Encounters With The Mohave

Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to the Coasts of the Pacific with a United States Government Expedition Vol. 2

Balduin Mollhausen and Amiel Weeks Whipple

Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, Roberts  London

Reprinted General Books LLC Memphis 2012


Business commenced without much preliminary ceremonial; the blankets and pieces of cotton stuff that we had brought with us for the purpose were cut and torn into strips, and bartered with beads and knives for provisions. We also purchased some of the weapons and ornaments of the savages, and even the elaborately worked a little petticoats of the ladies found admirers amongst some of the party, who had ethnological collections, and were willingly exchanged by the Indians for half a blanket each. This branch of the bartered trade gave occasion to some rather comic scenes; but we were all struck with the modest propriety of behavior of these primitive savages, which not only surpass that of any Indians we had hitherto known, but of many whites who claim to be considered civilized persons.


The Mohaves had now been acquainted with us several days, and having brought everything they could think of to barter, at last hit on the notion of offering us fish. The first that they produced, being a rare as well as favorite dish with our company, were extremely well paid; but when the rumors spread among the Indians that we did not disdain this article of commerce, the camp was immediately overwhelmed with them, and, of course, from the glut of the market the price of the goods fell considerably. This the sellers could by no means understand; they, it seems, had calculated that our appetites would increase by what they fed on, and with the appetites the price we should be willing to pay. Among the fish brought in were some distinguished by a large hump on the back behind the head, and of this, as well as all other distinct species, we added specimens to our collections. Towards evening, as we stood watching the course of the swift stream that we had to cross, and looking over to the opposite shore, we perceived groups of black heads bobbing up out of the water; which heads we found belonged to families of Indians, swimming back to their dwellings with their wives and children. One group especially attracted my attention. It consisted of a young woman, who had very quietly and innocently disencumbered herself of her petticoat in our presence, and folding it up laid her baby upon it in a little flat but strongly made basket, and with this under her arm, a little thing of about four years old held by the hand, and to elder children of seven or eight following her, had taken to the water, pushing the baby’s basket before her, and giving a glance backward occasionally at the two youngsters, who were romping and splashing about as they followed in the track she made on the surface of the water. I watched them as they landed on the small island, walked quickly across it, and then plunged into the river again on the other side. It was a pretty family picture: even among the heathen savages the sweet and holy affections of nature bear witness to its divine origin!




Lieutenant Whipple, who traveled on the Gila with Mr. Bartlett, describes the Yuma Indians living at the mouth of the Gila in the following manner:–“When we reached the Colorado, we met with Santiago, one of the chiefs, who led us into the village of his tribe, where we were saluted by a great number of natives. The women were mostly fat, and their clothing consists of a fringe petticoat made of strips of bast, fastened round the loins. The men are large, muscular, and well-formed, and the expression of their faces is pleasing and intelligent. The warriors wear a white apron, and their hair is twisted into cords, and hangs down the back, adorned with eagle’s feathers. They are admirable riders, and use the bow and lance with inimitable skill. While we remained there the Indians were friendly, and brought us grass, beans, and melons.”

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