Recollections of My Life and Reflections on Times and Events During It: A Memoir by Father W. J. Howlett

Page 33

were less solicitous for oxen which they could not stampede and drive away so easily.

          The Platte River was at high tide, and at places was at least a mile wide. It was shallow, with a bed of sand that moved with the current and made it treacherous and kept the water always dirty. We had no wood for fires. There were some large cottonwood trees along the river but all the dry wood fit to burn had been gathered long before we passed that way. Our fuel was called “Buffalo Chips” - the dried droppings of the thousands of buffaloes that had ranged for ages over these plains. They made very good fires and there were plenty of them wherever we stopped, and we never went hungry for want of a hot meal. Our food was good and lacked only fresh vegetables so make it the ordinary food of the working man. Our appetites left nothing lacking.

          The long days of slow traveling were tiresome, and the constant watch for Indians told upon our nerves. Yet no Indians molested us, although the report reached our old home in Michigan that we had all been massacred. Only once did we see any Indians, and then they were dead ones. They made an attack on a party of travelers camped at the Julesburg ranch but were driven off. They generally carried their dead away with them but here they were unable to reach some of the bodies. These were thrown in an old shed and left to rot there. Curiosity led us to view them, but the smell was so overpowering that one could not remain long near without feeling a strong weakness at the stomach. There was one man, however, who wanted a souvenir, and he cut off the lower jaw of one of the bodies and took it to the river to scrape and clean it. I don’t know how he ever did it, but he went that far, but when the relic was cleaned he succumbed and threw his treasure away.

          A peculiar sight we met with was the myriads of grasshoppers crawling on the ground in many places. They were unable to fly or even to hop much; they moved along all together in one direction (north) and so closely were they packed together that the ground seemed to be actually moving. The history of the West speaks of the grasshopper years, and I was witness of some of them. Generally there are two of them in succession. The first of them sees the grasshoppers come in late in the summer, and to say that they come in clouds that obscure the sun is no exaggeration. They literally cover every bit of green vegetation and in a day leave nothing but bare ground or bare fibrous stalks of corn, cabbage and vegetables. They do not stay long, for there is nothing more to attract them, but they stay long enough to bore holes in the earth and deposit their eggs. Then they die or disappear, but the next spring sees these eggs hatch and the young must live on whatever they can find until able to fly away and devastate some other section. So, the first year the late crops are destroyed, and the

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