History of Nevada, 1881, Thompson and West. Pages 20-29
THE TRAPPERS AND EARLY EMIGRATION.
Wm. H. Ashley--Jedediah S. Smiths Expedition in 1825-26-27--
Peter S. Ogdens Expedition in 1831--Wilton Sublettes
in 1812--Bonneville and Walkers Expedition in
First Visit to Nevada, 1833--Emigration under Captain J. B.
Bartleson in 1841-J. C. Fremonts Expedition in 1841--The Emigrants
of 1814--Fremonts Expedition in 1845--Elwin Bryant and other
Emigrants in 1846-The Donner Party Tragedy.
Wm. H. Ashley, of St. Louis, Missouri, a celebrated mountaineer,
discovered the Great Salt Lake of Utah in 1824, and a smaller lake near by
that received his name, where he erected a fort, and established his
headquarters for the remaining years of his adventurous career as a Rocky
Mountain trapper. Mr. Ashley had a partner named Jedediah S. Smith, a native
of New York, whose mountain life was a chapter of thrilling adventure, until
it was ended in 1831, by the arrow of an ambushed Indian assassin on the
JEDEDIAH S. SMITHS EXPEDITION IN 1825--26.
The first white man to see any portion of what is now Nevada was a
company of some forty trappers under the charge, or leadership, of this
noted mountaineer Smith, who crossed the country to California from his
rendezvous on the Yellowstone River in [p.21]
1825. His route was through a
portion of what is now western Wyoming, down the Humboldt, that was named
Marys River by him, after his Indian wife; thence to the Walker River
country, and out through what has been since known as Walkers Pass
into Tulare Valley, California, where he arrived in July with two
companions, In October he recrossed the country, leaving his party trapping
in the Sacramento Valley. The only information in our possession in regard
to the direction taken by Smith on his return trip across the country is
contained in the following extract from a letter to us upon that subject
from Captain Robert Lyon, of San Buenaventura, California:
* * * His, Smiths, notes mention the discovery of Mono Lake (or
dead sea) on his return trip in 1825. The upper end of Mono Gulch was very
rich and shallow; and when the gulch was first prospected by Cord (the
discoverer) in 1859, gold could be seen lying on the granite rock, where it
had been washed in sight by the rains; and there is not a placer between
Sacramento and Salt Lake where gold-dust could be so easily obtained by
inexperienced miners, with only a pan and knife, as in the upper end of Mono
Gulch. Rocky Mountain Jack, or Uncle Jack, as he was called, and Bill Reed
both spent the summer of 1860 in Alone, and were well known at that time,
and both of these old trappers declared they were with Smith in 1825, and
that they spent a week prospecting and picking up gold in those foot-bills
in 1825. The gold in Mono was not coarse, but I have often found pieces that
would weigh from twenty-five cents to two dollars. (See Cross of Virginia
City, be was our ditch collector in 1860); and besides there were old stumps
which had been cut long years before 1858, for the sprouts had grown to be
large trees in 1859. Bill Byrnes, well known in Carson City, always claimed
that Jed Smith discovered the Mono mines in 1825, although he (Byrnes) was
not of the party. * * *
Upon Mr. Smiths return to the companys headquarters, on
Green River, near Salt Lake, Mr. Ashley withdrew from the firm, and the
business fell into the hands of Smith, M. Sublette, and David Jackson, who
were known as the Rocky Mountain Far Company. This firm was so well pleased
with the success of the California expedition that it was thought best for
Smith to lead another trapping party to the Pacific Coast. He accordingly
set out with a larger party than had accompanied him before, but passed
South to the Colorado River, where his party were all killed, but two, in a
battle with the Indians. Smith and two companions, named Turner and
Galbraith, made their escape, and reaching the missions of California, were
Among the legacies inherited from the old Spanish authorities, and now
preserved in the archives of California are the following relating to
Captain Smith, his detention and release. He first appears to have arrived
in the inhabited regions of California, in 1826, and to have been required
by the Government, always suspicious of strangers, particularly Americans,
to give an account of himself, his actions, and purpose. Fortunately he
found vouchers whom those in power felt their interest to respect.
We, the undersigned, having been requested by Captain Jedediah S. Smith,
to state our opinion regarding his entering the province of California, do
not hesitate to say that we have no doubt in our minds but that he was
compelled to for want of provisions and water, having entered so far into
the barren country that lies between the latitudes of forty-two and
forty-three west that he found it impossible to return by the route he came,
as his horses had most of them perished for want of food and water. He was,
therefore, under the necessity of pushing forward to California, it being
the nearest place where he could procure supplies to enable him to return.
We further state as our opinions that the account given by him is
circumstantially correct, and that his sole object was the hunting and
trapping of beaver and other furs.
We have also examined the passports produced by him from the
Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Government of the United States of
America, and do not hesitate to say we believe them to be perfectly correct.
We also state, that in our opinion, his motive for wishing to pass by a
different route to the head of the Columbia River on his return, is solely
because he feels convinced that he and his companions run great risk of
perishing if they return by the route they came.
In testimony whereof, we have hereunto set our bands and seals this
twentieth day of December, 1826.
Wm. G. DANA, [L. S.]
Captain of Schooner Waverly.
WM. M. CUNNINGHAM, [L. S.]
Captain of Ship Courier.
WM. HENDERSON, [L. S.]
Captain of Brig Olive Branch.
JAMES SCOTT, [L. S.]
THOS. Al. ROBBINS, [L. S.]
Mate of Schooner Waverly.
Thos. SHAW, [L. S.]
Supercargo of Ship Courier.
The following refers to his second expedition. The locality of his camp
is not given but it must have been somewhere Dear the Mission of San Jose,
as there was the residence of Father Duran, to whom the letter is addressed.
LETTER FROM CAPTAIN JEDEDIAH S. SMITH TO FATHER
REVEREND FATHER: I understand, through the medium of one of your
Christian Indians, that you are anxious to know who we are, as Some of the
Indians have been at the Mission and informed you that there were certain
white people in the country. We are Americans, on our Journey to the river
Columbia; we were in at the Mission San Gabriel in January last. I went to
San Diego and saw the General, and got a passport from him to pass on to
that place. I have made several efforts to cross the mountains, but the
snows being so deep I could not succeed in getting over. I returned to this
place (it being the only point to kill meat) to wait a few weeks until the
snow melts, so that I can go on - the Indians here also being friendly, I
consider it the most safe point for me to remain until such time as I can
cross the mountains with my horses, having lost a great
[p.22] many in
attempting to cross ten or fifteen days since. I am a long ways from home,
and am anxious to get I here as soon as the nature of the case will admit.
Our situation is quite unpleasant, being destitute of clothing and most of
the necessaries of life, wild meat being our principal subsistence.
I am, reverend father, your strange, but real
friend and Christian brother,
J. S. SMITH.
May 19, 1827.
This pioneer wanderer through what is now Nevada, had taken his last
look upon her mountains and villages. He was released by the Spanish a
authorities, and reaching his Sacramento rendezvous, fitted out an
expedition for the purpose of visiting the Columbia River in Oregon.
Arriving with his party at the Umpqua River, it was surprised by the
Indians, and he again saw his companions all murdered but two, who escaped
with him and made their way to Fort Vancouver. From there, Smith crossed to
the Rocky Mountains by a more northern route, accompanied by Peter Ogden, a
native of New York, at the head of a brigade of the Hudson Bay
PETER S. OGDENS EPFDITION IN 1831.
The Hudson Bay Company claimed the region between the Rocky and Sierra
Nevada Mountains as their exclusive grounds for trapping. Their right,
however, was not conceded by the Rocky Mountain Far Company; but, because of
the friendly manner in which Smith in his adversity had been treated at Fort
Vancouver, he decided to abandon the disputed territory, and separated from
Ogdens party at the head-waters of Lewis River, in 1829, for the
purpose of finding his associate partners, and carrying out the design.
Ogden commenced his trapping through the region lying west of the Rocky
Mountains, and gradually moved to the south, eventually arriving at what had
been known as Marys River, probably in the spring of 1831; traveled
down it, taking the same route to California that Smith had followed in
1825. From this time forward until Fremont foisted the name of Humboldt upon
that stream, it was called by some Marys, and others Ogdens
MILTON SUBLETTES EXPEDITION IN 1832.
The next expedition into the country was led by Milton Sublette,
accompanied by Nathan Wyeth, who left Pécrass Hole in the Rocky
Mountains, on the twenty-third of July, 1832, for the purpose of trapping
the waters of the Marys River.* This party reached the head-waters of
that stream in August, from where Mr. Wyeths party, consisting of
fifteen, withdrew from Sublette ana started for Oregon, leaving the latter
with about thirty men. Sublette continued his way, trapping down
Marys River, until his hunters finding no wild game, the party were
forced to eat the flesh of the beavers they caught. The season was one of
famine for these little animals, which were forced in their hunger to
subsist upon wild parsnips, which poisoned their flesh and made them
unwholesome food for the trappers, many of whom were made ill from eating
Because of this it became necessary to at once abandon the river, and strike
across the country towards the north, where, after being four days with
almost no food, and several weeks in a state of famine, they reached the
Snake River about fifty miles above the
fishing falls. They were force d, as they passed over the country, to
subsist upon ants, crickets, parched moccasins, and puddings made from
blood, taking a pint at a time, from their almost famished animals.
* Mountain and Frontier, by Mrs. F. F. Victor, page 119.
BONNEVILLE AND WALKERS EXPEDITION IN 1833.
Capt. B. L. E. Bonneville, who died June 12,1878, at the advanced age of
eighty-five years, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and who was so fortunate as to
have his Rocky Mountain adventures immortalized by Washington Irving-being
an officer of the United States army on furlough-fitted out an exploring
expedition of -forty men, in 1833, under the guidance of the since
celebrated Joseph Walker, for the purpose of seeking beaver regions between
the Great Salt Lake and the Pacific Ocean. This party, leaving the general
rendezvous in the Green River Valley, reached the head- waters of
Marys River (Irving calls it Ogdens River), and trapped slowly
down its course until they reached its sink, from where they crossed the
country west to Pyramid Lake, thence up Truckee River into the Sierra
Nevada, and across those mountains into California.
These were the first explorers, the ommipresent Smith family in the
lead, to open the way across the continent, and to name rivers, mountains,
and lakes, as lasting memorials of their adventurous lives. Trappers and
hunters continued to traverse the basin, and these were followed by
emigrants who sought the western coast as their home, and who have left a
greater impress upon the country.
KIT CARSONS FIRST VISIT TO NEVADA.
In 1833, Thomas McCoy, who was in the employ of the Hudson Buy Company,
organized a trapping party, and Christopher (Kit) Carson with five
companions became members of it. Reports having become generally circulated
that Marys River was plentifully stocked with beaver, McCoys
party of trappers sought its waters in search of them. They must have
arrived upon the river after it had been trapped by Walkers party
that year, for they met with poor success, and after passing down the stream
to its sink returned without going farther, and crossed the country to the
Snake River in the north. After this date Kit Carson did not visit any
portion of what is now Nevada until with Fremont in 1844.
EMIGRATION UNDER CAPT. J. B. BARTLESON IN 1841.
The Great Basin of Nevada has been the field of but the Indian and the
trapper until the summer of 1841. The first explorers have reported of its
lakes, its [p.23] rivers,
sinks, and deserts, and of the great snowy ridge that
separates them from the sunny valleys of the Pacific Coast. People seeking
that fair land had made the toilsome journey by Oregon, or the stormy voyage
by Cape Horn. At Independence, Missouri, a party of young, educated, and
energetic adventurers had gathered from different parts of the United
States, destined for that land of the far West, and on the eighth of May,
1841, started on their long journey. Many of these pioneers have become
conspicuous in the history of the West, and their names are here
Col. J. B. Bartleson, Captain of the party, returned to Missouri; is Dow
John Bidwell, resides in Chico.
Col. Joseph B. Chiles, resides in Napa County.
Josiah Belden, resides at San Jose and San Francisco.
Charles Al. Weber, founder of Stockton, now dead.
Charles Hopper, resides in Napa County.
Henry Huber, resides in San Francisco.
Michael C. Nye, resides in Oregon.
Green McMahon, resides in Solano County.
Nelson McMahon , returned to Missouri.
Talbot H. Green, resides in Pennsylvania.
Ambrose Walton, returned to Missouri.
John McDowell, returned to Missouri and died.
George Henshaw, returned to Missouri,
Col. Robert Ryckman, returned to Missouri and died.
Charles Flugge, returned to Missouri.
Gwinn Patton, returned to Missouri and died.
Benjamin Kelsey, wife and child, resided within a few years in Santa Barbara
Andrew Kelsey, killed by Indians at Clear Lake.
James John, went to Oregon.
Henry Brolaski, went to Callao, and thence to Missouri.
James Dawson, drowned in Columbia River.
Major Walton, drowned in Sacramento River.
George Shortwell, accidentally shot on the journey.
John Swartz, died in California.
Grove C. Cook, died at San Jose, California.
D. W. Chandler, died at San Francisco.
Nicholas Dawson, dead.
Thomas Jones, dead.
Robert H. Themes, died March 26, 1878, at Tehama.
Elias Barnett, lived in Napa County.
J. P. Springer, died at or near Santa Cruz.
This was the first party of emigrants to cross the basin of Nevada en
route to California. Their journey was made on horseback, and with
pack-animals. They followed the then known trail via the South Pass
to Salt Lake, thence to the Humboldt and to the Carson and Walker Rivers,
following the latter to near its source, when they crossed the Sierra,
descending its western slope between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers, to
the San Joaquin Valley, ending their journey at the ranch of Dr. Marsh, near
the base of Mount Diablo, on the fourth of November, 1841. At this point the
company disbanded, making their future homes in different parts of the
FREMONTS EXPEDITION IN 1843-44.
Fremont, in his second expedition of explorations, visited the Great
Basin for the object of ascertaining certain geographical features
respecting which there was a discrepancy between the maps of the country and
the reports of the trappers. The first was the position of the
Talmath, which he says is often called Klamet now written
Klamath. He writes: --
From this lake our course was intended to be about southeast, to a
reported lake called Marys, at some days journey in the Great
Basin, and thence still on southeast, to the reputed Buenaventura River,
which has a place on so many maps, and countenanced the belief of the
existence of a great river flowing from the Rocky Mountains to the Bay of
Thence he would go eastward and home. The land was a terra
incognita, as he says: --
A great part of it absolutely new to geographical, botanical, and
geological science, and the subject of reports in relation to lakes, rivers,
deserts and savages hardly above the condition of mere wild animals.
He enters the Great Basin December 16, 1843, passing and naming Lake
Abert, in honor of the chief of Topographical Engineers to which Fremont
belonged. On the third of January, 1844, he --
Reached and run over the position where, according to the best maps in
my possession, we should have found Marys Lake or River. We were
evidently on the verge of the desert which had been reported to us; and the
appearance of the country was so forbidding, that I was afraid to enter it,
and determined to bear away to the southward, keeping close along the
mountains, in the full expectation of reaching Buenaventura River. Latitude,
by observation, 40° 48', 15.
From a high mountain be espied a column of steam sixteen miles distant,
indicating the presence of hot springs, and he determined to go to them. Of
these he writes as follows: --
This is the most extraordinary locality of hot springs we had met on our
journey. The basin of the largest one has a circumference of several hundred
feet; but there is at one extremity a circular space of about fifteen feet
in diameter, entirely occupied by the boiling water. It boils up at
irregular intervals, and with much noise. The water is clear, and the spring
deep; a pole about sixteen feet long was easily immersed in the center, but
we had no means of forming a good idea of the depth. It was surrounded on
the margin with a border of green grass, and near the shore the
temperature of the water was 206°. We had no means of ascertaining
that of the center, where the heat was greatest; but by dispersing the water
with a pole, the temperature [p.24] at the
margin was increased to 208°, and in the center it was doubtless
higher. By driving the pole towards the bottom, the water was made to boil
up with increased force and noise. There are several other interesting
places, where water and smoke, or gas escape, but they would require a long
description. The water is impregnated with common salt, but not so much as
to render it unfit for general cooking, and a mixture of STIOW made it
pleasant to drink. The latitude of the springs is 40° 39', 46".
On the tenth of the month he first came in sight of Pyramid Lake. He
Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended rapidly about 2,000
feet; and filling up all the lower space, was a sheet of green water, some
twenty miles broad. It broke upon our eyes like the ocean.
Continuing his narrative, Fremont writes, January 14th: --
Part of the morning was occupied in bringing up the gun; and making only
nine miles, we camped on the shore, opposite a very remarkable rock in the
lake, which had attracted our attention for many miles. It rose, according
to our estimate about 600 feet above the water, and from the point we viewed
it, presented a pretty exact outline of the great pyramid of Cheops. Like
other rocks along the shore, it seemed to be incrusted with calcareous
cement. This striking feature suggested a name for the lake, and I called it
On the night of the 15th, the whites camped at the point where the
Truckee flows into Pyramid Lake, and the next day pursued their way up that
stream, which Fremont named Salmon Trout River, having
obtained many trout of the Indians who caught them in the river. At the
point where Wadsworth now stands, on the Central Pacific Railroad, they left
the river, still looking for the Buenaventura, and followed an Indian trail
to the southeast, until what is now called Carson River was reached, at the
point where it comes out from the foot-hills near Ragtown into the great
plains where it sinks, in Churchill County. The expedition moved down the
stream about three hours and camped, January 18th, because of the apparent
impossibility of reaching the Rocky Mountains by continuing in that
direction, in the worn and exhausted condition to which the journey thus far
had reduced them. Fremont determined to give up the attempt and push across
the Sierra west to California. The next day they moved up Carson River, in
pursuance of this design, and in two more the place where now stands the
ruins Of Fort Churchill was reached. Here he ascended a mountain, took a
look at the Carson Valley to the southeast, and along its western limits,
then at the white snow-capped Sierra beyond, and descending the mountain,
again concluded to go farther south, before attempting to cross this
formidable border of storm, of snow, and of ice. January 21st, the
expedition left the Carson at the point designated, and moved south to the
stream now known as Walker River, and moving along the east fork of that
stream left it on the 23rd, to pass to the west. The thirty days of struggle
for life in the passage over the Nevada Mountains is more properly a part of
California history, and we leave the man of destiny moving
toward the northwest with Indian guides, to attempt and succeed in making
the perilous crossing. The mountain howitzer that now is in the possession
of Captain A. W. Prey, at Glenbrook, on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, was
abandoned by Fremont on the twenty-ninth of January. It was afterwards found
by Win. Wright, known to the literary world as Dan De Quille.
he gave the point of its locality to a party who was to get the gun and
bring it to Virginia City. It had become a question of some importance, at
the time, as to whether it should pass into the possession of the Union or
secession element in Nevada, and upon its arrival, in June, 1861, at the
Nevada mining metropolis, Captain A. W. Prey paid for it, to the party who
packed it in, $200, and thus secured its influence on the side of the
maintenance of the Union. The gun was of the kind invented for the mountain
part o f the French campaign against Algiers.
THE EMIGRANTS OF 1844.
[From Thompson & Wests History of Nevada County, California, 1880.]
The next winter after Fremont made his perilous crossing of the Sierra,
another party, a band of hardy pioneers, worked their laborious way through
the drifting snow of the mountains, and entered the beautiful valley, one of
them remaining in his snowbound camp at Donner Lake until returning spring
made his rescue possible. The party consisted of twenty-three men, John
Flomboy, Captain Stevens, now a resident of Kern County, California, Joseph
Poster, Dr. Townsend, Allen Montgomery, Moses Schallenberger, now living in
San Jose, California; G. Greenwood, and his two sons, John and Britt; James
Miller, now of San Rafael, California- Mr. Calvin, William Martin, Patrick
Martin, Dennis Martin, Martin Murphy and his five sons - Mr. Hitchcock and
son. They left Council Bluffs May 20, 1844, en route to California, of the
fertility of whose soil and the mildness of whose climate glowing accounts
had been given. The dangers of the plains and mountains were passed, and the
party reached the Humboldt River, when an Indian named Truckee presented
himself and offered to guide them to California. After questioning him
closely they employed him as their guide, and as they progressed, found that
the statements he had made about the route were fully verified. He soon
became a great favorite among them, and when they reached the lower crossing
of the Truckee River, now Wadsworth, they gave his name to the beautiful
stream, so pleased where they by the pure water and abundance of fish to
which be had directed them. The stream will ever live in history as the
Truckee River, and [p.25]
the fish, the famous Truckee trout, will continue to delight the palate of the
epicure for years to come.
From this point the party pushed on to the beautiful mountain lake,
whose shores but two years later witnessed a scene of suffering and death
unequaled in the annals of Americas pioneers. Here, at Donner Lake,
it was decided to build a cabin and store their goods until spring, as the
cattle were too exhausted to drag them further. The cabin was built by Allen
Montgomery, Joseph Foster, and Moses Schallenberger, all Young men used to
pioneer life, and who felt fully able to maintain themselves by their rifles
upon the bears and deer that seemed so plentiful in the mountains. The cabin
was built of pine saplings, with a roof of brush and rawhides; was twelve by
fourteen feet and about eight feet high, with a rude chimney and but one
aperture for both a window and door. It was about a quarter of a mile below
the foot of the lake, and is of peculiar interest, as it was the first
habitation built by white men within the limits of Nevada County,
The cabin was completed in two days, and the party moved on across the
summit, leaving but a few provisions and a half-starved and emaciated cow
for the support of the young men, who had undertaken a task, the magnitude
of which they little dreamed. It was about the middle of November when the
party left Donner Lake, and they arrived at Sutters Fort on the
fifteenth of December, 1844, the journey down the mountains consuming a
month of toil and privation. The day after the cabin was completed a heavy
fall of snow commenced and continued for several days, and while the
journeying party were plunging and toiling through the storm and drifts, the
three young men found themselves surrounded by a bed of snow from ten to
fifteen feet deep. The game had fled down the mountains to escape the storm,
and when the poor cow was half consumed the three snow-bound prisoners began
to realize the danger of their situation. Alarmed by the prospect of
starvation they determined to force their way across the barrier of snow. In
one days journey they reached the summit, but poor Schallenberger was
here taken with severe cramps, and was unable to proceed the following day.
Every few feet that be advanced in his attempt to struggle along, he fell to
the ground. What could they do? To remain was death, and yet they could not
abandon their sick comrade among the drifting snows On the summit of the
Sierra. Foster and Montgomery were placed in a trying situation.
Schallenberger told them that he would remain alone if they would conduct
him back to the cabin. They did so, and providing everything they could for
his comfort, took their departure, leaving him, sick and feeble, in the
heart of the snow-locked mountains.
A strong will can accomplish wonders, and a determination to live is
sometimes stronger than death, and young Schallenberger by an exertion of
these was soon able to rise from his bed and seek for food. Among the goods
stored in the cabin he found some steel traps, with which he caught enough
foxes to sustain himself in his little mountain cabin, until the doors of
his prison were unlocked by the melting rays of the vernal sun, and a party
of friends came to his relief. On the first of March, 1845, he, too, arrived
at Sutters Fort, having spent three months in the drifting snows of
the Snowy Mountains, the Sierra Nevada.
FREMONTS EXPFDITION OF 1845.
In October, 1845, the Path-Finder started from Salt Lake
with his party, among whom were Kit Carson and Joseph Walker, to cross the
country to the west. After passing over the desert lying immediately beyond
that lake, the party was divided, a portion under Theodore Talbot who had
accompanied General Fremont from Washington, with Walker as a guide, going
to Marys River down which it was to pass to the rendezvous near where
now is Ragtown, in Churchill County. The balance, under Fremont, consisting
of fifteen men, among whom was Kit Carson, passed to the west through the
country to the south of that river, and all finally met- in November at the
point designated. Remaining but one night in company at the rendezvous they
separated, Talbot going to the south by way of Walkers River and
Lake, these waters having been named by Fremont in honor of the famed
mountaineer who accompanied Talbot as a guide. Fremont moved up the stream
to which he had given the name of his favorite scout, Carson, and passing
through the valley and canon that have since received their name from the
river, reached the shores of Lake Tahoe and from thence passed over into the
Sacramento Valley. In this connection the following letters are of
PRESCOTT, Arizona Territory,
February 29, 1881.
My DEAR SIRS: What is now called Tahoe Lake I named Lake Bonpland upon my
first crossing of the Sierra in 1843-44. 1 gave to the basin river its name
of Humboldt and to the mountain lake the name of his companion traveler,
Bonpland, and so put it in the map of that expedition. Tahoe I suppose is
the Indian name and the lake the same though I have not visited the head of
the American since I first crossed the Nevada in 44.
Yours truly, J. C. FREMONT.
[Amadé Bonpland, referred to by General Fremont, was a native of
France, was born at Rochelle, in 1773, graduated as a physician, and became
an eminent botanist. He accompanied Humboldt to America, and subsequently
became a joint author with that celebrated traveler and scientist, of
several volumes of valuable works on botany, natural history, and monuments
of the New World. He was for nearly ten years detained in Paraguay as a
prisoner by the Dictator, Dr. Francia, to prevent him from, or to punish him
for, attempting to cultivate [p.26]
the Maté, or Paraguay,
tea in that country. In 1858, he died at Montevideo, the capital of Uraguay,
in South America.]
PRESCOTT, Arizona Territory,
March 8, 1881.
DEAR SIRS: Yours of the 3d reached me his morning. Carson River, as well
as the others in that region, Humboldt, Walker, and Owens, with the Pyramid
and other lakes, were named by me in the winter journey of 1843-44, to which
you refer. The only volume which I have had the time to pub is since this
one, is a Geographical Memoir and Map, published under an
order of the United States Senate, in 1848. 1 would send you a copy if I had
one at band. Thanking you for the interest you show in the subject, and for
your disposition to arrive at facts, I am yours truly,
J. C. FREMONT.
EDWIN BRYANT, AND OTHER EMIGRANTS OF 1846.
Among the overland emigrants of 1846, was Edwin Bryant, who later published
a book entitled What I Saw in California. He traveled aportion
of the way, from Independence, Missouri, in company with the ill-fated
Donner party- and he states that---
The number of emigrants on the road for Oregon and California, I
estimate at 3,000.
He further records, under date of June 15th, that eighteen persons
returning to the States were met, who reported that in advance they had met
on the road 430 teams. Add to this those accompanying Bryant, and it makes
470 vehicles bound for the Pacific Coast, one-half of which he states were
destined for California.
July 15th Bryant arrived at Fort Bridger, where he found L. W. Hastings,
and -Hudspeth of California, awaiting emigrants for that country, to pilot
them by a new route just surveyed, that since has become known as Hastings
Cut off. On the 20th Bryant and nine companions left that fort on horseback,
with pack-animals, as the first to pass over the new route. He left letters
to his friends advising them not to follow him with wagons, but to keep the
old way by Fort Hall. The same day that Bryants party left Fort
Bridger, to reach the Humboldt by Hastings Cut-off, that passed to the south
of Salt Lake, they were followed by some forty wagons, guided by -Hastings,
to break the now road. These reached California through the Great Basin,
safe as did Bryant, his companions, and all who went by the way of Fort
Hall, but such was not the case, however, with the last California emigrants
of that season who followed, contrary to advice, the trail of Bryant.
MAJOR STEPHEN COOPERS PARTY.
In the spring of 1846, Maj. Stephen Cooper, who now lives in Colusa
County, California, started from Missouri for the Pacific Coast accompanied
by his family. The Major was a frontiersman of note, having been an
associate of Daniel Boone, and had, the year before, accompanied Fremont as
far as the Rocky Mountains on his way to California, from -where he had
returned through Texas to his home in Missouri. Besides his family the
Major, was also accompanied by a train, of which he had charge, consisting
of twenty-eight ox-teams transporting emigrants to California. They also
passed down the Humboldt River and over the mountains by the Donner Lake
route to their destination, arriving in October of that year in the
THE DONNER LAKE TRAGEDY IN 1849.
In April of the above year an emigrant party set out from Springfield,
Sangamon County, Illinois, for California, among whom were two brothers
George, and Jacob Donner, and families numbering sixteen, James F. Reed and
family of seven persons, and Franklin W. Graves with a, family of twelve. At
Independence, Missouri, they were joined by Patrick Breen and. family of
nine. Later Mrs. Lavina Murphy, a widow lady with whom was her family,
joined them one hundred miles, west of Fort Bridget, and these were the
principal members of the Donner party proper that numbered ninety souls.
Independence was reached in the first week of May, and the train finally was
increased to between two and three hundred wagons. At this point provisions
were purchased and the overland journey commenced. On the sixteenth of June
Mrs. George Donner in a letter reported very favorably of the expedition up
to that time and place, 450 miles from Independence. At Fort Laramie some of
them joined in celebrating the Fourth of July, and on the 20th of that month
at Little Sandy River, George Donner was elected Captain of the train. At
Fort Bridger a portion of the emigrants decided to try a new route to
California by the way of Salt Lake, known as the Hastings Cut-off; the
remaining members of the party preferring to take the longer, but better
known route by which they eventually reached in safety the point of their
destination. Those choosing the Salt Lake route were the ones whose tragic
fate, leading them to Starvation Camp, has banded their history down to
posterity as the darkest page shadowing the history of Pacific Coast pioneer
life. With the change of route their trials began, Salt Lake being reached
in over thirty instead of seven days as anticipated. Then the great desert
beyond that lake was to be crossed, trackless, barren, and desolate and
foreboding. From that time forward misfortunes band lay heavy upon
them, hopes outlines fading grew less distinct in the shadows of each
departing day, while in every succeeding event seemed lurking some dark
tragedy. At the western margin of the desert it was determined that some one
must go forward to Sutters Fort, 700 miles, and come back to meet
them on the way with provisions. Volunteers were called for to do this when
Wm. McCutchen of Missouri, and C. T. Stanton of Chicago, Illinois,
responded, and started on horseback alone upon the forlorn hope mission of
life or death to all who were left behind.
Gravelly Ford, on the Humboldt, was reached, with worn-out cattle, by
the emaciated travelers, who were subsisting upon short rations. At this
place occurred the saddest event that misfortune cast by the wayside for
those victims trailing their course from happy homes in the Ea9f to the
court of death by the bank of Lake Donner. There was a Young man some
twenty-three years of age, named John Snyder, who was driving one of the
teams for Mr. Graves. He was a person of unusually fine appearance, rather
tall, well developed, prepossessing, and looked a king among men. In
disposition happy, mirthful, jubilant, with a smile and kind word for every
one; be had become the favorite of the party. He had one misfortune, that of
a fierce, ungovernable temper when the lion of anger was stirred within him.
Mary Graves, a tall, graceful, dark-eyed beauty, also one of the emigrants,
was to become his bride upon their arrival in California. At this fatal ford
an altercation occurred between him and James F. Reed. Mrs. Reed, in rushing
between the combatants, received a cruel blow from the butt end of a whip
intended for her husband, dealt by Snyder, who the next instant staggered
back with his life blood flowing from a mortal wound received in the side
from a knife in the band of the enraged husband. Mr. Reed was banished from
the train without food, or gun to get it with, to make his way as best be
could to California-, but after he had gone affection overtook him. A friend
stole out of camp with his gun, accompanied by Mr. Reeds little
twelve-year-old girl Virginia, who had secreted some crackers about her
person, and following the wretched traveler, came up with him. But for this
be must have perished on the desert, from which cruel fate be was saved
through the constancy of a friend and the affections o f his child. The
remains of young Snyder were buried near the place where he had fallen. The
next day the train moved on with the heart-broken girl, who had looked for
the last time upon the One that she had loved, and the little mound that
forever covered his form from her sight.
On the ninth of October while moving down the Humboldt, an old man named
Hardcoop in company with Keseberg, fell behind the train. That night
Keseberg came into camp but the old man did not; he had traveled until his
feet burst open, and then laid down and died. At Humboldt sink twenty-eight
of their cattle were ran off by Indians, and the party was near the verge of
despair. They continued however to struggle on, all of them on foot now
except the children and disabled. They were literally starving, some of them
being forced to go without food for a day or more at a time. On the
fourteenth of October, between Humboldt sink and Wadsworth, Keseberg and a
wealthy member of the party named Wolfinger, fell behind and the latter was
never seen afterwards; Keseberg came into camp without his companion, and
later one Joseph Reinhart, when dying, confessed to having had something to
do with the murder of the missing man. The further trials and terrible
horrors that beset the path of this ill-starred party is taken from the
history before mentioned of Nevada County, California, by Thompson & West,
and we quote the following from that work: --
On the nineteenth of October, near the present site of Wadsworth,
Nevada, the destitute company was happily reprovisioned by C. T. Stanton;
furnished with food and mules, together with two Indian vaqueros, by Captain
Sutter, without compensation.
At the present site of Reno it was concluded to rest. Three or four
days time was lost. This was the fatal act. The storm-clouds were
already brewing upon the mountains, only a few miles distant. The ascent was
ominous. Thick and thicker grew the clouds, outstripping in threatening
battalions the now eagar feet of the alarmed emigrants, until, at Prosser
Creek, three miles below Truckee, October 28, 1846, a month earlier than
usual, the storm set in, and they found themselves in six inches of
newly-fallen snow. On the summit it was already from two to five feet deep.
The party, in much confusion, finally reached Donner Lake in disordered
fragments. Frequent and desperate attempts were made to cross the mountain
tops, but at last, baffled and despairing, they returned to camp at the
lake. The storm now descended in all its pitiless fury upon the ill-fated
emigrants. Its dreadful import was well understood, as laden with omens of
suffering and death. With slight interruptions, the storm continued for
several days. The animals were literally buried alive and frozen in the
drifts. Meat was hastily prepared from their frozen carcasses, and cabins
rudely built. One, the Schallenberger cabin, erected November, 1844, was
already standing, about a quarter of a mile below the lake. This the Breen
family appropriated. The Murphys erected one three hundred yards from the
lake, marked by a large stone twelve. feet high. The Graves family built
theirs near Donner Creek, three-quarters of a mile farther down the stream,
the three forming the apexes of a triangle; the Breen and Murphy cabins were
distant from each other about one hundred and fifty yards. The Donner
brothers, with their families, hastily constructed a brush shed in Alder
Creek Valley, six or seven miles from the lake. Their provisions were
speedily consumed, and starvation, with all its grim attendant horrors,
stared the poor emigrants in the face. Day by day, with aching hearts and
paralyzed energies, they awaited, amid the beating storms of the Sierra, the
dread revelation of the morrow, hoping against hope for some
On the sixteenth day of December, 1846, a party of seventeen were
enrolled to attempt the hazardous
journey over the mountains, to
press into the valley beyond for relief. Two returned, and the remaining
fifteen pressed on, including Mary Graves and her sister, Mrs. Sarah
Fosdick, and several other women, the heroic C. T. Stanton and the noble F.
W. Graves (who left his wife and seven children at the lake to await in vain
his return) being the leaders. This was the Forlon Hope Party,
over whose dreadful sufferings and disaster we must throw a veil. A detailed
account of this party is given from the graphic pen of C. F. McGlashan, and
lately published in book form from the press of McGlashan, proprietor of the
Truckee Republican, to which we take pleasure in referring the reader. Death
in its most awful form reduced the wretched company to seven-two men and
five women-when suddenly tracks were discovered imprinted in the snow.
Can any one imagine, says Mary Graves in her recital,
the joy these foot-prints gave us ? We ran as fast as our
strength would carry us. Turning a sharp point they suddenly
came upon an Indian rancheria. The acorn-bread offered them by the kind and
awestricken savages was eagerly devoured. But on they pressed with their
Indian guides, only to repeat their dreadful sufferings, until at last, one
evening about the last of January, Air. Eddy, with his Indian guide,
preceding the party fifteen miles, reached Johnsons Ranch, on Bear
River, the first settlement on the western slope of the Sierra, when relief
was sent back as soon as possible, and the remaining six survivors were
brought in next day. It had been thirty-two days since they left Donner
Lake. No tongue can tell, no pen portray, the awful suffering, the terrible
and appalling straits, as well as the noble deeds o f heroism that
characterized this march of death. The eternal mountains, whose granite
faces bore witness to their sufferings, are fit monuments to mark the last
resting place of Charles T. Stanton, that cultured, heroic soul, who groped
his way trough the blinding snow of the Sierra to immortality. The divinest
encomium- He gave his life as a ransom for many-- is his
epitaph, foreshadowed in his own noble words, I will bring aid to
these famishing people or lay down my life.
Nothing could be done, in the meantime, for the relief of the sufferers
at Donner Lake, without securing help from Fort Sutter, which was speedily
accomplished by John Rhodes. In a week, six men, fully provisioned, with
Captain Reasin P. Tucker at their head, reached Johnsons Ranch, and
in ten or twelve days time, with provisions, mules, etc., the first
relief party started for the scene of Donner Lake. It was a fearful
undertaking, but on the morning of the nineteenth of February, 1847, the
above party began the descent of the gorge leading to Donner Lake.
We have purposely thrown a veil over the dreadful sufferings of the
stricken band left in their wretched bevels at Donner Lake. Reduced to the
verge of starvation, many died (including numerous children, seven of whom
were nursing babes) who, in this dreadful state of necessity, were summarily
disposed of. Rawhides, moccasins, strings, etc., were eaten. But
relief was now close at hand for the poor stricken sufferers. On the evening
of the nineteenth of February, 1847, the stillness of death that had settled
upon the scene was broken by prolonged shouts. In an instant the painfully
sensitive ears of the despairing watchers caught the welcome sound. Captain
Tucker, with his relief party, had at last arrived upon the scene. Every
face was bathed in tears, and the strongest men of the relief party, melted
at the appalling sight, sat down and wept with the rest. But time was
precious, as storms were imminent. The return party was quickly gathered.
Twenty-three members started, among them several women and children. Of this
number two were compelled to return, and three perished on the journey. Many
hardships and privations were experienced, and their provisions were soon
entirely exhausted. Death once more stared them in the face, and despair
settled upon them. But assistance was near at hand. James F. Reed, who had
preceded the Donner party by some months, suddenly appeared with the second
relief party, on the twenty-fifth of February, 1847. The joy of the meeting
was indescribable, especially between the family and the long-absent father.
Reprovisioned, the party pressed on, and gained their destination after
severe suffering, with eighteen members, only three having perished. Reed
continued his journey to the cabins at Donner Lake. There the scene was
simply indescribable, starvation and disease were fast claiming their
victims. March 1st (according to Breens diary), Reed and his party
arrived at the camp. Proceeding directly to his cabin, be was espied by his
little daughter (who, with her sister was carried back by the previous
party), and immediately recognized with a cry of joy. Provisions were
carefully dealt out to the famishing people, and immediate steps were taken
for the return. Seventeen comprised this party. Half starved and completely
exhausted, they were compelled to camp in the midst of a furious storm, in
which Mr. Reed barely escaped with his life. This was Starved
Camp, and from this point Mr. Rood, with his two little children and
another person, struggled ahead to obtain hasty relief if possible.
On the second day after leaving Starved Camp, Air. Reed and the three
companions were overtaken by Cady and Stone, and on the night of the third
day reached Woodworths Camp, at Bear Valley, in safety. The horrors
of Starved Camp beg,(Par all description, indeed, require none. The third
relief party, composed of John Stark, Howard Oakley, and Charles Stone, were
nearing the rescue, while W. H. Foster and W. H. Eddy (rescued by a former
party) were bent on the same mission. These, with Hiram Miller set out from
Woodworths Camp in the following morning after Reeds arrival.
The eleven were duly reached, but were in a starving condition,
of the eleven were unable to walk. By the noble resolution and herculean
efforts of John Stark, a part of the number were borne and urged onward to
their destination, while the other portion was compelled to remain and await
another relief party. When the third relief party, under Foster and Eddy,
arrived at Donner Lake, the sole survivors at Alder Creek were George
Donner, the Captain of the company, and his heroic and faithful wife, whose
devotion to her dying husband caused her own death during the last and
fearful days of waiting for the fourth relief. George Donner knew he was
dying, and urged his wife to save her life, and go with her little ones,
with the third relief, but she refused. Nothing was more heart-rending than
her sad parting with her beloved little ones who wound their childish arms
lovingly around her neck, and besought her with mingled tears and kisses to
join them. But duty prevailed over affection, and she retraced the weary
distance to die with him whom she had promised to love and honor to the end.
Such scenes of anguish are seldom witnessed on this sorrowing earth, and
such acts of triumphant devotion are among her most golden deeds. The snowy
cerements of Donner Lake enshrouded in its stilly whiteness no purer life,
no nobler heart than Mrs. George Donners. The terrible recitals that
close this awful tragedy we willingly omit.
The third relief party rescued four of the five last survivors; the
fourth and last relief party rescued the last survivor, Lewis Keseberg, on
the seventh of April, 1847. Ninety names are given as members of the Donner
party. Of these, forty-two perished, six did not live to reach the
Mountains, and forty-eight survived. Twenty-six, and possibly twenty-eight,
out of the forty-eight survivors, are living today, several residing in San
Jose, Calistoga, Los Gatos, Marysville, and in Oregon.
Thus ends this narrative of horrors, without a parallel in the annals of
American history, of appalling disasters, fearful sufferings, heroic
fortitude, self-denial and heroism.
The emigration increased in 1847, and then the gold discovered in 1848
induced a steady stream of treasure seekers to come from the States, over
the plains, and down the Humboldt River in 1849, en route for California.
Their number precludes the possibility of a further detail of the advent of
those who were but passing through Nevada.