The social media posts I wrote for the California Trail Interpretive Center for March were in honor of Women’s History month. I chose simply to relate the experiences for four women as they passed through the Elko, Nevada region during their emigration to California in the mid-1800’s. I traced their progress from near present-day Wells, Nevada to Gravelly Ford at Beowawe, Nevada.
Rachel Taylor’s diary is published in Covered Wagon Women, Volume 6, of which a preview containing much of Taylor’s diary can be viewed at https://www.google.com/books/edition/Covered_Wagon_Women_1853_1854/xzbiP5M2MAYC?hl=en&gbpv=1. She was 15 years old while traveling with her family to Oregon. They followed the California Trail until it branched off just west of present-day Winnemucca as the Applegate Trail route to southern Oregon. Rachel described the section of the trail from Wells to Gravelly Ford. “(9/7/53) – Reached the Humboldt River and forded A bad bank to go down, and one of the wagons was upset, but no damage sustained. After camping the stock was driven across the river where grass was good. Were visited by a lot of Digger Indians…. (9/8/53) – Made a short drive and encamped. Again tried the fishing business but found it very dull. (9/9/53) – No occurences worthy of mention. We now travel about half a day and rest the other half to let the cattle recruit. (9/10/53) – Several of our family are quite unwell at this time. It is surprising that in so large a company as this there should be so little sickness. (9/11/53) – Mother is quite unwell to day. A digger came to see us and came into the tent. Amar Burt happened to be in and made signs to him. Mother had the small pox whereupon our dusky guest separated and was seen no more. Several of our company went to visit a boiling spring [Elko’s Hot Hole], and report it a great curiosity. (9/12/53) – Had very bad roads [through Carlin Canyon], and did not encamp until after dark. (9/13/53) – Traveled only a short distance and then stopped for the benefit of the cattle. (9/14/53) – Had very rocky hilly roads [over Emigrant Pass], and traveled until late. (9/15/53) – In the morning the roads were rather bad, but after a time became more level. The dust is very oppressive in some places being half way up to the wagon hubs. The nights are becoming so cool as to be uncomfortable.” The photograph of hot springs near the Hot Hole appears on an interpretive panel soon to be installed next to Elko’s Hot Hole.
Lucena Parsons was a 29 year-old newlywed traveling with her husband from Wisconsin to California in 1850. They went to Salt Lake City first and spent the winter there, traveling on to California in the spring of 1851. While most travelers on the California Trail were crossing through the Elko area in July or August, Lucena came through in early May. They took the Hensley cutoff around the north side of the Great Salt Lake and reached the Wells, NV area on May 1, on which she wrote, “This was a fine May morning, not a cloud to be seen. Came to some wells at noon, good water…. Camped early to repair a broken waggon… There are high mts on the left covered with snow.” On May 2 they continued following on the south side of the beginnings of the Humboldt River. On May 3 they crossed to the north side in the vicinity of Halleck, NV. She wrote, “This morning we repaired to the river & made 3 ferries to cross with waggon beds & boxes. Carried the things over by hand, then fastened ropes to each waggon & towed them over. Drove the cattle over loose. Had good luck, no accident. Dried & packed the waggons & went on 7 miles. Camped near the river.” The next day she said, “Started as soon as it was daylight to find feed. Went 2 mile & stoped & cooked breakfast & fed the cattle. This is a beautiful place…. Crosst a stream [the North Fork of Humboldt River], very gravelly bottom & not deep.” On May 5 she noted that willows are beginning to leaf out and on May 6 described taking the Greenhorn Cutoff to bypass Carlin Canyon. They rested in the Carlin area for a day before heading up the mountains at Emigrant Pass on May 8. She wrote, “After going some 8 miles the road left the river & went among more hills. We saw a notice where Brays company had passt along this road the 30 of April. Found no water till near night then we got to some good springs in the canion. Camped here as it was late. Some of our company very much afraid of the Indians. It has been dusty to day & rough roads.” They reached Gravelly Ford the next day, staying on the north side of the river. Lucena’s diary is not available online. It is held in the collection of Stanford University and was published in the Covered Wagon Women series, volume 2. The illustration is from https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/crossing-new-fork-river and attributed to the Sublette County Historical Society.
Martha Missouri and James Preston Moore traveled the trail in 1860, intent on herding over five thousand sheep from Missouri to California. She described the Elko area in this way: “(9/5/60) – Took a wrong road in the morning and were winding around all day. Nooned in a wide bottom some 3 miles from Bishop’s Creek. Crossed Bishop’s creek at 3 P.M. Camped on Humboldt river some 4 miles from the creek. Had fine grass it was more than waist high. Met with bad luck this afternoon Will Hudspeth’s revolver fell from the holster and fired. The ball entered his horse’s side killing him in some three hours. Made 15 m. (9/6/60) – … Traveled down a lovely valley which would be delightful indeed were it not for the dust that rises in such dense clouds as to almost suffocate one. Camped on the bank of the river, two Indians staid with us over night. Made 15 miles. (9/7/60) – Crossed North Fork [of the Humboldt] some 2 miles after starting the road was rough all day, and very dusty. The ground was covered with frost this morning and the weather quite cool. Nooned on the river had a warm place. I bought some Mountain Trout from an Indian, which were quite a treat. Camped on bank of river…. (9/8/60) – Passed some Boiling Springs [below Hot Hole] soon after starting. The smoke from them rose up so thick & fast we thought it was the dust from another train. Had a fine road all morning over a level country…. Nooned on the bank of the river. Crossed the river and camped at the entrance of the [Carlin] canon fine grass and plenty of it. Made 16 miles. (9/9/60) – Crossed the river again at the entrance of the canon, crossing it three times while in there. The was was rough and the sides steep and precipitous and I for one was glad to get through. Nooned below Moga [Maggie] Creek. Crossed Moga in evening and camped below the hot springs at the foot of the mountain The grass was short and wood scarce. Made 14 miles. (9/10/60) – Commenced to ascend the mountains early, the march was toilsome and fatiguing. Nooned in a small valley and I procured some fresh venison from a Shoshonee. Passed some springs to the right and left of the road in the afternoon. We had a rough road to trabble over down Gravelly Ford. Camped at the ford were visited by a lot of Indians. Made 17 miles.” Moore’s diary was published in Covered Wagon Women, Volume 7. The photograph is from https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/1890s-los-angeles-sheepherders-1883132951
Helen Carpenter wrote a very descriptive diary which can be downloaded from the OCTA collection at https://www.octa-journals.org/merrill-mattes-collection/a-trip-across-the-plains-in-an-ox-wagon-helen-carpenter-1857. Her descriptions from the Wells area to Gravelly Ford encompass nearly 3 pages of single-spaced text. A large amount of that description details conflict with native americans and some stolen cattle. You can read those if you wish by downloading the journal. The rest of the descriptions are as follows: “(8/25/57) Traveled nine miles in the forenoon and nooned on Canon [Bishop] creek, which is the head waters of the Humboldt. Good grass all along the valley. Farmer went on ahead for some of his cattle that got with another train…. We followed down the valley and camped on the creek. My mind was so distracted by the dust, that I have no idea how far we came, the distance seemed interminable. Now that we have joined this train, we must go at the tail of the procession. Nine wagons ahead of us, each with four to six yoke of oxen, dragging their feet along in the dust, which was so light that it only needed a breath of air to set it floating in clouds. The air was so thoroughly full of it, that our own oxen and driver were at times quite obscured. I put a curtain across the front of the wagon, and opened the cover in the back, in an effort to get air thin enough to breathe. People back in the states have no conception of a dusty road…. There are three lone wagons standing near the willows, stripped of their cloth covers, just a little way from our camp – none here know who they belonged to, they silently bespeak a grim tragedy…. (8/27/57) – The trains did expect to move today, but on account of the illness of the women, did not do so…. The river here is a good sized stream there is quite a valley following its course. Not many willows. (8/28/57) – The women are no better. All the trains are waiting. It took father and another man until noon to put an axel in our wagon. This forenoon Wilson’s little baby died. Moved five miles in the afternoon to get fresh feed…. (8/29/57) – … Wilson’s little baby was buried beside the road this morning before we started. The road followed the river all day. There has been a great sameness in river, valley and country generally, so much so that I have no idea how far we came…. (8/30/57) – Still traveling down the river. Met some surveyors, from California, they tell us that Uncle Sam’s are all safe, but report the Indians very bad. They buried five white men in one grave and three in another, near Gravel ford. There are 30 men in the party. They were attacked, but no one was injured. (8/31/57) – This morning we came to where the road forks: We took what is called the canon road, which crosses the river four times. The first crossing was hub deep and 40 feet wide. The canon is several miles long. After going a short distance in the afternoon, we came to where the road leaves the river for 17 miles, so stopped right there and camped. (9/1/57) – Ours was the first train to pull out this morning, and we are particularly glad as it will make a difference in the amount of dust that we get. Just before going into the mountain, passed the grave where three men are buried – their names are unknown. The hills today were steep and very stony. There were four spring branches with very bad crossings, that I feared we would not be able to get through. Crossed Gravel ford and camped. All creation seems to be here tonight….” Her early 20th century photograph was downloaded from https://www.gracehudsonmuseum.org/the-family.