Among the families in the mule train which traveled with us was one which constantly aroused our sympathy and indignation. Mrs. Brown was a meek, worn-looking woman, who, I am sure, did not want to take that journey. She had four children, shrinking little creatures who seemed always frightened. The man was right who said, "If you want to know what a man is, through and through, travel with him in an emigrant train. He'll show himself up; there will be nothing left to find out."
Mr. Brown "showed himself up" to perfection. "He's the meanest man that ever lived," we children said. "No one could be meaner." He didn't disturb his neighbors very much; he took it all out on his family. If there was an exceptionally hard place to camp, he chose that spot. If anyone had to carry water a long distance, it was Mrs. Brown. The ground along the Platte River was covered with prickly pears, that wild, hardy cactus, the name of which describes it so well. If there was a spot where they grew in profusion, that spot was chosen for their camp. We were all so sorry for the poor little bare feet trying to pick their way through the awful thorns. How we wanted something to happen to make Mr Brown feel the discomfort he put on the others and perhaps see himself as others in the train saw him! One evening we got our wish.
As usual they camped in the worst spot to be found, where there were pears so thick that the children could not walk. Mrs. Brown hunted around for scraps of driftwood to make a fire; they never stopped to pick up bits of wood to carry along as the rest of us did, and Mr. Brown turned his mules loose to graze. Of course, they lay down and rolled where the prickly pears were thickest. When they got up, their coats were covered with them. One poor mule had one sticking to his tail. In trying to shake it off, he stuck himself with the thorns, then with mulish wisdom, he clamped that pear down against his body with his tail, and how he kicked and charged. He tore through the bunch of mules and, followed by all of Mr. Brown's other mules, raced for the prairie.
They nearly stampeded the train as they rushed, kicking and braying among the other animals. Fortunately the men were able to hold the other teams. Out they raced onto the plains, far away from the camp. Mr. Brown, very angry-looking, for everyone was laughing, had to start on foot for them. Of course, no one would lend him a horse to ride. He was still hunting his mules when we went to bed. I don't know when he found them. There was not a person in the train, I think, who was not delighted. After that I noticed, and I watched to see, that his family did not camp in a prickly pear patch.