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Death Valley in '49 by William Lewis Manly

Part 8 out of 8

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capturing a wife and building up a home could be realized, and they
would move out into the world on a wave of happiness and plenty. This
kind of talk was freely carried on around the camp fire in the long
evenings, and who knows how many of these royal good fellows realized
those bright hopes and glorious anticipations? Who knows?

The names come back in memory of some of them, and others have been
forgotten. I recall Washington Work, H. J. Kingman, A. J. Henderson, L.
J. Hanchett, Jack Hays, Seth Bishop, Burr Blakeslee, Jim Tyler, who was
the loudest laugher in the town, and as he lived at the Clifton House he
was called "The Clifton House Calf." These and many others might be
mentioned as typical good fellows of the mining days. The biggest kind
of practical joke would be settled amicably at the saloon after the
usual style.

One day Jack Hays bought a pair of new boots, set them down in the store
and went to turn off the miners supply of water. When he returned he
found his boots well filled with refuse crackers and water. This he
discovered when he took them up to go to dinner, and as he poured out
the contents at the door, a half dozen boys across the street raised a
big laugh at him, and hooted at his discomfiture. Jack scowled an awful
scowl, and if he called them "pukes" with a few swear words added, it
was a mild way of pouring out his anger. But after dinner the boys
surrounded him and fairly laughed him into a good humor, so that he set
up drinks for the crowd.

Foot races were a great Sunday sport, and dog fights were not uncommon.
One dog in our camp was champion of the ridge, and though other camps
brought in their pet canines to eat him up, he was always the top dog at
the end of the scrimmage, and he had a winning grip on the fore foot of
his antagonist.

A big "husky" who answered to the name of Cherokee Bob came our way and
stopped awhile. He announced himself a foot racer, and a contest was
soon arranged with Soda Bill of Nevada City, and each went into a course
of training at his own camp. Bob found some way to get the best time
that Bill could make, and comparing it with his own, said he could beat
in that race. So when it came off our boys gathered up their money, and
loaded down the stage, inside and out, departing with swinging hats and
flying colors, and screaming in wild delight at the sure prospect of
doubling their dust. In a few days they all came back after the style of
half drowned roosters.

Bob had 'thrown' the race and skipped with his money before they could
catch him. Had he been found he would have been urgently hoisted to the
first projecting limb, but he was never seen again. The boys were sad
and silent for a day or two, but a look of cheerful resignation soon
came upon their faces as they handled pick and shovel, and the world
rolled on as before.

One fall we had a county election, and among the candidates for office
was our townsman, H.M. Moore, from whom Moore's Flat secured its name.
He was the Democratic nominee for County Judge, and on the other side
was David Belden, he whom Santa Clara County felt proud to honor as its
Superior Judge, and when death claimed him, never was man more sincerely
mourned by every citizen.

The votes were counted, and Belden was one ahead. Moore claimed another
count, and this time a mistake was discovered in the former count, but
unfortunately it gave Belden a larger majority than before, and his
adversary was forced to abandon the political fight.

In the fifties I traveled from the North Yuba River to San Bernardino on
different roads, and made many acquaintances and friends. I can truly
say that I found many of these early comers who were the most noble men
and women of the earth. They were brave else they had never taken the
journey through unknown deserts, and through lands where wild Indians
had their homes. They were just and true to friends, and to real
enemies, terribly bitter and uncompromising. Money was borrowed and
loaned without a note or written obligation, and there was no mention
made of statute laws as a rule of action. When a real murderer or
horsethief was caught no lawyers were needed nor employed, but if the
community was satisfied as to the guilt and identity of the prisoner,
the punishment was speedily meted out, and the nearest tree was soon
ornamented with his swinging carcass.

Many of these worthy men broke the trail on the rough way that led to
the Pacific Coast, drove away all dangers, and made it safer for those
who dared not at first risk life and fortune in the journey, but,
encouraged by the success of the earliest pioneers, ventured later on
the eventful trip to the new gold fields. I cannot praise these noble
men too much; they deserve all I can say, and much more, too; and if a
word I can say shall teach our new citizens to regard with reverent
respect the early pioneers who laid the foundations of the glory,
prosperity and beauty of the California of to-day, I shall have done all
I hope to, and the historian of another half century may do them
justice, and give to them their full need of praise.

As long as I have lived in California I have never carried a weapon of
defense, and never could see much danger. I tried to follow the right
trail so as to shun bad men, and never found much difficulty in doing
so. We hear much of the Vigilance Committee of early days. It was an
actual necessity of former times. The gold fields not only attracted the
good and brave, but also the worst and most lawless desperadoes of the
world at large. England's banished convicts came here from the penal
colonies of Australia and Van Diemen's Land. They had wonderful ideas of
freedom. In their own land the stern laws and numerous constabulary had
not been able to keep them from crime. A colony of criminals did not
improve in moral tone, and when the most reckless and daring of all
these were turned loose in a country like California, where the
machinery of laws and officers to execute them was not yet in order,
these lawless "Sidney Ducks," as they were called, felt free to rob and
murder, and human life or blood was not allowed to stand between them
and their desires. Others of the same general stripe came from Mexico
and Chili, and Texas and Western Missouri furnished another class almost
as bad.

The Vigilance Committee of San Francisco was composed of the best men in
the world. They endured all that was heaped upon them by these lawless
men, and the law of self protection forced them to organize for the
swift apprehension and punishment of crime, and the preservation of
their property and lives. No one was punished unjustly, but there was no
delay, and the evil-doer met his fate swiftly and surely. Justice was
strict, and the circumstances were generally unfavorable to thoughts of
mercy. I was in San Francisco the day after Casey and Cory were hung by
the Vigilance Committee. Things looked quite military. Fort Gunny-bags
seemed well protected, and no innocent man in any danger. I was then a
customer of G.W. Badger and Lindenberger, clothiers, and was present one
day in their store when some of the clerks came in from general duty,
and their comrades shouldered the same guns and took their places on
guard. The Committee was so truly vigilant that these fire-bugs, robbers
and cut-throats had to hide for safety.

Those who came early to this coast were, mostly, brave, venturesome,
enduring fellows, who felt they could outlive any hardship and overcome
all difficulties; they were of no ordinary type of character or habits.
They thought they saw success before them, and were determined to win it
at almost any cost. They had pictured in their minds the size of the
"pile" that would satisfy them, and brought their buckskin bags with
them, in various sizes, to hold the snug sum they hoped to win in the
wonderful gold fields of the then unknown California.

These California pioneers were restless fellows, but those who came by
the overland trail were not without education and refinement; they were,
indeed, many of them, the very cream of Americans. The new scenes and
associations, the escape from the influence of home and friends, of wife
and children, led some off the dim track, and their restlessness could
not well be put down. Reasonable men could not expect all persons under
these circumstances to be models of virtue. Then the Missouri River
seemed to be the western boundary of all civilization, and as these gold
hunters launched out on the almost trackless prairies that lay westward
of that mighty stream, many considered themselves as entering a country
of peculiar freedom, and it was often said that "Law and morality never
crossed the Missouri River." Passing this great stream was like the
crossing of the Rubicon in earlier history, a step that could not be
retraced, a launching to victory or death. Under this state of feeling
many showed the cloven foot, and tried to make trouble, but in any
emergency good and honest men seemed always in the majority, and those
who had thoughts or desires of evil were compelled to submit to
honorable and just conclusions.

There were some strange developments of character among these travelers.
Some who had in long attendance at school and church, listened all their
lives to teachings of morality and justice, and at home seemed to be
fairly wedded to ideas of even rights between man and man, seemed to
experience a change of character as they neared the Pacific Coast.
Amiable dispositions became soured, moral ideas sadly blunted, and their
whole make-up seemed changed, while others who at home seemed to be of
rougher mould, developed principles of justice and humanity, affection
almost unbounded, and were true men in every trial and in all places. A
majority of all were thus fair-minded and true.

Men from every state from New Hampshire to Texas gathered on the banks
of the Missouri to set out together across the plains. These men reared
in different climates, amid different ways and customs, taught by
different teachers in schools of religion and politics, made up a
strange mass when thus thrown together; but the good and true came to
the surface, and the turbulent and bad were always in a hopeless
minority. Laws seemed to grow out of the very circumstances, and though
not in print, flagrant violations would be surely punished.

Some left civilization with all the luxuries money could buy--fine,
well-equipped trains of their own, and riding a fat and prancing steed,
which they guided with gloved hands, and seemed to think that water and
grass and pleasant camping places would always be found wherever they
wished to stop for rest, and that the great El Dorado would be a grand
pleasure excursion, ending in a pile of gold large enough to fill their
big leather purse. But the sleek, fat horse grew poor; the gloves with
embroidered gauntlet wrists were cast aside; the trains grew small, and
the luxuries vanished, and perhaps the plucky owner made the last few
hundred miles on foot, with blistered soles and scanty pack, almost
alone. Many of these gay trains never reached California, and many a
pioneer who started with high hopes died upon the way, some rudely
buried, some left where they fell upon the sands or rocks.

Those who got through found a splendid climate and promising prospects
before them of filling empty stomachs and empty pockets, and were soon
searching eagerly for yellow treasure. When fortunate they recovered
rapidly their exhausted bodies to health and strength, and gained new
energy as they saw prosperity.

Prospectors wandered through the mountains in search of new and suitable
gold diggings, and when they came to a miner's cabin the door was always
open, and whether the owner was present or absent they could go in, and
if hungry, help themselves to anything they found in shape of food, and
go away again without fear of offense, for under such circumstances the
unwritten law said that grub was free.

By the same unwritten law, stealing and robbery, as well as murder, were
capital offences, and lawless characters were put down. Favors were
freely granted, and written obligations were never asked or given, and
business was governed by the rules of strictest honor. The great
majority of these pioneers were the bone and sinew of the nation, and
possessed a fair share of the brains. In a personal experience with them
extending from early days to the present time I have found them always
just and honorable, and I regret that it is not within my ability to
give the praise they deserve. When a stranger and hungry I was never
turned away without food, and my entertainment was free, and given
without thought of compensation or reward.

In the chambers of my mind are stored up the most pleasant recollections
of these noble men whose good deeds in days gone by have earned for them
the right to a crown of glory of greatest splendor.

These noble souls who came here 40 years ago are fast passing away
across the Mystic River, and those who trod on foot the hot and dusty
trail are giving way to those who come in swiftly rolling palace cars,
and who hardly seem to give a thought to the difference between then and
now. Those who came early cleared the way and started the great stream
of gold that has made America one of the richest nations of the world.

I have a suggestion to make to the descendants of these noble pioneers,
that to perpetuate the memory of their fathers, and do reverence to
their good and noble deeds in the early history of this grand State,
there should be erected upon the highest mountain top a memorial
building wherein may be inscribed the names and histories of the brave
pioneers, so they may never be blotted out.


The most perfect organization of the pioneers who participated more or
less in the scenes depicted in this volume, is that of the Jayhawkers,
and, strange to say, this organization is in the East, and has its
annual meetings there, although the living members are about equally
divided between the East and the Pacific Coast. As related elsewhere,
February 4th is the day of the annual meeting, for on that day they
reached the Santa Clara Valley.

It is greatly regretted that a more direct and complete account of the
Death Valley experience of the Jayhawkers could not have been obtained
for this work. To be sure it was from the lips of a living witness told
in many conversations, but no doubt many striking incidents were left
out. It is, however, a settled thing that these, and other individuals
with whom he was immediately connected, were more intimately connected
with the horrors of the sunken valley which was given its name by them,
than were any other persons who ever crossed that desert region.

It will be considered that this was the most favorable time of year
possible, and that during the spring or summer not one would have lived
to tell the tale.

The Author, to his best, has done his duty to all, and concludes with
the hope that this mite may authenticate one of the saddest chapters in
the history of the Golden State.


This story is not meant to be sensational, but a plain, unvarnished tale
of truth--some parts hard and very sad. It is a narrative of my personal
experience, and being in no sense a literary man or making any pretense
as a writer, I hope the errors may be overlooked, for it has been to me
a difficult story to tell, arousing as it did sad recollections of the
past. I have told it in the plainest, briefest way, with nothing
exaggerated or overdone. Those who traveled over the same or similar
routes are capable of passing a just opinion of the story.

Looking back over more than 40 years, I was then a great lover of
liberty, as well as health and happiness, and I possessed a great desire
to see a new country never yet trod by civilized man, so that I easily
caught the gold fever of 1849, and naught but a trip to that land of
fabled wealth could cure me.

Geography has wonderfully changed since then. Where Omaha now stands
there was not a house in 1849. Six hundred miles of treeless prairie
without a house brought us to the adobe dwellings at Fort Laramie, and
400, more or less, were the long miles to Mormondom, still more than 700
miles from the Pacific Coast. Passing over this wilderness was like
going to sea without a compass.

Hence it will be seen that when we crossed a stream that was said to
flow to the Pacific Ocean, myself and comrades were ready to adopt
floating down its current as an easier road than the heated trail, and
for three weeks, over rocks and rapids, we floated and tumbled down the
deep canon of Green River till we emerged into an open plain and were
compelled to come on shore by the Indians there encamped. We had
believed the Indians to be a war-like and cruel people, but when we made
them understand where we wanted to go, they warned us of the great
impassable Colorado Canon only two days ahead of us, and pointed out the
road to "Mormonie" with their advice to take it. This was Chief Walker,
a good, well meaning red man, and to him we owed our lives.

Out of this trouble we were once again on the safe road from Salt Lake
to Los Angeles, and again made error in taking a cutoff route, and
striking across a trackless country because it seemed to promise a
shorter distance, and where thirteen of our party lie unburied on the
sands of the terribly dry valley. Those who lived were saved by the
little puddles of rain water that had fallen from the small rain clouds
that had been forced over the great Sierra Nevada Mountains in one of
the wettest winters ever known. In an ordinary year we should have all
died of thirst, so that we were lucky in our misfortune.

When we came out to the fertile coast near Los Angeles, we found good
friends in the native Californians who, like good Samaritans, gave us
food and took us in, poor, nearly starved creatures that we were,
without money or property from which they could expect to be rewarded.
Their deeds stand out whiter in our memories than all the rest,
notwithstanding their skins were dark. It seems to me such people do not
live in this age of the world which we are pleased to call advanced. I
was much with these old Californians, and found them honest and
truthful, willing to divide the last bit of food with a needy stranger
or a friend. Their good deeds have never been praised enough, and I feel
it in my heart to do them ample justice while I live.

The work that was laid out for me to do, to tell when and where I went,
is done. Perhaps in days to come it may be of even more interest than
now, and I shall be glad I have turned over the scenes in my memory and
recorded them, and on some rolling stone you may inscribe the name of
WILLIAM LEWIS MANLEY, born near St. Albans, Vermont, April 20th, 1820,
who went to Michigan while yet it was a territory, as an early pioneer;
then onward to Wisconsin before it became a state, and for twelve long,
weary months traveled across the wild western prairies, the lofty
mountains and sunken deserts of Death Valley, to this land which is now
so pleasant and so fair, wherein, after over 40 years of earnest toil, I
rest in the midst of family and friends, and can truly say I am content.


[Transcriber's Note: Several variant spellings of, for example,
"medecine" and "Mormon", have been retained from the original.]

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