This is the final month of my daily diary excerpts from a “virtual journey” along the California Trail, posted on social media for the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, Nevada. During September the portion of trail covered during this hypothetical journey is shown in the Google Earth image, starting near Winnemucca, Nevada and continuing along the various possible routes to California.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 1, 1850
“We are still in the midst of rough mountains. They are covered with heavy forests of pine and fir. Many of the trees are of great size and very tall. Much of the time we are traveling in the shade. We have got below the snow fields, but not beyond the frost at night. In the sunshine at midday it is very warm. The dust is as deep as it was on the hot plains, and there is no wind to blow it away. It settles thick on everything along the road. The road is rough and the hills are often steep and rocky. Before noon we came to a notice on a tree by the side of the road, saying that the Carson boys had turned off here to find feed, and inviting us to follow. We did so, and in a short distance came to a fine meadow. This style of telegraph was in general use on the plains. Notes were often seen stuck in a split rod planted by the side of the road, where every one could see them. By this means news was conveyed to friends coming up behind. We remained here all day. The men cut as much grass as we could well carry. We never knew when feed might be scarce. We had kept up this plan for three hundred miles down the Humboldt and one hundred miles up the Carson By this means every animal came through, except the one lost by accident. To-day we reached the region of oak timber. We had seen nothing but willows, cotton woods, and pines for so long that the oaks seemed like old friends. Near our camp some black oak trees had been cut down, the leaves of which our horses ate greedily. Before night the Carsons left us and drove on a few miles further to Leak Springs.” – Margaret A. Frink. Frink’s diary can be viewed and downloaded at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101079825640&view=1up&seq=124&skin=2021. The photo is from Google Maps near Leek Spring where it crosses the Carson River route.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 2, 1849
“Vary heavy white Frost Last night & this Morning My ink is frost 2 [h]ours By Sun I am 30
Miles from Bear river or the nearest point where the Diggens commence It being Sunday and My Horse week I concluded to travel Slow to day But the [road?] is nothing [but?] up one Hill and down another and Some all most gussipofs[?] and most of the time ove[sic] over and through Rocks Vary crocked and to look at the places they pass without seeing a road you Would think a wagon could never pass through them it must undoutdly Be one of the worst roads in the World I Have only Traveld about 12 miles to day But to add some little to Hardships we Have had a [?] fine Pine grove all day and passed a [?] number of Small Lakes of clear watter which looks Vary Lovley some Little grass but not neare enough to do the emigration that will pass this year there is no doubt but there will [be] a great deal of Disstress among the Hinemost Trains capt in a grove near a small Lake” – M. A. Violette. Violette’s diary is part of the OCTA collection and can be downloaded at https://www.octa-journals.org/merrill-mattes-collection/diary-of-m-a-violette-1849. The photo is of an unnamed pond near the South Yuba River along I-80.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 3, 1852
“At ten o’clock from our mountain road we caught our ﬁrst view of the great Sacramento valley- The scene was magniﬁcent. There it laid, spread out as it were, beneath our feet as far as the eye could reach, north, south and west, a land of beauty and a joy forever; a land of sunshine, of plenty, and of comfort. Stopped at the 10 Mile House.” – John Hawkins Clark. Clarks’s diary can be viewed at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31822035077213&view=1up&seq=1. The 1874 etching of the view from the Sacramento Valley by R. Swain Gifford was downloaded from https://picclick.com/Lassens-Butte-1874-RSwain-Gifford-324213954374.html#&gid=1&pid=1.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 4, 1850
“We resolved to reach the river at the nearest possible point for, from the appearance of the country, there was reason to believe that we were in the neighborhood of the Sink; and should we travel out on the great desert, without a supply of water, the forty or fifty miles of dry sand between the Sink of the Humboldt and Truckee River would be fatal to Our teams. Therefore, turning, as we supposed, in the direction toward the Humboldt, in about four miles we came to a large slough of brackish water, the main channel of the river being about three-fourths of a mile beyond, and along the edge of an extensive marsh. Between this slough and the river the lowlands produced excellent grass. Following down the slough about three miles we stopped to allow the teams to feed and rest. We are no longer troubled with preparing dinner; our rations are dealt out so sparingly that we seldom eat anything at noon. Indeed we would like to forget the dinner hour, but the more we try, the more we can’t. Near our noonday resting place we found a large number of Pah Ute Indians gathering the seeds of a large plant which grew in great abundance around the marsh. The seeds are ground with a stone rolling pin on a broad stone having the upper surface neatly dressed into a deep curve. The meal is mixed with water and molded into cakes and baked on a bed of coals, made of dry sage roots which the squaws brought in large cone-shaped baskets. These Indians are smaller than any we had yet seen, nor are they so well formed; some are dressed in buckskin, but many have the cast-away clothing of the emigrants, and the children are nearly or quite naked. Living on vegetables, and especially on roots, they have obtained for themselves the name “Diggers.” In the afternoon we moved about three miles, still keeping near the slough and meadow, which, in its rich green, contrasted strangely with the surrounding desert; like the sweet sanctity of home in a cheerless world. Almost baffled in our efforts to obtain fuel, we at last brought the dry roots of rushes from a bog half a mile distant. They burned readily, but produced little else than smoke and ashes. However, in the absence of provisions to cook, heating our coffee was the only practical need of fire.” – John Steele. Steele’s diary can be viewed at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31822042768408&view=1up&seq=264&skin=2021. The painting by Jeanine Hattas is from the Great Basin Room mural in the California Trail Interpretive Center.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 5, 1849
Lucius Fairchild wrote letters to friends and family back in the eastern states and copied his journal. This entry was regarding the 40-mile desert crossing between September 5th and September 9th. “Arrived at Grand Marsh 20 miles from the Sink, Sept. 5th at which place we stayed 2 day[s] cutting hay to feed the stock over the desert between the sink & Truckee’s river. Arrived at the sink at 2 o’clock A.M. of the 8th Sept. and lay near the Sulphur springs untill evening when we commenced our journey over the great desert sending a party ahead to cool the watter at the Hot springs dis[tance] 28 miles–we arrived there a little after sun rise The cattle were very much fatigued. The Hot spring is very large and as hot as water can be made easily, I saw a large ham boiled in 17 1/2 minutes perfectfully well done. Here we lay over all day and started for Truckee river at dark. About Sunrise the next morn. we got within 8 miles of Truckee river, where the road begins to be very sandy, and made out to get within 6 miles of the river but the cattle were so much worn out by long hard drives with but little feed that they could go no farther therefore we left the wagons and drove the cattle to the river loose, then we were obliged to drive them 5 miles down the river from the road to grass The next day we went back after the wagons and got through safe. The road from the sink to Truckee’s river was lined with dead cattle, horses & mules with piles of provisions burned & whole wagons left for want of cattle to pull them through We were very thankful to get through safly. That desert is truly the great Elephant of the route and God knows I never want to see it again.” – Lucius Fairchild. Lucius’ letters are held in the Library of Congress and can be downloaded at https://www.loc.gov/item/31033125/. The painting of emigrants cutting hay in preparation for crossing the Forty-Mile Desert is from the Wayside exhibit next to the Marzen House Muceum in Lovelock, NV.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 6, 1850
“Our cattle having rested, we started at daylight and drove along until twelve o’clock, when they began to fag again. We here concluded to leave a wagon and double teams, and unhooking from my wagon we left it standing and drove on. We now come to where we we could have a good view of the animal. Here the ground was almost covered with the dead and dying stock; wagons and all kinds of property, and whole trains had left everything, and the men walked away. Let and Johnston left some fifteen wagons in one place. A company that were traveling behind us buried a man to-day. The hardest sight was to see the cattle standing and lying around dieing tor the want of water. In a circle of one hundred yards, I counted twenty five cattle that had fallen, in every position, some on top of each other, some in wagon beds and some tied to forsaken wagons. We found what we had been told by the Mormons was too true that there is enough dead stock on the desert to bridge it from one side to the other, a distance of forty five miles. The number of wagons that have been left is put down by all that I have heard speak on the subject, at not less than twenty five hundred, and the worse is yet to be told. Men for the last ten days or more have been living on half rations, and drinking the worst water in the world In this situation, the cholera has come down upon them, and stout men wilt down before this monster disease like tender plants in a scourching sun. Almost every wagon has a sick, dying or dead man in it The wagon tooks the man in last night off the roadside, has had two case of cholera to-day, and at one o’clock they came to get me to lay out and sew up in his blanket, one who had just died; I went and done so, and in a few hours a stout man was under the sand, in one of the most desolate countries on God’s foot stool. About one o’clock I came across a man from Dayton, Ohio, sick named, George Decker, whom we took into our wagon and went on. It was not long until we found we would have to leave all our wagons, and drive our cattle to water, across the desert; At two o’clock we hitched eight yoke of oxen to one wagon, and left the rest on the desert. We took the two sick men, and all the boys were across except S. Millikan, A. Wenden, F. Niterhouse and my self, who remained to watch the wagons. As I felt assured the cattle would get across safe, I spent a comfortable night.” – Anonymous (Fayette County Boys). This diary is part of the OCTA collection and can be downloaded at https://www.octa-journals.org/merrill-mattes-collection/fayette-county-boys-en-route-to-california-1849. The painting is from the Wayside exhibit at the I-80 and Highway 95 Fallon rest area.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – September 7, 1849
“This morning our mules were missing. We tracked them and found they had gone back on the road. Mac and I followed them and found where we had nooned yesterday. We brought them back and got off by 8 ½ o’clock and drove 15 miles before we found water and it was 1 ½ miles left of the road and very little grass. The roads bad all day, the last 1 ½ miles verry rough.” – Amos Josselyn. Amos had taken the Applegate Trail and then the Lassen Cutoff. His journal is part of the OCTA collection and can be downloaded at https://www.octa-journals.org/cave-springs-collection/diary-amos-piatt-josselyn-1849. The photo of the Lassen Cutoff was downloaded from the California Trail Interpretive Center website at https://www.californiatrailcenter.org/lassen-cuttoff/.