ACROSS THE LARAMIE PLAINS IN A BOAT
As noted at the bottom of a 1939 transcription of this article, "This story was written for the womans edition of the Boomerang Jan 1st 1900. Thirty nine years latter it would be an impossible feat, as the Laramie River is scarsely more than a ditch and a small one at that."
The Big Laramie River must be measured in its course across the plains as must all the streams flowing into it and all the ditches taken out of it, to see what becomes of all the water.
How should it be accomplished? That was the question.
It would require two or three persons, a number of instruments and some camp equipage.
The distance by road is seventy-five miles, and in following the turnings and windings of the river it is about three times as far. A team of wagon would be impractical, if not impossible, owing to wire fences, ditches, sloughs and brush.
After much discussion it was decided, with the aid of a ship's carpenter, that a boat, if properly built could be used at that particular time of the year, owing to the high water. Accordingly a boat, fourteen feet long, by three and a half feet wide was built. It was made stout and tight and of such a shape that it couldn't be upset. Our carpenter wanted no drownings on his conscience. It was taken out for a trial trip and found satisfactory. It drew from four to ten inches of water according to the load, and could carry 1,000 pounds. The boat was ready, but the people were not.
Many unscientific things must be done in many unscientific ways before the time and place is at hand for doing the scientific thing in the scientific way. How beautiful it will be when order is earth's first law.
One pleasant afternoon in August, three days later, the business matters had been put in shape to leave; the hurry of buying and packing was over; the boat was securely fastened to an improvised cart which was hitched behind a big wagon. Then there was the ship's carpenter in his one horse wagon, then there was the horse-bacher to keep all company and act as general field marshal. A single buggy in which the woman rode brought up in the rear. Our party of ten was started for Woods Landing, the point where the boat was to be launched on its cruise down the river. At eleven o'clock that night we reached our camping place, three miles below Woods Landing. We halted before dark for supper, so now the tents were soon pitched, horses cared for, beds made and a sleep doubly refreshing after the long ride restored us to ourselves by sunrise next morning.
The men of the party spent the following two days in gauging the river and ditches between our camp and Wood, the latter a hotel and post office, located at the base of Jelm Mountain in the mouth of the canon. From this place the river as it winds in and out along the far reaching foot of the mountain, toward the wide plains, is narrow and very swift, rushing in and out among great boulders, making the passage of a boat exciting if not dangerous.
The boat was taken up to Woods on Friday, where all the party took dinner, after which four of the men launched the boat to try the river down to the camping place, the rest of the party being content with the safer wagon road. Some two hours later of anxious waiting after reaching camp, the four sailors appeared safe and sound all aglow with the excitement of several hair-breath escapes from drowning and being dashed to pieces on the rocks.
The next day after more scientific gauging and unscientific packing, the party divided as before, started toward Laramie. In about an hour after the wagons reached the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Sodergreen, the sailors came rushing down the river with hats waving. They pulled ashore amid the exclamations of numerous spectators wondering at the novelty of a boat on so narrow and swift a stream.
And now when the dangerous portion of the river bed is past, the real Story begins.
After dinner seven of the party came to Laramie with the horses and wagon. After a Sunday's rest preparations were made and we (three men in a boat -- only one of us was a woman) started on our journey down river.
We were provided with three granite plates, three knives and forks, four spoons, a small frying pan, a stew pan and some canned goods in a locker, bread, butter and extra clothing considered absolutely necessary in the other. Two beds rolled tightly in canvas amid ship. A man on the stern with an oar to steer. A man on the prow with a long pole to guard against danger from bank and fallen trees. A woman in the center with a pair of oars to hasten the speed in slow waters.
When we came to a stream or ditch we stopped to rate it. When meal time came we pulled ashore in a cozy spot, gathered wood for a fire, got milk from a ranch if near one. Fried our fish of which we caught many, warmed our canned goods, and enjoyed our simple meal far more than we could a feast of the finest dainties at home. Rested a while in the sun and resumed our journey.
When we came to a dam across the river as we did several times we got ashore and let the boat over by means of ropes. The men wore waders and were prepared at any moment to jump into several feet of water. We often found our path obstructed by wire fences, but these were easily passed under by the boat. With one man holding up the wire, the other holding the boat and the woman lying low in the bottom.
We sailed on smoothly for a day and a half; now over deep green pools, then over swift riffles where we were all but grounded, the men springing quickly into the water to relieve the boat of their weight and then sometimes the prow would stick on a bit of sand or a stone and the stern swing around with the current to be caught and dragged a few feet where it would float again.
For nearly two days we lingered in the shadow of Jelm Mountain -- now it was at our backs and again we were facing it. First it would be at our right and then our left. In the morning we saw it bathed in rosy light. In the evening in gray and purple, always changing, always lovely and majestic.
And such glimpses of river life! Great trees felled by beaver as attest the roughly gnawed stumps, but never a beaver to be seen. King Fishers poising over the water a mere speck, then a drop as if shot out of the sky, and Mr. Fisher flies to the nearest limb to devour his prey. Then the wild ducks of all sizes from those two weeks or more old to those large enough to fly. When we came upon a flock of young ones it was curious to see the hurry and scurry through the waters, and the strategy of the mother duck when she found we were sure to overtake them She would feign a wound, flutter back and forth in front of the boat, seeming in all but a helpless condition, till her young were safely hidden on shore.
Now and then a flock of Blue Herons would land on the bank and gaze at us, with their queer long necks stretched out, till we drew almost near enough to get a shot (with the Camera) when up and away they would go, each taking a different direction, much to the camera man's disgust. Numerous hawks screamed as they soared above us, and cattle grazing near the banks or drinking from the river would watch the strange spectacle gliding down upon them until we were very near them when suddenly they would dash away in a mad stampede. And the mosquitoes! I nearly forget them. Though if we forgot them a second while on shore we were reminded of them again by their blood thirsty bills.
On Tuesday morning our attention was attracted to the sky. It presented a most wonderful appearance. The whole vault was overspread with light feathery clouds such as sailors call a "Mackeral sky." We watched the changing beauty in wondering admiration.
At about two o'clock that afternoon we arrived at an old dam, then mostly washed away. At the right, a headgate which had been washed out by the spring floods was tilted over on its side. We tied the boat to the dam and got ashore to view and note the ruins, only to discover that what we had passed for a slough a half a mile back could be no other than Sand Creek which must be rated. We took note book and instrument and started back afoot, and keeping well up from the river, as the mouth of the creek we knew, was too wide and choked up with weeds to permit a good rating.
On our way we were overtaken by a man on horseback who was interested in our mode of travel and politely informed us that his house was a couple of miles down the river. It would afford us shelter if we reached it by nightfall. There was not much to eat and it was skunky but we were welcome to it such as it was. We thanked him kindly and proceeding on our way thought how little we would need other shelter than the sky in such fine weather.
On reaching the creek, we found that not alone was it wide with one bank undefined and the bed choked with weeds. After following it up a mile or more we despaired of a better place. The men waded in and rated it, but our scientist thought best to go back to the mouth and do the work over again as a check. So we proceeded down again.
As we walked we noted a dark cloud some miles away where Sand Creek leaves the mountains, but were not at all dismayed at such an insignificant looking affair. When we reached the mouth, some fifteen minutes later, a stiff wind was astir. The men advised me to hasten to the boat to get the wagon sheet over the beds and to don a mackintosh. When I reached the boat a stiff wind was blowing and large drops of rain falling. I hastened to get on the mackintosh, covered the boat with the extra canvas, tucked it about the beds as well as I could, grasped a slicker and jumped ashore, as the wind was blowing such ...
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... morning before we were again on our way. We reached Laramie about four o'clock in the afternoon without further adventure, and what was better without having taken cold.
After two days at home the two men started on to finish up the work, this time without the woman. The carpenter rigged up a sail on the boat so they made better time. In a week they were met at McGills with a team and brought home, having a profitable, as well as enjoyable trip. They had some trouble later part with low water.
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