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December 1849

1 December 1849 • Saturday

Started this morning feeling a little better from the repose of the night we travelled about 6 miles when we observed a Camp of wagons to the right about a mile and a half; we found <standing> water with <besides> the wagons & we unpacked & stopped until about 1 o’clock when we again started & reached the Bitter Spring as it is called we found some grass about a mile from the spring. Bro. Cain & Hy Phelp’s pack animals gave out to’day.1

2 December 1849 • Sunday

We travelled about 16 miles ascending this morning; when we came to the top of the ridge we caught the first glimpse of the Sierra Nevada; we stopped about two hours after crossing descending the ridge & let the animals rest; we then started & travelled until after nightfall when we struck the Mohahve where we camped; Bro. Cain, Hy Phelps & & [sic] myself stayed behind trying to get their animals up but to no avail as we had to leave them about 3 miles from Camp.2

3 December 1849 • Monday

Did not start until late this intending to go about 10 or 12 miles there were some emigrant wagons here, who had been living for the last 4 or 5 weeks upon beef; we let them have what flour we could spare for the women & children.3 There was <a> considerable quantity4 of timber on this stream & an abundance of grapes. There was no running water in the bed of this creek what water we had we found standing. We travelled about 12 miles & camped abo round the point of a Red Butte upon the Mohahve.

4 December 1849 • Tuesday

Provisions beginning to be scarce, some of our men went ahead to try & kill some deer they being said to be plentiful on this stream. It rained it pretty freely to-day making it very bad travelling. we arrived in Camp this evening wet, tired, & hungry having travelled about 20 miles; we build very large fires this evening wood being very plentiful. It ceased raining before we went to bed but commenced towards morning.5

5 December 1849 • Wednesday

Commenced snowing I felt quite unwell & remained in bed nearly all day the boys built a shanty of blankets over the beds. I slept to night in a tent belonging to a Mr. Neal an emigrant; it snowed all night. Our men tried to kill some game but were unsuccessful.6

6 December 1849 • Thursday

Ceased snowing during forenoon Bro. Rich started out this morning with some of the rest of the brethren, & found a deer lying in the bushes dead; it had been wounded yesterday & had laid down & died in the bushes, & soon afterwards some of the rest of the brethren came in with two. This meat came in very opportunely as we almost entirely out of any every kind of provisions; & we felt to return thanks to our Heavenly Father for his goodness to us in this our need.7

7 December 1849 • Friday

Travelled about 10 miles to day very bad travelling & camped in the timber the creek was running here spread nearly over the bottom. The night was very cold. This evening Bro. Rich called the company together to consult upon the propriety of part of the company going ahead & the remainder travel more slowly to try & get the weak animals thro’; he thought that it would be about 6 miles to the head of the Creek where we would turn off for the pass & about 20 miles from there to the Pass this he thought could be travelled by the strong animals in a day & he thought the weaker would be better to travel it in two; those that went ahead would be able to leave what provision they had to spare with those who remained this was the principal8 object in proposing the seperation, one half comprising Bro. Whittle’s mess & ours volunteered to stay & travel slower, it was unanimously agreed that Bro. Rich should go ahead.

8 December 1849 • Saturday9

Bro. Rich started very early; we started soon after & camped across the creek; which was quite a wide stream here. This evening some of the men that had been sent to the settlements for provisions by the wagons short of provisions arrived here tonight bringing some provisions; but would not part with any.10

9 December 1849 • Sunday11

Started this morning for the Cahoon Pass12 in the mountains the ascent was very gradual scarcly perceptible we met Hy Gibson13


  1. [1]James S. Brown later reflected on the significance of Bitter Spring, one of the most noted stops on the Spanish Trail: “These [Bitter Spring] were the springs that Captain Hunt had told the emigrant company about before they left Salt Lake City, that from thence it was ‘always hellward to California or some other place.’ It certainly began to look that way now, when our cattle began to weaken and die all along the trail. The springs would have been as properly named if they had been called Poison Spings, instead of Bitter, for it seemed that from that place our cattle began to weaken every moment, and many had to be turned loose from the yoke and then shot to get them out of their misery.” (Brown, Life of a Pioneer, 139.)

    Rich once again resorted to leaving notes for the wagons following behind. Bigler wrote, “Clear & frosty. the horse that was left was brough[t] in this morning, at Sunrise we ware on the march went about 8 or 10 m when we seen some wagons in Camp off to our left about 1 ½ miles we sent to know who they ware and happly we learnt thare was plenty of fresh water thare standing in holes they accidently had found it. we soon unpacked and let our animals to water & Grass, and our cooks was soon at work prepareing something to eat. after Resting 3 hours we packed up and went 10 m further and encampted near the Bitter Spring. at the Road whare we turned off for the water this morning Bro. Rich left a note for Capt. Hunt. Bro. Cains pack horse gave out. plenty of fresh water and Some grass, lots of emegrants here” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” 1 Dec. 1849.)

  2. [2]Cannon reached the Mojave a day before Vincent Hoover, despite the fact that Hoover’s Independent Pioneer Company left Hobble Creek several days before Hunt’s company. Hoover, learning about the disaster that had befallen those who took the cutoff wrote, “Some of them eat their give out oxen. There sufferings are allmost equal to the Donner family. Out of the four yoke that Burnet had one remains Out of six we had three remain. One hundred wagons under the guidance of Mr Hunt have left him & taken a cutoff We are informed by some packers who followed them some distance & returned that it is impossible for them to reach their destination. Persons who have never taken such a trip as this can not form any idea of the suffering we are under going. Eating giving out oxen for maintainance.” (Vincent A. Hoover diary, 3 Dec. 1849, HM27628, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California.)

    The toll that arduous travel and poor nutrition exacted upon the men was clearly evident by this time. Bigler recorded, “at about 8 we was on our march our Course is a Cross a mountain 15 m to the summit and 35 to the Mohave River the first water after Crossing the Ridge we stopped and let our animals eat a little I went and prospected a little for goal [gold] as there appeared to be sign for it. it was 9 oclock at night before we made Camp I was tired and hungry, the old Sierra Nevada is Close by in front and as Capt. Hunt says bold as tigers. Some of our Companies animals give out. one of our mess left his horse to shift for himself—Such tramps and fatiques as we make sometimes will make men old before their days is half gone.” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” 2 Dec. 1849.)

  3. [3]The wagons came upon these same starving emigrants a few days later. Pratt described them in much greater detail and stated his belief that some of them had opposed the Mormons: “Started for the Mahovey River. passed some waggons that had been left, & soon after overtook an old dutchman who was draging a chest. Said his company was on the mahovey, that his team gave out, that he had been back to those waggons we passed after the chest. reach’d the Mohavey about 4 oclock, found about a dozen waggons camped there. they were in distress. Some of them had been out of breadstuff, for six weeks. they were living on their cattle that gave out. There was an old man by the name of Fosget, he was said to be a celebrated bogusmaker, & had been in partnership with three different men that had been hanged for it, but he had escaped. there were 2 waggons, one had a woman & ten children & the other had a woman & eleven children. they were the families of two brothers, one or both of them are methodist preachers, their names are Gruwell. They are from Iowa & while there they were known to be in a mob party that burnt Some barns & Stacks of grain that belonged to Some of the brethren, & while they were in Utah Valley, old Fosget told them that the brethren were in pursuit of them to take their lives, & the two men fled, as Solomon Says the wicked do, when no man pursueth. We found plenty of grass here, & a plenty of wild grapes, & water Standing in holes but none in the bed of the river. Staid here & rested one day. I shot two hares. it is 12 miles from the last camp to this place. It was a pityful sight to See those haggard women & children. Br. Rich had given them a little flour, & we gave them a little bread. We were nearly out.” (Pratt autobiography and journal, 6 Dec. 1849.)

  4. [4]The word quantity is written over quantities.

  5. [5]The situation of the wagons traveling behind had become extremely difficult. While Cannon and Rich suffered in a cold rain, James S. Brown remembered the struggle to reach the first summit out of Bitter Spring: “Our situation was most gloomy. In mud and snow, with darkness come on, every rod of the road became more steep and difficult. The summit was two miles ahead and the nearest team half a mile back. We moved by hitches and starts, and could only make three or four rods at a time. Two of us pushed at the wagon while the other drove. Our guide [Hunt] was a few feet ahead, marking out the road, and saying, ‘Crowd up, boys, if possible. Let us wallow on over the summit, for it is our only salvation to cross and try to open the road if possible for the weaker teams.’

    “Finally, with a shout of triumph, we reached the summit in two feet of snow, at 11 o’clock at night. Our guide told us to go on down and build fires at the first place where we could find anything for our stock, and he would go back and cheer the rest on as best he could.” (Brown, Life of a Pioneer, 140–41.)

    Of the same experience Pratt wrote, “I was ahead leading one horse & hunting the road, the other waggons were a long way behind, they got their wheels clogged in the snow & had gone into camp, Br. Hunt, had told us, if we could push ahead to a place of Safety, to do it & then come back & help them up, if there was any of them to help. In this way we pushed along till we came to the head of a canion & the road led down it. It went down with a Steep Slant & a good road. the canion was deep & Sheltered from the wind, & the cattle were encouraged at going down hill, & they went ahead at good speed, & we Soon got down to where it was so warm that the Snow melted as fast as it Struck the ground. here we stopt, released the team from the waggon.” (Pratt autobiography and journal, 4 Dec. 1849.)

  6. [6]Cannon wrote later of the hardships endured during this period: “Our position was a disagreeable one; we had scarcely a mouthful of food, our clothing was very scanty and we had no tents to shelter us from the storm. My constant walking had worn out my boots, and for some time I had been compelled to use moccasins; but these were so badly worn that my feet were bare. To add to the painfulness of my position I arose that morning very sick. By putting the bedding together the brethren contrived to spare a blanket or two to cover a little shanty which they raised over our sleeping place, and I was very glad to crawl under this and lie the greater part of the day.

    “The snow continued to fall steadily, and it was useless to think of moving, yet hunger gnawed at our vitals, and any kind of food would have tasted sweet to us. Several hunted game with great perseverance; and though they saw and shot at several black-tailed deer, they were unable to secure one. An owl came within the reach of the rifle of one of the men and it was shot. A well-fed man or boy would turn up his nose at the bare mention of eating an owl. But I can assure you, my little readers, that it is not bad eating—when one is starving. Being sick, the privilege of drinking some of the soup was accorded to me as a favor. It was the nicest dish of soup I had ever tasted. No chicken soup had ever been relished like this, and it did me good. Sharp hunger makes food taste wonderfully sweet; a piece of a donkey or of a dog eats very well when one is very hungry. I know this, for I have tried them both.” ([George Q. Cannon], “Twenty Years Ago: A Trip to California” [chap. XII], Juvenile Instructor 4, no. 12 [5 June 1869]: 92.)

    The day proved difficult for Bigler as well. He wrote that the company “laid by all day Bro. Cannon was quite sick. Several Hunters went with myself went out to hunt deer but none was Killed Several was wo[u]nded but it Snowed and Rain[ed] so that they could not be tracked. While I was out thare Came up a heavy Snowstorm late in the eavening and I got lost and began to think I would have to lay out a lone but fortunately I found camp and was in before dark. I felt greatful to the Lord for I believed he guided me by his spirit or I should of had to laid out being all wet and Cold this morning one of the Camp Shot an owl and Cooked it and I helped them eat it, went first rate.” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” 5 Dec. 1849.)

  7. [7]Cannon later recounted the fervent prayers and the corresponding results the following day. “Through the night the snow continued to descend, and our surroundings gave a much greater degree of earnestness and fervor than usual to our prayers. The next morning as soon as we had attended to prayers, Brother Rich started out from camp, feeling led to go in a certain direction. He had not been gone long when he came back, carrying on his shoulders a good sized deer, which he had found lying dead in the bushes. It was one that had been shot the previous day. Two more were also found by other brethren and brought into camp. A feeling of thankfulness to the Lord, for the supply which He had given us, filled our hearts, and universal cheerfulness prevailed.” ([Cannon], “Twenty Years Ago” [chap. XII], 92.)

  8. [8]The word principal is written over principle.

  9. [9]Cannon originally wrote Saturday but later crossed it out and wrote Friday above it.

  10. [10]Rich recorded, “half the company with my self Started early after traveling 5 miles we crossed the mahovey and left it on our Left hand after traveling 15 miles further camped at a Spring in the cahoon pass here we found a waggon loaded with Provision here we Supplied our Selves.” (Charles C. Rich journal, 8 Dec. 1849, LDS Church Archives.)

    Rollins later wrote in more detail about the provision wagon: “Twelve of us went ahead that day and stopped at the upper crossing of the Mahara [Mojave] River. The next day we traveled and descended the mountains into the Cahoon [Cajon] Pass. Here we found a wagon which had been sent up that far loaded with sugar, coffee, flour, chopped wheat, meat and other things. We bought some 25 lbs. of chopped wheat, and a quantity of beef for our suppers. We were so very hungry we ate very ravishingly, Gen. Rich advising the boys not to eat too much for fear of making them sick. But we could not resist, but were much distressed during the night.

    “The next morning we bought 18 lbs. of chopped wheat and a lot of beef for our breakfast. I hardly remember what we stopped there for that day or not, but when we left there we did not take but little provisions, enough with us to last 2 days, hence we camped in the [Cajon] Pass for the night, as the wind was very cold and severe. The next day, after a scant breakfast we traveled and came about 4 o’clock P.M., at which place we again camped.” (James H. Rollins reminiscences, MS 12554, LDS Church Archives.)

  11. [11]Cannon originally wrote Saturday but then crossed it out and wrote Sunday on the same line before continuing with the rest of the entry.

  12. [12]Cajon Pass was the last obstacle before they reached Rancho Cucamonga and Williams’s Ranch. Although for Cannon and his companions Williams’ Ranch marked the end of the trail, most traders considered Pueblo de Los Angeles the final destination on the Spanish Trail. (See the Geographical Register at the end of this volume for more details about the Cajon Pass crossing.)

  13. [13]Of this encounter with Gibson, Cannon later wrote, “There were eleven of us left to travel as the hinder part of the company. In those days cattle roamed over the plains of California in countless herds. The chief value of a beef was his hide. We knew this, and had made our calculations that if we should come within shooting distance of cattle we would not hesitate to kill a beef, and settle for it with the owner as soon as we reached his ranch. But we were spared the necessity of doing this. As we were trudging wearily along, ascending the Cajon Pass of the Sierra Nevada, we met Brother Henry Gibson, who had gone ahead with the other part of the company, coming back to hunt a mule which had strayed off. He told us the welcome news that we would find a wagon loaded with provisions at the camping place in the kanyon on the other side of the Pass. The wagon had been loaded and sent out by a Mr. Williams, for the purpose of selling food to the people who were coming in. This intelligence imparted new strength to us, and made us almost forget our fatigue.

    “A fire was speedily kindled after reaching the camping place, and while the bread was being baked, numerous slices of beef were cut off and broiled. Luckily the flour was unbolted, for had we eaten fine flour as freely as [we] did that, it might have killed us. I cannot state positively what quantity our mess ate; but I recollect that the other mess, five in number, bought fifteen pounds of flour, and in the morning they had none left for breakfast! Besides the flour, they had eaten a large quantity of meat! We were as hungry as they, and I think that we must have eaten as heartily.” ([Cannon], “Twenty Years Ago” [chap. XII], 92.)

    Bigler recorded his own thoughts about the provision wagon: “we gained the Summit after traveling about 15 m. before arriving at the top of the mountain we stopted a fiew minutes to rest whare the Sone Shone warm and the Snow was going off. while setting down I fel[l] in to a dose of sleep and thought I was eating bread. at this place Bro Keelers and my only & last animal gave out! we unpacked her and put the pack on a loose mule. I made out to get him across the mountain with in a bout a mile of Camp when I could get hur no farther. after leaving hur on our reaching camp to our joy here we find a man with a wagon load of provisions & beef from the Settlements to Sell. Some of the boys who was in the front Croud was here bakeing bread. no Sooner than we seen his bread we helpted ourselves without much coaxing either. this was why I wrote my dream for it was precisely such looking bread as I though[t] I seen. we ware not long unpacking, neither was our Cooks slow in getting a good supper.—we learn that it is 25 m. to the first Ranch or Settlement.” In a later copy of his journal Bigler remembered, “I certainly thought it the sweetest bread I ever eat.” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” 9 Dec. 1849; Henry W. Bigler journal, “Journal A,” 9 Dec. 1849, HM57034, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California.)