Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter XIII

page 98

Chapter XIII.

Bound for another New Eldorado—On the road to Reddon's Fort— We go on to Shasta—The Modoc Indians—A Bloody Massacre and a Bloody Revenge—Gold in abundance—My Experience at Eureka and Salmon River—I settle down again as an auctioneer—Am robbed of £1300—I recover the money—Fate of the robbers—I take to myself a second wife — An Indian raid and massacre — A bloodthirsty vengeance.

We followed the banks of the Sacramento River for 100 miles. It was a good road, through a magnificent country. The valley was uniformly level, covered with luxuriant crops of wild oats, which appeared almost as if sown by the hand of man, and filled with game of every description, which was easily shot down. We got on finely for five days, and arrived at Neil's ranche, similar to a station in Australia. This ranche was owned by two Englishmen, who had married Spanish women, and the rancheros treated us very kindly, and purchased a lot of our flour and bacon. They gave us plenty of information as to our route, and told us where to cross the river. We rested here for six days, as some of our mules were knocked up. One day the "vaqueros," or stockmen, shot two grizzly bears and brought them in. There were about twenty Spanish stockmen employed on the ranche, and the herds of cattle were innumerable.

After leaving our hospitable entertainers, we had the worst part of the road to travel, and when we crossed the river we had forty miles to go before we reached our destination, Reddon's diggings, in exactly one month after leaving Sacramento. The population was about 2000, principally people from Salt Lake and Oregon, there being very few as yet who had found their way page 99from Sacramento. Provisions were very scarce when we arrived, and we disposed of our flour at five dollars and our bacon at four dollars per pound. The diggings generally were rich, the majority of the miners making as much as one pound weight of gold per day. I found out one day while there that "Judge Lynch's" jurisdiction extended thus far North. Seeing a crowd gathered together I ran over and found a man undergoing the playful operation of having his ears cut off. Upon inquiry I learned that he had been detected stealing flour from a neighbour's tent, and at once had summary Californian justice dealt out to him. Just as we were cleared out of our stores three large pack trains came in from Oregon with goods, and the market was glutted. I sold out to my mates, as I felt that I had had enough of a packer's life for a time. There was a frontier fort, called Reddon's Fort, about ten miles from the diggings, which had originally been built by the Spaniards, and this was the only place where provisions could be obtained in that part of the country. If this depot ran short, the people had to depend on the mule trains from Oregon or Sacramento.

After selling my interest in the mule train, I went to a small settlement called Shasta, about forty miles north from Reddon's fort, on the Oregon track. Some very rich creek diggings had been found here, and a great many of the miners had brought their families, and settled down and farmed this retreat in the wilderness. It was a remarkably quiet, pleasant place, and I made up my mind to settle down here for a while.

That winter a tremendous snowstorm occurred, and a great number of people lost their lives travelling from Oregon to Shasta. I stopped on until the spring came round, when I learned that a party of pioneers were going to Shasta Butte Valley to take up land, and I managed to get included. There were twenty in the party. They were mostly from Oregon, and several were Englishmen. The valley was situated about seventy miles from Shasta City, and our route lay through a very rough and difficult country, peopled by hordes of Indians. The road followed the Pitt River for about fifty miles, and this track was infested by a tribe known to be the most hostile in California. We passed one encampment, apparently without being noticed, as we were not molested. I should say there were at least 800 men and women, exclusive of papooses or children, in this village, The Pitt River was abundantly page 100supplied with fine salmon, and the hills around were covered with deer, and on these the Indians lived. We passed on, and after travelling three miles further we camped. We had forty mules with us; each man rode one and led another carrying his blankets and provisions. After we had turned in we could hear the Indians whooping and uttering their fiendish war cries, and we determined to increase our distance from them as soon as possible. After midnight we got up and saddled the mules and loaded our swags, and started just as day was breaking; and the next day we arrived at our destination at the head of the valley.

It was a magnificent spot, and one of the finest pieces of country I had yet seen in California,—well watered, and with an inexhaustible forest of splendid timber convenient. We camped alongside the butte which gave the name to this earthly paradise, and turning out our mules we set to work to build a larger hut. We were engaged at this, and surveying the country for three weeks, when the party split up, each man taking up 1000 acres. Each lent the other assistance to fence. Some of the settlers were married men, having left their families in Oregon; these now went back for them, and settled down for life. The valley being sixty miles long by twenty broad, there was little fear of over-crowding for some time. Down the valley, to the west of the butte, there was a pass through the mountains leading into the Modoc Indian territory, and a great many emigrants came this way with their families and household goods, and swelled the population of Shasta Butte.

One day our peaceful settlement was rudely disturbed by eight horsemen riding in through the pass at a furious rate, who told us the horrible story of the murder by the Indians of over 100 emigrants, who were coming in. The savages had also stolen all the mules and provisions, and burnt the waggons. The white population of the valley, at this time, was about 500, and immediately on receipt of this terrible news a meeting was called together, and eight men deputed to go to another settlement, thirty miles away, called Eureka Valley, for assistance in avenging this blood-thirsty deed. The population at this place was about 2000, and they responded heartily to the request; 500 men armed themselves and came over at once to Shasta Butte. We mustered a contingent of 300, and the 800 men well armed and generally well mounted, elected four captains, and set out page 101to exact a severe retaliation on our natural foes. We went through the pass, the eight men who brought the news, and who had been part of the emigrant train, leading us, and camped that night, having started late, three miles from the scene of the tragedy, in the morning we soon arrived at the place, and a horrible sight was presented, the naked bodies of murdered men, women, and children lying about in all directions among the charred waggons and household goods. The Indians had stripped all the dead bodies before leaving. The sight was indescribably horrible, and made every man clench his hands and set his teeth hard with a half-muttered vow of vengeance.

About three miles off we described a small lake, and as smoke was to be seen in several directions around the lake, we concluded the Indians would be found there. Ben Wright, an old frontier man, took the lead by virtue of military experience, and dividing our force into four detachments, despatched them to different positions, at a distance of about half a mile from a belt of rushes which surrounded the lake and within sight of the fires, round which we calculated there were about 600 Indians. We waited until darkness set in, and then, at a given signal, made a rush into the fringe of scrub, but found the fires deserted, and the Indians being evidently scattered around the lake, we withdrew, and kept a sharp look out until day light, when the Indians showed in a body outside their leafy barrier. We immediately charged them, shooting down men, squaws, and papooses indiscriminately. The slaughter—for it could hardly be called a fight—-was over in a half hour, and we reckoned that scarcely fifty out of the mob escaped. The rest were despatched to the "happy hunting grounds" without the slightest show of mercy, and the poor emigrants were fearfully avenged.

The loss on our side was trifling, ten killed and twenty wounded, the onslaught being so sudden that the foe could not make any stand at all. We searched their camps round the lake, and found most of the property of the murdered emigrants. These savages were a portion of the Modoc tribe, who were noted for their savage, predatory habits. Their weapons were bows and arrows, although a few had rifles, a bullet from one of which managed to reach me, and inflicted a slight wound in the leg. Among our party were a lot of men from the Missouri, who were accustomed to Indian warfare, and had had many bouts page 102with them. They cat the scalps from the heads of the dead savages, and stuck them on their ramrods for trophies. Returning through the pass we overtook four waggons, with new settlers and their families, and they told us there were twenty others, loaded, coming on behind, from Salt Lake City, the Mormon settlement. There were great rejoicings after our return to Shasta Butte, and it was thought the severe lesson inflicted would keep the Modocs quiet for some time.

A considerable town was now being formed, and population poured in very fast. Yankee traders began to show up, and business became very brisk, and this seemed somehow to rouse up the vagabond spirit within me once more. I concluded I must be moving, so I sold out what land I had, and bid good-bye to Shasta. I rode over to Eureka, where a new goldfield had just been opened, and thousands of new-comers were pouring in. Four men accompanied me. When about five miles from Eureka, one of my companions dismounted to get a drink in a creek we were crossing. He had hardly stooped down a second when he cried, "Get off, boys, and come and look here." We hurried off our mules, and there, in a crevice of the rock, the gold was shining plainly. The lucky discoverer obtained one pound weight of the precious metal in an hour. It being late in the afternoon we camped, and that night we all joined in partnership to work the creek. We fossicked here for four weeks before any other diggers came to disturb us, and in that time obtained 120lbs. weight of gold among the party. Then some men put in an appearance, and the gully was soon rushed. In two months from the date of our discovery there were 1000 diggers there busily at work, and many tons of gold were taken out. The creek was called after our thirsty mate who first saw the gold, and was known after as Stewart's diggings.

Winter was now coming on, and I decided to go to Eureka for a spell. We divided our gold, and I found I had 61lbs. weight for my share. I found Eureka a very comfortable place to winter in, but everything was frightfully dear. The tracks were all snowed up, and the mule trains could not travel, so that there was at times a scarcity of provisions. However, I could obtain all I wanted, having plenty of money, and enjoyed myself accordingly. There were three large gambling saloons in the settlement, into which I often strolled, bat, with my early Californian experience of "Monte," I did not try my luck at the page 103tables. Most of the miners from the outlying diggings made the town their winter quarters, and, as every one had plenty of gold, the place was pretty cheerful. In the spring of 1852 I left Eureka for the Salmon River, at which place a new rush was reported, where the diggers were getting gold in immense quantities.

I saw one party start out for the new rush, and on the following day I was on the road with nine others, each mounted on a mule, and leading another carrying swags. We had pretty difficult country to pass through, but managed to cover 35 miles the first day, and camped on the bank of a creek. It was a glorious moonlight night. We hobbled the mules and turned them out, keeping two made fast near the tents to get in the rest with in the morning, cutting a lot of wild peas, which grew here in great profusion, for their forage. In the middle of the night the two tethered mules commenced snorting at something and broke away in terror. One of the men got up and looked out and roused us all up, saying there must be Indians about. We immediately armed ourselves and sallied out. One of the men wounded himself in the leg. Two of the men fired at something ahead of us, and it rolled over. When we got to the spot we found it was a huge grizzly bear they had killed. In this part of California the grizzly bear, panther, and California lion are very plentiful. There had been other bears about that night evidently, for all our mules stampeded, and it took all the next day to get the mob together again. The rest of the party went to collect our mules, and I remained in the tent with our wounded comrade. Our party did not return till near nightfall, and during the day we heard a great many reports of firearms, and my patient, Jones, would insist that our mates were engaged with the Indians, and we passed a day of terrible anxiety. However, they all returned safely, and during supper we asked them what all the firing was about. They were surprised at the question, and said they had not heard the firing, and had not fired a shot that day. While we were talking we heard the Indian war-whoop. We immediately flew to our rifles and prepared for a scrimmage. Another whoop was borne on the wind, and at the same time a party of twenty well-armed diggers rode up to our camp. These men were en route for the Salmon River (our destination), and leaving Eureka some hours after us, had overtaken us.

page 104

We agreed to travel together, and felt pretty safe with this strong addition to our forces. Many of the new-comers were originally from Oregon, and were well used to Indian warfare, having had many tussels with the savages before. We formed ourselves into watches that night, ten men in each, for so many hours. Just at daylight one of the watches saw an Indian crossing the creek, and gave the alarm. We were up in an instant, and took to our arms; at the same moment a volley of arrows flew over our camp from the top of the creek bank. We at once charged up the creek bank, and came face to face with about seventy Indians, with eight mules loaded with swags, evidently stolen property. We fired as fast as we conld, and wiped out forty of them, and captured the mules, the rest taking to flight. We returned to camp, had breakfast, packed our mules, and started once more on our journey. We got about two miles on the road, when we came across nine dead bodies of diggers, who had been apparently bound for the same place as ourselves, but had been waylaid by the murderous Indians, and slaughtered mercilessly: there were also two dead mules. Those we had taken from our foes that morning had belonged to these poor fellows, and we were thankful that the latter were amply revenged. We dug a large hole and buried the bodies together. Some of them had many arrows in them, and all were stripped naked. We searched around, but got no further clue as to who or what these unfortunates were, so we passed on, and left them in their lonely grave in the wilderness. We had occasion, before reaching our journey's end, to perform the sad ceremony once more. Our mate Jones, who had shot himself in the leg, got very bad on the journey, which was exceedingly rough travelling, and, mortification setting in, he died. We consigned him to mother earth, and kept on.

We were now in very broken country, and had to cross a number of deep canons, the vernacular for ravines. At one where we camped I picked up two pieces of gold when I went clown for water in the morning. I showed them to my mates, and wanted them to stop and prospect the canon further, but they were too eager to get to the Salmon River, and we pushed on, reaching our destination that night.

The thirty of us now joined in one party, and as we had eighty mules, and provisions were very scarce, we despatched ten of our mates with the mules to Shasta for a large stock of necessaries. page 105I did not envy them the trip, for they had to cross about the roughest piece of country in all California. We who remained, set to work on the river, and before the men with the mules returned we had netted, off one bar in the stream, close on 1cwt. of gold. When our provisions arrived we were offered fabulous prices for them. We did sell some, and obtained ten dollars per pound for salt, and all other goods in proportion. There was almost a famine in the camp, and money was little thought of. The men could not live on gold, however plentiful.

There were about a thousand miners on the river. A great many had arrived from Eureka and other places, and many had to leave on account of the scarcity of provisions. I have frequently seen mules killed and the meat sold at four dollars per pound, and very often none other was obtainable. I remained here for six months until our party dissolved. I took my share of the gold and two mules, and joined some men who were homeward bound with their "piles," which was the diggers' term for a sufficiency of gold.

There were twenty five of us, who started for Shasta City, and I do not believe each man carried less than 80lbs. weight of gold on the saddle with him. I had 87lbs. weight myself, part of which I had obtained at Eureka, but the greater part at Salmon River. We were four days reaching Shasta, which I found transformed into a large and busy town. When I left in the previous year it mainly consisted of canvas tents and but few houses, now it possessed whole streets of stores and hotels.

A banking institution had just been initiated, Adams' bank, and I there deposited my gold for safe keeping, and took lodgings at the Eagle Hotel, and looked round to see how the land lay. I fell in with a smart business man named James Lodge, and joined him in starting a saleyard; and we made money fast, principally by the purchase and sale of mules, and at the same time I carried on business as an auctioneer, We then built a large meat mart, and christened it the "City Market," and erected spacious cattle and slaughter yards, and very soon did a roaring trade in the butchering business. In the fall of 1852, we obtained a contract for the supply of meat to the troops at Fort Reddon, which paid well. We purchased beef on foot at 7½ cents per lb., and our contract price to the commissariat was 30 cents, which might be considered a very fair margin for profit. Mr. Lodge kept the business going in the saleyards. I bought all page 106our cattle, and attended to the outside business generally. At this time there were about 3000 men in the fort. A great many of them had come from Monterey, when the war ceased, and were en route for Oregon.

One day I was returning from the fort, after having received a sum of money on account of our contract. I had £1300 in my saddle bags—when I was bailed up by four highwaymen, who made me dismount, and they then eased me of any saddle-bags. After inspecting the contents, one of them considerately remarked to his mate, "give the poor devil a few dollars to help him on the road," which he did. I said very little to them as I thought it very possible they might complete the job by putting a bullet through me. They were all masked, and dressed as Mexicans, but appeared to speak English very well. This happened about twelve miles from the fort; and as soon as the robbers left me, I galloped back and saw the commandant, Colonel Wright, and informed him of my mishap. He asked if there was any possibility of overtaking them, and I said if no time was lost they might be caught. I could identify their horses if I could not tell the men, and it was likely they would be fallen in with at Neill's Ranche or Tecumah House, about forty miles from the fort. The Colonel immediately ordered twelve well-mounted men to accompany me, and we set off in pursuit.

We rode all night, and at daylight we saw, distant about a quarter-mile, four mounted men coming up from the bank of the river, I said to the sergeant, "I believe those are the men we want," and we immediately galloped to the spot. The men, on seeing us, crossed the river by plunging in and swimming their horses, but it was an awkward crossing-place, and we saw one of them swept off and drowned. His horse turned and swam to to one side. None of our party seemed to fancy swimming the river, and began to look for a safe place to make the passage. I called out that I would give fifty dollars to each one who crossed with me, and five followed my lead. We plunged our horses in and came out safely on the other side, the remainder of the troop went further down and got safely over. The six of us let out after the fugitives and soon got sight of them. When we neared them they dismounted and fired at us, shooting two of the soldiers and one of the horses, and got behind the trees and dodged from one to another, and it was nearly an hour before we finally captured them. They were the men we wanted, for page 107I found my money intact, and also a lot of gold dust, probably taken from some poor diggers. They were desperate characters, and one of them whom I captured myself said to his mate, "If you had done as I wanted, this would not have happened," meaning, I suppose, that he had recommended despatching me, on the principle "that dead men tell no tales."

It was found that they had been sticking up in all directions, and had actually murdered two rancheros. We took them to the fort, where one of them, a Frenchman, but who spoke English well, offered to turn approver and split on his gang if the colonel would not hang him. The latter turned a deaf ear to his overtures, and ironed them and placed them in the guard-room until morning, when they were sent on to Shasta in a waggon to take their trial. When the waggon came to Clear Creek diggings, where about 1000 men were working, the news of their capture spread like wildfire, and the entire population turned out, stopped the waggon, took out the prisoners, tried them by lynch law, and hanged the three on one tree. A deal of trouble was thus saved to the Government, and the inevitable fate of the criminals was anticipated.

The winter of this year, 1852, was a very severe one, and almost put a stop to mining pursuits throughout the country. The diggers crowded into Shasta, and entirely exhausted the accommodation of the place. It was "lodging on the cold ground," and no mistake; a dollar a night was cheerfully paid by frozen out miners for the privilege of spreading their blankets under a roof, and the floors of every hotel were crowded nightly. My partner and I were making money fast at this time. I had the roughest part of the business, no doubt, and often had to camp out, when driving cattle, covered with a buffalo rug, with the sky for a canopy.

At last I thought, as matters were moving smoothly, I would try home comforts once more, and decided to get married again. I was at this time courting a young woman who came from the States, and was serving in the Eagle Hotel, a house I frequented. After a few preliminary visits, I popped the question, was accepted, and we were married at once. My wife was a famous business woman, and objected to any fuss, but I insisted on doing the thing in style, and invited about three hundred guests, and gave them a spread, which is doubtless remembered in Shasta to this day. It cost me about £500. I then purchased page 108some property at the north end of the town, and lived privately. On the banks of the Pitt River, twenty miles from Shasta, there was a nomadic tribe of Indians, who occasionally made incursions into the neighbourhood of the town, and stole everything they could lay their hands on. One night they set fire to some grass stacks, and nearly burnt the town down, and carried off a lot of mules. This was intolerable, and meetings were held, and the community called upon the authorities to take some steps to abate the nuisance.

We had at this time a sort of local government, and a gaol was built for evil-doers. Two hundred men were called out who were to go and exterminate the Indians. The majority who volunteered were persons who had suffered injury at the hands of the red man. The Government arranged to pay them, and I was appointed to take command of the troops. My wife was greatly against my going, and, so to please her, Colonel Wright, of Fort Reddon, released me by sending one of his subaltern officers to take charge, and I did not accompany the destroyers. They were out six months, and in that time they drove nearly all the predatory tribes from the Pitt River. They showed no quarter, but slaughtered all they fell in with, men, women, and children. It certainly seemed a savage retaliation, but there was no other course open, and it may be believed that it was long ere Shasta was again troubled with Indians.