An Account of a Journey to California in
By Tosten Kittelsen Stabæk
Translated by Einar J. Haugen (Volume IV: Page 99)
Mr. S. G. Mogan, of Seattle, Washington, through whose efforts the above account was obtained, has furnished the following facts about its author and about Knud Knudsen, leader of the expedition. Tosten Kittelsen, as he was always known, was born in Rollag, Numedal, on April 26, 1830. He emigrated in 1850 to the Rock Run settlement in Winnebago County, Illinois, where his uncle, Clemet Stabæk, and other relatives were located. After his return from California in 1858 he bought a farm in the same settlement, near Durand. A widowed sister was for many years his housekeeper, but when she married a second time, and moved with her husband to Nebraska, her brother was again compelled to live alone. Later he sold his farm and took a trip to Norway. After his return he lived with a relative. He decided to take up beekeeping, and bought ten acres, on which he established an apiary and produced honey on a large scale. On October 3, 1895, he married Guri Springen, who unfortunately died within a year. When he was no longer able to care for his business, he went to live with his cousin, Nels Paterson of Durand, Illinois. There he remained until 1913, when he died, at the age of eighty-three years.
The following account was committed to writing some forty years after the journey, and many minor details have probably been forgotten. But the leading incidents stand out clearly, and have no doubt been kept fresh by frequent retelling.
Knud Knudsen, leader of the expedition, was a man of some ability -- quiet, unobtrusive, phlegmatic, and yet with the spirit of adventure in him. As Stabæk's account shows, it was to his skill and experience that the journey owed its successful conclusion. He was a blacksmith by trade, and probably little versed in books; yet he had a certain talent for writing interestingly about his experiences, and published an account of his voyage on the boat "Emilie" from Drammen to New York in 1839. This book was republished and edited by Dr. O. M. Norlie (Minneapolis, 1926). The further course of Knudsen's life is unknown.
Since it may be that I am now the only one alive of a party which traveled to California in 1852, I shall give as accurate an account of the journey as my memory permits.
In the month of February a group of us began to talk about traveling by wagon overland to California. Knud Knudsen from Wiota, Wisconsin, who had made the same journey in 1849, was now about to start a second time, and we could therefore get good company. There were three of us who had a mind to go along, but we lacked means and could not go unless we got help toward our traveling expenses. My uncle, Clemet T. Stabæk, came to our assistance and not only furnished us with oxen, wagons, and provisions, but also supplied us with cash for use on the trip. Altogether our party came to consist of eight men from Winnebago and Stephenson Counties in Illinois. The most important part of our equipment was composed of three wagons, eleven yoke of oxen, and six cows. These last were brought along for the sake of their milk, which was of great importance on the long journey through uninhabited regions. The wagons were in those days constructed at home; hence they could be built light, their carrying capacity being calculated at only two thousand pounds.
We were ready to leave about the middle of April, but had to wait for word from K. Knudsen as to just where we should meet him. Our company from Rock Run consisted of the
following persons: Narve T. Stabæk, Kristoffer Rostad, Torsten Knutson, Nels Nelson, and Torsten K. O. Stabæk, who were all from Rollag in Numedal, Gunder A. Halvorsen from Kragerø, Svale Nelson from Bjerkreim parish near Stavanger, and Gunder Halvorsen from Telemarken. A party from Rock Prairie, from the district around the present Orfordville, Wisconsin, which planned to join Knudsen and us at Galena, Illinois, consisted of the following persons: Halvor Hersgard, Aadne Engen, Ole Trulsen (Wee), and Christen Evenson, all from Hallingdal, Halvor Kjørn and Halvor Gallog from Numedal, Ole Hanson from Modum, and Fredrik Giving, a Frenchman. Several of these were family men and quite advanced in years. Their equipment consisted of two wagons and four yoke of oxen and two cows for each wagon.
As we had got word from K. Knudsen that we should meet in Galena the first of May, we gathered at Clemet Stabæk's place on the twenty-seventh of April. That afternoon we began our journey, but got only some five miles out on the prairie before we had to halt for the night. The next day we found progress somewhat difficult, because of the bad roads at this time of the year. The cows, which trailed along without being tied, were constantly dissatisfied with traveling and wished to turn back; but after a time they gradually grew accustomed to it. The feed was pretty poor, for it was difficult to secure hay. Clemet Stabæk accompanied us on the way to drive a load of oats which we brought along as feed. When we had passed the town of Winslow, we stopped for the night. Along in the afternoon of the next day, April 29, we found the country more hilly and the roads worse as we approached the heights above the valley of the Mississippi. We passed a little mining town named Council Hill; on the road down from this place there were steep hills and forests and a very rocky country. We stopped for the night by Fever River; three of us, who did not yet have citizen papers, went next morning to Galena, the county seat, and got them.
On May 1, K. Knudsen and his sons Hendrik, Christen, and Søren arrived from Wiota, Wisconsin. They had two wagons, eight yoke of oxen, and four cows. The company from Rock Prairie also made its appearance about the same time. We were
now twenty men, nineteen Norwegians and one Frenchman, and had seven wagons. To lighten the load for the draught animals and to hasten our progress, part of the provisions were sent by boat down the Mississippi to St. Louis and up the Missouri to Council Bluffs; in that way we could ease our journey through Iowa, where the roads were poor. Two men were sent with the provisions, C. Rostad and G. A. Halvorsen.
We left Galena with light loads, drove the three miles down to the Mississippi, and arrived at the river bank at dusk; here we had to encamp for the night. In the morning we saw the ferry a short distance away; but, as there were many ahead of us, we had to wait some time for our turn. Clemet Stabæk, who had been with us up to this time, now turned homeward. Late in the afternoon our turn came to be ferried over, but a wide stretch of low-lying ground still separated us from the river bank. There was a pretty strong current and it was necessary to go up the river a good distance before we could begin to cross; this took so much time that evening had come before we landed on the Iowa side; and we had to pass the night on the river bank.
As soon as it grew light the next morning, we continued the journey. After a few miles we found a place where we bought a supply of hay for our cattle. It rained a little that afternoon, but we kept on traveling until we reached a little town named Caskell. There we bought oats for the animals, which would have to last until we could find more grass. In a short time there would be plenty; for in the warmth of spring all was in rapid growth, and out here on the prairie the opportunity for pasture was very much better. Altogether we now had sixty-eight head of cattle, and it was evident that what feed we could carry along would not long suffice. In many places through this region the prairie was strewn with large rocks which seemed to lie on the surface. Fortunately our loads were light; for the land was marshy and the roads almost impassable. Other travelers, with heavier loads, often were mired and needed help to get loose again. In the town of Marion [Iowa] we supplied ourselves with extra shoes at Knudsen's advice; for, he said, there would be plenty of walking to do before we reached our destination.
As we approached the Cedar River, the road passed through a
well-wooded district. At the ferry near Cedar Rapids we found that the current was swift and the crossing quite laborious. Here, too, we had to pay toll, at the rate of a dollar for a pair of oxen and a wagon, and ten cents for each person and unyoked animal. The crossing was successful, and we passed the night not far from the ferry.
The following days we traveled through a country of hills and forests, but my memory fails me, so that I am not able to give dates, or the names of the little towns we passed and the rivers we crossed. But I remember the ferry over the Iowa River; for here we had to pay toll again. T. Knudsen fell sick here, so we stopped a while and waited for medicines, which had been sent for. Later in the day we broke camp and traveled a few miles to a place where the cattle could get water, and camped for the night.
In a few days we reached a town by the name of Sommerseth, out on the prairie. Then we followed the valley of the Des Moines River as far as the city of Des Moines, where we had another long wait before we could be ferried over the river, and again had to pay toll. That night we camped not far from the city. The following days we first passed through a hilly, wooded district, then came out on the prairie and passed over certain lowlands. As we approached the Missouri Valley, we once more met with hills. Where the land started to slope down toward the river, we drove into a little valley, which we followed down to the plain. Here were a great many little houses, erected by the Mormons, who had come from Illinois the preceding autumn and were on their way to Salt Lake. By the time we had driven the five miles over the plain and reached the river bank, it was noon. There was no fixed landing place for the river boats because the river had washed down the banks. Here we found C. Rostad and G. A. Halvorsen, who had traveled with the provisions; they had waited for us some two weeks.
Next morning we got our provisions loaded on the wagons, and when we were ready to proceed on our journey, all the wagons were heavily loaded; but the roads were dry and fairly smooth. Along in the forenoon we arrived at Canesville, which, though only a small town, did much business, especially at this
time of the year; for it was the last place where purchases could be made. Here too was a cluster of little houses in which the Mormons had wintered and were now awaiting the time when the stream of travelers to California and Oregon should begin to diminish. This might not take place before late in the summer, but it was important for them to travel at a time of the year which would offer the best prospects of pasture for the many cattle they brought with them.
After we had bought all that we thought necessary for the journey, we left Canesville and drove over the hills twelve miles to the upper ferry by Council Bluffs. On account of the grass we stopped for the night a mile from the river. The next morning, while we awaited our turn to be ferried over the river, we drove the cattle a short distance away from the main road, where they got a chance to eat their fill of the still somewhat scanty grass.
Along in the afternoon we gathered together all our property and made the necessary preparations to go aboard the ferry. But we still had some time to wait, and this gave us a chance to look over the town -- an easy matter, as it consisted only of a couple of huts, a saloon, and a gambling house. There were several who tried their luck at the gaming table, and with the usual result: most of them went away losers; some even lost all the money they had. We crossed the river without mishap. The current was rather swift, and the ferry had to go up the river a considerable distance to make sure of landing at the right place on the opposite bank. The Missouri was very wide at this time of the year, and the water was muddied by all the dirt washed down from the banks. All traces of civilization were now disappearing; no house was in sight, for we were among the Indians. We advanced only a mile from the ferry before we had to stop for the night.
We were now about to enter the wilderness, where nothing living could be found but wild animals and Indians; and, to secure ourselves against surprise, two men were chosen to keep watch alternately during the night. It was also decided to choose a leader, and for this Knud Knudsen, who had made the same journey to California in 1849, was elected. On the earlier trip
he had been in company with Peder Paulsen from Winnebago County, Illinois; they had had much bad luck on the road, which we hoped to avoid with the help of our leader's experience.
The next morning we journeyed westward through Nebraska, and according to our guide book, Horn's description, we still had 2,022 miles to Sacramento, California. As most of this distance had to be covered on foot, our shoe-leather would certainly have to suffer. Soon we were up the hills, and now the prairie began. By noon we reached Elkhorn River. Here, too, were a ferry and tolls; but we crossed without much delay, and then stopped a while to give the oxen time to eat and rest. We were now among some Indians, who followed us nearly all afternoon, and we had to be on our guard all the time lest they should find a chance to rob us. The land that we were now traversing was very flat and appeared to be fertile. The Indians left us, but the watch was charged to be especially vigilant, as we feared they might return after dark. Nothing happened during the night, and the next morning we set forth again. The road passed not very far from the Platte River. We had fine weather, and there had been little rain, so that the country was very dry.
By Shell Creek there was posted a placard on which was written that a short time before the Pawnee Indians had closed the road and tried to surround and rob an ox train, but as aid was rendered by other travelers who came right after, the Indians were driven away after a brief skirmish. The placard was put up to warn others to be on their guard.
It was now near the end of May. Where we camped for the night there was fine flat land and forest. During the forenoon of the next day we came to a place where there was an old abandoned Indian mission. We could see something of the fences and other traces which showed that the soil in the near neighborhood had been tilled. There were no houses, but there were many rooms beneath, the surface of the earth which probably had been contrived for protection against possible attacks. Here was also an abundance of forest. We continued the journey and came to the Loup River at a convenient time in the evening. Since the skies threatened rain and high winds, the wagons were anchored to the ground for safety's sake. The next morning a heavy shower
did fall, with the consequence that the river rose, so that we had to raise and block up the wagon boxes to secure ourselves against getting our things wet when we crossed the stream. In many of these rivers the bottom consisted of drift sand, frequently they were also deep and swift. In crossing, the important thing was not to stop before firm ground had been reached, for otherwise one risked being carried away by the current or sucked down into the sands. We crossed without mishap, however. Before we again came out upon the open prairie, we passed through some forest land. To judge by the growth of grass, the soil in this region was quite fertile. We stopped by the Wood River for the night. We were now getting outside the territory of the Pawnee Indians, and it was growing more difficult to find good water. The next morning, indeed, we had to drive our cattle some distance from the main road before they could find enough grass to fill their empty stomachs. The trees had now disappeared, the landscape opened up, and the range of vision grew wider. We could now see travelers a great distance off, both before and behind us. There were many travelers, a great number of them on the way to Oregon with their families.
On June 2 we found the country somewhat hilly. In the course of that day we met occasional wagons traveling in the opposite direction. When we reached our camp site that evening, we learned the distressing news that four persons had died from cholera. All had been well in the evening, but before daybreak four were dead. We met one wagon in which was a mother with two small children. Her husband was one of the four who had died, and now she was on the way back to her relatives in Missouri, broken and grief-stricken. Our leader, K. Knudsen, however, advised her to return and join her company, and pointed out to her what difficulties and distress she might encounter if she should fall sick, alone on the road with her helpless little ones. Finally we came to the place where the woman's company had their camp, a short distance from the road. They had not yet departed, presumably because they had been delayed by sickness and burial.
At Prairie Creek there was another funeral. It was of a woman
who had died in the morning. She was an old man's wife, and now he was left alone. The company, which consisted of families on their way to Oregon, did not stop, but continued their journey. Few or none of the gold seekers on the way to California had their families with them. Most of these were out to make money, and they intended, when they had collected a substantial sum, to return to the home they had left. We heard later that the cholera had been most fatal on the second and third of June. On the fourth and fifth there were fewer cases, and on the sixth practically none. It was as if the infection came flying through the air. A warm wind blew in the night, and simultaneously over a distance of about two hundred miles people fell sick and many died.
The road now followed the Platte River, which is broad and has very low banks. Here were occasional cottonwood trees, but we were told that it would be two hundred miles before we again should come to any woods. The drinking water that we found along the road was poor and tasted of minerals. The river water, I believe, was good; for it came from the mountains; but it was so mixed with dirt that it was almost undrinkable. Beyond the broad plain which lay near the river there were hills, and we had some sandy heights to cross. In a strong wind the sand would fly about one's ears, and one would be exposed to something that resembled a snow storm. We met with such a storm one day, but we were lucky enough to get on the plain again before nightfall.
There were many ways of traveling. Two men from Rockford, Illinois, traveled with a hand cart calculated to carry two hundred pounds. One of the men pulled it, and the other pushed from behind; as a rule they made as long a day's journey as the rest.
Now and then we met Sioux Indians, but they were peaceful, and as a rule they hurried past us without a greeting. The roads were dusty; for we had had no rain since we left the Loup region. The weather was warm and clear; for long distances wood was nowhere to be found, and it was only with the aid of "buffalo chips" and a little kindling that we were able to cook our food. This was the Nebraska plateau, where only a single tree could
be found in a distance of some two hundred miles. As the soil these days had been very sandy, some of the oxen became so hoof-sore that we had to make shoes for them.
We saw Chimney Rock before us on the south side of the river. One evening we came to a small pool of water from which the cattle drank. A little to one side was a depression, where we dug a hole, which quickly filled and overflowed with the most delicious spring-water. We had obviously hit upon the vein which was the source of the previously mentioned pool. In many places it was difficult to find good water, and this discovery was of importance not only to us, but also to other travelers who journeyed on the same roads. We erected a sign by the roadside so that others might find the good water. After all had been supplied with the necessary water, we drove out on the prairie about a mile, where there was good pasture for the cattle, and here we camped over Sunday.
We had been in good health all the time, but many were ill in other companies, so that the doctors were busy from morn till night. It was commonly held that the poor water was the cause of the sickness. We had plenty of milk and used little water except for cooking. It is also possible that our diet helped to keep us well. We ate much porridge and milk, and but little meat -- the last as a rule once a day.
On Monday morning we resumed our journey, but in the afternoon Aadne Engen fell sick, and we had to stop. A doctor, who was in the neighborhood, was called, and he declared that it was cholera. He left some medicine, but in the night the patient grew worse, and he died the next afternoon. A grave was dug near the roadside, and he was buried without coffin and without ceremonies. He was far from home, and it took a long time before his family on Rock Prairie learned of the death of their breadwinner. For several days before this death occurred we had seen no new graves. After the funeral we left the road a short distance to find better pasture for the cattle.
The next day our road lay in a more hilly country, with less vegetation, so that we had to seek grass for the cattle farther from the road. We now approached the heights, and the road was full of pebbles, so that our day's journeys grew shorter.
Fort Laramie, where a number of soldiers were stationed, lay on the south side of the Platte River. Here was the boundary between the territories of the Sioux and the Crow Indians. The former had now been peaceful for some time. The previously mentioned men from Rockford, Illinois, who drew their equipment on a hand cart, had now made an agreement with some others to convey their goods the rest of the way and left their hand cart standing by the roadside. The territory hereabouts was extremely hilly until we again approached the Platte River, along which the road was smooth and easy. Knudsen, our leader, now went on ahead every afternoon with a man, to pick out a camp site for the night. I was often the one chosen to accompany him. We were now far behind, as the body of emigrants was ahead of us. Once more we were traversing hills and the river was lost to us. Pasture was growing more and more difficult to find, so that at night the herdsmen drove the cattle away and did not return with them before morning. On our ascent we crossed several little brooks, where we sometimes found both grass and good water. But the road led us down to the Platte again, and in its vicinity there was little or no grass.
We now came to Horseshoe Bend, where in 1850 some travelers were attacked by the Crow Indians, but resisted so stoutly that the Indians were put to flight. Here were a few trees, where we encamped for the night. The next day we traversed a coal bed several miles in width; in many places the coal was visible on the surface. It was said to be of good quality. [When the Union Pacific was built, the coal beds became the property of the railroad and were of great value.]
Once more we approached the Platte River, but according to our guide book it was the last time we should meet with it. Here we happened upon a man by the name of Cooper, who came from Missouri, and brought along twenty wagons and eight hundred head of cattle, with a large crew of men whose traveling expenses he paid in return for the assistance they gave him. It was necessary to cross the river, and they tried to get the cattle to swim across; but when they reached the deep and swiftly flowing part of the river, the cattle turned around, and the men had a difficult job of it.
We hurried on, in order to get ahead of them; for where such a large herd of cattle had passed, there would be but little feed left for those who came just after them. We saw Crow Indians, but they did us no harm. As we continued to ascend, we caught sight of distant mountain tops. Occasionally we had to pass the night in places where nothing grew but sagebrush, and when on the following day we found a place where there was grass, we had to stop long enough to let the cattle graze their fill.
One day three of us set out to look for game, but all we saw was a pack of gray wolves. We turned back; for we knew that where these greedy animals were abroad, there was no other game. In the afternoon we returned to the main road and looked for the footprints of a man in our company who wore unusually large shoes, in order to ascertain whether our caravan had passed. We found the track of a man who had left large footprints and followed it. This led us upwards, where the air was cooler. At length we came to a little brook, but we saw nothing of our company. Near by was a strange wagon to which the footprints led. We now realized that our company had stopped for the night some distance behind. The travelers, however, were so kind as to give us something to eat and also lent us a blanket to cover ourselves with in the night. But it was so cold that we had to keep the fire alive all night in order not to freeze. It was the coldest night we experienced on the whole journey. In the morning we could see traces of snow, which had fallen in the highlands a couple of weeks earlier.
The question now was to find our company. A blacksmith, who had his smithy near the road, reported that he had not seen them pass by. This man, who had settled out there in the desert, earned good money at his trade; just for shoeing an ox he got $8.00, and for a dozen nails $5.00. As we feared that our companions might worry about us on account of our long absence and possibly take steps to search for us, we decided that I should go to meet them. I found them about ten miles back. In the evening we camped at the place where the three of us had spent the preceding night.
The next day, which was Sunday, we found a good pasture for the cattle and left them in peace until Monday morning. The
blacksmith bought the ones that had become hoof-sore or lame so that they were unable to continue the journey, and he paid from $5.00 to $10.00 a head for them. He was able to secure pasturage from the Indians, and when the cattle had sufficiently recovered, they were transported to California and sold.
The road now sloped downwards, until we came to Lake Saleratus, the surface of which is hard and bright like ice. I broke loose a piece about three inches thick. It was about the same kind of saleratus [soda] as that used by housewives. Further on was the Sweetwater River, a branch of the Platte issuing from the heights which form the divide between it and the Colorado River.
We passed the night by Independence Rock, a crag which towered a hundred feet above the surrounding sagebrush plain. A few crippled cedars and pine trees grew in the clefts on the river side. The grass was quite luxuriant near the river; but there was alkali in the stagnant water and frequently a frost-like covering of it on the grass. This alkali was very dangerous for the cattle, and a number of carcasses strewn along the road testified to the importance of keeping them away from these places. A little later we camped near the river at a place where there was alkali on the grass in the morning; but by driving the cattle about a mile off, we found good pasture.
On Sunday, the next day, we found that some of the oxen were sick. Monday afternoon we proceeded, however, but soon had to stop for the night; before morning two of the oxen were dead. The Sweetwater River was now becoming a mere brook. We were approaching South Pass, and had left the alkali district behind us for another with plenty of grass and good water. We were now up on the plateau but spent one more night by a watering place on the Sweetwater River.
Only three miles from where we had spent the night, we reached Pacific Spring, which is considered the source of the Colorado River. We had passed the Great Divide between the Atlantic and the Pacific almost without knowing it. In the evening we reached Little Sandy, a small river with crystal clear water which flows down from the mountains, but a scarcity of grass forced us to go a considerable distance from the road. The mountains, many of them quite high, lay around about us, and
in the distance Fremont Peak towered high above all the others. On its north side some snow was visible.
Next day we crossed the river and journeyed through a hilly sagebrush country. We made camp by the Big Sandy River, where we remained over Sunday. Farther up the river we found pasture for the cattle. A group of Shoshone Indians and some Frenchmen had camped not far from the road. They had a great many horses, and before we left the place on Monday morning, we had acquired a horse in trade for two oxen and a cow which had become hoof-sore or had been sickened by drinking alkali water.
On the Green River there were two ferries not far apart. We chose the upper one, but it was too late to cross on the same evening. Next morning there were so many ahead of us that we had to wait nearly all day; in the meanwhile we found better pasture for the cattle. When our turn came, we took the wagons with the oxen hitched up on the ferry and made the unyoked animals swim over. The current was strong and the bottom stony, but the water was clear and transparent. The crossing was successful, and we camped on the other side. The hilly character of the country was daily more in evidence, and our rate of progress was accordingly diminished. K. Knudsen frequently took me along on his tours to find camping grounds for the next night. On these occasions he often told about his experiences on his first journey to California. He was somewhat advanced in years, but still a brisk walker, so that any one might have difficulty in keeping up with him.
We were all in good health, but certain of the older men were growing impatient and downcast because it took so long a time to reach our destination. They had left their families behind them, and anxious thoughts of their homes and loved ones caused time to move at a snail's pace for them. It was otherwise with us who were young; while we were well, we had little to worry us, and time seldom hung heavy on our hands. K. Knudsen, who possessed much dearly bought experience from his former trip, was cautious and insisted rigidly on our not accelerating our march, lest the animals should be overtaxed and grow hoof-sore, or in some other way be made incapable of fulfilling their duties.
We reached Hams Falls late in the evening, and next morning again had to go some distance to find good pasture. We crossed the river on a toll bridge, under which the clear water flowed swiftly. The road was heavy, up hill and down hill, and full of rocks. In a few days we came to where the road branched off to Salt Lake City. We took to the left [right?] over the heights to the Bear River valley. By the river was an abundance of grass, and we stopped there from Saturday evening until Monday in order to give our underfed and wearied animals much-needed relief. The following days we traveled along the river, where the road was fairly smooth; but soon the stream turned south towards the Great Salt Lake, while our road took us in a southwesterly direction. One evening we reached Soda Spring, which is surrounded by a number of mineral springs, the water from which, though somewhat bitter, is said to be very healthful. Here was another blacksmith, who made it his business to shoe hoof-sore animals; as we had some lame oxen, Knudsen made a trip to him and bought nails so we could shoe them. A man from Salt Lake City had flour for sale, and since our supply was dwindling, we bought fifty pounds from him.
Next day we reached the place where the Oregon trail branched off. We were then in a part of Oregon Territory (now Idaho) and the Oregon trail turned northwest in the direction of Snake River. We were surrounded by mountains, apparently of volcanic origin. In this hilly territory there were many little brooks, all full of trout. We fished with hook and line, using grasshoppers as bait, and made a good catch. In a few days we reached lower land, which sloped down toward Snake River. Two of us stayed behind to fish. We caught plenty of fish, but had to cover a distance of twelve miles without anything to eat, before we caught up with our caravan. On the road we met a lone man with two horses, who accompanied us until we reached Raft River that evening. Fort Holt lay twenty miles to the west of us.
The next evening we camped by another branch of the Raft River, where there was an abundance of grass and fresh pure water from the mountains. Here we stayed over Sunday. Between the mountains we found a pasture for the cattle, where there grew clover and some other varieties of grass which one
usually expects to find only on cultivated ground. Here we could catch all the fish we wanted. It was without comparison the best place we had found on the whole journey. It is not surprising that the Mormons, as we later heard, took possession of it the following year.
Monday morning we passed the point where the road from Salt Lake City joined ours. According to our guide book the roads would now be heavy; for the road leading up towards the Goose Creek Mountains was hilly and rocky, and pasture for the cattle was scarce. But there were some great springs along the road.
After we had passed the night up on the plateau, we descended into Goose Creek Valley in the morning; a deep valley, with steep mountain sides, through which we reached the lower country. We had seen no fruit on our journey, but by Goose Creek there was an abundance of rather good-tasting berries. After a few days the road ascended the height between Goose Creek Valley and the Humboldt Valley; on the other side a sagebrush plain extended before us. As we were moving along the road, four Indians on horseback came riding after us, and tried to communicate something to us by means of a great many signs and gestures. They laid their hands on their breasts and said "Shoshone,- Shoshone,'' and pointing up the valley, they shook their heads. At length they rode away and we saw no more of them. We did not understand that they wished to warn us against the Indians whom we would meet farther on.
We passed the night by a little brook where there was plenty of grass. Next day we entered a narrow valley with mountains on both sides, known as Humboldt Canyon; warm springs here poured out from the rock wall. As we descended, the valley widened out and before us lay a broad grass-grown plain. In the evening we drove the cattle over to the brook, which ran a little distance from the road; here was such an abundance of grass that the cattle had a feast such as they had not enjoyed for several days past. The animals settled down near the wagons, and all but the watchmen went to bed as usual.
The next morning five of our draught oxen were gone. A careful search revealed their tracks and those of four horses,
and we no longer doubted that the Indians had stolen them. In the dark the Indians had spirited them away under the noses of our guards. Twelve men set out on foot in pursuit of the thieves, but after a march of some four or five miles without a trace of the oxen, a council was held to decide what should be done. It was decided to continue the pursuit. But as it promised to be a long search, I was sent back for provisions. I returned and managed to collect the necessary food, but was not allowed to carry it back; for Søren Knudsen and Nels Nelson insisted on going in my place. They returned, however, at sunset, without having found the others.
Fearing more visits from the Indians we made an enclosure with the wagons and herded the cattle inside it; in this way it was easier to mount guard over them. While serving as one of the watchmen that night I recalled the signs and gestures with which the Indians back on the road had warned us and realized their meaning. Our search party returned the next morning. They had found the oxen, slaughtered. The Indians were nowhere to be seen, but were no doubt near enough to see what was going on. All that the men got of the oxen was some meat which they sliced off and roasted at a fire which they kindled. They were famished after having tramped all day without a bite to eat. After eating they started back to camp, but they found progress quite difficult in the sagebrush. At nightfall they were tired and lay down to rest until morning.
After having lost so many oxen (the Rock Run people had lost four) we had to rearrange the whole caravan. We still had two yoke of oxen for each wagon; and since the loads had grown much lighter now that so much of our provisions had been consumed, this would probably suffice. Soon we were ready to start again, and set forth on dry, dusty roads. There were few trees, but for fuel there was plenty of sagebrush. As there was good water in the river and plenty of grass everywhere, it was no longer necessary for K. Knudsen to hunt up camp sites in advance. At night the older men kept watch, and we got along without lighting a fire in the evening.
One day we met a man named Doans from Iowa County, Wisconsin, with three wagons and a large herd of cattle, who had
no other assistance than his wife and two sisters. He could now get no farther because the sixteen men to whom he had given free transportation in return for their help as far as Sacramento had all left him; they thought that they were by then near enough to the gold fields to make the rest of the trip on foot. They had taken all the provisions they could carry, but the distance was probably too great for these to last until their arrival. Mr. Doans now joined us; for we were many and could give him the necessary aid. He was compelled, however, to leave one of his wagons behind.
We now learned of others who had also lost cattle; the Indians always got the blame, even though white men might be the ringleaders. At Stone Point a company of emigrants lost some cattle and sent out four men to search for them. At length they found the cattle, but were attacked by the band of robbers, consisting of five white men and a number of Indians. The four emigrants were well armed, and the Indians, who shot their arrows from a safe distance, could do them no harm. Thus they had the upper hand and got their animals back.
Many others who lost cattle followed their tracks and thought they were hot on their heels, but nevertheless failed to get hold of them. A certain man lost twelve horses by Stone Point one night. In the morning he followed their tracks until they began to point towards Salt Lake; then he turned back, for he knew where they were going and that his pursuit was in vain.
We now traveled for several days without mishap. We were all well, and the road, though dusty, was fairly level. Now and then we had to cross a hill sloping down to the river, where the road was rocky. The Humboldt River has clear water and a fairly swift current. We now approached the great so-called "Sink," a reedy swamp into which the waters of the Humboldt and two rivers from the south are emptied and disappear. The water in the river was still, and the ground was everywhere marshy and covered with coarse grass.
On the following day we reached the point where the Central California or Carson road turns south, and the old Oregon or Mount Lassen road turns west. The latter, which we followed, led us up on the plateau from which we could see the dark green
surface of the water, extending southward as far as the eye could see. In the evening we reached the so-called "Twelve-mile Spring," where there was good water but little grass.
The next morning we learned of an unfortunate accident which had happened to a young man in a company from Madison, Wisconsin. He and his brother-in-law were busy packing up some things, among which was a loaded gun. The gun was accidentally discharged and shot him in the side, instantly killing him, to the great grief of his companion. He was buried the same day, and we stopped for his funeral. It was conducted in the same way as the earlier ones we had seen: the deceased was buried a short distance from the road, without coffin and without ceremonies.
According to our guide book, twenty-six miles now lay between us and the next place where we could get water. The road constantly ascended, the scenery grew ever more mountainous, and night fell before we arrived. K. Knudsen had gone ahead to the stopping place, which was known as Rabbit-hole Spring. There was good water, but little grass; and as the next twenty miles lay through a sand plain where nothing grew but sagebrush, the prospects for our cattle were indeed meager. But we must proceed, no matter how slow our progress over these heavy sand roads. Once we reached a place where two years before a party of emigrants had been surprised by a sandstorm and had perished. Remains could still be seen of oxen and horses lying in pairs and partly covered with sand; of the wagons nothing was left but wheel rims and other iron work. The hides and hair of the five yoke of oxen and of several teams of horses lying there in the sand were surprisingly well preserved. The sight I saw there made so deep an impression on me that I can never forget it.
In the evening we arrived in good condition at Black Rock Spring, where we found water and grass and remained over Sunday. There must be warm springs higher up in the valley, for down in the plain where the water was still, it was warm enough to wash clothes in. Here we left the old Oregon road and traveled more southwesterly towards northern California. From here it was forty-eight miles before we again reached a place where we could find water and grass. As it would take us two days to traverse this distance, we had to carry along
something to feed the animals on the road. We therefore proceeded to cut all the grass that we could find room for in the wagons; and as it was cooler at night, we set forth again at sunset. The moon shone and the road was hard and smooth, so that we covered a considerable distance in the course of the night. In the morning we had reached higher land, where we could see a few mountain tops in the distance. Here we rested a couple of hours to feed the cattle and to get some food and coffee for ourselves.
A little later we found a spring where the water boiled as in a great kettle; sometimes it shot several feet into the air. Here we could cook our food without bothering to gather wood and build a fire. Our path was now through a sagebrush plain, which made difficult going. At length we reached Deep Spring, where there were many springs and an abundance of grass (rushes) for the cattle, and there we stopped until the following evening.
Again we set out in the evening twilight. We reached our next stop in the morning, after thirty miles of poor roads. Here was water, but for pasture we had to travel a short distance farther to some lower land. Our road was a new one, coming from Oregon, and it passed through a territory with plenty of grass and water, which were quite indispensable to travelers in these regions.
Our progress over the heavy sandy roads was slow, until at length we caught sight of Honey Lake, down in the so-called Susan Valley. Here we remained about a day and some of us tried our luck at fishing. We had pretty fair success, and caught many fish of different sizes. The fish were good, and very welcome as a change in our rather monotonous diet.
To the west of us we could now descry a forest, a novel sight to us after having traveled so long through a treeless country. Our little rest had been a. great boon to the oxen, for now they plodded on quite rapidly. All day we traveled up the Susan Valley, which was rather broad and seemed to have fertile soil; we made camp not far from the pine woods. Here we found it advisable to take a few days' rest and refresh our cattle for the march through the forest, where we realized there would be a shortage of pasture. There were Indians in the neighborhood; for we could see the light of their camp fire on the edge of the
forest. It struck me that Susan Valley should be a good place in which to settle; the land was excellent for cultivation, with plenty of wood near by. I later heard that emigrants settled in the valley as early as the following year.
Our supply of provisions was now dwindling, but Mr. Doans, whom we met near the Humboldt River, still had a large supply and shared with us. After two days' rest both men and cattle felt strengthened and went on. But we found that there were many obstructions in the forest, and we made slow progress. Sometimes we found large trees lying in the road; either we had to remove enough of them to get through, or else we had to clear a new road at one side. There were plenty of brooks and springs where we could stop at night; but there was little grass, and certain murmurs of dissatisfaction were heard from some of the party.
Some days later we finally reached Black Butte Creek, and followed it to Black Butte Lake. This lake was three miles long, and on its left shore was a volcano which had been active a few years before. Large trees were left standing dry among the rocks; in places the ashes and the lava extended to a depth of a hundred feet. Farther away were young trees which had grown up after the lava stream and the ash rain had ceased.
That night we stopped on a plain near the foot of Lassen Peak. There was snow on the north side of the mountain all summer, and the water which poured down the mountain side was cold and pure. In the morning the ascent began, at first through a forest of large trees which gradually grew smaller, until on the summit they altogether disappeared. Up here was pure air; in the winter the snow was said to lie very deep here. Before us lay the broad Sacramento Valley. On the descent we found many large trees; one that we measured had a circumference of twenty feet. In a couple of days we had descended so far that deciduous trees began to appear. The grass was dried up, for we were now in the midst of the dry season. We were approaching the Sacramento River, and the road crossed the wide plain which surrounds it. We stopped at a place near Fort Redding, and here we remained for a time.
We were now at the goal of our journey. We had been on
the road for five months and three days: from April 27 to September 30. We were all in good health, and all were happy that we had arrived; no one referred now to the hardships, accidents, and discomforts we had endured on the journey.
Fort Redding was a post where provisions could be obtained; a division of cavalry was stationed here for protection against the Indians, perhaps also to maintain law and order among the gold miners if necessary. Work could be had at the fort for $75.00 a month and rations of the same kind as was given to the soldiers, and the work was said not to be difficult. We had now sold our share in the cattle to K. Knudsen, and we seven from Rock Run, Illinois, had decided to try our luck in the mines for a time. Ten of the others had begun to work at Fort Redding, and those of them who could be considered skilled laborers got $85.00 per month. One of them was to serve as cook.
We packed up what we had left of clothes and other property and made ready to start for the mines, twelve miles on the other side of the Sacramento River. We crossed the river in a boat, and came to Clear Creek, where the mines were situated; the first persons we met were Halvor Nelson and his two brothers from Clayton County, Iowa. Here we stopped a while, and Halvor accompanied us to town to buy provisions. It was a small town, and everything was expensive because most goods came from the States. Pork and flour cost twenty-four cents a pound, and other articles were in proportion. We also bought the necessary implements, and then we began our work. We had to sleep in the open air on the bare ground, but did not mind it here where the air and ground were so dry. One of us was chosen to cook; our kitchen was spacious enough, for cooking also was done in the open. The cost of provisions had again risen. At a fire in Sacramento a large supply of goods and provisions was destroyed, and this was given as the reason for the general rise in prices. Coffee and sugar now sold for a dollar a pound.
In November it rained a little. K. Knudsen and his sons, and Halvor Kjørn had now joined us. They had taken cattle with them and were bound on a journey over the mountains to Humboldt Bay on the Pacific. This might turn out to be a rather
difficult journey; for the time of the year was now approaching when snow would fall in the mountains.
For the winter we moved to a hut which we found three miles up in the hills. It was a log cabin, but so full of openings that we had to cover it with canvas. It was high time that we got under cover, for now it rained nearly every day. We laid in a good supply of provisions; for it was predicted that the prices would continue to rise. We were paying forty-four cents a pound for pork. A great deal of rain fell in November and December. The brooks, which were empty at our arrival, were now full of water. Sometimes there would be snow on the ground in the morning, but by the afternoon it had usually disappeared. The roads were so thoroughly drenched, that nearly all traffic ceased. All kinds of food rose sharply in price: pork and flour cost $.88 a pound; farther south they were said to cost $1.25 per pound.
Late in January spring began to come, and the sun broke through the clouds. By February it had grown warm, the fields turned green, and the fruit trees spread the pleasant aroma of their blossoms everywhere. By March all things were growing rapidly, under the influence of the warmth and sunshine and occasional showers. But in April began the drouth, which lasted to the end of September.
At our location there was, we found, too little water to wash out gold with, and hence we moved to Clear Creek, where we had been the previous summer, and where we had bought ground and water right. In June it was so hot at midday that we had to cease work and stay in the shade. Gunder Halvorsen came to us from Fort Redding, but he was sick and had to go to bed. Late in July he died and was buried in the hillside a short distance away; for no graveyard had as yet been laid out. Soon after, Halvor Gallog at Fort Redding also died, so that three of our party had now passed away. The price of food had by this time fallen quite low, and we had supplied ourselves with enough provisions to last through the winter.
In November the rain again commenced, and we returned to the dry district where we could work only in winter when much rain fell.
In the spring of 1854 Narve T. Stabæk and Gunder A. Halvorsen of our company and Halvor Nelson from Iowa returned to the States. They caught a steamer from San Francisco to Panama, crossed the Isthmus, and then took another steamer to New York.
We still worked at the same place. That spring Brynnil Rønne from Voss and Ole A. Langrud from Iowa County, Wisconsin, came up from the mining districts farther south and joined us during the summer. But then Ole Langrud fell ill with brain fever and died. He was buried by the side of Gunder Halvorsen. August was very hot, and we suffered much from sickness, but as soon as the rainy season began, things grew better. That fall C. K. Rostad returned to his home in Winnebago County, Illinois, by way of Panama like the others.
As usual there was much rain in November and December, and the washing of gold was carried on as energetically as possible while the water lasted. We had now reached the spring of 1855, and the winter work was over. Those of our companions who had stayed at Fort Redding prepared to return to their homes in Wisconsin. They were: Halvor Hersgard, C. Evensen, Ole Trulsen (Wee), Ole Hansen, and Fred Giving. All of these had families to support. We later heard that these, as well as the earlier ones, arrived home safe and sound.
We had another hot summer and still continued in the same place. Only four of our company now remained. After another rainy winter came the spring of 1856 with the usual flowers and birdsong. This time it was Thurston Knudsen and Nels Nelson who were seized with a longing for home and prepared to start for the East. They sailed from San Francisco to Nicaragua on a steamer, but after they had started, they learned that there were disturbances there; so they, too, went by way of Panama. While they were waiting in Aspinwall [Colon] for the boat to New York, a riot took place and several travelers, among them Nels Nelson, were robbed of all they owned. Aside from that they all got home safely.
This summer we made but little profit, and there was much sickness on account of the warm climate. During the rainy season we worked up in the hills as usual. In the spring of 1857
most of the workers traveled up into the mountains. Toward the end of April, I too left Clear Creek and went through Shasta over the mountains to Trinity County and to a little river of the same name, where I settled down at a place called Ridgeville. Here was a fine climate; clear cold water came down from the mountains, on the north side of which the snow lay all summer. On account of the heavy snowfall there was little to do here in the winter, and when the rainy season began in November, I returned to Clear Creek. My companions were still there and kept on washing gold until 1858. I and another man once more crossed the mountains to Trinity County. We remained there only two weeks because the returns on our work were so small that it did not pay. Besides I had now had enough of digging gold, and decided to return to Winnebago County, Illinois. So we went to Shasta County. I was now in company with an American named Sam Stratten, from Illinois, who intended to return with me. But it so happened that he was not ready when I left.
I now had to leave the home I had had and say goodby to my companions. There was only one, however, Svale Nelson, who remained of the party that had come overland together. I traveled thirty miles to Red Bluff, where the boat was to leave at eight o'clock on the morning of June 1. On my arrival at the hotel I met Sam Stratten, who contrary to my expectations had made ready and had secured special conveyance to town.
Next day we arrived in San Francisco at nine o'clock in the evening, and put up at a hotel. The day after we inquired at the office of the steamship company concerning steamers and ticket prices to New York. As there was only one line, the prices were very high. We had to pay $150.00 for third class passage to New York. On top of that came railroad fare and many other expenses which we would have to meet before we got home. When we looked over the company we found there were seven bound for Illinois, three for Missouri, and two for Wisconsin. San Francisco was a new city, but through its shipping trade it had business connections with the entire world.
On the morning of June 5, 1858, we all went on board the steamer, which forthwith glided slowly through the Golden Gate
and was soon on the open sea. As we sailed southward, the air grew warmer. We could see the coast nearly all the way. We stopped at Acapulco [Mexico], where coal, mail, cattle, fruit, and other articles were taken on board. The weather was beautiful and the sea calm. On the eighteenth the boat cast anchor outside of Panama. In the morning a little steamer came and conveyed the passengers and their baggage to the city. There was no time to take breakfast before we left the boat, but Sam Stratten suggested that we try the cooks, and we succeeded in smuggling with us enough to take the edge off our hunger. We traveled by the railroad to Aspinwall, where we went on board the New York boat, which lay there, ready to sail.
The next morning we were on the Caribbean Sea. The weather was clear, and we could see a few islands. We used the time to rest ourselves a few days. We then entered the Gulf of Mexico, and found that the sea was not so calm here as on the Pacific coast. Outside New Orleans we met a boat which took mail and passengers for New Orleans and Cuba. Off Cape Hatteras it was somewhat stormy. On the morning of the ninth day we approached New York. It had taken twenty-one days from San Francisco.
On Sunday morning we had to pass through a thorough cleansing. The morning after, we secured new clothes and went to Brooklyn, where we bought tickets to Chicago for $20.00. It took two days and three nights to reach Chicago. Here I had to leave my good companions. Sam Stratten was going to Altona, Illinois, and he therefore traveled south, while I was going west. I bought a ticket to Beloit, Wisconsin. From there I took another railroad to Durand, Illinois, where I arrived on July 5, 1858. I came home unexpectedly, for I had not informed my relatives that I was on the way. I had then been gone for six years, two months, and eight days.
<1> The Norwegian original of this paper was published in Aarbok nr. 14 for Numedalslaget, 62-85 (1928).