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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

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

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

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.


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

Among the Jayhawkers were two Germans who could speak but little English
and probably for this reason, kept apart from the remainder of the

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.


Alexander Combs Erkson was one of the pioneers of 1849, having left the
state of Iowa in the month of May, when he assisted in organizing a
company known as the "Badger Company" at Kanesville, the object being
mutual assistance and protection. This company joined the Bennett party
mentioned so prominently in this history, at the Missouri, and traveled
with them or near them to the rendezvous near Salt Lake where the new
company was organized for the southern trip taken by the Death Valley
party, the Jayhawkers and others. As the experience of Mr. Erkson was in
some respects different to that of the parties mentioned, he having
taken a different route for a part of the way, it was thought best to
embody it in this history. The following was dictated to the editor of

Online LibraryWilliam Lewis ManlyDeath Valley in '49 → online text (page 26 of 36)