Produced by Larry Mittell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
DEATH VALLEY IN ’49.
* * * * *
IMPORTANT CHAPTER OF California Pioneer History.
* * * * *
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A PIONEER, DETAILING HIS LIFE FROM A HUMBLE HOME IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS TO THE GOLD MINES OF CALIFORNIA; AND PARTICULARLY RECITING THE SUFFERINGS OF THE BAND OF MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN WHO GAVE “DEATH VALLEY” ITS NAME.
BY WILLIAM LEWIS MANLY.
* * * * *
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1894, by WM. L. MANLEY, In the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D.C.
* * * * *
TO THE PIONEERS OF CALIFORNIA, THEIR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN, THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED, WITH THAT HIGH RESPECT AND REGARD SO OFTEN EXPRESSED IN ITS PAGES, BY THE AUTHOR.
* * * * *
CHAPTER I. Birth, Parentage.–Early Life in Vermont.–Sucking Cider through a Straw.
CHAPTER II. The Western Fever.–On the Road to Ohio.–The Outfit.–The Erie Canal.–In the Maumee Swamp.
CHAPTER III. At Detroit and Westward.–Government Land.–Killing Deer.–“Fever ‘N Agur.”
CHAPTER IV. The Lost Filley Boy.–Never Was Found.
CHAPTER V. Sickness.–Rather Catch Chipmonks in the Rocky Mountains than Live in Michigan.–Building the Michigan Central R.R.–Building a Boat.–Floating down Grand River.–Black Bear.–Indians Catching Mullet.–Across the Lake to Southport.–Lead Mining at Mineral Point.–Decides to go Farther West.–Return to Michigan.
CHAPTER VI. Wisconsin.–Indian Physic.–Dressed for a Winter Hunting Campaign.–Hunting and Trapping in the Woods.–Catching Otter and Marten.
CHAPTER VII. Lead Mining.–Hears about Gold in California.–Gets the Gold Fever.–Nothing will cure it but California.–Mr. Bennett and the Author Prepare to Start.–The Winnebago Pony.–Agrees to Meet Bennett at Missouri River.–Delayed and Fails to Find Him.–Left with only a Gun and Pony.–Goes as a Driver for Charles Dallas.–Stopped by a Herd of Buffaloes.–Buffalo Meat.–Indians.–U.S. Troops.–The Captain and the Lieutenant.–Arrive at South Pass.–The Waters Run toward the Pacific.–They Find a Boat and Seven of them Decide to Float down the Green River.
CHAPTER VIII. Floating down the River.–It begins to roar.–Thirty Miles a Day.–Brown’s Hole.–Lose the Boat and make two Canoes.–Elk.–The Canons get Deeper.–Floundering in the Water.–The Indian Camp.–Chief Walker proves a Friend.–Describes the Terrible Canon below Them.–Advises Them to go no farther down.–Decide to go Overland.–Dangerous Route to Salt Lake.–Meets Bennett near there.–Organize the Sand Walking Company.
CHAPTER IX. The Southern Route.–Off in Fine Style.–A Cut-off Proposed.–Most of Them Try it and Fail.–The Jayhawkers.–A New Organization.–Men with Families not Admitted.–Capture an Indian Who Gives Them the Slip.–An Indian Woman and Her Children.–Grass Begins to Fail.–A High Peak to the West.–No Water.–An Indian Hut.–Reach the Warm Spring.–Desert Everywhere.–Some One Steals Food.–The Water Acts Like a Dose of Salts.–Christmas Day.–Rev. J.W. Brier Delivers a Lecture to His Sons.–Nearly Starving and Choking.–An Indian in a Mound.–Indians Shoot the Oxen.–Camp at Furnace Creek.
CHAPTER X. A Long, Narrow Valley.–Beds and Blocks of Salt.–An Ox Killed.–Blood, Hide and Intestines Eaten.–Crossing Death Valley.–The Wagons can go no farther.–Manley and Rogers Volunteer to go for Assistance.–They Set out on Foot.–Find the Dead Body of Mr. Fish.–Mr. Isham Dies.–Bones along the Road.–Cabbage Trees.–Eating Crow and Hawk.–After Sore Trials They Reach a Fertile Land.–Kindly Treated.–Returning with Food and Animals.–The Little Mule Climbs a Precipice, the Horses are Left Behind.–Finding the Body of Captain Culverwell.–They Reach Their Friends just as all Hope has Left Them.–Leaving the Wagons.–Packs on the Oxen.–Sacks for the Children.–Old Crump.–Old Brigham and Mrs. Arcane.–A Stampede [Illustrated.]–Once more Moving Westward.–“Good-bye, Death Valley.”
CHAPTER XI. Struggling Along.–Pulling the Oxen Down the Precipice [Illustrated.]–Making Raw-hide Moccasins.–Old Brigham Lost and Found.–Dry Camps.–Nearly Starving.–Melancholy and Blue.–The Feet of the Women Bare and Blistered.–“One Cannot form an Idea How Poor an Ox Will Get.”–Young Charlie Arcane very Sick.–Skulls of Cattle.–Crossing the Snow Belt.–Old Dog Cuff.–Water Dancing over the Rocks.–Drink, Ye Thirsty Ones.–Killing a Yearling.— See the Fat.–Eating Makes Them Sick.–Going down Soledad Canon–A Beautiful Meadow.–Hospitable Spanish People.–They Furnish Shelter and Food.–The San Fernando Mission.–Reaching Los Angeles.–They Meet Moody and Skinner.–Soap and Water for the First Time in Months.–Clean Dresses for the Women.–Real Bread to Eat.–A Picture of Los Angeles.–Black-eyed Women.–The Author Works in a Boarding-house.–Bennett and Others go up the Coast.–Life in Los Angeles.–The Author Prepares to go North.
CHAPTER XII. Dr. McMahon’s Story.–McMahon and Field, Left behind with Chief Walker, Determine to go down the River.–Change Their Minds and go with the Indians.–Change again and go by themselves.–Eating Wolf Meat.–After much Suffering they reach Salt Lake.–John Taylor’s Pretty Wife.–Field falls in Love with her.–They Separate.–Incidents of Wonderful Escapes from Death.
CHAPTER XIII. Story of the Jayhawkers.–Ceremonies of Initiation–Rev. J.W. Brier.–His Wife the best Man of the Two.–Story of the Road across Death Valley.–Burning the Wagons.–Narrow Escape of Tom Shannon.–Capt. Ed Doty was Brave and True.–They reach the Sea by way of Santa Clara River.–Capt. Haynes before the Alcalde.–List of Jayhawkers.
CHAPTER XIV. Alexander Erkson’s Statement.–Works for Brigham Young at Salt Lake.–Mormon Gold Coin.–Mt. Misery.–The Virgin River and Yucca Trees.–A Child Born to Mr, and Mrs. Rynierson.–Arrive at Cucamonga.–Find some good Wine which is good for Scurvy.–San Francisco and the Mines.–Settles in San Jose.–Experience of Edward Coker.–Death of Culverwell, Fish and Isham.–Goes through Walker’s Pass and down Kern River.–Living in Fresno in 1892.
CHAPTER XV. The Author again takes up the History.–Working in a Boarding House, but makes Arrangements to go North.–Mission San Bueno Ventura.–First Sight of the Pacific Ocean.–Santa Barbara in 1850.–Paradise and Desolation.–San Miguel, Santa Ynez and San Luis Obispo.–California Carriages and how they were used.–Arrives in San Jose and Camps in the edge of Town.–Description of the place.–Meets John Rogers, Bennett, Moody and Skinner.–On the road to the Mines.–They find some of the Yellow Stuff and go Prospecting for more–Experience with _Piojos_–Life and Times in the Mines–Sights and Scenes along the Road, at Sea, on the Isthmus, Cuba, New Orleans, and up the Mississippi–A few Months Amid Old Scenes, then away to the Golden State again.
CHAPTER XVI St. Louis to New Orleans, New Orleans to San Francisco–Off to the Mines Again–Life in the Mines and Incidents of Mining Times and Men–Vigilance Committee–Death of Mrs. Bennett.
CHAPTER XVII Mines and Mining–Adventures and Incidents of the Early Days–The Pioneers, their Character and Influence— Conclusion.
* * * * *
DEATH VALLEY IN ’49
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A PIONEER
St. Albans, Vermont is near the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, and only a short distance south of “Five-and-forty north degrees” which separates the United States from Canada, and some sixty or seventy miles from the great St. Lawrence River and the city of Montreal. Near here it was, on April 6th, 1820, I was born, so the record says, and from this point with wondering eyes of childhood I looked across the waters of the narrow lake to the slopes of the Adirondack mountains in New York, green as the hills of my own Green Mountain State.
The parents of my father were English people and lived near Hartford, Connecticut, where he was born. While still a little boy he came with his parents to Vermont. My mother’s maiden name was Phoebe Calkins, born near St. Albans of Welch parents, and, being left an orphan while yet in very tender years, she was given away to be reared by people who provided food and clothes, but permitted her to grow up to womanhood without knowing how to read or write. After her marriage she learned to do both, and acquired the rudiments of an education.
Grandfather and his boys, four in all, fairly carved a farm out of the big forest that covered the cold rocky hills. Giant work it was for them in such heavy timber–pine, hemlock, maple, beech and birch–the clearing of a single acre being a man’s work for a year. The place where the maples were thickest was reserved for a sugar grove, and from it was made all of the sweet material they needed, and some besides. Economy of the very strictest kind had to be used in every direction. Main strength and muscle were the only things dispensed in plenty. The crops raised consisted of a small flint corn, rye oats, potatoes and turnips. Three cows, ten or twelve sheep, a few pigs and a yoke of strong oxen comprised the live stock–horses, they had none for many years. A great ox-cart was the only wheeled vehicle on the place, and this, in winter, gave place to a heavy sled, the runners cut from a tree having a natural crook and roughly, but strongly, made.
In summer there were plenty of strawberries, raspberries, whortleberries and blackberries growing wild, but all the cultivated fruit was apples. As these ripened many were peeled by hand, cut in quarters, strung on long strings of twine and dried before the kitchen fire for winter use. They had a way of burying up some of the best keepers in the ground, and opening the apple hole was quite an event of early spring.
The children were taught to work as soon as large enough. I remember they furnished me with a little wooden fork to spread the heavy swath of grass my father cut with easy swings of the scythe, and when it was dry and being loaded on the great ox-cart I followed closely with a rake gathering every scattering spear. The barn was built so that every animal was housed comfortably in winter, and the house was such as all settlers built, not considered handsome, but capable of being made very warm in winter and the great piles of hard wood in the yard enough to last as fuel for a year, not only helped to clear the land, but kept us comfortable. Mother and the girls washed, carded, spun, and wove the wool from our own sheep into good strong cloth. Flax was also raised, and I remember how they pulled it, rotted it by spreading on the green meadow, then broke and dressed it, and then the women made linen cloth of various degrees of fineness, quality, and beauty. Thus, by the labor of both men and women, we were clothed. If an extra fine Sunday dress was desired, part of the yarn was colored and from this they managed to get up a very nice plaid goods for the purpose.
In clearing the land the hemlock bark was peeled and traded off at the tannery for leather, or used to pay for tanning and dressing the hide of an ox or cow which they managed to fat and kill about every year. Stores for the family were either made by a neighboring shoe-maker, or by a traveling one who went from house to house, making up a supply for the family–whipping the cat, they called it then. They paid him in something or other produced upon the farm, and no money was asked or expected.
Wood was one thing plenty, and the fireplace was made large enough to take in sticks four feet long or more, for the more they could burn the better, to get it out of the way. In an outhouse, also provided with a fireplace and chimney, they made shingles during the long winter evenings, the shavings making plenty of fire and light by which to work. The shingles sold for about a dollar a thousand. Just beside the fireplace in the house was a large brick oven where mother baked great loaves of bread, big pots of pork and beans, mince pies and loaf cake, a big turkey or a young pig on grand occasions. Many of the dishes used were of tin or pewter; the milk pans were of earthenware, but most things about the house in the line of furniture were of domestic manufacture.
The store bills were very light. A little tea for father and mother, a few spices and odd luxuries were about all, and they were paid for with surplus eggs. My father and my uncle had a sawmill, and in winter they hauled logs to it, and could sell timber for $8 per thousand feet.
The school was taught in winter by a man named Bowen, who managed forty scholars and considered sixteen dollars a month, boarding himself, was pretty fair pay. In summer some smart girl would teach the small scholars and board round among the families.
When the proper time came the property holder would send off to the collector an itemized list of all his property, and at another the taxes fell due. A farmer who would value his property at two thousand or three thousand dollars would find he had to pay about six or seven dollars. All the money in use then seemed to be silver, and not very much of that. The whole plan seemed to be to have every family and farm self-supporting as far as possible. I have heard of a note being given payable in a good cow to be delivered at a certain time, say October 1, and on that day it would pass from house to house in payment of a debt, and at night only the last man in the list would have a cow more than his neighbor. Yet those were the days of real independence, after all. Every man worked hard from early youth to a good old age. There were no millionaires, no tramps, and the poorhouse had only a few inmates.
I have very pleasant recollections of the neighborhood cider mill. There were two rollers formed of logs carefully rounded and four or five feet long, set closely together in an upright position in a rough frame, a long crooked sweep coming from one of them to which a horse was hitched and pulled it round and round, One roller had mortices in it, and projecting wooden teeth on the other fitted into these, so that, as they both slowly turned together, the apples were crushed, A huge box of coarse slats, notched and locked together at the corners, held a vast pile of the crushed apples while clean rye straw was added to strain the flowing juice and keep the cheese from spreading too much; then the ponderous screw and streams of delicious cider. Sucking cider through a long rye straw inserted in the bung-hole of a barrel was just the best of fun, and cider taken that way “awful” good while it was new and sweet.
The winter ashes, made from burning so much fuel and gathered from the brush-heaps and log-heaps, were carefully saved and traded with the potash men for potash or sold for a small price. Nearly every one went barefoot in summer, and in winter wore heavy leather moccasins made by the Canadian French who lived near by.
About 1828 people began to talk about the far West. Ohio was the place we heard most about, and the most we knew was, that it was a long way off and no way to get there except over a long and tedious road, with oxen or horses and a cart or wagon. More than one got the Western fever, as they called it, my uncle James Webster and my father among the rest, when they heard some traveler tell about the fine country he had seen; so they sold their farms and decided to go to Ohio, Uncle James was to go ahead, in the fall of 1829 and get a farm to rent, if he could, and father and his family were to come on the next spring.
Uncle fitted out with two good horses and a wagon; goods were packed in a large box made to fit, and under the wagon seat was the commissary chest for food and bedding for daily use, all snugly arranged. Father had, shortly before, bought a fine Morgan mare and a light wagon which served as a family carriage, having wooden axles and a seat arranged on wooden springs, and they finally decided they would let me take the horse and wagon and go on with uncle, and father and mother would come by water, either by way of the St. Lawrence river and the lakes or by way of the new canal recently built, which would take them as far as Buffalo.
So they loaded up the little wagon with some of the mentioned things and articles in the house, among which I remember a fine brass kettle, considered almost indispensable in housekeeping. There was a good lot of bedding and blankets, and a quilt nicely folded was placed on the spring seat as a cushion.
As may be imagined I was the object of a great deal of attention about this time, for a boy not yet ten years old just setting out into a region almost unknown was a little unusual. When I was ready they all gathered round to say good bye and my good mother seemed most concerned. She said–“Now you must be a good boy till we come in the spring. Mind uncle and aunt and take good care of the horse, and remember us. May God protect you.” She embraced me and kissed me and held me till she was exhausted. Then they lifted me up into the spring seat, put the lines in my hand and handed me my little whip with a leather strip for a lash. Just at the last moment father handed me a purse containing about a dollar, all in copper cents–pennies we called them then. Uncle had started on they had kept me so long, but I started up and they all followed me along the road for a mile or so before we finally separated and they turned back. They waved hats and handkerchiefs till out of sight as they returned, and I wondered if we should ever meet again.
I was up with uncle very soon and we rolled down through St. Albans and took our road southerly along in sight of Lake Champlain. Uncle and aunt often looked back to talk to me, “See what a nice cornfield!” or, “What nice apples on those trees,” seeming to think they must do all they could to cheer me up, that I might not think too much of the playmates and home I was leaving behind.
I had never driven very far before, but I found the horse knew more than I did how to get around the big stones and stumps that were found in the road, so that as long as I held the lines and the whip in hand I was an excellent driver.
We had made plans and preparations to board ourselves on the journey. We always stopped at the farm houses over night, and they were so hospitable that they gave us all we wanted free. Our supper was generally of bread and milk, the latter always furnished gratuitously, and I do not recollect that we were ever turned away from any house where we asked shelter. There were no hotels, or taverns as they called them, outside of the towns.
In due time we reached Whitehall, at the head of Lake Champlain, and the big box in Uncle’s wagon proved so heavy over the muddy roads that he put it in a canal boat to be sent on to Cleveland, and we found it much easier after this for there were too many mud-holes, stumps and stones and log bridges for so heavy a load as he had. Our road many times after this led along near the canal, the Champlain or the Erie, and I had a chance to see something of the canal boys’ life. The boy who drove the horses that drew the packet boat was a well dressed fellow and always rode at a full trot or a gallop, but the freight driver was generally ragged and barefoot, and walked when it was too cold to ride, threw stones or clubs at his team, and cursed and abused the packet-boy who passed as long as he was in hearing. Reared as I had been I thought it was a pretty wicked part of the world we were coming to.
We passed one village of low cheap houses near the canal. The men about were very vulgar and talked rough and loud, nearly every one with a pipe, and poorly dressed, loafing around the saloon, apparently the worse for whisky. The children were barefoot, bare headed and scantly dressed, and it seemed awfully dirty about the doors of the shanties. Pigs, ducks and geese were at the very door, and the women I saw wore dresses that did not come down very near the mud and big brogan shoes, and their talk was saucy and different from what I had ever heard women use before. They told me they were Irish people–the first I had ever seen. It was along here somewhere that I lost my little whip and to get another one made sad inroads into the little purse of pennies my father gave me. We traveled slowly on day after day. There was no use to hurry for we could not do it. The roads were muddy, the log ways very rough and the only way was to take a moderate gait and keep it. We never traveled on Sunday. One Saturday evening my uncle secured the privilege of staying at a well-to do farmer’s house until Monday. We had our own food and bedding, but were glad to get some privileges in the kitchen, and some fresh milk or vegetables. After all had taken supper that night they all sat down and made themselves quiet with their books, and the children were as still as mice till an early bed time when all retired. When Sunday evening came the women got out their work–their sewing and their knitting, and the children romped and played and made as much noise as they could, seeming as anxious to break the Sabbath as they had been to have a pious Saturday night. I had never seen that way before and asked my uncle who said he guessed they were Seventh Day Baptists.
After many days of travel which became to me quite monotonous we came to Cleveland, on Lake Erie, and here my uncle found his box of goods, loaded it into the wagon again, and traveled on through rain and mud, making very slow headway, for two or three days after, when we stopped at a four-corners in Medina county they told us we were only 21 miles from Cleveland. Here was a small town consisting of a hotel, store, church, schoolhouse and blacksmith shop, and as it was getting cold and bad, uncle decided to go no farther now, and rented a room for himself and aunt, and found a place for me to lodge with Daniel Stevens’ boy close by. We got good stables for our horses.
I went to the district school here, and studied reading, spelling and Colburn’s mental arithmetic, which I mastered. It began very easy–“How many thumbs on your right hand?” “How many on your left?” “How many altogether?” but it grew harder further on.
Uncle took employment at anything he could find to do. Chopping was his principal occupation. When the snow began to go off he looked around for a farm to rent for us and father to live on when he came, but he found none such as he needed. He now got a letter from father telling him that he had good news from a friend named Cornish who said that good land nearly clear of timber could be bought of the Government in Michigan Territory, some sixty or seventy miles beyond Detroit, and this being an opportunity to get land they needed with their small capital, they would start for that place as soon as the water-ways were thawed out, probably in April.
We then gave up the idea of staying here and prepared to go to Michigan as soon as the frost was out of the ground. Starting, we reached Huron River to find it swollen and out of its bank, giving us much trouble to get across, the road along the bottom lands being partly covered with logs and rails, but once across we were in the town and when we enquired about the road around to Detroit, they said the country was all a swamp and 30 miles wide and in Spring impassible. They called it the Maumee or Black Swamp, We were advised to go by water, when a steamboat came up the river bound for Detroit we put our wagons and horses on board, and camped on the lower deck ourselves. We had our own food and were very comfortable, and glad to have escaped the great mudhole.
We arrived in Detroit safely, and a few minutes answered to land our wagons and goods, when we rolled outward in a westerly direction. We found a very muddy roads, stumps and log bridges plenty, making our rate of travel very slow. When out upon our road about 30 miles, near Ypsilanti, the thick forest we had been passing through grew thinner, and the trees soon dwindled down into what they called oak openings, and the road became more sandy. When we reached McCracken’s Tavern we began to enquire for Ebenezer Manley and family, and were soon directed to a large house near by where he was stopping for a time.
We drove up to the door and they all came out to see who the new comers were. Mother saw me first and ran to the wagon and pulled me off and hugged and kissed me over and over again, while the tears ran down her cheeks, Then she would hold me off at arm’s length, and look me in the eye and say–“I am so glad to have you again”; and then she embraced me again and again. “You are our little man,” said she, “You have come over this long road, and brought us our good horse and our little wagon.” My sister Polly two years older than I, stood patiently by, and when mother turned to speak to uncle and aunt, she locked arms with me and took me away with her. We had never been separated before in all our lives and we had loved each other as good children should, who have been brought up in good and moral principles. We loved each other and our home and respected our good father and mother who had made it so happy for us.
We all sat down by the side of the house and talked pretty fast telling our experience on our long journey by land and water, and when the sun went down we were called to supper, and went hand in hand to surround the bountiful table as a family again. During the conversation at supper father said to me–“Lewis, I have bought you a smooth bore rifle, suitable for either ball or shot.” This, I thought was good enough for any one, and I thanked him heartily. We spent the greater part of the night in talking over our adventures since we left Vermont, and sleep was forgotten by young and old.
Next morning father and uncle took the horse and little wagon and went out in search of Government land. They found an old acquaintance in Jackson county and Government land all around him, and, searching till they found the section corner, they found the number of the lots they wanted to locate on–200 acres in all. They then went to the Detroit land office and secured the pieces they had chosen.
Father now bought a yoke of oxen, a wagon and a cow, and as soon as we could get loaded up our little emigrant train started west to our future home, where we arrived safely in a few days and secured a house to live in about a mile away from our land. We now worked with a will and built two log houses and also hired 10 acres broken, which was done with three or four yoke of oxen and a strong plow. The trees were scattered over the ground and some small brush and old limbs, and logs which we cleared away as we plowed. Our houses went up very fast–all rough oak logs, with oak puncheons, or hewed planks for a floor, and oak shakes for a roof, all of our own make. The shakes were held down upon the roof by heavy poles, for we had no nails, the door of split stuff hung with wooden hinges, and the fire place of stone laid up with the logs, and from the loft floor upward the chimney was built of split stuff plastered heavily with mud. We have a small four-paned window in the house. We then built a log barn for our oxen, cow and horse and got pigs, sheep and chickens as fast as a chance offered.
As fast as possible we fenced in the cultivated land, father and uncle splitting out the rails, while a younger brother and myself, by each getting hold of an end of one of them managed to lay up a fence four rails high, all we small men could do. Thus working on, we had a pretty well cultivated farm in the course of two or three years, on which we produced wheat, corn and potatoes, and had an excellent garden. We found plenty of wild cranberries and whortleberries, which we dried for winter use. The lakes were full of good fish, black bass and pickerel, and the woods had deer, turkeys, pheasants, pigeons, and other things, and I became quite an expert in the capture of small game for the table with my new gun. Father and uncle would occasionally kill a deer, and the Indians came along and sold venison at times.
One fall after work was done and preparations were made for the winter, father said to me:–“Now Lewis, I want you to hunt every day–come home nights–but keep on till you kill a deer.” So with his permission I started with my gun on my shoulder, and with feelings of considerable pride. Before night I started two deer in a brushy place, and they leaped high over the oak bushes in the most affrighted way. I brought my gun to my shoulder and fired at the bounding animal when in most plain sight. Loading then quickly, I hurried up the trail as fast as I could and soon came to my deer, dead, with a bullet hole in its head. I was really surprised myself, for I had fired so hastily at the almost flying animal that it was little more than a random shot. As the deer was not very heavy I dressed it and packed it home myself, about as proud a boy as the State of Michigan contained. I really began to think I was a capital hunter, though I afterward knew it was a bit of good luck and not a bit of skill about it.
It was some time after this before I made another lucky shot. Father would once in a while ask me:–“Well can’t you kill us another deer?” I told him that when I had crawled a long time toward a sleeping deer, that I got so trembly that I could not hit an ox in short range. “O,” said he, “You get the buck fever–don’t be so timid–they won’t attack you.” But after awhile this fever wore off, and I got so steady that I could hit anything I could get in reach of.
We were now quite contented and happy. Father could plainly show us the difference between this country and Vermont and the advantages we had here. There the land was poor and stony and the winters terribly severe. Here there were no stones to plow over, and the land was otherwise easy to till. We could raise almost anything, and have nice wheat bread to eat, far superior to the “Rye-and-Indian” we used to have. The nice white bread was good enough to eat without butter, and in comparison this country seemed a real paradise.
The supply of clothing we brought with us had lasted until now–more than two years–and we had sowed some flax and raised sheep so that we began to get material of our own raising, from which to manufacture some more. Mother and sister spun some nice yarn, both woolen and linen, and father had a loom made on which mother wove it up into cloth, and we were soon dressed up in bran new clothes again. Domestic economy of this kind was as necessary here as it was in Vermont, and we knew well how to practice it. About this time the emigrants began to come in very fast, and every piece of Government land any where about was taken. So much land was ploughed, and so much vegetable matter turned under and decaying that there came a regular epidemic of fever and ague and bilious fever, and a large majority of the people were sick. At our house father was the first one attacked, and when the fever was at its height he was quite out of his head and talked and acted like a crazy man. We had never seen any one so sick before, and we thought he must surely die, but when the doctor came he said:–“Don’t be alarmed. It is only ‘fever ‘n’ agur,’ and no one was ever known to die of that.” Others of us were sick too, and most of the neighbors, and it made us all feel rather sorrowful. The doctor’s medicines consisted of calomel, jalap and quinine, all used pretty freely, by some with benefit, and by others to no visible purpose, for they had to suffer until the cold weather came and froze the disease out. At one time I was the only one that remained well, and I had to nurse and cook, besides all the out-door work that fell to me. My sister married a man near by with a good farm and moved there with him, a mile or two away. When she went away I lost my real bosom companion and felt very lonesome, but I went to see her once in a while, and that was pretty often, I think. There was not much going on as a general thing. Some little neighborhood society and news was about all. There was, however, one incident which occurred in 1837, I never shall forget, and which I will relate in the next chapter.
About two miles west father’s farm in Jackson county Mich., lived Ami Filley, who moved here from Connecticut and settled about two and a half miles from the town of Jackson, then a small village with plenty of stumps and mudholes in its streets. Many of the roads leading thereto had been paved with tamarac poles, making what is now known as corduroy roads. The country was still new and the farm houses far between.
Mr. Filley secured Government land in the oak openings, and settled there with his wife and two or three children, the oldest of which was a boy named Willie. The children were getting old enough to go to school, but there being none, Mr. Filley hired one of the neighbor’s daughters to come to his house and teach the children there, so they might be prepared for usefulness in life or ready to proceed further with their education–to college, perhaps in some future day.
The young woman he engaged lived about a mile a half away–Miss Mary Mount–and she came over and began her duties as private school ma’am, not a very difficult task in those days. One day after she had been teaching some time Miss Mount desired to go to her father’s on a visit, and as she would pass a huckleberry swamp on the way she took a small pail to fill with berries as she went, and by consent of Willie’s mother, the little boy went with her for company. Reaching the berries she began to pick, and the little boy found this dull business, got tired and homesick and wanted to go home. They were about a mile from Mr. Filley’s and as there was a pretty good foot trail over which they had come, the young woman took the boy to it, and turning him toward home told him to follow it carefully and he would soon see his mother. She then filled her pail with berries, went on to her own home, and remained there till nearly sundown, when she set out to return to Mr. Filley’s, reaching there yet in the early twilight. Not seeing Willie, she inquired for him and was told that he had not returned, and that they supposed he was safe with her. She then hastily related how it happened that he had started back toward home, and that she supposed he had safely arrived.
Mr. Filley then started back on the trail, keeping close watch on each side of the way, for he expected he would soon come across Master Willie fast asleep. He called his name every few rods, but got no answer nor could he discover him, and so returned home again, still calling and searching, but no boy was discovered. Then he built a large fire and put lighted candles in all the windows, then took his lantern and wont out in the woods calling and looking for the boy. Sometimes he thought he heard him, but on going where the sound came from nothing could be found. So he looked and called all night, along the trail and all about the woods, with no success. Mr. Mount’s home was situated not far from the shore of Fitch’s Lake, and the trail went along the margin, and in some places the ground was quite a boggy marsh, and the trail had been fixed up to make it passably good walking.
Next day the neighbors were notified, and asked to assist, and although they were in the midst of wheat harvest, a great many laid down the cradle and rake and went out to help search. On the third day the whole county became excited and quite an army of searchers turned out, coming from the whole country miles around.
Mr. Filley was much excited and quite worn out an beside himself with fatigue and loss of sleep. He could not eat. Yielding to entreaty he would sit at the table, and suddenly rise up, saying he heard Willie calling, and go out to search for the supposed voice, but it was all fruitless, and the whole people were sorry indeed for the poor father and mother.
The people then formed a plan for a thorough search. They were to form in a line so near each other that they could touch hands and were to march thus turning out for nothing except in passable lakes, and thus we marched, fairly sweeping the county in search of a sign. I was with this party and we marched south and kept close watch for a bit of clothing, a foot print or even bones, or anything which would indicate that he had been destroyed by some wild animal. Thus we marched all day with no success, and the next went north in the same careful manner, but with no better result. Most of the people now abandoned the search, but some of the neighbors kept it up for a long time.
Some expressed themselves quite strongly that Miss Mount knew where the boy was, saying that she might have had some trouble with him and in seeking to correct him had accidentally killed him and then hidden the body away–perhaps in the deep mire of the swamp or in the muddy waters on the margin of the lake. Search was made with this idea foremost, but nothing was discovered. Rain now set in, and the grain, from neglect grew in the head as it stood, and many a settler ate poor bread all winter in consequence of his neighborly kindness in the midst of harvest. The bread would not rise, and to make it into pancakes was the best way it could be used.
Still no tidings ever came of the lost boy. Many things were whispered, about Mr. Mount’s dishonesty of character and there were many suspicions about him, but no real facts could be shown to account for the boy. The neighbors said he never worked like the rest of them, and that his patch of cultivated land was altogether too small to support his family, a wife and two daughters, grown. He was a very smooth and affable talker, and had lots of acquaintances. A few years afterwards Mr. Mount was convicted of a crime which sent him to the Jackson State Prison, where he died before his term expired. I visited the Filley family in 1870, and from them heard the facts anew and that no trace of the lost boy had ever been discovered.
The second year of sickness and I was affected with the rest, though it was not generally so bad as the first year. I suffered a great deal and felt so miserable that I began to think I had rather live on the top of the Rocky Mountains and catch chipmuncks for a living than to live here and be sick, and I began to have very serious thoughts of trying some other country. In the winter of 1839 and 1840 I went to a neighboring school for three months, where I studied reading, writing and spelling, getting as far as Rule of Three in Daboll’s arithmetic. When school was out I chopped and split rails for Wm. Hanna till I had paid my winter’s board. After this, myself and a young man named Orrin Henry, with whom I had become acquainted, worked awhile scoring timber to be used in building the Michigan Central Railroad which had just then begun to be built. They laid down the ties first (sometimes a mudsill under them) and then put down four by eight wooden rails with a strips of band iron half an inch thick spiked on top. I scored the timber and Henry used the broad axe after me. It was pretty hard work and the hours as long as we could see, our wages being $13 per month, half cash.
In thinking over our prospect it seemed more and more as if I had better look out for my own fortune in some other place. The farm was pretty small for all of us. There were three brothers younger than I, and only 200 acres in the whole, and as they were growing up to be men it seemed as if it would be best for me, the oldest, to start out first and see what could be done to make my own living. I talked to father and mother about my plans, and they did not seriously object, but gave me some good advice, which I remember to this day–“Weigh well every thing you do; shun bad company; be honest and deal fair; be truthful and never fear when you know you are right.” But, said he, “Our little peach trees will bear this year, and if you go away you must come back and help us eat them; they will be the first we ever raised or ever saw.” I could not promise.
Henry and I drew our pay for our work. I had five dollars in cash and the rest in pay from the company’s store. We purchased three nice whitewood boards, eighteen inches wide, from which we made us a boat and a good sized chest which we filled with provisions and some clothing and quilts. This, with our guns and ammunition, composed the cargo of our boat. When all was ready, we put the boat on a wagon and were to haul it to the river some eight miles away for embarkation. After getting the wagon loaded, father said to me;–“Now my son, you are starting out in life alone, no one to watch or look after you. You will have to depend upon yourself in all things. You have a wide, wide world to operate in–you will meet all kinds of people and you must not expect to find them all honest or true friends. You are limited in money, and all I can do for you in that way is to let you have what ready money I have.” He handed me three dollars as he spoke, which added to my own gave me seven dollars as my money capital with which to start out into the world among perfect strangers, and no acquaintances in prospect on our Western course.
When ready to start, mother and sister Poll came out to see us off and to give us their best wishes, hoping we would have good health, and find pleasant paths to follow. Mother said to me:–“You must be a good boy, honest and law-abiding. Remember our advice, and honor us for we have striven to make you a good and honest man, and you must follow our teachings, and your conscience will be clear. Do nothing to be ashamed of; be industrious, and you have no fear of punishment.” We were given a great many “Good byes” and “God bless you’s” as with hands, hats and handkerchiefs they waved us off as far as we could see them. In the course of an hour or so we were at the water’s edge, and on a beautiful morning in early spring of 1840 we found ourselves floating down the Grand River below Jackson.
The stream ran west, that we knew, and it was west we thought we wanted to go, so all things suited us. The stream was small with tall timber on both sides, and so many trees had fallen into the river that our navigation was at times seriously obstructed. When night came we hauled our boat on shore, turned it partly over, so as to shelter us, built a fire in front, and made a bed on a loose board which we carried in the bottom of the boat. We talked till pretty late and then lay down to sleep, but for my part my eyes would not stay shut, and I lay till break of day and the little birds began to sing faintly.
I thought of many things that night which seemed so long. I had left a good dear home, where I had good warm meals and a soft and comfortable bed. Here I had reposed on a board with a very hard pillow and none too many blankets, and I turned from side to side on my hard bed, to which I had gone with all my clothes on. It seemed the beginning of another chapter in my pioneer life and a rather tough experience. I arose, kindled a big fire and sat looking at the glowing coals in still further meditation.
Neither of us felt very gleeful as we got our breakfast and made an early start down the river again. Neither of us talked very much, and no doubt my companion had similar thoughts to mine, and wondered what was before us. But I think that as a pair we were at that moment pretty lonesome. Henry had rested better than I but probably felt no less keenly the separation from our homes and friends. We saw plenty of squirrels and pigeons on the trees which overhung the river, and we shot and picked up as many as we thought we could use for food. When we fired our guns the echoes rolled up and down the river for miles making the feeling of loneliness still more keen, as the sound died faintly away. We floated along generally very quietly. We could see the fish dart under our boat from their feeding places along the bank, and now and then some tall crane would spread his broad wings to get out of our way.
We saw no houses for several days, and seldom went on shore. The forest was all hard wood, such as oak, ash, walnut, maple, elm and beech. Farther down we occasionally passed the house of some pioneer hunter or trapper, with a small patch cleared. At one of these a big green boy came down to the bank to see who we were. We said “How d’you do,” to him, and, getting no response, Henry asked him how far is was to Michigan, at which a look of supreme disgust came over his features as he replied–“‘Taint no far at all.”
The stream grew wider as we advanced along its downward course, for smaller streams came pouring in to swell its tide. The banks were still covered with heavy timber, and in some places with quite thick undergrowth. One day we saw a black bear in the river washing himself, but he went ashore before we were near enough to get a sure shot at him. Many deer tracks were seen along the shore, but as we saw very few of the animals themselves, they were probably night visitors.
One day we overtook some canoes containing Indians, men, women and children. They were poling their craft around in all directions spearing fish. They caught many large mullet and then went on shore and made camp, and the red ladies began scaling the fish. As soon as their lords and masters had unloaded the canoes, a party started out with four of the boats, two men in a boat, to try their luck again. They ranged all abreast, and moved slowly down the stream in the still deep water, continually beating the surface with their spear handles, till they came to a place so shallow that they could see the bottom easily, when they suddenly turned the canoes head up stream, and while one held the craft steady by sticking his spear handle down on the bottom, the other stood erect, with a foot on either gunwale so he could see whatever came down on either side. Soon the big fish would try to pass, but Mr. Indian had too sharp an eye to let him escape unobserved, and when he came within his reach he would turn his spear and throw it like a dart, seldom missing his aim. The poor fish would struggle desperately, but soon came to the surface, when he would be drawn in and knocked in the head with a tomahawk to quiet him, when the spear was cut out and the process repeated. We watched them about an hour, and during that time some one of the boats was continually hauling in a fish. They were sturgeon and very large. This was the first time we had ever seen the Indian’s way of catching fish and it was a new way of getting grub for us. When the canoes had full loads they paddled up toward their camp, and we drifted on again.
When we came to Grand Rapids we had to go on shore and tow our boat carefully along over the many rocks to prevent accident. Here was a small cheap looking town. On the west bank of the river a water wheel was driving a drill boring for salt water, it seemed through solid rock. Up to this time the current was slow, and its course through a dense forest. We occasionally saw an Indian gliding around in his canoe, but no houses or clearings. Occasionally we saw some pine logs which had been floated down some of the streams of the north. One of these small rivers they called the “Looking-glass,” and seemed to be the largest of them.
Passing on we began to see some pine timber, and realized that we were near the mouth of the river where it emptied into Lake Michigan. There were some steam saw mills here, not then in operation, and some houses for the mill hands to live in when they were at work. This prospective city was called Grand Haven. There was one schooner in the river loaded with lumber, ready to sail for the west side of the lake as soon as the wind should change and become favorable, and we engaged passage for a dollar and a half each. While waiting for the wind we visited the woods in search of game, but found none. All the surface of the soil was clear lake sand, and some quite large pine and hemlock trees were half buried in it. We were not pleased with this place for it looked as if folks must get their grub from somewhere else or live on fish.
Next morning we were off early, as the wind had changed, but the lake was very rough and a heavy choppy sea was running. Before we were half way across the lake nearly all were sea-sick, passengers and sailors. The poor fellow at the helm stuck to his post casting up his accounts at the same time, putting on an air of terrible misery.
This, I thought was pretty hard usage for a land-lubber like myself who had never been on such rough water before. The effect of this sea-sickness was to cure me of a slight fever and ague, and in fact the cure was so thorough that I have never had it since. As we neared the western shore a few houses could be seen, and the captain said it was Southport. As there was no wharf our schooner put out into the lake again for an hour or so and then ran back again, lying off and on in this manner all night. In the morning it was quite calm and we went on shore in the schooner’s yawl, landing on a sandy beach. We left our chest of clothes and other things in a warehouse and shouldered our packs and guns for a march across what seemed an endless prairie stretching to the west. We had spent all our lives thus far in a country where all the clearing had to be made with an axe, and such a broad field was to us an entirely new feature. We laid our course westward and tramped on. The houses were very far apart, and we tried at every one of them for a chance to work, but could get none, not even if we would work for our board. The people all seemed to be new settlers, and very poor, compelled to do their own work until a better day could be reached. The coarse meals we got were very reasonable, generally only ten cents, but sometimes a little more.
As we travelled westward the prairies seemed smaller with now and then some oak openings between. Some of the farms seemed to be three or four years old, and what had been laid out as towns consisted of from three to six houses, small and cheap, with plenty of vacant lots. The soil looked rich, as though it might be very productive. We passed several small lakes that had nice fish in them, and plenty of ducks on the surface.
Walking began to get pretty tiresome. Great blisters would come on our feet, and, tender as they were, it was a great relief to take off our boots and go barefoot for a while when the ground was favorable. We crossed a wide prairie and came down to the Rock river where there were a few houses on the east side but no signs of habitation on the west bank. We crossed the river in a canoe and then walked seven miles before we came to a house where we staid all night and inquired for work. None was to be had and so we tramped on again. The next day we met a real live Yankee with a one-horse wagon, peddling tin ware in regular Eastern style, We inquired of him about the road and prospects, and he gave us an encouraging idea–said all was good. He told us where to stop the next night at a small town called Sugar Creek. It had but a few houses and was being built up as a mining town, for some lead ore had been found there. There were as many Irish as English miners here, a rough class of people. We put up at the house where we had been directed, a low log cabin, rough and dirty, kept by Bridget & Co. Supper was had after dark and the light on the table was just the right one for the place, a saucer of grease, with a rag in it lighted and burning at the edge of the saucer. It at least served to made the darkness apparent and to prevent the dirt being visible. We had potatoes, beans and tea, and probably dirt too, if we could have seen it. When the meal was nearly done Bridget brought in and deposited on each plate a good thick pancake as a dessert. It smelled pretty good, but when I drew my knife across it to cut it in two, all the center was uncooked batter, which ran out upon my plate, and spoiled my supper.
We went to bed and soon found it had other occupants beside ourselves, which, if they were small were lively and spoiled our sleeping. We left before breakfast, and a few miles out on the prairie we came to a house occupied by a woman and one child, and we were told we could have breakfast if we could wait to have it cooked. Everything looked cheap but cheery, and after waiting a little while outside we were called in to eat. The meal consisted of corn bread, bacon, potatoes and coffee. It was well cooked and looked better than things did at Bridget’s. I enjoyed all but the coffee, which had a rich brown color, but when I sipped it there was such a bitter taste I surely thought there must be quinine in it, and it made me shiver. I tried two or three times to drink but it was too much for me and I left it. We shouldered our loads and went on again. I asked Henry what kind of a drink it was. “Coffee,” said he, but I had never seen any that tasted like that and never knew my father to buy any such coffee as that.
We labored along and in time came to another small place called Hamilton’s Diggings where some lead mines were being worked. We stopped at a long, low log house with a porch the entire length, and called for bread and milk, which was soon set before us. The lady was washing and the man was playing with a child on the porch. The little thing was trying to walk, the man would swear terribly at it–not in an angry way, but in a sort of careless, blasphemous style that was terribly shocking. I thought of the child being reared in the midst of such bad language and reflected on the kind of people we were meeting in this far away place. They seemed more wicked and profane the farther west we walked. I had always lived in a more moral and temperate atmosphere, and I was learning more of some things in the world than I had ever known before. I had little to say and much to see and listen to and my early precepts were not forgotten. No work was to be had here and we set out across the prairie toward Mineral Point, twenty miles away. When within four miles of that place we stopped at the house of Daniel Parkinson, a fine looking two-story building, and after the meal was over Mr. Henry hired out to him for $16 per month, and went to work that day. I heard of a job of cutting cordwood six miles away and went after it, for our money was getting very scarce, but when I reached the place I found a man had been there half an hour before and secured the job. The proprietor, Mr. Crow, gave me my dinner which I accepted with many thanks, for it saved my coin to pay for the next meal. I now went to Mineral Point, and searched the town over for work. My purse contained thirty-five cents only and I slept in an unoccupied out house without supper. I bought crackers and dried beef for ten cents in the morning and made my first meal since the day before, felt pretty low-spirited. I then went to Vivian’s smelting furnace where they bought lead ore, smelted it, and run it into pigs of about 70 pounds each. He said he had a job for me if I could do it. The furnace was propelled by water and they had a small buzz saw for cutting four-foot wood into blocks about a foot long. These blocks they wanted split up in pieces about an inch square to mix in with charcoal in smelting ore. He said he would board me with the other men, and give me a dollar and a quarter a cord for splitting the wood. I felt awfully poor, and a stranger, and this was a beginning for me at any rate, so I went to work with a will and never lost a minute of daylight till I had split up all the wood and filled his woodhouse completely up. The board was very coarse–bacon, potatoes, and bread–a man cook, and bread mixed up with salt and water. The old log house where we lodged was well infested with troublesome insects which worked nights at any rate, whether they rested days or not, and the beds had a mild odor of pole cat. The house was long, low and without windows. In one end was a fireplace, and there were two tiers of bunks on each side, supplied with straw only. In the space between the bunks was a stationary table, with stools for seats. I was the only American who boarded there and I could not well become very familiar with the boarders.
The country was rolling, and there were many beautiful brooks and clear springs of water, with fertile soil. The Cornish miners were in the majority and governed the locality politically. My health was excellent, and so long as I had my gun and ammunition I could kill game enough to live on, for prairie chickens and deer could be easily killed, and meat alone would sustain life, so I had no special fears of starvation. I was now paid off, and went back to see my companion, Mr. Henry. I did not hear of any more work, so I concluded I would start back toward my old home in Michigan, and shouldered my bundle and gun, turning my face eastward for a long tramp across the prairie. I knew I had a long tramp before me, but I thought best to head that way, for my capital was only ten dollars, and I might be compelled to walk the whole distance. I walked till about noon and then sat down in the shade of a tree to rest for this was June and pretty warm. I was now alone in a big territory, thinly settled, and thought of my father’s home, the well set table, all happy and well fed at any rate, and here was my venture, a sort of forlorn hope. Prospects were surely very gloomy for me here away out west in Wisconsin Territory, without a relative, friend or acquaintance to call upon, and very small means to travel two hundred and fifty miles of lonely road–perhaps all the way on foot. There were no laborers required, hardly any money in sight, and no chance for business. I knew it would be a safe course to proceed toward home, for I had no fear of starving, the weather was warm and I could easily walk home long before winter should come again. Still the outlook was not very pleasing to one in my circumstances.
I chose a route which led me some distance north of the one we travelled when we came west, but it was about the same. Every house was a new settler, and hardly one who had yet produced anything to live upon. In due time I came to the Rock River, and the only house in sight was upon the east bank. I could see a boat over there and so I called for it, and a young girl came over with a canoe for me. I took a paddle and helped her hold the boat against the current, and we made the landing safely. I paid her ten cents for ferriage and went on again. The country was now level, with burr-oak openings. Near sundown I came to a small prairie of about 500 acres surrounded by scattering burr-oak timber, with not a hill in sight, and it seemed to me to be the most beautiful spot on earth. This I found to belong to a man named Meachem, who had an octagon concrete house built on one side of the opening. The house had a hollow column in the center, and the roof was so constructed that all the rain water went down this central column into a cistern below for house use. The stairs wound around this central column, and the whole affair was quite different from the most of settlers’ houses. I staid here all night, had supper and breakfast, and paid my bill of thirty-five cents. He had no work for me so I went on again. I crossed Heart Prairie, passed through a strip of woods, and out at Round Prairie. It was level as a floor with a slight rise in one corner, and on it were five or six settlers. Here fortune favored me, for here I found a man whom I knew, who once lived in Michigan, and was one of our neighbors there for some time. His name was Nelson Cornish. I rested here a few days, and made a bargain to work for him two or three days every week for my board as long as I wished to stay. As I got acquainted I found some work to do and many of my leisure hours I spent in the woods with my gun, killing some deer, some of the meat of which I sold. In haying and harvest I got some work at fifty cents to one dollar per day, and as I had no clothes to buy, I spent no money, saving up about fifty dollars by fall. I then got a letter from Henry saying that I could get work with him for the winter and I thought I would go back there again.
Before thinking of going west again I had to go to Southport on the lake and get our clothes we had left in our box when we passed in the spring. So I started one morning at break of day, with a long cane in each hand to help me along, for I had nothing to carry, not even wearing a coat. This was a new road, thinly settled, and a few log houses building. I got a bowl of bread and milk at noon and then hurried on again. The last twenty miles was clear prairie, and houses were very far apart, but little more thickly settled as I neared Lake Michigan. I arrived at the town just after dark, and went to a tavern and inquired about the things. I was told that the warehouse had been broken into and robbed, and the proprietor had fled for parts unknown. This robbed me of all my good clothes, and I could now go back as lightly loaded as when I came. I found I had walked sixty miles in that one day, and also found myself very stiff and sore so that I did not start back next day, and I took three days for the return trip–a very unprofitable journey.
I was now ready to go west, and coming across a pet deer which I had tamed, I knew if I left it it would wander away with the first wild ones that came along, and so I killed it and made my friends a present of some venison. I chose still a new route this time, that I could see all that was possible of this big territory when I could do it so easily. I was always a great admirer of Nature and things which remained as they were created, and to the extent of my observation, I thought this the most beautiful and perfect country I had seen between Vermont and the Mississippi River. The country was nearly level, the land rich, the prairies small with oak openings surrounding them, very little marsh land and streams of clear water. Rock River was the largest of these, running south. Next west was Sugar River, then the Picatonica. Through the mining region the country was rolling and abundantly watered with babbling brooks and health-giving springs.
In point of health it seemed to me to be far better than Michigan. In Mr. Henry’s letter to me he had said that he had taken a timber claim in “Kentuck Grove,” and had all the four-foot wood engaged to cut at thirty-seven cents a cord. He said we could board ourselves and save a little money and that in the spring he would go back to Michigan with me. This had decided me to go back to Mineral Point. I stopped a week or two with a man named Webb, hunting with him, and sold game enough to bring me in some six or seven dollars, and then resumed my journey.
On my way I found a log house ten miles from a neighbor just before I got to the Picatonica River. It belonged to a Mr. Shook who, with his wife and three children, lived on the edge of a small prairie, and had a good crop of corn. He invited me to stay with him a few days, and as I was tired I accepted his offer and we went out together and brought in a deer. We had plenty of corn bread, venison and coffee, and lived well. After a few days he wanted to kill a steer and he led it to a proper place while I shot it in the head. We had no way to hang it up so he rolled the intestines out, and I sat down with my side against the steer and helped him to pull the tallow off.
It was now getting nearly dark and while he was splitting the back bone with an axe, it slipped in his greasy hands and glancing, cut a gash in my leg six inches above the knee. I was now laid up for two or three weeks, but was well cared for at his house. Before I could resume my journey snow had fallen to the depth of about six inches, which made it rather unpleasant walking, but in a few days I reached Mr. Henry’s camp in “Kentuck Grove,” when after comparing notes, we both began swinging our axes and piling up cordwood, cooking potatoes, bread, bacon, coffee and flapjacks ourselves, which we enjoyed with a relish.
I now went to work for Peter Parkinson, who paid me thirteen dollars per month, and I remained with him till spring. While with him a very sad affliction came to him in the loss of his wife. He was presented by her with his first heir, and during her illness she was cared for by her mother, Mrs. Cullany, who had come to live with them during the winter. When the little babe was two or three weeks old the mother was feeling in such good spirits that she was left alone a little while, as Mrs. Cullany was attending to some duties which called her elsewhere. When she returned she was surprised to see that both Mrs. Parkinson and the babe were gone. Everyone turned out to search for her. I ran to the smokehouse, the barn, the stable in quick order, and not finding her a search was made for tracks, and we soon discovered that she had passed over a few steps leading over a fence and down an incline toward the spring house, and there fallen, face downward, on the floor of the house which was covered only a few inches deep with water lay the unfortunate woman and her child, both dead. This was doubly distressing to Mr. Parkinson and saddened the whole community. Both were buried in one grave, not far from the house, and a more impressive funeral I never beheld.
I now worked awhile again with Mr. Henry and we sold our wood to Bill Park, a collier, who made and sold charcoal to the smelters of lead ore. When the ice was gone in the streams, Henry and I shouldered our guns and bundles, and made our way to Milwaukee, where we arrived in the course of a few days. The town was small and cheaply built, and had no wharf, so that when the steamboat came we had to go out to it in a small boat. The stream which came in here was too shallow for the steamer to enter. When near the lower end of the lake we stopped at an island to take on food and several cords of white birch wood. The next stopping place was at Michilamackanac, afterward called Mackinaw. Here was a short wharf, and a little way back a hill, which seemed to me to be a thousand feet high, on which a fort had been built. On the wharf was a mixed lot of people–Americans, Canadians, Irish, Indians, squaws and papooses. I saw there some of the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. They would weigh twenty pounds or more, and had bright red and yellow spots all over them. They called them trout, and they were beauties, really. At the shore near by the Indians were loading a large white birch bark canoe, putting their luggage along the middle lengthways, and the papooses on top. One man took a stern seat to steer, and four or five more had seats along the gunwale as paddlers and, as they moved away, their strokes were as even and regular as the motions of an engine, and their crafts danced as lightly on the water as an egg shell. They were starting for the Michigan shore some eight or ten miles away. This was the first birch bark canoe I had ever seen and was a great curiosity in my eyes.
We crossed Lake Huron during the night, and through its outlet, so shallow that the wheels stirred up the mud from the bottom; then through Lake St. Clair and landed safety at Detroit next day. Here we took the cars on the Michigan Central Railroad, and on our way westward stopped at the very place where we had worked, helping to build the road, a year or more before. After getting off the train a walk of two and one half miles brought me to my father’s house, where I had a right royal welcome, and the questions they asked me about the wild country I had traveled over, how it looked, and how I got along–were numbered by the thousand.
I remained at home until fall, getting some work to do by which I saved some money, but in August was attacked with bilious fever, which held me down for several weeks, but nursed by a tender and loving mother with untiring care, I recovered, quite slowly, but surely. I felt that I had been close to death, and that this country was not to be compared to Wisconsin with its clear and bubbling springs of health-giving water. Feeling thus, I determined to go back there again.
With the idea of returning to Wisconsin I made plans for my movements. I purchased a good outfit of steel traps of several kinds and sizes, thirty or forty in all, made me a pine chest, with a false bottom to separate the traps from my clothing when it was packed in traveling order, the clothes at the top. My former experience had taught me not to expect to get work there during winter, but I was pretty sure something could be earned by trapping and hunting at this season, and in summer I was pretty sure of something to do. I had about forty dollars to travel on this time, and quite a stock of experience. The second parting from home was not so hard as the first one. I went to Huron, took the steamer to Chicago, then a small, cheaply built town, with rough sidewalks and terribly muddy streets, and the people seemed pretty rough, for sailors and lake captains were numerous, and knock downs quite frequent. The country for a long way west of town seemed a low, wet marsh or prairie.
Finding a man going west with a wagon and two horses without a load, I hired him to take me and my baggage to my friend Nelson Cornish, at Round Prairie. They were glad to see me, and as I had not yet got strong from my fever, they persuaded me to stay a while with them and take some medicine, for he was a sort of a doctor. I think he must have given me a dose of calomel, for I had a terribly sore mouth and could not eat any for two or three weeks. As soon as I was able to travel I had myself and chest taken to the stage station on the line for the lake to Mineral Point. I think this place was called Geneva. On the stage I got along pretty fast, and part of the time on a new road. The first place of note was Madison the capital of the territory, situated on a block of land nearly surrounded by four lakes, all plainly seen from the big house. Further on at the Blue Mounds I left the stage, putting my chest in the landlord’s keeping till I should come or send for it.
I walked about ten miles to the house of a friend named A. Bennett, who was a hunter and lived on the bank of the Picatonica River with his wife and two children. I had to take many a rest on the way, for I was very weak.
Resting the first few days, Mrs. Bennett’s father, Mr. J.P. Dilly, took us out about six miles and left us to hunt and camp for a few days. We were quite successful, and killed five nice, fat deer, which we dressed and took to Mineral Point, selling them rapidly to the Cornish miners for twenty-five cents a quarter for the meat. We followed this business till about January first, when the game began to get poor, when we hung up our guns for a while. I had a little money left yet. The only money in circulation was American silver and British sovereigns. They would not sell lead ore for paper money nor on credit. During the spring I used my traps successfully, so that I saved something over board and expenses.
In summer I worked in the mines with Edwin Buck of Bucksport, Maine, but only found lead ore enough to pay our expenses in getting it. Next winter I chopped wood for thirty-five cents per cord and boarded myself. This was poor business; poorer than hunting. In summer I found work at various things, but in the fall Mr. Buck and myself concluded that as we were both hunters and trappers, we would go northward toward Lake Superior on a hunting expedition, and, perhaps remain all winter. We replenished our outfit, and engaged Mr. Bennett to take us well up into the north country. We crossed the Wisconsin River near Muscoda, went then to Prairie du Chien, where we found a large stone fur trading house, owned by Mr. Brisbois, a Frenchman, from whom we obtained some information of the country further on. He assured us there was no danger from the Indians if we let them alone and treated them fairly.
We bought fifty pounds of flour for each of us, and then started up the divide between the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. On one side flowed the Bad River, and on the other the Kickapoo. We traveled on this divide about three days, when Mr. Bennett became afraid to go any further, as he had to return alone and the Indians might capture him before he could get back to the settlement. We camped early one night and went out hunting to get some game for him. I killed a large, black bear and Mr. Bennett took what he wanted of it, including the skin, and started back next morning.
We now cached our things in various places, scattering them well. Some went in hollow logs, and some under heaps of brush or other places, where the Indians could not find them. We then built a small cabin about six by eight feet in size and four feet high, in shape like a A. We were not thoroughly pleased with this location and started out to explore the country to the north of us, for we had an idea that it would be better hunting there.
The first day we started north we killed a bear, and filled our stomachs with the fat, sweet meat. The next night we killed another bear after a little struggling. The dog made him climb a tree and we shot at him; he would fall to the ground as if dead, but would be on his feet again in an instant, when, after the dog had fastened to his ham, he would climb the tree again. In the third trial he lay in the fork and had a good chance to look square at his tormentor. I shot him in the head, and as he lay perfectly still, Buck said:–“Now you have done it–we can’t get him.” But in a moment he began to struggle, and soon came down, lifeless.
Here we camped on the edge of the pine forest, ate all the fat bear meat we could, and in the morning took separate routes, agreeing to meet again a mile or so farther up a small brook. I soon saw a small bear walking on a log and shot him dead. His mate got away, but I set my dog on him and he soon had to climb a tree. When I came up to where the dog was barking I saw Mr. Bear and fired a ball in him that brought him down. Just then I heard Mr. Buck shoot close by, and I went to him and found he had killed another and larger bear. We stayed here another night, dressed our game and sunk the meat in the brook and fastened it down, thinking we might want to get some of it another time.
We were so well pleased with this hunting ground that we took the bear skins and went back to camp. When we got there our clothes were pretty well saturated with bear’s oil, and we jokingly said it must have soaked through our bodies, we had eaten so much bear meat. I began to feel quite sick, and had a bad headache. I felt as if something must be done, but we had no medicine. Mr. Buck went down by the creek and dug some roots he called Indian Physic, then steeped them until the infusion seemed as black as molasses, and, when cool told me to take a swallow every fifteen minutes for an hour, then half as much for another hour as long as I could keep it down. I followed directions and vomited freely and for a long time, but felt better afterward, and soon got well. It reminded me some of the feelings I had when I was seasick on Lake Michigan.
It may be interesting to describe how we were dressed to enter on this winter campaign. We wore moccasins of our own make. I had a buckskin jumper, and leggins that came up to my hips. On my head a drab hat that fitted close and had a rim about two inches wide. In fair weather I went bare-headed, Indian fashion. I carried a tomahawk which I had made. The blade was two inches wide and three inches long–the poll two inches long and about as large round as a dime; handle eighteen or twenty inches long with a knob on the end so it would not easily slip from the hand. Oiled patches for our rifle balls on a string, a firing wire, a charger to measure the powder, and a small piece of leather with four nipples on it for caps–all on my breast, so that I could load very rapidly. My bed was a comfort I made myself, a little larger than usual. I lay down on one side of the bed and with my gun close to me, turned the blanket over me. When out of camp I never left my gun out of my reach. We had to be real Indians in custom and actions in order to be considered their equals. We got our food in the same way they did, and so they had nothing to ask us for. They considered themselves the real kings of the forest.
We now determined to move camp, which proved quite a job as we had to pack everything on our backs; which we did for ten or fifteen miles to the bank of a small stream where there were three pine trees, the only ones to be found in many miles. We made us a canoe of one of them. While we were making the canoe three Indians came along, and after they had eaten some of our good venison, they left us. These were the first we had seen, and we began to be more cautious and keep everything well hid away from camp and make them think we were as poor as they were, so they might not be tempted to molest us.
We soon had the canoe done and loaded, and embarked on the brook down stream. We found it rather difficult work, but the stream grew larger and we got along very well. We came to one place where otter signs seemed fresh, and stopped to set a trap for them. Our dog sat on the bank and watched the operation, and when we started on we could not get him to ride or follow. Soon we heard him cry and went back to find he had the trap on his fore foot. To get it off we had to put a forked stick over his neck and hold him down, he was so excited over his mishap. When he was released he left at full speed and was never seen by us after.
When we got well into the pine woods we camped and cached our traps and provisions on an island, and made our camp further down the stream and some little distance from the shore. We soon found this was very near a logging camp, and as no one had been living there for a year, we moved camp down there and occupied one of the empty cabins. We began to set dead-fall traps in long lines in many different directions, blazing the trees so we could find them if the snow came on. West of this about ten miles, where we had killed some deer earlier, we made a A-shaped cabin and made dead falls many miles around to catch fishes, foxes, mink and raccoons. We made weekly journeys to the places and generally staid about two nights.
One day when going over my trap lines I came to a trap which I had set where I had killed a deer, and saw by the snow that an eagle had been caught in the trap and had broken the chain and gone away. I followed on the trail he made and soon found him. He tried to fly but the trap was too heavy, and he could only go slowly and a little way. I fired and put a ball in him and he fell and rolled under a large log on the hillside. As I took the trap off I saw an Indian coming down the hill and brought my gun to bear on him. He stopped suddenly and made signs not to shoot, and I let him come up. He made signs that he wanted the feathers of the bird which I told him to take, and then he wanted to know where we slept. I pointed out the way and made him go ahead of me there, for I did not want him behind me. At camp he made signs for something to eat, but when I showed him meat he shook his head. However he took a leg of deer and started on, I following at a good distance till satisfied that he would not come back.
We had not taken pains to keep track of the day of the week or month; the rising and setting of the sun and the changes of the moon were all the almanacs we had. Then snow came about a foot deep, and some days were so cold we could not leave our camp fire at all. As no Indians appeared we were quite successful and kept our bundle of furs in a hollow standing tree some distance from camp, and when we went that way we never stopped or left any sign that we had a deposit there.
Some time after it was all frozen up solid, some men with two yoke of oxen came up to cut and put logs in the river to raft down when the ice went out. With them came a shingle weaver, with a pony and a small sled, and some Indians also. We now had to take up all of our steel traps, and rob all our dead-falls and quit business generally–even then they got some of our traps before we could get them gathered in. We were now comparatively idle.
Until these loggers came we did not know exactly where we were situated, but they told us we were on the Lemonai river, a branch of the Wisconsin, and that we could get out by going west till we found the Mississippi river and then home. We hired the shengle man with his pony to take us to Black River, farther north which we reached in three days, and found a saw mill there in charge of a keeper. Up the river farther we found another mill looked after by Sam Ferguson. Both mills were frozen up. The Indians had been here all winter. They come from Lake Superior when the swamps froze up there, to hunt deer, till the weather gets warm, then they returned to the Lake to fish.
Of course the presence of the Indians made game scarce, but the mill men told us if we would go up farther into the marten country they thought we would do well. We therefore made us a hand sled, put some provisions and traps on board, and started up the river on the ice. As we went the snow grew deeper and we had to cut hemlock boughs for a bed on top of the snow. It took about a half a cord of wood to last us all night, and it was a trouble to cut holes in the ice to water, for it was more than two feet thick. Our fire kindled on the snow, would be two or three feet below on the ground, by morning. This country was heavily timbered with cedar, or spruce and apparently very level.
One day we saw two otters coming toward us on the ice. We shot one, but as the other gun missed fire, the other one escaped, for I could not overtake it in the woods. We kept on up the river till we began to hear the Indians’ guns, and then we camped and did not fire a gun for two days, for we were afraid we might be discovered and robbed, and we knew we could not stay long after our grub was gone. All the game we could catch was the marten or sable, which the Indians called _Waubusash_. The males were snuff color and the female much darker. Mink were scarce, and the beaver, living in the river bank, could not be got at till the ice went out in the spring.
We now began to make marten traps or dead-falls, and set them for this small game. There were many cedar and tamarack swamps, indeed that was the principal feature, but there were some ridges a little higher where some small pines and beech grew. Now our camp was one place where there was no large timber caused by the stream being dammed by the beaver. Here were some of the real Russian Balsam trees, the most beautiful in shape I had ever seen. They were very dark green, the boughs very thick, and the tree in shape like an inverted top. Our lines of trips led for miles in every direction marked by blazed trees. We made a trap of two poles, and chips which we split from the trees. These were set in the snow and covered with brush, We sometimes found a porcupine in the top of a pine tree. The only signs of his presence were the chips he made in gnawing the bark for food. They never came down to the ground as we saw. They were about all the game that was good to eat. I would kill one, skin it and drag the carcass after me all day as I set traps, cutting off bits for bait, and cooking the rest for ourselves to eat. We tried to eat the marten but it was pretty musky and it was only by putting on plenty of salt and pepper that we managed to eat them. We were really forced to do it if we remained here. We secured a good many of these little fellows which have about the the best fur that is found in America.
We were here about three weeks, and our provisions giving out and the ice becoming tender in the swamp were two pretty strong reasons for our getting out, so we shouldered our packs of fur and our guns and, getting our course from a pocket-compass, we started out. As we pushed on we came to some old windfalls that were troublesome to get through. The dense timber seemed to be six feet deep, and we would sometimes climb over and sometimes crawl under, the fallen trees were so thickly mixed and tangled.
Mr. Buck got so completely tired that he threw away his traps. We reached our starting place at O’Neil’s saw-mill after many days of the hardest work, and nearly starved, for we had seen no game on our trip. We found our traps and furs all safe here and as this stream was one of the tributaries of the Mississippi, we decided to make us a boat and float down toward that noted stream. We secured four good boards and built the boat in which we started down the river setting traps and moving at our leisure. We found plenty of fine ducks, two bee trees, and caught some cat-fish with a hook and line we got at the mill. We also caught some otter, and, on a little branch of the river killed two bears, the skin of one of them weighing five pounds. We met a keel boat being poled up the river, and with the last cent of money we possessed bought a little flour of them.
About the first of May we reached Prairie du Chien. Here we were met with some surprise, for Mr. Brisbois said he had heard we were killed or lost. He showed us through his warehouses and pointed out to us the many bales of different kinds of furs he had on hand. He told us we were the best fur handlers he had seen, and paid us two hundred dollars in American gold for what we had. We then stored our traps in the garret of one of his warehouses, which was of stone, two stories and an attic, as we thought of making another trip to this country if all went well.
We now entered our skiff again and went on down the great river till we came to a place nearly opposite Mineral Point, when we gave our boat to a poor settler, and with guns and bundles on our backs took a straight shoot for home on foot. The second day about dark we came in the edge of the town and were seen by a lot of boys who eyed us closely and with much curiosity, for we were dressed in our trapping suits. They followed us, and as we went along the crowd increased so that when we got to Crum. Lloyd’s tavern the door was full of boys’ heads looking at us as if we were a circus. Here we were heartily welcomed, and every body was glad to see us, as they were about to start a company to go in search of their reported murdered friends. It seems a missionary got lost on his way to Prairie La Crosse and had come across our deserted cabin, and when he came in he reported us as no doubt murdered.
I invested all of my hundred dollars in buying eighty acres of good Government land. This was the first $100 I ever had and I felt very proud to be a land owner. I felt a little more like a man now than I had ever felt before, for the money was hard earned and all mine.
Mr. Buck and myself concluded we would try our luck at lead mining for the summer and purchased some mining tools for the purpose. We camped out and dug holes around all summer, getting just about enough to pay our expenses–not a very encouraging venture, for we had lived in a tent and had picked and shoveled and blasted and twisted a windlass hard enough to have earned a good bit of money.
In the fall we concluded to try another trapping tour, and set out for Prairie du Chien. We knew it was a poor place to spend money up in the woods, and when we got our money it was all in a lump and seemed to amount to something. Mr. Brisbois said that the prospects were very poor indeed, for the price of fur was very low and no prospect of a better market. So we left our traps still on storage at his place and went back again. This was in 1847, and before Spring the war was being pushed in Mexico. I tried to enlist for this service, but there were so many ahead of me I could not get a chance.
I still worked in the settlement and made a living, but had no chance to improve my land. The next winter I lived with Mr A. Bennett, hunted deer and sold them at Mineral Point, and in this way made and saved a few dollars.
There had been from time to time rumors of a better country to the west of us and a sort of a pioneer, or western fever would break out among the people occasionally. Thus in 1845 I had a slight touch of the disease on account of the stories they told us about Oregon. It was reported that the Government would give a man a good farm if he would go and settle, and make some specified improvement. They said it was in a territory of rich soil, with plenty of timber, fish and game and some Indians, just to give a little spice of adventure to the whole thing. The climate was very mild in winter, as they reported, and I concluded it would suit me exactly. I began at once to think about an outfit and a journey, and I found that it would take me at least two years to get ready. A trip to California was not thought of in those days, for it did not belong to the United States.
In the winter of 1848-49 news began to come that there was gold in California, but not generally believed till it came through a U.S. officer, and then, as the people were used to mines and mining, a regular gold fever spread as if by swift contagion. Mr. Bennett was aroused and sold his farm, and I felt a change in my Oregon desires and had dreams at might of digging up the yellow dust. Nothing would cure us then but a trip, and that was quickly decided on.
As it would be some weeks yet before grass would start, I concluded to haul my canoe and a few traps over to a branch of the Wisconsin, and make my way to Prairie du Chien, do a little trapping, get me an Indian pony on which to ride to California. There were no ponies to be had at Mineral Point. Getting a ride up the river on a passing steamboat I reached Prairie La Crosse, where the only house was that of a Dutch trader from whom I bought a Winnebago pony, which he had wintered on a little brushy island, and I thought if he could winter on brush and rushes he must be tough enough to take me across the plains. He cost me $30, and I found him to be a poor, lazy little fellow. However, I thought that when he got some good grass, and a little fat on his ribs he might have more life, and so I hitched a rope to him and drove him ahead down the river. When I came to the Bad Axe river I found it swimming full, but had no trouble in crossing, as the pony was as good as a dog in the water.
Before leaving Bennett’s I had my gun altered over to a pill lock and secured ammunition to last for two years. I had tanned some nice buckskin and had a good outfit of clothes made of it, or rather cut and made it myself. Where I crossed the Bad Axe was a the battle ground where Gen. Dodge fought the Winnebago Indians. At Prairie du Chien I found a letter from Mr. Bennett, saying that the grass was so backward he would not start up for two or three weeks, and I had better come back and start with them; but as the letter bore no date I could only guess at the exact time. I had intended to strike directly west from here to Council Bluffs and meet them there, but now thought perhaps I had better go back to Mineral Point and start out with them there, or follow on rapidly after them if by any chance they had already started.
On my way back I found the Kickapoo river too high to ford, so I pulled some basswood bark and made a raft of a couple of logs, on which to carry my gun and blanket; starting the pony across I followed after. He swam across quickly, but did not seem to like it on the other side, so before I got across, back he came again, not paying the least attention to my scolding. I went back with the raft, which drifted a good way down stream, and caught the rascal and started him over again, but when I got half way across he jumped and played the same joke on me again. I began to think of the old puzzle of the story of the man with the fox, the goose and a peck of corn, but I solved it by making a basswood rope to which I tied a stone and threw across, then sending the pony over with the other end. He staid this time, and after three days of swimming streams and pretty hard travel reached Mineral Point, to find Bennett had been gone two weeks and had taken my outfit with him as we first planned.
I was a little troubled, but set out light loaded for Dubuque, crossed the river there and then alone across Iowa, over wet and muddy roads, till I fell in with some wagons west of the Desmoines River. They were from Milwaukee, owned by a Mr. Blodgett, and I camped with them a few nights, till we got to the Missouri River.
I rushed ahead the last day or two and got there before them. There were a few California wagons here, and some campers, so I put my pony out to grass and looked around. I waded across the low bottom to a strip of dry land next to the river, where there was a post office, store, and a few cabins. I looked first for a letter, but there was none. Then I began to look over the cards in the trading places and saloons, and read the names written on the logs of the houses, and everywhere I thought there might be a trace of the friends I sought. No one had seen or knew them. After looking half a day I waded back again to the pony–pretty blue. I thought first I would go back and wait another year, but there was a small train near where I left the pony, and it was not considered very safe to go beyond there except with a pretty good train. I sat down in camp and turned the matter over in my mind, and talked with Chas. Dallas of Lynn, Iowa, who owned the train. Bennett had my outfit and gun, while I had his light gun, a small, light tent, a frying pan, a tin cup, one woolen shirt and the clothes on my back. Having no money to get another outfit, I about concluded to turn back when Dallas said that if I would drive one of his teams through, he would board me, and I could turn my pony in with his loose horses; I thought it over, and finally put my things in the wagon and took the ox whip to go on. Dallas intended to get provision here, but could not, so we went down to St. Jo, following the river near the bluff. We camped near town and walked in, finding a small train on the main emigrant road to the west. My team was one yoke of oxen and one yoke of cows. I knew how to drive, but had a little trouble with the strange animals till they found I was kind to them, and then they were all right.
This was in a slave state, and here I saw the first negro auction. One side of the street had a platform such as we build for a political speaker. The auctioneer mounted this with a black boy about 18 years old, and after he had told all his good qualities and had the boy stand up bold and straight, he called for bids, and they started him at $500. He rattled away as if he were selling a steer, and when Mr. Rubideaux, the founder of St. Jo bid $800, he went no higher and the boy was sold. With my New England notions it made quite an impression on me.
Here Dallas got his supplies, and when the flour and bacon was loaded up the ferryman wanted $50 to take the train across. This Dallas thought too high and went back up the river a day’s drive, where he got across for $30. From this crossing we went across the country without much of a road till we struck the road from St. Jo, and were soon on the Platte bottom.
We found some fine strawberries at one of the camps across the country. We found some hills, but now the country was all one vast prairie, not a tree in sight till we reached the Platte, there some cottonwood and willow. At the first camp on the Platte I rolled up in my blanket under the wagon and thought more than I slept, but I was in for it and no other way but to go on. I had heard that there were two forts, new Ft. Kearny and Ft. Laramie, on the south side of the river, which we must pass before we reached the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, and beyond there there would be no place to buy medicine or food. Our little train of five wagons, ten men, one woman and three children would not be a formidable force against the Indians if they were disposed to molest us, and it looked to me very hazardous, and that a larger train would be more safe, for Government troops were seldom molested on their marches.
If I should not please Mr. Dallas and get turned off with only my gun and pony I should be in a pretty bad shape, but I decided to keep right on and take the chances on the savages, who would get only my hair and my gun as my contribution to them if they should be hostile. I must confess, however, that the trail ahead did not look either straight or bright to me, but hoped it might be better than I thought. So I yoked my oxen and cows to the wagon and drove on. All the other teams had two drivers each, who took turns, and thus had every other day off for hunting if they chose, but I had to carry the whip every day and leave my gun in the wagon.
When we crossed Salt Creek the banks were high and we had to tie a strong rope to the wagons and with a few turns around a post, lower them down easily, while we had to double the teams to get them up the other side.
Night came on before half the wagons were over, and though it did not rain the water rose before morning so it was ten feet deep. We made a boat of one of the wagon beds, and had a regular ferry, and when they pulled the wagons over they sank below the surface but came out all right. We came to Pawnee Village, on the Platte, a collection of mud huts, oval in shape, and an entrance low down to crawl in at. A ground owl and some prairie dogs were in one of them, and we suspected they might be winter quarters for the Indians.
Dallas and his family rode in the two-horse wagon. Dick Field was cook, and the rest of us drove the oxen. We put out a small guard at night to watch for Indians and keep the stock together so there might be no delay in searching for them. When several miles from Ft. Kearney I think on July 3rd, we camped near the river where there was a slough and much cottonwood and willow. Just after sundown a horse came galloping from the west and went in with our horses that were feeding a little farther down. In the morning two soldiers came from the fort, inquiring after the stray horse, but Dallas said he had seen none, and they did not hunt around among the willows for the lost animal. Probably it would be the easiest way to report back to the fort–“Indians got him.” When we hitched up in the morning he put the horse on the off side of his own, and when near the fort, he went ahead on foot and entertained the officers while the men drove by, and the horse was not discovered. I did not like this much, for if we were discovered, we might be roughly handled, and perhaps the property of the innocent even confiscated. Really my New England ideas of honesty were somewhat shocked.
Reaching the South Platte, it took us all day to ford the sandy stream, as we had first to sound out a good crossing by wading through ourselves, and when we started our teams across we dare not stop a moment for fear the wagons would sink deep into the quicksands. We had no mishaps in crossing, and when well camped on the other side a solitary buffalo made his appearance about 200 yards away and all hands started after him, some on foot. The horsemen soon got ahead of him, but he did not seem inclined to get out of their way, so they opened fire on him. He still kept his feet and they went nearer, Mr. Rogers, being on a horse with a blind bridle, getting near enough to fire his Colt’s revolver at him, when he turned, and the horse, being unable to see the animal quick enough to get out of the way, suffered the force of a sudden attack of the old fellow’s horns, and came out with a gash in his thigh six inches long, while Rogers went on a flying expedition over the horse’s head, and did some lively scrambling when he reached the ground. The rest of them worried him along for about half a mile, and finally, after about forty shots he lay down but held his head up defiantly, receiving shot after shot with an angry shake, till a side shot laid him out. This game gave us plenty of meat, which though tough, was a pleasant change from bacon. I took no part in this battle except as an observer. On examination it was found that the balls had been many of them stopped by the matted hair about the old fellow’s head and none of them had reached the skull.
A few days after this we were stopped entirely by a herd of buffaloes crossing our road. They came up from the river and were moving south. The smaller animals seemed to be in the lead, and the rear was brought up by the old cows and the shaggy, burly bulls. All were moving at a smart trot, with tongues hanging out, and seemed to take no notice of us, though we stood within a hundred yards of them. We had to stand by our teams and stock to prevent a stampede, for they all seemed to have a great wonder, and somewhat of fear at their relatives of the plains. After this we often saw large droves of them in the distance. Sometimes we could see what in the distance seemed a great patch of brush, but by watching closely we could see it was a great drove of these animals. Those who had leisure to go up to the bluffs often reported large droves in sight. Antelopes were also seen, but these occupied the higher ground, and it was very hard to get near enough to them to shoot successfully. Still we managed to get a good deal of game which was very acceptable as food.
One prominent land mark along the route was what they called Court House Rock, standing to the south from the trail and much resembled an immense square building, standing high above surrounding country. The farther we went on the more plentiful became the large game, and also wolves and prairie dogs, the first of which seemed to follow the buffaloes closely.
About this time we met a odd looking train going east, consisting of five or six Mormons from Salt Lake, all mounted on small Spanish mules. They were dressed in buckskin and moccasins, with long spurs jingling at their heels, the rowels fully four inches long, and each one carried a gun, a pistol and a big knife. They were rough looking fellows with long, matted hair, long beards, old slouch hats and a generally back woods get-up air in every way. They had an extra pack mule, but the baggage and provisions were very light. I had heard much about the Mormons, both at Nauvoo and Salt Lake, and some way or other I could not separate the idea of horse thieves from this party, and I am sure I would not like to meet them if I had a desirable mule that they wanted, or any money, or a good looking wife. We talked with them half an hour or so and then moved on.
We occasionally passed by a grave along the road, and often a small head board would state that the poor unfortunate had died of cholera. Many of these had been torn open by wolves and the blanket encircling the corpse partly pulled away. Our route led a few miles north of Chimney Rock, standing on an elevated point like a tall column, so perfect and regular on all sides, that from our point it looked as if it might be the work of the stone cutters. Some of the party went to see it and reported there was no way to ascend it, and that as far as a man could reach, the rocks were inscribed with the names of visitors and travelers who passed that way.
At Scott’s Bluffs, the bluffs came close to the river, so there was considerable hill climbing to get along, the road in other places finding ample room in the bottom. Here we found a large camp of the Sioux Indians on the bank of a ravine, on both sides of which were some large cottonwood trees. Away up in the large limbs platforms had been made of poles, on which were laid the bodies of their dead, wrapped in blankets and fastened down to the platform by a sort of a network of smaller poles tightly lashed so that they could not be dragged away or disturbed by wild animals. This seemed a strange sort of cemetery, but when we saw the desecrated earth-made graves we felt that perhaps this was the best way, even if it was a savage custom.
These Indians were fair-sized men, and pretty good looking for red men. Some of our men went over to their camp, and some of their youths came down to ours, and when we started on they seemed quite proud that they had learned a little of the English language, but the extent of their knowledge seemed to be a little learned of the ox-drivers, for they would swing their hands at the cattle and cry out “Whoa! haw, g–d d–n.” Whether they knew what was meant, I have my doubts. They seemed pretty well provided for and begged very little, as they are apt to do when they are hard pressed.
We saw also some bands of Pawnee Indians on the move across the prairies. They would hitch a long, light pole on each side of a pony, with the ends dragging behind on the ground, and on a little platform at the hind end the children sat and were dragged along.
As we passed on beyond Scott’s Bluff the game began to be perceptibly scarcer, and what we did find was back from the traveled road, from which it had apparently been driven by the passing hunters.
In time we reached Ft. Laramie, a trading post, where there were some Indian lodges, and we noticed that some of the occupants had lighter complexions than any of the other Indians we had seen. They had cords of dried buffalo meat, and we purchased some. It was very fat, but was so perfectly cured that the clear tallow tasted as sweet as a nut. I thought it was the best dried meat I had ever tasted, but perhaps a good appetite had something to do with it.
As we passed Ft. Laramie we fell in company with some U.S. soldiers who were going to Ft. Hall and thence to Oregon. We considered them pretty safe to travel with and kept with them for some time, though their rate of travel was less than ours. Among them were some Mormons, employed as teamsters, and in other ways, and they told us there were some Missourians on the road who would never live to see California. There had been some contests between the Missourians and the Mormons, and I felt rather glad that none of us hailed from Pike county.
We turned into what they called the Black Hills, leaving the Platte to the north of us. The first night on this road we had the hardest rain I ever experienced, and the only one of any account on our journey. Our camp was on a level piece of ground on the bank of a dry creek, which soon became a very wet creek indeed, for by morning it was one hundred yards wide and absolutely impassible. It went down, however, as quickly as it rose, and by ten o’clock it was so low that we easily crossed and went on our way. We crossed one stream where there were great drifts or piles of hail which had been brought down by a heavy storm from higher up the hills. At one place we found some rounded boulders from six to eight inches in diameter, which were partly hollow, and broken open were found to contain most beautiful crystals of quartz, clear as purest ice. The inside was certainly very pretty, and it was a mystery how it came there. I have since learned that such stones are found at many points, and that they are called geodes.
We came out at the river again at the mouth of Deer Creek, and as there was some pretty good coal there quite easy to get, we made camp one day to try to tighten our wagon tires, John Rogers acting as blacksmith. This was my first chance to reconnoiter, and so I took my gun and went up the creek, a wide, treeless bottom. In the ravines on the south side were beautiful groves of small fir trees and some thick brush, wild rose bushes I think. I found here a good many heads and horns of elk, and I could not decide whether they had been killed in winter during the deep snow, or had starved to death.
There was a ferry here to cross the river and go up along north side. Mr. Dallas bought the whole outfit for a small sum and when we were safely over he took with him such ropes as he wanted and tied the boat to the bank The road on this side was very sandy and led over and among some rolling hills. In talking with the men of the U.S. troops in whose company we still were, I gathered much information concerning our road further west. They said we were entirely too late to get through to California, on account of crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains, which, they said would be covered with snow by November, or even earlier, and that we would be compelled to winter at Salt Lake. Some of the drivers overheard Mr. Dallas telling his family the same thing, and that if he should winter at Salt Lake, he would discharge his drivers as soon as he arrived, as he could not afford to board them all winter.
This was bad news for me, for I had known of the history of them at Nauvoo and in Missouri, and the prospect of being thrown among them with no money to buy bread was a very sorry prospect for me. From all I could learn we could not get a chance to work, even for our board there, and the other drivers shared my fears and disappointment. In this dilemma we called a council, and invited the gentleman in to have an understanding. He came and our spokesman stated the case to him, and our fears, and asked him what he had to say to us about it. He flew quite angry at us, and talked some and swore a great deal more, and the burden of his speech was:–“This train belongs to me and I propose to do with it just as I have a mind to, and I don’t care a d–n what you fellows do or say. I am not going to board you fellows all winter for nothing, and when we get to Salt Lake you can go where you please, for I shall not want you any longer.” We talked a little to him and under the circumstances to talk was about all we could do. He gave us no satisfaction and left us apparently much offended that we had any care for ourselves.
Then we had some talk among ourselves, at the time, and from day to day as we moved along. We began to think that the only way to get along at all in Salt Lake would be to turn Mormons, and none of us had any belief or desire that way and could not make up our minds to stop our journey and lose so much time, and if we were not very favored travelers our lot might be cast among the sinners for all time.
We were now on the Sweetwater River, and began to see the snow on the Rocky Mountains ahead of us, another reminder that there was a winter coming and only a little more than half our journey was done. We did not feel very happy over it, and yet we had to laugh once in a while at some of the funny things that would happen.
The Government party we were with had among them a German mule driver who had a deal of trouble with his team, but who had a very little knowledge of the English language. When the officers tried to instruct him a little he seemed to get out of patience and would say something very like _Sacramento_. We did not know exactly what this meant. We had heard there was a river of that name or something very near like that; and then again some said that was the Dutch for swearing. If this latter was the truth then he was a very profane mule driver when he got mad.
The Captain of the company had a very nice looking lady with him, and they carried a fine wall tent which they occupied when they went into camp. The company cook served their meals to them in the privacy of their tent, and they seemed to enjoy themselves very nicely. Everybody thought the Captain was very lucky in having such an accomplished companion, and journey along quietly to the gold fields at government expense.
There seemed to be just a little jealousy between the Captain and the Lieutenant, and one day I saw them both standing in angry attitude before the Captain’s quarters, both mounted, with their carbines lying across their saddles before them. They had some pretty sharp, hot words, and it looked as if they both were pretty nearly warmed up to the shooting point. Once the Lieutenant moved his right hand a little, and the Captain was quick to see it, shouting;–“Let your gun alone or I will make a hole through you,” at the same time grasping his own and pointing it straight at the other officer. During all this time the Captain’s lady stood in the tent door, and when she saw her favorite had the drop on the Lieutenant she clapped her delicate, little hands in a gleeful manner:–“Just look at the Captain! Ain’t he spunky?” and then she laughed long and loud to see her lord show so much military courage. She seemed more pleased at the affair than any one else. I don’t know exactly what the others thought, but I never could believe that the lady and the Captain were ever married.
The Lieutenant was no coward, but probably thinking that prudence was the better part of valor, refrained from handling his gun, and the two soon rode away in opposite directions.
We passed a lone rock standing in the river bottom on the Sweetwater, which they named Independence Rock. It was covered with the names of thousands of people who had gone by on that road. Some were pretty neatly chiseled in, some very rudely scrawled, and some put on with paint. I spent all the time I could hunting Mr. Bennett’s name, but I could not find it anywhere. To have found his name, and thus to know that he had safely passed this point would have been a little re-assuring in those rather doubtful days. Some had named the date of their passing, and some of them were probably pretty near the gold fields at this time.
All along in this section we found alkali water near the road, some very strong and dangerous for man or beast to use. We traveled on up the Sweetwater for some time, and at last came to a place where the road left the river, and we had a long, hard hill to pull up. When we reached the top of this we were in the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, the backbone of the American continent. To the north of us were some very high peaks white with snow, and to the south were some lower hills and valleys. The summit of the mountains was not quite as imposing as I expected, but it was the summit, and we were soon surely moving down the western side, for at Pacific Springs the water ran to the westward, toward the Pacific coast. The next day we came to the nearly dry bed of the river–the Big Sandy. The country round about seemed volcanic, with no timber, but plenty of sage brush, in which we were able to shoot an occasional sage hen. The river bed itself was nothing but sand, and where there was water enough to wet it, it was very miry and hard traveling over it. There are two streams, the Big Sandy and Little Sandy, both tributaries to Green River, which we soon reached and crossed.
It was a remarkable clear and rapid stream and was now low enough to ford. One of the Government teams set out to make the crossing at a point where it looked shallow enough, but before the lead mules reached the opposite shore, they lost their footing and were forced to swim. Of course the wagon stopped and the team swung round and tangled up in a bad shape. They were unhitched and the wagon pulled back, the load was somewhat dampened, for the water came into the wagon box about a foot. We camped here and laid by one day, having thus quite a little chance to look around.
When we came to the first water that flowed toward the Pacific Coast at Pacific Springs, we drivers had quite a little talk about a new scheme. We put a great many “ifs” together and they amounted to about this:–If this stream were large enough; if we had a boat; if we knew the way: if there were no falls or bad places; if we had plenty of provisions; if we were bold enough set out on such a trip, etc., we might come out at some point or other on the Pacific Ocean. And now when we came to the first of the “ifs,” a stream large enough to float a small boat; we began to think more strongly about the other “ifs”.
In the course of our rambles we actually did run across the second “if” in the shape of a small ferry boat filled up with sand upon a bar, and it did not take very long to dig it out and put it into shape to use, for it was just large enough to hold one wagon at a time. Our military escort intended to leave us at this point, as their route now bore off to the north of ours. I had a long talk with the surgeon who seemed well informed about the country, and asked him about the prospects. He did not give the Mormons a very good name. He said to me:–“If you go to Salt Lake City, do not let them know you are from Missouri, for I tell you that many of those from that State will never see California. You know they were driven from Missouri, and will get revenge if they can.” Both the surgeon and the captain said the stream came out on the Pacific Coast and that we had no obstacles except cataracts, which they had heard were pretty bad. I then went to Dallas and told him what we proposed doing and to our surprise he did not offer any objections, and offered me $60 for my pony. He said he would sell us some flour and bacon for provisions also.
We helped them in crossing the river, which was somewhat difficult, being swift, with boulders in the bottom but we got all safely over and then made the trade we had spoken of. Dallas paid me for my pony and we took what flour and bacon he would let go. He gave us some ropes for head and stern lines to our boat and a couple of axes, and we laid these, and our provisions in a pile by the roadside. Six of us then gave up our whips. Mr. S. McMahon, a driver, hesitated for some time, but being pressed by Dallas for a decision, at last threw down his whip and said:–“I will go with the boys.” This left Dallas with only one driver, but he took a whip himself, and with the aid of the children and his wife who drove the two-horse wagon, they got along very well. I paid for such provisions as we had taken, as the rest of the fellows had almost no money.
So we parted company, the little train slowly moving on its way westward. Our military captain, the soldier boys, and the gay young lady taking the route to Oregon, and we sitting on the bank of the river whose waters flowed to the great Pacific. Each company wished the other good luck, we took a few long breaths and then set to work in earnest to