Arkansas To California
By Jim Williams, Sr.
A Brief Summary Of An Unpublished Book
In the spring of 1849, Mark Lee (s/Cader
s/John Jr. s/jlx), his brother-in-law John PATRICK, their families, and
a few others left Cader Lee's 2-story log cabin home in Spadra, AR, bound
for CA. Their first stop was just west at Ft. Smith, AR, where they
joined up with other families and a small Army detachment. Once assembled,
the group of about 150 wagons started west. Their path was via the
"southern route" through OK, TX, NM, AZ, & NV, and on the first night
out, they were joined by another group of wagons, which increased not only
their number but their security as well.
The trip was mostly uneventful
with only a single peaceful Indian encounter and one murder-trial-execution
among their lot. The notes of the wagon master, the ranking Army
officer and, years later, the remembrances of a young girl who made the
trek, fill in all the details of the event.
Rather than traveling during
the daytime heat, they soon found that resting during the day and traveling
at night proved much more reliable to both their comfort and that of their
stock (which included mules and hornless-oxen for pulling, and other stock
for milk and food). This was especially true near the end of their
trip as they crossed 90 miles of desert. Also, this train of about
200 wagons was frequently split up into smaller groups a mile or two apart,
so that there was enough grazing for all the stock. At the beginning
of the trip, mud was the biggest problem, but after a few weeks, and better
terrain, that changed. Throughout the trip, grazing and water were
the two main problems, although they faired far far better than those who
took more northerly routes and suffered greatly.
Arriving in Santa Fe, NM, the
Army detachment left the wagon train and returned to the starting point
via a slightly different route, seeking a better "road" west.
In the fall, the wagons
arrived in the Palm Springs, CA area. Mark Lee and family (and perhaps
a few others) continued on to San Diego, where they sold their stock and
equipment, and proceeded to San Francisco by ship. The majority of
the wagon train wintered in the Palm Springs area, and the following spring
they resumed their journey north along the coast to Santa Barbara and up
to the Santa Clara Valley and San Jose. This is where the "families"
settled, whereas the gold-seekers headed for the hills to the east (some
having left the train as it traveled north). It now being 1850, San
Jose was the capitol of the newly formed State of California.
Of those who made the trip,
those who made it for gold were mostly disappointed and either returned
home or eventually changed occupations. Those who made the trip for
opportunity faired far better in farming or especially businesses that
provided equipment or services for the gold miners. Considering all
the horror stories of the wagon trains on the more northern routes, this
group had probably the easiest crossing of any.