August 25, 1862: North Fork Cottonwood Creek
Our special object in visiting the region of our [current] camp…was to see the development of Cretaceous rocks, and trace their relations to the gold-bearing slates. We wished also to collect fossils, in which that locality is peculiarly rich.
[Today], with Mr. Hubbard, the man who lived where we camped, we rode three or four miles to a gulch, where, he said, fossils were abundant. The gulch was a ravine excavated into the soft shales, in places carrying a small stream of water; in other places the water sank and the gulch was dry. We descended into it, rode some distance, but saw no fossils.
A little later we found lots of fossils. We heard that a man named Wheelock, living about a mile from our camp, had a very large and fine fossil, an ammonite, so we called to see it, and get it if possible. I found him a brother-in-law of my old friend, H. A. Ward, of Rochester, my most intimate friend in Paris, whom I also knew in Munich. He was as glad to see me as if I had been an old acquaintance. I called there in the evening and ate peaches and nectarines to my heart’s content.
Both Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Wheelock had small orchards—fruit gardens we would call them—watered or irrigated from a mining ditch. The luxuriance of the fruit trees must be actually seen to be appreciated. These oases in the general dry, desert landscape, are cheering and beautiful. Trees of two years’ growth are as large as ours would be of four or five, and loaded with fruit. Cherry trees of only four years’ growth were as large as the most thrifty one of ten or twelve years’ growth in New York. The peaches were fine, both as to size and quality, and the nectarines positively delicious. Apples were good, but hardly reaching those of central and western New York, I think.
Quite a number of Indians, “Diggers,” were about—they often stopped near camp and stared wonderingly at us. Sometimes there would be a group of five or six in a trail that ran within a rod of our tent—the men, with their bows and arrows and long hair; the women, with their faces horribly tattooed and their heavy, thick, stiff, and coarse black hair cut off square, just even with their eyes in front but hanging down over the sides of the face and back of the head to the neck. Sometimes the women had burdens, a bundle or basket on the back carried by a strap across the forehead; sometimes they came with children, which were often entirely naked. Such groups would stop, just at evening while we were talking and smoking, and stand within a rod of us for some time, looking intently at us, at everything around us, then pass on with very few words among themselves. Sometimes, during the day, two or three squaws would come along, sit down in the hot sun within three or four rods of the tent, say nothing, but listlessly watch us for half an hour together.
These Indians are peaceable and nearly harmless when in no larger numbers than they are here, notwithstanding the unnumbered wrongs they have endured from the mining population of whites. As I hear of these wrongs, of individual cases, related from time to time, I do not know which feeling is the stronger awakened, that of commiseration for the poor Indians, or of indignation against the barbarous whites. There are now “Indian troubles” at various places in the upper part of the state—white men are murdered, etc., troops are out—and as yet I have not heard a single intelligent white man express any opinion but that the whites were vastly more to blame than the Indians.
But they are a low, very low, brutal-looking race. A number lived on the bank of Cottonwood Creek, about a half or three-quarters of a mile from our camp. Still nearer was their burial place, on the table-land at the top of the bluff bank of the creek, which is here sixty to eighty feet high. It is a pen, fenced with rails, perhaps two or three rods in diameter, under some oaks. The dead are buried in a sitting posture, the knees drawn up to the chin, blankets wrapped around. Clean, coarse sand from the stream is afterward carried up from the creek, in a tin pan, and piled over the grave, so that when finished it is a conical pile of sand, perhaps two or three feet high. This little inclosure was filled with such sand piles. There had recently been a fire just outside, where I believe the goods of the deceased were burned—of this I am not sure.
On the night previous to our arrival, a man of note had been buried, and the yells, screams, and noise over the grave were heard over the whole neighborhood for a mile or two. A few days afterward we passed the grave in the morning, and as we rode along, three women were there “mourning.” One was on the grave dancing—a sort of uncouth hopping motion—the other two were sitting on the ground near, and all were howling and uttering words in a peculiar tone, anything but plaintive or mournful. They paid no attention to our presence as we rode along. I could not but think of some of my lady friends at home, great sticklers for fashionable mourning, and wish that they might see these Digger women, who are probably just as rigorous in their fashions—only these take it over the grave, in the solitude, among the trees, instead of flourishing in crêpe and black in crowded parties, where the depth of their grief might be “seen of men” and its precise depth judged of by the intensity of the black or the amount of the crêpe….
Often as we were exploring the gulches for fossils we would see them following and watching us from the banks, keeping nearly concealed, with peculiar Indian secretiveness. Once, Rémond and I came across a fine place to swim, in Cottonwood Creek. We stripped and had a bath, delicious in that hot weather. As we came out we discovered two squaws, young women, quietly regarding us from the bushes against the bank, but a few rods off.