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

Page 34

second year sees everything eaten soon after the planting season. There are stories about their being so numerous as to stop railroad trains. This is no fable, but a truth easily seen when the facts are explained. The moving mass of young insects must cross the railroad tracks at some points, and here they are ground up by the wheels until the oil from their bodies render both wheels and rails so slippery that they lose their grip and spin around just as an auto wheel does in a mud hole or soft clay.

          Another sight, but a disappointing one, was the mirage. Now, what was the mirage? And how was it disappointing? Just imagine yourself on a sunbaked plain - the heated air is blowing in your face; if you were not already burned and tanned you would expect the skin to peel off your face in scorched scales as the result of the sirocco - you are thirsty but the tepid water in your supply does not cool the lungs or moisten for long the cotton of your saliva. You reach a rise of ground and before you go a mile or so, in the distance you behold a lake, its surface rippling in the breeze and its farther shore lined with waving trees. You are a greenhorn, or a tenderfoot, as was the term in the Wild and Wooly West, and your spirits rise with the prospect of camping in the shade on the bank of that crystal gem in the wilderness. But what is the matter; the farther you go the farther the lake goes also, and when you arrive where you think it ought to be, it is miles away yet or gone from sight. What has happened? Meteorologists and those familiar with the refraction of light rays will understand the phenomenon that results of the uneven heating of the air currents and strata over a wide plain. The unequal bending and crossing of the rays of light confuse the picture, and you will see the sky where the earth ought to be, and vice versa. It is an optical illusion, - a portion of the sky has come down in the picture and a portion of the earth has risen above it, and the former represents the water, and the distorted view of the earth looks like a forest of trees. You then have the mirage, and the disappointment.

          On this long journey there were no settlements to be met with, but there was occasionally a fortified ranch house which served as a trading post and in times of peace, as a connecting link between Whites and Indians, but were now fortified shelters for travelers and owners. The proprietors lived on friendly terms with the Indians where they could, and fought them off where war was the order of the day. Jack Morrow’s place was one of these where the Indians were half friendly on account of Morrow’s Indian wife. The Frenchman, Jules, at Julesburg, had to fight them as did Godfrey at Fort Wicked, and these were the only posts not burned by the Indians between Fort Kearney and Fort Morgan in Colorado where the U S troops were located.

          Near Julesburg the major part of our caravan left us. The road leading to Fort Laramie crossed the Platte River at a place called the California Crossing. At least it crossed the south branch to follow up the North Platte which marked the route to Fort Laramie and farther west. Denver lay upon the

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