When Mr. Eddy and party reached them, they found much suffering from cold and crying for "something to eat," but not the wail which precedes delirium and death.
This Third Relief Party settled for the night upon the snow near these refugees, who had twice been in the shadow of doom; and after giving them food and fire, Mr. Eddy divided his force into two sections. Messrs. Stark, Oakley, and Stone were to remain there and nurture the refugees a few hours longer, then carry the small children, and conduct those able to walk to Mule Springs, while Eddy and three companions should hasten on to the cabins across the summit.
Section Two, spurred on by paternal solicitude, resumed travel at four o'clock the following morning, and crossed the summit soon after sunrise. The nearer they approached camp, the more anxious Messrs. Eddy and Foster became to reach the children they hoped to find alive. Finally, they rushed ahead, as we have seen, to the Murphy cabin. Alas! only disappointment met them there.
Even after Mrs. Murphy had repeated her pitiful answer, "Dead," the afflicted fathers stood dazed and silent, as if waiting for the loved ones to return.
Mr. Eddy was the first to recover sufficiently for action. Presently Simon Murphy and we three little girls were standing on the snow under a clear blue sky, and saw Hiram Miller and Mr. Thompson coming toward camp.
The change was so sudden it was difficult to understand what had happened. How could we realize that we had passed out of that loathsome cabin, never to return; or that Mrs. Murphy, too ill to leave her bed, and Keseberg, too lame to walk, by reason of a deep cleft in his heel, made by an axe, would have to stay alone in that abode of wretchedness?
Nor could we know our mother's anguish, as she stepped aside to arrange with Mr. Eddy for our departure. She had told us at our own camp why she would remain. She had parted from us there and put us in charge of men who had risked much and come far to do a heroic deed. Later she had found us, abandoned by them, in time of direst need, and in danger of an awful death, and had warmed and cheered us back to hope and confidence. Now, she was about to confide us to the care of a party whose leader swore either to save us or die with us on the trail. We listened to the sound of her voice, felt her good-bye kisses, and watched her hasten away to father, over the snow, through the pines, and out of sight, and knew that we must not follow. But the influence of her last caress, last yearning look of love and abiding faith will go with us through life.
The ordeal through which she passed is thus told by Colonel Thornton, after a personal interview with Mr. Eddy:
Mrs. George Donner was able to travel. But her husband was in a helpless condition, and she would not consent to leave him while he survived. She expressed her solemn and unalterable purpose, which no danger or peril could change, to remain and perform for him the last sad office of duty and affection. She manifested, however, the greatest solicitude for her children, and informed Mr. Eddy that she had fifteen hundred dollars in silver, all of which she would give him, if he would save the lives of the children.
He informed her that he would not carry out one hundred dollars of all she had, but that he would save her children or die in the effort. The party had no provisions to leave for the sustenance of these unhappy, unfortunate beings.
After remaining about two hours, Mr. Eddy informed Mrs. Donner that he was constrained by force of circumstances to depart. It was certain that George Donner would never rise from the miserable bed upon which he had lain down, worn by toil and wasted by famine.
A woman was probably never before placed in circumstances of greater or more peculiar trial; but her duty and affection as a wife triumphed over all her instincts of reason.
The parting scene between parent and children is represented as being one that will never be forgotten, so long as life remains or memory performs its functions.
My own emotions will not permit me to attempt a description which language, indeed, has not power to delineate. It is sufficient to say that it was affecting beyond measure; and that the last words uttered by Mrs. Donner in tears and sobs to Mr. Eddy were, "Oh, save, save my children!"
[Footnote 10: Extract from Thornton's work.]
[Footnote 11: Thornton saw Eddy pay Hiram Miller the promised fifty dollars after the Third Relief reached the settlement.]
[Footnote 12: See McGlashan's "History of the Donner Party."]
SIMON MURPHY, FRANCES, GEORGIA, AND I TAKEN FROM THE LAKE CABINS BY THE THIRD RELIEF—NO FOOD TO LEAVE—CROSSING THE SNOW—REMNANT OF THE SECOND RELIEF OVERTAKEN—OUT OF THE SNOW—INCIDENTS OF THE JOURNEY—JOHNSON'S RANCH—THE SINCLAIR HOME—SUTTER'S FORT.
When we left the lake cabin, we still wore the clothing we had on when we came from our tent with Messrs. Cady and Stone. Georgia and I were clad in quilted petticoats, linsey dresses, woollen stockings, and well-worn shoes. Our cloaks were of a twilled material, garnet, with a white thread interwoven, and we had knitted hoods to match. Frances' clothing was as warm; instead of cloak, however, she wore a shawl, and her hood was blue. Her shoes had been eaten by our starving dog before he disappeared, and as all others were buried out of reach, mother had substituted a pair of her own in their stead.
Mr. Foster took charge of Simon Murphy, his wife's brother, and Messrs. Eddy and Miller carried Georgia and me. Mr. Eddy always called Georgia "my girl," and she found great favor in his eyes, because in size and looks she reminded him of his little daughter who had perished in that storm-bound camp.
Our first stop was on the mountain-side overlooking the lake, where we were given a light meal of bread and meat and a drink of water. When we reached the head of the lake, we overtook Nicholas Clark and John Baptiste who had deserted father in his tent and were hurrying toward the settlement. Our coming was a surprise to them, yet they were glad to join our party.
After our evening allowance of food we were stowed snugly between blankets in a snow trench near the summit of the Sierras, but were so hungry that we could hardly get to sleep, even after being told that more food would do us harm.
Early next morning we were again on the trail. I could not walk at all, and Georgia only a short distance at a time. So treacherous was the way that our rescuers often stumbled into unseen pits, struggled among snow drifts, and climbed icy ridges where to slip or fall might mean death in the yawning depth below.
Near the close of this most trying day, Hiram M. Miller put me down, saying wearily, "I am tired of carrying you. If you will walk to that dark thing on the mountain-side ahead of us, you shall have a nice lump of loaf sugar with your supper."
My position in the blanket had been so cramped that my limbs were stiff and the jostling of the march had made my body ache. I looked toward the object to which he pointed. It seemed a long way off; yet I wanted the sugar so much that I agreed to walk. The wind was sharp. I shivered, and at times could hardly lift my feet; often I stumbled and would have fallen had he not held my hand tightly, as he half led, half drew me onward. I did my part, however, in glad expectation of the promised bit of sweetness. The sun had set before we reached our landmark, which was a felled and blackened tree, selected to furnish fuel for our night fire. When we children were given our evening allowance of food, I asked for my lump of sugar, and cried bitterly on being harshly told there was none for me. Too disappointed and fretted to care for anything else, I sobbed myself to sleep.
Nor did I waken happy next morning. I had not forgotten the broken promise, and was lonesome for mother. When Mr. Miller told me that I should walk that day as far as Frances and Georgia did, I refused to go forward, and cried to go back. The result was that he used rough means before I promised to be good and do as he commanded. His act made my sister Frances rush to my defence, and also, touched a chord in the fatherly natures of the other two men, who summarily brought about a more comfortable state of affairs.
When we proceeded on our journey, I was again carried by Mr. Miller in a blanket on his back as young children are carried by Indians on long journeys. My head above the blanket folds bobbed uncomfortably at every lurch. The trail led up and down and around snow peaks, and under overhanging banks that seemed ready to give way and crush us.
At one turn our rescuers stopped, picked up a bundle, and carefully noted the fresh human foot prints in the snow which indicated that a number of persons were moving in advance. By our fire that night, Mr. Eddy opened the bundle that we had found upon the snow, and to the surprise of all, Frances at once recognized in it the three silk dresses, silver spoons, small keepsakes, and articles of children's clothing which mother had intrusted to the care of Messrs. Cady and Stone.
The spoons and smaller articles were now stowed away in the pockets of our rescuers for safekeeping on the journey; and while we little girls dressed ourselves in the fresh underwear, and watched our discarded garments disappear in the fire, the dresses, which mother had planned should come to us later in life, were remodelled for immediate use.
Mr. Thompson pulled out the same sharp pocket-knife, coarse black thread, and big-eyed needle, which he had used the previous evening, while making Frances a pair of moccasins out of his own gauntlet gloves. With the help of Mr. Eddy, he then ripped out the sleeves, cut off the waists about an inch above the skirt gathers, cut slits in the skirts for arm-holes, and tacked in the sleeves. Then, with mother's wish in mind, they put the dove-colored silk on Frances, the light brown on Georgia, and the dark coffee-brown on me. Pleats and laps in the skirt bands were necessary to fit them to our necks. Strings were tied around our waists, and the skirts tacked up until they were of walking length. These ample robes served for cloaks as well as dresses for we could easily draw our hands back through the sleeves and keep our arms warm beneath the folds. Thus comfortably clad, we began another day's journey.
Before noon we overtook and passed Messrs. Oakley, Stone, and Stark, having in charge the following refugees from Starved Camp: Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Breen and their five children; Mary Donner, Jonathan Graves, Nancy Graves, and baby Graves. Messrs. Oakley and Stone were in advance, the former carrying Mary Donner over his shoulder; and the latter baby Graves in his arms. Great-hearted John Stark had the care of all the rest. He was broad-shouldered and powerful, and would stride ahead with two weaklings at a time, deposit them on the trail and go back for others who could not keep up. These were the remnant of the hopeful seventeen who had started out on the third of March with the Second Relief, and with whom mother had hoped we children would cross the mountains.
It was after dark when our own little party encamped at the crossing of the Yuba River. The following morning Lieutenant Woodworth and attendants were found near-by. He commended the work done by the Third Relief; yet, to Mr. Eddy's dismay, he declared that he would not go to the rescue of those who were still in the mountains, because the warmer weather was melting the snow so rapidly that the lives of his men would be endangered should he attempt to lead them up the trail which we had just followed down. He gave our party rations, and said that he would at once proceed to Johnson's Ranch and from there send to Mule Springs the requisite number of horses to carry to the settlement the persons now on the trail.
Our party did not resume travel until ten o'clock that morning; nevertheless, we crossed the snow line and made our next camp at Mule Springs. There we caught the first breath of spring-tide, touched the warm, dry earth, and saw green fields far beyond the foot of that cold, cruel mountain range. Our rescuers exclaimed joyfully, "Thank God, we are at last out of the snow, and you shall soon see Elitha and Leanna, and have all you want to eat."
Our allowance of food had been gradually increased and our improved condition bore evidence of the good care and kind treatment we had received. We remained several days at Mule Springs, and were comparatively happy until the arrival of the unfortunates from Starved Camp, who stretched forth their gaunt hands and piteously begged for food which would have caused death had it been given to them in sufficient quantities to satisfy their cravings.
When I went among them I found my little cousin Mary sitting on a blanket near Mr. Oakley, who had carried her thither, and who was gently trying to engage her thoughts. Her wan face was wet with tears, and her hands were clasped around her knee as she rocked from side to side in great pain. A large woollen stocking covered her swollen leg and frozen foot which had become numb and fallen into the fire one night at Starved Camp and been badly maimed before she awakened to feel the pain. I wanted to speak to her, but when I saw how lonesome and ill she looked, something like pain choked off my words.
Her brother Isaac had died at that awful camp and she herself would not have lived had Mr. Oakley not been so good to her. He was now comforting her with the assurance that he would have the foot cared for by a doctor as soon as they should reach the settlement; and she, believing him, was trying to be brave and patient.
We all resumed travel on horseback and reached Johnson's Ranch about the same hour in the day. As we approached, the little colony of emigrants which had settled in the neighborhood the previous Autumn crowded in and about the two-roomed adobe house which Mr. Johnson had kindly set apart as a stopping place for the several relief parties on their way to and from the mountains. All were anxious to see the sufferers for whose rescue they had helped to provide.
Survivors of the Forlorn Hope and of the First Relief were also there awaiting the arrival of expected loved ones. There Simon Murphy, who came with us, met his sisters and brother; Mary Graves took from the arms of Charles Stone, her slowly dying baby sister; she received from the hands of John Stark her brother Jonathan and her sister Nancy, and heard of the death of her mother and of her brother Franklin at Starved Camp. That house of welcome became a house of mourning when Messrs. Eddy and Foster repeated the names of those who had perished in the snows. The scenes were so heart-rending that I slipped out of doors and sat in the sunshine waiting for Frances and Georgia, and thinking of her who had intrusted us to the care of God.
Before our short stay at the Johnson Ranch ended, we little girls had a peculiar experience. While standing in a doorway, the door closed with a bang upon two of my fingers. My piercing cry brought several persons to the spot, and one among them sat down and soothed me in a motherly way. After I was myself again, she examined the dress into which Messrs. Thompson and Eddy had stitched so much good-will, and she said:
"Let me take off this clumsy thing, and give you a little blue dress with white flowers on it." She made the change, and after she had fastened it in the back she got a needle and white thread and bade me stand closer to her so that she might sew up the tear which exposed my knees. She asked why I looked so hard at her sewing, and I replied,
"My mother always makes little stitches when she sews my dresses."
No amount of pulling down of the sleeves or straightening out of the skirt could conceal the fact that I was too large for the garment. As I was leaving her, I heard her say to a companion, "That is just as good for her, and this will make two for my little girl." Later in the day Frances and Georgia parted with their silks and looked as forlorn as I in calico substitutes.
Oh, the balm and beauty of that early morning when Messrs. Eddy, Thompson, and Miller took us on horseback down the Sacramento Valley. Under the leafy trees and over the budding blossoms we rode. Not rapidly, but steadily, we neared our journey's end. Toward night, when the birds had stopped their singing and were hiding themselves among bush and bough, we reached the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Sinclair on the American River, thirty-five miles from Johnson's Ranch and only two and a half from Sutter's Fort.
That hospitable house was over-crowded with earlier arrivals, but as it was too late for us to cross the river, sympathetic Mrs. Sinclair said that she would find a place for us. Having no bed to offer, she loosened the rag-carpet from one corner of the room, had fresh straw put on the floor, and after supper, tucked us away on it, drawing the carpet over us in place of quilts.
We had bread and milk for supper that night, and the same good food next day. In the afternoon we were taken across the river in an Indian canoe. Then we followed the winding path through the tules to Sutter's Fort, where we were given over to our half-sisters by those heroic men who had kept their pledge to our mother and saved our lives.
ELITHA AND LEANNA—LIFE AT THE FORT—WATCHING THE COW PATH—RETURN OF THE FALLON PARTY—KESEBERG BROUGHT IN BY THEM—FATHER AND MOTHER DID NOT COME.
The room in which Elitha and Leanna were staying when we arrived at Sutter's Fort was part of a long, low, single-story adobe building outside the fortification walls, and like others that were occupied by belated travellers, was the barest and crudest structure imaginable. It had an earthen floor, a thatched roof, a batten door, and an opening in the rear wall to serve as window.
We little ones were oblivious of discomfort, however. The tenderness with which we were received, and the bewildering sense of safety that we felt, blinded us even to the anguish and fear which crept over our two sisters, when they saw us come to them alone. How they suffered I learned many years later from Elitha, who said, in referring to those pitiful experiences:
After Sister Leanna and I reached the Fort with the First Relief, we were put in different families to await our parents; but as soon as the Second Relief was expected, we went to housekeeping, gathered wood, and had everything ready. No one came. Then we waited and watched anxiously for the Third Relief, and it was a sad sight to see you three and no more.
I went in, kindled the fire, and gave you supper. I had a bed of shavings hemmed in with poles for father and mother. They did not come. We five lay down upon it, and Sister Leanna and I talked long after you three were asleep, wondering what we should do. You had no clothes, except those you wore, so the next day I got a little cotton stuff and commenced making you some. Sister Leanna did the cooking and looked after you, which took all her time.
The United States Army officer at the Port had left orders at Captain Sutter's store, that we should be furnished with the necessaries of life, and that was how we were able to get the food and few things we had when you arrived.
Messrs. Eddy and Thompson did not tell my sisters that they had no expectation of father's getting through, and considered mother's chance very slight, but went directly to the Fort to report to Colonel McKinstrey and to Mr. Kerns what their party had accomplished, and to inform them that Lieutenant Woodworth was about to break camp and return to the settlement instead of trying to get relief to the four unfortunates still at the mountain camp.
Very soon thereafter, a messenger on horseback from the Fort delivered a letter to Lieutenant Woodworth, and a fourth party was organized, "consisting of John Stark, John Rhodes, E Coffeymier, John Del, Daniel Tucker, Wm. Foster, and Wm. Graves. But this party proceeded no farther than Bear Valley on account of the rapidly melting snows."
The return of the party after its fruitless efforts was not made known to Elitha and Leanna; nor were they aware that Thomas Fallon, with six companions, had set out for the mountain camps on the tenth of April.
Neither fear nor misgivings troubled us little ones the morning we started out, hand in hand, to explore our new surroundings. We had rested, been washed, combed, and fed, and we believed that father and mother would soon come to us. Everything was beautiful to our eyes. We did not care if "the houses did look as if they were made of dry dirt and hadn't anything but holes for windows." We watched the mothers sitting on the door sills or on chairs near them laughing as they talked and sewed, and it seemed good to see the little children at play and hear them singing their dolls to sleep.
The big gate to the adobe wall around Captain Sutter's home was open, and we could look in and see many white-washed huts built against the back and side walls, and a flag waving from a pole in front of the large house, which stood in the middle of the ground. Cannons like those we had seen at Fort Laramie were also peeping out of holes in these walls, and an Indian soldier and a white soldier were marching to and fro, each holding a gun against his shoulder, and it pointing straight up in the air.
Often we looked at each other and exclaimed, "How good to be here instead of up in the snow." It was hard to go back to the house when sisters called us. I do not remember the looks or the taste of anything they gave us to eat. We were so eager to stay out in the sunshine. Before long, we went to that dreary, bare room only to sleep. Many of the women at the Fort were kind to us; gave us bread from their scant loaves not only because we were destitute, but because they had grateful recollection of those whose name we bore.
Once a tall, freckle-faced boy, with very red hair, edged up to where I was watching others at play, and whispered:
"See here, little gal, you run get that little tin cup of yourn, and when you see me come out of Mrs. Wimmer's house with the milk pail on my arm, you go round yonder to the tother side of the cow-pen, where you'll find a hole big enough to put the cup through. Then you can watch me milk it full of the nicest milk you ever tasted. You needn't say nothing to nobody about it. I give your little sister some last time, and I want to do the same for you. I hain't got no mother neither, and I know how it is."
When I got there he took the cup and, as he sat down under old Bossy, smilingly asked if I liked lots of foam. I told him I did. He milked a faster, stronger stream, then handed me the cup, full as he could carry it, and a white cap of foam stood above its rim. I tasted it and told him it was too good to drink fast, but he watched me until it was all gone. Then, saying he didn't want thanks, he hurried me back to the children. I never saw that boy again, but have ever been grateful for his act of pure kindness.
Every day or two a horse all white with lather and dripping with sweat would rush by, and the Indian or white man on his back would guide him straight to Captain Kerns' quarters, where he would hand out papers and letters. The women and children would flock thither to see if it meant news for them. Often they were disappointed and talked a great deal about the tediousness of the Mexican War and the delays of Captain Fremont's company. They wanted the war to end, and their men folk back so that they could move and get to farming before it should be too late to grow garden truck for family use.
While they thus anxiously awaited the return of their soldiers, we kept watch of the cow-path by which we had reached the Fort; for Elitha had told us that we might "pretty soon see the relief coming." She did not say, "with father and mother"; but we did, and she replied, "I hope so."
We were very proud of the new clothes she had made us; but the first time she washed and hung them out to dry, they were stolen, and we were again destitute. Sister Elitha thought perhaps strange Indians took them.
In May, the Fallon party arrived with horses laden with many packs of goods, but their only refugee was Lewis Keseberg, from the cabin near the lake.
It was evening, and some one came to our door, spoke to Elitha and Leanna in low tones and went away. My sisters turned, put their arms about us and wept bitterly. Then, gently, compassionately, the cruel, desolating truth was told. Ah, how could we believe it? No anxious watching, no weary waiting would ever bring father and mother to us again!
[Footnote 13: Thornton.]
ORPHANS—KESEBERG AND HIS ACCUSERS—SENSATIONAL ACCOUNTS OF THE TRAGEDY AT DONNER LAKE—PROPERTY SOLD AND GUARDIAN APPOINTED—KINDLY INDIANS—"GRANDPA"—MARRIAGE OF ELITHA.
The report of our affliction spread rapidly, and the well-meaning, tender-hearted women at the Fort came to condole and weep with us, and made their children weep also by urging, "Now, do say something comforting to these poor little girls, who were frozen and starved up in the mountains, and are now orphans in a strange land, without any home or any one to care for them."
Such ordeals were too overwhelming. I would rush off alone among the wild flowers to get away from the torturing sympathy. Even there, I met those who would look at me with great serious eyes, shake their heads, and mournfully say, "You poor little mite, how much better it would be if you had died in the mountains with your dear mother, instead of being left alone to struggle in this wicked world!"
This would but increase my distress, for I did not want to be dead and buried up there under the cold, deep snow, and I knew that mother did not want me to be there either. Had she not sent me away to save me, and asked God, our Heavenly Father, to take care of me?
Intense excitement and indignation prevailed at the Fort after Captain Fallon and other members of his party gave their account of the conditions found at the mountain camps, and of interviews had with Keseberg, whom they now called, "cannibal, robber, and murderer." The wretched man was accused by this party, not only of having needlessly partaken of human flesh, and of having appropriated coin and other property which should have come to us orphaned children, but also of having wantonly taken the life of Mrs. Murphy and of my mother.
Some declared him crazy, others called him a monster. Keseberg denied these charges and repeatedly accused Fallon and his party of making false statements. He sadly acknowledged that he had used human flesh to keep himself from starving, but swore that he was guiltless of taking human life. He stated that Mrs. Murphy had died of starvation soon after the departure of the "Third Relief," and that my mother had watched by father's bedside until he died. After preparing his body for burial, she had started out on the trail to go to her children. In attempting to cross the distance from her camp to his, she had strayed and wandered about far into the night, and finally reached his cabin wet, shivering, and grief-stricken, yet determined to push onward. She had brought nothing with her, but told him where to find money to take to her children in the event of her not reaching them. He stated that he offered her food, which she refused. He then attempted to persuade her to wait until morning, and while they were talking, she sank upon the floor completely exhausted, and he covered her with blankets and made a fire to warm her. In the morning he found her cold in death.
Keseberg's vehement and steadfast denial of the crimes of which he stood accused saved him from personal violence, but not from suspicion and ill-will. Women shunned him, and children stoned him as he walked about the fort. The California Star printed in full the account of the Fallon party, and blood-curdling editorials increased public sentiment against Keseberg, stamping him with the mark of Cain, and closing the door of every home against him.
Elitha and Leanna tried to keep us little ones in ignorance of the report that our father's body was mutilated, also of what was said about the alleged murder of our mother. Still we did hear fragments of conversations which greatly disturbed us, and our sisters found it difficult to answer some of our questions.
Meanwhile, more disappointments for us were brewing at the fort. Fallon's party demanded an immediate settlement of its claim. It had gone up the mountains under promise that its members should have not only a per diem as rescuers, but also one half of all the property that they might bring to the settlement, and they had brought valuable packs from the camps of the Donners. Captain Fallon also had two hundred and twenty-five dollars in gold coin taken from concealment on Keseberg's person, and two hundred and seventy-five dollars additional taken from a cache that Keseberg had disclosed after the Captain had partially strangled him, and otherwise brutally treated him, to extort information of hidden treasure.
Keseberg did not deny that this money belonged to the Donners, but asserted that it was his intention and desire to take it to the Donner children himself as he had promised their mother.
Eventually, it was agreed that the Donner properties should be sold at auction, and that "one half of the proceeds should be handed over to Captain Fallon to satisfy the claims of his party, and the other half should be put into the hands of a guardian for the support of the Donner children." Hiram Miller was appointed guardian by Alcalde Sinclair.
Notwithstanding these plans for our well-being, unaccountable delays followed, making our situation daily more trying.
Elitha was not yet fifteen years of age, and Leanna was two years younger. They had not fully recovered from the effects of their long privations and physical sufferings in the mountains; and the loss of parents and means of support placed upon them responsibilities greater than they could carry, no matter how bravely they strove to meet the situation. "How can we provide for ourselves and these little sisters?" was a question which haunted them by night and perplexed them by day.
They had no way of communicating with our friends in Eastern States, and the women at the Fort could ill afford to provide longer for us, since their bread winners were still with Fremont, and their own supplies were limited. Finally, my two eldest sisters were given employment by different families in exchange for food, which they shared with us; but it was often insufficient, and we little ones drifted along forlornly. Sometimes home was where night overtook us.
Often, we trudged to the rancheria beyond the pond, made by the adobe-moulders who had built the houses and wall surrounding the fort. There the Indian mothers were good to us. They gave us shreds of smoked fish and dried acorns to eat; lowered from their backs the queer little baby-beds, called "bickooses," and made the chubby faces in them laugh for our amusement. They also let us pet the dogs that perked up their ears and wagged their tails as our own Uno used to do when he wanted to frolic. Sometimes they stroked our hair and rubbed the locks between their fingers, then felt their own as if to note the difference. They seemed sorry because we could not understand their speech.
The pond also, with its banks of flowers, winding path, and dimpling waters, had charms for us until one day's experience drove us from it forever. We three were playing near it when a joyous Indian girl with a bundle of clothes on her head ran down the bank to the water's edge. We, following, watched her drop her bundle near a board that sloped from a rock into nature's tub, then kneel upon the upper end and souse the clothes merrily up and down in the clear water. She lathered them with a freshly gathered soap-root and cleansed them according to the ways of the Spanish mission teachers. As she tied the wet garments in a bundle and turned to carry them to the drying ground, Frances espied some loose yellow poppies floating near the end of the board and lay down upon it for the purpose of catching them.
Georgia and I saw her lean over and stretch out her hand as far as she could reach; saw the poppies drift just beyond her finger tips; saw her lean a little farther, then slip, head first, into the deep water. Such shrieks as terrified children give, brought the Indian girl quickly to our aid. Like a flash, she tossed the bundle from her head, sprang into the water, snatched Frances as she rose to the surface, and restored her to us without a word. Before we had recovered sufficiently to speak, she was gone.
Not a soul was in sight when we started toward the Fort, all unconscious of what the inevitable "is to be" was weaving into our lives.
We were too young to keep track of time by calendar, but counted it by happenings. Some were marked with tears, some with smiles, and some stole unawares upon us, just as on that bright June evening, when we did not find our sisters, and aimlessly followed others to the little shop where a friendly-appearing elderly man was cutting slices of meat and handing them to customers. We did not know his name, nor did we realize that he was selling the meat he handed out, only that we wanted some. So, after all the others had gone, we addressed him, asking,
"Grandpa, please give us a little piece of meat."
He looked at us, and inquired whose children we were, and where we lived. Upon learning, he turned about, lifted a liver from a wooden peg and cut for each, a generous slice.
On our way out, a neighbor intercepted us and said that we should sleep at her house that night and see our sisters in the morning. She also gave us permission to cook our pieces of liver over her bed of live coals. Frances offered to cook them all on her stick, but Georgia and I insisted that it would be fun for each to broil her own. I, being the smallest child, was given the shortest stick, and allowed to stand nearest the fire. Soon the three slices were sizzling and browning from the ends of three willow rods, and smelled so good that we could hardly wait for them to be done. Presently, however, the heat began to burn my cheeks and also the hand that held the stick. The more I wiggled about, the hotter the fire seemed, and it ended in Frances having to fish my piece of liver from among the coals, burned in patches, curled over bits of dying embers, and pretty well covered with ashes, but she knew how to scrape them away, and my supper was not spoiled.
Our neighbor gave us breakfast next morning and spruced us up a bit, then led us to the house where a number of persons had gathered, most of them sitting at table laughing and talking, and among them, Elitha and Leanna. Upon our entrance, the merriment ceased and all eyes were turned inquiringly toward us. Some one pointed to him who sat beside our eldest sister and gayly said, "Look at your new brother." Another asked, "How do you like him?" We gazed around in silent amazement until a third continued teasingly, "She is no longer Elitha Donner, but Mrs. Perry McCoon. You have lost your sister, for her husband will take her away with him." "Lost your sister!" Those harrowing words stirred our pent feelings to anguish so keen that he who had uttered them in sport was touched with pity by the pain they caused.
Tears came also to the child-wife's eyes as she clasped her arms about us soothingly, assuring us that she was still our sister, and would care for us. Nevertheless, she and her husband slipped away soon on horseback, and we were told that we were to stay at our neighbor's until they returned for us.
This marriage, which was solemnized by Alcalde John Sinclair on the fourth of June, 1847, was approved by the people at the Fort. Children were anxious to play with us because we had "a married sister and a new brother." Women hurried through noon chores to meet outside, and some in their eagerness forgot to roll down their sleeves before they began to talk. One triumphantly repeated to each newcomer the motherly advice which she gave the young couple when she "first noticed his affection for that sorrowing girl, who is too pretty to be in this new country without a protector." They also recalled how Perry McCoon's launch had brought supplies up the river for the Second Relief to take over the mountains; and how finally, he himself had carried to the bereaved daughter the last accounts from Donner Camp.
Then the speakers wondered how soon Elitha would be back. Would she take us three to live with her on that cattle ranch twenty-five miles by bridle trail from the Fort? And would peace and happiness come to us there?
[Footnote 14: See Appendix for account of the Fallon party, quoted from Thornton's work.]
"GRANDMA"—HAPPY VISITS—A NEW HOME—AM PERSUADED TO LEAVE IT.
We were still without Elitha, when up the road and toward the Fort came a stout little old woman in brown. On one arm she carried a basket, and from the hand of the other hung a small covered tin pail. Her apron was almost as long as her dress skirt, which reached below her ankles, yet was short enough to show brown stockings above her low shoes. Two ends of the bright kerchief which covered her neck and crossed her bosom were pinned on opposite sides at the waist-line. A brown quilted hood of the same shade and material as her dress and apron concealed all but the white lace frill of a "grandma cap," which fastened under her chin with a bow. Her dark hair drawn down plain to each temple was coiled there into tiny wheels, and a brass pin stuck through crosswise to hold each coil in place. Her bright, speaking eyes, more brown than gray, gave charm to a face which might have been pretty had disease not marred it in youth.
As she drew near, her wonderful eyes looked into our faces and won from our lips a timid "Good morning, grandma."
That title, which we had been taught to use when speaking to the aged, was new and sweet to her, who had never been blessed with child. She set the basket on the ground, put the pail beside it, and caressed us in a cheery way, then let us peep in and see what she had brought especially for us. How did it happen? That is something we were to learn later. Such luxuries,—eggs, bread, butter, cheese, and milk in the dear little tin pail!
Seeing how thin and hungry we looked she gave each a piece of buttered bread before going with us to our neighbor's house, where she left the food, with instructions, in broken English, that it was for us three little girls who had called her "grandma," and that we must not be given too much at a time.
When next grandma came she took puny Georgia home with her, and left me hugging the promise that I also should have a visit, if I would await my turn patiently.
Who can picture my delight when Georgia got back and told me of all she had seen? Cows, horses, pigs, and chickens, but most thrilling of all was about the cross old sheep, which would not let her pass if she did not carry a big stick in sight. Still, I should not have been so eager to go, nor so gleeful on the way, had I known that the "good-bye" kiss I gave my sister Frances at parting that day, would be the last kiss in five long years.
Grandma was as happy as I. She could understand English better than she could speak it, and in answering my questions, explained largely by signs. "Courage," her gray poodle, left deep footprints in the dust, as he trotted ahead over the well-known road, and I felt an increasing affection for him upon learning that he, too, had crossed the plains in an emigrant wagon and had reached the Fort at about the same time I had reached the snow. He was so small that I imagined he must have been a wee baby dog when he started, and that he was not yet half grown. My surprise and admiration quickened beyond expression when grandma assured me that he could do many tricks, understood French and German, and was learning English.
Then she laughed, and explained that he was thus accomplished because she and Christian Brunner, her husband, and Jacob, her brother-in-law, had come from a place far away across lands and big waters where most of the people spoke both French and German and that they had always talked to Courage in one or the other of these languages.
As soon as we got into the house she opened the back door and called "Jacob!" Then turning, she took a small cup of rennet clabber from the shelf, poured a little cream over it, put a spoon in it, and set it on the table before me. While I was eating, a pleasant elderly man came in and by nods, motions, and words, partly English and partly something else, convinced me that he liked little girls, and was glad to see me. Then of a sudden, he clasped his hands about my waist and tossed me in the air as father did before his hand was hurt, and when he wanted to startle me, and then hear me laugh. This act, which brought back loving memories, made Jacob seem nearer to me; nearer still when he told me I must not call him anything but Jakie.
Everything about the house was as Georgia had described. Even the big stick she had used to keep the old sheep from butting her over was behind the door where she had left it.
When Christian Brunner got home from the Fort, grandma had supper nearly ready, and he and I were friends the instant we looked into each other's face; for he was "grandpa" who had given us the liver the evening we did not find our sisters. He had gone home that night and said: "Mary, at the Fort are three hungry little orphan girls. Take them something as soon as you can. One child is fair, two are dark. You will know them by the way they speak to you."
Grandpa had now hastened home to hold me on his lap and to hear me say that I was glad to be at his house and intended to help grandma all I could for being so good as to bring me there. After I told how we had cooked the liver and how good it tasted, he wiped his eyes and said: "Mine child, when you little ones thanked me for that liver, it made me not so much your friend as when you called me 'grandpa.'"
As time went on, grandma declared that I helped her a great deal because I kept her chip-box full, shooed the hens out of the house, brought in the eggs, and drove the little chicks to bed, nights. I don't recollect that I was ever tired or sleepy, yet I know that the night must have sped, between the time of my last nod at the funny shadow picture of a rabbit which Jakie made hop across the wall behind the lighted candle, and Courage's barking near my pillow, which grandma said meant, "Good-morning, little girl!"
It was after one of these reminders of a new day that I saw Leanna. I don't know when or how she came, but I missed Frances and Georgia the more because I wanted them to share our comforts. Nevertheless a strange feeling of uneasiness crept over me as I noticed, later, that grandpa lingered and that the three spoke long in their own tongue, and glanced often toward me.
Finally grandpa and Jakie went off in the wagon and grandma also disappeared, but soon returned, dressed for a trip to the Fort, and explained that she had heard that Georgia was sick and she would take me back and bring her in my place. I had known from the beginning that I was to stay only a little while, yet I was woefully disturbed at having my enjoyment so abruptly terminated. My first impulse was to cry, but somehow, the influence of her who under the soughing pines of the Sierras had told me that "friends do not come quickly to a cry-baby child" gave me courage, and I looked up into the dear old face before me and with the earnestness of an anxious child asked, "Grandma, why can't you keep two of us?"
She looked at me, hesitated, then replied, "I will see." She kissed away my fears and rode off on old Lisa. I did not know that she would ride farther than the fort and imagined she had gone on horseback so that she might the easier bring back my little sister.
Leanna washed the dishes and did the other work before she joined me in watching for grandma's return. At last she came in sight and I ran up the road craning my neck to see if Georgia were really behind on old Lisa's back, and when I saw her pinched face aglow with smiles that were all for me, I had but one wish, and that was to get my arms around her.
One chair was large enough to hold us both when we got into the house, and the big clock on the wall with long weights reaching almost to the floor and red roses painted around its white face, did not tick long before we were deaf to its sound, telling each other about the doings of the day.
She knew more than I, who listened intently as she excitedly went on:
"Me and Frances started to find you this morning, but we wasn't far when we met Jacob in the wagon, and he stopped and asked us where we was going. We told him. Then he told us to get in by him. But he didn't come this way, just drove down to the river and some men lifted us out and set us in a boat and commenced to paddle across the water. I knew that wasn't the way, and I cried and cried as loud as I could cry, and told them I wanted to go to my little sister Eliza, and that I'd tip the boat over if they did not take me back; and one man said, 'It's too bad! It ain't right to part the two littlest ones.' And they told me if I'd sit still and stop crying they would bring me back with them by and by, and that I should come to you. And I minded.
"Then they taked us to that house where we sleeped under the carpet the night we didn't get to the Fort. Don't you remember? Well, lots of people was there and talked about us and about father and mother, and waited for grandma to come. Pretty soon grandma come, and everybody talked, and talked. And grandma told them she was sorry for us, and would take you and me if she could keep Leanna to help her do the work. When I was coming away with grandma, Frances cried like everything. She said she wanted to see you, and told the people mother said we should always stay together. But they wouldn't let her come. They've gived her to somebody else, and now she is their little girl."
We both felt sorry for Frances, and wished we could know where she was and what she was doing.
While we were talking, grandma kept busily at work, and sometimes she wiped her face with the corner of her apron, yet we did not think of her as listening, nor of watching us, nor would we ever have known it, had we not learned it later from her own lips, as she told others the circumstances which had brought us into her life.
Some days later Georgia and I were playing in the back yard when Leanna appeared at the door and called out in quick, jubilant tones: "Children, run around to the front and see who has come!"
True enough, hitched to a stake near the front door was a bay horse with white spots on his body and a white stripe down his face, and tied to the pommel of his saddle was another horse with a side saddle on its back. It did not take us long to get into the house where we found Elitha and our new brother, who had come to arrange about taking us away with them. While Elitha was talking to grandma and Leanna, Georgia stood listening, but I sat on my new brother's knee and heard all about his beautiful spotted horse and a colt of the same colors.
Elitha could not persuade Leanna or Georgia to go with her, nor was I inclined to do so when she and grandma first urged me. But I began to yield as the former told me she was lonesome; wanted at least one little sister to live with her, and that if I would be that one, I should have a new dress and a doll with a face. Then my new brother settled the matter by saying: "Listen to me. If you'll go, you shall have the pinto colt that I told you about, a little side saddle of your own, and whenever you feel like it, you can get on it and ride down to see all the folks." The prospects were so alluring that I went at once with Leanna, who was to get me ready for the journey.
Leanna did not share my enthusiasm. She said I was a foolish little thing, and declared I would get lonesome on such a big place so far away; that the colt would kick me if I tried to go near it, and that no one ever made saddles for colts. She was not so gentle as usual when she combed my hair and gave my face a right hard scrubbing with a cloth and whey, which grandma bade her use, "because it makes the skin so nice and soft."
Notwithstanding these discouragements, I took my clothes, which were tied up in a colored handkerchief, kissed them all good-bye, and rode away sitting behind my new brother on the spotted horse, really believing that I should be back in a few days on a visit.
ON A CATTLE RANCH NEAR THE COSUMNE RIVER—"NAME BILLY"—INDIAN GRUB FEAST.
We left the Fort and grandma's house far behind, and still rode on and on. The day was warm, the wild flowers were gone, and the plain was yellow with ripening oats which rustled noisily as we passed through, crowding and bumping their neighborly heads together. Yet it was not a lonesome way, for we passed elk, antelope, and deer feeding, with pretty little fawns standing close to their mothers' sides. There were also sleek fat cattle resting under the shade of live oak trees, and great birds that soared around overhead casting their shadows on the ground. As we neared the river, smaller birds of brighter colors could be heard and seen in the trees along the banks where the water flowed between, clear and cold.
All these things my sister pointed out to me as we passed onward. It was almost dark before we came in sight of the adobe ranch house. We were met on the road by a pack of Indian dogs, whose fierce looks and savage yelping made me tremble, until I got into the house where they could not follow.
The first weeks of my stay on the ranch passed quickly. Elitha and I were together most of the time. She made my new dress and a doll which, was perfection in my eyes, though its face was crooked, and its pencilled hair was more like pothooks than curls. I did not see much of her husband, because in the mornings he rode away early to direct his Indian cattle-herders at the rodeos, or to oversee other ranch work, and I was often asleep when he returned nights.
The pinto colt he had promised me was, as Leanna had said, "big enough to kick, but too small to ride," and I at once realized that my anticipated visits could not be made as planned.
Occasionally, men came on horseback to stay a day or two, and before the summer was over, a young couple with a small baby moved into one part of our house. We called them Mr. and Mrs. Packwood and Baby Packwood. The mother and child were company for my sister, while the husbands talked continually of ranches, cattle, hides, and tallow, so I was free to roam around by myself.
In one of my wanderings I met a sprightly little Indian lad, whose face was almost as white as my own. He was clad in a blue and white shirt that reached below his knees. Several strings of beads were around his neck, and a small bow and arrow in his hand. We stopped and looked at each other; were pleased, yet shy about moving onward or speaking. I, being the larger, finally asked,
"What's your name?"
To my great delight, he answered, "Name, Billy."
While we were slowly getting accustomed to each other, a good-natured elderly squaw passed. She wore a tattered petticoat, and buttons, pieces of shell, and beads of bird bones dangled from a string around her neck. A band of buckskin covered her forehead and was attached to strips of rawhide, which held in place the water-tight basket hanging down her back. Billy now left me for her, and I followed the two to that part of our yard where the tall ash-hopper stood, which ever after was like a story book to me.
The squaw set the basket on the ground, reached up, and carefully lifted from a board laid across the top of the hopper, several pans of clabbered milk, which she poured into the basket. Instead of putting the pans back, she tilted them up against the hopper, squatted down in front and with her slim forefinger, scraped down the sides and bottom of each pan so that she and Billy could scoop up and convey to their mouths, by means of their three crooked fingers, all that had not gone into the basket. Then she licked her improvised spoon clean and dry; turned her back to her burden; replaced the band on her forehead; and with the help of her stick, slowly raised herself to her feet and quietly walked away, Billy after her.
Next day I was on watch early. My kind friend, the choreman, let me go with him when he carried the lye from the hopper to the soap fat barrel. Then he put more ashes on the hopper and set the pans of milk in place for the evening call of Billy and his companion.
He pointed out the rancheria by the river where the Indian herders lived with others of their tribe, among them, Billy and his mother. He also informed me that the squaws took turns in coming for the milk, and that Billy came as often as he got the chance; that he was a nice little fellow, who had learned a few English words from his white papa, who had gone off and left him.
Billy and I might never have played together as we did, if my brother-in-law had not taken his wife to San Francisco and left me in the care of Mr. and Mrs. Packwood. Their chief aim in life was to please their baby. She was a dear little thing when awake, but the house had to be kept very still while she slept, and they would raise a hand and say, "Hu-sh!" as they left me, and together tip-toed to the cradle to watch her smile in her sleep. I had their assurance that they would like to let me hold her if her little bones were not so soft that I might break them.
They were never unkind or cross to me. I had plenty to eat, and clean clothes to wear, but they did not seem to realize how I yearned for some one to love. So I went to Mr. Choreman. He told me about the antelope that raced across the ranch before I was up; of the elk, deer, bear, and buffalo he had shot in his day; and of beaver, otter, and other animals that he had trapped along the rivers. Entranced with his tales I became as excited as he, while listening to the dangers he had escaped.
One day he showed me a little chair which I declared was the cunningest thing I had ever seen. It had a high, straight back, just like those in the house, only that it was smaller. The seat was made of strips of rawhide woven in and out so that it looked like patchwork squares. He let me sit on it and say how beautiful it was, before telling me that he had made it all for me. I was so delighted that I jumped up, clasped it in my arms and looked at him in silent admiration. I do not believe that he could understand how rich and grateful I felt, although he shook his head saying, "You are not a bit happier than I was while making it for you, nor can you know how much good it does me to have you around."
Gradually, Billy spent more time near the ranch house, and learned many of my kind of words, and I picked up some of his. Before long, he discovered that he could climb up on the hopper, and then he helped me up. But I could not crook my fingers into as good a spoon as he did his, and he got more milk out of the pan than I.
We did not think any one saw us, yet the next time we climbed up, we found two old spoons stuck in a crack, in plain sight. After we got through using them, I wiped them on my dress skirt and put them back. Later, I met Mr. Choreman, who told me that he had put the spoons there because I was too nice a little girl to eat as Billy did, or to dip out of the same pan. I was ashamed and promised not to do so again, nor to climb up there with him.
As time passed, I watched wistfully for my sister's return, and thought a great deal about the folks at grandma's. I tried to remember all that had happened while I was there, and felt sure they were waiting for me to pay the promised visit. A great longing often made me rush out behind a large tree near the river, where no one could see or hear me feel sorry for myself, and where I would wonder if God was taking care of the others and did not know where I lived.
I still feel the wondrous thrill, and bid my throbbing heart beat slower, when I recall the joy that tingled through every part of my being on that evening when, unexpectedly, Leanna and Georgia came to the door. Yet, so short-lived was that joy that the event has always seemed more like a disquieting dream than a reality; for they came at night and were gone in the morning, and left me sorrowing.
A few months ago, I wrote to Georgia (now Mrs. Babcock), who lives in the State of Washington, for her recollections of that brief reunion, and she replied:
Before we went to Sonoma with Grandma Brunner in the Fall of 1847, Leanna and I paid you a visit. We reached your home at dusk. Mr. McCoon and Elitha were not there. We were so glad to meet, but our visit was too short. You and I were given a cup of bread and milk and sent to bed. Leanna ate with the grown folks, who, upon learning that we had only come to say good-bye, told her we must for your sake get away before you awoke next morning. We arose and got started early, but had only gone a short distance when we heard your pitiful cry, begging us to take you with us. Leanna hid her face in her apron, while a man caught you and carried you back. I think she cried all the way home. It was so hard to part from you.
Mr. Packwood carried me into the house, and both he and his wife felt sorry for me. My head ached and the tears would come as often as any one looked at me. Mrs. Packwood wet a piece of brown paper, laid it on my forehead, and bade me lie on my bed until I should feel better. I could not eat or play, and even Mr. Choreman's bright stories had lost their charm.
"Come look, see squaw, papoose! Me go, you go?" exclaimed Billy excitedly one soft gray morning after I had regained my spirits. I turned in the direction he pointed and saw quite a number of squaws trudging across an open flat with babies in bickooses, and larger children scampering along at various paces, most of them carrying baskets.
With Mrs. Packwood's permission, Billy and I sped away to join the line. I had never been granted such a privilege before, and had no idea what it all meant.
As we approached the edge of the marsh, the squaws walked more slowly, with their eyes fixed upon the ground. Every other moment some of them would be down, digging in the earth with forefinger or a little stick, and I soon learned they were gathering bulbs about a quarter of an inch in thickness and as large around as the smaller end of a woman's thimble. I had seen the plants growing near the pond at the fort, but now the bulbs were ripe, and were being gathered for winter use. In accordance with the tribal custom, not a bulb was eaten during harvest time. They grew so far apart and were so small that it took a long while to make a fair showing in the baskets.
When no more bulbs could be found, the baskets were put on the ground in groups, and the mothers carefully leaned their bickooses against them in such positions that the wide awake papooses could look out from under their shades and smile and sputter at each other in quaint Indian baby-talk; and the sleeping could sleep on undisturbed.
That done, the squaws built a roaring fire, and one of them untied a bundle of hardwood sticks which she had brought for the purpose, and stuck them around under the fuel in touch with the hottest parts of the burning mass. When the ends glowed like long-lasting coals, the waiting crowd snatched them from their bed and rushed into the low thicket which grew in the marsh. I followed with my fire-brand, but, not knowing what to do with it, simply watched the Indians stick theirs into the bushes, sometimes high up, sometimes low down. I saw them dodge about, and heard their shouts of warning and their peals of laughter. Then myriads of hornets came buzzing and swarming about. This frightened me so that I ran back to where the brown babies were cooing in safety.
Empty-handed, but happy, they at length returned, and though I could not understand anything they were saying, their looks and actions betokened what a good time they had had.
Years later, I described the scene to Elitha, who assured me that I had been highly favored by those Indians for they had permitted me to witness their annual "Grub Feast." The Piutes always use burning fagots to drive hornets and other stinging insects from their nests, and they also use heat in opening the comb cells so that they can easily remove the larvae, which they eat without further preparation.
With the first cold snaps of winter, my feet felt the effect of former frost bites, and I was obliged to spend most of my time within doors. Fortunately Baby Packwood had grown to be quite a frolicsome child. She was fond of me, and her bones had hardened so that there was no longer danger of my breaking them when I lifted her or held her on my lap. Her mother had also discovered that I was anxious to be helpful, pleased when given something to do, and proud when my work was praised.
I was quite satisfied with my surroundings, when, unexpectedly, Mr. McCoon brought my sister back, and once more we had happy times together.
I RETURN TO GRANDMA—WAR RUMORS AT THE FORT—LINGERING HOPE THAT MY MOTHER MIGHT BE LIVING—AN INDIAN CONVOY—THE BRUNNERS AND THEIR HOME.
The Spring of 1848 was at hand when my brother-in-law said to me, "Grandma Brunner wants you to come back to her; and if, you would like to go, I'll take you to the Fort, as soon as the weather changes, and leave you with the people who are getting ready to move north and are willing to take you with them to Sonoma, where grandma now lives."
The storm was not over, but the day was promising, when my bundle of clothes was again on the pommel of the saddle, and I ready to begin my journey. I was so excited that I could hardly get around to say good-bye to those who had gathered to see me off. We returned by the same route that we had followed out on that warm June day, but everything seemed different. The catkins on the willows were forming and the plain was green with young grass.
As we neared the Fort we passed a large camp of fine-looking Indians who, I was told, were the friendly Walla-Wallas, that came every spring to trade ponies, and otter, and beaver-skins with Captain Sutter for provisions, blankets, beads, gun caps, shot, and powder.
A large emigrant wagon stood near the adobe house where my new brother-in-law drew rein. Before dismounting, he reached back, took me by the arm and carefully supported me as I slid from the horse to the ground. I was so stiff that I could hardly stand, but he led me to the door where we were welcomed by a good-natured woman, to whom he said,
"Well, Mrs. Lennox, you see I've brought the little girl. I don't think she'll be much trouble, unless she talks you to death."
Then he told her that I had, during the ride, asked him more questions than a man six times his size could answer. But she laughed, and "'lowed" that I couldn't match either of her three boys in asking questions, and then informed him that she did not "calculate on making the move until the roads be dryer and the weather settled." She promised, however, that I should have good care until I could be handed over to the Brunners. After a few words with her in private Perry McCoon bade me good-bye, and passed out of my life forever.
I was now again with emigrants who had crossed the plains in 1846, but who had followed the Fort Hall route and so escaped the misfortunes that befell the Donner Party.
Supper over, Mrs. Lennox made me a bed on the floor in the far corner of the room. I must have fallen asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow, for I remember nothing more until I was awakened by voices, and saw the candle still burning and Mrs. Lennox and two men and a woman sitting near the table. The man speaking had a shrill voice, and his words were so terrifying that I shook all over; my hair felt as though it were trying to pull itself out by its roots; a cold sweat dampened my clothes. I was afraid to move or to turn my eyes. Listening, I tried to remember how many Indians he was talking about. I knew it must be a great many, for it was such a long word. After they went away and the house was dark, I still seemed to see his excited manner and to hear him say:
"Mrs. Lennox, we've got to get out of here right away, for I heard tell at the store before I come up that there's bound to be an Injun outbreak. Them savages from Sonora are already on their way up, and they'll kill and scalp every man, woman, and child they can ketch, and there's nothing to keep them from ketching us, if we stay at this here little fort any longer."
I lay awake a long while. I did not dare call out because I imagined some of those Indians might have got ahead of the rest and be sneaking up to our house at that very moment. I wondered where I could hide if they should climb through the window, and I felt that Georgia would never know what had become of me, if they should kill and scalp me.
As soon as Mrs. Lennox stirred in the morning, I ran to her and had a good cry. She threatened all sorts of things for the man who had caused me such torture, and declared that he believed everything he heard. He did not seem to remember how many hundred miles away Sonora was, nor how many loaded cannon there were at the Fort. I felt better satisfied, however, when she told me that she had made up her mind to start for Sonoma the next day.
After breakfast her younger boys wanted to see the Walla-Wallas, and took me along. A cold breath from the Sierra Nevadas made me look up and shiver. Soon Captains Sutter and Kern passed us, the former on his favorite white horse, and the latter on a dark bay. I was delighted to catch a glimpse of those two good friends, but they did not know it. They had been to see the Indian ponies, and before we got to the big gate, they had gone in and the Walla-Wallas were forming in line on both sides of the road between the gate and the front of the store.
Only two Indians at a time were allowed to enter the building, and as they were slow in making their trades, we had a good chance to see them all. The men, the boys, and most of the women were dressed in fringed buckskin suits and their hands and faces were painted red, as the Sioux warriors of Fort Laramie painted their cheeks.
The Lennox boys took greatest interest in the little fellows with the bows and arrows, but I could not keep my eyes from the young princess, who stood beside her father, the chief. She was all shimmering with beads. They formed flowers on her moccasins; fringed the outer seams of her doeskin trousers and the hem of her tunic; formed a stripe around her arm holes and her belt; glittered on a band which held in place the eagle plume in her hair; dangled from her ears; and encircled her neck and arms. Yet she did not seem to wear one too many. She looked so winsome and picturesque that I have never forgotten the laughing, pretty picture.
We started back over ground where my little sisters and I had wandered the previous Spring. The people whom I remembered had since gone to other settlements, and strangers lived in the old huts. I could not help looking in as we passed, for I still felt that mother might not be dead. She might have come down the mountain alone and perhaps I could find her. The boys, not knowing why I lagged behind, tried to hurry me along; and finally left me to go home by myself. This, not from unkindness, but rather love of teasing, and also oblivion of the vain hope I cherished.
Mrs. Lennox let me dry the dishes for her after the noon meal, then sent me to visit the neighbor in the next house, while she should stow her things in the wagon and get ready for the journey. I loved this lady in the next house as soon as she spoke to me, and I was delighted with her baby, who reached out his little arms to have me take him, and raised his head for me to kiss his lips. While he slept, his mother sewed and talked with me. She had known my parents on the plains, and now let me sit at her feet, giving me her workbox, that I might look at its bobbins of different-colored thread and the pretty needle-book. When I told her that the things looked a little like mother's and that sometimes mother let me take the tiniest bit of her wax, she gave me permission to take a tiny taste of that which I held in my hand to see if it was like that which I remembered.
Only she, the baby, and I sat down to tea, yet she said that she was glad she had company, for baby's papa was away with Captain Fremont, and she was lonesome.
After I learned that she would have to stay until he came back, I was troubled, and told what I had heard in the night. She assured me that those in charge of the Fort heard every day all that was going on for miles and miles around, and that if they should learn that fighting Indians were coming, they would take all the white people and the good Indians into the fort, and then shoot the bad ones with the cannon that peeped through its embrasures.
The dainty meal and her motherly talk kept me a happy child until I heard the footsteps of the Lennox boys. I knew they were coming for me, and that I should have to sleep in that dark room where I had been so afraid. Quickly slipping from my chair, under the table, and hiding behind my new friend's dress skirt, I begged her not to let them know where I was, and please, to let me stay with her all night. I listened as she sent the boys back to tell their mother that she would keep me until morning, adding that she would step in and explain matters after she put her baby to bed. Before I went to sleep she heard me say my prayers and kissed me good-night.
When I awoke next morning, I was not in her house, but in Mrs. Lennox's wagon, on the way to Sonoma.
The distance between the Fort and Sonoma was only about eighty miles, yet the heavy roads and the frequent showers kept us on the journey more than a week. It was still drizzling when we reached the town and Mrs. Lennox learned where the Brunners lived. I had been told that they would be looking for me, and I expected to go to them at once.
As we approached the west bank of the creek, which winds south past the town, we could see the branches on the trees in grandma's dooryard swaying. Yet we could not reach there, because a heavy mountain storm had turned a torrent into the creek channel, washed away the foot bridge, and overflowed the low land. Disappointed, we encamped on high ground to wait for the waters to recede.
Toward evening, Jakie gathering his cows on the opposite side, noticed our emigrant wagon, and oxen, and as he drew nearer recognized Mrs. Lennox. Both signalled from where they stood, and soon he descried me, anxious to go to him. He, also, was disappointed at the enforced delay, and returned often to cheer us, and to note the height of the water. It seemed to me that we had been there days and days, when a Mission Indian on a gray pony happened to come our way, and upon learning what was wanted, signalled that he would carry me over for a Mexican silver dollar. Jakie immediately drew the coin from his pocket and held it between thumb and forefinger, high above his head in the sunshine, to show the native that his price would be paid.
Quickly the Indian dismounted, looked his pony over carefully, cinched the blanket on tighter, led him to the water's edge, and turned to me. I shuddered, and when all was ready, drew near the deep flowing current tremblingly, yet did not hesitate; for my loved ones were beyond, and to reach them I was willing to venture.
The Indian mounted and I was placed behind him. By sign, he warned me not to loosen my hold, lest I, like the passing branches, should become the water's prey. With my arms clasped tightly about his dusky form, and his elbows clamped over them, we entered the stream. I saw the water surge up around us, felt it splash over me! Oh, how cold it was! I held my breath as we reached the deepest part, and in dread clung closer to the form before me. We were going down stream, drifting past where Jakie stood! How could I know that we were heading for the safe slope up the bank where we landed?
The Indian took his dollar with a grunt of satisfaction, and Jakie bade me wave to the friends I had left behind, as he put me on old Lisa's back and hurried off to grandma, Leanna, and Georgia, waiting at the gate to welcome me home.
Georgia had a number of patches of calico and other trinkets which she had collected for me, and offered them as soon as we had exchanged greetings, then eagerly conducted me about the place.
Grandma was more energetic and busier than at the Fort, and I could only talk with her as she worked, but there was so much to see and hear that before nightfall my feet were heavy and my brain was weary. However, a good sleep under the roof of those whom I loved was all the tonic I needed to prepare me for a fair start in the new career, and grandma's assurance, "This be your home so long as you be good," filled me with such gladness that, childlike, I promised to be good always and to do everything that should be required of me.
Most of the emigrants in and around the Pueblo of Sonoma were Americans from the western frontiers of the United States. They had reached the province in the Summer or early Autumn of 1846, and for safety had settled near this United States Army post. Here they had bought land and made homes within neighboring distance of each other and begun life anew in simple, happy, pioneer fashion. The Brunners were a different type. They had immigrated from Switzerland and settled in New Orleans, Louisiana, when young, and by toil and economy had saved the snug sum of money which they brought to invest in California enterprises.
They could speak and read French and German, and had some knowledge of figures. Being skilled in the preparation of all the delicacies of the meat market, and the products of the dairy, they had brought across the plains the necessary equipment for both branches of business, and had already established a butcher shop in the town and a dairy on the farm, less than a mile from it.
Jakie was busy and useful at both places, but grandpa was owner of the shop, and grandma of the dairy. Her hand had the cunning of the Swiss cheese-maker, and the deftness of the artist in butter moulding. She was also an experienced cook, and had many household commodities usually unknown to pioneer homes. They were thus eminently fitted for life in a crude new settlement, and occupied an important place in the community.
A public road cut their land into two unequal parts. The cattle corrals and sheds were grouped on one side of the road, and the family accommodations on the other. Three magnificent oaks and a weird, blackened tree-trunk added picturesqueness to the ground upon which the log cabin and outbuildings stood. The trim live oak shaded the adobe milk-room and smoke-house, while the grand old white oak spread its far-reaching boughs over the curbed well and front dooryard.
The log cabin was a substantial three-roomed structure. Its two outer doors opened with latch strings and were sawed across just above the middle, so that the lower sections might be kept closed against the straying pigs and fowls, while the upper part remained open to help the windows opposite give light and ventilation. The east end formed the ample store-room with shelves for many stages of ripening cheese. The west end served as sleeping apartment for all except Jakie. The large middle room was set apart as kitchen and general living room. Against its wall were braced the dear old clock and conveniences for holding dishes, and the few keepsakes which had shared the wanderings of their owners on two continents.
The adobe chimney, which formed part of the partition between the living and the sleeping apartment, gave a huge fireplace to each. From the side of the one that cheered the living room, swung a crane worthy of the great copper cheese kettle that hung on its arm. In tidy rows on the chimney shelf stood bottles and boxes of medicine, two small brass kettles, and six bright candlesticks with hoods, trays, and snuffers to match. On the wide hearth beneath were ranged the old-fashioned three-legged iron pots, dominated by the large round one, used as a bake oven. Hovering over the fire sat the iron tea-kettle, with its slender throat and pointed lips, now warmed to song by the blazing logs, now rattling its lid with increasing fervor.
A long table with rough redwood benches around it, a few straight-backed chairs against the wall, and Jakie's half-concealed bed, in the far corner, constituted the visible furnishings of this memorable room, which was so spick and span in German order and cleanliness, that even its clay floor had to be sprinkled in regular spots and rings before being swept.
It was under the great oaks that most of the morning work was done. There the pails and pans were washed and sunned, the meats chopped, the sausage made, head-cheese moulded, ham and bacon salted, and the lard tried out over the out-door fires. Among those busy scenes, Georgia and I spent many happy hours, and learned some of our hardest lessons; for to us were assigned regular tasks, and we were also expected to do the countless little errands which save steps to grown people, and are supposed not to tire the feet of children.
Grandma, stimulated by the success of her mixing and moulding, and elated by the profit she saw in it, was often too happy and bustling to remember how young we were, or that we got tired, or had worries of our own to bear.
Our small troubles, however, were soon forgotten, when we could slip away for a while to the lovely playhouse which Leanna had secretly made for us in an excavation in the back yard. There we forgot work, used our own language, and played we were like other children; for we owned the beautiful cupboard dug in the wall, and the pieces of Delft and broken glass set in rows upon the shelves, also the furniture, made of stumps and blocks of wood, and the two bottles standing behind the brush barricade to act as sentries in case of danger during our absence.
One stolen visit to that playhouse led me into such disgrace, that grandma did not speak to me the rest of the day, and told Jakie all about it.
In the evening, when no one else was near, he called me to him. I obeyed with downcast head. Putting his hand under my chin, and turning my face up, he made me look straight into his eyes, as he asked,
"Who broke dat glass cup vat grandma left on die dinner table full of milk, and telled you watch it bis Hendrik come to his dinner, or bis she be done mit her nap?"
I tried to turn my eyes down, but he would not let me, and I faltered, "The chicken knocked it off,—but he left the door open so it could get in."
Then, he raised his other hand, shook his finger, and in awe-inspiring tone continued: "Yes, I be sure die chicken do dat, but vot for you tell grandma dat Heinrick do dat? Der debil makes peoples tell lies, and den he ketch sie for his fire, und he vill ketch you, if you do dat some more. Gott, who you mutter telled you 'bout, will not love you. I will not love you, if you do dat some more. I be sorry for you, because I tought you vas His little girl, and mine little girl."
Jakie must have spent much time in collecting so many English words, and they were effective, for before he got through repeating them to me, I was as heart-sore and penitent as a child could be.
After he had forgiven me, he sent me to grandma, later to acknowledge my wrong to Hendrik, and before I slept, I had to tell God what a bad child I had been, and ask Him to make me good.
I had promised to be very careful and to try never to tell another lie, and I had been unhappy enough to want to keep the promise. But, alas, my sympathy for Jakie led me into more trouble, and it must have been on Sunday too, for he was not working, but sitting reverently under the tree with his elbows upon a table, and his cheeks resting in the hollows of his hands. Before him lay the Holy Scriptures from which he was slowly reading aloud in solemn tones.
Georgia and I standing a short distance from him, listened very intently. Not hearing a single English word, and not understanding many of the German, I became deeply concerned and turning to her asked,
"Aren't you awful sorry for poor Jakie? There he is, reading to God in German, and God can't understand him. I'm afraid Jakie won't go to heaven when he dies."
My wise little sister turned upon me indignantly, assuring me that "God sees everybody and understands everybody's talk." To prove the truth of her statement, she rushed to the kitchen and appealed to grandma, who not only confirmed Georgia's words, but asked me what right I had to believe that God was American only, and could not understand good German people when they read and spoke to Him? She wanted to know if I was not ashamed to think that they, who had loved me, and been kind to me would not go to Heaven as well as I who had come to them a beggar? Then she sent me away by myself to think of my many sins; and I, weeping, accepted banishment from Georgia, lest she should learn wickedness from me.
Georgia was greatly disturbed on my account, because she believed I had wilfully misrepresented God, and that He might not forgive me. When Jakie learned what had happened, he declared that I had spoken like a child, and needed instruction more than punishment. So for the purpose of broadening my religious views, and keeping before me the fact that "God can do all things and knows all languages," grandma taught me the Lord's Prayer in French and German, and heard me repeat it each night in both languages, after I had said it as taught me by my mother.
It was about this time, that Leanna confided to me that she was homesick for Elitha, and she would go to her very soon. She said that I must not object when the time came, for she loved her own sister just as much as I did mine, and was as anxious to go to Elitha as I had been to come to Georgia. She had been planning several weeks, and knew of a family with which she could travel to Sutter's Fort. Later, when she collected her things to go away, she left with us a pair of beautifully knit black silk stockings, marked near the top in fine cross-stitch in white, "D," and under that "5." The stockings had been our mother's. She had knit them herself and worn them. Georgia gave one to me and kept the other. We both felt that they were almost too sacred to handle. They were our only keepsakes.
Later, Georgia found a small tin box in which mother had kept important papers. Recently, when referring to that circumstance, Georgia said: "Grandma for a long time had used it for a white-sugar box, and kept it on a shelf so high that we could see it only when she lifted it down; and I don't think we took our eyes from it until it was put back. We felt that it was too valuable for us ever to own. One day, I found it thrown away. One side had become unsoldered from the ends and the bottom also was hanging loose. With a full heart, I grasped the treasure and put it where we could often see it. Long afterwards, Harry Huff kindly offered to repair it; and the solder that still holds it together is also regarded as a keepsake from a dear friend."
[Footnote 15: Mrs. Andrew J. Grayson, wife of the well-known ornithologist, frequently referred to as the "Audubon of the West."]
MORAL DISCIPLINE—THE HISTORICAL PUEBLO OF SONOMA—SUGAR PLUMS.
Grandma often declared that she loved me, and did not want to be too severe; but, for fear that I had learned much wickedness from the little Indians with whom I had played after I left her at the Fort, she should watch me very closely herself, and also have Georgia tell her whenever she should see me do wrong. Consequently, for a while after I reached Sonoma, I was frequently on the penitential bench, and was as often punished for fancied misdoings as for real ones. Yet, I grant that grandma was warranted in being severe the day that she got back from town before I was ready for her.
She had left us with the promise that she would bring us something nice if we would be good children and do certain work that she had planned. After we had finished the task, we both became restless, wondered how soon she would come back, and what we could do next to keep from being lonesome. Then I espied on the upper shelf the cream-colored sugar bowl, with the old-fashioned red roses and black foliage on its cover and sides. Grandma had occasionally given us lumps of sugar out of it; and I now asked Georgia if I hadn't better get it down, so that we could each have a lump of sugar. Hesitatingly, she said, "No, I am afraid you will break it." I assured her that I would be very careful, and at once set a chair in place and climbed up. It was quite a strain to reach the bowl, so I lifted it down and rested it on the lower shelf, expecting to turn and put it into Georgia's hands. But, somehow, before I could do this, the lid slipped off and lay in two pieces upon the floor. Georgia cried out reproachfully,
"There, you know I didn't want you to do it, and now you will get a good whipping for breaking grandma's best sugar bowl!"
I replied loftily that I was not afraid, because I would ask God to mend it for me. She did not think He would do it, but I did. So I matched the broken edges and put it on the chair, knelt down before it and said "Please" when I made my request. I touched the pieces very carefully, and pleaded more earnestly each time that I found them unchanged. Finally, Georgia, watching at the door, said excitedly, "Here comes grandma!"
I arose, so disappointed and chagrined that I scarcely heard her as she entered and spoke to me. I fully believed that He would have mended that cover if she had remained away a little longer; nevertheless, I was so indignant at Him for being so slow about it, that I stood unabashed while Georgia told all that had happened. The whipping I got did not make much impression, but the after talks and the banishment from "good company" were terrible.
Later, when I was called from my hiding-place, grandma saw that I had been very miserable, and she insisted upon knowing what I had been thinking about. Then I told her, reluctantly, that I had talked to God and told Him I did not think that He was a very good Heavenly Father, or He would not let me get into so much trouble; that I was mad at Him, and didn't believe He knew how to mend dishes. She covered her face with her apron and told me, sobbingly, that she had expected me to be sorry for getting down her sugar bowl and for breaking its cover; that I was so bad that I would "surely put poor old grandma's gray hair in her grave, who had got one foot there already and the other on the brink."
This increased my wretchedness, and I begged her to live just a little longer so that I might show her that I would be good. She agreed to give me another trial and ended by telling me about the "beautiful, wicked angel who had been driven out of paradise, and spends his time coaxing people to be bad, and then remembers them, and after they die, takes them on his fork and pitches them back and forth in his fire." Jakie had told me his name and also the name of his home.
Toward evening, my head ached, and I felt so ill that I crept close to grandma and asked sorrowfully if she thought the devil meant to have me die that night, and then take me to his hell. At a glance, she saw that I suffered, and drew me to her, pillowed my head against her bosom and soothingly assured me that I would be forgiven if I would make friends with God and remember the lesson that I had learned that day. She told me, later, I must never say "devil," or "hell," because it was not nice in little girls, but that, instead, I might use the words, "blackman," and "blackman's fires." At first, I did not like to say it that way, because I was afraid that the beautiful devil might think that I was calling him nicknames and get angry with me.
Notwithstanding my shortcomings, the Brunners were very willing to keep me, and strove to make a "Schweitzer child" of me, dressed me in clothes modelled after those which grandma wore when she was small, and by verse and legend filled my thoughts with pictures of their Alpine country. I liked the German language, learned it rapidly and soon could help to translate orders. Those which pleased grandma best were from the homes of Mr. Jacob Leese, Captain Fitch, Major Prudon, and General Vallejo; for their patronage influenced other distinguished Spanish families at a distance to send for her excellent cheese and fancy pats of butter. Yet, with equal nicety, she filled the orders that came from the mess-room of the officers of our own brave boys in blue, and always tried to have a better kerchief and apron on the evenings that officers and orderly rode out to pay the bills.
Visitors felt more than a passing interest in us two little ones, for accounts of the sufferings of the Donner Party had been carried to all the settlements on the Pacific coast and had been sent in print or writings to all parts of the United States as a warning against further emigration to California by way of Hastings Cut-Off. Thus the name we bore awakened sympathy for us, and in the huts of the lowly natives as well as in the homes of the rulers of the province, we found welcome and were greeted with words of tenderness, which were often followed by prayers for the repose of the souls of our precious dead.
Marked attentions were also shown us by officers and soldiers from the post. The latter gathered in the evenings at the Brunner home for social intercourse. Some played cards, checkers, and dominoes, or talked and sang about "des Deutschen Vaterland." Others reviewed happenings in our own country, recalled battles fought and victories won. And we, sitting between our foster grandparents, or beside Jakie, listening to their thrilling tales, were, unwittingly, crammed with crumbs of truth and fiction that made lasting impressions upon our minds.
Nor were these odd bits of knowledge all we gained from those soldier friends. They taught us the alphabet, how to spell easy words, and then to form letters with pencil. They explained the meaning of fife and drum calls which we heard during the day, and in mischievous earnestness, declared that they, the best fighters of Colonel Stephenson's famous regiment of New York Volunteers, had pledged their arms and legs to our defence, and had only come to see if we were worth the price they might have to, pay. Yet they made grim faces when, all too soon, the retreat call from the barracks sounded, and away they would have to go on the double quick, to be at post by the time of roll call, and in bed at sound of taps.
On those evenings when grandma visited the sick, or went from home on errands, we children were tucked away early in our trundle bed. There, and by ourselves, we spoke of mother and the mountains. Not infrequently, however, our thoughts would be recalled to the present by loud, wailing squeak-squawk, squeak-squawks. As the sound drew nearer and became shriller, we would put our fingers in our ears to muffle the dismal tones, which we knew were only the creakings of the two wooden wheels of some Mexican carreta, laboriously bringing passengers to town, or perhaps a cruder one carrying hides to the embarcadero, or possibly supplies to adjacent ranchos. We wondered how old people and mothers with sick children could travel in such uncomfortable vehicles and not become distracted by their nerve-piercing noises. Then, like a bird-song, pleasanter scenes would steal in upon our musings, of gay horseback parties on their way to church feasts, or fandangos, preceded or followed by servants in charge of pack animals laden with luggage.
We rarely stayed awake long enough to say all we wished about the Spanish people. Their methods of travel, modes of dress, and fascinating manners were sources of never-ending discussion and interest.
We had seen princely dons of many leagues ride by in state; dashing caballeros resplendent in costumes of satin and velvet, on their way to sing beneath the windows of dark-eyed senoritas; and had stood close enough to the wearers of embroidered and lace-bedecked small clothes, to count the scallops which closed the seams of their outer garments, and to hear the faint tinkle of the tiny silver bells which dangled from them. We had feasted our eyes on magnificently robed senoras and senoritas; caught the scent of the roses twined in their hair, and the flash of jewels on their persons.
Such frequent object-lessons made the names and surroundings of those grandees easy to remember. Some lived leagues distant, some were near neighbors in that typical Mexican Pueblo of Sonoma, whose adobe walls and red-tiled roofs nestled close to the foot of the dimpled hills overlooking the valley from the north, and whose historic and romantic associations were connected with distinguished families who still called it home.
Foremost among the men was General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, by whom Sonoma was founded in 1834, upon ground which had twice been consecrated to Mission use. First by Padre Altemera, who had, in 1823, established there the church and mission building of San Francisco Solano. And four years later, after hostile Indians had destroyed the sacred structures, Padre Fortune, under protection of Presidio Golden Gate, blessed the ashes and rebuilt the church and the parochial houses named last on the list of the historic Missions of California.
The Vallejo home covered the largest plot of ground on the north side of the plaza, and its great house had a hospitable air, despite its lofty watchtower, begrimed by sentry holes, overlooking every part of the valley.