Heavy Roads-Last Food Eaten-Messengers From San Diego-Cheerfulness of Men-News of Battles-Cutting a Road Through a Mountain Gorge-Arrival At Warner’s Rancho-a Full Meal-Cheap Beef-Hot Spring-Sleeping under Water-Flour From the Boat Disaster-March for San Diego-Beef Diet
On the 17th, we traveled fifteen miles over very heavy sand and encamped between two mountains. The fresh animals, after getting rested, did good work. On the score of both men and mules, Cooke very properly remarks: “That this fifteen miles of very bad road was accomplished, under the circumstances, by mules or men, is extraordinary. The men arrived here completely worn down; they staggered as they marched, as they did yesterday”-he might have added, “and many other days.”
Some of the men, unable to keep up with the wagons, traveled and slept at intervals, during the night, and did not reach camp until daylight the following morning. The sheep arrived about noon on the 18th. They numbered from seventy to eighty, but were so poor that when one was slaughtered and skinned, the bones had but a very thin covering, and the scant flesh that remained contained very little nourishment. The Colonel, in writing on the day’s incidents, says: “I went through their companies this morning; they were eating their last four ounces of flour; of sugar and coffee, there has been none for some weeks.”
All of our government wagons had been abandoned at this time, but five. During this day, the Indian magistrate (Alcalde) of the town of San Philipi, and a companion, brought a letter to the Colonel from the Governor of San Diego, announcing the arrival of our men, who had been sent for supplies, and promising assistance. He welcomed our approach. The Governor’s messengers were nearly naked, and not unlike the Apaches in appearance.
We did not advance any on the 18th, but spent the day in cleaning up our arms, and in the evening the men were paraded and inspected.
The Colonel expressed great surprise at seeing the half starved, worn-out men who, only the night previous, had staggered into camp, like so many inebriates, from sheer exhaustion and hunger, now playing the fiddle and singing merry songs.
The messengers having heard of several other battles in California, the Colonel entered into precautionary measures, as it was thought we might meet a large force of the enemy retreating towards Sonora.
Brother Henry Standage’s journal, of this date, says: “We have nothing but beef and very small rations of that; I was glad, to-day, to go and pick up the pork rinds that were thrown away by the Colonel’s cook, although they were in the sand.” The reader can make his own comments.
On the 19th, after about three or four miles of hard travel, mainly up hill, we came to a halt; even Weaver, our regular guide, believed “we were penned up.” Our indefatigable commander, however, seemed to think it was too late in the day to abandon the wagon enterprise. He very sternly told the guide if he did not find a crossing or passage through these rocks and mountain gorges, he would send men that would do it.
We had a rugged mountain ridge some two hundred or more feet high to surmount. Owing to rumors that we would probably meet an army of Californians, the Colonel ordered the baggage to the rear.
We surmounted all difficulties and succeeded in getting over the ridge inside of two hours. Other and seemingly more formidable barriers now presented themselves. Our route lay up a dry ravine, through openings in the solid rocks. Our guides, who had always traveled either north or south of this route, were as ignorant of its practicability as ourselves. As we traveled up the dry bed, the chasm became more contracted until we found ourselves in a passage at least a foot narrower than our wagons. Nearly all of our road tools, such as picks, shovels, spades, etc., had been lost in the boat disaster. The principal ones remaining were a few axes, which the pioneers were using at the time the boat was launched, a small crowbar, and perhaps a spade or two. These were brought into requisition, the commander taking an ax and assisting the pioneers. Considerable was done before the wagons arrived. One wagon was taken to pieces and carried over about an hour before sunset. The passage was hewn out and the remaining wagons got through about sundown, by unloading and lifting through all but two light ones, which were hauled by the mules.
Both men and teams were now exhausted and the water we had expected to reach early in the afternoon was at least seven or eight miles farther on. We traveled until dark and camped without water, but with good grass for the animals.
That night was very cold, and we had only a little brush for fuel.
We were on the march before sunrise on the morning of the 20th. We had a sand ridge to pull over, in the usual way, by the use of long ropes, with fifteen to twenty men to each wagon; after that we had an exceedingly rough, rocky, descending road to a little valley, then a good road to San Phillippi, a deserted Indian village, the inhabitants, probably, leaving on our approach.
The teams were turned loose to graze and two beeves killed, our only food. After a brief rest, we traveled seven miles farther over a low mountain pass and encamped for the night where there was a blessing we could appreciate-plenty of water. There was very little feed, however, for the animals. We had a drill on the way, while halting for the teams to come up.
At this point we met Charbonaux, returning from San Diego, and learned that the Governor of that place had detained Hall and Leraux, lest they might fall into the hands of the hostile Californians, who, it seemed, held a grudge against them. Orders were also received for the Battalion to march to San Diego instead of Los Angeles.
On the 21st, we traveled about ten or twelve miles to Warner’s rancho. Warner’s was the first house we saw in California, although we had been in that State since crossing the Colorado river. The weather was cold and cloudy, with signs of snow. The route lay over low mountains not difficult to pass. The road (then a mere trail) ran through a fine grove of large live oaks. This, with the high green grass, although the weather was rather chilly, was cheering, and we felt that we were descending into an atmosphere of spring. We crossed a mountain ridge, dividing the waters of the Colorado and the gulf from those emptying into the Pacific. Fine timber and perpetual snows crowned the mountain peaks and high ridges. We reached the rancho about 2 p. m., and encamped. The owner, Mr. Warner, understood the Californians were hard pressed by our forces, near Los Angeles, and hence we were liable to meet a large force retreating to Sonora any day. The guides, who had been sent forward for supplies on the 28th of December, were instructed by the Colonel to meet the Battalion at Warner’s rancho on the 21st of January, and it is rather remarkable that they as well as the Battalion arrived on that very day. Here we had the first full meal, except at Tucson and the wild bull country, since the reduction of our rations on the Rio Del Norte This meal consisted of fresh, fat beef without salt, obtained from Mr. Warner, a native of the State of Massachusetts.
A few pancakes were purchased from Indians, but no other bread could be got. Three fat beeves were purchased (Warner reserving the hides), for about $3.50
Cattle and horses were very cheap, the country being overrun with them; some ranchmen owned several thousand head, and there was no general market for live stock.
We remained at Warner’s and rested during the 22nd, and our rations were raised to four pounds of beef per day. We had no other food nor even salt to season our meat. The weather was warm, like that of April or May in the Middle States.
A hot spring of considerable volume, and of a temperature of about 170°ree; F., issued from some rocks on this rancho. It sent up a cloud of steam for over half a mile below its source. Near the center of this valley, stood an evergreen oak tree; its boughs reaching within five feet of the ground, and its foliage forming a circumference, according to Colonel Cooke’s estimate, of two hundred and seventy feet. The hot spring branch ran around one side of this tree and a cold stream around the other.
Strange as it may appear, it was asserted, not only by Warner but by eye-witnesses of our own men, that during cold nights, the Indians (who were nearly nude) slept with their bodies in the warm stream while their heads lay upon the soddy banks. This seems another of those facts which are “stranger than fiction.” There were a number of Indians here from San Luis Rey. They were friendly to the United States government, and had recently captured, brought here and killed some ten or eleven Californians. They had, however, lost thirty-eight of their own number killed by Californians and some other hostile tribe in retaliation, in Temecula Valley, who lay in ambush and took them by surprise.
These Indians begged the Colonel to allow them to accompany the Battalion, that they might bury their dead on the way and the Colonel consented. The name of their chief was Antonio. He, with ten of his men, were employed as scouts and to take charge of and drive our beef cattle.
During the night of the 22nd, the wind blew all our tents down.
On the 23rd, the commanding officer decided to march towards Los Angeles and join and assist General Kearny in capturing that place, it being the Spanish capital of California. Before leaving the rancho, the Colonel had a talk with Baupista, a prominent chief of the Cohuillos, a tribe about two thousand strong, all told, who stood aloof from all other tribes and were very independent.
The chief was firmly told that it would be folly for his tribe to interfere in any way with the Americans, as that nation would soon and forever govern California. These Indians professed friendship and did not interfere with either our persons or property.
At this point, the parties sent back for lost provisions, overtook us, with about four hundred pounds of flour-a trifle over one pound to the man. As a rule, we used about two spoonfuls per day each to thicken our soup. When asked by the commander why they did not come in sooner, the Corporal in charge promptly replied that they “dared not come in without flour.”
It had rained steadily for about twenty four hours before we left Warner’s, and continued through the next day and night, this being the rainy season for that country, the climate of which was similar to that of ancient Palestine. In scripture language, these would be called the “early or former rains;” while, after a dry summer, the “latter,” or, as we term them, the fall rains set in, and there was much suffering from cold and being wet. Several mules died and others strayed, the fresh Indians, including Chief Antonio, soon gathered up the missing ones.
On the 25th, we received a dispatch from General Kearny, ordering the march to San Diego, as at first anticipated, to meet him there. We reached Temecula Valley that day, where we found a portion of the San Luis Rey Indians, who had gathered to bury their dead, and they mistook us and we them for Californians. Both lines were in battle array before the mistake was discovered. The Indians were much pleased to see us, and the leading men shook hands heartily with Cooke and many others.
Following a road that branches off towards San Diego, we passed through the San Luis Valley. There we found grass from two to ten inches high, and plenty of wild mustard, the foliage of which, large and fresh, made excellent greens, which proved a luxury with our only other food, beef.
We had some difficulty in crossing the San Luis River owing to the quicksand. We saw in that region many thousand head of cattle and horses, besides a large herd of donkeys, as well as wild geese, brants, ducks, pelicans, gulls, etc., by the million.
On the 26th, our rations were increased to five pounds of beef per day. If any of our readers have an idea that beef alone is substantial food, the writer would beg leave to disagree with them. In connection with bread it fills an important place as an article of diet, but when taken alone, it is not near equal to “mush and milk,” nor will it satisfy hunger so long. A person living on meat alone can eat a hearty meal every hour or two without the stomach refusing to perform its duties of digestion; in fact, it will crave each meal and relish it as a sweet morsel. Five pounds of fresh beef a day, alone-don’t be startled, kind reader-is a rather small allowance for a healthy laboring man. In fact, five pounds is only a half ration compared with what was issued to Fremont’s battalion, when without other food than beef, as in that case each man “consumed an average of ten pounds a day of fat beef.” Yet five pounds each (and seldom that amount) was the extent ever issued to the famishing “Mormon” soldiers, although it could be obtained in abundance for less than one cent per pound.