrawn with his small force to the United States boundary, where he was awaiting a favorable opportunity for action. ... We received from him a cordial reception, and dismounted to breakfast on pinole and watermelons. While thus engaged, a courier rode up at full speed, and was closeted for a few minutes with our host. This man, Don Remigo informed us, brought news of the arrival, in the neighborhood of Sonoita, of twelve men, whose names he gave. It was supposed by his friends that they had come to assassinate the general. “That is not likely to be their object,” said Don Renrigo, “since, though they are cut-throats, they belong to my party, and have served under me. It is more probable,” he continued, “that they are following you, as I have heard of a plot to waylay you.” Our suspicions of the morning were thus confirmed, and the necessity of being prepared for an attack became more apparent.
Saguaro at sunrise, Darby Wells road.
San Domingo lies on the boundary, and the trail leaving the ranch keeps for a few miles south of the line, and then enters the United States territory. To this point Don Remigo accompanied us, to show us the last watering-place before entering upon the desert. As we returned from this spring to the road, two men were seen, who, having passed us unnoticed, were travelling north. They proved to be two Americans, on their way to Fort Yuma, and they readily joined us. Our party now numbered six well-armed men, and we felt ourselves able to cope with fifty Mexicans. The size of our force now rendered it possible to keep a watch without much fatigue to any member of the party ; but our greatest danger lay in the exposure of our animals, and consequently of ourselves, to death from thirst. Soon we would have to enter upon the broad waterless region, and the bones of animals already bordering our trail warned us of the sufferings of past years.
Through binoculars: Border Patrol helicopter hovering over smugglers cornered at dusk.
One night, as we were skirting the desert along the base of a barren sierra, Williams and myself had fallen behind the caravan, when my companion, from over-use of our Spanish brandy, began to talk freely to himself. We were just approaching a bold, high spur of the sierra, while immediately before us the trail wound between immense fragments of rock fallen from the mountains above. Williams stopped his horse, and looking at the rocks, said, half aloud: “Here’s where the d—d greasers* overtook us, and we whipped them.” As the man had said that he had never been over the road before, I thought it at first only the talk of a drunken man. “I thought you had never been this way before, Williams,” I said to him. “Maybe l haven’t; maybe I dreamt it; but when you get by that spur you’ll see two tall rocks, like columns, on the top of the sierra; them’s the ‘two sisters.’” We soon passed the point of the spur, when, looking toward the top of the mountain, I saw two tall rocks, like columns, rising from the crest.
* A name applied to Mexicans by frontiersmen.
Exploring a small cave near Raven Butte.
My interest in this man was now excited, indeed I had already had a suspicion that he was not what we had taken him to be. Determined to learn more, I passed him my flask; we rode on together, talking about Sonora, though not very coherently on Williams’s part. After riding a few miles we entered a scanty forest of mesquit and palo-verde trees, and I observed that my companion had become attentive to the surroundings. In answer to my questions he replied: “I am looking for an opening on the left side of the trail. There’s a square opening with a large mesquit at each corner, and a long branch goes from one comer across to the other; under the branch there’s a mound, I guess.” He rode ahead, and soon turned out of the trail. Following him, I entered by a narrow path and found myself with him in a square opening ; there, indeed, was a mesquit at each corner, a long branch crossing the space diagonally, and under the branch a mound. The clear moon-light shone into the spot and cast our shadows over the mound, as if to hide a mystery.
Discarded pants, suspected smuggler lay-up location.
“He’s rotten now, I reckon;” my companion muttered. “I told him I’d spit more than once on his grave, and by G—d I’ve done it.”“What was his name, Williams?” I asked, passing the flask again.“Charley Johnson.” “What did you kill the poor devil for, in this out-of-the-way place?”“An old grudge, about a Mexican woman, when we were with Fremont. I told him I’d spit on his grave, and I’ve done it; ha! ha! ha! I’ve done it. We had a split here about a scarf — and I got the scarf, that’s all.”“Who kept the priest’s robes?” I asked, looking him full in the face.At these words, Williams started and made a motion toward his pistol; but seeing that I had the advantage, inasmuch as my hand rested on my revolver, he simply exclaimed: “What the devil do you know about the priest’s robes?”
“Only that you were one of Bell’s band,” I answered, quietly. The suspicions I had formed as soon as Williams had betrayed a knowledge of the route, were fully confirmed; our quiet-looking companion had been one of the band of cut-throats which, under the notorious Bell, had been the terror of California, soon after the discovery of gold. This party had gone to Sonora, about eight years before the time of our journey, under the pretext of wishing to buy horses. Stopping at a celebrated gold placer near Caborca, they were hospitably entertained at the neighboring mission by the old priest and his sister, who were living alone. In return for this kind reception they had hung the priest, outraged the lady, and robbed the rich church of several thousand dollars in gold. The inhabitants of Caborca had told me of this occurrence, still fresh in their minds, and of the bravado of the party in riding through Caborca, using the priestly robes as saddle blankets. Before a sufficiently strong party could be raised to follow them, they had escaped to the desert, and when finally overtaken, were found too strong for their pursuers, who were driven back.
Sign explaining the history of the Camino del Diablo, with bullet holes.
My experience on the border with men of the class to which Williams belonged, had shown me that to manage them, or, when it becomes necessary, to associate with them, one must assume, to a certain extent, their tone; this I had done, with my companion, and by this means and the aid of the brandy-flask I obtained his confidence. He acknowledged that he had been one of Bell’s men, and had been on the expedition into Sonora. When he was recently brought into Caborca nearly dead, he was taken care of by the sister of the priest whom they had hung, and Williams lived in constant fear that the lady would recognize him. Not only had he escaped recognition, but he told me, as an excellent joke, that the Senora had given him a letter to her two daughters, who were living in California. He was, at the time of our journey, a refugee from California, having murdered a man in San Francisco. The history he gave me of his life, while with Bell’s band, was a combination of awful crimes and ludicrous incidents, that would swell a volume. I never knew but one ruffian who more surely deserved hanging than this companion, whom we had taken with us to increase our safety.
Dead eagle, found on the US–Mexico border.
That other man was one who had been a blacksmith at the Santa Rita mine, and had been discharged for trying to stab Mr. Grosvenor. Soon after this he killed a man at Tubac, and, as the sympathies of the inhabitants were with the victim, Rodgers found it necessary to leave the country to avoid lynch law. Before going, he took one of the employees of the Santa Rita to his trunk, and showing him a string of eighteen pairs of human ears, told him he had sworn to increase the number to twenty-five. From Arizona he went to Chihuahua, near which city he killed his travelling companion; and some months later we heard that, having brutally murdered a family of four persons at El Paso, for the sake of a few dollars, he had been caught and hung by his heels over a slow fire. Thus his own ears made the twenty-fifth pair.
Border Patrol passing: “cutting sign” along the Camino del Diablo at night.
One cannot come much in contact with such men without feeling how little human nature has been affected by the march of society, and how subject to conventional influences are even the passions of man. The workings of conscience come to seem a refinement of civilization, but so artificial that they are absent in the absence of the restraints of the civilization in which they originate. An eminent clergyman has said that colonization is essentially barbarous: certainly, from the time when the pioneer first enters a new country, until, with increasing population, the growing interests of individuals and society necessitate the bridling of crime, the standard of right and wrong is far below that even of many peoples whom we class as savages. And, other things being equal, it is by the lesser or greater rapidity of this transformation process, that we may measure the superiority or inferiority of the parent civilization.
Rocks near “Smuggler’s Pass,” Gila Mountains.
In a few days we approached the worst part of the desert; the watering-places became more separated and the supply smaller. Our route lay over broad gravelly plains, bearing only cacti, with here and there the leafless palo-verde tree, and the never-failing greasewood bush. In the distance, on either side, arise high granite mountains, to which the eye turns in vain for relief; they are barren and dazzling masses of rock. Night brought only parching winds, while during the day we sought in vain for shelter from the fierce sun-rays. The thermometer ranged by day between 118 and 126 degrees in the shade, rising to 100 degrees in the sun.
Diamondback rattlesnake, Cabeza Prieta.
On these vast deserts the sluggish rattlesnake meets the traveller at every turn; the most powerful inhabitant, his sway is undisputed by the scorpions and the lizards, on which he feeds. The routes over these wastes are marked by countless skeletons of cattle, horses, and sheep, and the traveller passes thousands of the carcasses of these animals wholly preserved in the intensely dry air. Many of them dead, perhaps, for years, had been placed upright on their feet by previous travellers. As we wound, in places, through groups of these mummies, they seemed sentinels guarding the valley of death.
Rainbow after summer storm.
With feelings of much anxiety we encamped on the border of the pleyas, a depressed region, once probably a large lake, now a surface of dried mud, crossed by ridges of shifting sand. From that camp on, there lay before us a continuous ride of nearly thirty hours, before we could hope to find the nearest water on the Gila river, and it was not probable that all our animals could bear up under the fatigue and thirst. But during the night the sky was overcast with black clouds, and there came the first rain that had fallen on this desert for more than two years. Never was storm more welcome; both we and our animals enjoyed heartily its drenching torrent. Before day-break the sky had cleared, and with the rising sun began the heat of another day. A broad sheet of water, only a few inches deep, covered the pleya for miles before us, and banished from our minds all fear of suffering.
Granitic mountains near Raven Butte.
Across the centre of this great plain there stretches, from north to south, a mass of lava about one mile wide, and extending southward as far as the eye can reach. On this lava-wall there stand two parallel rows of extinct volcanic cones, 100 to 300 feet high, with craters. In crossing this remarkable remnant of recent volcanic action, I could look down the long and perfect vista of regular cones, till they faded away in the perspective and behind the curvature of the earth. On the second day after the rain, the water had almost everywhere disappeared, having been evaporated by the heat and dryness of the air.
Unexploded ordinance, Goldwater Bombing Range.
Leaving the plain, we sought water in a ravine of the neighboring mountain. Finding here cavities worn in the face of the granite cliff, we each entered one and made our noon camp for once in the shade. Here I found a large pair of horns of the Rocky Mountain sheep, or “big-horn”; they weighed at least thirty pounds.
Second tank at Tinajas Altas.
Our next camp was made at the Tinaje alta or high tanks. Here, at the head of a long ravine in the mountains, there is a series of five or six large holes, one above the other, worked in the granite bed of the gorge. After a rain these are all filled, but as the season advances, the lower ones become empty, and the traveller is obliged to climb to the higher tanks and bail water into the one below him, and from this into the next, and so on till there is enough in the lowest to quench the thirst of his animals. The higher tanks are accessible only at great risk to life. After a succession of dry seasons it sometimes happens that travellers arrive here already dying from thirst. Finding no water in the lower holes, they climb in vain to the higher ones, where, perhaps, losing strength with the death of hope, they fall from the narrow ledge, and the tanks, in which they seek for life, become their graves.
Water bottle and dead fish, dry bed of the Gila River.
Our route now lay along the Gila river. Stopping in the afternoon, we sought relief from the heat by taking a bath in the stream; but the water which we had found pleasant in the morning was now unpleasantly warm, and on trying it with the thermometer, the mercury sank from 117 degrees in the air, only to 100 degrees in the water, which was thus two degrees above blood-heat.
Last light above the Tinajas Altas range.
During the night we were travelling by the bright light of the full moon, when, looking south, I saw a black wall rising like a mountain of darkness, and rapidly hiding the sky as it moved steadily toward us. In a few minutes we were in intense obscurity, and in the heart of a sand-storm which rendered all progress impossible. Dismounting, we held the terrified animals by the lassos, and sat down with our backs to the wind. We had repeatedly to rise to prevent being buried altogether by the deluge of sand. When the storm was over the moon had set, obliging us to unload our half-buried animals and camp for the night.
Mosque made from shipping containers at “Combat Village,” Marine training location in the Copper Mountains.
The next morning we reached Colorado city (opposite Fort Yuma), on the Colorado river. This place, consisting of one house, had a curious origin, which was told me by a friend, who was also the founder. Soon after the purchase of Arizona, my friend had organized a party and explored the new region. Wishing to raise capital in California to work a valuable mine, he was returning thither with his party, when they reached the Colorado river at this point. The ferry belonged to a German, whose fare for the party would have amounted to about $25. Having no money, they encamped near the ferry to hold a council over this unexpected turn of affairs, when my friend, with the ready wit of an explorer, hit upon the expedient of paying the ferriage in city lots. Setting the engineer of the party, and under him the whole force, at work with the instruments, amid a great display of signal-staffs, they soon had the city laid out in squares and streets, and represented in due form on an elaborate map, not forgetting water lots, and a steam ferry.
Abandoned windmill, Cabeza Prieta.
Attracted by the unusual proceeding, the owner of the ferry crossed the river, and began to interrogate the busy surveyors, by whom he was referred to my friend. On learning from that gentleman that a city was being founded so near to his own land, the German became interested, and, as the great future of the place was unfolded in glowing terms, and the necessity of a steam ferry for the increasing trade dwelt upon, he became enthusiastic and began negotiations for several lots. The result was the sale of a small part of the embryo city, and the transportation of the whole party over in part payment for one lot. I must do my friend the justice to say that he afterward did all that could be done to forward the growth of the place.
Hohokam Indian and Anglo settler potsherds found at the same location.
The Colorado river is about five hundred yards broad at Fort Yuma, and its yellowish waters represent the drainage of the greater part of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. Navigable for steamboats to the mouth of the Virgin river, five hundred miles from the Gulf of California, it presents the means of reaching Utah with the least land travel. Above this point it comes in from the east, and southeast, and in this part of its course, the Grand Cañon is one of the greatest of natural wonders, if, indeed, it be not the most remarkable. For a distance of nearly five hundred miles the river flows through a gorge, whose vertical, and, in places, overhanging walls, rise on either side to a height of from four to six thousand feet. Indeed, the explorations of Ives and Newberry have shown that throughout this immense area, which forms a table-land between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, the whole river system of the Colorado and its tributaries is sunk thousands of feet perpendicularly into the crust of the earth. Through this almost inaccessible region are scattered the remnants of the Pueblo Indians, a disappearing race which has left, over an immense area, the ruins of large dwellings, and of extensive canals for irrigation.
Half-buried rocket, Goldwater Bombing Range.
After resting a few days we made preparations to continue our journey to California. ... During the day there arrived a man whom I knew to be a notorious cut-throat. This fellow, a tall one-eyed villain, who was known as “one-eyed Jack,” I knew must have just come from Arizona. He wore trowsers of which one leg was white, and the other brown. It was soon evident that the new arrival and Williams were old cronies, and they passed most of the day together. Before we left in the evening I asked Williams the name of his friend, and received for answer that he was called Jack, that he had just come from California, and was going to Arizona.
Wind-tattered plastic caught on barbed wire.
We left the ferry about dusk, but before we had gone half a mile Williams had disappeared. Our route lay for several miles along the west side of the Colorado, and Poston and myself rode to the point where the road leaves the river to turn westward. Here we descended the bank to water the horses, and dismounting, waited nearly an hour for our missing companion. We finally started without him, and leaving the river, began to cross the wooded bottom-land toward the desert.
We had ridden a short distance when a bush, freshly fallen across the road, seemed to be a warning that the route was impracticable further on. Poston remained by the signal, while I looked in vain for another way through the underbrush; it was evident that the bush had been cut since the passage of the wagon that morning. I had started through the open wood to strike the road some distance beyond, when my attention was drawn, by my horse’s uneasiness, to a mule tied in the woods, and to a man stretched out on the ground. At a glance I saw from a distance, by the different-colored legs of the man’s trousers, that “one-eyed Jack ‘‘ was near me.
Migrant’s hat caught on brush.
Without stopping, I went to the road, and following this back, came upon Williams’s horse fastened to a tree, and near him his owner apparently asleep. On being asked what the bush meant, he replied that he had put it there that we might not pass him while he slept. That was the last place where we would find grass, and as there would be no water for thirty miles, he said we must camp there for the night. In the meantime Poston rode up. The truth had already entered my mind but dismounting, while I pretended to unbuckle my saddle-girth, I asked Williams where he had been. “I went back to the river for my canteen.” This I knew was a lie, for I had seen him drink from it as we left the ferry. “When is your one-eyed friend going to Arizona?” I asked. “He’s gone already; I saw him across the river;” was the cool reply.
Moonset, Copper Mountains.
The villain’s coolness was admirable, but the whole plot was clear. Jumping into the saddle, and making a sign to Poston, I declared my intention of riding on to the emigrant’s camp. As Williams swore he would go no further that night, we left him and soon entered the desert. We both decided that Williams and his friend had conspired to kill us while we slept, and then to murder the emigrant and his wife, and get possession of the silver which had attracted the Mexican bandits. Leaving the woods, which form a narrow strip along the Colorado, we passed a belt of shifting sand several miles broad, which is gradually approaching the river and burying the trees. We reached the camp of the emigrant at about 3 a.m., and entering the abandoned station of the Overland Stage Company, slept soundly till roused by the noise of the preparation for breakfast.
Doorway, abandoned ranch house.
After we had eaten and begun to saddle our animals, Williams rode up, and entering the house rather roughly told the lady-like wife of the emigrant to make him a breakfast. Some sharp words passed between us, and Williams left the house with an oath and a muttered threat. Poston beckoned to me, and we went out. Our companion stood a few yards from the door, with his back toward us, and did not notice our approach. Poston drawing his revolver, called Williams by name. Taken by surprise he whirled around, and catching sight of the revolver, made a motion toward his own; but he was too old a hand to draw a pistol against one already pointed at him.
Jackrabbit partially eaten by vultures.
“Williams,” continued Poston, in the coolest tone, “Pumpelly and I have concluded that it wouldn’t be safe for you to go to California. The last man you killed has not been dead long enough, and they have a way there of hanging men like you. We don’t wish to shoot you, for we hav’nt the time to bury you. You may keep the outfit, but you had better go back and join your friend, one-eyed Jack, down there by the river; you and he can’t kill us, and you can’t get our silver.”
Wildflowers and spent rocket fragments, Gila Mountains.
With a hearty laugh, Williams held out his hand. “Give us your hand ; you’re sharper by a d—d sight than I thought you was; you’ll do for the border; good morning!” and jumping into the saddle, he put spurs to his horse and rode away by the road he had come. We watched him as he rode off, and could not help laughing at the fellow’s cool impudence. After riding a short distance he turned, and, waving his hat, shouted: “Good-bye; bully for you! — you’ll do for the border.” I have given this scene in full, as an illustration of the character of a representative of one type of the frontiersman.
Map of Arizona, from Raphael Pumpelly, Across America and Asia, 1870.