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United States. Office of Indian Affairs / Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, for the year 1874
([1874])

Papers accompanying the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1874,   pp. [85]-[180] PDF (27.0 MB)


Page 91

REPORT    OF THE    COMMISSIONER      OF INDIAN     AFFAIRS.      91 
guides, employ6s, &c., mostly from that agency. Our intention was to
examine 
thoroughly all the country north and east of the present location, and, if
possible, to 
find some place where water should be abundant and good, and where there
should be 
sufficient timber to afford lumber for building and wood for fuel. The White
River 
being the only stream of any size and the only valley reaching the Missouri
from this 
part of the reservation, we determined to follow it down at least as far
as the South 
Fork, or Little White River, hoping to find a tract of good land either on
the main 
stream or along some of its tributaries. 
THE WHITE RIVER VALLEY. 
Our first camp was at the mouth of the Big White Clay, some twenty miles
from the 
agency. This is a stream that comes in from the south. We found the water
here to 
be good, at least in the dry season, and the timber quite plentiful, though
mostly cotton- 
wood, and some good grass, though hardly enough to furnish a supply of hay.
Our two 
following camps were on the White River, the one forty the other fifty miles
north- 
east of the agency. At these places cotton-wood was quite abundant, but the
water, 
being only that of White River, was very bad-white and thick with wash of
the clay 
lands and bluffs through which the river finds its way, and from which it
takes its 
name. At our last camp we were on the old military road from Fort Laramie
to Fort 
Pierce, which was thought to be at this point only twenty miles from the
South Fork 
of the Cheyenne, at the mouth of the Box Elder, a stream that flows down
from Harney 
Peak, near the east center of the Black Hills of Dakota. As that location
had been 
favorably mentioned by old trappers, voyaguers, and others, we decided to
deviate from 
our easterly course and visit it, as it was believed to be only one hundred
and twenty 
miles from the Missouri River at Fort Sully. 
THE BAD LANDS AND BOX ELDER. 
We therefore left the White River, and took a northerly course toward the
Cheyenne. 
The weather was intensely hot, and the distance proved much greater than
we sup- 
posed. We were two days in reaching the South Cheyenne. Our first day was
through 
the famous bad lands (mauvais terres) of Dakota, a vast tract of desert;
the soil of clay 
and chalk formations; formerly an elevated plain or terrace in the rise of
land from 
the Missouri River to the mountain-range west, and still longer ago the bed
of some 
vast sea or ocean. Now it is cut out by the flow of the water in thin subsidence,
or 
washed out by the torrents that mountain-gorges send down during the fearful
storms 
of spring and mid summer. Channels and roadways have been formed in every
direction, 
and they are sunk to great depths below the former plain. Thus the whlee
is left cut 
up into fantastic shapes, and its utter barrenness is relieved by the impressive
propor- 
tions and great beauty of the same freaks of nature. We saw pyramids and
towers, 
forts and castles, domes with minarets, and gothic cathedrals almost perfect
in outline, 
yet all these looking wonderfully like ruins of man's ingefluity and skill
in ages long 
gone by; and scattered here and there among them are elevated plains, covered
with 
pine or cedar, like hanging gardens, very beautiful, as the only sign of
vegetable life 
in all this vast desolation. The slopes of the hills at their base were covered
with 
strange pebbles, washed out from the clay, aifd in the clay were petrifactions
of 
shell-fish, many of them of kinds not now to be found. 
Our first night's camp was at the upper edge of this basin or wash, at a
run near the 
old camping-ground of General Harney, at Ash Springs. The springs had no
water; 
but here we found three Army wagons, which, except for age, were in as good
condition 
as when abandoned by Colonel Coles in 1858, and tihis shows how seldom even
Indians 
traverse this inhospitable region. The run on which we camped, and which
we named 
Delmadge, from the soldier who discovered it, furnished abundant water for
our ani- 
mals; and trere are trees for fuel enough for camping purposes for many years.
On 
our second day out, after crossing one basin of bad land, we ascended at
its extremity 
the steep front of what was or has been a cut bluff, and from the top looked
down upon 
the valley of the South Cheye- ne, lying just below us, and westward upon
the Black 
Hills, with the bald cap of Harney's Peak, overtopping them, rising grandly
from 
the plateau just across the stream. From here the descent to the Cheyenne
is across 
a sloping prairie to the very bluffs of the river, the distance being fifteen
miles. The 
soil is light and sandy., and covered with bushes and prickly pear. This
prairie 
aboundds in deer and antelope, and they were started up from every valley
and basin, 
and seemed to stand like sentinels on every hill around. The very steep descent
of the 
bluffsbrought us at once to The valley and bottom  lands of the stream. The
bluffs are of clay and disintegrated stone, and -are full of petrifactions
of sea 
and shell fish of enor~mous size. The valley is narrow and very sandy, grass
barely 
growing in it. The water in the river at this season is very  shallow, and
it )s slightly 
bitter to the taste. On either side of th~e stream are scattering groves
of cotton-w;ood, 


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