1. Hutching's California scenes. [San Francisco.] Excelsior print .
San Francisco, 1854.
Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 2, Folder 4a.
2. New and short route to the gold mines of the Black Hills, Montana and Idaho. 400 miles saved. The "Black Hills exploring and mining association" desires to call the attention of miners and emigrants to the new and short route to the gold mines ... Yankton, 1865.
3. The great seal of the State of California.
4. We, the undersigned, citizens of the United States, being about to leave our homes for California, for the purpose of mining and digging gold ... have agreed to unite together and form an association ... [Philadelphia 1849].
Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 155, Folder 20.
5. Three days longer! New route to California via Wentworth's Hall! Original panorama of the gold regions of California! painted by S. A. Hudson, Esq ... S. J. Varney, printer. No. 21 Central St.
Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 60, Folder 1.
6. Gold mines of California!! W. R. Andrews, having just returned from California, after having spent several months in the mines and mountains of that interesting country will deliver a lecture at on day of 1849, upon the gold mines of California
Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 120, Folder 24d.
On January 24th 1848, James Marshall unintentionally caused 300,000 men, women and children to make a mass exodus from the East Coast of America to California. The reason: he struck gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California and from that moment rumors of fortune spread all across the country. By definition a gold rush is "a period of feverish migration of workers into the area of a dramatic discovery of commercial quantities of gold." (Wikipedia; “Gold Rush”) Eight gold rushes took place throughout the 19th century: in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. (Wikipedia: “California Gold Rush”)
This mass exodus of people from the East to the West, who were called the “forty-niners,” took on an urgency that has yet to be matched. This “trek west, from the banks of the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast, made by some quarter of a million Americans … stands as one of the great human adventure stories of all time.” (Willoughby 3) Lane was not only a witness to this excitement but he was an active participant.
In his autobiography, Lane proved to his readers that he was indeed a part of the many important and highly revered moments in American history by packing up life as he knew it in Ohio and setting out into the then “unknown” frontier in search of fortune like many others during the California Gold Rush. Lane, who was “among the more than 300 emigrants from Summit County, Ohio” kept a diary during the arduous journey which recalls his party's trials and tribulations which occurred during those five months on the trail. (Smith 1)
Lane describes the arrival of the news about the discovery of gold as such:
[In the] winter of 1849-50, the California excitement ran high; a number of people who had gone there the year before, having returned with glowing accounts of the richness of its gold fields, and the readiness with which fortunes could be “piled up”. Large numbers of people here, and elsewhere, were consequently organizing themselves into companies for crossing the plains, on the opening of Spring. Believing that the overland journey would restore me to health, if not fill my depleted pockets, I determined to join the expedition. (Lane 199)
When the news of the discovery reached the East Coast of the United States, “it spread like wild fire, fanned by a press that was hungry for new headlines to equal those generated by the recent war with Mexico.” (Willoughby 4) Not only did the media react strongly to the news of gold but merchants took advantage of the emigrants’ desperation and need for the many necessities of such an enormous journey.
And although some traveled to California by way of ship; “to do so entailed a grueling trip around the southern tip of South America. Even on the fastest ships at that time, it still took over 100 days, and was dangerous and costly.” (Willoughby 4) This fact resulted in the majority of Easterners traveling by way of covered wagon.
In order to survive the several months overland, three general categories of necessities for the trip were required. The first general category “consisted of wagons and harness components," as the wagon made up the primary vehicle of choice for overland travel over rough terrain. (Willoughby 11) The second category was livestock which included the animals that were to pull the wagons as well as animal stock that would provide meat and milk as needed for the emigrants' survival. The third general category consisted of the varied supplies to fill the wagon and sustain the travelers with the most modest creature comforts, hopefully for the full length of the journey with some left over to sustain them once they arrived.” (Willoughby 11)
Lane notes in his writings how the prices of products and goods needed by the emigrants grew steeper and steeper the closer one got to the various "jumping-off" sites such as St. Louis and St. Joseph. These sites were literally the last stop before travelers would make their way out onto the lonely frontier, and these businesses thrived on taking advantage of the needs and wants of the travelers.
Many historians would agree that the motivation for adventurers like Lane to risk their lives (and often their family members' lives), was in its simplest form lust for quick riches manifesting in a real life treasure hunt which throughout human history held immense appeal to men and women of all ages and social backgrounds. However, Lane asserts that his decision for going on this perilous mission was not solely for the “pile” (slang for gold) that he might receive but also for medicinal relief for his bouts of dyspepsia he suffered during the time. Although it seemed unlikely that a long and arduous journey across American wilderness could cure one's stomach ailments, Lane described his change in health as a positive one.
He recounts this change while writing about his arrival in California’s Hangtown:
For myself, though the journey was fraught with infinite peril and fatigue, I never enjoyed myself more, nor better, than during those three long months. While laying in our provisions, I told Holmes, who acted as Mess Commissary, that he need not figure on any pork, beans, or coffee, for me, for I could not use them, on account of my dyspeptic troubles. But he laid in a good supply, allee samee, and I had not been a week upon the plains, riding, walking, and sleeping in the pure air of the prairies, before I could eat and drink my full rations, with the best of them. The result was, that whereas, when I started from St Jo, on the first day of May, I weighed only one hundred and ten pounds, when arrived at the classic city of “Hangtown,” (now Placerville .) on the 4th day of August. I “kicked the beam” at one hundred and forty-two pounds; a net gain of thirty-two pounds, and some six or seven pounds more than I had ever weighed before. In fact, I was entirely cured of my dyspepsia –– a sufficient compensation for all my toil, and trouble, even if I should entirely fail to secure what the great majority sought for – gold! I continued to increase in flesh, until I reached one hundred and forty-eight pounds, which weight was maintained during my entire two years sojourn upon the Pacific Coast. (Lane 202-203)
Lane, of course, was a special case in his not only surviving but benefiting from the often brutal elements of unsettled and alien land mixed with the frequent and fatal diseases that ran rampant on the trail. Among the many diseases to which travelers succumbed, cholera “claimed the largest number of lives” on the trail, resulting in the estimated “one in ten travelers dying from the disease en route to the West.” (Smith 8) This death rate was morbidly displayed for Lane and many other travelers by the hundreds of unmarked graves sadly witnessed on their way to the West Coast. And even if one did survive the trek across the frontier, the journey back East was not much safer.
One would think traveling back home by ship, as Lane did in the Steamer “Winfield Scott,” would protect oneself from contracting a deadly disease, but even quicker modes of transportation held the risk of contracting contagion or from the ship itself as described in the following: The SS Winfield Scott, a sidewheel steamer that transported passengers and cargo between San Francisco, California and Panama in the early 1850s, during the California Gold Rush, entered a heavy fog off the coast of Southern California on the evening of December 1, 1853 causing the ship to crash into Middle Anacapa Island. All 450 passengers and crew survived, but the ship was lost. (Wikipedia; SS Winfield Scott) The “unsanitary conditions on grossly overcrowded steamers […] were an ideal breeding ground for the spread of the highly contagious cholera [which was] transmitted by the contamination of food and water." (Smith 7)
A common way to profit from one's journey to the West (if one did not in fact strike gold) was to lecture about one's experiences to those who stayed home on the East Coast. Lane, being a natural story teller, saw his chance to benefit from his adventure as well as share with his friends and fellow citizens his once-in-a-lifetime journey. In his manuscript Lane included a written transcription of his exciting lectures that he delivered to his fellow Ohioans which recount the many trials and tribulations of his adventures on the wild frontier.
Lane's exciting and historically rich documentation of his incredible journey out West is depicted in the following excerpts :
The Overland Journey to California
Further back in this volume, from pages 199 to 238, I gave an account of my start for California, in the Spring of 1850, my two years’ residence upon the Pacific Coast, and my journey home, via the Isthmus of Panama and New York, in the Fall of 1852; alluding to the journey across the plains and over the mountains, only by reference to a series of lectures given on my return home to be found among my papers. Finding on examination, that the ink with which these lectures were given is rapidly fading out, and at the suggestion of the family to whom I am now (January 1884.) reading them, that they ought to be put into a more permanent form. I have concluded to embody such portions of them as have not already been given herein, at this point in this narrative. The people of Akron, and Summit County had a very great personal interest in California matters at the time, not less, probably, than 400 persons having gone thither from the several townships of the County during the previous three years. These lectures, originally five in number, including one upon California and its resourses, and the return journey via the Isthmus, were given gratuitously, at my own expense for hall-rent, printing, +c. Union hall (in Henry’s Block) the then largest hall in town, being crowded to its utmost capacity every night, and many others unable to gain admittance. I was also invited to deliver them in Middlebury, Tallmadge, Richfield and other places in the County and always had large and attentive audiences.
Lecture Number 1.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Having been kindly invited, by several friends feeling an interest in the matter, to give a public talk or two upon such items of general interest touching California, as have come under my observation, I have taken the liberty of calling you together here this evening. And allow me here to remark, that it is with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow that I am once more privileged, after an absence of nearly three years, to appear before so large a concourse of my fellow-citizens of Akron. With joy that myself and so many others that I see before me here to-night, were spared, amid the dangers of the wilderness and the desert-surrounded as we often were, with ravenous beasts of prey, savage and blood-thirsty Indians, and oftener with still more savage pale-faced ruffians; spared from the pestilence; the life and property destroying fires; the robberies and assassinations of the mines and cities; and finally spared from the perils of the sea, and the hazards of the Isthmus transit, to return once more to the bosoms of our families, and to the society and companionship of the many kind friends who have, with such apparent sincerity, welcomed us back to your midst again. And yet, while I am heartily rejoiced to meet with so many old familiar and friendly countenances, together with a large number of new faces that have come in during my absence, I cannot but feel a deep sorrow for those of my friends who have been laid low in death during that time. Many, very many, of those who left you when I did, full of life and vigor, with buoyant hopes and lofty aspirations, have been stricken down, and now sleep the sleep of death in a distant land; while the King of Terrors has not even spared those who remained quietly at home, but has taken several from your midst. We are thus forcibly reminded that whether old or young; whether at home or abroad; whether in the busy city or upon the snow-clad mountain; whether on the arid desert, the trackless ocean, or the quiet farm; whether watching with intense anxiety the movements of a treacherous enemy, or being watched over with tenderest solicitude by sympathysing friends, “in the midst of life we are in death”. As much is being said, at this time, about constructing a Railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and thereby connecting five of the most prominent cities of the Union, viz. San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Saint Louis, Akron, and New York. I shall make copious extracts from my diary while crossing the plains and mountains, and sojourning in California, that you may form some idea of not only the practicability, but of the absolute necessity, for the speedy construction of a work of this kind.
Of our journey, by mud, to the Ohio River – thence, by water, down the Ohio, and up the Mississippi to Saint Louis; the purchasing of provisions and mules, and our travel over-land, nearly 400 miles, through the State of Missouri, to our starting point, St. Joseph. I’ll say nothing, only that we had lots of fun with the long ears, and that the blight and curse of slavery was visible upon every inch of that naturally beautiful and productive state.
We arrived at St Joseph on the 25th day of April, and found not only every portion of the town literally crammed with moving multitude, but for miles, in every direction, the roads and fields and plains were thickly dotted with tents, wagons, animals and humans; thousands having already moved forward upon their journey, and other thousands daily arriving. The crowd was so great at the various ferries in the town, that, on the 26th, we went four miles up the river, where, after waiting nearly a whole day for our turn, we crossed over, and, by steep and difficult windings, ascended the bluffs and encamped in the Indian Territory, three or four hundred feet above the bed of the river, and about six miles from St. Jo.
Here we remained, some of the company making daily excursions to town for such articles as we deemed necessary to complete our outfit, until the first day of May, when, everything being in readiness – our Captain, Assistant Captain, Secretary, Sergeant of the Guard +c. appointed, wagons and animals properly packed, at precisely 10 o’clock A.M. we bid a final adieu to the borders of civilization, and boldly took up our march, under the influence of the soul-inspiring music of the fife and drum.
Of course, I shall not have time, even in a dozen lectures, to follow the daily doings of our train, and give you every little minutiae of our long and tedious journey – our routine of travel – our camping, cooking, eating, sleeping, standing guard +c. I shall, therefore, speak only of prominent points, with a description of the face of the country, soil and climate, with such objects and incidents of particular interest as came under my observation upon the journey.
Fort Kearney is 300 miles from St Joseph, and situated upon the Platte River, which rises in the Rocky Mountains and empties into the Missouri River, a little below Council Bluffs, and about 30 miles above St. Joseph. This river gives the muddy appearance to the Missouri, which is clear above their confluence, while the Missouri, in turn, imparts its murky attributes to the naturally pellucid waters of the Mississippi, which they retain until they reach and in fact carry with them far out into the Gulf of Mexico. The country from the Missouri to Fort Kearney is most beautiful, - over rolling praries, introspersed with numerous creeks and small rivers, the most of which are lined with timber, though generally not of very extensive growth; and a better road I never traveled.
Thirty miles from St Jo. on a slight elevation, commanding a delightful view of the country for many miles on every side, is a Missionary station. There are about 700 Indians located here and in this neighborhood, the remnants of three once powerful tribes, viz. the Sacs, Foxes and Iowas. They have over 300 acres of land under fence and a good degree of cultivation. The cultivation of the intellect was also being attended to, from 40 to 50 young copper-faces, glistening like new pennies, being in daily attendance upon the Missionary School.
“Delightful task to rear the tender thought
And teach the little Indians how to shoot”
Speaking of shooting, the young red-skins, in various places along our route – entirely untrammeled with clothing – afford the emigrants a vast deal of amusement, by their dexterity in the use of the bow and arrow, rarely ever missing a mark the size of a shilling, at a distance of four or five rods, where the prize was a cracker or piece of bread; while the older ones were quite as expert in bringing down elk, antelope or buffalo, at a far greater distance, with the same deadly weapon.
On our fourth day out, we saw the first grave that had as yet been visible. It was on a beautiful knoll, five or six rods from the road. And who can describe or even imagine, the emotions of that vast throng, at beholding that first grave, almost at the outset of the long and perilous journey before them. There was a path to and from and around that grave as marked and well-beaten as was ever made by devoted pilgrims to their most sacred shrines of worship; every one, in fact, who was on foot or mounted, going to and around that grave, and reading and commenting upon its inscription. There was a strip of board at end of the grave, and upon the head-board was plainly cut; “Jos. Halbert, of Hancock Co. Ill. Died May 27th 1849, aged 29 years”, over the head-board was placed, by way of protection, with its prong firmly driven into the hard earth, the huge branching antlers of a giant prarie elk, of which we saw many in this region of the country.
The next day, at Nerucha Creek, running Northeast and 91 miles from St Jo, we saw a card, nailed upon a tree, informing us that Captain Garrett passed this point on the 25th of April, with 40 wagons and 140 men – the fame of Captain Garrett, of Ohio, was upon every tongue and as he had performed the journey only the year before, it was supposed that his wisdom was sufficient to guide his devoted followers safely though the mountain gorges, and over the burning sands of the trackless desert; that he would know just exactly where the best grass, the purest-water and the safest camping places were to be found; and great was the anxiety to enlist under the broad banner of Captain Garrett. The result, however, proved that even the experience of Captain Garrett was often at fault, and that his guidance gave as little satisfaction to his followers, as that of many other inexperienced, though, of course, wise and great Captains, who were chosen to the command of trains upon that difficult and perplexing expedition.The next day, at Nerucha Creek, running Northeast and 91 miles from St Jo, we saw a card, nailed upon a tree, informing us that Captain Garrett passed this point on the 25th of April, with 40 wagons and 140 men – the fame of Captain Garrett, of Ohio, was upon every tongue and as he had performed the journey only the year before, it was supposed that his wisdom was sufficient to guide his devoted followers safely though the mountain gorges, and over the burning sands of the trackless desert; that he would know just exactly where the best grass, the purest-water and the safest camping places were to be found; and great was the anxiety to enlist under the broad banner of Captain Garrett. The result, however, proved that even the experience of Captain Garrett was often at fault, and that his guidance gave as little satisfaction to his followers, as that of many other inexperienced, though, of course, wise and great Captains, who were chosen to the command of trains upon that difficult and perplexing expedition.
Half-way from St Joseph to Fort Kearney, or about 150 miles upon our journey, we crossed the Big Blue river, a beautiful, clear and rapid stream about 125 feet in width, running southeasterly, and emptying into the Kansas, which unites with the Missouri at or near Fort Independence. For some distance on either side of the Blue, we found the country a little uneven, passing over rocky ridges in which sandstone; red, blue and white limestone; granite, iron ore, etc, were distinctly visible, and the banks of the river were also quite well-lined with several varieties of timber.On the banks of this river were a number of graves of those who died the year before; one aged 62, another 78, and also a new grave of a boy aged 11. Thus we see that the old man, having already exceeded his allotted term of three score years and ten, becomes excited with the wonderful stories which he hears about the land of gold; feels that his youthful dreams of wealth may yet be realized, leaves comfort, kindred and friends, and with tottering footsteps joins the motley throng, but to lay down his life upon the plains, just so soon as the fatigues and privations of the journey overcomes the excitement that sustained him while preparing his outfit and getting under way. And in many instances, too, the hardships of the route are found to be too severe upon children, whose parents, allured by the glittering tales they hear, sacrifice the best interests of the family – the comforts of home, their education, and many of them their lives, in their anxiety to obtain wealth.
Three days travel, over gently undulating prairies, and most magnificent roads, brings to the Little Blue, which is 45 or 50 feet wide, and one of the prettiest little streams of water that I ever beheld. For two days more our course is along the rich bottoms of this stream, in a northwesterly direction, when we diverge more to the north, and, passing over a series of sandy plains and bluffs, 25 or 30 miles, strike the Platte river, ten miles below the Fort, about 2 o’clock P.M. May 15th. We remained here overnight, driving our animals across a portion of the river to Grand Island, for feed.
Friend Holmes, both cook and gunner for our mess, took his rifle and waded across the river, with the view of treating us to a game supper, as he thought ducks ought to be plenty in that region. About 5 o’clock I saw the old fellow re-crossing the river, and what do you suppose he had bagged? Nothing but a huge mud-turtle; but the way that we luxuriated on a “hasty plate of soup”, that evening, was a caution to General Scott!
Almost the entire country from Missionary Station to this point, and in fact for 150 miles beyond, is inhabited by the Pawnees, said to be the most thievish tribe of Indians on the whole route, though not a single Indian was visible upon the road up to this point – They took both cholera smallpox from the emigrants the year before, and were consequently very shy of us, though several small parties and villages were seen by our men in the distance, when out hunting upon the hills.
Being greatly annoyed with dust, while encamped upon the plains, one evening, I fabricated a pair of goggles for the protection of my “blinkers”. Perhaps you would like to know how I managed to do it. Well, I will tell you. We had laid in a small stack of trinkets – beads, rings, +c – for traffic with the Indians, a portion of which were arranged in a small paper box with a glass cover. I had my diamond with me, and by the aid of a half dollar for a pattern, I found no difficulty in getting out the glasses in first rate shape. The rims were formed out of pieces of leather, clipped from the super abundance of straps upon the gearing of our little mules. Cutting my leathers the right length, and creasing one edge of each to receive the glasses, and firmly stitching them in place, a thin piece of calf-skin from the lining of my wallet for a nose-piece, with some broad tape, with which my good wife had supplied my “bachelor’s kit” for string, and the arrangement was complete.
The next day, while enjoying the luxury of my new invention, a stranger riding past me enquired where I got my goggles. On being informed that I had made them myself, and rightly supposing that I can make more, he offered me a dollar for them which I accepted. I then made myself another pair, and on reaching Fort Kearney, I bought a light of 8 x 10 window glass, for which I paid 25 cents, and was thus enabled to supply the other members of the mess, and several outside friends, at a trifling advance on the cost of materials. The pair retained by myself, not only proved very useful to me on the journey, but are now retained as a relic thereof, and that they can’t be beat.
For Pratical utility,
Beauty and durability,
I’ll just put them on and let you see ‘em. Aren’t they splendiferous!
The Platte river bottoms, on the south side, will average perhaps six or eight miles in width, and with the exception of occasional places covered with a sort of salt incrustation, as fertile a soil as one would with to cultivate. The season we were there, was very backward and cold, and vegetation had yet scarcely begun to put forth; but the luxuriant growth of old grass standing upon the praires, and river bottoms, where not burned off, indicated that nearly all the lands thus far upon our journey were capable of a very high degree of cultivation. In this connection it may be well to state that there was a pretty well authenticated rumor afloat, that one of the foremost trains, under the command of a Captain Dennison, from Missouri, had purposely set fire to the dry grass in their rear as they passed along, to retard the progress of coming trains as much as possible, lest others should get into the “diggings” before them; for this dry grass had to be largely depended upon, this year, for the sustenance of the animals during the first three or four weeks of the journey. Whether true or not, if his followers-after could have got their hands upon the aforesaid Capt. Dennison, they would undoubtedly have meted out to him the fullest measure of the justice of the plains and mountains in their power.
Fort Kearney stands half a mile from the river. At the time we were there, May 16th 1850, there were, I think, five frame buildings occupied by the officers and their families; several barracks for the use of the soldiers; stables out-houses +c built of sunburned brick and layers of prarie sod, with straw, or rather grass, roofs, supported with poles and posts. The fences, or fortification walls, around the entire group, are also constructed of praire sod, which seems to answer an admirable purpose, though I should not suppose would stand a very heavy siege or assault from without.
The garrison consisted of 175 men, under the command of Major Chilton. The man who kept the Post office, for sending back letters to our families and friends, also kept a record of the number of men of men and teams that passed. We were almost at the head of emigrature, that year, only 1952 wagons and 6,122 men having passed before us!
Fort Laramie is 327 miles from Fort Kearney, and situated upon the Laramie river, near its junction with the north or main branch of the Platte, which forks 120 miles above Fort Kearney. On reaching the forks of the river, instead of crossing the south branch and pursuing our course along the north branch, we were compelled by high water, to continue up the south branch about 40 miles, and, after crossing, pass over a pretty difficult hill, into Ash Hollow, in the valley of the North Platte, a distance of about 15 miles, with this slight exception, the roads the entire distance between the two forts were almost equal to a plank road, apparently almost level, hard and well-beaten.
The grand buffalo pasture of the journey was between these two Forts; though we often saw immense herds at a distance upon the north side of the river.
Speaking of buffalo, reminds me of an incident or two. The day after leaving the fort, towards evening, our boys descried a solitary buffalo some two or three miles distant, near the bluffs, and several who were mounted started in pursuit. Friend Holmes, being the gunner for our mess, also shouldered his rifle and, on foot, cruised off that way, too, thinking that possibly the other boys might drive the critter around where he could get a crack at him, and at the same time keep within sight of the train. But, on getting a mile or two away, it was hard to distinguish his own from any other train, of the almost continuous procession moving along the road; and finally, when he thought it was about time to camp and made his way towards the road, we were no where to be seen, on enquiring for the “India Rubber Train”, as we were called, from having several wagons with rubber tops – almost the only ones seen upon the entire journey – he was told that we were behind, and back he went some five or six miles, when he was again told that we were ahead. By this time it was dark, and wherever he saw a campfire he would make for it, but to be disappointed and told in what direction they supposed we were. Thus he kept traveling, backwards and forwards, to the right and to the left, for we had encamped in a little valley, where not only our wagons but our camp-fire too were invisible from the road.
In the mean time we had become alarmed about him. McMasters beat his drum and Hughlin blew is fife, and signal guns were fired to guide the wanderer into camp. Nine o’clock came and he did not arrive; the anxiety became intense; he might have get bewildered in some of the ravines of the plains or deep gorges of the bluffs, or met with a serious accident, and a volunteer party of some twelve or fifteen men started in pursuit, equipped with lanterns, rifles, fife and drum. To the bluffs thy went, and I suppose that if fifing, drumming, shooting and shouting could have frightened the wild denizens of that wild region, they were that night frightened out of at least ten years’ growth.
About 11 o’clock, however, I had the pleasure of seeing the last one return, looking, and feeling, too, about as tired and jaded as a person could well be; having probably traveled from 12 to 15 miles, and in almost every point of the compass, until some one pointed out to him the direction in which he had heard the music of a fife and drum, early in the evening, when he marched straight into camp.
In about 15 minutes after his arrival, the expedition, not to search for Sir John Franklin, but to find Sir James Holmes, came slowly and sadly in; but when they learned that the last was found, their sadness soon changed to rejoicing, and many were the jokes cracked over Jamies buffalo hunt. Holmes kept pretty near home after that. Three days after this, as we were baiting our teams and eating our lunch, at noon, a herd of perhaps 1000 buffalo were discovered making directly towards our camp, from the north, upon the gallop, and almost with the noise of a tornado. As these were the first we had seen – except the solitary animal above spoken of – our men and horses, and mules, too, were nearly frightened out of their wits.
Several of the former sized their rifles and gave chase, leaving the latter to take care of themselves, several of which did so by stampeding, though the most of them were prevented from breaking away, by those of us who were sufficiently level-headed, to get hold of the lariats before they had pulled the pins. There is one peculiarity about horses, mules and oxen getting frightened by a herd of moving buffalo, as, nearly always, instead of running from, they will run towards, and join in with them – and then good-bye ponies, mules and oxen.
Of the six or eight animals belonging to our train lost at this time, four, two horses and two mules – belonging to a German named Kuhner, and an Irishman named Dugan, who with their wives were in a mess by themselves, we were unable to find, after scouring the plains for nearly two days. They had two large horses left, however, besides a small Indian pony which Kuhner had purchased a few days before from an Indian trader at the Fort, and got along very well for three or four days, when, on Sunday, May 25th, some trivial disagreement occurring. Dugan got his Irish up, and Kuhner’s Dutch became excited and they separated – dividing their mess property, provisions, bedding, horses, harness and wagon; cutting right down through the top, box and gearing of a first-class Tallmadge-built-wagon, and making each of them a cart. Kuhner, having two animals,; his original large horse and the Indian pony alluded to, took the forward part of the dismembered wagon, gearing his two mis-matched animals to the pole; and Dugan, mounting his horse rode some eight or ten miles to the bluffs and secured a couple of pine saplings, out of which he constructed shafts for his vehicle. The next morning when we started on, our neighbors hardly knew us because we had one less noble-looking rubber-top wagon, and in its stead two miserable little bob-tailed carts.
I will here mention that while the search was going on for the missing animals, as above narrated, some of us went to work and set the tires upon the wheels of our wagons, which were becoming rather too musical for safety. The difficulty of performing a job of this kind, without anvil, bellows, coal or wood, will be readily appreciated by those familiar with the nature of the operation. Here, it would be necessary to contract the diameter of the tire by “cutting and shutting”. There, we enlarged the diameter of the wheel by nailing thin strips of wood to the felloe. Here, a good supply of seasoned wood and shavings, with perhaps a liberal supply of charcoal, would be indispensible but in heating the tire. There, we used “buffalo-chips”, (or in other words dry buffalo manure) and friend Ira P. Sperry, of Tallmadge, a practical Carriage Ironer, who bossed the job, declared that he never used any thing equal to it! And, by the way, it is a little singular that this kind of fuel should be so abundant the precise place where the emigrant needs it; for there is not a particle of wood between Fort Kearney, and the crossing the South Platte, a distance of over 150 miles.
While we were lying by, searching for missing stock, repairing our wagons +c, I presume we saw millions of buffalo, immense droves of these odd-looking creatures coming so near as to keep us all pretty wide awake for the safety of our stock, our boys killed a dozen or fifteen of them, which was really too bad, as we made use of a portion of two, only. One of the men, Dugan, being out on horseback, came across a buffalo calf, a week or so old, and brought it into camp. It was a pretty little brown-haired fellow, and looked exactly like the ordinary domestic calf, exacting a slight enlargement of the shoulders.
Vast numbers of these useful animals are killed every winter by the Indians and the hunters of the Hudson’s Bay and American Fur Companies, and we met a large number of wagons freighted with furs and skins; the latter chiefly those of the buffalo. The Indians seemed to be a good deal exasperated at the wanton destruction of their “cattle” by the emigrants, in mid-summer; and it is really a very great pity, that an animal whose skin is so very useful – and comfortable, too, this cold weather – should be thinned off unnecesarily; for the time is not many years distant when the encroachments of civilization and Yankee enterprise, will compel both the Indian and his cattle to take up their abode in the mountains of the Moon – if, indeed, Jonathan has not already got the start of them and appropriate all of the inhabitable portion of that planet to himself.
The South Platte, at the crossing, is nearly or quite half a mile in width, with an average depth of about three feet – rapid and muddy, with a quick-sand bottom. The ford is diagonally across, down stream, making the distance to be traversed in the water about three-quarters of a mile. There are occasional hard bars, and when once under way you must keep going until you strike one of those bars, or the sand washes out from under your feet and wheels, and you may get down rather lower than you will care to go. The animals as well as the men seemed to understand this, and needed no urging to “push along, keep moving”, until the solid ground was reached.
Soon after getting over the sharp dividing ridge and into Ash Hollow, 15 miles from the crossing of the South Platte, we came to an Indian Village of 12 to 15 wigwams, and the next day we passed through what might be called an Indian city, of about 100 wigwams, besides several other towns of greater or less magnitude, in this neighborhood. These were Sioux, (pronounced “Soos”, and all looked clean and bright. The tribe is said to number about15,000. They had large droves of horses, and some mules, many of which had undoubtedly been purloined from the emigrants. They would not sell their animals for money, as they did not seem to have any proper idea of its value; but in a trade a small quantity of provisions, tobacco, matches +c would go a great-ways, while blankets, rifles, ammunition +c were eagerly sought after.
One of the chiefs, a noble-looking old fellow, stood by the road-side, shaking hands and saluting every one with “how! how! how! – do! do! do!” and presenting a paper, drawn up by a Government Agent, asking for donations of such articles, bread, rice, beans, sugar +c, as the emigrants could spare, to compensate them for the feed, fuel and game we made use of and destroyed upon the journey. In this way they gathered up considerable; for the emigrants at this stage of the journey generally had plenty, and were not driven to the extreme point of destitution and hunger, as were thousands upon the last end of the route.
Theirs wigwams were built with long poles, tied with thongs of raw-hide at the top, and spread out to any required size at the bottom, and covered with skins of various kinds. We did not have a chance to observe their habits and customs very closely, but there was one observance noticed among these Indians, said also to exist among the Indians of the Pacific Coast, and very probably of the entire race; namely, that instead of burying such of their children as die, they wrap them in blankets and skins and barks, and in a sort of cradle, or canoe-shaped coffin, composed of sticks and thongs, place them in the tops of the highest trees that they can find in the neighborhoods of their villages.
As we continue up the North Platte, toward Fort Laramie, the country is lovely beyond description, the prairies and river bottoms being now covered witha beautiful coat of “living green”. Of course, there were now and then rather difficult crossings of streams, a few miles of sandy or hilly roads, with shortness of fuel, grass and water, and the usual fatigues of travel in any country. But for over 100 miles, this side of Fort Laramie, though gradually on the ascent, our road had the appearance of being almost on a dead level; while upon our left, from four to ten miles distant, were ranges of rocks or bluffs of the most romantic appearance imaginable. It is very difficult to measure distances with the eye upon the plains, especially in the higher altitudes. Hence the emigrants were often deceived, and led off upon many a “wild-goose” chase, to visit curious looking objects apparently but a mile or two from the road, to find, after walking five or six miles, that to all appearance they are no nearer than when they started.
These bluffs, and fragments of rocks, often present the appearance of splendid castles, with their walls and turrets; cosy cottages surrounded with the usual complement of stables, out-house and gardens; magnificent fortresses, and extensive cities, with their parapets and spires, and lofty domes glistening in the sunlight, and it requires but a slight stretch of the imagination, while gazing at these beautiful illusions, to see the activity and bustle, and hear the confused murmerings and rumblings that would strike upon the eye and ear, upon approaching a real city, teeming with life and business.
The first curiosity of the kind that you have a desire to visit is “Court House Rock”. It stands “solitary and alone” upon the prairie, apparently from two to three miles distant from the road, and in color and shape resembles a first-class stone Court House, with large cupola upon the top. Several of our party went to it – not on foot, however, as vast numbers did – and found it a good long eight or nine miles from the road; – frequently losing sight of it entirely in deep ravines, and having to cross one or two considerable streams of water, before reaching it. It is a sort of soft limestone formation, three-fourths of a mile around the base and from 150 to 200 feet high. I clambered up perhaps half way, but there being as the time a pretty stiff breeze, and as I never was very well-balanced in the upper story,I did not think it quite prudent for me to climb to the top of the dome, which is nearly perpendicular, and only ascended by means of notches cut in the soft stone by some more venturesome hombre than myself. This dome is about 15 feet across the top, which, it is said, affords a magnificent view of the surrounding country. Thousands of names are carved upon curious formation with date of inscription, place of residence +c. The only name that I recognized, was that of “William Smagg, Akron Ohio, May 17th, 1850”; but unless defaced by the action of the weather, it now bears the name of another distinguished character of “Buzzard Memory”, from the same place, inscribed some ten days later.
Thirteen miles further, with nothing of the kind intervening is “Chimney Rock”, composed of the same kind of earthy stone, and some four or five miles from the road. It is a solitary fragment, conical in form, rising sheer from the broad prairie about 150 feet, when from its center, an almost perpendicular shaft, 30 or 40 feet square, shoots up perhaps a hundred feet higher, giving it very much the appearance of the huge chimney or smoke-stack, of one of our modern large manufactories.
Thirty miles or so beyond the “Chimney”, our course lies between two continuous portions of these soft, rocky cliffs, for several miles; that on the right being denominated “Scott’s Bluff”, presenting a range of the most enchanting scenery, while on the left the view is nearly, if not quite, as delightful. There was a tradition among the emigrants that Scott’s Bluff was so named after an adventurer by the name of Scott, who, many years before, being attacked by Indians – his companions killed and himself wounded, secreted himself upon the highest and most dangerous portion of these rocks, where from weakness and exposure he died; having first-cut his name and circumstances attending his death upon the rocks; the inscription and his skeleton being some years later discovered by a party of explorers who had ascended the bluffs. It is, perhaps, useless to speculate upon the causes which have produced such singular formations of Court House and Chimney Rocks, rising up out of an almost level praire, hundreds of feet, while there is not another within perhaps fifteen or twenty miles, of the same species, as large as a man’s head.
My own observation, however, led me to the conclusion, that Seott’s Bluff, Court House and the Chimney, were all united at one time with the immense range of similar formations that started far off to the South, and that the constant action of the winds and rains upon their comparatively soft surface, has wrought them into the singular and often fantastic shapes we now see; for in the immediate vicinity, the surface of the ground and gulches indicate that the chimney, Court House and Bluffs are now being quite rapidly diminished by this action. Indeed, Fremont, who, several years previous, followed the South Platte a hundred and fifty or two hundred miles further up them than we did, and then struck across the country to the North Platte, at Fort Laramie, passed over and between vast ranges of these same bluffs, and it is his that it is the constant wearing away of these rocks, and the deposition of their yellowish earthly substance through the gulches and creeks leading into the Platte, that produces the discoloration of the waters of that river which I have before spoken of. Be this as it may, when we again strike the Platte, after passing Fort Laramie, and getting up among the slate and granite formation of the Rocky Mountains, the waters of that beautiful river are as clear as crystal.
With the exception of a blacksmith shop, a small trading post, and a few lodges of Indians, seen soon after passing the bluffs, nothing further of special interest presents itself until you reach the Fort, distant about twenty miles. As before remarked, Fort Laramie stands upon the Laramie River, near its junction with the North Platte. It buildings and appointments are very similar to those of Fort Kearney, only that more timber and some stone is used in their construction. The garrison, when we were there, consisted of about 200 soldiers, and the usual number of officers, women, children, mechanics +c. a very large number of Government wagons, which had from time to time been used for transporting lumber, provisions, troops and army supplies from the frontier, with the proper complement of horses, mules and other animals, are accumulated here. Many emigrant wagons were also seen here, one of the officers driving quite a large, and, I should judge, decidedly a profitable business in buying light-crippled wagons, repairing and exchanging them for such as the emigrants found too heavy for the rapidly waning strength of their animals, in the prosecution of their journey. Some fifteen miles of this side of the Fort, we had the misfortune, in crossing a sharp gully, to cripple one of the wheels of our own wagon, and the good fortune to purchase another one upon the spot; a neighboring train having one more wagon (having fed out the grain made necessary by the shortness of feed upon the first part of the journey) than they needed. It was rather a rough-built, but not a very heavy wagon, but sound and stout, and we bought it for $2000. Transferring our “plunder” to the new purchase, we hauled the other to the Fort, and all that we could coax the fellow to pay us for it – a splendidly built and furnished $85 or $90, wagon here, was the paltry sum of $1200. A few days afterwards, while lying by for dinner, this same wagon came up, the then owner, in reply to our enquires, stating that he traded a good sound wagon, somewhat heavier for it, and paid $3500 to boot. There was a chance to get the wagon repaired and blacksmithing done here, if you could remain long enough for it, but it required a California “Jaile” to foot the bills: the operators, here, and in fact everywhere along our route, from the very outset, seeming determined to profit to the very uttermost by the California excitement.
Fort Laramie, according to Fremont, is in latitude 42° 12’, 10”, nearly 4° north of St Louis, and about one degree north of Akron, and its altitude is 4.770 feet higher than the Gulf of Mexico. Although our course, thus far, has apparently been almost a dead level, you will perceive that we have been pretty constantly rising, pretty generally following up the water courses, and I believe that it is common practice for water to run down hill.
We are now at the base of the far-famed Rocky Mountains, and as the thrilling narratives of Lewis and Clark, Fremont, and other celebrated adventurers recur to the mind, the emigrant momentarily shrinks from the supposed difficulties before him, in making the ascent, as in imagination he casts a last, lingering look back upon the beautiful scenes and the many pleasant reminiscences of the journey thus far. But he has little time to regale his fancy upon the sweets of the past, or to indulge in bitter apprehensions for the futures. So, after supplying as far as possible, any little deficiencies in his outfit, like a country blacksmith, he spits upon his hands to tighten his grip, and with renewed energy he takes a fresh start towards the “land of promise”.
It is now the last day of May, and we have been just one month on our journey, since leaving St Joseph. Thus far you will have observed, the roads, with rare exceptions, have been splendid, and I may here add, that, as a general thing, the weather was delightful. The days were warm and pleasant, and the nights cool; and a few, of late, cold enough to form ice upon the water in our buckets. No long soaking rains, but an occasional refreshing shower, and of late a few very sudden and severe wind and hail storms, which is not to be wondered at considering the altitude and near proximity to the Rocky Mountains.
There are three roads starting out from the Fort, which are respectively taken by different trains, according to the variety of opinion which prevails in regard to their several advantages, to distance, grade, comfort of travel +c. The right hand road winds along the river bottoms and is, of course, the most level, though at this time represented as being somewhat muddy in spots, from snow showers and increasingly high water in the river from melting snow in the mountains.
The left hand road struck up over a succession of pretty sharp hills, denominated the “Black Hills”, from the fact of their being not only largely formed of a dark species of granite-state rock, but also, wherever a foothold could be obtained, for their roots, covered with dark colored scrub bushes or stunted trees; after getting over which the road intersects with the river road, 75 or 80 miles beyond the Fort. The middle road rises, by a pretty steep ascent, to the prairie or table lands, between said Black Hills and the river, after traversing which some 15 or 20 miles, it again descends into the valley, and unites with the river road. In order to be about as near right as possible, we split the difference, and took the middle road, which from all that we could learn, by comparing notes with other emigrants, was altogether the best route of the three.
The morning after leaving the Fort, while crossing this prairie, while two or three of us were riding along some distance behind our train, we saw, about 100 yards off, upon our left, the first grizzly bear that had as yet greeted our vision. He was walking very demurely along, and as we had no rifles with us we very prudently determined not to disturb his meditations, which appeared to be of a very serious nature, indeed.
On passing down from this table land into the valley, just before reaching the river road, a large spring of very pure water, in sufficient volume to run a saw mill, emerges from the bank, and flows in to the river. This, though to us cool and refreshing, is denominated the “Warm Spring”, from the fact that its waters have never been known to freeze
It is 125 miles from the fort to the ferry, or crossing of the North Platte, and notwithstanding we have the black hills upon our left, and extensive ranges of apparently solid rock upon our right, across the river, with Laramie’s Peak, and pile on pile of other snow-capped mountains frowning down upon us in front, we wind along low hills and fertile valleys the entire distance, and a road far ahead of any thing that old Mac Adam ever dreamed of.
I am not versed in the science of geology, and cannot give you a technical description of the geological formations of the country we are passing through. I may, however, mention the kinds of rock and other substances noticed, and let you draw your own geological and scientific conclusions. Besides the loses of nearly the whole rocky superstructure before us – granite – I observed at various points, stale-stone; red, yellow, gray and variegated sandstones; and several varieties of limestone. In passing over one low hill I also observed that the surface was covered with a brilliant while hard crust. Upon examining some pieces that had been broken off by the hoofs of our animals, it was found to be beautifully clear and semi-transparent. In my utter ignorance of the matter I called it crystalized ploster, and as I perceive that Fremont speaks of finding gypsum on this portion of the Rocky Mountains. I presume that I was correct in my theory, though perhaps not strictly accurate in terms. As this substain was visible at many other points, there is every reason to suppose that inexhaustible mines of the very purest gypsum exists in this region of the country.
There were also indications of iron ore to be seen at several points, and also innumerable symptoms of coal were from time to time observable, though we could not halt sufficiently long at any one point to properly test the matter.
There do not seem to be very many volcanic indications in this neighborhood, nor in fact on this side of the South Pass, so far as my observation extended, and yet there are some singular “freaks of nature”, so to speak, that it is very difficult to account for on any other hypothesis than volcanic disturbance. For instance, on our third day from Fort Laramie, a grand surprise awaited us as follows: we were traveling along the banks of the Platte, with every prospect that we should continue right straight ahead for a day longer, at least. We could trace the course of the river by the line of timber upon its banks, while upon the opposite side, was, to all appearance, an unbroken chain of granite mountain five or six hundred feet high, as far as the eye could reach. Suddenly, however, about the middle of the afternoon, the bed of the supposed river was found to be dry, while that immense volume of water was found to issue from a fissure in the mountain, at almost a right angle with the course we had been pursuing. The opening in the rocks was just wide enough for the waters to pass through without very much of a rush, and its sides, nearly perpendicular, were several hundred feet in height.
Supposing that we had entirely lost sight of the river for a day or two, at least – for we were aware that it was to be crossed in a few days – we were jogging quietly along, ruminating upon the sudden turn it had taken, and wondering whether it had voluntarily forsaken the nice pebbly bed before us, lined on either side with beautiful trees, fringed with green grass and flowers, and wantonly thrown itself into the frigid embrace of those cold granite rocks, or whether it had been suddenly turned out of its cosy bed by a mighty convulsion of nature, when lo! and behold! another wholly unexpected “change came over the Spirit of our dream”. We crossed over this dry river, and soon found ourselves winding around through another opening in the vast chain of rocks, four or five miles bringing us around upon the river again, at the point where it enters the chasm, from which we had seen it emerge, as above described.
We remained here over Sunday, and many of our men climbed the rock and followed the course of the cleft through which the river runs, judging it to be about four miles through and an air line. Before getting to the point where the river leaves its original bed, we crossed and bid it a final adieu, and I leave you to speculate upon the probabilities in the case, while I proceed to mention two very remarkable facts connected with our stay over Sunday at this very remarkable place.
Each member of our mess, as well as many others, were provided with tin canteens, holding about half a gallon each, in which, with strap over the shoulder, we carried our drinking water. All four of ours, had, by careless handling or accident, got into a leaky condition, and the nozzle of mine had become entirely detached; and as we generally devoted our Sundays to washing and mending our clothes, repairing our wagons and harnesses, and general tinkering, and as I was tinker generalissimo for the mess, I undertook to mend them. A piece of five-eighths round iron, with a ring and swivel at one end and sharpened at the other, called a lariat pin, used for teddering our animals, was brought into requisition as a soldering iron; a pewter teaspoon for solder, and a small chunk of rosin, which had been brought along for horse medicine, completed the kit; and if I did not do the work as scientific or as expetiously, as a regular tin smith, here would have done it, it certainly had the merit of being substantial. None but practical tinners will understand the peculiar difficulties of the operation, with the appliances named, unless, indeed, some of you, in a fit of economy, may have attempted to save a six pence, by trying to mend a lot of dilapidated tin-ware with a piece of bar-lead and a red-hot poker.
The other remarkable fact was this: Judge Wheeler, who, with the rest of the “boys”, had scramblid up the rocky cliffs, to trace for a short distance the course of the river through the mountain, returned with a fine line specimen of the horned toad. The body and head were shaped very much like our ordinary toad, only that it did not have quite such a bloated appearance; plainly indicating that its habits, like those of many of the other inhabitants of the plains and mountains, were infinitely better than the same species found within the pale of civilization. A row of small black horns, lengthwise over the back, and upon either side, a row of white ones extending from the end of his snout to the lip of his tail. “What is that?” say you: “a toad with a tail?” Yes, indeed, and “thereby hangs a tail”: for the old proverb that “there is no knowing how far a toad can jump by the length of his tail”, is, by this specimen, completely falsified, as that appendage rendered every effort of the toad in question to jump entirely futile.
Nothing of importance after leaving this point occurred excepting that some of the crossings over the numerous little streams we were obliged to ford were pretty difficult, until we reached the ferry, on the 6th day of June, at 11 oclock A.M. The river, at the ferry, is about 300 feet wide, and five boats were in constant operation, crossing rapidly from side to side, by means of ropes stretched across, and kept in proper tension by means of windlasses. The boats were rudely constructed from trees and timber found near, merely hewed out, fastened together with wooden pins and caulked with bark and leaves, by a company who had gone on from Fort Laramie, in advance of emigration; and I presume that that they made more money than the same number of the most fortunate, even, of those they ferried over that season. They charged four dollars per wagon, and 25 cents for each head of stock.
We saw written upon the trees, here, that names of Hallet Kilbourn, Fred Wadsworth, David H. Bliss, and several other Akronians, under date of May 27th and 28th, indicating that we were all making about the same speed, for it will be remembered that we started from St. Jo. ten days later than the main body of the “Summit County Invisibles”, under the command of Captain John. O. Garrett. It was, indeed, extremely pleasant, to find the names of our friends and acquaintances, and a record of their progress, upon the rocks and trees, and though we did not know of any in our rear who would be particularly interested in our welfare, yet we did not fail to follow the example of our “illustrious predecessors”, and recorded ours also.
After crossing the Platte, which at this point runs about north, our course is nearly due west, over rather a rolling or hilly country, some sixty miles, to the Valley of the Sweet Water. Which river we strike near the far-famed “Independence Rock”. Between these two rivers we meet, for the first time with the alkali lakes, springs and marshes of which you have all doubtless heard, as being so destructive to the animals of the emigrants, and some times, possibly, to the emigrants themselves. Hundreds of dead horses, mules and oxen, line the road, on either hand, and the utmost caution was necessary to get through safe with any. Springs of pure looking, yet deadly poisonous water would start out and run within a few feet of others perfectly wholesome. Many green and inviting meadows and plots of grass, were also highly impregnated with the poison, requiring the utmost vigilance in selecting camping grounds. Riding upon a pony, one afternoon, and leading two mules, I stopped for half an hour or so, as was our custom, while the train kept on, to give them a nip at a patch of nice looking grass a short distance from the road. Soon after starting on again, I discovered that all three of my animals were sick, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I could urge them forward till the train was reached, which, fortunately, had early gone into camp. They were evidently in great distress – stopping every few minutes, cringing and crouching nearly to the ground, and retching and straining, as if trying to vomit. We drenched them with a strong solution of tartaric acid, and in fifteen minutes the mules were apparently as well as ever, and the pony a good deal better, though it was several days before he entirely recovered from its effects. I think our company were very greatly indebted to the suggestions of Mr Russell Abbey, of this Village, who crossed the plains the year before, to provide ourselves with acids; for when we were obliged to let our animals drink water impregnated with alkali, which was more particularly the case upon the later part of the journey, the poisonous quality of the water was largely, if not wholly, neutralized by the acids, and we did not lose an animal. The citric acid, also, not only rendered these alkaline waters harmless to ourselves, but with the aid of a little of our nice crushed sugar, made quite a palatable lemonade.
Twelve or fifteen miles this side of the Sweet Water, we cross what, as we approached, looks like a lake of milk, about as large as our Summit Lake. Upon reaching it, however, the contents of this lake are found to be solid saleeratus . With a pick, or an axe, any quantity can be obtained, and many procured a supply and pronounced it equal to the ordinary solearatus of commerce. How come this immense quantity of salearatus here: enough to supply the world for a century, if it could only be got to market? This is a question that some wiser head than mine must answer, though I shall show, before I get through, that there are probably vast subterranean fireworks in operation under and within these mountains, that with a supply of proper materials, might produce this salearatus.
The Sweet Water is about eight rods wide, and from two to four feet deep. It is a very clear, rapid stream and its waters peculiar from having a sweetish taste, produced, no doubt, by the mineral substances with which it comes in contact, “Independence Rock”, near which we cross the river, is a solid and solitary mass of granite, 1800 feet long, 360 feet wide, and from 300 to 400 feet in height: so named not only because of its standing on the level plain of the valley, independent of the neighboring chain of rocks, but also because nearly the first train of emigrants that went through to Oregon, celebrated the Fourth of July under its shadow, and planted the Stars and Stripes upon its summit. This rock was literally covered, at every get-at-able point, with the names of emigrants – put on with white, black and red paint, tar, lampblack and grease, charcoal, chalk +c, and some were even rudely chiseled into the hard granite.
A few miles beyond Independence Rock is the far famed “Devil’s Gate”. The course of the river along here, for several miles, is near the foot of a vast chain of rocks or mountain, running nearly east and west, and almost an air line. At this point, however, an abrupt spur of the mountain is thrown out, almost at right angles from the main body, causing the original bed of the river to run around the point, in something like the form of a horseshoe. But, by some means, a cleft has been formed in this arm of rocks, similar to that in the Platte, heretofore described, only on not quite so large a scale, through which the waters take a shorter cut. The sides of this cleft, are nearly perpendicular, and about 400 feet in height, the whole formation and appearance indicating that they were once united. It is perhaps a quarter of a mile through, and being considerably narrower than the bed of the river, on either side, the water rushes through with considerable force, and a noise, when near by, like the roar of old Niagara in the distance.
Why it should be called the “Devil’s Gate”, I do not know, for there is in fact nothing very “devilish” about it, though I must confess that it is a little singular that that hard granite rock should be so accommodating as to split in twain, just to save the translucent little Sweet Water the trouble of running around it.
We encamped over Sunday, and a most beautiful camping place it was, a short distance about the “Devil’s Gate”. So far upon our journey, our mess had managed to escaped the boils and dissentions that had agitated, and in fact broken up, a vast number; for notwithstanding I have thus far represented the journey as, in reality it was or might have been, a mere pleasure excursion, it seemed to be well-calculated to unmask a man, and cause him to show out his real character and disposition. If naturally savage and depraved, though his ferocity and depravity might have been restrained at home, it stood out in bold relief upon the plains. If naturally irritable and quarrelsome, though perhaps at home surrounded by such influences as make him, in the estimations of his neighbors, a first rate clever fellow, his cleverness gets mighty transparent there. If naturally weak in mind and physically indolent, though by being bolstered up with the honors of place and power, through the influence of wealthy friends, he enjoyed the reputation of being shrewd and enterprising here, his inefficiency would very soon manifest itself upon that journey. Many persons, too, considered at home, very humane, very charitable and extremely pious, withal could close their hearts to the most natural dictates of humanity, and leave the sick members of their own trains upon the road-side, to get well and follow on at their leisure, or die by themselves, according to the strength of their constitutions; could close their ears against the cry of the hungry for food, though their own wagons contained a superabundance; could curse and swear and threaten to destroy the lines of their fellows, and sometimes, perhaps, carry their threats into execution. I even heard of instances of husband and wife quarreling and separating upon more, I believe that if the most of us had sent our wives to California and staid home ourselves, we should all have been far richer than we are now.
So now, close proximity to the “Devil’s Gate”, or some other malign influence, on this Sunday, produced a little “flare-up” between myself and another member of our mess. I am not going to tell you who it was, for some of you already know, from his own report, and the rest may guess. He had got the impression that he performed a greater share of the labors of that laborious journey than any other member of the mess, and been quite surly for several days, and to day it burst out. Because of some difficulty that he had experienced in getting the mules across a marshy piece of the river bottoms, and thinking I did not come to his rescue as promptly as I might have done, he accused me of being lazy and I did not undertake to deny the “soft impeachment”. Why should I deny what was so notoriously true? He was not going to be my “nigger” any longer, and was bound to break up, divide the animals and provisions, and each go on his own horse , and I was ready for that. My ready acquiescence to all of his assertions and propositions seemed to irritate him still more, and he copped the climax by saying that everybody told him, before we started, that I was a mean fellow, and that every body in the train said I was a “scalawag”, and now he knew it to be so! I replied that having found what every body had told him to be true, of course he was’nt disappointed, and had no right to complain and I might have added, had I been disposed to be quarrelsome, that I was, and had good reason to be, disappointed; for every body, before starting, said that he was a first-rate clever fellow, and I had found out that, in this case at least, what every body said was not true.
The other two members of the mess, however, formed themselves into a “Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union”. As they say in Congress, and resolved that the team should not be broken up; that if any one, being dissatisfied, worked to withdraw, he could, taking his share of the animals and provisions, but should not compel any other one to do so, and thus the affair ended, for the irate member found that he had as much need for the services of a “nigger” or two to do his cooking, dish-washing, and the thousand other indispensable duties of the camp, as the rest of us had for one to look after our horses and mules. In fact the cook and the chamber-maid, were as as ready at any time to exchange work with the self-constituted “boss” of the establishment, and his Irish assistant, as I doubt not any lady or lady’s maid, here present, would willingly perform the out-door work of any establishment in town in preference to the never-ending duties of the “Department of the Interior”
Several of our boys crossed the river and ascended the mountains the top of which was some five or six miles distant, and and perhaps two thousand feet higher than the river. Many goats and mountain sheep were visible upon the crags at a distance, but when out fellows got around to where they where they were, like the Irishman’s flea, they were not there. What appeared to us, in the valley, like small bushes, in the crevices of the rocks, were found to be groves of tall pines, standing in quite extensive valleys, between the numerous crests of the vast chain of mountains, their extreme tips only being visible to those in the valley of the river. This appeared the more singular to us, as the river bottoms and valleys through which we were then passing were entirely destitute of timber. Having passed the buffalo region, our fuel for the most part, consisted of the wild sage bush; a scraggy shrub from one to five feet high, very much resembling our domestic sage plant in color and form, and not altogether dissimilar in taste and smell, only a good deal stronger. This shrub is what Fremont so often speaks of as Artemisia.
Considerable excitement was occasioned at this point by the discovery that the sands of the Sweet Water were full of shining particles, very similar in appearance to fine gold dust. Our first impulse was to wash out a small fortune and return; but, on “sober second thought”, concluded that even if these glittering sands should prove to be gold, they were so very small that it would be better to go twelve of fifteen hundred miles further and shovel up the big lumps! This shining substance was probably a species of barytes, with no appreciative commercial value, though for the moment extremely attractive and alluring.
The fourth day after leaving the “Devil’s Gate”, having forded the Sweet Water several times, and passed over some quite rough rocky ridges and snow banks, and between a range of lofty snow-capped mountains, we reached the “South Pass” at 3 o’clock P.M. June 13th. The days were pleasant and comfortably warm, but the nights were freezing cold, so much so as to form ice upon the water in our buckets, and on shallow streams, from one-fourth to three-fourths of an inch in thickness. It was singular sight, that, after a cold freezing night like this, to see the grass as green and the flowers as bright as any to be found in any of out gardens, at the most favorable season of the year.
It was truly a rare treat, the gathering of bouquet of beautiful flowers with one hands, and an ice cold snow ball with the other – yet so it was.
Singularly enough, for several miles before reaching the Pass, the roads are sandy and heavy, which is also the case for some distance on the other side. The general impression about this South Pass is that it is a narrow, crooked, rocky defile, between lofty mountain ridges, through which the emigrant can barely squeeze, with his animals and wagons. But, on the contrary, it is 18 or 20 miles in width, and so nearly level that it is impossible to tell, by the conformation of the ground, where the exact point of culmination is; so that a person traveling along, without any guide or information on the subject, would only know that he had passed the summit, by finding the waters of “Pacific Creek” running in the opposite direction of the Sweet Water. The “South Pass”, so named by the earlier explorers to distinguish it from the only other passes then known, all further north, is in latitude 42°, 24’, 32” and is 7,490 feet higher than the Gulf of Mexico. This is getting pretty well up in the world and the atmosphere is very light and pure indeed. This highly rarified air has a very peculiar effect upon a person’s lungs, until one becomes accustomed to it. For several days before reaching the Pass, I had experienced a difficulty of breathing, and began to entertain fears that my lungs were failing. Any little extra exertion, such as walking a trifle faster than usual would set me panting, like an over-driven horse. But I soon found that our animals, and every thing and every body having lungs, was effected in the same way. In fact, it was almost impossible to cook our beans, or rice, and other articles of food that needed boiling, because of the extremely low temperature at which water would boil. So while sojourning in these high altitudes we had to content ourselves with hard bread and such other kinds of our provisions as needed the smallest degree of heat in their preparation. There is no doubt, how- that the clear cool atmosphere of this region, when a person becomes accustomed to is, is salubrious, for notwithstanding many of the emigrants were sick, with the so called mountain fever, there were but few deaths in the mountains. One word about this mountain fever. In my opinion it is nothing more nor less than the ordinary bilious fever, brought on by gormandizing. Why, friends, you have no sort of an idea of the enormous quantities of food consumed by men upon that journey; particularly the first half. I’ll venture to say that each and every member of our company ate at least four times as much every meal, as they ordinarily do at home. I know I did! A camp-kettle full of beans or rice, cooked on Sunday, or some night when the cook was standing guard, to lunch on, cold, for two or three days, would generally disappear the first noon with perfect ease. Sometimes, however, they would sour on the stomach, before the digestive organs could master them, and then look out for breakers!
And then, the way they manage, when they do get sick, is a caution to old Esculapius and all his satelites. It won’t do to give up eating, O, no! The strength must be kept up by proper nourishment! Then, to carry off the bile and and the stomach in digesting and assimulating the superabundance of food taken into it, a dose of calomel or some kind of cathartic pills is swallowed; and lest their operation should reduce the system too much, a dose of some kind of cholera speciffic is taken to check the discharges; with a few large doses of quinine or some patent tonic, which generally straightens the patient out; frequently upon the flat of his back; and the wonder to me is that so many escape with their lives.
We are now 320 miles from Fort Laramie and 960 miles from St. Joseph. Looking either to the north or south, you see in the distance the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains, denominated, I believe, the “Wind River Mountains”; the Missouri River and its principal tributary, the Platte, rising amidst the everlasting snows upon the East, and the Columbia and Colorado, and their tributaries, emerging from their icy caverus on The west; the waters of the former, finding their way through the Mississippi, into the Gulf of Mexico; and the two latter respectively finding their way into the Pacific Ocean, through Oregon and the Gulf of California.
Eighteen miles from the South Pass, over an almost level plain, brings us to the forks of the road; that on the south striking off southwesterly to the “City of the Great Salt Lake”; that on the right being the old Fort Hall and Oregon trail, and continuing on about due west. A portion of the emigrants went past the Mormon City, though the great majority kept straight on, intending to take a new route called “Sublette’s Cutoff”, some two hundred miles further along, of which I shall speak more fully, hereafter.
Three miles from the forks, we crossed the Little Sandy river, and six miles further on, the Big Sandy, tributaries of Green River. The distance from Big Sandy to Green River, is about 50 miles, and is called a desert, because there is no water the entire distance, though grass is abundant. We took along, in our kegs and rubber tanks, sufficient water to give our animals a full drink at noon, and about half a drink at night, after which they drank nothing until we struck Green river, about one o’clock P.M. the next day. It may be proper to remark, here, that we kept ourselves tolerably well posted in regard to the route before us, from day to day, from Guide Books, prepared by parties who had gone through the year before, and which we found, in the main, to be remarkably accurate, and of very great benefit to us, indeed.
The last eight or ten miles of this desert is heavy sand, and some pretty steep and difficult grades are encountered, in getting down to the river. It is now Sunday, June 16th. We have been 47 days on the journey and are just about half way. As there are but two boats in operation, and a vast number in ahead of us, we shall be unable to cross the river for perhaps two or three days. I shall, therefore, leave you encamped on the banks of the river, in the midst of a severe, but not very cold, snow storm, where I hope you will make yourselves comfortable and as happy as we did. Should my hearers deem the journey sufficiently interesting to continue on into the Wonders of the Great Basin, and have fortitude enough to endure the horrors of the real desert, and surmount the difficulties of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I am at your service, one week from this enning . Good night!
Lecture Number 2
Ladies and Gentlemen:
A week ago tonight, I left you encamped on the East bank of Green river, in the midst of a dense snow storm, awaiting your chance to get ferried over. This is an extremely rapid river, and very high at this time, from the melting of the snow in the mountains. Ten days before the emigrants forded the river, though with great difficulty and danger, on account of the swiftness of the current; now it was 25 or 30 feet deep, and correspondingly more turbulent. It was here that Bruce Herrick lost his provisions, as did also many others. But some Mormons from Salt Lake, and an Indian trader, had established a ferry, a few days before our arrival, thus obviating the necessity of lying by several days for the waters to subside, or endangering our lives in an effort to ferry ourselves over in our wagon boxes. Unlike the ferrymen at the North Platte, they had no cobles with which to span the river, their rude boats being propelled by oars and the current, the landing upon the opposite shore being fully a quarter of a mile below. After unloading, the boat was towed up stream, by a yoke of oxen, far enough to be sure and hit the landing upon this side. They charged only seven dollars for crossing a wagon, and one dollar for each head of stock; the emigrants themselves being carried over free. We ferried our wagon over, but made our animals swim for it. Many of the emigrants, however, being either unable or unwilling to pay the fee demanded, ferried themselves over in wagon boxes, or on rafts, about a miles above. It was rather a hazardous undertaking, though, for many lost every thing they had, and quite a number their lives, one raft, with a loaded wagon and three men on board became unmanageable and swept down past the ferry like a rocket. They fortunately effected a landing a mile or two below. In swimming their animals across, the emigrants experienced great difficulty, as if they were driven in to cross by themselves, they would almost invariably turn in mid stream and return from whence they started.
Quite a common way for some member of a mess, or company, to mount one of their strongest animals, and ride across upon his back, the rest of the animals of that mess, or company, readily following: though often, the mounted animal would prove inadequate to the task, and with his rider became completely submerged in the rapid stream, thereby causing great confusion, and sometimes loss of both animal and human life. A novel expedient adopted by us rendered the task of getting our eight head of stock safely and expeditiously across. We had taken along a small-sized cow-bell, and had been accustomed to keep it upon which ever of our animals was in the lead under the saddle, during the day: it being our general custom to drive four – two horses and two mules – to the wagon, while the other four were either ridden or led or suffered to follow by themselves. They were thus accustomed to follow the sound of the bell, and if one of the loose ponies or mules, should step by the way to take a nip at an inviting plot of grass, he was sure to take to his hoofs again before the bell got entirely out of hearing. So, after vainly trying two or three times to get our animals to cross of their own accord, I happily bethought myself of the little bell. I accordingly took it across the river, on the boat, and going to the point where we desired them to land, the boys once more headed them into the stream, and the bell commencing to tinkle at the same moment, they drew a bee line for it, and every animal was landed safely.
At this point a sort of mania seized upon the emigrants to either abandon their wagons and pack, or else lighten their loads by disposing of their supposed surplus provisions, clothing, guns +c. Some of our own company sold considerable quantities of provisions to other emigrants, and almost went hungry themselves before getting through. A busy scene was here presented; men cutting up wagons, harness +c to get timber and straps for packsaddles; others weighing or measuring out provisions and setting things to rights, or wrongs, generally. If they could only pack, they would need much less provisions, because, they would get through with the diggings so much sooner. Fatal mistake! The animals, unused to packing, became galled under the illy-constructed saddles, or got foot-sore, and the poor packers found, after a few days, that they could not get along as fast, even, as those who retained their wagons, while at the same time they were deprived of the many home-like comforts which the wagons afforded. It is also a little singular how new feel, or act, about such articles as they are obliged to disperse with. If unable to sell them, they will almost universally destroy them. A wagon, for instance, instead of being left intact, so that some one else might use it, would be mutilated or crippled, in some way, if not entirely destroyed. Provisions if left, unsold, would be rendered unfit for use by any who might come after them. A mess from Stark County, thinking it necessary to lighten up their load this side of the South Pass, left a stove, and about 100 pounds of cured pork; but instead of leaving them in good order, they demolished the stove and rolled the pork in the sand. It is also said that a lady from this county, being compelled to leave by the way, a pair of flat-irons, threw them into the middle of the deep stream nearby. It was well enough, perhaps, to bend the barrels of the thousands of rifles left by the way side, lest the Indians should make bad use of them, though then would have been but little present danger, owing to their entire lack of ammunition and inexperience in their use.
Green river, at the ferry, is 6,250 feet higher than the Gulf of Mexico, and 1,240 feet lower than the South Pass. It unites with, or perhaps more properly is the Rio Colorado, which runs nearly south some 1,000 or 1,500 miles, and empties into the Gulf of California. It is, as you may well imagine, from its numerous mountain tributaries, on either side, a formidable rival of the giant Mississippi, long before it reaches the Gulf.
On Tuesday, the third morning after our arrival, came our turn at the ferry, and our wagon and other effects, as well as ourselves all got over safe, our animals having been taken across, as above described, soon after our arrival, and picketed on a meadow of most excellent grass, about one mile from the river. By about 10 o’clock we were again in motion and on the march towards the land of hope, if not of promise. For two days our road was mostly over steep hills and several considerable streams of water, tributaries of Green river. On crossing Ham o’ Fork, just before night, on the second day, one of our wheel mules became entangled in the lead bars, and floundered so much that he got down in the water, with his head under the pole, and came very near drowning. Our Irish mess mate, McKibbon, was, driving, and in getting down the steep pitch into the stream, in stead of giving the leaders full play, and holding up the wheelers, he reversed the order, hence the catastrophe. Holmes being on the wagon at the time, and Carson and myself in the saddle close at hand, we all plunged in to the rescue; Carson and myself getting off with our boots full of water, but Holmes securing for himself a most thorough ducking. However, the good and faithful mule was saved, and we were all happy.
We encamped on the bottoms of this stream, where were located quite a number of Indian lodges and villages. Grass being abundant here, and two or three of the company being on the sick list, we remained over one day. The Indians found here are called “Snakes”, and we had many opportunities of observing their character and habits. They were less dignified and taciturn than the Sioux, and other tribes we had encountered. They made themselves very familiar, and were such persistant beggars, that it was almost impossible to refrain from giving them all we had. Their dress was less tasty and complete, than with the other tribes we had seen: a girdle, or sort of skirt, around the waist forming the entire wardrobe of most of the adults, of both sexes, while the younger ones were generally clad in nature’s habiliments alone. This was probably their summer costume, for I should suppose that the must dress warmer in the winter or freeze to death. This tribe, however, had contrived to pick up many articles of clothing which had been discarded by the emigrants, and it was amusing, in the extreme, to observe their several styles of wearing them.
A stately old chief would come riding along, wearing a dilapidated bell-crowned hat, minus the top, with his long, coarse hair protruding therefrom, and fluttering in the breeze. Another would sport a sleeveless shirt: others an old coat, vest or pair of pants. One strapping fellow had his long arms stuck through the legs of a dilapidated pair of pants into the waistbands fastened about his neck; while a rather good-looking copper-colored damsel had adorned her brow with a brimless and nearly crownless chip hat, and finished her toiler by walking into the sleeves of an old red and white blanket over coat, and, with a leather thong, tying the skirts about her waist.
As soon as our cooking operations commenced, one or two of the maternal “Snakes” with four or five juvenile “Snakes” each, would squat themselves down within a few feet of our camp-fire, and watch our every motion, and if we did not voluntarily give them a liberal portion, the old Snakes would be sure to beg for some before it all disappeared. Their own habits of living, cooking +c are rather peculiar. The larger kinds of game was rather scarce in that region, though the streams probably afforded them some fish. Prairie dogs and gophers, which are nearly identical – being about half way between a squirrel and a rat, and barrowing in the ground, are very numerous, and largely used for food by the Indians. In fact, when properly dressed and cooked, and seasoned, (and our cook well-knew how to do it) they did’nt go very bad with us. Holmes went out with his riffle to try for a mess, but being extremely alert and quick to drop out of sight into their holes, on the first click of the hammer, he only succeeded in getting one, which he threw upon the ground as not worth fussing with. A young Indian soon after came along and by signs begged us to give it to him to which we assented. Getting permission from Wheeler and Howe to cook it at their camp-fire, raking open the embers, he covered Mr Gopher up, without skinning or removing the entrails, and after letting it smudge for 15 or 20 minutes, took it out and eat it with great apparent girth . The Indians of this region also raise large numbers of wolfish-looking dogs, which they make use of for food. While we were lying by, among the Snakes, several members of our company witnessed the slaughtering and cooking, and partial sewing up of one of these gastronomic rarities, by a venerable squaw. She knocked the savage-looking, but perfectly domesticated canine upon the head with a club, and, before he had fairly done kicking, held him over the fire to singe the hair off, and then, without drawing the entrails, or any further dressing whatever, placed the carcass in a sort of stone kettle to boil. When it was done I presume they had a right royal Feast; though, getting no invitation, I did not stay to dinner!
After leaving Ham’s Fort, we passed over a succession of high hills, pretty steep and difficult, called the Bear River Mountains, 25 miles to Bear river. These mountains on the east, and the Sierra Nevada’s on the west, with transverse ranges on the north and south, form what is called the “Great Basin”, in which the renowned Salt Lake is situated. This basin is peculiar for having no known outlet for the numerous large rivers and steams which traverse it in almost every direction. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that these waters find their way to the ocean through whirlpools and subterranean channels, and the sinking of many of the streams seems to warrant this belief. But upon this point more anon.
In passing over on of the mountains, between Ham’s Fork and Bear river, we passed through a large grove of pine, fir and cedar trees, the most beautiful, I then thought, that I ever beheld. It was, indeed, an oasis upon our long and tedious journey; for we had traveled many a weary mile without the sight of even the smallest bush, and though nothing for a long time that could be dignified with the name of timber. Those lofty firs! How cheery to the sight, and the hearts, too, of all that beheld them. And while gazing upon their tall and majestic proportions, a verse of a little poem learned early in life, long since forgotten, came freshly into my memory again:
“I remember, I remember, the fir trees dark and high.
“I used to think their slender tops were close against the sky;
“It was a childish ignorance, but now ‘tis little joy,
“To know I’m further off from Heaven than when I was a boy”.
And now, even to and adult mind, after so many days and weeks of shadeless sterility, as we toilsomely climed towards the summit of that mountain and that grove, it did indeed seem as if the “slender tops” of those “fir trees dark and high”, were literally “close against the sky”, and whatever may have been the religious sentiments of that vast throng. I do not believe a single emigrant passed through that grove without a devout feeling of gratitude for its cooling shade and its invigorating influence, or emerged there from into comparative barrenness without sincere regret.
Bear river, where we struck it, runs about northwest, and with the exception of passing over a spur of the mountains, around the base of which the river closely runs, about 16 miles across, we followed down its right bank about 65 miles, when it takes a short turn to the south, and, through a mountainous looking region, finds its way into the Great Salt Lake. In getting down from the spur of the mountain spoken of, we saw hundreds of dead horses, mules and oxen on every hand, a sure indication that the waters of the streams and springs of the vicinity were poisonous, and we did not let ours drink of them. I may remark here, that where the hills or mountains were hugged too close by the streams as to prevent the passage of teams between them, the emigrants had no time to stop and excavate a road on an easy grade around the hills, as you would for a railway.
But as it was absolutely necessary for them to “push along, keep moving” they took the most natural road they could find: viz, along the valleys where particable, but when a hill or mountain must be crossed, go right over the summit, in order that their wagons might maintain as nearly as possible a perpendicular. Winding thus around many of the sharp hills that we passed over, will, of course, obviate many of the difficulties, that would strike the casual observer as insuperable barriers to the graduation and construction of a railroad to the Pacific.
The balance of our road along Bear River, 45 or 50 miles, is nearly level, and very good indeed. Four miles before leaving the river, or rather before the river leaves us, we come to a point fraught with a vast amount of interest. First, there was a trading post and many Indian lodges, in a fine grove of cedars; the Indians as well as the white traders doing quite a prosperous business, trading horses, mules +c with the emigrants. We here also met an old hunter, an Englishman called Captain Grant, who had been employed in this region for many years, by the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was over 60 years of age, still vigorous and active, and seemed to have unbounded influence over the Indians. The captain gave us much valuable information about our future route, and unhestitatingly advised us to go the old route, via Fort Hall, instead of taking the new route, called “Sublette’s Cut-off”. ~
A little this side of the trading post, a few rods distant from the road upon the right, was a white mound 12 or 15 rods in diameter, and perhaps 10 or 12 feet higher at the summit than the surrounding plain. The ascent is gradual, the surface hard and smooth, and similar in appearance to hard-packed saleratus. On the top of this mound is found a bubbling spring in a circular aperture of five or six feet diameter. This has been denominated “Soda Spring”, on account of its waters possessing a sparkling effervescent appearance, and a smart soda-like flavor. There was no regular running outlet, but a gradual oozing over upon all sides of the basin, and it is the constant flow of these mineral waters, and then evaporation and solidification, that has formed the singular white mound in which the spring is found. There are several other springs near by the waters of which bubble up and foam and sparkle, with sharply pungent taste, and are denominated “Beer Springs”. Would it not be well for such as as are in the habit of guzzling beer and ale to emigrate to that region? It would not only save them the outing of a vast amount of three and five cent pieces, but they would also be pretty sure that a less number of defunct rodents were used in the brewing of this natural beer, than in the fabrication of the common “rat-soup” they drink here.
But the most singular phenomenon of this phenomina abounding region, is a spring in the bank of the river, called “Steamboat Spring”. Through a small fissure in the rock a foaming spray-like jet of water is constantly being thrown up, the usual height of the column being perhaps a foot and a half. At regular intervals of a few seconds a sudden single spurt attains the height of about three feet accompanied with an interval noise very much like the puffing of a steamboat. Within six or eight but from the “boiler” of this steamboat, is the “safety-valve”, in the shape of a hole about one inch in diameter, from which issues a constant current of hot air, and every few seconds a regular emission of lightish smoke, accompanied by a noise very greatly resembling the escape of steam from a low-pressure engine.
We did not, of course, have time to explore the surrounding region, or make chemical analysis of the waters of these springs even had we possessed the necessary scientific knowledge and apparatus, but will refer my hearers to Fremont, who seven years before had visited this country on a tour of exploration and discovery, and who found and minutely described besides those seen by us, many similar curious springs and objects of interest in this vicinity. Of a quart of water taken from Soda Spring Fremont gives the following analysis: “Sulphate of “magnesia, 12.10 grains: sulphate of Lime 2.12 gr, carbonate of magnesia, 3.22 gr; “carbonate of Lime 3.86 gr: chloride of calcium, 1.33 gr: chloride of magnesium, 1.12 gr: “chloride of sodium, 2.24 gr: vegetable extractive matter +c 0.85 gr: The carbonic acid “had mainly escaped before subjected to analysis, and was not taken into consideration.”
Continuing our journey, on reaching the point where the river turns abruptly to the south, the road again forks, the left hand road, keeping on straight west across the valley five or six miles, and over a succession of steep mountain ranges, some 65 or 70 miles to the original California trail, and called “Sublette’s Cut-off”; the right hand road running northwest to the head of the valley, about 20 miles, and thence by an easy pass, over the dividing ridge between the Great Basin and the valley of the Columbia, to Fort Hall, distant about 60 miles. We swooned near the fork, at the bend of the river and a very remarkable place it is. It is perhaps a hundred feet from the surface to the water, on the north side of the river, while upon the opposite side, the river washed the base of a solid wall of dark reddish rock 1,000 or 1,500 feet, nearly perpendicular; the river, at the bend, being about 200 feet wide. On the side where we were lunching, and also in the bed of the river, were fragments of volcanic rock, of all shapes and sizes, scattered about and piled upon each other in most admirable confusion, over and between and through the dark green though dwarfed and crabbed cedars sprouted and hung in picturesque disorder and beauty. It was considerable of a “getting up stairs”, to bring water for our animals from the river, the path being very intricate and difficult, indeed.
A grand consultation here took place as to which of the roads we had better take, a portion of our men being inclined to accept the advice of Capt Grant, while others vigorously opposed it. The entire emigration thus far, since passing the Salt Lake forks, had apparently taken the “Cut-off” route. This year, the appearance of the old Oregon trail, or Fort Hall road indicating that not a single train had gone that way. The cut-off was over the mountains and evidently rough and difficult, while the Fort Hall road circled around the hills, the two uniting upon the other side.
The argument in favor of the cut-off was that the distance to be traveled by that route was much less than by the old route: while the Fort Hall advocates maintained that though further around the extra distance would be more than made up by the greater levelness and smoothness of the road: while at the same time feed for our stock would be more abundant, the grazing of the animals of the immense emigration ahead of us, keeping the grass pretty constantly down to, and some times a little below the surface. An old Indian standing by and listening to the discussion, though not understanding a single word of it, undertook to enlighten us upon the subject taking as an “object lesson”, one of our water buckets, he ran his finger along the bail, from ear to ear, as it laid upon the edge of the bucket, and then raising it to a perpendicular again did the same thing, indicating that the real distance over or around was substantially the same; and then by signs sought to make us understand that the hills upon the cut-off were both numerous and difficult, while with the exception of the low-divide, between the Bear river and the Columbia valleys, the road was comparatively level to the junction upon the other side He also, through the medium of signs informed us that the grass was more abundant in the valley than upon the mountains, and that the rivers, between the mountains were rapid and difficult to cross, while after reaching the valley they widened out, became shallower, less impetuous in their common and easily fordable.
It was finally determined follow Captain Grant’s and the old Indian’s advice, and go by Fort Hall; nor did we have cause to regret it, for we found their notions correct, while by comparing notes with many who took the cut-off, our traveling time from point, though in point of fact the distance was probably nearly one-fourth greater, did not exceed theirs half a day, and performed with far less labor and fatigue to both men and teams. Though some misapprehension, as to “which road was which”. Dagan
MISSING PP 377 – 400
the country being perfectly barren excepting a few stinted sage bushes. Distant from the meadows about 15 miles, we encamped upon hard salearatus ground, without a vestige of vegetable life as far as the eye could reach; feeding and watering our stock with the hay and water brought from the big meadow, and without pitching our tents, getting a few hours sleep in the open air, rolled up in a blanket on the hard ground.
Early the next morning we went down to the Sink, distant five miles, where we remained until five o’clock in the afternoon, resting ourselves and our animals for an all night journey across the desert. As we were eating our dinner, or rather supper, while here, a man came up and asked us for something to eat, saying that he had eaten nothing for nearly two days. One or two of our mess rudely repulsed him, by saying that we had no more than we needed for ourselves. He had six dollars in money, and he finally found a mess in another train who consented to let him have three pounds of hard-bread for it. While the bread was being weighed out to him, our afraid of starving to death mess mates had finished their report and gone to look after the stock, and the cook and “chambermaid”, in whose breasts the “milk of human kindness”, though perhaps a trifle curdled, had not yet entirely “dried up”, called the poor fellow back and gave him a good liberal dish of the bean porridge upon which we had been feasting. He devoured it with avidity, and with tears of gratitude in his eyes, declared that he had never before tasted any thing half so good. I then felt that I could cheerfully deny myself a little, and shorten my own allowance a trifle, to keep others from famishing.
But it was rather a tight place for even a humane and liberal-minded man to get into, that’s a fact. He might have plenty and to spare, if he could only be sure of getting through without any trouble, as soon as he anticipated. But his animals might fail, or himself or comrads be taken sick and compel them to lie by; and on the principle that “self-preservation is the first law of nature”, people sometimes would not, or rather dare not, when they could, as well as not, relieve the sufferings of their destitute fellow travelers, others, less sympathetic, however, though they had plenty themselves, that those now destitute might just as well have had, and that their destitution was entirely due to their improvidence in preparing their outfit, or to their careless or possible laziness, in protecting their stock and supplies upon the route. But when men, and women, and children too, were starving, hundreds of miles from any civilized settlements, in a gameless, fruitless and sterile region, it was no time enquire how they got into that condition, so long as we had the means to relieve them. It was a pitiable sight, that, women with children in their arms or walking wearily by their sides, destitute of food, and almost of raiment, footing it over those burning sands, their teams having given out, and perhaps the husband and father having died upon the journey. Yet such sights were by no means rare, though somewhat mitigated by the the thoughtful kindness extended to them by their more humane fellow-travelers, and, sometimes, fellow-sufferers.
Speaking of Humboldt Sink, we did not exactly see the apperture into which the waters of the river disappear, for it is not there. The river, however, loses its distinctive form or character as a running stream, by dividing itself up into innumerable sloughs, and spreading out into an extensive marsh, and is thus absorbed into the earth, probably to reappear upon some lower level in the form of lakes, springs or wells, similar to those in Thousand Spring Valley, and others that we had seen.
This year, 1850, the waters of this river were so high that then sloughs, in many places, covered the road, as traveled in pervious years, and even extended out upon the desert several miles, necessitating a number of quite extensive detours from the usual route; one considerable stream, in fact, having to be forded nearly ten miles out upon the desert.
A good deal of fault was found with Fremont, about his account of the resources of the Humboldt Valley; but I think the many accusations if misrepresentation urged against that gentleman were wholly uncalled for. It will be borne in mind that we were compelled, by reason of high water, to go entirely upon the western, or sterile, side of the river, with nothing but barren salearatus plains and we came hills between the river and the Sierra Nevadas. The bottom of the river, upon its eastern side, were not only covered with luxuriant grass, though now, as we have seen, largely under water, but they were also fringed along with verdant looking hills, and numerous groves of cotton wood and other trees. The river being low, and the bottoms hard, Fremont and his company crossed and recrossed at pleasure; besides which, being under pay of the government, having an abundance of provisions, and ignorant of the existence of gold in California, they did not, of course, rush ahead, regardless of rest and comfort, as we did, and he probably gave a correct account of things and objects as viewed in the light in which he saw them.
It is about 40 miles across the desert proper, though getting around the sloughs before spoken of, made it fully 45 miles for us. The first part, the roads were hard and dusty, like those we had been traveling – a mile or two of sand about mid-way, then hard and dusty again, except the last 15 miles, which was about the deepest and hardest sand to pull through, that I ever saw. We started upon the desert about five o’clock in the afternoon, though the sun was still shining pretty hot, hoping to reach the Carson River Valley, on the other side in the early morning. It was a bright and beautiful night, just at the full of the moon, the night that we crossed this ever to be remembered landmark in our long and toilsome journey. Dead horses, and mules, and oxen were to be seen and smelt, upon either hand; and from actual count, we found that they would average about 20 to the mile. We saw several that were still alive, but having given out, had been left upon the desert to die. Many, however, when their animals thus became exhausted, and could go no further, put an end to their sufferings by shooting them.
Our four mules and the two larger horses were attached to our wagon, but our two ponies, which were the nearest done over of the entire eight head, were led nearly the whole distance. Holmes and myself each towing a pony, were walking side by side, talking the while, about the “pleasures” of the journey, the matchless beauty of the night, and the “odoriferousness” of the atmosphere, when the old fellow, remembering one of the songs of his younger days, beginning:
“The moon had climbed the highest hill
That rises o’er the source of Dee” –
suddenly broke out into a
poetical strain thus:
“The moon had climed the highest hill” –
Here he hesitated, but having
caught the inspiration I immediately added:
“That rises o’er the Humboldt Sink” –
The third line being added by Holmes:
“And as we travel o’er the plain,” –
To which I responded:
“Whew! How those old dead horses stink!”
You will thus discover that there were at least two spirits there, which the fatigues of travel nor the horrors of the desert, could render wholly insensible to the unsurpassed loveliness of the night, and the highly concentrated fragrance of its breezes.
We halted twice for an hour and a half or two hours to give our leg-weary animals a little rest, a sip of water and a bite of hay; also catching a few minutes slumber for ourselves, rolled up in our blankets upon the ground. Wheeler and Howe, finding their mules giving out, left their two wagons midway, on the two mile stretch of sand before spoken of, packing the balance of the way through.
We struck the 15 mile stretch of sand about sunrise, and now came the “tug of war”, with fresh and full vigor, and the very best of pluck, our progress would have been slow and fatigueing in the extreme. But jaded and nearly famished, as both men and animals were, it was tedious beyond description or even conception. Plod, plod; plump, plump, through deep sand, with the scorching rays of the mid-summer sun, pouring down upon ones head, is pretty well calculated to take the aristocratic starch out of a fellow, if he was ever troubled that way. I started on, ahead of the wagon, with our two nearly played out ponies, having to pull them along, almost by main strength, until we got within two or three miles of the other side of the desert, when, getting a sniff of the waters and grasses of the Carson river, they began to prick up their gazed eagerly forward, quickened their pace, and before getting through I had to step quite lively to keep up with them.
We did not suffer as much from thirst, on the desert, as many did, for in addition to the water taken along for the animals, we filled our canteens with cold tea and lemonade, from which we took an occasionl sip ourselves, besides giving now and then a treat to others less fortunate, or less provident than ourselves. After getting ahead of the wagon, however, having unwittingly left my own canteen on board, I did get pretty thirsty, I assure you. Six miles this side of the river, we found a water station, a couple of emigrants being engaged in hauling water from the river, and selling it at 25 cents per quart. Having a loose quarter “post me”, I bought a quart; wet the lips of my ponies; drank part of it myself, and gave the balance to a poor “Michigander”, who had no money to buy for himself. He afterwards told me that without that drink of water, he never could have got through, though thousands as bad, if not worse off than he, did get through safely. Twenty-five cents a quart for water is a big price, that’s a fact; but the labor of hauling water six miles through that sand was not small; besides, they gave half a pint to each person who asked them for a drink, who had no money to pay for it. I think I never tasted water half so sweet as that drink from the Carson river. It was neither alkaline nor brackish, a luxury to us that can only be appreciated by those who, having been sick, have drank nothing but nauseous and disgusting slops for two or three weeks; or a toper sobering up from a week’s debauch. But men got so utterly thirsty, so thoroughly parched through and through, that the pint or even the quart they might drink at the water station, six miles from the river, would relieve them for a few minutes only. I saw men so completely frantic from thirst, that they would plunge right into the river and drink like cattle; while horses, mules and oxen, unless restrained, would rush into the deepest part, with their heads up stream, and let the water run down their throats, seemingly without swallowing –
Here, for the first time in nearly a thousand miles, we were privileged to enjoy the shade of trees; large cottonwood’s, with which the banks of the Carson river were lined. We also found, here, supplies of provisions, which had been packed through from California, by traders and speculators. They sold for high prices to those who had money, and to those who were destitute gave a small supply. We also soon afterwards met the relief trains which had been so generously sent out by the people of California, on learning from the earlier arrivals, of the suffering and destitution existing among the emigrants. Many of those ahead of us suffered dreadfully for food, and in numerous instances were obliged to eat portions of their own famished mules and horses.
From this point on, through the Carson Valley and the Mountains, traders and speculators were abundant. At first the prices were $200 a pound for bread and flour; $1.50 for pork, sugar etc. and $125 a pint for whiskey, for that was one of the necessaries of life, that the emigrants must have. And it was curious to see men with no provisions, and but little money, buy, drink and get drunk upon the miserable liquors so temptingly displayed by those whiskey peddlers. Many forgot, for the time being, the horrors of their journey & their present destitution and misery, and became as “happy as lords”, and in imagination as rich as though their dilapidated pockets were full of the biggest kind of rocks.
These traders made a vast deal of money that season, by exchanging a few pounds of bread or other provisions for an exhausted horse, mule or ox, and recruiting it upon the rich grasses of the Carson Valley, many, in their extreme destitution, eagerly exchanging a first rate but tired out animals for a week or ten days’ supply of provisions. In fact, the traders, mostly Americans, who had been one or two seasons in California, seemed to be nearly, if not quite, destitute of the commodity called conscience. And as for that matter, the article was rather scarce with some who had not yet reached that conscience-searing land. For instance, a man in our own train, who had plenty of provisions but could not swim, made a bargain with the boys of another mess, who were running short of supplies, that if they would get grass for his animals from across the Humboldt, he would pay them in bread – a pound, which was then considered worth a dollar, for each back load of grass; for labor, too, was worth something there. They furnished him with the grass, as per contract, but when, a few days afterwards, they called for their bread, he wanted to pay them in money – a dollar a load – which they refused to take. They worked and periled their lives for bread, which they would not have done for money. In the course of the discussion it transpired that he had found that he could get two dollars a pound for his surplus bread, and had actually sold all he could spare to strangers at that price. They finally submitted the matter in dispute to three arbitrators, each party choosing one, and they selecting the third, myself constituting one of the Board. After hearing the statements of the parties, and the testimony of other disinterested members of the train, it was decided that one good back load of grass was worth more than a pound of bread, any where along the Humboldt river, where that treacherous stream had to be crossed to get the grass; and that if bread was worth $200 per pound, grass was worth $250 per load, and that there was due to the kind-hearted Irish boys some $1800 or $2000. To this decision the defendant put in a demurrer, but when he found that the three judges were sustained by a full bench, and that, according to the unwritten but irrepealable laws of the desert, he must pay it, he reluctantly did so; and afterwards reported that he had been robbed.
To save ourselves and animals the labor and fatigue of getting our wagons over the Sierra Nevadas, the balance of our train, except Henn, and Sperry, concluded leave them and pack through; Wheeler + Howe, it will be remembered, having left theirs upon the desert. We left our wagon and wagon and tent standing in good order, and a small hand trunk which I could not conveniently pack, I locked, tied the key to the handle, and left it in the tent. But before leaving the camp, other parties, noticing our preparations, asked permission to take possession of the property we were thus abandoning, which was readily given.
I undertook to carry my little rifle, weighing only 7 ½ pounds, through on my shoulder, but after trying it on one day, it got so heavy, that I gave it away. McMasters was determined to take his drum through at all hazards, but on the second morning of our packing life, the long cherished drum was left, not exactly “hanging upon the willows”, but on the limb of a large Cottonwood tree. –
For 65 or 70 miles, our course was over a succession of narrow deserts – points of the big desert – around which the river runs; one 12 miles, one 15 miles, and one 26 miles without grass or water. A few miles along the river between these strips of desert, afforded us comfortable camping places. We went across the 26 mile stretch in the night, stopping about midway to rest and bait. While stopping here, Thomas W. Moore, of Sharon, Medina, County, who went through the year before, came along and being recognized by some of our company, made us quite a visit. He was on his way to the “big meadow” to buy stock, and gave us much valuable information about the roads, and the condition of the country we were approaching.
After getting across these arms of the desert, we emerged into the broad, beautiful valley of Carson river, which we traversed, for about 40 miles, through almost one continuous meadow of timothy, herdsgrass, red-top and clover of the most luxuriant growth and quality; while every few rods a clear cold stream of pure water direct from the mountains flowed across our path into the river. This Carson river, which is about 200 feet wide, like the Humboldt, sinks, or disappears, as a flowing stream, a short distance below where we struck it. The Truckee or Salmon river a considerable stream which rises in the mountains some distance north of the Carson, and runs toward the Humboldt, also disappears in the sands of the big desert, And now, that we are about to take our leave of the “Great Basin”, it may be worth our while to enquire; what becomes of the waters of these numerous streams that rise in its outer borders, and sink before reaching any ocean, lake or other grand reservoir.? It is my opinion that what is not absorbed in the parched and calcined earth, goes to make up the immense lakes and the innumerable springs, wells etc, that are found in many portions of the basin, “But,” says some one, “these streams constantly running into the basin, without any outlet, would soon overflow it, this theory would perhaps hold good as regasus streams and basins in general. But it will be borne in mind that it is only during the melting of the snows upon the mountains, in the spring and early summer, that these streams attain to any thing like the size we found them, and that through the entire summer, there is no rain in the Valley at all. While these mountain streams are full from the melting snows, the lakes, wells and springs are swollen much beyond their ordinary bounds, but as they become reduced to their natural living resources, the process of absorption and evaporation constantly going on over such a large extent of extremely thirsty territory, will, I think, do away with the necessity of a subterranean communication with the ocean.
Leaving the Carson Valley – the “Garden of Eden” of our journey – we pass through what is called the “Big Cañon” (pronounced canyon) a narrow rocky chasm, or pass, between two, or rather through one lofty mountain, whose walls, often perpendicular, and sometimes overhanging, are from 500 to 1000 feet high. This cañon, some five miles through, is traversed by quite a large stream, or creek, which has to be crossed and recrossed several times. The crossings and mud holes had been so bad that many animals had swamped and died therein which added very greatly to the natural fragrance of the place. Three of the worst of these crossings, however, had been bridged with poles, by the relief parties before spoken of which made it quite comfortable for us.
Emerging from this cañon, we passed up a pretty valley, 10 miles, to Red Lake, near the foot of the California Mountains, where we encamped. The waters of this lake had bright reddish appearance, by daylight, probably from the reflection of the red rocks of the surrounding mountains, This was on the 30th day of July, and the night was cold enough to freeze ice upon the water in our buckets, nearly half an inch thick. Sleeping in the open air on such a night as this, with no wife or good old grandmother to tuck in the bedclothes, was somewhat chilly that’s a fact! But though the tips of our noses were rather cool, they came out as bright as did the grass and flowers, after the morning sun had displaced the hoary coverlid of frost under which they, too, had slept during the night. Leaving Red Lake we passed over the California Mountains to another beautiful little lake, without a name in our guide books. The California Mountain, was the most rocky and difficult of any that we had yet scaled. It did seem impossible to get over it with a wagon, yet many wagons were taken over it. They had to be taken entirely apart, however, and carried, piece by piece, though narrow […], and up almost perpendicular ledges, through and over which the pack-animals squeese and climb; the operation being many times in making the ascent and descent; and we, certainly were not sorry that we had left ours behind.
Taking an early lunch, on the borders of the nameless lake, we crossed over the “Snow Mountain”, 15 miles to “Tradgey Lake”. This Snow Mountain, is the highest we passed, being about 10,000 feet above the sea level. In climbing up the north side of the mountain, where the sun did’nt get a fair chance at it, we that passed over a long bank of hard packed, and very probably, perpetual snow, which, from the shape of the mountain, looked as if some portions of it might then be from 50 to 100 feet deep. The transit of so large an army – the few wagons, but the many animals and men – and the few mid-day rays of the sun that reached it, had settled the road, or trail, in spots from 10 to 20 feet below the general surface. I found my old shaggy overcoat and buckskin mittens very comfortable, in the middle of the day, and just exactly the middle of the Summer, July 31st –
Tradgedy Lake, a small beautiful sheet of water, is so called, according to the legendary lore of the guide books, from a circumstance of this sort.
A small company of the first emigrants who crossed by this route, being encamped here, were inhumanly massacred by a party of Indians, who appropriately the animals, provisions and other effects of their victims, and proceeding on about two miles, halted at a large spring to regale themselves upon their spoils. Other emigrants soon after coming along, upon discovering the freshly mutilated remains of their fellow emigrants, quickly pursued their murderers, came upom them at the spring, and killed the entire band; and as a natural sequence, this place was called “Tradgedy Spring”.
From this point on, we had no very severe mountains,though many pretty rough hills to climb and descend. The roads were tolerably fair, but very dusty. Feed along the road was very scarce, but with much trouble a little could be found in the valleys and ravines from one to three miles off. Fourteen miles from Tragedy Lake is Leek Spring Valley, a springy, marshy sloping plain at the left of the road, half a mile in width and from two or three miles long. The ground is so full of leeks, or a sort of wild onion, and the grass so impregnated therewith, that animals would scarcely taste it, though nearly famished as many of them really were. For over 30 miles from Leek Spring Valley, we found no grass at all; that on the hills having all been grazed off, and that in the valleys not get-at-able;browsing our stock upon the bushes. We then came to a point where, three miles from the road, there was a large meadow of first rate grass. This was a perfect “God-send” for the emigrants and their starving animals – now, was’nt it? And the beauty of it was that some kind and generous-hearted fellows had come out from the diggings, and mowed, cured and stacked the entire crop, and were hauling it up to the road, where they had established a whiskey-shop – a cloth edifice – called the “Mountain House”. This was decidedly clever was’nt, to save the poor emigrant six miles travel and enable him, while his animals were eating, to keep his spirits up, by pouring spirits down? The only drawback to the pure and unadulterated philanthropy of the thing, however, was that the fellows compelled us to pay twenty-five cents per pound, or at the rate of five hundred dollars per ton, for the hay that rightfully belonged to us. But those having animals, and money, and souls, would buy a few pounds and the venders made a vast sum of money by the operation.
After buying a few pounds and baiting our animals, our mess – for we were no longer traveling as a train – concluded to go down to the meadow, and let our animals graze upon the stubble, until the next day. This meadow was surrounded by woods, and in fact the hills and most of the valleys of this region, were covered with a heavy growth of timber; pine, and redwood being the most predominant. There were many trees from ten to twelve feet in diameter, straight as an arrow, and from two to three hundred feet high. The trunk of one prostrate tree, broken off several feet from the ground, with a portion of the top also missing, was eighty paces, or about 240 feet in length.
While perambulating through the woods, here, our boys came across a lot of wild goose-berries very large and fair. I stewed some of them for tea, and they did’nt go bad. The skins were rather tough, though, and while quite as tart as the cultivated fruit, they were somewhat more puckery; and the prickers upon them were very stiff and sharp, and from one-quarter to three-eighths of an inch in length. While picking them over, I wore a thick pair of buckskin gloves, and got my fingers pretty badly pricked at that. We had also seen wild currants, and some other kinds of berries in the course of our journey, but not in sufficent quantities to compensate for the time that would be required to gather them.
At the “Mountain House”, and other whiskey shops along our route, all sorts of stories were told about the roads, the mines, the times in California etc. A short distance beyond the Mountain House, the roads forked, the right leading to “Hangtown” and Culloma, and the left to Weberville, the rival of Hangtown, about three miles South of it. Those in favor of Hangtown asserted that the diggings were of no account and that there were no supplies to be had at Weberville; while the Weberites insisted that the road to Hangtown was impassable even for packers, that the town was very sickly, and that the mines there were entirely exhausted, having been dug over five or six times. We finally took the right hand road, which proved to be very good indeed, with but few hills, though extremely dusty.
And now that there is a prospect of terminating our long and toilsome journey there is quite a reluctance – almost a dread – to going forward. The gold for which we had traveled so far and suffered so much, might have become exhausted; provisions might be very scarce, or business dull; and above all, the change in our living and habits, climate etc, might bring us down with sickness. And then, having run wild for nearly five months, a sense of inferiority would come over us now that we were once more about enter the “pole of civilization”. We should’nt, of course, know how to act! This feeling was so strong in us, that though we could readily reached our destination, by the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, August 3rd, we turned aside into a pleasant little valley where we encamped for the balance of the day and night.
But it would’nt do to remain there “chewing the cud of bitter fancy”, so early the next morning, we again joined the no longer solid phalanx, but straggling multitude upon the dusty highway, each riding a mule and towing along a pony. Riding along in somber silence, and in single file, myself in the lead, followed respectively by Holmes, McKibbon and Carson, the latter upon the largest of our four mules, while descending a small but quite stony hill, a sudden and peculiar noise was heard in the rear, when, on looking around, it was discovered that Carson’s mule having stumbled had thrown his rider entirely over his head and sent him sprawling on all fours upon the ground. This mishap to the “Fardown” was truly a “sweet morsel upon the tongue” if the “Corkonian”, who called out to Holmes and myself, in his “rich Irish brogue”: “Look ye there, b’yes! Bob ‘s diving head-foremost intil Californy!”.
Too far in the rear to vent his spite upon the tickled “Corkonian”, the “Fardown” wreaked his vengeance upon the unfortunate mule, by a number of inhuman kicks from his thick-solid, nail-clad boots, which, of course, caused the poor brute to “take heed to his steps” during the balance of the way.
Nothing further of moment, either serious or comical, occurring to hinder our progress, about 10 o’clock in the forenoon of Sunday, August 4th 1850, we rode triumphantly into Hangtown! And if you could have seen us riding through Akron, as we rode through the irregular and tortuous streets of that “classic city”, on our poor emaciated mules and ponies, with our slouched hats and soiled garments, unshaven and sun-burnt faces, and completely covered with the fine red dust through which we had been traveling, you would have been puzzled to determine, whether we were Arabs, Ethiopians, Indians or stragglers from the “lower regions” who had been vomited forth in some of the volcanic convulsions of which we had seen so many indications on our journey.
The distance between St Joseph and Hangtown (now known by the more respectable name of Placerville) as estimated and jotted down in my diary, day by day, varies but little from the general distance stated in our Guide Books – 2,000 miles. We were 94 days on the journey, but lying by nearly every Sunday, as well as several other days and parts of days, our traveling time was scarcely more than 75 days, making our average daily travel about 26 ½ miles; remarkably good speed considering the difficult nature of a considerable portion of the route, coupled with the fact that the entire distance was traveled upon a walk; for those who undertook to rush ahead at a faster gait, had to leave their animals by the side of the road before getting through, and make the balance of the journey upon their own most thoroughly jaded “Shanks Mares”, – Two additional lectures, to the three here transcribed, were originally given, embracing my travels from Hangtown; my two year’s sojourn in San Francisco, a general description of the country and its resources, and my journey home via the Isthmus of Panama, the substance of which having already been given in this volume, on pages 203 to 241, need not be reproduced here. (Lane 336 – 415)
Smith, Jeffrey E. (ed.) 1984. Gold Rush: The Overland Diary of Samuel A. Lane, 1850. Summit County Historical Society. Akron, OH.
Willoughby, R. J.. (2003). The great western migration to the gold fields of California, 1849-1850. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co..