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Title: Bill Williamson, California to Jack Williamson of Armagh.
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileWilliamson, William/30
SenderWilliamson, William
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginCalifornia, USA
DestinationRichhill, Co. Armagh, N.Ireland
RecipientWilliamson, John
Recipient Gendermale
SourceDonated by A. Williamson, 180 Mountsandel Road, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry.
ArchiveThe Ulster American Folk Park.
Doc. No.9311092
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogAction By Date Document added by C. McK. 05:11:199
Word Count3015
TranscriptCopies of original Letters from Williamson Family of Armagh
and California.
Donated by A. Williamson,
180 Mountsandel Road
Co. Londonderry.

NOVEMBER 26th. 1856.

Dear John,
The long promised letter is at last commemced, and I
have got poor Pen, poor Ink and poor Paper, so you must not
expect anything of a flourish, but I intend to give you the
best I have got and just as it comes in my head.
I believe I promised in my last short letter that I
would give you a History of my ups and downs since I left
Bonus 1850, therefore I will commence by saying that George
Sands, Oliver May and I left Bonus on the 19th. March 1850
for California. Our fitout consisted of 5 good Horses, one
Wagon, one Tent, plenty of Bedding, 350 lbs. of Hard Bread,
180 lbs. Ham, 14 lbs.Tea, 14 lbs. Tobacco, 100 lbs. Flour,
some Sugar, 50 lbs. Dried Beef, some Dried Apples and a few
other traps. We arrived at the Missouri River and crossed it
on the 21st of April at a place called Saint Joseph. This
was the last White Settlement, so we bought some few things
which we stood in need of, and started on the Plains the 22nd
April. There were in our Company 10 Wagons, about 42 Horses
and 31 men. We travelled along for 4 or 5 days without seeing
any Indians or anything of consequence. The country so far
was what might be called a Hilly Prairie. The food was poor,
but as we had taken on 50 bushels of Oats at Saint Joseph our
Horses faired [fared?] well. We drove 4 horses in the Wagon,
and rode the other one alternatively. On the evening of the
5th day we overtook a large Company from Ohio, commanded by a
Mr. Garritt who had been across the Plains the year previous.
We proposed joining his train as we supposed his experience
would assist us. We were accepted and the next morning we
all started in company, making in all 44 Wagons and about 130
or 140 men. We all felt first rate about this move, as there
were so many of us that we did not fear of being much
disturbed by the Indians. At night the wagons were formed
in a large circle, the horses were tethered (aint that Irish)
outside of this circle until dark and then driven into it,
and a guard of 4 men placed over them, when we all turned in
and went to sleep and dreaming of the big chunk we would take

out when we got to California. At sunrise in the morning we
would have breakfast, consisting of Hard Bread, Tea and Ham.
We would then harness up and start. We found Captain
Garritts company were principally Lawyers, Doctors,
ShopKeepers, Tailors, Shoemakers and Carpenters, and that
they were very poorly calculated to drive or take care of
Teams. In places for instance, where it was prudent to drive
a Team slow they would trot them through and then again they
would drive slow where it was not necessary. This kind of
driving did not suit us at all, our Team was our main
dependence and we were bound to see it get good treatment
and good driving. Another serious objection, when we would
come to a place where it was necessary to lock the Wagon, it
took too long for us, for those who were on the last section
of the train would be detained 20 or 30 minutes longer than
they should be. Finally we arrived at Fort Kearny about 320
miles from the Frontier, and all hands concluded to stop and
rest their Teams. We washed our Shirts, shaved and wrote
home to our Wives and then held a consultation as to the
propriety of dividing up the train. This appeared to be the
unanimous consent of all, to [so?] our old party of 10 Wagons
and 31 men started afresh from Fort Kearny on the 3rd. of May
We travelled along up the South side of the River Platte,
which is a wide muddy river with a Quick sand bottom about
half a mile wide, and at this season of the year very
shallow. We crossed the Platte about 120 miles about
[above?] Fort Kearny. It was gullied out in deep holes here
and there caused by the current. The only danger there is in
crossing this stream is this, if your Wagon is loaded very
heavy you have to drive on, for if you stop the current will
keep washing the sand away from the Wagon wheels and the
Wagon would sink perhaps an inch every minute. We drove on
about 15 miles and camped on the north fork of the Platte.
Here we found a party of about 500 Indians. They were of the
Sioux Tribe, and very friendly. They are the largest set of
men I have ever seen, they will average as large as Billy
Anderson or Big Jemmy. The boys made them some presents of
Tobacco, Hard Bread and such things, and we left in the
morning. We now began to see some Buffaloes, but did not
succeed in killing any for some time. We kept a very strict
guard on our Horses at night, for we could hear of horses
being stolen almost every night. There was nothing
transpired of any consequence for some time. We all had good
health and felt first rate. We finally arrived at Fort
Laramie, another Fort belonging to the United States, with
perhaps 200 Soldiers. We camped about a mile from the Fort
and rested a day and a half. The second morning, just as day

was breaking, our horses gave a snort and started towards the
fort. There were 2 men on guard at the time, and they
declared they could not see anything. We all hurried out of
our Tents, each one with his gun in his hand. Our first
thought was that the Indians were coming, but as we could not
see any Indians we started after our horses. We found them
at the Fort, and then for the first time learned that it was
no unusual thing for horses and oxen to run away on the
Plains, and that they get frightened in some way that no one
can account for. I have conversed with men in California who
say that their Oxen have run some 18 miles in one night, and
at a time when they were very poor and apparently jaded out.
Others have had their Teams start in the day time and the
only way to stop them was to lock the hind wheels and tie
them down the best way they could. Well we left Fort Laramie
on the 21st. May, and our Teams were in very good order and
appeared to stand the trip first rate. We travelled up the
North Fork of the Platte in 9 days and paid 5 dollars for
being ferried across it. The stream was about 20 yards wide.
We went on about 2 days, and struck a stream called Sweet
Water. The water was not so sweet as we expected for there
was a good deal of Alkali mixed with it, and here we began to
see some of the effects of it, for we could find a dead
horse or ox almost every half hour, which had died in 1849.
Our ham was about given out, or rather we had eaten it up,
and we got an opportunity of buying some for 22 cents per lb.
We thought that was very dear, but we were determined not to
starve as long as we could buy. We were obliged to keep a
very strict watch on our horses for fear they would get
alkalied. On leaving the Sweet Water we commenced the ascent
of the last side of the Rocky Mountains, and had it not been
for information we received from those who had travelled the
road in 1849 we would not have known when we got to the
summit. We crossed through the South Pass, or summit on the
3rd June. That day we travelled over a Bank of snow perhaps
a mile long and from one to twelve feet deep, and in going a
mile I counted the carcasses of 84 dead oxen, horses and
mules, and all along the road from here until we got to
California. We were scarce out of sight of the carcass of
some animal which had either died in 49 or 50, and the smell
arising from them made travelling disagreeable sometimes. On
the 4th of June we arrived at the Junction of the Salt Lake
road. Some of our Company wished to go to Salt Lake for the
purpose of swapping their horses to the Mormons for mules and
oxen, and we and some others took the North Road or, what is
called Sublitts cut off. There were now 5 wagons and 15 or
16 men, and we started again and on the 5th June crossed a

Desert of 45 miles. We started on the Desert about 3 o'clock
in the afternoon and travelled all night and came to a River
called Green River about 9 o'clock the next morning. We
rested our horses here until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We
noticed that the river was rising very fast and we saw some
Trappers and Hunters who said there had been a very heavy
rain storm the day before up North, and that we had better
get across as soon as we could. Well we raised our Wagon
Boxes up as high as the stakes and tied them there and
started. The stream was deep, so as to swim a common sized
horse and it ran rapid and was very dangerous. Our lead
horses were tall and it was well for us they were, for they
could just manage to get across and haul the others and the
Wagon after them. This was the worst place we had on the
Plains and I would not cross it again for a good deal. There
were 5 men got drowned the day before we crossed and 2 the
day afterwards. We pushed along 2 or 3 days and some of our
Company quarrelled about some trifling thing, and some split
up one Wagon coming with us and the rest stopped behind. We
now had 2 wagons and 6 men and we got along first rate, only
it was hard standing guard over our horses with so few men.
We kept together for six weeks and during that time I stood
guard every second night from 12 o'clock until sunrise, and
if there is anything that will wear a man down it is standing
guard at nights and walking 23 or 30 miles a day and then
cooking his supper, breakfast and dinner to boot. We passed
a good many warm springs, sulphuric springs and soda springs,
and every day we would see where some had left their wagons
and made pack saddles and packed from there to California or
as far as their horses could go. Others would quarrel and
cut up their wagons and make carts of them. They would drive
so fast after they got their carts that they would run their
horses down in a week or 10 days, and they would leave their
carts and pack. In this way Captain Garritts Company acted,
and out of upwards of 30 wagons that left the Missouri river
only 3 got into California. At length we struck the Humboldt
River and here we expected to find good grass and good water,
but were sorely disappointed for there never was a worse
stream in the world. We travelled down the Humboldt about
300 miles and came to where it sinks into the earth. It is
quite a large stream as big as the Kiskwaukie, and is about
350 miles long, and runs down into a big sandy desert, and
sinks into the earth. The Humboldt was very high, the feed
very poor, and I have swam across it 14 times in one
evening getting grass for our horses. We usually took off
our Wagon box which was water tight and used it as a boat at
times when it was necessary to cross for food, but I tell you

Jack I promised the Lord that if he would see me safe
into California that I would never trouble him on the
Humboldt River again and I don't think I will. When we got
to the Sink we found a first rate meadow, plenty of grass and
as we had the long dreaded Desert to cross we stopped and
cut a lot of hay with our butcher knives, for we had no
scythe and gave our horses a good feed and rest and took
about 200 lbs of hay on our wagon and a 10 gallon keg of
water and started on the Desert at 5 o'clock in the morning
of the 9th July. We found the first 30 miles of the Desert a
first rate road and the other 10 miles just as mean as heavy
sandy a road as I ever want to travel. The dead animals on
the road were awful. It was said that in the fall of that
year there was enough of dead animals on the desert so that
were they laid side by side a person could walk across and
not touch ground. I got along first rate, some of our
Company were tired and thirsty when they got across, but we
found first rate water and grass for our horses and that was
the main thing. We found a very small wagon on the Desert
which had been deserted and as our load was very light we
left ours and took it. This helped us a good deal. We had not
300 lbs. in all, and it was folly to dray a heavy Wagon for
nothing. Our provisions were getting pretty scarce and there
was an awful deal of suffering on the road for the want of
provisions. I have seen men go up to a dead horse or mule
and cut a piece out of his ham, roast it and eat it with as
much relish as ever I did eat Dave Barn's pork. I have seen
5 dollars offered for a small load of bread and men going
along crying for something to eat and it was no uncommon
thing for us to drive by where a party had camped the night
before and find a horse or mules bones scraped clean and very
often a party of these hungry men would come up to a wagon
and force the owner to give them some bread. The suffering
in 1850 was truly awful, and it is useless for me to try to
write half of it, but if I was by your side and had a good
hearty smoke I could spin you a long yarn about crossing the
Plains. We finally got into Hangtown in California on the
20th. July. Our horses were rather thin in flesh and so
were we, but we had made the trip in 88 days and out of that
time had rested about 15 days during the time which would
make our average travelling 29 miles a day, for the distance
from the Missouri river to California is about 2150 miles, so
you must call that pretty good travelling, and also recollect
the last 1500 miles our horses did not have any oats or feed
of any kind only what they could pick up and often very often
that was poor, but they faired [fared?] much better than they
would if they had belonged to some Doctor or Lawyer or any other

Town Pups, for there was no time but what we were all willing to
turn out and get our horses something if we had to go without
ourselves. We brought them into Hangtown and bought 100 lbs.
of hay at 10 cents per lb. and sold them the same day 2 for
100 dollars each, one for 50 dollars and the others we gave
away. That night I slept sound. I was in California. I had
seen some Gold, I had seen the mines, and I felt that in one
year or two I would have enough to keep me and my family
comfortable for life. How I made it I will tell you in
another letter, for be it known to you if I live I intend to
write you again and tell you a part of what I have seen and
done in California, but John, I am doing wrong to promise for
there is nothing I hate so bad as to sit down and write a
letter. Its so long since I have written any to speak of,
and I have been working with the pick and shovel that my
hands have got out of way of writing. I have scratched this
down without any pains. I know you can read it, and that
enough. James has got part of a letter written to you which
will explain to you where we are and what we are doing. I
received a letter from you last week. Jim got one same time
and a Paper. I also got one from my dear Mother. This is
something I did not look for. I had looked for one for a
year and finally concluded she would not write, but John I am
glad to say that I have a Mother yet, and I hope God will
bless her as long as she lives and when she dies I hope she
will find a resting place in Heaven, for I think if there is
a good Woman in the world my Mother is that Woman.
I am glad to learn you are all well and its the same
here. Artemisia and Jim join me in kind love to you and your
wife and believe me,
Your affectionate Brother,
(Signed) Bill Williamson.

December 30th 1856.
To be continued sometime Jack. I am going to take a smoke
in peace.