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The Quest for Gold
Jersey County Company of Emigrants to California
Part II: The Journey West
(excerpts from letters and journals and photos)
by Carolyn Houghton Chapman
Elizabeth Page quoted frequently from letters of her uncle, Henry Post, and the journal of JosephHackney. Original spellings have been maintained in the excerpts from letters and journals reproduced here. Words or portions of words thought to be missing are supplied in brackets. Hackney recorded the start of their journey west from St. Joseph, Missouri:
May 1 Left camp at two o’clock and moved to the f [erry] not much chance to cross till to morrow
[May] 2 Lay by the ferry all day waiting for our turn and by hard squessing got over by ten o’clock that night the rest of the teams came over before no[on].
[May] 3 We are at last in the Indian ter[ritory] and must bid adieu to civilized [country for] many a day to come and perhaps [forever] yoked up and went 5 miles [over a very] bad road camped at noon found water plenty grass thin
[May] 4 Rained all night but [clear this morning] goodrich started home to day [not liking] the sample of the trip over the ro[ads] as we had it last night Went 3 miles rain last night made the roads so [muddy] that we were forced to stop had a better camp than the one we left
[May] 5 Lay by and grased the oxen nothing doing in camp but shooting at a mark and fixing up
[May] 6 Made six miles over a rough broken country roads still muddy and it looks like rain we intend to keep on a few miles each day till the grass is grown enough for the cattel to go ahead on it is a growing fine at present but will not do yet to push the teams on crabb and chapman came up o[n] us to day wrote a letter to bill to day it will be my last chance to send a letter home for some time
[May] 7 Drove 12 miles country very broken had the bad luck to break a king bolt on the road passed a number of indians huts inhabited by the iowas theas weare the nastyest indians i ever saw crossed wolf creek in the after noon one of the teams staled in the creek after a good deal of troble got acrost went one mile and camped grass and water good wood scarce drove the team myself to day for the first time weather pleasant three more teams joined the company to day two of them wear from Jersey county and the other was from Macoupin
[May] 8 Still keep a moving [though] slowly traveled 6 miles over a delight[ful prairie which] is the finest land i ever saw h[illy countr]y and thickly coated with grass [everything looks] beautyful we passed the indian [agency at] ten o’clock they have fine farms but [are too in]dolent to work them the whites at the station wear a plantin corn and the indians [sitting] on the fence or a laying in the shade we passed a wagon broke down on the road today Joe borem stoped for to help them mend it we have a fine camping ground and the best water i have drank since i left home 5 more teams joined ous to day they are from clinton county Illinois we have 11 wagons with us now (Page, pp. 111-112)
Five days later, Henry Page wrote to his wife Mary:
On the Banks of Big Nemahah
Sunday Afternoon 13 May 1849
. . .We have united with the Jersey Co. Boys & formed a Co under the name of the Jersey County Company — We have not as yet seen the Green County men — At present our Co . . . comprises thirteen teams with forty three men. . . . Our team works well & we have a load only of about 2300 lbs for 4 yoke of oxen — which of course is daily growing lighter. – (Page, pp. 123, 124). Fort Kearney 24 May 1849
. . . We are on the Platte River, 300 miles from St Jo and getting along finely & all well — We struck this River last night & have come up (10 miles) to the Fort, this morning — We find from the record kept at the Fort, that 1980 teams had passed the Fort up to last night — Thus we are in advance of the great rush of Emigrants. . . .We have 15 wagons in our company [52 men] & wish for no more — The larger trains are much delayed, crossing creeks & bad places — And as for the Indians, [they] are very much afraid of the Emigrants & keep off the trail — But we have no fear only for our stock, that they will stampeed (run off) or be stolen — And now that we are within only two or three days drive of the Buffalos, we fear not, that they will be stole (Page, pp. 130, 131)
Hackney journal entries continue:
May 30 Laid by this day last night was one of the stormiest I ever heard tell of the rain fell in torrents and covered the ground a foot deep in water I have seen it rain hard at home for half an hour but I never seen it pour down by buckets full f [or] 6 hours insessantly the wind also blew a perf [ect] gale, driving the rain through our tents and wagons covers like as though they had been paper theare was not much chance to sleep without you could fancy wet blankets and a torrent of water runing under you when we got up in the mornin [g] our cattel wear scattered to the four ends of the earth we started after them and it was ten o’clock before we found all of them some of them was ten miles off taking the back track every camp that we saw had lost cattel it commenced raining again at noon and rained till night to of dorseys men came to our camp hunting oxen they had lost 13 head our hunter came in this morning braute no game they stayed last night at a camp five miles below us.
May 31 Went 17 miles roads better than i expected to find them this has been an exciteing day in the first place a man ahead shouted buffolo all of the men run for thear guns and started in pursuit they had not got far when a fine noble elk came rushing up to the road as if he was going to break through the train he turned before he got within gun shot and passed ahead but knapp shot at him but missed him we had not gon far before we heard a great shouting firing and presently a great thundering big buffolo came tearing up the valley about twenty men on horse back wear close on after him as soon as he saw us he turned up towards the bluffs but we cut him off he was now a getting tughtered out and begun to show fight one of our men run up and fired a pistol at him befor he could turn his horse the old fellow was into him he pitched the horse and rider heels over head luckily he did not hurt them much over twenty shots wear fired at him At last Capt Bowers brout him down there was great rejoicing when the old fellow tumbled we all had a fine feast at night off of the old bulls meat and promised ourselves many a one to come the storm last Tuesday night has done great damage to the emigrants hardly a train that we can hear from but has lost more or less of thear stock they have got out amonst the bluffs and it is a chance wether they ever get them all again.
June 1 The excitement of yesterday has not worn of yet buffolo in quanties have been seen at a distance but when we would come up with them they would turn out to be rocks or something else we see lots of men out a hunting cattel one train ahead of ous lost two hundred head, what they will do if they cannot find them is more than i can tell they are to be pityed we passed the forks of the river to day and camped at the crossing after fording a small slue distance 20 miles road good weather pleasant (Page, pp. 135-37)
[June] 2 Went 21 miles to day we crossed the south fork of the platt this morning it was about half a mile acrost and from 2 to 3 feet deep we all had to wade it had no trouble getting over after we left the river we saw three buffolo the boys took after them and after a long chase killed one of them some men below killed the other two as they we are crossing the river buffalo appear to be more plenty on this side of the river we saw a large drove weare we stoped at noon we crossed over to the north fork of the platt and followed up the valley thear is not a stick of wood to be seen we will have to make out with chips they will do well enough when dry Greaser and Jim Jerome each killed an antelope to day. (Page, p. 139)
When the train reached the Laramie on June 13, Hackney calculated that they had traveled about 302 miles from St. Joseph, about one third of their estimated 1,834-mile journey to the mines of California. (Page, p. 144)
Van Dorn’s journal entries:
Sunday, July 8. We have had another very quiet Sabbath today. This morning early news came at the camp we should be in turn at the ferry by noon or before. Breakfast over, all hands were busy in getting ready for the task. Loads to pack, waggons to be got up to the ferry, so with the morning commenced another of the beautiful labors, crossing a mountain stream on a _____ ? [raft?] At 5 o’clock all were safely landed on the other side of the Green ferriage cheap only $4 the waggon, quite in proportion with the character of the enterprise which calls the masshere to cross. 2 ferries above have only 5 and $8 each. Before sundown our cattle were brought off the island and driven out to a small creek 2 ½ miles and encamped for the night. Had a good supper of fish with our usual variety (Van Dorn, page 21). The Judge stayed back to assist Mr. Arnspiker’s teams across, thus coming up too late to cross with our turn. Some 400 or 500 teams must have been at the ferry when we arrived and the crowd little less when we left. This point (the Green river) may be considered 75 miles from the south pass and is every way a practical route, except the 40 or 41 miles without water at least 1/3 of the emigrants have taken this cutoff.
Monday, July 9. This morning we relied on a early start, but our cattle, left to themselves last night, got too far in search of feed and it was late before the train moved. There is little feed left except on the islands and the high lands some distance from the ferries. Last evening, by some mishap, our horses were left on the island where our cattle were and this morning 5 others, with myself, put off 3 ½ miles to get them. We found the channel this side too deep to ford. The swimmers stripped off and soon made the land. Naked and barefoot they walked around from 9 o’clock until noon without being able to catch or drive them across. Finally they succeeded in catching 2 of them and the tasks becoming a little too scorching to their backs, these were put across and their pants, shirts and boots back on them and put over, by 3 o’clock all were on the main shore. The men’s backs were so burnt by the sun they could scarcely bear their clothes to touch them. Very likely the whole difficulty of catching may be attributed to a want of delicacy, or the modest bearing of our animals not allowing a naked person to approach them. 2 waggons of our train, Mr. Arnspikers, were still at the ferry. One of their men, being with us, invited us back to their camp to dinner where we soon found ourselves. Dinner was soon prepared and a little of the old stuff set out. Soon merry and hungry we went to work with our dinners with quite as good relish as our moving task. 4 o’clock we left them to reach our train (Arnspikers not being able to move on account of the illness of his son) In six miles we reached, after passing over a high ridge of mountains, a beautiful valley (name not known). A clear mountain stream passed through and some speckled trout were shown us caught them. This valley has a richer verdure and is handsomest of any since we set out. Some 2 or 2 ½ miles wide with a thick coat of grass which the immense herds flocking them, have scarcely left their trace, for I should think 300 waggons were encamped within the distance of some 5 miles we passed up it and the valley and hillsides were alive with their cattle. Here we came in with Capt. Mann to whom we sold our boat at the crossing of the Platte, who invited us to supper, which of course we accepted 7 of us. Heard of ______ passing. Regaled ourselves on a fine mess of fresh fish. Early after supper at dusk we were in search. Leaving the hollow we crossed over several high ridges with their corresponding valleys in which or 3 at least ran a small spring branch, the road winding a good deal around the hills and by the moonlight was delightful. At 12 o’clock (midnight) we came in upon our camp at the foot of a high range of mountains just ahead. Have made from the ferry 20 miles. Turned our horses out to graze upon the best they could find (Van Dorn, page 22).
[July] 19 Made 18 miles our road toda[y] has been over the dividing ridge that seperates the waters of the pacific from the waters of the great bason it was about 4 miles from the foot whear you commence assending to the summit and about the same to the foot on the other side thear was some very bad places on the ridge and sharp turns in the road we nooned at a large spring near the foot of the ridge water very cold after we started this after noon charley warren and me started to cross a mountain before us the road run around it after a hard climbing we got to the top and had a fine view of the sourronding country we got a sight of fort hall we estamated it to be 17 miles distant the snake river also was to be seen and the valley of the pont neuf river off to the right about 30 miles could be seen the famous three buttes we wear not close enough to give a discription of them we desended after we wear satisfied with looking and came into the road just as the train was passing camped on a small creek no wood but willows grass good (Page, pp. 167-168)
In his notes for July 20, Hackney reported they reached Fort Hall, a trading post belonging to the Hudson Bay Company. [Unless otherwise noted, the journal entries from this point on are Hackney’s.] He commented that he was very much disappointed by the place, because . . . by the talk i expected to find something of a fort it is only one building and built of mud, and is situated on the banks of t[he] snake river . . . fort hall is by freamont called 1323 miles from the mouth of the kansas and they call it 600 from hear to sutters fort so that we ha [ve] accomplish over two thirds of our Journey. . . (Page, p. 168)
[July] 24 We had some trouble a finding our oxen this morning they had scattered all amongst the bluffs two horses wear stole frome a camp above us last night it was supposed that they wear stole by indians as a couple wear seen just before night a lurking around we crossed a rocky stream this morning which was very dangerous for wagons 5 miles from hear we crossed fall creek this is another bad place and the hill this side is the steepest that we have ever pulled up we nooned at the place weere the road leaves the river after dinner we went on half a mile when the toad turned up a hollow which we followed up a mile hear the road assends to the ridge that devide raft river and snake we camped for the night on the opposite side of raft river the oregon road turnes off hear thear is a number of wagons camped on the river that inden[d] to go to oregon they are all family wagons grass is fine and our cattel are improving their opportuni[ty] by laying into it lustyly some of the pike county boys paid us a visit to night they brout a fiddler along with them and we all had a sociable dance amonst ourselfs Dictanc to day 14 miles . . . . (Page, p. 175)
[July] 28 Drove 20 miles we had a good road this forenoon and not very dusty the road from salt Lake came in to day a number of teams that turned off at the littel sandy the same time we weare thear and went by fort bridger came in as we pass to day they say they had a good road and plenty of grass all the way the mormens told them that any man that could work at all could make a hundred dollars a day at the gold Diggins all of the mormens appeared to have plenty of the Dust sixty teams left salt Lake for california this spring our road in the after noon was down hill all of the way and some very bad hills to Decende we lost a yoke of our cattel weare we nooned we hunted all over for there bu[t] could not see any sign of them Jim Bowman then started on and overtook a train that pass us at noon with a lot of loose oxen and found them with it thear was a women a Driving them or i expect they would have got a good Cursing we camped for the night on goose creek grass is not very good it is reported that thier is men a diging gold on the head of this stream, and are a finding it very plenty i do not no how much truth there is in it but it is creadited by a number (Page, pp 176-177)
August 1 Our road to day was along the valley no water but such as was standing in holes and it not fit to drink the road has been excelent we found wear a well had been dug and had good water in it and nooned in the after noon we passed a large spring the water was good but rather warm from heare we drove on 4 miles and camped plenty of good spring water and the best grass we have had since we left bear river distance to day is 20 miles road still fine
[August] 2 Made 18 miles to day we passed a numbe[r] of hot springs early this morning they wear hot enough to boil an egg in a short time within fifty yards of them was an other spring of water as cold as ice we nooned at a spring at the foot of the ridge we have to cross to strike the head waters of humbolt river after dinner we starte over the ridge we had a good road acrost soon after crossing we came to the forke of the road the road to the right is the road the mormons made last spring it is only 4 miles to water while by the old road it is 15 or 20 it runs through a mountain canon and is said to be a rough road as we Had concluded to take it we turned off there has been no wagons gone over it since last spring as all the other emigrants have gone the other road we camped on a small stream that flowes into the humbolt we had excelent grass and a fine camping ground the whole valley appears to be alive with grouse erome killed two of them and a large duck
[August] 3 We had a canon to pass through this morning after traveling two miles we entered the mouth of it we had to cross the stream that runs through it nine times about half of the road was good the rest was awful the road in places was piled full of rock that had rolled down from the side of the conon and appeared impossible to take a wagon over but we pushed her through after we got through we came out on a bueatyfull valley thickly covered with grass and acers of wild flax we came into the old road again about 5 o clock and went on a short distance and camped on the same stream that we did last night we cut off about 20 miles by coming through the canon and had good water and grass all along the teams that went around have a number of sick oxen that got poisoined on the road we wear in luck in not going around Jerome killed four more grouse and a hare to day Distanc to day 19 miles
[August] 4 Had an earley starte and went 11 miles the road was fine we crossed a large stream at nine o clock the grass is splendid all along the road i noticed to day large quanties of clover we camped at ten o’clock and layed by for the rest of the day i done my washing and took a good swime burton caught a number of salmon troute they are a splendid fish(Page, pp. 178-179)
[August] 7 The men who went back after the lost ox came back this morning without them They got on the track of them and followed it towards the mountain 5 miles and found weare the cow had been killed and the meat taken off and the ox driven on thear was a number of moccoane tracks about and it is no dought the work of the devilish diggers we crossed the river soon after noon and went on a mile and struck the mouth of a canon we had some very rough road through it and had to cross the river three times one of our wagons was upset in heare this is the first accident of the kind that has happened since we left St Jo thear was not much damage done only breaking the wagon bows and wetting the blankets we camped soon after coming out of the canon grass not as good as last night distance to day 20 miles
[August] 8 We followed down the river 6 miles this morning to weare the road leaves the river for 20 miles and no water for stock the whole distance we watered our oxen here and filled our kegs and went on we drove on till 10 o clock at night before we struck the river from the top of the ridge down to the river through a canon was the worst time i have seen on the road the dust was a foot deepe for twenty yards on each side of the road and blew square in our faces Some times for half a hour you could not see an ox in the team thear was not a spear of grass about where we camped and i expect our cattel will be well scattered by morning Distance to day 26 miles
[August] 9 as I expected we had some troubel a finding our oxen this morning we found them about 2 miles up the river they had got into tolerable good grass so that they did not do so bad after all we yoaked up and drove on till noon and then lay by for the rest of the day the grass along hear is parching up very fast and it is hard to find enough for the stock the indians are also getting to be troubelsome they are stealing oxen and horses every night they stole two horses from some packers last night they weare picketed within ten steps of weare they weare a sleeping and thear roapes wear cut and the horses run off distance to day 10 miles. Crossed the river again to day (Page, pp 180, 181)
[August] 12 We continued down the river this morning 7 miles and nooned from hear the road left the river for 8 miles over a sandy road after we came to it again we followed it down a few miles and camped grass good we met a man to day that had been down to the sink he says that thear is no water nor grass for 65 miles after leaving the river at the sink the water is so strongly charged with alkili that the cattel will not drink it twenty-three miles from the sink thear is a number of hot springs that will do to drink by cooling it from thear to the truckies river 22 miles is the next water it is going to be a hard pull to get through but still i think that we can come it he says that thear is over six hundred dead oxen on the last 15 miles before we strike truckies river Distance to day 17 miles . . . .
[August] 15 Drove 11 miles over a fine road we are driveing a few miles each day to recruite our cattel all that we can while the grass is good about fourty miles of our road befor we leave the rive is entierly destitu of grass and we will have to rush our teams over it as fast as possible and we want to get our cattel in a good fix to stand it and the 65 mile streach (Page, p. 182)
[August] 19 Made 17 miles we passed in the morning the new road it avoids the deseart beteen this and truckies river and strikes feather river 150 above Sutters thear was a number of teams went that way and a good many are camped hear who are a goin to take it as we have concluded to keep the old road we passed it without stoping we left the river bottom after nooning and struck out on a high dusty plaine till near night when we againe made for the river it runs here beteen high sandy bluff and has no vegetation along but a few rushes and the willows that lines its banks every thing around has a Dreary Desolate look we found crabb and chapman camped heare chapman has been on ahead he took the new road and followed it for 60 miles he says that thear was no grass on the road as far as he went he turned back and had his team take this road
[August] 20 Traveled 19 miles this road runs over a Dusty Barren plaine the river runs beatten steep bluffs and can not be approached the road strikes the river about 7 miles from weare we camped last night it left it again for 12 miles we camped on the river weare we struck it the last time we found heare a numb[er] of wagons direct from California and bound for the mormon city & it raised quite an excitement amongst the boys and every one has already made his fourtune they bring the most favorable news they say that they average from one to three ounces of gold a day and plenty of it provisi[on] is plenty and selling very cheap the first teams came in to Sutter the same day that they left five weeks ago we are all now anxious to get through as fast as possible we have no grass againe to night and have to browze our cattel on willows we had expected to get to good grass to night but the mormons told us that it is 18 miles yet and it will take all day to morrow to get to it
[August] 21 Traveled 16 miles 10 miles broute us to a small stream of spring water it had a sulpher tast from heare we drove 6 miles to what is called the slough and found good feed frome here till 3 or 4 miles from the sink of the river the grass is boundless all of the wagons hear lay in hay enough to last them acrost the desart thear is a number hear at present cutting and curing hay we shall go down 6 or 8 miles before we lay in our supply thear is a number of Indians of the ki utes [Paiute] tribe about thear are very usefull to the emigrants about getting thear grass acrost the slough you can get the[m] to wade over it and bring it to this side for a buiscute or an old shirt all day long . . . .
[August] 22 Drove on down the slough 8 miles and camped we sent men on with sythes and have got our grass all cut it is the best grass we have seen on the river our cattel are laying into it finely and they need it bad enough as they have not had a good feed for the last four days and will not have any more four the next three but what we can haul on the wagons the water is not very good and scarcely any wood
[August] 23 We have been buzy as bees all day a getting our hay and cooking up provision for the streach a number of teams have started out to day thear was an indian in camp to day that had been in california he made us understand by signs that thear was plenty of gold but said it was work heap which he did not like much
[August] 24 Rolled out at seven o’clock and travelled 19 miles it was heavy hauling for the first three miles we then struck out on a hard barran plain not a spear of grass to be seen nor any water we watered our oxen at a well about 4 o clock water poor the water at the sink was so poor that we went on 4 miles to weare a number of welles had been dug the water had a strong sulph[ur] tast and part of our cattel would not touch it tied our oxen up to the wagon and gave them a good feed of hay and turned in for the night . . . (Page, pp. 183-185)
[August] 25 Started at five o clock and drove on our toilsom trip acrost the deasart we had a good hard road for the first ten miles and a good breese a blowin in the afternoon the road began to get sandy and the wind died away leaving it as hot as a oven a number of the boys had gone on ahead to the hot springs to cool water againe the teams come up they did not all come up till nearly sundown the boys had cooled water enough to give them a bucket full apieace heas spring are the greatest curorisityes i ever saw thear is over a hundred of them all boiling hot one of them is very large one another one boiles up in a hole about two feet over at stated times it dies entirely away and then in a moment it spouts up two feet and throws boiling water for ten feet around the property that lays scattered around hear is increadable thear is over a dozen good wagons and by the old irons laying around a least as many more had been burnt up log chains cooking utencils and in fact everything that one can think of amonst other things i noticed a splend[id] turning lathe it could not have cost less than one hundred and fifty dollars we counted fifty four dead oxen between hear and the sulpher wells Distanc to day 21 miles
[August] 26 Left the hot springs at nine in the evening and drove on till one o clock when we stoped to feed our oxen one ox was left on the road we then pushed on till five in the morning when we came to a heavy sandy hill from this to the river a distance of 8 miles was nothing but sand from 6 to 8 inches deep two of the teams gave out before they had got one mile we passed thirty wagons that had taken thear cattel off and drove on to the river to water them oxen wear a laying every few hundred yards perfectly exhastred oxen would drop in the teams every mile some had lost every ox and had been forced to leave thear wagons after dragging though the sand seven miles we came in sight of truckies river thear was nothing in the whole world that i would sooner have seen at that moment than it its banks wear lined by large cottonwood trees and was quite a contrass to the wide dosolation behind us when we got to the river we could hardly keep our oxen out of it when we drove them it done me good to see the poor devils drink out of ten wagons that left the spring seven came through and three left on the sand they told us hear that our train was the only one that had brout thear wagons through without leaving haff thear stock on the road the seven wagons that came in have all the oxen that they left the sink with but it was a trying time on them and I would not beleave that an ox could stan the hardship that ours have without seeing it with my own eyes we found good grass by driving down the river 5 miles the water is splendid and the luxeary of laying under the shade of a tree no one knows but one that has traveled a thousend miles through the hot sun and not seen a tree large enough to shelter a dog a man was hear to day direct from sutters the news from there is still encouraging provision cheap and gold plenty chapman has not got in yet he came in to the hot springs last night just as we left them distanc last night and to day 22 miles
[August] 27 the boys started out after the wagons that wear left behind and have not got in yet our oxen happear to have got over thear fatigue and thear is no dought that they will all go through we have nothing now to dread but crossing the mountains the distanc from hear to the first diggins is only one hundred and twenty miles and 200 miles to sutters fort so that in two weeks or three at the most our long and tedious Journey will be ended this is a bauutyful stream the water is as clear as a chrystal it has a rapid current so much so that it is almost impossible to wade it the banks are lind with cottonwood trees wich have a pleasin appearance to all emigrants to Californie Jerome killed four hares and one grouse to day (Page, pp. 186-187)
T. J. Van Dorn provides a somewhat different perspective on August 27:
Monday, Aug 27. Today we amused ourselves about camp only let our cattle play in the grass and shade of Truckee valley. The character of this stream is mountain decidedly, being rapider and clearer than any we have yet made. Very little vegetation except on the immediate bottom. Immediately ahead of us lies a spurr, very high and broken, of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Before we had gone to bed, the teams left on the sand yesterday came up and in tolerable condition, though their cattle considerably fagged. The trains were now all together again, numbering 11 waggons and decided to move off in the morning. The evening beautiful with a clear sky and moon, bright as any spot can boast of . the health of all in camp good and after some little merriment, got to bed past 9 o’clock.
[August] 28 As our cattel are tolerable well recruted we started on this mornin our rout was up the river we entered a canon after traveling one mile and followed it all day we had to cross the river eleven times in the course of the day and all bad crossings the bottoms wear full of large rocks which with the rapid current made it dangerous for the cattel and wagons camped in a small valley wear we found an abundance of excelent grass distance to day 17 miles
[August] 29 We did not start with the rest of the train this morning as two of the other teams wear a going to Joine and leave one wagon and as it was a better one them ourn we are a going to exchange we did not get all to rights till 2 o clock in the after noon when we rolled on we had to cross the river 5 times douring the afternoon and had some rough rocky road this is the first night that I have not camped with the train since we have been on the trip distanc to day 8 miles grass poor
[August] 30 Drove on up the canon this morning and crossed the river 5 more times had a steep rockey hill to decend at the last ford we then kept on a mile and had another steep hill to come down after following on a short distanc we came out of the canon into a broad noble valley walled on all sides by lofty mount[ains] and covered with a luxurant coat of grass we found the train hear laying by we had a muddy slough to cross to get to camp thear was a man killed it it yesterday he was a crossing on a mule when the mule fell down and rolled on him and mashed him in the mud so that he died before they could get him out distan[ce] to day 7 miles (Page, pp. 187-188)
The route throughout August and the landscape described by the journalist are familiar to contemporary Nevadans. On today’s highways, the route which took most of a month of travel for the Jersey Co. Company, can be traversed in less than a day. By August 30, the emigrants had reached the site of Reno and were camping within a couple of miles of where Sam and Carolyn Chapman are living in 1999 a hundred and fifty years after our ancestors were here. CHC.
[August] 31 Followed on up the valley this morning we got out of the good grass after traveling 2 miles and struck out on a rocky sage plaine we did not touch the river for 8 miles and over the rockyest road that I ever saw we nooned wear we struck the river thear is a pitch pine tree hear the largest one I ever saw one of the boys mesuured it and it was near 6 feet in diameater we had to cross the river 3 times in the afternoon one of the crossings the worst one of the whole lot after crossing the third time we went a short distanc and camped grass poor distance to day 16 miles
[September] 1 Crossed the river again this morning and drove on over a rocky road for 3 or 4 miles we then desended a steep hill to the river and crossed it for the 2″ time after crossing we left the river and commenced the assent of the mountain thear is some of the finest pine trees hear that ever growed the whole mountain from top to bottom is compleatly covered with them we wound up by a gradual assent for 5 miles when we got to the summit we then had to desend for half a mile down the steepest kind of a mountain into a narrow valley a small stream of cold water run through it camped hear amonst the pine grass tolerable good distance traveled to day 13 miles
[September] 2 Resumed our Journey this morning and made 12 miles over mountains and hills all covered with the largest kind of pine trees we nooned on a small stre[am] that runs into truckye river camped in a nother small valley and found good grass and plenty of spring water we are now living on bread and coffee our sugar give out about a month ago and we eat the last of our meat last night it is poor living but we are living in hopes to get in next week when we can make up for it all
[September] 3 Drove 12 miles road the same as yesterday we crossed a considera[ble] stream in the fournoon and came down on trucky river at noon from hear we went on three or four miles and camped this is the spot wear the donner party perished in forty six the remains of thear cabins are still to be seen they were burnt by the order of General Kerney on his return home (Page, pp. 188-189)
Van Dorn’s account:
Sept. 3. This morning ice made ½ inch in thickness overcoats not at all out of place. Burton and Page unable for duty but seem some better. Neither have been free from the ague since they left home. In about 5 miles we made another branch of Truckee of consider-able size with a fine bottom of nutritious grasses but did us no good too early to noon. Passed on and in 4 miles made the river again. Nooned here, but no feed. The valley rocky and lined with high mountains, the road this forenoon gradual in ascent, as they have been since leaving the 2nd valley and rolling and but for sections of cobble stone, good. Truckee here is rapid, with a rough and rocky bed 150 to 200 feet about its average width. Remaining here 2½ hours we passed into the valley, tolerable roads, and in about 2½ or 3 miles came to Campbell’s Cabins at the foot of Truckee Lake. I went up this evening to view the lake its a romantic sheet, lined on all sides by the highest mountains in America, apparently deep and remarkably clear, with a pebly shore, except a strip on the south side. I noticed some ranches the lake some 3 miles long and 1 & 2 miles wide, the mountains surrounding it heavily timbered with pine and the dark green reflected from them gave to this water a deeper hue than any I have seen. Near the foot, or within a ¼ of a mile, are the remains of the fated Donner party, or Camp-bell’s Cabins, as they are called. These were built by General Kearny on his return East 2 years since, I know not for what cause. A skull and other evidences of human bones still lay upon the spot. Stumps 10 and 12 feet high, where they have been cut in the deep snow, stand about the place which is on the outlet of the Lake but a small stream. I felt something of a melancholy gloom when standing near this spot, probably from the facts connected with the fate of this party which gave a quiet and sombre appearance to all about and the tall pines sent forth a deep and melancholy moan as if to remind us of the suffering and fatality which here had been. Several of our men left the train this morning on a hunt. Nearly all lost their way, all but one came in late. James Bishop failed to reach camp tonight and some fears are entertained on his account. The moon came up bright, the evening clear and cool, and the camp fires gave quite an animated appearance to this little valley. Distance today from 11 to 12 miles. Tomorrow the great work of making the pass commences.
[September] 4 To day we commenced the assent of the mountain a short drive of 3 miles brout us to the foot of the mountain by a gradual assent of four miles over as rocky a road as one can well immagi[ne] we arrived at the main difficulty from hear to the summit one mile it is as steep as the roof of a house we doubled teams and by the hardest kind of scratching got our wagons up we then had to desend and bring up the rest former emigrants always unloaded and hauled the wagons up by roaps from the summit we desended four miles to a small valley and found good grass and camped for the night very well satisfied with our days work distanc to day 12 mile (Page, pp. 190-191)
Tuesday, Sept. 4. Sierra Nevada Pass. This evening we feel as if we had achieved a victory, having today completed the great work of making the pass over the Sierra Nevadas. As is usually the case with points on our route, this pass is not any worse than had been represented to us, as it is now is for it is evident a great deal of work has been done by the emigrants in ascending the great ridge where the old track went up, it would be impossible to get a waggon up with all the oxen in the train, for it would be quite all they could do to get themselves. The road is now improved and takes a slanting shute up the ridge, so that with 8 and 12 yoke on each waggon, we made the summit with safety and without difficulty and not taking out any part of our loading, tho this is now but little exertion. In about a mile or so from camp (which is 7 miles from the summit), we commenced ascending, making the first stop after which for 2 miles the rise was very gradual, when we reached the foot of a still greater (stop) the way intolerably rocky, which continued in sections until we reached the foot of the main ridge. This ridge may be called the hog-back of Creation, being a wall of granite near a 1000 feet above the surrounding region. (page 43) To our right and left still higher peaks were in view and from this point was delightful and overlooked a large extent on both sides of valley and mountain. The valley which we had followed for some days was plain in view, giving a better idea to the pass than one could naturally form in following it. In making that summit I am not sure we followed the usual route which had been represented to us as making by the Truckee Lake, which we avoided by over ½ mile. To the right of the point when we reached the summit, I noticed a canon distant about 2 miles, which I rather conclude as making from the head of the lake and following the passage through. The ridge over which we passed is very narrow, not more than ½ to ¼ of a mile when we immediately descended into the opposite valley to a level nearly with the one we had left covered in sections with the finest pine I have yet seen with beautiful mountain springs putting in from all sides, forming in a short distance, a clear and rippling brook. We nooned a short distance before making the ascent of the main ridge, on a small spring branch to afford our cattle rest for the great work, stopping for about an hour or longer we drove up to foot. The steep of the main ridge is not more than ? of a mile. By 4 o’clock P. M. we were all safely up when we arranged our teams and made a descent into the opposite valley 5 miles from the summit and encamped for the night on a beautiful bottom of rich grass and in a plenty, and clover I noticed here in abundance again. Immediately after descending the first steep, we had most picturesque view in the world, a bold escarpment of naked granite 5 or 800 feet perpendicular, from the foot of which makes a deep chasm forming the head of a valley. Now on this side we feel safe and encouraged by our near approach to the Dorado and safely on the Summer side, as Dan Marble would have it. Truckee Lake does not come from the source of that river. Our men out a hunting crossed it more than 5 miles south and west of this lake and apparently as large as when we first struck it. The maps are either wrong or else we are off the track as described to us. Put the distance for the Pass near 12 miles.
[September] 5 The first 4 miles of our road to day was good after that it commenced growing worse and was as bad as the worst road that we have ever traveled over we over took bill crabb to day he had broak one of his wagon tire we found good grass on the top of the mountain and camp we have passed several beautyful lakes today the water as clear as a chrystal from what we can learn the road ahead four the next twenty miles is the roughest road that ever was travel[ed] but it appears impossible that it can be any worse than what we have drove over this afternoon distanc to day 10 miles (Page, p. 191)
Wednesday, Sept. 5. Don’t feel very well this evening. We have had the D—-dst road in the world today known as the Bear River Pass and proves much worse than anything we have had. To say anything in way of description would only be to add D. D. Hilly and rocky, Except for a few miles on leaving the valley of our encampment and the first ridge, when we entered another timbered valley. This spot was splendid and looked as if I would like to make a home here, but the big pines soon discouraged this notion. When making down this we come to a district of small lakes and piles of granite, strewed in broken fragments over the whole surface where the [?] Commenced. Finding a patch or district of grass we encamped near the foot of a peak almost worth coming the whole distance to see, the base of which is covered with beautiful green shrubbery and grass, the top entirely naked and standing high above anything in view. Springs are every where numerous and more grass than found on the other side. The bottoms are all rich and even this part of California is habitable. Tomorrow we expect to reach the region of gold on Bear River, the road said to be bad, bad. Made 10 miles easy today.
[September] 6 We found to day the worst road that ever an ox or wagon ever traveld we started early this [morning] and drove till sundown and only made 7 miles it is impos[sible] to discribe the road as not even a man immagination could picture it great rocks as large as a flour barrel would lay in the road so that you could not avoide them in one place we had to take our oxen of and lower our wagon down by rops as it was impossible to drive in the night we had to camp on the mountain side without a spear of grass we tied our oxen up to trees and let them brouse on grand rocks rather hard feed but the best we could do for them
Thursday, Sept. 6 and Friday, 7th. Within the two days past we have made about 24 or 25 miles. Last night we gave our cattle [?] feed said to be strong tho not made of the fatening properties the roads have been intolerable and such as would hardly be believed possible for waggons to pass over by those experienced to a fair surface like our prairie. [?] and no grass from our encampment, near the Sutleffs Peak to the valley we made this evening (near sun set) which abounds in good grass, a good share of which is clover, but scant of water. Passed several small lakes by evening and following in sections, a small stream ( some call this the Yuba). We have not wanted for water. Our course from the Peak led along the valley of this stream except where the canon was so narrow as to force us on the mountain. (Van Dorn, p. 43) The whole distance one complete bed of rock, with many steep and difficult pitches, both in ascent and descent until approaching the valley of our present encampment, within about 4 miles we had occasional stretches of good roads, or free from rock. After starting our yesterday morning, in about 8 or 9 miles we found the elephant, or at least others thought so and left the animal figured out on a board in fair style. This point was a descent over a ledge of rocks some 30 feet not quite perpendicular our cattle taken around by a narrow passage and our waggons let down by rope. The ropes were snubed around trees, so that in this way we got all our wagons down in safety and in comparatively little time not being 2 hours in getting them to safety at the foot when we hitched to and drove on about a mile or so, finding no feed, chained our cattle to the trees and encamped for the night. The next morning we were off early and made some 14 or 15 miles to the valley of our present encampment, the whole time without grass for our oxen, which looks as bad tonight as when they came across the desert from Humboldt. There are sections of very fine pine timber on the whole way. We are now in another valley, having crossed a ridge and left the stream we had followed some 7 or 8 miles from here, the waters of which seem to have as much difficulty as we in making their way over the piles and fragments of rock which lined its entire bed. Very high mountains line both sides all along. 25 miles the past two days. (Van Dorn, p. 44)
[September] 8 We had intended to lay be hear to day but our cattel begun to range about so in search of water that we had to yoke up and go on we drove on only 3 miles which brout us to bear river valley whear we found abundance of grass and water we had to lower our wagons down a very long steep hill by ropes several wagons had been upset on the hill
Saturday, Sept. 8. “Such a getting down stairs as we have had today I never did see.” We calculated not to leave camp today and allow our cattle to recruit, but hearing that in 2½ miles we reached a branch of Bear river, called Bear Creek good water and grass, we hitched up this after dinner, supposing to reach it in an hour or two. Following along the valley, or cove, where we were encamped, for about a mile, the road fair, we made a descent into a ravine, tho short, over piles of rock, when we rose a tremendous steep but nothing to double teams from the very verge of the top, we humped off some 300 feet to a level below, when we brought up at the top of this steep, making the valley. Here we found a dozen or so teams ahead of us, detained from one cause or another letting their waggons down with ropes. This mountain is about ½ miles to the foot the steepes to foot about 200 yards when the road runs over a smooth ledge of rock for nearly the whole distance, which prevents the cattle from doing their part in the hold back line and requires the assistance of ropes. This is the heaviest descent we have made yet. By sundown we were snugly in camp at the foot, having made our usual despatch in working our waggons down on the ropes. On this hill we let one yoke remain at the waggon. We are still tonight between high mountains, a clear and rapid creek passing through a considerable valley the feed quite good. Tonight we feasted on black tailed venison, its flavor resembles mutton. Very little game has been killed lately, the horses having all given down and the men too much fagged for the pursuit. Sunday, Sept. 9. We had the very quite recreation this morning in a two hours search for our cattle. From reports below conclude to stop here for the day to prepare our stock for another stretch of 60 miles without feed between here and Johnstons and the Sacremento valley. Laid in a stock of wild pea vines in place of grass the vines are abundant and the grass somewhat eaten off. We decided in our mess today to make a stop on the Bear diggings 20 miles below here and dispatch someone ahead tomorrow to reconnoitre the ground. The day passed as usual for our Sabbath in doing certain extra duties, or as the proverb has it, “There is no rest for the wicked.” Decided for me to go in advance tomorrow. The evening closed with musical entertainment and a few grand extravaganzas. Had a negro dance. (Van Dorn, p. 44)
Van Dorn noted that, on Monday morning, September 10 at Bear Creek, his “mess” including Henry Page and one other wagon left the Jersey Train to proceed to an area known as the El Dorado. Elizabeth Page provided the information that Dr. Knapp and the main body of the company pushed on to the Stanislaus to seek gold there. These are the final entries to Hackney’s journal:
[September] 11 Traveled on this morning 8 miles to steep hollow road rough and the hill decending into steep hollow awful we hear saw for the first time the prosess of gold working a going on they wear a washing the dirt from the bank of the stream on wich they said that thear wear places very rich we all hear got out our pans and went at it and washed out half a dollars worth in [no] time the first money i ever made out of the land in the after noon we went on and had another bad hill to assend and wear over two hours a gaining the top we then went a short distanc and camped our cattel are a getting very weak as they have had nothing to eat but oak leaves for the last two days and traveled over the worst roads that ever a wagon came over dstanc 10 miles
[September] 12 Pushed off this morning with the intention of reaching a grass valley some 8 or 10 miles distant and reach it before night thear had been good grass hear but it had been mostly eat off still it was better than none to our stariving cattel two of our oxen droped in the yoak to day compleatly used up we got one of them on to camp and left the other one behind the price of provision hear appears to me to be out of all reason only think of my having to pay one dollar and fifty cents for one quart of molasses and then they told that he let me have it cheap because he had a team of his own to haul his goods up with (Page, pp. 191-193)
Elizabeth Page added the information that this last entry in Hackney’s journal referred to Illinoistown. Illinoistown was a rough, primitive mining community near where Colfax, California, is located today. An Illinoistown Road still exists in Colfax.
Family histories tell us that Abraham Houser III died on October 17, 1849, and his father-in-law, John Arnspiger, died on November 17, 1849. The only indication for place of death for either of these is “the gold fields of California.” We have visited Colfax repeatedly and have sought throughout the gold country of California for further information as to where Abraham Houser III and his father-in-law John Arnspiger began prospect for gold. However, no indications of precise locations for their prospecting or for their deaths have been found in the searching done by Sam and Carolyn Chapman.
The Houser book reported that Abe “did not even begin the search for gold, for two weeks after his arrival in the Golden State, while cutting logs for a cabin, a tree fell on him, and killed him” (Genealogy of the Houser, Rhorer, Dillman, Hoover Families (HRDH), p. 81).
|Photo: Abraham Houser’s widow, BarbaraAnn Arnspiger Houser, married Abraham Houser III in Jersey County, ILon September 14, 1841. When her husband, Abe, and her father, JohnArnspiger, died in California in the fall of 1849, she was left with four fatherlesslittle girls, ranging in age from one to seven, to rear as a single parent. She lost her father, John Arnspiger the next month. Barbara Anndied in Logan Co., IL June 2, 1888. The photo was enlarged by her greatgrandson, G. Richard Phillips, from a tiny one in a locket.|
“With the then slow method of mail transportation the death news reached home in February, 1850, from which time a close struggle for support was the fate of the little family of five. And only with the aid of many friends, together with much outdoor labor, was the tidal wave of destitution successfully overcome. The widow and daughters removed to Logan County in August, 1857, where many relatives resided” (Logan County History, 1886, p. 705).
|1863 photo of two of the girls who were left fatherless when Abraham Houser III died in California on October 17, 1849. These two little girls were 6- and 4-years old when their daddy died. The attached photo shows Mary Catherine “Kate” Houser (age 20) and Sarah Elizabeth Houser (age 18). It was scanned from an old tintype. Note, the Houser name was also spelled “Howser.”|
The John Arnspiger family first appeared in the Jersey Co., Illinois census of 1840. John married Mary Seale in Jersey County, Illinois. Based on her age in the 1850 census, Mary was about 32 at the time of her marriage to John. She was born in Ohio. Also in the household at the time of the 1850 Census, in addition to the older Arnspargers listed on the preceding page, were 14-year-old Martha Seale, 5-year-old Luke Arnspiger and 3-year-old Rebecca Arnsparger, born in Illinois.
John Arnspiger was not with the family at the time of the 1850 census. He died November 17, 1849, in the gold country of California. The husband of his daughter, Barbara Ann, Abraham Houser III, died there on October 17, 1849. The date the families were enumerated for the 1850 census was August 30, 1850.
The 29-year-old Barbara listed in the Arnsparger household prompts one to wonder if she was listed twice — once here and once as the 27-year-old Barbara Houser living in the very next household — Household 119. (Barbara Arnspiger and Abraham Houser married in Jersey County on September 14, 1841.)
To commemorate the death of Abe Houser, the following poem was written by John L. Kelly, a Methodist minister of Rockdale, Iowa, at the request of Abraham’s sister Mary Ann Houser Longworth. According to the information in the Genealogy of the Houser, Rhorer, Dillman. Hoover Families, it was one of four poems he wrote on the same subject. This one was “set to music and became a favorite song in the family, far and wide. The children heard it while yet in their cradles and learned it as they grew older, so that there are many living today  to whom it is familiar.” (HRDH, p. 81)
Here are two of those poems:
Poem commemorating the death of Abraham Houser III ,October 17, 1849
The day of separation rolls around
The thoughts of parting cause each heart to swell,
For California now the man is bound
He bids his wife and children all farewell.
Husband and wife in covenant to agree
That for each other they will often pray,
Perhaps each other’s face no more they’ll see,
The husband now starts on his tedious way.
O’er hills and vales and o’er the barren sand
For many weeks the traveler onward wends,
Through many dangers to the far off land,
At length he’s there, his weary journey ends.
But in that far off land the traveler falls,
From home, from wife and children far away
His work is done, his heavenly master calls
And takes him home to everlasting day.
Altho he brings no yellow shining dust
For his dear children and his loving wife,
He’s gained a treasure free from moth and rust,
The gold paved city and eternal life.
Four lovely daughters do their loss deplore,
The mother feels the weight of care and pain;
She weeps but still rejoices evermore–
For him they have lost in Heaven they’ll meet again.
Poem commemorating the death of John Arnspiger, November 17, 1849:
The Dying Californian
Brothers gather round my bed,
For I am dying now.
The last bright gleam of hope is fled,
And clamy is my brow.
While reason yet retains its throne,
Come listen to what I say,
And bear this message to my home,
My home, far, far away.
Go tell my father not to blame
His wayward daring child;
But kindly speak of his dear son
When at home, in youth, he smiled.
Go tell my mother kind and free
That my last act shall be
To breathe that well-remembered prayer
Which she, in youth, learned me.
When I am dead take off this ring
And bear it to that shore.
Tell Mary ’tis the ring of him
Who sleeps to wake no more.
Tell her when in the courts above
To think of that sweet hour
When she pledged her love to me
In yon sunny bower.
Brother, you soon must close my eyes
And make my last cold bed
Before tomorrow’s sun shall rise
I may be counted dead.
Farewell, my fiends and loving ones
I ne’er shall see thee more
While here I slumber all alone
On San Francisco’s shore.
The preceding poem was found in the Diary of Benjamin Rector Hieronymus at the Illinois State Historical Library. Ben’s brother, John Pendleton Hieronymus married Sarah Elizabeth Houser. Her grandfather was John Arnspiger and her father was Abraham Houser III.
These articles contributed by Carolyn Houghton Chapman