Traipsin’, tradin’ and explorin’

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
A bear named Pickles. Everybody knew Dr. Mary Winter Fisher was an animal lover. Shown here in the doctor’s downtown backyard is Pickles, a black bear. Today’s animal lovers would decry this method of confinement. When I was a small boy more than half a century ago, it was not unusual to pass roadside stands with a bear chained up outside to attract customers. I’m glad the practice is no longer allowed.

Last week, our traipsin’ Franciscan fathers had bivouacked with a group of Utah Indians near Bowie, Colo. After a long talk with the Utes, who warned them to turn back to avoid sure death from Comanche arrows and spears, the fathers traded for fresh horses and, guided by Silvestre and a boy named Joaquin, traveled westward through Grand Mesa National Forest to the south side of Battlement Mesa.
There they met three Ute women and a child with whom they traded some piñon nuts for some berries the Utes had been drying in the sun. Moving on, the group crossed the Colorado River at Una, where the Colorado ran west and southwest and was fed by the Dolores River. They encountered another group of Utes who encouraged them with news that the Comanche had moved east away from the planned route.
These same Utes helped Silvestre plan the next steps of their journey. Thus enlightened, Silvestre warned them of a high hill which, when they reached it, proved to be so steep and covered with loose rocks that several of the mules slid 20 feet or more down the slope. A strenuous climb finally took them to the top.
After traipsing across the Roan Plateau and the southern end of Douglas Canyon to a high ridge, Silvestre pointed north to the Comancheria and west where his people lived in Utah Lake Valley.
Having traveled north and west through Cañon Pintado, the expedition entered present-day Rio Blanco County, Colo., named for the White River (they named it Rio de San Clemente), which enters Utah at its western border. They crossed the White River just east of Rangely on Sept. 10. Much to their relief after weeks of mountain, canyon and mesa travel, they crossed land into Utah that was much flatter. The trail they followed had been pounded into the earth by countless herds of buffalo.
They entered the next lap of their journey across Utah short on rations, but with a nearby shaggy, four-legged meat market. A few hungry hunters successfully pursued and killed a bison on Yampa Plateau in present-day Uintah County, Utah, in September, thereby relieving their hunger pangs.
We will continue across Utah in next week’s column. I am using Wikipedia as an information source and using present-day place names to save space.

This story was posted on March 31, 2019.