THE VALLEY OF HEART's DELIGHT
STORY OF THE MURPHY (DONNER) PARTY
[Transcriber’s note: This is a VERY different version from most I have transcribed and read, and seems to leave out some significant details related in other accounts, especially in regard to the perils of the group at the top of the summit, several rescue groups going to help the party, their arrival at Johnson Ranch near Wheatland, Yuba Co., and many more omissions here that appear in other sources…. The bulk of the information for these pages appears to come from primarily one source – Moses Schallenberger.]
Martin Murphy, Sr., was born in County Wexford, Ireland, November 12, 1785. Here he grew to man’s estate, an intelligent, industrious, and pious man, but dissatisfied with the meager amount of political liberty accorded to the Irish citizens of Great Britain, in Ireland. He married, at an early age, at Miss Mary Foley, whose family afterwards became prominent in America, two of them becoming archbishops and others achieving high places in commercial and manufacturing pursuits. Several children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Murphy in Ireland. As the family increased, so did Mr. Murphy’s desire for larger freedom, and in 1820 he emigrated to Canada, taking all his children except his oldest son, Martin, and his daughter Margaret. He settled in the township of Frampton, near Quebec, where he purchased a tract of land and commenced to create a home. Two years afterwards his son Martin and his daughter Margaret joined them from Ireland. Martin, Jr., went to work at Quebec, where he met and married Miss Mary Bulger, July 18, 1831. The next year, the cholera having become epidemic at Quebec, young Martin purchased a tract of land near his father, and moved on to it with his family. Old Mr. Murphy was still not satisfied with his political surroundings and looked longingly across the border to the great republic, beneath the folds of whose starry flag perfect religious and political liberty was maintained. Finally, in 1840, he removed his family (except his sons Martin and James, with their families) across the then western wilds to the State of Missouri, and settled in Holt County, on what was then called the Platte Purchase. Martin Murphy, Jr., who, when he left Quebec, had settled in Frampton, bought land, hewed timbers, and erected a roof-tree for his young family, remained in Canada until 1842, when he sold his property, and, with his brother James, joined his father in Missouri.
The Murphys were essentially a family of pioneers; not from a nomadic disposition that rendered them uneasy unless in motion, but because they were seeking certain conditions and were determined not to rest until they found them. That no obstacle would stop them in their search for political liberty was demonstrated when they abandoned their native land to seek a home in America, and still further proved when they left the home built up in Canada, for the unknown wilds of Missouri. This second journey was full of inconvenience, and at that early day was an undertaking formidable enough to cause the bravest to hesitate. The course was as follows: Up the St. Lawrence River past Montreal and across Lake St. Louis to Kingston; thence across Lake Ontario and up the Niagara River to Lewiston, near the Falls; thence across the country to Buffalo; thence across Lake Erie to Cleveland; thence by canal south, across the State of Ohio, to the town of Portsmouth, on the Ohio River; thence down the Ohio to the Mississippi, touching at Cincinnati and Louisville; thence up the Mississippi to St. Louis, and thence up the Missouri to the Platte Purchase.
The location of the Murphy settlement was a few miles below the present site of the city of St. Joseph, but at that time there was nothing but a primitive mill used for grinding corn. The place occupied by our pioneers was called by them the “Irish Grove,” in memory of their native land. They had purchased several hundred acres, which they cultivated, and proceeded to lay the foundations of a home. Here was a rich soil, which responded with bounteous crops to the efforts of the husbandman, and here also was the perfect political liberty in pursuit of which the patriarch had traveled thousands of miles, encountering dangers by land and by sea. But there were two things lacking – health and educational and religious privileges. The virgin soil, covered with decayed vegetation, the deposit of centuries, was the lurking-place of deadly malaria, and, when turned up by the plow, the atmosphere was filled with germs of that dread disease, fever and ague, the scourge of the West in the days of its early settlement. There were no schools or churches, teachers or ministers of the gospel.
All of our settlers were attacked by the prevalent disease, and some of them died. Among these were his wife, and Eliza, Mary, and Nellie, daughters of his son Martin. Martin Murphy, the head of the family, was in anguish of mind at the condition of affairs. He was a devout Catholic and had reared his family in that faith. He saw his younger children and his grandchildren growing up in the wilderness with no religious instruction, and no holy priest to administer the consolation of the church to the sick or dying. The absence of these things was a heavy price to pay for the broad domain whose fertile soil would soon blossom into a valuable estate. While matters were in this condition the settlement was visited by Father Hookins, a Catholic missionary, who had penetrated the wilderness to administer the sacraments to those of his faith who located their homes on the outskirts of civilization. He found the Murphys in much distress, mourning over the loss of loved ones and full of anxiety as to the fate of others who were sick. He was a man of wide information and had traveled much. He had met brothers in the church who had described the glorious climate and fertile soil of California, a country which owed its settlement to the Mission Fathers, and where the cross was planted on every hill-side and in every valley, and which was under a government of which Catholicism was the established religion. All these things Father Hookins told the bereaved family in the days that he passed with them, trying to answer their eager inquiries with detailed information. As to the location of this wonderful land he could tell them that it was on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and that it lay in a westerly direction from fever-stricken Missouri, but as to the distance, route, or character of the country or people intervening, he had no knowledge that would be useful to anyone attempting the journey. But in spite of this lack of all information as to how to reach this Arcadia, when Martin Murphy announced his intention to seek it, he found his entire family ready to follow him. We cannot sufficiently admire the indomitable mind that could make so great a determination with so little hesitation.
Men have made perilous expeditions upon compulsion or in quest of glory, but this proposition of the Murphy family to cross pathless plains and trackless deserts, and scale inaccessible mountains, with uncertainty as to food supplies and the certainty of meeting tribes of Indians, almost sure to be hostile, and to do this with half a dozen men and boys, with a larger number of helpless women and children, meets no parallel in history. The voyage of Columbus when America was discovered, contained no element of danger – only uncertainty. His path was defined; he would sail due west, taking sufficient provisions; if in a certain time he met no land he would return by the same easy route. It was a venture that required but a small portion of the courage, and involved none of the labor, entailed upon the Murphy party. Much has been said and written to the glory of Fremont, called the Pathfinder, who, two years later, crossed the continent. He had with him a large body of hardy and experienced frontiersmen, versed in all knowledge of woodcraft, and inured to exposure and hardships of all kinds. He had Kit Carson and his company of scouts, the most skillful ever known on the continent. He had abundant supplies, with a force sufficient to cope with any hostile band he might encounter. He had no women or helpless children to impede his movements, and he had the trail of the Murphy party to guide him. In view of all these circumstances, the journey of these Missouri emigrants in its inception and consummation transcends everything of the kind of which we have any record.
But little time was allowed to escape after the decision was made to seek the new El Dorado, and the first of March, 1844, found them with their belongings at Nisnabotna, a point on the Missouri River, in the northwest corner of Missouri, and about fifty miles south from Council Bluffs. Here they were joined by a party made up by Dr. Townsend, and they also found a large number of others, some forty wagons in all, but most of these were going to Oregon. Those bound for California were only eleven wagons, with the following named persons composing the party: Martin Murphy, Sr.; Martin Murphy, Jr., wife and four children, James, Martin, Patrick W., Bernard D.; James Murphy and wife and daughter Mary; Bernard Murphy, John Murphy, Ellen Murphy, Daniel Murphy, James Miller and his wife, nee Mary Murphy, and family; Mr. Martin, father of Mrs. James Murphy; Dennis Martin, Patrick Martin, Dr. Townsend and wife, Allen Montgomery and wife, Captain Stevens, Mr. Hitchcock, Mrs. Patterson and family, Mat Harbin, Mr. Calvin, John Sullivan and sister, Robert Sullivan, Michael Sullivan, John Flomboy, Joseph Foster, Oliver Magnet (a Frenchman), Francis Delanet, old Mr. Greenwood, John Greenwood, Britton Greenwood, and M. Schallenberger.
Notwithstanding the smallness of their numbers, they determined to go on, keeping with the Oregon party as far as their paths ran together; after that they would trust to their own resources to bring them safely through to the promised land. They proceeded north to Council Bluffs, where they organized the entire company for offense and defense. Mr. Stevens was chosen captain, and corporals of guard were selected from among the younger men. After laying by for a few days in order to make repairs and perfect their organization, the crossing of the Missouri River was commenced.
From Mr. Moses Schallenberger we have obtained many of the particulars of this famous expedition. The difficulties that met the party at this, the first stage of their journey, would have stopped many stout-hearted men. The wagons were safely crossed in a rude flat-boat, and it was intended to swim the cattle. The river was full and they refused to take the water, and when forced in would swim in a circle, trying to save themselves by climbing on each other’s backs. They were finally permitted to return to the bank, but some were stuck in the sand, which had been tramped by them until it was as tenacious as quicksand. When the water receded, a few of the mired cattle were dug out with pick and spade, but others were fastened so securely and deep that it was impossible to rescue them, and they were abandoned. It was a question whether they would be able to cross their cattle at all. At last an expedient was hit upon. Two men got into a canoe with a line, which was tied round the horns of one of the gentlest of the oxen. The ox was urged into the water until he was compelled to swim, after which the men in the canoe could easily guide him. Other cattle were then forced into the stream, and following the lead of the first, they were all safely crossed to the other side.
They were now in the country of the Otoe Indians, a tribe which, though not considered hostile, had a very bad reputation for honesty. Of the people of the train only a few had crossed over when night came, and the young men volunteered to go over and stand guard. Those who were on the Otoe side were Martin Murphy and his family, and John Sullivan with his two brothers and his sister Mary, who afterwards married Mr. Sherbeck, of San Francisco. John Murphy and Moses Schallenberger had been chosen corporals of the guard. They were mere boys in age, not over seventeen years, but were excellent marksmen, and had a reckless bravery born of frontier life. The wagons were formed into a corral by drawing them into a circle and placing the tongue of one wagon on the hind wheel of the one in front, thus making a very good sort of fortification. The guard was placed outside of the corral and relieved every two hours, each relief being in charge of a corporal, whose duty it was to go from post to post and see that each sentinel was alert. While in places where the cattle might be lost or stolen, it was customary to graze them under charge of herdsmen until dark and then to bring them to the corral and chain them to the wagons. This precaution was taken on this first night across the river, on account of the bad reputation of the Otoes.
The time passed quietly until midnight, when the young corporals became disgusted with the monotony and resolved to play a joke on John Sullivan. The proposition was made by John Murphy, and indorsed by Schallenberger, though not without some misgivings as to what the result would be if Martin should detect them. But to be assured, they informed Mr. Murphy of the plot, who entered heartily into the spirit of the scheme. Accordingly, John unfastened Sullivan’s cattle and drove them some distance into the woods, and he then gave the alarm. Sullivan, who it seems had all night been convinced in his own mind that the Indians were hovering about the camp, jumped up with his gun in his hand, and all joined in pursuit of the oxen. After a long chase, in which Sullivan was given a due amount of exercise, the cattle were again captured and secured to the wagon, Sullivan returning to his slumbers. He had barely got to sleep when the alarm was again given, and he again turned out, with some words not indicating much respect for the thieving Otoes. This time the boys had driven the cattle further than before, and the only way they could be followed was by the clinking of the yoke ring. During the chase, Sullivan climbed to the top of a log, and stood listening intently for this sound. John Murphy, who was lying concealed behind this log, when he saw Sullivan in this position, fired into the air with his gun, which was a shotgun heavily loaded. Sullivan leaped into the air, and, as soon as he could recover himself, ran at full speed to the wagons, crying out that he had been shot by an Indian. In the meantime the cattle were recovered and secured to the wagon, and Sullivan stood guard over them until daylight. He frequently afterwards referred to the narrow escape he had from the Indians in the Otoe country.
The next morning the captain, in commending the courage and skill of the young men in twice recapturing the cattle, expressed his surprise that Sullivan’s oxen should have been taken each time and none of the others disturbed. The boys explained this by calling attention to the fact that Sullivan’s cattle were white, and could, on that account, be seen better in the dark. Two days after this event the entire train was brought across the Missouri and was rolling toward the West. The “Horn,” a stream encountered before reaching the Platte River, was crossed by sewing rawhides over one of the wagon boxes and thus constructing a rude ferry-boat. The wagons were unloaded and taken apart and put across the stream in this boat, which occupied much time and was tedious work. The horses and cattle were compelled to swim. This was the last stream where they were compelled to swim their stock; all the others they were able to ford. No striking incident occurred during their journey through the Otoe nation.
Arriving at the country of the Pawnees, they found a village deserted by all but women, children, and infirm old men. It seems that a short time previously the Sioux had made a raid on them and exterminated nearly all their able-bodied men. When the party received this intelligence they knew they would not be molested while in the Pawnee country. This gave them more confidence in grazing their cattle, but the vigilance of the guard was not relaxed at night. In fact, the Pawnees were not considered hostile; it was the Sioux nation from which they had most to fear, they being the most warlike, cruel, and treacherous Indians at that time known to the whites.
Before reaching Laramie, herds of buffaloes were encountered. The first were a few old bulls which, not being able to defend themselves from the attacks of the younger animals, had been driven from the herd. They were poor and scrawny, but as they were the first that the boys had seen they must necessarily have a hunt. After putting about twenty bullets into the body of one old patriarch, they succeeded in bringing him to the ground within fifty feet of the wagons, in the direction of which he had charged when first wounded. The meat was poor and did not pay for the ammunition expended in procuring it. However, before Fort Laramie was reached, the party were able to secure an abundance of meat from younger buffaloes, which is generally conceded to be superior to that from any other animal.
The party reached Fort Laramie with little fatigue and no loss. Here they found about four thousand Sioux encamped around the fort. They had their squaws and children with them, and for this reason were not considered dangerous, this tribe being loth [sic] to fight when accompanied by their families. While there was no immediate danger to be apprehended, there was great possibility that, after leaving the fort, they would encounter a hunting or war party. These bands usually consisted of from one hundred to five hundred men, unencumbered by women or children, and never were known to waste an opportunity to take a scalp. They party remained at Laramie several days, having a good camp, with plenty of grass for their stock. They traded some of their horses for Indian ponies, thinking they were more hardy and accustomed to the work on the plains. They also bought moccasins to replace their boots and shoes, which were pretty well worn out by their long tramp. In resuming the march, still greater precautions were taken to prevent surprise by the Indians. The wagons were kept close together, so that they could be formed into a corral with no unnecessary delay. As the Indians in those days had no fire-arms it was thought they could be kept at such a distance that their arrows could not reach the pioneers. Fortunately, the party had no use for these precautions, for no Indians were encountered until the Snake nation was reached.
For so large a train, the party was unusually harmonious, only one occasion of discord having arisen among them. This occurred while passing through the Sioux country. The orders were that no fires should be lighted after dark. This order was disregarded by an old gentleman named Derby, who kept his fire burning after hours. Dr. Townsend, who had charge of the watch that night, remonstrated with the old man. Derby said that Captain Stevens was an old granny, and that he would not put out his fir for him or any other man. However, the fire was extinguished by Townsend, who returned to his duties. A few minutes only had elapsed until the fire was burning as brightly as before. Dr. Townsend went again to Derby and told him he must put the fire out. “No,” answered Derby, “I will not, and I don’t think it will be healthy for anyone else to try it.” The Doctor, seeing that argument was useless, walked up to the fire and scattered it broadcast, saying to Derby at the same time, “It will not be well for you to light that fire again to-night.” The Doctor was known to be very determined, although a man of few words, and Derby’s fire was not again lighted. But the next morning he complained to the captain, who it seems had been a witness to the transaction of the night before. Captain Stevens sustained Dr. Townsend, and Derby, with an oath, declared that he would not travel with such a crowd, and he actually did camp about half a mile behind the train for a week afterwards; but he lighted no fires after dark. One day when the party had stopped for noon, some of the boys, returning from a buffalo hunt, reported that they had seen a band of Sioux. That night Derby camped with the train and remained with them afterwards, cheerfully submitting to all the rules.
John Murphy had been quite ill for some time, but was now recovered sufficiently to get around. He was anxious to go on a buffalo hunt and persuaded Schallenberger to accompany him. The boys were quite proud of their skill as hunters, and promised the camp a good supply of fresh meat on their return. They started early in the morning, will mounted and equipped for their expedition. They saw several bands of buffaloes, and followed them nearly all day, but in spite of all their strategy they were unable to get near enough to shoot with any certainty. Each herd had bulls stationed as sentinels on the higher grounds, who would give the alarm before our hunters could get within reach. Finally, the declining sun warned them that they must return. Reluctantly they turned their horses’ heads toward camp, revolving in their minds the big promises they had made before setting out in the morning, and the small chance there was of their fulfillment. They had seen plenty of antelope, but to carry antelope into camp, when they had promised buffalo, would be considered a sort of disgrace.
On the return, however, the herds of antelope became more numerous, and some came so near to the hunters that Murphy declared he was afraid they would bite him, and drawing up his rifle, killed one in its tracks. Schallenberger suggested that since the antelope was dead they had better save the meat. They dismounted and commenced the process of butchering. While thus engaged their horses strayed towards camp. They had only got about a hundred yards when Schallenberger, fearing they might go beyond recall, proposed to bring them back. Taking from his waist a handsome belt containing a fine brace of pistols, which Mr. Montgomery had made for him, together with shot pouch and powder horn, he started in pursuit of the horses. He overtook them without trouble, and, noticing that a blanket that had been on Murphy’s horse was gone, he looked for it on his way back to the antelope. Not finding it, he called to Murphy, who joined in the search. They soon found the blanket and started to return to their game and guns. Much to their surprise they could find neither. They hunted until dark without success, and then turned their unwilling course towards camp. They fully realized the ridiculousness of their position. Starting from camp with much boasting of the large amount of buffalo they were going to bring in, and returning, not only with no meat, but without arms or ammunition – the affair was altogether too humiliating. As they went along they concocted one story after another to account for their unfortunate condition, but each was rejected. The plan that seemed most likely was to say that they had been captured by Indians and robbed of their arms; but this story, after careful consideration, was voted to be too transparent, and they finally resolved to face the music and tell the truth. Their reception at camp can better be imagined than described.
The next day, with a party of six men, they went to a spot they had marked as not being more than three hundred yards from where they had left their guns, and, although they continued the search for several hours, could find nothing. There were thousands of acres covered with grass about four feet high, and all presenting exactly the same appearance; it would have been impossible to find their property except by accident.
Thus far on their journey the emigrants had been taking things very easy, and had not made the progress they intended, but they had no fears that they would not get through. Some of the party were getting short of provisions, but his gave them little trouble, as they were still in the buffalo country. They determined to stop before they got entirely out of the buffalo grounds and kill and dry enough meat to last them through; if their flour became exhausted, they could use their dried meat for bread with bacon for meat, and thus get along very well. Their route continued up the Platte and Sweetwater, the ascent being so gradual that it was hardly perceptible. They lived almost entirely on fresh meat, from three to five men being detailed as hunters each day. After going some distance up the Sweetwater, it was resolved to go into camp and remain long enough to accumulate sufficient meat for the remainder of the journey.
As the American bison, or buffalo, is now practically extinct, and their existence will soon be beyond the memory of even the oldest inhabitants, a description of this hunt may not be out of place in these pages. John Murphy, Allen Montgomery, Joseph Foster, and Moses Schallenberger started out at daylight, intending to hunt together, but they soon became separated, Murphy and Foster following one herd of cows and Montgomery and Schallenberger another.
We will follow the latter party, gathering our facts from Mr. Schallenberger’s narration. They kept after the herd all day without being able to get within rifle range, owing to the fact that a picket guard of bulls was always kept on the highest points, who gave the alarm on the approach of the hunters. Finally they reached a large mound of rocks, under shelter of which they thought they might reach a ravine which would furnish cover within range of the game. They reached the top of the mound, and, looking over, discovered an old bull on the other side, fast asleep. To keep out of sight of the herd they would be compelled to pass in front of his nose. They crawled along cautiously, near enough to touch him with their guns, and they began to hope for success in their undertaking; but as soon as they came in front of his nose, he seemed to wind them, and, starting up with a snort, he rushed off toward the cows at full speed. Aggravated by their failure, Montgomery sent a bullet after the bull, which tumbled him on the plain. The report of the rifle startled the herd and caused them to move on.
The hunters followed them until nearly dark, when they stopped at a small tributary of the Sweetwater to drink. Here the men, by crawling on their stomachs and taking advantage of a few greasewood bushes that were growing here and there over the plain, succeeded in approaching within about two hundred yards of the game. It was now nearly nightfall, and although the distance was too great for accurate shooting, it was their last chance, and they resolved to make the venture. Selecting a good-looking cow, they both aimed at her heart. At the word “fire” both rifles were discharged simultaneously. The bullets struck the quarry just above the kidneys, and her hind parts dropped to the ground. The hunters concealed themselves behind the brush and reloaded their rifles. In the meantime the entire herd gathered round the wounded cow, sniffing the blood and pawing and bellowing.
While thus engaged, Montgomery and Schallenberger emerged from their concealment, and, advancing to about seventy-five yards, shot down seven of the best of them; but as they advanced nearer, the herd took fright and galloped off, all but one bull, which remained near the broken-backed cow, and showed fight. Two bullets were fired into him, and he walked off about forty yards and laid down and died. On examining the cow first shot, they found the two bullet-holes not two inches apart, but neither one was within three feet of the point aimed at.
It was now quite dark, and they could not return to camp. Accordingly, they made their bed between the carcasses of the two cows, and butchering the others, carried the meat to this place to protect it from the wolves. These animals gathered in large numbers and made night hideous, until, towards morning, they were driven off by a huge bear, who had come for his breakfast. As soon as it became light enough to shoot, Montgomery and Schallenberger attempted to kill the bear, but he went away so rapidly that they could not follow him. After returning from pursuit of the bear, they finished butchering their game, which process consisted of cutting out the choice pieces and leaving the rest to the wolves. Packing the meat on their horses, they started for camp about three o’clock in the afternoon. They traveled until after dark, but could find no camp. The moon was in the third quarter, but the night was cloudy, and they became bewildered. They traveled all night, walking and leading their horses. At daybreak they crossed the trail of the wagons about a quarter of a mile from camp. They arrived at the wagons just as the guard was taken off. They were nearly worn out with fatigue, but Schallenberger says he felt a great deal more cheerful than when he and Murphy came into camp with neither meat nor arms. The other hunting parties had been equally successfully [sic], and a week was spent in this camp killing and curing meat, after which they resumed their journey up the Sweetwater. In this camp was born to Mr. and Mrs. James Miller a daughter, who was named Ellen Independence, from Independence Rock, which was near the place.
They continued sending out hunting parties until they reached the summit of the Rocky Mountains, when the buffalo disappeared. There was still plenty of deer and antelope, which rendered it unnecessary to draw on their supply of dried meat. On reaching the summit they saw that the water ran towards California, and their hearts were rejoiced as though already in sight of the promised land. They had no idea of how much father they had to go. They had already come hundreds of miles and naturally supposed that their journey was nearing its end. Neither did they realize that they were still to encounter obstacles almost insurmountable and undergo hardships compared to which their journey thus far had been a pleasurable excursion.
The emigrants now moved towards Green River, by way of Little and Big Sandy. They camped on Big Sandy twenty-four hours, and there old man Hitchcock was appointed pilot for one day, he saying that, from information he had, he could take them to Green River by a cut-off that would save a hundred miles’ travel. By this route he thought the distance from Big Sandy to Green River was about twenty-five miles. Not knowing the character of the country, and thinking the distance was short, the emigrants did not prepare a supply of water to take with them, as they might have done and saved themselves much suffering.
Starting at daylight they traveled until dark, most of the distance being across a rough, broken country, but found no Green River or water of any kind. At last they were compelled to halt in the midst of a desolate country, tired and nearly famished for water. The poor cattle suffered terribly, and notwithstanding their precautions in herding them, about forty head of cows and young cattle broke away in the night. The next morning they pushed forward as soon as it was light enough to see, and at eleven o’clock reached Green River.
This was their first real hardship o the march, and, coming unexpectedly, it found them unprepared, and their sufferings were much greater than they otherwise would have been. The next morning after their arrival at Green River, they detailed six men to hunt for the cattle that had broken loose on the march from Big Sandy. This detail consisted of Daniel Murphy, William Higgins, Mr. Bean, Perry Derby, Mat Harbin and Moses Schallenberger. After starting on the hunt, a difference of opinion arose as to the route the cattle had taken. Murphy, Schallenberger, and Bean thought they had taken the back track to the Big Sandy; the others thought they had made for the nearest water, which was at Green River, some twelve miles below the point reached by the emigrants.
Not being able to agree, they divided the party, Murphy, Bean, and Schallenberger going back to the Sandy. About half way across, while this party were riding along in Indian file, Murphy, who was in advance, suddenly ducked his head, threw his body over the side of his horse, and, wheeling round, signaled to the others to do the same. They obeyed, and, putting their horses to full speed, followed Murphy to a small canon, which they ascended for a quarter of a mile. During this time not a word had been spoken, but now, coming to a halt, they inquired what was the matter. Murphy laconically replied, “Indians.” The party dismounted and tied their horses, and, getting down on their stomachs, crawled to a point where they could overlook the plain. Here they discovered a war party of about a hundred Sioux, who were so near that their conversation could be distinctly heard. They passed within twenty yards of the spot where our emigrants were concealed, without discovering them, and the little party drew along breath of relief when the last feathered top-knot disappeared down the horizon. It was a close call, for had their presence been known, the little band of whites would never have seen the golden plains of California.
Again mounting their horses, they proceeded to the Big Sandy, where they found all the missing cattle. Gathering them up, they passed the night in their old camp, and the next morning set out on their return to Green River. They had proceeded only half a mile when they discovered two Indians on horseback on the top of a hill about a mile distant. In a couple of minutes, two more made their appearance in another direction, and within ten minutes they were surrounded by a couple of hundred Indians, all whooping and charging in a manner to strike terror to the bravest heart. There seemed no escape, but the little party resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible. In the short time they had for consultation, it was determined that when they approached within range each man should select his Indian, shoot him, and then charge, trusting to Providence to get through to camp. They said good-by to each other and waited the onset.
About twenty of the Indians were in advance of their party, and when these had approached to a distance of two hundred yards, the emigrants signed to them to stop. This they did, and sent three men without arms to parley. These came on until they were only fifty yards distant, when they halted and held out their hands as a sign of friendship. Schallenberger says that at this sign their hair, which up to this time had been standing as erect as the quills on the back of a porcupine, began to resume its proper position, and their blood, which had been jumping through their veins like a race-horse, reduced its pace to a moderate gait. The Indians proved to be a party of friendly Snakes, who were in pursuit of the band of Sioux from which our party had had such a narrow escape the day before. They were very friendly, and some of them accompanied our friends to assist them in driving their cattle quite a distance on their way back to Green River, which they reached about nine o’clock at night.
The route of the emigrants now lay across a broken country to Bear River, where they found old “Peg-leg” Smith, as he was called. He was one of the earliest trappers of the Rocky Mountains, and was living alone in the hills. He had a band of fat ponies, which he exchanged for some of the poor and tired horses of the train. Proceeding down Bear River, they arrived without adventure at Fort Hall, which was the point at which the Oregon party was to separate from those going to California. Here they were compelled to purchase flour, for which they paid a dollar a pound. The Murphy-Townsend party had started with a supply of provisions sufficient for eight months, but others were not so well provided. In fact, several had run out of flour and bacon some time previously, and the others had divided with them. As for meat, the party thought they had plenty; if their dried meat and bacon became exhausted, they could kill the young cattle they had brought along for that purpose. The parting with the Oregon party was a sad one. During the long journey across the plains, many strong friendships had been formed, and the separation was deeply regretted by all. Our emigrant train now consisted of eleven wagons and twenty-six persons, all as determined to push on to California as on the day they left Council Bluffs. The country they had traversed was more or less known to trappers and hunters, and there had not been much danger of losing their way; neither were the obstacles very formidable. But the remainder of the route lay for most of the distance through an unknown country, through which they must find their way without map, chart, or guide, and, with diminished numbers, overcome obstacles the magnitude of which none of them had any conception.
After remaining at Fort Hall for several days, they party resumed its march, crossing the country to Beaver Creek, or Raft River, which they followed for two days; thence westward over a broken country to Goose Creek; thence to the head-waters of Mary’s River, or the Humboldt, as it has since been named. Here they encountered the Digger Indians. The language of this tribe was unknown to old man Greenwood, who had hitherto acted as pilot and interpreter, but use of signs and some few words of the Snake language, he managed to converse with them in a limited way. The journey down the Humboldt was very monotonous. Each day’s events were substantially a repetition of those of the day before.
There was plenty of good grass, and the party was not inconvenienced by the alkali water, which caused so much trouble to trains that afterwards came over this route. The Indians seemed to be the most indolent and degraded of any that the party had yet encountered. They were totally without energy. They seemed very friendly and every night hundreds of them visited the camp. This they continued to do during the entire journey down the Humboldt, a distance of five hundred miles. Although they showed no signs of hostility, the emigrants did not relax their vigilance, and guard duty was strictly performed. At the sink of the Humboldt, the alkali became troublesome, and it was with difficulty that pure water was procured either for the people or the cattle. However, no stock was lost, excepting one pony belonging to Martin Murphy, Sr., which was stolen. The party stopped at the sink for a week in order to rest the cattle and lay out their future course.
Mr. Schallenberger states that their oxen were in tolerably good condition; their feet were as sound and much harder, and except that they needed a little rest, they were really better prepared for work than when they left Missouri. They party seemed to have plenty of provisions, and the only doubtful question was the route they should pursue. A desert lay before them, and it was necessary that they should make no mistake in the choice of a route. Old Mr. Greenwood’s contract as pilot had expired when they reached the Rocky Mountains. Beyond that he did not pretend to know anything. Many anxious consultations were held, some contending that they should follow a southerly course, and others held that they should go due west. Finally, an old Indian was found, called Truckee, with whom old man Green[wood] talked by means of sign and diagrams drawn on the ground. From him it was learned that fifty or sixty miles to the west there was a river that flowed easterly from the mountains, and that along this stream there were large trees and good grass. Acting on this information, Dr. Townsend, Captain Stevens, and Joseph Foster, taking Truckee as a guide, started out to explore this route, and after three days returned, reporting that they had found the river just as the Indian had described it. Although there was still a doubt in the minds of some as to whether this was the proper route to take, none held back when the time came to start. In fact, there was no time for further discussion.
It was now the first of October, and they could see that if a heavy fall of snow should overtake them while yet in the mountains, it would be almost impossible for them to get through. Thus far there had been no trouble with the Indians. All that they had met had been treated kindly, and the natives had rather assisted than impeded them in their journey. It had, however, required constant watching on the part of the older men to prevent the hot blood of the younger ones from boiling over now and then. This was particularly the case with John Greenwood, who, being a half-breed, had a mortal hatred fro the Indians. On several occasions, when an ox would stray away, he would accuse the natives of having stolen it, and it would require the utmost exercise of authority to prevent him from precipitating hostilities. It seemed as if he was more anxious to kill an Indian than to reach California.
On the morning that the start was made from the sink of the Humboldt, a general engagement became very imminent. Schallenberger, whose conduct on the march had been conspicuous for coolness and discretion, missed a halter from his horse, and on searching for it saw one end projecting from under the short feather blanket worn by an Indian who was standing near. Schallenberger demanded the halter, but the Indian paid no attention; he then attempted to explain to him what he wanted, but the Indian pretended that he did not understand. He then took hold of the halter to remove it, when the Indian stepped back and drew his bow. Schallenberger ran to the wagon, took his rifle, and drew a bead on the redskin, and was about to pull the trigger when Martin Murphy rushed in and threw up the muzzle of the gun. The whole camp was in confusion in a moment, but the matter was explained, and the Indians loaded with presents until they were pacified. If the Indian had been killed, there is no doubt that the entire party would have been massacred. It did not need the reprimand that Schallenberger received from his brother-in-law, Dr. Townsend, to convince him of his folly, and no one regretted his rashness more than he himself did.
The party left the sink of the Humboldt, having cooked two days’ rations and filled all the available vessels with water. After traveling with scarcely a halt until twelve o’clock the next night, they reached a boiling spring at what is now Hot Spring Station, on the Central Pacific Railroad. Here they halted two hours to permit the oxen to rest. Some of the party dipped water from the spring into tubs, and allowed it to cool for the use of the cattle. It was a sad experiment, for those oxen that drank it became very sick. Resuming the march, they traveled steadily until two o’clock the next day, when they reached the river, which they named the Truckee, in honor of the old Indian chief, who had piloted them to it.
The cattle, not having eaten or drank for forty-eight hours, were almost famished. This march was of eighty miles across an alkali desert, knee deep in alkali dust. The people, having water in their wagons, did not suffer so much, but there were occasions when it was extremely doubtful if they would be able to reach water with their cattle. So crazed were they with thirst that if the precaution had not been taken to unhitch them while yet some distance from the stream, they would have rushed headlong into the water and wrecked the wagons and destroyed their contents. There being fine grass and good water here, the party camped two days, until the cattle were thoroughly rested and refreshed.
Then commenced the ever-to-be-remembered journey up the Truckee to the summit of the Sierras. At first it was not discouraging. There was plenty of wood, water, grass, and game, and the weather was pleasant. The oxen were well rested, and for a few days good progress was made. Then the hills began to grow nearer together, and the country was so rough and broken that they frequently had to travel in the bed of the stream. The river was so crooked that one day they crossed it ten times in traveling a mile. This almost constant traveling in water softened the hoofs of the oxen, while the rough stones in the bed of the river wore them down, until the cattle’s feet were so sore that it became a torture for them to travel. The whole party were greatly fatigued by the incessant labor. But they dared not rest. It was near the middle of October, and a few light snows had already fallen, warning them of the imminent danger of being buried in the snow in the mountains. They pushed on, the route each day becoming more and more difficult. Each day the hills seemed to come nearer together and the stream to become more crooked.
They were now compelled to travel altogether in the bed of the river, there not being room between its margin and the hills to furnish foothold to an ox. The feet of the cattle became so sore that the drivers were compelled to walk beside them in the water, or they could not be urged to take a step; and, in many instances, the teams had to be trebled in order to drag the wagons at all. On top of all these disheartening conditions came a fall of snow a foot deep, burying the grass from the reach of the cattle, and threatening them with starvation. The poor, foot-sore oxen, after toiling all day, would stand and bawl for food all night, in so piteous a manner that the emigrants would forget their own misery in their pity for their cattle. But there was nothing to offer them except a few pine leaves, which were of no effect in appeasing their hunger. Still the party toiled on, hoping soon to pass the summit and reach the plains beyond, and that beautiful land so eloquently described to them by Father Hookins. In face of all these obstacles, there was no thought of turning back. One day they came to some rushed that were too tall to be entirely covered by the snow; the cattle ate these so greedily that two of James Murphy’s oxen died. However, by constant care in regulating the amount of this food, no evil effects were experienced, although it was not very nourishing. These rushes were scattered at irregular intervals along the river, and scouts were sent out each day to find them and locate a camp for the night. Some days the rushes would be found in a very short drive, and sometimes they would not be found at all.
In this manner they dragged their slow course along until they reached a point where the river forked, the main stream bearing southwest and the tributary almost due west. Then arose the question as to which route should be taken. There being an open space and pretty good feed at the forks of the river, it was decided to go into camp and hold a consultation. This camp was made on what is now the site of the city of Truckee, and the route pursued by these emigrants is practically that now followed by the Central Pacific Railroad. After considering the matter fully, it was decided that a few of the party should leave the wagons and follow the main stream, while the others should go by way of the tributary, as that seemed to be the more promising route for the vehicles.
Those who left the party were Mrs. Townsend, Miss Ellen Murphy, John Murphy, Daniel Murphy, Oliver Magnan, and Mrs. Townsend’s servant, Francis. They each had a horse to ride, and they took with them two pack-horses and some provisions. The ladies had each a change of clothing and some blankets, and each man had a rifle and ammunition. There was still some game to be found, and as the Murphys were good hunters there was no thought of their starving. In our account of this journey we have followed the narrative of Mr. Schallenberger, who has kindly furnished us with the facts. In regard to this separation, John Murphy says that there was no consultation or agreement; that the persons spoken of were traveling in advance of the rest of the party, and, coming to the forks of the river, naturally took the main stream, expecting the others to follow, which they did not do. However this may be, the fact remains that the parties here separated and went the different routes as above stated.
The party with the wagons proceeded up the tributary, or Little Truckee, a distance of two miles and a half, when they came to the lake since known as Donner Lake. They now had but one mountain between them and California, but this seemed an impassable barrier. Several days were spent in attempts to find a pass, and finally the route, over which the present railroad is, was selected. The oxen were so worn out that some of the party abandoned the attempt to get their wagons any further. Others determined to make another effort. Those who determined to bring their wagons were Martin Murphy, Jr., James Murphy, James Miller, Mr. Hitchcock, and old Mr. Martin, Mrs. James Murphy’s father. The others left their wagons.
The snow on the mountains was now about two feet deep. Keeping their course on the north side of the lake until they reached its head, they started up the mountain. All the wagons were unloaded and the contents carried up the hill. Then the teams were doubled and the empty wagons were hauled up. When about half way up the mountain they came to a vertical rock about ten feet high. It seemed now that everything would have to be abandoned except what the men could carry on their backs. After a tedious search they found a rift in the rock, just about wide enough to allow one ox to pass at a time. Removing the yokes from the cattle, they managed to get them one by one through this chasm to the top of the rock. There the yokes were replaced, chains were fastened to the tongues of the wagons, and carried to the top of the rock, where the cattle were hitched to them. Then the men lifted at the wagons, while the cattle pulled at the chains, and by this ingenious device the vehicles were all, one by one, got across the barrier.
After reaching the summit a drive of twenty miles westerly brought them to the head-waters of the Yuba River, where the able-bodied men started for Sutter’s Fort, then known as New Helvetia, and now as the city of Sacramento. They walked and drove the cattle, expecting to return immediately with supplies for the train. The others remained in camp. Thus were the first wagons that ever made tracks in California soil, brought across the mountains.
Those who remained with the wagons on the Yuba were Mrs. Martin Murphy, with her four boys, Martin, James, Patrick W., and Bernard D.; Mrs. James Murphy, with her daughter Mary; Mr. James Miller, wife, and three children; Mrs. Patterson, with her children, and old Mr. Martin, Mrs. James Murphy’s father. Leaving them here for the present, we will return to the wagons, which had been abandoned when the party divided at the forks of the Truckee.
Dr. Townsend and Mr. Schallenberger had brought with them an invoice of valuable goods, which they had intended to sell in California. When the wagons were abandoned, Schallenberger volunteered to remain with them and protect the goods until the rest of the party could reach California and return with other and fresher animals with which to move them. Mr. Schallenberger thus describes his experience: --
“There seemed little danger to me in undertaking this. Game seemed to be abundant. We had seen a number of deer, and one of our party had killed a bear, so I had no fears of starvation. The Indians in that vicinity were poorly clad, and I therefore felt no anxiety in regard to them, as they probably would stay further south as long as cold weather lasted. Knowing that we were not far from California, and being unacquainted, except in a general way, with the climate, I did not suppose that the snow would at any time be more than two feet deep, nor that it would be on the ground continually.
“After I had decided to stay, Mr. Joseph Foster and Mr. Allen Montgomery said they would stay with me, and so it was settled, and the rest of the party started across the mountains. They left us two cows, so worn out and poor that they could go no further. We did not care for them to leave us any cattle for food, for, as I said, there seemed to be plenty of game, and we were all good hunters, well furnished with ammunition, so we had no apprehension that we would not have plenty to eat, that is, plenty of meat. Bread we had not tasted for many weeks, and had no desire for it. We had used up all our supply of buffalo meat, and had been living on fresh beef and bacon, which seemed to satisfy us completely.
“The morning after the separation of our party, which we felt was only for a short time, Foster, Montgomery and myself set about making a cabin, for we determined to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, even if it was for a short time. We cut saplings and yoked up our poor cows and hauled them together. These we formed into a rude house, and covered it with rawhides and pine brush. The size was about twelve by fourteen feet. We made a chimney of logs eight or ten feet high, on the outside, and used some large stones for the jambs and back. We had no windows; neither was the house chinked or daubed, as is usual in log-houses, but we notched the logs down so close that they nearly or quite touched. A hole was cut for a door, which was never closed. We left it open in the day-time to give us light, and as we had plenty of good beds and bedding that had been left with the wagons, and were not afraid of burglars, we left it open at night also. This cabin is thus particularly described because it became historic, as being the residence of a portion of the ill-fated Donner party in 1846.
“On the evening of the day we finished our little house it began to snow, and that night it fell to a depth of three feet. This prevented a hunt which we had in contemplation for the next day. It did not worry us much, however, for the weather was not at all cold, and we thought the snow would soon melt. But we were doomed to disappointment. A week passed, and instead of any snow going off more came. At last we were compelled to kill our cows, for the snow was so deep that they could not get around to eat. They were nothing but skin and bones, but we killed the poor things to keep them from starving to death. We hung them up on the north side of the house and covered them with pine brush. That night the meat froze, and as the weather was just cold enough to keep it frozen, it remained fresh without salt. It kept on snowing continually, and our little cabin was almost covered. It was now about the last of November or first of December, and we began to fear that we should all perish in the snow.
“The snow was so light and frosty that it would not bear us up, therefore we were not able to go out at all except to cut wood for the fire, and if that had not been near at hand I do not know what we should have done. None of us had ever seen snow-shoes, and of course had no idea how to make them, but finally Foster and Montgomery managed to make something they called a snow-shoe. I was only a boy and had no more idea of what a snow-shoe looked like than a Louisiana darkey. Their method of construction was this: Taking some of our wagon bows, which were of hickory and about half an inch thick, they bent them into an oblong shape forming a sort of hoop. This they filled with a network of rawhide. We were now able to walk on the snow to bring in our wood, and that was about all there was to do. There was no game. We went out several times but never saw anything. What could we expect to find in ten feet of snow? It would sometimes thaw a little during the day and freeze at night, which made a crust on the snow sufficiently thick to bear the weight of a coyote, or a fox, and we used sometimes to see the tracks of these animals, but we were never fortunate enough to get a sight of the animals themselves.
“We now began to feel very blue, for there seemed no possible hope for us. We had already eaten about half our meat, and with the snow on the ground getting deeper and deeper each day, there was no chance for game. Death, the fearful, agonizing death by starvation, literally stared us in the face. At last, after due consideration, we determined to start for California on foot. Accordingly we dried some of our beef, and each of us carrying ten pounds of meat, a pair of blankets, a rifle and ammunition, we set out on our perilous journey. Not knowing how to fasten snow-shoes to our feet made it very fatiguing to walk with them. We fastened them heel and toe, and thus had to life the whole weight of the shoe at every step, and as the shoe would necessarily sink down somewhat, the snow would crumble in on top of it, and in a short time each shoe weighed about ten pounds.
“Foster and Montgomery were matured men, and could consequently stand a greater amount of hardship than I, who was still a growing boy with weak muscles and a huge appetite, both of which were being used in exactly the reverse order designed by nature. Consequently, when we reached the summit of the mountain about sunset that night, having traveled a distance of about fifteen miles, I was scarcely able to drag one foot after the other. The day had been a hard one for us all, but particularly painful to me. The awkward manner in which our snow-shoes were fastened to our feet made the mere act of walking the hardest kind of work. In addition to this, about the middle of the afternoon I was seized with cramps. I fell down with them several times, and my companions had to wait for me, for it was impossible for me to move until the paroxysm had passed off. After each attack I would summon all my will power and press on, trying to keep up with the others. Toward evening, however, the attacks became more frequent and painful, and I could not walk more than fifty yards without stopping to rest.
“When night came on we cut down a tree and with it built a fire on top of the snow. We then spread some pine brush for our beds, and after eating a little of our jerky and standing round our fire in a vain attempt to get warm, we laid down and tried to sleep. Although we were thoroughly exhausted, sleep would not come. Anxiety as to what might have been the fate of those who had preceded us, as well as uncertainty as to our fate, kept us awake all night. Every now and then one of us would rise to replenish the fire, which, though it kept us from freezing, could not make us comfortable. When daylight came we found that our fire had melted the snow in a circle of about fifteen feet in diameter, and had sunk to the ground a distance also of about fifteen feet. The fire was so far down that we could not get to it, but as we had nothing to cook, it made but little difference. We ate our jerky while we deliberated as to what we should do next. I was so stiff that I could hardly move, and my companions had grave doubts as to whether I could stand the journey. If I should give out they could afford me no assistance, and I would necessarily be left to perish in the snow. I fully realized the situation, and told them that I would return to the cabin and live as long as possible on the quarter of beef that was still there, and when it was all gone I would start out again alone for California. They reluctantly assented to my plan, and promised that if they ever got to California and it was possible to get back, they would return to my assistance.
“We did not say much at parting. Our hearts were too full for that. There was simply a warm clasp of the hand accompanied by the familiar word, ‘Good-by,’ which we all felt might be the last words we should ever speak to each other. The feeling of loneliness that came over me as the two men turned away I cannot express, though it will never be forgotten, while the ‘Good-by, Mose,’ so sadly and reluctantly spoken, rings in my ears to-day. I desire to say here that both Foster and Montgomery were brave, warm-hearted men, and it was by no fault of theirs that I was thus left alone. It would only have made matters worse for either of them to remain with me, for the quarter of beef at the cabin would last me longer alone, and thus increase my chances of escape. While our decision was a sad one, it was the only one that could be made.
“My companions had not been long out of sight before my spirits began to revive, and I began to think, like Micawber, that something might ‘turn up.’ So I strapped on my blankets and dried beef, shouldered my gun, and began to retrace my steps to the cabin. It had frozen during the night and this enabled me to walk on our trail without the snow-shoes. This was a great relief, but the exertion and sickness of the day before had so weakened me that I think I was never so tired in my life as when, just a little before dark, I came in sight of the cabin. The door-sill was only nine inches high, but I could not step over it without taking my hands to raise my leg. * * * As soon as I was able to crawl around the next morning I put on my snow-shoes, and, taking my rifle, scoured the country thoroughly for foxes. The result was as I had expected – just as it had always been – plenty of tracks, but no fox.
“Discouraged and sick at heart, I came in from my fruitless search and prepared to pass another night of agony. As I put my gun in the corner, my eyes fell upon some steel traps that Captain Stevens had brought with him and left behind in his wagon. In an instant the thought flashed across my mind, ‘If I can’t shoot a coyote or fox, why not trap one.’ There was inspiration in the thought, and my spirits began to rise immediately. The heads of the two cows I cut to pieces for bait, and, having raked the snow from some fallen trees, and found other sheltered places, I set my traps. That night I went to bed with a lighter heart, and was able to get some sleep.
“As soon as daylight came I was out to inspect the traps. I was anxious to see them and still I dreaded to look. After some hesitation I commenced the examination, and to my great delight I found in one of them a starved coyote. I soon had his hide off and his flesh roasted in a Dutch oven. I ate this meat, but it was horrible. I next tried boiling him, but it did not improve the flavor. I cooked him in every possible manner my imagination, spurred by hunger, could suggest, but could not get him into a condition where he could be eaten without revolting my stomach. But for three days this was all I had to eat. On the third night I caught two foxes. I roasted one of them, and the meat, though entirely devoid of fat, was delicious. I was so hungry that I could easily have eaten a fox at two meals, but I made one last me two days.
“I often took my gun and tried to find something to shoot, but in vain. Once I shot a crow that seemed to have got out of his latitude and stopped on a tree near the cabin. I stewed the crow, but it was difficult for me to decide which I liked best, crow or coyote. I now gave my whole attention to trapping, having found how useless it was to hunt for game. I caught, on an average, a fox in two days, and every now and then a coyote. These last-named animals I carefully hung up under the brush shed on the north side of the cabin, but I never got hungry enough to eat one of them again. There were eleven hanging there when I came away. I never really suffered for something to eat, but was in almost continual anxiety for fear the supply would give out. For instance, as soon as one meal was finished I began to be distressed for fear I could not get another one. My only hope was that the supply of foxes would not become exhausted.
“One morning two of my traps contained foxes. Having killed one, I started for the other, but, before I could reach it, the fox had left his foot in the trap and started to run. I went as fast as I could to the cabin for my gun, and then followed him. He made for a creek about a hundred yards from the house, into which he plunged and swam across. He was scrambling up the opposite bank when I reached the creek. In my anxiety at the prospect of losing my breakfast, I had forgotten to remove a greasy wad that I usually kept in the muzzle of my gun to prevent it from rusting, and when I fired, the ball struck the snow about a foot above reynard’s back. I reloaded as rapidly as possible, and as the gun was one of the old-fashioned flint-locks that primed itself, it did not require much time. But, short as the time was, the fox had gone about forty yards when I shot him. Now the problem was to get him to camp. The water in the stream was about two and a half feet deep and icy cold. But I plunged in, and, on reaching the other side, waded for forty yards through the snow, into which I sank to my arms, secured my game, and returned the way I came. I relate this incident to illustrate how much affection I had for the fox. It is strange that I never craved anything to eat but good fat meat. For bread or vegetables I had no desire. Salt I had in plenty, but never used. I had just enough coffee for one cup, and that I saved for Christmas.
“My life was more miserable than I can describe. The daily struggle for life and the uncertainty under which I labored were very wearing. I was always worried and anxious, not about myself alone, but in regard to the fate of those who had gone forward. I would lie awake nights and think of these things, and revolve in my mind what I would do when the supply of foxes became exhausted. The quarter of beef I had not touched, and I resolved to dry it, and, when the foxes were all gone, to take my gun, blankets, and dried beef and follow in the footsteps of my former companions.
“Fortunately, I had a plenty of books, Dr. Townsend having brought out quite a library. I used often to read aloud, for I longed for some sound to break the oppressive stillness. For the same reason, I would talk aloud to myself. At night I built large fires and read by the light of the pine knots as late as possible, in order that I might sleep late the next morning, and thus cause the days to seem shorter. What I wanted most was enough to eat; and the next thing I tried hardest to do was to kill time. I thought the snow would never leave the ground, and the few months I had been living here seemed years.
“One evening, a little before sunset, about the last of February, as I was standing a short distance from my cabin, I thought I could distinguish the form of a man moving towards me. I first thought it was an Indian, but very soon I recognized the familiar face of Dennis Martin. My feelings can be better imagined than described. He relieved my anxiety about those of our party who had gone forward with the wagons. They had all arrived safely in California and were then in camp on the Yuba. They were all safe, although some of them had suffered much from hunger. Mrs. Patterson and her children had eaten nothing for fourteen days but rawhides. Mr. Martin had brought a small amount of provisions on his back, which were shared among them. All the male portion of the party, except Foster and Montgomery, had joined Captain Sutter and gone to the Micheltorena war. Dr. Townsend was surgeon of the corps. My sister, Mrs. Townsend, hearing that Mr. Martin was about to return to pilot the emigrants out of the wilderness, begged him to extend his journey a little farther and lend a helping hand to her brother Moses. He consented to do so, and here he was. Being a Canadian, he was accustomed to snow-shoes, and soon showed me how to fix mine so I could travel with less than half the labor. He made the shoe a little narrower, and fastened it to the foot only at the top, thus making the heel a little heavier, so that the shoe would drag on the snow instead of having to be lifted at every step.
“The next morning after Martin’s arrival at the cabin he and Schallenberger started to return. Schallenberger’s scanty diet and limited exercise rendered this a rather trying journey for him. But they arrived safely at the emigrants’ camp, which, during Martin’s absence, had been moved two days’ journey down the hills. At this camp was born to Mr. and Mrs. Martin Murphy a daughter, the first white child born in California. She was named Elizabeth, and afterwards married Mr. William Taaffe.
To make this history complete, we must return to the party which, separating from the wagons at the forks of the Truckee, followed the main stream. They continued up the river to Lake Tahoe, and were the first white people to look upon that beautiful body of water. Here they crossed the river, keeping on the west side of the lake for some distance, and then struck across the hills to the headwaters of the American River, which they followed down to the valley. This route was exceedingly rough, much more so than the one up the Truckee on the other side. The American River was wider and deeper than the Truckee, and fully as crooked. They were compelled to cross it many times, and frequently their horses were compelled to swim, and the current was so swift as to make this a very hazardous undertaking. Mrs. Townsend rode an Indian pony, which was an excellent swimmer. She would ride him across the river and then send him back by one of the boys for Ellen Murphy. Once this pony lost his feet. He had crossed the river several times and was nearly worn out. John Murphy had ridden him back to get a pack saddle, and on returning, the pony fell. John, though an excellent swimmer, had a narrow escape from drowning. The water was running with the force of a mill race, while the bed of the stream was full of huge rocks, against which he was dashed and disabled form swimming. The party on the banks were paralyzed with terror as he was swept down the raging torrent. Recovering themselves, they hurried down the stream, expecting at every step to see his mangled boy thrown upon the shore. But John had not lost his head in his deadly peril. Watching his opportunity, as he was swept under a willow tree which grew on the bank, he seized the overhanging branches and held on with a death grip until he was rescued. The ice-cold water and the mauling he had received from the rocks rendered him unconscious. A warm fire restored him to his senses, but it was many days before he fully recovered from the shock caused by his involuntary bath.
The party were twenty-one days in getting to the valley. They did not suffer for food, for they were soon out of the snow and in a game country. John and Dan Murphy were excellent hunters, and there was no scarcity of meat. If game was scarce there was plenty of cattle roaming about, which made starvation impossible. They followed the American River until they came to St. Clair’s ranch, where they stopped for some time. Mr. and Mrs. St. Clair received them with a warm hospitality, which excited the liveliest feelings of gratitude in the hearts of the emigrants. These feelings were mingled with remorse when they thought of the number of St. Clair’s calves that had been killed on the way down the river. They had, of course, intended to pay for them, but just at that time to pay for them, but just at that time they had no money. The idea of accepting the hospitality of a man whose cattle they had killed, worked on their feelings until it nearly broke their hearts. The teachings of their father, the old patriarch, had kept their consciences tender, and they held many secret consultations as to what should be done in the premises.
They finally determined to confess. The lots cast for spokesman elected Dan Murphy, but it was agreed that all should be present to give him their moral support. Dan opened the interview by carelessly inquiring who owned all those calves that they had encountered coming down the river. St. Clair said he guessed they all belonged to him. “Well,” said Dan, “there’s a good bunch of them. What are calves about three months old worth in this country?” St. Clair told him, “Well,” resumed Dan, “we killed some of them to eat, and we haven’t got any money to pay you now, but if you will let us work out the price we will be very much obliged.” The earnestness of the boys amused Mr. St. Clair very much, and when he told them that they were welcome to the calves they had killed, and as many more as they wanted to eat, they retired from the interview with a great load lifted from their consciences.
From St. Clair’s they went down to Sutter’s, arriving there about the same time that the men from the wagons got in. Here they found great excitement. Micheltorena had been appointed by the Mexican Government as Governor of California, with both civil and military authority. The former officials, Alvarado and Vallejo, had resolved to resist his authority, and had joined with them General Castro. The native Californians were very jealous of the foreigners, especially the immigrants from the United States. Taking advantage of this feeling, the revolutionists had roused the country and collected quite a formidable army. Whatever may have been the intention of the leaders, it was openly talked by the rank and file, that, after they had settled their difficulty with Micheltorena, they would drive the foreigners from the country. The Murphy party had not come two thousand miles across deserts and mountains to be driven back into the hills without an effort in their own defense, and without hesitation they joined a company that Captain Sutter was raising for the assistance of Micheltorena, who held the legal commission as Governor of California. With this company they went South, doing good service in the campaign as far as Santa Barbara. Here, there being no further need of their services, they started to return to their women and children, whom they had left with the wagons on the Yuba.
Here was another instance of the indomitable courage of these men. The whole country had been roused against Micheltorena and the foreigners, and here was a handful of these same foreigners who had been arrayed against them in every movement from the Sacramento to Santa Barbara, now returning alone through this hostile country with no protection but their trusty rifles. The boldness of the act was only equaled by the skill which enabled them to make the return journey without firing a hostile gun. It seems as if the hand of Providence had upheld them through all their tribulations and dangers, and preserved them for some great destiny.
They arrived at the wagons about the same time that Schallenberger was rescued by Dennis Martin from his perilous situation in the cabin by Donner Lake. About the same time Schallenberger joined the wagons, with Martin, a man named Neil, who had been sent by Captain Sutter, with a supply of provisions and horses, arrived at the camp. The emigrants now were in a very cheerful frame of mind, being only one day’s march from the plains, and the end of their year’s journey in sight. The next day they pushed on, all mounted, some with saddles, some with pack-saddles, and some bare-back, and that night camped at the edge of the valley, on the banks of Bear River. This was the first of March, just one year from the time they left Missouri. They found Bear River full and still rising, from the melting snow in the mountains and the heavy rainfall of the season. There was no bridge or ferry, and an attempt was made to find a tree of sufficient length to reach across, but in vain. In this search for a tree, Mr. Neil, who had gone down the stream, was cut off from the mainland by the rapidly rising waters, leaving him on a little island, which was soon submerged, and as he could not swim, he was compelled to climb a tree. His cries for help finally reached the ears of those in camp, and Schallenberger and John Murphy, each mounting a horse and leading a third one, swam into the foaming torrent and brought him safely to the shore.
Again the affairs of the emigrants began to assume a gloomy aspect. Bear River had overrun its banks until it was ten miles wide. The small supply of provisions sent in by Captain Sutter had been exhausted. Two deer had been killed, but this afforded scarcely a mouthful each to so large a party. There was no direction in which they could move except to return to the hills, and this would only be making their condition worse. Three days passed with no food. They could hear the lowing of the cattle across the river, and now and then could discern the graceful forms of herds of antelope on the other side of the water. Mr. Schallenberger relates an incident that occurred at this time. The Hon. B. D. Murphy was then a little chap only four years old. As Schallenberger was sitting on a wagon-tongue, whittling a stick and meditating on the hollowness of all earthly things, and especially of the human stomach, little Barney approached him and asked if he would lend him his knife. “Certainly,” replied Schallenberger, “but what do you want to do with it?” “I want to make a toothpick,” said Barney. The idea of needing a toothpick when none of the party had tasted food for three days was so ridiculous that Schallenberger forgot the emptiness of his stomach and laughed heartily.
There was a large band of wild horses belonging to Captain Sutter, which were ranging in the foot-hills on that side of the river where the emigrants’ camp was located. The question of killing one of these had been seriously discussed. The proposition had been earnestly opposed by Martin Murphy, who had declared that it was not food fit for human beings, and that although in the last stages of starvation his stomach would revolt at such diet. The respect that the young men had for Mr. Murphy restrained them from committing equicide for some time. But at last it became a question of horse meat or starvation.
On morning Mr. Murphy rode back over the trail to see if he could find any trace of an ox that they had lost on the march, while Schallenberger and Dennis Martin went hunting for something to eat. Returning empty handed, it was decided to kill a horse. Accordingly, Neil drove the band as near camp as possible, and Schallenberger shot a fine, fat two-year old filly. Mr. Murphy did not arrive until the meat had been dressed and was roasting before the fire. He had been unsuccessful in his search and was delighted to find that the boys had succeeded. With his face glowing with pleasure in anticipation of the feast, he inquired, “Who killed the heifer?” The party pointed to Schallenberger, and Mr. Murphy, patting him on the shoulder, exclaimed: “Good boy, good boy, but for you we might all have starved!” When the meat was cooked he ate of it, eloquently praising its juicy tenderness and fine flavor, which, he said, surpassed any meat he had ever tasted. About the time he had satisfied his appetite, his brother-in-law, James Miller, drew out the filly’s mane from behind a log, exhibited it to Mr. Murphy, and asked him to see what queer horns they had taken from the heifer of which he had just been eating so heartily. Mr. Murphy’s stomach immediately rebelled, and he returned to the ground the dinner which he had eaten with so much relish, saying, when he had recovered from his paroxysm, that he thought he had detected a peculiarly bad taste about that meat. He never, by any artifice, could be induced to taste horse flesh again.
Soon after this, the waters receded sufficiently to allow the party to reach Feather River, where, near Hick’s Farm, Captain Sutter had prepared a boat to ferry them across. Here the vaqueros brought them a fine fat cow, and, for the first time in many months, they had what Schallenberger called a “good square meal.”
Our pilgrims had reached the promised land. Their enduring faith had been lost in sight, and their hopes had ended in fruition. The old patriarch had gathered his flock around him in the shadow of the Cross, in a country through the length and breadth of which the name of his family was destined to become a household word, and in the development and history of which they were to become prominent. Of all the property with which they started, little was left on their arrival in California. As Mrs. James Murphy said to the writer, “We brought very little property with us, but we did bring a good many days’ work.”
After a short
rest at Sutter’s Fort, the party separated, each to seek a location and to plant
his roof tree in his adopted land.
Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888. p. 38-53
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler
SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIOGRAPHIES
SANTA CLARA COUNTY HISTORY