Autobiography of James Abram Kleiser
(1818 – 1906)
[This autobiography was hand-written in 1885 by Mr. Kleiser at the insistence of his family. It
chronicles his beginnings in Kentucky, early life in Indiana, two trips across the Plains, and settlementin California. The grammar, punctuation and spelling are unchanged, but paragraphs and headings have been added to improve readability, and boldface and color added to facilitate finding dates and place names. The added paragraphs are indicated with a leading tilde. Further notes are provided atthe end.]
I was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, July 7th, 1818, on the headwaters of
Houston Creek, about nine miles from Paris, the County seat and about the same
distance from Lexington. My Father's name was George Kleiser. My Mother's
maiden name was Elizabeth McLeod.
Childhood in Kentucky
~ My Father died when I was about five years old. I was the oldest of three
Brothers. Brother Joseph was three years and Brother Henry was five years
younger than myself. My Father was buried in the old Hopewell Church graveyard.
We then lived at my Grandfather Kleiser's for several years. At the age of seven
years I went to school to a man named Jesse Yocum, who taught in a log school
house near the old Hopewell Church and in sight of my Grandfather's house, where
Mr. Yocum was a young man. Must have been a good teacher. All the pupils liked
him and learned fast. I learned more with him in six months than I ever learned in
double the time with any other teacher.
We lived here in a small log house near my Grandfather's house for about six years.
I went to school to various teachers from three to six months in each year. The
price of tuition was at the rate of eight dollars per year for each pupil. We had no
public schools in Kentucky paid by public money. Our teachers were not graduates
and some were very illiterate. The second teacher I went to was an old man, John
Boon, some relation to Daniel Boon, the Pioneer of Kentucky. The pupils did much
as they pleased; played most of the time and learned but little. He did not know
how to pronounce some of the words in the spelling book and would ask the
children how their former teacher pronounced them. the word "Czar" he
pronounced "Cea-zar". I only went to him about three months and that was the last
school in that house as it was old and dilapidated and was torn down. The other
schools I went to in the neighborhood were from two to three miles distant and
mostly kept in the Winter time, when the farmers had least work to do.
I learned to work quite young. My first work at farming was to help plant corn. It
was my business to drop the corn in the crop furrows and I soon got to be quite an
expert; so much so that I hired to the neighbors and earned thirty seven and a half
cents a day during corn planting for several seasons. The first money I recollect of
earning was by dropping corn for a neighbor, Samuel Scott. He payed me at the
end of the week two dollars and twenty five cents in silver coin, of which I was very
proud. Scott was a slave owner and had a white man for overseer.
When I was about eleven years old I made a hand in plowing corn and about half a
hand in the harvest field and other farm work. Cut and hauled most of our firewood.
Helped make maple sugar, dug and built a furnace, set the kettles in for
boiling the water. I built my Mother a bake oven with stone, bricks and clay. My
first carpenter work about this time was to put a shake roof on my Uncle Henry
Kleiser's blacksmith shop. My Uncles Samuel Kleiser and Jonas Kleiser had an
establishment for manufacturing common earthen ware near our house at which I
assisted some in preparing clay and moulding pipes, etc.
Once when plowing corn I broke a clip off the whiffle tree and my Uncle Henry, not
being at home, I thought I could mend it. I tried but failed. Instead of welding it I
burned it up and and I never dared to try to weld a piece of iron afterwards.
About the first of January, 1832, we moved to Uncle John Kleiser's in Shelby
County and assisted him on his farm. My Mother had a little money - some six or
seven hundred dollars. He proposed to let us have a piece of land and build us a
house on it near his own dwelling but Mother was not satisfied from some cause
and we moved back to Bourbon County the next year and lived a short time with
my Mother's Brother-in-law's family - Uncle Samuel Wasson. Rented a field of him
and raised a crop of corn. This was in 1833.
Move to Indiana
In the Fall we moved into a house belonging to Uncle George McLeod and lived
there about one year. In the fall of 1834 we emigrated to Indiana and bought a
piece of land (120 acres) in Brown township, Montgomery County of a man by the
name of Harvey Galey, for which we paid One Thousand Dollars. It had but little
improvement on it; a hewed log cabin, a small barn and some 20 acres fenced and
partly cleared. The balance was in a state of nature, covered with heavy forest of
Beech, Maple, Poplar, Oak, Black Walnut, Elm, Ash, etc., underbrush of Buckeye,
Spice wood, Howe, Dogwood, Hazel, etc. We went to work fencing and clearing the
land girdled the worthless timber and sowed the woodland in blue grass. Cut saw
logs and hauled to the saw mill some four miles distant. This was done in the
Built an addition to our house. Worked at carpenter work some. Helped build a
wool carding factory with the machinery which was run by an inclined tred wheel
worked by horses. My wages was 75 cents per day.
Took a contract to build a church at Waveland and furnish all materials. The
building was frame 30 x 50 feet, 16 feet high - no seats or plastering. Contract
price $500.00. I now quit the farming (My two brothers carried that on for two
years longer, when we sold it to Mr. Eleazor Fullenwider, who owned a farm
Was married in August, 1838 to a Wife, Nancy Brush, and bought property in
Waveland and made my home there until the Spring of 1844, working all the time
at carpenter and cabinet work, putting all my earnings in building and
Injury to Hand
In 1840, May 29th, was at the Great Whig gathering and convention on the
Tippecanoe Battleground in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, at the time General
Harrison ran for President. (I voted for him.)
One year from that day, May 29th, 1841 I met with a serious accident. I went with
a party to Menwarrens Mill on Sugar Creek, about 18 miles from Waveland for the
purpose of fishing. The mill, a large one, was built just below the dam on a
foundation of large rough stone, some as large as a flour barrel. The foundation
was about twelve feet high and about four feet thick. It had been undermined by
the water pouring over the dam and part of it had fallen down at the lower end of
the wall and large posts had been set up in its place to support the mill. The
foundation where the wall had fallen down still remained a little above the surface
of the water. We had been fishing with hook and line and the others of the party
went to the wagon to get a seine to draw and had left a fishing pole sticking in the
bottom of the wall near the standing part. I reached down to get it and, stepping on
a loose stone, started the wall some ten or twelve feet of which fell with a crash.
In trying to save myself from falling in the water I caught with my left hand on a
projecting stone, when a large stone from above fell on it cutting off three fingers
and badly mashing the forefinger and thumb. The smart and fear of the whole
building falling caused me to spring as far as I could out into the water, barely
escaping being crushed by the falling wall. The water was perhaps ten feet deep
and boiling up from the water pouring over the dam. I jumped with all my might to
get away from the wall as I thought it was all coming down. When I found it did not
come I stopped and looked at my hand. I was horrified and almost sank under the
water but seeing that I would be drawn under the falling water I sprang to it and
swam ashore with one hand.
A young doctor that lived in the neighborhood pretended to dress it but did not trim
off the projecting bones. We went home 18 miles that night. The hand was very
painful and I slept but little for more than a week. Finally when it was nearly
healed up I had to have it operated on and the projecting bones cut off under the
flesh. I thought I would never be able to work at my trade any more (Note) but in
August I went to work again.
~ Hard times set in - not much work and little money (all trade). I was getting in
debt. I made up my mind to emigrate and find some better place if I could.
Thought some of going to St. Louis but finally concluded to move to Lafayette,
which was at that time the terminus of the Wabash and Erie Canal. The town was
having a boom. I had spent five years of the prime of my life in that little out of the
way place and all my earnings were in houses and lots which would not sell for
anything. I was in debt to the stores and paying interest. I finally made my
property pay my debts and in the Spring of 1844 moved to Lafayette to make a new
(On Organized Religion)
(When I was about eight years old to please my Mother and other friends I was
taken into the Old School Presbyterian Church as a full member, although against
my better judgment. I wished to be good and to do right but I knew I had not what
was called religion. I had not the blind zeal and faith necessary. I could not believe
the unreasonable and contradictory doctrines preached and taught even at that
early age. At heart I rebelled but would not displease or grieve my Mother by telling
her my real feelings. When we moved to Indiana I hoped I would be free but I was
mistaken. Mother took letters from the church for herself and also for me and
when we settled in Indiana they were handed in to the Presbyterian Church at
Waveland and I was enrolled a member. I did my best to try to believe in the
doctrines and tenets of the Church. I read the Bible carefully, the Westminster
conception of faith, Nelson's cause and cure of infidelity and, in fact all the works
and papers I could get treating on christianity. Could see no light but became more
confirmed in my doubts of the authenticity of the Bible or the infallibility of the
doctrines taught or the sincerity of Christians and, in fact, became confirmed in the
belief that the whole religious system was Priest Craft founded on falsehoods and
upheld by fraud. I never had access to or read any infidel books or papers or had
any open infidel or unbelieving friends or companions up to this time. When I
moved to Lafayette I determined to be free. I asked for a letter from the church,
which was granted showing that I was a member in good standing in the Old School
Presbyterian Church up to that time.)
When I first went to Lafayette, from habit and associations I attended the Old
School Church and was received very cordially. The Minister was very dull and
uninteresting. Then I went to the New School Church, found a different style of
people and a very interesting Preacher, a Mr. Wilson. I went to his church regularly
and was treated very kindly by the Minister and members as soon as I became
acquainted. The Old School brethren now dropped me and would scarcely
recognize me on the street, thinking, no doubt, I had gone over to the New School. I
never presented my letter or connected myself with any church after. I concluded
that it was all very well for those who could believe in it. The moral teachings were
good and the general influence good but I would not act the hypocrite and pretend
to believe what I did not. Mr. Wilson and I were friendly, in fact intimate. He asked
me if I intended to give in my letter to the church. I told him I did not and gave him
my reasons. We had no controversy but remained on the best terms during my
residence in Lafayette.
Contracting in Lafayette
When I went to Lafayette my Brother, Joseph, who was married, went with me. We
rented a house large enough for our two small families. Neither had any children.
We paid eight dollars per month. I worked at my trade; some at first by the day at
$2.25 per day. Soon got a contract to build a two story frame dwelling for a Jack
Sawyer - by name, Frank Lane. He failed to pay according to contract. I had to sue
him and he finally swindled me out of part of my pay so that I made nothing out of
the job. I worked sometimes by the day; sometimes small jobs until the next
Spring. Brother Joseph got discouraged and moved back to Waveland. I then went
in partnership with a Mr. Fields Stockwell. We soon had a good run of business
and employed a number of hands. He did little or no work and I had full charge of
the men and buildings and also kept the books. I now bought 1/2 acre for five
hundred dollars and built me a small cottage on it. In 1846 I dissolved partnership
with Mr. Stockwell and did business on my own account. Mr. Stockwell quit the
business so I had a good show and soon had all I could attend to. I employed from
ten to fifteen carpenters and made money.
~ During this time I took lessons of a Mr. Lewis (an Architect) in Stair building and
Architectural drawing, which was of great advantage to me. I also studied bridge
building and made models of bridges. The city advertised for plans for a drawbridge
across the canal and I got up one which I submitted in competition with several
others. Mine was adopted and I received twenty five dollars for it. Another party
underbid me and he got the contract to build it. About this time a stock company
formed to build a toll bridge across the Wabash at Lafayette. Several plans and
proposals were submitted. I drew a plan and also made a model, which I submitted
with proposals to build for a certain amount. They were pleased with my plan and I
had put in the lowest bid. But the majority of the board were Old School and one of
the bidders was also Old School. They let him have a second bid and gave him the
In the Fall of 1847 Mr. John Reynolds wanted to build a fine cut stone front, three
story business building and wished me to do the work. He like the style of some
buildings in Chicago so I made a trip to Chicago in company of a Brother of his. I
learned a good many things the few days I was there. I had never traveled much
and did not know what was being done in other cities. There were few railroads in
the West at that time. We made our trip to Chicago with a horse and buggy. The
country from Lafayette to Chicago was nearly all a wilderness, with few
settlements. - Some places twenty miles or more between neighbors. - Mostly open
prairie. As we were driving along one day on our way home on the prairie we saw a
small animal off on one side of the road and gave case. When we came up with it it
turned for fight. It was a badger, the first I had ever seen. I jumped off of the
buggy, whip in hand, the only thing I had to fight with. The badger made for me,
mouth wide open. By a lucky stroke with the butt of the whip I knocked him over
and killed him, put him in the buggy and took him to where we stopped over night.
I saved the skin as a trophy.
I put up Mr. Reynolds building for him and it was considered the finest building in
Lafayette at the time. I fitted up an upper room for a telegraph office, which was
the first telegraph in the place.
Trip to the East
In the fall of 1848 I left my work in charge of a good Foreman and made a trip East
for the purpose of gaining information and examining the styles of buildings,
railroad construction and bridges. I went from Lafayette by way of the Wabash
and Erie Canal - Packet to Toledo - From Toledo to Detroit by steamer. After
spending a day or two at Detroit took a steamer for Buffalo. After a day there went
by rail to Niagara Falls. This was the first railroad I ever traveled on if I remember
right. Spent a day at the Falls. Also a day at the first Niagara suspension bridge,
which was then in course of construction. They had the wagon track across and
were preparing to put the cables across for the railroad.
Went down to Lewiston on the railroad in the evening and took the steamer for
Oswego next morning. Took a seat in the stage coach for Rome. The route was
over a new plank road - part of it through heavy hemlock forests. This was the first
plank road I had ever seen. It was a pleasant road to travel on.
Arrived at Rome in the evening and put up at a hotel. Before day next morning
took railroad train for Troy, passing through Schenectady. From Troy took train
for Greenbush, opposite Albany, Capitol of N. Y. State. Went over to Albany on
ferry boat. Stayed there one day examining the public buildings, railroads, etc.
Next morning crossed over to Greenbush and took train for Boston (Passed
through Springfield) (Fare $5.00), distance about 200 miles.
~ Arrived in Boston about 7 o'clock P.M. While there visited Boston Common,
Fanuil Hall, the Custom House, Water Works, Reservoir, the docks, etc. This was
my first sight of tide water. I thought it had a horrible smell. I crossed the long
bridge to Charlestown. Visited the Bunker Hill Monument and other places of
At this time I was in the habit of smoking cigars. Went on the street in Boston with
one lighted. A Policeman stopped me and tapped me on the shoulder and told me I
was violating a City ordinance and liable to a fine of five dollars. I did not smoke
any more on the streets of Boston.
~ Went from Boston on railroad by way of Hartford to New Haven. There took
steamer through Long Island Sound to New York City. Here I met an old
acquaintance, a merchant from Waveland, who was buying a stock of goods. He
was the first person I had seen that I knew since I left home. I put up at the same
hotel with him. After, looked over the city, visiting Wall Street, Castle Garden, the
Agricultural fair, Brooklyn, the Navy Yard and the theatre, etc. Mr. Milligan had
business in Philadelphia. We concluded to travel together by rail through New
~ He was very economical and proposed to travel second class. We bought our
tickets, costing fifty cents less than first class. We were put in box cars with loose
benches without backs and among a crowd of Irish and other rough customers,
who were smoking old pipes and smelled of bad whiskey and other vile smells. We
were twice as long on the road as we would have been on a first class train. I
thought we earned our fifty cents.
~ In Philadelphia I visited the Navy Yard, Independence Hall, Custom House, Dry
Docks, Fairmont Water Works, Suspension Bridge over the Schuykill River, Green
Bush Cemetery, Girard College and other places of interest. Mr. Milligan went from
here direct to Pittsburgh where he visited relatives in the neighborhood of
Braddocks field. I went from Philadelphia to Baltimore by rail. Spent only a short
time there. Went on to Washington City where I spent several days inspecting the
public buildings and examining models, plans and specifications of bridges, etc. at
the Patent Office. Visited Washington's Monument, etc.
~ I now turned my face toward home. Went back toward Baltimore to the junction
of the Baltimore and Ohio R.R. Thence by the B.& O. R.R. to Cumberland.
Stopped at Harpers Ferry for dinner. Cumberland was at that time the terminus of
the railroad. Took stage from there across the Allegheny Mountains to Brownsville
on the Monongahela River. Here took steamer for Pittsburgh. I landed some ten or
fifteen miles above Pittsburgh at Braddocks Field Battle Ground, where I found my
friend Mr. Milligan. He went over the field with me, where we picked up some
relics. I stopped over night with him at his Father in laws.
~ While on the Battle Ground he related to me a little circumstance connected with
his courtship and marriage. Himself, with a party of young people were visiting the
Battle Ground some years before when he was on a visit (from his home in Indiana.)
He picked up an acorn and scooped the kernel out and whittled it in the shape of a
basket and gave it to the young lady he was escorting. He thought no more about
it. Some three years after he was again visiting his friends and called on this young
lady. She showed him the little acorn basket, which set him thinking that such
constancy deserved some thing better than mere friendship, so he proposed and
they were married.
~ Leaving Mr. Milligan here went to Pittsburgh by omnibus. Visited rolling mills,
nail factories, glass works, etc. Inspected bridges and buildings. Then took
steamer for Cincinnati. The river was low water and we made slow progress.
Stopped a short time at Wheeling, where they were building a new suspension
bridge for a railroad. One day we stuck on a sandbar for several hours. I went out
in the woods on the river bottom and found a great many pawpaws. Had all I could
eat and carried a good supply to the boat. From Cincinnati I went to Madison.
There took the railroad to Indianapolis and stage from there home. I had been
gone a little over a month and it cost me about one hundred and ten dollars, which
was the best and cheapest schooling I ever had.
Gold and First Trip West
About this time we heard of the gold discoveries in California. Several parties from
Lafayette soon started for the Eldorado; some by sea and some by way of Mexico
and about the first of February, 1849 I made up my mind to go. Mr. W. H. Winter
of Crawfordsville and myself made up a company of ten to cross the plains. The
names of the eight others were; Moses Stine - Jas. Hopkins - Richard Nabb -
William Parks - Doct. Underhill - Lyman Taylor - John Cogswell - Thos. Clay. We
signed an agreement for the journey and elected William H. Winter, Captain. We
each furnished three hundred dollars for outfit and started from Lafayette Feb.
22, 1949 with three wagons and fifteen head of horses and mules, each man armed
with a rifle and an Allen Pepper box pistol.
~ The weather had been very cold but now moderated. The road was solid and good
traveling. We went by land across Illinois to St. Louis. We went by way of
Waveland and crossed the Wabash River at Montesuma. The first two or three
days was good traveling. It then rained and the roads thawed out. The streams
were high and the traveling next to impossible. We passed through Paris and
several other small towns in Illinois and finally reached St. Louis sometime in
March. All of our party except Mr. Stine and myself went from here to St. Joseph
by land with the animals. We bought two more wagons and two sets of four horse
harness here and all our supplies except bacon. Shipped all on a steamer, on
which Mr. Stine and I took passage for St. Joseph, where we arrived about the
middle of March. We brought more mules and horses. The mules were young and
wild and had to be broken to harness. We kept them back in the country where we
could have some grass for them to run on. Most of our party stopped in the
country where they had the animals. I stopped in St. Joseph, where I was busy
fixing up the wagons, making tents, mess boxes, double sacking our flour and other
supplies. We purchased some two year old bacon as that would waste less on the
journey than that which was new. We were about the first arrival of emigrants at
St. Joseph but before we left the town was all bustle and full of gold hunters.
We crossed the Missouri River about the 17th of April and camped a few days at
the foot of the hills about three miles from St. Joseph. Each one laid in some
private supplies, such as pipes, tobacco and cigars, extra shoes or boots etc. We
were now all ready and impatient to start. We intended to keep in the lead of the
emigration. We had an experienced Captain and Guide in the person of Mr. Winter.
He had crossed the plains to Oregon in 1844 and returned across the plains from
California in 1846. We had five wagons, twenty-five head of animals, two men and
one loose animal to each wagon. We had two tents, 2 sheet iron cook stoves and
were divided into two messes and we stood guard at night by turns. We were now
in a wild Indian Country and I, for one, felt a little ticklish when out alone at night
on guard but this soon wore off. The grass on the plains was just springing up and
not much nutriment in it. We took some corn in each wagon to feed a little until
the grass would get better. Our wagons were pretty heavily loaded. Our teams saw
the road soft but we rolled out on the plains on the 20th of April.
~ We traveled slow as we were the first on the road. We had the track to break and
to hunt our way around and over washouts and swampy places. We frequently
mired down. Sometimes got out by doubling teams - sometimes took out part of the
load. When it came near camping time our Captain would ride ahead and select the
camp, where we could have grass, wood and water. I had made a little machine for
measuring the road and attached it to my wagon in such a way that we could at
any time tell the distance traveled. When we made camp or stopped for nooning the
first and most important thing was to get the animals on the grass as quick as
possible. Some hobbled their animals but we generally turned them loose with a
trail rope some thirty or forty feet long and when camping for the night the guard
would herd them some distance from the camp until after sunset, when they would
be driven in and picketed on the grass near camp, where they would be guarded all
night. At Daybreak they would be loosened from their pickets and herded on fresh
grass until after breakfast and everything had been packed up and loaded into the
wagons and the order given to hitch up, when all hands would turn out and
surround the animals, each man secure the animals allotted to him and harness
and hitch to the wagon as quick as possible. The first hitched up would have the
right to the lead and would drive off. Having just two men to each wagon and one
extra animal (We worked four animals to each wagon) it was the business of one
man to drive the team. The other would sometimes ride the extra if it was in good
condition. If not he would walk, especially if the road was heavy or up hill. We had
to save our teams in every way possible for on this depended our success.
~ Game was scarce for the first two or three hundred miles. We would occasionally
get a prairie chicken or a Curlew. Our principal diet was bread made up with yeast
power and baked in a fry pan before the fire when we had plenty of wood, fried
bacon, black coffee or tea sometimes - boiled beans - rice and stewed apples. We
used Pilot bread when we could not bake. Had no butter but always made gravy.
We also had pickles and vinegar and some cornmeal called Penola, which we would
eat without further cooking by mixing with a little sugar and water. After we got
into the Buffalo Country on the Platte River we got some fresh Buffalo meat and at
Fort Kearney some dried Buffalo. We also had an occasional mess of wild greens.
~ After we left the Missouri River our road lay over rolling prairie, with occasional
streams and sloughs. It was on the plain beaten road from St. Jo to Fort
Kearney, past the Pawnee Indian Mission near Big Blue River. We had some
trouble crossing some of the streams. The water was so deep that we had to prop
up the wagon beds to keep our provisions dry. We had fine weather until we
reached Big Blue River. Here we camped a mile before reaching the river early in
the afternoon. Another train of wagons passed us and camped near the river.
~ About sundown it clouded up and we saw a storm approaching. It proved to be a
regular Norther. We had examined the ford and found we could barely cross by
blocking up and knowing that a little rain would put it past fording we hitched up a
little after dark with the storm upon us. We all got wet in crossing the river. My
wagon was the second to cross and while waiting for the others I put on dry clothes.
We had to go about a mile to a bluff to get a camping place. The wind blew so hard
and cold we could not make a fire. The animals were turned loose without a guard
and left to shift for themselves. The men crawled into the wagons for shelter. With
the assistance of one man I managed to get one tent up and secured to some small
trees and set up the stove and started a fire. Before morning most of the men had
found their way into the tent. The storm raged all night and put the river up to its
banks. Our animals were scattered but by noon the storm was over and we moved
on. We afterwards learned that one of the men in the company on the opposite side
of the river accidentally killed himself with a gun by drawing it out of the wagon by
the muzzle. The hammer caught and the gun was discharged into his breast,
causing instant death. I also heard of several other accidents of the same
~ We next came to the Little Blue River, up which we traveled for several days.
Being the first train on the road we found it heavy drawing to break the track and
get around washouts. We laid over one day before crossing over to the Platte River
and let a large train of wagons get ahead of us to break and repair the road. This
was the only company that got ahead of us until we crossed the Rocky Mountains
at South Pass. In crossing over the divide between Little Blue and the Platte River
we saw some Pawnee Indians suspiciously watching the road. Soon after two men
came running after us on foot calling for help. Five of our men on horseback rode
back as quick as possible and found two wagons with ox teams stopped in the road
and surrounded by Indians. At the approach of our men the Indians fled and the
party came on and encamped with us that night. We saw no more of the Indians at
~ We soon reached Fort Kearney, where the Ox teams laid over. We traveled on up
the Platte without any incidents of interest except some heavy hail storms, one of
which came on us so sudden that we had not time to get the teams all unhitched
from the wagons. I got my leaders loose and had my partner, Doct. Underhill, sit
in the wagon and hold the line while I stood at the head of the wheel mules and
held them by the bridle. A gust of wind blew my hat off and the hailstones, which
were as large as quails eggs, pelted me on the bare head. I let go and ran to the
wagon, got the horse bucket, placed it on my head and went back to my post, the
hailstones rattling on the bucket. Some of the hailstones struck my wrists and
raised lumps that were visible for several days afterwards. The mules humped up
their backs held their heads down and squealed but it was soon over. Some of the
animals got away from their drivers and ran for a mile or more with the storm.
After the storm was over I found my hat in a puddle nearly covered with hail. We
gathered up the pails half full of hailstones and took with us, so we had ice water
the remainder of the day. We also saw some herds of Buffalo and met a party of
hunters with wagons coming in from the mountains loaded with furs and dried
meat. One of the party borrowed a rifle from one of our party and went out on the
plains and killed a buffalo for us, which was our first buffalo meat.
~ We passed the junction of the the North and South forks of the Platte, traveled
up the South fork some distance and found a place we could ford the river by
blocking up our wagon beds. On the North side of the river just above where we
crossed was encamped a large party of Sioux Indians. They were quite friendly.
Saw two of them below where we crossed the river on horseback charging buffalos.
They killed one with their bow and arrows by riding close along by its side and
shooting the arrow through its body just back of the shoulders. They made us a
present of some of the meat. We camped near the Indian camp. Their Chief Red
Cloud with a number of others, visited our camp accompanied by a French Trapper,
who acted as interpreter. They wanted to know our business, where we were going,
etc. The Chief sent some of his men with our animals to a good grass, promising to
guard them through the night and bring them to us in the morning. The Chief and
some of his principal men had supper with us and we smoked the pipe of peace.
They slept in our tent over night and took breakfast with us in the morning. When
we were ready to proceed on our journey they drove up our animals and a number
of their warriors accompanied us eight or ten miles, when they turned off to hunt
~ We camped that night in Ash Hollow on the North Platte. We traveled up with
south side of the river a long distance, passed Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluffs and
Fort Laramie into the Black Hills and finally crossed it by ferrying our goods in the
wagon beds and swimming the animals. At Fort Laramie we learned from some
Mormons who were on their way to the States that a party of Crow Indians were
infesting the Black Hills and had robbed them of their horses and provisions and
that we had better look out for them. So while we were in the Black Hills we
doubled our guard and while traveling kept front, rear and flank guards on the
horseback to prevent surprise. Once when I was on rear guard I saw some indians
on horseback some distance from the road, who appeared to be reconnoitering our
party but they did not approach us. When in the neighborhood of the the Red
Buttes, not having seen any indian signs for some days we thought we had passed
them and did not have our usual traveling guard.
~ One morning as we were leaving camp one of our party killed an antelope. (I
forgot to mentioned that about the time we crossed the South Platte we were joined
by a party of about twenty men with six wagons, so that our party now consisted of
thirty men well armed). One wagon stopped behind to take on the antelope and got
separated from the train a quarter of a mile or more. The Crow Indians had, no
doubt, been watching us. Now, without warning, thirty warriors on horseback, well
armed and covered with war paint, charged down over the hill with a whoop,
thinking to cut off the hindmost wagon. The driver, seeing them coming, whipped
up his team to a run. Two of our men ran back to meet the wagon and kept the
Indians from accomplishing their object. We got our wagons all close together and
halted. Meantime all the spare men who were not driving the teams paraded with
their arms and kept the Indians at bay. A council of war was held. One of our men
who had two revolvers and a rifle had been so frightened that he crawled into one of
the wagons from behind and secreted himself but he was made to come out. Some
wanted to corral the wagons and fight the Indians but we soon concluded to move
on, our men walking and riding by the side of the train. The Indians then made
signs of friendship. Said they wanted to swap horses. We would have nothing to do
with them. They rode out in a circle, dismounted and held a council of war. We
moved on and saw no more of them. We afterward learned that they turned back
on the road and robbed four men who were traveling with pack animals. Took
everything they had and left them on foot.
~ That evening we camped at White Willow Springs and our party killed two
buffalo so we had plenty of fresh meat. After crossing the North Fork we passed
over a divide known as Rattlesnake hill, where the rattlesnakes were large and
plentiful, to a stream known as Sweet Water. We traveled up this stream to the
South Pass of the Rocky Mountains. We passed Independence Rock and in a few
days came to where a large party of Shoshone or Snake Indians were camped on
the Sweet Water. The were friendly and we camped near them. They belonged on
the West side of the the Rocky Mountains and had come down on Sweet Water
hunting Buffalo and now were on their way back to their own country. We traded
with them for buffalo robes, moccasins and some horses. (We had provided
ourselves before leaving St. Jo with tobacco, red cloth, blankets, beads and other
trinkets for presents and trade.) The Indians broke camp and started the next
morning about the same time we did, dragging their tent poles lashed to the necks
of their ponies and their tents which were made of dressed Buffalo hides lashed
across the poles behind the ponies. The Indians were all mounted on ponies - the
bucks ahead - the squaws, children and dogs, of which there was a large number,
following after. The rattle of the tent poles and the confusion and barking of dogs
so frightened our mules that we could hardly manage them. Towards noon it came
on to rain a little and the Indians camped. We moved near their camp and their old
Chief made us a long speech (which was interpreted by a white man who lived and
traveled with them). He professed great friendship for the whites. After nooning we
moved on and saw no more of the Indians.
~ We were now near the summit of the Rocky Mountains and everyone of our party
was more or less sick with mountain fever, some very sick. The night before we
crossed the summit there was no one well enough to stand guard. We turned the
animals loose in the bend of the stream on which we camped. Our camp was at the
ford. In the night the animals were stampeded and made for the camp. Myself and
two or three others who felt well enough to get up caught some of the animals and
tied them to the wagons but most of them crossed the stream and ran off a mile or
more. Another man and myself mounted each a each horse and followed. It was
very dark and the only way we could follow was by the sound. We finally overtook
them and after some trouble brought them all back to camp.
~ We moved on and down the Western slope of the Rocky Mountains without any
serious trouble until we reached Green River, which we found too deep and rapid
to ford. We camped and made preparations to ferry with a wagon bed corked and
pitched so as to make it as near water tight as possible. Then by a long rope
fastened to a tree up the stream and the other end to the boat so as to make the
current drive it across, with another rope attached to the boat to draw it back about
Sunset we had all ready and I with two others, volunteered to take the first load
across. We cast off and all went well until we were within about 100 feet of the
West bank, where we met a current from the bank that kept us from landing. We
tried every expedient but could get no nearer the shore. It was now dark, our boat
leaking badly. We called to them on the camp side to pull us back but no response.
I then plunged into the ice cold water and by swimming and wading took a line
ashore and hauled the boat to land. We kept calling to be hauled back but got no
answer. All had gone to bed and asleep.
~ We kindled a fire with some weeds and small brush and tried to warm and dry
ourselves. The fire soon burned out and we had no more fuel, so we called louder
than ever and finally got an answer. We cast off the up-river rope and were drawn
back to camp. Next morning we found a better location for our ferry and before
night by swimming our animals had everything across and camped on the West
side of the Green River.
~ We now traveled on to Fort Bridger - had some trouble crossing Hams Fork and
Blacks fork of Green River. At Fort Bridger the roads forked, the right hand going
by way of Soda Springs on Bear River and on to Fort Hall- the left hand direct to
Salt Lake, the way the Mormon Emigration went the year before. By a vote of our
Company we took the Salt Lake road. There had been no travel over it that season
and many places we had to repair before we could get along with our wagons. We
found Bear River and Weber River both high and rapid but we crossed them by
blocking up and doubling teams. We finally reached Salt Lake City, where we
traded for some butter, milk and cheese and made arrangements with two Mormons
to go with us and take a skiff and ferry us over Weber and Bear Rivers.
We crossed the Weber where Ogden City now stands. It was then a wilderness. A
man had a cabin there and some cattle. We paid $5.00 a wagon for ferrying in
provisions at our own price or $7.00 in cash. At Weber River we ferried our goods
over in the boat but pulled the wagons across with a long rope. We had a dozen a
Ames shovels in my wagon which we did not take out. The wagon turned over in
the river and we lost the shovels. A Mormon offered to pay what they cost in St.
Louis and take his chances of getting them when the river ran down. I sold them to
him and took pay in gold dust, which was the first Gold dust I had ever seen. In
swimming our animals across Bear River we had one of our best mules drowned.
~ After leaving Bear River our road was very dim and rough. There had been but
little travel between Salt Lake and California. Part of the way was over rough
mountains and across deserts inhabited by murderous, thieving, Digger Indians.
We had been used to plenty of good water but after leaving Bear River water was
scarce. It was then the latter part of June and very warm.
~ We came to a small stream of Alkali water called the Mallad, which detained us
more than half a day in crossing. It was about sixteen feet wide and four feet deep,
banks straight up and down. We had to unload our wagons and carry everything
across, some of the men standing in the stream and others on the banks, passing
everything over in that way. When we got under way it was nearly sundown. Our
road lay up a gentle slope through the low mountains. We could find no place to
camp, no grass, wood or water.
~ I had been drinking some of the Alkali water of the Mallad and was very thirsty. I
walked ahead of the wagons and made search in every ravine or place where I
would be likely to find water but found none. My tongue was dry and swollen so
that it rattled in my mouth. I thought of all the good springs, wells and streams of
water I had ever seen and would have given any price for a cup of water. About
midnight a small cloud passed over. I was far ahead of the train. I laid down by the
side of the road, with my head on a bunch of grass. There was a little sprinkle of
rain. I opened my mouth and caught a few drops and soon fell asleep, the train
soon coming up and I was awakened. We went a mile or two farther and came into
a small valley where there was some grass but no water. We turned the animals
loose to graze and all took a small drink of vinegar, laid down and slept until
morning. About five miles further on we came to plenty of water.
~ After traveling on for several days, sometimes hunting or making our road, we
came to the road leading from Soda Springs on Bear River to Humboldt River.
We found that not less than fifty wagons had got ahead of us while we were coming
by Salt Lake.
~ We followed on and spend the 4th of July on Goose Creek. Traveled down the
Humboldt to the sink. Here we found that all the emigration ahead of us had
crossed the desert to Carson. But Mr. Winter, who had been in California in 1846
and came out by way of Truckee, thought we had best try and go up Truckee and
cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. So, after filling all our kegs and canteens with
water and cutting some grass and put in our wagons we started due West across
the Desert, which is here forty miles wide, part of the way through heavy sand. We
traveled all day and pretty well into the night, when the animals refused to haul the
wagons any further. Having exhausted all our grass and water we switched the
teams and doubling on one of the lightest wagons all hands with the animals
(except three men who were left to guard the wagons) proceeded over the sand to
Truckee River, a distance of about ten miles, where there was plenty of grass and
water. I was one of the party left with the wagons, in company with Mr. Winter and
Mr. Thomas Armstrong (Mr. Armstrong had overtaken us at Green River and was
traveling with us). I slept soundly in the wagon until sunrise when Mr. Winter
called me and said I had better look in a ravine nearby and see if I could not find
some water. I took a pick and shovel but could find no indications of water. In the
meantime Mr. Armstrong had wandered off from the wagons and discovered two
Indians horseback. He made signs to them for what be wanted. They took him on
the horse behind one of them and set him down at Truckee, where our Company
was encamped. One of our party came out to the wagons in the forenoon and
brought us a canteen of water. Late in the afternoon the animals were brought out
and hauled our wagons to camp. (This is the place where the present town
Wadsworth on the C.P.R.R. is now located.) Finding the river too deep to cross with
our wagons we proceeded around the foot of the mountains to Carson River, here
finding a good camp and feeling that all serious danger was past we laid over a day
~ Part of the Company were dissatisfied and anxious to hurry on. So we divided up
wagons, provisions, etc. What could not be divided was sold to the highest bidder.
We still had heavy loads of provisions, tools, etc. Four of our original party left.
They took two wagons and their share of the animals. Blacksmith tools, carpenter
tools and the like they did not want. We saw no more of them but found one of
their wagons at the foot of the mountain. We had an empty iron powder keg, which
they paid $5.00 for and took with them to put their gold dust in.
~ We had a rough tedious trip up the Carson Cannon and over the Mountain but
we made it with all our load. We passed deserted wagons, piles of bacon and other
valuable property in the cannon and at the foot of the Mountains. We finally
arrived at Stockton about the 12th of August and taking an inventory of what we
had on hand found it at California prices worth Six Hundred Dollars to the man.
Just doubled the cost of our outfit. Here we divided up again, Mr. Underhill and
Parks taking one wagon. We sold one of our wagons and four animals at Stockton.
Mr. Parks went to teaming. Mr. Underhill went into business in Stockton.
California Gold Country
~ Mr. Winter, Hopkins, Stine, Armstrong and myself going to the mines on the
Mokulumnie River to a place now known as Lanche Plana, but our camp on the
East side of the river was named Winters Bar. We had a wagon and six mules and
quite a supply of provisions. We had intended going up to Mokulumnie Hill but
the road was so steep and rough we gave it up and where we stopped was about
twelve miles below the hill. We turned our mules out to take care of themselves and
soon went to mining. I made a rocker, which was a cradle with a hopper on one
end. Four of us went to work on the river bar. One would dig the dirt, one carry it
in pails to the Rocker, one pour on water and one rock the cradle. We took out
from fifty to sixty dollars per day for the four of us. We shifted about a good deal
trying to find better paying ground. There was but few miners here and no fixed
claims. You worked where you pleased. We were all pretty well worn out. I was
sick part of the time with diarrhea and did not get over it until the next Spring.
~ After we had mined a few weeks Mr. Winter took the team and went to Stockton,
laid in fresh supplies and we opened a little store and sold to other miners, making
a good profit. I went to work to make us a house for winter quarters. With poles
and split timber I made it, sixteen by thirty two feet, by setting posts in the ground
three feet apart and seven feet high, with plates and rafters. Covered the walls and
all with common yard wide cotton cloth. After nailing one thickness of cloth up and
down on the rafters I put inch strips of wood on the rafters, then sewed cloth
together. Made it large enough to cover the whole building and stretched it tight
over the strips, which made a double roof with a space of one inch between the
cloth. Made in this way it turned water as well as a shingle roof. No floor, but the
ground. No windows, as light enough came through the cloth. Cloth doors tacked
on a frame hung with leather hinges. Shelves and counter on one side. Bunks and
table on the other. A cook stove in one end. I had this finished by the first of
~ The other partners had been mining most of the time and we had between three
and four thousand dollars worth of gold dust. We then decided that I should go to
San Francisco and lay in a stock of provisions and miners supplies. I went to
Stockton, chartered a small schooner and proceeded to San Francisco. I found the
harbor full of ships but there was no wharves. We anchored the schooner about
where Sansome and Clay Street now intersect. Got into the small boat, rowed
toward shore until we stuck in the mud. Then the Captain pulled off his shoes,
rolled up his pants, took me on his back and waded ashore. I put up at a two story
frame hotel not far from where we landed. Had part of a small room with a cot and
pair of blankets, for which I paid $3.00 per night. Bought some goods ashore and
some on board of vessels lying at anchor. Most goods were cheap enough. Flour
$ll.50 per barrel - Rice 6 cents; everything else in proportion - clothing very cheap.
Had to pay $5.00 a load for cartage.
~ Went to Post Office and after much delay got letters from home, the first since I
left St. Jo, Mo. Got my goods all aboard and returned to Stockton and stored the
goods. Had most of them hauled to our camp, which was forty miles from
Stockton, with our own team. Hired some hauled. Paid 12 1/2 cents per pound
freight. Got the last to the mines about the 12th of November just a few days
before the heavy rains set in, when travel was suspended and no more teaming was
done until the next April. We continued mining and prospecting during the winter
with varying success. Deer were plenty and we had a good supply of venison
through the Winter.
~ Most of the miners were camped near the river but some were back in the gulches
a mile or more. One miner had quite an adventure. Grizzlies were plenty. One
evening he came to our camp, purchased some fresh meat and on his way home a
little after dark was treed by a grizzly. It was pouring down rain and the bear kept
him in the tree all night. He came to our place next morning and reported. Mr.
Winter and I took our rifles and pistols and started in pursuit of Mr. Bear. We
could track him easily as the ground was very soft. We soon found where had
entered a dense thicket of Chemisal. We crawled in after him, heard him growl.
Then heard the brush cracking and away he went. We followed on for a mile or
more but never came in sight of him.
~ One young man borrowed a mule of us to make a trip up the river. In following a
trail up a steep part of the mountain he was leading the mule, when he met two
Grizzlies, which frightened the mule. It wheeled around and went down the
mountain at breakneck speed. He clasped the mule around the neck and held on
as long as he could. It soon got loose from him, after tearing nearly all his clothes
off him in the brush, the bears in close pursuit. He went up a small tree but not
before one of the bears pulled off one of his boots. The other bear followed the
mule. After the bear kept him in the tree awhile it left. He came back to camp in
the evening minus his hat, one boot and most of his clothes. The mule lost the
saddle and bridle but made its way back to the river.
~ The best days mining I ever made was Christmas day, 1849. Three of us were
out prospecting four or five miles from camp and in a gulch where some Indians
were working I took out of a crevice in a few pansful of dirt One Hundred and Five
and a Half dollars worth of gold. I tried the same place next day and got about
Sixty Dollars, Tried it a few more days but it failed to pay.
~ Toward Spring our camp became rather dull. Most of the miners left, hunting for
better diggings. In company with some others I went to Sacramento on foot, a
distance of sixty miles, packing my blankets. This was in February. From there
took the steamer Senator for San Francisco, paying twenty five dollars deck fare.
At San Francisco got letters for myself and other at our camp. Thought I saw
prospects to do better than I was doing on the Mokelumnes, with so many partners
to divide with. I will mention here that Mr. Thos. Armstrong, who was an Uncle of
mine by marriage to my Mother's Sister, and had been with us all the time since he
overtook us at Green River, went with me to San Francisco on his way home. He
had been sick a good part of the Winter and came near dying at one time. We had
settled up with him and although he put no capital in the company we gave him
Fourteen Hundred Dollars as his share of profits. He arrived at home in Indiana
the last of March with about One thousand dollars for his years earnings. I went
back to camp at Winters Bar and tried to sell out to my partners but they refused
to buy. They then proposed to sell to me and I finally bought them all out.
~ About the first of March they all went off prospecting in the Mountains on the
Consumnes River; some seventy or eighty miles distant. I now hired a young man,
John Fitsimmons, to stay with me. Paid him two hundred and fifty dollars per
month. The camp was nearly deserted and prospects looked gloomy. We marked
out and opened a road from the Stockton and Double Springs road in the South
by our place to Volcano diggings in the north, a distance of thirty or forty miles,
put up notices and put in a ferry across the river at our place. The travel soon
came. Miners came in and business revived. I went to Stockton, laid in new
supplies and was making money. My old partners had been prospecting over two
months and had not made expenses. They all returned about the 10th of April. I
had cleared about one thousand dollars during their absence. (I took Mr. Winter as
partner and we remained together until Fall, when we sold out and went home
In the Fall of 1849 Mr. Winter was elected Alcalde and I attended to the business of
that office as his Deputy until regular courts were established in 1850. I was at the
organization of the first County Court of Calavaras County at Double Springs, the
then County Seat, in April of that year. There were no houses there and nothing to
show for a County seat but two tents. The only persons present were the Judge,
County Clerk and Sheriff, myself and the man that kept the tents as a store and
bar. There were two regular sessions of court held there during the Summer and
considerable business done in a large tent as a Court House.
~ The population increased fast at our camp during the Summer and business was
good. I made several trips to San Francisco to purchase supplies. Besides the
store of general supplies we had the ferry, hired a butcher and supplied the camp
with beef. Hired a cook and kept boarders and travelers. Kept an express. Had a
team running all the time to Stockton and had some mining done.
~ As I had made my arrangements when I started to California to return inside of
two years we sold out our business in October, settled up and started home in
November. We went to San Francisco by way of Stockton and purchased tickets
on the steamer for Panama. I had seen but little of the country, only the
mountains and mines and and the plains about Sacramento and Stockton. I did
not like the country and thought the mines were about worked out. I thought they
never could raise their bread in California, much less other supplies. At that time
our flour came from Chili, potatoes from the Islands and pork, lard, butter, sugar
and in fact most supplies round the horn. Onions were worth one dollar per pound.
Potatoes fifty cents - Barley in the mine from thirty to fifty cents. Hay ten cents,
etc. I thought the country would soon be deserted. When we went out at the
Golden Gate I bid California a final farewell.
Panama and the Trip Home
~ Mr. Winter and I had each near ten thousand dollars in Gold Dust in our trunks.
We kept the trunks in our stateroom and one of us kept watch all the time. We had
a pleasant voyage to Panama. There being no steamer on the Atlantic Side we
stayed three or four days at Panama, eating tropical fruits and viewing the queer
old town with its ruins of old walls and churches and the singular manners and
customs of its singular inhabitants.
~ We concluded to cross the Isthmus before the rush and some fifteen or twenty of
us hired mules and set out. Winter and I hired three, one each to ride and one to
pack our trunks. When we started the native that went with us to take charge of
the mules led the one that had our trunks on it until we had proceeded several
miles. When he tied up the latter and turned it loose the country was all overgrown
with brush and vines, almost impenetrable, except the road we traveled on and
occasional cross and side trails.
~ Soon after he turned the mule loose it turned off in a cross trail as fast as it could
run and the native after it. The trail was so narrow and overhung with vines and
bushes that it was impossible to ride after it. We waited awhile. The mule and
native got out of sight and hearing with all our treasure. We did not know what to
do. Some said it was on a cutoff and would soon come back into the road. I had
noticed that all the mules seemed to want to turn back at every opportunity. The
one I rode tried to turn back several times before that and I had all I could do to
keep it in the road. I rode back fast as I could, stopping to listen occasionally. I
went back perhaps half a mile, when stopping to listen I heard a noise in the brush
and soon here came my mule. I had almost given up all for lost but wasn't I
pleased. I grabbed the halter and went on my way rejoicing. It would have been an
easy thing for the native if he had caught the mule out in the brush to have robbed
us but he had not been able to keep up with the mule and I did not see him for
some time after.
~ One of us led the pack mule and the other rode behind it the remainder of the
way to Cruses. It rained hard that afternoon. I got soaking wet and had to sleep
out that night with a wet blanket. I took a terrible cold and did not get well until
our arrival at New Orleans.
~ The second day we arrived at Cruses on the Chagres River. Here some eight of
us hired a Bungo, with two natives to navigate it, and went down the river to
Gorgona and stopped over night at a hotel kept by Americans. The next morning
we started early, taking a lunch with us, as there was no place on the river to get
refreshments and it would take all day to reach Chagres. The river was rapid and
full of snags. We came near being wrecked once. A party ahead had been upset at
the same place and one man drowned. We arrived at Chagres a little after dark and
put up at a hotel.
~ We learned that there would not likely be a steamer in for more than a week, so
next day our party rented a vacant house to sleep in and get our meals where we
liked best. I visited the old Spanish Fort at Chagres, one used by the Spaniards
many years before but at that time deserted. It was on a hill South of the town and
commanded the entrance of the river. It consisted of massive walls surrounded by
a ditch. Inside the fort the ground was paved with solid cement and there lay five
large brass cannon and mortars, with the carriages all rotted down, a powder house
nearly half full of damaged powder in wooden boxes, some broken open and the
powder scattered shoe deep over the floor; also furnaces for heating cannon balls.
There were barracks for the garrison and the appliances for offense and defense.
We went bathing in the surf. The water was quite warm. It was a great luxury. A
number of shark were in sight but they kept in deep water.
~ After waiting here six or eight days the Steamer Philadelphia arrived. There was
no wharf. We bought our tickets for New Orleans and went to the steamer in a
small boat and climbed aboard by means of a rope
ladder. Set sail, intending to call at Havana. The second day out the Captain
informed the passengers that owing to lack of coal, there being a strong head wind,
he would not be able to reach Havana, where he could get coal. Now he would have
to turn back and try to get coal at Porto Bello. The ship was turned about and
steered for that place, where we arrived the second day in the morning.
~ Porto Bello is a safe harbor and was at one time well fortified by the Spaniards.
The fortifications and old town were now in ruins and overgrown with trees, brush
and vines. The Captain found a good supply of coal that belonged to some English
Company. All the inhabitants I saw were Negroes. After building a staging from the
ship to the shore the natives were employed to carry the coal aboard, which they
did in baskets placed on their heads. The labor was mostly done by females.
Winter and I took a cruise along the beach. The water was very clear and smooth.
Could see a great many fish of various colors, red, green, blue and yellow.
Gathered some nice shells and corals.
~ After taking in coal and water we sailed direct for New Orleans. The sea was
smooth and we had a pleasant passage. On arriving at New Orleans we found the
mint closed so we could not get our dust coined. We sold some to get coin for
expenses. I afterward sent mine to the mint at Philadelphia.
~ After stopping one day at New Orleans we took a river steamer for Madison,
Indiana. We were eleven days making the trip without any incidents worth
mentioning. Took train from Madison to Indianapolis and from Indianapolis to
Crawfordsville by stage - from there to my Brother Josephs at Waveland in a
buggy, where I found my family and friends all well. So ends my first trip to
Home in Indiana
~ After a short time went back to my home at Lafayette. Thought I would settle
down and spend my days there. I bought a farm of two hundred acres near town.
Bought some lots and built on them. Took contracts to build for others. Made
some improvements on my farm. In the Spring of 1852 planted fifty acres of corn.
A late frost in May killed it all down to the ground and an early frost in September
hit it again so that it shriveled badly. That rather discouraged me. Thought some
of emigrating to Texas. Soon after returning home Mr. Winter married Miss
Armstrong (a Cousin of mine). He made a trip through Texas and when he came
back reported unfavorable. In 1852 we began to talk about California and finally
made up our minds to emigrate in 1853.
Second Trip West
~ In the Winter of 1852 & 53 sold out all my possessions. Had wagons built in
Lafayette, expressly for the trip, out of the best selected materials for Mr. Winter,
Mr. Congle and myself - nine wagons in all. For my own use I had two heavy two
horse wagons to be drawn by oxen and one light two horse wagon with Springs to
be drawn with mules for the use of the family. We also had sheet iron cook stoves
and tents made in Lafayette. We also bought some horses and mules which we
sent across the country to St. Jos.
~ In the meantime a railroad had been built from Lafayette to Indianapolis and in
February Mr. Winter with his Wife and an old Irish woman for nurse and two or
three men he had employed as teamsters, myself and family and two men I had
employed, with our wagons and outfit, shipped on the railroad for Madison on the
Ohio River. Mr. Winter went two days ahead to Cincinnati to engage a passage on
a steamer that would take us to St. Jo. without having to change boats at St.
Louis. The Railroad Company agreed to deliver our wagons and freight at the wharf
in Madison on Saturday Evening as we expected the boat would be there ready for
us at that time. The passenger train took us through on time but the freight left
our wagons at the yard on the hill some three miles from the Wharf Saturday Night
~ Mr. Winter came from Cincinnati with the boat that was to take us. I hunted up
the Railroad Agent. He said we could not get our things before Monday morning as
they were all on the hill and they did not move anything on Sunday. I told him I
must have them down as the boat was waiting and would charge demurrage. He
said I might try but he knew I would not get them. So I took three of our men with
me and footed it in the dark up the railroad over trestle and ties and arrived at the
yard about 2:00 o'clock A.M., found a watchman, told him what I wanted. He told
me where the boss of the yard lived. I found his house and waked him up and after
a good deal of parley he told me to tell the watchman to fire up an Engine and by
daylight and a good deal of switching we got our cars out and soon down alongside
of the boat. We arrived at St. Louis next day and the boat laid over to discharge
and take on freight. We laid in what supplies we wanted.
~ We went on up the Missouri River as far as Weston, a short distance below Fort
Leavenworth, where we found the river was blocked with ice and it was impossible
to reach St. Jo. So we landed at Weston and the East side of the river and made
that our headquarters until we started across the plains.
~ A few days after we landed my Uncle Jonas Kleiser, with whom I had been in
communication, arrived with his family and some horses and cows. His family
consisted of himself, Wife and Daughter Kate, about ten years old and Son Joseph,
about five years old. He had brought two wagons and some supplies. We rented a
house by the month and all lived in it.
~ Mr. Winter and I decided to bring some cattle with us to California. So we each
bought what Oxen and mules we wanted for our individual use and about two
hundred head of stock cattle in partnership. We collected our stock on the farm of
Mr. Green White. The men we sent across country from Lafayette with mules and
horses had arrived at St. Jo. and we had to go after them and bring them down to
where we had our other stock.
~ Toward the last of April we crossed the Missouri River and started out on the
Plains. The grass was very short. We had one extra wagon loaded with corn to feed
our horses until the grass would get better. (We left this wagon near Fort
Laramie.) Our train consisted of six ox teams with four yoke of oxen to each team
and three spring wagons with four mules and horses to each. After a few days
travel we came to the old Emigrant road leading up the Republican River, across
Big Blue and up Little Blue, then across to the Platte River at Grand Island below
Fort Kearney, followed up Platte River until near the Junction of the South and
~ Here, after much prospecting, we found a place we could ford the river. Our ford
was diagonal and more than a mile across and somewhat crooked. We had staked
out the route with willow branches to avoid quicksand and deep places. We cross
the large wagons first by doubling teams, which we had to do as it was heavy
drawing in the loose sandy bottom. We had to keep the teams moving. Had they
stopped they would have soon settled down in the quicksands. It was late in the
afternoon when we crossed with the family wagons. It had clouded up and come on
to blow and snow. Some of our willows had blown down, the snow was blinding
and it was with difficulty we got safely across. Here our loose cattle were
stampeded at night by a band of Buffalo and it was sometime next day before we
got them together, after losing two. Those ran off with the Buffalo. I followed the
Buffalo some distance in the hills. Had a young man with me. We killed two of the
Buffalo but did not get the two stray cattle. Came up with the train late in the
evening, bringing some Buffalo meat with us.
~ We traveled on up the North side of the North Platte to Sweet Water, when we
came to the old Emigrant road at Rattlesnake Hill. A short distance below Fort
Laramie it commenced raining one day about noon. Then turned to snowing. We
could find no good place to camp and traveled on until late in the afternoon. Then
camped without wood, except a few little sticks we had in the wagons. The grass
was all covered with snow three or four inches deep and still storming. The cattle
and some of the horses and mules stampeded down the river. My Uncle Jonas and
young Vanfossen followed on foot. It was soon dark. They got into sloughs of water
and were soon lost. Luckily they came to a tent where some emigrants were
camped and got shelter for the night. Next day we found our stock about six miles
down the river. We lost one cow and calf.
~ While we were below Fort Laramie Mrs. Winter was confined. We only laid over
one day. She named her boy, her first born, Nebraska. We were in Indian country
and a few days after met a large band of Sioux Indians traveling down in the Buffalo
country. We had no fresh meat for sometime.
~ One day I took a young man with me into the hills (while the train moved on).
After riding some ten miles we discovered a small band of two year old Buffalo and I
succeeded in killing one. After getting it in shape for packing our hands were
bloody. We tried to pack it on the mule the young man had been riding but the
mule would not let us get near him, so we had to pack it on the horse I had been
riding. We thought one of us could ride the mule and lead the horse but the mule
would not let us mount nor would he lead without being driven. Each of us had
our rifle to carry. The young man was leading. I was driving. He had tied their
heads together. The mule in running around got the rope over the hammer of his
gun and it was discharged. This frightened the animals. They got away from him
and ran some distance before we could catch them. I took the horse and pack and
He finally succeeded in mounting. We finally overtook the train in camp about
dusk. (I forgot to mention that when we first discovered the Buffalo we were riding
at a canter to get in ahead of them, when the mule kicked off a bit of Cactus, which
struck him about the girth and caused him to buck the young man off over his
head, when the mule started at his best speed in the direction of the camp we had
left in the morning. I followed on my horse and chased him a mile before I
succeeded in catching him. I looked for my young man but he was out of sight
behind the sand hills. After riding back half a mile I found him and we followed on
after the Buffalo.)
~ When we came to the old Emigrant road at Rattle Snake hill on our way from the
North Fork of the Platte to Sweet Water I was riding a spirited mule, helping to
drive the loose cattle. We were some distance behind the wagons. Someone had
killed a large Rattle Snake and coiled it up in a little path near the road under a
small sage brush. I was riding along this path and the mule came near stepping on
the snake before it saw it which so frightened it that it bucked and bawled like a
cow and finally jumped from under me. As I landed on my feet behind it it kicked
me under the chin and laid me out for dead. The blood ran out of my nose and
ears. They brought one of the small wagons back and hauled me until they camped
in the evening at White Willow Springs. I was not conscious until the next day
and was not able to ride horseback for several days and did not get over the effects
of it for months.
After crossing the Rocky Mountain summit at South Pass we kept to another road
to the right of the one we followed in 1849 and crossed Green River higher up,
following the Oregon Road to Soda Springs at the great bend of Bear River. From
here we traveled a little West of South, crossing some of the tributaries of Snake
River, the Goose Creek Mountains and on to the head of Humboldt River and on
down the river to Big Bend, where we turned West by what was known as Antelope
Springs and Rabbit Hole Springs and Deep Hole Springs to the Hot Springs at
Black Rock. This was the route traveled in 1850 under the guidance of Lawson,
where so many animals died and there was so much suffering. For miles and miles
we were never out of sight of the dried up carcasses of cattle, ox yokes, log chains
and fragments of wagons, etc. The weather was very hot and we traveled mostly at
~ Deep Hole Springs consisted of a number of flowing wells from three to twenty
feet in diameter and no telling how deep as we had no ropes long enough to sound
them. The water was cold and clear and full of small fish. There was a luxuriant
growth of grass, bushes, vines and weeds, so much so that they covered the tops of
the wells, the walls or sides of which were perpendicular or the holes widened as
they went down. As soon as we drove up a young horse got into one of these holes.
We had to lift him out by main force. Then a little way off three or four cattle got
into another. We had to put ropes around their horns and bodies and drag them
out, when off they would run and in a few steps be into another. After some time
we got them clear of the holes, drove them off and kept guard over the holes while
we were camped there.
~ From Black Rock we had a stretch of thirty miles across an alkaline desert to
Granite Creek. The desert for most of the way had not a spear of vegetation of any
kind, was perfectly level and hard as a floor, not a track to be seen on it. In the
winter time it was covered with water and was known as Mud Lakes. There was no
team ahead of us. We were the first on the road that season. We could see a
mountain on the other side of the desert from us, the point of which was our land
mark to travel to. I had the diary and instructions as to the route of Mr. D. C.
Brush, who had crossed the year before.
~ After resting at Black Rock one day we hitched in the afternoon just before
sundown so as to cross the desert in the night as it was cooler at the teams traveled
I rode horseback and helped drive the loose stock. Twice during the night I went to
sleep on my horse, finding I could not keep awake and fearing I would fall off I
dismounted and lay down on the ground with the bridle around my arm. Would be
fast asleep in a minute. By and by my horse would get uneasy and want to go and
pulling at the bridle would wake me up. I would remount and overtake the train.
We traveled all night and by eight o'clock next morning reached Granite Creek,
where we found water and grass and laid over one day. Next day we passed some
geysers and boiling Mud Springs. The geysers would spout up as high as fifteen or
twenty feet at intervals of a few minutes, then subside for about the same length of
time. We saw the steam rising from them when we were several miles away.
It has been the experience of all companies crossing the plains to become tired and
worn out and individuals become selfish and reckless. Men employed or otherwise
become insubordinate and companies divide up. Our Company was no exception.
The men became mutinous and careless of the stock and we had a falling out.
Winter found fault with me and I found fault with him. Finding we could not travel
together pleasantly I proposed to divide our partnership cattle and travel separately.
After dividing our stock I agreed to lay over one day and let him go ahead so as to
keep our stock from mixing up. He made short drives and stopped whenever he
found good grass and in three days I came up with him and passed him at the
lower end of Honey Lake Valley. I moved on to the head of the valley near the foot
of the mountain, where we had abundance of grass, wood and water. We laid over
here several days to rest our animals.
~ The day before reaching Honey Lake we passed over a rough country and it was
difficult finding the right road. The Emigrants of the previous years had got
bewildered here and made many roads. I kept some distance ahead on horseback,
would follow a plain track some distance, come to a place where wagons could go
no further, then turn back and hunt another road and signal the wagons. One
place I came to a large camp of Digger Indians and by signs learned from them the
right road, which lay over a spur of the mountain and part of the way through thick
brush. It was sundown when I found a camping place and the wagons were at least
four or five miles back. I built a fire of logs so as to be able to find it again and rode
back to pilot the train to the camp.
~ I soon came to two Indians whom I supposed had been watching me. They had
horses and were sitting on the ground holding them by the bridle. I spoke to them
but they made no reply. I rode on pretty fast until I came to where our road came
out of the brush into a wide plain road that led down to the lake. I stopped to listen
and heard them coming after me at full speed. It was now getting quite dark. I was
unarmed, having left my revolver in the wagon. I rode quickly a little way on my
road in the bush and stopped again to listen. When the Indians got to where I had
turned off they halted to listen also. I kept quiet. They soon started on again at full
speed down the road toward the lake. I rode on a short distance and stopped to
listen. I heard something coming through the brush toward the road ahead of me.
It was so dark I could see nothing. I thought the Indians had me but soon a mule
came out in the road and came up to me. I discovered that it was one of Mr.
Winters mules, which the Indians had stampeded and were, no doubt, trying to
~ The mule stayed with me. I went on back, met the teams. They had men ahead
with lanterns to pilot them over the rough road. Two Indians had come with them
from the Indian camp I had passed in the evening. We finally made camp where I
had built the fire. Next day Mr. Winter got his mule. (Where we rested in Honey
Lake Valley is near the present site of Susanville.) The grass was like an old
fashioned meadow and the heavy dew hung in drops on the heads of the tall grass.
In walking through one would get their clothes covered and the horses manes were
matted with honey.
After we were rested we moved on up the mountain through the tall pine timber,
finding good camps in the small valleys. We passed around Lawsons Peak and
near a volcano which had been active only a few years before. There was a cone
formed of Scoria some two hundred feet high from which heat was still escaping. A
small lake of water near the foot of the cone with dead trees standing in it and the
ground in a radius of a quarter of a mile around was covered with cinders and
ashes to the depth of from one to ten feet or more with the dead trees and stumps
standing in it, some partly burned. Two of our men ascended the cone. They said
it was quite hot at the top. There was no open crater but the heat came up through
the loose cinders. When they came down their shoes were completely cut to pieces
by the sharp Scoria.
~ As we descended the mountain we crossed the headwaters of Pitt River where we
saw some Wild Pitt River Indians. When we got down in the foot hills some twenty
or thirty miles from Fort Redding, where we found good grass, we made a
somewhat permanent camp. Mr. Winter passed on down to the Sacramento River
and I saw him no more for six years.
~ It had been my intention when I left Indiana to locate at Humboldt Bay where Mr.
Armstrong had located the year before, as he gave a very favorable report of that
place. Wishing to see it myself first Uncle Jonas Kleiser and myself left our camp.
It was sometime in August. I forget the date. Went on mule back for Humboldt
Bay. (We left our families in company with two other families who were camped at
the same place and three men who took care of the stock.) We went by way of
Shasta and Weaverville. I thought I liked the country pretty well. After spending a
few days at Arcata Uncle Jonas Kleiser returned overland to our camp. I spent also
a few days at Eureka and Eel River Valley and then took passage on a schooner
for San Francisco and steamer to Sacramento, from there by stage to Fort
Redding, where I found our folks had moved camp onto the Sacramento River. I
had Uncle Jonas and his family with the three men I had employed take the stock
across the country to Humboldt Bay. I sold one of my large wagons at Red Bluff.
Shipped the other large one and the small one to San Francisco and thence to
I went with my family to San Francisco, then took passage on the Bark Desdemona
for Humboldt Bay, where we arrived sometime in October. Found my Uncle and
the stock on Eel River. I had laid in a stock of goods in San Francisco and took
them to Arcata, then known as Uniontown. Settled down and went into business.
I employed one young man, Charles Van Tapen, who came across the plains with
me, to Clerk in the store. I took up a quarrying claim near Kneelands Prairie in
the Bald Hills some twelve miles back of the bay and put my stock, consisting of
something over one hundred head of cattle, six mules and three head of horses (two
of my most valuable horses died on Eel River) in charge of two young men who had
also crossed with me.
~ Business was dull through the Winter but revived in the Spring of 1854. I lost
twenty head of my best cattle in March from poisoning. By July had sold most of
the cattle; some for work oxen, some milk cows and some for beef. The prices were
good. Heavy work oxen about Four Hundred Dollars per yoke - Milk Cows, One
Hundred to One Hundred Twenty Five Dollars. Beef Cattle, from one hundred to
one hundred and fifty dollars a head. The cattle were all very fat by the first of
~ Sometime in May I associated myself with Doct. Spencer in the Mercantile
business. It was not very remunerative and by the time the Summer was over I
became dissatisfied with the country and wished myself back in Indiana. The
climate did not agree with me. The Winter had been very disagreeable and the
Summer cold and foggy. Sometimes would not see the sun for weeks together. I
thought I would sell out and leave Humboldt at any rate.
Hoopa Valley Flour
In the meantime Hoopa Valley on Trinity River had been settled up. Uncle Jonas
Kleiser had settled there and had a nice home and farm. The farmers all wanted a
flouring mill so they could raise wheat and sell flour to the mines on the Klamath,
Salmon and Trinity Rivers. Flour was selling in those mines for thirty dollars or
more per barrel and if the farmers could only get what the freight cost, which was
from six to ten cents per pound, they could do well. So they induced me to go to
Hoopa Valley, buy a farm with a mill site on it and build a mill.
~ It was impossible to make wagon roads. Late in the Fall of 1854 I disposed of my
merchandise to Wm. C. Martin and moved to Hoopa. Took what Cattle, mules
and horses I had with me, built fences and planted some fifty acres in wheat in the
Spring of 1855.
~ Went to San Francisco, bought all the machinery necessary for the construction
of a flouring mill and had it packed on mules, together with my largest wagon, for
all of which I had to pay six cents per pound. I employed a millwright and men to
hew and whip saw logs and by harvest had the mill completed at a cost of about ten
thousand dollars. The wheat crop was not of the best quality. It was badly
smutted. Consequently the flour was not the best but it was all sold at a
remunerative price. The next year, 1856, the farmers took more pains with their
seed wheat and by the use of blue stone avoided the smut and we had better flour.
A Mr. J. Z. Johnson had run the mill for me for two years. He was not a number
~ In the Winter and Spring of 1857 the Frazier River Gold Mines caused a great
excitement among the miners in California and numbers left the Klamath, Salmon
and Trinity Rivers for Frazier River Mines and the prospect was very lax for the
sale of our flour. The farmers had fine crops of wheat and were offering to engage
flour at a very low price. I had been grinding for toll; that is, I took one seventh for
grinding. I told the farmers I would not run the mill any more at that rate but
would buy all their wheat at a rate that would pay them as well as the price they
were offering flour at. They agreed to sell and I bought about all the wheat in the
valley. I went to San Francisco and hired one of the best millers in the City, a Mr.
Mullan, an Englishman. Under his instruction I put in some new cleaning
machinery and he ground the whole crop in about three months.
~ The Frazier River Mine was a failure. The miners returned. Flour doubled in
price and I cleared about seven thousand dollars out of that season's operation. I
then sold the mill to a Mr. Newkirk for Nine Thousand Dollars and left the valley.
Hoopa Valley Indian Trouble
~ I had become convinced sometime before that the Indians would give the settlers
trouble. At the time I first moved into the valley there was about one thousand
Indians living in four rancherias in the valley and only about twenty white men. We
were isolated from other settlements from twenty to forty miles with no means of
communication except by pack trails over the mountains and in the Winter season
they were frequently blocked up with snow and high water.
In the Winter of 1856-57 there was general trouble with the Indians in Northern
California and Southern Oregon. The Hoopa Indians, in the concert with the
Klamath and Redwood Indians, plotted to kill all the whites and burn their houses
on a certain day and were making preparations to carry their designs into
execution, when an old Indian who was friendly, gave us warning. We immediately
sent one man to Weaverville and one to Uniontown for succor. Sheriff Neblet of
Weaverville raised some twenty-five volunteers and came at once to our rescue.
The families of the valley were all moved into the mill and we had it barricaded and
a strong guard patrolled day and night. When Mr. Neblett came with his men the
Indians scattered in the mountains. Quite a number of men came up from
Uniontown also to our assistance. We held a parley with some of the Indians, had
the Chiefs come in and make the Indians give up all their guns and promise to live
peaceably. We got between twenty and thirty muskets and rifles and the Indians
returned to their rancherias and our defenders to their homes. Yet I could see that
the Indians were not at heart friendly. Still, we got along with them while I
remained without any serious trouble.
~ During the Summer of 1857 I had a little encounter with a bad Indian "Jim". It
was known that he had once killed a white man up on Trinity. One day while
some Indians who were working for me in the mill were eating their dinner outside
Jim came along and attempted to drive them off and take their dinner from them.
They called me. I went out. Jim was sitting on a log. I told him to leave. He said
he would not. As I approached him he rose quickly to his feet, threw off his blanket
and drew a large knife in one hand and a stone in the other and said "come on". I
advanced, picked up a wooden stick about four feet long and intended to strike him
down with it but he would not turn and go but kept backing out of my reach until I
got near my home.
~ I threw down the stick and ran for the house for my rifle. I happened to think
that my rifle was not loaded but I had a large Colts revolver that was. My Wife,
seeing the trouble, met me in the yard with the revolver. In the meantime Jim
started to run. He had to pass through a gate and got near the gate about forty
yards from me. I fired at him but missed him. He passed through the gate, still
running. I fired a second time, aiming between his shoulders. The ball tipped the
lower edge of a slat of the gate and glanced down and struck him in the leg just
about the heel. He made a few jumps, fell down and crawled behind a log. There
were a number of Indians around at the time and some went to him. I was a little
excited at the time and wanted to go and finish him but my Wife persuaded me not
to go. The Indians helped him off to the Ranch.
~ The next day the old Chief and two or three of his principal men came to see me
about it and know what the trouble was. I told them what had been done and that
if Jim ever came around my house or the mill I would kill him on sight. They said
that was alright if I would not hunt him he should never give me any more trouble
or come about my place and he never did. He soon got over his wound but always
kept a respectful distance.
~ When I first went to the Valley a number of the Indians came to see me and were
much pleased that I was going to build a flour house. I told them I wanted them to
work for me and I would pay them, that I did not want them to steal from me. I
would leave tools lying out and clothes and blankets and if an Indian stole anything
and I found him out I would kill him. If they wanted anything they had ask for it, if
I could spare it they should have it, but they must not steal. They said "Wano".
That is "alright" - "good".
~ A short time after, Wm. Scott, who was working for me, had a shirt stolen that
was out drying. He soon found an Indian wearing it. He denied stealing it. Said he
bought it of another Indian. He was made to produce the thief, who was a boy
about fifteen years old. The Indians gathered around, the old Chief with the rest. I
asked them what out to be done with the thief, if I should kill him. They said as he
was only a boy and did not know any better not to kill him but whip him. If he was
older and knew it was wrong to steal, it would be right to kill him. So to satisfy all
parties I told Scott to give him a good flogging, which he did then and there. The
Indians never stole anything of value from me afterward while I lived in the Valley.
In the Summer of 1856 the Mad River and Redwood Indians had been killing and
robbing white men in the Bald Hills on Redwood Creek and General Kibbe was
sent with detachment of soldiers to subdue them and remove them to a reservation
down the Coast. It was thought to be dangerous to travel in that part of the
~ As I had business at the bay and a pack train with three men were going down I
intended going in company with them. They started in the morning from the West
side of the river. I had to cross the river when I got to the ferry. The ferryman was
away and I was detained for more than an hour before I got over. The train had
gone but I hoped to overtake them but did not until they halted to camp.
~ I kept a close lookout for Indians while in the timber and when I got on the open
ridge near Redwood Creek thought I was out of danger. All at once my mule
stopped and pricked up his ears forward, when to my dismay I beheld five Indians
about two hundred yards ahead examining the trail. They had not observed me. I
saw that three of them had guns, one a bow and arrows and one a pack of blankets.
I as in a quandary as to what to do. There was no chance to get around them as
the sides of the ridge were very steep and covered with thick brush. To go ahead
they had the advantage of me. To turn back there might be more Indians behind
me. I resolved to surprise them and ride past them. Drawing my revolver I put
spurs to my mule and was within less than one hundred yards of them before they
~ They were frightened and endeavored to get in the brush but I was on them too
quick. One, however, made his way out of sight. I halted when I came up to them.
I knew one of the Indians. I told them they were bad Indians, watching the road to
kill white men. They said "no", "they were hunting deer" They asked me if there
were any more men coming. I answered "yes", "a good many more". They started
off in the brush. I called at the top of my voice. "Come on boys, here's the Indians".
As soon as they were a little way down the hill I put spurs to my mule and was soon
at a safe distance. About two miles further I found the party with the train camped.
I told them what I had just passed through. They saddled up their mules, struck
camp and we traveled some ten miles before camping. We saw no more of the
Indians that trip.
~ Before I left Hoopa the Government established a post there, garrisoned by forty
or more soldiers and there was talk of making the valley an Indian reservation,
which was carried into effect after I left. The Indians became troublesome, killed
the Indian Agent and committed other murders and depredations.
Looking Around California
After I sold out in Hoopa I bought ground in Arcata and built me a nice residence
but soon became dissatisfied. The climate did not agree with me. It was too cold
and foggy all summer. In May 1859 I determined to find some place in California
that would suit me better. Took my family with me. Went by sail vessel to San
Francisco, there took passage on the old Steamer Senator for Los Angeles.
Stopped, by the way, at Santa Barbara one day. We landed at San Pedro and went
by Stage to Los Angeles. Arrived there about the tenth of June. The weather was
excessively warm. I traveled around the country, went to the old San Gabriel
Mission, visited Mr. Workman's and Mr. Wilson's Ranchos, the Monte, and other
noted places. Los Angeles and the surrounding country did not come up to my
expectations. Water and timber were too scarce. The population was too much
Spanish; the soil too much alkali.
After about two weeks we returned to San Francisco again on the old Senator.
Went over into San Jose Valley, visiting some friends there. While there visiting
Mr. Patterson, an old friend and acquaintance from Lafayette, he gave me a
description of Russian River Valley and proposed making a trip with me by the
way of Contra Costa, Martinez, Vallejo and Napa Valley to Healdsburg and on up
by Cloverdale, Ukiah, Calpella, to Little Lake in Mendocino County. He wanted
to look at some overflowed land at Little Lake. He thought there would be a
speculation in taking up some of it. After examining it we both concluded to let it
alone. In going up we went by stage from Napa to Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
~ I was much pleased with Cloverdale. I thought it the prettiest place to build up a
little town I had ever seen and after seeing the country above was satisfied
Cloverdale would soon be the terminus for a railroad. The land was on a Spanish
Grant which had been confirmed and a Mr. R. B. Markle and W. J. Miller had
purchased a tract of 757 acres, which included the present site of Cloverdale,
which then had a hotel and some other buildings. They had sold about half a
~ There was a livery stable, two stores, two saloons, a blacksmith shop, a stage
stable and another hotel kept by Mr. Dodge - in all about thirty inhabitants. Markle
and Miller wanted to leave and I bought them out, hotel, horses, cattle, hogs,
chickens and all for the sum of Sixteen Thousand Dollars. This was about the
tenth of July and took possession sometime in September . Only a small
portion of the land was fenced at the time. By the next spring I had most of it
~ After I made the purchase in July I returned to Humboldt Bay alone (leaving my
family at Mr. Pattersons). Settled up my business there and in company with W. T.
Brush, who was then a boy, came down overland, bringing with me four head of
horses and three mules. Mr. Brush had lived with me some time in Hoopa and
remained with me about one year after coming to Cloverdale. I kept the hotel for
one year and then sold it out. I had the first survey for the town made by J. B.
Wood, County Surveyor, October 22, l859. It included West Street from first to
third street, Main Street from 132 ft. south of Broad to Third and East Street from
132 feet south of Broad to Third Street, including the cross streets from first to
~ In the fall of 1860 I built the brick "Prescott Place" house and moved into it,
which is now at this writing, 1886, owned and occupied by Mrs. Bowman, where I
lived until 1866.
Soon after my purchase I found I would have trouble with squatters. One fenced
and claimed a portion on the south side of the tract. Another known as Old Jack
Houx got into a house on the North side and claimed 160 acres. I had a great deal
of trouble with him. He would pull down my fences and turn his stock on my
crops. I had to bring suits in ejectment in the District Court. I employed Judge
Robert Robison and Judge E. B. Crocker of Sacramento to prosecute the suits.
Crocker and Robison also owned six hundred acres adjoining mine on the East side
of the River, which was all occupied by squatters. They also brought suits at the
same time. We gained our suits and had the Sheriff put us in possession. This was
in the Fall of 1860.
~ Judge Robison was stopping with me at the time and had Mrs. Robison with him.
It was the intention of Crocker and Robison to move on their land and make their
homes here. The day the Sheriff put us in possession Mr. Robison and I received
threatening letters, intimating that if we did not let the parties back on the land we
would have to take the consequences. Mr. Robison and his Wife and child started
home in a covered buggy and when they had proceeded about four miles toward
Healdsburg they were waylaid and a shot from a rifle was fired at them through the
back of the buggy. The bullet passed through Mr. Robison's right shoulder,
inflicting a severe wound but breaking no bones. He proceeded on to Healdsburg
and had the wound dressed and sent me a note back by the stage, warning me to
~ The morning of the same day I went early to see if Houx had turned his hogs in
my cornfield which was at the upper end of town. Found them in and attempted to
drive them out. When they got to the gate where they had been turned in they
could not get out as the gate had been laid up. Seeing a man walking in the road
opposite the gate I accosted him, asked him to please lay down the fence so the
hogs could get out. He did so at once and passed quickly on. The hogs went out
and I built up the fence afterwards.
~ I ascertained it was the Sheriff who laid down the fence for me. I asked him what
made him in such a hurry. He informed me that just before I called to him he saw
the old man Houx with a rifle conceal himself in a corner of the fence about thirty
yards from the gate and he hastened to him to get him away and prevent him from
shooting me, which he no doubt would have done had it not been for the Sheriff
happening on the ground just at the time he did. The Sheriff had come up to
Cloverdale the evening before to execute the writs of ejectment and stopped at the
Dodge Hotel and was going this early in the morning to persuade Houx to deliver up
the place without trouble. They did not, however, go out voluntarily. The Sheriff
had to hire a wagon, carry all their things out and load them on, then lead each one
of the family out of the house and into the road. I had to pay all the costs of Court
as the other parties had nothing that could be levied on.
~ In the Spring of 1861 I planted out several acres of orchard and vineyard. All
was peace and quiet for several years. By expenses of lawsuits and improvements
on the place I got myself in debt. Times were dull. I could not sell land to
advantage and had to mortgage the place and pay one and a quarter percent per
month interest on forty five hundred dollars. My grapes soon came into bearing
and in 1865 I made sixteen hundred gallons of wine, the first ever made in
Cloverdale or its vicinity. In the spring of 1866 hauled it on wagon to Petaluma,
shipped it to the city and sold it for sixty two cents per gallon. The expenses of
cooperage and freight made the profit small.
Gold in Idaho
In the Spring of 1862 reports of very rich gold mines on Salmon River in Idaho
reached us and a great many were going. Needing money very much myself I was
induced to go. Having a pair of good mules and a buggy that I could spare, in
company with W. T. Brush, who wished to go with me, I took the mules and buggy
to the City to sell to raise money for an outfit. I disposed of the buggy there but
could not get my price for the mules.
~ We took passage on the steamer for Portland, Oregon; also shipped the mules on
the same steamer. At Portland I sold the mules for a good price, I think $450.00.
Went by steamer to Cascades, around the Cascades on foot, then steamer to the
Dalles, around the Dalles by stage to the upper end of the portage. There took the
steamer for Lewiston, situated at the mouth of Clear Water on Snake River,
Idaho. Had a rather tedious but not unpleasant trip.
~ Sometime in May arrived at Lewiston. Bought three horses and an outfit for the
mines. Traveled overland through a wild country up Snake River to near the
mouth of Salmon River, then up and over the mountains for Florence City.
When within twenty miles of Florence the country was covered so deep with snow
that it was impossible to take horses any further. I sold the horses for about what
they had cost me and hired men to pack our provisions to the mines, thirty cents a
pound for the 20 miles. It took two days to get through. Camped one night where
the snow was about eight feet deep. When we arrived at the mines the Country was
all covered with snow from two to six feet deep and the prospect was anything but
~ I soon bought two claims, one for myself at one thousand dollars; one for Brush
for about fifty dollars. We cleared off some snow and fixed up our camp. Had to get
whipsawed lumber for sluice boxes at a cost of 37 1/2 cents per foot and pack it a
mile or more on our backs. Soon got to mining and made it pay wages. At one time
had to pay 75 cents a pound for flour. After working my claim until about the first
of July the water gave out for sluicing and I sold the claim to Col. Preston for
twelve hundred dollars.
~ If I had come home then I would have done well, but I bought another claim just
below one that had been very rich and where I could get water and paid two
thousand dollars cash for it. I worked it until about the first of August but could
not make it pay. I sold it to Col. Preston also. He paid me five hundred dollars
down and was to pay fifteen hundred more when he took it out of the claim. (The
claim did not pay so I was out Fifteen Hundred Dollars.) I don't know much the Col.
~ Brush and I started for home. We hired horses and came out to Lewiston by a
different road from the one we went in. The water in Snake River was now so low
that steamers had ceased to navigate it. This was about the first of August. A
party of twelve or fourteen of us, all returning miners and all strangers to each
other, engaged passage on a row boat made of rough boards nailed together with
cut nails and paid for our fare eight dollars each, which would more than pay for
the boat. They said we would get to Wallula on the Columbia, where we would find
steamboats, in three or four days.
~ But it took us more than a week. We bought provisions for three days, went
aboard and pushed off in the stream. One man sat in the stern to steer but he did
not seem to know much about it. The first rapid we came to he came near wrecking
us. We then wanted to know who was Captain and who was responsible for the
management for the boat. It soon leaked out that no one was. They had got pay for
the boat and gave this man free passage to represent himself as Captain. He
confessed he had never boated on the river and knew nothing about it. We could
not turn back, so the passengers, after a consultation, prevailed on me to take
charge of the boat as I appeared to know more about handling it than any of the
~ We got on pretty well until the third day when we came to Texas Rapids, where
the water was pretty rough and a steamer lay high and dry on the rocks. Most of
the men wanted to land and walk around the rapids. I had observed the river
pretty close as I went up on the steamer in the spring and knew we were near the
Palouse Rapids, where there was quite a heavy fall. I wanted them to stay in the
boat until we should get to the Palouse rapids as there was no good place to land
just below the Texas rapids, but no, all got out besides four men and myself.
~ We went over nicely but below the rapids the bank on the side they got out was
perpendicular rock for two or three miles and no landing. We went on with the boat
until we got to the head of the Palouse Rapids, when one of the men weakened and
went ashore. Here was a Traders cabin and knowing there were two channels with
an island dividing them a short distance below we tried to get information which
channel to take. We found only one man here and he was drunk. He told us first
to take the right hand channel. Then he told us to take the left - then again, the
right, so we could get no information. We waited awhile for our fellow voyagers to
come up with us but knowing they would have to walk around the foot of the rapids
we four went on with the boat, two men at the oars and one to steer.
~ I kept the lookout in the bow. When we approached the island I followed the
strongest current, which was running quite swift. An Indian hailed us. Said we
were in the wrong channel but the current carried us so fast we could not help
ourselves. He then said go ahead. I knew there had been several men drowned
there and I feared the worst. I told the men to keep cool, not to get frightened but
to pull heavy on the oars to give the boat steerage. I kept the lookout ahead and
signaled the man at the tiller which way to steer. We could hear the water roaring
ahead of us and see it dashing against the great rocks. Soon we came to a nearly
perpendicular fall of eight or ten feet, with a narrow passage between the rocks. I
told the men at the oars to pull strong and steady to give the boat headway. We
shot through like an arrow into the heavy boils below. The boat took in some water
over the bows. The boat trembled for a moment on the crest of the boils but by
steady pulling we went out into smooth water. We landed a short distance below,
just opposite the mouth of the Palouse River.
~ Found some emigrants camped. We were now out of provisions and procured all
the emigrants could spare us. Our party who left the boat above Texas Rapids had
to walk ten or twelve miles before reaching us. They came straggling in one at a
time, very tired, hungry and out of humor. They had the emigrants bake them
some bread. We pushed off again about sundown intending to run all night as it
was full moon but coming to some rapids that roared pretty loud about ten o'clock
we landed and camped for the night.
~ The next day we found the river rapid and full of rocks, many projecting above the
water. About noon a man on shore hailed us. He was an old boatmen and well
acquainted with the river. He wanted to go to Wallula. We took him in and he
rendered us good service.
~ The next morning we came to a camp of Shoshone or Nez Perce Indians, who were
catching and drying salmon, which was all we had to eat for two days. At this time
there was no white settlement on the river from Lewiston to Wallula. One day the
wind blew so hard up the river we could make no progress and the waves ran so
high that it was dangerous to try to navigate the boat. We had to lay up several
~ We finally reached Wallula and took a steamer for the Dalles. When we arrived at
Portland we heard good reports from miners, lately discovered on John Day River
at Cannon Creek. W. T. Brush went there. I took the steamer for San Francisco
and came home, not much better off than when I started in the Spring.
Home & Back to Idaho
~ After making arrangements so I could leave home I started again for the mines,
hoping to make a raise. Took the steamer for Portland, Oregon, from there by way
of Dalles to Cannon City on John Day River. Here I found Brush, who was doing
well mining. It was now the month of November  and no water for mining
except in the main stream which was all taken up.
~ I got acquainted with a party from Humboldt Bay who had taken up a water right
for a mining ditch, also some mining claims on the hillside that the ditch would
cover when completed. They had no means to prosecute the work and it was
thought the ditch would be good paying property. They induced me to go in with
them and build the ditch. It was to be seven miles long, three feet wide and sixteen
inches deep and was estimated to cost from nine to twelve thousand dollars. There
was five of the original party: Smith Filmore, William McNamara, Mathias Sproul,
Gil Sproul and Nathaniel Hurst. They made me an equal partner in their ditch and
~ My partners had no money or credit and I did not have one hundred dollars in
money but could get all the credit I wanted. They gave me full charge of the
construction of the ditch. I made a contract with a merchant for provisions to the
amount of twelve hundred dollars, payable the next June, with a mortgage on the
ditch. Made a contract with Doct. Price to furnish us all the beef we wanted,
payable in water scrip and contracts for some other supplies payable also in scrip.
We built a large log cabin about three miles above town on the line of the ditch and
about two miles below the dam where we took the water out of Cannon Creek.
There was about one and a half miles around rocky cliffs that was necessary to
flume. About half a mile above our cabin was a fine grove of pine timber which we
took up claims on. In surveying the ditch I made a fall of twenty feet at this timber
for a mill site so as to use the water of the ditch to drive the mill and float the
lumber down to build flumes to the mines. I also made a contract with a Mr.
Penfield who had a portable saw mill, to put his mill on our ditch and furnish us
lumber for our flumes, to be paid for at stated times, after we got the ditch in
~ I hired a set of blacksmith tools and we burned a small coal pit. Built a large clay
oven to bake bread and roast meat, etc. in. We had no chimney to our cabin but
built the fire in the center and let the smoke go out through a large hole in the roof.
It was now winter and a number of idle miners around. So I hired about twenty five
men at fifty dollars per month and board, payable in water scrip. The Winter was
favorable for work - not much rain or snow and the ground did not freeze very hard.
We worked all the time and by the first of May  had the water running
through the ditch onto the mines.
~ I contracted with carpenters to put in the flumes. In May we opened our mines
and sold water to other miners and in June paid off the mortgage. Everything went
on well until the water became scarce in the creek mines. Our ditch had the first
right to all the water in the creek except one head of thirty inches miners measure.
The miners in the creek bed wanted more. They wanted to run derrick wheels,
ground sluices and sluice boxes, besides they wasted a great deal and were short of
water. They would not buy from us. About the last of July they cut our dam,
turned all the water down the creek and laid us dry.
~ We were owing a large sum of money to different parties. Some few were willing to
wait on us. Others would not wait but commenced suit. We had between two and
three thousand dollars in gold dust. I came home, brought the dust to San
Francisco and bought green backs at forty-three cents on the dollar, sent it back to
my partners and they paid all that was giving us trouble.
~ I remained at home until April, 1864, when I went back Cannon City and was
there through the Summer. Built a large reservoir on the hill. We bought out two
of our partners, Gil Sproul and McNamara. I was at home again the next Winter.
My partners bought the sawmill of Penfield. I went back in the Spring of 1865.
We made lumber, floated it down the ditch to the town and mines and built a tailing
flume 3/4 of a mile long for the drift mines on Dutch Flat to tail into, as the Creek
Miners would not let them wash their tailings into the Creek. Was at home through
the Winter of 1865 and 1866. Went back to mines and tended ditch until the
water failed - then sold out my interest to my remaining partners and bid the mines
a final farewell.
~ I had made but little out of the operation. There was now but two of the Company
after I left, Al Sproul and Hurst. They made money out of the property after I left,
Chinamen coming into the mines and buying all the water they could run. Hurst
finally sold out to Sproul, who still owned it as late as 1884 and had made quite a
little fortune out of it.
Trestles & Snowsheds: the Sierras
~ After remaining at home until February, 1867, I went on the Central Pacific
Railroad to build bridges on the Truckee River. I was still in debt. I gave my Wife
power of Attorney to sell land and pay debts.
I worked all Summer at a good salary and sometime in November when I was
raising a bridge at the Cascades above Cisco and had it nearly completed I
accidentally made a misstep and fell from the top, a distance of fifty feet, breaking
six ribs and injuring my shoulder and spine. I was unconscious until the next day
and was not able to walk for nearly two months.
~ In the meantime I learned that my Wife had sold a portion of my land in
Cloverdale and had obtained a divorce and a decree giving her all my property. No
one can know, but may imagine, my feelings, in my then condition on receiving this
news. It was unexpected as far as I knew. She had no cause of complaint against
me. I, however, had my suspicions as to the cause and object of her proceedings. I
had intercepted some letters while I was at Truckee, being correspondence with a
party who was keeping a saloon on the railroad. Now referring to this
correspondence my eyes were opened.
As soon as I was able to travel I went to San Francisco and learned that she was at
San Jose stopping with a friend, Mrs. Horner. I went there and found her. She
met me friendly. I told her in the presence of Mrs. Horner that she had treated me
very badly and that I had evidence by which I could set aside the decree of the
Court and reverse it in regard to my property, but, as she had chosen her course I
was willing to divide and would deed and redeed then and there, to which she at
once agreed. I also told her in Mrs. Horner's presence that I would yet sometime
have a home and a family that would be respectable and a comfort to me. This was
in December 1867.
The next Spring I went back to Cisco on the Central Pacific and got up plans for a
machine to frame timber for the snow-sheds. In March went down the Truckee to
the State line and had a gang of men getting out ties for the railroad. In May
moved the gang to Cold Stream, above Truckee, and made ties until the first of
June. I then got orders to go to Sacramento and have my machine built at the
Company's shops. I had my machine finished by the 20th of June and shipped it
up to Summit Valley. Put in a side track, where the snow was still four feet deep
and soon got the machine in good working order. With six handy men it would do
the work of fifty carpenters. In July I commenced putting up snow sheds and by
the middle of December had completed six miles of snow shed at the summit of
Sierra Nevada Mountains.
~ At one time I had a very narrow escape. In going down to Truckee with my
construction train we had a collision with a freight train coming up just opposite
Donner Lake. I was on the engine, sitting on the firemans side. The trains got so
close before any alarm could be given that they could not slacken speed until they
collided. I was thrown headlong against the door of the fire box and all the wood
from the tender on top of me. I soon crawled out and found the Engineer and
Fireman both bleeding, the Locomotives smashed up, steam flying all around, the
cars off the track, several men badly hurt and everything in confusion. The only
injury I sustained was a slightly sprained wrist and some scratches on my head
from the wood piling on me. One man who jumped off the train on some wood
fractured his scull so that it caused his death.
About the middle of December 1868, having completed my section of sheds, the
Company wanted me to move to an uncovered section opposite the lower end of
Donner Lake and put up two miles more of snowshed, which I declined, as the
ground was now covered with snow and it was getting quite cold and disagreeable
and would be no better before the next May.
I came down to Cloverdale. Having no home I boarded at the U.S. Hotel - H.F.
Girkhardt, Proprietor. I was very lonesome. Felt as though I had not a friend in the
World. I wanted a companion but knew of no one who I wished as such.
~ Mrs. D. C. Brush had just returned from a visit to her friends in the East. She
came by steamer from New York by way of Panama. She told me of a young lady
who came on the same vessel, whose acquaintance she had made, and from her
description of her good qualities I became favorably impressed and thought I should
like to make her acquaintance. An opportunity soon presented itself. Accepting an
invitation extended to her while on the trip, she made Mrs. Brush a visit at her
home in Cloverdale, and I became acquainted with Miss Lizzie Unferfate.
~ The place of her nativity was Rochester, N.Y. Her parents had died while she
was quite young. She had been brought up by an Uncle and Aunt in Buffalo, N.Y.;
her Uncle being her guardian. Our acquaintance proved agreeable and ripened into
respect, love and attachment, which culminated in our marriage on the 18th of
March, 1869, in the City of San Francisco. We made a short bridal tour to
Sacramento and to Truckee. Returned to Petaluma and went to housekeeping.
~ A Company had been incorporated to build a railroad from Petaluma up Russian
River Valley. They employed me to build the bridges. I build the first one across
Petaluma Creek. The Company, after doing a little grading, suspended operations.
~ We moved to Cloverdale in June and after lived in a rented house until I could
build one. As soon as it was tenable we moved into it. It was on the point just East
of the present Railroad Depot. The next Spring planted fruit trees near the house
and three acres of vineyard back of the hill next to the river; also a small vineyard
on the site of the present depot. We lived here until the Summer of 1871, when I
built a new house on West Street (where Mr. Schults now lives). Furnished and
moved into it.
~ In the meantime Mr. Peter Donahue had build the railroad from Donahue to
Healdsburg and in the Fall of 1871 sold it to the Central Pacific Railroad Company,
which Company extended the road to Cloverdale. I was employed to Superintend
the building of bridges, depots and other wood work and fencing the whole line,
which was completed in 1872. When the C. P. sold the road back to Donahue in
the Spring of 1873 a Company was incorporated to build a toll road from
Cloverdale to the Geysers. I took half of the stock and contracted to build the road
for $20,000.00. Commenced work in April and completed the road in August.
Made nothing on the contract but involved myself in debt. The next year, 1874, I
was engaged under a salary in building the Squaw Creek Toll Road to Lake
In May, 1877, sold the house in which we lived at that time to Mr. Schults. Made a
visit to our friends in the East. After returning home built a small house at the
Spring near the Depot, where we lived until the Spring of 1882, when I finished
our new house on West Street above 4th, moved into it.
1884 - Made another visit to our friends East. I had been dealing in lumber from
1876 to 1884, when I sold out my stock to Messrs. Crawford & Foulds.
1885 - Built two cottages on 3rd Street.
A few additional notes from “family lore”:
The Kleisers originally arrived in Virginia from the Lucerne area of Switzerland. There were two or
several brothers who emigrated together. Some or all were clockmakers. The emigration to Kentucky
was quite early, and was likely sons or grandsons of the original immigrants. For many years there
was a wooden-wheel clock supposed to have been brought over .(Notice that Mr. Kleiser’s grandfather
is mentioned as farming in Kentucky.)
The reason that his mother was “…not satisfied from some cause…” with the arrangement in Shelby
County with Uncle John Kleiser was that Uncle John began making unwelcome advances toward her.
On the second trip West, the reason for the split between Mr. Winter and Mr. Kleiser involved wives
who did not get along. (Mr. Winter’s wife was an Armstrong, a cousin of Mr. Kleiser’s, and had a