Attempt to Explore a New Route to Salt Lake Valley-Forced to Return on Account of Deep Snow-Three Men Grow Impatient and Make Another Attempt and Are Murdered By Indians-the Company Follow and Discover Their Remains-Animals Alarmed-Scattered By the Firing of a Cannon
According to previous arrangements, a company of eight persons started on the 1st of May, 1848, Sergeant David Browett being elected Captain, to pioneer, if possible, a wagon road over the Sierra Nevada Mountains eastward, the Truckee route being impracticable at that season of the year. This company consisted of David Browett, Captain, Ira J. Willis, J. C. Sly, (known as Captain Sly), Israel Evans, Jacob G. Truman, Daniel Allen, J.R. Allred, Henderson Cox and Robert Pixton.
Three days’ travel brought this company to Iron Hill, where they found the snow so deep they could travel no farther. A donkey belonging to one of the men was com-completely buried in the snow, except his ears. On this occasion, these appendages were not to be despised, ugly and unique as they usually appear, for one or two of the men got hold of them and dragged Mr. Donkey on to terra firma and saved his life. None of that company will be very likely to wonder why those animals are made with large ears.
Brothers Willis, Sly and Evans ascended to the summit of a mountain. Seeing nothing but snow-capped mountains in advance of them, it was decided not to abandon but to postpone the enterprise until a later period. So far as they could judge, a wagon road would at least be possible and perhaps a success. One day’s travel in descending took them back from winter’s cold, snowy regions to a warm, spring atmosphere, where flowers bloomed and vegetation was far advanced.
The balance of May and the month of June were spent in digging gold, buying wagons and a full outfit for a wagon train, and making a rendezvous in Pleasant Valley, a beautiful place, about fifty miles east of Sutter’s Fort.
About the 24th of June, Captain Browett, Daniel Allen and Henderson Cox, desired to cross the mountains on a second exploring tour, but their friends, or at least a portion of them, thought the undertaking risky, owing to the wild Indians. They, however, being fearless and anxious to be moving, decided to brave all dangers and make the effort. They started, and the sequel will show that the fears of their friends were but too well founded.
By the 2nd of July, the company were again on the march; two days’ travel from Pleasant Valley, brought them to Sly’s Park, a small valley or mountain dell, thus named for Captain James C. Sly, who first discovered it. Here the company made a halt. Ten men on the 4th, took up the line of march to pioneer the way over the summit of the mountains. Four days’ travel over rough and rugged mountains took them across, and they found themselves safely landed at the head of Carson Valley, Nevada. As they returned to their comrades, they spent six days endeavoring to find a more practicable route, but failed.
On the 16th of July, the company again broke camp, and the next day arrived at Leek Springs. Here, in the absence of Captain Browett, the company again organized, with Jonathan Holmes President, and Lieutenant Samuel Thompson Captain.
This little band, like most of the Battalion, had great confidence in Divine interposition in their behalf, believing that a kind Providence would second their efforts to return to their families and friends.
Israel Evans, a representative member of the company, to whom the writer is indebted for a journal of their travels, says: “We had an abiding faith in God, that inasmuch as He had opened unto us the treasures of the hills to help us to means for our return, He would also show unto us the way by which we could travel home.”
In addition to the outfit already named, they subsequently obtained about one hundred and fifty head of horses and mules, with about the same number of horned stock, consisting of work oxen, cows and calves. This camp was kept one day after the return of the explorers, to work the road which they had pioneered. They had no guide, nor, so far as known, had the foot of white man ever trod upon the ground over which they were then constructing, what subsequently proved to be a great national highway for the overland travel.
Some four or five miles took them to what they named Tragedy Springs. After turning out their stock and gathering around the spring to quench their thirst, some one picked up a blood-stained arrow, and after a little search other bloody arrows were also found, and near the spring the remains of a camp fire, and a place where two men had slept together and one alone. Blood on rocks was also discovered, and a leather purse with gold dust in it was picked up and recognized as having belonged to Brother Daniel Allen. The worst fears of the company: that the three missing pioneers had been murdered, were soon confirmed. A short distance from the spring was found a place about eight feet square, where the earth had lately been removed, and upon digging therein they found the dead bodies of their beloved brothers, Browett, Allen and Cox, who left them twenty days previously. These brethren had been surprised and killed by Indians. Their bodies were stripped naked, terribly mutilated and all buried in one shallow grave.
The company buried them again, and built over their grave a large pile of rock, in a square form, as a monument to mark their last resting place, and shield them from the wolves. They also cut upon a large pine tree near by their names, ages, manner of death, etc. Hence the name of the springs.
After the darkness of night had gathered around them and they were sadly conversing by the camp-fire, Indians or wild animals came within smelling or hearing distance of their stock, which became so frightened that they rushed to within a few rods of the camp-fire, forming a circle around it, with their eyes shining like balls of fire in the darkness. As quick as possible, a cannon was loaded and fired. The belching forth of fire in the darkness, accompanied by the terrific report, echoing many times across the little valley, so terrified their animals that they scattered in every direction, and it was not until late the second day that all were recovered, some having been overtaken at a distance of twenty-five miles on their back track. If, as was thought, Indians were in the vicinity, intending to make a raid upon the camp, the report of the cannon so frightened them that they fled, as nothing was seen of them. The Digger Indians, at that time, were almost entirely unacquainted with the use of fire arms, and the effect, upon them, of the roaring of a cannon, in the stillness of the night, may easily be imagined.
While some were hunting the stock, others were working the road, and the balance removing camp to Rock Springs, only about four miles from the place where the men were murdered.