November Social Media Posts

I just realized that I never published a copy of the Social Media (Facebook) posts I did for November and December for the California Trail Interpretive Center. Here are the ones from November, which continued a series I began in October!

For Frontier Fridays in November we’ll continue to highlight the quotes displayed on the stone walls lining the outdoor plaza of the California Trail Interpretive Center.

Outdoor Plaza at the California Trail Interpretive Center

November 5

“After descending some very steep hills… we reached some natural wells… it is my opinion that these wells form the source of the Saint Mary’s or Humboldt River.” – James G. Shields 1850

James G. Shields’ diary is held in the collection of Yale Library (https://orbis.library.yale.edu/vwebv/holdingsInfo?searchId=747&recCount=50&recPointer=21&bibId=3107198) and not available in digital form. His diary, though, describes his 1850 journey from New Albany, KY via St. Joseph, MO to California by way of the Platte, Fort Kearney, the Sweetwater, South Pass, Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City, the Mormon Route, the Humboldt, Pilot Springs, Carson River, Pleasant Valley, and Waterville. The account notes the route, camping places, and incidents of the journey, including mention of another party from New Albany to which James Abbey belonged. For much of the route Shields was traveling with Alfred H. Nunemacher’s group. While I do not have direct access to Shields’ journal, Nunemacher’s is available for download from the New Albany Floyd Library at http://floydlibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Diary-of-a-Hoosier-Goldhunter.pdf. Nunemacher mentions Shields several times and sheds light on his character. On June 6 he wrote, “Forded Deer Creek this morning and overtook Jim Shields, and the rear guard of the Albany boys. It pleased me much to meet my old friends again, and I hope we may remain together. We had a long chat on bygone days, and hoped for the good time coming. James Shields is an exception among men. Warm hearted to an extremity, yet contrary to the experience of most warm-hearted persons, steady, moral and affectionate. May he be successful in all he undertakes, as I know he will go into nothing his conscience will not approve.” Based on Abbey’s and Nunemacher’s diaries, Shields probably wrote, “After descending some very steep hills… we reached some natural wells… it is my opinion that these wells form the source of the Saint Mary’s or Humboldt River,” on July 15, documenting their arrival at the Humboldt. Nunemacher quickly developed a disdain for that river, though, because on July 24 he wrote, “If Mary (whoever she was) was no more attractive than the river bearing her name, she will doubtless need going to California to preserve her from living an old maid.” During their initial ascent of the Sierra Nevada mountains on August 9, Nunemacher said, “On the evening before I was taken ill with the cholera morbus, and in consequence with my former weak condition from want of food, I found it a hard matter to surmount the steep hills, and had it not been for the kind assistance of James Shields I should certainly have been several hours behind. He cheerfully stayed with me and held me up and with great care aided me in walking.”

November 12

“… the road forks – we will take the left crossing the river, the other going down the north side of the river; we don’t know which is right.” – Dan Carpenter 1850

Dan Carpenter was born in Lawrence County, Ohio, in 1825. He went to Missouri with his parents in 1843, moving to Barry in Clay County in 1845. Being a merchant in 1850, he took an ox-train of merchandise to California, returning in 1851. His journal is held in the collection of the Kansas City Public Library (https://kchistory.org/index/dan-carpenters-journal-1847-1848-1850-1851?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=f905fa63356200abb3da&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=3&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=18).

Dan summarized his trip to California in an autobiography that he wrote for the St. Joseph Gazette. He said, “I was attacked by that wonderful disease, the ‘Gold Fever’, and in 1850 I fitted up three ox teams, loaded two wagons with merchandise and one with provisions, and with several neighbors who were stricken with the same disease, left Barry … for that long, hard, worrying trip across the ‘Great American Desert.’

Dan was chosen to be wagon master for his group and kept careful records of the comings and goings of members of the train, numbering each campsite and noting details about distances, grass and water availability, and commerce engaged in along the trail. On August 17, he wrote, “Moved about our usual time. Left the river [to travel over Emigrant Pass west of present-day Carlin, NV] and passed over hilly road for 5 miles to a spring ½ mile to the left of the road at the foot of 2nd ascent. 2 miles to some holes where is some stock water. 1 mile to a spring in the valley. 1 mile to another of excellent water just at the side of the road. 1 mile to one a little larger just at the head of the Kanyon. 6 miles down the Kanyon, 2 miles to Camp 86 just across the river at the 5th crossing on thin grass. Drove the whole distance 18 miles without nooning, the first time we have done so. Road very Rough & hilly and the most all fired, goll-durned rocky jostler road I ever saw. Country barren – no vegetation but sage. Just as the road & river join, the road forks – we will take left, crossing the river, the other going down on the North Side of the river, we don’t know which is right. There is change in appearance of the country. I will notice the other road again.”

November 19

“Meanest and muddiest filthiest stream, most cordially I hate you.” – Leander V. Loomis 1850

Leander V. Loomis’ book A Journal of the Birmingham Emigrating Company: The record of the trip from Birmingham, Iowa, to Sacramento, California, in 1850 can be viewed on Hathitrust at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015070241792&view=1up&seq=136. Loomis did not actually reference or make this statement. It was the editor of the 1928 published version of Loomis’ diary (Edgar M. Ledyard) who inserted a poem written by a Dr. Horace Belknap, whom he says made a trip from Iowa to California in 1850. The full text of the poem as quoted by Ledyard in the footnotes is:

Meanest and muddiest, filthiest stream,

most cordially I hate you;

Meaner and muddier still you seem

since the first day I met you.

Your namesake better was no doubt,

a truth, the scriptures tell,

Her seven devils were cast out,

but yours are in you still.

What mean these graves so fresh and new

along your banks on either side?

They’ve all been dug and filled by you,

thou guilty wretch, thou homicide.

Now fare thee well, we here shake hands

and part (I hope) to meet no more,

I’d rather die in happier lands than

longer live upon your shore.

The “seven devils” are a reference to Mary Magdalene in the gospels. The Humboldt river, in 1850, was commonly known as Mary’s river, but there is some dispute as to which Mary the name actually commemorated.

November 26

“Reports reach us of hard roads ahead; that there was no grass… where the river disappears in the sands of the desert.” – Alonzo Delano 1854

Alonzo Delano’s account of his journey to California can be downloaded from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/13005717/. His book is titled Life on the plains and among the diggings; being scenes and adventures of an overland journey to California: with particular incidents of the route, mistakes and sufferings of the emigrants, the Indian tribes, the present and future of the great West.

Born in Aurora, New York, Alonzo Delano (1806-1874) moved on to the Midwest as a teenager. July 1848 found him a consumptive Ottawa, Illinois, storekeeper, and he joined a local California Company. He remained in the West after the Gold Rush, winning fame as an early California humorist. Life on the plains and among the diggings (1857) is based largely on letters from Delano published in Ottawa and New Orleans newspapers of the day. Covering the period April 1849-August 1852, he discusses his voyage to St. Joseph and an overland journey to California; sojourns in Sacramento, Marysville, and San Francisco; and experiences as a storekeeper at Mud Hill, Stingtown, Gold Lake, and Grass Valley. Other topics include quartz mining, crime and vigilantism, and real estate investment.

The quote on the plaza wall is dated 1854. The quote is actually from his 1849 diary, but it was prepared for publication in 1853 and actually reached final publication in 1857. Near present-day Winnemucca, on August 10 he wrote, “Reports began to reach us of hard roads ahead; that there was no grass at the Sink, or place where the river disappears in the sands of the desert, and that from that place a desert of sand, with water but once in forty-five miles, had to be crossed. In our worn-out condition this looked discouraging, and it was with a kind of dread that we looked to the passage of that sandy plain. At the same time an indefinite tale was circulated among the emigrants, that a new road had been discovered, by which the Sacramento might be reached in a shorter distance, avoiding altogether the dreaded desert; and that there was plenty of grass and water on the route. It was said, too, that on this route the Siérra Neváda Mountains could be crossed with but little difficulty, while on the other it was a work of great labor and some risk.” The new road to which Delano refers was the Applegate Trail, which his group chose to follow, and then they took the Lassen Cutoff into Northern California.

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