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Editorial Note

George Q. Cannon’s trail account to California ends with the entry of 9 December 1849. For more than nine months Cannon did not keep a journal but his activities during this period can be partially ascertained from other sources. From 9 to 13 December, Cannon’s movements can be determined with some accuracy from the journals of Henry W. Bigler, with whom Cannon traveled. According to Bigler, on 10 December, after a hearty breakfast, “we took up our line of march traveling down the canion crossin[g] the stream a great meny times, long at first it was remarkable bad traveling being so roc[k]y went about 12 m and campt in the edge of the great valley. the wind blew hard down the canion and it was cold passing long do[w]n the canion”1

The next day Bigler recorded that they “went 15 m. and campt at the Cocomongo’s Ranch I recon thare was a glad set of fellows when we found we was through an[d] a possibilty of getting something to eat.”2 Rich had arrived at Rancho Cucamonga the previous day, and was on his way to Williams’s ranch before Bigler, Cannon, and the others arrived at Cucamonga.3 Jefferson Hunt, Addison Pratt, and the wagons were still on the Mojave.

Bigler, Cannon, and the rest of their party remained at Rancho Cucamonga on 12 December, “to hunt for Bro. Fife’s horse” and left for Williams’s Ranch the next day.4 On 13 December, Rich recorded, “The rest of the company come up we moved our camp and took Shelter in one of Williams Rooms.”5 Bigler’s account of arriving at Williams’s Ranch6 no doubt mirrored Cannon’s sentiments. “Found all the horses, at 1 oclock we left for Williams Ranch 9 m. whare we found Bro. Rich & the brethren all quartered with a room all ready provided for us to go in to and plenty of provisions we will now begin to live.”7

Pratt, Hunt, and the wagons finally made it to Rancho Cucamonga on 2 January, with Pratt describing the road as “down a beautiful valley about ten miles wide & some sixty miles long. traveled 10 miles & came to Kokomungo rancho, or farm. it is on the right hand side as we proceeded down. immense herds of cattle & horses were to be Seen in every direction feeding upon the young grass that was Starting up in consequence of the recent rains. The buildings of this rancho, or cattle farm, are on a hill that overlooks the valley & affords a beautiful prospect . . . They had a vineyard & besides grapevines, there were Fig, Pear, Apple, Apricot & Peach trees . . . We inquired after Br. Rich & his company, & were told that they were at William’s rancho, or rancho del Chena [Chino] waiting for us, had all arrived safely.”8

Pratt and the wagons arrived at Williams’s Ranch, “a little after noon, found Br. Rich & about thirty brethren from Salt Lake, all glad to see us . . . While here the most of those men that took the cutoff came up, & also another company from Salt Lake. Among them were Brs. Egan, Bills, Huvy, and Some Messrs. Pomeroys, merchants from St. Louis . . . Of all of that company of 50 waggons that left Utah Valley under convoy of that Spaniard, but two of them were ahead of us when we came to the Calhoon [Cajon] Pass, & we got through just as President Young told me we Should, ‘Slick as a mole.’”9

While George Q. Cannon does not write any details about his journey from the Mojave to Williams’s Ranch, the journals of his companions make it clear that by early January 1850, all the members of Hunt’s company, as well as Howard Egan’s wagon company, had trickled into the ranch. Howard Egan’s company, the last known company to head south for California in 1849, left the Salt Lake Valley November 18. The difficulties experienced by Cannon and his companions in traveling to California are indicated by the fact that Egan left almost a month and a half after Hunt’s company but arrived at Williams’s Ranch only three weeks behind Hunt.

We know nothing of Cannon’s specific activities while at the ranch. It is assumed that, because of severe illness, he did not enjoy the month-long respite as much as the rest of the company. At the Williams Ranch, Cannon recalled twenty years later, “Brother Rich secured us a job, and we remained there about one month, working. Food was plentiful; we could buy a fat steer for three dollars; and we soon got satisfied, and were contented with an ordinary meal. After we reached Williams’ Ranch I was taken sick and narrowly escaped death. I fully believe my life was saved through the Elders laying hands upon me and administering to me.”10

Two decades of reflecting on his trip to California left Cannon with distinct impressions he wished to pass along to young readers. “I have been much interested in traveling in my mind over the ground again,” he wrote as he finished his magazine account, although he admitted, “I find it more pleasant to travel to California in this manner, than to travel with pack animals or to walk.” He concluded with a principle that his trip had taught him: “There is one lesson which I trust has been impressed upon all by the perusal of this narrative,—that when a company or people follow the guidance of an inspired servant of God they can rely upon the protection and deliverance of the Lord.”11

Cannon clearly was grateful for the leadership of Charles C. Rich, who brought them safely to Williams’s ranch and for the opportunity it gave all of them to recuperate. Once the company had rested and earned some income they began to make firm plans to travel north to the mines. Addison Pratt wrote, “Previous to our leaving Williams’s rancho, a meeting of the brethren was called, & what means there was in the company was handed over to Brs Rich & Hunt, & besides Br Hunt’s making use of his money that he had received in pay for his piloting the gold diggers, they hired of Mr Williams, money sufficient to fit the company for to go to the gold mines, which is Some Seven hundred miles up the coast.”12

Since Cannon left no written account, the exact day he left for the mines is uncertain, as none of the other journal keepers mention his name in describing the start of the journey. Even in later writings, Cannon did not dwell on his travels north or any other aspect of his 1850 California experience. In his retrospective account in the Juvenile Instructor Cannon described the journey to the gold fields in two sentences: “Through the influence of Brother Rich and Captain Hunt, ox teams were bought on credit, with which a number of us, under the leadership of Major Howard Egan, proceeded up the coast. Those of the company who had mules went up as a pack company; they were accompanied by General Rich and Captain Hunt.”13

Of all those who kept journals or wrote retrospective accounts, only Henry Bigler made reference to Cannon. On 29 January, just before the wagon company left the coast to cross Gaviota Pass to Mission Santa Ynez, Bigler recorded that, “the evening was past off vary pleasently in conversation on Physiognomy and head feeling. Several had their bumps felt by Bro. Cannon.”14

On one other occasion, about mid-February after leaving Mission San Juan Bautista, Bigler recorded, “Sat [set] off early this morning and went 4 m. on the rong road. we about wheeled and came back and met Capt. B. [Brown] who had been to the mission for oil to anoin[t] Bro. Bills who is vary sick. here we took the rite road and went about 2 miles and through a mistake the camp got divided Capt. B. and part of the camp was a head on the propper road, myself and some others with 2 wagon crost a river and took a roug[h] road went this way for 9 miles crost a lake of water whare I pulled off my pants and waided it was hard pulling being a mudy bottom after crossing went 1 ½ m and campted in the timber came today 10 3/4 m. after dark Capt. Brown & Bro. Cannon came to hunt us and to put us on the rite road they had to wade and swim the creek to find us this put them some what out of heumor and some sharp words past between us, indeed our company was in the fault for not keeping after them. but our company thought they was on the rong road and not only so but we ware confident that the two roads soon came together. I suppose any body would have been mad to be made to travil in the night on a strange road and have the waters to swim with their clothes on at that to find a croud that acted as we done &c.”15

From 9 December 1849, to 24 September 1850, these two journal entries of Henry Bigler are the sole evidence that Cannon was traveling north to the mines. Details about the probable circumstances of Cannon’s trip can only be inferred from other sources. The journals of Pratt, Rich, Egan, and Bigler, and the reminiscent accounts of Rollins and Brown trace their northward movement for hundreds of miles. We do know that they left Williams’s Ranch and headed to Mission San Gabriel, an important provisioning point for Spanish Trail travelers. After departing the mission and before they left the Los Angeles basin, Rich once more split them into two groups, packers and wagons. Bigler noted, “All set off together but the pack company will go ahead and see Amasa and lea[r]n whare the best digings is, and then meet us thare by save[?] 2 or 300 miles perhaps. Bro. Egan is now our Capt. as Capt. H. is going ahead with Bro. Rich.”16 We know Bigler traveled with the wagons and his brief mention of Cannon confirms that Cannon was not with the packers.

Traveling north until they reached at least the Gilroy Ranch south of San Jose, the Mormons basically followed El Camino Real, the King’s Highway that led from mission to mission along California’s coast range. When they finally turned east toward the mines, they crossed Pacheco Pass, descended into the San Joaquin Valley, crossed the San Joaquin River, and ascended the Merced River toward the Mariposa diggings, often sending small exploring parties ahead of the main company. Even Bigler and Egan stopped writing during this period of the journey. Bigler would not begin writing again until September.

James S. Brown later wrote that the company “came to a small mining camp called Burns’ Diggings17, on the south side of the Merced River. There we struck a very good prospect, and stopped until the main company came up.” Two days after the main company arrived, “Captain Egan and five others of our number were elected to go further up into the mountains and prospect for the company, while the others dug gold. The latter were to keep an account of all they earned, and when we returned they were to give us an equal share with those who stayed and worked.” After ten miserable days traveling in snow and rain, they returned to the main camp and “found that Apostle Rich had been there, and the men had sent every dollar’s worth of gold they had dug in our absence to Stockton for supplies of provisions, clothing, tools, etc., so there was none left to pay us our proportion.”18

While crossing the San Joaquin Valley, traveling up the Merced River, or exploring above Burns’ Diggings, it is simply not known whether Cannon traveled with the main company or in one of the advance parties. It is also not known when Cannon departed from the Mariposa or southern mining region and traveled north to the middle fork of the American River at Slapjack Bar, where a number of Mormons were working a claim.19 Here he began his journal writing again on 24 September.

A few sketchy details of this period from March to September suggest some possible clues to Cannon’s whereabouts. In March, while returning to Sacramento and San Francisco from Burns’ Diggings, Charles C. Rich wrote, “camped at the french camp 5 miles from Stockton here Br Hickerson with eight of the Brethren just getting in from the Lake met with us goin to the mines in Destitute circumstances”20 Rich advised George Hickerson and those traveling with him to join the others in the Mariposa mines. In a letter to Franklin D. Richards dated 11 August 1850, Hickerson wrote that they followed Rich’s advice and spent six unsuccessful weeks at the Mariposa mines. About mid-May they started moving toward the northern mines, prospecting along the way, and arrived on the Middle Fork of the American River about 20 July.21

Cannon could have been traveling slowly northward with this group, since he is not mentioned by Rich or Amasa Lyman when they made a return visit to Burns’ Camp to collect tithes on the first of May. If Cannon did not work his way along the foothills (approximating present-day Highway 49) with Hickerson and some of the other Mormon miners, he may have followed the route mentioned in Cain and Brower’s waybill.

Evidence that Cannon may have gone north earlier than May appears in journal entries of Amasa Lyman, who along with Rich, visited the Mormon miners on the Middle Fork of the American River in early summer. On 20 June, Lyman wrote, “to day meet with brs Hunter and Hunt and Egan and Cain” and the following day, “left with br Stodard three parcels of gold belonging to brs Crosby Rolins and Clark.”22 Hunt, Egan, Cain, and Stoddard, were Cannon’s traveling companions. Cannon mentions in his first entry after resuming his writing that he was glad to see Rich, since he had not seen him since Rich and Amasa Lyman visited in early June. If Cannon was on the American River by early June, he may have left the southern mines as early as April.

It is at least clear that Cannon was engaged in extensive mining efforts with his friends on the Middle Fork of the American River by mid-September. That the circumstances of a miner’s life perhaps prevented him from writing in his journal, is indicated by Henry Bigler’s first entry when he resumed writing. He began with the admission that he had “not written for the last 7 months. Meny things I have past through that I shall not write because the most have gone from my mind at present. I have exposed myself much boath to the indians and wether more than I ever want to do again, liveing out in storms of snow and rain without shelter. some of my brethren have died, only a fiew days sence I recovered from a severe spell of sickness. most all my Brethren have been sick haveing been much exposed working in the water up to their arms & necks building dams to get a little gold. A fiew days ago we buried Br. Egar Gipson, [Edgar Gibson] we had the painful duty of intering br. Flake who was thrown from his [mule] last may. also we buried Br. Bills about the 17th of Feb. last.--I am tired of mineing and of the Country and long to be at home among the Saints.”23

When Charles C. Rich called him to serve a mission in Hawaii, Bigler made one more reflective entry in his journal describing the trials he had endured the previous seven months: “I have been at work ever sence my arrival in the mines which was the last of February exposeing myse[l]f, liveing out in rains & snows, traveling and prospecting building and repaireing dams working up to my neck in water, and for weeks in water up to my wa[i]st & arms and have made but little, the expenses over run the gain. in August I sent $100 to Father Smith by Bro. A. Lyman” Bigler added that even the one hundred dollars did not come from mining profits. “the $100 I sent to father Smith I borrowed and will have it to pay back if my shear out of the claime will aford it.”24

Cannon’s experiences were undoubtedly similar, but unlike Bigler, he revealed none of his personal feelings about the preceding months when he resumes journal writing. Cannon is brief and negative about this episode in his reminiscences written twenty years later, indicating that it was one of life’s chapters that he wished to forget. Fortunately, his disciplined journal keeping resumed with his mission call, and Cannon would finally leave California for Hawaii. It would be several years before he would again be reacquainted with the “Golden State,” long after his gold mining days were behind him.

Cite this page

Editorial Note, The Journal of George Q. Cannon, accessed June 15, 2024