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Colorado River - Ives Expedition
Joseph Christmas Ives

(Excerpts from: )


Mojave Valley to mouth of Black Canon

Dead Mountain.—Traditions Concerning It.—Pyramid Canon.—Dkep Rapid.—Rapids And Rocky Shoal.—Long Detention.— Land Storm.—Defects In Steamer.—Topographical And Geological Investigations.—Departure Of Capitan.—Arrival" Of Mail Carriers.—Intelligence From The Pack Train.—Cottonwood Valley.—Painted Canon.—Mount Davis.—Vicinity Of Pai-utes.—Difficult Rapids.—Gravel Rluffs.—Mouth Of Rlack Canon.—Explorer's Rock.—Accident To Steamroat.— Detention.—Scarcity Of Supplies.—Preparations To Ascend The Canon.—Minerals In Opal Mountains.

Camp 50, foot of Cottonwood valley, February 24.—An imposing mountain stands near the west bank of the Colorado at the head of the Mojave valley. It is the highest peak in sight, and is regarded with reverence by the Indians, who believe it to be the abode of their departed spirits. Ireteba informed me, with awe in his countenance, that should any one dare to visit it he would be instantly struck dead. This is the first time I have been able to extract any allusion to the religious belief of the Mojaves, and Ireteba was reluctant to speak upon the subject.*

From the Dead mountain a range extends to the northwest and a spur crosses the river and connects with the Black mountains. This spur forms the northern limit of the Mojave valley. For several miles our course lay through the foot hills, when the river narrowed and entered a canon through a gate, one side of which looked like the head of a bull. The scenery in this canon was picturesque and beautiful, but nevertheless seemed tame in comparison with the grand and startling effects presented in the canons through the Monument and Mojave mountains.

Near the upper end a rapid occurred upon a pebbly shoal, and the Explorer received some hard knocks, to which she has become lately quite accustomed. . After traversing the Pyramid canon—so called from a natural pyramid, of symmetrical proportions, twenty or thirty feet high, standing near the rapid just mentioned—rapids were encountered in quick succession, and have been met with, at short intervals, up to camp, which is twenty miles from the head of the Mojave valley. Most of them have been ascended without difficulty. At one (Deep rapid) there was sufficient depth and a channel unobstructed by rocks, but the rush of water was very strong. When we first heard its roar and saw the surging and foaming torrent we were startled, and a little apprehensive that we might have reached the head of navigation. There was less difficulty in making the ascent than had been anticipated. Not knowing what

0 In the narrative of Miss Oatman this mountain is alluded to, and her description is interesting, as furnishing an additional example of the universality among the tribes of North American Indians of the tradition of a deluge:

"They told me, pointing to a high mountain at the northern end of the valley, that in ancient times there was a flood, which covered all the world except that mountain, and that by climbing it one family was saved from the general deluge ; that this family was very large and had great riches, clothing, cattle, horses, and plenty to eat; that after the water subsided one of the family took all the cattle and one kind of clothing and went north, and was there turned from red to white ; that another of the family took deer skins and bark, and from him the Indians have descended ; that the progenitor of the whites had a red complexion until he stole, and then he became white ; that remains of the old ' big house,' in which this ancient family lived, were up there yet; also pieces of bottles, broken dishes, and remnants of all the various kinds of articles used by them.

" They said also that this venerated spot had been, since the flood, the abode of spirits, and that if the feet of mortals should presume to tread their enchanted land a fire would burst from the mountain and instantly consume them. It is their belief that the spirit of every white, whom the Mojaves had been successful in slaying, is held there in their perpetual chains, and doomed to the torment of quenchless fires, while the Mojave, by whose hand the slaughter was perpetrated, is exalted to eternal honors and superior privileges therefor."—Narrative of Olive Oatman.

depth of water would be found, Captain Robinson had the boat lightened and Mr. Carroll put on a head of steam that made the stern wheel spin around like a top, and a line being taken out ahead, the summit of the rapid was quickly attained.

Abreast of the last camp was a rapid that occasioned more trouble, although the flow was less violent. The river was divided by an island into two channels, and in neither was there more than two feet of water. The shoal extended for some distance and the bottom was

covered with rocks. A long line had to be taken ah'ead, in order to reach a place where there was good holding ground. The boat was lightened and, after several hours of hard labor, had been brought to the crest of the rapid, when the line broke and the Explorer drifted down, bumping upon the rocks, and was in imminent danger of having her hull stove. The day's work was undone in an instant, and we were very glad that it was no worse. When she finally brought up, it was upon some rocks, where she was wedged so fast that it occupied half of the next day to extricate her. The remainder of the day was spent in a second and more successful attempt, and at dark we had the satisfaction of seeing our steamer safely anchored above. That same night the fiercest norther sprang up that has yet been experienced, and continued throughout the following day. We ate, drank, breathed, and saw little but sand for twenty-four hours, and the gale was so violent that the Explorer was dragged from her anchorage and driven upon the rocks. At night the wind subsided, but recommenced the next day, though with diminished force, and we got the steamboat, by evening, into deep water. To-day we had made one or two miles when the wind once more sprang up and blew with such fury that we were but too happy to find a cove where the boat could lie in safety. We have spent the day sitting on a bank, blinded and choked by masses of sand that have been beating upon us without an instant's cessation.

The timbers fastened to the Explorer's hull are a greater hindrance to her progress in this part of the river than below. They become wedged in the rocks, and render it difficult to extricate the boat, besides increasing the draught by the amount of their thickness, which is four or five inches. As has been the case at places in the lower portions of the Colorado, the bar that has here detained us three days would not have stopped a boat of six inches less draught, with a smooth bottom, as many hours. It is probable that there is not one season in ten when even the Explorer would encounter one-fourth of the difficulty that she has during the present unprecedentedly low stage of water.

Ireteba has become warmly interested in our hopes of reaching the Great Bend. He had thought that the Deep rapid would put a stop to the steamboating, and since that has been passed entertains a higher opinion of the capabilities of our craft. Ho told me this evening that there are yet four difficult rapids this side of the Great Bend; that the last of these occurs in an immense canon, where the channel is filled with huge rocks, through which the water rushes in a furious torrent. Here, he informs me in emphatic pantomime, we shall come to a dead stop. Not far above, according to his account, the Colorado makes the bend to the east and a stream comes in, the water of which is salt. This, it would seem, must be the Virgen, for the upper waters of that river are known to have a brackish taste.

The late detentions have afforded Dr. Newberry and Mr. Egloffstein excellent opportunities to pursue their respective avocations. The doctor has had leisure to make a very full and perfect mineralogical collection, and become thoroughly conversant with the geological characteristics of the region. Mr. Egloffstein has taken panoramic views of the river and the adjacent country, and has now completed a set that extends from Fort Yuma to the present camp. The ascent of a prominent peak on the opposite side of the river (Mount Newberry) has given him a view of the whole of the Black mountain range.

The position of the cañon through the Black mountains is nearly north. The walls of the entrance are plainly visible. East of the cañon the mountains present an impassable barrier to all progress in that direction. The only break that has been seen by which it seems possible to cross, in order to pursue the land explorations, is near the 35th parallel, where the gap is apparent, by which Captain Sitgreaves and Mr. Beale must have both descended to the Colorado.

Not far west of the Black cañon, a low place in the same range designates a pass through which a good wagon route may be found between the portion of the river south of the mountains and the road to Utah. This connexion it will be important to make, if the head of navigation turns out to be, as Ireteba says it will, in the Black canon.

Apart from the volcanic upheavals, as exhibited in the ranges of mountains, Mr. Egloffstein thinks that he has been able to distinguish a great and general rise of the whole region towards the north and cast along a line within fifty miles of us.* If this be correct the grade of the river will soon become so steep that it will be impossible to ascend further.

Four days ago Capitan begged permission to return, and his services being no longer required since Ireteba has joined us, I told him he could go. He has been with the party so long that we really regretted parting from him. Before he left he was loaded with as many presents as he could carry, and was abo charged with a package of letters to be taken to Fort Yuma. Mariano is inclined to see the issue of the exploration of the navigable portion of the river, and decided not to accompany Capitan back.

For several days we have been expecting the return of the Indian' expressman. These runners regulate their marches so as to reach their destination at the close of day, and every evening at sunset we have looked anxiously towards the Pyramid^ mountains, with the hope of descrying some one crossing the summit. This evening a moving figure was discerned in the distance, that turned out to be the long-expected messenger with the letters. He brought intelligence from Lieutenant Tipton that the arrangements for the departure of the pack-train were progressing favorably, and that he should commence the ascent of the river from the fort on the 15th of this month.

The Mojave was dust-begrimed and weary. He has had a hard time footing it in the face of the gale and the driving sand during the past three days, but after he had received the payment that was allotted to him, did not appear to regret having undertaken the trip.

An occasional lull in the blast has permitted the partial subsidence of the sand clouds, and afforded glimpses of a valley immediately above camp. Groves of Cottonwood trees, of a larger growth than any seen before, indicate that there is some alluvial land, but the valley does not appear to be of great extent.

Camp 53, Bound island, March 1.—The Cottonwood valley was found to be only five or six miles in length and completely hemmed in by wild-looking mountains. The belt of bottom land is narrow, and dotted with graceful clusters of stately cottonwood in full and brilliant leaf. The river flows sometimes through green meadows, bordered with purple and gold rushes, and then between high banks, where rich masses of foliage overhang the stream, and afford a cool and inviting shade. From the edges of this garden-like precinct sterile slopes extend to the bases of the surrounding mountain chains. A few isolated black hills break the monotony of the ascent. There is no vegetation ; the barren surfaces reach to the very summits of the lofty ranges and impart to the grandeur of the scene an air of painful desolation.

We have now entered a region that has never, as far as any records show, been visited by whites, and are approaching a locality where it is supposed that the famous "Big Cañon " of

° This impression subsequent examinations entirely confirmed.

the Colorado commences ; every point of the view is scanned with eager interest. We can distinctly see to the north the steep wall of one side of the gorge where the Colorado breaks through the Black mountains. Whether this is the "Big Cafion" or not it is certainly of far grander proportions than any which we have thus far traversed.

At the head of the Cottonwood valley we threaded a canon formed by the passage of the river through a spur that connects the Black and Dead mountain ranges. It was only two or three miles in extent, and the sides were of moderate height, but the gorgeous contrast and intensity of color exhibited upon the rocks exceeded in beauty anything that had been witnessed of a similar character. Various and vivid tints of blue, brown, white, purple, and crimson, were blended with exquisite shading upon the gateways and inner walls, producing effects so novel and surprising as to make the cafion, in some respects, the most picturesque and striking of any of these wonderful mountain passes.

The country above and adjoining the river is tolerably open. There is no more alluvial land, but low gravel hills can be traced as far north as the base of the Black mountains. Just above the Painted canon, and forming a part of the spur that has been alluded to, is a symetrical and prominent peak, Mount Davis, which presents the most conspicuous landmark north of the Dead mountain. At the base of Mount Davis the river divides and forms a round island of considerable extent, at the foot of which is a rapid that has created some trouble and detention.

A few scattered Mojave families inhabit the Cottonwood valley. We saw no fields under cultivation, and the residents brought neither corn nor beans to trade. One of them agreed to take a letter for me to Lieutenant Tipton, and to guide the pack-train from the Mojave valley until it should overtake us. This may be at no great distance ahead, for Ireteba, while admitting that we may reach the mouth of the Black cafion, still maintains that we can never get the steamboat

through it. Since leaving the Cottonwood valley he has appeared uneasy, and has given me constant warnings to exercise precaution, for that the "bad Pai-utes"are prowling about. He says that "great numbers of them live near the Mormon road, from which we are not far distant;' that there are many white men among them, and that some Pai-utes who lately visited the Mojaves told them that they intended to destroy our party as soon as it should enter their territory. He thinks that we are too few in number, and looks dubiously at us and then at the bank, when we come to places where the river is narrow and the formation of the gravel hills is favorable for an ambuscade. There is seldom difficulty in selecting a spot for camp that

would be impregnable against almost any number of Indians armed only with bows and clubs; and as full moon is approaching the nights do not invite attack.

The view this evening of the island, the river, the labyrinth of low hills, the groat chains of mountains that interlock from the north and south, and Mount Davis, towering directly overhead, all bathed in the brilliant moonlight, is indescribably magnificent.

The Indians are seated at the verge of camp, earnestly observing the Dead mountain. Its hoary crest is draped in a light floating haze, and misty wreaths are winding like phantoms among its peaks and dim recesses. The wondering watchers see the spirits of departed Mojaves hovering about their legendary abode, and gaze reverently at the shadowy forms that circle around the haunted summit.

Camp 57, mouth of Black cation, March 8.—The twenty miles of distance between Rouud island and the present camp required five days to accomplish. A dozen or more rapids, of all descriptions, had to be passed; some were violent and deep, others shallow. At a few the bed of the stream was sandy; but generally it was composed of gravel and pebbles. Below the crest of one rapid the current forked, forming two eddies. Several attempts were made to

ascend; but the bow was not pointed exactly towards the centre of the fork, and, being thrown off by the eddy, the boat would go down stream, whirling around like a teetotum. After four or five unsuccessful trials, Captain Robinson struck the right point, and we got through without further trouble. The worst places encountered have been where the banks were low and destitute of vegetation, and the rocky bed of the river afforded no holding ground near by for an anchor. The lines have become almost worn out by hard service; the skiff is badly battered, and scarcely able to float, and all the oars are broken. The last seventy miles will, perhaps, be

the best part of the Colorado to navigate when the water is not at so exceedingly low a stage. The rapids will be less violent, and the bottom being gravelly no new bars will be formed as the river rises.

Between Mount Davis and the Black mountains the river flows between gravel bluffs and the foot-hills of the latter chain. The view in all directions was intercepted, and before we were conscious of its neighborhood a sudden turn around the base of a conical peak disclosed the southern portal of the Black canon directly in front. The Black mountains were piled overhead in grand confusion, and through a narrow gateway flanked by walls many hundreds of feet in height, rising perpendicularly out of the water, the Colorado emerged from the bowels of the range.

A rapid, a hundred yards below the mouth of the canon, created a short detention, and a strong head of steam was put on to make the ascent. After passing the crest the current became slack, the soundings were unusually favorable, and we were shooting swiftly past the entrance, eagerly gazing into the mysterious depths beyond, when the Explorer, with a stunning crash, brought up abruptly and instantaneously against a sunken rock. For a second the impression was that the canon had fallen in. The concussion was so violent that the men near the bow were thrown overboard; the doctor, Mr. Mollhausen, and myself, having been seated in front of the upper deck, were precipitated head foremost into the bottom of the boat; the fireman, who was pitching a log into the fire, went half-way in with it; the boiler was thrown out of place; the steam pipe doubled up; the wheel-house torn away; and it was expected that the boat would fill and sink instantly by all, but Mr. Carroll, who was looking for an explosion from the injured steam pipes. Finding, after a few moments had passed, that she still floated, Captain Robinson had a line taken into the skiff, and the steamer was towed alongside of a gravelly spit a little below; it was then ascertained that the stem of the boat, where the iron flanges of the two bow sections were joined, had struck fair upon the rock, and that, although the flanges were torn away, no hole had been made, and the hull was uninjured. The other damages were such as a day or two of labor could repair.

Fig. 24.—Gravel Blulls south of Black Mountains.

After making these unexpected and welcome discoveries, the captain and myself went out in the skiff and examined the rock. It stands in the centre of the channel; has steep sides and a conical shape. The summit, which comes almost to a point, is about four inches below the surface of the water; and if the boat had struck half an inch to one side or the other of the flanges, the sheet of iron that forms the bow would have been torn open as though it had been a strip of pasteboard.

Nearly three days have elapsed since the accident, and everything is restored to its former condition. I have thought it would be imprudent, after this experience of sunken rocks, to attempt the passage of the canon without making a preliminary reconnaissance in the skiff. A second escape of the boat, in the event of a similar encounter with a rock, would be too much to hope for; and should she be sunk in the canon, and there be nothing to swim to but perpen dicular walls five hundred or a thousand feet high, the individuals on board would be likely to share the fate of the steamer. The carpenter has been working at the skiff, to put it in a more serviceable condition, and two or three oars have been mended; to-morrow the captain, the mate, and myself, are going to make an attempt to ascend the canon.

The arrival of the pack-train is looked forward to with much eagerness. Rockets were sent up this evening from the summit of the cliff above camp, and the southern horizon was watched for the appearance of similar signals in that direction, but without result. For two or three weeks we have been subsisting upon the corn and beans obtained from the Indians; the corn is ground in coffee-mills, and makes a tolerable bread, upon which and boiled beans, washed down with water from the river, we breakfast, dine, and sup. This diet agrees wonderfully with the Mojaves; but either our stomachs are not sufficiently trained to it, or it is not wholesome fare for whites, for some of the men suffer a good deal. The labor for the past two or three weeks has been excessive, involving the necessity of standing, sometimes for hours, waistdeep in the chilling water; and strong food has been particularly craved. The want of coffee is generally found, on such occasions, to be the severest privation, even more so than that of meat. But the greatest trouble our party has had to put up with has been the absence of salt. The bag containing the whole supply was lost or stolen a fortnight ago. No one can imagine, who has not tried the experiment, how tasteless and disagreeable food may become when prepared without this common but indispensable ingredient. A well-salted dog or mule soup would be received with delight in exchange for the insipid dishes of beans and corn which we are compelled daily to swallow.

Ireteba volunteered yesterday to go back to the Mojave valley and ascertain the whereabouts of the pack-train. He thought he would be able to learn the news and return by the time Captain Robinson and myself should have made the reconnaissance of the canon; and I willingly acceded to his proposition. Before leaving he again warned me against the Pai-utes. Their tracks have been discovered in the immediate neighborhood, and one of them was seen an evening or two ago watching us from a thicket on the opposite side of the river. It would be no easy matter to surprise us in camp; but there is a prospect that the doctor and Mr. Egloffstein, who spend much of their time in geological and topographical excursions, may be carried off some day by a straggling party.

The mountains west of the river are rich in mineral curiosities. Along the bottoms of the ravines are found crystals of quartz, in curiously grouped clusters, and great numbers of opals. Some of the latter are of considerable size, and promise to prove, when polished, valuable gems.

End of chapter V

Editor's notes:

Y-all are going to need a little imagination reading this until I can get back to it and clean it up all real nice and pretty.

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