June 3, 1864: Elkhorn Station
[Today] we came on to Elkhorn Station, an old Overland station. We came southeast across the plain. The day was hot, as usual, but not so clear. The mountains were invisible through the dusty air; the perfectly level plain stretched away on every side to the horizon, and seemed as boundless and as level as the ocean. It is, in fact, sixty miles wide at this place, and neither tree, nor bush, nor house breaks the monotony. Thus we slowly plodded our weary way over it, league after league, day after day. During the entire day we saw beyond us, behind us, sometimes all around, the deceitful mirage. I never cease to wonder at this phenomenon, although it has been so long a familiar thing. It looks so like water, its surface gently rippled by the wind, clear and sparkling, trees and mountains as vividly reflected in it as in genuine lakes! But it always vanishes as you approach it—heated air, and not cool water, we find in its place.
During these days whirlwinds stalked over the plain. The high winds I spoke of as occurring near Pacheco’s Pass ceased. Fitful, often hot, puffs blew first this way and then that, giving rise to little whirlwinds that looked like waterspouts at sea, moving for a time over the plain, then breaking and vanishing. They were continually about us during the heat of the day. Sometimes they were slender columns of dust but a few feet in diameter and several hundred feet high; at others the columns were larger. Sometimes they were like cones with bases upward; then again they would break and throw out branches which fell down on all sides with beautiful effect—all the time moving over the plain, some slowly, some swiftly. It is not uncommon to see a dozen of these at once, and I have counted twenty-seven at one time.
We camped at Elkhorn Station, nearly in the center of the plain. There is some feed here, and a well supplies the cattle with water, poor though it is. Again we got barley, but no hay.
Here a calamity befell us. I was awakened at about midnight by our mule, Jim. He was sick and in a terrible agony. Poor feed, change of diet, bad water, alkali, dust, heat—all had probably combined to produce the result. We watched with him all night, bled him, gave him such remedies as we thought best under the circumstances, but at six o’clock in the morning he died. He was our most valuable animal, a most excellent mule, worth $150 or $200. He had been a faithful beast, was very sagacious and very true, and had been with us since we started at Los Angeles, nearly four years ago. I did not think that I could feel so sad over the death of any animal as I did over that faithful old mule, who has been our companion for so long a time and under such varied circumstances. He died near the house. I hired a man to drag him away. We left him out on the plain to the vultures and coyotes, both of which species are fat this year, for the starving cattle have been their harvest. Luckily a wagon from this place was going into Visalia and I sent in his saddle and pack.