Letter from a California Emigrant.
Correspondence of the Huron Reflector.
Indian Territory, April 28th, 1849.}
Mr. Editor: — Being one of the many thousands who, impelled by a spirit of adventure or the temptations of gain, have left their homes, their friends and acquaintances, all the blessing of civilization and the sweets of the domestic circle, for the distant shores of the Pacific, I propose through the columns of your paper to give our friends and your readers a brief account of what is passing before us from day to day, and what we have seen since leaving the Buckeye State.
With eleven of my travelling companions I left the village of Milan, March 29th. We reached Cincinnati Saturday of the same week; here we remained a few days to complete our outfits. Some 250 Californians from different parts of the country, chartered the steamer Albatross to take us direct to St. Joseph, and on Thursday, April 5th, at 6 P.M., amid the roar of cannon and the cheers of the multitude, we left the city.
We passed North Bend about two hours after leaving Cincinnati. It was a lovely evening. The moon seemed to shine with unusual splendor; the musicians of our company were on deck with their instruments. — What thoughts filled my mind as we passed this still, quiet, hallowed spot, under the soft rays of the full moon, and gazed upon the plantation and tomb of WM. HENRY HARRISON. His tomb is near the river, on the summit of a small hill, surrounded by a beautiful fence. The privilege of gazing upon this spot paid me well for my journey so far, and inspired me with an awe and reverence for all that is good and ennobling in man, that will last me to California at least. But to return to our boat.
Every soul on board was bound for California — not a female among us — and if this was a fair sample of what society is to be in California, we shall need no Revolvers or Bowie knives. There were a few noisy, lawless fellows, who, being away from the restraining influence of the ladies, were inclined to make a little too much noise at times; but we had, on the whole, a very quiet, gentlemanly, peacable set. Our passengers were mostly business men, of good information and principles, generally middle aged, but here and there the grey head might be seen, not yet satisfied with the riches of this world.
The passage down the Ohio was one of the pleasantest steamboat trips I ever experienced. The evening of the day after we left was particularly interesting. Not a cloud dimmed the sky. The moon was profuse with her soft pale light, as if conscious of her importance, and the effect she gave to the scene. The soft mild breeze from off the hills came over the waters laden with mixed odors from the blossoms of Spring. Our music is on deck, and what need we more? Nothing but a few of the fair sex, and hearts tuned in unison with all this that can offer acceptable praise to God the creator and giver.
We sometimes found ourselves pent up among the hills, seemingly in a small lake, with no apparent way of escape, but a passage soon opened for us and we found plenty of sailing ahead. Again we could trace the windings of the river until it disappeared far away among the hills which in the distance were hardly discernable from the dim, blue sky. Saturday P.M. we were nearing the mouth of the river; it is much broader than above, with here and there a small island which adds much to the beauty of the scenery. Viewed from a distance, these islands are really beautiful; they are conical shaped masses of green foliage, which seem to rest quietly upon the smooth surface of the waters. The scenery of the Ohio is the most fascinating I ever saw. But what gave zest and charm to all this, was the sudden transition from the cold, chilling embrace of the unyielding winter, to the opening, blooming Spring — the warmth and mildness of Summer. Everything was dressed in living green. The hills seemed to have put on their best uniform to cheer and gladden our descent upon the waters they seem appointed to guard, and deliver safe into the bosom of the great Mississippi. But I must hurry out of the Ohio. Saturday evening we reached Cairo. This place is in Illinois, at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi; it is the most sunken, God-forsaken place I ever was in. Everything gave evidence of a recent inundation, which frequently occurs here. A very respectable house built for a Hotel with two or three disabled steamboats, used as wharf boats, complete the village. The idea of living in Cairo is revolting in the extreme. At 7 o’clock we bid adieu to the Ohio and entered the Mississippi. We reached St. Louis Monday, April 9th. We had barely time to go to the Post office. Here we unexpectedly met two of our company who had preceded us through Illinois to purchase mules for our journey. They had 16 mules, which added to our present stock made 172 mules on board.
With the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers I had not much sympathy, though some portions are very interesting; but their shores, except about here, are devoid of that soft, beautiful scenery of the Ohio. The ascension of the rapid, muddy Missouri was slow and tedious; its navigation is dangerous in the night — being full of drift and snags; we were frequently obliged to lay over all night. Safely and without accident we reached St. Joseph Monday, April 16th, seven days from St. Louis, 500 miles — and eleven days from Cincinnati, 1250 miles. The mules, after being closely confined upon the boat, were almost unmanageable when on shore, and they created much merriment in some and anger and impatience in others more particularly interested; but matters soon became settled, and we went into camp immediately, pitching our tent near the river. After securing our mules we adjourned to a Hotel for tea, and returned to our tent to lodge. The next morning we breakfasted in our tent. Never shall I forget our first meal; there were no dainty ones among us.
St. Joseph is a fine place of about 2,000 inhabitants. It is situated upon an elevation, and makes a fine appearance as approached from below; it is the center of trade for a large, populous and productive country.
There are about 2500 encamped here bound for California. The many estimates which have been made of the numbers that would pass over to California have all been too high; 6000 will probably include all emigrants from the different points on the Missouri. Saturday, April 20th, we struck our tent, packed our waggons, and prepared for crossing the river. We passed up the river 4 miles to a ferry; crossed, and passing down the river two miles encamped about 1 1/2 miles from the river at the foot of the bluffs which rise upon either side of the Missouri, where we now are. As we were to remain here until the grass would warrant our final departure for the west, we immediately commenced preparations for housekeeping. One of our number takes charge of the culinary department, some of the mules, and others of other matters. Our living is first rate: — Ham, Bacon, Potatoes, Bread, and Tea and Coffee, are the principal articles of food, which we devour with a relish and appetites which can only be enjoyed by persons in our situation. The potatoes and bread we obtain here, and must leave them here. When upon the plains it will be hard bread and bacon for breakfast, bacon and hard bread for dinner, and smoked pork and sea biscuit for tea; quite a variety. Beans are an article of food we take with us. We buy good beans in St. Joseph for 40 cents per bushel.
There are 12 of us, — (E.B. Atherton, Robert Smith, Samuel C. Wickham, John Norton, H. Allen, Snow Edison, M. Smith, Harry Page, G.C. Choate, Charles Goodrich, J. Gregory, and Wm. Jennings,) — 3 waggons and 16 mules.
Six lodge in the waggons, the remainder in the tent. We sleep upon mattrasses on the ground, with blankets for a covering. The weather is delightful — warm days but cool nights. Never did I enjoy the Spring season so much. I sleep so sound, rise early and feel invigorated by the fresh morning air. Oh, this is rural life in reality! There’s much of romance in all this. Leaving home and friends for a distant almost unknown country — dreams of wealth, of future ease and opulence — this camp life — these western wilds; — yes, this is full of beautiful romance, fascinating in the extreme; but for the stern realities, the coming results, the chagrin and disappointment, we need to nerve our hearts in preparation.
The flats of the Missouri and the bluffs nearest the river are covered with a stunted growth of timber, principally oak, standing very scattering, and the fire which the Indians are careful shall pass over their territory annually, sweeps the ground of leaves and everything like underbrush, and in this season springs up a luxuriant growth of grass. The land is very loose, rich and mellow. What a pity that land so rich and easily tilled, should remain uncultivated.
Last Tuesday two of my traveling companions with myself mounted our mules to reconnoiter for three or four miles, the road w were so soon to pass over. We passed along the foot of the bluffs by which we are encamped, and when we came to their termination, passing around we soon found ourselves ascending to the other side. We soon reached the summit, and such a view as lay spread out before us defies all description. I have read many accounts of these western plains and prairies, but never got a correct idea of them. We stood upon an eminence, and the whole world seemed spread out before us at one view. An almost endless succession of beautiful undulations, hill succeeding hill without limits, — bounded only by the walls of the clear blue sky. Such perfect uniformity of hill after hill which stretched far away in the distance until they seemed merged with the clear blue heavens. Oh what a scene! — it would challenge the admiration of the most unobserving. He that cannot love, admire and enjoy this, must be out with the world and himself. In the ravines a small shrub oak grows, but standing where we did, not a tree or a shrub marred the surface of this vast expanse. No plow ever disturbed this virgin soil — no harvest fields on these sunny slopes — no rolling of carriages — no hum and busy din of the city is to be heard here. The sun rises and sets upon these hills to cheer and gladden the savage as he follows his narrow winding trail from point to point in the peaceful possession of his princely domain, was well as upon the cities and haunts of civilization. What a pity that such a country should remain unenjoyed by civilized beings. I have seen much fine scenery in different mountainous portions of the United States, but this. There is such a uniformity in the hight of the hills, that the eye has an almost unbounded scope. Far, far away in the distance, might be seen here and there the curling column of smoke as it rose from the burning prairie beyond. After looking and looking and looking again, I returned to camp, reconciled only with the thought that this was but a foretaste of what I was soon to see and experience. Do you think, as some predicted before I left home, that I regret the step I have taken? Far otherwise. I long to be wending my way over this beautiful country which lays spread out so temptingly before me. How many there are, who, spending their lives in their village homes, know nothing of the beauties and glories of the west.
In our rambles about here, we have observed many Indian graves. These graves are covered with bits of wood about 2 feet long, one end resting upon the ground and meeting over the center of the grave, forming a steep roof. A grave we discovered yesterday is really an object of curiosity; it was covered as were all the others; at the head waved a white flag from a peeled pole about ten feet high. One foot from this pole is a round peeled post, six inches in diameter, 2 1/2 feet high. Upon this post are painted five figures of men — four without heads, arms extended, one of them holding a gun in one hand; these four figures probably represent the number of person the deceased has beheaded. The fifth figure, (probably representing the deceased person himself,) has a head, arms extended, bow and arrow in one hand, and a handful of scalps in the other. Behind the last figure are 18 straight lines, which we suppose represent the number of scalps the deceased has taken. Upon the flag is a cross. This is undoubtedly the resting place of some important personage. The grave is upon the summit of a hill under a fine oak tree; a circle of green sod about ten feet in diameter surrounds the grave; within this circle the ground is made smooth and hard; upon the covering of the grave was a tin can with fruit preserved in molasses. Some not enjoying these luxuries in a camp life, were inclined to pilfer this preserved fruit. — This I could not but rebuke. Ye passing strangers, touch not, disturb not the repose of the savage! let him rest quietly ‘neath the shade of the forest tree where his father placed him, that the roving mourners as they return annually to strew the flowers or spring over the graves of their loved ones, may not go away cursing the white man who had thus ruthlessly disturbed the resting place of their dead. Everything of this kind indicating the character, manners and customs of the Indian, is interesting to me, and I observe them closely. We shall soon see much more of the Indians. Their first village on our route is 14 miles from here. The Indians are now mostly off hunting the Buffalo.
The feed we think sufficiently good to warrant our departure, and we have determined to leave next Monday, (April 30th.) There will be about 50 waggons in our trail, and 200 persons. Some have preceded us, and others will follow for some time to come. But I will no longer trespass upon your patience, and the room which might be devoted to a better purpose. Should I be so fortunate as to reach the end of my journey, you may again hear from A CALIFORNIA GOLD HUNTER.
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) May 22, 1849