Mail Rescue at Devil’s Gate

That afternoon a visitor dropped in; for a moment it looked as if he might be bringing the clean supper they aspired to. But he turned out to be an Indian as empty-handed and hungry as they, and instead of getting anything from him they had to offer him their last piece of boiled rawhide. He took it gratefully, indicating by signs that he’d eaten it plenty of times before. Nobody was able to talk to him except in signs. Jones tried him on Spanish and Ute and concluded he was a Snake. He did not offhand appear to be a messenger of Providence.

Then they heard a noise outside, and hushed. Human voices. “Here comes our supper!” yelled Joseph Heywood, and led the rush to the door. The McGraw mail coach, making a second try to get through, was stuck in the snow. The noise they had heard was a French Canadian swearing at the mules, a music that needed no interpreter. Jesse Jones, the mail carrier, was glad to see them, for down at the Platte bridge they had concluded that the whole Devil’s Gate crowd must by now be dead. But he was astonished at how happy they seemed to see him, and inquired the cause of their excessive friendliness. Because you are bringing us our supper according to the Lord’s promise, they told him, and would not take no for an answer. Almost his entire stock of provisions, calculated to last to Fort Bridger, went into the pot, and the twenty-six of them left just enough for a skimpy breakfast.

Nothing in such a basic western plot as this is wasted. The French driver knew Shoshone, and could talk to the Indian, who said that his band was camped a day upriver, out of meat and hungry, but that he thought he could find game if some of them would come along to protect him from the Crows. The mail outfit, now without provisions to go on, had no choice but to lie over to see if the Indian could prove his brag. He did. He took ten men out and brought them back after dark with their mules laden with buffalo meat.