THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE
Avoiding all immodesty I dare say that the descendants of a race as venturesome as mine acted in quite his natural and ancestral way in turning his face to the “Gold Coast” as soon as the news came from Sutter’s Creek. I cannot imagine any obstacle so great that it would have deterred me from joining the “Argonauts” and making a do-or-die attempt to reach “Eldorado.” It was in the blood and in making the venture I merely showed myself true to the family type. And, generally speaking, you will find as you go through life, that “blood tells.” A man is as he was born.
So in 1849 when the California gold craze struck the country, I borrowed $200 from my father to supplement some money I had saved and bought an outfit in connection with Thomas Cleaver, familiarly called “Uncle Tom,” who, with his nephew, Will Cleaver, and myself, formed a co-partnership. We purchased a wagon and four horses, a camp outfit for the trip and horses to ride. Uncle Tom had a likely negro boy of twenty whom we took along with us, he giving each of us a third interest in his earnings for his outfit and “keep.”
In March, 1849, we started for Council Bluffs, where we met John J. Holliday, Samuel N. Holliday, nephews of Uncle Tom, and a Mr. Marcy, who had gone from St. Louis by boat, with another wagon and outfit like ours. They were our partners in crossing. Some others who joined us, neighbors of Uncle Tom, making thirteen in all. We crossed the Missouri River, to Old Fort Kearney (now Nebraska City). Starting from this place on April 25, ’49, we traversed what was then named on our school maps as “Missouri Territory or the Great Unexplored Region,” now Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota and Wisconsin, then spelled “Ouisconsin” in some of our books.
It was the custom for parties crossing the plains in those days to form a regular military organization, with a captain, regular hours for standing guard, etc. Harry Brolaski, our Captain, had been across before, and at the very outset of our journey, he began to enforce military discipline. The first day, April 25th, we traveled about 20 miles, and kept on the next day to Salt Creek, about 45 miles from Fort Kearney. Every night when we encamped, the captain would make us form a “corral” or circle of our wagons, and tell off certain men to guard the camp. A great many men, John Holliday among them, thought this was all foolishness, at any rate for the first week or so, until we got outside the bounds of “civilization,” and were in some danger from the Indians; but Brolaski insisted on doing as he thought best, saying he wanted to get the men broke in. Well, we halted at Salt Creek on the afternoon of the 28th of April, formed the corral and went into camp. We were overloaded with mining tools and shelled corn for the mules, so we remained there seven days lightening up the loads by feeding the corn to the mules. John Holliday and some others became very impatient, and thought we ought to be moving, even if only a few miles a day, but could not get the Company to start.
While we were waiting here regular guards were stationed night and day, to watch the mules, with reliefs every few hours. This disgusted Holliday, who thought this unnecessary until we got into the Indian country. There were rules of the Company which prescribed the size or weight of the load which would be allowed to each wagon, so much for two mules, so much for four, and so on, and each wagon owner had to see that he did not exceed the weight allowed him.