The Trek of the Seven Sisters
Diary of Sister Monica:
Saturday, May 7, 1870
We left San Diego in a private conveyance for Fort Yuma. The wagon was too small for all to ride inside, consequently one was obliged to ride outside with the driver. Sister Ambrosia volunteered to make the great act of mortification and humility. It is beyond description what she suffered in riding two hundred miles in a country like this, without protection from the rays of a tropical sun. Yet poor Sister did this.
About 10 o'clock we passed a white post that marks the southwest boundary of the United States. We dropped a few tears at the sight of it, then entered Lower California. At noon we halted and took lunch in a stable 12 miles from San Diego.
Search for Gold
Sister Maximus and I went in search of gold, seeing quantities of it, we proposed getting a sack and filling it. Just think, a sack of gold! -- but we soon learned from experience that "all is not gold that glitters."
We camped, about sunset, at the foot of a mountain; made some tea and took our supper off a rock. All were cheerful. We wished Rev. Mother could see us at supper. After offering thanks to the Giver of all good, we retired to rest -- Mother, Sisters Euphrasia and Martha under the wagon, others inside where there was room only for two to lie down.
Besieged by Wolves
Sisters Euphrasia and I sat in a corner and tried to sleep. We had scarcely closed our eyes when the wolves began to howl about us. We were terribly frightened and recommended ourselves to the safe-keeping of Him who guides the weary traveler on his way. We feared they would consume our little store of provisions and thus left us perishing the wilderness, but the driver told us not to fear. During the night Sister Euphrasia was startled from her sleep by one of the horses licking her face. She screamed fearfully, and we concluded she was-- a prey to the wolves.
Next morning, May 8, feast of the Patronage of our Holy Father St. Joseph, we were determined to celebrate it the best way we could. After offering up our prayers, we formed a procession, going in advance of the wagon -- Mother walking in front, bearing a Spanish lily in her hand. We followed in solemn order and imagined ourselves in Egypt with St. Joseph as leader.
Ranchers Propose Marriage
At noon we came to a cool, shady place in which we rested. The ranchman (a person who keeps refreshments, stable feed, etc., on the western plains), invited us to dinner. He offered us a good meal of all we could desire. There were several ranchers there from the neighboring stations, but no women. There are few women in this country. After dinner they became very sociable. We retired to the stable, where our driver and only protector was, and they followed. Some of them proposed marriage to us, saying we would do better by accepting the offer than by going to Tucson, for we would all be massacred by the Indians. The simplicity and earnestness with which they spoke put indignation out of the question, as it was evident they meant no insult, but our good. They were all native Americans. For that afternoon we had amusement enough.
We then resumed our journey. That evening we camped in a very damp place, made some tea, the only beverage we had. We then offered up our evening prayers and retired to rest. Mother, Sisters Ambrosia, Maximus and I mounted a rock; the other three went to the wagon. The night was very cold. I think there was frost.
We had only one blanket between seven of us. Sister Martha and I had only light summer shawls; the others were fortunate enough to have brought their winter ones along. Yet, we all kept up good spirits, being convinced that we were doing the divine will. We were much fatigued, and though hard the bed, and cold the night, we soon fell asleep.
Terror in the Night
Between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning we were startled from our sleep by an unearthly yell from Sister Martha, and one from the driver. We hastened to learn the matter. The Sisters in the wagon feeling cold concluded to kindle a fire to warm themselves. Although very dark, they set out in search of fuel, etc., to make it with, and finally succeeded in getting a few sticks and some dry leaves, and started out for more; but this time they had the advantage of a light from the fire. Sister Martha thought she saw a fine, large stick amongst the dry leaves, and eagerly grabbed it, and commenced pulling it towards the fire; when the leaves fell off, she perceived it was a man she had by the leg. She then yelled and he screamed, but only for mischief. It was the driver who was resting himself amongst the dry leaves.
All were frightened, but none hurt. It was well that they did wake up, for we were almost stiff with the cold. After warming ourselves a little, we made some tea to refresh ourselves. We then recommended ourselves to our Heavenly Father and our dear Mother Mary, and set out, singing the "Ave Maria Stella" and other hymns, as we went along .
Monday, May 9, 1870
We spent the day in climbing up and down hills. In the evening we reached the ever-memorable place, "Mountain Springs," the entrance of the American desert. For several miles the road is up and down mountains. We were obliged to travel it on foot; at the highest point it is said to be 4,000 feet above the level of the sea. We were compelled to stop here to breathe. Some of the Sisters lay down on the road side, being unable to proceed further. Besides this terrible fatigue, we suffered thirst.
Before proceeding further, I shall give you a brief description of the place. We were going South. Before us lay the American desert, 40 miles long -- 800 feet below the level of the sea. It is said to have once formed a portion of the ocean. It has every appearance of having been covered with water. On the right lies a great, salt lake, supposed to have been a part of the ocean, which, being hemmed in by mountains, could not recede with the other waters. On the left rise ugly mountains of volcanic rock and red sand. I wished Sister Euphrasia to take a sketch of it, but she said it was not necessary as she would never forget its appearance.
"Abomination of Desolation"
After a few moments' rest we commenced to descend. We were so much fatigued that it seemed as if our limbs were dislocated. We had yet two miles to descend on foot, the greater part being very steep. We joined hands, two by two, and ran as well as we could. It was certainly a novel sight to see the Sisters alone, on foot, crossing that lonely mountain in the wilderness. The sides of the road were covered with teams of horses, oxen and cattle that had dropped dead trying to ascend. At one place we counted 14 oxen, which had apparently died at the same time. When Mother beheld so many dead animals, she wept, fearing we might share their fate.
We re-assembled at the foot of the mountain, and paused a few moments to breathe; everyone had something to remark about the place we had just passed. Sister Maximus said it was the "Abomination of Desolation." The carriage overtook us there, but we continued on foot, as it was yet too dangerous to ride, though we had quite a distance to go before we could take the conveyance. We traveled as fast as we were able, in order to reach the ranch, for we were almost dead with thirst.
Annoyed by Drunken Mob We expected nothing but a drink of water, and we were not disappointed. After refreshing ourselves with a drink of cold water, we retired to the stableyard, where we had left our carriage, in which we had spent the previous night. The wind was so high that the driver had to use means to prevent the carriage from being blown over. There were upwards of 20 men there, some of whom were intoxicated. They annoyed us very much; some offered to shake hands with us, others trying to keep them off; and all swearing, etc.
We were not only tired, but hungry, as we had scarcely anything to eat that day. We placed ourselves under the merciful protection of our Heavenly Father, our Blessed Lady and St. Joseph, as we were exposed to fearful dangers in that ugly place. We will never be able to tell our dear Sisters all the mortifications and humiliations we had to endure there. It was 9 o'clock before we could get a chance to make some tea; in the meantime, we remained near our carriage -- it was our only home. Mother felt much discouraged. She said, "if Reverend Mother knew where we were, she would not go to bed this night."
Pick Off "Grey Backs"
Four of us slept in a shanty; the cook brought us a blanket, and, after picking some "grey backs" off it, presented it to us. The men were coming in and going out all night. We asked the cook what it all meant. He replied in a somewhat embarrassed manner that "ladies seldom pass this way, and when they do, the men wish to enjoy their society." Mother, Sisters Ambrosia and Maximus, remained in the carriage. The driver stayed with them as a protector. The cook was our guardian. He seemed to be a very nice young man and well educated.
May 10, 1870
We started this morning at 5 o'clock, and entered the desert. It is a vast bed of sand. Traveling over it is rendered dangerous on account of the sand storms. We were told that about a month previous to our crossing it, they found a government wagon loaded with firearms, which had been forwarded several months before, and a stagecoach with seven passengers all buried in the sand. As sand is a good conductor, consequently the heat is extreme. When the sun is at meridian height the sand is hot enough to blister.
In one place we passed a drove of horned cattle, said to contain 1,000 head; every one died of heat the same day. Another place we passed the remains of 1,500 sheep, smothered in a sand storm. In several places the sand is so deep that we were obliged to walk. We could get water only in one place and when we did get it, it was not only hot, but so full of minerals that we suffered more after taking it than before.
Sleep in Stable
We traveled until noon, rested until 4 o'clock p.m. Made some tea, which refreshed us. Recommending our journey to our Heavenly Father, we traveled until midnight. It was then cool and pleasant; the moon shone brightly; we walked and rode alternately. As we walked along and chanted a hymn. It was indeed a beautiful sight to see the Sisters at the lonely hour of midnight, crossing the frightful desert, singing hymns.
We sang all the time, and imagined St. Joseph in our company, protecting us, as he did the Infant Jesus and his Blessed Mother, through the Egyptian desert; thus we felt no fear. At midnight we reached a ranch. We would not have refused some refreshment, but for us there was none. We lay down in the corner of the stable and rested until 4 o'clock a.m.
May 11, 1870
We resumed our journey until 9:30 a.m., when we came to a ranch. The proprietor showed us great kindness; we were at once accommodated with water to wash, a refreshment we sorely needed, as we had not washed since we left San Diego. You may imagine our condition after our weary trip. One of the Sisters wore low shoes, her feet and ankles were very painful; and it was with difficulty that she removed her stockings, as they stuck to the flesh with the blood which had congealed there. After getting them off, she found 22 bleeding sores, produced by the cactus plant, with which the desert abounds. She advises all the Sisters coming to Arizona, to be sure to protect themselves with very high boots, in order to avoid the like disaster. At 6 o'clock p.m., we resumed our journey, and traveled until 3 o'clock next morning.
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