Mile 981: Plante’s Station

“At this stage of the journey, especially in the headlong gold-rush years, the pioneers experienced a general unhingement. Teams heretofore considered indispensable were dead. The migration would have been face to face with impossibility except for the canny traders who appeared at strategic spots with fresh animals to sell and to swap for tired ones. Two or three exhausted horses, for instance, could be exchanged for one in good condition. A few weeks on good pasturage in the mountains out them in shape to be retraded. It was a lucrative proceeding and ethical enough from a trader’s point of view. Kit Carson was one of the first to anticipate this crying need and was mentioned by several trail diarists—never, that I can recall, in terms of recrimination. This was not true of the other traders encountered, who were often cursed up one side of the calendar and down the other. Nevertheless, with their expensive help, the emigrants reorganized their teams, often changing from horse or mule power to that of the stronger and more easily cared-for oxen. Just one little blessing had resulted from the alkaline marshes and hot sands—infections and hoof-rot had now disappeared from the feet of the animals.

They had another spree of discarding weighty articles. Out went the assorted hardware that had survived previous holocausts. Heavy ox chains were the main sacrifice, the lighter ones being kept with the general, if unspoken, idea that by the time they wore thin and parted another team would be dead anyway.”