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Death Valley in '49 by William Lewis Manly

Part 6 out of 8

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faint sign of a trail from this point towards the lowest point in the
snow mountains. There were some bones of cattle around the springs which
they thought was an indication that in years gone by there had been some
traveling on this trail. There surely would be water in the snow which
could be got by melting it, and on the whole it seemed best to make the
attempt to cross at the lowest place. There were no signs of travel
except the trail which had not been used in years, not signs of
civilization except the bones.

Starting from the water holes which showed no signs of having been used
for several years, their next camp was, as they had calculated, on the
edge of the snow where they found plenty of dry juniper trees for fire.
and of course plenty of water. Here they killed an ox and fed the hungry
so that they were pretty well refreshed. This was an elevated place and
they could look back over the trail across the desert for, what seemed
to them, a hundred miles, and the great dangers of their journey were
discussed. Said one of them to Tom Shannon:--"Tom, you killed the first
game we have come across in two months. Even the buzzards and coyotes
knew better than to go out in into the country where the cursed Mormon
saint sent us numbskulls." Another said that while they had been seeking
a heaven on earth they had passed through purgatory, or perhaps a worse
place still nearer the one from which sulphurous fumes arise, and now
they hoped that there might be a somewhat more heavenly place beyond the
snow. One who had been silent seemed awakened by inspiration and spoke
in impromptu lines somewhat as follows, as he pointed out to the dim

"Yonder in mountains' gray beauty,
Wealth and fame decay.
Yonder, the sands of the desert,
Yonder, the salt of the sea,
Yonder, a fiery furnace,
Yonder, the bones of our friends,
Yonder the old and the young
Lie scattered along the way."

Some even confessed the desperate thoughts that had come to their minds
when they were choking and starving. We have mentioned four of the train
who had perished beside the trail and it will be remembered that one
party of eleven started out on foot before the wagons were abandoned by
the rest of the party. Nothing was heard of these for seven years, but
long afterward nine skeletons were found at the remains of a camp, and
the other two were afterward seen in the gold fields. When spoken to
about this party, they burst into tears and could not talk of it. So it
is known that at least thirteen men perished in the country which has
well been named Death Valley.

People who have always been well fed, and have never suffered from
thirst till every drop of moisture seemed gone from the body, so they
dare not open their mouth lest they dry up and cease to breathe, can
never understand, nor is there language to convey the horrors of such a
situation. The story of these parties may seem like fairy fables, but to
those who experienced it all, the strongest statements come far short of
the reality. No one could believe how some men, when they are starving
take on the wild aspect of savage beasts, and that one could never feel
safe in their presence. Some proved true and kind and charitable even
with death staring them in the face, and never forgot their fellow men.
Some that seemed weakest proved strongest in the final struggle for

Early next morning before the sun rose they started to cross the snow,
leaving their comrade Robinson behind, rolled up in his blankets, taking
his everlasting sleep so far as the troubles of this world are
concerned. What the day would bring forth very few could have any idea.
Go on they must, and this direction seemed most promising. If the snow
should prove hard enough to hold up the oxen they could probably cross
before night, but if compelled to camp in the snow it was a doubtful
case for them.

The snow held them as they advanced on it, but grew a little softer as
the sun got higher. The tracks of both men and animals were stained with
blood from their worn-out feet. When they turned the summit they found
more timber and the ravine they followed was so shaded that the force of
the sun was broken, and they really did not suffer very much from
slumping through the snow, and so got safely over. Not far below the
snow they found a running brook of clear, sweet water, with willows
along the banks and trees on the hills, the first really good water for
a month or two. This is the same camp where Rogers and his companion ate
their meal of quail, hawk and crow a few days before, and these
travelers knew by the remains of the little camp fire that they were
following on the trail of the two men who had gone before.

This place was so great an improvement on the camps of the past that all
hands began to talk and act more rational as hope dawned more brightly
on them. Those who had guns branched off to search for game, but found
they were too weak for that kind of work, and had to sit down very often
to rest. When they tried to run they stumbled down and made very poor

Capt. Doty, Tom Shannon and Bill Rude sat down to rest on a bold point
above the creek. While there three wild horses came along within easy
range, and thinking they would form better meat than the oxen each man
picked his animal and all fired simultaneously, bringing them all to the
ground. This seemed a piece of glorious luck, and all rushed in like
wolves lifter a wounded animal. It was not very long before each had a
chunk of meat in his hand, and many a one did not stop from eating
because it was not cooked. Such declared they never ate anything so
delicious in all their lives before, and wondered why horses were not
used as food instead of hogs and cattle. As they satisfied their
ravenous appetites they ate more like beasts than like men, so nearly
were they starved, and so nearly had their starving condition made them
fall from their lofty estate.

As they passed on down this canon they found it very brushy and on the
dry leaves under the wide-spreading trees they saw signs of bear and
perhaps other animals. There were some swampy places where it was
grassy, and into these the cattle rushed with great eagerness for the
food they had so long suffered for. Some of Mr. Brier's cattle went in,
and in tramping around for food sank deep into the mud and could not be
coaxed out again. Mrs. Brier threw clubs at them but they did not seem
inclined to pay much attention to her attacks so she was forced to go in
after them herself, and in so doing also sank into the mud and could not
get out without assistance. All this time her reverend husband sat
outside on the hard ground at a safe distance, but did not offer any
help. Probably if an extended and learned lecture on the effects of
gravitation would have done any good he would have been ready with
prompt and extended service to one whom he had promised to love and

About this time L.D. Stevens came along and seeing the condition of the
unfortunate woman, at once went to her assistance and helped her to dry
land. Brier himself never made a move nor said a word. Stevens looked
terribly cross at him and remarked to his companions that if the
preacher himself had been the one stuck in the mud he would have been
quite inclined to leave him there for all of helping him.

The canon grew narrow as they descended, and the brush thicker, so that
to follow the bed of the stream was the only way to get along. The
cattle seemed to scent a bear and stampeded in terror through the brush
in various directions, all except one which was being led by a rope.
They tried to follow the animals in a desperate effort to recover them
and a few blankets they had upon their backs, but could only make slow
progress. Tom Shannon and two others found a fresh bear track and
determined to follow it awhile in the hope of having revenge on the
cause of their mishap with the oxen. They took their blankets and kept
the trail till night when they camped, but were at so great an elevation
that a snowstorm came with six inches of snow so they could no longer
follow the track.

They were very hungry and on the way back came across some wild cherries
which had dried perfectly dry as they hung on the bushes. These they
picked and ate, cracking the seeds with their teeth, and declaring them
to be the best of fruit. Good appetites made almost anything taste good
then. They got back to the creek next day pretty nearly starved, and
with neither a bear nor runaway oxen to reward them for their two days'
hard work.

Wood and water were plenty, but grass was scarce and their ox had to
live on brush and leaves, but this was infinitely better than the
stunted and bitter shrubs of the desert. They came out of the brush at
last into the open bottom land where the brook sank out of sight in the
sand, and sage brush appeared all about. From this on, over the elevated
point which projected out nearly across the valley, their experience and
emotions in coming in sight of vast herds of cattle feeding on rolling
grassy hills, or reclining under great oak trees scattered over the more
level lands, were much the same as came to the Author and his party when
the same scene was suddenly opened to them. Signs of civilization and of
plenty so suddenly appearing after so many weeks of suffering and
desolation was almost enough to turn their heads, and more than one of
the stout-hearted pioneers shed tears of joy. Only a few days before and
they could scarcely have believed it possible to find a spot so lovely.

But to hungry, more than half starved men, points of artistic beauty and
sober reflections over the terrors of the past found little place, and
their first thought was to satisfy the cravings of hunger which were
assuredly none the less when they beheld the numerous fat cattle all
around them. There was no one to ask or to buy from and to kill and eat
without permission might be wrong and might get them into difficulty,
but one might as well ask a starving wolf to get permission to slay and
eat when a fat lamb came across his path as to expect these men to take
very much time to hunt up owners. When life or death are the questions
that present themselves men are not so apt to discuss the right or wrong
of any matter.

Tom Shannon and a couple of others did not wait long at any rate, but
crawled down the creek bed till they were opposite a few fine animals
and then crept up the bank very near to them. Two or three shots rang
out and as many fine cattle were brought down. The live cattle ran away
and the hungry men soon had the field to themselves. Much quicker than
can be told the men had fat pieces of meat in their hands which they
devoured without cooking. The men acted like crazy creatures at a
barbacue--each one cut for himself with very little respect for anyone.
The boldest got in first and the more retiring came in later, but all
had enough and gradually resumed more human actions and appearance.

They had hardly finished their bloody feast when they saw a small squad
of men on horseback advancing toward them, and as they came near it was
quite plain that they were all armed in some way. All had lassoes at
their saddles, some had old-fashioned blunderbusses, and nearly every
one had a _macheta_ or long bladed Spanish knife. As the horsemen drew
near they formed into something like military order and advanced slowly
and carefully. It was pretty evident they thought they were about to
encounter a band of thieving Indians, but as they came closer they
recognized the strangers as Americans and passed the compliments with
them in a rather friendly manner.

Some of the Jayhawkers had been in the Mexican War and understood a few
words of Spanish, and by a liberal use of signs were able to communicate
with the armed party and tell them who they were, where they were going,
and the unfortunate condition in which they found themselves. The men
did not seem angry at losing so few of their cattle, and doubtless
considered themselves fortunate in not suffering to the extent of some
hundreds as they did sometimes by Indian raids, and invited the whole
party down to the ranch house of the San Francisquito Rancho of which
this was a part. Arrived at the house the ranch men brought in a good
fat steer which they killed and told the poor Americans to help
themselves and be welcome. This was on the fourth day of February, 1850.

The whole party remained here to rest themselves and their oxen for
several days, and were royally entertained by the people at the ranch.
They talked over the plans for the future, and considered the best
course to pursue. They thought it would be wise to keep their oxen for
these would now improve in flesh, and as they had no money with which to
buy food they might still rely on them in further travels. The best oxen
had survived, for the failing ones were selected to be killed when they
were forced to have food. The weaker of their comrades had perished in
the desert, and the remainder of the train consisted of the strongest
men and the strongest oxen, and there seemed to be no question but that
they could all live in this country where grass and water were both
abundant, and every sign of more or less wild game.

Those of the company who had no cattle made their way directly to Los
Angeles, and from thence to the coast from which most of them reached
San Francisco by sailing vessel. Those who had no money were given a
passage on credit, and it is believed that all such debts were
afterwards honestly paid.

Capt. Doty made a proposition to buy out the oxen of some who had only
one or two, giving his note for them payable in San Francisco or
anywhere up north they might chance to meet, and many of them accepted
and went to the coast. In this way Doty secured oxen enough to supply
one for each of those who decided to go with him. They decided to use
them for pack animals to carry their blankets, and to proceed slowly
toward the mines, killing game, if possible, and permitting their
animals to graze and improve in condition as they moved.

There must have been from twenty-five to forty people gathered at the
ranch. Among them was the Rev. J.W. Brier who seemed to want to impress
it on the new California friends that he was the man of all others to be
honored. The ranchman was a good Catholic, and Brier tried to make him
understand that he, also, was very devout. He said, and repeated to him
very often--"Me preacher," but he did not succeed very well in
impressing the good Californian with the dignity of his profession, for
he could talk no Spanish and was not highly gifted in sign language.

When they went away they had no way to reward their good friends who had
been friends indeed to them. They could only look their thanks and
express themselves in a very few words of Spanish. "_Adios Amigos_,"
said they to the scantily clothed travelers as they set out on their way
to the mines.

They followed down the course of the river that flowed through the
valley, the Santa Clara River, and knew that it would take them to the
sea at last. Before they reached the mission of San Buena Ventura, near
the sea, they ran out of meat again, for they had failed to find game as
they had expected, and Capt. Asa Haynes took the chances of killing a
Spanish cow that looked nice and fat. They camped around the carcass and
ate, and smoked the meat that was left. While thus engaged two horsemen
approached, and after taking a good look at the proceedings, galloped
off again. When the party arrived at the Mission they were arrested and
taken before the alcalde to give an account of their misdeeds. They
realized that they were now in a bad fix, and either horn of the dilemma
was bad enough. They could not talk Spanish; they had no money; they had
killed somebody's cow; they were very hungry; they might be willing to
pay, but had no way of doing it; they did not want to languish in jail,
and how to get out of it they could not understand. Luck came to them,
however, in the shape of a man who could speak both English and Spanish,
to whom they told their story and who repeated it to the alcalde,
telling him of their misfortunes and unfortunate condition, and when
that officer found out all the circumstances he promptly released them
as he did not consider them as criminals. The cow was probably worth no
more than ten dollars.

At Santa Barbara they found a chance to trade off some of their oxen for
mares, which were not considered worth much, and managed the barter so
well that they came out with a horse apiece and a few dollars besides,
with which to buy grub along the road. They depended mostly on their
guns for supplying them with food. They supposed they were about three
hundred miles from San Francisco, and expected to meet with but few
people except at the Missions, of which they had learned there were a
few along the road. At these there was not much to be had except dried
beef. However, they managed to use the guns with fair success, and at
last arrived safely at Stockton where they sold some of their horses for
more than double what they cost, and with a small number of horses they
packed on to the gold mines.

Those of the party who went to Los Angeles managed in one way or another
to get through on schooners, and many of them, after a year or two of
hard work, made some money and returned to their homes in Illinois. It
is hardly necessary to add that they did not return via Death Valley.

Some years afterward the members of this party who had returned to their
Eastern homes formed themselves into an organization which they called
the Jayhawkers' Union, appointed a chairman and secretary, and each year
every one whose name and residence could be obtained was notified to be
present at some designated place on the fourth day of February which was
the date on which they considered they passed from impending death into
a richly promising life. They always had as good a dinner as Illinois
could produce, cooked by the wives and daughters of the pioneers, and
the old tales were told over again.

One part of the program was the calling of the roll, and such reports
and letters as had come to hand. The following is a list of the members
of the party so far as can be ascertained, as gathered from
recollections and from the reports of the meetings of the reunions.


The following named were living, so far as known, in 1893:--John B.
Colton and Alonzo C. Clay, of Galesburg, Ill., Luther A. Richards, of
Woodhull, Ill., Chas. B. Mecum, of Ripley, Iowa, John W. Plummer, of
Tulon, Ill., Edward Bartholomew, Urban P. Davidson, John Crosscup and L.
Dow Stephens, of San Jose, California, Harrison Frans and Thomas
Shannon, of Los Gatos, Cal., J.W. Brier and wife, Lodi, Cal., three
children of Mr. Brier.

The following are supposed to be dead:--Ann Haines, Knoxville, Ill.,
Sidney P. Edgerton, formerly of Blair, Nebraska, Thomas McGrew, John
Cole, Wm. B. Rude, Wm. Robinson and Alex. Palmer, of Knoxville, Ill.,
Marshall B. Edgerton, late of Galesburg, Ill. Wm. Ischam, of Rochester,
N.Y., Mr. ---- Fish, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, John L. West, Aaron Larkin,
Capt. Edwin Doty and Brien Byram, of Knoxville, Ill., Mr. ---- Carter,
of Wisconsin, Geo. Allen, Leander Woolsey and Chas. Clark, of Henderson,
Ill., Mr. ---- Gretzinger, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and a Frenchman whose
name is unknown.

There were some others connected more or less with the party at some
part of the trip, but not coming in with the Jayhawker organization. So
far as learned, their names are as follows:--John Galler, Jim Woods and
Jim Martin of Miss., Ed Croker of N.Y., David Funk, Mr. Town, Henry
Wade, wife and three children, Nat Ward, John D. Martin, of Texas, Old
Francis, a Frenchman, Fred Carr and Negro "Joe," from Miss.

There were a great many reports about finding rich mines about this
time, and these stories have been magnified and told in all sorts of
ways since then, and parties have returned to try to find the great

Among the Jayhawkers were two Germans who could speak but little English
and probably for this reason, kept apart from the remainder of the

One day, after the wagons were abandoned these German fellows were
marching along alone with their packs on their backs in the warm sun,
suffering very much for want of water and food, when one of them sat
down on a hill-side in pretty nearly absolute despair, while the other
man went down into a ravine hoping to find a puddle of water in the
rocky bottom somewhere, though it was almost a forlorn hope. All at once
he called out to his partner on the hill--"John, come down here and get
some of this gold. There is a lot of it." To this poor John Galler only
replied:--"No, I won't come. I don't want any gold, but I would like
very much to have some water and some bread." And so they left the
valuable find and slowly walked on, pulling through at last with the
rest of them, and reaching Los Angeles.

The man who found the gold went to the Mission of San Luis Rey and
started a small clothing store, and some time afterward was killed. John
Galler settled in Los Angeles and established a wagon shop in which he
did a successful business. He was an honest, industrious man and the
people had great confidence in him. He often told them about what his
partner had said about finding the gold in the desert, and the people
gave him an outfit on two or three occasions to go back and re-locate
the find, but he did not seem to have much idea of location, and when he
got back into the desert again things looked so different to him that he
was not able to identify the place, or to be really certain they were on
the same trail where his companion found the gold.

The Author saw him in 1862 and heard what he had to say about it, and is
convinced that it was not gold at all which they saw. I told him that I
more than suspected that what he saw was mica instead of gold and that
both he and his partner had been deceived, for more than one man not
used to gold had been deceived before now. "No sir!" said he, "I saw
lots of gold in Germany, and when I saw that I knew what it was." The
Author went back over that trail in 1862 and sought out the German on
purpose to get information about the gold. He could not give the name of
a single man who was in the party at that time, but insisted that it was
gold he saw and that he knew the trail.

The Author was able to identify with reasonable certainty the trails
followed by the different parties, but found no signs of gold formation
except some barren quartz, and this after an experience of several years
in both placer and quartz mines. So honest John Galler's famous placer
mine still remains in the great list of lost mines, like the Gunsight
Lead and other noted mines for which men have since prospected in vain.


Alexander Combs Erkson was one of the pioneers of 1849, having left the
state of Iowa in the month of May, when he assisted in organizing a
company known as the "Badger Company" at Kanesville, the object being
mutual assistance and protection. This company joined the Bennett party
mentioned so prominently in this history, at the Missouri, and traveled
with them or near them to the rendezvous near Salt Lake where the new
company was organized for the southern trip taken by the Death Valley
party, the Jayhawkers and others. As the experience of Mr. Erkson was in
some respects different to that of the parties mentioned, he having
taken a different route for a part of the way, it was thought best to
embody it in this history. The following was dictated to the editor of
this book, and as Mr. Erkson died before the written account could be
revised by him, it is the best that can possibly be obtained.

* * * * *


"We arrived at the Mormon camp near Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, in the
month of August. Several of us went to work getting out lumber for
Brigham Young while we were waiting and resting. The mormons all advised
us not to undertake to go on by the northern route, and as the travelers
gathered at this point they canvassed the situation. We used our teams
when we were at work for Brigham and assisted in building a dam across a
canon where he intended to build a woolen mill. I earned about a hundred
dollars by my work, which was paid to me in ten-dollar pieces of a gold
coin made by the Mormons. They were not like the U.S. coins. I remember
one side had an eye and the words--'Holiness to the Lord.'

We entered into an agreement with Capt. Hunt, a Mormon, to pilot us
through, and turned all our gold into that company, thus bringing none
of the Mormon gold with us. We went on with the company as has been
related in the foregoing pages, till we arrived at Mt. Misery, so named
by us, when we took the back track, while Mr. Manley and the others went
on as they have related. We had meetings by the light of a greenwood
fire, and the matter was talked up in little knots of people, and then
some one would get up and speak. One J.W. Brier, a preacher, was the
principal blower. 'You are going wrong!' said he, We should go west, and
in six weeks we will be loaded with gold!'

Hunt got a little confused at a place called Beaver Meadows, or Mountain
Meadows, and thought perhaps he could find a new road. Several men were
sent out to look, and some of us in camp played ball for amusement while
we were waiting. Hunt's men came back and said there were no prospects
of a new road, and he said he knew the southern route and believed it
would be safe to go that way.

He told us that we must decide the next day. When we came to the road
where we were to separate he filed off on his road and the others filed
off on their road and then came back with their whips in their hands. I
had filed in after Hunt, and they tried to convince me that I was very
wrong. A Mr. Norton of Adrian, Mich., promised Mrs. Erkson a horse to
ride if she would go, and so I left Hunt and turned in on the other
road, the hindmost wagon. This is going back a little with the history
and bringing it up to Mt. Misery. On my way back from Mt. Misery I
climbed up on a big rock and inscribed the date--Nov. 10, 1849.

In our journey we came to what is called 'The rim of the Basin,' and
traveled along on that a distance till we came to the Santa Clara River
and saw where the Indians had raised corn and melons. We followed on
down that stream and found our teams gradually failing. Noting this we
decided to overhaul our loads and reject a lot of things not strictly
necessary to preserve life. I know I threw out a good many valuable and
pretty things by the roadside. I remember six volumes of Rollin's
Ancient History, nicely bound, with my name on the back, that were piled
up and left. We followed along near the Santa Clara River till it
emptied into the Virgin River. It was somewhere along here that we first
saw some Yucca trees. The boys often set fire to them to see them burn.

The Virgin River was a small stream running on about the course we
wanted to travel, and we followed this course for thirty or forty miles.
We found plenty of wood and water and mesquite. After awhile the river
turned off to the left, while we wanted to keep to the right, so we
parted company there. We heard of a river beyond which they called the
'Big Muddy' and we went up a little arroyo, then over a divide to some
table land that led us down to the Big Muddy. We made our wagons as
light as possible, taking off all the boards and stakes we could
possibly get along without. Wm. Philipps and others were placed on short
allowance. They had an idea that I had more provisions in my wagon than
I ought to have, but I told them that it was clothing that we used to
sleep on. I divided among them once or twice. When we reached the Muddy
we stopped two or three days for there was plenty of feed. It was a
narrow stream that seemed as if it must come from springs. It was narrow
between banks, but ran pretty deep, and a streak of fog marked its
course in the morning. We understood it was not very far from where we
left the Virgin River to the Colorado, some said not more than fourteen
miles and that the Colorado turned sharply to the south at that point.
Mr. Rhynierson and wife had a child born to them on the Virgin River,
and it was named Virginia.

It was a gloomy trip the whole time on the Muddy. I lost three or four
head of cattle, all within a day and a night. Mrs. Erkson walked to
lighten the load, and would pick all the bunches of grass she saw and
put them on the wagon to feed the oxen when we stopped. I let them pass
me and stopped and fed the cattle, and slept ourselves. It was said that
we ran great risks from Indians, but we did not see any. I had at this
time only two yoke of oxen left.

We overtook the party next morning at nine o'clock, having met some of
them who were coming back after us. All were rejoiced that we had come
on safely. Here I met Elisha Bennett and told him my story. He said he
could sell me a yoke of oxen. He had a yoke in J.A. Philipps' team and
was going to take them out. He said nothing in particular as to price. I
said that I wanted to see Mr. Philipps and talk with him about the
matter, for he had said Bennett should not have the cattle. I went over
to see him and spoke to him about Bennett's cattle and he told me they
had quarreled and I could have them, and so we made a bargain. I gave
twenty dollars for the cattle, the last money I had, and as much
provisions as he could carry on his back. They were making up a party to
reach the settlements at the Williams ranch, and I made arrangements for
them to send back provisions for us. About thirty started that
way--young men and men with no families with them.

I got along very well with my new team after that. It was about forty
miles from water to water, and I think we camped three times. At one
place we found that provisions had been left, with a notice that the
material was for us, but the red-skins got the provisions. We struck a
spring called-----, a small spring of water, and a child of some of the
party died there and was buried.

We then went more nearly south to find the Mojave River, for we hoped to
find water there. It was very scarce with us then, We had one pretty
cold day, but generally fine weather, and to get along we traveled at
night and a party struck the Mojave. Here there was some grass, and the
mustard was beginning to start up and some elder bushes to put forth
leaves. I picked some of the mustard and chewed it to try to get back my
natural taste. Here the party divided, a part going to the left to San
Bernardino and the remainder to the right to Cucamunga. I was with the
latter party and we got there before night.

Rhynierson said to one of the party--'Charlie, you had better hurry on
ahead and try to get some meat before the crowd comes up.' Charlie went
on ahead and we drove along at the regular gait which was not very fast
about these times. We saw nothing of Charlie and so I went to the house
to look for him and found him dead drunk on wine. He had not said a word
to them about provisions. That wine wrecked us all. All had a little
touch of scurvy, and it seemed to be just what we craved. I bought a big
tumbler of it for two bits and carried it to my wife. She lasted it at
first rather gingerly, then took a little larger sup of it, and then put
it to her lips and never slopped drinking till the last drop was gone. I
looked a little bit surprised and she looked at me and innocently
asked--'Why! Haven't you had any?' I was afraid she would be the next
one to be dead drunk, but it never affected her in that way at all. We
bought a cow here to kill, and used the meat either fresh or dried, and
then went on to the Williams, or Chino ranch. Col. Williams was glad to
see us, and said we could have everything we wanted. We wanted to get
wheat, for we had lived so long on meat that we craved such food. He
told us about the journey before us and where we would find places to
camp. Here we found one of the Gruwells. We camped here a week, meeting
many emigrants who came by way of Santa Fe.

We went on from here to San Gabriel where we staid six weeks to rest and
recuperate the cattle. In the good grass we found here they all became
about as fat as ever in a little while. Here the party all broke up and
no sort of an organization was kept up beyond here. Some went to Los
Angeles, some went on north, trading off their cattle for horses, and
some went directly to the coast. We went to the Mission of San Fernando
where we got some oranges which were very good for us. There is a long,
tedious hill there to get over. We made up ten wagons. By the time we
reached the San Francisquito Ranch I had lost my cattle. I went down to
this ranch and there met Mr. and Mrs. Arcane getting ready to go to San
Pedro. We came north by way of Tejon pass and the Kern River, not far
from quite a large lake, and reached the mines at last. I remember we
killed a very fat bear and tried out the grease, and with this grease
and some flour and dried apples Mrs. Erkson made some pretty good pies
which the miners were glad to get at a dollar and even two dollars

Mr. Erkson followed mining for about a year and then went into other
business until he came to Santa Clara Valley and began farming near
Alviso. He has been a highly respected citizen and progressive man, He
died in San Jose in the spring of 1893.

* * * * *


Edward Coker was one of a party of twenty-one men who left their wagons,
being impatient of the slow progress made by the ox train, and organized
a pack train in which they were themselves the burden carriers. They
discarded everything not absolutely necessary to sustain life, packed
all their provisions into knapsacks, bravely shouldered them and started
off on foot from the desert to reach California by the shortest way.

Among those whom Mr. Coker can recollect are Capt. Nat. Ward, Jim Woods,
Jim Martin of Missouri, John D. Martin of Texas, "Old Francis," a French
Canadian, Fred Carr, Negro "Joe" and some others from Coffeeville,
Miss., with others from other states.

Mr. Coker related his experience to the Author somewhat as follows:--

"One other of the party was a colored man who joined us at the camp when
we left the families, he being the only remaining member of a small
party who had followed our wagon tracks after we had tried to proceed
south. This party was made up of a Mr. Culverwell who had formerly been
a writer in a Government office at Washington, D.C., a man named Fish
claiming to be a relative of Hamilton Fish of New York, and another man
whose name I never knew. He, poor fellow, arrived at our camp in a
starving condition and died before our departure. The other two
unfortunates ones died on the desert, and the colored man reported that
he simply covered their remains with their blankets.

I well remember that last night in camp before we started with our
knapsacks and left the families, for it was plain the women and children
must go very slow, and we felt we could go over rougher and shorter
roads on foot and get through sooner by going straight across the Sierra
Nevada Mountains. Our condition was certainly appalling. We were without
water, all on the verge of starvation, and the three poor cattle which
yet remained alive were objects of pity. It seemed almost a crime to
kill the poor beasts, so little real food was there left on their
skeleton frames. They had been so faithful and had plodded along when
there seemed no hope for them. They might still serve to keep the party
from starvation.

It was at this camp that Mr. Ischam died. The night before our departure
he came wandering into camp and presented such an awful appearance,
simply a living skeleton of a once grand and powerful man. He must have
suffered untold agony as he struggled on to overtake the party, starving
and alone, with the knowledge that two of his companions had perished
miserably of starvation in that unknown wilderness of rocks and alkali.

Our journey on foot through the mountains was full of adventure and
suffering. On our arrival at the shores of Owen's Lake not a man of the
party had a mouthful of food left in his pack, and to add to our
difficulties we had several encounters with the hostile Indians. There
was a fearful snow storm falling at Owen's Lake on the evening that we
arrived there, and we could make no fire. The Indians gathered around us
and we did not know exactly what to make of them, nor could we determine
whether their intentions were good or bad. We examined the lake and
determined to try to ford it, and thus set out by the light of the moon
that occasionally peeped out from behind the clouds, while the red
devils stood howling on the shore.

The following morning we found what was then known as the Fremont Trail,
and by the advice of some friendly Indians who came into our camp, we
kept the "big trail" for three days and came to Walker's Pass. While on
this trail we were followed at night by a number of wild Indians, but we
prudently avoided any collisions with them and kept moving on. Going on
through the pass we followed the right hand branch of the trail, the
left hand branch leading more to the south and across a wide plain. We
soon came to a fair-sized stream, now known to be the south fork of the
Kern River, which we followed until we came to its junction with a
larger river, the two making the Kern River. Here we were taken across
by some friendly Indians who left the Missions farther west during the
Mexican war and took to their own village located at the foot of the
Sierra Nevada Mountains. At this village we were on exhibition for
several hours with an audience of five hundred people or more, of the
red men, and on the following morning we commenced the ascent of the
mountains again, the Indians furnishing us with a guide in the person of
an old Pi-Ute. He brought us over the range, through the snow and over
the bleak ridges, in the month of December, 1849, and we made our first
camp at an Indian village in Tulare Valley, a few miles south of where
Porterville now stands.

From this Indian village we walked on until we arrived at the present
site of Millerton on the south bank of the San Joaquin River. Our
sufferings were terrible from hunger, cold, and wet, for the rains were
almost continual at this elevation, and we had been forced several times
to swim. The sudden change from the dried-up desert to a rainy region
was pretty severe on us. On our arrival at the San Joaquin River we
found a camp of wealthy Mexicans who gave us a small amount of food, and
seemed to want us to pass on that they might be rid of us. I can well
believe that a company of twenty-one starving men was the cause of some
disquietude to them. They gave us some hides taken from some of the
cattle they had recently slain, and from these we constructed a boat and
ferry rope in which we crossed the river, and then continued our journey
to the mining camp on Aqua Frio, in Mariposa county.

It is very strange to think that since that time I have never met a
single man of that party of twenty-one. I had kept quite full notes of
the whole trip from the state of New York to the mines, and including my
early mining experience up to the year 1851. Unfortunately this
manuscript was burned at the Russ House fire in Fresno, where I also
lost many personal effects."

In the year 1892 Mr. Coker was living in Fresno, or near that city, in
fairly comfortable health, and it is to be hoped that the evening of his
days, to which all the old pioneers are rapidly approaching, may be to
him all that his brightest hopes pictured.


Having followed the various little parties into which the great train
had resolved itself when it began to feel the pressure of suffering and
trouble which came with contact with the desert, followed them in their
various ways till they came through to the Pacific Slope, the travels
and experiences of the Author are again resumed.

It will be remembered that he had rested at Los Angeles, working for Mr.
Brier who had temporarily turned boarding house keeper, and finally made
arrangements with some drovers to assist in taking a small stock of
horses north to the mines. His story is thus continued:--

We followed the wagon road which the companies that had gone on before
had made, and got along very well. At night I acted
independently--staked out my mule and ate my meal of dried meat and
crackers--then joined the others around a large fire, and all seemed to
enjoy the company. After a few days the two men who owned the horses
proposed to me to let my mule carry the provisions, and they wanted me
to ride one of their horses that was not carrying a pack, as they said
it would keep it more gentle to ride it.

To please the old gentleman from Sacramento I agreed to the proposition,
for I thought perhaps by being accommodating I could get along more

Thus we traveled on, over rolling hills covered with grass and wild
flowers, and I was much pleased with all that I could see. For the first
two days we did not pass a house, which shows how thinly settled the
country was. Cattle were often seen, and sometimes horses, but people
were very scarce. In time we went down a long, steep hill, then across a
wide valley that supported a rank growth of vegetation, and came to a
Mission called San Buena Ventura (good luck.) Here the men seemed
scarce, but Indians and dogs plenty. The houses were of the same sort as
at Los Angeles, except the church, all made of dried mud, and never more
than one story high.

As we journeyed along we came to the sea shore, the grandest sight in
the world to me, for I had never before seen the ocean. What a wide
piece of water it was! Far out I could see small waves coming toward the
shore, and the nearer they came the faster they seemed to rush and at
last turned into great rollers and breakers which dashed upon the rocks
or washed far up the sandy shore with a force that made the ground
tremble. There was no wind and I could not see what it could be that so
strangely agitated the water. Here the waves kept coming, one after
another, with as much regularity as the slow strokes of a clock. This
was the first puzzle the great sea propounded to me, and there under the
clear blue sky and soft air I studied over the ceaseless, restless
motion and the great power that was always beating on the shore. I
tasted the water and found it exceedingly salt, and I did not see how
anything could live in it and not become in the condition of pickled
pork or fish. Where was the salt to make this mighty brine pond, and why
did it keep so when the great rivers kept pouring in their torrents of
fresh waters? I did not understand, and these are some of the thoughts
that came to the boy who had been raised upon the prairie, and to whom
the great ocean was indeed an unknown sea.

We followed along the road and in time came to another village and
Mission called Santa Barbara. The village was near the shore, and the
church farther back upon an elevated piece of ground near the foot of
the mountain, overlooking the town and sea and much of the country to
the south, west and east. The mountain was high and rough, and a point
ran out into the sea making a sort of harbor. This town was built much
as the others had been except perhaps the Mission which seemed better.
The roofs were as flat as the floors and were covered with a sort of tar
which made them water-proof. The material of the houses was sun-dried
bricks, two feet long by one foot wide and four to six inches thick.
There was no lime in the mortar of this mason work, and the openings in
the walls had iron bars across them instead of sash and glass. Dried
hides were spread upon the floors, and there was a large earthen jar for
water, but not a table, bedstead or chair could be seen in the rooms we
saw. A man came along, rode right in at the door, turned around and rode
out again. The floor was so hard that the horse's feet made no
impression on it. Very few men, quite a number of Indians, more women,
and a still larger quantity of dogs made up the inhabitants.

Leaving here the road led back from the sea shore and over quite a level
table land, covered with a big growth of grass and some timber, and then
down to the sandy shore again where the mountain comes so close that we
were crowded down to the very water's edge. Here the never-tiring waves
were still following each other to the shore and dashing themselves to
pieces with such a noise that I felt awed to silence. What a strange
difference in two parts of the earth so little distance from each other!
Here was a waste of waters, there was a waste of sands that may some
time have been the bottom of just such a dashing, rolling sea as this.
And here, between the two, was a fertile region covered with trees,
grass and flowers, and watered with brooks of fresh, sweet water.
Paradise and Desolation! They surely were not far apart. Here I saw some
of the queer things that wash on shore, for we camped close to the

It was a circumstance of great interest to me to see the sun slowly go
down into the great ocean. Slowly and steadily it went, getting redder
and redder as it went down, then it just touched the distant water and
the waves dashed over more and more of its face till all was covered.
Were it not for the strong, bright rays that still shot up across the
sky one might think it was drowned forever, but in the morning it came
up over the mountain top, having apparently made half the circuit of the

Soon after this the road left the shore and turned into the mountains.
Another Mission was on this road, Santa Ynez, situated in a beautiful
place but apparently in decay, for the men had gone to the mines,
leaving the Indians, women, and dogs as in other places. San Luis Obispo
was another Mission similarly inhabited, but the surroundings did not
seem so pleasant as those we had seen before, although it bore signs
that considerable had been done. From here our road bore still more
north and we had a long mountain to work over, very rocky, and in some
places barren.

San Miguel was a Mission situated on the bank of a dry stream that
evidently had seen plenty of water earlier in the season. The
surrounding country was covered with scattering timber. Soledad was
another place where there were some improvements, located on a small
river, but nearly deserted like the other places. Prospects at the gold
mines were so favorable that every man felt an irresistible desire to
enrich himself, and so they left their families at the Missions and in
the towns and rushed off to the mines. Nearly all of them expected to
return by winter.

I think I must stop right here and tell about the California carriages
of which I had seen several at Los Angeles and at the Missions along our
road. The first time I saw one it was a great curiosity, I assure you.
The wheels were cut off the end of a sycamore log a little over two feet
in diameter and each section about a foot long. The axle was a piece of
wood eight inches square with a tongue fastened to it long enough to be
used with a yoke of oxen, and the ends of the axle were roughly rounded,
leaving something of a shoulder. The wheels were retained in place by a
big lynch-pin. On the axle and tongue was a strong frame of square hewed
timbers answering for bed pieces, and the bottom was of raw-hide tightly
stretched, which covered the whole frame. Tall stakes at each corner of
the frame held up an awning in hot weather. The yoke was fastened to the
horns of the oxen by strong, narrow strips of raw-hide, and the tongue
was fastened to the yoke in the same way. The driver was generally an
Indian, armed with a small pole six or eight feet long, who marched on
before, the oxen following after. I saw many a wagon like this, the
platform well filled up with women and children, and a pack of dogs
following along behind, slowly rolling over the country, and this is the
way they traveled when they went visiting friends who lived a few miles
in the country. Sometimes the wheels gave perfectly agonizing shrieks as
they revolved, and when they made so much noise that their strong
Spanish nerves could stand it no longer, if there was any green grass to
be found the drivers would crowd in a quantity around the axle, and
there was generally room for a good lot of it, to answer for a

We passed on from Soledad and shortly rose into the table land we had
seen for some time before us. From here we could look north for a long
way with no hill or mountain in sight; but our road led along on the
east side of this treeless plain, so thickly covered with grass that we
recalled some of the old tales of the grassy plains. We passed a
landholder's house on the road, then crossed a range of low mountains
and came to the Mission of San Juan (St. John) situated near the
foot-hills, overlooking a level, rich appearing extent of valley land
with a big vegetable growth all over it; in some places wild mustard
which stood thickly and was from four to ten feet high. I thought what a
splendid place it would be for the Yankees who are fond of greens.

This was the first place since we left Los Angeles where we could buy
any kind of breadstuff, and we were here enabled to get a change of
diet, including greens. This seemed to be one end or side of another
valley, and as we went along it seemed to widen away to the east; but
our course was to the north, and we followed the road. The architecture
of all the buildings except the churches was all the same, being built
of the sun dried adobes or bricks made by mixing up a clay mud with
tough grass and letting it get dry and hard. We saw the same kind of
roof material as before, a sort of mineral tar which I supposed they
must find somewhere about.

I could imagine why the houses were built in this way, for when the
Jesuit missionaries first came in they found the country occupied by
Indians who used their arrows to good effect, as they were jealous of
all outside occupation. The early settlers evidently made the walls of
their dwellings thick and strong enough to resist all kinds of weapons
used by Indians. They could not set fire to them for they were fire
proof and arrow proof, and the hostile Indian could dance on the roof
without being able to get in or do any injury. Thus the poor Indian was
fairly beat and eventually became a better Indian.

The Indians of what is now Nevada and Arizona used to come over into
these rich valleys and clandestinely capture a band of a hundred or more
head of cattle or horses and make their escape. They were often followed
by the herders, but if they did not overtake the thieves before they got
into the deep canons of the mountains, they would usually turn back and
let them go rather than be led into ambush in some strange narrow place
where escape would be impossible and they might be filled with arrows.
No doubt the trail we had followed across the plains, where there were
so many horses' bones, was one of these trails along which the thieving
Indians took their booty which died upon the trip.

Our road from here was near the foot-hills on the west side of a level,
grassy, thinly timbered valley, and as we advanced we noticed that the
timber grew more plentiful and the trees larger, without much
underbrush. We also noticed that the vegetation was ranker and no doubt
the soil was very rich. We then came to a point where the mountain
reaches out almost across the valley to meet the mountain on the east
side. Here we found a gravelly creek with but little water, but as soon
as we passed this point we saw the valley suddenly widening out, and
beautiful groves of live oak trees scattered all around. The vegetation
here was very rank, the mustard ten feet high in places, making it
difficult to see out of the road. This was perhaps the strongest
contrast to the arid desert that we had seen.

As we went on down the valley the hills seemed to stand farther and
farther back as if to make more room for those who would soon settle in
this fertile place, and we soon came in sight of the village or pueblo
of San Jose (St. Joseph) where we camped. Here we learned that the two
owners of the horses intended to go to San Francisco instead of
Sacramento, and as we considered the former place a very poor one for a
penniless person to go we concluded to break up the company camp and
each do the best he could for himself, for our objective point was the
gold mines, and the sooner we reached them the better.

The drovers who had been anxious to have us go with them and help them
now began to talk about a settlement with us, as if they had done us
great favors, and called on the other fellows to help pay for their
board upon the way. When they came to me they said my share would be an
ounce. This struck me hard, but they said I had ridden their horse all
the way and the charge was very low. I told them I had furnished the
most of the provisions I had eaten, and my mule had packed a good load
all the way, which I considered worth as much as the use of the horse.
But they refused to allow me anything for the use of the mule and became
very urgent in their demand for money.

These men were evidently of the tribe of Skinflint, who had no souls, or
they would not have attempted to rob an almost penniless emigrant in
this way of the last few dollars he had, and all the hope he had of
reaching the mines. I did not desire to give up to such narrow
principles as this and hesitated, but they were bound to have the money
or make a quarrel, and talked pretty loud of the way they collected
debts in Sacramento, so that to avoid trouble and get out of the
clutches of such mean scoundrels as these I counted out sixteen dollars,
almost every cent I had, and reluctantly gave them to my enemy. I
immediately mounted my mule, and without stopping to say goodbye rode
off. I may have quoted a part of the speech Capt Hunt made when the
party wanted to leave the trail and take the cut-off, especially that
part where he alluded to their going to h--l. I very much fear the
little piety my mother taught me was badly strained on that occasion,
and I thought of a good many swear words if I did not say them, which I
suppose is about as bad. I could see how cunningly they had managed to
get me to ride their horse that it might serve as the foundation for a
claim on me for about all the money I had in the world.

I hitched my mule in the edge of the town and went in to look at the
place. The houses were situated very much as in other places we had come
through--scattered around over much ground and built low, but had a
different style of roof, a peaked or sloping one, and covered with half
round tile two feet or more long and an inch thick. One course of these
would be laid with the hollow side up, and then a course with the hollow
side down, covering the joints of the lower course. This allowed the air
to circulate freely and was proof against rain. I saw no flat roofs such
as I had seen down along the coast. I saw one gambling house and about
all the men in town were gathered there, and some women, too. This was
the busiest place in town and situated near the plaza. This was the
largest town I had yet been in. There seemed to be plenty of women and
lots of dogs, but the men were as scarce as they had been in any of the
towns--gone to the gold mines to make a stake. I took in the sights
pretty well, and there were a great many new things for me to see, and
when pretty well satisfied concluded I would go back to my mule and camp
in some place just out of town for the night.

Before I reached my animal whom should I meet but my old traveling
companion John Rogers whom I thought to be a hundred miles away by this
time. We shook hands heartily and he told me that Bennett, Moody and
Skinner were camped not far off, and he was still with them. He wore a
pair of blue overalls, a blue woolen shirt and the same little narrow
rimmed hat he had worn so long. I observed, too, that he was barefoot,
and told him I had a dollar or two which he could take and get some
shoes. He said it was no use for there was not a pair of shoes in the
town to buy, and he had not found any material of which he could make
himself a pair of moccasins. I told him how I had been swindled coming
up, and he was about as angry as I had been. I think if I had known that
my friend John Rogers had been so near I should have bidden the rascals
an unceremonious good-bye and we would have been able to hold our own on
a claim for the services of myself and mule.

We went up to the place where our people were camped, perhaps a mile
above town on the bank of a river, nearly dry, but where plenty of wood,
water and grass were at hand; such a place as we had looked for in vain
for many a weary day upon the desert. This was as far above Death Valley
as a king above a pauper, and we hoped never to see such a country

In camp we talked about moving on to the mines. Rogers said he was going
to start next day, and in answer to exclamations of surprise that he
should start off alone, he said that some fellows camped a little way
down the river were going to start and he had made arrangements to go
with them, as the Bennett party would not go yet for a week. In the
morning he shook hands and bade us good-bye and good luck, and started
off down the river bank, lost to us, as it proved, for many years.

The next day as we were all sitting on the ground I felt a sort of
moving of the earth under me and heard a rumbling sound that seemed very
queer. It seemed there was a motion also to the trees around us. We all
started and looked a little frightened, and Skinner said he believed it
was an earthquake, for he said he could see the motion in a sort of
wave. It was gone in half a minute. Moody said:--"How do you like
California now?" I said I thought this part of it was a pretty good
place for there was plenty of wood, water and grass, and that was better
than we had seen in some places.

He then went on to say that he had heard Mr. Bennett's story of their
sufferings and narrow escape from death, and it was the most wonderful
story he had ever heard. He said the idea of Mrs. Bennett walking over
such a country for twenty-two days was almost beyond belief, for he
would not have thought her able to walk one-third the distance. He never
knew before how much women could do when they were called to do it, and
they proved in emergencies to be as tough as any body. He said if he
ever got back home he should move to give them all the rights and
privileges of men for sure.

One day I mounted my mule for a ride to the eastern foothills, and sat
down on a little incline and overlooked the valley, a beautiful
landscape, while my mule cropped the rich grasses in a circle described
by the rope which confined him. I was always a great admirer of nature,
and as I sat there alone I could see miles on miles of mammoth mustard
waving in the strong breeze which came down over the San Francisco Bay
just visible to the northward, and on the mountain summits to the west
could see tall timber reaching up into the deep blue of the sky. It was
a real contented comfort to be thus in the midst of luxuriance and
beauty, and I enjoyed it, coming as it did at the end of the long and
dreary road I had been traveling for the past twelve months. Up the
Platte; across the Rockies; down the Green River canons in my canoe;
across the mountains to Salt Lake; out over the "Rim of the Basin," and
across the desert, guided only by the fact that we knew the Pacific
Ocean was to the west of us, and choosing our road as best we could in
view of the lofty, snow-clad, impassible mountains; seeing thirteen of
our comrades lie down never to rise again, and, when hope and strength
were almost gone, to suddenly come out into a fertile region on the
seventh of March, 1850. How I wished the fellows who slept in Death
Valley could have seen this view. The change from all that barrenness
and desolation to this beautiful, fertile country, covered with wild
flowers and luxuriant live oaks, was as strong a contrast as one could
imagine a sudden coming from purgatory to paradise in the space of a
single hour.

I waked up from my dreamy thoughts, mounted my mule and rode to camp. As
I rode along the nimble ground squirrel, with his keen black eye, would
climb to the top of the high mustard stalks to get a better view and,
suspicious of an enemy within his almost undisputed territory, disappear
in a wink to his safe underground fortress. Fat cattle and horses would
appear before me a moment, and then, with a wild look and high heads,
dash through the tall mustard out of sight.

Next day my trip was toward the western hills, and before I came to them
was confronted with an extensive stretch of chaparral brush, absolutely
impenetrable, which I must go around or stop my progress in this
direction. These thickets were a regular paradise for grizzly bears, for
within the protection of this matted and thorny growth he is as safe as
is the soldier in the rocky fort of Gibraltar. I soon found a way around
the brush and rose high enough so that a backward look over the valley
was charming, quite as much so as the eastern side. I wandered over the
grassy hills covered with great scattering oaks, and came to a grove of
mammoth trees, six feet or more in diameter, with tops reaching two
hundred or three hundred feet toward the blue sky. They seemed to me to
be a kind of cedar, and were far larger and taller than any trees I had
ever seen in the forests of Vermont, Michigan or Wisconsin, and in my
long journey from the East the route had been principally through a
country devoid of good timber. A stranger in a strange land, everything
was new and wonderful. After satisfying my inquiring mind I returned to
camp again, and soon learned that my newly discovered trees were the
famous redwoods, so greatly prized for their valuable qualities.

Taking the most direct course to camp I came, when within two or three
miles of San Jose, to a large extent of willows so thick, and so thickly
woven together with wild blackberry vines, wild roses and other thorny
plants, that it appeared at first as if I never could get through. But I
found a winding trail made by the cattle through the bushes and mustard,
and this I followed, being nearly scared occasionally by some wild
steers as they rushed off through the thickets. I got through safely,
though it would have been difficult to escape a wild, enraged steer, or
a grizzly had I met him face to face even with a rifle in hand. I could
see nowhere but by looking straight up, for the willows were in places
fifty feet high and a foot in diameter. The willows where I came from
were mere bushes, and these astonished me. This bit of brush is still
locally known as "The Willows," but the trees are all gone, and the
ground thickly covered with orchards and fine residences, the land
selling at from one thousand to two thousand dollars per acre.

The sun rose without a cloud, and a little later the sea breeze from the
bay blew gently over the valley, making the climate perfectly delightful
in its temperate coolness, a true paradise on earth it seemed to me, if
I was able to judge or set a value upon so beautiful a spot; and surely
I had seen all sorts, good and poor, desert and valley, mountain and

But I was poor in purse, and resolved I would seek first the gold mines
and secure gold enough to buy a piece of this valley afterward.

When I had seen what was to be seen about San Jose I had a talk with my
friends and found that Mr. Bennett favored going on to the mines at once
and that Moody and Skinner thought they would remain a little while at

I went along in company with Bennett, and when we got a little way from
San Jose, on the road to the Mission, the road seemed walled in on both
sides with growing mustard ten or twelve feet high and all in blossom.
How so much mustard could grow, and grow so large, I could not
understand. I had seen a few plants in the gardens or fields which
people used for greens, and here seemed to be enough to feed the nation,
if they liked mustard greens.

The second day out we passed the big church at Mission San Jose and soon
left the valley and turned into the mountains and when part way over we
came to a stream which we followed up and came out into Livermore
valley, where we found a road to follow. Houses were scarce, and we
camped a mile or so before we got to the Livermore ranch buildings.
There was very little sign of life about the place, and we soon went out
of the valley and into the mountains again.

The first sign of settlement we saw when part way through the mountains
was a stone corral, but no house or other improvements. The next place
was a small house made of willow poles set in the ground and plastered
over with mud. This rejoiced in the name of "Mountain House." This
wayside inn looked like a horse thief's glory; only one or two men, a
quarter of an elk hanging on a pole, and no accommodations for man or
beast. There was very little water, nothing to sell as well as nothing
wanted. On the summits of the mountains as we passed through we saw,
standing like guards, many large buck elks.

It was now fifteen miles to the San Joaquin river, and a level plain lay
before us. When our road turned into the river bottom we found the water
too deep to get through safely, so we concluded to go on and try to find
some place where we could cross. On our way droves of antelopes could be
seen frolicking over the broad plains, while in the distance were herds
of elk winding their way from the mountains towards the river for water.
When far away their horns were the first things visible, and they much
resembled the dry tops of dead pine trees, but a nearer view showed them
to us as the proud monarchs of the plain.

When we came up opposite the mouth of the Merced river we concluded to
try again to cross. The river here, as below, was out of its banks, and
the overflowed part was quite wide which we had to pass through before
we could reach the river proper.

I waded in ahead of the team and sounded the depth of the river so as
not to get in too deep water, and avoid if possible such accidents as
might otherwise occur. Sometimes the water was up to the wagon bed and
it looked a little doubtful of our getting through in safety, but we
made it at last.

We found a narrow strip of dry land along the river bank. A town was on
the east side of the San Joaquin. river, just below where the Merced
river came in. I think this place was called Merced City. This so-called
city contained but one residence, a tent occupied by the ferryman. We
crossed the sluggish stream and for the privilege paid the ferryman, ten
dollars for toll. The road was not much used and the ferry business
seemed lonesome.

Here we camped for the night. The mosquitoes soon found us, and they
were all very hungry and had good teeth. They annoyed me so that I moved
my lodgings to the ferryboat, but here they quickly found me and
troubled me all night. These insects were the first I had seen since I
left the lower Platte river, and I thought them as bad as on the

From here the road led up the Merced river near the bottom, and as we
came near groves of willows, big, stately elk would start out and trot
off proudly into the open plains to avoid danger. These proud,
big-horned monarchs of the plains could be seen in bunches scattered
over the broad meadows, as well as an equal amount of antelope. They all
seemed to fear us, which was wise on their part, and kept out of rifle
shot. As were not starving as we were once, I did not follow them out on
the open plain, for I thought I could get meat when we were more in

We followed up the river bottom and saw not a single house until we
reached the road leading from Stockton to the Mariposa mines, where we
found a ferry and a small store. Here we learned that some men were
mining a few miles up the river, so we drove on until we found a little
work being done in a dry gulch near the river bank. We made our camp at
this spot and had plenty of wood, water and grass. We found there was
something to be learned in the art of gold mining. We had no tools nor
money, and had never seen a speck of native gold and did not know how to
separate it from the dirt nor where to search for it. We were poor,
ignorant emigrants. There were two or three men camped here. One of them
was more social than the rest and we soon got acquainted. His name was
Williams, from Missouri. He came down to the river with a pan of dirt,
and seeing me in my ignorance trying to wash some as well, he took the
pan from me and very kindly showed me how to work so as to let the dirt
go and save the gold. When he had the pan finished a few small, bright
scales remained. These to me were curious little follows and I examined
them closely and concluded there was a vast difference between gold and
lead mining. Williams became more friendly and we told him something
about our journey across the plains, and he seemed to think that we
deserved a good claim. He went to a dry gulch where a Spaniard was
working and told him that all of California, now that the war was over,
belonged to Americans and he must leave. Williams had his gun in his
hand and war might follow, so Mr. Spaniard left and his claim was
presented to Bennett and myself.

Williams had been twice to Santa Fe from Missouri and had learned the
Spanish language and could swear at them by note if necessary. We now
began work almost without tools, but our ground we had to work was quite
shallow and Williams helped us out by loaning us some of his tools at
times. We soon succeeded in scratching together some of the yellow stuff
and I went down to the store and bought a pan for five dollars, a shovel
for ten dollars, and a poor pick cost me ten dollars more. This took
about two ounces of my money.

We now worked harder than ever for about three weeks, but we could not
save much and pay such high prices as were charged. Our gulch claim was
soon worked out, and as the river had fallen some we tried the bar, but
we could only make four or five dollars a day, and the gold was very
fine and hard to save. We bought a hind quarter of an elk and hung it up
in a tree and it kept fresh till all of it was eaten.

Some others came and took up claims on the bar, and as the prospects
were not as good as was wished, three of us concluded to go and try to
find a better place. The next day was Sunday and all lay in bed late.
Before I rose I felt something crawling on my breast, and when I looked
I found it to be an insect, slow in motion, resembling a louse, but
larger. He was a new emigrant to me and I wondered what he was. I now
took off my pants and found many of his kind in the seams. I murdered
all I could find, and when I got up I told Williams what I had found. He
said they hurt nobody and were called _piojos_, more commonly known as
body lice.

We started on our prospecting tour and went northeast to a place now
called Big Oak Flat. This was at the head of a small stream and there
were several small gulches that emptied into it that paid well. This
flat was all taken up and a ditch was cut through to drain it. A ship
load of gold was expected to be found when it was worked. A small town
of tents had been pitched on both sides of the flat. One side was
occupied by gamblers, and many games were constantly carried on and were
well patronized. On the opposite side of the flat were many small tents,
and around on the hillside some mules and jacks were feeding. One of the
little long-eared donkeys came down among the tents and went in one and
commenced eating flour from the sack. The owner of the flour ran to the
tent, took his shot gun and fired a load of buck-shot into the donkey's
hams. The animal reeled and seemed shot fatally. I now looked for a
battle to commence, but the parties were more reasonable. The price of
the animal was fully paid, and no blood shed as I expected there surely
would be.

We now prospected further east, but nothing good enough was found. The
place we looked over was where the town of Garota now stands. We
concluded to go back, have a council, and go somewhere else. On our way
back we stopped to get dinner. While I was around the fire, barefooted,
I felt something crawl up my instep, and it proved to be another of
those _piojos_ of Williams'. I now thought these torments must be all
over this country.

Gold dust was used to transact all business; all the coin was in the
hands of the gentlemen gamblers. Most miners found it necessary to have
a small pair of scales in the breast pocket to weigh the dust so as not
to have to trust some one who carried lead weights and often got more
than his just dues. Gold dust was valued at sixteen dollars an ounce.

We now thought it would be best for two of us to take our mules and go
down in the small hills and try to get some elk meat to take with us, as
our route would be mostly through the unsettled part of the country, and
no provisions could likely be procured, so Mr. Bradford of New Orleans
and myself took our mules and went down where the hills were low and the
game plenty. We camped in a low ravine, staked out our mules and staid
all night without a fire, believing that when we woke in the early
morning some of the many herd of elk then in sight would be near us at
daylight, and we could easily kill all we wanted without leaving camp;
but we were disappointed. Hundreds of the big-horned fellows were in
sight, but none in rifle shot, and there was no chance for us to get any
nearer to them. We got near a couple of antelope and Mr. Bradford, who
was a brag shot and had the best gun, proposed to kill them as we stood.
The larger of the two was on his side and much nearer than the smaller
one, but we fired together just as we stood. Bradford's antelope ran off
unhurt: mine fell dead in its tracks. Bradford bragged no more about his
fine gun and superior marksmanship.

We went back to camp with the little we had killed and soon got ready to
start north. Bennett was to go with his team to Sacramento and wait
there until he heard from us.

Four of us, mounted on mules, now started on our journey along the
foothills without a road. We struck the Tuolumne river at a ferry. The
stream was high and rapid and could not be forded, so we had to
patronize the ferryman, and give him half an ounce apiece. We thought
such charges on poor and almost penniless emigrants were unjust.

The point we were seeking to reach was a new discovery called Gold Lake
on Feather River, where many rich gulches that emptied into it had been
worked, and the lake was believed to have at least a ship load of gold
in it. It was located high in the mountains and could be easily drained
and a fortune soon obtained if we got there in time and said nothing to
anyone we might meet on the road. We might succeed in getting a claim
before they were all taken up. We followed along the foothills without a
road, and when we came to the Stanislaus River we had to patronize a
ferry and pay half an ounce each again. We thought their scale weights
were rather heavy and their ferrymen well paid.

We continued along the foothills without any trail until we struck the
road from Sacramento to Hangtown. This sounded like a bad name for a
good village, but we found it was fittingly named after some ugly devils
who were hanged there. The first house that we came to on this road was
the Mormon Tavern. Here were some men playing cards for money, and two
boys, twelve or fourteen years old, playing poker for the same and
trying in every way to ape the older gamblers and bet their money as
freely and swear as loud as the old sports. All I saw was new and
strange to me and became indelibly fixed on my mind. I had never before
seen such wicked boys, and the men paid no attention to these fast
American boys. I began to wonder if all the people in California were
like these, bad and wicked.

Here we learned that Gold Lake was not as rich as reported, so we
concluded to take the road and go to Coloma, the place where gold was
first found on the American River.

We camped at Coloma all night. Mr. Bradford got his mule shod and paid
sixteen dollars, or in the mining phrase, an ounce of gold dust. I
visited the small town and found that the only lively business place in
it was a large gambling house, and I saw money (gold dust) liberally
used--sometimes hundreds of dollars bet on a single card. When a few
hundred or thousand were lost more would be brought on. The purse would
be set in the center of the table and the owners would take perhaps
twenty silver dollars or checks, and when they were lost the deposited
purse would be handed to the barkeeper, the amount weighed out and the
purse returned. When the purse was empty a friend of the better would
bring another, and so the game went on almost in silence. The game
called Monte seemed to be the favorite. How long these sacks of gold
lasted or who eventually got the whole I never knew. This was a new
country with new people, and many seemed to be engaged in a business
that was new, strange and hazardous. The final result of all this was
what puzzled me.

We now followed the road up the mountain to Georgetown. Here was a small
village on the summit of the ridge and it seemed to be in a prosperous
mining section. After some inquiry about a good place to work we
concluded to go down a couple of miles northeast of town on Canon creek
and go to work if vacant ground could be found. There was a piece of
creek bottom here that had not been much worked. Georgia Flat above had
been worked and paid well, and the Illinois and Oregon canons that
emptied into the bottom here were rich, so we concluded to locate in the
bottom. Claims here in the flat were only fifteen feet square. I located
one and my notice told others that I would go to work on it as soon my
partner came from Sacramento. I sent my partner, Mr. Bennett a note
telling him to come up.

While waiting for Mr. Bennett I took my pan and butcher knife and went
into a dry gulch out of sight of the other campers and began work. As
the ground was mostly bare bed rock by scratching around I succeeded in
getting three or four pans of dirt a day. The few days I had to wait for
Bennett I made eight dollars a day until my claim was worked out.

I then went to Georgetown to meet Bennett and family, and soon after my
arrival they came well and safe. All of them, even to the faithful camp
dog, Cuff, were glad to see me. Old Cuff followed me all around town,
but when we got ready to start for camp the dog was gone and could not
be found. Some one had hidden him away knowing he could not be gotten
any other way, for six ounces would not have bought him. We had raised
him in Wisconsin, made him a good deer dog, and with us he had crossed
the dry and sandy deserts. He had been a great protection to Bennett's
children on the plains, and company for us all.

We now located claims on the creek bottom. The channel of the creek was
claimed by Holman of Alabama and the Helms brothers of Missouri. They
had turned the stream into a ditch in order to work the bed of the
stream, believing that their claims had all the gold in them. Our claims
joined theirs.

Mr. W.M. Stockton, who left his family in Los Angeles, came with Mr.
Bennett and went to work with us. As everything here was very high we
concluded to let Mr. Stockton take the team and go to Sacramento for
provisions for our own use. Flour and meat were each fifty cents a
pound, potatoes twenty-five cents a pound and onions one dollar and
twenty-five cents each. Onions and potatoes eaten raw were considered
very necessary to prevent and cure scurvy, which was quite a common
complaint. Whiskey, if not watered, cost one dollar a drink.

Our claims were about ten feet deep. The bottom was wet and a pump
needed, so we went to a whip saw-mill and got four narrow strips one by
three and one by five and twelve feet long, paying for them by weight,
the price being twelve cents a pound. Out of these strips we made a good
pump by fixing a valve at the end and nailing a piece of green rawhide
on a pole, which answered for a plunger, and with the pump set at
forty-five degrees it worked easily and well. One man could easily keep
the water out and we made fair wages.

In the creek bottom Mr. Bush of Missouri had a saloon. The building was
made mainly of brush, with a split piece for a counter, and another one
for a shelf for his whiskey keg, a box of cigars, a few decks of cards
and half a dozen glasses, which made up the entire stock of trade for
the shop. In front was a table made of two puncheons with a blanket
thrown over all, and a few rough seats around. There was no roof except
the brush, and through the dry season none was needed except for shade.

There was also at this place five brothers by the name of Helms, also
from Missouri. Their names were Jim, Davenport, Wade, Chet and Daunt.
These men, with Mr. Holman, owned the bed of the stream, and their
ground proved to be quite wet and disagreeable to work. Mr. Holman could
not well stand to work in the cold water, so he asked the privilege of
putting in a hired man in his place, which was agreed to. He then took
up a claim for himself outside of the other claims, and this proved to
be on higher bed rock and dry, and paid even better than the low claims
where the Helms brothers were at work. This was not what the Helms boys
considered exactly fair, as Holman seemed to be getting rich the
fastest, and as there was no law to govern them they held a free country
court of their own, and decided the case to suit themselves; so they
ordered Holman to come back and do his own work. No fault was found with
the hired man but what he did his work well enough, but they were
jealous and would not be bound by their agreement.

But this decision did not satisfy all parties, and it was agreed to
submit the case to three men, and I was chosen one of them. We held
Court on the ground and heard both sides of the story, after which we
retired to the shade of a bunch of willows to hold council over the
matter with the result that we soon came to a decision in favor of Mr.
Holman. About this time one of the Helms boys began to quarrel with
Holman and grew terribly mad, swearing all kinds of vengeance, and
making the canon ring with the loudest kind of Missouri oaths. Finally
he picked up a rock to kill Holman, but the latter was quick with his
pistol, a single shot duelling piece, and as they were not more than ten
feet apart Helms would have had a hole in him large enough for daylight
to shine through if the pistol had not missed fire. We stopped the
quarrel and made known our decision, whereupon Helms went off muttering

We now went back to our work again at our claims, mine being between
Helms' cabin and the saloon. Holman stopped to talk a little while on my
claim, while I was down below at work, and soon Helms came back again in
a terrible rage, stopping on the opposite side of the hole from Holman,
swearing long and loud, and flourishing a big pistol with which he
threatened to blow Holman into purgatory. He was so much enraged that he
fairly frothed at the mouth like a rabid dog. The men were about twenty
feet apart, and I at the bottom of the hole ten feet below, but exactly
between them. It seemed to me that I was in some little danger for Helms
had his big pistol at full cock, and as it pointed at me quite as often
as it did at anybody, I expect I dodged around a little to keep out of
range. Helms was terribly nervous, and trembled as he cursed, but Holman
was cool and drew his weapon deliberately, daring Helms to raise his
hand or he would kill him on the instant. Helms now began to back off,
but carefully kept his eye on Holman and continued his abuse as he went
on to the saloon to get something to replenish his courage. Holman,
during the whole affair, talked very calmly and put considerable
emphasis into his words when he dared Helms to make a hostile motion. He
was a true Alabamian and could be neither scared nor driven. He soon
sold out, however, and went to a more congenial camp for he said these
people were cowardly enough to waylay and kill him unawares.

Soon after this unpleasantness a man and wife who lived in Georgetown
came into notice, and while the man made some money mining his wife did
a good stroke of business washing for the boys who paid her a dollar a
shirt as laundry fees. As she began to make considerable money the
bigger, if not better, half of this couple began to feel quite rich and
went off on a drunk, and when his own money was spent he went to his
wife for more, but she refused him, and he, in his drunken rage, picked
up a gun near by and shot her dead.

All of a sudden the Helms boys and others gathered at the saloon, took
drinks all around, and did a good deal of swearing, which was the
biggest portion of the proceedings of the meeting; and then they all
started off toward town, swearing and yelling as they struggled up the
steep mountain side--a pack of reckless, back-woods Missourians who
seemed to smell something bloody.

It was near night when they all came back and gathered around the saloon
again. They were all in unusual good humor as they related the
adventures of the afternoon, and bragged of their bravery and skill in
performing the little job they had just completed, which consisted in
taking the murderer out to the first convenient oak tree, and with the
assistance of some sailors in handling the ropes, hoisting the fellow
from the ground with a noose around his neck, and to the "Heave, yo
heave" of the sailor boys, pulling the rope that had been passed over an
elevated limb. They watched the suspended body till the last spark of
life went out, and then went back to town leaving the corpse hanging for
somebody else to cut down and bury. They whooped and yelled at the top
of their voices as they came down along the mountain trail, and at the
saloon they related to the crowd that had gathered there how they had
helped to hang the ---- who had killed his wife. They said justice must
be done if there was no law, and that no man could kill a woman and live
in California. They imagined they were very important individuals, and
veritable lords of Creation.

These miners, many of them, were inveterate gamblers and played every
night till near day-light, with no roof over them, and their only
clothes a woolen shirt and overalls which must have been a little scanty
in the cool nights which settled down over the mountain camp; but they
bore it all in their great desire for card playing.

Near by there were three men who worked and slept together, every night
dividing the dust which each put into a purse at the head of his bed.
One day the news came to the saloon that one of the purses had been
stolen. The Helms boys talked it over and concluded that as one of the
men had gone to town, he might know something about the lost dust; so
they went to town and there, after a little search, found their man in a
gambling house. After a little while they invited him to return to camp
with them, and all started together down the mountain; but when about
half way down they halted suddenly under an oak tree and accused their
man of knowing where his partner's money was. This he strongly denied,
and was very positive in his denial till he felt the surprise of a rope
around his neck, with the end over a limb, and beginning to haul pretty
taut in a direction that would soon elevate his body from the ground,
when he weakened at their earnestness and asked them to hold on a
minute. As the rope slackened he owned up he had the dust and would give
it up if they would not send the news to his folks in Missouri. This was
agreed to and the thief was advised to leave at once for some distant
camp, or they might yet expose him. He was not seen afterward.

The boys bragged a good deal of their detective ability after this, and
said that a little hanging would make a ---- thief tell the truth even
if it did not make an honest man of him, and that a thief would be lucky
if he got through with them and saved his life. Their law was "Hanging
for stealing."

The Helms brothers were said to be from western Missouri, and in early
days were somewhat of the border ruffian order, and of course preferred
to live on the frontier rather than in any well regulated society. As
the country became settled and improved around them they moved on. A
school house was an indication that the country was getting too far
advanced for them.

They crossed the plains in 1849 and began mining operations near
Georgetown in Placer county. It was well known that they were foremost
in all gambling, and in taking a hand in any excitement that came up,
and as a better class of miners came in they moved on, keeping ahead
with the prospectors, and just out of reach of law and order. If anyone
else committed a crime they were always quite eager to be on the
vigilance committee, and were remarkably happy when punishing a
wrong-doer. When any of their number was suspected it was generally the
case that they moved quickly on and so escaped. It was reported,
however, that one of their number was in the hands of the vigilance
committee and hanged in Montana.

After a time, it is said, they went down to southern California and
settled on the border of the Colorado desert, about seventy-five miles
east of San Diego, in a mountainous and desert region. Here they found a
small tribe of Indians, and by each marrying a squaw they secured rights
equal to any of them in the occupation of the land. This was considered
pretty sharp practice, but it suited them and they became big chiefs and
midecine men, and numerous dusky descendants grew up around them.

It is said that their property consists of extensive pasture lands on
which they raise cattle, and that they always go well armed with pistol,
rifle and riata. It is said that some of the Indians undertook to claim
that the Helms brothers were intruders, but that in some mysterious way
accidents happened to most of them and they were left without any
serious opposition.

They are very hospitable and entertaining to people who visit them,
provided they do not know too much about the men or their former deeds
or history. In this case ignorance is bliss and it is folly, if not
dangerous, to be too wise. They have made no improvements, but live in
about the same style as the Indians and about on a level with them
morally and intellectually.

There may be those who know them well, but the writer only knows them by
hearsay and introduces them as a certain type of character found in the
early days.

As I was now about barefoot I went to town to look for boots or shoes.
There were no shoes, and a pair of the cheapest boots I found hanging at
the door were priced to me at two ounces. This seemed a wonderful sum
for a pair of coarse cow-hide boots that would sell in the state for two
dollars and fifty cents; but I had to buy them at the price or go

While rambling around town I went into a round tent used as a gambling
saloon. The occupants were mostly men, and one or two nice appearing
ladies, but perhaps of doubtful reputation. The men were of all
classes--lawyer, doctors, preachers and such others as wanted to make
money without work. The miners, especially sailors, were eager to try to
beat the games. While I was here the table was only occupied by a sailor
lying upon it and covered with a green blanket. All at once the fellow
noticed a large _piojo_ walking slowly across the table, and drawing his
sheath knife made a desperate stab at him, saying "You kind of a deck
hand can't play at this game."

Our claims, by this time were nearly worked out, and I thought that I
had upward of two thousand dollars in gold, and the pile looked pretty
big to me. It seemed to me that these mines were very shallow and would
soon be worked out, at least in a year or two. I could not see that the
land would be good for much for farming when no irrigation could be
easily got, and the Spanish people seemed to own all the best land as
well as the water; so that a poor fellow like myself would never get
rich at farming here.

Seeing the matter in this light I thought it would be best to take my
money and go back to Wisconsin where government land was good and
plenty, and with even my little pile I could soon be master of a good
farm in a healthy country, and I would there be rich enough. Thus
reasoning I decided to return to Wisconsin, for I could not see how a
man could ever be a successful farmer in a country where there were only
two seasons, one wet and the other long and dry.

I went out and hunted up my mule which I had turned out to pasture for
herself, and found her entirely alone. After a little coaxing I caught
her and brought her with me to camp, where I offered her for sale. She
was sleek and fat and looked so well that Helms said that if I could
beat him shooting he would buy both mule and gun; so three or four of us
tried our skill. My opponents boasted a good deal of their superior
marksmanship, but on the trial, which began at short range, I beat them
all pretty badly. Helms was as good as his word and offered me twelve
ounces for my gun and mule, which I took. I thought a great deal of my
fat little one-eyed mule, and I thought then, as I think now, how well
she did her part on the fearful road to and from Death Valley.

Helms was now going to the valley to have a winter's hunt, for here the
snow would fall four feet deep and no mining work could be done till
spring, when he would return and work his claim again.

I now had all in my pocket, and when I got ready to go Mrs. Bennett was
much affected at knowing that I would now leave them, perhaps never to
return to them again. She clasped me in her arms, embraced me as she
would her own son, and said "Good luck to you--God bless you, for I know
that you saved all our lives. I don't suppose you will ever come back,
but we may come back to Wisconsin sometime and we will try to find a
better road than the one we came over. Give my best regards to all who
inquire after us." She shook my hand again and again with earnest
pressure, and cried and sobbed bitterly. As I climbed the mountain she
stood and watched me so long as I was in sight, and with her
handkerchief waved a final adieu. I was myself much affected at this
parting, for with Mr. and Mrs. Bennett had been really a home to me; she
had been to me as a mother, and it was like leaving a home fireside to
go away from them. I was now starting out among strangers, and those I
should meet might be the same good friends as those whom I had left
behind. Mr. Bennett and I had for many years been hunting companions; I
had lived at his house in the East, and we never disagreed but had
always been good friends. I had now a traveling companion whose home was
in Iowa Co., Wis., where I had lived for several years, and we went
along together by way of Greenwood where there was a small mining town
built of tents, many of which were used as gambling places. These places
were occupied by gentlemen, some of whom wore white shirts to
distinguish them, I presume, from the common herd of miners from whom
they won their dust.

We crossed the American River at Salmon Falls, and walked thence on to
Sacramento City, which was the largest town we had seen on the coast.
The houses were all small wooden ones, but business seemed to be brisk,
and whiskey shops and gambling houses plenty. One game played with three
cards, called three card Monte, was played openly on the streets, with
goods boxes for tables. Every one who came along was urged to bet by the
dealer who would lay out his cards face up so all could see them, then
turn them over and shuffle them and say "I'll bet six ounces that no one
can put his finger on the queen." I watched this a while and saw that
the dealer won much oftener than he lost, and it seemed to be a simple
and easy way to make a living when money was plenty.

We strolled around town looking at the sights, and the different
business places, the most lively of which had plenty of music inside,
lots of tables with plenty of money on them, and many questionable lady
occupants. These business places were liberally patronized and every
department flourishing, especially the bar. Oaths and vulgar language
were the favorite style of speech, and very many of the people had all
the whiskey down them that they could conveniently carry.

We got through the town safely and at the river we found a steamboat
bound for San Francisco and the fare was two ounces. The runners were
calling loudly for passengers, and we were told we could never make the
trip any cheaper for they had received a telegram from below saying that
no boat would come up again for two days. I said to him "I can't see
your telegram. Where is it?" At this he turned and left us. He had
thought, no doubt, that miners were green enough to believe anything. In
the course of an hour the smoke of a steamer was seen down the river,
and this beat out the runners who now offered passage for half an ounce.

At this time there was no telegraph and the delay was a lucky one for
us. We took passage and went to San Francisco that night, where we put
up at a cheap tavern near where the Custom House now stands.

Here we learned that we would have to wait two days before a ship would
sail for Panama, and during this time we surveyed the town from the
hill-tops and walked all over the principal streets. It was really a
small, poorly built, dirty looking place, with few wharves, poor, cheap
hotels, and very rough inhabitants. There were lots of gambling houses
full of tables holding money, and the rooms filled with pretty rough
looking people, except the card dealers, most of whom wore white shirts,
and a few sported plug hats. There was also a "right smart sprinkling"
of ladies present who were well dressed and adorned with rich jewelry,
and their position seemed to be that of paying teller at the gambling

The buildings seemed to be rather cheap, although material was very
expensive, as well as labor, mechanics of all sorts getting as much as
ten or twelve dollars per day for work. Coin seemed to be scarce, and a
great deal of the money needed on the gambling tables was represented by
iron washers, each of which represented an ounce of gold.

I noticed some places in the streets where it was muddy and a narrow
walk had been made out of boxes of tobacco, and sometimes even bacon was
used for the same purpose. Transportation from the city to the mines was
very slow and made by schooner. Ship loads of merchandise had arrived
and been unloaded, and the sailors having run away to the mines,
everything except whiskey and cards was neglected. Whiskey sold at this
place for fifty cents a drink.

A man at the tavern where we stopped tried hard to sell me a fifty-vara
lot there in the edge of the mud (near where the Custom House now
stands) for six hundred dollars. I thought this a pretty high price and
besides such a lot was no use to me, for I had never lived in town and
could not so easily see the uses to which such property could be put. It
seemed very doubtful to me that this place would ever be much larger or
amount to much, for it evidently depended on the mines for a support,
and these were so shallow that it looked as if they would be worked out
in a short time and the country and town both be deserted. And I was not
alone in thinking that the country would soon be deserted, for
accustomed as we all had been to a showery summer, these dry seasons
would seem entirely to prevent extensive farming. Some cursed the
country and said they were on their way to "good old Missouri, God's own
country." Hearing so much I concluded it would be wise not to invest,
but to get me back to Wisconsin again.

The steamer we took passage in was the Northerner, advertised to sail on
the twenty-ninth day of November, 1850. The cabin room was all engaged,
and they charged us nine ounces for steerage passage; but I did not care
as much about their good rooms and clean sheets as I would have done at
one time, for I had been a long time without either and did not care to
pay the difference. When we were at the ship's office we had to take our
turns to get tickets. One man weighed out the dust, and another filled
out certificates. When the callers began to get a little scarce I looked
under the counter where I saw a whole panful of dust to which they added
mine to make the pile a little higher. They gave out no berths with
these tickets, but such little things as that did not trouble us in the
least. It was far better fare than we used to have in and about Death
Valley, and we thought we could live through anything that promised
better than the desert.

The passenger list footed up four hundred and forty, and when all got on
board, at about ten o'clock in the morning, there was hardly room for
all to stand up comfortably. It seemed to me to be a very much
over-crowded boat in which to put to sea, but we floated out into the
current, with all the faces toward the shore, and hats and handkerchiefs
waving goodbye to those who had come down to see the home-goers safely

As we passed out through the wonderful Golden Gate and the out going
current met the solid sea, each seemed wrestling for the mastery, and
the waves beat and dashed themselves into foam all around us, while the
spray came over the bows quite lively, frightening some who did not
expect such treatment. When we had passed this scene of watery commotion
and got out into the deeper water, the sea smoothed down a great deal;
but sea-sickness began to claim its victims, at first a few, then more
and more, till the greater part were quite badly affected. I had a touch
of it myself, but managed to keep my feet by bracing out pretty wide,
and hugging everything I could get hold of that seemed to offer a steady
support, and I did not lie down until after I had thrown my breakfast

By the time dark came nearly every one was on his back, mostly on deck,
and no one asleep. All were retching and moaning bitterly. Some who had
a few hours before cursed California now cursed the sea, and declared
that if they could induce the Captain to turn about and put them back on
shore again, they would rather creep on their hands and knees clear back
to old Missouri over rocks and sand, than to ride any further on such a
miserable old boat as this one was.

Next morning the decks looked pretty filthy, and about all the food the
passengers had eaten was now spread about the decks in a half digested
condition. Most of the passengers were very sick. With the early
daylight the sailors coupled the hose to the big steam pump, and began
the work of washing and scrubbing off the decks, and though many begged
hard to be left alone as they were, with all the filth, a good flood of
salt water was the only answer they received to their pleading, and they
were compelled to move, for the sailors said they could not change their
orders without the Captain, and he would not be out of bed till ten
o'clock or later. So the cursing and swearing went for naught, and the
decks were clean again. There were no deaths to report, but there were
very few to do duty at the tables in eating the food prepared for them.
After a few days the tables filled up again, and now it took them so
long to eat that there had to be an order for only two meals a day or
there would not have been a chance for all to get something. They were
terribly hungry now, and every one seemed to try his best to take in
provisions enough to last him for at least twelve hours.

As the fellows began to get their sea legs on, they began to talk as if
they were still in California, and could easily manage any little boat
like this, and could run things as they did when they crossed the
plains, where no sheriff, court or judge had anything to say about
matters, and all law was left behind. They began to act as if they were
lords over all they could see, and as many of them were from the
Southern states, they seemed to take an especial pride in boasting of
how they did as they pleased, about like the Helms brothers. They talked
as if they could run the world, or the universe even, themselves without

One morning at breakfast, when the table was full and the waiters
scarce, some of these fellows swore and talked pretty rough, and as a
waiter was passing a blue-blood from New Orleans rose in his seat and
called for sugar, holding the empty bowl in his hand, but the waiter
passed on and paid no attention, and when a mulatto waiter came along
behind him the angry man damned him the worst he could, ordering him to
bring a bowl of sugar, quick. This waiter did not stop and the Louisiana
man threw the bowl at the waiter's head, but missed it, and the bowl
went crashing against the side of the ship. I expected surely the
Captain and his men would come and put the unruly fellow in irons, and
there might be a fight or a riot, so I cut my meal short and went on
deck about as soon as I could do so, thinking that would be a safer
place. But the Captain seemed to know about how to manage such fellows,
and never left his stateroom, which I think was a wise move. The darky
did not make his appearance at table afterwards, and the man who threw
the bowl said that colored folks had to mind a gentleman when he spoke
to them, or fare worse.

The Captain now got out his passenger list, and we all had to pass
through a narrow space near the wheel-house and every one answer to his
name and show his ticket. This made work for about one day. Some
stowaways were found and put down into the hole to heave coal. One day
the Captain and mate were out taking an observation on the sun when a
young Missourian stepped up to see what was being done, and said to the
Captain:--"Captain, don't you think I could learn how to do that kind of
business?" The Captain took the young man's hand and looked at his nails
which were very rough and dirty and said:--"No my lad; boys with such
finger nails can't learn navigation." This made a big laugh at the brave
lubber's expense.

Many of the sea-sick ones did not get up so soon, and some died of that,
or something else, and their bodies were sewed up in blankets with a
bushel of coal at their feet to sink them, and thrown overboard. The
bodies were laid out on a plank at the ship's side, the Captain would
read a very brief service, and the sailors would, at the appropriate
time, raise the end of the plank so that the body slid off and went down
out of sight in a moment.

In due time we went into the harbor of Acapulco for water and coal. Here
nearly every one went on shore, and as there was no wharf for the vessel
to lie to, the native canoes had many passengers at a dollar apiece for
passage money. Out back of town there was a small stream of clear water
which was warm and nice to bathe in, and some places three or four feet
deep, so that a great many stripped off for a good wash which was said
to be very healthful in this climate. Many native women were on hand
with soap and towels ready to give any one a good scrubbing for _dos
reales_, (twenty-five cents) and those who employed them said they did a
good, satisfactory job.

As I returned to town the streets seemed to be deserted, and I saw one
man come out on an adjoining street, and after running a few steps, fall
down on his face. Hearing the report of a gun at the same time, I
hurried on to get out of danger, but I afterward learned that the man
was a travelling gambler who had come across the country from Mexico,
and that he was killed as he fell. No one seemed to care for him.

Near the beach were some large trees, and under them dancing was going
on to the music of the guitar. There were plenty of pretty Spanish girls
for partners, and these and our boys made up an interesting party. The
girls did not seem at all bashful or afraid of the boys, and though they
could not talk together very much they got along with the sign language,
and the ladies seemed very fond of the _Americanos_.

There was a fort here, a regular moss-backed old concern, and the
soldiers were bare footed and did not need much clothing.

The cattle that were taken on board here were made to swim out to the
ship, and then, with a rope around their horns, hoisted on deck, a
distance of perhaps forty feet above the water. The maddened brutes were
put into a secure stall ready for the ship's butcher. The small boys
came around the ship in canoes, and begged the passengers to throw them
out a dime, and when the coin struck the water they would dive for it,
never losing a single one. One man dropped a bright bullet and the boy
who dove for it was so enraged that he called him a d----d Gringo
(Englishman.) None of these boys wore any clothes.

This town, like all Spanish towns, was composed of one-story houses,
with dry mud, fire-proof walls. The country around looked very
mountainous and barren, and comfortably warm.

After two days we were called on board, and soon set sail for sea again;
and now, as we approached the equator, it became uncomfortably warm and
an awning was put over the upper deck. All heavy clothing was laid
aside, and anyone who had any amount of money on his person was unable
to conceal it; but no one seemed to have any fear of theft, for a thief
could not conceal anything he should steal, and no one reported anything
lost. There was occasionally a dead body to be consigned to a watery

A few days out from here and we were again mustered as before to show
our tickets, which were carefully examined.

It seemed strange to me that the water was the poorest fare we had. It
was sickish tasting stuff, and so warm it would do very well for

There were many interesting things to see. Sometimes it would be
spouting whales; sometimes great black masses rolling on the water,
looking like a ship bottom upward, which some said were black-fish. Some
fish seemed to be at play, and would jump ten feet or more out of the
water. The flying fish would skim over the waves as the ship's wheels
seemed to frighten them; and we went through a hundred acres of
porpoises, all going the same way. The ship plowed right through them,
but none seemed to get hurt by the wheels. Perhaps they were emigrants
like ourselves in search of a better place.

It now became terribly hot, and the sun was nearly overhead at noon.
Sometimes a shark could be seen along-side, and though he seemed to make
no effort, easily kept up with the moving ship. Occasionally we saw a
sea snake navigating the ocean all by himself. I did not understand how
these fellows went to sea and lived so far from land. The flying fish
seemed to be more plentiful as we went along, and would leave the water
and scud along before us.

We had evening concerts on the forecastle, managed by the sailors. Their
songs were not sacred songs by any means, and many of them hardly fit to
be heard by delicate ears. We again had to run the gauntlet of the
narrow passage and have our tickets looked over, and this time a new
stowaway was found, and he straightway made application for a job. "Go
below, sir" was all the Captain said. Several died and had their sea
burial, and some who had been so sick all the way as not to get out of
bed, proved tough enough to stand the climate pretty well.

As we were nearing Panama the doctor posted a notice to the mast
cautioning us against eating much fruit while on shore, as it was very
dangerous when eaten to excess. We anchored some little distance from
the shore and had to land in small boats managed by the natives. I went
in one, and when the boat grounded at the beach the boatman took me on
his back and set me on shore, demanding two dollars for the job, which I
paid, and he served the whole crowd in the same way. The water here was
blood warm, and they told me the tide ran very high.

This was a strange old town to me, walled in on all sides, a small plaza
in the center with a Catholic church on one side, and the other houses
were mostly two story. On the side next to the beach was a high, thick
wall which contained cells that were used for a jail, and on top were
some dismounted cannon, long and old fashioned.

The soldiers were poor, lazy fellows, barefooted, and had very poor
looking guns. Going out and in all had to pass through a large gateway,
but they asked no questions. The streets were very narrow and dirty and
the sleeping rooms in the second story of the houses seemed to be
inhabited by cats. For bed clothes was needed only a single sheet. On
the roofs all around sat turkey buzzards, and anything that fell in the
streets that was possible for them to eat, was gobbled up very quickly.
They were as tame as chickens, and walked around as fearless and lordly
as tame turkeys. In consideration of their cleaning up the streets
without pay, they were protected by law. One of the passengers could not
resist the temptation to shoot one, and a small squad of soldiers were
soon after him, and came into a room where there were fifty of us, but
could not find their man. He would have been sent to jail if he had been
caught. We had to pay one dollar a night for beds in these rooms, and
they counted money at the rate of eight dimes to the dollar.

The old town of Panama lies a little south in the edge of the sea, and
was destroyed by an earthquake long ago I was told. To me, raised in the
north, everything was very new and strange in way of living, style of
building and kind of produce. There were donkeys, parrots and all kinds
of monkeys in plenty. Most of the women were of very dark complexion,
and not dressed very stylishly, while the younger population did not
have even a fig leaf, or anything to take its place. The adults dressed
very economically, for the days are summer days all the year round, and
the clothing is scanty and cheap for either sex.

The cattle were small, pale red creatures, and not inclined to be very
fat, and the birds mostly of the parrot kind. The market plaza is
outside the walls, and a small stream runs through it, with the banks
pretty thickly occupied by washerwomen. All the washing was done without
the aid of a fire.

On the plaza there were plenty of donkeys loaded with truck of all
sorts, from wood, green grass, cocoa-nuts and sugar-cane to parrots,
monkeys and all kinds of tropical fruits. Outside the walls the houses
were made of stakes interwoven with palm leaves, and everything was
green as well as the grass and trees. Very little of the ground seemed
to be cultivated, and the people were lazy and idle, for they could live
so easily on the wild products of the country. A white man here would
soon sweat out all his ambition and enterprise, and would be almost
certain to catch the Panama yellow fever. The common class of the people
here, I should say, were Spanish and negro mixed, and they seem to get
along pretty well; but the country is not suitable for white people. It
seems to have been made on purpose for donkeys, parrots and long-heeled

The cabin passengers engaged all the horses and mules the country
afforded on which to ride across the Chagres River, so it fell to the
lot of myself and companion to transfer ourselves on foot, which was
pretty hard work in the hot and sultry weather. My gold dust began to
grow pretty heavy as I went along, and though I had only about two
thousand dollars, weighing about ten pounds, it seemed to me that it
weighed fifty pounds by the way that it bore down upon my shoulders and
wore sore places on them. It really was burdensome. I had worn it on my
person night and day ever since leaving the mines, and I had some little
fear of being robbed when off the ship.

Our road had been some day paved with cobble stones. At the outskirts of
the town we met a native coming in with a big green lizard, about two
feet long, which he was hauling and driving along with a string around
its neck. I wondered if this was not a Panama butcher bringing in a
fresh supply of meat.

When we reached the hills on our way from Panama, the paved road ended
and we had only a mule trail to follow. The whole country was so densely
timbered that no man could go very far without a cleared road. In some
places we passed over hills of solid rock, but it was of a soft nature
so that the trail was worn down very deep, and we had to take the same
regular steps that the mules did, for their tracks were worn down a foot
or more. On the road we would occasionally meet a native with a heavy
pack on his back, a long staff in each hand, and a solid half-length
sword by his side. He, like the burro, grunted every step he took. They
seemed to carry unreasonably heavy loads on their backs, such as boxes
and trunks, but there was no other way of getting either freight or
baggage across the isthmus at that time.

It looked to me as if this trail might be just such a one as one would
expect robbers to frequent, for it would of course be expected that
Californians would carry considerable money with them, and we might
reasonably look out for this sort of gentry at any turn of the trail. We
were generally without weapons, and we should have to deliver on demand,
and if any one was killed the body could easily be concealed in the
thick brush on either side of the trail, and no special search for
anyone missing would occur.

About noon one day we came to a native hut, and saw growing on a tree
near by something that looked like oranges, and we made very straight
tracks with the idea of picking some and having a feast, but some of the
people in the shanty called out to us and made motions for us not to
pick them for they were no good; so we missed our treat of oranges and
contented ourselves with a big drink of water and walked on.

After a little more travel we came to another shanty made of poles and
palm leaves, occupied by an American. He was a tall, raw-boned,
cadaverous looking way-side renegade who looked as if the blood had all
been pumped out of his veins, and he claimed to be sick. He said he was
one of the Texas royal sons. We applied for some dinner and he lazily
told us there were flour, tea and bacon and that we could help
ourselves. I wet up some flour and baked some cakes, made some poor tea,
and fried some bacon. We all got a sort of dinner out of his pantry
stuff, and left him a dollar apiece for the accommodation. As we walked
on my companion gave out and could carry his bundle no longer, so I took
it, along with my own, and we got on as fast as we could, but darkness
came on us before we reached the Chagres River and we had to stay all
night at a native hut. We had some supper consisting of some very poor
coffee, crackers, and a couple of eggs apiece, and had to sleep out
under a tree where we knew we might find lizards, snakes, and other
poisonous reptiles, and perhaps a thieving monkey might pick our pockets
while we slept.

Before it was entirely dark many who rode horses came along, many of
them ladies, and following the custom of the country, they all rode
astride. Among this crowd was one middle-aged and somewhat corpulent old
fellow, by profession a sea-captain, who put on many airs. The old

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