Daniel B. West - Wagon Train "California Diary" - 1850
California Diary of Daniel B. West
Copyright 2008, John Moore
This is the diary of a wagon train journey from Independence, Mo to the gold rush country of California, taken May-August, 1850 by my great-great...grandfather, Daniel West. It provides a fascinating look at the experiences and travails of those travelers.
See photos at end of page.
This diary, the record of the journey from Missouri, overland to the California, "gold-diggins" was written on large sheets, of paper, in ink, in a flowing legible hand. In the course of years the first sheet of the narrative (a. folder of four pages) has been lost, and the last page of the last sheet has crumbled in holes Fortunately the signature is. still intact. For many years this diary was lost, and the author himself did not believe it to be in existence, but it was found in an old trunk, belonging to his second wife, who survived him a number of years.
The diary unfortunately lacks the year date, but it is the belief of the family that the journey did not take place until 1850. He went to join friends. who had gone with a company of 49ers. The author was born in 1826 and was, therefore 24 at this time.
The spelling of the original has been preserved, and as far as possible, the punctuation.
Note for this copy.
My copy was sent to my mother sometime probably in the 1940s or 1950s. I believe it was from Mary Cripps, daughter of Jennie Buckles West, who was a daughter of the author, Daniel B. West.
I do not know what happened to the earlier pages of the diary. The version I copied here was done on a manual typewriter with such poor impressions that OCR was not very successful, so most pages were simply recopied.
Checking the dates vs. a universal calendar indicates the year was 1850.
February 17, 2005
forced to travel, twelve o'clock brought us to a halt. having found plenty of wood, water but no grass, horses falling away rapidly for the want of it, considerable excitement in camp, from the fact that rumour said that the Pawnee Indians had joined with another tribe, and were very hostile toward the emigrants, having said that they were determined not to let the palefaces pass through their country, kill their game and burn their timber(We being now within their boundary). A very severe storm arose tonight; I stood watch during the heighth of the storm, the lightning was so vivid that whenever there was a. streek I could see objects as distinctly as day, and you may be shure, being skittish of my whereabouts, l took advantage of every flash to peer around to. see whether I could distinguish a red face; a horse killed by the lightning. 12 mls, 272 from Independence.
20th. Started about seven this morning, road very slippery, used the ropes at one hill. Traveled all day in sight of the little Blue river, road leading directly up its valley, for a. distance. of 5 mls. Passed near a. hundred ox teams, the sight is grand as far as the eye can gaze; can be seen one train after another winding their way to the golden land. The little Blue is not a large stream; but no riffles can be seen, the water runs very fast. Saw a dead buffalo too, killed perhaps by the Indians; encamped tonight a quarter of a mile from wood and water because we think it is not safe to encamp near the bushes; grass still short but improving since the rain. We graze our horses some distance from the carral, until night, when we picket them close around it, sentinels on the outside; very warm and sultry today; tonight cloudy and threatens us with a storm we expect nightly to have our tent hoisted from over our heads by the wind. All well and thriving. Trav. 25 mls. 297
21st. No storm last night, but foggy and drizzly this. morning. Passed a, traveling blacksmith shop this morning which charged only 5 dols. for shoeing a horse, saw several buffalo heads; saw no live ones yet. T'is now just mid-day and we have. left the little Blue; on a. high eminence we have halted to graze our stock. I my individual self am about a quarter of a mile from. the: train grazeing my riding horse on a flourishing patch of grass. All persons are watching the movements of the grass with great anxiety. It is growing rapidly. Teams whilst I am writing are rolling by very fast, wind blowing; quite cool and a little cloudy. I went to sleep whilst viewing the scenery of nature around, when I awoke. the wagons had gone and were out of sight. I jumped onto my horse and overtook them just before camping time, no wood but what we hauled with us; Trav. 25.mls; 322 mls. In.
22nd. Started at seven, traveled 10 miles and struck the valley of the Platte river, traveled some five miles in the valley of the Platte and encamped; plenty of water but no wood but what is on the opposite, side of it. The Platte is a very swift, angry looking stream, appearing to be very deep; 8 or so of us concluded to take a swim in it, but when we plunged. into the river, instead of being swimming, to our great astonishment, it was scarce knee deep; the bottom a perfect bed of sand, water very muddy, grass fine, had another storm last night, little rain but very severe wind, had to hold our tent poles to keep the tent from blowing away. Trav. 15 mls. 337 mls. from Indep.
23rd. Had another storm last night, blew our tent over, very cool. this morning, traveled 5 mls. and arrived at Fort Kearny (which makes 342 mls. from, Independence according to my guessing). It is situated at the head of Grand Island; it is a very shabby looking place, its houses principally of sod; from this place I mailed several letters for Mo.; having passed Grand Island, we traveled close to the banks of the Platte all day. The Platte is over a mile wide and yet so shallow that a man can wade across it; water of the Platte very indifferent for drinking, can obtain water most any place in the valley by sinking some four or five feet. It is colder than the water of the Platte, but has a disagreeable taste. Trav. some 15 mls. after leaving the fort, and encamped close to the bank of the river; grass very short this side but by fording our stock across to an island (which are numerous in the Platte) we find the grass to be very good. Trav. 20 mls.., 357 mls. from Independ.
24th. Our road lay all day up the Platte. The Platte is full of little islands, its banks only 3 or 4 ft high with no timber excepting occasionally a little bush; the valley being of a sandy soil, by diging in any part of it to a level with the river can get plenty of water; encamped at four o'clock this evening, grass very good; cooked with buffalo chips for the first time. Trav. 25, mls., 382 mls.
25th. Started at 5 this morning, road fine; this evening 10 of us went off of the road about a mile, which brought us to thc bank of the river; now we concluded we would take a bathe; into the water we plunged, spending some two hours here; then we got on to our horses (all this time the wagons had been rolling ahead) and rode leisurely along thinking we would soon over-take the train; having encamped early some distance from the road we passed them - and traveled some 8 mls, (having seperated only 2 remained in company with me; the rest found their way into camp) we three wandered from camp to camp hoping to spy our own; but alas we could not find it; night overhauled us, the wind raised and suddenly became so dark that we could not see the. roads, but finally the wind ceased blowing, the clouds broke and we spied several encampments not far off, we made for one of them, but could hear no tidings of our train, we went to another and another but to no purpose, so being tired out gave up the chase and begged for lodgings of strangers, being refused several times, finally we obtained shelter in a tent, laid down and went to sleep with empty stomachs; got our breakfasts next morning, rode back some 4 or 5 mls., and met our train (so much for leaving the. road) Trav. 25 mls, 407 mls. from Independence.
26th. Today is Sunday, when we met our wagons they were traveling to find better grass, trav. till four in the evening when we found fine grass. I visited a city of prairie dogs, snakes and owls. Wood, water and grass plenty, Trav. 15 mls. 422mls. from Independence.
27th. Last night we had another storm; the loud peals of the thunder accompanied by the howl of the wolves and the whistling wind. Started at six o'clock, traveled over a very hilly road, the ground perfectly bare, about 5 P.M. we again came into the Platte valley, here we found grass and buffalo chips and encamped, saw today many carcases of buffalo lately killed, no live ones yet. I have seen many sage rabbits, antelopes, wolves, and prairie dogs; one of our company killed a sage rabbit today; opposite to us across the river is encamped a very large train; they have a great stampede with their horses, their running sounds like distant thunder. Very cold tonight. Trav. 25 mls, 447 mls. from. Indep,
28th. Our road lay this morning over a. rough, barren country. Four o'clock again brought us to the Platte valley where we found grass and water for our animals. Trav. 25mls. 472 mls, from Indep,
29th. Last night another storm visited us. About twelve o'clock whilst all excepting the sentinels were whileing away their time in sweet and silent rest after a toilsome day's journey, all upon a sudden the distant thunder warned us of an approaching storm. Nearer and nearer it came until the wind its echo sounded, and the elements let loose from above. Whilst listening to the heavy torrents of rain that was falling we heard the alarm Stampede! Stampede! given by the sentinels; now was the busy time; out and out of the tents we tumbled, cook and all, into the maddened wind and rain. Happily we succeeded in ketching those of our horse that had broken loose and thus, put an and to the Stampede.. The horses neighed and were certainly very much frightened, so the storm passed by without much injury with the exception of wet backs and disturbed rest. Traveled for miles. today over land covered with prickly pears. Five o'clock came to the upper ford of the south fork of the Platte and encamped; grass good. Trav. 20 mls. 492-
30th. Started early and commenced crossing the river. Before commencing to cross we hoisted our pro-visions upon the platform of the wagon; we succeeded crossing safely; though it was. a very hard pull, the bed of the stream being sand with many sink-holes, the water some 3ft. deep; it took each wagon about 45 minutes to cross, having to angle down the, stream, makeing about a mile and a half in the water. After crossing we struck across the divide between the North and South Platte; within 5 miles of North Platte the road very rough; the bluffs thickly interspersed with rock and cedar. Traveled up the valley of North Platte some 5 miles and encamped, grass tolerably fair; more than three hundred wagons encamped in sight. Trav. 20 mls. 512-
31st. Passed several Sioux Indian encampments today, road very sandy 5 or 6 inches deep, hard pulling, encamped on the bank of the river. Trav. 25., 537. mls. from Independence.
June 1st. Last night it fell to my lot to stand the first watch and whilst at it I witnessed the severest storm of wind and rain we have. had during the journey; the lightning and thunder intense; traveled over a very sandy road today, encamped near the banks of the river; been in sight of the cedar grove all day; tonight the huge court house rock can be seen distinctly from our camp, 2 of our wagons left us today and 8 men, which leaves us in number 16 men; warm during the day but cool at night; every day we see the irons from wagons that have been left, the wood burnt from them. Trav. 20 mls. 557 from In-
2nd. Today is Sunday; last evening it seemed to be the voice of the train to lay by today (which has been our custom heretofore whenever grass, wood and water were plenty) but this morning when we arose we found some in favour of traveling half the day for this reason because they thought that the horses would gorge themselves so with grass that they would not be able to travel, and contended that we would be doing ourselves an injury by laying by on the Sabbath (any excuse being better than none). So it was put to the vote, that being our custom, and those who were in favor of traveling received a majority over us, and so we had to travel; we geared up and started with the exception of one wagon (that was one of the four that started with us). who were determined not to be ruled by vote and thus remained behind. We started about nine o'clock, drove until three, and encamped near to the rock known by the name of Chimney Rock; it is certainly a grand sight, towering high in the air with meriads of smaller ones around. Another storm arose about 4 of the clock this evening, rather a poor chance for cooking; nothing but wet buffalo chips; enough to worry the patience of the cook, which is no more or less than my unworthy self; our encampment is about midway between the river and bluffs. Trav. 15 mls. 572 mls. from Indep-
3rd. Early this morning 2 others and. myself started for the Chimney Rock which we judged to be only 3 or 4 mls. off, but to our great astonishment we found it to be some 8 or 9 mls. It is certainly one of the greatest pieces of workmanship of nature I have ever seen, towering upwards of 200 ft. above the level of the Platte. I ascended a considerable distance up it where I found thousands of names inscribed and amid the host of names enrolled mine, the court-house rock can be distinctly seen from the Chimney Rock, the Chimney Rock is fast decaying and crumbling away. At two o'clock we perceived a cloud arising; it brought us but little rain, but soon turned very cool in fact cold, so cold that with our overcoats we were chilled through; we traveled some 3 or 4 mls. and then the tale was told why it turned so cold; there had been a hard hail storm, the hail lay some three inches deep on the ground. We encamped at six in view of Scott's Bluffs. The bluffs present a grand sight, having the appearance of a city, with its huge buildings, steeples, chimneys etc. peering aloft. Went several miles before we could obtain water and could obtain only a couple of buckets full at that which was well colored and flavoured with mud. Trav. 30 mls. 622 miles from Independance. .
4th. Last night we had a cold rain; at 8 A. M. we hoisted colour and rolled out of Scott's Bluffs; came to the river again and encamped; fine grass. Trav. 20 mls. 622 mls. from Independance.,
5th. Started early; Rangers No. 2. overtook us today (the name given to the wagon that would not abide by the decision of the company the Sunday previous and remained behind). Trav. 30 mls. 652 mls. from Independance: 7 mls. from Fort Larimie.
6th. Crossed Larimie prong of the Platte near its junction with the Platte, traveled 1 mile and came to the fort. Fort Larimie is situated on the banks. of' the Larimie River, rather an ugly location, but a neat, clean looking fort. I paid 50 cents for a pie at the fort; left letters at the fort to be sent to the states. Trav. 12 mls. 664 from Independance.
7th. Left the Platte and struck up into a very hilly country covered principally with wild sage, cedar and pine. Larimie peak in sight all the time, it looks as if there was snow on it; saw many wagons that had been left, passed a fine spring, out of which we filled our water vessels, drove half a mile and encamped Trav. 30 mls. 699 mls. from Indep.
8th. Started this morning after a late breakfast, drove 8 mls. where we again came to the bank of the Platte and encamped for the day to recruit our stock and clean up. Cut 3 ft. off our wagon beds and coupled our wagons shorter. Threw away all useless things. The river takes a very sudden bend where we are encamped and appears as if it bursted out from the mountain; one of our band went round the bend and came back with the intelligence that there was a flock of mountain goats up where he had been. So a party of us started for the spot having loaded our guns. When we arrived at the before mentioned spot one of the grandest sights in nature presented itself to our view. There flowed the Platte with its winged flight through its deep cut channel, towering high on the opposite side was the bluffs hundreds of ft. above the water. The bluffs came within about ten feet of the water's edge, and then were nearly perpendicular. Now in the small clefts on the side of the bluff could be seen the goats playing around. Our party shot 2 of them. Now the question arose how shall we get the goats on our side of the river, for the North Platte is not like the South and the main Platte fordable, but on the contrary very deep and the current rapid, but finally two of the band took up resolution to brave the current and get the goats. They plunged in; away the current took them, down the stream they went; one with great exertion, reached the opposite shore, but the other when he was about mid-way, perceiving that he was gradually failing, turned his first one side and then the other, to see which shore was the nearest, made his mind up in a short time and turned back, but by this time the current had taken him some distance down; he reached shallow water perfectly exhausted and dropped. where he lay for some time not able to move. Another of the party soon made up his mind to swim over; he did so but reached the opposite shore with great difficulty; both of them on the opposite bank hollowed in God's name not any more to attempt to swim the river. Now after they had swum the river came the puzzle how shall we cross the goats or even ourselves (but necessity being the mother of invention) they spied a fine log; to this log they made fast the goats and each of them jumped across the log with sticks in hand for paddles; the current after taking them down for some distance, shot them straight across to our side safe and sound, goats and all, We soon had Mr. Goat into the frying pans, and then such a smacking of lips--oh , it was delicious. Old Black Hawk our great hunter smacked his mouth and wished for more; had another storm, Trav. 8 mls, 707 mls. from Indep.-
9th. Tis now Sunday and we are resting; 2 of the wagons belonging to our train left us this morning because we were opposed to traveling on Sunday. Our four wagons that started from home together are now together and alone; had another storm; some not so well after the feast on mountain goat.
10th. Hoisted colours early this morning, left the Platte, struck out some two or three miles over the hills and came again to the river. Followed it some 4 or 5 mls. left it again and took to the hills; no water for about 15 miles; came to a creek of running water and soon encamped; scarcely any grass; another storm this evening; Larimie peak. still in view. Trav. 25 mls, 732 mls, from, Indep-
11th. Started at eight o 'clock, road very bad, hill after hill, rocks on top of rocks, had another storm this evening, crossed several creeks, nothing but wild sage for our stock. Trav. 20. 752 mls. from Indep-
12th. Started at seven; mid-day brought us to the Platte again, followed in sight the remainder of the day; encamped in the valley. Trav. 25 mls. 777 mls, from Indep-
13th. Started by light this morning, made a forced march for the ferry, passed many teams on the road, arrived at the ferry about eleven o'clock, several hundred teams ahead of us; 5 boats running all the time; remained this side of the river tonight, and sent our stock over to the mountains to graze; saw several bear feet laying on the side of the road. Trav. 15 mls, 192 mls. from Indep
14th. Got our wagons and horses over by eight o'clock and pursued our journey, passed over the most barren country I ever have seen, scarcely a spear of grass visible, the face of the country covered with sand and traces of alkali, very windy, sand blowing in every direction. This evening it is so cold that with our overcoats on we are all shakeing with the cold. Trav. 27 mls. without water or grass for our animals, and encamped at Willow Springs, fine water and no grass, passed many bones of oxen poisened by drinking alkaline water last year.
15th. Started early this morning having had no grass since we left the Platte for our stock, raining and snowing with a tremendous gale of wind blowing in our faces. Cold, yes very cold with 2 shirts 3 coats, 2 pair of pants, 1 pair of under pants, making 3 in all; yet I am shakeing with the cold, ceased raining about ten o'clock, where we are at, but is still raining on the mountain tops; the mountains are white with snow; from Willow Springs to Sweetwater River, a tributary or the Platte it is nothing else but a desert, in fact from the Platte to Sweetwater River, a distance or some 50 mls., it is a complete desert. Today the wind is blowing right against our faces, which has forced us all day to contend with a fog of sand, our horses having nothing to eat last night and no water since morning; reached Sweet river about four o'clock. very faint and weak, passed many I am afraid will never reach Sweet Water, after watering our stock and letting them rest awhile we drove on, passed the great Independance rock, crossed Sweet Water and encamped in a bend of the river, grass very short, Sweet Water most winding stream I have seen. Trav. 27 mls. 846&
16th. Today is Sunday again, grass being scarce we hitched up and drove some six miles where we found grass and encamped in the valley near to a small stream flowing out from the mountain and emptying into Sweet Water, 3 or 400 yds. from the Devil's Gate (a deep cut through solid rock); most in camp are discouraged from the fact that the last two days drive without grass and the road being so sandy has cut our horses down so much that we think we won't be able to make the riffle if we continue with our wagons; so we have stopped with the determinations to make pack saddles and pack; close to us there were five wagons cut by a company who concluded to pack. 852 mls. from Independance.
17th. This morning we made up our minds to pack and have been bust all day makeing pack saddles and selling all things that we cannot pack, but throwing and giving away more than we sell. This evening we saw a snow storm on the mountain close by, from the appearance a considerable quantity of snow is laying on the mountain, very cold wind blowing all day, cold enough for overcoats all day.
18th. Ice in the buckets this morning. Been making pack saddles all day and arranging things for packing, cut up two wagons today to make pack saddles from; sold one of the wagons for 5 dol.
19th. Still preparing for packing, very cold this morning, old Black Hawk very funny from using king Alkehol too freely.
20th. About 8 o'clock this morning we arranged our packs on our horses, and made a start, now came the trouble, pack turning every few miles, whilst trudging along through deep sand leading my pack horses, my joints aching with fatigue, many and oft were my thoughts of home, sweet home. After encamping we threw away all clothes but a change, Trav. 15 mls.
21st. Today our road lay through sand 6 inches deep, I walked all day and led my pack horses; very tired, my feet being much blistered, my horses backs quite sore, and myself discouraged. We crossed Sweet Water three times this evening in the course of half a mile; passed through a deep cut in the rock and struck a pretty valley, and again encamped. Traveled 28 mls. 895.
22nd. Started early this morning, traveled 5 mls. and again crossed the river (which makes the 5th time) passed an alkaline lake, the surrounding soil covered with alkali - saw many dead oxen poisoned from drinking the water. Struck the river again at 12 o'clock, and succeeded in finding good water and some grass. We are all much. fatigued having walked through sand all the way, country destitute of vegetation, except occasionally a scrubby sage bush. Black Hawk, our best walker, completely gave out overcome with a dizziness occasioned by the heat and fatigue. Here I purchased a good pack saddle which works better than the one I made of wagon spokes. After grazing a few hours we pushed forward and in 6 mls. again struck Sweet Water Trav. 27 mls., 922-
23rd. Today, Sunday, and on account of scarcity of grass and having allowanced ourselves in provisions we concluded to travel. Soon left the river, passed several lakes of alkali and found ourselves in a dreary country, with no water except what was strongly impregnated with alkali (indeed the whole distance from Platte ferry abounded in this poisonous water, the river only affording wholesome drink) About four o'clock we left the road and struck up through a mountain ravine to procure grass and encamped. Ten steps from our tent lay a huge snow heap, which melting supplied us with delicious water. Traveled 25 mls. 947.
24th. We are lying in camp today, one of our company being sick, Old Black Hawk, shouldered his rifle this morning and returned with an antelope, choice meat I assure you. We heard thunder this evening, a rare occurrence in this country.
25th. Our sick man being able to travel, we made an early start and soon found ourselves in the South Pass, having ascended a regular slope for several miles, and leaving the head of Sweet Water, passing over the dividing range, we commenced descending, and struck the Pacific Springs, the source of the Colorado, from this place nine miles we came to Dry Sandy river or rather what is sometimes a river, since we had to scratch deep into its sandy bed to procure enough water to drink; our poor horses had to do without. 10 miles more brought us to Little Sandy, where we have plenty of water but little grass. Here we encamped. Between the two last mentioned streams the road forked, the left hand fork leading to Salt Lake, the right hand being Sublette's Cutoff; we followed the cutoff. Trav. 35 mls. 982.
26th. Started early, in 8 mls. came to Big Sandy River (Big, Little, and Dry Sandy are tributaries of the Colorado) pushing on for twelve miles more we found ourselves on a desert of over 50 mls. across, with but half a canteen of water in which we dissolved some lemon acid, and very carefully distributed it through the company, now reduced to eight men; the other five we found had taken the Salt Lake road, being ahead of us at the forks of the road. Being obliged to make a forced march to get to Green River, after halting an hour or two to graze, we rushed ahead. After a toilsome march through deep mountain gorges we succeeded in making the river about 12 o'clock at night, watered our thirsty selves and horses, and giving the poor animals, almost exhausted, some flour, there not being a spear of grass to be found, we laid down upon the ground-too tired to fix a bed, and slept till sunrise. Traveled 58 mls. -1042
27th. When we arose this morning we found our horses much jaded and gaunted, standing hungry after so severe a march, and found it advisable to cross the river as soon as possible and search for grass, there being none on this side of Green River.
After swimming the river, a stream about 150 yds. wide current very swift, and water as cold as recently melted snow, we ferried our baggage across and traveled 8 mls. over a dry, sterile and ridgy country, and struck a beautiful water course, known as Fountinelle's Fork, flowing through a narrow valley bound on each side by steep mountains, grass growing luxuriantly, presenting a much prettier aspect than the desert we had just crossed. Here we are encamped, the water flowing beside our tent, grass knee high, and the horses hungry as wolves, are rejoicing in the rich repast set before them. Traveled 8 mls. -1050
28th. We are today lying in camp for the benefit of our horses as well as ourselves, the animals are straying through the tall grass cropping the choicest herbage, sometimes lying on their soft green bed, and whatever notion they may have had heretofore of straying homewards, I think the desert behind (53 mls. in width) has completely checked their homesickness. Traveled a few steps to procure buffalo chips to cook our meals with.
29th. Arose this morning much refreshed, and our horses seeming lively, we pushed on early; left the beautiful Fountinelle, and ascended the hills preparatory to climbing the steep mountain lying between here and Bear River. Soon came into the snowy regions, saw some Snake Indians, and pitched our tent in a small grassy valley. Traveled 25 mls. 1075
30th. Very cold last night, went about this morning blowing warm breath upon our fingers. Ascend the main ridge of the Bear River mts. and let ourselves down one of the steepest descents we had yet seen, and winding along, through the distance of 2 mls. finally reached the bottom of the mountain, very glad to halt - pitched our tents. Traveled 30 mls. 1105
July 1.Traveled the greater part of this day up the valley of Bear River, a good level road, and grass in abundance, about 3 o'clock we left the river and struck across the mountains, came to a beautiful valley and encamped. Traveled 25mls. 1130
2nd. Started early; soon struck Bear River again, followed it all day, and encamped upon its bank, nothing of interest has transpired today. Trav. 35 mls. 1165
3rd. Started late, passed several encampments of Snake Indians, took dinner at the Soda Springs, left Bear River and bade it a final adieu; took Myers' or Headspeth's Cutoff, leaving the Oregon or Ft. Stall trail to the right, ascended the mountains, camped near a fine mountain spring, and turned our horses out to browse. Here I traded my gray mare for a little Indian poney, a Pawnee horse. Trav. 25mls. 1190.
4th. Independence Day.______ Arose this morning with curious thoughts, wondering what preparations were making on the prairie, fired a salute as the sun arose and "rolled" out. At 11 o'clock we stopped to graze, stretched ourselves on a huge pile of flat rocks, under a shady pine, and as we discussed our plain dinner since we had left all of our luxuries with our wagons, we wished we could enjoy the scraps which were then falling from the 4th of July tables in the states.
After traveling a few hours we came to Red creek, a tributary of the Lewis fork of Columbia River, and here encamped on the bank of this creek. Before sundown the valley was filled with emigrants__500 men I expect, who as the sun set, formed themselves into lines before their carrels, and fired salutes in honor of the day, and such hurrahing and shouting never before shook the neighboring hills, nor astonished the ignorant savage. T'rav. 20 mls. 1210
5th. Arose before daylight, breakfasted, and pushed forward in order to leave the crowd behind; traveled over a broken country, abounding in fine springs; at noon we stopped to graze; here an Indian came up and told us by signs that the sun would set, and we would have to sleep before we came again to water, meaning that we couldn't reach water before next day. One of our company, a black boy, being sick we concluded to stop until morning. There is much sickness among the emigrants, mountain. fever; one of our company today left and joined an ox-train, having lost his horses; they gave out on the road. Trav. 24 1234
6th. We have been lying in camp today waiting for the sick to get better, 300 yd. above us is a magnificent spring, which supplies the little stream beside which our tent stands; here the Indians have displayed great ingenuity in constructing dams and traps to catch fish using willow sprigs, making a kind of basket work. Solitary and alone our little company, 7 in number, must pass the night, not an encampment of white men near us, though plenty of Indians.
7th. Sabbath- The sick are convalescent, the rain is falling all around us, upon the mountains, we being in kind of a basin, escape the rain. This evening whilst watching the horses some distance from camp, we perceived an animal of some kind crouching among the bushes, fearing that it was an Indian after our horses, I ran to the top of the hill and made signs for one in the camp to bring a gun. He soon came and fired his rifle at the indistinct target, and to our relief killed an elk instead of an Indian.
Stayed in camp all day and feasted. We seem to go to bed with perfect indifference, fearing nothing though surrounded by savages.
8th. Started this morning bright and early, traveled 22 miles without water, at the end of which distance we found a splendid spring, water cold as ice, again struck out and ascended a mountain ridge, followed it 15 miles and encamped upon the mountain side by a spring. Trav. 25 miles 1269
9th. Started this morning down a deep gulch between two mountains, by noon reached the foot or base and grazed. Soon reached Raft River, a tributary of Lewis River. The crossing of this stream is very difficult on account of the mire. Twas funny to see the boys tumble off their hourses and splash into the water, my riding horse fell down and wet my blankets and quilts, so I am minus covering tonight. Camped on Rattlesnake Creek. Trav. 25 mls. 1294
10th. Charley roused our camp this morning long before daylight, and forced us all up as much against our inclination as it usually is against his. I think it prognosticates a storm. This evening we reached the point where the Ft. Hall road comes in. Trav. 25 mls. and reached where the Salt Lake road intersects our own. Encamped in a valley near a creek. Tonight a footman is with us just from Ireland, having walked all the way from the Atlantic averaging 40 miles per diem. Trav. 30 mls. 1324.
11th. Left the valley in which we passed the night, and commenced climbing some exceedingly rough mountains, descending we came to Goose Creek, a very crooked and winding stream, crossed our horses over to graze, very warm today. Followed the stream till 6 o'clock and encamped upon its banks. Our provisions are now getting short, flour sells at $1.00 per lb. 8 have splendid appetite but precious little money, mighty hard times. I could eat if I would, and my inclination is as strong as my ability, but if I get to eating too fast I'll starve in the end, for our provisions won't last many weeks; however I'll content myself and call it dieting but to diet when one is well takes my affection, I'm afraid I'll die it . Trav. 26 mls., 1350
12th. Last night we went to sleep as usual without fear, perfectly careless, and this morning six of our horses came up missing; we soon ascertained that they were stolen by the cursed redskins*; we came back to camp and mustered our forces, leaving one in camp; five of us shouldered our rifles and set out in pursuit, struck the trail, and soon saw the moccasin tracks distinctly.
Note 1. Written in the margin, in a different hand is: Zounds: have I got to copy this? Well! (signed) C.H.W.
Note 2. In parenthesis in the same hand as the foregoing: that's right, give it to 'em; (signed) Printer's devil.
We continued the pursuit over hill and dale, the trail being very distinct. 12 o'clock found us 15 mls. from camp among the mountains studded with thickets of scrubby pines, where we spied some wigwams; we scanned every corner to obtain a sight of either our horses or the Indian, which last we most wished to obtain a sight of through the sights of our rifles.
We cautiously examined the wigwams with ready guns, but found they were deserted, and we lost traces of the objects of our search, our poor horses. Here we stopped, exhausted by fatigue and thirst, we reluctantly concluded to return, which we accordingly did with heaavy hearts and sorrowful thoughts of the future.
Out of our 13 horses the thieves selected the fattest and best, leaving us but 7 and they are thin and have sore backs. I myself had a little Indian poney left, which I now regarded as my all, and only show of getting through a country 600 miles in extent. Oh that fate which has dealt so cruelly with me of late would send some relief to cheer my drooping spirits, for I feel really disheartened when I think of my situation
13th. This morning with gloomy thoughts I packed my remaining horse (not much larger than a minute) and started afoot. Many a melancholy laugh was wafted by the winds, many sad phrases and curses were sent back to the thievish root diggers, and I often caught myself muttering Who would have thought I came to this?
We continued up Goose Creek till noon halted and grazed whilst we were planning how most easily to pursue our journey, little dreaming of assistance, an acquaintance from Palmyra came by and offered us his light 2 horse wagon, since his own horses were scarcely able to pull it. Accordingly we with six horses prepared very easily and thankfully to change our mode of traveling by putting our packs in the wagon, hitching two horses at a time, In this way we traveled on, leaving Goose Creek and entering Thousand Spring valley, so called from its numerous springs.
Here we pitched our camp and heard from passers-by that some horses suiting the description of ours had been traded to emigrants behind, by the Indians, which gave us hopes of still obtaining our own.
Every one seems tired tonight many complaints of blistered feet and many threats against the Indians. Trav. 25 mls., 1375
14th. This morning two of us started back to find the horses; we succeeded in finding 3 of them for which the whites had traded some shirts, powder, etc. to the Indians. We returne well please although we had not obtained all, travelled 14 mls. and encamped.,
The Indians were outrageous last night, shooting several horses belonging to the whites with their poisoned arrows. Trav. 15 mls. 1390
15th. This morning we started with more horses and more spirits. Our road lay through Coldwater valley, passe boiling springs hot enough to boil an egg, left the valley and struck over some dry rocky ridges and encamped, no water, not even sufficient to make coffee, no grass. All very tired. Trav. 40 mls. 1430
16th. Arose this morning at three o'clock traveled three miles came to a fine spring where we took breakfast. Pushing forward we came to the head waters of the Humboldt river, and here grazed our horses which had not had anything to eat for 24 hours, having traveled over 50 miles on empty stomachs.
At two o'clock we again set out and soon struck the valley of the Humboldt. Our road lay through swampy sloughs where the horses had to be taken out of the wagons and vehicles drawn across with ropes. Encamped on the river, splendid grass. Trav. 25 mls. 1455.
17th. Soon after we started this morning we passed several graves of white men, one being shot with a poisoned arrow while on guard; continued all day down the river. Camped on the bank, mowed grass for our horses, and carried it across a slough. For the first time since we left Fort Laramie we stationed sentinels, very cold and disagreeable, considerable alkali. Trav. 30 mls., 11485
18th. Started early, and 10 o;clock brought us to the base of a mountain range over which our road lay, and consulting our guide which said it was 15 mls. to grass and water we stopped and grazed till 3 o'clock, pursued our journey and by 9 o'clock in the night we again struck the river and encamped, grass not good; supped on bread and cold water; we are now out of meat and sugar. Trav. 30 mls. 1515
19th. Left the river this morning and struck a mountain trail, the dust lay 5 in. deep in the road, and twas with difficulty we could see or breather, soon struck the river in 17 miles and encamped. Had to swim our horses across the river to get grass; the valley looks like a city, here hundreds of wagons are carreled. Trav. 25 mls. 1540
20th. Left the valley and passed over a small mountain, came back to the valley and camped, more dust today than ever. Trav. 25 mls. 1565
21st. Still following the river down except occasionally passing around or over a mountain spur, at 10 o'clock encamped, fine grazing, clover knee high, much alkali. Trav. 12 mls. 1577
22nd. Traveled 20 miles before we reached the river, no grass on this side of the river, some of the company swam across to obtain some but failed. The whole country here is a perfect dessert, no vegetatioon except scrubby sage brush.
At 5 o'clock P.M. we again started, drove until nine and encamped, had to wade through mud and water waist deep for 200 yds. Mowed grass and carried it on our shoulders to the horses.
Went to bed wet, tired, hungry, and sleepy, Trav. 30 nls, 1607
23rd. Set out early this morning and encountering numerous roads, after traveling half the day we found we were wrong, and judged we had taken the Lawson route leading into Oregon. Finding no grass we returned to the river and camped.
It had been very warm all day, quite dusty, and had to go through the same process for getting grass as we had last night, being in the same place.
24th. Set out early this morning; ten o'clock brought us to a halt to graze, grazed until 4 P.M. set out again, traveled until ten at night, and encamped no grass at all for our stock; tied our horses up to the wagons, and they stand there neighing for something to satisfy a hungry appetite. One from our mess got lost from the company yesterday by laying behind, we not heard any news from him as yet, great anxiety and uneasiness in the mess in consequence of his loss. Trav. 2 mls.(?) 1640
25th and 26th. Nothing of note occurred today except that grass is getting scarcer and harder to get, our stock rapidly failing.
27th. Left the river, traveled 12 miles over a very broken country and came to it again and encamped.
28th. Took another stretch of some 18 mls. from the river, over a very broken and sandy country. An hour before sunset we again came to a point of the river where it makes a sudden bend; here to out great joy and surprise was our lost mess mate safe and sound, three cheers from the mess told the great joy they enjoyed in finding the wanderer; we put before him the best our pantry could afford, which was very enticing to a hungry man.
After watering our animals we again set out leaving the river and traveling over a very sandy and uneven road, twelve o'clock again came to the river and encamped with not a morsal for our stock to eat; so there is very little time left for us to rest and close our eyes in sleep; nature nearly exhausted from the great fatigue and hunger; often whilst traveling along during the silent hours of night I am almost tempted to throw myself down on the side of the road and sleep, regardless of the train leaving me behind.
29th. This morning we found a small patch of grass; all hands with knives in hands set to work in cutting grass for the dessert, but the musquetoes cut us faster than we could cut the grass. At 4 P.M. w again hoisted colours and with great difficulty made the big meadow by midnight; our horses having been alkalied today with great difficulty made the riffle. 1750 mls. from Independance.
30th. Today we are mowing grass for the dessert. At 5 P.M. having every arranged, the train started, all except our mess, seeing that the horses were broken down we concluded to leave the little wagon and all the weakest horses, accordingly we laid down to sleep and concluded to wait till morning. I myself having taken a severe diarrhea am getting very weak, nothing to eat but poor beef.
August 1. At 4 P.M. we set out once more. I packed my poney down with grass, walked and led him, traveled until midnight, and laid down and went to sleep in the open air, very cold.
2nd. Set out early this morning, drove to the lower part of the lake near the sink, and there remained during the heat of the day. At 5 P.M. at which time we made a start for the desert, trav. Until two o'clock at night, stopped three hours to rest and feed our stock, laid down and took a nap, at 5 A.M. we again made a start.
3rd. Set out at 5 A.M. traveled a mile where we saw hundreds of wagons, harness and dead stock, water kegs, clothes and various other articles thrown away; every few hundred yds. Can be seen dead stock and broken down stock not quite dead, but left to perish and die, trav. Until 9 P.M. when the mules to the wagon of my mess failed, then we stopped, fed them what grass we had, and gave them a mouthfull or two of water, all we had to spare. About 2 P.M. two others and myself started for Carson River in company with two others, leaving the remainder of the mess with the wagon; when we came to the heavy sand 10 mls. from the river, we saw hundreds of wagons carreled, having taken their teams on to the river to recruit them and return in the night for them; here the stench from dead animals was greaat. At 5 P.M. we arrived at Carson River ( a clear and beautiful stream). It did my soul good to see the poor famished beasts drink; after satisfying my poney with water I took a draught myself which tasted to me sweeter than alkohol to the drunkard. Strolling around I soon found the three mess-mates of mine that left me at the meadow. They were here engaged in a hay speculation; they had gone up the Carson River some distance, mowed grass, fixed up an old wagon bed for a boat, and put on board a cargo bound for the point of land where the desert road comes to the river; there they expected to meet with reddy sale from persons coming off the desert, but a misfortune befell them before the reached the harbour of safety a Mr. Snag caught the boat, and down to the bottom went cargo and boat, and thus ended their hay speculation; fine grass here for our starved horses and also plenty for starved men, byt takeing so much money for such a small amount of provisions many of us none the better off, but the water being so fine we laid down to sleep greatly refreshed.
4th. This morning the remainder of my (company) arrived at the river having left the wagon in the desert and hired a team to haul the baggage in. I will not attempt to describe the suffering on the desert, but suffice it to say it was heart sickening. This morning I paid $1.50 for my breakfast from a man that was buying provisions and cooking them for $1.50 a meal, but rather guess he was a green one. I eat $5.00 worth of provisions (having not had a morsal for 24 hours) paid him and was off; having still another $1.50 remaining I called in the evening thinking that I would sup with him on the same terms, but to my dissatisfaction he had left stating that it would not pay to give $5.00 for provisions, cook them, and receive $1.50.
5th. This morning we gain pursued our journey, direct up the river some 8 miles, where the road left the river for a distance of 14 miles, complete desert, came to the river at 4 P.M. grazed toll dark, then started on a 26 miles desert; trav. Until midnight, then laid down on the sand and slept till daybreak.
6th. Started by light this morning and made the river by mid-day; here we swam our stock across the river to graze. And for our own repast we boiled a pint of beans for 5 men and proportioned it out equally to each one.
7th. Our road lay all day up Carson River, nothing of interest transpiring during the day.
8th. Traveled all day up Carson valley; night brought us to Canyon Creek where we found but little grass; after picketing our animals we laid ourselves down to sleep under the arms of a stately pine tree wishing for something to satisfy hunger. 1917 miles from Independance.
9th. This morning without partaking of a morsal to eat we pursued our journey up Canyon Creek, the roughest road I ever saw; did I not see wagons ascending, I would say they could not ascend, crossed Canyon Creek 3 times 4 took us up out of the Canyon, from thence we trav. through Canyon valley, where we stopped and grazed our animals and partook of our scanty repast, which was 3 pints of flour boiled into a kind of soup with salt and water, that one meal being all we can allowance ourselves during the day.
At 5 P.M., e came to the summit of the dividing ridge of the California mountains, very fatigueing ascending, especially by a man weakened from hunger, traveled down the mountain 5 miles, which brought us to another valley at the foot of the great Sirrea Nevado mountains; here we encamped having trav. 19 mls. Succeeded in getting 10 pounds of beef tonight. 1936 mls. from Independance.
10th. Traveled two miles and commenced ascending the mountain, places in the ascent very steep and rocky, passed for several miles over deep banks of snow. 9 o'clock brought us to the summit, a distance of miles in ascent, very cold, last night the lake by which we encamped froze over, from the summit we traveled some 10 miles down the mountain, which brought us to the valley known by the name of rock valley (well named) here we grazed, traveled from thence to Tragedy Springs (?) valley and encamped. Trav. 20 mls. 1956 mls. from
11th. This morning eating the last morsal we had remaining with the exception of 2 pounds of bacon we obtained from a friend, we renewed our journey, having sent one of our party back to a trading post where we understood provisions could be had on credit; whilst traveling along another of the party laid behind; at 12 o'clock the remainder of us stopped to graze the stock having nothing for dinner but a slice of bacon and lamenting our fate up came ---------------- man that went back after provisions, with ------- of flour and the same of beef; now all was -------- to have some of the provisions cooked; whilst we were preparing to cook up came the member of the company that had laid behind, he too to our great supprize had gotten 10 lbs. Of flour, the same of hard bread and several lbs. of pickled pork. We prepared our meals and eat and eat until we could eat no more, and started, traveled till dark when we arrived at Elk (?) Springs and encamped, cooked a large mess of pan-cakes and laid down and tried to sleep, but no sleep for me, had a severe spell of cholera morbus. Trav. 20 mls. 1976-
12th. This morning when we arose we found that 3 horses and 1 mule had been stolen, we hunted for them but in vain; my little poney among the missing; being only 40 miles from the gold diggins we started out now eager for the promised land, but having foundered ourselves by eating so much, we traveled but a short distance and encamped.
13th. This morning only horse remaining out of the ----- we started got down and could not rise again --- we shot him to relieve him of his misery bid --- farewell and renewed our journey, night brought ----- us ten miles of Weaverville the first gold diggins ---- our road.
14th. We started early this morning, and made every stride count, eager to get sight of the gold diggins, by 9 A.M. we arrived at Weaverville, and loitered about till middle of the evening, and started for other diggins, missed out way in the mountains and encamped for the night. I built a fire to big pine log and by its light wrote three letters, 1 for Home, the others to friends in California. 2016 miles from Independance. Weaverville.
15th. This morning -------------- creek came mls. below the town of Weaverville and encamped, for the purpose of resting ourselves, and then give the mines a trial, so we are now laying around at this time in the most easy attitude we can arrange ourselves in.
(signed) Daniel B. West
Now ready whoever you may be please excuse all imperfections.
Note by copier of the original: The last two pages of the diary are somewhat hastily written, apparently, and have crumbled badly, Portions which were missing have been indicated by dashes.
Photos of Oregon Trail
These were taken on a storm chase trip on May 28, 2010 near Ogallala, NE at one spot on the Oregon trail.
Sign at The Site
The Trail and Our Location
A View of the North Platte Valley