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mouth, and at an elevation so little above the sea, that it may, in a general description, be considered a separate and independent drainage.
Another feature of this basin system remains to be described, which is also common to all the rest of the mountain regions occupying the plateau, and the region lying east of the Rocky mountains. Between the ridges of mountains the traveller occasionally encounters vast plains, which, when the sun is above the horizon, producing the phenomenon of the mirage, present to him all the appearance of the sea. The plain bounds the view, and the line of the horizon is broken into waves, resembling, in appearance, the edge of the Gulf Stream, when seen from the deck of a vessel ten or fifteen miles distant. The plains are clothed with vegetation of a scrubby growth, incapable of affording subsistence to any but a class of small animals, such as antelope, prairie-dogs, and rabbits. Most generally, however, in the southern part of the United States, these plains are clothed with a luxuriant growth of " grama," the most nutritious of all the grasses. Sometimes they are destitute of all vegetation, except the larrea Mexicana, the yucca, the cactus, and other spinous plants, and are paved with minute fragments of chalcedony, basalt, agate, and other hard rocks. Occasionally in these plains we encounter sand-dunes, called by the Spaniards medanos, extending over a large area of country, and encircling what might at first sight be supposed the shores of dried-up lakes. But an examination of the sand with a microscope of sufficient power, dispels this idea. The grains seem to be angular, and are not rounded by the attrition of water. An extensive formation of this kind occurs between the Rio Colorado of the West and the base of the Sierra Madre, and extends many miles along almost the whole extent of the western coast of the Gulf of California. Another very extensive waste of sand lies to the south of the Arkansas river; a third is traversed by the Platte river; and a fourth, which has come under my notice, less in extent, lies to the south of the Rio Bravo, on the road from El Paso to the city of Chihuahua.
The plains or basins which I have described as occurring in the mountain system, are not the great plains of North America which are referred to so often in the newspaper literature of the day, in the expressions, “News from the plains,” “Indian depredations on the plains," &c.
The term “plains” is applied to the extensive inclined surface reaching from the base of the Rocky mountains to the shores of the Gulf of Mex.co and the valley of the Mississippi, and form a feature in the geography of the western country as notable as any other. Except on the borders of the streams which traverse the plains in their course to the valley of the Mississippi, scarcely anything exists deserving the name of vegetation. The soil is composed of disintegrated rocks, covered by a loam an inch or two in thickness, which is composed of the exuviæ of animals and decayed vegetable matter. The growth on them is principally a short but nutritious grass called buffalo-grass, (Sysleria dyctaloides.) A narrow strip of alluvial soil, supporting a coarse grass and a few cotton-wood trees, marks the line of the water-courses, which are themselves sufficiently few and far between.
Whatever may be said to the contrary, these plains west of the 100th meridian are wholly unsusceptible of sustaining an agricultural population, until you reach sufficiently far south to encounter the rains from the tropics.
The precise limit of these rains I am not prepared to give, but think the Red river is, perhaps, as far north as they extend. South of that river, the plains are covered with grass of larger and more vigorous growth. That which is most widely spread over the face of the country is the grama or mezquite grass, of which there are many varieties. This is incomparably the most nutritious grass known.
South of the Red river, also, the plains are not unfrequently covered with a growth of mezquite trees, (algaroba,) of which there are many varieties. This tree varies in size according to the character of the soil and quantity of rain. It is usually from fifteen to thirty feet in height, crooked, gnarled, and armed with thorns. The wood is hard and full of knots, and is unfit for purposes of carpentry, but in other respects it fulfils many of the economical uses of life. It is excellent firewood, and makes good posts, being very durable. It exudes a gum which is equal to gum-arabic, but to the traveller its most important quality is the fruit which it bears--a nutritious bean, much relished by animals, and not wholly unsuited to the tastes of man.
The vegetation of the mountain and basin region, while it differs materially in the genera and species of plants according to the locality, possesses, nevertheless, a general similarity which is striking and peculiar. I have described that of the plateau or levels as consisting of a diminutive growth of shrubs ; but as we ascend from these to the heights of the surrounding mountains we pass through a succession of floral products, varying in character according to the elevation to which we ascend, until we reach a sub-Alpine flora. North of the parallel of 32° this appears at the height of about six thousand feet above the sea.
In situations protected from the winds we usually find, at this height, pines and cedars, and at a less elevation different varieties of oak. Wherever this region is traversed by watercourses, cotton-wood and occasionally sycamore grow on the edges of the streams. There are throughout this region, on the sides of the mountains, growths of pine, oak, and cedar, which are quite extended and present a forest-like appearance, but nowhere, until we begin to descend the Pacific slope and get within the influence of the humidity from the ocean, do we encounter timber at all approximating in size or luxuriance of growth the forests with which we are familiar in the basin of the Mississippi and the eastern slope of the Alleghanies. The Pacific slope, including the water of the Sacramento and its tributaries below the Cascade range, and Puget sound and its tributaries, it is not my intention to describe in this general sketch, or the memoirs which follow, further than to say that, refreshed by frequent showers and fogs from the ocean, it presents a different and more inviting picture than the country to the east of it. It is on this slope that we find that stupendous growth of red-wood, the accounts of which appear almost fabulous. We find here, too, in all that region north of Monterey, considerable adaptation, both in soil and climate, to the production of the cereal plants. About Santa Barbara, in parallel 34° north latitude, the mountains run to the sea ; thence the coast deflects sharply to the east; and below, or south of this point, the trade-winds, which sweep along the Pacific coast, charged with humidity for nine months in the year, from as far north as the Aleutian islands, seem to diminish in force, and finally die away, at the lowest extremity of California. The mountain range at Santa Barbara cuts off these humid winds from the land to the south of them; and it is my opinion, that on the Pacific slope beyond this point, and until we reach the region of the tropical rains, no crops can be raised with anything like certainty without irrigation. South of this range, the agricultural character of the country is much the same as that of the mountain and basin systems, and this character is retained along the coast until we reach the parallel of Mazatlan, where the tropical rains begin to be felt in great force. For the four months (July, August, September, and October) during which I kept a meteorological record at Camp Riley, no rain fell in sufficient quantity to be measured. The mean height of the barometer for that period was 29.853, the thermometer 68.37, and the mean dewpoint 58.13.
There are considerable portions of the extensive mountain system which I have attempted to
describe, where wheat and rye can be raised without irrigation; but these portions are exceptions to the general rule; and I think I am safe in stating, that as a general rule throughout this vast region, corn, cotton, and vegetables cannot be produced without irrigation; and furthermore, the limits of the ground which can be brought under the effects of irrigation are very circumscribed. The town of El Paso, in latitude 31° 44' 15".7, and longitude 106° 29' 05".4, is considered, and justly so, one of the garden-spots of the interior of the continent. A meteor
ological record was kept at Frontera, a few miles north of this point, for two years, by assistant · Chandler, the results of which are embodied in the diagram herewith presented.
From this it will be seen how very dry the climate is, and how unsuited for agricultural purposes, according to the notion entertained of farming in the eastern States. The settlements about El Paso are irrigated by the Rio Bravo, and are happily not dependent on rains for their fertility.
Whatever population may now, or hereafter, occupy the mountain system, and the plains to the east, must be dependent on mining, or grazing, or the cultivation of the grape. The country must be settled by a mining and pastoral or wine-making population; and the whole legislation of Congress, directed heretofore so successfully towards the settlement of lands east of the 100th meridian of longitude, must be remodeled and reorganized to suit the new phase which life must assume under conditions so different from those to which we are accustomed.
Southern California, the whole of the upper valley of the Gila, and the upper valley of the del Norte, as far down as the Presidio del Norte, are eminently adapted to the cultivation of the grape. In no part of the world does this luscious fruit flourish with greater luxuriance than in these regions, when properly cultivated. Those versed in the cultivation of the vine represent that all the conditions of soil, humidity and temperature, are united in these regions to produce the grape in the greatest perfection. The soil, composed of the disintegrated matter of the older rocks and volcanic ashes, is light, porous, and rich. The frosts in winter are just
in the season when the plant is flowering, or when the fruit is coming to maturity, and liable to rot from exposure to humidity. As a consequence of this condition of things, the fruit, when ripe, has a thin skin, scarcely any pulp, and is devoid of the musky taste usual with American grapes.
The manufacture of wine from this grape is still in a crude state. Although wine has been made for upwards of a century in El Paso, and is a very considerable article of commerce, no one of sufficient intelligence and capital, to do justice to the magnificent fruit of the country, has yet undertaken its manufacture. As at present made, there is no system followed, no ingenuity in mechanical contrivance practised, and none of those facilities exist which are usual and necessary in the manufacture of wine on a large scale ; indeed, there seems to be no great desire beyond that of producing as much alcoholic matter as possible. The demand for strong alcoholic drinks has much increased with the advent of the Americans ; and in proportion as this demand has increased, the wine has decreased in quality. On one occasion I drank wine in El Paso which compared favorably with the richest Burgundy. The production of this wine. must have been purely accidental, for other wine made of the same grape, and grown in the same year, was scarcely fit to drink. Cotton and corn grow with luxuriance, where water can be brought to irrigate the soil, throughout the valleys of the Gila and Rio Bravo, and upon the lower Rio Bravo; and upon the Rio Colorado, below its junction with the Gila, sugar-cane flourishes.
Vol. 1- 7
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY.
ENERAL DESCRIPTION O
It sometimes happens that the irrigation is produced by natural causes--the overflow of the river. This is the case in the basin of the Presidio del Norte, and on most of the country susceptible of tillage in the valley of the lower Rio Bravo. Crops depending upon this mode of irrigation are very uncertain, the overflows of the river being very unequal as to time and extent. In some portions, however, of the Rio Bravo there are two overflows. This is the case at the Presidio del Norte, below the junction of the Conchos river. The first overflow occurs in June, from the melting of the snows near the head of the Rio Bravo, in latitude 36° 37'; the second occurs in August, from the tropical rains which fall on the mountains near the sources of the Conchos, in latitude 26° 28'.
This occurs to a limited extent on the lower Rio Bravo, which is principally supplied in the summer months by its tributaries-the Salado, the San Juan, &c. These take their rise in the mountains to the south, within the regions of tropical rains. How far the lower Rio Bravo is supplied by the melting of the snows at the head of the river, I am not prepared to say ; but I am inclined to the opinion that, before reaching the tertiary region near the mouth of the river, most of the waters from that source are expended either by evaporation or absorption. In the intermediate portion of the Rio Bravo, that lying between Valverde, north of which the river is kept running by the melting of the snows throughout the summer, and the Presidio del Norte, where the Conchos joins it, and supplies it with water from the tropics, great inconvenience is felt for water in years of unusual drought. I was informed, on good authority, that in the summer of 1851 a man drove a gang of mules along the bed of the river from the Presidio del Norte to El Paso. The bed was dry for nearly the whole distance, occasional pools of water standing in places where the river-bed was formed of rock or clay, impervious to water. It was always possible, however, to procure water in sufficient quantities for drinking or watering animals by digging in the river-bed a few feet below the surface.
It might be expected in this report that I should say something of the practicability of a railway route to the Pacific through the newly-acquired territory; and it was my intention to do so, but the subject has been so ably and thoroughly examined and discussed by the Secretary of War, and the officers of the Topographical Engineers acting under his orders, as to leave nothing more to be said. All the topographical and other knowledge bearing on the subject which has been acquired by the boundary survey has been freely placed at the disposal of the
The signal ability with which that information and the information acquired by the surveys specially ordered for the purpose have been collated, leaves nothing for me to say, except that our information fully sustains the conclusions of the War Office report; and it is decided, beyond all question, that a practicable, and, indeed, a highly advantageous route, from the upper basin of the Rio Bravo to the valley of the Gila, exists through the new territory.
It has already been stated, as one of the facts elicited by this and previous surveys, that if the sea were to rise four thousand feet, a vessel could pass from the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Mexico, near the parallel of 32°, and that north of that parallel no good road even for wagons could be found, uniting the valleys of the Bravo and Colorado rivers. This remarkable fact was noticed by me in a reconnoissance made in 1846–’47, and was first brought to the notice of the government through Mr. Buchanan, then Secretary of State, who immediately sent a despatch to our minister in Mexico, indicating that no boundary north of that parallel of latitude should be accepted. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, however, fixed a line north of that parallel, which cut off entirely the communication by wagons between the two rivers ;
and leaving out of view the consideration involved in securing a railway route to the Pacific, it was a line which must sooner or later have been abandoned. No traveller could pass, nor could a despatch be sent, from a military post on the Rio Bravo to one on the Gila without passing through Mexican territory.
I again called the subject to the attention of the government in a letter dated San Diego, April, 1850, which has been already given, in the hope that the United States commissioner might succeed in torturing the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to embrace a practicable route. That letter, however, received no attention, and I am now of the opinion that the Mexican commissioner was so impressed with the importance of the advantage to his government of making a boundary which would not only exclude the railway route, but which would cut off the communication between our military posts in New Mexico, on the Rio Bravo, and those we might establish on the Gila, that any attempt to construe the words of the treaty so as to embrace the railway and wagon route would have been abortive.
It was a great mistake to suppose, as was urged at the time, that the line projected and claimed by the United States surveyor, in opposition to that agreed to by Mr. Bartlett, gave the United States this route. Subsequent surveys have entirely sustained what I have stated on this subject in the letter to the Secretary of the Interior, dated Fort Duncan, which will be found in the first chapter of this report.
The report of Lieut. Parke, who made the recent survey for the railway route over this portion of the country, fully confirms the opinions expressed by me of the practicability of the route ; and he has further reported, as the result of his examinations, that the San Pedro river offers the best route by which to descend to the Gila from the table-lands west of the Rio Bravo. I went so far only as to indicate it as a practicable route. Lieut. Parke gives it the preference above all others; and the most prominent of the reasons he assigns, is the important fact that this route affords water in abundance, and traverses valleys capable of continuous settlement.
It is no part of my business to criticise the blunders made in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, or to defend the provisions of the treaty of December, 1850; but it is undeniable that the last treaty has secured to us what before did not exist-a means of communication between the military establishments on the Rio Bravo and those on the Gila; and what is more important, it has secured what the surveys made under the orders of the War Department demonstrate to be the most feasible if not the only practicable route for a railway to the Pacific. But the importance of these considerations is very little when compared to the important pecuniary consideration secured by the same treaty, in the revocation of the 11th article of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. That article made it incumbent on the United States to keep the Indians living within our own territory from committing depredations on the Mexicans, and, by implication, imposed on the United States the obligation of indemnity for all losses resulting from failure to carry out the provisions of the treaty.
No amount of force could have kept the Indians from crossing the line to commit depredations, and I think that one hundred millions of dollars would not repay the damages they have inflicted. Whole sections of country have been depopulated, and the stock driven off and killed ; and in entire States the ranches have been deserted and the people driven into the towns.
It is true, all this has not been done since the war, and would form no just claim against the United States; but those conversant with the history of Mexican claims against the United States will at once admit that the United States would have been fortunate if she could have escaped with paying real claims for depredations, whether committed before or after the war. I