Our next memorable camp was in a fertile
valley where we found twenty natural wells, some very
deep and full to the brim of pure, cold water.
“They varied from six inches to several feet
in diameter, the soil around the edges was dry and
hard, and as fast as water was dipped out, a new supply
rose to the surface." Grass was plentiful and wood
easily obtained. Our people made much of a brief
stay, for though the weather was a little sharp, the
surroundings were restful. Then came a long,
dreary pull over a low range of hills, which brought
us to another beautiful valley where the pasturage
was abundant, and more wells marked the site of good
Close by the largest well stood a
rueful spectacle, a bewildering guide board,
flecked with bits of white paper, showing that the
notice or message which had recently been pasted and
tacked thereon had since been stripped off in irregular
In surprise and consternation, the
emigrants gazed at its blank face, then toward the
dreary waste beyond. Presently, my mother knelt
before it and began searching for fragments of paper,
which she believed crows had wantonly pecked off and
dropped to the ground.
Spurred by her zeal, others also were
soon on their knees, scratching among the grasses
and sifting the loose soil through their fingers.
What they found, they brought to her, and after the
search ended she took the guide board, laid it across
her lap, and thoughtfully, began fitting the ragged
edges of paper together and matching the scraps to
marks on the board. The tedious process was watched
with spell-bound interest by the anxious group around
The writing was that of Hastings,
and her patchwork brought out the following words:
“2 days 2 nights hard
driving cross desert reach
This would be a heavy strain on our
cattle, and to fit them for the ordeal they were granted
thirty-six hours’ indulgence near the bubbling
waters, amid good pasturage. Meanwhile, grass
was cut and stored, water casks were filled, and rations
were prepared for desert use.
We left camp on the morning of September
9, following dimly marked wagon-tracks courageously,
and entered upon the “dry drive,” which
Hastings and his agent at Fort Bridger had represented
as being thirty-five miles, or forty at most.
After two days and two nights of continuous travel,
over a waste of alkali and sand, we were still surrounded
as far as eye could see by a region of fearful desolation.
The supply of feed for our cattle was gone, the water
casks were empty, and a pitiless sun was turning its
burning rays upon the glaring earth over which we
still had to go.
Mr. Reed now rode ahead to prospect
for water, while the rest followed with the teams.
All who could walk did so, mothers carrying their babes
in their arms, and fathers with weaklings across their
shoulders moved slowly as they urged the famishing
cattle forward. Suddenly an outcry of joy gave
hope to those whose courage waned. A lake of shimmering
water appeared before us in the near distance, we could
see the wavy grasses and a caravan of people moving
“It may be Hastings!”
was the eager shout. Alas, as we advanced, the
scene vanished! A cruel mirage, in its mysterious
way, had outlined the lake and cast our shadows near
Disappointment intensified our burning
thirst, and my good mother gave her own and other
suffering children wee lumps of sugar, moistened with
a drop of peppermint, and later put a flattened bullet
in each child’s mouth to engage its attention
and help keep the salivary glands in action.
Then followed soul-trying hours.
Oxen, footsore and weary, stumbled under their yokes.
Women, heartsick and exhausted, could walk no farther.
As a last resort, the men hung the water pails on their
arms, unhooked the oxen from the wagons, and by persuasion
and force, drove them onward, leaving the women and
children to await their return. Messrs. Eddy
and Graves got their animals to water on the night
of the twelfth, and the others later. As soon
as the poor beasts were refreshed, they were brought
back with water for the suffering, and also that they
might draw the wagons on to camp. My father’s
wagons were the last taken out. They reached
camp the morning of the fifteenth.
Thirty-six head of cattle were left
on that desert, some dead, some lost. Among the
lost were all Mr. Reed’s herd, except an ox and
a cow. His poor beasts had become frenzied in
the night, as they were being driven toward water,
and with the strength that comes with madness, had
rushed away in the darkness. Meanwhile, Mr. Reed,
unconscious of his misfortune, was returning to his
family, which he found by his wagon, some distance
in the rear. At daylight, he, with his wife and
children, on foot, overtook my Uncle Jacob’s
wagons and were carried forward in them until their
own were brought up.
After hurriedly making camp, all the
men turned out to hunt the Reed cattle. In every
direction they searched, but found no clue. Those
who rode onward, however, discovered that we had reached
only an oasis in the desert, and that six miles ahead
of us lay another pitiless barren stretch.
Anguish and dismay now filled all
hearts. Husbands bowed their heads, appalled
at the situation of their families. Some cursed
Hastings for the false statements in his open letter
and for his broken pledge at Fort Bridger. They
cursed him also for his misrepresentation of the distance
across this cruel desert, traversing which had wrought
such suffering and loss. Mothers in tearless
agony clasped their children to their bosoms, with
the old, old cry, “Father, Thy will, not mine,
It was plain that, try as we might,
we could not get back to Fort Bridger. We must
proceed regardless of the fearful outlook.
After earnest consultation, it was
deemed best to dig a trench and cache all Mr. Reed’s
effects, except such as could be packed into one wagon,
and were essential for daily use. This accomplished,
Messrs. Graves and Breen each loaned him an ox, and
these in addition to his own ox and cow yoked together,
formed his team. Upon examination, it was found
that the woodwork of all the wagons had been shrunk
and cracked by the dry atmosphere. One of Mr.
Keseberg’s and one of my father’s were
in such bad condition that they were abandoned, left
standing near those of Mr. Reed, as we passed out of
The first snow of the season fell
as we were crossing the narrow strip of land upon
which we had rested and when we encamped for the night
on its boundary, the waste before us was as cheerless,
cold, and white as the winding sheet which enfolds
At dawn we resumed our toilful march,
and travelled until four o’clock the following
morning, when we reached an extensive valley, where
grass and water were plentiful. Several oxen had
died during the night, and it was with a caress of
pity that the surviving were relieved of their yokes
for the day. The next sunrise saw us on our way
over a range of hills sloping down to a valley luxuriant
with grass and springs of delicious water, where antelope
and mountain sheep were grazing, and where we saw
Indians who seemed never to have met white men before.
We were three days in crossing this magnificent stretch
of country, which we called, “Valley of Fifty
Springs.” In it, several wagons and large
cases of goods were cached by our company, and secret
marks were put on trees near by, so that they could
be recovered, should their owners return for them.
While on the desert, my father’s
wagons had travelled last in the train, in order that
no one should stray, or be left to die alone.
But as soon as we reached the mountainous country,
he took the lead to open the way. Uncle Jacob’s
wagons were always close to ours, for the two brothers
worked together, one responding when the other called
for help; and with the assistance of their teamsters,
they were able to free the trail of many obstructions
and prevent unnecessary delays.
From the Valley of Fifty Springs,
we pursued a southerly course over more hills, and
through fertile valleys, where we saw Indians in a
state of nudity, who looked at us from a distance,
but never approached our wagons, nor molested any
one. On the twenty-fourth of September, we turned
due north and found the tracks of wagon wheels, which
guided us to the valley of “Mary’s River,”
or “Ogden’s River,” and on the thirtieth,
put us on the old emigrant road leading from Fort Hall.
This welcome landmark inspired us with renewed trust;
and the energizing hope that Stanton and McCutchen
would soon appear, strengthened our sorely tried courage.
This day was also memorable, because it brought us
a number of Indians who must have been Fremont’s
guides, for they could give information, and understand
a little English. They went into camp with us,
and by word and sign explained that we were still far
from the sink of Mary’s River, but on the right
trail to it.
After another long day’s drive,
we stopped on a mountain-side close to a spring of
cold, sweet water. While supper was being prepared,
one of the fires crept beyond bounds, spread rapidly,
and threatened destruction to part of our train.
At the critical moment two strange Indians rushed
upon the scene and rendered good service. After
the fire was extinguished, the Indians were rewarded,
and were also given a generous meal at the tent of
Mr. Graves. Later, they settled themselves in
friendly fashion beside his fire and were soon fast
asleep. Next morning, the Indians were gone,
and had taken with them a new shirt and a yoke of
good oxen belonging to their host.
Within the week, Indians again sneaked
up to camp, and stole one of Mr. Graves’s saddle-horses.
These were trials which made men swear vengeance,
yet no one felt that it would be safe to follow the
marauders. Who could know that the train was not
being stealthily followed by cunning plunderers who
would await their chance to get away with the wagons,
if left weakly guarded?
Conditions now were such that it seemed
best to divide the train into sections and put each
section under a sub-leader. Our men were well
equipped with side arms, rifles, and ammunition; nevertheless,
anxious moments were common, as the wagons moved slowly
and singly through dense thickets, narrow defiles,
and rugged mountain gorges, one section often being
out of sight of the others, and each man realizing
that there could be no concerted action in the event
of a general attack; that each must stay by his own
wagon and defend as best he could the lives committed
to his care. No one rode horseback now, except
the leaders, and those in charge of the loose cattle.
When darkness obscured the way, and after feeding-time,
each section formed its wagons into a circle to serve
as cattle corral, and night watches were keenly alert
to give a still alarm if anything unusual came within
sight or sound.
Day after day, from dawn to twilight,
we moved onward, never stopping, except to give the
oxen the necessary nooning, or to give them drink
when water was available. Gradually, the distance
between sections lengthened, and so it happened that
the wagons of my father and my uncle were two days
in advance of the others, on the eighth of October,
when Mr. Reed, on horseback, overtook us. He was
haggard and in great tribulation. His lips quivered
as he gave substantially the following account of
circumstances which had made him the slayer of his
friend, and a lone wanderer in the wilderness.
On the morning of October 5, when
Mr. Reed’s section broke camp, he and Mr. Eddy
ventured off to hunt antelope, and were shot at a number
of times by Indians with bows and arrows. Empty-handed
and disappointed, the two followed and overtook their
companions about noon, at the foot of a steep hill
near “Gravelly Ford,” where the teams had
to be doubled for the ascent. All the wagons,
except Pike’s and Reed’s, and one of Graves’s
in charge of John Snyder, had already been taken to
the top. Snyder was in the act of starting his
team, when Milton Elliot, driving Reed’s oxen,
with Eddy’s in the lead, also started. Suddenly,
the Reed and Eddy cattle became unmanageable, and
in some way got mixed up with Snyder’s team.
This provoked both drivers, and fierce words passed
between them. Snyder declared that the Reed team
ought to be made to drag its wagon up without help.
Then he began to beat his own cattle about the head
to get them out of the way.
Mr. Reed attempted to remonstrate
with him for his cruelty, at which Snyder became more
enraged, and threatened to strike both Reed and Elliot
with his whip for interfering. Mr. Reed replied
sharply that they would settle the matter later.
This, Synder took as a threat, and retorted, “No,
we’ll settle it right here,” and struck
Reed over the head with the butt end of his whip,
cutting an ugly scalp wound.
Mrs. Reed, who rushed between the
two men for the purpose of separating them, caught
the force of the second blow from Snyder’s whip
on her shoulder. While dodging the third blow,
Reed drew his hunting knife and stabbed Snyder in
the left breast. Fifteen minutes later, John Snyder,
with his head resting on the arm of William Graves,
died, and Mr. Reed stood beside the corpse, dazed
Near-by sections were immediately
called into camp, and gloom, consternation, and anger
pervaded it. Mr. Reed and family were taken to
their tent some distance from the others and guarded
by their friends. Later, an assembly was convened
to decide what should be done. The majority declared
the deed murder, and demanded retribution. Mr.
Eddy and others pleaded extenuating circumstances
and proposed that the accused should leave the camp.
After heated discussion this compromise was adopted,
the assembly voting that Mr. Reed should be banished
from the company.
Mr. Reed maintained that the deed
was not prompted by malice, that he had acted in self-defence
and in defence of his wife; and that he would not
be driven from his helpless, dependent family.
The assembly promised that the company would care
for his family, and limited his stay in camp.
His wife, fearing the consequence of noncompliance
with the sentence, begged him to abide by it, and
to push on to the settlement, procure food and assistance,
and return for her and their children. The following
morning, after participating in the funeral rites
over the lamented dead, Mr. Reed took leave of his
friends and sorrowing family and left the camp.
The group around my father’s
wagon were deeply touched by Mr. Reed’s narrative.
Its members were friends of the slain and of the slayer.
Their sympathies clustered around the memory of the
dead, and clung to the living. They deplored
the death of a fellow traveller, who had manfully
faced many hardships, and was young, genial, and full
of promise. They regretted the act which took
from the company a member who had been prominent in
its organization, had helped to formulate its rules,
and had, up to that unfortunate hour, been a co-worker
with the other leading spirits for its best interests.
It was plain that the hardships and misfortunes of
the journey had sharpened the tempers of both men,
and the vexations of the morning had been too
much for the overstrained nerves.
Mr. Reed breakfasted at our tent,
but did not continue his journey alone. Walter
Herron, one of my father’s helpers, decided to
accompany him, and after hurried preparations, they
went away together, bearing an urgent appeal from
my father to Captain Sutter for necessary teams and
provisions to carry the company through to California,
also his personal pledge in writing that he would
be responsible for the payment of the debt as soon
as he should reach the settlement. My father
believed the two men would reach their destination
long before the slowly moving train.
Immediately after the departure of
Messrs. Reed and Herron, our wagons moved onward.
Night overtook us at a gruesome place where wood and
feed were scarce and every drop of water was browned
by alkali. There, hungry wolves howled, and there
we found and buried the bleaching bones of Mr. Salle,
a member of the Hastings train, who had been shot by
Indians. After his companions had left his grave,
the savages had returned, dug up the body, robbed
it of its clothing, and left it to the wolves.
At four o’clock the following
morning, October 10, the rest of the company, having
travelled all night, drove into camp. Many were
in a state of great excitement, and some almost frenzied
by the physical and mental suffering they had endured.
Accounts of the Reed-Snyder tragedy differed somewhat
from that we had already heard. The majority held
that the assembly had been lenient with Mr. Reed and
considerate for his family; that the action taken
had been largely influenced by rules which Messrs.
Reed, Donner, Thornton, and others had suggested for
the government of Colonel Russell’s train, and
that there was no occasion for criticism, since the
sentence was for the transgression, and not for the
The loss of aged Mr. Hardcoop, whose
fate was sealed soon after the death of John Synder,
was the subject of bitter contention. The old
man was travelling with the Keseberg family, and,
in the heavy sand, when that family walked to lighten
the load, he was required to do likewise. The
first night after leaving Gravelly Ford, he did not
come into camp with the rest. The company, fearing
something amiss, sent a man on horseback to bring
him in. He was found five miles from camp, completely
exhausted and his feet in a terrible condition.
The following morning, he again started
with Keseberg, and when the section had been under
way only a short time, the old man approached Mr.
Eddy and begged for a place in some other wagon, saying
he was sick and exhausted, and that Keseberg had put
him out to die. The road was still through deep,
loose sand, and Mr. Eddy told him if he would only
manage to go forward until the road should be easier
on the oxen, he himself would take him in. Hardcoop
promised to try, yet the roads became so heavy that
progress was yet slower and even the small children
were forced to walk, nor did any one see when Mr. Hardcoop
Mr. Eddy had the first watch that
night, and kept a bright fire burning on the hillside
in hopes that it would guide the belated into camp.
Milton Elliot went on guard at midnight, and kept the
fire till morning, yet neither sign nor sound of the
missing came over that desolate trail.
In vain the watchers now besought
Keseberg to return for Hardcoop. Next they applied
to Messrs. Graves and Breen, who alone had saddle horses
able to carry the helpless man, but neither of them
would risk his animals again on that perilous road.
In desperation, Messrs. William Pike, Milton Elliot,
and William Eddy proposed to go out afoot and carry
him in, if the wagons would wait. Messrs. Graves
and Breen, however, in language so plain and homely
that it seemed heartless, declared that it was neither
the voice of common sense, nor of humanity that asked
the wagons to wait there in the face of danger, while
three foolhardy men rushed back to look for a helpless
one, whom they had been unable to succor on the previous
day, and for whom they could make no provision in
the future, even if they should succeed then in snatching
him from the jaws of death.
This exposition of undeniable facts
defeated the plans of the would-be rescuers, yet did
not quiet their consciences. When the section
halted at noon, they again begged, though in vain,
for horses which might enable them to do something
for their deserted companion.
My father listened thoughtfully to
the accounts of that harrowing incident, and although
he realized that death must have ended the old man’s
sufferings within a few hours after he dropped by the
wayside, he could not but feel deeply the bitterness
of such a fate.
Who could peer into the near future
and read between its lines the greater suffering which
Mr. Hardcoop had escaped, or the trials in store for
We were in close range of ambushed
savages, lying in wait for spoils. While the
company were hurrying to get into marching order, Indians
stole a milch cow and several horses belonging to Mr.
Graves. Emboldened by success, they made a raid
on our next camp and stampeded a bunch of eighteen
horned cattle belonging to Mr. Wolfinger and my father
and Uncle Jacob, and also flesh-wounded several poor
beasts with arrows. These were more serious hindrances
than we had yet experienced. Still, undaunted
by the alarming prospects before us, we immediately
resumed travel with cows under yoke in place of the
freshly injured oxen.