Crossing the Plains and On to California in 1852.
by William R. Boren
I was born in Hancock County, Illinois, on March 11, 1845, being the 4th son of B.C. and Mary Boren. The family moved to Pottawattamie County, Iowa in the Spring of 1847, using ox-teams as means of transit.
We departed for the "Land of Gold" in 1852. After our family had reached the old ferry on the Missouri River, a company of Argonauts was quickly formed, comprising of no less than 100 wagons, under the leadership of Captain Ben Gardner, a man of uncommon bravery and skill. Few, if any of this large party had ever been further west than the Great River, near which we were camped. The route was extremely long, tedious and dangerous.
Our family outfit consisted of two-yoke ox teams and one two-horse team, which safely carried father, mother, brothers and one sister, besides all our movable possessions.
Nothing of interest happened the first few weeks of travel, but when we were a short distance from Bluff Ruins, the dreadful cholera struck in our midst and death ensued. Almost every wagon had sick and dying. My sister and brother died and were buried near Willow Creek, which empties into the mighty Platte. For miles and miles could be seen almost countless newly-made graves.
After a few days' encampment at Bluff Ruins the epidemic subsided, then a few days later my sister made her appearance as a pioneer.
One pleasant evening, the young men built a large fire in the center of the camp. Soon afterwards two young couples made an appearance and were married by [Mormon Apostle] Ezra T. Benson.
Close to our next encampment was a large Pawnee village, but we had no trouble with this tribe of Indians, but we did not neglect to put a strong guard around the camp every night. I can still hear the hourly call of the sentinels, "Oh yes; Oh yes; half past twelve and all is well!"
From here on we began to lose cattle by various diseases; we had great difficulty in continuing our journey. We used cows instead of oxen and progress was slow, but we finally reached Salt Lake City on September 1st, 1852.
After a few days in the Mormon capitol we were sent to Provo, where we spent the winter. We suffered many hardships in Provo, which was a new place. An Indian war was raging at that time, and we had to be very careful.
In the spring of 1854 we were again "westward bound" to settle the city of San Bernardino, California. We bought fresh oxen and other necessities, and we were on the road again. Our leader this time was a new one, who had been to the Pacific before [with the Mormon Battalion]. His name was George Haskell, better known as "Papa Haskell".
At one of our camping grounds named Corn Creek, we came in close contact with Walker's band of Utes, numbering nearly 1000 warriors. They did not molest us in any way, saying, "White men were welcome to leave the territory". We gave them three cows and A.D. Boren presented their chief with a stove pipe hat, which made him a "High muck-a-muck" indeed. He called his warriors together that evening and warned them not to bother our train in any way. He also gave us a guard of 60 Indians, one acting as an interpreter. They accompanied us as far as Las Vegas, the springs which lie across the desert, 65 miles from the Muddy, and then to Warner's Ranch and all old settlers will remember it as Walker's Trail. We really felt indebted to the savage chieftain for all his assistance.
After a short stay in Las Vegas we again moved westward. The road was very sandy for 12 miles and traveling was very difficult until we reached Cottonwood. Between Cottonwood and Mountain Springs, we encountered probably the roughest road we had ever traveled, the wagons having almost to climb stairs for a distance of 12 miles.
After leaving Mountain Springs we traveled through the waterless waste for 45 or 50 miles without unhitching. Resting Springs was our destination and here we found numerous Indians of the Piute tribe, who were very saucy. In fact we had to drive them from our fires at the muzzle of a rifle. We were only able to avoid a fight by keeping a strong guard at night.
Fifty-five miles farther we found ourselves, after many hardships at the Salt Springs. We were compelled, by the cravings of terrible thirst to kill some of our stock and drink the blood, while only 10 miles distant from this watering place. Our tongues were so swollen, long before we reached water, that, although nearly as strong as brine, we greedily swallowed it at the midnight hour.
After about 36 hours stay at this miserable camping place, we resumed our journey, only to find that our route lay across one of the worst portions of the Great American Desert. We had nothing to drink except the briny fluid with which we had recently filled our vessels. Again, the terrible thirst began to afflict us, and the water was doled out sparingly, until it was completely gone. We were still 20 miles from our next water, and our tongues were again swollen and protruding. Our oxen lay down in the yokes, suffering like ourselves, and after short rests, were assisted to their feet.
Again we moved on towards Bitter Springs. When we were within 15 miles of this place, one of the men went ahead to get relief from a company in advance of us. After traveling some 8 miles he met a man named McCann, driving an American jack, packed with water pouches, and there got a drink of water from the good-hearted Irishman [Scotsman?], and continued his journey towards the Springs. Five miles before he reached the Springs he was surprised by an Indian, who sprang in front of him, drawing his bow as if to kill him. The man, speaking in Ute language, commenced to unbutton his shirt with his right hand, as though desirous to trade it for the arrow, which he reached for with his left hand, and succeeded in securing, together with the bow. He had at the same time, got out his pocket knife and opened it with his teeth, a proceeding which so scared the Indian, that he let go all holts, and "skedaddled", leaving the man in full possession of his property and the "field of action."
Shortly after this strange combat the man reached water still carrying the captured Indian weapons. Knowing that Mr. McCann would keep his promise and supply the wagon train immediately with water for man and beast, he did not return to his companions, but waited at Bitter Springs for their early arrival.
All through these hardships, it was the common experience of those who vainly endeavored to repose in the attitude of slumber to encounter the following sensations: varied ideas of transference to scenes of childhood, where the pure cold water from the "old oaken bucket" was ever descending to the parched throat, but never satisfying its cravings.
Bitter Springs is nothing more than a black, alkaline mud-hole, which we gladly left in its appropriate solitude after a stay of 36 hours.
Our road now led us towards the Red Hill range, situated about 8 miles west of Bitter Springs, and we found the first portion of the distance very hard on our teams. Crossing the low summit of the Red Hills, we discovered a downward grade of natural smoothness, which continued thus to the Mojave River, 35 miles distant, which we safely reached.
Here we jubilantly found a supply of water, feed and firewood. After journeying 60 miles towards the sources of this desert-devoured mountain stream, we left the river banks, and for 20 miles climbed a bench of cacti and juniper, until the summit of the Cajon was triumphantly gained. The prospect from this commending elevation, nearly 4000 feet above sea level, was truly magnificent, and almost beyond description. It seemed as if we had at last been blessed by a glimpse of Paradise itself, in order that amends might be made for the terribly depressing hardships we had so long and bravely borne.
Descending steep "back bone" for some considerable distance, we reached the bed of the Cajon Canyon, where we camped for the night, near good water and grass. We were now but a few miles from our destination, the new Mormon settlement of San Bernardino, and our hearts beat with new hope and joy, to realize that our trials and hardships had ended.
Ere we entered the Valley proper we spent another night as overland travelers in Sycamore Grove, at the mouth of Cajon Canyon. The distance between this our last camping-out place, and the budding town of San Bernardino, being only 12 miles, was covered by our party shortly before sundown on June 5, 1854.
We were cordially welcomed by those few men who had preceded us in 1852, and also by many Mexicans and Indians, who were formerly absolute owners of this large and beautiful state. I especially remember the Lugo family, original owners of Rancho San Bernardino, with whom I frequently played "shinny" against the Indians, and from whom I received much hospitable treatment.
I cannot close this incomplete, short narrative of adventurous travel without feelingly referring to those noble men and women who were my western-bound associates for more than two years:
Benjamin Gardner and family, of Utah---Mr. Hardy and family, of Utah---Winnagers, of Utah---Mr. Robert Singleton and family, of San Bernardino, the daughters being, Mrs. George Lord, Mrs. Priscilla Clyde, Mrs. Mary Clyde, Mrs. Lira Osterhout, and Mrs. Caroline Beck---Moses Morse and family---Ellis Ames and family---Martin Porter and family---"Papa Haskell (George Nile Haskell) and family---Otha Wells and family---John DeWitt, father of Alonzo, Georgo, Jane, Jeanette, and Emma DeWitt---Rubin DeWitt and family---Ayers and family---A.D. Boren and family---the oldest child of Almira Smithson, the second Mrs. Aveline Yager, third Willford A., fourth, Lenora Jewell, (also Susan Rene and Mary Hughes). Also Sarah Haskell Ames, the 2nd wife of Ellis Ames, and their children, Julia Ames, George Monterville Ames, and Rudolf Ames. Sarah was the daughter of George Haskell and wife Sally.
--Copied by Lena P. Ames, Dec. 20, 1977
May we never forget the hardships and trials suffered by our ancestors, on their journey across the desert and plains, to this Beautiful Zion and may we be ever mindful of the reason they made this journey.
This document was contributed by LeAna Lipari, August 2004.
To learn more about the 1852 David Wood Company of Mormon pioneers, click here. To return to the Ames Family page, click here. To return to the Richardson Family index page, click here.