Despite hazards and difficulties, 6,000 pass through Carson Valley in 1849 |

Despite hazards and difficulties, 6,000 pass through Carson Valley in 1849

by David Jennings and Bob Ellison

n Thursday, Oct. 4, 1849

Although the number of emigrants traveling into Carson Valley has dramatically fallen off, groups do still continue along the trail this late in the year. One man traveling further out on the trail has estimated that there are still 300 wagons on the Carson River Route. Here in Carson Valley, the second train of the Pioneer Line is on the way through with its passengers, faring much better than the first train did last month. Unfortunately, there is no one on board recording in a journal this time.

One man coming through today in another group is keeping notes. He is Edmund Booth, a man born in Chicopee, Mass. Like so many of his companions, he has left his wife behind to seek his fortune even though he is older, having spent his 39th birthday on the trail. Unlike others, Booth is unique – blind in one eye and deaf. He has been an instructor at the private “asylum” in Hartford, Conn., where he studied as a young man. It was here that he met the deaf mute lady who became his wife in 1840. Booth has lived on the frontier, built his own log cabins, served three terms as a county recorder and also served as a deputy postmaster. He is an educated man who has adapted to the vicissitudes of the trail with little trouble. He is a large man who normally weighs in at 210 pounds and he does not seem to fear anything.

Today, Booth is traveling with a portion of the 60 or so men who started together. Three men were immediately lost to cholera. There has been slow travel, stock problems, equipment problems and the loss of men taking different cut-offs or going off on their own. Edmund Booth’s wagon is gone and his last yoke of oxen has been loaned to another man whose wagon Booth is walking with.

He and his companions are being wary. While camped at Ragtown (near Fallon), they had heard of a man being killed by Indians that night. There was also talk of another man killed in the same way 10 days before. As he traveled up the Carson River there were numerous notes posted by emigrants about Indian depravations. Tonight they camp close by the men traveling on the second Pioneer Line. They are about a mile south of the hot springs and along the creek at what will become the base of Daggett Pass.

n Friday, Oct. 5, 1849

As the men traveling with Booth prepare breakfast they are fascinated with the large cloud of steam rising from the hot springs about a mile behind them. The weather froze last night and the morning is cold. They discuss the confusion they have had over the trail for the previous week. It is confusion that has come from using Fremont’s report, first published in 1845, that labeled the waterway they are following as the Carson River as opposed to the Mormon guide books that have called it the Pilot River. They have also sometimes also called it the Salmon Trout River, which is actually the Truckee River. As they look at the south end of the valley they decide that they are on Pass Creek, a branch of the Carson. As they travel today, Booth notes his awe over the size of the pine trees. They also acquire some pine nuts and Booth declares them to be, “good food.” Tonight they camp at the mouth of Carson Canyon.

n Saturday, Oct. 6, 1849

Today the men who are traveling with Edmund Booth try to get their tired equipment and stock up Carson Canyon but only make it three miles. The Pioneer Line’s passenger and baggage wagons are having such difficulty getting around the rocks they have plugged the trail for the day. Booth and his companions unhook their stock and drive them on up to Hope Valley for feed.

In Carson Valley, there is another group of people passing through. They are the slaves of Mr. Allen and Mr. Jones. They are some of the few slaves brought west by Southerners in 1849. They are also a part of the cultural mix on the trail through the valley this year.

n Sunday, Oct. 7, 1849

This morning, the group with Edmund Booth have collected their stock and taken them back down to where they left their equipment in Carson Canyon. They hook up and finish pulling out of the canyon. As they look at the snow on the mountains ringing Hope Valley, they may suspect what will happen in the days to come. Twice during the coming week the night will bring a layer of snow into their camp. Booth will go on over the Sierra to become a successful miner. He will return home to his wife and children at Anamosa, Iowa, in 1854. He will become the owner and editor of the Anamosa Eureka and will become well known for his work with schools for the deaf.

Today, there is a group of men crossing at Clear Creek who are walking and leading some horses. The diarist in this group is James M. Hutchings, a 29 year-old man born in Towcester, Northamptonshire, England. He has received a sound basic education and has also been trained as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. He came to the United States in 1848 and seems to have worked as a newspaper correspondent. Although he and a small company of men started out on the trail together, Hutchings temporarily became separated from the others when he took a job as a mechanic with a U.S. Army group traveling the trail to escort government appointees to California. He later left the Army and rejoined his friends in Salt Lake City. At this point, his relatively comfortable traveling ended. From Salt Lake, the men packed on with horses, but had six of the animals stolen by the Indians on Sept. 23. The next night they had another horse stolen. The men have been walking since then. They had to leave another horse on the Sink of the Humboldt.

They are also wary of troubles with the Indians. About 27 miles back on the other side of the sink, emigrants just ahead of Hutchings had picked up a dead man with five arrows in him. Hutchings helped bury the man at the Carson River. On the sink, about three miles east of the river, Hutchings saw the bodies of several dead Indians killed in a fight over cattle stealing. Because of this, the men put in extra miles each evening after dinner in order to have a concealed fireless camp. As Hutchings stated, “We preferred traveling after night that the Indians might not know where we made our encampment.”

Hutchings is nursing a bad foot. He has had to switch from a bad experience with Indian moccasins to another bad experience with new boots. For a week he has had blisters the size of 50-cent pieces. Yet, after a rest and despite their sore feet, the men hike on for another 10 miles before they camp in the dark. Tonight Hutchings puts a poultice on his foot and then lances the foot open. He feels “Very much relieved.”

n Monday, Oct. 8, 1849

When the Hutchings party awakens, they find themselves on an alluvial mountain bench overlooking the valley. Along the center of the valley the leaves of the cottonwoods have turned yellow near the Carson River and its ponds created by the ancient meanderings. The foliage compliments the yellow tops of the blooming rabbit brush. Even the grasses have yellowed.

During the night, Hutchings’ favorite horse, one that had been his riding mount in the weeks prior, had “dipped her foal,” or miscarried. The men want to make 32 miles today and Hutchings knows the horse won’t make it. He determines to slow down and asks the men to leave him a few days’ provisions so he can stay with the horse. His partner, Butterfield, decides to stay with him, thinking it unsafe for a man to be alone. However, they become three as another man named McMaster hikes into their camp, alone, with a 40-pound pack on his back.

n Tuesday, Oct. 9, 1849

Hutchings and his two companions awake at daybreak and get in five miles before breakfast, then they travel on seven more miles to the mouth of “Pass Kreek Kanyon” (Carson Canyon). By the end of today they will be well into Hope Valley and tonight’s snow will make the trail difficult to find in the morning. James Mason Hutchings will go on to become a successful miner, only to lose his money in two bank failures. He will be the founder of Hutchings’ California Magazine in 1856. In the 1860s, he will become the most prominent innkeeper and promoter of the Yosemite Valley. He will write two books and many articles on Yosemite. He will even employ a sawyer by the name of John Muir.

Behind Hutchings and his companions is the remnant of what had been one of the bigger companies on the trail. Back in June it had consisted of 60 men, 21 wagons, and 152 head of stock. They had started with one year’s provisions, gold washing machines and many other unessential items. Most of the wagons and stock are gone now, even though the company is doing relatively well. They started late and have laid over on most of the Sundays to rest themselves and their stock. The practice has served them well since the good grass has been eaten off ahead of them. The company does about 13 miles into the valley today and then rests where there is still plenty of feed. The diarist and letter writer amongst them is Capt. David DeWolf, a 27-year-old man born in Nova Scotia, who left his family behind in Springfield, Ohio. David, like so many before him, writes, “This is the finest valley I have seen on the trip, it is of the richest quality.”

n Wednesday, Oct. 10, 1849

O.J. Hall, a farmer who has journeyed from Nauvoo, Ill., is passing through Carson Valley with his notes today. Those notes reflect the growing problems between the two cultures that the trail has brought together. Yesterday he had a horse stolen and he also notes, “A company near us had several arrows shot into their cattle.”

DeWolf’s company, ahead of Hall, has had good relations with the Indians all along the route and seem little worried about such problems. Much of their lack of care probably stems from the size of the group. In the morning they do 10 miles before noon. In their travel they pass the hot springs and DeWolf reflects on how fascinating it is to have hot springs so near springs that provide, “the purest & coldest water I ever drank.” DeWolf is not looking at the problems along the trail. He is focused on his hopes for future financial security. It was a little over one month ago that DeWolf’s company camped alongside some Mormons traveling from California to Salt Lake. He wrote, “they gave us very glowing accounts of the Gold mines & showed us some specimens … their account of the mines & the sight of the Yellow stuff enthused us with new life.”

Tomorrow, Dewolf’s company will travel up the canyon and continue their pursuit of the “Yellow stuff.” DeWolf will be relatively successful as a miner and return home in 1851. He will use his gold to purchase a farm in Wyoming, Illinois, and become a railroad construction contractor. In October 1863, he will fall at the Civil War battle of Corinth, Miss., leading his company of Illinois volunteers. His body will never be recovered from the battlefield.

n Friday, Oct. 12, 1849

A group of men under the direction of John J. Chandler are driving a large herd of mules through the valley today. They will be loaning them out at the mouth of Carson Canyon. Chandler is a private citizen in the employ of the U.S. Army. He and his men are a relief party sent from California. They traveled over the Sierra and down the Truckee River but found no one on that trail east of the Sierra. They then swung down to the Carson River route and have been finding many people in trouble on this trail. Primarily, it has been the families that have fallen to the rear of the migration. They have not felt free to abandon their wagons and pack on like the men who have gone ahead of them. Because of this, some of them are still well-supplied with food; it is their animals that are in trouble. At the mouth of the canyon, Chandler meets with folks in some 20 wagons who are unable to proceed because of the broken-down condition of their livestock or the loss of the animals.

n Saturday, Oct. 13, 1849

Of this day, Chandler will later report to Major D.H. Rucker of the U.S. Dragoons, “There I found some 20 wagons, the emigrants owning them having been previously passed by my train, and directed to advance to that point where relief would be given them … I distributed amongst the persons accompanying said wagons, about 44 mules; finding them persons in a very destitute condition, and wholly unable to proceed without immediate and extensive aid. I was thus compelled to distribute amongst them a greater number of animals than would have otherwise been necessary. In consequence of having parted here with so many of my mules, I was forced to abandon 1,000 of bread, which I was fortunately not forced to regret, as the train relieved was abundantly supplied with provisions.”

n Sunday, Oct. 14,1849

Today, Mr. Chandler and his relief party leave Carson Canyon to return to Sacramento. He knows that there are still stragglers on the trail that will be coming in and he will be directing other relief parties to travel on to Carson Valley.

n Monday, Oct. 15, 1849

This morning a diarist named Hugh Brown Heiskell is entering Carson Valley. At about eight oclock in the morning, he and his companions leave their grassy camp of the night before. As he looks at the valley, he notes that he is in one of the most beautiful places in the world. About eight miles out from the camp and just before breaking at noon, they pass the hot springs and Heiskell notes that their strong odor smells like “carburetted hydrogen.” A mile further south they stop for lunch and then move on past the base of Jobs Peak to camp a few miles north of the mouth of Carson Canyon. Around the place where they have set up camp, they are surprised to find several skulls and assume that they are those of Indians. Tonight, after weeks of cooking over the stench of willow fires, they enjoy the pleasures of sitting by a large pine log fire.

n Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1849

As Heiskell and his companions leave camp this morning they continue to be impressed with the fact that every few hundred yards they are crossing a cold clear mountain stream. It is such a treat after the ordeal of the desert just days before. In eight miles they are at the mouth of the canyon and stop for nooning in a meadow there. About half past two they are up amongst the pines and rocks of the canyon and out of the valley.

Six of the tardy emigrants moving through Carson Valley today are Josiah Royce, his wife Sarah, his 2-year-old daughter Mary, an elderly man who joined them in Salt Lake City and two young men who joined them a few days out of that city. They have met two men from the relief party four days ago. On the direction of those men they abandoned their wagon, were given two mules and some help in packing what they could take. Today, Sarah is riding a white saddle-trained mule provided by the relief party. She holds Mary in front of her on the plain Mexican saddle. Her husband leads the black pack mule the Army has provided and their companions herd the remnants of their own broken-down stock with their improvised packs. They are hurrying along because of the information provided them about the snows that have already blanketed the Sierras.

Yesterday they met a military unit also traveling into Carson Valley on a different mission. When the soldiers saw the stragglers of the Royce party they determined to travel shorter distances so that each night the Royce group could catch up with them and camp nearby for safety. They agreed to guide them into the camp by occasional gunshots after dark.

n Wednesday, Oct. 17, 1849

About noon today the Royce party leaves the south end of Carson Valley as they enter into Carson Canyon. With the help provided, they will beat the snows that could have blocked their travels. They will go on to settle in California where their next three children will be born. The last of those, a son, will be named after his father. Josiah Royce will grow up to be a Harvard professor and one of Americas greatest philosophers.

n Friday, Oct. 19, 1849

The relief team of Robert W. Hunt, another private citizen in the employ of Major Rucker, has come over Carson Pass and is camped in Hope Valley. Later, when he makes his report to the Major, he will say of this day, “Shortly after we encamped, two Germans came to us on foot and begged for something to eat; they told us that they had been out of provisions for seven or eight days, and had been compelled to subsist on the flesh they cut from dead mules for more than 200 miles back; when they first came up they had strung around their neck about 10 pounds of mule meat, which smelt so offensive that we sent them off to the river to wash themselves. When they returned they sat down to supper and eat as though they never expected to enjoy another meal.”

n Saturday, 20 October 1849

By 8 o’clock in the morning, Capt. Hunt’s party has outfitted the two starving men they had found yesterday. They issue them a mule to pack and provisions to carry them through.

As the relief party rides down Carson Canyon they become rescuing angels to others. Hunt’s report of the day will say, “came across two more Germans even in a worse condition than those who had come to our camp the night before. They were so completely worn out by walking, and starving, and sickness, that they were scarcely able to stand; we gave them some provisions and two mules, and proceeded on our way.”

Eight miles further into Carson Valley Hunt’s party ran into a military detachment under the direction of Captain Morris. The Army unit was an escort bringing Gen. Wilson and his company to California. They were in fine health, but they had been forced to abandon most of their wagons on the desert. Many of their mules had broken down and were unable to go any further. Hunt advises Capt Morris to leave his last remaining wagon due to the lateness of the season. They share the story of Dr. B.B. Brown, of St. Louis, who had all of his stock except two mules frozen to death on the 11th near present-day Caples Lake. The combined groups camp tonight at what will be known as Walley’s Hot Springs.

n Sunday, Oct. 21, 1849

This morning, Robert Hunt leaves his men encamped at the hot springs to rest their stock and let the men recuperate. He rides out with one man, Dr. Duke, in search of the party of Capt. Charles Sackett. The emigrants have informed him that the Sacketts are the last people on the trail this year. The ride is relatively short since Hunt finds the Sacketts at the north end of Carson Valley. By evening they have been able to bring them into the camp at the hot springs.

n Monday, Oct. 22, 1849

Today there is some delay as the last emigrants select what they think is indispensable and then the women, children and baggage are mounted on mules for the hard ride over the summit. They will wait for the men on the western side of the mountains. The men of the Sackett party are encouraged to throw away everything but their clothes and provisions, cut their wagons down to carts and get over the Sierras as fast as they can. Hunt will later report, “We left them, not without feeling considerable anxiety as to the probability of their being able to get through the mountains before the snow, as the thick mists, heavy clouds, cold nights and other signs plainly indicated a coming storm.”

n Tuesday, Oct. 23, 1849

This morning the men of the Sackett party are leaving the valley and the trail is closed behind them. They are the last of an estimated six thousand people that have passed through Carson Valley this year. Once again the sounds of the emigrants in their travels are gone.

With the close of the trail and the last white man out of the valley, the equilibrium of the Washoe’s way of life has undergone a subtle change. The year 1848 had brought the first look at merchandise being hauled through the valley on wheels and domesticated animals being used for that purpose. A few of the brave men came into camps and watched the process of setting up instant shelters – tents. They watched the hunters, the herders and the cooks. In 1849, many more Washoes came to the camps of the emigrants to observe and trade. Still, most of the denizens of the valley cautiously avoided contact and stayed off in the distance. The less cautious and more outgoing are bringing into their camps the changes of technology that will rapidly change their habits.

The most sought after item of trade has been pantaloons – trousers – that consummately practical item for those who run through the brush. However, any article of clothing has become the fashionable rage, as well as blankets. Obsidian and other stone is being replaced with steel. Some baskets are replaced by other forms of containers. The first symbols and trappings of western civilization are readily visible in a society on the verge of a metamorphosis. During the season of the trail, many objects were traded for trout or grass cutting labor, but now, with the closing of the trail, Carson Canyon is a junk yard waiting to be picked through. The canyon is littered with wagon loads of objects and food stuffs abandoned when teams failed or wagons broke in the ascent. These items are also scattered along the base of the mountains from the mouth of Carson Canyon to the north end of the valley and then on across the Great Basin.

The trail leaves a small strip of devastation across Carson Valley. The ribbon is less that a mile wide stretching from the north end of the valley to the mouth of the canyon on the south. Grazing, the search for camp fire wood, the trampling of the camp sites, the wheels of the wagons and the hooves of the animals have left their mark far greater than they did in 1848.

The Washoes will harvest very little natural foods along the strip, but the effect on them has been minimal. Those few emigrants who have tried hunting and fishing have been so unsuccessful that there has been little impact. For the Washoe, the deer and antelope herds remain as they were. The foul and fish remain almost untouched. And, the annual pinenut harvest has begun.

In the largest folk movement the new nation has seen, an unorganized mass emigration based on personal freedoms, the trail has been populated for about six months with risk- takers from all over the eastern states and a few other nations. The creation of that unique personality, the westerner, has begun.