A NIGHT OF HORROR
November 3, 1887
Transcribed by : Tina Easley
THROUGH THE ARKANSAS SWAMPS ON HORSEBACK
From Chicago Times Newspaper
November 3, 1887
I had been some days in Memphis testing myself from the fatigue ,
my long journey and looking for a Bay Beauty
had carried me many a long mile from the distant Alleghenies ,
and I feared under the hard snips yet to be it was possible that
she might break. Finally I succeeded in
selling her and purchasing another
my new acquisition was described in her "papers"
as a black or brown mare about
nine or ten years old 14 1/2 hands and a goodsaddler .
And so she was all of these
and much more. In a few days she had learned to know
me perfectley. All day long I
could ride with the knotted reins lying
loosely upon the neck and direct her by verbal
aided by the very slightest pressure of either knee.
I used the military commands and she obeyed
as willingly and swiftly as would the
most intelligent soldier. I took long rides near
Memphis and camping at night in the open .
Nita was turned loose to graze. In the morning
she was often nowhere in but
the sound of my shrill hunting whistle would
find her and soon I would hear her rapid
hoofs beating the prairie as she would dash up at full
and thrusting her velvety muzzle
over my shoulder whinnying evident delight.
On my return to Memphis from one of these excursions
I found a telegram ordering me to
proceed with all speed to Little Rock , Ark.
stopping at Des Arc on the way.
Nita and I crossed the great river on a steamboat going
to Mound City . We left the
boat at Wade's Landing struck out westward for
the Blackfish . The distance from Mound
City to Little Rock is about one hundred and
ninety of which more than one hundred and
twenty five lie through swamps. After
leaving Mound City the road as far as the Blackfish
was broady smooth and and in
no wise indicative of the character of the road
yet to be traveled .The mighty Mississippi at
is part of its course spreads out on its western
bank into vast swamps thickly grown
with great trees.
Many years ago a military road was cut and
built through these
and today an experienced woodsman or traveler can still
follow old road by noticing the gaps in the trees.
Several rivers run through the great swamps and
have established little hamlets at the points
where the road reaches Cache River .
They have constructed rude ferries with boats
of various types sometimes propelled by the
force of the stream the direction being guided
by an ingenious system of lines but
usually the great raft or flat - bottom
boat would make the traverse by sheer muscle
applied to long poles. We stopped all
night at a friendly farm and next
morning bright and early started for the
St. Francis half a mile from our starting
point the road entered the swamps , Nita's hoofs
disappeared below the water and in all that
day I did not see them again. It was
the strangest ride I have ever and
many a thousand miles have I covered in these
many years on horseback and in many climes.
Great columnar trees grew straight up shooting
ambitiously seeking the generous
sunlight. Shaft after shaft repeated
endlessly as far as the eye could these
grown pillars crowded with overhead
the thick overshadowing arch of foliage
shutting out the sunlight. Between
them ran interminable corridors filled with
palpable shadows of wonder tones
below and everywhere the wild swamp.
Not like other water is but alive with
a mysterious life of its own.
Brown is it everywhere from the
almost of the deepest shadow
through every shade of gold brown to a
quivering jewel where a stray
pierces the solemn aisles like a javelin
hurled and stirs the bewitched water to pulsating
Throughthe silent years millions upon
millions of dead brown leaves have come
floating down to the arid water below and
beneath its shimmering surface they a
rich carpet. Strange forms of life within those
waters . Great monstrous frogs would
plunge from some decaying stump that shone
like an immense emerald in the
dim shadow and with a slow stroke swim out of
sight.Slim spotted snakes with bitten
malignant metallic eyes and
strident slid away into the dense tangled
water- weeds . Hideous lizards horrid deformed
monsters writhed or wriggled their misshapen
ugliness through the sullen water, or mayhap
of brilliant green or startling vivid
crimson , darted away among long swinging
vines .Strange water insect there too . And
every tree was covered with huge clumps of moss
and orchids and strange parasites and
long tangles of gray and sinuous vines that swept
blazing with rare weird brilliant flowers to the weirder water
plants below. No bird's clear note cheered
these solitudes ; no bird was there , save in a
ruined tall tree stump clothed in rich garment
of vines and of there sat a huge horned owl
staring with yellow eyes across the
brown . And this was strangest thing
how brown green of the leaves and
even the vivid scarlet of lizard or flowers
seemed to be the very air was golden brown.
Onward patiently we went. The majestic silence
of those somber swamp solitudes soon
hushed the song on my lips and only the plash ,
plash of Nita's dainty hoofs broke the silence.
And so for the long hours we moved onward
through this unreal world of brown
guided by the scarcely distinguishable gap left by
the old military road and by the faithful
compass fastened to my saddle. At four oclock
we reached the St.Francis. The
roofs of the ferryman dwellings were barely
visible on the opposite shore and I tried for
two longhours to attract his attention in vain.
At last as night was descending and as Nita
and I were becoming frantic from the stings
of millions of voracious flies the colored
man caught the report of my revolver and
came running down and soon pushed his
unwieldy boat. We crossed the stream and
rejoiced at past troubles. Sweet rank grass
grew along the rivers and Nita was well
provided for. For myself there was a hot
squirrel bacon stew and good corn pone and
then bed and a sleep . Twenty - six miles had we
traveled that day . For two days more we traveled
onward through these swamps and as
we advanced there were gratefuls pots of
firm prairie, long tongues of sun-drenched
plain that ran into the melancholy morass
Travel been slower than I had expected and so
on the afternoon of the fourth day , as I
approached the last "bottom" as these swamps
are called I resolved to put through that day.
Cache "bottom" so called from the river
traversing has an evil name among those
who know these regions and my kind host of
that bright summer afternoon did all in his
power to persuade me wait until the following
day when he offered to accompany me to
Des Arc . He told me of dangerous passages
across deeper pools of misleading trails
of slimy mud and awful quicksands all in vain.
He told me tales of travelers lost in
that hideous never seen again by man , who had died of
fever aud starvation in horrid recesses in vain .
Finally , he assured me that he knew
by "signs" that a thunderstorm was
"blowing up " and would overtake me where
upon I merely said that it was all the more
necessary for me to at once departe and
with a warm shake of the hand I bade him
good-bye , and with a merry laugh at his anxious face ,
vaulted into the saddle and was off.
We were used to the swamps by this Nita and I
and bits of French chasons and Spanish
zarzuelas and English ballad or college
drinking song we nt ringing out among the
arched coridors and awaking strange muffled
mocking echos. An hour or two later we crossed Cache
river on a ferryboat and again was warned
against going forward by the lone ferryman ,
who pointed to the rapidly gathering clouds and
earnestly deprecated my attempting to
cross Cache in a thunder storm. But
I thought that I knew the dangers of the
swamps by then , ten miles more and I was
through with them and my desire to be
free from them very strong . So again we
plunged into the wild morasses . I fear that I
have not strongly enough the expressed utter
absolute solitude of the Wilderness.
Once within its confines you move in
watery shadowy maze , and completely absolutely isolated
from your fellow - man. No token is there
that any human being before you ever penetrated
the depths you leave no trace of your
journey behind. You are alone.
Soon I found that my informants had in
nowise exaggerated the horrors of that
of the brilliant water with its gold brown carpet
of leaves there stretched vast
morasses of slimy gray or black mud , scarced
concealed by hideous vegetation with sinster
leaves and livid blooms . Deep pools of muddy
water often crossed the trail and once and again
Nita lost her feet and I felt her swimming
under me . Rapidly the storm gathered
and great gloom and blackness filled the air.
The wind sobbed and moaned through the twisted sullen trees ,
the road grew more and more obscure and at last I halted
with a horrible doubt growing fast into
belief in my mind that we had lost the trail.
I brought Nita to a halt and anxiously peered
into the growing darkness. The wind grew
fiercer and blew angrily great pelting drops
of rain began to fall the thunder muttered in
the distance and Nita was trembling in every limb , so
I pushed forward in what I judged to
be the right direction cursing my folly at not
having taken the good cousel proferred to me.
Nearer and nearer came the storms I found
myself on the brink of a pool larger
blacker more hideous than any I had seen.
Low , straggling trees surrounded with gnarled
roots high in the air like writhing ,
water serpents and lank boughs outstretched.
After a hesitation Nita ventured in. Deep
sank her hoofs in the hideous and the black foul
water crept up her sides. Suddenly
there was a scream in the air a wild rush of
the mad wind an intense blinding glare, the
awful report of some huge trees near by stricken
by the fiery lightening. Nita fairly shrieked
in her terror plunged losing her and flung me from her I struck
against the limbs of a low and grasp instinctive
and looked around quickly for Nita.
She was gone . I stood there in that hideous pool
trying to realize my position.
Then I thought I would work my way to the tree
and climb into branches and whistle
Nita to me when the fury of the storm should pass.
What was my horror when I found my set firmly
fixed in the tenacious swamp.
I could throw my arms over the low bough and
I did putting forth my every
exertion in a vain endeavor to free myself while
the storm was raging in all its might. The
wind howled and shrieked through the trees
as though a million demons were let the
crashed unceasingly and the lights in
awful flashes ever and an on lit up the
darkness . The rain fell in torrents and
drenched me to the skin. I gave myself up for
lost unless the storm should soon
pass if I could hold on till then.
hold I might get Nita back and
holding fast to her be drawn from
the quagmire in which I stood . That I might
husband my strength , I succeeded after much
effort after in loosening from my waist a
broad leather belt, and passing it under my
arms lashed myself there by to the limb to which I clung .
The hours passed and yet the storm
seemed but to increase in fury.
Suddenly I realized that I was sinking
deeper in the water and yet that was
impossible lashed as I was to the
stout limb. Soon I understood
my awful position . The water was rising ! I
The realization of the awful doom that
threatned me chilled my
threatened me chilled my Cold
beads of perspiration broke out upon my
clammy forehead and I shrieked aloud in agony.
Slowly I could feel the water creeping upward.
Frantically I struggled to free myself from the
close clinging mud that held my feet and
legs as in a vise. Fortunately it was that
I had lashed myself for at length I must
have fainted. How long I lay or rather
hung there unconscious I do not know ,
but hours must have passed for the
storm had ceased great murky , ragged
clouds were flying across the angry sky and the
water I gasped in horror , it was at my breast
and rising visibly now. The slow hours wore by
and the sullen water crept ever up , greed , hideous .
And a stolid calm came over me , and all
unmindful of the growing light that
heralded the birth of a new day . I kept
a dull gaze up above of water as it crept
from thread to thread on my garments. It reached my neck and before my
strained blood shot eyes
it quivered and shone like a
resestless sea of steel. Higher , higher and a
last despairing shriek burst from my lips .
Hark ! What was that ! And the water
approaching my lips ! Another shriek !
And an answer ! A horsed whinny listen !
Hole on dar boss , I'se coming! A vision of
a great negro on Nita's back , and again I lost
When I again awoke I was in a comfortable
bed in Des Arc. weak from the long delirium
and fever that followed that night of
horror . It seems that Nita once free , galloped back to
Cache river , there to meet the negro who had
been sent after me by my anxious host of the
afternoon . Thanks to Nita's fidelity and the
negro's knowledge of the swamps ,
I live today to tell the tale.
Nita died some years after , and a modest
stone under the bright Texas sun recounts her
virtues and prowess.
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