Charles A. (Charles Alexander) McMurry.

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amined it the more he was convinced that it was gold." '
The next morning he visited the race again and picked
up other particles, in all about a spoonful, and carried
it on the crown of his slouch hat to the mill. Soon
afterward he started to Sutter's fort to get pro-
visions and show the gold. Captain Sutter had scales
and sulphuric acid with which the metal was still fur-
ther tested and he also came to the conclusion that it
was real gold.

For six weeks things went on as usual at the mill,
but Mr. Bigler, one of the men, while out hunting deer
and other game for the workmen, took pains to ex-
amine the sands of the river and found gold in several
places. His reports caused others also to look and
make discoveries. By April 12 six white men were
at work on the American River below Coloma, washing
out the sand and gravel in pans and Indian baskets.

1 Cenlury, Vol. XLI, p. 528.


Even in this rude way tliey were earning about forty-
one dollars a day for each man.

About this time also Mr. Humphrey, a gold miner
from Georgia, began to work along the river with a
rocker, that is, a piece of log hollowed out into which
sand with gold dust was shovelled and then rocked
back and forth as water was poured into it, thus sepa-

San ^RA^•cISCO ix 1841

ratino; the gold from the sand and travel. " Bv the
middle of March it was reported in one of the papers
of San Francisco, a village of about seven hundred
people, that a gold mine had been discovered at Sutter's
mill, but the report was at first much doubted. The
increasing quantity of gold that was brought in con-
vinced the doubters, and by the middle of June the whole
territory sounded with the cry of ' Gold ! Gold ! Gold ! '


" Nearly all the men hurried off to the mines. Work-
shops, stores, dwellings, wives, and even fields of ripe
grain were left for a time to themselves." ^

The gold was usually found in the sand-bars and
banks along the rivers and smaller streams. There
was abundance of water in the streams with which to
wash the sands and gather the gold dust. When the
rainy season of winter set in and the larger sand-bars
of the river were flooded, the miners ascended the
smaller valleys and washed out the dry sands along
their courses. It took no great amount of skill to
shake a pan or handle a rocker and the reward in
many places Avas great.

In the latter part of 1848 reports began to reach
the Eastern states that gold had been discovered in
California. It did not cause much excitement at first,
but later in the winter large amounts of gold reached
New York and other cities and then great interest
was felt through all the older states. People began
to prepare for the long journey to California in the
spring. Many started overland in wagons, cross-
ing plains and mountains. A line of steamers had
been started to carry emigrants from New York to
Panama and thence to San Francisco. We will follow
one of the parties in its course across the plains and

1 Century, Vol. XLT, p. 531.


mountains from Chicago to San Francisco, in the spring
and summer of 1849.

In the early spring of the year 1849 a young man
named John Turner, his brother, and another young
man decided that tliey would make the journey from
their home near Chicago to the gold mines in Cali-
fornia. At that time there were no railroads built west
of the city of Chicago, and from the Missouri River to
California there was scarcely a town except a small
village at Salt Lake recently founded by the Mormons.
It was necessary for the young men to make this
journey in a covered wagon with horses and such
outfit as they could carry with them. They secured a
well-built wagon, covered it with a tent, and packed
within all those things which would be most useful to
them on their long and perilous trip across the great
plains and mountains, such as tools, clothing, food,
medicines, ammunition, saddles, blankets, and various
other articles of necessity and comfort.

The young gold-seekers started in March and made
their way across northern Illinois, fording streams be-
cause bridges were not yet built and toiling slowly
westward to the Mississippi. They had taken some six
horses and often camped out for the night. When
they reached the Mississippi near Rock Island, they
were carried across the stream by a ferry-boat, on to



which the horses and wagons were driven, and which was
urged backward and forward by a steam-engine. They
passed westward through Iowa, which at that time was a
wild prairie region but little inhabited. They crossed the
prairies and streams, coming upon many other emigrants
with wagons and horses travelling westward with the
same purpose of reaching the gold mines in California.
After two or three weeks of travel the party reached the
Missouri River and the town of Council Bluffs, which was

An Emigrant Train

at that time the principal outfitting station in the West
and a very busy place. Many emigrants from the Middle
and Eastern states had collected here and were preparing
for the journey across the plains and mountains. The
young men remained here for about two weeks and
bought such additional supplies as they found they would
need for their long journey. Then in company with
fifteen other wagons, forming a large caravan, containing


forty-one men in all, they started westward, first descend-
ing the Missouri River and crossino; it at Plattsmouth into
Nebraska. From this point they followed the south shore
of the Platte River westward for many miles. The river
valley was filled with timber and by keeping near the
river they were always well supplied with timber and
fuel, with water for the horses, and with good pasturage in
the bottom-lands at night. Each evening the party would
camp at the edge of the woods and picket out their horses,
which in this way were allowed to rest and feed. They
were coining now into the country that furnished most
excellent hunting. The young men took the best riding
horses and rode out on the plains both north and south of
the river where they found abundance of buffalo and of
deer, while in the woods near the river other wild game was
plentiful. The weather was sunny and delightful with
the opening springtime and the young men had great
pleasure in hunting the wild game on these boundless
plains. The trail which they were following led not far
from the river, which they occasionally crossed.

Their manner of crossing the river was as follows :
From trees bordering: the stream logs twentv-five feet
in length had been cut and fastened together bj' cross
pieces ; grooves were also cut across the logs for the
wheels of the wagons. A firm raft twenty-five feet square
having been constructed, it was fastened by means of


ropes to stakes driven into the bank of the river. Long
ropes were fastened to the two sides of the raft next to the
shores, and by means of these the raft witli its load was
pulled back and forth across the river. On the regular
trail or road these rafts were found moored at the crossino;-
places and were used by the caravans as they came along.
The first emigrant train that crossed the plains in 1841
started at Kansas City and passed northward through
Kansas and Nebraska to the Platte. The emigrants thus
describe the buffalo region : " As soon as we struck the
buffalo country we found a new source of interest.
Before we reached the Platte we had seen an abundance
of antelope and elk, prairie wolves, and villages of prairie
dogs, but only an occasional bu:ffalo. We now began to
kill buffaloes for food, and, as was the custom of white
hunters, our people began to kill them just to get the
tongues and marrow bones, leaving all the rest of
the meat on the plains for the wolves to eat. But the
Cheyenne Indians who travelled ahead of us several days
set us a better example. At their camp we noticed that
they took all the meat. Indians were never wasteful of
the buffalo except in winter for the sake of the robes, and
then only to get whiskey which the traders offered in
exchange. There is no better beef in the world than that
of the buffalo ; it is also very good jerked, that is, cut
into strings and thoroughly dried.


" It was an easy matter to kill buffaloes after we got to
where they were numerous, by keeping out of sight and
to the leeward of them. I think I can truly say that I
saw in that region in one day more buffaloes than I have
seen of cattle in all my life. I have seen the plain black
with them for several days' journey as far as the eye
could reach. They seemed to be coming northward from
the distant plains to the Platte to get water, and would
plunge in and swim across by the thousands. There
were so many that they would change the color and
taste of the water until it was unfit to drink, but we had
to use it.

" One night when we camped on the south fork of the
Platte, they came in such droves that we had to sit up,
shoot off our guns and make what fires we could to keep
them from running over us and trampling us in the dust.
We had to go some distance from the camp to turn them,
otherwise the buffaloes in front could not turn aside from
the pressure of those behind. We could hear them
thundering all night long, the ground fairly trembled
with the vast approaching herds, and if they had not
been turned aside wagons, animals, and emigrants would
have been trodden underfoot."^

One day, looking toward the low hills which border the
river valley, at a distance of several miles the party saw a

1 Century, Vol. XLI, pp. 117, 118.


cloud of dust. Thinking it miglit be a band of Indians on
horseback, the caravan of sixteen wagons, which was strung
out on the march, was driven together and formed into a
triangle with five or six wagons on each side. On account
of the danger from Indians along this part of the trail the
white men had previously planned for a cjuick movement
in driving their wagons together and thus forming a sort
of barricade. The teams were unhitched and all driven
together into the triangular space between the wagons.

In the meantime the cloud of dust came nearer and
presently horsemen could be seen. As the troop descended
the sloping hills into the valley, they were seen to be a
l^ody of Indians on horseback, armed with bows, arrows,
and spears, and in war-paint, showing that they were out
for a plundering raid against the pioneers. The forty-one
men, with loaded rifles, concealed themselves behind and
among the w^agons and waited to observe what the Indians
would do. The warriors rode forward, about two hundred
strong, till they were just out of rifle range, where they
halted and held a parley. They seemed 'to be uncer-
tain whether to make an attack upon the caravan of
wagons or not. After a brief space of time they mounted
their horses again, divided into two troops, and galloped
past on each side of the wagons just out of rifle range.
Farther on they came together again and then rode off,
up the hills and over the prairie, and disappeared. They


had evidently concluded that it was not safe to attack so
large a party of riflemen, well barricaded behind wagons.
If the party of white men had been smaller, with only one
or a few wagons, the Indians would doubtless have attacked
and plundered them.

After pursuing their journey westward along the
Platte until the central part of the present Nebraska was
reached, the caravan found that their horses were grow-
ing weak. The extra animals had been driven much in
pursuit of the buffalo and on other hunting tours. The
draft animals were exhausted l3y dragging the heavy
wagons along the sandy trail. It was found necessary,
therefore, to stop and rest. A broad, grassy meadow
was selected, the camp was pitched, and for two weeks
the animals were allowed to feed on the rich grass and
to rest, and so to recover their strength for the still
harder journey in prospect. The meat that had been
brought into camp was jerked and hung up in the sun
to dry. The wagons and harness were repaired and the
clothing and foot-gear put into the best condition.

The journey from this point until the Rocky Moun-
tains appeared in sight was still along the river Imt the
grass was growing scanty ; only a few cotton wood trees
were seen here and there in the river valley. The sky
was clear and sunny, as rain seldom falls in this region,
and the ground is thinly covered with short butfalo


grass. The hunting-parties now gave way to the steady
march. Few animals or birds were seen. The men
walked beside their heavy wagons all day, driving their
teams or leadino; the extra animals. The low hills rose
in long slopes north and south of the river but beyond
was nothing but the great treeless plain.

At last the caravan came in sight of the hazy outline
of the mountains, looking like low clouds along the
west. The air is so clear that they can be seen a
hundred miles before reaching them. As the travellers
approached the foothills or first low ranges, they could
see the scattered evergreens along: their sides and the
ranges of mountains rising higher and higher to the
west, until the snow-covered peaks of the main chain
stood at the back. They followed the trail along the
north fork of the Platte until the Sweetwater was
reached and then pursued the valley of this stream to
the South Pass. It is the same pass through which
Fremont once went and is about seven thousand feet
above the level of the sea.

As the caravan came into the mountains, the party
of forty-one men and sixteen wagons had broken up
into smaller divisions, as they no longer feared the at-
tack of the Indians. From the South Pass our friends,
the Turner boys, with a guide who had travelled the
road before, descended the western slope of the moun-


tains to reach some stream ti-ibutary to the Green
River. The western slope of these mountains is very
dreary and desolate. The road led through the' alkali
region, where there was no vegetation or water. Soon
their supply of fresh water gave out and the party
travelled most of the day without drink. They camped
at night without water for their animals or themselves.
Their guide said that by ten o'clock the next morning
they would reach a stream. Early in the morning they
were pushing along the road toward the much-needed
water. They travelled hard until noon, yet nothing
but the parched and barren alkali desert was to be
seen. The animals began to suffer greatly for lack of
water. The men put bullets into their mouths to keep
from feeling the thirst. Travelling onward during the
afternoon, they came to a rising knoll from which they
could look down into a distant valley, and there, four or
five miles away, they could see a stream. Men and
horses hastened forward and after an hour's suffering
reached the river. They rushed eagerly into the stream
and drank of the refreshing waters.

Our friends, after following the tributary stream to its
outlet, crossed the Green River, and then followed west-
ward the valley of another stream. A trail had been
made by previous emigrants to Salt Lake. The road
usually lay where more or less grass could be found.



Sometimes the valleys were deep and shadowed by over-
hanging cliffs. Following one of the streams that flows
into Salt Lake, until they reached the inland sea, the
travellers kept southward until they came to Salt Lake
City, which the Mormons had settled only a few years

The First House in Salt Lake City

before. Here they rested a few days and prepared for
the toilsome march across the desert.

Passing along the northern shore of the lake, the
wagons came in a few days to the dry and lifeless desert,
which was so barren and hard that the trail could scarcely


be seen. The wayfarers were compelled to carry enough
water to supply them in the wearisome mai'ch across
this desolate region. The first emigrants to cross this
desert in 1841, the Downer party, used up all their
water before they reached the streams in the west. The
men and women and children set ont on foot to save
their lives. Both oxen and wagons were lost, and most
of the party walked the remaining distance to California.

The Turner boys had joined another large party or
caravan at Salt Lake City, so as to cross this region in
company. After passing the desert, they reached the
head waters of the Humboldt River, where there were
grassy meadows. One night they pitched their camp,
and went to rest, leaving three men to guard the camp,
and especially the horses, from the thieving Indians who
were known to be found on this part of the route. But
the three watchers also were very tired and soon fell
asleep. While the whole camp lay thus asleep, a party
of Snake Indians crept up, loosened the horses, and
started off northward toward their homes. Before morn-
ing the men awoke to find every animal gone. The
Indians not only had three or four hours the start, but
were on horseback and could travel faster than the

It was a most difficult situation. But in spite of this
several men started rapidly in pursuit. For several days


they followed the trail of the Indians toward the north
but were unable to overtake the thieves. A few of the
lame or less speedy mules were overtaken and recovered.
With these less valuable animals the men returned to
camp. It was impossible to haul the heavy wagons
with such worn-out mules. It was decided, therefore, to
leave the wagons standing on the plains with most of
the furniture, tools, j)rovisions, and supplies. The har-
ness was cut up, pack saddles were made, and the most
necessary tools, clothing, and provisions were packed on
the backs of the mules, and then all the men set out
on foot for California, six hundred miles away.

Their road now lay along the waters of the Humboldt
River and on its banks they again found grass, water,
and game. The river cuts its way through moimtain
ridges, forming deep valleys, and the streams entering it
from both sides come down through deep rocky canons
that are often dry a great part of the year.

Along the shores of this stream were found springs.
As the mules one day came to one of these springs and
reached down to drink, the bank gave way and a mule
with his pack tumbled into the cavity and disappeared
from sight. The Humboldt finally sends its waters into
the sink of the Humboldt, where they are absorbed into
the earth or are evaporated. When the caravan reached
til is point they found the waters too salty for use ;


thereupon they turned northwestward into the valley of
the Truckee River.

This valley was rich in grasses and had a wagon road
leading over the Sierra Nevada, but as our friends had no
wagons they determined to take a shorter trip directly
across the great mountain wall. It was still early in the
fall and the snows had not yet set in. A zigzag path led
up the mountain side, forming a foot-track for men and
animals. After winding their way through the foot-hills,
the Tm-ner boys started up this zigzag path and in a few
days were on the summit of the mountains looking down
into the valley of the Sacramento. The trip down the
valley of one of the branches of the Sacramento was
easier. They were soon among the mining camps, for
this was the very region where gold was first discovered.
While the Turners had lost their wagons, horses, and whole
outfit, so that they had very little to begin with in a new
country, still they were more fortunate than many others
who had attempted to cross the plains and mountains.
Some had been taken sick on the way ; others reached the
mountains too late to cross into California before winter
set in, and were compelled to live upon the eastern slopes
in poor huts and with little food, until the spring opened.

During this summer many thousands of emigrants
pushed westward over mountains and plains to the gold-
fields of California. Others sailed from New York and



other cities of the Atlantic coast to Panama, and crossing
the isthmus, travelled by ship to San Francisco. Still others
sailed round Cape Horn and reached California by this long
route. Before the end of a year about eighty thousand
people had reached California. Just before the discovery
of gold, as a result of the Mexican War California had

A Rush to the Diggings

become a part of the territory of the United States. As
the people thronged into the West, San Francisco quickly
became a city of twenty thousand people. Many lawless
characters — thieves, roughs, and gamblers — had come
with the immigrants and there was a period of lawlessness


and crime. But the better classes of the people quickly
organized a government, established order, and applied to
the authorities at Washington for the admission of Cali-
fornia as a state. It was admitted to the Union in 1850.

The amount of gold obtained in the first few years
from the river sands and mines of California was enor-
mous. Many millions of dollars' worth of gold was
shipped to the East and increased the amount of money
in circulation. People continued to throng into California.

Ten years later, in 1859, rich mines were discovered in
Colorado and a great immigration to the vicinity of Pike's
Peak began, the city of Denver grew rapidly, and the
Rocky Mountain states sprang into existence.

In order to meet the demands of commerce between the
East and the Western states, railroad routes were carefully
surveyed through the mountains, and after six years of
labor at both ends of the line, the first great railroad across
the continent, the Union Pacific, was completed in 1869.



(From Powell's Journal., mostly direct quotation, with occasional connecting


In the summers of 1867 and 1868 Major J. W. Poweir
explored a number of rivers in western Colorado, which
flow westward through deep gorges into the Green.

While among these mountain gorges, Powell became
interested in the marvellous stories which the Indians and
trappers told of the Colorado River and of deep and dan-
gerous caiions through which the river passes on its way
to the sea. The Indians believed it wholly impossible to
go through this mighty canon. Besides dark, deep gorges
full of plunging falls and rock-strewn rapids, it passes,
they said, underground through dismal caverns which no
human beings could traverse.

In the spring of 1869 Major Powell collected a small
party of hardy explorers for the purpose of going down
through the Grand Cailon in boats.

For this journey into unknown dangers Powell made

^ Major Powell was a one-armed man, a fact which must have added
much to his difficulties on this adventurous journey.



such preparations as his knowledge of river canons in this
region would suggest. Four stout boats were built accord-
ing to his directions, in Chicago, and were shipped by rail-


road to the point on tlie Green River where it is crossed by
the Union Pacific railroad, in the southwestern part of
Wyoming. Three of the boats were built of oak, double-
ribbed, with double stem and stern posts, and with water-
tight bulkheads dividing each one into three parts. Two
of these jjarts in each boat were decked, forming water-
tight cabins, so that the boats could be turned upside down
in the water without sinking. Each of these three boats
was twenty-one feet long and when empty could be carried
by four men. The fourth boat was built of pine, sixteen
feet in length and light, with a sharp prow for swift row-
ing, and was divided into water-tight parts like the others.

The party consisted of eleven men and they took provi-
sions for a journey of ten months. An abundant supply
of clothing, blankets, powder and firearms, two or three
dozen traps for animals, axes, arrows, saws, and other
tools, besides nails and screws, two sextants, four chro-
nometers, barometers, thermometers, compasses, and other

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Online LibraryCharles A. (Charles Alexander) McMurryPioneers of the Rocky Mountains and the West → online text (page 6 of 13)