Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Correspondence

As reported in the Daily Alta California, 6 November 1958

LETTER FROM OUR SPECIAL OVERLAND CORRESPONDENT

[We commence the publication of the first letters received from our Special Overland Correspondent,  Mr. J. M. Farwell. It will be seen that he refers to a former letter, written from Los Angeles but which has failed to come to hand.—Eds. Alta.]

 Fort Yuma, Oct. 21st, 1858.

 ON THE ROAD.

From Los Angeles, on the same morning my last was dated, we came to Thompson’s rancho, (or Monte, 14 miles,) the next station. This rancho is situated in a beautiful valley, extending to the south and eastward, carpeted with its spring verdure. We were dragged along at almost railroad speed, and although the road was a perfectly level one, I was sometimes a little apprehensive of serious consequences.  This unbroken plain, or valley, continued until we had passed the San Jose rancho, 11miles farther, and on to the Rancho del Chino, 18 miles, all of which are way stations. Here is a very fine vineyard, containing several kinds of fruit, with abundance of grapes. We were soon on the road again,’ and at about 3 o’clock changed horses at Temascal, 21miles, and on to La Laguna, 16 miles, the latter over a rolling and somewhat hilly country, but fair road.  Here is a very beautiful little lake, some two miles long, and one in breadth. The road runs along by the lake beach, after leaving the station by which we came, about two miles. We arrived at Temecula, 21 miles, soon after dark.  At this place we procured a good supper, and were soon on the road again. The road, after leaving Temecula, is in many places very bad, and in this instance, the difficulty of traveling was somewhat aggravated by the misfortune that the driver who took us over it, had never been on this portion of it before. This was owing to the non-arrival of the eastern mail, which was overdue, and in consequence, the mail had to be earned on to meet it. The driver was very careful, and brought us through safely, though we were obliged several times during the night to get out of the coach to avoid the bad places. These places might soon be remedied, and I presume will be, as soon as they can be attended to. At about 12 o’clock, AM., we came to the next station, called Awander, (an Indian name) and from this place were until about 4 o’clock, A.M., in going 9 miles further, to Oak Grove, the road being still very rough. We then started for the Buena Vista, or Warner Rancho, 12 miles over a hilly country, one of which was very high and long, but having now met the regular driver over this portion of the route, he took us over it at good speed, and in safety. At about 8 o’clock A.M., we arrived at San Felipe. Here another driver took us, and here may be said commence.

 THE DESERT

The road which had for some time past gradually been rising, after some distance again commences descending, when we entered a narrow gorge, just wide enough for one wagon to pass the rock or ledge, on either side rising to a height of from 50 to 100 feet. It would seem as though nature had intended this for a highway, as it is the only place through this range of hills where a carriage could pass, or even a single animal. This pass is called the Devil’s Canon, is some four miles in length, and on opening into the valley intersected by the San Diego trail, over which the mail is carried to and from that place. 

Vallecita, 18 miles distant from the last station, is situated in the midst of a barren plain and mountains. It is a perfect oasis, containing plenty of grass and water, the latter being strongly impregnated with sulphur. This place we left about 3 o’clock, and arrived at Palm Springs about P. M., 9 miles. The road very sandy and heavy. This place takes its name from a species of palm trees which formerly grew here, and which within a few years were standing, as I saw the trunks as they lay upon the ground, and the stumps from which they were cut. The hills are within a short distance, and have the appearance of being suddenly broken off, leaving a square but furrowed front. It was bright moonlight while we remained here, and the beauty and singularity of the scene will not soon fade from my memory. I was not long permitted to enjoy this, for the coach was ready and we were off again. About 9 miles further we came to Carisa or Cane Creek. Here we found the water still more sulphurous in its taste. We were, however, obliged to fill some bottles with it for our own use, though the driver carries a supply, and so long as it lasts passengers are allowed free use of it. As the trip we now had to make was 32 miles in extent, we thought our course the proper one.

 THE INDIAN WELLS.

We left about half-past ten o’clock, P. M., and arrived at the Indian wells about five o’clock, A. M., 32 miles. There were formerly two wells here containing pretty good water, at least better than that last procured. Some few weeks since, a drove of cattle which had been driven over the plains, and which had become furious for the want of water, on approaching these wells, and smelling the water, rushed desperately to the brink, and though the leaders stopped, they were pushed in by those hindmost, and some twenty had been drowned. There being no means at hand to raise them out, this one was rendered useless, and subsequently, in a violent tempest, it was entirely tilled up. The other is fortunately sufficient for all purposes.

 A STORM ON THE DESERT

This storm referred to occurred some few days since, and in it two of the drivers, who had started from the station with the mails, on horseback, were so blinded by the effects of the sand, which was blown in their eyes, that they became separated and lost. They were not heard of for two days, when one came into the station in an exhausted state. The other succeeded in killing a bullock, which had been left on the desert, and drank his blood, which sustained him until the third day when he was found. It is said that his eyes glared wildly, and he bore the appearance of a maniac. He is now well again, and at his business. These tempests are said to be very rare.

 ARRIVAL AT ST. ALAMO

At St. Alamo, the next station, we arrived at 11-2 o’clock, and were detained an hour or more. Here I learned from an Indian Chief of the Jocomba tribe, and an intelligent white man who has traversed these sands and mountains for many years, some curious facts, as they allege, in relation to the former condition of this desert.

THE DESERT AS IT WAS ONCE

The Chief says, that not many years since, and during his lifetime, the now barren plains were rich and fertile valleys. That he himself has planted and raised between this and the last station fine crops of vegetables, grapes and other fruits. This statement is corroborated by the white man above referred to, who says that he himself has seen the spot of ground spoken of, which has the appearance of having been tilled. He also says, that at present, near the foot of the mountains in the distance, the Indians of the Jocomba and Gaginga tribes still have fine gardens and vineyards, which they cultivate in luxuriant valleys, but the latter is small.  The Indians say that violent earthquakes have produced the present desert. This is again corroborated by the white, who says about five years since an alarming earthquake occurred, which it will be remembered by some was spoken of by the papers – when smoke was seen issuing from crevices in the earth, and the effects of which are visible at this day. The rains fall here at intervals very heavily, and fill the stream beds; these within two hours will be entirely dry, every vestige of water having entirely disappeared.

 THE GOLD MINES ON THE COLORADO

From Alamo we came to Cooksville, 26 miles, and thence to Pilot Knob, on the right bank of the Colorado, 9 miles from the last station and the same distance below Fort Yuma, where we now are, and waiting for the ferry to take us across the river. The road agent here has given me much information relative to the mines 17 miles from this place, in Arizona, on the other side of the river. Parties come in here frequently with small amounts of gold to sell.  As high as $40 to the hand per day has been taken out. We shall pass immediately through the diggings, and I shall endeavor to write further concerning them at some other point. At this place I have procured the first “square” meal since leaving Temecula.  Mr. J. L. Jaeger keeps a very good establishment here for the accommodation of travelers, and I recommend him to thus who may to en mutt for this place. One may obtain all supplies needed between here and the settlements at the east; but the less said about the price to be paid the better.

The boat is ready, and I must leave for the other bank of the river.

J, M.F.

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Published in: on May 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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