The North American Frontiersmen



Staff Writer

Smoke Signals

JAN/FEB 2011



David Campbell's Account of Travels West in 1846.

The following is a portion of the account of the Campbell family migration to and experiences in California, selected from David Campbell's articles in The Weekly Review (Porterville, CA) of July 14, 21, and 18, 1899 - (It is taken from the 1934 book by Ina H. Steiner entitled "Porterville Genealogies" Pages 304-310):

A Pioneer of 1846

"There were 250 wagons in rendezvous at Independence, Missouri, ready to start for California on April 1, 1846. In order to guard against Indian raids we organized into companies of 25 to 50 wagons, each company electing its own captain. We then elected Col. William Russell of Kentucky as commander. We left Independence April 2. Each captain had to furnish four men from his company to stand guard at night ... We concluded it would be best for each company to be independent and keep as near together as possible. Each wagon had from two to three yoke of oxen. In a short time the most of the companies divided up - some of the men wanted to rush through.... The party which hurried soon found that their cattle could not stand it, for by the time they had reached the Platte their cattle were tender footed and gave out. The company I was in made it a rule that if they could find a suitable place to camp they would always lay over one day in every week in order to rest up and do their washing. We aimed to travel 12 miles each day stopping when a good camping place was found. There were a great many buffaloes on the Plains at that time. We would hardly ever be out of sight of a band of from 100 to 1000 of the magnificent animals...There were four of us who had nothing else to do but hunt, viz. Green Patterson, John Foster, David Wray and myself . . .The way we managed to get them was to station three men out to one side and not let the buffalo see them - this was easy to do as the country was rolling- and then one would go around and start them in the direction of the men laying in wait; and as they passed the men would select a fine one and shoot him. If the animal was only wounded he would turn and make for the smoke of the gun; all we had to do was to jump to one side and put in another shot . . .-There would be from 5 to 10 killed each day ... and antelope . . . The buffalo is very clumsy and runs like a cow... When one starts to run you can't turn him but have to get out of the way. We had to be on our guard to keep them from stampeding our stock.

"By the time the companies that were trying to rush through had reached Ft. Laramie their stock gave out; but they found traders there; so they traded their oxen off for others; and before we got to Ft. Hall they were in the rear. We were out of the buffalo range when we struck the Rocky Mts.; but we found plenty of mountain sheep, or goats as some people called them ... They too went in bands ranging from 1000 to 3000 and inhabited the roughest places in the mountains, going with ease over places where a man could not walk. They had very large horns which seemed to be quite useful to them at times, and especially so when they jumped down from one cliff to another for they would always light on their heads. There were a great many wolves in the Rocky Mts ... They were very large and white and would come around our camp at night and bark. We had a great many large streams to cross; but fortunately the rivers were all very low that year ... and were all forded without getting anything in the wagons wet, and without having to prop up the wagon beds.

"We traveled up Sweet River for two days; the beaver dams were thick on the river and the mountains on each side were capped with snow. This brought us up to the Devil's Gate, where we laid over for one day to view the grand scenery. The river made a short turn here and came rushing down a narrow pass some 500 feet, with solid rock on both sides, the channel being about fifty feet wide. This brought us on the waters of the Pacific slope. Bear River was also a beautiful stream and was full of large mountain trout. When we reached the Steam Boat Spring, we laid over a day to fish and enjoy the grandeur which surrounded us. The water in this spring was boiling and threw up steam some twenty feet high and would cook a piece of meat in just a few minutes. It was close to the river bank; and the mountains came up close to the spring; the rocks for a mile around looked as if they had been thrown out of a burning pit. They looked like burned cinders. Some of the company thought that was surely the Devil's regions.

"When we arrived at Fort Hall we found about 500 Indians of the Flathead tribe who had come to trade. They had buffalo hides and deer skins and would pay any price for beads and tobacco. We bought some buffalo robes; and I bought a horse for five pounds of tobacco and a pound of beads. I afterwards sold this horse to the Government for $50. We found this tribe of Indians very friendly. After we left Fort Hall the mountain fever began to rage among the members of the party; and as there was not a doctor in any of the companies a great many people died. So, by the time we arrived at Goose Creek, where the Oregon road turned off, about fifty wagons concluded they would go to Oregon, as they had so many deaths in their families.

("The Donner party concluded they would take another road, which was called the Hastings Cut-off, by way of Ft. Bridger. This road proved to be a longer and a worse road. The two roads came together again at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mts. The Donner party were to put up a notice when they got there, but the company I was in got there two weeks before they did. For some reason they got to quarreling; and their captain killed a member of the company; and they gave him 12 hours in which to leave the party. William McCutcheon and a Mr. Eddy left the company with him, overtaking our party forty miles from Sutter's Fort. The remainder of the Donner party got to the foot of the mountain; but the storm came on and they could get no farther. The families of the three men named above were with the Donner party and were all saved. William McCutcheon and the Captain that was run off were members of the second party which went to their rescue in the spring. They made an attempt to go to them in the winter; but they could not get their Indian pilot to go through with them...)

"Our company had a good road most of the way, considering the fact that it was a mountain road and had never been worked. Those who came to California bore to the south and came into what is called the '1000Spring Valley', a level valley surrounded by mountains. There were large holes of water every few rods all over the valley, the water being as clear as crystal. They were from five to ten feet across; and the water was about one foot below the surface of the ground; and they never run over. The ground would shake them when a person walked over it. We could not see the bottom of them. I tried to touch bottom with a ten-foot pole, but couldn't do it. We had to guard our stock to keep them from getting into these holes. There were a few willows growing in this valley.

"Just after leaving Spring Valley we struck the head of the Humbolt River. Here we came in contact with hostile Indians, the first we encountered on the trip. We traveled down river for several days. There were thick willows and good grass all the way down; but the water was bad. We had only one rain on us during the whole trip across the plains. When we buried our dead we had to bury them in the corral and let the stock tramp everything down so the Indians would not find the place, for they would dig it up and get the cloth the body was wrapped in. Three of our men were killed by Indians. They used poisoned arrows; and when shot by one of them the poison would go all through one's system. The Indians would hide in the willows and shoot arrows in our stock. We had to corral our stock every night and guard them while they were feeding. When we got to the 'sink' of this river we found that we had a desert of 35 miles to cross without water or grass. We started in the evening and traveled all night reaching the Truckee river the next evening. This was a beautiful river; and there was plenty of grass for the stock. We traveled down the river for two days and crossed and recrossed it 25 times. We then left the river and bore to the west. This brought us into the mountains where we found we had very rough country to travel over. When we came to the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mts. it looked as though we could not get any farther; but as we had no time to lose we double-teamed and took one wagon at a time up to the summit. It was so rocky that we had to work our way around the rocks, and only got a short distance in two days. We had a rocky road to travel over after we got up the mountain; but it was not very steep until we got to Boca Creek, where we had to chain a tree to the wagons in order to get down the hill safely. This was the steepest hill we had on the whole trip. After we got down to the creek we had to stop and grade a road to get up the hill. There were two companies; and it took us three days to complete the grade. This brought us on to a dividing ridge which we followed down to the North Fork of the American River, a distance of fifty miles. By this time a good many of the company were out of flour; so they started myself and another man to Johnson's place to get flour. We got 100 pounds and started back to the company.

"The men that had left the Donner Party overtook us about 30 miles from Johnson's and told us what had happened ... and that they were fearful lest the party would never get through. Our company reached Johnson's place all right and in good spirits. We laid over there two days. While there we heard that the American fleet had landed and hoisted the American flag over the Capitol, and also in Los Angeles.


..... From here we started for Sutter's Fort, a distance of fifty miles. There was no road; but it was level country...We laid over there several days, bringing the time up to the tenth of October, making a six months' journey from Independence, Mo. The first American child born in California was born the next day after we arrived at Sutter's Fort. They named the child John Sutter Whisman; he is now living in Oregon. Sutter had two flour mills running to supply the immigrants with flour. This flour was coarse and had not been bolted. The mills were built in a cheap style. They used two stones with a lever attached; and a squaw could turn the lever around. We got fine beef. They were only worth what the hide and tallow would bring. A large beef was valued at $5. After being here five days the immigrants divided up, some going to Napa County and others to Santa Clara County.

"Just before we separated, Lt. Blackburn came up from Monterey as a recruiting officer for Col. Fremont to enlist men to join his regiment going to Lower Calif., where the American flag had been pulled down and the Spanish flag hoisted instead. All of the men who could go enlisted; and their families were ordered to go to Santa Clara Mission, where they could be guarded and have houses to live in. Col. Fremont commissioned Capt. Arom to raise a company and guard the women and children."

On November first at San Jose, David Campbell joined a company of fifty men of Captain Buress who had secured 500 horses and saddles for Fremont. When these had gone as far south as the Salinas plains they fell into an ambush of Spaniards, who killed one of the six advance guards. Twenty men were detailed to run the horses to Gomez's corral two miles away. The rest attacked the Spaniards, discounting to shoot, then mounting to charge. The Spaniards were scattered; but Buress was killed by his horse' running away and taking him into the midst of the enemy who "speared" him. The Americans "held the ground". Both sides recovered and buried their dead: five Americans and eighteen Spaniards. David Campbell returned from Monterey to San Jose with Lieut. Blackburn, who was sent by Fremont with a cannon. On account of sickness in his family he remained at San Jose under Capt. Webber, and was in the Santa Clara battle in January, 1847. 250 Spaniards, who had hoisted their flag "were in rendezvous near what we call Half Moon Bay. They were commanded by Schanres who had been paroled. Captain Webber found where they had been encamped; and they only had sixty men in their company. He notified Lieut. Maddix who had a company of 50 rangers ... He also notified Capt. Mardson, who was captain of the marines at Urbano, which is now called Presidio. He came up with a cannon and 100 men on foot. Mardson ranked in office, so both the officers had to submit to his orders. By this time the Spaniards had moved camp to within three miles of the Santa Clara Mission where the women and children were living. They were guarded by Captain Arom. He could not leave his post; so he put up breast-works to keep them from getting to the houses and for his men to fight behind. The Spaniards were camped in full view of the Mission. The people at the Mission expected every hour to be attacked; but they were there three days when our soldiers came upon them. Capt. Webber came up on the north of them, and Lieut. Maddix on the south and got between them and the Mission. Mardson was behind them with his marines and cannon. The Spaniards advanced toward the Mission across a mud slough which was a half mile wide. When Mardson got into that they commenced firing at him; and he could not use the cannon on account of the mud; and as the Spaniards would not get within 300 yards of his men, they could not hit a man. Capt. Webber and Lieut. Maddix charged on them; but the Spaniards kept too far away; and they could not do them much damage. They killed three Spaniards and wounded several; one American was shot in the leg. The fight lasted three hours; and at night the Spaniards retreated to their camp. The next morning they sent in a flag of truce. Capt. Mardson was the highest in rank; so he had to treat with them. They parleyed for three days trying to come to terms. They had run all of the horses off which they had taken from the Americans and had hidden all of their good guns; then they were willing to come to terms; but they had to stack all of their arms and give up all of the horses they had taken. They were to drive everything in and let the Americans take their pick. They had over 50 head. The Americans gave was the first sawmill built in Santa Clara County. When we finished the mill we went back to the mines. The first of September we went to the place now called Placerville. The gold here was very coarse. The only tools we used in getting it out were a pick, spoon, butcher knife and pan. I stayed there three weeks and averaged $50 per day for that time. "One of our party was taken sick with mountain fever; so I had to put him into a wagon and take him to San Jose. And when I got there I concluded to go to work in my sawmill, instead of going back to the mines. I commenced making lumber and sold it at $50 per thousand. I kept on raising the price; and in 1849 it went up to $300 per thousand at the mill; and everything else was high in proportion. Flour sold at $30 a barrel. In 1849 everything was booming at San Jose.

"There were only five houses in San Francisco in 1847: the custom's house, post-office, Leigdoff's store, and a tavern kept by Mr. Bennett. There was not a wharf in the place until the fall of 1847. Mr. Clark, a man who crossed the Plains with me, put up the first wharf, running it out from Clark's Point which was named for him. The first town lots were laid off in 1847. They made the streets only eighty feet wide; but in 1850 they found the streets were too narrow; so they moved the buildings back twenty feet on the main streets. One can hardly believe that there could be such a change made in fifty-two years. San Jose was an old Spanish town. In the fall of 1847 the Alcalde issued a proclamation calling all the citizens together who were living on the town land to survey off the town into lots and to release the remainder of the land that belonged to the town under the Spanish law. So they found there were forty families entitled to land. They surveyed it off in five acre tracts and gave each one a lease for ninety-nine years. This is called the San Jose Forty Thieves; but being done under the Spanish law the title is good. I helped to survey the town in 1847 ... At this time there was not an American living in San Jose except a few who had been there for twenty years and had Spanish families. The Alcalde was a shrewd Englishman and was appointed by the governor."

As to the first Protestant sermon in California, "in December 1846, there was a local Methodist preacher, who crossed the Plains with us, preached a funeral sermon aver the remains of the daughter of Capt. Arom who had died just before Christmas ... The minister's name was Heacock. The sermon was preached in old Santa Clara Mission."

(Note: Because of the details of life among the first Americans and in crossing the Plains, it has seemed best to omit practically nothing from Mr. Campbell's articles. To understand the route across the Plains, the places named might be put into the present states of their location: Independence was not far from Kansas City of today on the Missouri River at the western boundary of Missouri; farther northwest is the Platte River crossing the state of Nebraska; Ft. Laramie is in the eastern edge of Wyoming, about a third of the way from the southeast corner; continuing fairly westward across Wyoming up the Sweetwater River leads through the pass of the Rockies known as South Pass. (Ft. Bridger is farther south in the very southwest corner of Wyoming; it would seem that the main body of the immigrant train did not bend south to Ft. Bridger, but that the Donner Party left the others and passing through Ft. Bridger went on southwestward through Utah and then westward through Nevada to the Truckee River where Reno now is.) The main part of the train continued westward across the Bear River in southeastern Idaho to Ft. Hall where they first touch the Snake River, followed the Snake halfway across the southern edge of Idaho (the route they were following to this point was the Oregon Trail) but at the Goose Creek which flowed from the south they turned south into Nevada and on the Humboldt and Truckee followed approximately the present Lincoln Highway.)

William G. Campbell not only surveyed the streets of San Jose (Bancroft says the survey was in charge of William and Thomas Campbell) but also the streets of San Francisco in 1847 (his sons being of the party). There his wife Agnes Hancock Campbell died and was buried in an old burying ground over which Market Street was surveyed; her dust still rests under the street. David Campbell also surveyed Spanish grants in the San Joaquin Valley, according to Miss Owen's account. According to T. A. Cutting, author of the Historical Sketch of Campbell (the town in Santa Clara Valley) during the Mexican War trouble Benjamin Campbell was enlisted with the company guarding the Mission, and William and David were in the Salinas fight and the Santa Clara battle at which Sanchez was defeated (January 2, 1847); also "William Campbell, who early set up as a merchant in San Jose, manufactured a curious threshing machine for the ripened grain . . . .The idea of adobe houses did not appeal to the newcomers" - hence the sawmill. Benjamin Campbell piloted in 1852 to California (his third trip) the Lovells, the Ruckers, the Finleys, and the Robert Campbells.








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