Story Keepers #11–Long Walk Home

40th anniversary 006Abandon ship!

Under cover of darkness, the men aboard the Hackstaff let down lifeboats and rowed to the north shore, avoiding discovery by Indians they’d seen walking the other side. Fall weather remained warm and they didn’t need heavier attire. They crept along the riverbank, each man carrying a portion of what few foodstuffs had remained on board. Little else could be carried. My great-great-grandfather kept his sack of gold.

Once safe, the men discussed their plight, deciding to walk north and connect with the trail between Oregon and California. Without horses, supplies or adequate weapons, many feared they’d become lost or separated. Several hadn’t before survived wilderness conditions. Uncertain where they went aground, historians believe the ship beached at the Rogue River. The distance home could have been more than two hundred miles—on foot.

The terrain proved difficult. Brushy undergrowth and steep climbs tested the hardiest among them. Two men with rifles hunted game. Three deer were shot, gutted, and roasted over a meager fire built with a few dry matches left in one man’s pocket. The famished men used sticks to broil the meat over the hot coals, eating the venison with their fingers and without salt. Hunger needed no extra seasoning.

Trekking north once again, another man scored an elk. But several were too hungry and weak to eat the meat. Searching the area for other edibles, they discovered slugs and offered them to the starving. Though disgusting, the forest fare proved providential and the sickly regained strength enough to travel, though the exertion again took its toll.

Many reached the point of giving up once more until they found a mountain stream which provided  crayfish. Without any means of building a fire, they ate them right out of the shell.

My great-great-grandfather buried his sack of gold beneath an oak tree, the weight of it too heavy to carry. Though later he would return to search for the treasure, he never recovered his fortune.

Not knowing where they were, my great-great-grandfather discovered the trail they’d hoped to intersect. Spotting a dog running toward them, the men thought of eating it, but not before his master, a trapper, appeared. The man had no way to help them, but encouraged them to continue a little ways further where they would find other settlers. They did, and soon were on their way home.


All the Way West, Hallie H. Huntington

The Golden Frontier, The recollections of Herman Francis Reinhart, Doyce B. Nunn, Jr., editor

Story Keepers #10–Lost At Sea

40th anniversary 022Continued from last post. . .

The Hackstaff left San Francisco Bay with twenty-seven passengers aboard and provisions for a fourteen-day voyage up the Pacific Coast stowed securely within the belly of the vessel. Soon, though, those aboard grew wary, as the captain seemed to have lost his bearings. The captain, bewildered by the whims of the Pacific Ocean, admitted he was adrift. A relentless, turbulent wind had pushed them further and further away from their destination. The captain thought they’d been driven south of their San Francisco launch, rather than north.

With the water supply dwindling and no sight of land around them, the travelers realized they’d have to find fresh water soon. The ship sailed into what appeared to be the mouth of a river. The captain and crew dropped a lifeboat over the side and proceeded to row into the opening. Soon, though, they sighted Indians waiting on the shore, war paint covering their faces. Not recognizing the tribe, the sailors turned the rowboat around and headed back to the mother vessel.

Setting sail, they crept along the coastline, even though the dangerous rock formations had not yet been charted. As the wind died down, the tide propelled the ship nearer the rocky seashore. Long oars were shoved over the side, the sailors pushing the craft away from the beach’s edge with only the strength of their backs and arms to save them. Finally, the wind changed and carried them back toward the open ocean. Their need for water had grown to crisis status.

Another river mouth was sighted and they inched their way over the bar and crept cautiously inland. One man was posted in the crow’s nest checking the channel for clearance, and another sailor waited at the bow, testing the depth. Though the ocean swirled with silt, they believed another hundred feet would give them fresh water.

With a thud, the ship came to an abrupt halt. The vessel slid into a sandbar and stuck. The crew waited for the next high tide, and when the surge finally arrived, efforts to float the ship back to sea proved futile. They ran from one side of the craft to the other trying to rock the bottom free from the sand, but to no avail. The ship only sank deeper into the mire. Frustration turned to desperation. Soon all would be lost.


All the Way West, Hallie H. Huntington

The Golden Frontier, The recollections of Herman Francis Reinhart, Doyce B. Nunn, Jr., editor







Story Keepers #9–Gold By the Spoonful


All my great-great-grandfather needed, as he searched for gold when he arrived at the Feather River near Sacramento in 1848, was a common kitchen spoon and a graveled river bank. The gold nuggets were sprinkled along the river’s edge, waiting for someone to pick them up. Any man could easily scoop up $2-300 worth of the precious metal in a day’s time.

As winter moved in, he mined along the American River and by spring had accumulated a sizeable stake. My great-great-grandfather, working alongside others, rapidly filled his “poke” with newfound wealth, jesting that something other than gold would have to become the standard for money. Gold in plentiful supply had lowered the price to fourteen dollars an ounce and the cost of eggs, if one could find any, soared to twenty-five dollars a dozen. Any foodstuffs brought a premium price.

An overabundance of gold did not bring a life of leisure as time to spend the precious metal did not exist. As the winter of 1848 progressed into spring, men like my great-great-grandfather grew bored with the lack of activity and were anxious to return to their homesteads. Being gone for any length of time, they ran the risk of having their land claim jumped in their absence and losing everything they’d worked for.

My great-great-grandfather ventured into San Francisco to buy farm implements and other necessary items to improve the homestead. The costs were ridiculous, but he purchased a plow, farm wagon, harness, mower, and rake as well as many small items which would make living conditions more comfortable when he returned.

Passage was booked on the pilot ship Hackstaff, a 250-ton vessel recently arrived from New York. The ship’s owners hoped to make their fortune in the gold fields by transporting people between San Francisco and the Columbia River. What the passengers didn’t know was the man sent to captain the vessel knew nothing about the Pacific Ocean. The size of the ship was also questionable, those on board wondering how it would brave the swells of the Pacific. My great-great-grandfather claimed it was possible to stand on the bow and dip water from the ocean with a tin cup. But with gold in a pouch and his equipment on deck, he joined the others as they headed north.

Trouble was about to find the sailing party.


Acknowledgements: All The Way West, Hallie H.Huntington