« AnteriorContinuar »
and the faithful Mary were duly and cropped ears and ragged tail, (well lawfully united in the township church picked by hungry mules,) standing of Brandville, Memphis county, State doubled up with cold, and at the very of Tennessee. We cannot say, in the last gasp from extreme old age and concluding words of nine hundred and weakness. Its bones were nearly ninety-nine thousand novels, that through the stiffened skin, the legs 6 numerous pledges of mutual love of the animal were gathered under surrounded and cheered them in their it; whilst its forlorn-looking head declining years," &c. &c.; because it and stretched-out neck hung listlesswas only on the 24th of July, in the ly downwards, almost overbalanyear of our Lord 1847, that La Bonté cing its tottering body. The glazed and Mary Brand were finally made one, and sunken eye-the protruding and after fifteen long years of separation, froth-covered tongue - the heaving
flank and quivering tail-declared its The fate of one of the humble race was run; and the driving sleet characters who have figured in these and snow, and penetrating winter pages, we must yet tarry a while blast, scarce made impression upon its longer to describe.
callous, insensible, and worn-out frame. During the past winter, a party of One of the band of mountaineers mountaineers, flying from overpower- was Marcellin, and a single look at ing numbers of hostile Sioux, found the miserable beast was sufficient for themselves, one stormy evening, in a him to recognise the once renowned wild and dismal cañon near the ele. Nez-percé steed of old Bill Williams. vated mountain valley called the That the owner himself was not far “New Park.”
distant he felt certain ; and, searching The rocky bed of a dry mountain carefully around, the hunters presenttorrent, whose waters were now locked ly came upon an old deserted camp, up at their spring-heads by icy fet. before which lay, protruding from the ters, was the only road up which they snow, the blackened remains of pine could make their difficult way: for the logs. Before these, which had been rugged sides of the gorge rose pre- the fire, and leaning with his back cipitously from the creek, scarcely against a pine trunk, and his legs atfording a foot-hold to even the active crossed under him, half covered with bighorn, which occasionally looked snow, reclined the figure of the old down upon the travellers from the mountaineer, his snow-capped head lofty summit. Logs of pine, uprooted bent over his breast. His well-known by the hurricanes which sweep inces- hunting-coat of fringed elk-skin hung santly through the mountain defiles, stiff and weather-stained about him ; and tossed headlong from the surround and his rifle, packs, and traps, were ing ridges, continually obstructed their strewed around. way; and huge rocks and boulders, Awe-struck, the trappers approached tumbling from the heights and block the body, and found it frozen hard as ing up the bed of the stream, added stone, in which state it had probably to the difficulty, and threatened them lain there for many days or weeks. every instant with destruction. . A jagged rent in the breast of his
Towards sundown they reached a leather coat, and dark stains about point where the cañon opened out it, showed he had received a wound into a little shelving glade or prairie, before his death; but it was impossible a few hundred yards in extent, the to say whether to this hurt, or to entrance to which was almost hidden sickness, or to the natural decay of by a thicket of dwarf pine and cedar. age, was to be attributed the wretched Here they determined to encamp for and solitary end of poor Bill Williams. the night, in a spot secure from In- A friendly bullet cut short the few dians, and, as they imagined, untrod. remaining hours of the trapper's faithden by the foot of man.
ful steed; and burying, as well as What, however, was their astonish they were able, the body of the old ment, on breaking through the cedar- monntaineer, the hunters next day covered entrance, to perceive a soli- left him in his lonely grave, in a spot tary horse standing motionless in the so wild and remote, that it was doubtcentre of the prairie. Drawing near, ful whether even hungry wolves would they found it to be an old grizzled discover and disinter his attenuated mustang, or Indian pony, with corpse.
THE LATE GEORGE FREDERICK RUXTON.
The readers of Blackwood's Magazine, who for six succeeding months have followed La Bonté and his mountain companions through the hardships, humours, and perils of “Life in the Far West," will surely not learn with indifference, that the gallant young author of those spirited sketches has prematurely departed to his long home, from that Transatlantic land whose prairies and forests he so well loved to tread, and the existence and eccentricities of whose wildest sons he so ably and pleasantly portrayed. Nearly a month has now elapsed since the London newspapers contained the mournful tidings of the death, at St Louis on the Mississippi, and at the early age of twentyeight, of Lieutenant George Frederick Ruxton, formerly of her Majesty's 89th regiment, known to the reading world as the author of a volume of Mexican adventure, and of the above-named contributions to this Magazine. The former work has too completely gained the suffrages of the public to need commendation at our hands : it divides, with Madame Calderon de la Barca's well-known volumes, the merit of being the best narration extant of travel and general observation in modern Mexico.
Many individuals, even in the most enterprising periods of our history, have been made the subjects of elaborate biography, with far less title to the honour than our late departed friend. Time was not granted him to embody in a permanent shape more than a tithe of his personal experiences, and strange adventures, in three quarters of the globe; indeed, when we consider the amount of physical labour which he endured, and the extent of the fields over which his wanderings were spread, we are almost led to wonder how he could have found leisure even to have written so much. At the early age of seventeen, Mr Ruxton quitted Sandwich, to learn the practical part of a soldier's profession on the field of civil war then raging in the peninsula of Spain. He received a commission in a royal regiment of lancers, under the command of Don Diego Leon, and was actively engaged in several of the most important combats of the campaign. For his marked gallantry on these occasions, he received from Queen Isabella II. the cross of the first class of the order of St Fernando, an honour which has seldom been awarded to one so young. On his return from Spain he found himself gazetted to a commission in the 89th regiment; and it was while serving with that distinguished corps in Canada that he first became acquainted with the stirring scenes of Indian life, which he has since so graphically portrayed. His eager and enthusiastic spirit soon became wearied with the monotony of the barrack-room ; and, yielding to that impulse which in him was irresistibly developed, he resigned his commission, and directed his steps towards the stupendous wilds, only tenanted by the red Indian, or the solitary American trapper.
Those who are familiar with his writings cannot fail to have remarked the singular delight with which the author dwells upon the recollections of this portion of his career, and the longing which he carried with him to the hour of death, for a return to those scenes of primitive freedom. “Although liable to an accusation of barbarism," he writes, “I must confess that the very happiest moments of my life have been spent in the wilderness of the Far West; and I never recall, but with pleasure, the remembrance of my solitary camp in theBa you Salade, with no friend near me more faithful than my rifle, and no companions more sociable than my good horse and mules, or the attendant cayute which nightly serenaded us. With a plentiful supply of dry pine-logs on the fire, and its cheerful blaze streaming far up into the sky, illuminating the valley far and near, and exhibiting the animals, with well-filled bellies, standing contentedly at rest over their picket-fires, I would sit cross-legged enjoying the genial warmth, and, pipe in mouth, watch the blue smoke as it curled upwards, building castles in its vapoury wreaths, and, in the fantastic shapes it assumed, peopling the solitude with figures of those far away. Scarcely, however, did I ever wish to change such hours of freedom for all the
luxuries of civilised life ; and, unnatural and extraordinary as it may appear. yet such is the fascination of the life of the mountain hunter, that I believe not one instance could be adduced of even the most polished and civilised of men, wbo had once tasted the sweets of its attendant liberty, and freedom from every worldly care, not regretting the moment when he exchanged it for the monotonous life of the settlements, nor sighing and sighing again once more to partake of its pleasures and allurements."
On his return to Europe from the Far West, Mr Ruxton, animated with a spirit as enterprising and fearless as that of Raleigh, planned a scheme for the exploration of Central Africa, which was thus characterised by the president of the Royal Geographical Society, in his anniversary address for 1845:“ To my great surprise, I recently conversed with an ardent and accomplished youth, Lieutenant Ruxton, late of the 89th regiment, who had formed the daring project of traversing Africa in the parallel of the southern tropic, and has actually started for this purpose. Preparing himself by previous excursions on foot, in North Africa and Algeria, he sailed from Liverpool early in December last, in the Royalist, for Ichaboe. From that spot he was to repair to Walvish. Bay, where we have already mercantile establishments. The intrepid traveller had received from their agents of the establishments such favourable account of the nations towards the interior, as also of the nature of the climate, that he has the most sanguine hopes of being able to penetrate to the central region, if not of traversing it to the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique. If this be accomplished, then indeed will Lieutenant Ruxton have acquired for himself a permanent name among British travellers, by making us acquainted with the nature of the axis of the great continent of which we possess the southern extremity.”
In pursuance of this hazardous scheme, Ruxton, along with a single companion, landed on the coast of Africa, a little to the south of Ichaboe, and commenced his journey of exploration. But it seemed as if both nature and man had combined to baffle the execution of his design. The course of their travel lay along a desert of moving sand, where no water was to be found, and little herbage, save a coarse tufted grass, and twigs of the resinous myrrh. The immediate place of their destination was Angra Peguena, on the coast, described as a frequented station, but which in reality was deserted. One ship only was in the offing when the travellers arrived, and, to their inexpressible mortification, they discovered that she was outward bound. No trace was visible of the river or streams laid down in the maps as falling into the sea at this point, and no resource was left to the travellers save that of retracing their steps-a labour for which their strength was hardly adequate. But for the opportune assistance of a body of natives, who encountered them at the very moment when they were sinking from the influence of fatigue and thirst, Ruxton and his companion would have been added to the catalogue long of those whose lives have been sacrificed in the attempt to explore the interior of this fatal country.
The jealousy of the traders, and of the missionaries settled on the African coast, who constantly withheld or perverted that information which was absolutely necessary for the successful prosecution of the journey, induced Ruxton to abandon the attempt for the present. He made, however, several interesting excursions towards the interior, and more especially in the country of the Bosjesmans.
Finding that his own resources were inadequate for the accomplishment of his favourite project, Mr Ruxton, on his return to England, made application for Government assistance. But though this demand was not altogether refused, it having been referred to, and favourably reported on by, the Council of the Royal Geographical Society, so many delays were interposed that Ruxton, in disgust, resolved to withdraw from the scheme, and to abandon that field of African research which he had already contemplated from its borders. He next bent his steps to Mexico; and, fortunately, has presented to the world his reminiscences of that country, in one of the most fascinating volumes which, of late years, has issued from the press. It would, however, appear that the scheme of African research, the darling project of his life. had again recurred to him at a later period; for, in the course of the present, spring, before setting out on that journey which was destined to be his last we find the following expressions in a letter addressed to us :
“My movements are uncertain, for I am trying to get up a yacht voyage to Borneo and the Indian Archipelago ; have volunteered to Government to explore Central Africa ; and the Aborigines Protection Society wish me to go out to Canada to organise the Indian tribes; whilst, for my own part and inclination, I wish to go to all parts of the world at once."
As regards his second work, we shall not, under the circumstances, be deemed egotistical, if we here, at the close of its final portion, express our very high opinion of its merits. Written by a man untrained to literature, and whose life, from a very early age, had been passed in the field and on the road, in military adventure and travel, its style is yet often as remarkable for graphic terseness and vigour, as its substance every where is for great novelty and originality. The narrative of “Life in the Far West" was first offered for insertion in Blackwood's Magazine in the spring of the present year, when the greater portion of the manuscript was sent, and the remainder shortly followed.
The wildness of the adventures which he relates have, perhaps not unnaturally, excited suspicions in certain quarters as to their actual truth and fidelity. It may interest our readers to know, that the scenes described by the author are faithful pictures of the results of his personal experience. The following are extracts from letters addressed to us in the course of last summer
"I have brought out a few more softening traits in the characters of the mountaineers—but not at the sacrifice of truth—for some of them have their good points; which, as they are rarely allowed to rise to the surface, must be laid hold of at once, before they sink again. "Killbuck-that old hos' par exemple, was really pretty much of a gentleman, as was La Bonté. Bill Williams, another hard case,' and Rube Herring, were some too.
"The scene where La Bonté joins the Chase family is so far true that he did make a sudden appearance ; but, in reality, a day before the Indian attack. The Chases (and I wish I had not given the proper name*) did start for the Platte alone, and were stampedoed upon the waters of the Platte.
" The Mexican fandango is true to the letter. It does seem difficult to understand how they contrived to keep their knives out of the hump-ribs of the mountaineers; but how can you account for the fact that, the other day, 4000 Mexicans, with 13 pieces of artillery, behind strong intrenchments and two lines of parapets, were routed by 900 raw Missourians; 300 killed, as many more wounded, all their artillery captured, as well as several hundred prisoners; and that not one American was killed in the affair? This is positive fact.
“I myself, with three trappers, cleared a fandango at Taos, armed only with bowie-knives-some score Mexicans, at least, being in the room.
" With regard to the incidents of Indian attacks, starvation, cannibalism, &c., I have invented not one out of my own head. They are all matters of history in the mountains ; but I have, no doubt, jumbled the dramatis persono one with another, and may have committed anachronisms in the order of their occurrence.”
* In accordance with this suggestion, the name was changed to Brand. The mountaineers, it seems, are more sensitive to type than to tomahawks ; and poor Ruxton, who always contemplated another expedition among them, would sometimes jestingly speculate upon his reception, should they learn that he had shown them up in print.
Again he wrote to us as follows:
" I think it would be as well to correct a misapprehension as to the truth or fiction of the paper. It is no fiction. There is no incident in it which has not actually occurred, nor one character who is not well known in the Rocky Mountains, with the exception of two whose names are changed-the origi. nals of these being, however, equally well known with the others.”
His last letter, written just before his departure from England, a few weeks previously to his death, will hardly be read by any who ever knew the writer, without a tear of sympathy with the sad fate of this fine young man, dying miserably in a strange land, before he had well commenced the adventurous journey whose excitement and dangers he so joyously anticipated :
"As you say, human natur can't go on feeding on civilised fixings in this 'big village;' and this child has felt like going West for many a month, being half froze for buffler meat and mountain doins. My route takes me via New York, the Lakes, and St Louis, to Fort Leavenworth, or Independence on the Indian frontier. Thence packing my possibles' on a mule, and mounting a buffalo horse, (Panchito, if he is alive,) I strike the Santa Fé trail to the Arkansa, away up that river to the mountains, winter in the Bayou Salade, where Killbuck and La Bonté joined the Yutes, cross the mountains next spring to Great Salt Lake — and that's far enough to look forward to always supposing my hair is not lifted by Comanche or Pawnee on the scalping route of the Coon Creeks and Pawnee Fork.
"If anything turns up in the expedition which would 'shine' in Maga, I will send you a despatch.-Meanwhile," &c. &c.
Poor fellow! he spoke lightly, in the buoyancy of youth and a confident spirit, of the fate he little thought to meet, but which too surely overtook him -not indeed by Indian blade, but by the no less deadly stroke of disease. Another motive, besides that love of rambling and adventure, which, once conceived and indulged, is so difficult to eradicate, impelled him across the Atlantic. He had for some time been out of health at intervals, and he thought the air of his beloved prairies would be efficacious to work a cure. In a letter to a friend, in the month of May last, he thus referred to the probable origin of the evil :
“ I have been confined to my room for many days, from the effects of an accident I met with in the Rocky Mountains, having been spilt from the bare back of a mule, and falling on the sharp picket of an Indian lodge on the small of my back. I fear I injured my spine, for I have never felt altogether the thing since, and shortly after I saw you, the symptoms became rather ugly. However, I am now getting round again.”
His medical advisers shared his opinion that he had sustained internal injury from this ugly fall; and it is not improbable that it was the remote, but real cause of his dissolution. Up to this time of writing, (21st October, however, no details of his death have reached his afflicted friends, nor any account of it, other than that given by the public journals. From whatsoever it ensued, it will be a source of deep and lasting regret to all who ever enjoyed opportunities of appreciating the high and sterling qualities of George Frederick Ruston. Few men, so prepossessing on first acquaintance, gained so much by being better known. With great natural abilities, and the most dauntless bravery, he united a modesty and gentleness peculiarly pleasing. Had he lived, and resisted his friends repeated solicitations to abandon a roving life, and settle down in England, there can be little doubt that he would have made his name eminent on the list of those daring and persevering men, whose travels in distant and dangerous lands have accumulated for England, and for the world, so rich a store of scientific and general information. And, although the few words we have thought it right and becoming here to devote to his memory, will doubtless be more particularly welcome to his personal friends, we are persuaded that none will peruse without interest this brief tribute to the merits of a gallant soldier, and accomplished English gentleman.