National Geographic : 1900 Sep
THE COLORADO DESERT soil. As the water slowly retires and leaves a margin of damp soil, the Indian breaks small holes with a heavy pointed stick, at intervals of a few feet, and in these deposits a few seeds. The moisture and excessive heat combine to produce a rapidity of growth that is aston ishing. It is the veritable beginning of agriculture, and one may learn here how such cultivation arose in the valleys of the Nile and the Oxus. Two hundred and sixty years ago, when these Indians were first seen by whites, they were planting and harvesting precisely as they do today. The great meadows of the overflow are utilized in summer and fall by American cattlemen. Thousands of head of stock are driven in as soon as the inundation comes. Below the line and along the Cocopah Valley I saw a magnificent herd of 1,600, the property of San Diego cattlemen, which had been thriving and increasing in that region for several years. The care of cattle on the desert gives rise to an occupation as ardu ous and hazardous as exists among human employments. Cattle punching anywhere in the West is not an easy life; here on the desert of the Colorado its trials and dangers are multiplied. Feed and water become scant in late winter and spring before the overflow arrives deathly want and scarcity settle down over all the country; the starv ing cattle grow restless under the grievous want; then comes the overflow, and hundreds of square miles of desert clay become the stickiest surface on the face of the earth. The cattle, miserably re duced and weak, are unable to pull themselves out of the mud in which they sink continually in their efforts to reach food and water. One cannot appreciate what it is to have stock " bogging down " until one has seen them sinking by scores in the bottomless clay of this inundated country. From daylight to dark the cowboy must be in the saddle pulling these foundered cattle out with riata and pony. For weeks his skin is hardly dry and his person never free from the thick incrustations of fluviatile mud. Difficulties lessen as the cattle become nourished and grow stronger, but throughout the summer there must be constant watchfulness. These young fellows live on a diet of coffee, baking-powder bread, and jerked beef roasted in the flames. At night they lie down on the ground and seek sleep in the cover of a smudge of cow dung as protection against mosquitoes. The few rude utensils and the stock of grub are packed in cowhide alforjas on the backs of burros, and the camp is located under the shade of mesquite bushes in some dry spot along a slough, close by the restless herds of cattle.