Go back to Chapter 3



ABOUT the year 1849 we had an interview with Mr. IDE, in which he give us an account of his "trip over-land" to California, in 1845. He did not go minutely into detail, but dwelt more particularly on the manner in which he ascended the Nevada Mountain; as that performance was the most laborious and difficult of the many difficulties they had to encounter. And not the least of these difficulties was the task of convincing the men with him that his plan of operations to accomplish the hard task then in prospect was practicable. Their guide had told them the only way was, to "take the wagons to pieces, and haul them up with ropes!" Our Yankee adventurer thought he would find and try a better way. He took a survey of the premises, on foot--climbing up the rugged "cliffs of the rocks" till he reached the plane above, and finally concluded there was a "better way."

Mr. IDE found on the line of the ascent several abrupt pitches, between which there were comparative level spaces, for several rods distance, where the team might stand to draw up at least an empty wagon. Accordingly, he went to work, with as many of the men as he could induce, by mild means, to assist him-- removing rocks, trees, &c., and grading a path 6 or 7 feet wide, up the several steep pitches and levels to the summit. The next thing for them to do, was to get a team of 5 or 6 yoke of cattle up onto the first inclined grade or semi level. This was a tedious process. The first pitch was longer and more abrupt than any of the others. I think Mr. IDE told me they had to take one ox at a time, and by the help of men, with ropes assist him up the first steep grade. After having, by this process, Their ox-team of 5 or 6 yoke in order, on the first "level," (as we call it) they then, by the use of ropes and chains, attach a wagon to it, haul it up one "hitch," then block the wheels, "back" the team, take another hitch and another start forward,--and they thus continue the operation till the wagon is on the first "inclined grade." It was then, by a similar, but less tedious process, drawn up over the remaining, steppes or "pitches," to the level plain above--and the same operation was repeated with all their wagons. And at the close of the second day after their arrival at the foot of Sierra Nevada, these then well educated mountaineers found their entire retinue of wagons, "goods and chattels" safely landed at the summit-level.

Mr. IDE told me these were the two hardest days' labor he experienced, for himself, men, women and children (and cattle, even), of the train, during the entire journey. Nothing short of Yankee pluck could have conceived and have accomplished such an undertaking.

We will add Mrs. HEALY'S version of a little more she remembers about this enterprise:

"It took us a long time to go about 2 miles over our rough, new-made road up the mountain, over the rough rocks, in some places, and so smooth in others, that the oxen would slip and fall on their knees; the blood from their feet and knees staining the rocks they passed over. Mother and I walked, (we were so sorry for the poor, faithful oxen), all those two miles--all our clothing being packed on the horses' backs. It was a trying time--the men swearing at their teams, and beating them most cruelly, all along that rugged way.

"Not long after this we met a pack train on their way to some fort. They told us that the Spaniards would take us all prisoners as soon as we should arrive in California, and that all the Americans who then were there were ordered to leave or they would be imprisoned.

"Some of our company wanted to stop and build a fort, and spend the winter there; but on further consideration it was thought better to risk the Spaniards, than to be shut up in the midst of those high mountains to starve. So we hastened on our way, losing no time to meet our fate, be it what it might.

"We camped one night on a level place near a lake of very clear water; also very deep. During the night we were startled by a loud report that shook the ground under us like a heavy clap of thunder. We were terribly frightened. It proved to be an explosion of gun-powder--a keg or can of it in one of the wagons, which it set on fire. At the time it was supposed to have been accidentally set on fire; but afterwards circumstances led to the conclusion, that the man having charge of the wagon set it on fire, with the object in view of getting possession of a sum of money in a trunk, the owner of which having gone to California with the company that 'packed' from Fort Hall.

"In driving down into 'Steep Hollow,' the men cut down small trees to tie to the hind end of each wagon, to keep it from turning over or slowing, and also to hold it back. In attempting to ride my poney down, the saddle came off over her head. She was so gentle as to stop for me to alight, and lead her the rest of the way down.

"We camped one night in 'Steep Hollow.' Our best milch-cow died the next morning. We did all we could to doctor her. We supposed she was poisoned by eating laurel leaves --grass being so scarce.

"Traveling though the Sierra Nevadas, up hill and down; fording streams in the small valleys, with muddy bottoms, and small rivers, with large boulder rocks at the bottom; so large as to almost upset the wagon; driving over rocky roads--all this, though it might be considered healthy exercise, was somewhat fatigueing: and our Pilot wanted to stop a day or two to rest; but Father did not think it best to, and drove on.

"The next morning we continued our march without a pilot; and, after traveling all day, we camped, as usual, for the night. Soon after getting quietly at rest, our Pilot came up, and, swearing as he came, said he was not responsible for our 'driving into a Cañon that we could not get out of!' My Father seemed perfectly cool--said scarcely a word, for he knew that he was right. While Greenwood was scolding, I saw the stump of a small tree that was cut down the year before, which showed that we were camped on a road made last year --so all that needless alarm was soon ended.

"Somewhere near the summit we came to a place where a company of ten or twelve wagons had camped the year before, and emptied their feather beds. They left their wagons and 'packed' their oxen into the valleys. We could see the tracks of these wagons very plainly--there having been no rain since the melting of the snow last spring. These were the first wagons that ever crossed the 'Plains,' on their way to California, but were not brought into California till 1845. Our Emigrants, on coming to this Plain, all made a rush for the long sought for California; ambitious to be first --not much waiting one for another; the best teams leaving the rest; every one looking out for himself, only. Some went to one part of the country, and some to another. I have since met but few of our first company, except those who passed our house on their way to Oregon.

"The rest of the way we traveled very slow; our cattle--the small remnant of the flock we started from Illinois with being poor, and nearly worn out--having lost so many oxen as to be obliged to work cows in their place. While on the way, near the Humbold, the water was very bad. Some of our best oxen became poor and unfit for work, and were left on the sandy desert, some 40 miles this way of it, to shirk for themselves; and they probably died, or were 'cared for' by the Indians. An ox would lie down in his yoke, and could not be got up; so we would unyoke and leave him. Some of them were able to walk, after the yoke was taken off: these we drove on as long as they were able to go, hoping they would hold out till we came to good water. Our cattle, all told, numbered only 65, when we moved onto our Rancho, in April, 1846.

"On the 25th day of October, 1845, my Father drove down into the American River valley, and in a few days more we camped near Sutter's Fort, where Sacramento City is now."

Thus we have given Mrs. HEALY'S graphic and interesting account of their seven months journey from Illinois, through the States and Territories now seen and described on a modern made map of the United States, as Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Decota, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, "to where Sacramento City is now" --an air-line distance of about 2350 miles, but a distance of not less than 3,000 miles, on the path traveled by MR. IDE'S company.

When we consider the state of the roads-- the fact that a great part of the way was an uninhabited plain, or an unbroken wilderness, inhabited by wild beasts and Indians; and consider, also, the obstacles to be overcome by such a retinue--composed, as it was, of an unwieldy herd of cattle; of women and children unaccustomed to traversing deserts, fording rivers and scaling mountains--in view of all these impediments that were overcome, it would seem that by hardly less than the interposition of a miracle, as in the case of the Israelites on their way to the "promised land," could they have surmounted them. Mrs. HEALY'S account of some of the (to her) most exciting incidents of the tour are none the less interesting to the sensible reader, from having been given in an unstudied, plain, every-day style of writing. It must be borne in mind that she is not writing a sensational made-up story, but is treating of incidents and facts that were too deeply impressed on the mind, at that early period of her life, to be easily eradicated from her memory--and therefore her account is reliable.

We have, by "the mind's eye," witnessed many scenes of hardship and suffering by these pioneer emigrants; but from what we have in store to say further about them, it will be seen that, so far as relates to Mr. IDE and family, they had yet many hardships to encounter. By a few more extracts from Mrs. HEALY'S narrative it appears that, although they had been providentially preserved to reach the end of their journey, further toil, anxiety and hardship awaited them. They had not yet realized the promised boon of "A land flowing with milk and honey"--the "Eldorado" which has, in later years, attracted thousands upon thousands of enterprising, well-to-do citizens of the New England States to the Pacific coast.

"While encamped near Sutter's Fort, where Sacramento City is now," (Mrs. H. continues,) "Father met a Mr. Peter Lassen, who owned a large tract of land 130 miles up the Sacramento valley, on Deer Creek, who told him that he was the very man that he wanted to build him a sawmill. Lassen having the water-power, and Father a circular saw and some mill-irons which he had brought across the Plains, he told Father to go right up with his family to his Rancho, and tell Mr. Sill to clean out one of his tenements, and that he (Lassen) would be home soon, and show him the mill-site and set him to work. In just one week after we had moved into this small house of one room, Mr. Lassen came home, and brought another family with him, (one of his own countrymen, a German); and the first thing he said to Father was, that he wanted his house!

"This was about the middle of November, 1845. We packed every thing into our wagons; and, getting our cattle together, started up the river and forded it. After going about seven miles, we came to a camp of one family (a Mr. Tusting) who had bargained to take care of a Mr. Chard's cattle, and live on his Rancho --had camped near Sacramento River, on H. R. Thome's Rancho, in order to have the company of Mr. Thome's man who had charge of his (Mr. T's) cattle. We camped near them, they being very anxious to have us remain with them all winter. As the rainy season had already commenced, the weather was stormy. Father, with two other men, built a log-cabin. All of us lived in it until April, 1846. During the winter, which was a very wet one, we were surrounded with high water-floods--our cattle swimming from one bank to another--Indians yelling night and day, while the river was at its height--we living on beef, butter and milk, with but little bread and no vegetables. Perhaps 100 lbs. of flour was all we had during the winter and spring, or until the wheat grew. A little boiled wheat was a treat to us. These privations, (not to mention many others), made us somewhat homesick.

"We could get but little wheat to sow, which was bought of Capt. Sutter. We could not buy flour at any price: it was not in the country. There were eight in our family, including a Mr. Tustin, his wife and child.-- Three young men--a Mr. Boker, having charge of Mr. Thome's cattle and horses--a Mr. Belden, an Eastern gentleman, and a Mr. Pitts, who were weather-bound, and were of course some company for us, all lived in a log-cabin several months. They made themselves a canoe, and the two last named men put into it a supply of meat, their fire-arms, ammunition, &c., left us, and made their journey by water to some point down the river where they could embark on a larger craft. * * * One of these men (Mr. Josiah Belden) owned the farm now known as the 'IDE RANCHO.' Mr. Belden gave father one half of it for living on and taking care of his (Mr. B's) cattle three years. After the discovery of gold, Mr. B. sold his half to my Father, my husband and my brother JAMES; each paying him $2,000--Mr. B's cattle being included. * * *

"In April, 1846, we moved from the first cabin ever built in Tehama Co. into our partly finished cabin on Mr. B's, farm. We had not been there long before a young man, Mr. L. H. Ford, came to tell Father that Gen. Don Castro was on his way from Monterey to drive all the Americans from the country. Father left home the same day,--I think about the last of April or first of May, 1846, and went, with other American settlers, to Fremont's camp. F. told them he could not assist in attacking the Spaniards, except in self-defence. Then the settlers organized, and chose Capt. Merritt their commander. They hastened on to Sonoma. The Captain appointed two of his men to go into Gov. Vallejo's mansion and take him prisoner, while the rest of the company were guarding the building outside, mounted on their horses."--[Here Mrs. H. refers the writer to other sources of information relating to the capture of the Spanish Fortress by the "Bear Flag" party, etc., and proceeds to say:

"How sad for Mother and I to see Father and Mr. Henry Ford ride off on such an expedition!

Would they ever return? Should we ever see them again? Fright from the Indians, distress and grief from hearing rumors of Father's and William's death by the hands of the cruel Spaniards, and weeks passing before we could hear or know to the contrary. No post-offices or mails; no neighbors but wild Indians! not hearing from them, direct, for months!-- Thus all that long summer passed!

"Finally, sometime in November, after an absence of between six and seven months, Father and William came home. Oh, the joyful day! I wonder that I cannot recall the exact day of the month."

Mrs. H. then adds to her account of their "over the Plains" excursion, a few more items of interest:

"We had no deaths in our train; in the large company, I mean. In it there were two (a Mrs. Rolett) was so feeble when we first saw her at Missouri line, as to be carried on a bed, and lifted in and out the wagon like a helpless infant; and at our journey's end she was a well woman.

"We began to lose cattle the first week after leaving Illinois, and kept on losing all the way --some dying from the want of grass and want of good water; others, and perhaps the greater number, being lost and killed by the Indians. Palmer was the name of the large company's Captain. He went to Oregon--had no family with him. There were a few families who did not wait to organize with the large company, but drove on and kept in advance all the way.

"To me the journey was a 'pleasure-trip'-- so many beautiful wild flowers, such wild scenery, mountains, rocks and stream--something new at every turn, or at least every day. I was with my dear parents then. To them it was quite different. They had care and toil all the way. My Father was broken of his rest and sleep a great deal--taking charge of the cattle early and late; yet his health was good all the way."

Go forward to Chapter 5