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When a Line Bends. Which Way to the Wild West? Who Was Princess Diana? Kristofferson: The Wild American by Stephen Miller Synopsis: The Wild American is the story of Kristofferson's triumphant pursuit of a career that took an even more unlikely turn when he broke into movies and became famous all over again. When a brood is strong enough to travel, the parents lead their young into general society. They are excessively tame, or bold. Often they may be seen strutting between the gnarled trunk and ashen masses of foliage peculiar to the sage scrub, and paying no more attention to the traveller than would a barnyard drove of turkeys; the cocks now and then stopping to play the dandy before their more Quakerly little hens, inflating the little yellow pouches of skin on either side of their necks, till they globe out like the pouches of a pigeon.
Descending the precipitous slopes of the Rocky Mountains on the west, we enter on a vast plain no less than miles in length, though comparatively narrow—the great basin of California and Oregon. Its greatest width, from the Sierra Nevada to the Rocky Mountains, is nearly miles, but is generally much less. The largest lake found on it is feet above the level of the sea, and is connected with the Salt Lake of Utah. The mean elevation of the plain is about feet above the sea.
A mountain-chain runs across it, and through it flows the large Colorado River, amidst gorges of the most picturesque magnificence. From one of the outer spurs on the east, let us take a glance over the region. Behind us rises the chain of the Rocky Mountains, the whole intermediate country, as well as the mountains themselves, except where the precipitous rocks forbid it, being covered thickly with snow.
Rugged peaks and ridges, snow-clad and covered with pines, and deep gorges filled with broken rocks, everywhere meet the eye.
To the east, the mountains gradually smooth away into high spurs and broken ground, till they join the wide-spreading plains, generally stretching far as the eye can reach, and hundreds of miles beyond—a sea of barrenness, vast and dismal. A hurricane blows clouds of white snowy dust across the desert, resembling the smoke of bonfires, roaring and raving through the pines on the mountain-top, filling the air with snow and broken branches, and piling it in huge drifts against the trees.
The perfect solitude of this vast wilderness is appalling. We must now pass in review some of the numerous animals which inhabit these regions. In some of the mountain plateaux, among the cactuses and sand-heaps, we find that singularly-made animal known vulgarly as the Texan toad or horned frog—a name which in no way properly belongs to him, as he is more nearly related to the lizards and salamanders.
He lives as contentedly on the hot baked prairies of Texas, as amongst their snow-surrounded heights; though, from his appearance, we should expect to see him basking under a semi-tropical sun, rather than in this region. Yet here he lives, and must often have to spend much of his time under the snow.
These toads, as the creatures are called, have brown backs, white bellies, small twinkling black eyes, set in almond-shaped slits, enclosed by two dark marks of the same shape. This has the effect of enlarging the eye, and giving it a soft look like that of the antelope. The two retro-curved horns, which rise out of bony sockets above the eyes, add still more to this odd resemblance. That of the lower surface is a dry tough tissue, almost horny.
Whether this armour is given him to defend himself from the rattlesnake, it is difficult to say. The creature itself is of a peaceable disposition; and so unwilling is he to fight, that he will allow himself to be taken in the hand, and if placed on it directly after capture, he will not attempt to get away.
It is very easy to catch him in the first place, for his movements over the loose sand of his haunts are scarcely faster than those of a land tortoise. The trappers and other scattered inhabitants of this region describe a fish with hands as frequenting the brooks and pools. Though there are, no doubt, some curious fish, it is questionable how far these creatures possess the members ascribed to them.
The fur-trapper of America is the chief pioneer of the Far West. His life spent in the remote wilderness, with no other companion than Nature herself, his character assumes a mixture of simplicity and ferocity. He knows no wants beyond the means of procuring sufficient food and clothing. All the instincts of primitive man are constantly kept alive. Exposed to dangers of all sorts, he becomes callous to them, and is as ready to destroy human as well as animal life as he is to expose his own.
He cares nothing for laws, human or divine. Strong, active, hardy, and daring, he depends on his instinct for the support of life.
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The independent trapper possesses traps and animals of his own, ranges wherever he lists through the country, and disposes of his peltries to the highest bidder. There are others employed by the fur companies, who supply them with traps and animals, and pay a certain price for the furs they bring.
The independent trapper equips himself with a horse and two or three mules—the one for the saddle, the others for his packs—and a certain number of traps, which he carries in a leather bag, with ammunition, a few pounds of tobacco, and dressed deerskins for his mocassins and repairing his garments. His costume is a hunting-shirt of dressed buckskin, ornamented with long fringes; pantaloons of the same material, decorated with porcupine quills and long fringes down the outside of the leg.
He has mocassins on his feet, and a flexible felt hat on his head. Over his left shoulder and under his right arm hang his powder-horn and bullet-pouch, with flint, steel, and other articles, in a bag. A belt round the waist secures a large knife in a sheath of buffalo hide to a steel chain, as also a case of buckskin, containing a whetstone. In his belt is also stuck a tomahawk, a pipe-holder hangs round his neck, and a long heavy rifle is slung over his shoulder.
Arrived on the hunting-ground, as soon as the ice has broken up he follows the creeks and streams, keeping a lookout for the signs of beavers. As soon as he discovers one, he sets his trap, secured to a chain fastened to a stake or tree, baiting it with the tempting castoreum.
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He is ever on the watch for the neighbourhood of Indians, who try to outwit him, though generally in vain, to steal his traps and beavers. His eye surveys the surrounding country, and instantly detects any sign of his foes. A leaf turned down, the slightly pressed grass, the uneasiness of the wild animals, the flight of birds, all tell him that other human beings are in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, after he has set his traps and is returning to his camp, the wily Indian who has been watching follows, and a home-drawn arrow, shot within a few feet, never fails to bring the hapless victim to the ground.
Here, after the hunt, from all quarters the hardy trappers bring in their packs of beaver to meet the purchasers, sometimes to the value of a thousand dollars each. The traders sell their goods at enormous profits; and the thoughtless trapper, indulging in the fire-water from which he has long abstained, is too often induced to gamble away the gold for which he has risked life and gone through so many hardships. When all is gone, he gets credit for another equipment, and sets off alone, often to return and repeat the same process, although the profits of one or two successful hunts would enable him to stock a farm and live among civilised men.
There are many other wonders of Nature in different parts of North America well worthy of more notice than we can give them. The most remarkable, perhaps, is the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky.http://clublavoute.ca/tahek-sanlcar-de.php
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The entrance to it is situated near Green River, midway between Louisville and Nashville. A lonely road leads to the entrance, from which, as we approach it in summer, we find a peculiarly chilly air issue forth. The sombre gloom of the entrance does not prepare us for the enormous hall within; long avenues leading into vast chambers, the smaller, thirty feet in height, at least, with an area of half an acre, and, as we get lower and lower, increasing in height.
Upwards of eighteen miles of the cavern have been explored, and it may possibly be of still greater extent. To give an idea of the height of one of the chambers, we may add that the rocks from above have fallen, and a hill has been formed one hundred feet in elevation. Many of the halls are ornamented with the most magnificent stalactites. Several streams pass through the cavern, down the sides of which rush numerous cataracts. Some of these streams, which are of considerable depth and width, are inhabited by shoals of eyeless fish, the organs of sight being superfluous in a region doomed to eternal night.
The atmosphere of this huge cave is peculiarly dry, and is supposed to be extremely serviceable to persons afflicted with pulmonary complaints. To visit any considerable portion of the cavern would occupy us at least a couple of days. It is calculated there are no less than two hundred and twenty-six avenues, forty-seven domes, numerous rivers, eight cataracts, and twenty-three pits,—many of which are grand in the extreme. Some of the rivers are navigated by boats, and, as may be supposed, they have obtained appropriate names.
Here we find the Dead Sea and the River Styx. One of the streams disappears beneath the ground, and then rises again in another portion of the cavern. But after all, as naturalists, the little eyeless fish should chiefly claim our attention. As coal was stored up for the use of man, formed in ages past from the giant vegetation which then covered the face of the earth, so the Creator has caused to be deposited in subterranean caverns large quantities of valuable oil, which not only serves man for light, but is useful to him for many other purposes. Whether that oil was produced from animal or vegetable substances, appears, even now, a matter of dispute.
Some naturalists suppose that vast numbers of oil-giving creatures had been assembled in the districts in which these oil wells are now found, and the oil was pressed out of them by a superincumbent weight of rock. Others assert that the same result might be produced from a vast mass of oil-giving vegetation having been crushed by a similar process.
Be that as it may, in several parts of the States, as well as in Canada, enormous pits exist full of this curious oil. It is obtained by boring in the ground in those spots where the oil is likely to be found. Often, however, the speculator, after spending time and capital in the experiment, finds that no oil appears at his call. In some spots, where it was first discovered, after the boring was completed, some hundreds of tons flowed up so rapidly, that it was difficult to find casks sufficient to preserve the produce.
The whole region round is impregnated with the odour of the oil. Long teams of waggons come laden with casks of oil on the roads approaching the wells. Sheds for repairing the casks, and storing the oil, are ranged around. Every one gives indubitable signs by their appearance of their occupation, while rock-oil, as it is called, is the only subject of conversation in the neighbourhood.
Gigantic as are the trees found in many of the eastern forests of America, they are far surpassed by groves of pines discovered a few years back in the southern parts of California.
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