When I was a boy at school in Roswell, Georgia in 1849, and eighteen years of age, from reading Kendall's "Santa Fe Expedition" and other accounts of the then wild West with its Indians and its game, these and the wonderful accounts of the gold then being discovered in California, so stirred the spirit of adventure in me, and a school friend of about my age, that we determined to leave school, and with or without the consent of our parents to make our way to the Far West and finally to California.
We left school together pledging ourselves to do what we could to prepare for the trip and then to meet again and share our fortunes in a venture to the far West. Certainly the prospect of adventure weighed more forcibly with us than the thought of gold in California. We parted, each shaping his course for home. I am not certain what happened to my friend when he got home. I received one letter from him saying he was having an uphill fight, but was adhering to our agreement.
When I first reached home I was met by positive opposition to my plans from my parents, but my good and indulgent mother and father seeing how I had set my heart upon this trip finally yielded so far as to agree that I should go and lay my plans before my dear old grandfather, Thomas Spalding of Sapelo Island, who was looked up to by all as head of the family.
When I first made my appearance before him the choleric old gentleman was fairly furious. But the next morning his kind heart had gained the ascendancy, and he told me that after thinking it over he had resolved to write his friend and once colleague in Congress. Senator Thomas Benton of Missouri; and ask him to give me letters of recommendation to his son-in-law, Major John C. Fremont, who was then carrying on extensive explorations in the Far West for the United States government.
The account of these explorations which I had read with avidity had a large share in inflaming my imagination and desire for Western adventure. Senator Benton's reply was most cordial and assured my grandfather that Major Fremont would receive me as a volunteer in his expedition. and enclosed quite a handsome letter of introduction to Major Fremont. Benton further wrote that he would be in Independence, Missouri in May, and that if I would meet him there he would see that I met Fremont and joined his expedition.
After receiving these letters my grandfather told me he would furnish me with money for my trip and give me letters of credit to draw for all necessary money for my expenses while 1 was away. He appointed a day when he would come to "the Forest", my father's plantation, and go with me as far as Savannah on my journey, My mother made me a canvas belt in which 1 was to carry my gold coin. It had also a compartment for my letters, and was to be worn under my clothing and around my waist. And into this belt she and my father slipped two hundred and fifty dollars in gold.
My uncle Charles Spalding gave me handsome gold watch, which he had just imported from England, and a six barreled pistol of the kind that was disrespectfully called by westerners a "pepper box". My uncle Randolph Spalding gave me a handsome double-barreled gun which stood me in good stead on the plains. Old Major William McIntosh, a relative of the family, gave me a heavy pair of United States dragoon pistols which he said had belonged to his brother of heroic memory, Colonel James McIntosh of the United States Army, who after being severely wounded in the battle of Tesaca de la Palma was finally killed at the storming of the City of Mexico. Grandfather came to "the Forest" as appointed, and, on April 15., 1849, we left on the stage coach for Savannah. There he took me to the house of his friend Mr. Molyn, then British consul in Savannah, where we remained for two or three days until I started my journey. When leaving, grandfather gave me six hundred dollars in gold, which was carefully stored away with the money my parents had given me. He also gave me a letter of credit on Mr. Hull McAllister in San Francisco, formerly of Savannah, and a friend of his, for such money as I might need out there.
Being full or wild ideas of the wilder West, 1 had rather surreptitiously bought myself a bloodthirsty looking Bowie knife and a pair of pocket pistols to be always ready to fight the many Indians I expected to meet.
With these and a trunk full of rather unsuitable clothing I left Savannah about the eighteenth of April, on the Central of Georgia railroad.
I stopped that night in Macon where I hoped to meet my school friend who was to go with me as I had written him that I would meet him there. I was quite disappointed not to find him there, but never for a moment considered such a thing as not keeping my tryst with him. .
I knew vaguely the location of his father's house and next morning procured a saddle horse and set out to find my friend. I found his father's plantation, but the father, more worldly wise than my people so far as his son was concerned. had checkmated our plans: I learned from his overseer that he had taken his son with him on a trip to Kentucky and would not return for a long time, Disappointed. I returned to Macon then to Marietta and from there to Roswell where I spent a day or two seeing my old school companions and many friends I had left there,
Next day I took the train from Marietta. and this may be considered my "jumping off place" for I never again saw a face that I knew from that day until I returned to Georgia nearly three years afterward.
I went by train as far as Rome, which was then the terminus of the Central Railroad, then the only railroad in Georgia. From there I traveled by stage coach to Chattanooga expecting to take a steamboat down the river, but found the river was so low that no boats were running. so I took a stage to Nashville. There I took a steamer down the Cumberland and Ohio rivers and up the Mississippi and Missouri, first to St, Louis and then to Independence, where I hoped to meet Senator Benton.
When I reached Nashville I first ha of the most dreadful epidemic of Asiatic cholera that has ever visited this country, and it was then raging up and down the Mississippi and its tributaries. In Nashville I was advised by wiser heads not to attempt to go on. but this advice was not for one moment even considered and I took passage for St. Louis on one of the large steamers then plying the Mississippi,
On this steamer I soon made the acquaintance of three young men, two of them brothers from Mississippi. and a young man from Virginia. The older of the two brothers was a man of about twenty- five, and certainly more worldly wise than the rest of us. The Virginian may have been twenty-one, and I am now satisfied was an honorable young man. The younger of the two brothers was about twenty., so that I was the youngest of the party, and having a belt full of gold which I was only too eager to spend, my popularity was of course assured.
And now let me give you a slight sketch of your humble servant as he then was. I am afraid that my literary acquirements had been badly handicapped by my innate love of field sports, and my knowledge of the world was anything but practical, and largely from a close perusal first of Sir Walter Scott's novels, and then given a slightly sporting dash by Lever's rather lurid description of military and Irish life in his four then very popular novels. Add to the above species of education a close study of, and adherence to, what was the, at least in the South, considered the "code of honor" that should govern all gentlemen in their intercourse with each other, the cornerstone of this code being your perfect willingness to give personal satisfaction with any description of weapon for any injury or offense you may have given, and a firm determination to exact the same from all others.
Thus equipped for the battle of life among absolute strangers in the wildest days of the wild West, I started on my journey. Since I have reached years of more discretion my only wonder has been that I ever reached California alive, still more do I wonder that I ever got safely home again.
I must confess that my physical education was much superior and more calculated to carry me through than my mental. I was strong and active for my age, a first rate shot with pistol, rifle or shotgun. I was also a good rider, a fine swimmer, and a good boatman with either oars or sail, and I can here say that each of these accomplishments stood me in good stead before I got home; the first three many times, the last when I voyaged the length and breadth of Lake Nicaragua in a small boat with only one other man aboard who knew anything about a boat
. But now to return to my story. Very soon after meeting the three young men before mentioned, the older of the two Mississippians informed us that he and another brother, who was then in Independence, had bought and equipped a six mule team for the trip across the plains and that after doing so he had gone down the river to get his younger brother who was then with him, and he now proposed that I and the Virginian, as we had become such warm friends, should purchase interests in his team that we might make the trip across the plains together, and this we readily agreed to do.
The steamboat on which we were traveling was a large one, and crowded with passengers, and the river being very low our trip to St. Louis was very slow, and the cholera was raging to such an extent that we stopped several times a day to bury the dead, and I do not think that we ever stopped until we had at least two or three to bury. There was simply a hole dug on the bank of the river and the dead put into it and covered up. I believe that the members of our little party were really too young and thoughtless to become alarmed or to appreciate our danger. The only precautions I remember our taking at all was spending most of our time on the upper deck, and keeping as much as possible out of the saloons where scenes of sickness and death were constantly occurring. The bar-keep of the boat told us that frequent doses of brandy and peppermint were a great preventive. We tried his prescription very faithfully but I must say never to the extent of drunkenness.
I cannot remember how many days we were making our trip, but at last we arrived safely at St. Louis. When we got there, the cholera was raging frightfully in that city, yet we put up and stayed there several days. You could see hearses going all the time and crepe on many, many doors. In looking back now I suppose what kept us so long in St. Louis was the difficulty of getting passage up the river, I remember that one day seeing the advertisement of a boat to sail up the river. We went down to secure passage but could not do so as she was overfull already.
While in St, Louis we became acquainted with a company of about twenty-five men who were organized to cross the plains together. They went up on the boat that we failed to get on. We got passage on another boat the next day. I think if it was possible the epidemic was worse above St. Louis than it was below. About a mile below Alexandria we passed the boat that we had failed to get passage on the day before we left St. Louis. She was tied up to the woods, and deserted. On landing at Alexandria and going to the top of the bluff, we found one tent pitched there with five or six of the company of twenty-five men we had met in St, Louis who were organized to cross the plains together. They assured us that they were all that remained of their company.
We reached Independence a day or two after this, where we found the cholera still unabated. In every direction around Independence companies of California emigrants were camping out and death was rife among them everywhere. A few of them were becoming so frightened arid discouraged that they were turning back, but the greater number with grim determination were going to press on. Here we met two disappointments, the first for myself, in that Senator Benton was not there. Of course I well understand that the condition of things then existing in Independence had never entered into his calculations when he made the appointment.
The other disappointment was that our six mule team, that we were to find at Independence, was not there. Our Mississippian however got a letter from his brother, who was with the team, saying that on account of the grass around Independence being badly eaten out he had moved thirty miles forward on the trail and would wait for him there.
We now held a council of war as to what was best to do. … Just after reaching Independence I had made a very lucky purchase. I had met a party of emigrants who had become demoralized and were trying to sell off their equipment and return home, and among other things they had a very fine black horse that I secured; horse, saddle and bridle, at a reasonable figure. Our young Virginian also bought a good serviceable horse at a much lower price, but by no means a match for mine.
Now when we came to consider our situation, with the wagon we expected to travel being thirty or forty miles off, things looked rather serious. But, our older Mississippian, who by reason of superior age and experience, had become rather the leader of our little squad, now proposed that the Virginian and I should buy a good two horse spring wagon, load all our luggage into it. We would hitch our two horses to it, and drive out to where the wagon was camped. When we got there, and had a final settlement and division of expenses, the price of the spring wagon should be put into the general expense, and it should become common property.
I must confess that I was most reluctant to put my horse to the wagon, but as it seemed that it would be only for a couple of days I consented. We found a strong serviceable spring wagon which the Virginian and I bought, and also harness for our horses. We loaded it up with all our luggage, as well as everything we could think of likely to be needed. Among other things a ten gallon keg, of what another disgusted emigrant, who was selling out and going home, assured us was”old Bourbon.”, which we thought we might need for sickness or snake bites. I added to my armament a rifle and ammunition, and most luckily, I bought two pairs of heavy cow hide boots.
The morning after our purchases, we started with the two horse wagon loaded with our trunks. a few pounds of rations, a keg of old bourbon and a vast amount of miscellaneous arms, on our long trip from the Mississippi to the Pacific ocean.
The second day out, we came to the place where we expected to overtake our mule wagon, but had another disappointment. It was not there. But again the Mississippian got a letter saying that grass had failed and that they had to move ahead, I do not remember how far but quite a distance.
Up to this time I had been showing up very amiably. I had been good-natured and complacent about everything, but now I fear that I began to show a different side. My horse was my tender point, and it had been getting fearfully on my nerves seeing my high strung black pulling two thirds of the load while the Virginian’s more quiet animal walked leisurely along by his side, but the hope of quick relief had made me stand it.
But now. when there was a prospect of the thing lasting indefinitely. I quite lost my equanimity, and I am afraid my company was not very edifying to my companions, Two days later I met an Indian and a white man leading a sedate looking white horse. The horse looked strong enough however and I at once demanded what they would take for him. After a little chaffering I bought him for thirty-five dollars, and in a very little while I had my black out of the wagon and my saddle on him, and the old grey hitched up in his place, and things went smoothly for some days.
Then the Virginian began to kick for all he knew how. He said his horse was pulling all the load, and that my horse was an old plug and not doing his share..
All this time we were pushing on as rapidly as possible, passing train after train, the route at this time being literally dotted with emigrant trains, in our endeavors to overtake our "will-o'-the-wisp" wagon. We had thrown away some of the rubbish we had first started with and loaded in some flour, bacon and coffee which we purchased as we went along. At that time you could almost always buy provisions from other trains, in fact for the first half of the route many of the emigrants in their frantic desire to lighten their loads so as to push on faster abandoned quantities of provisions by the roadside. In the meantime we had passed an Indian agency where there was a large gathering of Indians, and there I purchased a very serviceable Indian pony thinking by using him for everyday service to keep my black rested up and in fine condition for emergencies.
Now by this time there was no question but that we were all getting discouraged at our failure to overtake our wagon. It was evident that we could not hold the pace we were traveling at any longer. In fact our situation began to look somewhat desperate. The Mississippians
were evidently very short of means, their money supposed to be invested in the team that was ahead. And the Virginian's money seemed to be running low. Perhaps he, with more prudence than I, began to see the necessity of holding it back. Ever since landing in Independence he and I had borne all the expenses of the party, I the larger part, all to be credited to us in our final settlement when we reached the wagon. ,In our dilemma the older Mississippian again came to the front with a proposition.
He pointed out that our chances of overtaking our wagon seemed very slim, but that if I would lend him my Indian pony he would ride ahead and overtake it, and that he must do so in a very few days, and that he would stop it until we came up. Although I was by this time a little worried at the way things were going, I still did not doubt the faith of my friends, but attributed all our troubles to unfortunate circumstances beyond our control, and although my horses being my tender point I hated to let my pony go it seemed the only chance of ever overtaking the wagon.
So far as I was personally concerned I could have shaken the rest of our little party and taken my horses and attached myself to any train I might have selected and been quite comfortable, but this would have left my companions in rather a desperate situation; the Mississippians
without either money or transportation, and the Virginian only a little better off. I therefore felt that I must let the Mississippian take my pony and overtake the Wagon.
I loaned him the pony and he rode away.
But we never came up with him or the pony, though I learned, positively, afterward that the three brothers all reached California. As for the pony and wagon I know nothing.
Yet in the light of more years and a cooler mind I am inclined to think that my Mississippi friend was not as culpable as I then thought him. I rather think that he made a little mistake in representing that he and his brother owned a team in which they would sell the Virginian and me interests. I think it more probable that they were only two of perhaps a half dozen who owned that team, and that when he overtook it, perhaps after having had to go much farther than he contemplated, his party positively refused to stop the wagon and wait for us. There is no doubt that if he had returned, he would have been very awkwardly situated. He could not hope to catch up with them again. and he would be among strangers without money or transportation. Altogether he was in a very trying position. I now deeply regret my hasty denunciation and treatment of both the Virginian and the remaining Mississippian.
The circumstances were these; before the older Mississippian had left us we had already determined not to travel farther alone but to attach ourselves and become part of some organized train. We soon selected one that met all our views, and with some of whose members I formed very kindly associations that lasted until I left California. Of course, as soon as we became part of a train composed of some sixty or seventy men and some women, more or less, intimacies had to be formed, and our story had to become public property and was discussed pro and con very freely.
At first we expected to come up every day with the wonderful wagon. Although some of the more skeptical looked doubtful from the first, and as time passed and no sign of the wagon appeared, men began to express doubts of there ever having been any wagon, I believe this was entirely wrong. But then I was young, my blood was hot, and my trust implicit, but once convinced that it had been abused, and that I had been designedly swindled my mistrust knew no bounds, and my indignation was rather more than simple English language could express.
There are men who take pleasure in making it their business to do all they can to foster mistrust and stir up strife, and there were in our company one or two who, under the guise of sympathy and friendship for me, soon got me so stirred up that I was absolutely convinced that I had been basely deceived, and that the three were participators. Once I became convinced of this nothing could have stopped the
explosion that was bound to come, and I forthwith charged them both to their faces with swindling me, and did so in such bitter terms that I cannot see how they took it, or why they did not kill me then and there. They only insisted that I was mistaken and that I was doing them a great injustice, but I would listen to nothing only reiterating over and over that if they were offended they were both welcome to satisfaction. They might select any' weapon they pleased and that we could step right out on the prairie and settle all our difficulties in ten minutes. Let me say here that I do not believe that either of the men were cowards, but they were older and had more sense than I had.
I told the Virginian that we could not travel together and that he could either buy my interest in the two horse wagon that we owned, or that I would buy his. He insisted that he had nothing against me and that I was mistaken in all I said and that he would rather go on as we had been doing, but my mind was too fully poisoned to listen and I finally bought him out.
The train we had joined was a mixed one. There were some mule wagons, some ox wagons and some pulled by horses, and soon after joining it we had each disposed of our horse that we had in the wagon, and we had jointly bought a large and fine yoke of oxen which we hitched into it and they were pulling it then. When we separated there was luckily another train camped in sight where the very night before the Virginian had found some acquaintances and he went and attached himself to them, and I never heard any more of him. The younger Mississippian also made his arrangements to work his way with another train.
I was the owner of a wagon and a yoke of oxen that I had neither the ability, nor inclination, or intention to manage or drive, but I was not long in making such arrangements as relieved me of these. I soon found a purchaser for my wagon and sold it. In the train was an old frontier man from Missouri who had two large wagons. He had a family consisting of his wife, a grown son, a younger daughter, and a couple of men as ox drivers. He also had ten or twelve fine cows that he was taking with him. I easily made arrangements with him to haul my luggage and board me, and this plan worked very well for a time.
Our train was fortunate in some respects. I have omitted to mention before that the cholera clung to the emigrant route for a very long way out, certainly until we had passed the South Fork of the Platte River. The peculiarity of this disease along this route was to me unaccountable. In trains traveling on the same road often in sight of each other, while the mortality in one might be very great, the other would be absolutely exempt; In our train we never had a case of sickness that I remember on the whole route from the Missouri to the Pacific.
This vast stream of emigration that was wending its way West seemed to be composed of two kinds of men. There were many trains like the one in which I was traveling that were dominated by experienced frontiersmen, who were quite at home on the plains, new what they doing, guided the length of their marches by what heir teams could stand, sought diligently for the best grass and water to camp by, drew their wagons up in the best manner possible both for defense and for securing our animals from either stampede, straying or theft. They kept a strict and strong guard all the time, for the Western frontiersman of that time took small stock in the good Indian, and believed that under temptation of easy plunder it never took him long to dig up that convenient hatchet that was never buried very deeply.
And no, although it may be very hard for people of this day to realize it, it must be remembered that at this time it was, with the exception of the Salt Lake valley, an unbroken wilderness from the Mississippi River to within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean.
The only habitations that we passed on the whole route were Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger and the Mormon settlement in
Salt Lake valley. And although as a general thing the Indians on our route were not in active war, they were always on the lookout to steal or run off the stock which might almost be considered the life of the plainsman. At any rate to cut the matter short, the school that I got into at this time and took my lessons from, believed that there was no good Indian but a dead Indian, and that in all other conditions they
needed close watching.
Now there was another and more numerous class of emigrant running with what might be called the "hurry up" trains that largely helped to swell the vast caravan that lined and dotted the road for hundreds of miles. The men who ran the hurry up trains came from all parts of the United States, not to mention a sprinkling from no one knows where. Those men as a general thing knew but one thing, and that was that there was gold ahead and that someone might get it first unless they got there quickly, They drove their teams to all they could do, and when one fell by the way all they did was to unload a part of their provisions by the side of the road to lighten their load and then push the remainder of their train harder than ever.
I am disposed to think that a large part of the human as well as other mortality was among those hurry up trains, and undoubtedly it was a terrible trial to those poor fellows when a companion took sick, they knowing that he had to die anyhow and to have to wait and give him time to die.
I do not believe them, but we did hear stories of men being left by the roadside before they were dead. If true, they were probably unreasonably long in dying, and his friends were in a great hurry, or he may have been like myself absolutely alone, a stranger among strangers. As I said before I doubt these stories. The following however I will stake my veracity on. The morning that our train drove up to the ford of the South Platte River there was another train that had reached it ahead of us and took precedence of us in crossing. As it 1 ) is very long ago and entirely a matter of memory I would not venture to say how wide the South Platte is at this point, but certainly a very wide river. The water was to the best of my memory about four feet deep, the bottom a treacherous shifting sand, that the wagons could not be allowed to stop in for a moment. The current was very swift, altogether making a very difficult ford, and the wagons bumping along looked as if they were shaking to pieces.
When the 'hurry up' train ahead of us took to the water, there was a man in one of their wagons in the last throes of death from cholera. It is true there were two men in the wagon with him apparently to hold him and take care of him. He seemed in convulsions. I suppose he was so inconsiderate as not to complete his dying before the time for the train to start that morning. I believe he died and was buried before we got over the river. His friends were in a great hurry and had gone on, but there was a newly made grave where the trail came out of the river showing that they had at least waited long enough to bury him, how deeply I cannot say."
And now I must return to myself. After making arrangements for transportation of my luggage and my board with old man Holcome, as he was called on the train, I was very well fixed. I took “pot luck" with his family and always got plenty to eat, a subject on which however I did not myself much concern. Except when I was on some guard duty I was at perfect liberty to go and do whatever I pleased.
It was true that I had met with two grievous disappointments. The Indians had given me no opportunity to distinguish myself as an Indian fighter; in fact the few who visited us were both tame and dirty, and I thought the squaws were rather plain. Then too my high hopes of big game were only partially realized. The endless stream of emigrants that dotted the trail from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains had to a large extent driven the game away. Still along the Platte there were generally a few buffalo in sight, and we killed enough to help our ration bill considerably. We often saw antelope. They were very shy and seldom killed. Jack rabbits and prairie chickens would lie in the grass and be tramped up, and I had some fine sport shooting them.
In spite of the drawbacks, tameness of Indians and scarcity of game, 1 enjoyed my wild life very much. As the train plodded along the trail I had nothing to do but wander off on either side and visit anything that attracted my attention. I certainly enjoyed this free life more than I can tell, and sometimes met things that puzzled me.
One day the attention of two or three of us was attracted to a large Indian lodge of buffalo skins standing a11 alone, and apparently uninhabited. In spite of a mistrust of everything Indian our curiosity got the better of us and we determined to investigate. On our approach several Indian dogs slunk off and disappeared under the bank of the river, which was not far off. In front of the lodge was a dead horse. recently shot, and when we, I must confess with some misgivings, parted the flap of the lodge and looked in there lay twelve Indian warriors as close together as they could be placed, and all stiff and stark in death. I am sure that on first glancing in, the pulses of our little party beat a little faster, until we saw that they were all ..’good Indians’, then all pulses resumed their normal beat and the whole party were very brave. We heard a day or two later that the place we had found them had been, only the day before, the scene of a bloody battle between the Sioux and the Pawnee, and that the warriors we saw were the dead of the victorious tribe. Why they were left as they were has been a mystery to me ever since.
On another occasion several of us left the train to visit a tree known as the ..’Lone Elm’. I suppose it had become known to some of the party by one of the numerous guide books that were scattered amongst the emigrants. We found the tree alright, and it certainly had a rather singular appearance; a large elm standing solitary and alone on a treeless plain. On reaching it our attention was attracted to a singular looking basket fastened well up among the limbs.'
Of course we had to climb up and see into it, and on reaching it we found a flat slab hewn out like a board, with a number of hieroglyphics painted on it, among them two hands clasped two pipes and there were many others that I do not remember. The basket was carefully covered, and on lifting the lid we found a thoroughly preserved papoose who looked as if he were embalmed. We covered him up carefully, and left him as we found him.
Near Fort Laramie we met quite a number of emigrants whose hearts had failed them and who were on their way back and trying to persuade all they met to turn back with them. They assured us that grass ahead was all eaten up, that there was no possibility for stock to live. That the Indian tribes were on the warpath, and that we were going to our deaths. However, they did not turn us back. Here I wrote my first letter home, which one of them took and promised to mail when he got to the States, and strange to say he kept his word for my letter got home safely. I had not written from the Mississippi because I did not care to tell them how things were there.
Although I had joined this train as a perfect stranger I soon made many friends and they all treated me with kindness and consideration. And in the Captain of the train, Captain E. Hooker, I found a warm friend, and he, on his part, showed his friendship for me in actions as well as words, Our friendship lasted until I left the West. Although I lost sight of him after that, my feelings toward him have never changed, and I am still grateful for his many kindnesses.
When I joined the train he was one of a party of Ohioans that had two or three wagons. They had one wagon pulled by four large fine horses, one ox wagon and I believe one mule wagon. There was quite a party of them. I should think about a dozen. Hooker was a man of,
about thirty-five and thoroughly fitted for the duties of captain of a train on the plains. He was a good plainsman and had studied all of Fremont's explorations and so was fully posted on the route. Then too he had served through the Mexican war as a Lieutenant, and the whole train had confidence in him. Of course as captain he had to ride ahead of the train much of the time to select places for our noon halts and also camping places for the nights, and as it gave me pleasure to do so, I often rode with him.
If it seems that I have been minute in describing Captain Hooker, I can only say that he occupies a rather prominent part in my story until I left California.
Somewhere on the upper waters of the Platte, before we crossed the South Platte, our train stopped at noon one day beside another very large train. Soon we saw that Captain Hooker had found friends in the other train, Then we saw two very large ox wagons, one the largest I ever saw, hitch up and drive over and join our train, and now we learned that they belonged to Mr. Shears, Hooker's brother- in-law. With him were Hooker's sister, Mrs. Shears, and. several children ,
The wheels of this large wagon were high. I think much higher than the ordinary wagon, and the body was long, even longer than was usual with the long bodied wagons that traveled the plains at that time. The sides of the body came up above the top of the wheels and extensions like outriggers of a boat ran out about eighteen inches beyond the wheels on both sides. Over the top of the body was a floor , and in the floor were doors which when raised opened into the body of the wagon which was loaded with provisions and luggage of all sorts.
Both wagons were drawn with six yoke of large western oxen, driven by two hired drivers, who walked by the side of the teams.
Mrs. Shears usually sat in a chair in the front of the wagon with the two curtains drawn apart, and as the floor was above the top of the wheels, she was quite a distance above the ground.
My recollection is that after crossing the South Fork of the Platte, our trail left the river for a time and traversed a rather hilly country, and when we did return to it its character had changed very much. Instead of the immensely wide shallow river whose course we had been so long following, we now found one much narrower though still a wide river, deep and strong, flowing between high banks. I do not remember how long we followed this south bank of the North Platte before we reached the place where we crossed to the North side of the river.
Along here I witnessed one of the unaccountable whims or frights that animals on the plains are subject to.
We had stopped to noon on the bank of the river when all of a sudden two oxen, a mule and a mustang that were grazing near the river dashed into the water and swam to the other shore. But, when they reached it, instead of continuing their flight, they stood rooted to the ground as if terrified. Their loss was serious as our already weakened teams could ill bear any depletion. I took a good look at the river and knew I could swim it with ease. I offered to go over and drive them back, and after a little demurring, my offer was accepted. It was agreed that most of the train should start on leaving only a few men and the teams to which the runaways belonged. I took the water and swimming rather with the current, reached the other shore some distance below the cattle. But just as I landed,the truants dashed back into the river as if pursued by the Devil and swam back to the side from which they had started:.
Not far above this, the river passed through a sort of gorge in the hills and we had to leave it again for a little while. When we came in sight of it again it was at the place for the crossing.
On the other side of the river, there was a large train that had just finished crossing but, for some reason, two of their members were still on our side. Just as the first of our party reached the river we saw a man on a large white horse ride into the river on our side and start for the other bank.
His horse swam well and I had no doubt of his getting over alright, but when he got about two thirds of the way over and perhaps struck the heaviest part of the current, he seemed to get into trouble. I think he came near losing his seat and checked his horse severely on the bit, at any rate, the horse and rider both went under for a moment and when they rose they were separated. The horse went ashore, but the man did not. He seemed to be able to swim and made a hard fight for his life. It looked to us, on our side, as if he got pretty near the shore twice, but each time the current would snatch him away, and after a little while he went down. As he was swept along by the current, his friends on shore kept along opposite him and several times made ropes of themselves by holding to each others hands and rushed into the water to try to help him. but the current was too strong and each time he was swept away.
There was still, on our side of the river, another man and horse belonging to the same train, Within half an hour of the drowning of the first man, he rode into the river on a fine looking bay mare and, most unaccountably to me, something again happened. It was in both instances too far to be able to see what was the cause, but again horse and man seemed to disappear for a moment and when they reappeared they were separated. In this instance however both got to shore. The man was swept far down the river, but he either got out or was gotten out by his friends who raced along opposite him.
At this place there was what was called a ferry. Two enterprising men had got there with several coils of large rope, which they stretched across the river. They then got two cottonwood logs, I suppose the largest they could, thought they looked neither long, nor large. Out of these, they dug two long troughs, which they fastened , side by side, by means of battons or plank. They were placed far enough apart so that the two wheels on one side of a wagon could be rolled into one trough, while the wheels on the other side went into the other. By holding onto the ferry rope, this contrivance could be pulled back and forth across the river, but it was slow and tedious work as the wagons had to be unloaded before going into the troughs, and after the empty wagon was taken over, then its contents followed, often making more than one load for the trough. The ferrymen charged so much a wagon, I believe ten dollars, and their ferry was going all the time. Without their rope it would have been impracticable, perhaps impossible, for wagon trains to have crossed the river at that point.
The next morning, after reaching this place, we began making preparations for crossing. We, however, made a large addition to the capacity of the ferry. Hooker selected two large and strong wagon bodies, turned them over, strengthened everything that required it, calked them carefully, battened them side by side just as the troughs were fastened…. and then we had a pretty fair little flat that carried three times as much as the old affair. We however ran both all the time, and even then we were two days at the job.
During this time we got our last buffalo and, think the last we saw on the trip, for as we went west, they disappeared. He was also the only one that I ever remember coming within shot of our camp. Whether he was deceived.by seeing our oxen grazing, or not, I cannot If: say. but we were all at dinner when, suddenly a large buffalo broke out of the hills and came lumbering along on a course that brought him within shot of our camp. Several rifles cracked at about the same time and the buffalo went down. And as both our teeth and appetites were good, he gave us a fine supply of meat.
All the time that we were crossing our wagons and other things over the river, our stock was kept grazing on the best grass we could find to try to build them up for the arduous work we knew was ahead of them. But once everything was over and the wagons once more put in order for the road it became necessary for us to face the job of getting our animals over, and this was no sinecure.
The ferrymen told us that all the trains that crossed had great difficulty in making their stock take to the water, and that finally almost always one or two men would have to ride in with the stock and by pushing their horses off in the lead the stock would follow. They also told us that the man we had seen drown from the grey horse was the sixteenth man that had been drowned in a very short time. The morning after we got through ferrying, we made our first attempt at driving our stock into the river, but that attempt and half a dozen more were ignominious failures. By noon, all we had accomplished was to get all the animals so nervous that they were getting unmanageable.
I had offered that morning to ride in with them, but it was thought then that we could get them over without. But now it was arranged that I should lead the herd, and when we next gathered them up and drove them to the river, I rode in with them and, just as they began to hesitate, I pushed my horse through, right into deep water heading him for the other shore. In one minute, the whole herd was behind me. I knew that the current would sweep them all down, and by heading my horse slightly up stream, I was quickly out of the press and without any trouble reached the other shore and landed quite a distance above the cattle. However they all got safely to land, except one ox, that weakened in midstream and was lost.
After crossing to the north side of the Platte, our road held in a westerly direction, but to the best of my recollection, we did not keep to the bank of the river very long but bore away from it. This is where we struck a very bad country which, whether I have located it correctly or not, was vividly impressed on my mind's eye as a veritable graveyard of dead animals that dotted the ground in all directions. It was a rugged country, almost destitute of grass or water and what little water we found was so impregnated with alkalies as to be unfit for man or beast.
This was surely the Golgotha of the four footed friends of the emigrant and his carcass lay everywhere, a gruesome monument to the hurry up of the vast multitude who saw nothing but the glitter of gold ahead. Our train entered this dreary region after it had been swept nearly clean of the little grass that was there at first, and although our stock weakened and grew thin. yet through the judicious management of the captain of our train we brought them all safely through. I do not believe we lost a hoof. Our Captain and others were always scouring the country on either side and if a patch of grass was found even within two or three miles of the trail, and if water could be found to camp by, the teams after being unhitched were driven to the pasture under a strong guard that remained with them all night and next morning drove them back to where the wagons were camped.
In this way we kept them alive, but they suffered very much, and finally it was determined that it was absolutely necessary to find a place where they could rest and recoup. So the next morning Hooker, old man Holcome and I started across in the direction that we knew the Platte to be and after walking probably five or six miles came to the river. On our way we killed several rattlesnakes, and an antelope fell to my rifle.
We found the banks steep and rugged and the land above furnishing no pasture, but on following the course of the river for awhile we came to a place where the high land receded leaving a sort of valley between it and the river, and here and in a few neighboring spots we found grass enough to sustain our stock for a short stop, and also a practicable way for our wagons to get there by following a stream of alkali water which at this point reached the river by a deep cut from the high land above. The only other feature that I remember as worth mentioning was the large deposits of salaratus that we were constantly passing. Large flats of considerable extent would be covered with encrustations of various thicknesses. We remained at this camp several days to rest our animals and then resumed our line of march.
While at this camp I remember making a little hunting trip all alone up the river. The only game I saw was a large white wolf that crossed in front of me too far to shoot. While on this trip I passed a spring, the memory of which has remained fresh with me ever since. I suppose the general sterility of the country caused it to impress me more. I noticed a line of green willows extending from the bank of the river a hundred yards or more into the plain, and going to it I found a rock basin, ten to twelve feet in diameter, of the clearest spring water that seemed to gush from the very bottom which ~.as covered with small stones, that seemed to me to tremble with the rush of water through them. The sight of this spring of crystal clear water in the midst of this dry and sparse country struck me as being in such contrast that it has remained fresh in my memory ever since. If any reader knows my spring and finds discrepancies, I only ask him to remember the time that has elapsed since then.
I remember nothing of interest between our last camp by the Platte and the Sweetwater which was our next objective point. My remembrance of this latter stream, with the exception of where it breaks through the .mountain at a place called Devil's Gap, is a small river of clear water about two feet deep, along whose banks we traveled quite a distance, and whose water we had to drink although many dead animals were seen lying along its banks or in its shallow water. In this section I first made the acquaintance of the raven whose ill omened croak by day, and the serenade of the prairie wolves by night, became our most familiar sounds. We followed the Sweetwater to the South Pass, and camped one night on the summit at the Pacific Spring whose waters flow toward the Pacific Ocean.
From the South Pass our course led toward the Big Sandy, a small river with a sandy bottom.
Not far from this point we met with an accident which entirely changed the movements of some of us. I have before mentioned the large wagon in which Captain Hooker's sister, Mrs. Shears, traveled and the fact that she was generally seated on a chair at the front end of the wagon. On this particular afternoon the wagon was lumbering along as usual with Mrs. Shears in her accustomed place, when owing to some irregularity of the ground it gave a sudden lurch which threw the poor woman directly in front of the wheel which passed over her body at the upper part of her hips and lower part of her abdomen. Luckily one of the teamsters was near and when he saw her fall he sprang to her and, after the front wheel had passed over her, and before the hind one could strike her, he dragged her out.
It was fortunate that there was grass and water close by, so that we were able to stop and go into camp immediately. Her wagon was
stopped a little way off from the rest.
Everyone thought that she would he dead by morning, but instead she was the mother of a fine boy, (?)
Still Mrs. Shears was very low and not expected to live, and Mrs. Holcome was with her all the time At first everybody bore the delay very well, but as day after day there was no change and as it became evident that the delay was certain to become a very long one, as every attempt to move the wagon threw her into agony, the larger part of he company became very impatient insisting that they would have to go. So, selecting a Captain from among their number, they one day rolled off, leaving only six wagons behind
This left Hooker with two wagons, and eight men, Holcome with two wagons, his son, daughter and two ox drivers, and of course Shears with his two wagons, his wife and four extra men remained Then I constituted the volunteer force that could not think of leaving a lady in
distress, in the wilderness and left to the mercy of wolves and Indians This left eighteen of us all told, a force rather small for an indefinite stop in a country inhabited by Indians whose friendliness was very questionable When the larger part of our party drove off there is no doubt that some of our little party cast longing glances, after them, duty alone keeping them behind. But we all accepted the delay as beyond control and tried to make the best of it. For a long time Mrs. Shears was in a critical condition, but by very short move, we reached and crossed the Green River and camped on its banks quite a while, where the grass was plentiful, and we had at least the satisfaction of seeing our stock improve rapidly.
We now began to think that Mrs. Shears might live, but of course would be a cripple all her life. It was still only with great suffering that she could be moved at all, and her husband and brother thought that the only thing possible was to try to get her to the Mormon settlement at Salt Lake, now under two hundred miles off So it became our project to get her there, which we hoped to do in time for the rest of us to continue our journey to California before winter stopped us. Shears and his family would stop in Salt Lake City Our progress however even after we left Green River was slow, and it was late before we reached the Mormon settlement
While making our way through the mountains between Green River and Salt Lake we were visited by a Mormon of some prominence who remained with us day and night He was traveling in a light two horse wagon and had one wife with him. It transpired that he had been on a trip among the Indians, with whom, we learned after reaching Salt Lake, he had considerable influence He was a pleasant spoken man, knew all about the country and freely gave us advice and directions about our route, where grass and water could best be found and so forth. We all liked him and, it will be seen later that, we made a long stay by his home in Salt Lake valley. Yet, with the light that came to me later, and the information that I got twenty-five or thirty years after, I cannot help thinking that when he was with us we may have been entertaining a dangerous spy. Perhaps, seeing that although we were but a small party, we were well armed and always kept a strong guard, may have averted a danger that at the time we knew nothing of.
The year before a large party of well-to-do emigrants who were said to have considerable wealth were massacred in this region at a place called the "Mountain Meadow". Almost all were killed. I believe only one man escaped. At that time it was attributed to Indians, but twenty-five or more years after the time of which I am now writing, I came across a periodical of the day in which was an account of the trial, conviction and execution of a Mormon named Lee by the United States authorities, all of which had just taken place. How, at that late date, Lee's guilt had been discovered I do not remember, but it was absolutely conclusive. He and two or three other Mormons had planned and led the Indians in the attack, he being the leader. He ordered that none should be left to tell the tale.
(Footnote 24: “After being persecuted, and many murdered, by the people of Missouri and Illinois, the Mormons in 1846 finally fled West, and led by Brigham Young settled in the Great Salt Lake valley, where they hoped to find peace and tranquility…. However, after gold was discovered in California many of the emigrant wagon trains passed through the Mormon settlements. Naturally, the Mormon settlers feared and resented these emigrants, and bitter feelings developed, finally culminating in the Mountain Meadow Massacre.”…….
The name Lee would probably not have attracted my attention as I am very bad about remembering names, but there was besides the description of the man who was hanged, a very good picture of him. which as soon as my eye rested on it I recognized as my old friend of the mountain. It immediately occurred to me that it was possible that when he visited us he may have been investigating the possibility of putting us out of the way and appropriating our belongings. Shears probably had some money with him. Lee however did not get our scalps, and we got safely to Salt Lake valley.
We at first camped near the city as many things required repairing and replenishing and this was the only place where, at exorbitant prices. it was possible. Our party, after a short rest, now separated. Mr. Shears and his family were to stay the winter, and I think stopped in the city. Holcome, who was not going to dig gold but to settle permanently in California, announced that he would stop in the valley until Spring recruiting his stock. But there were other emigrants, not of our party, who were going on, and six of Hooker's mess left and went on. This left of his mess only himself and Hessie, and the latter stayed only because Hooker stayed. But what I stayed for is more than I know myself. But it is certain that I concluded to stop awhile among the Mormons.
I now arranged to mess with and rig up a team with Hooker, with whom by this time I had formed quite a friendship, and who proved
his friendship for me on many occasions afterward. We equipped a light wagon with three yoke of oxen, Hessie agreed to drive them.
and he proved a true and faithful comrade. We three remained together until we reached the gold mines and kindly intercourse lasted until I left California. It seemed, after my first signal failure to reach that six mule team, that fate decreed that I should travel with oxen. When I reached Salt Lake, I still had that yoke of oxen that I had secured when I separated from my first companions. When Hooker and his friends separated he became possessed of a light wagon and two good yoke of oxen, and these three yoke formed our team. My black horse had been left hundreds of miles behind. He had gotten sick and I had traded him for a Bronco that I had also used up, so I was not now troubled with a horse at all, which was indeed the condition of most of us,
Now, when we fixed up our three yoke team we hardly expected to leave the valley with it. It was a sort of gathering up and getting together the residue of our property, which being in pretty good condition, we hoped to be able so to dispose of without great delay, as to get in their places pack mules or horses for the Southern route (which we afterward did attempt in our wagons and which proved very disastrous),
When we first reached Salt Lake the valley had already been cleaned out of all animals fit for the road by the emigrants who had passed through ahead of us. But the Mormons assured us that this deficiency was only temporary; that some of their young men had gone to California and were expected back shortly with a large drove of mules and horses that would fully supply the deficiencies of all of us.
Under these circumstances there was nothing to do but wait, and in the meantime make ourselves as comfortable as we could, We had been camping not far from the city, then in its infancy. They had only just begun to build their temple. Belated trains were coming in every day and the prairie and pastures were becoming crowded, Old man Holcome and our little crowd bethought us of our friend of the mountain. Lee. I believe Hooker had met him after we got in, and Lee had told him where he lived, and that it was a good place to camp. We determined to go there. It seems to me that it was some fifteen or twenty miles, but we got there alright, and found it all that had been described, We camped on a creek of clear cold water running from snow clad mountains in sight.
The farm of our mountain friend was nearby, and we now found that he possessed many of the good things of life. First of all the farm itself, large and prosperous looking, was run by seven substantial looking wives, for we now learned that the lady whose acquaintance we had first made was one of seven. Undoubtedly this feature of Mormon life offered food for reflection. In our part of the country it would take a very large income to meet the requirements of so many wives, but with these people their ladies were certainly self sustaining, and numbers were a source of wealth. They did not indulge in any of the feminine diversions, either teas or card parties or bridge; their tastes were entirely agricultural. I do not remember seeing the patriarch of this flock much in the fields himself, but his wives were in evidence wherever work was to be done.
Of course I cannot answer for what the home life of the family was, but as far as could be seen by the casual observer, they were as serene and amiable in their intercourse with each other as a May morning. The oldest wife did not appear to do any out of doors work, but she minded the children and looked after the housework generally, and perhaps, kept an eye on the younger ladies. I am inclined to think that the head of this house was a strict disciplinarian and maintained order in his household. I believe this was the keynote of this system.
I found it was an error to suppose that all Mormons had or were allowed to have more than one wife, instead, this privilege was only allowed according to their standing in the church. There were quite a number of other persons in or near where we were camping, but none of them had more than one wife. I knew that Brigham Young and many others had of course a plurality of wives, but the case I have mentioned was the only one that came under my notice. What was told us out there was that as a man rose in the church he was allowed as many wives as in the judgment of the elders he could conduct safely to Heaven, In my mind this meant as many as he could control and keep in order. Our patriarchal friend where we were camped must have stood high, for just before we left he was promoted to two more, which I suppose enabled him to increase his farm next spring.
While I am on the Mormon subject I will say that the majority of them seemed to be hard working farmers, but dominated body and soul by their church, and generally bitter in their feelings toward Americans because the United States government failed to prevent the Missourians from driving them out of Missouri. I believe a large part of them were absolutely unscrupulous in their dealings with the outside world, whom they looked upon as Philistines to be despoiled.
Their valley struck me as a very remarkable and fine one, A vast amphitheatre surrounded by snow capped mountains, its streams flowing not to any ocean, but to an inland lake, the water so salt as to be crystallized on everything it touched, and like the other Dead Sea of the East with no visible outlet, although there is the river Jordan and the drainage of that whole country flows into it.
Then, in many parts of the valley, I saw numbers of boiling springs of various shapes and sizes. The first I saw was just a round hole about three feet in diameter and apparently bottomless, the water filling it to the brink but not overflowing. An ox thrust his nose into it and with a snort sprang away. A teamster investigated and called out to the driver that “.Hell was not a mile away", and the smell of the water did suggest the proximity of brimstone. In other places there were large ponds, almost lakes, where the water could be seen boiling in the middle while edges would be only warm. These boiling springs were numerous and scattered over quite an area. The land and the pasturage around them seemed good, and yet to live among them had the appearance of living over a boiling caldron, which although the lid might be very thick, if it should slip in the effect would be disastrous, and very like (well) going to the hot country.
Up to the time of which I have been writing, I do not think I had seen any of these boiling springs. The immediate country around our camp by the farm of the patriarch was a very attractive one interspersed with little farms, and, at the season that we were there, prairie chickens, or more properly the grouse of the prairies, were numerous and gave us some fine shooting. I think that the section in which these Satanic springs abound was a little farther south on the road to Utah lake, where the Mormons had an outlying settlement. The waters of this lake flow by the Jordan into Salt Lake.
And, now to return to our affairs. When we first moved to our present camp, our little party of three did not expect to stay there long. We hoped soon to secure pack animals to enable us to continue our journey by the Southern route. Our chances of doing this depended on our getting them out of the drove expected from California. As days and weeks passed and they never arrived, our hopes grew dim, and it began to look a little like wintering in Salt Lake valley. I had quite accidentally got hold of a handsome young California mare. I heard of her as having proved herself an "irreclaimable", and so could be bought cheap. I got her for twenty dollars, and in a short time by kind and gentle management, I got her under perfect control, and she was one of the very few animals that started out with us that ever reached the Pacific coast.
After being camped on our creek for nearly a month we were surprised one day by the arrival of Mr. Shears, his wagon and his family. His wife had improved so that with the help of a stick she could walk; so much for ladies of the wilderness out of the reach of doctors. And the Green River boy was bright and healthy.
While in the Mormon valley I must mention that among those who I met there was a lady who informed me that she was the widow of the Mormon martyr, Joseph Smith. While camped on the creek near Lee's farm a companion and I had occasion to make a trip to the city. It was twenty miles there and twenty miles back and as this would be a very long walk we were off by the time day was breaking. By this time we had come to consider horses the most valuable things in the world and no man rode where it was possible to walk, certainly not if the trip was either long or fatiguing. Men from constant exercise had become hard and strong, while only by the greatest care were we able to keep our animals in even tolerable condition. Although not appreciating what we were going into, we knew they were about to start on a very difficult journey.
My friend and I, after making our way to the city and transacting our business, started home. After walking some miles, we began to feel the want of some refreshment, and seeing a house not far from the road, determined to try for something to eat….
We had generally been able to buy things to eat or pay for a meal at any of the farmhouses. On knocking at the door it was opened by a lady, nicely and neatly dressed, who on being informed of our wants insisted on our going in, saying that their dinner was just ready and she and her mother would be glad if we would dine with them. We did so and we had a good dinner, and they were kind and able. A china washbowl and clean towels were luxuries we had not seen in a long time. We sat and rested for a short while after dinner, and in conversation, we learned that she was the widow of B Smith, the Mormon prophet." As I do not remember exactly in what year he was killed by the Missourians I can't form any correct estimate of this lady's age, but she was a young looking woman. I believe that as, the doctrine of plurality was started by Mr. Smith, he probably left more widows than one. After leaving Mrs. Smith's we pushed on and got back to camp about ten that night, having made miles since dawn that morning.
Now we had to realize that we were facing a grave situation. To wait until next spring to cross the Sierra Nevada meant to wait a long for the snows did not melt in those passes until very late. Yet there was but one alternative, and that was to try the Southern route, which at first we had thought practicable only for pack mules. With our wagons this would never have been undertaken but for the Mormons, who were thoroughly acquainted with this route, assuring us that after a certain date in the fall, I believe about the first of October, there was plenty of both grass and water, and the wagons would get through quite safely .
It is impossible to tell what motive actuated those people to mislead migrants so grossly, whether they became uneasy at the large numbers that were gathering in the valley, and did not like the idea of this crowd of free thinking Americans remaining so long among their people, I do not know. But there was one thing certain, no Mormon of time was acting on his own volition. Everything he did had to the approval and was generally instigated by his leaders, and now made it their business to persuade the emigrants that there would be no difficulty in getting through with the ox teams.
There was a meeting of almost all the emigrants in the valley to ass what was best to be done under the circumstances. There were one hundred and eighty wagons represented that determined to make the trail. There were also a number who determined to take another route. But all were anxious to get away. A good many Mormons who were supposed to know all about the route were at the meeting as advisers. Two of them proposed that if the emigrants would hire them as guides, they would undertake to see them all through safely. A train of one hundred and ten wagons agreed to these terms and hired one of them. I don't know what they were paid, the money was raised and they were either paid in full or got half. Among these one hundred and eighty wagons that were so blindly beguiled to their destruction were many families of helpless women and children. .
This left seventy wagons that refused to go into this arrangement, their owners stating that it would be impossible to provide grass and water for so large a train. These seventy wagons, that would not join in the organization that hired the Mormon guides, immediately
organized two trains of thirty-five wagons each, one of which elected Hooker Captain. All was now haste and bustle to get started on the road, very few having the slightest conception of what they were going into. We ourselves should have had, and to some extent did have, some knowledge of the character of the country we were planning to enter because Hooker had Fremont's survey of it. But the Mormons insisted that we would find conditions much better at this season, and that, in many places represented as without grass or water, by slight detours they could both be found.
The route we were taking was to strike south from Salt Lake until we intersected the old pack mule trail from Santa Fe in New Mexico to San Diego in California on the Pacific. As soon as it was resolved to go, it became important to get off as soon as possible, and the train that got off first had a slight advantage over those that followed, as the grass eaten by the first train would not be there to nourish the second.. The other thirty-five wagon train was collected and ready, so they got off immediately, while we had to wait to get our train together. We got off a few days after them, and well ahead of the one hundred and ten-wagons.
So we started on our most disastrous journey, and I realized that attempting to describe its horrors and the pitiless desert that ate up our teams, and from which we barely escaped with our lives, that it will be difficult for people of our day to understand how such things could ever have been.
This country was at that time an unbroken wilderness, and almost an unbroken desert, from Lake Utah to within a few miles of the Pacific. I see by the maps of today it is interspersed with towns, and must be more or less inhabited, but in the days of which I write its only inhabitants were Digger Indians and horned lizards, and the latter were the most harmless and the most respectable.
And now I must say that while our travel from Lake Utah, the outermost settlement of the Mormons, to the Virgin River, with its trials and its sufferings, is most indelibly engraved on my memory, yet the minutia of camps, marches, distances or even names of a part of this route have in a great measure passed from me.
It seems to me that in a few days after leaving Lake Utah we got into a country where there was very little water or grass, and it was in this section that I remember several times after traveling all day without water, our digging for it in the dry bed of streams, sometimes getting enough to quench our thirst, and sometimes none, but never enough to be of any service to our cattle. I remember many camps where it took nearly half of us on duty at a time to guard our oxen and keep them with us, the poor famishing creatures could not rest on account of their sufferings from thirst and were constantly trying to get away, first in one direction and then in another, in search of water .
At the same time we were often suffering as much as they. Many a night, while kept constantly on our feet trying to control our half frantic cattle, we were suffering as much ourselves, often chewing bullets or bits of leather, seeking relief that of course was only imaginary. Yet to let our oxen get away from us, at one of these waterless camps, would have meant the death to the weaker of our party, and a close call for many, for once free, they might strike straight for the last waster, even if it was forty miles off. Nothing but falling by the way would have stopped them. Many would have done that, and by the time the broken-down remainder got back to the wagons, what would have been the suffering there? Even if they knew that the water was just a comparatively short distance ahead, their food was all in the wagons, and to have left them unguarded would have meant disaster of another kind, for now we were facing the active hostilities of the Indians.
I am not sure just where we entered the country inhabited by the Digger Indians, but I believe he began to be in evidence within a hundred miles of Utah Lake, and we never lost him until we had long passed the Rio Virgin.
The Digger Indian is, or was at that time, the lowest type of American Indian, at least he was the lowest thing I ever saw to have any pretention to humanity. As a fighter, he was not even worth consideration. He was armed only with bows and arrows, and no matter how many of them, I do not think they could have been induced to face half-a-dozen white men openly. But as a beast of prey, as skulking hyenas, as tireless wolves, they would have put to shame their four-footed similitudes. From the time we entered the country inhabited by them I believe the hours we were out of their sight were few. .
To many minds the word desert means only a sandy plain, but we were traveling through a rugged broken country more or less covered with sage brush, and scanty water at very long distances, at that time, every sense a desert, and from the top of every hill and from every rock, the wolfish eyes of the Digger Indians were greedily watching our course. Let an animal fall by the wayside and you might think, if the next camp were nearby, that you could return and, when he had rested bring him in; and you might return and you would find his bones, but ride and flesh were gone. Good for you that when you went back you carried your rifle, or from some thicket of sagebrush you might catch a Digger arrow, which, though only a miserable reed, could kill. Even after the train had reached camp and the animals were turned loose to pick the scanty herbage, their only chance of holding out, for let one get for a moment out of rifle range, he journeyed no farther. He would be filled with Digger arrows!' That was all they wanted; you had to leave him, and they ate him. They had no other use for any animal, and it mattered not to them whether it was horse, ox or mule, all were acceptable to them.
It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for the reader of today living peaceably at home to understand the feelings of hatred and loathing with which we got to regard these people, who hung upon our tracks like wolves around a herd of buffalo, devouring the young, the old and the weak. In truth they were more like wolves than anything else in this world, and I know that we classed them in our minds about with the wolf and the rattlesnake, at least the adult males. But with the cunning of the wolf, and his untiring trot, they almost always escaped our pursuit, and by the time his pursuers were back he was close behind, and seeking an opportunity to strike where we were most vulnerable, for our cattle were our life. At least the loss meant great suffering and danger to women and children of whom there were quite a large number in each of the three trains that were now struggling through this desert country.
In our train there were now several more families besides those already mentioned, families of women and children, and their husbands and fathers had each day to .contemplate the possibility of .being stranded in these inhospitable wilds. The natural difficulties of our position were increased tenfold by the vulture-like pursuit of these human wolves.
And now perhaps it is time to give some description of the Digger " Indian himself. He was the lowest type of his species. His name,
Digger, properly' 'root digger', was derived from his living principally on roots, supplemented by a diet of ants, bugs and homed toads. This is what I had heard of him, but I found later from personal observation, that he also gathered on some of the streams like the Rio Virgin, considerable quantities of the bean or seed of the Mesquite tree that grows along that stream and probably on others. He struck me as rather undersized, his body and head bent slightly forward probably because his eyes were devouring the earth in search of bugs, ants and other like delicacies. His gait, whenever I saw him was always a sort of dog or wolf trot, which I believe the wretches could keep up forever. It is possible that this lupine gait may have been caused from the fact that we were always making the most futile efforts to overtake him. I know that I am naturally a tender-hearted man, yet I have followed them for hours with the one desire, to kill!
I forgot to say that he was about naked and entirely barefooted. His tracks in soft spots, showing how closely he was looking after us, were a constant aggravation. I don't know whether we had got to that pass, where like a prejudiced jury our verdict could not be trusted, but I now that we all came to the conclusion that his track, short and abnormally broad across the toes, was more animal than human. For a time after leaving Lake Utah the distances, names and camping places are all a little uncertain. The first camp that is clearly mixed in my mind is when we reached a small river of clear water bordered with a grove of cottonwood trees. The name of it has dwelt [1 my memory as the Santa Clair, but I have looked on maps and now can find no such river. At any rate I do not think that we followed the course of this river but only camped on its banks for a few days to recruit our tired teams before starting on another march of horrors, worse than those we had already passed.
From this stream to the Rio Virgin, a long distance, almost all that dwells in my memory is a succession of waterless stretches, teams staggering along, every now and then an ox falling by the wayside to rise no more, for we would have to leave him, and as soon as we were out of sight the Digger had him. Many oxen after resting would have gotten up and followed into our next camp, now and then one did, and men would have gone back and brought some in, but unless someone was able to stay with them there was little use in going back. They would give out all along the trail, and each day too many fell for men to stay with them. And now we began to leave wagons as well as oxen. When two teams became too weak each to pull their wagon the owners would select the wagon they thought best, put both their effects into it, or the part they thought most valuable, hitch the remains of their two teams to the one and abandon the other. This soon became the common everyday occurrence, and wagon after wagon would be left along the trail. Along this part of the route you might almost any time see women and children dragging their weary limbs along behind their wagons to lighten the load on their tired teams that were staggering along, with frothing mouths, lolling tongues, and distended eyeballs.
As I said before, distinct rememberances of our marches I have not, but I think that forty-mile stretches without water were not uncommon, and remember, no wagon had ever been through this route before. Our old route from the Mississippi to Salt Lake was every foot of it an old wagon road that had been in use for years, but nothing but pack mules had ever been over this trail, and many natural obstructions of the country had to be overcome.
One example of this kind I well remember. How far we had come or from what sort of a camp I do not remember, nor do I recollect why we traveled by night, as it was unusual. I suppose it was some long distance without water that we were compelled to travel that necessitated our doing so. Hooker, by close study of Major Fremont's guide book, kept himself posted as to the length and character of each march that we were going to undertake, and probably knew that our march by night was an absolute necessity.
At any rate we entered after night, luckily it was moonlight, a narrow canyon running between two perpendicular walls six or eight hundred or perhaps a thousand feet high. We toiled up this until one o'clock. When day broke and I looked around it appeared to me that we were surrounded on all sides by perpendicular walls, but on looking closer we saw a faint trail leading up so steep an ascent that it looked as if no one could possibly climb it, but it was our only way.
Hooker and the more experienced had already planned what was to be done, and as soon as possible all hands were busy. I think a little water had been brought in the wagons, and we had a little coffee and bread, and then all hands went to work. All the oxen in the whole train were made up into two long teams with each alternately pulling one wagon to the top of the bluff, and this with the greatest difficulty and with the help of all the men who were not driving the oxen. One by one all the wagons reached the top, and we now found ourselves on a high tableland too flat and open for even a Digger Indian to approach us.
Luckily there was a little bunch grass scattered about, and just as we had finished getting our wagons up the Lord in his mercy sent us a soft rain that wet the grass and helped both man and beast. We let the animals pick the wet grass until night, then hitched up and drove on, and some time before dawn reached our next camping place.
We finally reached the Rio Virgin with possibly twenty wagons and perhaps two-thirds of our oxen. The oxen were so worn out as to be quite unfit to undertake further hardships. Where we struck the Rio Virgin we found it a rather narrow river, very turbid and running through a narrow valley bounded by high bluffs from the tops of which extended wide stretches of tableland covered sparsely with sage. My recollection is that lower down the valley became more broken, the bluffs at times coming near "the river.
When we reached the river, our animals were in such miserable condition that all we could do was to try to build them up, and to this end we traveled slowly along its banks. We stopped wherever we found the best grass, though none of the best anywhere, and moved on when it was necessary to find new pasture. I do not remember just how far we followed the Rio Virgin, but we were on its banks quite a long time.
Now we had reached a temporary haven of rest, even if not a very good one. The water of the river was so thick that we had to fill every vessel that we could at night and let them settle for the morning's use. It was water and plenty of it, and the grass was very coarse and not much of it. It was grass and the animals ate it, and we were only moving a few miles at a time and all resting from the hard times we had been through.
It is well-known that idleness and ease are breeders of discontent and bickerings, and this was now to be exemplified in our little band. While we were struggling through the desert we had stood shoulder-to-shoulder and every man's trouble was his neighbor's.
Now I managed to get up one more, and I believe the last, quarrel while I was gone. I fell out with a man about thirty years old and large and strong enough to have tied me in a knot if he had got hold of me. Traveling with one of the families of our train was a young Irish girl of some twenty years and of very comely appearance with whom my susceptible friend had become very much enamored, and as I was afterward told, but I was certainly not aware of at the time, that I had incurred his displeasure simply by from time-to-time exchanging a few civil words with the young lady.
Be that as it may, he and I and quite a large party were gathered around our camp fire, and rough jesting was the order of the day and we were having quite a merry time. Just at the moment our trouble commenced I, quite unaware that I was already in the black book of my double-fisted friend, was amusing the company by recounting some few little evidences of devotion that I had witnessed between him and his fair enamorada, when without any warning he struck with all his force a blow at my face, which if it had reached it would have made an undistinguishable ruin of my countenance; but it never reached it.
Luckily I saw it coming and dodged enough to get only a glancing blow on the top of my head where the skull was much too thick to be hurt by anything ordinary. But it rolled me heels-over- head off the log on which I was sitting, and stirred up all the blood of my fighting ancestors.
In one instant I was on my feet, and the next with the full swing of my right arm and all the strength that was in it I brought the barrel of a heavy pistol that always hung at my belt directly across the face of my friend, and with such force as to send him reeling backward, and entirely spoiled his beauty for a long time. I am afraid his nose, which was rather prominent, never quite recovered its shape. He would have fallen, but that he brought up against a wagon wheel. The next moment with the rush of a mad bull he would have been on me, but I held him at the point of my pistol, and while he gazed into the barrel I expressed myself very forcibly, but at the same time magnanimously offered to waive all the advantage of the drop which I had on him, and go right out on the plain and settle our little matter, fairly and without any hard feelings. But he most positively declined, saying that he was not damn fool enough to go out and let me shoot at him, but said that he would see that I got a hole through my carcass before I got to California. I gave him a little forcible advice about talking so imprudently, and he dropped the matter and never remembered to take it up again.
Since reaching the river we had not been troubled by the Indians, yet most of us were sure they were watching us from every bluff and Hooker insisted on the same strict guard that we had always kept and that the cattle must be kept under the same restraint and surveillance. Many of the men grumbled at the guard duty they had to do, and claimed that the river protected them on one side and that the bluffs on the other were generally inaccessible, and the ground too open for the Indians to do us any harm. Then there were others who claimed that restraining the cattle so much kept them from getting the full benefit of the rest that we were giving them. Among these was Mr. Holcome, who was a thorough plainsman and knew all about cattle and undoubtably what he said about them was correct as far as it went, but he did not appreciate the Indian. Hooker insisted that they were underestimating the danger from the Indians and insisted on a strict guard being kept.
Old man Holcome had never gotten reconciled to what he called too much confinement of the cattle, and made light of the danger from the Indians, which he claimed was past. He had saved most of his oxen and although like the rest they were thin and weak he still had two teams, and he had twelve or fourteen cows, altogether some twenty-eight head.
And now Holcome announced that he was going to camp by himself. My idea was that he thought by keeping a little ahead of the larger train with his small bunch he could always pick the best grass and in this way his cattle would get a material advantage, which of course was true, and his heart was so set on improving the cattle that he would now allow himself to see any obstacle. Like most frontiersmen he was perfectly fearless, and held Indians in contempt. So next morning he hitched up his two teams and with them and his loose cattle he drove off. His party consisted of himself, his wife, his daughter, his grown son, Ike, and two teamsters.
The following afternoon as some of us were walking ahead of our train we saw a man coming toward us from the opposite direction as fast as he could, and when he got near enough we recognized one of Holcome's teamsters. On reaching us he told us that the Indians had at noon that day stampeded most of Holcome's cattle and had run them off. Holcome and his son had pursued them, and he had been sent back to ask that some of us would go to his assistance, which of course we did just as quickly as we could gather up our arms. When we reached Holcome's camp, which was some time before dark, we found that the Indians had gotten about half of his cattle; I believe they got about thirteen or fourteen including two that were mortally wounded and had to be left behind.
We now found that the day before after leaving us Holcome had managed to put several miles between us before going into camp, and as the night passed quietly he became more convinced of the wisdom of his course in separating himself from the larger train. So in the morning after letting the cattle range around pretty much at will and feeding quite late, he had yoked up and moved on until about one clock, when coming to a specially nice bit of grass he unhitched and turned his cattle loose to graze, and while dinner was being prepared he also enjoyed seeing them rapidly filling themselves. While they ere doing this they were scattering more or less and some of them getting a little farther from the wagons all the time.
Had he taken his rifle and one of his men and walked around the herd heading the stragglers back toward the wagons, all would have been well, but this was the very restraint that he had been opposing and the very freedom he claimed the cattle required, so he gave himself up to the pleasure of seeing them have a good time, and made no move.
His pleasure, however, was short lived. One moment his eyes rested on a scene as peaceful as possible; the next, a band of naked Indians were running straight through his herd, and yelling as if the fiends of Hell had broken loose. They could not cut out the whole herd, for to do this they would have been obliged to come within range of old man Holcome's rifle, and that would have insured some of them staying behind. But the range of the old muzzle-loading rifle of that day was quite limited, so they were able to come pretty near without much risk.
The band that struck this blow were probably about twenty-five or thirty strong. They dashed in a straight line through the center of the herd. The cattle that were between them and the wagons ran toward the wagons and were saved. Those that ran in the other direction were cut off, and the Indians struck out like a long skirmish line behind them, yelling like demons. At first rush they cut out more than half, but Holcome and his son caught up their guns and followed them so fast that they were obliged to let some of the cattle break away. When they could they sent arrows into them and two were mortally wounded and had to be abandoned, and others slightly wounded got well. But if not for the hot pursuit of the two men the loss would surely have been greater.
The teamsters had been left behind to guard the wagons and collect the cattle that had run away. The Holcomes would have followed farther but they were uneasy about the wagons and those with them as there were only two teamsters left there, and one of them was to go back to our camp for help. When our party reached Holcome's camp it was still some hours before night. Holcome and Hooker after careful consideration decided that as they were sure we were being watched by the Indians lying on the bluff, even Holcome now became convinced of this, it was best not to start after the raiders until night had set in, when they would no longer be able to see our movements. As the moon was not far from full we made no question of being able to follow the trail of the cattle. The country they had to travel was high rolling tableland thinly sprinkled over with sagebrush. The surface of the earth was covered with a crust of gravel and sharp pebbles that every movement of the foot disturbed, leaving a plain trail. As it was inhabited by no other four-footed animals that would leave tracks to confuse us, there could be no difficulty in our following the trail left by the cattle. -
Each of us that was going provided himself with some bread and meat to take along, and as soon as night set in, eleven in number and well-armed, we took up the trail of the raiders and their stolen cattle. We took every precaution to prevent the Indians in case they kept up their watch by night from suspecting that we were after them. It was arranged that three of our men who were not going with us but had come from the train to stay the night were to keep up a little fire for an hour or two after we left and they and the two teamsters were to be seen at intervals moving about the campfire. Our party did not leave camp together but slipped away one at a time and met at a point a quarter of a mile beyond the trail we planned to follow. We knew we could intersect it at the point where the Holcomes had abandoned their pursuit. In this way, even if our camp was being watched, we could get away without their discovering it.
When our little party got together, Holcome, Hooker, myself and some others whose names I cannot remember, made our way as quickly as possible to the trail we intended to follow, and we took it up with high hopes of coming up with the marauders before morning. We had not, however, appreciated the roughness of the country where by night you could never be sure of your footing. This made our progress both slow and wearisome and after pushing on until within an hour or two of daylight some of the men began to insist that they could not hold out any longer and that it was better to stop until it was light enough to see where we were stepping, and after some low-voiced remonstrance this was agreed upon.
Just after we first struck the trail, only a little beyond where the Holcomes had given up their pursuit, we came upon a large red ox, one of the finest of the teams, standing gasping for breath with a dozen arrows in him. He had evidently broken back, and being too much pressed to head him off they had filled him with arrows as this would insure their finally getting him. Four times during the night we came to the bones of animals that had given out and fallen by the wayside, but in each case the bones were all that was left. They were cleaned of every particle of flesh and skin, even the entrails were gone, and I do not think they could have had anything with which they could cut or chop, for the bones were neither broken nor separated, the frames being intact as though being picked clean by vultures.
We rested where we had stopped until day began to break and then hurried on. Very soon we discovered what a grievous mistake we had made in stopping where we did, for within a mile of where we had stopped the Indians had spent the night, and they seemed to have gathered from every direction. The ground was trampled as if by a herd of cattle, and marks of marks of little fires were on the ground. The older heads among us estimated that there were more than two hundred Indians there. The tracks were of all sizes and shapes, so that the women and children must have gathered to the feast. Two more of the cattle had fallen just before they stopped and their bones were left to mark the spot, and we saw where the few that were still alive, .probably so weak that they could run no more, had lain for awhile.
Our disappointment was very keen. We felt like the hunter when the wolf that has been ravaging his flock escapes him, and some of us ere very indignant with those whose weakness had compelled us to stop.
But with more years, a cooler head and thinner blood, I cannot help being glad that I did not get the opportunity to imbue my hands in the blood of those wretches that night. If we had crept on them that night there is little doubt that they would have been punished severely before they could have gotten away. We could not know that women and children were among them, and in shooting at night there in be no discrimination. So no matter how I felt that morning, I am glad now that I got no chance to do any shooting that night, for though the blood of a full-grown raider would have set lightly enough, that of a squaw or papoose would, even in those careless days, have been gruesomely uncomfortable.
We took up their fresh trail determined to follow them to their lair wherever that might be, and which we thought might in some broken rocky-looking hills which we saw some distance ahead, and for which their course was not steering as straight as a beeline. Their trail now looked as if it had been made by the whole tribe, and they seemed not to have the slightest suspicion that they were being pursued, for when we first caught sight of them they were on the bare top of a low hill, and looked like a black mass of some sort of animals stirring about, and they were so busy that they did not see us until we were within half a mile of them, by which time the seething animals had assumed the appearance of naked imps of darkness.
On perceiving us, they were evidently thrown into the wildest confusion, gesticulating and running about and apparently gathering up things in every direction, but in a few minutes the whole body steamed off in a diagonal direction and almost immediately disappeared over a bluff which we had taken for a hill when we first saw it.
Here we found the bones of four more oxen, the killing and cutting up of which was the occupation which so engrossed their attention when we were approaching them. As they went off we saw two more oxen with them. On reaching the bluff we found that it overlooked the river just where it made a sharp bend in our direction. At its foot was I narrow strip between it and the water, which was covered by a grove
of cottonwood and willow. This strip was probably four hundred yards long and just reached the bend where the river cut right under the bluff. It was accessible only at the upper end where we struck it, the rest of the way to the bend being almost perpendicular .
When we saw that the Indians had gone down there we thought we had them in a trap which we forthwith prepared to spring. Three men were detailed to keep along the top of the bluff from where a bullet could be thrown into almost any part of the thicket below, while the rest of us entering the upper part of the narrow wood which was not very thick would drive straight through, the men on the bluff keeping abreast or a little ahead of us to apprise us just where the Indians were, as well as to add to their demoralization by sending their bullets among them.
It was a fine plan and we expected some fine shooting, but Mr. Indian did not intend to die so easily, and we had hardly entered the cottonwood grove before we heard the men on the bluff calling that the Indians were taking the water. We ran to the river's edge, and saw that two or three hundred yards below the river was actually black with heads. We commenced firing and shot away considerable ammunition, but the distance was too great. It is possible that a few may have been struck by partly spent balls, but I am satisfied that there were not many good Indians made that day.
They swarmed up the opposite bank and made their way straight for some dark mountains that were in plain sight and not very far off. We went to where they had taken the water; there was a narrow strip of sand between the bushes and the river, and it was literally covered with tracks of all sizes, and certainly of all sexes, and many of them very small, but all of them of the same ugly shape. They must swim by instinct for they all took to the water like little puppies and we saw the little wretches waddling up the bank on the other side.
And now in the bushes hard by we found Holcome's last two oxen, stuck full of arrows and dying. If we had not run our game to earth, we had certainly made him take to water, and we could follow him no farther .
So all that we could do was to go back and investigate his home, for we shrewdly suspected that it was somewhere near where we first saw him, and our surmise proved correct. On going back we found that the high bluff just below where we had cornered them was intersected by deep ravines or washouts, the sides of which were a sort of sand rock, in many places overhanging so much as to amount almost to shallow caves. In some places a little dry grass was strewn under the overhanging rocks, in others it seemed that the earth was their bed, and this was the lair of the wild man. Filth was everywhere and we had to move gingerly and with circumspection. It looked like a den of wild animals. Here I saw what I referred to earlier in my story, that these people collected large quantities of the mesquite bean or seed, which must been one of their chief sources of support. Why they stored them as they did I cannot tell, as it must have cost them more labor many ways that they might have adopted. We found what were to all intents and purposes, dry wells four or five feet in diameter, they were round and apparently reaching deep into the earth, and these were filled to the top and packed down with the pods of the mesquite bean, and the top covered first with a sort of thatch, and then with large flat stones so as to form a slightly elevated cone.
W e found several of these about their dens and afterward many more on our way home, and I am afraid we did not exhibit a proper amount of Christian charity in our dealings with the property of our enemies across the river. The Bible says "If you are smitten on one cheek turn the other'”. .Instead of this, we were smitten in our cattle, and we smote them in their beans. I must confess that personally even at that time I had some qualms of conscience. I knew poor devils were hungry and likely to be hungrier, but human nature is not all saintly, and we had been harassed until the milk of human kindness had all but turned to gall. I doubt that Job would have come safely out of his trials if he had been tried with deserts and Digger Indians. Since I have gotten older and more tender-hearted I cannot help feeling a little sympathy for these wild men of the mountains. They were following their hereditary instincts, and hunting for their living, and we and our stock were their natural game. I suppose they looked upon us much as the sportsman or, I think a better likeness, the pot hunter, of today looks upon an unusually fine flock of woodcock or mallard.
After the Indians had crossed the river and we had examined his home to our hearts content we had to consider our best way back. We had brought with us only a small amount of food and although used with economy it was pretty nearly gone, so we could not waste time.
We concluded that we must be over thirty miles from camp by the shortest route we could take. The way we had come was not to be considered as it was too rough and circuitous. The natural way, as we had struck the river again, was to follow it back and this we decided to do, much to the undoing of the Digger storehouses. As I said we had found several of their deposits of beans near their dens, Before leaving, fire was applied to these and they must have a large quantity of oil in them for they burned fiercely, the fire consuming them and following them down into the earth until the wells looked like veritable fiery furnaces. The part of the Virgin River that we were to low back to camp was below the old Spanish pack mule trail that we re traveling, and therefore below the usual haunts of white men, and I suppose considered by the Indians as their safe and special main. As the mesquite trees were plentiful along this part of the other bank, they had gathered a great many and it seemed that where they gathered them they stored them, for every little while we would me in sight of one of their little stone cones, and invariably the torch was applied.
I must confess that I am now a little ashamed of this revengeful performance, although I still feel sure that Job, not to mention Samuel, would have done the same.
And now with the exception of a short rest we marched all night and reached camp about daylight next morning.
Our train had followed the Rio Virgin for quite a long time, and we had now reached the point where the old "Spanish Trail" left it for the Mojave River .
This old Spanish pack mule trail was then the only route of travel for white men or Mexicans through that part of the country. Now we realized that our situation had become desperate. We knew that when we left the river we had a stretch of about one hundred and fifty miles between it and the Mojave River that was if possible even worse than that we had passed, and that it would be impossible for teams in the condition of ours to get through.
At first we had thought that by driving slowly and hunting the best grass that our teams might regain strength sufficiently to make the onward move. But building up broken-down oxen on rather sparse pasture is slow work at best, and it soon became evident that we had now reached a critical situation, and that something had to be done. We had now been twice as long on our route as we were told by the Mormons it would take, and according to such calculations as we could make, we still had more than three hundred miles of very difficult country between us and civilization.
Our provisions were now nearly exhausted, though we were not in immediate danger of actually starving to death, for we could before that happened have eaten our oxen. By abandoning our wagons and walking and driving our oxen ahead of us and living on them we could probably have gotten through. but the suffering would have been more than women and children could have endured.
Our train was now virtually stalled in the desert, and our condition becoming daily more desperate. The only thing that seemed practicable was for an advance party to walk through to the Spanish or Mexican settlements in California, and send provisions back by pack mules.
There was a meeting held, and this course was determined upon. And nine of us volunteered to make the trip through.
From our camp on the Rio Virgin to the nearest point on the Mojave River was, as near as we could estimate, about one hundred and fifty miles. This stretch of desert was virtually destitute of water and grass. It was impossible for our teams in their weakened condition to have crossed this stretch, and, after doing, so they would still have to toil up the Mojave River, and then over the divide, and through a difficult mountain pass to reach the nearest settlements.
Our only hope was that an advance party could get through to California and send back help by pack mule before it was too late. Nine of us volunteered to make this trip. I am sorry to say I can the names of only four of our little party. I remember Davage, Gray, Grubb and Lineberger, but the names of the other four have escaped my memory.
Farther back I mentioned that although our route from Utah Lake to Virgin was indelibly impressed on my memory yet my rememberance of the separate camps, names. distances and so forth a few exceptions not very clear. On the other hand our route from the Rio Virgin to the Mojave, and up that stream to the mountain pass, and across it into that heaven of green grass and fat cattle, we descended into on the Pacific slope, every camp and every water hole, and all the distances and details are fixed as plainly in my mind’s eye as if I had seen them yesterday.
Now before our little band of nine take up our march, I must digress to say something about the other trains that left Salt Lake Valley for California by the same route as ourselves. As mentioned train of thirty-five wagons got off ahead of us, and a train of one hundred and ten wagons with a Mormon guide followed us.
Although we knew that the train that got off first gained a great advantage, we did not really appreciate how much they did gain. Many a stopping place where there had been only a little grass, still had enough to keep their cattle from actual suffering, and was eaten entirely before they left, and when we got there our poor beasts had but the bare earth to look at and perhaps pick at the roots of the other oxen had eaten. They must have reached the Virgin River in much better condition than we did, or they never would attempted to cross the desert stretch from that river - which they not only did, but at least a part of their train got across and some of them finally reached California.
I believe that twelve or fourteen wagons of this train of thirty-five got through to the Pacific slope. They must have been in better 1 than we were or they would not have left the Rio Virgin, as However. they must have felt that they were pretty close run and felt that they had to get help to get through. for although they did not stop on the Rio Virgin as we did, still, before leaving that stream they started off an advance party of about the same number as ours and on the same errand, to send back provisions to meet them. Our little party met both their relief party and also saw their train, or what was left of it, of which more later… . The fate of the large train of one hundred and ten wagons was more disastrous.
It can well be imagined that if we suffered from having been a train of thirty-five wagons, what this train of more than our size must have gone through, following after us. Of course, from personal knowledge, I know very little, but we camped for nearly two months in the section of country just below the Pass where we all had finally to come out, and the suffering of the emigrants on this route was the common subject of conversation. Our troubles were as nothing compared with the sufferings of the people of this train. Their animals died. and their wagons had to be abandoned on the desert. I heard that one single wagon of the one hundred and ten got through. There is no doubt there would have been great loss of life among them but for the relief trains that were sent to meet them and through whose help they were gotten in. Their Mormon guide, thinking that in their indignation he would be roughly handled, slipped away in the night and made his escape.
One party or group attempted to find a better or shorter route by leaving the regular trail, and some of them perished in the barren mountains of that region.
Provisions were so scarce that anyone who would sell any could get his own price. I heard, and unquestionably it was authentic, that a man rolled out some dough thick enough for a moderate biscuit, cut out one hundred with a tumbler, baked them and sold them to a party often men who were starting to walk through for one hundred dollars in gold. I also heard that afterward the same man would have given two hundred dollars to get them back.
Now to return to our own affairs, which had by this time reached a condition where no time could be lost in procuring provisions for the people of our train. Provisions were running so low that we were already on short allowance. After returning' from our pursuit of the Indians Holcome's wagons were moved back to our camp, and all camped together. Each day the oxen were to be driven under strong guard to wherever the best grass could be found. It was hoped that in this way they would be able to move on in a couple of weeks. If they moved before we could get provisions back to them, then it would meet them on the road.
Our little band of nine now prepared to leave at once on our long walk. To prepare for our trip did not take long. We knew that we were short on provisions and on careful examination it was found that we were even more so than we at first supposed. We could make no positive estimate as to how quickly we could get help back to them, for we had no knowledge of just what conditions we would meet when we got through. We were provided with money enough to purchase a moderate supply of flour and bacon, and we were to hire pack mules to take it out on the trail until they met the train; but just how feasible this would be none of us could tell. If it took more time than we expected, the people left behind might be reduced to the verge of starvation before relief reached them. Under these circumstances it was of course evident that we who were leaving should not draw on their slender stores more than was absolutely necessary. After careful consideration it was agreed that each of us should be furnished with six pounds of baked biscuits. They had to be baked before we started as we would have no possible way of cooking them ward. There was also a small piece of raw bacon. Each got a piece about two or three inches out of a moderately thick side. For a long time cooking time cooking bacon had already become an extravagance seldom indulged in. Luckily there was one article still plentiful with us. We must have originally brought an over supply of coffee for there was plenty of it. So we were each given a good supply of coffee, parched and ground, it helped us more than I can tell. Of course there was no sugar, coffee was coffee.
Some of the women of the train made, out of some strong cloth, nine bags arranged with straps to hang over our shoulders, and each of us provided with one of these bags into which was placed six pounds biscuits, one piece of bacon and a package of coffee. With this bag hung from our shoulders, a quart tin cup hung to our belt and our guns and ammunition, we were ready for the road, and would have started with nothing more, for we felt that we were sufficiently loaded be light marching order that was necessary to enable us to cover distance that we knew was ahead.
But Hooker urged that my California mare should be added to our outfit. She, like the two or three other horses with us, had been led behind the wagons. No one ever thought of such a thing as mounting of them, for it was taking their best to live without being ridden, although very thin, her eyes were still bright showing that she had no intention of dying yet. The "irreclaimable" had become so gentle she followed like a dog. Hooker pointed out that a part of our route would be in the mountains where we could find it very cold, and without blankets or protection of any sort we would certainly suffer. So, with the help of one of the men who was a good mechanic, we made a pack saddle for my mare, and in addition to a blanket each, I had a buffalo robe, we also had an India rubber sheet. These were made a neat pack and put on the mare, and she went with us and shared our hardships and lived through.
Hooker had Fremont's exploration of this very route and knew exactly what was ahead. He wrote a minute description of the whole of it, which he gave us to take with us. He claimed that it was a little over three hundred miles from our camp to the first settlements could reach.
The following is about a summary of the description of the route which he gave us. Nine miles from where the trail we were to follow the river was a spring of water. After leaving this spring the trail crossed a flat plain forty miles wide without one drop of water. On reaching the opposite side, the trail leads to and up a rocky bluff and e there were three or four salt springs and one fresh spring. From there the trail then crossed another stretch of over forty miles without water, when it came to a water hole the name of which I forget. From it the trail led ten miles without water to another hole; and from this last, it led over a mountain range a distance of forty-five miles without water to the Mojave River. From there it followed that river to the pass over the San Bernardino Mountains, on the western slope of which were the settlements we were seeking. The above was about the description of our route that we carried with us.
Now for the way we fared on it. …… We lost no time, and as soon as our little preparations were completed we started, each man carrying besides his gun and ammunition, his bag of provisions which he must live on until he got to where more could be had. Besides, there was our faithful mare with our blankets, without which, as it afterward turned out, we would have suffered very much.
The plan we fixed on was to stop the first night at the spring said to be nine miles from where the trail left the river, so as to be able to start by day dawn on the long forty-mile stretch to the fresh and salt springs which we knew were ahead. But as our camp was some five or six miles from where the trail left the valley it made about fifteen miles for us to get to the spring. So, after an early dinner, and followed by the good wishes of all, we took the road leading our mare, which we agreed to take turns in doing, and before sundown we were at our spring. where we passed our first night. Before sleeping that night we looked carefully into our condition and concluded that it was necessary to put ourselves on the very shortest allowance of food. .. (At first we allowed ourselves five biscuits, two for breakfast, one for dinner and two for supper, and a morsel of raw bacon each time. But soon we were forced to reduce our daily allowance to four biscuits, and the last day or two we had only three, one for each meal.)
We spent a pleasant night by our spring, and long before day found us each with his tin cup making coffee, our one luxury. And before it was quite light we were on our road, which let me here say was one of the oldest pack mule trails in America, worn deep into the earth so that there was no difficulty in following it by day or night. Every water hole and the distances between them was well known. We still had the same moon by which we had pursued the Indians a few days before, and now it was just about full.
When the day fairly broke that morning it found us well on our road and we plodded steadily on at our best speed all that day. By noon or a little after we could plainly see what looked like a line of dark hills ahead on which our longing eyes were almost constantly fixed, measuring the rapidly decreasing distance between us and that blessing of all blessings, a drink of water. The knowledge that it was ahead gave us strength for greater exertion. and before dark we had reached our haven of rest and refreshment.
But bitter indeed was our disappointment. When we had fully satisfied ourselves that not one drop of water was to be had at this place, we were indeed almost on the verge of despair. Of course we had not quite reached the limit of our endurance yet, as we proved, but we felt as if we had. We were famishing for water with the knowledge that water in either direction was forty miles away. We found the three salt springs, and we found where the fresh one had been, but it was dry. The ground had been dug down to a considerable depth by someone ahead of us, evidently without finding water. We dug still deeper, but it was as dry as a powder n. In one of the salt springs a mule was dying, the poor beast, frantic with thirst, had seen what he thought was water and rushed into it. Two days later we would have eaten him, but we were not quite hungry enough yet, and so disheartened at our condition that it made us improvident.
We were too thirsty to eat, but we rested by these salt springs probably an hour. No one thought of stopping longer, for we recognized fully that it was now a question of walking through, or dying.
It first one or two of our number showed a little disposition to demoralization. Two of our men talked of turning back, saying that they knew water was behind, but that the water ahead might be dried up like this. But all soon braced up, and acknowledged the necessity of pushing right ahead. So in about an hour we once more took the trail and all night long we tramped steadily on. During the night a cold wind blew directly in our faces, so hard as to actually impede our progress. When day broke the wind ceased and when the sun rose, it became very hot, and we suffered very much. Our tongues became and swollen, and after awhile we literally reeled as we walked, but always with our faces straight to the front. Our poor mare staggered along behind us. She scarcely needed leading, for I do not believe she would have left us. I think that in her suffering she thought we were her only help.
We saw mountains ahead but they were very far off, and our hearts sank as we thought it might be there that the water was. But later in
day, we saw the white covers of wagons ahead, and about five o’clock that afternoon we came to the water. According to my impression then and my recollection now "water hole" was the most appropriate name for it. My recollection of this place is a depression he land of perhaps a quarter or half an acre, filled with red, muddy water, I do not think anywhere over three feet deep, for when we reached it there were some wagons camped on the other side and their oxen were standing about in the pool. This was the first division of the train, that had left Salt Lake ahead of us, that we had come up with. I do not remember how many, but I think there were eight or ten wagons camped at this place.
When we reached the water we lay down with our mouths in it. It ) red and very thick, but it was the most delicious water to us, and drank and drank, and some of us remembered that we might kill ourselves, so we rested and lay down beside it and drank again, and then someone remembered that it would be safer to make it into coffee and drink it hot, so we did that. I had prudence enough to take better care of my mare than I did of myself. When she had drunk moderately I dragged her off by main force and picketed her where there was a little coarse grass that she could pick, and after awhile I took her back and let her drink again and repeated this several times before I would let her drink all she would.
We spent the night at this place, but, as we knew there was another water hole ten miles ahead, and that the next stretch after that was a very long one and took us to the Mojave River, we determined to get off before daylight and make the first ten miles before we ate our breakfast... Accordingly next morning while the moon was still shining brightly we started out early, and when we reached it we found a hole in the desert earth much smaller than the one we had passed, and filled with muddy water. There was no appearance in either of these places of any spring that supplied the water, or any outlet for it to flow away, and I think they were just depressions or natural cisterns that collected any rainwater that fell in the neighborhood.
When we reached this second water hole we found that we were to have a much more bountiful breakfast than we had calculated on. Lying by the side of the water we found an ox that had given out and had been left to die. Evidently his hours were very few. The marks of his futile efforts to rise shown plainly around him and he had resigned himself to his fate and made up his mind to die quietly. But it was not to be so. One of our men sent a bullet into his brain, and by the time he was dead we were skinning his hind quarters and cooking his meat over sage brush fires, and by the time it was half done we were devouring it. I am afraid that both in the cooking and the eating we had gotten down very near to the level of the Digger Indian that we had been hunting so mercilessly a short time back. But this was no time to hesitate about anything that would sustain life and give us strength to push through.
We felt a heavy responsibility about getting succor to those left behind us quickly, and appreciating how very necessary it was to make all speed possible, we determined to lose no time in starting on. So after our sumptuous breakfast and a very short rest we once more took the road. We got off at about twelve o'clock knowing that we would have to travel all night, but there was no way of avoiding this for of course we could not stop at the end of a ten mile walk until another day, and once started on one of those waterless stretches it was impossible to stop until you reached the end.
This time however we overestimated our strength, and two of our party, Grubb and Gray, came very near falling by the wayside. Up to this time we had been traveling over a flat country but soon after we got off this time our trail began to ascend rapidly and we found that we were crossing either a mountain range or a divide, we could not tell which as the crossing was made at night. We soon began to feel the constant uphill work very much. I think our previous exertions were telling on us, and early in the night two of our party were crying stop, when stopping was impossible. To stop meant death. As we were ascending this mountain it became very cold, and by the time we reached the summit the cold became so intense that it seemed stopping would mean freezing. Yet repeatedly our two men would throw themselves down by the roadside declaring they would rather die than go on. However, as the rest of us went on and our forms began to get distant, in the moonlight we would see them get up and me after us. Finally we entirely lost sight of them, and it was many hours later when we saw them again.
This night and the next morning all of us were more used up than we were either before or afterwards. Of course our terrible march that had lasted almost two days was much longer, and before we reached water we were nearly dead, but what we went through then had weakened us so that our endurance was no longer what it had been. Now, for the first time, we made no attempt to stay together, each an pushing forward to the best of his ability, and we were strung out in a long line, often out of sight or hearing of each other .
Lineberger and one man and the mare reached the Mojave about two o'clock, and in less than half an hour five more of us were there, It Grubb and Gray did not get in until about dark. When we reached is river we found some wagons camped there; they were the most advanced part of the train that had been ahead of us all the time. They, and the wagons we had left at the water hole the day before, were all that was left of them. In neither case can I say how many there were, but they were both about stalled and near starvation. They had, however, sent a party forward to get provisions sent out to them, and as they had started ten days earlier than we had left our train on the same errand, and as they had been able to move on until now, they were very much nearer the source from whence the supplies had come, and they were hoping hourly for relief...
I ought to say that soon after leaving the place where we ate the ox, we came to and passed a wagon stalled on the trail; whether the owner got on finally or had to go back and finish our ox we never learned. This train seemed to have gotten into the condition we had gotten into crossing the mountain. Each team was putting its best foot forward, and striving to reach the Mojave. I think they had no hope of moving farther for some time.
And now that we had reached this river where, whatever other troubles we might have, we were safe from thirst, it began to rain and it only to rain but to come down in torrents. Luckily where we struck the river, there was a quantity of dead wood, and as what was coming made itself very manifest in the sky, we borrowed from the ox train an axe. With our buffalo robe and rubber sheet on top, and bushes around, we made some sort of a shelter. As it was turning cold, we got together quantities of dry wood.
Just before dark our two men, Grubb and Gray, came in wet and almost frozen, but after warming in front of the fire for a long time and drinking hot coffee, they seemed to get alright. It now developed that they had finished all their rations that were to last them through the whole trip, and that now they had nothing at all. So from then on, the remaining seven had between us to make up a ration for them out of our slender stock. They had been improvident before, and on the mountain when they thought they were going to die they concluded it would be a great waste to leave the provisions behind. It was very bad at any rate, as our store was small and we were allowing ourselves only enough to live on.
Soon after dark the rain, which had been heavy, turned to sleet and the cold became very severe. Of course our hastily constructed shelter only partially protected us but we were too exhausted for anything to keep us awake. It was lucky that we had collected a large quantity of dry wood, I think it was cottonwood and it burned splendidly. Very early in spite of cold, sleet and rain we were all asleep under our rude shelter with a large fire in front of it, and none of us had any distinct idea of anything that happened that night or until broad day the next morning. Now and then the cold would wake a man sufficiently that in a dreamy way he would realize he had to have some heat, and he would stagger to his feet and pile more wood on the fire, and be asleep again before he knew it. I remember someone shaking me awake in the night and telling me that I was lying in the water and I remember putting out my hand and feeling the water around and sitting up and staring at the fire for a moment, and I suppose instinctively shuffling over to a dry spot. I remember no more.
When we did rouse ourselves next morning it was to find the snow falling steadily and the ground covered with about six inches of it. Snow continued to fall until quite late in the morning, and as anxious as we were to get on it was impossible to do so until it ceased sufficiently for us to see our way, and even then it was difficult to get into shape to take the road. Everything we had was wet and altogether we were a most miserable looking lot. It was difficult to fix our pack so that the mare could carry it for blankets that, when dry were a light load, became very heavy after having absorbed half a ton of water. But something had to be done and after much wringing and holding them to the fire we after awhile got rid of the larger portion of the water and got them made up into a pack that the mare could carry. A little before noon we were able to resume our course. The trail had mostly vanished.
And now before going on with my narrative it may be wise to look back carefully and see just what had been accomplished so far, and how we stood at this time. When we reached the Mojave the day before it was exactly one hundred hours, or four days and two hours since we left our camp on the Rio Virgin, and we had come in that time something over one hundred and fifty miles, and crossed all the waterless country of the Mojave desert on our route. But by the time we got off from our first camp on the Mojave twenty-two hours more were gone, so we had been then five days on the trail. And now on poking into the condition of our larder we found that considerably over two-thirds of what we started with was gone, and according to my information we still had fully one hundred and fifty miles to go. So here was nothing for it but to tighten our belts and reduce our rations
Now when we got off we had our first experience of walking through the snow, and soon found out that there was other suffering besides thirst. Our boots had become very nearly worn out, and now they began to gape fearfully and let the snow in, which melting kept boots and feet one cold slush all the time. And they finally got so bad hat before we crossed the mountains our party could have been railed by the blood on the snow from our chapped and cracked feet. We pressed on. however, almost without stopping. All the way up the Mojave River we tramped along through snow, sometimes six inches deep, sometimes a foot. In some of the high places the snow would be swept away by the wind which blew very cold. These bare places would reveal the trail and give us our general direction. not that it was hard to follow for it kept along beside the river. which at this point was not .a running stream. There would be stretches of water which would play out leaving nothing but sand for a time and then again water, and so all along. My remembrance is that the banks were generally steep and rugged with little or no valley, a sort of deep channel cut through a high arid country. It struck me from the quantities of driftwood piled n places along its banks that this stream, though almost dry now, must at times discharge quite a quantity of water. Of course my observation was superficial and my memory is very old. I know that the country we traveled over seemed very rough and broken and all it being covered with a mantle of snow, it was out of our power to lick, our way. We suffered much from the cold at night. After raking away the snow we would build a large fire and lie close to it; and every night, in our sleep, we would keep getting nearer and nearer to the fire until either our blankets or our clothes would be on fire. This became so routine that we became quite expert at detecting it quickly. It mattered not how heavily we were sleeping, the instant we were on fire, we were wide awake, and up and would have the fire rubbed out with our ever handy snow, but only to go through the same performance in an hour. So, by the time we reached civilization, we certainly presented the most bedraggled, most forlorn and most
fire-scarred appearance that ever was stuck up in a cornfield to scare away crows. If the whole outfit, men, clothes and bedding, had been put up at auction I doubt that even the ragman would have bid on us.
I except my mare, for when she got to the green pastures of California she improved so rapidly that in my dire need I sold her for enough to get me two or three hickory shirts, some drawers, some socks, a pair of corduroy pants and a pair of cowhide boots; and when I got dressed in these I thought I was splendidly appareled.
And now to return to where I digressed. We toiled up the Mojave for four days walking through snow in the daytime and raking it away at night for a place to make our fire and to sleep, and on the fifth day we crossed the pass of the San Bernardino Mountains. Our trail led from the Mojave to these mountains, and when at last we stood on their crest they seemed to us the dividing line between Purgatory and Paradise. Behind us lay miles of uninhabited desert, their only vegetation the bitter sage.
Before us stretched from the foot of these mountains to the Pacific Ocean as beautiful a land as the eye of man could wish to rest on, and to our eyes weary of the eternal wilderness of sand, pebbles and sage, beautiful indeed was the sight of an endless rolling country, deliciously green, and covered with a luxuriant growth of oats and clover growing wild. .
The descent of our trail from the mountains was very steep, and we finally reached the plain by following the bed of a little stream which made its way between high rocks that in places came so near together that it looked as if there was hardly room for a wagon to pass between them, yet all that finally got in on that route certainly did so."
In the mountains we met some mules going back with provisions for the people we had passed."
Early in the afternoon we reached where our little mountain stream, whose bed we had been following flowed into the plain, and here our eyes rested on a sight calculated to gladden the hearts of men just arrived from Hades.
We saw the richest of green pastures as far as the eye could reach, dotted with fat cattle and horses. To our right and at no great distance we saw a house, and toward it we stretched out like the old pack mule when he scents water ahead. On reaching it we found a small adobe house inhabited by four Mexicans. One or two of them could speak English. They seemed to look with some interest at our forlorn appearance, but when we told them that we wanted to buy food they told us they had nothing but beef, but that we could have all we could make use of for nothing, that they did not want any pay for it nor would they take any. Five minutes after we had made known our wants two of them had mounted and galloped out on the plain where a number of cattle were grazing, and in a short time they had lassoed a fine beef, and came rearing back with him charging and rushing about between them; each had him lassoed. When they got in, we, for the first time witnessed a specimen of Mexican butchering. I afterward saw it often. When they got near I saw they were making for a stout post hat was standing some fifty yards in front of the house, and riding up to it one of them dexterously passed his lasso through a hole in it, and in another moment the head of the steer was drawn firmly against the post. and the horse bracing himself held him as if he were in a vise. The other Mexican dismounting and drawing a short, strong dagger, walked up to his side and at one blow on the top of the neck just where he head joins it, severed the spinal column and the beef fell as if shot.
Immediately the four Mexicans went to work and in an amazingly short time he was skinned and cut up and they loaded us with the choicest parts and as much as we could carry, and we went to a wooded creek a short way off. When we reached it we found the lushes covered with grapes. It was December when we found grapes growing wild, and at the same time all the hills and valleys green with oats and clover. We crossed the mountains into these fertile valleys on the Pacific slope In December 1849. Our wagons did not get in until January. Unlike what it had been like on the other side, the climate on this side was mild and pleasant.
As soon as we reached the creek we built a fire and went to cooking and eating, and we kept up this occupation so long, and repeated it so
often. that it is a wonder that we ever lived to eat again; and we alternated grapes and beef at short intervals through the first half of the night, and the latter half we spent in doubt as to whether we would live or die. We were all very sick, and the next morning we were the most miserable set of men that one could ever encounter. It s a wonder that we did not kill ourselves. Of course we were without medicine of any kind. I think probably if we had not found the grapes the beef would not have hurt us. All that we had eaten that day, before getting to the ranch, was one biscuit at daylight that morning, and we lad only had three the day before, and all of them had been baked about nine days...
Half .starved and footsore, we were as tireless as wolves, and could walk all day and part of the night, and not give out, but now we were barely able to drag ourselves out of camp. In the morning our Mexican friends pointed out across the plain a large white ranch some five or six miles off and told us that there we could get all the help we wanted. We started for it, but we, who only a day before would hardly have considered five or six miles as anything, could this morning hardly drag ourselves across the smooth prairie. However, after while we got there, and found about the biggest hearted man it has ever been my lot to meet. I am not claiming a personal acquaintance with Mr. Williams, for except for the first day we reached his ranch and told him our errand, I do not remember ever having ten words with him.
Just as soon as we had made known our wants he assured us that provisions would be sent out to the trail immediately, and by the next morning ten or twelve mules left laden with provisions for our trail He would not even talk about payment. And that was only the beginning of what he did and continued to do. He kept pack mules running steadily, taking provisions out to those deserts until he had helped the last emigrant in. And there is no doubt that many of those of the large train behind us would have perished in the desert but for him. Nor did he stop there. He requested that all who came should come and camp near his ranch, and he gave orders that enough beef should be killed each day to supply all the emigrants.
At that time there was very little bread stuff raised in that country, the inhabitants lived largely on meat, and bread was seen only in very small quantities. But Mr. Williams had a very small water mill near his ranch where I think most of the wheat grown in that section was ground into unbolted flour. Now he was sending out daily to the deserts flour and other provisions to supply the starving emigrant! But flour was too scarce in the country for him to give it to them after they got in, in such quantities as he did the beef, but still he ordered that every emigrant when he first came in should be given one Alimode, a Spanish measure of about a peck, free.
Mr. Williams was an American who had come to this country from Ohio twenty years before, and had married a Mexican woman through whom he had acquired most of his ranch. He was said to own ten leagues square of land, about nine hundred square miles. This was probably a great exaggeration, although I believe the title to much of the land in California, when it was Mexican territory, was in the shape of old Spanish grants for very large tracts. Whether the titles resting on these old grants were held valid by the United State! authorities after California was ceded to this country I do not know, but no doubt Mr. Williams held through his wife, who had been dead some years, one of those old grants. He had vast herds of cattle an, horses and droves of sheep, and unquestionably for those days was very rich. He certainly used his wealth magnanimously.
In this neighborhood I, for the first time, saw that noble animal the Spanish sheep dog. He was a large, strong-looking dog. I do not think it was more than eight or ten miles from Mr. Williams' ranch to the foot of the mountain range we had just crossed. While the cattle and horses were kept mostly on the lower plain, the sheep as a general thing, seemed to feed near the foot of the mountain where they might now and then be visited by a marauding wolf. I repeatedly saw them feeding peacefully with two or three of these dogs keeping careful watch around the flocks and apparently herding them together, and no human herdsman in sight. They never left the sheep at all, slept around them at night and stayed with them by day. The Mexicans told us that these dogs would die in defense of their charge, and that it was a bold wolf that approached a flock guarded by three or four of these dogs. They said they were most carefully raised; that as soon as he puppies were whelped they were taken from their mother and were afterward suckled by a sheep, and during their puppyhood never saw their mother again.
After having accomplished the purpose of our errand, of getting provisions sent back to those we had left behind, there was nothing or us to do but wait patiently until they got through. It was just about a month after we got in that Hooker, Shears, Holcome and those with them got in. The same rains and snows that we had suffered from so much had fallen also in the desert, and with others that fell afterward helped them most materially to get across.
In the meantime our little party camped in some low hills near the ranch and each day two of us would go down to it at a certain hour and
get what beef the crowd of us required. But we stayed pretty close to our camp as our wardrobe was not very suitable for showing ourselves in public. While camped here we fell in with the party that had come in ahead of us from the other train, and we swapped , experiences which were very much alike except that they had escaped the snow and extreme cold of the Mojave. In so far as eatables went, we had fared about the same. They had eaten a mule they found left to die beside the road, and we had eaten our ox. But they had one advantage over us, they had started on their trip with a dog and we had none. They had no food for the dog, but a dog can live without food for a long time, though naturally he got very thin. When they finally concluded that they must eat him there was very little of him but skin and bone, so feeling that if they skinned him here would be very little left they singed him and cut him into very small pieces and boiled him, they said all night, but in the morning his skin was tougher than when they put it in. They claimed that broken down mule was a delicacy compared to that dog.
After a while emigrants began to stray in very fast and all camped all around the ranch, and Mr. Williams had beef killed to meet the wants of all.
We began to look very anxiously for our train. We each had left some clothes with them that we hoped would finally get through. And just about one month after we got in a few of our wagons arrived.
Our wagons and party did not immediately cross the valley to Mr. Williams' ranch, but as soon as they came out of the mountains they turned to the South and camped near the foothills where the pasturage was very good, determined to stay there long enough to revive their teams. As soon as they got in they sent us word, and we joined them. They were camped in a little grove surrounded by the richest of pastures and by the side of a small stream of cold water. Altogether they were most pleasantly situated, and we stayed there ten days. There was not a ranch in sight and we were almost as mud alone as if we were on the plains we had left.
Just after getting to this place a strange horse came up and joined us of his own accord. He was so tame that he allowed himself to be caught at any time, and as he was well broken and a fine saddle horse and was fat and strong, whenever we had an errand in any direction we rode him. He had evidently had some very hard usage, and been turned out to live or die as he might. His back and withers bore the marks of frightful wounds, but they had gotten quite well, only great white patches marking where the sores had been. He was a great convenience to us and we were very glad to have him.
When we moved next I think we went in a southerly direction, and camped near a ranch belonging to some Mexicans. There were one or two ranches not far off. One of them belonged to the Alcalde of the district. I do not understand how it should be that there was ~ Mexican Alcalde in the United States territory, but certainly there was, as we found out soon after. I suppose the United States authorities were letting the Mexican officials hold over until other arrangements were made.
I am inclined to think that our camp must have been near where see on the map of today two little places called Colton and Riverside
There was also within a few miles a village of the tame California Indians, who in point of dirt and degradation were not far in advance of the Digger .
And, now for the proof that we did have an Alcalde in our neighborhood. Our stray horse was still with us and none of us hesitated to ride whenever we had an errand of a few miles. There was a young man, a teamster named Swain with Shear's wagon. He was as quiet and peaceable a young fellow as could be wished. One morning some of Shears' oxen had wandered off and Swain thought he would take our stray and hunt them up. So he saddled him and rode away, and he was gone so long that we were beginning to wonder what had become of him when a Mexican brought a note from him saying that he was at the Alcalde's under charge of horse stealing, and begging some of us to come and testify to his innocence. Hooker, who could speak some Spanish, and several of us went as quickly as we could to the Alcalde, who was quite reasonable and accepted our explanation at once and released Swain, but at the same time told him that it was not safe to ride strays in that country."
And now we got to Swain's story. It seems he was riding merrily along when a young Mexican, who was pointed out to us and I an sure that he was the Alcalde's son, galloped up to him and began to gesticulate violently and talk Spanish very fast. Swain tried by both gestures and word to make him understand that he did not know what he meant. At this the Mexican's volubility and pantomime both increased which only increased Swain's confusion as he did not understand a word, when in one instant the Mexican settled the whole matter with one sweep of a long knife which Swain said flashed like lightening. and disappeared again. He cut both Swain's bridal reins close to the bits. and the next moment had lassoed the stray and was crossing the prairie at full gallop with Swain and his horse following behind. and he never drew rein until he was inside the courtyard of the Alcalde's ranch. Luckily Swain had no weapon about him. or things might not have turned out so well.
Not long after this I had a little adventure out on these same prairies. I do not remember what I had gone out for, but I was making my way back to camp and was still two or three miles off when I saw In Indian, one of the tame Indians of the village nearby, coming at a run directly for me. Even at a distance he had a singular appearance, and I could not help thinking that it would be safe to be on my guard. I was not exactly in the fix that Swain had been when he was lassoed. for in my pocket I had a short, large bore pistol; and I slipped my land in and cocked it, and with my finger on the trigger I waited for emergencies. As the Indian approached it became quite evident that something was wrong; he was foaming at the mouth and gesticulating wildly, and talking so rapidly that his words were incoherent sounds. Though, had he talked ever so slowly I could not have understood him. When he got up to me his gesticulations and language both became so violent that I began to think that he was a maniac, and as I had lever seen hydrophobia, the fear of being bitten became uppermost. He looked at me as if he might spring at me at any moment. I felt very unwilling to shoot a crazy man, but neither did I wish to be chewed up by him, and I did not intend to be, if a bullet could stop him. I kept my finger on the trigger of my pistol, but after keeping up his pantomime for a while, he suddenly wheeled .around and trotted off as fast as he had come, still gesticulating. I was never more relieved in my life.
I pushed on to camp. and on telling my experience, got an explanation of the whole thing. The rascally old reprobate had come into camp leading a young squaw by a rope around her neck, and was so disgustingly obscene in his behavior and proposals that Hooker and some of the men caught him. And, having first cut the rope off the back of the squaw and told her to vamoose which she did at her best speed: they tied him up and gave him what he well deserved, with an ox whip, and, it was just afterward, while he was yet smarting from the ox whip and indignation, that I met him. What his intentions were when he ran up to me, or what he was trying to say, I have no idea.
These Indians living in villages scattered through this ranch country were about the most beastly degraded races I have ever met. What they lived on I do not know. I think the rancheros employed hem a little under the surveillance of Mexicans in herding and handling their cattle and any other menial work they might have to do. They also gathered regularly the offal of the cattle slaughtered at the different ranches, and as at that time everyone in that country almost lived on beef, this amounted to a great deal. They were always great drunkards when they could get drink.
I remember an incident, which transpired while we were camped near the Indian village. A number of these Indians had got hold some bad whiskey or at least something that would "make drunk come, ' , which was the main object. They forthwith went on a debauch, which was fast and furious and lasted nearly all night, until all had been reduced to a drunken stupor, where each lay as he fell until the next morning, when one by one they began to struggle back consciousness. But after awhile the others found that one of their number was not going to be conscious any more; he was dead. On making this discovery, they raised quite a lamentation. They gathered more from the village and went down to a wooded creek nearby and built a large log pile. And then they brought out what looked like large trough with ropes attached to drag it by and put the dead Indian in it, and dragged him to the log pile and placed him on it, and set on fire and burned him up.
And now we must mention something that we learned after we got into California. It will be remembered that when we were in Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons told us that some of their young men had gone to California to purchase mules and horses to meet the requirements of the emigrants, but after much waiting we gave it up and started. They said we would meet the drove on the route, but we did not do so. We now learned the cause of this failure. The Mexicans told us that band of Indians had raided the section and collected and drove off very large herd of horses and mules. But, they were pursued by party of Rancheros, who overtook them and killed and captured them all, and when their faces were washed, the ‘Indians’ were found to b white men.
Now we had been at our camp near these Mexican ranches fop some time and by degrees all those who had crossed the plains with us had left, each gone his own way, and only Shears, Holcome and Hooker remained. Shears had gotten one of his wagons through. Hooker had gotten one large yoke of oxen through, and with the help of Shears' oxen had got through a light wagon that someone had abandoned and he picked up, leaving behind the heavier wagon that he had started with. Any wagons that were left were free to anyone, no one was going back for them. Holcome had gotten one wagon in, but he had not oxen enough to pull it, and when he came in he had two or three yoke of his cows pulling with what oxen he had left.
Now Shears and Hooker moved their camp to Williams' ranch. I do not remember whether Holcome went there or stayed behind when we moved. I know he separated from us in this neighborhood, saying that he was going to settle in this country. I never heard anything of him afterward. Before this, Hooker, Hessie and I were messing with the Shears and we all went to Williams' ranch and stayed there. Shears still owned one wagon and a team, and Hooker had added a yoke to the one he had got through, so that he had a wagon and two yoke of oxen , which was enough to pull a light wagon. And their plan was to travel p the coast with their wagons just as we had been doing on the plains, only now it would all be through the finest grazing country in the world, and we could buy provisions when we required them.
This was all plain sailing for them, but it was not so much so for me. By the best information we could get, it was some six hundred miles up the coast to Sacramento City, and while they had wagons and money enough to pay their way, I had neither. I had spent the last :my money in getting ready to leave Salt Lake Valley. I had found a few clothes with the wagons when they got in, and with what I got with the money the mare brought me, I had enough to be decent.
I sold the mare to Hooker, and she finally went through with us to the mines. Hooker insisted that being out of money made no difference, and that I must travel with him just as we had been doing and that he would keep an account of what my portion of the expense was, and that I could pay him when we reached the mines. I finally agreed to this, but insisted that he should take my watch and keep it until I paid him. It was worth two hundred and fifty dollars. He objected strongly, but I insisted that it was the only terms on which I would accept his offer. and so it was finally settled.
After staying a short time at Williams' ranch we moved to Los Angeles. I think it was about fifteen miles from Williams' ranch, but I may be mistaken about this.
While in Los Angeles I had my first sight of what afterwards was a very familiar one, a Monte table with its piles of gold and silver most alluringly spread out, ready to be gathered in by anyone lucky enough. I owned but one dollar in the world; one that I had saved out of the money that I got for the mare. Gradually the conviction stole upon me that one dollar was not enough to be of any use to me, and that even two would be better, so I planked down my dollar and most immediately I had two. I waited a few minutes and put my my dollar down again, and once again I won, and I thought that I struck the easiest way to make a fortune that ever was heard of; and I suppose I would have made it that day in a very short time; but just then a row started that broke up the game.
I had noticed a large, fine looking Mexican across the table playing for very high stakes, betting piles of gold at a time. There were two or three other Mexicans with him and they all seemed very much excited and talking loudly. As it was in Spanish I did not know what they were saying, but suddenly I became aware that the words I was listening to, no matter in what language, were in anger, and there was every aspect of a fight. At that moment a man, evidently his partner, stepped up by the side of the dealer and in his hand was a heavy Colt revolver, and in a minute the dealer had swept the money from the table into a canvas bag which he grasped firmly in his left hand, while in his right appeared another revolver, and they immediately backed side by side through a door that opened quietly behind them and closed as noiselessly. Then pandemonium broke loose, but I was already getting out of that house and I did not stop to investigate what more transpired. I made my way to the wagons and had nothing to say about my experiences.
Next day I heard that the row did not end when I thought it did. The gamblers, after putting away their money, either came back or all parties met somewhere else, and the quarrel culminated in a fusilade in which two men were badly wounded.
I believe that Los Angeles is now a beautiful city, one of the favorite resorts of the health and pleasure-seeking rich of our country, and can well understand that it should be so, for although since those early days men may have built a modern city and money embellished and beautified it, its splendid setting made by God was always there. Even in my then thoughtlessness and youth the beauty of this country and its delightful climate impressed themselves on-my imagination so forcibly that time has never effaced them, and even now the wish to see and compare what is, with what was, often intrudes itself.
My remembrance of Los Angeles itself is a small Spanish town with a rather sluggish stream flowing through it and with many of the unattractive features of the average Mexican town of that day, yet surrounded by one of the fairest lands the sun ever shown on an, enjoying a climate both delightful and health giving.
I do not know if the following is strictly true and I do not vouch for it, but we were told that in this Southern California men never died from either disease or natural decay; that when they had lived long enough and felt that they should make way for a younger generation, they had to leave home and seek some other state where the climate was less health-inspiring. They did acknowledge that sudden death from rather free handling of weapons was not entirely unknown.
I have read of some delightful resorts near the mountains where even the people of Los Angeles go for a change at certain seasons. I feel almost sure that they must be just at the foot of the pass through which we came, or in the neighborhood of our long camp not far fro the Mexican Alcalde's ranch.
After staying a short time near Los Angeles we moved down to the ocean and camped on the very shore of the Pacific. And here a new surprise awaited me. I had grown up on the seacoast of Georgia and was familiar with the shores and inlets of that portion of the Atlantic coast. But different indeed was it with its chain of sea islands and broad stretches of marsh and river cutting the mainland off from ~ immediate connection with the ocean. On this California coast the rolling hills and green pastures extended to the very water's edge, and the growth of wild oats and clover only stopped where the wave of the ocean broke on the shore. And instead of our shelving beaches, here were, or at least it appeared so, rapidly deepening water and no surf at all that I remember. And at what seemed to our eyes a short distance, but what I now suppose was twenty-five or thirty miles off, some high mountainous islands that very much excited my curiosity. 1 do not remember that we saw any at this place but farther up the coast we saw whales disporting themselves not so very far out to sea."
About this time we met two men who had come down to this country to purchase a drove of beef cattle to drive up to Sacramento city, and Hooker. Hessie and I soon struck up a bargain with them. We agreed to assist them first in collecting their drove and then in driving it to Sacramento City, they of course furnished us with horses and paid our expenses during the drive. This does not look like very good pay, but at this time there were a number of emigrants stranded down in this country who would have embraced such a chance of getting up to the mines free of all further expense. The work suited me because I much preferred riding to walking and I did not mind driving the cattle, and it enabled me to be independent of outside help.
Hooker sold his wagon to the drovers, and as he wished to keep her, he rode his own mare, and Hessie continued to drive the wagon, which now became our commissary wagon. They bought a horse for me, and Hooker. The two drovers and I drove the cattle while Hessie drove the wagon and did the cooking. Of this party I was of course much the youngest and it was but natural that any extra work in the driving line fell to me. Luckily riding was second nature to me and I was more at home on horseback than anywhere else for I am pretty sure that I did twice as much riding as any of the others.
After our bargain was made we immediately started on our work. The wagon went back to the neighborhood of Los Angeles where it would be necessary for us to get provisions, and it waited there for us. The drovers had bargained for cattle a little farther south. We went there and soon we had a drove of one hundred and fifty large long-horned steers. These California cattle were very large and had the most immense horns that I had ever seen; they may not have been longer but they were much larger around and heavier than any horns I had ever seen on Texas cattle.
When once we took hold of our drive we had our hands full. The driving of a hundred and fifty half-wild steers, while keeping them from mixing with the natives, through a country where there were numbers of other cattle always in sight to attract their curiosity, and be attracted by them. was no soft job, and we had about all we could do, especially in the first few days.
At first we made very long drives trying to tire the cattle so that they would be quiet at night. At the end of the first day's drive there had been an enclosure secured where we penned them in for the night, but I do not remember that we ever did so again on the whole route. We drove them until near night, stopped them in good pasture long enough before dark to let them fill themselves, during which process, one or two of us rode slowly around them to keep them from straying, and when they were full and ready to lie down herded them together. And as soon as they lay down, we too, having eaten, lay down by them and slept while they slept and rose when they got up.
As a general thing if they had been fed well before they went to bed, they would keep quiet until just before day when they would all begin to stir, and we had to stir with them. Some nights they got restless soon after midnight, and then we always had trouble. And sometime when day broke we would find that some of our charges had slipped away in the dark, and then it became the duty of the youngest of our outfit to scour the plains till they were found.
In this we were very fortunate as in the long drive from south of Los Angeles to Sacramento City, we traveled nearly six hundred miles and we lost only three or four in all, and one of them was drowned in the Salinas River.
A good part of our way was along the coast, in some places along the very shore of the ocean. I do not know exactly how long we were making this drive because in those days I kept very little account of time, but I am sure we were a good long time for we drove slowly as the drovers wished to keep their cattle in good condition. To me, personally, every mile of the road was a pleasure ride. I did not mind the rough life; I was well-mounted, and both the climate and the country were delightful. As a general thing one day was much like its predecessor; but there was always the horse, the bracing air and the greensward, three good things, which when possessed, unitedly, by a healthy boy of nineteen, ought to go far to produce content.
Of incidents by flood or field I remember but few. One, however, which comes to mind at this moment and illustrates how often "pride comes before a fall," I will relate. We had been on our drive some two or three weeks and it had been agreed that we required a spare horse or two which we were looking out for a good opportunity to buy, when just after we stopped for the night, a Mexican dashed up on a handsome bay mare and enquired if we did not wish to buy, and as he offered her quite reasonably, a bargain was struck. I noticed that before dismounting he leaned forward and dexterously slipped a blind that was attached to his bridle over her eyes and it was kept there until saddle and bridle were off. The lasso round her neck was sold with her. And she was picketed out with the other horses.
Ten minutes afterward three Mexicans rode into camp. On seeing the mare they became very merry and so hilarious that they almost rolled out of their saddles with laughter, and kept calling out in a mixture of Spanish and English "no vana, no good, mucho diablo, no ride, no ride." Our employers who had paid their money for her began to look pretty blue, and the Mexicans on being interrogated, told them that she was well known as being absolutely irreclaimable.
I, however, insinuated I am afraid a little boastfully, that as the Mexican had ridden her I saw no reason why I should not. But the next morning when I got to her it took our whole outfit to get nearer than the length of her lasso, and when by main force we did finally conquer her, we had to blindfold her until we got the saddle and bridle on, and I got into the saddle. Then when the blind was removed, she stood as rigid as if she were made of cast iron. I tried gentle persuasion. but without avail. Then I drove the spurs into her and immediately, some sort of earthquake took place; just how many times or how high she flew, or how hard and fast she came down, I do not know, but I do know that after a short time we parted company. and I came to the ground while the mare skimmed over it.
Up to this time we had not seen our three Mexicans but they must have been watching the fun for in almost a moment they were after her and had lassoed and brought her back. and now having volunteered their assistance, they commenced immediately, as they expressed it, to beat the devil out of her. One held her fast by the lariat to the pommel of his saddle, while the others kept her racing round using a whip on her every time she slackened speed, until she was lathered in sweat and pretty tired. Then she was blindfolded and addled and I got on again. I rode her all that day and never got off until evening. By that time she was well broken and we felt we had every reason to congratulate ourselves on our success.
But next morning when I went to get her, she was, if possible, worse than before. Only after going through the same procedure that had been followed by the Mexicans the day before, and which indeed they assured us was the only thing possible to be done, did I get on her, and once on her I had to stay all day; I could not even get down for dinner. By night she was always good, yet each morning we had the same fight on. I rode her every day for about ten days, and at the end of that time there was no change. She had never thrown me after the first time; however, by this time things were getting monotonous. The whole outfit was tired, and one day I noticed some emigrant wagons camped by the roadside and one of our drovers in earnest conversation with one of the emigrants, and, on my coming opposite he hailed me and, when I rode up he told me that he had sold the mare to these men, and that I would have to make out with one of the other horses.
I suppose they noticed that I had slipped a blind which I had arranged on my bridle, in imitation of the man who first brought her to our camp, over her eyes before dismounting and taking off my saddle and bridle, as one of them remarked that she seemed a little skittish. Our drover admitted that she was just broken and that it would be well to be careful with her for a little while. They expressed themselves as quite competent to manage her. We left her with them and never saw or heard anything afterward.
I only hope she did not break any of their necks for she surely was as the Mexicans said, 'mucho diablo’. When she was at one end of a lasso, and you at the other, if you threw a piece of an old bag or an old felt hat or anything of the kind toward her she would rise on her hind legs and strike it with her fore feet while it was still in the air, and if it fell short of her, she would jump on it with her fore feet.
And now while I have a very good general impression of the country through which we rode from Los Angeles to Sacramento, still there are not a great many points of special interest that remain very distinct in my memory. On the route one thing that impress me very forcibly was the size and solidity of the old Spanish Missions that thickly dotted the land. It showed well with what a firm hand the church of Rome took hold of it; and it showed with what indomitable energy and perseverance the monks and friars who executed this work must have been endowed to put up such buildings in a land thousands of miles from civilization and inhabited only by Indians.
After leaving Los Angeles, the first place that I remember being much impressed by was Santa Barbara. This place was special impressed on my memory by the splendid olive trees that I saw there Up to this time although I had seen several of these old missions and looked upon them as wonderful monuments to the energy at indomitable will of the church which they represented., still I had seen no indication of any attempt at cultivating the soil, but when we reached Santa Barbara all this was changed. There were the remains of what must have been most magnificent gardens and orchard. There was a grove of olive trees so large that at first I did not recognize them, and at a distance, took them for oaks. The dates, figs and grapes, although apparently unattended, looked flourishing, and there were the remains of peaches and other fruit trees. Beside these there were evidences of large fields having been in cultivation. These proofs of a former agricultural industry drew our attention more forcibly from the fact that up to this time we had seen none a all. Beef, and beef alone, had constituted the industry and almost entirely the diet of the average Mexican inhabitant of this country.
After leaving Santa Barbara, we traveled through a rather more hilly country than we had been in, After a while our road led through a range of mountains or rocky hi1ls, and we passed through a gorge only little wider than the road itself, the rocky sides rising so high that it required some effort to climb them, and here we got quite a shock. Two nights before, after we had stopped for the night, a boy looking about eighteen or nineteen and walking in the same direction we were going, overtook us and asked if he could stay at our camp that night.
He was a stout well-grown fellow, evidently English, and I set him down as a sailor who had probably run away from some craft that had touched along the coast. He slept by our fire and we gave him supper and breakfast, and while we were getting ready to start, he pushed along ahead of us, and we thought no more of him. But while passing through these hills one of our party climbed up a little way among the rocks and a minute after we heard him shout, and on going to where he was, we found the poor English sailor lying dead, He was tied like a hog and lying on his side with a bullet hole above the ear. Whether the poor fellow had a little money and was killed for it or whether he had tried to steal a horse and was killed for that we could tell nothing bout it. We had no tools and the ground was almost like rock, but we scraped a shallow grave and put him in it.
Our road for the past few days had been through a much wilder and more unsettled country; and when we got out of this gorge, our road descended a slope scattered over with ragged and wind torn oaks, and near its foot stood a building that looked like it had been an old mission, but it was inhabited by the most questionable looking lot of Mexicans that I had met since entering the country .We saw no large herds of stock that would require so many herdsmen, but there was quite a number of Mexicans riding and loafing around and I felt sure that some of them could have explained the sailor's death.
The old chap who owned the ranch had nothing angelic in his look, or, as we soon found out, in his temper. One of our drovers went to buy horse from him. The bargain was made and the horse about to be turned over to him, the money being counted out on the table, when e drover asked for a bill of sale for the horse. Whether the old fellow ought that asking for a bill of sale was an insinuation that he meant some fraud or not, I cannot say, but in one moment he became absolutely furious and raved until it looked as if he might burst a blood vessel, and although it was all in Spanish, I am sure it was not Spanish prayers that he was pouring forth. We got no horse, and we were glad that it was not late in the day, as we thought it wise to get out of that neighborhood before dark, and we not only did so but also kept pretty well on the alert during the night. After that, I remember nothing of any moment until we reached the Salinas River, except that we passed through a good deal of unsettled and rather mountainous country. But after reaching that river, from there on our course was through rather level, well-settled country.
The Salinas was the first river of any size that we had encountered and we had some trouble getting over it. The cattle had to be swum and when we drove them in, they took the water without any difficulty. It looked as if they were going right over. But in the very middle the river they struck a sand bar on which they could just touch bottom and was only large enough for them to find footing; and they immediately began to walk around in a circle on it and reared up on each other's backs. It began to look as if they would drown each other; and one did get trampled down and drowned.
Under these circumstances I volunteered to go in to them, and getting as long a pole as I could use, I swam my horse into them, yelling at them. As soon as I was in reach of the nearest, striking right and left, and in a very short time I had them in swimming water, and they went over to the other shore and I followed and herded them on the other side. I was some time in my wet clothes, and these of the scantiest before any of the others got over.. They crossed on a sort of ferry raft, leading their horses. There was a ranch near where we landed, and the plain was scattered over with cattle, so I had to move pretty lively to keep ours from mixing with them.
When we reached the San Joaquin we found a good cattle ferry and we and the cattle were all ferried over .
All along our route we had seen more or less of Mr. Shears and his family, as traveling the same route we often passed and re-passed and sometimes camped near each other. We reached Stockton at the same time, and there we left him, as he made up his mind to go into business there. I believe he intended to keep a hotel. I think that had been his business before he left the states. I have never heard anything of him since. However, I hope he and his did well. They were always kind and considerate to a strange boy among strangers.
From Stockton we went straight to Sacramento reaching there the fifteenth of April 1850, one year to the day from the time when I left my father's home on the coast of Georgia.
Now I had to determine what to do. I had my grandfather's letter of credit on Mr. Hall McAllister of San Francisco, but I did no feel like using it. It had been given to bear my expenses while with Major Fremont and as he was no longer exploring the wilds of America, but had gone into politics, and as I was not going near him, concluded not to use the money. Our drovers offered me eight dollar a day to stay with them, which at least showed they had appreciated my services, but the love of adventure was still too strong to allow me to stop and herd cattle for a living. But as I had determined not to USE the money in San Francisco, I must go to the mines and earn my living there, and forthwith I arranged to do so.
Hooker purchased a prospecting outfit and packed it with a little provisions on his mare: and he, Hessie and I started for the mines We knocked about in the mining country for some time prospecting and digging a little in several places with no very brilliant success.
In each part of this country something new and wonderful met our eyes. Up to this time we had been admiring the splendid grazing lands and its rich soils; now in the mountains we gazed with wonder at the huge pines and redwood trees that towered above us. The straight trunks of the former resembling giant columns reaching toward the sky and surmounted by immense green tops studded thickly with large, beautiful cones. Of course, my description of the trees of California at this time is an old story but I am giving my experience of a time when everything pertaining to California was new. I would not attempt to give either the height of these trees or the size of their trunks, but they were magnificent. I remember camping beside a fallen log so large that two men on opposite sides on horseback could not see each other across its trunk.
Not having struck anything very rich we finally drifted down to a creek called Weber Creek, where there were a large number of miners at work. Every foot of the creek bottom was gold-bearing, and new claims were being staked out every day so we staked out our claims and prepared to go to work.
Just then Hooker got a proposition to join some friends of his from the states in a work of considerable magnitude which they thought would pay handsomely, but which would require considerable capital. They expected by building a dam and digging a canal to turn the course of a river for some distance, and were to realize large returns from the deposits in its original bed. Hooker knew that I could get in San Francisco money enough for my part of the expense and suggested that I should go in with them, but the thing did not appeal to me. I saw a certainty of a long wait and considerable expenditure, and I thought it a little doubtful if commensurate returns were so sure. Besides which I did not want to draw money from San Francisco. I already owed Hooker about a hundred dollars, and although he made light of it I did not wish to increase the debt. I did not let it worry me as I insisted that he keep the watch until it was paid. And now I, too, got a proposition that suited me much better .
On Weber Creek I made the acquaintance of two boys of about my own age from Massachusetts. They were both very nice young fellows and we soon took a liking to each other, and were a good deal together, and at each other's camps. And now they proposed that I should join them. They had a good tent, and we three lived and worked together for some time. The larger works where Hooker and his company worked were only eight or ten miles off and we heard of each other sometimes.61 And now Massachusetts and Georgia were living together in loving amity, which lasted until I left California, and in both instances the kindest remembrances still rest with me. My two friends were, one from Boston and the other from Springfield. The name of the boy from Boston was George Farnham and the one from Springfield was Ned, but I regret that his surname has now escaped me.
Now a little circumstance comes to mind that I must relate. One day while we three were sitting in the tent, I picked up a book from among George Farnham's things, and he remarked that it was a present from his mother, given him as a keepsake and that the authoress was a very dear friend of his mother's. I turned to the title page to see who the authoress was and to my surprise it was great to see that the book was by Miss Maria McIntosh, a much valued relative of my mother's family, who had passed much of her youth on Sapelo Island in the family of my grandfather Spalding, her first cousin. She was a sister of Commodore McIntosh of the United States Navy, and wrote many charming books.
I think I should give you some account of the mining then done in California. This was before the days of quartz rock crushing, or any other mining that required expensive machinery. It was before the days of big companies, or of wealthy capitalists carrying on extensive works. Every miner in the country was working for himself. There were only two kinds of mining carried on. One, and by far the most common, was washing the earth of the river and creek bottoms through a cradle or short trough with little strips nailed across the bottom, behind which the gold dust from its greater weight collects, while the earth went with the water out at the lower end of the cradle. The pebbles and small rocks were stopped in a hopper at the upper end into which the whole mass dug from the earth was first thrown.
The miner sat generally with his feet in the water and his cradle in front of him. He rocked it steadily with one hand while with the other he bailed water with a large tin dipper from the stream into the hopper until all the earth was washed through and nothing but a pile of stones was left in it. Then he lifted the hopper and threw out the stones. By this time his partner should have two buckets of earth brought from where they were digging ready to dump into the hopper. This goes on all day. At noon the top of the cradle is lifted off and most carefully the deposits of gold and black sand are scooped from behind the strips nailed across the bottom. This is put into a pan resembling a good bake pan, and the most skillful of the partners proceeded to wash it at the edge of the water until nothing is left but the yellow gold, which was then put into a buckskin pouch, and you have the currency of the country .
At that time you never saw coin used; even in paying for a drink the pay was weighed out in gold dust. Coin was seen only in the large gambling houses. on the Faro, Monte and Roulette tables.
The other kind of mining that was carried on was what was known as the dry diggings. In these, shafts were sunk in places where it was thought gold ought to be deposited. I do not know exactly what the indications were that pointed out these places. but the miner sunk his shaft thirty, forty or more feet and no gold was expected until he reached the bed rock, and there he might find a rich deposit. or he might find nothing. The gold found in these dry diggings was not like the little scale-like particles found in the washings on the creek and river bottoms, but were rough pieces and nuggets. These were sometimes of large size. but the difficulty in this kind of mining was the time the miner had to wait for his returns. with the possibility of none. Still I believe the big hauls were all made here."
With the work on the river and creeks there was always something taken out each day, if only enough to stake him at poker that night, for if all else failed every miner in those days had to play poker at night as unfailingly as he had to dig gold in the day. At least on this creek I knew of very few exceptions. It mattered not where they came from, or how staid and sober they had been before leaving home. the air of a mining camp upset all their sobriety as soon as they struck it; and the singular part was that they all became accomplished gamblers.
The safety of our innocent young trio lay in the fact that we had sense enough to know that if we tackled one of these old veterans we would be simply clay in the potter's hands to be handled as he willed. I am afraid that with me it was not a lofty sense of moral rectitude that held me back but the certainty of losing my money that checked me, for when some chap even greener than myself, and who I thought would be malleable clay in my hands, dropped into camp and bantered me for a game. I usually lost my religion and went to playing. But I had cut my eye teeth, and I kept safely out of the claws of the sharp ones. As to my two young friends I do not think I ever saw either of them play cards, but they were almost the only ones on he creek about whom I can say this.
We three worked together for some time doing tolerably well, some lays more and some days less, but generally fairly well. I am inclined to think the miners on that creek were averaging about ten to fifteen dollars a day. Some probably made a good deal more while others did not make as much.
I have forgotten how much was allowed to be staked off as a claim but I do not think over twenty or thirty feet square, and as all the earth had to be carried in buckets to the stream to be washed it would not do to have a claim too far from the water. There was no ownership of lands in the mining country at that time so a miner could stake off a claim wherever he chose, provided he did not trespass on another miner's claim.
After staking out your claim the next thing to do was to establish your cradle on the nearest spot available over the edge of the stream. There were generally two or three working together, and while one runs the cradle, another wields pick and shovel in the very hardest of clay and stones and fills the buckets with earth and small stones, which the third man carries one in each hand to the cradle, returning with the empties and picking up two full ones ready for him. They exchange work every hour or so as the fellow at the cradle has rather the easiest time. A claim is sunk down to its exact size until it reaches it reaches the bed rock, generally to a depth of six to eight feet, through the hardest clay packed full of rocks that ever a pick was driven into. If anyone thinks it !s fun, let him try it, or if he would prefer tramping back and forth with a bucket of earth in each hand, he might try that.
When I first came to the creek there was only one mercantile establishment on it, and I am a little uncertain how to classify it. I think they called it a hotel, and I think it probable that one could have gotten a meal there, though I never saw anyone take one there in a solid form. A part of it was a store, where you could buy flour, sugar , bacon and coffee as well as hickory and red flannel shirts, jeans pants and playing cards and possibly a few other things.
Most important of all was the saloon, where poker could be indulged in until any hour of the night, or rather morning, and where liquid refreshment was exchanged freely for either gold dust or nugget. The customer could also get cheese and hardtack, which supplied the solid part of the menu. This establishment was owned by two brothers, very dissimilar in appearance and disposition. They were both large, strong-looking men, but the younger brother, whose name was Charlie, was fair-skinned and blue-eyed and always pleasant-spoken and genial, while his brother, Peter, was a dark, rather gloomy-looking man, and I do not think ever smiled or took part in any kind of amusement. He was one of the few who never played cards, attended strictly to his business, and bore the name among the miners of thinking of nothing in the world but making money.
There was a public road that crossed our creek passing just in front of this establishment. It was the main thoroughfare to the mining country both above and below and consequently there were miners passing and re-passing, some stopping and some going on all the time, so that little happenings were not uncommon.
One day, I was present when there was a little crowd of miners gathered in the saloon; there were half a dozen or more of those working on the creek, and several passing strangers had dropped in. As one of the latter walked across the room a leather strap dropped from his pocket, and a man on the other side of the room called to him that he had dropped something, on which he turned round and picking up the innocent-looking strap and regarding it with rather a sardonic expression of countenance remarked, no doubt for the benefit of the company, ' 'I paid four hundred dollars for that strap this morning. ' This of course, elicited a general exclamation of surprise, and several wished to know what he did such a thing for. He explained that he did not do it voluntarily, and while talking he doubled up the strap and quite inadvertently rolled it up from the doubled end, saying as he did so that the former owner had rolled it just that way, and said that no man could put a stick into the loop formed by the doubled strap, that the thing looked so easy that he bet the fellow two hundred dollars that he could do it, and when he lost he bet two hundred more, and lost again - that the chap laughed and gave him the strap - that he knew now that the thing could not be done and would bet any amount that no man could do it; but he had lost his money before he had found it out.
By this time he had attracted the curiosity of all present and most of them were absolutely sure they could do it with ease and in a few minutes they would all have been making small bets. But at that moment Peter, who had been studying the coiled up strap very intently, suddenly stepped forward and laid a heavy bag of gold on the table saying that he would bet the five hundred dollars in the bag that he could do it. and called on the stranger to cover his money. The chap seemed distressed and advised Peter not to throw his money away as he was dead sure to lose it. But this only confirmed Peter in his determination to bet, and the stranger with apparent reluctance lugged out a bag of gold and threw it on the scales. It weighed something over five hundred dollars, but he laid it by the side of Peter's saying. "If you win you may give me back the change."
The rolled up strap was now held up in front of Peter who studied it closely for a while, and then inserted his stick and of course, lost. The stranger reached over and picked up both bags and put them in his pocket. Peter was very much excited and dared him to double his bet. : stranger, after some hesitation, took the two bags from his pocket and laid them on the table. Peter went into the back room and immediately returned with two bags of five hundred each, which he up and in a few minutes had lost again, and the stranger gathered the four
Then pandemonium broke loose. The miners present all declared that there was some swindle and things began to look threatening. But that moment the man who had first called the attention of the stranger, to his having dropped the strap, now stepped up to his side. It was seen that each of them held a heavy Colt's revolver in his It hand, and the stranger called out in a clear ringing voice, “Gentlemen, we do not wish to hurt anyone but do not forget that we have the drop." They backed out of sight, carrying fifteen hundred dollars of Peter's money with them, and we never saw anything of them again.
I have since heard that this strap game was an old trick, but if it s so then it caught a bunch of greenies, not one of whom had ever heard of it before, and it scooped in poor Peter's fifteen hundred.
Not long afterward, there was another happening in the same saloon which, although different from the first was still characteristic of the many traps that were always being set for the gold of the poor innocent miner .
Sometimes a regular professional gentleman, who could read the backs of the cards as well as the face and stack them about as fast as e could shuffle them, would slip in disguised as a miner, and before he was discovered would gather in most of the loose money of the crowd. But it was unhealthy for him to slip away before the miners discovered that they had a wolf in sheep's clothing among them.
The incident that I started to relate took place after the episode of e strap and at night when the saloon was full of its usual crowd of miners, each busy trying in an amiable and legitimate way to gather himself such of the loose funds of his neighbors as could, with the assistance of three jacks, four queens, a brazen bluff or some such elusive means be persuaded to come his way, when someone noticed a neglected looking stranger sitting all alone, and in the spirit Christian charity inquired if he would like to take a hand. He modestly admitted that he would like to, and going over to the bar laid a rather plethoric looking bag on the scales, which the bar keeper, having first opened and looked into, weighed carefully and announced as just six hundred dollars. Resuming his bag and seating himself, he placed it on the table at his right hand, and was prepared for social enjoyment with a credit of just six hundred dollars established. This weighing and placing on the table was an absolutely necessary preliminary to all play at that time. Our friend having seated himself and established his credit, soon showed that he was a high player, but luck was not with him and one hundred dollars worth of chips after another melted away until his six hundred dollars were all gone, when taking a rather smaller bag from s pocket he remarked that he was not broke yet, and calling to the barkeeper that he would be there to weigh his second bag in a minute two. He stepped for a minute or two out of the door. As he left his hundred dollar bag on the table no one noticed his going out, but when ten minutes passed and he did not return, men began to wonder, and all of a sudden the men who had won his money thought they would examine it, and on opening the buckskin pouch they found on top a thin layer of gold a little over a quarter of an inch thick, and all the rest a black sand that is found with the gold, and is next heaviest thing to be got hold of. .
The indignation of those with whom he had been playing was great, and if they could have laid hands on him he would have been roughly handled, but he made his escape.
This was the first time I had seen or heard of this swindle, but it was tried so often afterwards, that the large gambling houses which were most often victimized provided themselves with an instrument by which every bag of gold laid on their tables was sampled from top to bottom before the owner commenced betting.
That the average miner was absolutely reckless and improvident, there can be no doubt, but bad in the proper sense of that word he was not. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules, He worked hard all day, made money fast, and spent it just as fast. He wasted little thought on the future, blew his money with the simplicity of a child, thinking that when that was gone he would get more where that can from. Of course, there were exceptions. Even in those early days there were men in the country who were laying the foundation of the colossal fortunes which they afterward perfected, but they were the exceptions. The everyday neighbor that you met on every bar where gold was dug was reckless and extravagant, but free and generous. He might, at night fleece you out of every cent you had at cards, and maybe, in a mild way, cheat you in doing it, but knowingly he was not going to let you suffer the next day, for so far as his purse went you were his brother. Many were the noble and generous acts of this half savage man. Half savage he certainly was, and how could he have been otherwise?
During the whole time of my sojourn in the mining country I never saw a woman, a preacher or as near as I can remember, a Sunday. This last I am not so sure of, but I cannot remember seeing one, nor do I mean that a woman could not be met in any of the small towns scattered through the country, but I refer to the mining camps where most of the miners lived. Preachers there may have been too, but if they were disguised as miners and had gone wild, and I did not discover them, but of good Samaritans there were many hidden under many a miner's shirt.
Neither was there law or lawyers, judge or juries, but public opinion was judge and unerring justice was the result. It is true that the pistol by your side was the only court of appeal, but use it not perpetrate injustice, or you would be quickly arraigned before the avengers.
And now our little trio was broken into. We had been living and working together in perfect harmony and getting on very nicely, but I think George Farnham must have gotten tired of the heavy all day work, for when the brothers Charlie and Peter proposed that he go work in their store, he agreed to do so. I do not know what they gave him, but probably not more than five or six dollars a day and his board. Both Ned and I tried to dissuade him from leaving us, as we thought the chances in the mines better. But he went, and that left only the two of us working together, and this partnership lasted until left California.
We worked along with varied success for some time when one day, when staking off and opening a new claim we found we had struck, miner's parlance, "rich dirt," and in the evening we found we had cleared over one hundred dollars, and of course were delighted and had visions of large sums coming in quickly. But the next morning, we had just commenced work when Peter came down and informed us that
We were working his claim. At first we demurred, but he scratched at the corners and showed us four rather rotten stakes about buried in the drift sand. As there was a most stringent unwritten law among miners against knowingly jumping another's claim, we had to move out. It looked alright, and yet we could not help feeling a bit suspicious and uncertain about it, and certainly we ere disappointed.
While we were considering what to do next, and thinking about staking off a new claim, Ned almost took my breath away with a proposition. He said that Charlie and Peter were coining money and giving the miners very small return for it, and that since Peter had ousted us from our claim, we might just as well see if we could not cut him out of some of the money he was getting out of the miners. He suggested that if we put our money together, we could build a bigger and better hotel than Peter and his brother had, and that if we did, he would go to Sacramento City and bring all the goods we needed to stock it. Ned felt the miners were thoroughly discontented with the entertainment they were getting at the present establishment, and we could simply take the whole trade of the creek.
Ned further told me, for the first time, that when he came to California, his father had sent him out to a large wholesale grocery house, and that he had stayed with them a short time before coming on to the mines, and, when he left they told him that if he saw any opening for the use of them, he could get all the goods he wanted. So, in short, he proposed that we build and open a hotel and grocery that would throw the old affair in the shade and gather in the trade of the creek. Of course, I was quite ready and we set to work to carry out our plans. There was a little saw mill a few miles off so we went there. With the help of the mill man and his advice about dimensions, we soon made out a bill of lumber which he agreed to deliver at the place we had chosen to put up our house.
This was on the same road that ran in front of our rival's saloon, but about one hundred yards further up from the creek and on the opposite side, on higher ground, so that we, as it were, looked down on him. The old establishment below us was three or four log houses of different ages tacked together ..
The dimensions of our main building were 26 by 45 feet. Almost the whole of the lower story was one grand saloon. A partition cut off about ten feet at one end, where there was a little room for Ned and me and a little hallway, from which the stairs ascended to the room above. The upper story was to be sleeping quarters for the boarders, but we put no partitions up there. Instead, there were tiers of bunks, one above the other, all around the walls except where the windows came in. Then there was a long shed room which ran the length of the house, behind which was partitioned off a kitchen and dining room.
In a few days the mill man had delivered the lumber, the framing all cut to required lengths. Then we hired two carpenters, and with what we could do ourselves, and with any quantity of voluntary help from the miners, it was a very little time before our hotel was up and only wanted a stock of provisions for us to be ready to entertain any number of boarders in first class style. Now it was up to Ned to provide the groceries, and most lavishly he did it.
Our furniture was all home made; a long deal table to eat off and a lot of little deal tables to sit by in the saloon and some chairs and benches completed that.
Now it was time for Ned to go to Sacramento for our goods. I asked him how he intended to make the trip, as it was some forty-five or fifty miles. He gave me another surprise by telling me he was going to ride his mule, an animal that up to that time I had never heard of, but he said that somewhere nearby he had a mule, a saddle and bridle and that he would go get him Then he rode away on him.
Ned was gone probably a week, and when he returned the stock of groceries that he brought with him would have stocked a first class hotel. I had at times in my life eaten as a great delicacy Stilton cheese. but the idea of providing it as an every night food to miners while they played cards and drank whiskey had not occurred to me. But here it was, any number of them hermetically sealed up in tins, and of the most delicious quality, together with quantities of tin cases of delicate crackers and to match this, the most expensive wines, Scotch and Irish whiskey and Cherry brandy, all of the best quality.
Under these circumstances it is no wonder that when we opened up our neighbors below us might just as well have closed. Night after night they were tenantless and silent, while we would be packed with miners from a little after dark until two o'clock in the morning. Our goods simply flew, but a doubt sometimes came to my mind as to whether we were getting back as much for them as they cost us. They were all very high priced goods, and we were selling them at the same price as our neighbors sold stuff that probably cost them one-third as much, so although we had monopolized all the trade of the place, I am not so sure that we were making our fortunes.
If our goods had been of a cheaper grade I think we would have made money, for we would have gotten the patronage anyway, as Peter was not popular, but as it was I felt a little uncertain. However, I had gone into the thing and I was going to see it through. I was having my fun anyway, for in spite of being up every night until one or two o'clock I liked the excitement and sometimes when I gave myself time to think, which I must confess was not often, I could not help being a little afraid that I might get to liking it too much.
I was liked by the men generally, and I took my full share of everything that was going on and all the fun and frolic appealed to me. Its roughness did not set me back any, although I neither drank nor gambled, in the correct meaning of these words. I do not think that I deserved any credit for my abstemiousness; it was not the result of any high moral standard, but of prudence and a little worldly wisdom that I had picked up in this rough school. I never hesitated to have a drink whenever I wished, but I knew full well when to stop and never failed to do so.
Then about cards; I had learned in the same school how to take care myself, not by sharp practice, for that I never learned, but by never allowing myself to be caught by it and confining my playing to those who I knew were as dull as myself. Still I realized that my love of pleasure was an element of danger, and watched it accordingly.
My partner, Ned, was of a much safer disposition, generous and freehanded. I always found him also honorable and strictly straight in his dealings. His time, instead of being given to amusement, was voted strictly to his business. He never, under any circumstances, took a drink or touched a card. With these characteristics coupled as they were with an indomitable energy and a resourcefulness that I've seldom seen equaled, he should, and I expect, and sincerely hope – did, meet with marked success and may now be one of the wealthy of the land.
But to return to our hall of entertainment, for surely that was what it was, collecting, as it did, in festive mood and on pleasure-bent the elite, and in fact, the whole mining population of the creek, to spend the hours from dark till nearly dawn in high carouse and still higher play, where bags of gold were staked as freely as if the earth would always yield them just as much as they could throw away, and where
staple articles of food were Stilton cheese and good Scotch whiskey
Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that some lines of stock soon began to run low, and Ned had to make another trip to Sacramento City. Of course, he carried such gold as we had taken in lay on our first lot of goods, that had now, to a large extent, flowed or otherwise disappeared down the throats of our numerous friends. It is true that I gave the matter very little thought, as I was having a good time, and very little else counted for much with me then. Still. I could not help seeing that when we had weighed up all the gold we had taken in for him to take down to pay our debts, that the amount was inadequate to meet the requirements. However, Ned went confidently on his mission and shortly returned with another lot, not perhaps as grand as the first, but up to our requirements.
Our business flagged not at all and we were still going on with a pretty high swing, and I was still having a fine time, when I received first mail I had got since leaving home about two years before.
All the happenings I have written about up to this time had taken place within that time, and now I must beg my readers to ascribe the many follies I have recounted to the fact that I was still nothing but a boy twenty years old.
Up to this time I had been so constantly on the move that there was no possibility of my getting letters, but now being a prosperous hotel and saloon keeper, I took measures to get my mail. There was no United States mail in that country at that time. It could only be got by private mail express that brought mail to those who engaged them to do so, and some time before I had given them an order to bring up any mail that I might have in Sacramento or San Francisco."
Now my mail arrived, eight letters and one newspaper for which I paid two dollars for each letter and one for the newspaper, in all seventeen dollars for my mail. My letters were all from home, and urged me to return. The newspaper was directed to me and had a deeply lined paragraph from Mr. Hall McAllister of San Francisco saying that if I saw it he would be obliged if I could communicate with him, and come to see him, and that if anyone else saw it and knew of my whereabouts, he would be much obliged if they would let him know.
After reading my letters over carefully and considering the matter , I came to the conclusion that the life I was leading, although pleasant enough, was not exactly conducive to the attainment of the highest moral or social existence, and that to cut it all, while the game was still good, was the wisest plan, and I determined to do so.
I looked up Ned and told him that I wished to draw out of the business, and that if he was willing to turn over to me the two hundred dollars out of the gold we had on hand, which would enable me to pay about one hundred dollars I still owed Hooker and leave money enough to take me comfortably to San Francisco, I would turn over to him all the rights I had in the property, also all my interests in the business, he, of course, assuming all the responsibilities which I knew were pretty large. He thought I was throwing away a good thing and expressed perfect confidence in the business finally paying out. He thought I would be very unwise to give it up, but at the same time if I was determined to do so he was perfectly willing to accede to my terms. We forthwith closed the bargain on this basis, and the next morning he weighed me out the gold and became the sole proprietor of the business, and I was once more footloose:
The same day Ned went with me over to Hooker's camp, and I paid him what l owed him and resumed possession of my watch which I had insisted on his keeping until I paid him. Also I was anxious to show my appreciation of his friendship and of the many kindnesses I had received from him, so I made him a present of my double barreled gun as I knew he had used her a great deal and liked her, and I was glad to leave her with him as a little testimonial of my regard. When I first met him, it was not long after I had started across the plains, and I was an inexperienced and rather willful boy among utter strangers, and he was a man of mature age and good judgment, yet from the first he had given me his friendship and proved it many times.
The route which I had fixed on in my mind for my return trip was about the only feasible one open at this time of the year, or at least only one in common use, that was via Panama and Chagres to the United States. But as things turned out I lived up to my past record of leaving the old much traveled route when not half through, and striking out on a new and almost unused one, and one much more interesting and adventurous than the one I had left. But enough of this; until I reach it duly in my narrative of events as they transpired. After leaving Hooker, I returned with Ned to our old quarters where I spent a couple of days taking leave of my old mining friends in the most loving and pathetic of partings. One big-hearted miner said he had been a long time planning to see "Frisco" and, having a little blowout there, and insisted on going with me that far, which he not only did, but went with me to Mr. McAllister's office where I am afraid he gave the old gentleman a rather lurid idea of the company I had been keeping.
Although rough, these miners were good and true friends, and with a sincerity not always found in the more polished walks of life. On my leaving, almost every miner on our part of the creek had a little nugget pure gold for me that I was to take home and keep as a memento of life at the mines. Ned gave me quite a handsome one shaped like bird's egg and weighing between two and three ounces. I believe I've not mentioned before that the price of gold in California at that time, and the rate at which it passed current everywhere, was sixteen dollars to the ounce.
I am sorry to say that my numerous nuggets, both small and great that I was to take home as mementoes, were all left with the people of Central America, who made it their business to be hospitable and genial to Americans who had a little gold along; even the dear little senoritas were not insensible to their admiration. As to the wild man the mines, who had not seen a woman since he left the States, he was more than appreciative of the alluring charms of these brunette beauties.
When I left the creek I got passage on a wagon to Sacramento City, and from there by steamer down the river to San Francisco. The day after my arrival, I called on Mr. Hall McAllister and drew five hundred dollars to pay my way home.
I found several vessels, barques and ships, advertising for passengers to Panama and all promising hotel fare and quick passage, and as the rush of homeward bound travel was now very large, they were all getting their full complement of passengers. My mining friend and I visited each one that we heard of as advertising for the voyage, and he questioned the Captain or officer charge of each most closely on all subjects pertaining to his vessel, which he knew as much as a goat knows about Sunday.
We finally selected a barque of two thousand tons. The Captain was a weather-beaten old sailor, I think a Norwegian, and had very little to say. The first mate was an American and very voluble. He told us that all the berths in the cabin were already taken, but that the hold immediately under the upper deck was fitted up as a cabin, and he showed us down into it. It was arranged with tiers of berths on both sides from stem to stern, with a table down the middle nearly all the way. We were assured that the fare would be first class, that our vessel was a very fast sailer, and that we could depend upon being landed in Panama within thirty days from weighing anchor in San Francisco. These assurances, together with the fact that she was the only ship ready to sail, and about to do so, settled the matter, and I paid my hundred dollars and had my name written on the front of one of the shelves on her starboard side near amidships. And I believe every shelf had an occupant as she sailed with over three hundred passengers."
By daylight next morning we were under way. I was figuring on getting home in about forty-five or fifty days. We had not been at sea many days before it gradually developed that our barque was not the fastest ship on the Pacific Ocean, and it leaked out from some of the sailors that she was of very mature age. Still we sailed along comfortably enough, and as I was never seasick and lived mostly on deck I enjoyed being on the water with its bracing salt breeze. Even down below it was not as bad as might be expected. The floor or deck underneath was kept very clean and as the weather was generally fine the hatches were all kept open and generally there were wind sails sending drafts of fresh air down below.
It was not many days out before most of our passengers were getting over their generous disposition to contribute all their own food to the feeding of a school of hungry fishes, and getting into a more healthy state of mind, and acquiring a genuine sea air appetite, while holding fast to every morsel of food they could get. Instead of continuing their concern for the poor hungry fishes, they were, with hardened hearts, taking pleasure in watching the fish chasing and eating each other, and giving very little thought to the similitude between the fish in his element where the big devoured the little, and man in his, who was figuratively doing the same thing.
With reviving health and appetites we soon had reviving spirits, and very soon we had a rough but friendly familiarity established among our three hundred passengers. Still, when day after day had to be passed in absolute idleness, time sometimes hung heavily on our hands. A good many of us had, however, brought a few books which were freely loaned and exchanged so that we could generally find something to read, and some of us spent considerable time in this way. Some amused themselves in one way and some in another . There was considerable rough play, and a few spent a good deal of their time playing cards, but they were not many. The reckless spirit that pervaded in California was left behind. All knew that if they threw away what they had with them, there was no place where a few day's hard work would again place them in funds. Let me state here that I am of the opinion that only a very small portion of our three hundred passengers were taking home any large quantity of gold. At this early date, when each miner was working for himself and doing only one man’s work, the big strikes in the mines were not numerous, and the percentage that were making fortunes as not large. Nearly anyone could make going wages, but the cost of living was very high. Still, with patient industry and frugality, they might hope within a reasonable time to accumulate something and finally to secure a competence. But the man who went to California in that first rush did not go with any such views. They expected to accumulate fortunes quickly, and when they realized that they were likely to be disappointed, removed, as it were, from all the usual restraints of civilized life, and utterly cut off from all feminine influence, a spirit of "Devil may care, recklessness took possession of many of those who had crossed the plains with such high hopes There was a class of California emigrants made of firmer fiber who, with bulldog tenacity held on, determined to make a fortune, and no doubt some did. Still, the large fortunes that were made in California were made after capital and machinery began to develop the mines,
Now to return to our ship and her progress. We lost sight of land the second day after leaving San Francisco, and gradually the thirty days that were to take us to Panama were used up and still we law no land, but as we knew nothing of where we were we supposed we were drawing very near and each day expected to see Panama loom in sight. But as day after day passed with no glimpse of anything but unlimited ocean, disappointment began to show itself on many faces, Watching the dolphin chase the flying fish lost its interest to them, and even a large school of Grampus that rolled along by the side of our ship one day created only a temporary interest in them. About this time we witnessed our first burial at sea. One of our passengers, who had been sick ever since he came on board, died, and of course was buried in the usual way. Still the ceremony was new to ill of us and I think a little depressing to some.
Shortly before this I had made the acquaintance of the first Georgian I had met since leaving home, and the first person of any kind who knew, or even had ever heard of anyone related to me. He was Mr. Frank McCarthy of Milledgeville, Georgia and knew of several of my uncles, and also knew of my father's family and who they were. Of course, it was a great pleasure to meet anyone who had any knowledge of people and things that had been so completely left out of my life since leaving home. Frank McCarthy and I soon formed quite an intimacy. Although he was a professional Faro dealer he was absolutely straight and honorable in all his dealings.
He introduced me to his brother Charles McCarthy, a man evidently older than himself, and who had but one arm. Charles McCarthy was a widower and had with him two sons, about six and eight years. And most incredible to tell he had two young negro men about twenty years of age whom he had taken to California to dig gold, and who having been with him in the mines were now quietly returning with him to Georgia. I understood that he had taken out four; two had left him. Charles McCarthy, although always friendly and most obliging was a very reticent man, and I never learned much about him. Whether he had taken out these negros under any special arrangement, such as getting a part of their earnings, or any other understanding I do not know, but they were coming along home with him and they waited on him and Frank, and after I joined them they waited on the three of us just as well and as respectfully as they would have done in Georgia.
Now time was extending itself along; thirty days ran into forty and then into fifty and still no sight of land, and it began to be whispered that water was running low. These reports always leaked out from the sailors. On the fifty-eighth day out we once more sighted land, but great was our consternation on learning that instead of its being near Panama, that the mountains we were looking at were several hundred miles north of that place, and that we were making for a port in Central America called Realajo to take on a fresh supply of water. I think it was the second or third day after sighting land that we dropped anchor in the port of Realajo.
Here about thirty of her passengers left the ship. Among them were the two McCarthys, their children, their negroes, and myself. The port in which our ship anchored was a bay or sound, with no human habitation visible anywhere, but the Captain had the boats launched and took those who wished to leave the ship up a small river to the town of Realajo, where once more our feet were on terra-firma. There were no other vessels in port, but we found some six or eight Americans there. What they were doing or what their business was I have no idea, but they were considerably in evidence at a Fandango that night.
On my way up the river to Realajo, I remember getting my first sight of that famed Spanish delicacy, the iguana. He was lying on a log near the bank sunning himself, and I cannot say that he looked inviting. I am inclined to think it would have required considerable hunger to induce me to eat him. Still, all these things are prejudice, and some of the things that we eat as delicacies would look to the uninitiated just as unappetizing. For instance, the famous diamond back terrapin is not a beauty, the soft shell turtle is positively ugly, and the alligator, which when properly prepared is better than either , is more hideous than the Spanish American big lizard.
We knew before landing that there was a route which, although but little used, could still be traveled from Realajo via Leon and several other towns to Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and by it and the San Juan River to Greytown, or San Juan del Norte as it is sometimes called, on the Gulf of Mexico. There had been an attempt made to divert a portion of the stream of travel that was flowing steadily from both directions across the isthmus of Darien to Panama, but the attempt had been an utter failure on account of the route via Nicaragua being both long and tedious, whereas the distance across the isthmus was very short.
The very fact of having to travel for a considerable distance through a populous and beautiful portion of Central America, far from being a drawback in my mind, was with me one of the principal inducements for wishing to leave the ship and take this route, and the enjoyment and pleasure of this trip far surpassed my most sanguine expectations. I had expected pleasure in traveling through Central America, but I had no conception of the delightful picnic in store for me.
After having been shut up for sixty days on shipboard we were ashore on this land of tropical ease, tropical fruits and tropical people with easy dress and easy manners, and all disposed to be kind to and considerate of Americans who were supposed to have a little gold to get rid of, and we were more like a herd of hungry cattle turned loose In a rich clover field than anything else.
After looking around Realajo for a little while we began to enquire into means and methods of getting on our journey and across the country. We had all put up at an inn and our host was most polite and obsequious, and assured us that everything would be arranged for our forward journey, but that it would not be possible to do so before the next day, that there was to be a grand Fandango that night, and that the Americanos would enjoy it very much; it was really given in their honor. I am afraid that we were only too willing to play into our landlord’s hands and stop with him as long as he was willing to furnish Fandangos for our amusement; at any rate we did stop and go to the Fandango.
We feasted our eyes on the most charming of senoritas floating about in the most airy and alluring of costumes, which in my unsophisticated youth appeared a little scanty, but which with more experience I have since learned might anyone of them, as far as quantity goes, easily be divided by two and sufficiently dressed one of our own beauties for a ball. .
I had picked up a few words of their language from the Mexicans of Southern California, just enough to make a fool of myself, but the ladies who graced the Fandango were not of that austere type who take offense at small mistakes, and they were determined to be as pleasant with us as we were to be with them.
Everything was going on beautifully when it was intimated by an official looking chap who came in that the hour for closing the hall had arrived. Three of us, however, on consulting with our fair charmers were told by them that we might see them home, and as it was still quite early, might stay a little while before breaking up for the night. I had noticed for an hour or so, that one of the American gentlemen, whom I mentioned that we found in the place when we got there, was regarding me with a most scowling visage, but as the senorita did not seem displeased with me, gave his black looks but small regard. I afterward learned that my two friends, who were to be of our small party, had also been regarded with very malignant looks by some of these previous Americans, who in like manner had been ignored.
But now we had scarcely left the hall and reached the middle of the moonlit street with our three charges hanging onto our arms, when we were confronted by the three frowning gentlemen who had been regarding us with disfavor all evening, and who now informed us that they had previous engagements with these ladies, and that we must forthwith turn them over to them. We demurred at this and remonstrated rather forcibly, but as they seemed obdurate I was just reaching the point where, according to my ideas further forbearance would cease to be a virtue, and in one second more there would have been a resort to other methods, and none of us can tell what might have been the issue, when at this most critical moment there was a rattle of arms and some commands in Spanish, and on glancing around we found that we were completely surrounded by a cordon of barefoot soldiers with drawn bayonets, and unpleasantly close to our backs.
They, with very little ceremony, took the ladies from under our care and marched them off between lines of soldiers, while we were left foolishly confronting each other, and as there was nothing further for us to fight for, we had sense enough sulkily to separate. We afterward heard that the poor things slept in the calaboose that night to keep them out of harm's way.
With all our landlord's fair promises there was no way for us to get off from Realajo until the afternoon of the next day, and it developed that the only means of travel available was to ride on horseback. If there were any vehicles in the country they were not available for us. I don't think I saw any while there, and part of the road we traveled would have been very difficult for one. At any rate, rather early in the afternoon of the next day a Central American gentleman with over thirty ponies and an ox cart or two of the crude Mexican pattern arrived on the scene, and we were told that this was our chance of getting through the country. We soon made our bargain with him; each of us was furnished with a pony to ride and our luggage, which was very little, was piled into the ox carts.
The owner of the outfit was to go with us as guide, interpreter and general director of our ride from Realajo to Granada on Lake Nicaragua. Our march had to be very slow as it was governed by what the ox cart could do. We did not stay with them, but had to stay at such places as would enable them to overtake us by night. Altogether the mode of travel suited me very well, as it gave us both time and opportunity to see the country, and enabled us to make long stops at towns along the way.
Our first stop was at a place called Chenandagua where we spent the night. It was only about nine miles from Realajo, but that proved a huge ride for some of our unseasoned party. Our night in Chenandagua was disturbed by the shock of an earthquake, which, though not severe, was enough to empty all the houses of their inhabitants in the middle of the night in all sorts of costumes. It seems these people are always looking out for shocks, which are rather frequent with there, and never lose one moment getting into streets.
The dwelling houses are built largely of adobe brick, which makes a pretty strong wall, and are of only one story, and the roofs were a thatch of reeds for the sake of lightness and pliability. The churches seemed to be built mostly of stone, and were very strongly built, with roofs. However. I saw several of them that had been wrecked in earthquakes.
Next morning we left Chenandagua and traveled along to the next town. Each day was a repetition of the day before, and each night we put up at an inn of some sort. We generally slept in hammocks, and those who, like me, were not going to cavil or be fastidious, but get all pleasure possible out of everything, were comfortable and enjoyed things very much.
At most of the large towns there was generally a Fandango at night. I am not pretending to say that the light hearted lassies who attended these fandangos were the elite of the land, but I am afraid that the elite were rather a small minority. The people generally were rather free and light hearted race, living largely for the enjoyment the hour. At the same time let it not be supposed that because they’e all light hearted and merry, that they were by no means all light of love maidens, perhaps less punctilious, the different sorts mixed more freely than in other lands, but there were many degrees and much differences among them.
Leon was the largest place we passed through, and we were told it was a city of forty thousand inhabitants. It was beautifully situated, at quite an elevation above sea level, and there was a very pretty lake- in view. Just how many days we were in making the trip to Granada how many towns we stopped at I don't remember, but we were quite a time and passed through many. Finally we reached Granada where we parted from our Central American friend and his horses. As he and his horses were paid for by the day, I am inclined to think that traveled by quite a circuitous route, and I am quite sure that at every little town where we stopped, he made it his business to get up the innocent amusements, such as cock fights, in the day time, with promise of fandangos in the evening to allure us to prolong our stay. Truth to tell, the price at which his horses were hired was, to our American eyes, very small. Everything in that country was cheap and we were not averse to dallying a little in this land of tropical fruits and flowers and people who seemed to live only to laugh and enjoy themselves.
However, our ride had to end at last, and when we reached Granada, we had come to the end of it, but not quite to the end of the stay of some of us in the country. Our crowd, that had crossed over from the Pacific together, when we reached this place now scattered and broke up into parties, each looking out for a way of reaching San Juan, or Greytown, on the Gulf of Mexico, the objective point of all.
The only methods offering for getting there were by no means inviting. It appeared that the common way of egress and ingress into this country from the east was by Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan River, which empties into the Gulf at Greytown. All the traffic along this route was carried on by large and clumsy boats or canoes built of two or three logs, and manned by the most unsavory looking crew of sixteen to eighteen men of every shade or color, from negro black to mahogany. Some may have had sails, but most were propelled by long awkward sweeps and poles.
These boats coasted around the shore of the lake, then down the San Juan River to Greytown, or San Juan del Norte, as it was sometimes called, and later poled by their crews all the way back, a distance of some two hundred miles. The whole thing looked most unpromising and dirty, yet I believe that all but our little party of the McCarthys and myself went by one or another of these native boats.
We had concluded to remain a little while in Granada, and stayed behind when the others left. We were about two weeks in Granada and I am sure I enjoyed every hour of it. I rode about the country and enjoyed it, and I made the acquaintance of some very nice young ladies and spent considerable time in their company, and I am not sure but there was some talk about my returning to that country. I rather think that I had some wild idea that it would be a good thing to do.
But by this time, although time was not playing out, money was, and it became necessary to tear myself away from this pleasant land. Although Frank assured me there was no use worrying about money, as his brother Charlie had plenty and we could get all we wanted from him, but I could not see it in that light and insisted that I, at least, had to move on. And finally we agreed that we should do so.
In my rambles about Granada I had met an English sailor who had been a Mate on several ships. He had saved a little money, and when he heard that the route by Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan River was going to be the main route of travel between the two oceans, he had invested his money in two boats, and at considerable expense had brought them up to Lake Nicaragua. But when it turned out that this advertised route was a failure and the travel was all going via the Isthmus, it left him and his boats pretty well stranded.
Our sailor still had one of the boats; was anxious to leave the country, and quite willing to charter his boat for the through trip to the Gulf. I took him to see the McCarthys; we talked the matter over and made a bargain with him. He agreed to man his boat with himself and two men to row. Equipped in this way she was hired to us for the voyage; we to provision her and pay all expenses of the voyage.
And now with the advice of our sailor, we went to work provisioning our ship for a two weeks voyage. We were told that the lake was one hundred and twenty miles long and somewhat over thirty miles wide, then two hundred miles down the San Juan River. We were told that when we left Granada we left all civilization behind, and this proved most literally true.
Now it became necessary to take leave of the young Spanish ladies with whom I had become acquainted, and for whom I had formed quite a friendship. My readers must pardon me when I say, I was very young and very susceptible, and these Spanish maidens very fascinating and these particular ones neither smoked nor used bad words, that I was rapidly getting desperately in love, and about all that saved me from completely losing my head and trying to secure one forthwith was, that each of them was so lovely that I had never been quite sure which was the one I loved most.
Now when the vulgar fact began to make itself known that money s running low I concluded to leave, but positively to return very soon, and I decided that after all it would perhaps be best to postpone a final decision on this momentous subject until I got back. Then too, love making where language was rather scarce and had largely to be implemented by signs, was somewhat handicapped by the young ladies' old grandmother, who unlike the chaperones of our more enlightened land, lay elegantly dressed in a grass hammock never for a moment out of sight of her charges, although I fondly believed she dozed at times and the young ladies thought it rather fun to acknowledge that grandmother was asleep.
There was a young friend who at first used to visit with me, but he took off before I did and left me to do the parting with both girls, my only clear recollection of which is positive assurance to return soon, I there is no doubt that I felt quite sure my future happiness depended on it. It is true I was somewhat puzzled about my inability decide which of the two I was positively in love with, but I was willing to leave this for the future to decide. Then too, it was not long since I had spent some time among the Mormons where connubial bliss was not so restricted by the narrow ideas of other lands, though I realized, of course, that I would have to decide which I loved most before I could propose marriage.
However, all things must come to an end and with a sore heart I myself away, and took to the water. I do not wish my readers to suppose that even in those youthful days I was so conceited as to that those young ladies were for a moment in love with me. Of course, the devoted admiration of an unsophisticated American boy was an amusing novelty with them and a matter of pure fun that had to end in a few days. Although quite appreciating this to be the spirit of our intimacy I, at the same time, was perfectly convinced that there was no other such perfect loveliness to be found in this world and I fully understood that I had to return and capture one of them, and with American assurance, once I learned enough Spanish to tell my story more clearly, I allowed no doubt of my ability to do so.
This was before the American invasion of that country under Walker, and I contemplated no rivalry but native. So, with what was the American spirit of that day certainly among the rough element of our Southwestern border, who while quite willing to admire the women, place a low valuation both in love and war on either the Mexican or Spanish American cavalier. So, mentally mounting my beauties on silver pedestals quite above any such vulgar danger, I sailed away from Granada. "
While I was making my adieus my friends had fully stowed our little vessel with provisions for our voyage, and at daylight one morning we shook out our little sail and boldly set our course for the opposite shore some thirty or forty miles distant. Although we had a fine breeze that drove us along all day it was near night when we made land on the Eastern shore, where running into a sheltered cove we landed and built a fire and went into camp, and Mr. McCarthy's two negroes went merrily to work preparing supper .
My remembrance of the Eastern shore of the lake is that is was high and mountainous and covered with a dense tropical growth and uninhabited except by wild animals and birds, the most numerous being monkeys and parrots of various kinds. Several times we saw near us flocks of a handsome bird about the size of a peacock and colored like a wild turkey. Many times during this trip I bitterly regretted not having a gun along. When I gave mine away before leaving California, I little thought that I would be where there was anything to shoot before getting home, but here I was in an uninhabited country with the woods full of game, and no gun.
We often heard the scream of the panther and occasionally saw deer along the riverbank, and me without a gun. It was bitter medicine, but there was no help for it. The native boatmen, whom we met and passed, all told us we ran a great risk from wild animals if camping on shore. Nothing would induce them to do so, although they were armed with machetes. They always anchored some distance from shore and slept in their boats.
They told us rather a queer story, which,, although it sounded somewhat marvelous, was repeated to us by several different boat crews who knew nothing of what had been told us by the others, so, although I cannot answer for its truth, still I think it may have some foundation. They said the animal they stood most in dread of was a large ape somewhat resembling the African gorilla. They roamed the forests in bands and their ferocity was fearful, they attacked any parties they met and literally tore persons to pieces. We, however, slept every night and spent some hours in the middle of the day on shore, and neither ape nor any other animal molested us.
I now return to our first camp on the lake shore. We spent a comfortable night and next morning shook out our sail and once more were skimming over the water. But this day the wind blew right up the from the lake dead ahead and made quite an ugly swell. All that day we beat against it, making long stretches far out into the lake and into rough water, much to the discomfort of our passengers, this their first experience of an open boat at sea. As for the crew of who had been engaged to work for their passage, it developed they knew absolutely nothing about a boat and were about as frightened and about as useful as a pair of jackrabbits, so the management of the boat for the whole voyage revolved upon the owner and myself, who took turns at the tiller and sheet rope.
All that day we beat down the lake but when we ran to land and camped that night, we had not made many miles on our course. The next day the wind was still adverse and we had very much a repetition day before. On the fourth day the wind became favorable and , we got along nicely after that.
With the exception of San Carlos, we never saw but one habitation leaving Granada until we reached Greytown. This was a beautiful little promontory running out into the lake with some thatched houses. The place looked so pretty and inviting that we landed to see if we could pick up something fresh to add to our larder. We soon purchased some chickens and eggs, and seeing some bees, asked if we could buy some honey, provided they could also sell something to put it in. They made no difficulty about this and going into their house came out with some quart bottles in their hands. We could not see how they were going to put comb honey into bottles, but they went to the hives, which were nothing but hollow logs into lengths of about three feet with a stone fitted into end.
They removed this stone and disclosed to us honey very different any we had ever seen or heard of. The cells containing the honey about the size around of a very large thimble and twice as long, they never removed one. They pierced a number of them with a sharp stick, which they had brought for that purpose, and a beautiful colored honey ran along a narrow groove and poured in a thin stream into the mouth of the bottle. This little promontory and its simple people have dwelt in my memory ever since.
After leaving this place, we continued our course down the lake, the wind generally ahead and the water rough, still our little craft behaved admirably and in due time we reached San Carlos.
We found San Carlos nothing but a little rotting stockade fort manned by a few barefoot and bedraggled looking soldiers, with one cannon mounted so as to command the river in front of the entrance into the lake. I believe this was the only gateway into the country from the East. and a well planned and garrisoned fort would make it safe from invasion except from a very strong force. The little handful of men and the rotten stockade, I suppose, were only kept there to enforce the collection of duties on goods coming into the country.
We spent one night there, and the next day started on our way down the San Juan River. This was a wide and apparently deep river flowing sluggishly between banks absolutely covered with heavy tropical forests. Our passage was slow and amounted to nothing more than a drift. The thick woods on both sides cut off all wind so there was no chance to sail, and our sailor and I were the only two who knew anything about rowing. The two negroes were willing to try and we insisted on the two hands doing the same, so the six of us too~ turns two at a time. but the boat was heavily laden and about all we did was to keep steerageway. We managed to rig up a sort of awning over the after end of the boat so those not at work could get some shelter from the sun, but even so it was very hot and we had to make long stops during the middle of the day.
All our days on the river were much alike. My most poignant regret was not having a gun. There was little current and the river seemed deep until we reached its mouth, where it spread out very wide and became very shallow with sand bars rising above the water in every direction. I thought I knew all about alligators before, but I was badly mistaken. Scattered about on these sand banks in every direction were the largest and most formidable looking alligators I had ever seen. and they scarcely heeded us as we passed. Some rose lazily and walked down to the water and lay down again, while others did not even deign to notice us. Perhaps we had now reached tidewater when we passed this part of the river, for very soon we came to its mouth, and here was Greytown, or San Juan del Monte as it may be called.
It was a small straggling village scarcely deserving the name of a town. My impression of it was a lot of small houses scattered rather irregularly on the shore of a wide and exposed bay. The entrance to it must have been quite shallow for vessels had to lie outside of the bar in the open roadstead. I believe the place was under English rule, but they were very suspicious of all Americans. There was an ordinance requiring all visitors to turn over all firearms in their possession to the authorities, who only returned them when you were leaving the country.
We found all our fellow travelers who had crossed the country with us, and a few more Americans gathered here. Although they had arrived more than two weeks ahead of us, they had not, up to this time been able to get a way of leaving the place. It seemed that very little shipping came this way. However, a day or two after we got in an American brig anchored outside the bar and her Captain came ashore. As there were nearly forty of us waiting to get out of the country, we hoped he would take us direct to the United States, but in this we were disappointed. The best he would agree to do was to take to Chagres, and when he had completed his load there, then to take us on to New Orleans. This arrangement we finally agreed to, and the next day went on board the brig, which then weighed anchor and set for Chagres.'.
Our English sailor sold his boat and took passage with us as far as Chagres. We were quite a house party, most of us having sailed the Pacific and afterward crossed Central America together. We found that this brig, like the barque in which we had left California, was fitted up her whole length under the deck with berths for passengers. It appeared this was the kind of load our Captain was seeking. He said he had to have one hundred passengers before he left Chagres for New Orleans. Of course this vessel being very small, things below deck were very cramped and uncomfortable, but I never took but one look down there.
Frank McCarthy and I took our blankets on deck and never went below once, from the time we went on board until we reached New Orleans, eating and sleeping on deck. I believe we were the only ones who did so, and the only ones who kept well. We were all well when went on board, and I believe all well until we reached Chagres. I don’t know if Central America is usually healthy, but it is certain that whole party of Americans who crossed when I did all kept well while there and even on the San Juan River. But we had not lain many days in Chagres Harbor before we had a good many cases of fever on board, and the number increased rapidly. Our brig was the only vessel in port, and returning Californians were coming across the Isthmus every day and all anxious to get passage to the States on anything, and on any terms, anything rather than delay. So, our little vessel soon had over one hundred passengers crowded on board. While lying in the harbor, of course, those of us who were well enough went ashore and wandered around a good deal, and among other places that we went to see was the site of the old Spanish fort that the English pirate, Morgan, captured preparatory to crossing the Isthmus and capturing Panama. I had read accounts of the desperate fighting of the pirates in the capture of the fort, and the horrible atrocities they had committed during their successful expedition, and I wished to see the place, although I expected to find but small vestige of the fort visible, but I never was more surprised than when 1 reached it.
The old fort was still standing, and looked as if nothing had been touched since Morgan had carried it by assault. The stockade of upright logs with sharpened tops was still there, though of course rotten, with the breaches made by the pirates, through which they had stormed and finally carried the place, plainly visible. And when we entered, the signs of conflict were everywhere. Dismounted cannon, most of them small brass pieces, lay scattered about, I suppose the carriages had rotted. Piles of shot were lying by them, generally in orderly little pyramids, and in the magazine, the top of which had fallen in, was what looked like what had been cannon powder. The whole thing was. so realistic that you could picture the fight, in your mind's eye, as just taking place, and just as it must have been.
The natural position of the fort was very strong. It was on a high bluff, or promontory, jutting out into the sea just at the southern entrance of the harbor, which it thoroughly commanded. It was washed on three sides by the deep sea and could be attacked only from the land side, which was protected by a strong stockade defended by both cannon and musketry, and it might have proved invincible against such arms as the pirates could bring up, but from its one weak point. All the buildings inside the stockade were covered with thatch, which enabled the attacking force to set fire to them. Up to that time, with all their ferocious bravery, the pirates had made very little headway in their attack.'.
We layover a week at this place before sailing and by that time the Captain had packed in over a hundred passengers, and there was now a great deal of fever among them. A doctor came on board the day before we sailed, and pronounced it Chagres fever, but it must have been very nearly related to yellow fever. He dosed them all with calomel, and as none of the usual precautions were taken in giving this medicine, most of them in a day or two were salivated. We were now at sea and the number of sick increased so rapidly that within a few days nearly all the passengers were down. The conditions in that crowded little Role can hardly be described.
Charles McCarthy, by paying quite a large price, got himself and his children moved to a little stateroom on deck where, by again paying well for it, he got the steward to look after him. The condition of those fever stricken men below deck was almost too horrible to contemplate. Nearly one hundred cases of fever in all stages, from those just contracted to those delirious and dying, with no doctor and almost no attention. For there was no one to attend to them, crowded as they were into a close hold with very little air, and the heat intolerable. Our vessel was a veritable pest house.
We were twenty days from Chagres to New Orleans, and we buried twelve passengers in the Gulf during the voyage, and there were seven on board said to be very low when we reached that port. Whether they lived or died I don't know, for all who could left the vessel as soon as she touched the wharf, and never stopped to look behind.
And now before bidding farewell to our unlucky vessel must relate a little incident that broke the monotony of our gruesome passage. The wind was nearly always light and our progress slow, and by the time we were well out of sight of land we were joined by three monster sharks who kept along with us all the time and were almost always to be seen. When some poor fever stricken creature, who was ordinarily a little better, staggered on deck for a breath of fresh air, he was horrified by the sight of these hungry creatures gliding along waiting for their next meal. But our Mate. a weather beaten old salt, managed to put one of our most unwelcome visitors out of commission in a most novel way.
One, a monstrous shark and perfectly fearless, kept coming up to the side of the vessel and glancing up as if impatient at the length of time between meals. It seemed to me that either a hook or a harpoon would done his business, but neither was aboard. But the old man knew what to do. He took a rope and passed it through a block on the arm. Then he made a slipknot and hung a large loop about the size a cowboy would throw around a steer straight down into the water with the loop hanging open, then with a small string he held a large piece of meat directly in front of the loop. In a moment the shark glided through the loop and took the beef and went straight on. The Mate let him go his way until the large back fin had passed the loop when he tightened his noose around the tail of the shark, and in a moment every man aboard ship who could pull a pound was hauling the rope, and in a few moments, the huge monster was dangling at yardarm…. the most surprised shark in or out of the Gulf of Mexico.
With this shark story I forever bid farewell to this ill fated vessel. The McCarthys and I went together to a hotel in New Orleans, the next day started by rail for Georgia. On the train the 'McCarthys met an old gentleman to whom they introduced me, and gave me the sad news that my dear old grandfather. who had always been so good and generous to me, had lately died. This depressed me very much as I had hoped to see him again.
In Macon I parted from the McCarthys and never saw them again. Frank McCarthy got into poor health soon after he got home and did live very long. But before he died he sent me as a memento a heavy gold ring which, he wrote me, was carved out of a solid nugget of which he had brought back from California. Poor fellow, we had only traveled together, but I had met him after having been among r strangers ever since leaving home, and the mere fact of his coming from the same state and being the first Georgian I had met, knowing who I was, and some of my people, had created a tie and while together, he had been a good friend to me.
From Macon I took a train for Savannah, which I reached the morning, and the same day left on a steamer running between Savannah and Palatka, Florida, but touching at Darien where she should have reached before dark. But, although so near home I was to have a little excitement before landing, and maintaining my record for meeting the unexpected.
Our boat was delayed by running aground and instead of reaching Darien as expected, it was one o'clock in the morning in a dense fog we entered the Darien River and all the passengers were in bed except myself. I was the only person to leave the boat at that place, and after my long absence was anxiously anticipating getting there, I had seated myself on the upper deck just in front of the pilot house and we were slowly feeling our way up the river and had gotten within a few miles of Darien, when suddenly we heard the whistle of another boat a short way above us and coming down river
Now the whistles of both boats were blowing incessantly, and in a short time the lights of the other boat loomed in sight, and a moment later the bows of the two boats came together with a crash that hurled all the sleeping passengers out of their berths, they, in their night clothes rushed on deck, and for awhile everything was confusion. For a little while it was thought that we were sinking, but it was found that our damages were mostly above the water line and we were in no danger. But not so with the other boat. She barely managed to reach a shallow part of the river, and sank immediately with only her upper deck above water, and there she left her bones. All her passengers were put on board our boat and we went on to Darien, getting there about three in the morning.
The old town was asleep and one or two sleepy watchmen were all that I saw, no one that I knew, and without making myself known to anyone I walked straight through the town and took the road for my father's home "The Forest" plantation just twelve miles away, and just as they were sitting down to breakfast I walked in on them, receiving like the prodigal son of the Bible, a welcome much warmer than I deserved.
Parent's eyes are both blind and partial, and they can never see anything but swans in their ugly ducklings, and these loving old people seemed perfectly delighted to get their bad penny back again. And now I found that my dear old grandfather, although uncertain whether I was alive or dead, had not died without leaving me a remembrance, and at the same time, had put somewhat of a quietus on my further roaming by arranging that I was not to receive it until I was twenty-five.
Now I must close this story which has proved much longer than I thought when I commenced writing it, and if my readers have had a hard time wading through it, I can only beg them to remember that during my trip I, too, had some rough times, yet I have survived them and lived to a good old age. As I am one of the youngest of those who crossed the plains in '49, and yet am now nearly seventy-six years old, I know that almost all who were with me then have long since gone to that bourne from whence no traveler returns. Yet as there were some as young as myself, there are no doubt a few old fellows still left in the land of the living. If these pages should meet the eye of any of them I can only say that I extend to them a hearty greeting, and I hope they have made their fortunes, and are living happily surrounded by their children and children's children.
As for myself, I can only say that although the fortune is still lacking, the children and children's children unto the third and fourth generation are here, and I fully realize that God has been very good to me. As on my Western trip, I have had some very close calls and very hard times and some desperate struggles to weather the breakers of life. Yet that same protecting Providence that bore me safely through vicissitudes and follies of my youth seems never to have deserted me, and has always brought me in safety to the end.
When the war of subjugation commenced in 1861 it found me living prosperously on my own plantation with my wife and children. When it ended in 1865 it found me with a wife and six children, destitute and penniless. For four years I had been fighting in a bloody war, and had known both wounds and suffering. Once, with a bullet through my neck, I had ridden for days with a soldier on each side to hold me in my saddle.
Yet the fight that was just finished was but pleasant diversion to that which my wife and I waged for many years afterwards to keep our heads above water and educate our children. Now those days are long past, and we have drifted into still waters. Out of a family of ten children we have four sons living, all thank God, standing high in the esteem of their fellow men, and they will be sure to take care of us in our old age.
[most of the footnotes have not been scanned in, at least not yet]
Footnote 82. Upon his return home, Thomas Wylly settled down to life on the family plantation, "The Forest," near Darien, Georgia.
In 1854 Thomas, then twenty-tree years of age, met and married a beautiful English girl, Marian Doherty, daughter of Major Richard Doherty of the British army. Her picture will verify her beauty.
With the approach of the Civil War in 1861 Wylly raised, equipped and was appointed Captain of a company of cavalry known as "The McIntosh Light Dragoons" for the Confederate army.
In the melee of fighting around Atlanta a Union soldier rode up to Wylly and leveling his pistol fired point blank into Wylly's face, the ball passing completely through his neck. His grandson has often seen the jagged scar about the size of a dime where the ball entered the neck just to the left of the throat, and a smaller scar where the ball passed out the back of the neck just to the left of the spine. Yet he kept his saddle, and with a man riding on either side to support him he rode for three days to escape capture by the Union army.
Toward the end of the war as the Union army approached the plantation, Marian Wylly gathered up her children and fled; a refugee hiding from the Union army.
When the war ended Wylly returned to "The Forrest" only to find his house burned, his wife and children missing, his slaves freed, his plantation in ruins, and his Confederate money worthless. An era, and a way of life, had ended.
The old way of life had ended and they found themselves in the new competitive world of the industrial age; a way of life for which they were not prepared. Then the long, hard road back; the struggle for survival, and the years of "genteel poverty." It was a long hard road and not all ever recovered. Yet they were a tough and resilient generation and they managed to survive; not to affluence, but to a good life.
Thomas, himself, wrote “For four years I had been fighting in a bloody war, yet ,the fight just finished was but a pleasant diversion to that which my wife and I waged for many years afterward, to keep our heads above water and educate our children…… The old way of life was ended. We found ourselves in a new competitive world. The Industrial Age, for which we were not prepared. Our only source of revenue was to sell the timber from our lands, and even the land itself.”
This online reproduction at http://mcburnett.org/neal/spalding/WestwardHoIn49-Thomas_Wylly.html of the four-part memoir published in the Pacific Historian was scanned and formatted by Trish McBurnett, great granddaughter of Thomas S. Wylly, and put online by her son Neal McBurnett in October of 2006. Most footnotes are not yet included - perhaps a project for another time....More details on Wylly's military service are at A Brief History of Clinch's Regiment, 4th Georgia Volunteer Cavalry, by O. Jonathan Hickox. It includes this information on the circumstances surrounding the major injury he suffered: On 31 August , when Sherman sent his 100,000 man army swinging to the west of the city [Atlanta] to cut its remaining rail connections to the south and west, the regiment was forced from its breastworks by superior forces at Mount Gilead Church near East Point. Several of the men were reported to have been killed and wounded in this fighting and the battle of Jonesborough the following day. Among them was Captain T.S. Wylly, who was so badly wounded in the neck and shoulder that he was left on the battlefield when the regiment retreated. Surgeon Burroughs went back to the battlefield and rescued Wylly, hauling him to safety on his own horse.
See also lots of other information on Wylly's Spalding ancestors.