Thus, somewhat against my will, I found myself a part of that motley throng of keen-faced, fearless American life then pushing out over the frontiers. About me were men bound for Oregon, for California, for the Plains, and not a few whose purpose I took to be partisanship in the border fighting between slavery and free soil. It was in the West, and on the new soils, that the question of slavery was really to be debated and settled finally.
The intenseness, the eagerness, the compelling confidence of all this west-bound population did not fail to make the utmost impression upon my own heart, hitherto limited by the horizon of our Virginia hills. I say that I had entered upon this journey against my will. Our churning wheels had hardly reached the turbid flood of the Missouri before the spell of the frontier had caught me. In spite of sadness, trouble, doubt, I would now only with reluctance have resigned my advance into that country which offered to all men, young and old, a zest of deeds bold enough to banish sadness, doubt and grief.
THE WRECK ON THE RIVER
I made friends with many of these strange travelers, and was attracted especially by one, a reticent man of perhaps sixty odd years, in Western garb, full of beard and with long hair reaching to his shoulders. He had the face of an old Teuton war chief I had once seen depicted in a canvas showing a raid in some European forest in years long before a Christian civilization was known—a face fierce and eager, aquiline in nose, blue of eye; a figure stalwart, muscular, whose every movement spoke courage and self-confidence. Auberry was his name, and as I talked with him he told me of days passed with my heroes—Fremont, Carson, Ashley, Bill Williams, Jim Bridger, even the negro ruffian Beckwourth—all men of the border of whose deeds I had read. Auberry had trapped from the St. Mary’s to the sources of the Red, and his tales, told in simple and matter-of-fact terms, set my very blood atingle. He was bound, as he informed me, for Laramie; always provided that the Sioux, now grown exceedingly restless over the many wagon-trains pushing up the Platte to all the swiftly-opening West, had not by this time swooped down and closed all the trails entirely. I wished nothing then so much as that occasion might permit me to join him in a journey across the Plains.