June 14, 1863: Bower Cave
Our plans were to cross the Sierra via Yosemite Valley, by the Coulterville Trail, and return by another, the Sonora Trail. This was expected to take us five weeks. Our party consists of four: Professor Whitney, Hoffmann, and myself, and John, a hired man. Besides our riding-horses, we have two pack-mules, which carry provisions and such blankets as we cannot carry behind our saddles. Of course our personal baggage is cut down to the very lowest figure—only what little we can carry in our saddlebags. So, too, our cooking arrangements must be primitive—four knives and forks, four tin cups, a coffeepot, a tin pail to cook beans in, a pan to wash dishes in, and a frying pan in which we fry meat and bake bread—no tent, no shelter, fewer blankets than we used to have in our wagon, compass, two barometers, and other instruments.
We left Big Oak Flat [today] and struck east by the trail into the mountains. We passed the flume of a ditch which brings water for the miners from the river forty miles above. This crosses a valley in a flume that is really stupendous, being 2,200 feet long and 280 feet high. Twenty-two wooden towers, the highest 288 feet, support the wire cables which suspend the flume. These towers, built of timbers, are wonders in themselves.
We camped that night on the North Fork of the Merced River, where there is a remarkable cave. I have seen a number of caves, but this is the prettiest—a cave in the limestone, where there has been a large chamber, and the top has caved in, leaving it open to the sky. Trees grow in there, and there is a pool of very clear blue water. It is 109 feet down to this water. The effect is charming—the clear sky overhead, the trees in there, the ferns on the walls, the clear waters below, the dark chambers running from the main portion far back into the limestone.
Although the day had been hot, ice froze on our blankets that night. The lady owner of the cave and the house near, a French peasant woman, young, whose clear blue eyes did not look “spunky,” was heroine of a tragedy some months ago. She had a brutal husband, much older than herself, who, when drunk, often threatened to kill her, and one day attempted it, when she took his pistol from him and shot him. He lived two or three days, while she, womanlike, carefully nursed him.