In the foregoing chapters describing the trip across the deserts and mountains, the author has had occasion many times to refer to the “Jayhawkers.” Their history is in many respects no less remarkable and intensely interesting than that of his own party. The author has therefore collected many notes and interviews with prominent members and presents herewith the only written history of their travels.
The little train afterward known by this name was made up in the state of Illinois in 1849, of industrious, enterprising young men who were eager to see and explore the new country then promising gold to those who sought. The young men were from Knoxville, Galesburg and other towns. Not all were influenced by the desire for gold. It was said that California had a milder climate and that pleasant homes could there be made, and the long, cold winter avoided.
They placed some of the best men in position to manage for the whole. The outfit was placed on a steam-boat and transported to Kanesville, on the Missouri River above Council Bluffs. Some of the company went with the goods while others bought teams and wagons in Western Missouri and drove to the appointed place. Kanesville was a small Mormon camp, while Council Bluffs was a trading post of a few log cabins on the river bank, inhabited mostly by Indians. There was no regular ferry at either place, and our party secured a log raft which they used to get their wagons and provisions across, making the oxen swim.
They asked all the questions they could think of from everyone who pretended to know anything about the great country to the west of them, for it seemed a great undertaking to set out into the land they could see stretching out before them across the river. Other parties bound the same way, also arrived and joined them. They chose a guide who claimed to have been over the road before. When all were gathered together the guide told them that they were about to enter an Indian country, and that the dusky residents did not always fancy the idea of strangers richer than themselves passing through, and sometimes showed out some of the bad traits the Indians had been said to possess. It would therefore be better to organize and travel systematically. He would divide the company into divisions and have each division choose a captain, and the whole company unite in adopting some rules and laws which they would all agree to observe. This arrangement was satisfactorily accomplished, and they moved out in a sort of military style. And then they launched out on the almost endless western prairie, said then to be a thousand miles wide, containing few trees, and generally unknown.
These Illinois boys were young and full of mirth and fun which was continually overflowing. They seemed to think they were to be on a sort of every day picnic and bound to make life as merry and happy as it could be. One of the boys was Ed Doty who was a sort of model traveler in this line. A camp life suited him; he could drive an ox team, cook a meal of victuals, turn a pan of flap-jacks with a flop, and possessed many other frontier accomplishments. One day when Doty was engaged in the duty of cooking flap-jacks another frolicsome fellow came up and took off the cook’s hat and commenced going through the motions of a barber giving his customer a vigorous shampoo, saying:–“I am going to make a Jayhawker out of you, old boy.” Now it happened at the election for captain in this division that Ed Doty was chosen captain, and no sooner was the choice declared than the boys took the newly elected captain on their shoulders and carried him around the camp introducing him as the King Bird of the Jayhawkers. So their division was afterwards known as The Jayhawkers, but whether the word originated with them, and John Brown forgot to give them credit, or whether it was some old frontier word used in sport on the occasion is more than I will undertake to say; however the boys felt proud of their title and the organization has been kept up to this day by the survivors, as will be related further on.
The first few days they got along finely and began to lose all feeling of danger and to become rather careless in their guard duty. When the cattle had eaten enough and lain down, the guards would sometimes come into camp and go to sleep, always finding the stock all right in the morning and no enemy or suspicious persons in sight. But one bright morning no cattle were in sight, which was rather strange as the country was all prairie. They went out to look, making a big circuit and found no traces till they came to the river, when they found tracks upon the bank and saw some camps across the river, a mile or so away. Doty had a small spy glass and by rigging up a tripod of small sticks to hold it steady they scanned the camps pretty closely and decided that there were too many oxen for the wagons in sight.
Some of the smartest of them stripped off their clothes and started to swim the stream, but landed on the same side they started from. Captain Doty studied the matter a little and then set out himself, being a good swimmer, and by a little shrewd management and swimming up stream when the current was strongest, soon got across to where he could touch bottom and shouted to the others to do the same. Soon all the swimmers were across.
They could now see that there were two trains on that side and that the farther one had already begun to move and was about a mile in advance of the nearest one, Doty said something must be done, and although they only were clothed in undershirts they approached the nearest camp and were handed some overalls for temporary use. The men in this camp on hearing about the missing oxen said the fellows in the forward train went over and got them, for, as they said there were no wagons in sight and they must be strays. He said the forward train was from Tennessee, and that they had some occasion to doubt their honesty and had refused to travel with them any further. They said they were all old Missourians, and did not want other people’s property and if the boys found their cattle with the Tenneseans, and wanted any help to get them back again to call on them, and putting in some good strong swear words for emphasis.
The boys, barefooted and with only overalls and shirts, started after the moving train which they called to a halt when overtaken. The coarse grass was pretty hard to hurry through, clothed as they were. The train men were pretty gruff and wanted to know what was wanted. Capt. Doty very emphatically told them he could see some of his oxen in their train, and others in the herd, and he proposed to have them all back again. The Jayhawker boys were unarmed but were in a fighting mood and determined to have the stock at all hazards, and if not peaceably, war might commence. The boys saw that the two trains were of about equal strength, and if worse came to worst they could go back and get their guns and men and come over in full force after their property, and they were assured the Missourians would help them and a combination of forces would give them a majority and they could not be beaten by the Tennessee crowd. There was a good deal of talk, but finally when Doty demanded that their cattle be unyoked and the others separated from the herd, they yielded and gave them all their stock, some seventy head.
The Missourians had come up and heard the talk, and some of them went back and helped drive the cattle to the river, and deal out some double shotted thunder against the biggest scamps they had come across. It was quite a job to get the cattle across the river. They would go in a little way and then circle round and round like a circus, making no progress. They finally put a rope on one of them and a man led him as far as he could, which was more than half way, and although they landed a good ways down stream, they got them all across safely, left their borrowed overalls in the hands of their friends, with a thousand thanks for valuable assistance, and plunged into the swift running Platte, and swam back again to the northern side. They drove the straggling oxen back to camp with a sense of great satisfaction, and in turn received the praise of their friends who said that Ed Doty was the best Jayhawker of the border.
This was the first unpleasantness and they were afterwards more cautious and stood guard all night, watching closely all the time, both night and day, for for any signs of danger. Thus in time they reached Salt Lake, rather late in the season, but safe and sound, having escaped cholera or other disease, and in good spirits to surmount any further difficulties which might be met.
When the Jayhawkers reached Salt Lake it was found that it was not safe to try to go the regular northern route to California, as they were advised by those who seemed to know, as they might be snowed in on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and perish. The Mormons told them that the snow often fell there twenty feet deep, and some other stories likely to deter them from making the attempt. They also told them of a route farther south by which they could come into California at Los Angeles, or they could remain in Salt Lake until May when it would be safe to try the mountain route again. After listening to the talk of the mountaineers who claimed to have been over the route and to know all about it, and camping some time to rest and learn all they could, they finally decided on taking the southern route. One Mormon told them of a place where they could make a cut-off and save five hundred miles, and, if they would follow his instructions, they would find the route fully as good as the one usually traveled which was not much better than a trail. The cut-off was so instilled into their minds that they had great confidence in the report and talked very favorably of taking it.
The man Williams made for them a map of the proposed route and explained it to them and others who had gathered at Salt Lake, and from the map they could see how much was to be gained in time and distance by taking that route. A month or two of travel was indeed something to gain, and as the roads seemed similar in quality the reasoning was very plausible The map explained all the watering places and favorable things but said nothing about a desert, and as there was no one to tell them any unfavorable side to this plan there were many who quite concluded to go this way, and among those who did so were the Jayhawkers, and the “Williams Short Route” was freely talked about as a settled thing by them.
They now set about preparing to move. They sold, traded, and bought oxen till they had the best and fattest teams in Salt Lake Valley; selected good provisions, and plenty of them so as to be safe in case of delay, and contended that nothing could stop them in a country where but little snow could be, and water was as plentiful as shown on the map. They wanted to reach the gold mines and this was the shortest route and even if it was still considerably longer than the northern way they said they would rather be moving along and thus gain time than to so long in camp with nothing to do by which they could earn a cent. There were here in Salt Lake ten times as many men as could find employment, and Brigham’s saints would be pretty sure to get all of the odd jobs to the exclusion of the heretics.
To bring the matter to a determination a paper was drawn up for those to sign who wanted to go the southern route and it was pretty generally signed. The Mormon elder, John Hunt, was consulted, and as he seemed to know the general southern route better than any one else, he was prevailed upon to guide the train through on the old Spanish Trail. This had never been used as a wagon road, but he thought it could be without much difficulty, and he said if they could secure him a fair sized train he would go and conduct them through for ten dollars a wagon. This proposition was accepted after some consideration, and all who wished to do so were given permission to join the train. In a few days there were one hundred and seven wagons enlisted for this route, including seven Mormons bound for San Bernardino.
Preparations for the trip now began in good earnest, and the Saints were liberally patronized in purchase of flour and meat which were the principal things they had to sell. As their several wagons were loaded they moved out in small lots to the south to keep in good fresh feed for their animals, and to move on slowly till all were ready, when they would join in one large body and proceed. The guide was in no special haste as he said he wanted to wait a little later so the weather in the south would be cooler than they would be likely to find it if they pressed on at once. He said that in summer it was so hot that no white man could endure the heat. He said they could work slowly along the trail, and when the right time came he would move out himself, and that they might be assured that it would then be the coolest and best time in which to travel down there. So the company dallied along, and it was October before the whole train was made up at a point about a hundred miles south of Salt Lake.
The complete organization was divided into seven divisions, each with its captain, and division No. 1 was to lead the march the first day and then fall to the rear while No. 2 took the advance, and so continued till all had taken their turn. The leading party was to guard and care for the cattle and deliver them in the morning. The regulations were read aloud to the captains, and this rather large army of men, women and children, with about five hundred head of stock, moved out very systematically. It would sometimes be fully ten o’clock before the rear division could make a start, and correspondingly late before they could get up with the main camp at night. They got along very well, but cleaned the country of grass for some distance each side of the trail, as they swept along.
About the first of November Capt. Smith overtook us with the pack train, and camped with us at night. He formed many acquaintances and told them he was going to take a shorter route and save five hundred miles, rather than take the long route by way of Los Angeles. He had a map of his proposed route, and it was very much like the one we had. He also stated that it could probably be as easily traveled as the one by way of Los Angeles, and as a consequence of his talk, cut-off fever began to rage in camp again. Some got very enthusiastic in the matter and spoke publicly in favor of following Capt. Smith when he should come to the place when his short route turned away from the other trail. His plan grew so much in favor that when the place was reached a hundred wagons turned out into the Smith trail, leaving Capt. Hunt only the seven Mormon wagon bound for San Bernardino, Hunt stood at the forks of the road as the wagons went by and said to them;–“Good-bye, friends. I cannot, according to my agreement go with you, for I was hired for this road, and no other was mentioned. I am in duty bound to go even if only one wagon decides to go.” When the last wagon had passed him he still stood talking with several who had chosen the new way and told them they were taking a big risk, for they did not know very much about the route, and he had been thinking that they might find it pretty rough and hard to get over the first time. He said that if all decided to go that way he would go and help them, even if they went to h-ll, but as it was he could not. He wished them luck and the two trains parted company.
At the end of three days of travel on the Smith trail they came to the top of a long steep hill. The trail went down and down, and they see no way of crossing the terribly deep cañon that was before them. So they went into camp and sent explorers out to investigate and find a crossing if possible.
On the second day the explorers began to return with very unfavorable reports, and many who found their progress thus blocked turned about and started to follow Hunt. Most of the wagons which remained had each one or more of their men out exploring and could not turn back until their return. Several of the Jayhawkers having once started on this route were very anxious to get through on it if a way could be found for them to do it, and therefore searched farther and with greater determination than the others. When they returned they reported they had found a way around the head of the cañon and they believed it to be the right way. The map Williams had given them did not show this cañon and they believed it to be correct, and that the real road led around at the place which they had found, and no further trouble would be met.
Acting on this report about twenty wagons, including the Jayhawkers, concluded to go ahead. “We can beat the other fellows a month,” said they, and so they hitched up and pulled out in a northerly direction, feeling in good spirits and hopeful of success.
They named this place Mt. Misery. While camped here a lone and seemingly friendless man died and was buried. None seem now to remember his name, but think he was from Kentucky. He was low with consumption and not strong enough to endure the hardships of the journey.
About the third night the Jayhawkers were overtaken by seven more wagons owned by A. Bennett and friends, J.B. Arcane and family, two men named Earhart and a son of one of them, and one or two other wagons.
The Jayhawker’s train was made up of men from many states, but seemed well united and was as complete as when they first started. The Author was with the party that came up in the rear, which had started later but traveled faster on account of having a road broken for them. He visited the leaders in camp when they were discussing the necessity of forming a new travelling compact to help and protect each other on the road. Those who had no families were objecting to being bound to those who had women and children with them. They argued that the road would be hard and difficult and those wagons with women and children would require more assistance than they would be able to render in return. They said they could go back and follow Hunt who was on a better road and they could proceed with more safely.
Among those with this train was Rev. J.W. Brier, his wife and three children. He objected to being turned back and said he did not want to be assisted, but would go with them and do his part and take care of himself. The Author listened to the various speeches without speaking and became satisfied that it would end in every one looking out for himself in case of hard times. He went over to their camp again the next night and wished to ask them why they were steering so nearly due north. He said to them that they were going toward Salt Lake rather than California, and that the Bennet party did not feel inclined to follow them any farther in that direction. They replied that their map told them to go north a day or more and then they would find the route as represented. They would then turn west and reach Owen’s Lake and from there there would be no more trouble. The Jayhawker crowd seemed to think they could go anywhere and no difficulty could happen which they couldn’t overcome. Bennett’s little train turned west from this point and the Jayhawkers went on north, but before night they changed their minds and came following on after Bennett whom they overtook and passed, again taking the lead.
Thus far the country had been well watered and furnished plenty of grass, and most of them talked and believed that this kind of rolling country would last all the way through. The men at leisure scattered around over the hills on each side of the route taken by the train, and in advance of it, hunting camping places and making a regular picnic of it. There were no hardships, and one man had a fiddle which he tuned up evenings and gave plenty of fine music. Joy and happiness seemed the rule, and all of the train were certainly having a good time of it.
But gradually there came a change as the wagon wheels rolled westward. The valleys seemed to have no streams in them, and the mountain ranges grew more and more broken, and in the lower ground a dry lake could be found, and water and grass grew scarce–so much so that both men and oxen suffered. These dry lake beds deceived them many times. They seemed as if containing plenty of water, and off the men would go to explore. They usually found the distance to them about three times as far as they at first supposed, and when at last they reached them they found no water, but a dry, shining bed, smooth as glass, but just clay, hard as a rock. Most of these dry lakes showed no outlet, nor any inlet for that matter, though at some period in the past they must have been full of water. Nothing grew in the shape of vegetables or plants except a small, stunted, bitter brush.
Away to the west and north there was much broken country, the mountain ranges higher and rougher and more barren, and from almost every sightly elevation there appeared one or more of these dry lake beds. One night after about three days of travel the whole of the train of twenty seven wagons was camped along the bank of one of these lakes, this one with a very little water in it not more than one fourth or one half an inch in depth, and yet spread out to the width of a mile or more. It was truly providential, for by digging holes along the border the water would run into them and prove abundant for all, both oxen and men. If it had proved dry, as so many before had proved, or if we had been a few days earlier or later we might not have found a drop. This proved to be the last time the whole twenty seven wagons were gathered in one camp together.
The Author came into camp about nine o’clock in the evening after climbing many peaks and taking a survey of the surrounding country with a field glass. Men from nearly every mess came to him to inquire what he had seen. They asked all sorts of questions and wanted an opinion as to the advisability of trailing across the prairie directly west, which then seemed easy. They were told that from what could be seen from the summit of buttes both north and south of the camp, ranging a hundred or so miles in almost every direction, it was believed no water could be found, between the present camp and a range of mountains which could be seen crossing the route far to the west. “Well,” said Capt. Doty of the Jayhawkers, “I don’t like to hear such discouraging talk from Manley, but I think we will have to steer straight ahead. The prospect for water seems to be about the same, west or south, and I cannot see that we would better ourselves, by going north.” When morning came Capt. Doty and his party yoked up and set out straight across the desert, leaving seven wagons of the Bennett party still in camp.
For some time all of us had seen in the range ahead an appearance of a pass, or lower place in the mountain, and we had got to calling it Martin’s Pass, naming it after Jim Martin. There was a snow-capped peak just to the south of it and the pass, now apparently exactly west of the lake camp, seemed to the Jayhawkers easy to reach. Their wills were strong enough and they were running over with determination and energy enough to carry them over any plain, no matter how dry or barren, or over any mountain no matter how rugged and steep.
Five days they traveled, without finding water, and small supply they took along had been consumed. For lack of water they could not eat or sleep. The oxen gathered round the little fire and seemed to beg for water, they had no cud to chew unless it was the cud of disappointment. The range of mountains they had been aiming for still seemed far away and the possible show for reaching it seemed very poor indeed, and the prospect of any water hole between them and the mountains poorer yet. Hope was pretty near gone. Martins mess unyoked their oxen from the wagons, put some small packs on their own backs, and loaded some upon the backs of the oxen, and turned south toward the nearest snowy mountain they could see, the same one towards which the Bennett party steered from the lake camp.
The Doty party kept their courage longer and kept on straight ahead for another day, and then camped, almost without hope. No rest came to them, nor sleep. Towards morning as they stood around the fire a stray cloud appeared and hid the stars, and shortly after began to unload a cargo of snow it carried. They spread out every blanket, and brushed up every bit they could from the smooth places, kindled a little fire of brush under the camp kettles and melted all the snow all of them could gather, besides filling their mouths as fast as ever they could, hoping that it would full in sufficient quantities to satisfy themselves and the oxen, and quench their dreadful thirst. Slowly the cloud moved scattering the snowflakes till they felt relieved. The last time the Author conversed with a member of this party was in 1892, and it was conceded that this storm saved the lives of both man and beast in that little band of Jayhawkers. It was like manna falling from Heaven, and as surely saved their lives as did the manna of the Bible save the lives of the tribes of Israel. They had no reason to expect a storm of rain or snow, but came to them just as they were perishing. A little further on they came to a small stream of water, and as the bed showed only a recent flow it must also have come from the little local storm further up the mountain. They used this water freely, even though it was not very good, and it acted on them very much like a solution of Glanber Salts.
They decided at first that they had better follow the stream southward, but after a little time, feeling the sickness caused by the water, they saw it was no advantage and turned west again, bearing to the north toward a sort of pass they could now see in the mountains in that direction. This stream is now known as the Amargosa, or bitter, river.
The new direction in which they marched gave them an up-hill route for thirty or forty miles, rough and barren, with no water or grass. There was no road or trail to follow, the oxen were as weak as their owners from drinking the bitter water, and the road needed some clearing and breaking in places before the wagons could pass. They moved quite slowly and reached the summit on the second night with the loss of a single ox. The Author would say here that this was the last ox which was allowed to die without using the flesh for food, and it was from this same one he cut a steak to eat on Christmas eve, 1849.
From the summit they took a way down a dark, deep cañon having a steep slope, and very rocky and bad, but down which the oxen drew their loads much easier than when they came up, reaching water on the third day, where there were many springs, and a sort of coarse grass for the oxen. The place is now known as Furnace Creek. The Jayhawkers passed on, and here at these very springs was where the Author overtook the Rev. J.W. Brier delivering a lecture to his children on the benefits of an early education, as referred to in his narrative.
As the Jayhawkers drove out of this Furnace Creek Cañon the valley into which they came was very narrow, the high, snow-capped mountain before them seemed steeper and rougher than ever, so steep in fact that it could not be ascended by a man on foot. A short distance below could be seen a lake containing water, and the pass toward which they had been directing their course seemed to the north of them. They therefore turned their course in that direction. The road was sandy, and the brush that grew on it was only a few inches high. On their way they came to an abandoned Indian camp occupied by one poor old blind red man. He would hold his mouth open like a young bird begging for something to eat. One man dropped kernels of parched corn into his mouth, but instead of eating them he quickly spit them out; it seemed that he had been left to die and could not or would not. His hair was white as snow. His skin looked about the color of a smoked ham, and so crippled was he that he crawled about like a beast, on all fours. It was barely possible that he had been left to watch, and that his great infirmities were only pretended, but they seemed genuine enough, and were doubtless true. They left him in peaceable possession of the spot and traveled on.
They approached the base of the mountain in front of what they had all along supposed to be a pass, and found, as they had lately begun to suspect, that there was no pass that their wagons could be taken through, and they must be abandoned. The camp was poor. What little water there was had a salty taste, and they could only find here and there a bunch of the poorest grass. The oxen stood around as if utterly dispirited, and would sometimes make a faint effort to pick up and eat some of the dry brush that grew around the desolate camp. This camp is now known to be in the northern part of Death Valley, but then they knew no names for anything, but if dreariness and absence of life, and threatened danger all around were any indication, they might well have named it Death Valley as was afterwards done by the party with whom the Author traveled.
The party had been brave till now, but when they realized that they must make pack animals of themselves, and trudge on, they knew not where, perhaps to only a lingering death, the keen edge of disappointment cut close, and they realized how desolate they were. They felt much inclined to attribute all their troubles to the advice of the Mormons. Some said that the plan was thus to wipe so many more hated Gentiles out of the way, and wishes were deep and loud that the Mormons might all be buried out of sight in the Great Salt Lake. They thought Lot’s wife must have been turned to salt in the neighborhood, everything was so impregnated with saline substances, and the same result might come to them. But the inherent manhood of the little band came to their relief and they determined not to die without a struggle for escape and life.
They killed some of their oxen, and took the wood of their wagons and kindled fires to dry and smoke the flesh so it would be light and easy to carry with them. They scattered all surplus baggage around the ground, carefully storing and saving the bit of bread that yet remained and dividing it equally among the party. They also divided the tea, coffee, rice and some such things, and each one agreed that he could not ask aught of his neighbor more. Knapsacks were improvised from parts of the wagon canvas, and long strips of canvas were made into a sort of pack harness for the oxen. It was a sad sight to see the strong and vigorous young men of a few days ago reduced to such straits; almost skeletons now, with no hope of nourishment to invigorate them. They made canteens by sewing a couple of small powder cans in cloth, with a band to go over the shoulders.
The Jayhawkers were still making their preparations when the Martin party and Rev. J.W. Brier and family came up to their camp, having taken a circuit around farther to the south. The Martin party was already in marching order and this camp was so poor that they did not wait, but gave all their oxen they had left to Mr. Brier and said they could get on faster without them. They took a straight course over the hills and up the mountain, saying they believed they had provisions enough upon their backs to last them through, and that nothing should check their progress till they reached the other side, where they said were fertile valleys and plenty of chance to live.
The Doty party, or Jayhawkers, when they were ready started first a northerly course to find a more favorable place to cross the range and drove their oxen with them, each with a small pack. They soon came to some good water, and after refreshing themselves turned westward to cross the great mountain before them. Both men and oxen were shod with moccasins made of raw-hide to protect the feet against sharp rocks. They could see no trail but merely picked out the best way to go. While climbing the steep mountain side they came across a dead ox left by some party that had gone before them. They cut out the tongue and some of the best meat and ate it to eke out their own small stock, and carried some pieces with them, but soon threw it all away but enough for a roast for supper.
When it was getting dark they were almost at the summit, but there was no good camping place, and they saw a small fire light at a little distance and went to it, finding a poor lone camper taking care of himself. They camped here also. It seemed as if there were many men from the various parties scattered all around the country, each one seeking out the path which seemed to suit best his tender feet or present fancy, steering west as well as mountains and cañon would permit, some farther north, some farther south and generally demoralized, each thinking that as a last resort he would be able to save his own life. It seemed to be a question of will and endurance, strong hearts and keeping the body in motion. The weak and faint must fail, and the strong said to the weak;–“Stand up; be a man; don’t fall down;” and so the strong spurred on the weak and kept them up as best they could.
Down the mountain they went, on the west side and instead of Los Angeles, which some of them expected to see, they saw only a salt lake in the midst of a barren desert valley and their route lay directly across it. They traveled in several directions as they went across. One went across the valley on a strip of dried mud between two small lakes. Others followed down along the east side of the lake near the foot of the mountain, where they found some good water and an old Indian camp. They found some mosquite beans, which they did not know were of much use, but really, if they had known how to fix them up a little they would have been good food.
Capt. Doty’s mess crossed between the lakes on the strip of dry mud while others went on where it was still soft and left marks of their foot-steps. Both parties turned up a small cañon on the west side and began the ascent of a black and barren range, containing no water, but in the bed of the ravine near the summit they found some damp sand and tried to dig with their hands to find some of the precious fluid. But no water came, and in the morning one of their number Mr. Fish died and was left unburied on the barren rocks. No doubt his bones could be found there to-day.
Turning west again, they had a down grade over a most barren and rocky road for many miles. The prospect from this point was any thing but cheering. To the left a large lake could be seen, and from their previous experience they concluded it to be salt, and the valley they were coming to was very sandy, and the hardest sort of footing for men and animals as weak as those of the party were. It must be crossed before there was any possibility of water, and when across it was quite uncertain whether they could obtain any. One of their number had already died of thirst and fatigue and all were suffering terribly.
The valley seemed about eight miles across, and before they were half way over Mr. Ischam, one of their party sat down, perfectly exhausted, and said he could not take another step. No one was able to assist him or give him a drink of water, and they could not tarry to see if rest would refresh him. They could only look sadly at him and pass on in silence, for he seemed fast wasting away. The thought came to everyone that perhaps it would be his turn next to sit down and see the others pass on. In fact the probability of any more of them living another day was very poor, for they all grew weaker and weaker with every hour, and no one knew how many hours must pass before they could hope for water. There was not moisture enough in their poor bodies to make tears, and no one dare open his mouth, lest all the moisture suddenly evaporate and respiration cease.
Those who had no cattle took different courses to reach the hills and mountains on the west side of this valley, hoping there to find water and signal to the others if they were successful. All except the two men managed to get across, and finding no water the packs were taken from the oxen and they were driven to the lake which appeared on the left. Reaching the lake they found the water red in color and so strong of alkali that no man or beast could take a single swallow. They drove the cattle back again with sad hearts, and almost despondent, for in the rough, dry rocks of the mountains there seemed no signs of water. But they were saved again. Those who bore farthest to the right in their course to the mountains, steering toward a pile of tremendous rocks, found a little stream of good water which flowed only a short distance and then sank into the sand. This good news spread rapidly, and all soon gathered at the little streamlet. It was slow work getting water for them all, but by being patient they were all filled up. Some took two canteens of water and hurried back to Mr. Ischam, whom they found still alive but his mouth and throat so dry and parched, and his strength so small that he was unable to swallow a single drop, and while they waited he breathed his last. With their hands and feet they dug away the sand for a shallow grave, placed the body in it, covered it with his blankets, and then scraped the sand back over again to make a little mound over their dead comrade. Perhaps if he could have walked a mile farther he might have lived, and but for the little trickling stream of water from the rocks they might all be dead, so slight were the circumstances that turned the scale to balance toward life or death.
There was so little feed for oxen that they could gain no strength, but were much refreshed by the water and could still travel. One was killed here, and the meat, poor as it was, gave the men new strength. They all guessed it to be at least fifty miles to the base of the great snow mountain before them, and what there was between no one could tell, for there were hills and valleys between. Leaving the little spring their course led first up a small cañon, and when they reached the summit of the ridge a small valley covered with sage brush was before them, the most fertile spot they had seen for a long time. The descent to this valley was through another cañon which was filled with large boulders for much of the way, and over these it seemed almost impossible to get the cattle. They had seen no water since leaving the little stream, and the plain they were now approaching seemed thirty miles wide, with no signs of streams or springs. However just at the foot of the cañon they found a small water hole, but the water was so salt that even the oxen refused to drink it.
They decided to make a push across the plain and endeavor to reach the other side in two days, and they knew there could be no water on its even expanse. The plain seemed quite an up grade from where they were to the base of the mountain.
On the second day they all reached the point they were aiming for except Rev. J.W. Brier and family, and they came in one day behind. Every one looked out for himself and had no time nor strength to spare to help others. Here on a small bench overlooking the country to the south and east but still a long distance from the snow, they found some holes of water, and some bunch grass a little farther up the hill. Here was a large trail coming from the north and leading from this point westward. There were no signs of recent use, but there were many indications that it was quite ancient and had been considerably traveled in time past. This was quite encouraging to many of them and they declared they would follow this trail which would surely lead to some place well known, in a better country. They cared not whether it led to California, Mexico, or Texas, only that they might get out of this country which seemed accursed. Any place where they could get something to eat and drink would be better than this.
Mr. and Mrs. Brier had some pretty hard struggles to get along, and everyone of this party has ever been loud in praise of the energy and determination of the brave little woman of the Brier mess. All agreed that she was by far the best man of the party. She was the one who put the packs on the oxen in the morning. She it was who took them off at night, built the fires, cooked the food, helped the children, and did all sorts of work when the father of the family was too tired, which was almost all of the time. They all said that he, like other ministers, had fallen out with any work but that of the tongue, and seemed perfectly willing for some one else to do the work. Mrs. Brier had the sympathy of everyone, and many would have helped her if they could. She waited on her big husband with untiring zeal, and still had time to care for the children with all of a mother’s love. It seemed almost impossible that one little woman could do so much. It was entirely to her untiring devotion that her husband and children lived. Mr. Brier had but little sympathy or help from any one but her. Some were quite sarcastic in their remarks about the invalid preacher who never earned his bread by the sweat of his brow, and by their actions showed that they did not care very much whether he ever got through or not. They thought he ought to have asserted his manliness and taken the burden on himself, and not lean upon his delicate and trusting wife as he seemed to do. All are sure that it is to his faithful wife the Rev. J.W. Brier owed his succor from the sands of that desert.
Looking back on the scenes of that day, the way the selfish dispositions of people were made manifest is almost incredible. Every one seemed to think only of saving his own life, and every spark of human sympathy and kindness seemed extinguished. A man would drink the last cup of water even if his neighbor choked.
This camp was the same one which the Author mentions in his narrative, to which Rogers and himself crept so silently and carefully at night to ascertain whether the occupants were friends or foes. They were much pleased to find it was Capt. Doty of the Jayhawkers and his mess who had remained behind to dry the flesh of an ox they had killed when it could travel no longer. The others had gone on ahead, following the trail, leaving these to follow. They staid here two days, and it was while waiting here that the Rev. J.W. Brier came up as before related, and they all went on together when they moved.
Nearly every man had carried a gun in the early days of the expedition, hoping to kill game, and to be well armed in case of attack by Indians or enemies, but they began to find that they were useless encumbrances, and first one and then another would throw away his fire-arms as a burden too great for a weary man to bear. There was no game, and the poor weak men hardly deemed their own lives worth defending against an enemy when a day or two of lack of water would end the matter of life at any rate.
As they slept they dreamed the most tantalizing dreams of clear, rippling brooks of water; of wading knee deep in the most beautiful of ponds; of hoisting the old moss-covered bucket from some deep old well; of breaking and eating great white loaves of bread; of surrounding the home table with its load of steaming beans and bacon, fragrant coffee and delicious fried cakes. With such dreams of comfort, they awoke to realize more fully the terrors of their dry and swollen throats, the discomfort of empty stomachs. Water and food were the great riches of life to them then. Had piles of twenty-dollars pieces been on the one hand and a bucket of cold water on the other there is no doubt of the choice that would have been made.
Seven or eight miles from this place were two branches to the trail. One led into the mountains toward the snow, and the other still bore southerly. They could see that some other party who had no oxen to drive had taken the more northerly route, which seemed to lead more directly in the direction of the mines of California. Those who came later, with animals thought it would be folly to try to cross the deep snow they could see on the mountains before them and concluded that it would be safer to the south of the snow line, braving the danger of scarcity of water, rather than to perish in the snow. Capt. Doty was willing to attempt the northern branch of the trail if the others so decided, but the general feeling was in favor of the more plain and open trail which led away from the snows. It is known that this Northern branch led over what is known as Walker’s Pass, coming out at the Kern River.
Taking then the southern branch, the party passed through a range of low mountains, and then the country before them seemed quite level for a hundred miles.
They expected they would find much difficulty on account of water, as their experience had taught them that it was very scarce in such locations, but this trail when they came to follow it led them for eight or ten miles over a level piece of high land that looked as if it might have slid down from the high mountain at some day long past, and this easily traveled road brought them at last to the top of a steep hill, down which they went and found near the bottom, a small weak stream of water, but no grass, and but little fuel of any kind. (This was the same camp at which Rogers and the Author overtook the advance party.) Here they killed an ox, which made a good meal for all, and not much remained over, for many had no oxen and were getting out of all sorts of provisions. They depended much on the generosity of their fellow travelers. Many of them stood back, and waited till those who owned the food were satisfied, and were very grateful when they were invited to take even the poorest morsels.
They could count the oxen and make a pretty close guess of how many days they could live in this way, even with the best probable fortune favoring them, and to the best of them there was but little hope, and to those who were dependent it seemed as if the fate of Fish and Ischam might be theirs almost any day. When the Author conversed with them at this camp he found them the first really heart-broken men he had ever seen. Some were men of middle age who had left good farms that gave them every need, and these they had left to seek a yellow phantom, and now there were yellow phantoms of a different sort rearing their dreadful forms all about them. They called themselves foolish gold hunters to forsake a land of plenty for a chance to leave their bones in a hot desert. More eyes than one filled with tears, and hopes in more than one breast vanished to almost nothing. More than one would gladly have placed himself back where he could have been assured of the poorest fare he ever saw upon his farm, for bread and water would have been an assurance of life, of which there seemed to be really but little expectation here.
When they left this camp in the cañon the trail was between two high rocks, rising like walls on each side. In one place they were so near together that an ox could hardly squeeze through. In a very short time they came to a bunch of willows growing out in the open ground. The little bunch or grove was forty or fifty feet in diameter, and in the center was a spring of water. The center of the clump had been cleared out, making a sort of corral of bushes, enclosing the spring. On the outside there was quite a little growth of grass, which was a fortunate thing for their poor beasts.
Away in the distance, rising up a little against the western sky they could see mountains with snow on them, and it seemed as if it were a journey of five or six days to reach them, but the good water and the grass bolstered up their spirits wonderfully for there was present relief and rather better prospects ahead. They were pretty sure that the wide plain held no water. Everything that would hold the precious drink was filled, and the best preparations made for what they believed was to be the final struggle for life. They rested one day and prepared for the very worst that might before them. Early in the morning when they could see plainest, they looked across the expanse before them and really it did not seem quite so barren, hot and desolate as the region they had passed, and they talked and hoped that this would be the last desert they must cross and that Los Angeles lay just beyond the sunny ridge they could dimly see ahead. There were some tears that more than one would not live to answer roll call on the other side, but it was the last hope, and worth an earnest, active trial.
Early in the morning, much refreshed, they started on again with rather sober faces. That night one man insisted on sleeping with his clothes and boots all on, for he said if he died he wanted to die in full dress. Another day and some thought they could see trees on the mountains ahead of them, and this renewed their courage greatly. In the middle of the day they suffered greatly with the heat and the dry air seemed to drink up every bit of moisture from everybody. When they killed an ox they saved the blood and ate it. The intestines, cleaned with the fingers, made food when roasted on the fire, and pieces of hide, singed and roasted, helped to sustain life. The water was nearly all gone. Only power of will and strength of body had kept any. Capt. Asa Haines sat down one day and said he could go no farther, but his comrade, L.D. Stephens, who had kept a little rice, a little tea, and a dry crust of bread for time of need, took a little water in a cup and made some soup which he forced his friend to eat and soon he revived and was able to move on again. That was true friendship.
The next night Stevens himself awoke and seemed perishing with thirst. He crawled over to Doty’s bed and begged for just one sup of water, Doty in the goodness of his heart, took his canteen from under his head divided the last few drops with him and the death which threatened him was held off. Capt. Doty found it necessary to talk very seriously to those who mourned and talked of failing. He never gave up in the least. He encouraged all to make every step they could and know no such word as fail. When they said that death would be easier than life, he told them so, but that life was possible if they only willed it, and a better life than had been theirs. And so he kept them encouraged and kept them putting one foot before the other, pointing out the ever lessening distance to the mountain before them. He appealed to their manhood. “Be men,” said he, “Be brave and courageous, and you have more strength than you believe.” Thus by example and words he proved to be a true captain to his little band.
Their water was all gone, every drop, and still the foot-hills seemed far away. The supply of meat ran out. Tom Shannon killed an ox, and when those who had cattle had taken some, the others who had none were told to divide the rest. There was no water to dress or cook it, but it helped to sustain life. Entrails, bones, sinews, bits of hide and everything was used. One man was seen with an ox horn, burning the end in the fire and gnawing away at the softened portion. It was something terrible to see human beings eating what the dogs would cast aside. One man saw some moist looking earth on the shady side of a bunch of brush and he dug down and got a handful of it, from which he tried to suck the moisture. He failed, and the bad taste of the earth made him suffer more than before. Many bones of horses and cattle now appeared along the trail. They seemed to have been there a long time, and some were partly decayed. On this waterless stretch one of their number, a Frenchman, wandered off, searching for water in little hollows or puddles, and never came back to camp. He was supposed to be dead, but ten years afterward some surveyors found him in a Digger Indian camp.
An idea how selfish men will get under such circumstances may be gained by relating that on one occasion when an ox was killed the liver was carried to the brave little Mrs. Brier for herself and children, and she laid it aside for a few moments till she could attend to some other duties before cooking it. Darkness coming on meanwhile, some unprincipled, ungallant thief stole it, and only bits of offal and almost uneatable pieces were left to sustain their lives. That any one could steal the last morsel from a woman and her children surpasses belief, but yet it was plain that there was at least one man in the party who could do it. No one can fully understand or describe such scenes as this unless he has looked into just such hungry looking, haggard eyes and faces, a mixture of determination and despair, the human expression almost vanishing, and the face of a starving wolf or jackal taking its place, There are no words to paint such a state of things to him who has never seen and known.
But there were true men, true, charitable hearts in that little band. Though death stared them in the face they never forgot their fellow men. As they slowly crawled along many would wander here and there beside the trail and fall behind, especially the weaker ones, and many were the predictions that such and such a one would never come up again, or reach the camp. Then it was that these noble souls, tired almost beyond recovery themselves, would take water and go back to seek the wandering ones and give them drink and help them on. More than one would thus have perished in the sands but for the little canteen of water carried back by some friend. Only a swallow or two would often revive their failing strength and courage, and with slow step they would move on again. How much good a crust of bread would have done such a poor creature. Bread there was none–nothing but the flesh of their poor oxen, wasted and consumed by days of travel and lack of food till it had no goodness in it. Even the poor oxen, every night seemed to be the end of their walking; every morning it was feared that that would be the last time they would be able to rise upon their feet.
Already five or six days had passed since they left the camp at the willows where they had their last supply of water, and still they were on the desert. The journey was longer than they had expected, partly owing to the slow progress they had made for there were frequent stops to rest or they could not move at all. The mountains seemed nearer every day, and the trees were outlined more plainly each morning as they started out. Capt. Doty used every circumstance to encourage them. He would remark upon the favorable signs of water in the hills before them, and the hope that there might be some game to provide better meat than that of starving oxen. Thus he renewed their hope and kept alive their courage. He must have had a great deal of fortitude to hide his own sad feelings, for they must as surely have come to him as to any one, and to keep up always an air of hope, courage, and determination to succeed. If he had been a man of less spirit and good judgment it is very probable that many more would have been left by the wayside to die.
About this point the trail which had been growing fainter and fainter, seemed to vanish entirely. One could move in almost any direction to right or left as he chose, and because of this, previous travel had doubtless scattered and thus left no trail. It was thought best that this company should spread out and approach the mountains in as broad a front as possible so as to multiply the chances of finding water, and so they started out in pairs, some to the right and some to the left, each selecting the point where water seemed most probable.
Tom Shannon and a companion were one of these pairs. Tom was one of the few who still stuck to his gun, for he felt that it might save his life sometime. He and his companion separated about a mile, each looking at all points that showed the least sign of water. Suddenly a jack rabbit started from a bush, the first game Shannon had seen for more than a month. He pulled the rifle on him as he was making some big bound and had the good luck to nearly split his head open. Rushing up to his game he put his mouth to the wound and sucked the warm blood as it flowed, for it was the first liquid he had seen; but instead of allaying his fearful thirst it seemed to make it worse and he seemed delirious. A little way up the gulch he saw a rock and a green bush and steered for it, but found no water. He sat down with his back to the rock, his rifle leaning up near by, pulled his old worn hat over his eyes, and suffered an agony of sickness. He realized that life was leaving his body, and there he sat with no power to move and no desire to make an effort. It seemed as if he could see plain before him all the trail from where he sat, back over all the deserts, mountains and rivers to the old place in Illinois. He entirely forgot the present, and seemed unconscious of everything but the pictures of the past. The mind seemed growing freer from its attachment to the body and at liberty to take in his whole past life, and bright scenes that had gone before. How long he sat thus he knows not. His companion was fortunate in finding water, and when he had refreshed himself he set out to find poor Tom of whom he could see nothing. Going toward where he heard the shot he followed on till he saw him at the rock, almost doubled up, with his face concealed by his hat. “O! Tom!” said he, but there came no answering motion, and going nearer he called again and still no answer and no sign. Poor Tom had surely passed on to the better land, thought he, and salvation was so near. He approached and lifted the hat rim. There was a movement of the eyes, a quivering of the muscles of the face, and a sort of semi-unconscious stare such as precedes approaching dissolution.
Quickly holding back his head he poured water between his lips from his canteen and it was swallowed. Then a little more, and then some more, and life seemed coming back again into a troublesome world, bringing pain with it, and the consciousness of a suffering body. After a time he felt better and was helped to his feet, and together they went to the water hole where they made a fire and cooked the rabbit which was the first savory meat they had tasted for a long time. Tom felt better and told his companion how he felt after tasting the warm rabbit’s blood, and how he had nearly gone off into the sleep of death.
“If you had been a little longer finding me,” said Tom, “I should soon have been out of this sad world.” They fired a signal gun, looked down at the bones of the rabbit, drank more water, and gradually felt new life coming to them. The mountains seemed more fertile, and there was brush and grass near by, timber farther up, and still higher a cap of snow extending far along the range, both north and south. Towards night on this eventful day the scattered travelers began to come slowly into camp attracted by the guns and the smoke of the fire made by those who first found the water. Some were nearly as far gone as Tom Shannon was, and great caution had to used in giving them water on their empty stomach. One man named Robinson became so weak before he got near camp that his companions placed him on the back of one of the animals and a man walked on either side to catch him if he fell off. When they got within a mile of the water he insisted that he was strong enough to take care of himself and not be watched every minute, and they relaxed their vigilance. He soon fell off, and when they went to him he refused to be put back on the animal again or to walk any farther. “Just spread my blankets down,” said he, “and I will lie down and rest a little and after a while I will come along into camp.” So they left him and pushed on to water, and when they were a little refreshed went back to him with water, and to help him to come in, but when they came to him they found him dead. He did not seem to have moved after he had lain down. He did not seem so bad off as Shannon was when he lay down, and probably a few swallows of water at that time would have saved his life. It seemed sad indeed, after so much suffering and striving to get along, that he should die within a mile of water that would have saved his life. If he had possessed a little more strength so that the spark of life could have remained a little longer, the cooling moisture from the canteen would have revived it, and a little rest would have placed him on his feet again. They had no tools to dig a grave, not even a knife for they had left every weight in camp, so they covered him closely in his blankets and sadly returned to their friends. They had all along hoped that the Frenchman who had wandered away would come in, but he never came. There were several water holes scattered around at this point which seemed to be a sort of sunken place in the hills, and quite large brush could be obtained for fire, and grass for the oxen. Those who had been good hunters and had thrown away their rifles as useless burdens, now began to look at hills before them and think that game might be found in them, as well as water. There were only one or two guns in the whole party, They thought that this must surely be the edge of the great desert they had crossed, and only the snow range before them could be the obstacle that separated them from Los Angeles.
One day from here would bring them to the edge of the snow, and they debated as to the best course to pursue. Some of them were fearful they could not cross the snow with the oxen, for it seemed to be quite deep. The best place to cross seemed directly west of them. South was a higher peak, and to the north it was surely impassible. There seemed to be a faint sign of a trail from this point towards the lowest point in the snow mountains. There were some bones of cattle around the springs which they thought was an indication that in years gone by there had been some traveling on this trail. There surely would be water in the snow which could be got by melting it, and on the whole it seemed best to make the attempt to cross at the lowest place. There were no signs of travel except the trail which had not been used in years, not signs of civilization except the bones.
Starting from the water holes which showed no signs of having been used for several years, their next camp was, as they had calculated, on the edge of the snow where they found plenty of dry juniper trees for fire. and of course plenty of water. Here they killed an ox and fed the hungry so that they were pretty well refreshed. This was an elevated place and they could look back over the trail across the desert for, what seemed to them, a hundred miles, and the great dangers of their journey were discussed. Said one of them to Tom Shannon:–“Tom, you killed the first game we have come across in two months. Even the buzzards and coyotes knew better than to go out in into the country where the cursed Mormon saint sent us numbskulls.” Another said that while they had been seeking a heaven on earth they had passed through purgatory, or perhaps a worse place still nearer the one from which sulphurous fumes arise, and now they hoped that there might be a somewhat more heavenly place beyond the snow. One who had been silent seemed awakened by inspiration and spoke in impromptu lines somewhat as follows, as he pointed out to the dim distance:–
“Yonder in mountains’ gray beauty, Wealth and fame decay. Yonder, the sands of the desert, Yonder, the salt of the sea, Yonder, a fiery furnace, Yonder, the bones of our friends, Yonder the old and the young Lie scattered along the way.”
Some even confessed the desperate thoughts that had come to their minds when they were choking and starving. We have mentioned four of the train who had perished beside the trail and it will be remembered that one party of eleven started out on foot before the wagons were abandoned by the rest of the party. Nothing was heard of these for seven years, but long afterward nine skeletons were found at the remains of a camp, and the other two were afterward seen in the gold fields. When spoken to about this party, they burst into tears and could not talk of it. So it is known that at least thirteen men perished in the country which has well been named Death Valley.
People who have always been well fed, and have never suffered from thirst till every drop of moisture seemed gone from the body, so they dare not open their mouth lest they dry up and cease to breathe, can never understand, nor is there language to convey the horrors of such a situation. The story of these parties may seem like fairy fables, but to those who experienced it all, the strongest statements come far short of the reality. No one could believe how some men, when they are starving take on the wild aspect of savage beasts, and that one could never feel safe in their presence. Some proved true and kind and charitable even with death staring them in the face, and never forgot their fellow men. Some that seemed weakest proved strongest in the final struggle for existence.
Early next morning before the sun rose they started to cross the snow, leaving their comrade Robinson behind, rolled up in his blankets, taking his everlasting sleep so far as the troubles of this world are concerned. What the day would bring forth very few could have any idea. Go on they must, and this direction seemed most promising. If the snow should prove hard enough to hold up the oxen they could probably cross before night, but if compelled to camp in the snow it was a doubtful case for them.
The snow held them as they advanced on it, but grew a little softer as the sun got higher. The tracks of both men and animals were stained with blood from their worn-out feet. When they turned the summit they found more timber and the ravine they followed was so shaded that the force of the sun was broken, and they really did not suffer very much from slumping through the snow, and so got safely over. Not far below the snow they found a running brook of clear, sweet water, with willows along the banks and trees on the hills, the first really good water for a month or two. This is the same camp where Rogers and his companion ate their meal of quail, hawk and crow a few days before, and these travelers knew by the remains of the little camp fire that they were following on the trail of the two men who had gone before.
This place was so great an improvement on the camps of the past that all hands began to talk and act more rational as hope dawned more brightly on them. Those who had guns branched off to search for game, but found they were too weak for that kind of work, and had to sit down very often to rest. When they tried to run they stumbled down and made very poor progress.
Capt. Doty, Tom Shannon and Bill Rude sat down to rest on a bold point above the creek. While there three wild horses came along within easy range, and thinking they would form better meat than the oxen each man picked his animal and all fired simultaneously, bringing them all to the ground. This seemed a piece of glorious luck, and all rushed in like wolves lifter a wounded animal. It was not very long before each had a chunk of meat in his hand, and many a one did not stop from eating because it was not cooked. Such declared they never ate anything so delicious in all their lives before, and wondered why horses were not used as food instead of hogs and cattle. As they satisfied their ravenous appetites they ate more like beasts than like men, so nearly were they starved, and so nearly had their starving condition made them fall from their lofty estate.
As they passed on down this cañon they found it very brushy and on the dry leaves under the wide-spreading trees they saw signs of bear and perhaps other animals. There were some swampy places where it was grassy, and into these the cattle rushed with great eagerness for the food they had so long suffered for. Some of Mr. Brier’s cattle went in, and in tramping around for food sank deep into the mud and could not be coaxed out again. Mrs. Brier threw clubs at them but they did not seem inclined to pay much attention to her attacks so she was forced to go in after them herself, and in so doing also sank into the mud and could not get out without assistance. All this time her reverend husband sat outside on the hard ground at a safe distance, but did not offer any help. Probably if an extended and learned lecture on the effects of gravitation would have done any good he would have been ready with prompt and extended service to one whom he had promised to love and cherish.
About this time L.D. Stevens came along and seeing the condition of the unfortunate woman, at once went to her assistance and helped her to dry land. Brier himself never made a move nor said a word. Stevens looked terribly cross at him and remarked to his companions that if the preacher himself had been the one stuck in the mud he would have been quite inclined to leave him there for all of helping him.
The cañon grew narrow as they descended, and the brush thicker, so that to follow the bed of the stream was the only way to get along. The cattle seemed to scent a bear and stampeded in terror through the brush in various directions, all except one which was being led by a rope. They tried to follow the animals in a desperate effort to recover them and a few blankets they had upon their backs, but could only make slow progress. Tom Shannon and two others found a fresh bear track and determined to follow it awhile in the hope of having revenge on the cause of their mishap with the oxen. They took their blankets and kept the trail till night when they camped, but were at so great an elevation that a snowstorm came with six inches of snow so they could no longer follow the track.
They were very hungry and on the way back came across some wild cherries which had dried perfectly dry as they hung on the bushes. These they picked and ate, cracking the seeds with their teeth, and declaring them to be the best of fruit. Good appetites made almost anything taste good then. They got back to the creek next day pretty nearly starved, and with neither a bear nor runaway oxen to reward them for their two days’ hard work.
Wood and water were plenty, but grass was scarce and their ox had to live on brush and leaves, but this was infinitely better than the stunted and bitter shrubs of the desert. They came out of the brush at last into the open bottom land where the brook sank out of sight in the sand, and sage brush appeared all about. From this on, over the elevated point which projected out nearly across the valley, their experience and emotions in coming in sight of vast herds of cattle feeding on rolling grassy hills, or reclining under great oak trees scattered over the more level lands, were much the same as came to the Author and his party when the same scene was suddenly opened to them. Signs of civilization and of plenty so suddenly appearing after so many weeks of suffering and desolation was almost enough to turn their heads, and more than one of the stout-hearted pioneers shed tears of joy. Only a few days before and they could scarcely have believed it possible to find a spot so lovely.
But to hungry, more than half starved men, points of artistic beauty and sober reflections over the terrors of the past found little place, and their first thought was to satisfy the cravings of hunger which were assuredly none the less when they beheld the numerous fat cattle all around them. There was no one to ask or to buy from and to kill and eat without permission might be wrong and might get them into difficulty, but one might as well ask a starving wolf to get permission to slay and eat when a fat lamb came across his path as to expect these men to take very much time to hunt up owners. When life or death are the questions that present themselves men are not so apt to discuss the right or wrong of any matter.
Tom Shannon and a couple of others did not wait long at any rate, but crawled down the creek bed till they were opposite a few fine animals and then crept up the bank very near to them. Two or three shots rang out and as many fine cattle were brought down. The live cattle ran away and the hungry men soon had the field to themselves. Much quicker than can be told the men had fat pieces of meat in their hands which they devoured without cooking. The men acted like crazy creatures at a barbacue–each one cut for himself with very little respect for anyone. The boldest got in first and the more retiring came in later, but all had enough and gradually resumed more human actions and appearance.
They had hardly finished their bloody feast when they saw a small squad of men on horseback advancing toward them, and as they came near it was quite plain that they were all armed in some way. All had lassoes at their saddles, some had old-fashioned blunderbusses, and nearly every one had a macheta or long bladed Spanish knife. As the horsemen drew near they formed into something like military order and advanced slowly and carefully. It was pretty evident they thought they were about to encounter a band of thieving Indians, but as they came closer they recognized the strangers as Americans and passed the compliments with them in a rather friendly manner.
Some of the Jayhawkers had been in the Mexican War and understood a few words of Spanish, and by a liberal use of signs were able to communicate with the armed party and tell them who they were, where they were going, and the unfortunate condition in which they found themselves. The men did not seem angry at losing so few of their cattle, and doubtless considered themselves fortunate in not suffering to the extent of some hundreds as they did sometimes by Indian raids, and invited the whole party down to the ranch house of the San Francisquito Rancho of which this was a part. Arrived at the house the ranch men brought in a good fat steer which they killed and told the poor Americans to help themselves and be welcome. This was on the fourth day of February, 1850.
The whole party remained here to rest themselves and their oxen for several days, and were royally entertained by the people at the ranch. They talked over the plans for the future, and considered the best course to pursue. They thought it would be wise to keep their oxen for these would now improve in flesh, and as they had no money with which to buy food they might still rely on them in further travels. The best oxen had survived, for the failing ones were selected to be killed when they were forced to have food. The weaker of their comrades had perished in the desert, and the remainder of the train consisted of the strongest men and the strongest oxen, and there seemed to be no question but that they could all live in this country where grass and water were both abundant, and every sign of more or less wild game.
Those of the company who had no cattle made their way directly to Los Angeles, and from thence to the coast from which most of them reached San Francisco by sailing vessel. Those who had no money were given a passage on credit, and it is believed that all such debts were afterwards honestly paid.
Capt. Doty made a proposition to buy out the oxen of some who had only one or two, giving his note for them payable in San Francisco or anywhere up north they might chance to meet, and many of them accepted and went to the coast. In this way Doty secured oxen enough to supply one for each of those who decided to go with him. They decided to use them for pack animals to carry their blankets, and to proceed slowly toward the mines, killing game, if possible, and permitting their animals to graze and improve in condition as they moved.
There must have been from twenty-five to forty people gathered at the ranch. Among them was the Rev. J.W. Brier who seemed to want to impress it on the new California friends that he was the man of all others to be honored. The ranchman was a good Catholic, and Brier tried to make him understand that he, also, was very devout. He said, and repeated to him very often–“Me preacher,” but he did not succeed very well in impressing the good Californian with the dignity of his profession, for he could talk no Spanish and was not highly gifted in sign language.
When they went away they had no way to reward their good friends who had been friends indeed to them. They could only look their thanks and express themselves in a very few words of Spanish. “Adios Amigos,” said they to the scantily clothed travelers as they set out on their way to the mines.
They followed down the course of the river that flowed through the valley, the Santa Clara River, and knew that it would take them to the sea at last. Before they reached the mission of San Buena Ventura, near the sea, they ran out of meat again, for they had failed to find game as they had expected, and Capt. Asa Haynes took the chances of killing a Spanish cow that looked nice and fat. They camped around the carcass and ate, and smoked the meat that was left. While thus engaged two horsemen approached, and after taking a good look at the proceedings, galloped off again. When the party arrived at the Mission they were arrested and taken before the alcalde to give an account of their misdeeds. They realized that they were now in a bad fix, and either horn of the dilemma was bad enough. They could not talk Spanish; they had no money; they had killed somebody’s cow; they were very hungry; they might be willing to pay, but had no way of doing it; they did not want to languish in jail, and how to get out of it they could not understand. Luck came to them, however, in the shape of a man who could speak both English and Spanish, to whom they told their story and who repeated it to the alcalde, telling him of their misfortunes and unfortunate condition, and when that officer found out all the circumstances he promptly released them as he did not consider them as criminals. The cow was probably worth no more than ten dollars.
At Santa Barbara they found a chance to trade off some of their oxen for mares, which were not considered worth much, and managed the barter so well that they came out with a horse apiece and a few dollars besides, with which to buy grub along the road. They depended mostly on their guns for supplying them with food. They supposed they were about three hundred miles from San Francisco, and expected to meet with but few people except at the Missions, of which they had learned there were a few along the road. At these there was not much to be had except dried beef. However, they managed to use the guns with fair success, and at last arrived safely at Stockton where they sold some of their horses for more than double what they cost, and with a small number of horses they packed on to the gold mines.
Those of the party who went to Los Angeles managed in one way or another to get through on schooners, and many of them, after a year or two of hard work, made some money and returned to their homes in Illinois. It is hardly necessary to add that they did not return via Death Valley.
Some years afterward the members of this party who had returned to their Eastern homes formed themselves into an organization which they called the Jayhawkers’ Union, appointed a chairman and secretary, and each year every one whose name and residence could be obtained was notified to be present at some designated place on the fourth day of February which was the date on which they considered they passed from impending death into a richly promising life. They always had as good a dinner as Illinois could produce, cooked by the wives and daughters of the pioneers, and the old tales were told over again.
One part of the program was the calling of the roll, and such reports and letters as had come to hand. The following is a list of the members of the party so far as can be ascertained, as gathered from recollections and from the reports of the meetings of the reunions.
List of Jayhawkers
The following named were living, so far as known, in 1893:–John B. Colton and Alonzo C. Clay, of Galesburg, Ill., Luther A. Richards, of Woodhull, Ill., Chas. B. Mecum, of Ripley, Iowa, John W. Plummer, of Tulon, Ill., Edward Bartholomew, Urban P. Davidson, John Crosscup and L. Dow Stephens, of San Jose, California, Harrison Frans and Thomas Shannon, of Los Gatos, Cal., J.W. Brier and wife, Lodi, Cal., three children of Mr. Brier.
The following are supposed to be dead:–Ann Haines, Knoxville, Ill., Sidney P. Edgerton, formerly of Blair, Nebraska, Thomas McGrew, John Cole, Wm. B. Rude, Wm. Robinson and Alex. Palmer, of Knoxville, Ill., Marshall B. Edgerton, late of Galesburg, Ill. Wm. Ischam, of Rochester, N.Y., Mr. —- Fish, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, John L. West, Aaron Larkin, Capt. Edwin Doty and Brien Byram, of Knoxville, Ill., Mr. —- Carter, of Wisconsin, Geo. Allen, Leander Woolsey and Chas. Clark, of Henderson, Ill., Mr. —- Gretzinger, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and a Frenchman whose name is unknown.
There were some others connected more or less with the party at some part of the trip, but not coming in with the Jayhawker organization. So far as learned, their names are as follows:–John Galler, Jim Woods and Jim Martin of Miss., Ed Croker of N.Y., David Funk, Mr. Town, Henry Wade, wife and three children, Nat Ward, John D. Martin, of Texas, Old Francis, a Frenchman, Fred Carr and Negro “Joe,” from Miss.
There were a great many reports about finding rich mines about this time, and these stories have been magnified and told in all sorts of ways since then, and parties have returned to try to find the great riches.
Among the Jayhawkers were two Germans who could speak but little English and probably for this reason, kept apart from the remainder of the party.
One day, after the wagons were abandoned these German fellows were marching along alone with their packs on their backs in the warm sun, suffering very much for want of water and food, when one of them sat down on a hill-side in pretty nearly absolute despair, while the other man went down into a ravine hoping to find a puddle of water in the rocky bottom somewhere, though it was almost a forlorn hope. All at once he called out to his partner on the hill–“John, come down here and get some of this gold. There is a lot of it.” To this poor John Galler only replied:–“No, I won’t come. I don’t want any gold, but I would like very much to have some water and some bread.” And so they left the valuable find and slowly walked on, pulling through at last with the rest of them, and reaching Los Angeles.
The man who found the gold went to the Mission of San Luis Rey and started a small clothing store, and some time afterward was killed. John Galler settled in Los Angeles and established a wagon shop in which he did a successful business. He was an honest, industrious man and the people had great confidence in him. He often told them about what his partner had said about finding the gold in the desert, and the people gave him an outfit on two or three occasions to go back and re-locate the find, but he did not seem to have much idea of location, and when he got back into the desert again things looked so different to him that he was not able to identify the place, or to be really certain they were on the same trail where his companion found the gold.
The Author saw him in 1862 and heard what he had to say about it, and is convinced that it was not gold at all which they saw. I told him that I more than suspected that what he saw was mica instead of gold and that both he and his partner had been deceived, for more than one man not used to gold had been deceived before now. “No sir!” said he, “I saw lots of gold in Germany, and when I saw that I knew what it was.” The Author went back over that trail in 1862 and sought out the German on purpose to get information about the gold. He could not give the name of a single man who was in the party at that time, but insisted that it was gold he saw and that he knew the trail.
The Author was able to identify with reasonable certainty the trails followed by the different parties, but found no signs of gold formation except some barren quartz, and this after an experience of several years in both placer and quartz mines. So honest John Galler’s famous placer mine still remains in the great list of lost mines, like the Gunsight Lead and other noted mines for which men have since prospected in vain.