Image from the California Education Institute website.
Overland Route to California.
A lively writer of the St. Louis Republican, who has evidently seen the elephant, gives a humorous but no less truthful description of the overland route to the gold mines, and we copy a paragraph or two, for the ????ation of our friends who are “dead set” for California. After cooly informing you that you will wish yourselves home before you have been out 50 days, he proffers consolation as follows.
“It matters not abut the sun, you’ll get used to it by the time your hat is blown by the wind into a “cocked hat,” and then the sun has all the advantages; wear shoes instead of boots for walking (unless you are afraid of snakes, of which you will see plenty of the largest kind of rattlesnakes.) You can kill dogs enough for fresh meat as soon as you arrive in their cities and towns; they always sit at the doors of their houses, and are always either shot or caught. They are very palatable, and in eating them, at first, one is apt to get to easily down at meat, (especially at supper time,) which causes considerable noise in the lower regions, about the time one wants to sleep, but cannot for the constant barking of the dogs. To prevent this, take along some No.6; a few drops, put all to rest again. And a good file would be useful when you arrive in the Buffalo Range, for you can’t help killing an old bull, and, while the boys are skinning, you can be filing your teeth to be ready to enter on duty. As wild meat is of a running breed, and you of a tame one, you needn’t be surprised to find yourself running the day after eating it. In case your run is more than you are used to, take a few drops of No.6, and all is quiet, be careful not to chase the wolves on foot — they are many and are a sort of hyena; when they turn upon you they destroy both soul and body, and then run off with the bones. — Some of them are old with beard like Aaron’s but hand down the ground — his only went to the skirt of his garment.”
Bad enough but what follows is worse:
“The wind blows all the time on the plains, and very hard; so much so as to cause you to complain; but you will get used to it after three or four months blowing, and can’t well live without it, for smothering (down in the hollows.) You can see a great way ahead: in some places a week’s march in advance — mounds and the like. — You will be apt to have rain and water plenty if you start early, and consequently, get your jackets and blankets wet through, day and night; then comes the trying time with the buffalo chips. They will neither burn nor blaze — so make up you mind to eat a raw dog, or any other raw meat, without hot coffee or warm stuff (except No.6) If the weather continues rainy, so that you become tired of eating raw dogs or buffalo bull, just turn up one of your wagons, and cook enough under it to last several days, pack your load on your mules, or oxen, or your own back. Don’t back out; gold is ahead, and you are in — “go it boots” — “live or die” — “a faint heart never won a fair lady.” If you get sick on the road, or have your wagon burned up, don’t give out as long as you can toddle along, and when you cannot proceed any farther, just lay down and rest, then up and travel by the moon till you overtake your companions. Then, if so you lay several days, an Indian may come along and examine your head; if bald he will respect your age and not scalp you, but hand you to the squaws for a plaything. If you have a good head of hair, he will only cut a little piece out, just about the crown, as a token of remembrance, which will either cure you or make the wolves come to prayers. You may have to swim in some creeks, as Uncle Sam has not bridged the road yet, and there are a great many creeks. You will be very apt to pass ten or twelve of these a day, so that before your clothes get dry from one, you will be in another. This frequent cold bath causes cold chills on a fellow without any heat, and often death; when a little hole is dug three or four feet deep, and the deal fellow rolled in, clothes and all — the dirt thrown over him; the wolves hold council over his cold home, and soon tear him up and have a feast. It will be all the same a thousand years hence. The Psalm tune these wolves keep up for days and nights is quite interesting to a tired, sleeping traveller; but their scratching and whispering in your ears soon becomes familiar, especially if a fellow gets one of his toes bit so hard as to make him cry out. Yet care should be taken not to five false alarms in the night, or the stock become frightened and run off for miles, causing delays in marching.”
“By the time you reach the gold region in California, you have expended some two hundred dollars — worn out all your clothes, become weary from the long march, eat up all you carried with, had all your tools stolen from you, weak, sick and unable to work, without friends to administer to your wants; without a comfortable house or home — thrown in among thousands of idle, dissipated, unfeeling brutes, intent on gain; penniless, poor and without strength or means, or friends to assist you; surrounded by vulgar, rough and uncouth rowdies, all engrossed in searching after gold — tattered, ragged and cross — without law, discipline or control — every one his own master — stealing here and there, inventing schemes to deprive the unsuspecting of their prospects and gains — laying hands on every thing palatable, wearable or useful; where might and strength determined right, though wrong and “coward gu?t to sheltering caverns fly,” until sickness, disease and death close the scene. — Then you may easily imagine worse than this picture — human vultures praying upon your carcass like cannibals gormandizing, in their hoarse laugh over fallen victims. It is, neverthless, truer than fiction — the pure certain results of rush and premature enterprise.”
Green Bay Advocate (Green Bay, Wisconsin) Feb 22, 1849