A NIGHT OF HORROR

November 3, 1887 

Transcribed by : Tina Easley

06/30/2004

Dangerous Journey

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

enterprising colonists

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

hearts blood.

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

consciousness.

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.

THE COLONEL

 

Tina Easley
Come Take A Trip In History !
Greene County , Arkansas Website
http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ar/county/greene/