THE CAMEL EXPERIMENT
June 24-August 15, 1860
From Lieutenant William H. Echols, "Report," in United States, Thirty-sixth Congress, Second Session, Senate Executive Document, No. I (Washington, I861), 37-50.
After his proposal to build a transcontinental railroad along the line of the thirty second parallel had been blocked by sectional politics over slavery in the territories, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, an experiment to solve the need for transportation across the "Great American Desert" to the new state of California and to the intervening army post, introduced in 1856 and 1857 seventy five camels into Texas. Although many Congressmen considered the camel plan unrealistic and fantastic, an appropriation of thirty thousand dollars had been made for the purpose. After all, were not camels the logical beast of burden with which to cross the desert?
The first of two shipments was landed in Indianola on May 14th 1856, and then was moved to Camp Val Verde, the eastern terminus of the projected camel route, located just south of the preset day Kerrville. Test were begun immediately to determine whether the camels or the tried and true mules pack mules were superior modes of transportation in the Southwest. One test was the reconnaissance expedition of Lieutenant William H. Echols in the summer of 1860 into the perilous Big Bend Country. Echols' journal of the expedition appears below not only because of the interest in the camel experiment but because of its description of that part of Texas. There were also other trips, some extended as far as California; but with the outbreak of the Civil War the military personnel were recalled from the Texas frontier, and within a few years the abandon camels had vanished.
June 24, 1860
I left San Antonio on the 11th instant with orders to resume the reconnaissance commenced last year of that portion of northwestern Texas lying between the San Antonio or El Paso road, the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers, with twenty camels and twenty five pack mules, with an escort under the command of Lieutenant Holman, first infantry, of twenty infantry men, reinforced by eleven from Camp Hudson on my arrival at that post. The camels are in fine condition; and with some improvements, which my experience with them last wear taught me to suggest to be made, respecting the packing of them, such as iron loops on the water barrels to prevent them from shifting, and larger water barrels, which are the most important changes, I hope to be freed of a great deal of delay and vexation which I encountered the previous year. The male camels were all left, with the exception of one. Although much stouter and more serviceable than the females, they occasion a deal more trouble and attention from their belligerent propensities to one another. The command now consists of thirty-one men, exclusive of the herders and camel attendants, with the twenty camels and fifteen mules for packing, the remainder being left at Camp Hudson, with the exception of two mules that strayed on the road, and not recovered. We have capacity for carrying nearly 500 gallons of water, and are rationed from Camp Hudson for twenty days. Camped two miles from the wood at Bearn lake, near the head of Rio San Pedro, known more generally as Rio Diablo, or Devil's river; from which point I set out to-morrow directly to the Pecos, thence to Fort Davis, intending to cross the country in a more southerly direction than my last trail to that post. Another improvement in measuring distances I have succeeded in contriving, consisting of shafts, two light wheels on an axle three and a half feet long, a chest on a spring, answering for a scat for the driver, all very light, and attaching the odometer, and the machine is complete.
Left camp this morning at six o'clock, being somewhat retarded in our preparations for departure by having to soak our water barrels in the lake till morning, and, being the first time they had been filled for transportation, to distribute and adjust the loading accordingly; but after setting out, I was much pleased with the manner in which the command was able to move, without the hindrance so frequently occurring before the improvements, mentioned yesterday as having been made, were made. I think not a pack has fallen to day; and if such success attend our movements, even in this respect, how much trouble will we he relieved of. After leaving our camp ground this morning, we reached the main road in about 1.5 mile, and in 2.8 miles left it in an attempt to approach the Pecos; but the caņon proved to be very short and rugged, and headed by precipices by which we were turned again to the road, and having marched 3.6 miles, in which short distance the odometer upset, breaking one of the shafts; which, however, was soon temporarily repaired by a rope. I followed the road, on a lookout for a prospect of leaving it on a new trail; but all were bad, till we reached the place upon which we are now dry camped, fifteen miles from the point at which we returned to the road, and within thirty miles of Howard's spring, and a few miles of Johnson's run, where, within a few months past, several trains have been attacked by Indians, and to-day saw their tracks in the caņon where we left the road. Our camp is well supplied with grass, but no water from Beaver Lake to Howard's spring. The mail coach passed our camp this afternoon, and reported that twenty-eight mounted Indians made their appearance at the mail station at Howard's spring day before yesterday, and filled up the spring, which is a small hole below the surface, with rocks, and carried off one horse. Watered our mules from the barrels this afternoon, giving each two and a half gallons.
Left the road this morning at camp, taking about a northwesterly course; in about two miles entered the head of a caņon, in which we are now camped dry. Plenty good grass, wood, and indications of water, such as animals, birds; &c., but none yet found; country exceedingly rugged, and bad prospect for maintaining our course. Make a good deal of westering for about nine miles, when the caņon turned to the south; marched 16.1 miles. A rain water hole was found by one of the camel herders about a quarter of a mile from camp late in the afternoon, containing a good supply of water. All the animals watered. Lieutenant Holman rode a short distance from camp, and reported on his return some Indian signs.
Had four of the twenty gallon barrels filled at the water hole this morning, with which we will have an abundance of water for two more dry camps. About a mile passed another good rain water hole, and five miles further another very fine one. The animals were watered at least it was offered them whenever found. The caņon in which we traveled yesterday appeared to take us to Devil's river, and we left it at camp, taking up a side caņon bearing a little south of west about six miles. Then going out on a rolling land, crossed the heads of several caņon, marching a northwestern direction about 4.5 miles before taking the one we are in now, which carried us to the north of west about four miles, then turning southerly to our camp, struck one of my former trails. Country very rough. Grass not good for want of rain. No indications of water whatever. The odometer machine has overturned several times no harm done. Made 21.2 miles. Gave the mules two and a half gallons of water from barrels.
Continued down the caņon this morning on my old trail about six miles. I have been almost forced to take this trail for want of an outlet from the caņon. Following the main caņon nearly south four miles, it then turned to the west to the Pecos about 3.5 miles. One and a half miles from the river, we discovered in the caņon a large, line, limpid, running stream of fresh water, which is named Piscas creek, abounding in fish of various kinds, which we could see running about in every direction. This afternoon we went fishing. I suppose the command has caught about a dozen fine ones, weighing from twelve to fifteen pounds each. Lieutenant Holman caught two of them. Command in fine order. Wood and grass plenty. Marched 13.5 miles. Caņon rough. The mountains here gradually grown larger higher rougher, and more rocky since entering the caņon which is generally, I am sorry to say, characteristic of, every one which you may descend, and of them this whole region is an interminable succession, all of them barren and bleak.
Left camp and proceeded up the east bank of the Pecos, ascending the side of the mountains several hundred feet above the river, to avoid an immense jungle lying along the base. The camels performed well also the mules. The odometer upset and turned a complete summersault, with the mule, down the side of a precipitous rocky slope, after which the machine was drawn by hand the remainder of the mountainous road, as a high bluff lay immediately under the trail. On this trail we saw a corn sack and Indian tracks. Three of the men crossed the jungle, and came across an Indian camp but two or three days old, composed of about a half dozen, the men on foot. A great deal of game on the river bear, deer, antelope, and turkey. We passed three live oak mats in the mouths of caņon. At one had to cut through a jungle. At 7.4 miles from camp we passed Makin's spring, a very fine one, and 3.5 further we crossed the river and camped, and made preparations for long dry march toward Fort Davis. The camels succeeded remarkably well, better than usual in crossing without difficulty but; they are lightly laden, the water barrels being empty. We have had no delay by the falling of packs, as last year, attributable to the improvements. I do not think a single one has dropped today. The mules are never turned out without hopples, nor picketed without them at them, to prevent a stampede which is likely to occur at any moment. Made to-day 10.9 miles. Wood and tolerable grass.
Left the Pecos at camp this morning with intention of making our way across the country to Fort Davis. Proceeded up a caņon which in two miles proved to be an unfavorable one for our purpose. Came to a head in a very few miles. Very rugged high bluffs on the sides, and may he classed among the innumerable impassable ones which abound in this region. We retraced our steps to the river, took up it about 1.5 miles, when we came to the mouth of another presenting more favorable features, which we took for our route, and arrived at its head this afternoon and dry camped on the table land ten miles from the Pecos. General course west six miles, northwest four. Grass very dry; brushwood. Whilst ascending to the Mera two camels fell and bursted two of the kegs and injured several others, wasting about forty gallons of our most appreciated loading. The animals I believe are not injured. One of them lost its foothold, fell, and pulled the others from the trail by the rope attaching the train. Others might have suffered the same fate but for the timely assistance of Lieutenant Holman, who cut the lead line. During the ascent they had to resort to their feat of walking on their knees, which they do when the inclination of the trail is very great and heavily laden, to throw tin' center of gravity equally over the four legs, or on a slipping trail when their feet slip from under them. Marched 15.4 miles.
Did not get as early a start this morning as desired, and again delayed by vain endeavors to proceed on our march across caņons too huge to attempt, retraced our steps after a march of more than two miles, and took all Indian trail passing near our camp to the south, on which one of the men picked up a butcher knife, not long lost. Followed it 2.1 miles, then changed our course westwardly about four miles, northwest 3.5, 'west and southwest 3.2, being obliged to keep on the divide between the caņons where we set out. Country very rough, rocky, barren, dry apparently no rain on the region over which we passed to-day for a year. Every blade of grass dry and dead, not of this year's growth. Our mules will not fare well no forage and a very limited supply of water. The camels have performed most admirably to-day. No such march as this could be made with any security without them. It is with difficulty that the mules can be kept from the water barrels, particularly when the water is being issued. I might say the same of men. Grass bad; brushwood about the size of a finger. Made 27.2 miles. Gave the mules two and a half gallons of water.
Marched westwardly most of the day, and after a long march of 29.4 miles over rough, camp dry with out any prospects of finding water, in about the poorest prospect of making progress I have ever been situated. We are all very uneasy, not to say a little frightened, for our welfare. The mules must go without water to-night, are broken down now, and some are expected to be abandoned on the march to-morrow. We have only water sufficient for the men thirty hours. The Pecos, Rio Grande, and Fort Stockton, are too distant to reach, and the water on the Cammanche trail. San Francisco Creek, or Willow Spring which we expected to attain, we may be unable to reach from this impassable region. Our march to-day has been rough, and too rough to-morrow, I fear, for many lives that are now with us to stem. The animals go to the barrels and draw the bungs with their teeth and knaw at the bung holes. The second time in my life I have seen a quart of water priceless, almost. We have sent a man to search for water, to he paid liberally if he succeeds; if not, all the mules we expect to lose. A canteen of water was issued to the men with enough to make a cup of coffee. This is the fourth day since the camels drank, which was at the Pecos, brackish water, the same that we have, not only brackish, but when the bung is taken from a barrel a stench proceeds; it contains so much filth and impurity, and being barreled so long. The camels display quite a thirst.
Continued our march over very rugged country, retaining our course a little south of west, marched all day with much hope at heart, but very little sign or prospect of success of our only object in life to-day, that of reaching water. The whole command is very uncomfortable with regard to its future prospects. The animals of burden are almost ceased to be talked of, and the topic has become one of self interest alone. Drought depresses the most buoyant spirit, and keeps the mind in full operation and anxiety. Some of the men are very weak, and have several times reported about to give up and no water to drink. All 'we can tell them is, if they stop, they must risk the consequences, that not a moment can be lost for my one. We have some apprehensions for the safety of the command, and to-morrow a dispersion must take place in small parties to look for water according to individual judgment, to seek one another, if successful if not, never to meet again but by chance. The men have a quart of water issued to-night, and have enough for two drinks to-morrow, but they are so feeble and thirsty that it all would not last them an hour if they could get to it. The mules have stood it most admirably, much to the wonder of everyone. All are in camp to-night, but cannot graze for the thirst. The camels are continually bellowing, which I suppose, as it is unusual, a sign of a want of 'water. A part of our quartermaster and commissary stores were abandon at camp this morning. The mules were too feeble to be laden; and, fearing it too much for our camels, marched thirty miles, good grass region, bleak and dreary.
Although the command was very weary last night, it did not rest as well as I have seen it; the whole conversation was "something to drink." We had to use our canteens for pillows to secure our water, as none of the most thirsty show much reluctance in emptying any one they may come across at a draught. This morning brought forth many serious and despondent countenance in the command as they prepared to march with their two drinks of water, not knowing when or where the next was to be had, if at all. After marching four miles one of these was given out, when serious thoughts of dispersion, everyone to do the best that he could for himself and comrade. When ascending a little rise, to my delight, I recognized looming up in the distance, about fifteen miles, Camels Hump Mountain, at whose base the head of San Francisco Creek lies, and all pushed eagerly on to taste the sparkling treasure. No one can imagine the feelings of a thirst man till he sees one. I would not describe it by a vain attempt, as vain almost as that would be which I might use in describing the region of country just passed over which made them so; a region in its original chaotic state, as if the progress of civilization was too rapid for the arrangement of chaos; a picture of barrenness and desolation, when the scathing fire of destruction has swept with its rabid flame mountains, caņons, ravines, precipices, cactus, soap weed, intense reflection from the limestone cliffs, and almost every barrier that one can conceive of to make an impossibility to progress. Thus, and most joyfully, too, have we celebrated this memorable day; if it ever would have been, now, never will it escape having its anniversary remembered; the camp resounds with "hurrah for the 4th." The animals exhibited a remarkable knowledge of approaching water some time before reaching it, particularly the camels, which made a remarkable change in their speed ten miles from it. They had to be held back to keep them with the mules that before had been leading them. This is the fifth day since leaving the Pecos; the men are on foot, with half allowance of water; marched 120 miles, thermometer about 100° in shade, intense reflection, no wood, over the most rugged country known, the last days made about thirty miles. The mules were watered only twice on half allowance and on the sixth day from water. The camels stood it well. To-day, however, four mules gave out before reaching camp, two of which managed to reach camp after the command; the others abandoned. It was strange to see how eagerly they would seize a canteen whenever they were near it, and try to tear it to pieces. I saw one take a cork from one that was hanging up, and was drinking water from it by turning it about and catching the water as it was spilled. The men were cautioned about permitting them to drink too much at a time, as it sometimes proves fatal. After marching four miles, we encountered one of the highest, roughest, and most difficult descents we have met, which required a long while to overcome. One of the camels fell, not withstanding great caution was taken with them, but not hurt. The odometer machine was abandoned, but will be sent for to-morrow; also the mules. Camped at a water hole about a mile before reaching the creek, which stands in pools from ten to twenty-five feet deep, good water, we found fine grass in the Creek valley, which presents comparatively a refreshing appearance. Crossed my trail in 1859 going north from the Rio Grande about ten miles from camp. Marched 17.5 miles.
Remained in camp to recruit; sent out to get the mules abandoned, but could not find them; water was carried for them on the camels; the machine was brought in. One of the mules in camp died last night; several of the men complaining of sickness.
In camp still; the mules look badly; one of the men very sick last night, but a great deal better this morning, walking about camp.
This morning packed up and went down San Francisco Creek about a mile to a large fine water-hole to fill up our barrels, which occupied a good portion of the best traveling part of the day, but we only intended to make a short march and camp at water, not very good, nor a great deal of it, so we filled up before starting. After making our second start, marched toward "Camel Hump," about five miles from our camp, and accidentally crossed the Camanche trail without seeing it, perhaps when it had been almost washed away. Ascertaining the fact, we soon gained it and marched up it 10.3 miles to Willow spring, where we find a supply of water, also some rain water. We have no guide, and I have been guiding, but not being a very experienced one, after having crossed the Camanche trail unnoticed, lost it again after having found it; but, knowing about the location of Willow Spring in directing my course accordingly, soon recovered it. Camped at the spring; good grass, little wood; marched 16.4 miles. The camels perform admirably. I never hear the eternal "hold on, a pack is down" of last year. Our improvements are perfection. The mules are not doing so well. A good many of them are worthless to us, with sore backs, &c., and a perfect encumbrance, drinking our water. The odometer goes very well, but has broken two shafts. This spring is about one fourth of a mile west of the trail in a small ravine, among rushes, immediately above a large rock, strata inclined about 45°, crossing the bed-several such are passed before reaching the spring; willows growing.
Set out early this morning, as usual, about sunrise, and left the Camanche trail at camp for Fort Davis; marched about W. 20° N. all day; pretty good trail, but large mountains on every side, and camped among them this evening. We are making more westing than we like, but it cannot be prevented. At Camel's Hump we first reached the primitive rocks, and have been on the line of demarkation since leaving that mountain; found large herds of antelope on our route to-day, killed one. The mules have two and a half gallons of water this evening, some of them looking badly; command well. The herder, late yesterday afternoon, reported that he saw an Indian mounted, within a mile of camp, but we were not disturbed. The mornings are very cool, indeed; overcoats and blankets come freely into use. The water in our canteens almost as cold as ice water, at noon the thermometer is generally not much over 100°. Pretty good grass at camp; wood scarce; marched 22.1 miles.
Soon after leaving camp this morning, I endeavored in vain to cross the mountain range north of us, after expending a march of about four miles. Afterward returning to the valley, prolonged our trail, and in a few miles were fortunate in finding that the caņon made a turn N. 40° W., and then opened into a broken region of country to the west, several miles; and in the distance stood Mitre Peak, sixteen miles from Fort Davis. After marching twenty miles, found a rain water hole; five miles further found another very large, where we camped, having marched twenty-five miles. About thirteen miles from last camp, passed a very large grove of cedars, about two miles long. Antelopes very numerous. Country passed over to-day, very dry. Very little grass at camp, and no wood at all.
Less than half a mile from camp this morning, we crossed a new road to Presidio del Norte, from Fort Stockton, leaving the El Paso road at Leon Hales; proceeded on our course toward Mitre Peak, and after 8.8 miles, our nearest point to it, turned towards the north, and in about a half mile struck the trail on which I went to Fort Davis last year, which has been worked by Mexicans, and has become a traveled and passable road for Mexican carates, several have already passed over it to the post. From the nearest point of the trail to Mitre Peak, to Fort Davis, is 15.7 miles, and from Musqueir ranch, to Fort Davis, is 7.4 miles. In the caņon where this ranch is located, and in which the trail runs, is a small creek, and water to be found from the ranch to Mitre Peak. About two miles from the post it began to rain and hail heavily, which continued till after we went into camp on the Limpia; good camping ground; marched 24.5 miles. Found Colonel Seawell preparing to move the headquarters of the eighth infantry to San Antonio, with Lieutenant Dye, quartermaster, and Lieutenant Jones, adjutant, and will leave to-morrow morning. Lieutenant Van Horn will also leave to-morrow morning, with about ten prisoners for El Paso, to be tried for a case of hanging, by the civil authorities, which occured here a few months since. Colonel Seawell also takes five with him to San Antonio, accomplices in the same. We will remain at Fort Davis several days to recruit; several men and mules will have to be left here, unable to proceed. Command generally pretty well. Camels doing finely, no indication of having undergone any severities.
Remained at Fort Davis till this morning spent a most pleasant visit. Colonel Bomford, from Fort Quitman, with a detachment of his company in command, set out for Presidio del Norte, with 160 gallons of water, expecting to find some water, about forty miles from the post, found a little rain water at nineteen miles. Left nine mules it the post, and one of the men lame; the others who were complaining of ophthalmia had sufficiently recovered to march; took in a supply of new shoes for the men, expecting to be out about thirty days before reaching another post, we have taken rations for that period. Made a march of twenty-five miles, all on foot; camped dry; no wood; grass not very good. We have not yet been able to obtain a guide to suit our wishes. Had some fine water melons, musk melons, and some small apples and pears at Fort Davis, usually brought from Mexico.
July 15 Passed the San Estaban to-day, about ten miles from camp It was off the road to the east a mile or two, and we did not go to it. One of the men went out to the water and reported it unfit for drinking. Eight miles from camp passed a spring in the bed of arroyo Rancherillo spring, made by digging, splendid water, and now camped on fine permanent water called Pealagos, 18.9 miles from last camp; good grass; no wood; command in fine order. We have been traveling on the Fort Davis and Presidio del Norte road, and so far it is magnificent one. Country rather open. About 25 miles north and east of us there was a fine rain this morning, and we bad a slight sprinkle. Very warm this morning, but a fine breeze this afternoon. At the lone cedar off the road, to the right, is frequently found rain water; seven or eight miles from San Estaban.
Marched to-day 25.9 miles, and camped at __________. There were water holes in the bed of an arroyo; perhaps permanent water; found the greatest abundance of fine water along the road to-day in the bed of an arroyo, each place having its name; six miles reached the Penitas; about three miles another water; four and eight another; at eleven the Varras, very fine large holes an hundred feet long, very deep, and running stream; the last hole is called the "Punta del Agua;" country mountainous, but road fine; camels performing beautifully and heavily laden. In addition to their almost unlimited variety of food-bushes, briars, and grass-I can add the thistle and several species of the cactus, the prickly pear is one. Another circumstance has occurred to-day to make me mention the old song of "the falling of packs," which I had forgotten, being not reminded of it for some time till to-day, when we had to stop twice for their readjustment, as unusual now as to have marched two hours without it last year; country very dry; wood, but little grass. A wagon load of watermelons passed us this afternoon for Fort Davis from Presidio del Norte.
Came to the Alamo spring 4.1 miles from camp; fine running water in abundance in a cluster of a half dozen large alamos; crossed a steep range of mountains immediately after leaving camp; surface quite rolling and uneven till we came about eleven miles, where we found water in a cave, scarcely accessible by a man; from there to Fort Leaton surface very curiously broken; ravines in caņons and on table lands; hills in the bottom of caņons, isolated and dotted about; soil loose; road tolerably good, however, but rendered quite heavy by loose, deep sand for twelve miles before reaching Presidio del Norte; reached the Rio Grande at Fort Leaton 4.1 miles from the town-an old ranche established for a trading post, &c., on a grant from the Mexican government, made about twenty-five years ago; several fine ranches along the river before reaching the town owned by Americans; camped on the river bank in a coral, good camp; marched 24.9 miles.
Remained camped at Presidio del Norte till this morning; made visits to the city on the 18th and 19th; called on the Alcalde; saw a good deal of the place, but found very little worth seeing. All the buildings are of adobe, and present much the appearance of a large dirt-dauber's nest. The population is 3,100, according to the Alcalde; but about half, or less, are a den of thieves. The few Americans settled around the place seem to be gentlemen, and treated us with much cordiality. The Alcalde came into camp and spent about an hour, admiring the camels. Visits from the Mexicans have been numerous; saw the Mexican women carrying ollas of water on their heads, weighing about seventy pounds. Leaving Presidio del Norte, we intend marching eastwardly, if possible, and it has always been reported an impossibility to reach the San Carlos trail, and made to-day 7.8 miles, camped on the Rio Grande; stopped to dine with Mr. Leaton, and had a magnificent dinner, and abundance of water melons; plenty of them and musk melons; in the vicinity.
Left the river at camp this morning, and tank up a caņon, making a little northing, country very mountainous, or rather all mountains. At 13.5 miles, reached a fine spring in a narrow deep caņon, splendid running water in abundance; about a mile further up the caņon we came to the first water of the spring, which is about ten feet deep and large. Fine alamos grow along the water which is named Ternesa spring. Here we filled our barrels for camping; had a little rain about noon; marched 21.7 miles; camped; dry brush and grass.
Had a rough road four miles and a half after leaving camp this morning; a better one for about ten miles, and then the most rugged, roughest, most tortuous and cragged one I have ever seen for about eight miles to camp, rougher than any I saw between the Pecos and the Camanche trail for the same distance. I never conceived that there could be such a country. The guide says he could have brought us a little nearer route, but that it would have been rougher. I cannot conceive it possible. I cheerfully concur with all who regard this region as impassable. At 10.4 miles from camp, we reached a beautiful spring, splendid water in abundance A few very large alamos grow along the water. Here we found a large bear; wounded and chased it, but to no avail, the country was too rough; and I have called it Bear spring. The odometer had several severe falls, and broke both of the shafts which have been several times replaced by saplings, and damaged a little otherwise, but not seriously. We are tonight camped at the most beautiful water I have ever seen in the State; very, very cold, flowing from the base of a precipice, projecting about 15°, and about 600 feet high, on the face of an immense mountain about twice the height of the precipice; the guide says it has no name, and I have called it Icy Branch. Marched 22.8 miles; wood and grass; had a shower to-day.
We went into camp so late yesterday, after a hard day's march, that we remained about two hours later than usual at camp, and turned out the animals to graze; made a very short march, only 12.9 miles; the country exceedingly rugged. Marched 4.9 miles., and reached the Lates Lengua, and have continued down the arroyo since; found rain water holes in its bed continually, brush and good grass. Saw another bear to-day. Some of the camels' backs are sore. The odometer requiring the services of three men to progress over this country.
Continued our march down the arroyo Lates Lengua, and found the road rugged several miles. At 6.5 miles, reached the Camanche trail to the Lahita crossing, and to San Carlos; followed it about 6.5 miles, where it crossed a mountain insurmountable for the camels-so Lieutenant Holman regarded it and we retraced our steps to the base, and attempted to pass around by an arroyo to the east, but were again turned back by too great a dissention by offsets in the bed; passed by another a little further to the north, and by circuituous route, found a passable road to where we are camped, within a few miles of the river, on the Lates Lengua. In this arroyo we have found plenty water since we first reached it, bushes, but little grass. From where the trail came into the Lates Lengua to camp, a road can be made, but not to follow the trail over the mountain that turned us back. We hope to reach the crossing to-morrow, if we can gain the trail again. Marched, twenty-one miles. On the last twelve miles, great many hills of loose sliding earth, resembling sand hills very much in appearance, perfectly made, and a good deal of selenite on the surface of some.
Went to the river this morning, 6.3 miles from camp, to see a wonderful curiosity, which the guide told us of; a place where the stream runs through a mountain precipice, about 1,500 feet high. The opening is just the width of the stream, perhaps a little narrower than usual, the precipice springing vertically from the water to its summit. Velocity, not as great as ordinarily at other points. From here, we took up the river at a distance from it, and reached the San Carlos Camanche trail at about seven miles, and found it tolerably good; the remainder of the route to the Rio Grande, by this and the circuit which I made, a road can be built. At 6.3 from the river is a watering place called the Lahita, but now dry. The camels are getting on pretty well. We have only sixteen mules in the command, for riding purposes only; one or two of them are very slow. The arroyo Lates Lengua empties into the river immediately at the pass through the mountains. I have called this pass, "The Grand Puerta;" found a water hole seven miles from this pass. There is not a good site here for a post, there is nothing very attractive about the spot whatever; a few bushes and small willows grow on the bank of the stream; not more than a half dozen trees to be found in the flat which is not large, and confined up and down the river by bluffs, against which the water flows, the intermediate space between two and three miles, and back from the river about a mile. The surrounding mountains, large. There is no moderately elevated spot sufficiently large for a post. Very little wood. There is a great deal of dry grass, not good now, but indicates plenty, in a good season, in the caņon and in the little hills leading to the river. The place is not very prepossessing.
Left the crossing of the San Carlos Camanche trail, by the Lachita, this morning, and followed our trail of yesterday to the Lates Lengua, which we crossed, and continued down the river in search of a location for a post. The alcalde of Presidio del Norte told us of a most beautiful one known as the Los Chiras crossing, where another branch of the great Camanche trail crosses the Rio Grande-Los Chiras is on some large mountains which terminate in a range on the river at this point. We were told by every one that no one had been or could go to it on this side of the river. Marched about four miles from the Grande Puerta down the river, and camped at a spot which attracted my attention very much for a post. Very pretty; plenty of timber; abundance of wood; grass plenty; building sites. Have found about what I was in search of; but will go further to-morrow, and see how the valley appears further down the stream.
After marching a few miles down the river this morning, I turned back without going to Los Chiras, satisfied that there is no better place on the river for building a post of any dimensions than that I had found. The river has a fine valley on each side, about twenty-five miles down; more timber and wood than a post can use. I saw one or two good sites on moderately elevated gravel mesas, easily accessible from the river and bottom, elevated just sufficiently for the purpose; plenty grazing for animals; some small canebrakes in the bottom; in a word, the location is well adapted for the purpose of building a post. This location is about twenty miles below the Camanche crossing, and is within a few miles of where the road would have to run to reach that place, and is well situated for accomplishing the purpose of establishing a post at the crossing. There is sufficient valley land to cultivate on either side of the river to supply any post and settlements, both of Americans and Mexicans, would render it as economical as posts generally. The Mexican population are anxious about the establishment of this post. Fort Davis and others of our posts receive many of their supplies from Mexico. Presidio del Norte furnishes to Fort Davis corn, vegetables, &c.; and from San Carlos, a great fruit and vegetable country, many supplies could be obtained; and from Presidio del Norte there is a road to the crossing, and but little work from there to the site. Returning from the location, I took a different route from the one going down, both of which can be very easily rendered wagon roads, and struck the Lates Lengua several miles higher up; also made a cut-off of several miles by leaving the arroyo when I reached it, and marching due north to camp, where we found rain water and most excellent grass. Marched twenty miles. Thus far a wagon road can be built readily at no great expense.
After a march of two and one fifth miles, reached the trail, and four miles further it left the Lates Lengua, going more to the east; then, at five miles, encountered a bad hill; road a little rough for four miles further; remainder to camp a fine road; but little work, however, will make it all good. About six miles before reaching camp this afternoon we passed a pretty good rainwater hole, and about two miles nearer passed a spot in which rushes grow; perhaps water can be had by digging. We are camped dry in a large valley; brought a supply of water in expectation of it. Marched 19.5 miles.
Continued up the trail, and found the road good until at twelve miles, when it ascended a mountain, riot very large, however, nor very rugged, but requiring work; from there to within one and one half miles of camp, the road will also require some; and here we have unfortunately encountered a descent, very rugged and steep, which, I fear, may ruin the so far good prospects for a road. The trail is impracticable at this point without very much labor, and the vicinity appears no better. A further examination will be made. Just before descending this mountain, we discovered from the top, in a deep caņon, very narrow, with precipitous sides about a thousand feet high, a beautiful water, which we could not reach; we descended, went to the mouth of the caņon, which we could not enter, and encamped. From here none of the animals can be taken to the water by any assistance that men are able to give them; it is a severe trail to reach it on foot. The animals have been without water two days, as we would not provide it for them with so much labor as to make the men bring it for them in small quantities, nearly a mile, over the most cragged road. The water appeared from the mountain top about three feet in diameter, but we find it to be about thirty, and deep; another water, about fifty yards further up the caņon, was found; it is very fine and cold; the sun has never shone on it; I have called it the "Inaccessible Tank." Marched 18.9 miles.
This morning I rode down the precipice, at whose base we were encamped, to look for a place to cross the precipitous mountain of yesterday. I went down four or five miles, from where I could see about six further, where it was smaller and more broken, but yet presented a formidable obstacle; but not so bad as at the trail. In going up the precipice, as far as I could examine, several miles, it appeared to increase in height. Proceeding up the trail six and a half miles we entered a rough caņon, but short and passable. One and one fifth miles further, we arrived opposite the Sierra Santiago, on whose side is reported a sulphur spring, upon which we had placed much dependence, but, to our sad disappointment, it was dry, which prevented making a halt to examine for another route around the mountain. We had only to push ahead and seek water, and found a nice spring or creek at 7.4 miles from Sierra Santiago. I have named it "Forked Branch." The camels were without water three days; the mules also, except a very limited supply last night; both are beginning to show exhaustion; the mules are lame and halt; the camels have several sore feet; their soles have actually been abraded off to the quick by the sharp cragged rocks, and others have very sore backs, indeed; holes in the humps are large enough to thrust in both fists; these sores do not injure them so much, being in the fleshy part of the hump, so long as they can be kept from the bones. Camped at Forked branch. Marched 15.8 miles. I would recommend to any one using the camels over rough country, in case of tender feet, to shoe them with a piece of (circular) raw hide, gather around the leg by a slipping cord; this will be found an absolute necessity in some instances. One of the men left the command a short distance yesterday, and has not been seen or heard of since.
Remained camped at Forked Branch yesterday to rest the animals; fine water and good grass. After making a further examination of the water, we find many large water holes six feet deep up and down the arroyo; permanent water. To-day, having filled our kegs, proceeded up the trail, and 16.4 miles struck the Camanche trail a few miles north of "Camel's Hump," at a water hole which last year and also a month ago indicated permanency, but now dry. A few miles further passed another rainhole with water. Camped at Willow Spring; dry but muddy; got water by digging a foot; a mile from camp in the same bed found water; route good; marched 25.5 miles; saw fresh mule track on the trail to-day, perhaps of one we abandoned.
Marched 19.2 miles up the Camanche trail to-day and camped dry. No wood; grass very dry. Went about a mile down the arroyo this morning, to fill some kegs at the water, and 7.5 miles up the trail passed a water hole. At 3.6 miles another where Captain Brockett camped last year; several others with water, most of it not very good, and drying away very rapidly. The country very dry. Where we are camped is about the point at which I wished to leave the trail last year for the Pecos, but the condition of the animals was too bad to undertake it, and our water too scarce. Now the condition of the animals is even worse, nearly every mule barefooted and lame, or exhausted, several of the camels almost unable to march at all from tender feet. We have water in our barrels, but to attempt the trip would be at the expense of several, both mules and camels. We will have to go to Fort Stockton to leave those that cannot go and have the mules shod. One of the men has the opthalmia; another wounded himself in the hand this afternoon by the accidental discharge of his pistol; the one who was lost on the 29th ultimo has not appeared.
Marched 19.7 miles on the trail; found no water; the grass little green. Camped dry, near where we left the camel last year; no tidings of him, nor of the lost man. Several camels have sore backs, but fit for use; three have tender feet, and march slowly; make about two miles an hour on good road; have to take them to Fort Stockton to save them; one has not browsed for two days; feet too sore to move about.
Went into Fort Stockton. Marched 16.4 miles with some difficulty. Some of our rations are short also. Discharged our guide. Will remain here two days and fit up that portion of the command able to resume the reconnoissance.
Came into Camp Hudson to-day, and regret to say that I had to lose that portion of the reconnoissance which I had all the while intended to make from Fort Stockton across the country to this post, and came by the road. Lieutenant Holman stated that the escort was no longer capable of performing more work in the field. Very little water on the road; no grass. Left one man at Fort Lancaster, and one camel, with a man to attend to it, at Fort Stockton, and two mules. Have not yet heard of the man who was lost on the trail.
WILLIAM H. ECHOLS, Brevet Second Lieut. Topographical Engineers.