National Geographic : 1965 Nov
HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, 5AN MAIN, LALIUNRRIA Danger and death stalk the trail REAT RECORD OF THE DESERT," mission G ary Father Pierre Jean De Smet called Independence Rock (above, foreground), still an eye-filling Wyoming landmark. Countless emigrants on the Oregon Trail scrambled up its sides to carve their names or daub them on with axle grease. J. Goldsborough Bruff, a forty-niner who illustrated his diary with events of the day, sketched in chalk "A View from the Summit of Independence Rock." His name appears on the granite boulder at bottom center. A pro tective ring of prairie schooners camps in the rock's lee beside Sweetwater River. The saga written on the land by such wagoners carried its own melody-a "gay, forsaken lilt twanged on a banjo and a frying pan that bore the 660 footsore on for one more mile," wrote poet Stephen Vincent Benet. But danger lay everywhere, and the raw land forgave few mistakes. Hostile Indians, mountain blizzards, desert heat, and a hun dred other perils dogged the pioneers. In Wil liam T. Ranney's foreboding painting, "Advice on the Prairie" (opposite, upper), an old-timer regales tenderfoot travelers with stories of the disasters awaiting them. Bruff sketched on the spot such terrors of the trail. A rickety log bridge collapses out side St. Joseph, Missouri, delaying his trip. Farther west, where injured oxen and mules were irreplaceable, the accident could spell death to a wagon train. Poisonous water meant trail's end too. Bruff's cattle (right) fell after drinking from death-dealing Rabbit Hole Springs, near present-day Sulphur, Ne vada. "I counted 82 dead oxen, 2 dead horses, and 1 mule:-in 1/10 of a mile," he wrote.