OVER LAND TO CALIFORNIA.
Notes of an Overland Journey from Salt Lake to San Francisco.
From Our Own Correspondent.
SAN FRANCISCO, Friday, Aug. 20, 1858.
My brief letter of the 5th inst. announced my arrival at this point by the Overland Mail route from Great Salt Lake City, but did not give any detailed account of the trip such as maybe of Interest at least to those who contemplate a journey over land. I propose now to supply the omission. We left the Mormon Zion on Monday morning, the 19th of July—our party consisting of a mail conductor, a mounted guard of five men, and three passengers, including your correspondent. The next day we passed through Box Elder and Willard Creek, the two most north-erly Mormon settlements in Utah. These are the towns which were stated to have been burned by the people when they vacated them during the late exodus to the South-ward. The story proves to have been without foun-dation. Both these places are small, each containing a few hundred inhabitants only, and wearing the same poverty-stricken appearance which marked the other Mormon villages I have had occasion to describe; and in all other respects, they are counterparts of the latter. We had occasion to stop an hour at Willow Creek, which I employed in visiting several of its cottages, in search of butter and other luxuries for consumption on the journey. The dwellings I gene-rally found to be neat and clean, although nearly destitute of other furniture than a bed, common table and a chair or two. In one I met an exceedingly in-telligent lady, whose appearance, language and bear-ing betrayed her familiarity with better days, and for-mer acquaintance with a more refined civilization than that of the Mormon community. Her scanty gar-ments were neat and tidy, and the rude floor of her house—containing one room only—was clean as scouring could make it. Fortunately, her husband is not "Saint" enough yet to share his affections with more than one wife, and she did not seem to be one who would long brook a rival claimant. The hard life had evidently told upon her constitution, and her health was very delicate. Still, she was evident-ly deprived of every delicacy so grateful to the inva-lid.
After I had purchased the diminutive "pat" of but-ter she had just taken from the churn, she inquired whether I had a very little tea which I could spare in exchange, at the same time making many apolo-gies for the suggestion, and remarking that it was a long time since she had been able to taste the re-freshing beverage which years of habit had made almost indispensable to her, especially in her present condition of health. Fortunately, I had some tea in my private stores, a paper of which I gave her. I wish your lady readers, revelling in luxury, could have witnessed the varying expressions of mingled gratitude and joy which struggled for precedence upon that poor woman's face when she received the treasure. Tea sells here at so high a price that few of the masses can afford to buy it, at least at present. On my trip to Ogden, described in a former letter, I met a very neatly dressed old lady, whose snow-white cap, covering a suit of silver hair, contrasted strangely with her bare feet. She had walked nearly a mile over the wheat-stubble to an emigrant's camp to beg a little tea. Her errand was unsuccessful, and with sorrowful face she turned towards home again, dragging herself wearily along over the stubble, every step evidently inflicting severe pain upon her unpro-tected feet. These incidents may seem trifling—but they are graphic illustrations of the poverty of a large class in Utah, and the exceeding self-denial they are compelled to practice. What son can think of his mother as that aged woman, begging in vain for a cup of the beverage which "cheers but not in-inebriates," without a pang? But I wander from my journey.
We forded Bear River, 80 miles due north of Salt Lake City, on the 20th, and on Thursday, the 22d crossed the Goose Creek Mountains. The country between the Mountains and Bear River consisted of alternate levels and ridges, the latter crossed by good roads, sloping gradually and easily in either di-rection. We found an abundance of feed and water. Indeed this held true of the road nearly the entire distance to Carson Valley, with the exception of oc-casional patches of a few miles—over which it was easy to drive without halting—and the 40-mile desert upon which we entered on leaving the Sink of the Humboldt. Goose Creek Mountains are infested by numerous bands of Indians, whose murders and thievings in former years, made their neighborhood a matter of dread to overland emigrants. And certainly it would be difficult to find many places so well fitted to harbor mischievous Indians and leave the bravest company of inexperienced white men almost at their mercy. The road up the Goose Creek Mountains is long and very steep. Attaining the summit just at sundown, we had an extended view of the most bro-ken and rugged-looking country I ever beheld. Far as the eye could reach there was nothing to be seen but mountain ridges and peaks,—rough, jagged and sterile,—tempting one to accept as true an old In-dian's declaration, that when the Great Spirit finished the Creation, he threw the odds and ends over his shoulder, and that these make up the region of coun-try to which I am referring, but find beyond my pow-er to describe.
We saw no Indians here, nor any sign of their re-cent presence. Descending the mountain by a road which no one could have thought possible while gazing from the summit, we struck Goose Creek, a small but rapid stream of fine mountain water. Here the next day we saw an abundance of Indian "sign,” consisting chiefly of the chaff of a weed from which the savages had recently thrashed the seed for food. Still we saw no Indians, although we kept constant watch to prevent surprise. On the 23d we broke the tongue of our coach, an accident of no slight moment out upon the Plains, two hundred miles from any settle-ment, and in a country where timber to replace it is not to be had, nor any supplies of provisions. Fortu nately your correspondent had with him a traveler' pocket-knife, containing a saw, gimlet, &c., a sort of miniature carpenter shop. With this tool, a raw-hide lariat, some strips of iron, the remnants of an old wagon picked up on the road, and an abundance of patience and perseverance, we repaired damages quite successfully, and pushed on. My fellow trav-elers have bespoken an alabaster shrine for that jack-knife, protesting, as they do, that except for it we should all have starved before relief could have reached us.
On the 24th, we passed through Thousand Spring Valley, a very pretty strip of country in which the grass was often high enough to conceal a rider on horseback, and the land very good in occasional small spots, not impregnated with saleratus. Leaving this Valley, we entered a narrow and picturesque cañon, eight miles in length, drained by a fine trout-brook—the head waters of the Humboldt or St. Mary's River. At one point in this cañon, where the creek passes along its southern edge, a warm sulphur spring gushes out from under the very base of the mountain, pouring a hundred gallons or more of water per minute into the fresh mountain stream. Travelers who passed over the road seve-ral years ago are positive in the statement that no such spring boiled out of this cañon at that time. We camped at the ford of the Humboldt on the night of the 24th, crossing it early next morning. The river at this point is scarcely more than twenty feet wide, and eight or ten inches deep. This stream, which we follow down in its course for over three hundred miles, is very crooked, and fringed generally with a thick growth of willow bushes, wherein the Indians conceal themselves when hostile, finding ready shel-ter in its numerous bends, many of which are such as to nearly surround a small patch of land. We met a good many small parties of Thoshonees in the valley of the Humboldt. At first they were shy of us, evidently fearing that we would do them harm if they came near enough; but once convinced of our amiable disposition, they goon surrounded us, and proved themselves as inveterate and unfortunate beg-gars for "tobac" and "biscuit” as their fellows whom we had met in the settlements. These Indians are about as wild as any red men who roam over the plains. They are better and less vicious-look-ing as a class than are the Sioux, Pawnees or Chey-ennes; and, with a little forbearance upon the part of emigrant travelers, and judicious management by the Indian Agents, could easily be controlled and restrained from outrage and violence toward the whites. One remarkable fact struck us all—to wit, their evident confidence in and regard for Dr. GARLAND HURT, one of the Indian Agents in Utah. They frequently inquired of us in re-gard to him, all the way down the Humboldt, and expressed an earnest desire to see him. HURT, you will remember, is one of the Federal officials whose removal is demanded by the Mormons. Instead of removing him, if the President is wise, he will make him Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a place for which he is well fitted by long experience and faith-ful, efficient service. Certainly it will take any new man a long while to gain the confidence of the sava-ges to the same extent as HURT already commands it. These Indians subsist chiefly upon the seeds of grass and various weeds, which the squaws gather in very closely woven willow baskets, the work upon which sometimes surpasses any wicker-ware to be found even in New-York. The Indians are without stone or iron ware, and cook their seed-meal accordingly In these willow baskets, lined with a sort of gluten, and covered externally with a coating of clay to pre-vent them from burning! Truly, Necessity is the mother of Invention.
On Tuesday morning, the 27th, our road diverged from the river for some distance, and we were com-pelled to travel over twenty miles without water. Finding that our mules were suffering from thirst we turned down to a slough, and camped for break-fast. Scarcely had we halted before an Indian signal-smoke began to ascend apparently at the point where we had turned off from the road, and less than a mile behind us. In a few minutes it was responded to by another a few miles down the river, and then by another and another to a dis-tance of perhaps thirty miles, until we were completely surrounded by them. Our conductor, a cool, brave and determined man, who has had some experience in Indian warfare, and life upon the Plains, manifested much anxiety at these signals, believing them to forebode us no good, especially as the Indians avoided us this morning, although evi-dently near—always an indication of hostility or dis-trust. Our party—nine in number—was well armed, having sixty-nine shots ready without reloading, few of which would have been thrown away in the presence of an enemy. The danger seemed to be that we would be surrounded by overwhelming numbers. In such an emergency the only safety of a party is in keeping the savages off by teaching them that they cannot approach without some of their number biting the dust. A Sharp's car-bine under such circumstances is invaluable,—be-cause it carries a ball so great a distance and can be loaded with astonishing rapidity. This weapon ac-cordingly is becoming the arm for the plains; and the overland mail companies are providing them for their men. In skillful hands nothing can be much more certain of aim. My own has more than once taken off a duck's head at 80 or a 100 yards,—and on the trip from Salt Lake it brought down an antelope at six hundred yards! Mr. Indian is a great coward; and when he finds that he can't get within his own arrow or rifle range, without exposing himself to the bullet from one of these far-shooting weapons, he prefers to give up the contest and his anticipated plunder. In the present ease we kept away from the willow thickets all day,—and drove on rapidly until late at night, so as to camp a good distance beyond the point at which the savages doubtless expected to find us camped the following morning at early day light,—the time when their attacks are generally made. It was precisely at this point where the sig-nal smokes surrounded us, that a party of four men carrying the overland mail, which left Placerville on the 21st July, were attacked by Indians, a few days later, and all but one of the number killed. Two of these men were of the party who came over with us. This Indian outbreak would probably have been pre-vented had Indian Superintendent FORNEY listened to the suggestion pressed upon his attention, as I know personally, urging him to send an accredited agent over the road with the first overland mail, to explain to the Indians that these were the wagons of "the great Chief WASHINGTON," and warning them, what-ever else they did, not to touch them—a warning which has often been effectual heretofore.
On the evening of the 29th we camped by a fine little rivulet seventy-five miles east of the Sink of the Humboldt, upon the side of a mountain. By way of a sedative, one of the party shot a rattle-snake some five feet long—one of a perfect village of the reptiles, in the midst of which we had made our beds upon the ground. You may suppose it requires a lit-tle faith to enable one to go to sleep under these cir-cumstances, even though soothed by the rattling of the "varmints" all around us, at distances consid-erably less than we would have chosen had our wishes been consulted. We did sleep soundly, neverthe-less, for three hours, without finding that any of the musical gentlemen had insinuated themselves within the folds of our blankets—a familiarity which they sometimes indulge in. The next afternoon found us at the "Sink," where the Humboldt spreads itself in-to a lake several miles long, but quite shallow, and without any visible outlet. This lake receives the water of the Humboldt—a stream quite 350 miles in length, from fifty to one hundred yards wide for more than half that distance, and with an average depth of six or eight feet. It will be seen that the volume of water which its rapid cur-rent empties into the lake is very large, and as the latter has no other outlet, of course the water must sink through the sand and make its escape in that way.
At the "Sink" we found a mail station, where we obtained fresh animals to carry us across the "Forty Mile Desert," on which there is neither grass nor water—although the latter necessary will be supplied hereafter, probably, from a well recently dug by the Mail Company, at a point half way across the barren. We crossed during the night, and the next day cross-ed, successively, the twenty-mile and the twenty-six mile desert. Passing through Gold Cañon, a mining district worked chiefly by Chinamen, and travers-ing another strip of sandy desert, we entered Car-son Valley on the 1st of August. This Valley is one of the finest in the State, very large, and em-bodying an agricultural and grazing district hardly to be surpassed anywhere in the country. The prin-cipal settlement in the valley is Genoa, a little town located in the shadow of a steep spur of the Sierra Nevadas, thickly covered with majestic pines down to its very base. We crossed the Sierras on the after-noon of the 1st and the morning of the 2d of August, our road lying through by far the roughest and the grandest mountain scenery on the route from the Mis-souri to the Pacific. Compared with the Sierra Ne-vadas, the "Rocky Mountains" are merest hillocks, and even the rugged passes of the Wasatch range are tame and subdued. The Goose Creek Moun-tains are rough and broken, but the Sierras are high and grandly picturesque. The elevations all the way over are covered with pine forests, many of the trees from six to nine feet in diameter. East of the summit and upon the summit itself, the stone is a hard coarse granite, immense boulders of which have been strewn about by some convulsion of na-ture. Much of the road is the steepest that I ever saw a vehicle attempt,—and most of it is very stony and rough. It is rapidly improving, however, in this respect. We spent a night in the mountains in Lake Valley,—a level strip of country, one end of which bears upon its bosom Lake Bigler, a pretty sheet of water discovered two or three years ago. Leaving this fairy spot, our way led over the almost perpen-dicular wall of rock before us, by a well-graded road running along a shelf recently cut in the side of the mountain. The road over the Sierras is perfectly safe, although very rough;—but this difficulty is rap-idly lessening by the enterprise of certain counties of California, whose citizens have taxed themselves liberally to make a road over the mountains, which shall invite overland immigration.
We reached Placerville in fourteen days and six hours from Salt Lake City, having driven one team of mules nearly seven hundred miles of the way without changing, as the mail stations upon the Plains had not yet been established. When the con-tractor gets his relays all upon the road see nothing to prevent a shortening of the trip to even seven days between the two points, in ordinary seasons. It is probable that the route will be shortened an hundred miles or more soon, by changing its direction, and taking the road south of Salt Lake, and down Ruby Valley, described in one of my letters to the TIMES, from Salt Lake City—a road estimated to be not more than six hundred miles in length to Placerville. At this season of the year there certain-ly is no serious obstacle to the regular and speedy transmission of the mail between the Missouri and California. Indeed, with stations not more than an hundred miles apart, the entire trip can be made in twenty-three days, and in less than twenty if the sta-tions are a little closer together. S.
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