Chapter Fourteen

Over the Sierra Nevada Mountains Into California

        We stayed over that day and the following night. The next day we took our course up the Carson River for Carson City, about one hundred miles distant. This is a country of sage brush and alkali, but the water in the Carson at this season of the year is fairly good, and among the sage brush there is some bunch grass on which our stock did very well.

        On the fifth day we reached Carson City and camped near the town on some marshy land. Carson City was at that time quite a busy little town, it being just at the commencement of the great strikes of ore on the Comstock Ledge. By this time nearly all our supplies were used up, and, being offered a large price for the wagon that had been our home so long, I accepted and, selling such of our supplies as we would not need, put the balance of my things in one of my father’s wagons that was nearly empty, turned over my ox team to help draw them over the Sierras, while my wife and myself concluded to go horseback over the mountains. The week or two in crossing was really the first rest I had enjoyed since we left Missouri. Every day, taking our boy with us, we would ride on ahead until we found good grass, where we would dismount and wait until the teams would overtake us, then in the afternoon we would ride ahead again and select a proper place for camp. When the teams came up we would put up our tent, as the nights were cold, cook a little supper and off to bed and sleep.

        Anyone who has traveled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains knows how glorious and changing the scenery is. It was even more wonderful at that time, being almost a virgin forest. Our route from Carson City lay up a small stream, and, leaving Lake Tahoe on our right, we traversed three small valleys, then known as Faith, Hope and Charity. On, and ever upward, the road or trail wound around among the trees until about the third day we reached the summit and camped on the margin of the most beautiful little lake—a very gem—set in the summit of the mountains. As the banks and all around were clothed in a rich green and abundant grass, we rested here several days while horses and cattle luxuriated on the rich feed. We made a raft and went out on the lake, but could not get a bite. In fact, there did not seem to be any live thing in or on these clear waters.

        After nearly a week’s rest, we moved on. Sometimes the feed was very scarce. I remember one morning our cattle were scattered and out of sight. We started out in various directions to find them and it took until nearly noon to gather them in. The only adventure we had with grizzlies was on this occasion. My brother was passing through some heavy brush in a narrow trail, when looking ahead he saw a huge grizzly coming to meet him, but the bear did not seem to realize his nearness and came steadily on. My brother, finally, when they were within thirty feet of each other, gave a shout, and the bear stood suddenly upright, and the pair of them stared at each other for what seemed a long minute, when the bear turned deliberately around and took the back trail. It is needless to say that my brother imitated his example. He was not looking for grizzlies that morning.

        The next place of importance we passed was the big trees in Calaveras County, known as the Calaveras Grove, where we rested for several hours and saw all the wonders of this grove to the best advantage, as up to that date fire and the lumberman’s axe had not marred its grandeur. Only one tree had been felled near the hotel, and on the stump was erected a dancing pavilion twenty-five feet in diameter.

        Our way now led down the steep Mokelumne hill over a very trying road. We crossed the headwaters of the Stanislaus at Murphy’s, passed by Angels Camp, both at that time thriving mining towns. We were now out of the mountains and our horses and cattle, that had pastured wherever we pleased for some two thousand miles, could do so no longer, and from this time on we purchased the use of stubble-fields, wherever possible, and when we could not, we would buy a ton of hay. We crossed the San Joaquin River at French Camp, and from there followed almost the present line of the railroad through Livermore Valley and around the upper end of San Francisco Bay to Milpitas. All the way the plains were covered with Mexican cattle and everything was swept clean of feed, except in the enclosed fields. On our arrival at Milpitas, we learned that my wife’s sister lived on a farm near Mountain View, only ten miles distant, so turning all my cattle loose with the herd and in care of my father and brother-in-law, who were bound for a stock ranch near Gilroy, I found a team and driver to take my wife and boy and our small personal belongings to our destination, while I followed, riding one horse and leading the other two. We arrived at the home of my wife’s sister about noon on the thirteenth day of September, just six months exactly from the date of our departure from home.

        So ended our journey across the plains. I have read somewhere the saying that the "Good Lord takes care of children and fools." Looking backward, I cannot but feel that we must have belonged to one or both of those divisions of humanity. We had started out on this great undertaking without any knowledge of its dangers and difficulties, without a guide or knowing what we would need most, and yet, we went on from day to day, not knowing what was ahead of us, and coming to our journey’s end all in good health, having lost no member of our own party, and only one animal from our whole outfit.

        When we consider that the best conducted and equipped parties expected to lose from one-third to one-half of their stock and often a number of their party on the road, it seems to me that a good Providence must have guarded our way.