The Long Riders' Guild

Unpleasant and frightening journeys in Arizona in 1860

by Raphael Pumpelly


Raphael Pumpelly (September 8, 1837 August 10, 1923) was an American geologist, Long Rider and explorer.  Invited by the respective governments, he surveyed parts of Japan and China. He made the first extensive survey of the Gobi Desert, and explored Mongolia and Siberia.  Later he became Professor of Mining Science at Harvard University. Among his scientific accomplishments was a theory of secular rock disintegration The mineral pumpellyite was named in his honour.

These brief excerpts are taken from the first chapter of his book, "Across America and Asia - Notes of a Five Years Journey Around the World," published in 1870.

In the autumn of 1860 I reached the westernmost end of the railroad in Missouri, finishing the first, and, in point of time, the shortest stage in a journey, the end of which I had not even attempted to foresee.  My immediate destination was the silver mines of the Santa Rita, in Arizona, of which I was to take charge, as mining engineer, for a year, under the resident superintendent.

Having secured the right to a back seat in the overland coach as far as Tucson, I look forward, with comparatively little dread, to sixteen days and nights of continuous travel.  But the arrival of a woman and her brother dashed, at the very outset, my hopes of an easy journey, and obliged me to take the front seat, where, with my back to the horses, I began to foresee the coming discomfort.  The coach was fitted with three seats, and these were occupied by nine passengers.  As the occupants of the front and middle seats faced each other, it was necessary for these six people to interlock their knees;  and there being room inside for only ten of the twelve legs, each side of the coach was graced by a foot, now dangling near the wheel, now trying in vain to find a place of support.  An unusually heavy  mail in the boot, by weighing down the rear, kept those of us who were on the front seat constantly bent forward, thus, by taking away all support from our backs, rendering rest at all times out of the question.

My immediate neighbors were a tall Missourian, with his wife and two young daughters;  and from this family arose a large part of the discomfort of the journey.  The man was a border bully, armed with revolver, knife, and rifle;  the woman, a very hag, ever following the disgusting habit of dipping - filling the air, and covering her clothes with snuff;  the girls, for several days overcome by sea-sickness, and in this having no regard for the clothes of their neighbors;  - these were circumstances which offered slight promise of comfort on a journey which, at the best, could only be tedious and difficult.

Soon after our entrance into the great American desert we were one morning all started from a deep sleep by the noise of a party coming up at full gallop, and ordering the driver to halt.  They were a rough-looking set of men, and we took them for robbers until their leader told us that they were "regulators," and were in search of a man who had committed a murder the previous day at a town we had passed through.

"He is a tall fellow, with blue eyes, and red beard," said the leader.  "So if you have got him in there, stranger, you needn't tote him any further, for the branch of a mesquite tree is strong enough for his neck." As I was tall, and had blue eyes and a red beard, I did not feel perfectly easy until the party left us, convinced that the object of their search was not in the stage.

One can scarcely picture a more desolate and barren region than the southern part of the Llano Estacado between the Brazos and the Pecos rivers.  Lying about 4,500 feet above the sea, it is a desert incapable of supporting other plant or animal life than scattered cacti, rattlesnakes, and lizards.  Our route winding along the southern border of this region, kept on the outskirts of the Comanche country.

Here we were constantly exposed to the raids of this fierce tribe, which has steadily refused to be tamed by the usual process of treaties and presents.  They were committing serious depredations along the route, and had murdered the keepers at several stations.  We consequently approached the stockade station-houses with considerable anxiety, not knowing whether we should find either keepers or horses.  Over this part of the road no lights were used at night, and we were thus exposed to the additional danger of having our necks broken by being upset.

The fatigue of uninterrupted travelling by day and night in a crowded coach, and in the most uncomfortable positions, was beginning to tell seriously upon all the passengers, and was producing a condition bordering on insanity.  This was increased by the constant anxiety caused by the danger from Comanches.  Every jolt of the stage, indeed any occurrence which started a passenger out of the state of drowsiness, was instantly magnified into an attack, and the nearest fellow-passenger was as likely to be taken for an Indian as for a friend.  In some persons, this temporary mania developed itself to such a degree that their own safety and that of their fellow-travellers made it necessary to leave them at the nearest station, where sleep usually restored them before the arrival of the next stage on the following week.  Instances have occurred of travellers jumping in this condition from the coach, and wandering off to a death from starvation upon the desert.

Pumpelly did reach his destination at the foot of the Santa Rita mountains, but was to have one more hair-raising experience before leaving Arizona.

The next day, after riding out with Lieutenant Evans to see some springs which are forming a heavy deposit of calcareous tufa, we started on the return journey.  We had passed a thicket about 500 yards from the fort, and had gone a little distance beyond this, when we met a man driving a load of hay.  In a few minutes, hearing the report of a gun, we looked back, but having made a turn in the road and seeing nothing, we rode on our way.  Several days afterward, I learned that the man we had met had been killed by Indians hidden in the thicket, and that the shot we hard was the one by which he fell.  The Apaches were probably few in number, as they did not attack us.

The victim was a young man from the Southern States, and a letter in his pocket showed that he had been to California to free and place in safety a favorite slave.  On his way home, finding himself out of money, he had stopped to earn enough to carry him through, when he died the common death of the country.  Four years later, my successor, Mr. M. Wrightson, and Mr. Hopkins were killed at this same thicket by Apaches, who afterwards massacred the few soldiers left to garrison the fort.

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