Monday, January 11, 2010
"Trapped in Death Valley" from Edcon Publishing
This is the story of the Sand Walking Company and their
treacherous journey through Death Valley in an effort to reach
Something you will read about: borax: a white powdery substance used to destroy germs.
The road west was treacherous and untamed~ yet these brave men and women were determined to reach the territory called California.
The Sand Walking Company, consisting of a hundred wagons full of settlers heading for California and the newly discovered gold fields, halted in southwestern Utah. An argument had been going on for some time. Part of the group wanted to take a shortcut through the desert. But the leader, Captain Hunt, was very much opposed to it.
"We'll travel south," urged Manly. "These mountains are very treacherous in the winter. Remember what happened to the Donner party?"
A shudder swept over the three of them as they recalled the ordeal of the Donner party stranded by blizzards in the Sierras. Captain Hunt still argued.
"At least we know the way through the mountains. It would be suicide to endeavor to travel through that unknown desert."
Manly gazed carefully at the jagged line he had drawn due south, through the mysterious southeast desert region where Nevada meets California. It looked so easy, so direct.
"I want to attempt it," he insisted.
"Suit yourself," replied Captain Hunt, "but I'm taking all those who will accompany me over the mountains, the safe and sure way."
The temperature rose as the wagons creaked forward and a large pond became visible. The children scampered to the welcome water, but a white, salty substance lay upon the surface.
"Don't drink it," Juliette Brier warned her three children, "it may be contaminated. "
"But we're thirsty," whined the children, "and we're tired."
"I know," soothed their mother, concealing her growing anxiety.
The fresh water supply was becoming scant and so were the provisions. It was difficult traveling through the sand, not nearly as swift as Manly had imagined. The shortcut had turned into a nightmare but Juliette maintained her fortitude and good spirits and constantly encouraged her companions. When the children got tired, she played a game with them, letting them ride on empty leather saddlebags. Manly and Rogers scanned the horizon, peering at the distant peaks of the Panamint Mountains, which separated them from California's wealth.
They followed a stream which they named Furnace Creek because the rocks seemed to have been bleached by the torrid sun. Most of the water was undrinkable. The white powdery mineral served to contaminate all but a few springs. In later years, this substance, borax, would make men rich as they hauled the "white gold" from the desert with twenty-mule teams, but to these travelers the salty powder just added to their ordeal.
Furnace Creek Valley
"We'll surely die now," said Juliette in despair, turning her face so the children could not see her weep.
The men listened to Juliette's sobs in desperation. Her fortitude had inspired them and now even she felt that their situation was hopeless.
"Look," exclaimed William Manly, "John and I got you into this, so we'll have to go and get help. Meanwhile, the rest of you must stay here."
He glanced at the Reverend Brier and his brave wife.
"And pray. Pray like you've never prayed before."
As the two men disappeared into the wilderness, their friends watched in despair. The two men had taken few supplies. Who could survive in this torrid desert? One by one, most of the oxen were killed for their meat. It seemed as if the waiting people would die of thirst when a sudden winter storm, bringing the rare rain of the desert, nearly drowned them in a flash flood but left pure water in hastily set out containers. Then a miracle seemed to happen. Flowers of purple, gold, red and yellow appeared, springing up where the moisture had reached them. Juliette hugged her starving children and gazed hopefully at the flowers, assuring the children that help would come soon.
Meanwhile, John and William had crossed the desert and reached the Panamint Mountains. Powered by sheer fortitude, they crossed the mountains and wandered through a smaller desert, the Mojave. They stumbled into a ranch, looking more like skeletons than living men. At the nearby settlement of San Fernando, they purchased whatever provisions they could carry, plus three horses and a small mule.
The return journey was an ordeal. The horses died. The men utilized few of the provisions, saving them for their friends. As they approached the ravine where the wagons ground to a halt, they were filled with dread. The only sound was the wind whistling around the wagons. Manly raised his revolver and fired, the shot echoing from the forbidding stone cliffs. There was a scratching sound as a man crawled painfully from under a wagon. He blinked, then in a hoarse voice he shouted.
"The boys have come! The boys have come!"
Immediately, the atmosphere was alive with jubilant exclamations and cries as the survivors staggered from the wagons where they had sought shelter from the torrid sun.
"Thank the Lord!" exclaimed Reverend Brier.
"Good bye, Death Valley."
"Goodbye, Death Valley," she whispered.
Death Valley, as it has been known since, is a place of terror, mystery, and for some, the source of great fortunes. But no one who travels through Death Valley, even on modern roads, can forget the little group who first crossed it in the winter of 1849.
1. The leader of the Sand Walking Company was ___________ .
2. This leader was strongly against taking a short cut __________ .
3. In all probability, the group that followed Manly would have had less trouble if they followed ____________.
4. The group followed a stream called ___________ .
5. The powdery mineral which contaminated most of the springs was _________ .
6. A sudden winter storm caused flowers to spring up __________ .
7. Juliette thought of the flowers as a _____________ .
8. A more detailed account of this story might be found in a book on ________ .
9. Another name for this selection could be _________ .
10. This selection is mainly about _________ .
This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. It is under Copyright, and included here with permission from the company. Edcon has all the rights to the audio files of their articles and stories. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher
Here are some links for more information and
visuals about Death Valley.
Death Valley: Photos
Death Valley Music Video from Youtube:
Death Valley National Park