, was born in
, December 25, 1801, and my mother,
) Helm, was born in
, October 27, 1810. I was
born on April 9, 1846, and when we started for
I lacked eight days of being ten years old.
Four deaths in our immediate family,
delayed our start, and made it a sad one.
On April 1st, 1856, however, we finally started, and
oh how excited all of us children were at the thought of the long ride,
about which everyone had been talking.
In our party were my four brothers, four
sisters, two nephews, my little orphaned niece, and sister-in-law.
We went by a small town, called
, and our party stopped there, and did some trading, and bought some
candy and gave it to us children, which was a great treat.
In those days, we did not often get store candy to eat.
Our party had three wagons.
One of these, a spring-wagon with a canvas cover, was drawn by a
span of mules, and was driven by my father.
The two other, larger covered wagons, were drawn by oxen.
Others had planned to travel along with
us. Some of them were
relatives of our family, and others were just friends.
They had all agreed to start at the same time, from wherever they
had been living, and join my father on the road.
So, as we traveled along, these families “fell in” with us.
Each family had its own wagons, stock and
provisions. But, for
protection against Indian attacks, they wanted to camp as near to one
another at night as they could. Because
the stock had to be fed, wherever grazing was to be had, made it
impossible for such a large party to remain close together all the time.
Those that had loose cattle with them, had
to stand guard at night, and be on the watch all day, to keep the
Indians from driving off their herd.
The whole train had almost to creep along.
Wherever there was good grass, short stops would be made to let
our stock feed. And, in
desert regions, we had to travel by night on account of the heat.
, who had been appointed captain, always rode ahead of the party and
picked out the camping place for us.
A good average of ox team traveling was
from nine to twelve miles in a long day.
At first, we did not see any Indians; but,
it wasn’t long before our troubles began.
And, all of them weren’t Indian troubles.
One time, the loose cattle got frightened and stampeded.
All the men got busy, and tried to keep them back from the
wagons. It couldn’t be
done, however, and as they went running past us, the oxen, drawing the
two schooners, became frightened, also, and began to run away.
I was riding in the wagon with my sister
, and her two little children, at the time.
(We children used to change about from one wagon to the other,
whenever we could—just for the fun of it.)
I don’t know how long the stampede lasted.
Only a few minutes, though, I guess.
But, the big wagon shook and jolted us as we went pell-mell over
the rough ground. My brother
couldn’t stop the oxen, any more than he could turn them from the
direction that they were headed. But,
luckily for us, one of the animals—named “Old Broad”—finally
stumbled and fell. His body
was dragged a little ways. Then,
one wheel passed over him, and he was caught between the wheels.
This, and his weight, stopped his team-mate—and, just in time!
If we had gone ten steps farther that direction, we would all
have been killed. It took
the men quite a while to get “Old Broad” out from between the
wheels, and yoked up again, so that we could go on.
Another time, my youngest sister,
, fell out of the wagon, and one of the heavy wheels passed over her.
She was so badly injured, she couldn’t walk for a long time,
and all the rest of her life, she was troubled by that injury to her
There were lots of buffalo on the plains,
then, too. Often we sighted
big droves of them. And, one
time we saw a large bunch of them, not so very far from where we camped.
They began to look as if they were headed toward us.
So, our captain got on his horse and went to turn them another
direction, for they said that whenever the leader of the buffaloes
started, he hunched his head down and never looked up to see where he
was going, or what was ahead of him, and that the whole herd would
follow him that way, and run over anything that happened to be in their
path. So, our captain rode
to where they could see him. As
soon as they caught sight of him, they turned and went away in the
We had to cross some rivers that were
pretty deep. The
was so deep we had to stay there all one day, while the men cut down big
sapling trees. They lashed
these together, making a raft to ferry the wagons across.
Ropes were tied to the trees, and the raft was guided with these,
and the wagons kept from going downstream.
They had to swim the stock across.
And Devil’s Gate
We moved so slowly, we were in sight of
for many days. In one place,
we could see it so plainly that it didn’t seem far from our road, but
it must have been many miles.
At another place, where [we] camped, there
was a spring of cold water, and about three steps from it, a hot
one—so hot that it would burn your finger.
There were no holes dug, where these springs were, the water was
just running out over the top of the ground; [a]ll of us children had a
lot of fun playing there. My
, and I always had to mind the smaller children, whenever we camped, and
we were never allowed to go farther than a few feet from the wagons, for
fear of Indians.
Even when we were gathering “buffalo
chips” or sagebrush limbs to cook with, we had to stay close to the
wagons. But, we were all
young enough to have a good time playing every chance we had.
I think, it was at the [s]ame camp, where
the hot and cold springs were, that we saw the rock pile, they called
the Devil’s Gate. It
wasn’t far from our camp, and when the grownups went to see it, all of
us children trailed along.
That is how, I happened to get the chance
to walk through it. It was a
lot of rocks, with an open space between them, and with a long rock laid
across the top—like a gate, with an arch over it.
All of us walked through it, before going back to camp.
For miles we would travel and see nothing
but sagebrush. And, the
little prairie dogs would come up out of holes, like squirrel holes, and
bark at us, then dodge back under ground again.
They were as cute as could be.
We, also, saw lots of coyotes, and a few mudhens.
We never killed these, however for they weren’t good to eat.
In all those months we were on our way, I
don’t think the fear of Indians ever really left us.
And, our fears were not groundless.
One time, my sister,
, was riding horseback, a short distance ahead of our slow-moving
wagons. She had a fine
saddle horse, and liked to ride with my brothers,
—who were driving the cattle—whenever our father would let her.
This time, my brothers happened to see the Indians.
They told my sister to ride as fast as she could to get to the
wagons. The Indians had been
hiding in some brush, waiting for us to come up to them.
When my sister started back toward the
wagons, they took after her. Father
saw her coming, and saw what was happening. He
jumped out of the wagon, and started on a run to meet her.
And, he was just in the nick of time, for as he grabbed the reins
on one side of her horse’s head, one of the Indians grabbed the other
In a flash, my sister was off the horse
and ran to get in the wagon. If
the Indian had beaten my father to her, they would have led her horse on
a run into the brush and taken her captive.
That was what they had intended to do, because that was one of
As soon as the men saw what was taking
place, they stopped the wagons, and got out their guns, ready to fight.
But, when the Indians saw that, they fetched a blood-curdling
whoop, and turned and went away—disappearing in the brush.
That was the last we saw of them, but it
wasn’t long afterward that we knew there was going to be more trouble.
For three days, we knew that our train was being followed and
watched. There were gulches
and rocks and brush all along our road—and, during these three days,
now and then, the men of our train, or the boys who were driving the
loose stock, would see an Indian’s head raise up, out of a gulch, or
peer around some rocks or bru[s]h. And
then, on the third day, when we had stopped to prepare and eat our
dinner, quite a few of them appeared and came right into camp.
At first, they pretended they had come in
to try and trade for tobacco, bacon and powder for their guns.
But, the men could see that they were taking in every-thing about
our train—seeing what we had, and how many of us were in our party,
My father and mother had two small, light,
sheet-iron stoves. These had
been set up on the ground, a fire made in them, and Mother and my older
sisters and sister-in-la[w] were busy about them, getting our dinner
ready. We had lots of
provisions with us, and always had plenty of good hot food to eat.
Dough would be “set,” and bread baked in the stoves; and, we
had lots of dried fruits and cans of honey, for sweets.
I remember watching the Indians as I
helped take care of the smaller children.
The Indians were all stark-naked, except for a breech cloth.
They came right up to our stoves, shoving themselves in among our
women-folks, who were cookin, and kept peeking into the pots that were
boiling, whatever food that was being cooked for our meal.
Our men-folks my father and big
brothers—kept telling them to keep back out of the way, and let the
women get the cooking done. They
paid no attention to these requests, though.
Finally, one of our men couldn’t stand [.....it any longer...].
He picked up a piece of flat board, from one of our wagons, and
[...used it to hit one of the Indians who was stooping over to look at
something in one of the cooking pots on the stove.]
Immediately, the whole lot of the Indians
got on their horses and left the camp.
Then, because we had heard so many of the awful things they had
done to white people who had quarreled with them, or attacked them, we
knew that our train would now have trouble with them over this blow
struck with that flat board.
Our men started getting the camp ready for
a battle. They drew the
wagons up in a circle, forming a corral.
And, as other wagons came up, and heard what had happened, they
joined their wagons in our circle. My
, said there were thirty wagons altogether in our camp that afternoon
In this circle of wagons, was where all
the women and children were told to stay, if an attack was made.
And, two men were chose[n] to act as their guard—one at one end
of the camp, the other at the opposite end.
The rest of the men had to stay outside the circle to watch the
stock, which had to be fed as long as possible.
We all knew that the Indians would try to stampede our animals
and drive them off, as soon as they started to attack.
A little later in the afternoon, just as
we had expected, the Indians—now in a large party, which they had
probably gone away after—rushed upon our camp.
With whoops and yells, they started circling the camp, shooting
with both arrows and guns, though most of them used arrows.
And, besides shooting at our wagons, they set fire to the grass
as they circled about, and the men, who were guarding the cattle had to
fight these fires, as well as fight for their lives, and their stock.
As soon as the fight began, all of us
children were put into the false bottom of one of the big wagons.
Boards were then laid across, over us, and bedding and provisions
piled on top. I had to take
care of my little brother and sister, and nephews and niece.
It was so hot in there, I thought I would smother.
An[d], outside, in between the yelling and shooting, I could hear
women-folk crying and praying. Some
of them, too, were molding bullets as the fight went on; my sister
was one of those who helped make these.
Finally, the battle ended.
An Indian, who had been fighting from behind a rock, and peeping
over it, was hit by a bullet, fired by one of our men.
saw him when he was hit, and told us that he seemed to jump up about six
feet, and then topple over backwards.
Then, as soon as that happened, all the other Indians stopped
fighting, and we always thought that the one we killed must have been
their leader or chief—for they galloped to him, and put his body
across one of their horses. Then,
with a horrible whoop, they all rode away.
We looked for more trouble than ever that night, but they never
When the battle was over, both men who had
been guarding the wagons, were found to be wounded.
Both had been shot at with guns.
The men, who had been guarding the stock weren’t hurt, although
’s horse had been shot from under him.
He had traded another horse for this much prettier one, from the
Indians during that visit earlier in the day.
And, they seemed to single him out to kill.
But, loss of the horse didn’t make
stop fighting for more than a few seconds.
The men said that he got to his feet “cussing” as hard as he
could, and went right on shooting at the attackers.
After the battle was over, we didn’t
leave this camp, but stayed there that night.
There wasn’t much sleeping done, for everyone expected the
Indians to come back to fight again and try to wipe out our train, like
we had heard stories of them doing.
But, they didn’t bother us anymore.
Has His Say
The next morning,
came to our camp, and took care of the two boys that had been wounded.
’ party had been traveling just one day behind us.
He had tried to make our camp the day before—when he had seen
Indians following them, just as we had, and expected trouble with
them—but had been unable to make it.
The Indians attacked his party, that same day they did us, and he
lost all of his stock. Having
these, may have been why the Indians did not try again to drive off
ours, our trains being so close together, as they were.
was a nice-looking man, much younger than my father.
And, while he was there, another party came into our camp.
These were a woman, two little children, her husband and brother.
The Indians had taken everything from them.
Their wagons and horses and food.
They had just left one old white horse for the woman and two
little children to ride. These
children were so small, I remember, that she had to hold them both in
her lap. And, the Indians
had taken away every bit of their clothing, leaving them bareheaded, and
I can see yet how their little faces were all blistered and the skin
cracked open and sore. The
woman was bareheaded, too, and the Indians had taken her shoes, and
those of her husband and brother—and, these two men were left afoot.
The sand was so hot that their feet were burned.
They had been trying for three days to catch up with us.
They wanted my father to bring them on to
. They had no money—the
Indians had taken it, too. So,
my father told them, he would take them in and feed them, and make room
for the wom[a]n and children in the wagons, and bring them to
, but that the two men, would have to walk and help with the cattle.
The men said they wouldn’t do it.
And, when they said that, my father told them what he thought of
was there yet, and he heard all that was said.
And, when my father went to pay him for the care of the boys’
wounds, he said, “
, you don’t owe me a cent—for telling these men what you thought of
them!” So, they got in
with some other party besides ours.
They were two big, stout men, and it looked like they ought to
have been glad of the offer my father made them, as they had nothing at
all, and with us, they would always have had plenty to eat, and been
well taken care of, for my father was a kind and just man, thought he
would not let anyone put anything over on him.
Along The Way
There were other anxious times for us,
though. And, we saw lots of
things that made us sad. Crossing
, a woman in another party we had met, died and had to be buried there
where our wayside camp had been made.
And, further on, when we were getting nearer to
, one of the youngest children of our train, the Kesterson’s little
boy, was stricken with fever and died.
He had been the pet of our train, and it was one of the saddest
moments of our whole journey, when he was buried there on the prairie,
his little grave marked only by an oak sapling, and rocks heaped on the
mound to protect it from burrowing wild animals.
We did not drive our wagons across the
grave, as I have heard many of the trains did to keep the place a secret
from the Indians.
helped to take care of the little Kesterson boy during his long illness.
In this way, she contracted the fever, herself.
And, six weeks after we got to
—on October 5th, 1856—she passed away.
There is one camp too, in
, that I have never forgotten. We
reached the place one evening, after dark.
We drove our wagons out to one side of the trail and made our
camp. It wasn’t until the
next morning that we found out we had camped on some graves.
It gave us all a terrible feeling.
But, we had not disturbed the mounds very badly.
I remember, that they were in a clump of pine trees, the first
pines we had seen.
My father...headed directly for
, for by this time my sister
was so terribly sick, he wanted to get her to where there was a doctor
as soon as possible. I
remember watching the wagons of the others driving off and leaving us to
take another direction. But,
while we all felt sad at parting from our kin and our friends, I can see
now, that our anxiety over my sister kept us from feeling the separation
as deeply as we would have otherwise.
It was also the things connected with her illness and death which
always remained clearest in my me[m]ory or our arrival at
and our stay there. While it
was heartbreaking to give her up—for she was a young lady, and we all
loved her so much—it did not seem so bad as it would have been, had
she died on the lonely plains, like that poor woman, or the little
Kesterson boy. We could
always remember her as being buried in a nice place, in the
When she was gone, we again moved on—the
last lap of our journey—going from
On these final three days of our long,
tedious journey, we crossed a number of creeks that had no bridges over
them, as they do now. One
night, we stayed with a friend of my father’s at the
. They treated us so nice,
and the next morning, the woman fixed us a big lunch for us to take
along with us that day, so that we did not have to stop and cook.
On the third day, we reached Mariposa Creek, where my brother
was living, and near where the
schoolhouse is now.
Here my father rented the Fitzhugh house
for us to live in, until he bought a place from a man named
. From the Vance
place—upon which my father built a house, which is still standing,
although it has been moved to a different location near there, [m]y
father and mother moved to White Rock, Mariposa County, and settled on
what is now called the “Jim Helm Ranch.”
And, it was here, in 1876, that my father passed away, and where
my mother also died, almost ten years later in 1886.
The[y] were always such a happy and
devoted couple. I do not
ever remember hearing them quarrel.
And, both of them were always so good and thoughtful with us
children. And, looking back,
I know it was their love and kindness and forethought for us children
that made the long trip across the plains one of so little hardship,
actually, even in the midst of almost hourly dangers.