All the emigrants on the trail to California faced that desert. Forty miles of sand and alkali with no water. To get across it they had to drive their oxen relentlessly on in spite of heat and thirst. To hesitate, to linger, was death. Here is how Luzena Stanley Wilson describes it:
It was a hard march over the desert. The men were tired out, goading on the poor oxen which seemed ready to drop at every step. They were covered with a thick coating of dust, even to the red tongues which hung from their mouths swollen with thirst and heat. While we were yet five miles from the Carson River, the miserable beasts seemed to scent the freshness in the air, and they raised their heads and traveled briskly. When only a half mile of distance intervened, every animal seemed spurred by an invisible imp.
They broke into a run, a perfect stampede, and refused to be stopped until they had plunged neck deep in the refreshing flood; and when they were unyoked, they snorted, tossed their heads, and rolled over and over in the water in their dumb delight. It would have been pathetic had it not been so funny, to see those poor, patient, overworked, hard-driven beasts, after a journey of two thousand miles, raise heads and tails and gallop at full speed, an emigrant wagon with flapping sides jolting at their heels.
It was an ordeal she never forgot. In her recollection she jumps from the Carson River to the “summit of the Sierra” and says nothing at all about the struggle to ascend the Sierras.
At last we were near our journey’s end. We had reached the summit of the Sierra, and had begun the tedious journey down the mountain side. A more cheerful look came to every face; every step lightened; every heart beat with new aspirations. Already we began to forget the trials and hardships of the past, and to look forward with renewed hope to the future.
They knew they were almost there. Having passed through the fiery trial of the 40-mile desert, they were drawing close to their promised land.
What an amazing image of the oxen described ! 🤗