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What I Saw in California
by Edwin Bryant

    Part 1: Independence, Missouri, to the Green River (Chapters 1-9)
    Part 2: Hastings Cutoff to California (Chapters 10-19)
    Part 3: The Donner Party (Chapter 20)
    Part 4: In Northern California (Chapters 21-29)
    Part 5: To Southern California and Back (Chapters 30-38)


       Edwin Bryant, born near Pelham, Massachusetts in 1805, was the son of Ichabod and Silence Bryant and a cousin of the poet William Cullen Bryant. About 1830 Edwin arrived in Kentucky, where he was to spend most of the rest of his life, and began his career as a newspaper editor. In the ensuing years he worked on The Louisville Journal, The Lexington Intelligencer, and The Louisville Morning Courier, all Whig organs. Bryant became a well-known and popular member of the Lexington community and formed lasting friendship with Senator Henry Clay, one of the era's most influential political figures.
       On April 18,1846, Bryant left Louisville for California, rendezvousing with another Clay associate, William H. Russell, in Independence, Missouri, in early May. On the 11th of that month Col. Russell was elected captain of a large wagon train, which was increased on May 19 by the wagons of James F. Reed and George and Jacob Donner. Most of the emigrants who later became members of the Donner Party also traveled with this group.
       On July 2, 1846, after trading their wagons and teams for mules, Bryant, Russell, and seven other men set out by themselves to become the first emigrants to take Hastings Cutoff. The Bryant-Russell Party arrived at Sutter's Fort on September 1, well ahead of the other emigrants.
       Bryant spent the rest of 1846 and the first half of 1847 in California, traveling down to San Diego and back north to San Francisco, where he served briefly as alcalde. In June 1847 he joined Gen. Stephen W. Kearny's party and returned East. His diary of his travels, published in 1848 as What I Saw in California, became a best seller when news of the gold discovery had Americans scrambling for information about the overland journey and California. Bryant devoted a chapter to the Donner Party disaster and reprinted a lurid and inaccurate article from the California Star; the popularity of his book thus ensured the dissemination of sensational misinformation that plagued Donner Party survivors for years.
         After revisiting California in 1849, Bryant returned to Kentucky and settled down to a tranquil life in the literary community of the Pee Wee Valley in Oldham County. Royalties from his book sales and his investment in San Francisco real estate allowed him to live a life of leisure. Bryant made another brief visit to California in 1869, this time traveling by rail, but age and illness had taken their toll. He took his own life on December 16, 1869, leaping from the window of a Louisville hotel.

For more information about Bryant's life, see  Thomas D. Clark's "Edwin Bryant and the Opening of the Road to California," University of Wyoming Publications 37:3 (October 1971): 29-43, or Clark's introduction to the Bison Book reprint of What I Saw in California (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.)

What I Saw in California (full text)

Note: This transcription has been divided into five sections for ease of navigating. No guarantees are made as to its complete accuracy, so please let me know if you find any typographical errors or other problems.

Part 1: Independence, Missouri, to the Green River (Chapters 1-9)
    Part 2: Hastings Cutoff to California (Chapters 10-19)
    Part 3: The Donner Party (Chapter 20)
    Part 4: In Northern California (Chapters 21-29)
    Part 5: To Southern California and Back (Chapters 30-38)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Leave Louisville — Independence, Mo. — New-Mexican teamsters — Outfitting — Masonic celebration — Improbable rumors — Mormons — Indians — Marvellous stories.
Chapter 2.  Appearance of the country — Vexatious difficulties of starting — First camp — Violent thunder-storm — Four-footed tragedian — First view of the prairie — Soil — Flowers — Emigrant camp — Frontier family — Thunder-storm on the prairie — Lodgings on the frontier — More of the Mormons — Rainbow on the prairie Indian Creek — Place of organization — Straying of cattle and horses — Election on the prairies — Shawnee Indians.
Chapter 3.  Leave Indian Creek — "Catching up" — A corral — Droves of mules from New Mexico — Santa Fι traders returning — Dismal accounts of the journey — Leave the Santa Fι trail — Wild onions — Difficult crossings — Potawattomie Indian — Ex-governor Boggs and other emigrants come up — Reasons assigned for emigration — Solitude of the prairies — More Indians — First news of war with Mexico -- Signs of dissolution of the party — An adventure almost — Extreme heat — Sufferings of cattle ‘Division’ — Kansas River — A luxury in the wilderness — New-comers — Rumors of war confirmed.
Chapter 4.  Methodist Mission on the Kansas — Soldier Creek — Lustration — A ruined Indian town — A rose in the wilderness -- Another division — Kansas Indian towns — Ki-he-ga-wa-chuck-ee — Prairie potato — Mountain trappers — Beauty of scenery and fertility of soil — Vermilion Creek — Brilliant meteor — Big Blue River — Prairie-pea — Legislation on the prairies.
Chapter 5. Terrible storm — More Legislation — Alcove spring — Honey — A death and funeral — Boat — launch — Blue River Rover — Soil and scenery along the Blue — Fresh graves — Pawnee country — Quarrels in camp — Withdrawal Of the Oregon emigrants Indian hunters — Indian appetites — More fighting — Antelopes — False buffalo chase — Blacksmithing on the plains.
Chapter 6.  Sickness among the emigrants — Effects of travel and exposure upon the appearance and habits of our party — Method of travel — The Little Blue River — Change in the soil — A break — down — Platte River — Soil of the Platte bottom — Human bones — Buffalo bones — Post — offices — Islands of the Platte — Bois de Vache — Mackinaw boats — Prairie — dog town — Rocky Mountain hunters, and boatmen — The bluffs of the Platte — Immense fungi — First buffaloes — Men in search of a doctor — Disposition among emigrants to take large doses of medicine — Effects often fatal — Barbarous surgical operation — Distressing scene — Funeral — Wedding — Birth.
Chapter 7.  Country becomes more arid and sterile — Return party from Oregon — Herds of buffalo — Dead oxen — Chalybeate spring at the ford of the Platte — Killing buffaloes — Buffalo meat — Resignation of Colonel Russell and other officers — Determination to change our mode of travel — Ash Hollow — General post-office. — Grave opened by wolves — Chimney Rock in the distance — Court-House Rock — Foetid water and tainted atmosphere — Quicksands — Near view of Court-House Rock — A man in a fright — Near view of Chimney Rock — Scenery at Chimney Rock — Horse-trading — Furious storm — Scott’s Bluff — First view of Rocky Mountains — Horse Creek — Fort Bernard — Fort Laramie — Sioux Indians — Beauty of the Sioux women — Sioux Lodges.
Chapter 8.  Procession of the Sioux — Purchase of mules — Extreme high prices for coffee, sugar, tobacco, flour, etc. — Shooting-match with the Sioux Indians — A return party from California — Denunciation of the country by them — Resume the journey on pack-mules — Vexations of mule-packing — Canyon of the Platte — First appearance of wild sage — View of the Rocky Mountains — Another Oregon return party — Swarms of crickets — An extinct volcano — Green peas — A good supper — Frost in the mountains — Effects of earthquakes — Hunters and trappers: their numbers, habits, etc. — Celebration of the 4th of July — Gnats and mosquitoes — Joined by Mr. Buchanan — Alkaline lakes — Impure water, its effects — Sweet-water Mountains.
Chapter 9.  Independence Rock — Sweetwater River — Devil’s Gate — A solitary traveller — Distant view of Wind River Mountains — Chalky Lakes — Deleterious effects of milk — Sickness in emigrating parties — Another return party from California — Buffalo-chase — Mortality among the oxen of the emigrants — Wolves in chase of diseased oxen — South Pass of the Rocky Mountains — Pacific Springs — Last view of the Atlantic slope — Jacob’s Tower — Little Sandy River — Troublesome visitors — The Mirage — Big Sandy River — Greenwood’s Cutoff — Curious incident — Snake Indian hunting-party.
Chapter 10.  Green River — Terrific storm — Desolate scenery — Black’s Fork — Rainbow bluffs — Remarkable butte — Arrival at Fort Bridger — Messrs. Hastings and Hudspeth — Traders and trappers from Taos — Capt. Walker — Californian horses — Snow showers on the mountains — Resume our march by the new route via the Great Salt Lake — Cold weather — Ice in July — Bear River — Difficult passage through the mountains — Elephant statue.
Chapter 11.  More extreme cold weather — Ogden’s Hole — Utah Indians — Weber River — Canons — Indian visitors — Disgusting practice — Great fires in the mountains — First view of the great Salt Lake — Salmon-trout — Great Salt Lake — A sunset on the lake — Broke my thermometer — Indian chase — Warm sulphur springs — More Indian visitors — Indian fruit-cake — Grasshopper jam — Mode of taking grasshoppers by the Indians.
Chapter 12.  Utah Outlet and Lake — Enter the desert — Utah language — Col. Russell’s nine-shooter — Digger Indians — Utter sterility.
Chapter 13.  March over the great Salt Desert — Preparations — Singular illusion — Volcanic debris — Distant view of the great Salt Plain — Utter desolation — The mirage — Gigantic phantoms — Fata Morgana — Spectral army — Tempest on the Salt Plain — Clouds of salt — Instinct of mules — Mule-race — Excessive thirst — Arrival at oasis, and spring — Buchanan’s well.

Chapter 14.  The oasis — Anxiety respecting our animals — Prodigious tall grass — Deserted Indian huts — Old trail of lost wagons — Desert valley — Extinct volcanoes — Mountain spring — Elevated camp — Vast extent of the Salt Plain — Sublimity of scenery — Moonlight view — Sunrise — Indian picket or game-trap — Another oasis — Altercation — Extreme heat of the sun — Wells in the desert — More desert valleys — Stream of running water — View of Mary’s River, and valley — Indian signal-fires

Chapter 15.  Mary’s river Indians — Their fleetness — Mary’s river — Unexpected and singular meeting — Applegate’s exploring party from Oregon — Energy of the emigrant population on the Pacific — More Indian visitors — Large herds of antelopes — Flora of Mary’s river — A merry Indian — Indian fish-trap — Extensive boiling springs — Rain in the desert — Large body of Indian — Indian foot-race with our mules.

Chapter 16.  Refreshing rain — Dense smoky vapor — Scarcity of provisions — Horses giving out — Dismal journey — Soup of fresh-water shellfish — Agreeable meeting — Obtain a supply of provisions — Merry Digger Indian visitors — An Indian coil — Petrifactions — Sink of Mary’s river — Bitter waters — The desert between Mary’s and Truckee river — Toilsome march — Unexpected refreshment — Remarkable boiling springs.

Chapter 17.  Mirage Phantom cataract — Signs of water — Truckee river — Insanity produced by apprehension and excitement — Enter the California mountains — Mountain forests — Mountain valley — Truckee river Indians — Cold nights — Mountain lake — Origin of the name of Truckee river and lake — Scenery of the Sierra Nevada — Log-cabin erected by emigrants in distress — Mountain raspberry — Pass of the Sierra — Uber valley — Spring in August — An attack by hornets — Beautiful encampment — Human skull.
Chapter 18.  Bear Valley — Provisions exhausted — California quail — Manzanita — The pine-nut — Deep hollow — Evergreen oak — First view of the Sacramento Valley — A body of California Indians — Live-oak acorns — Arrive at Johnson’s — Indian dandy — Cheering and astonishing news from Mexico — Obtain food — A Californian newspaper.
Chapter 19.  Soil of Johnson’s rancho — His crops — Price of flour — Soil of the Sacramento valley — Sinclair’s rancho — A white woman — Sutter’s Fort — New Helvetia — Interview with Captain Sutter — Reflections upon our journey — Table of distances from Independence to San Francisco.
Chapter 20.  [The emigration of 1846 and the Donner Party]
Chapter 21. California Indians — Captain Sutter — Difficulties in making his first settlement in California — Laboring Indians — Propensity for gambling — Captain Sutter’s coin — Account of their games — Food of the Indians — Captain Sutter’s wheat crops in 1846 — Scarcity of flouring-mills — Waterpower — Hemp — Dine with Captain Sutter; description of the dinner — Oppressive impost-duties of the Mexican government — Indian rancherias — Indian orgies — Sacramento river — Salmon — New Helvetia — Indian sweat-house — Reported Indian invasion by the Walla-Wallas — Description of the Walla-Wallas.
Chapter 22. Geographical sketch of California — Its political and social institutions — Colorado River — Valley and river of San Joaquin — Former Government — Presidios — Missions — Ports and commerce.

Chapter 23. Sketch of the Bear revolution, and first conquest of California by the American troops — Capture of Lieut. De Arce — Capture of Sonoma, by Capt. Merritt and party, on the 14th of July — Proclamation of William B. Ide — Barbarous and brutal murder of Cowie and Fowler — Fourfingered Jack — Capt. Ford’s engagement with the Californians; defeat of the latter — Flight of De La Torre — Proclamations of Castro — Capt. Fremont joins the revolutionists at Sonoma, on the 25th of July — Commodore Sloat’s arrival in California — Raising of the U. S. flag at Monterey, San Francisco, Sonoma, and other places — Proclamation of Com. Sloat — Capt. Fremont occupies San Juan — Castro retreats to the south — Los Angeles captured by Com. Stockton — Com. Stockton’s proclamation.

Chapter 24. Resume my travels — Leave New Helvetia for San Francisco — Cosηumne River — Mickιlemes River — Ford of the San Joaquin — Extensive plain — Tule marshes — Large droves of wild horses and elk — Arrive at Dr. Marsh’s — Vineyard — Californian grape — Californian wine — Aguardiιnte — Mormon settlements on the San Joaquin — Californian beef — Cattle — Grasses of California — Horses — Breakfast — Leave Dr. Marsh’s — Arrive at Mr. Livermore’s — Comforts of his dwelling — Large herds of cattle — Sheep — Swine — Californian senora — Slaughtering of a bullock — Fossil oyster-shells — Skeleton of a whale on a high mountain — Arrive at mission of San Josι — Ruinous and desolate appearance of the mission — Pedlars — Landlady — Filth — Gardens of the mission — Fruit orchards — Empty warehouses and workshops — Foul lodgings.
Chapter 25. Armies of fleas — Leave the mission — Clover — Wild mustard — A carreta — Family travelling — Arrive at Pueblo de San Josι — Capt. Fisher — Description of the Pueblo — The embarcadero — Beautiful and fertile valley of the Pueblo — Absence of architectural taste in California — Town squirrels — Fruit garden — Grapes — Tropical fruits — Gaming-rooms — Contrast between Californian and American gamesters — Leave San Josι — Beautiful avenue — Mission of Santa Clara — Rich but neglected lands — Effects of a bad government — A senora on the road-side — Kindness of Californian women — Fast riding — Cruel treatment of horses — Arrive at the mission of San Francisco — A poor but hospitable family — Arrive at the town of San Francisco — W. A Leidesdorff, Esq., American vice-consul — First view of the bay of San Francisco — Muchachos and Muchachas — Capt. Montgomery — U. S. sloop-of-war, Portsmouth — Town of San Francisco; its situation, appearance, population — Commerce of California — Extortion of the government and traders.
Chapter 26.  Climate of San Francisco — Periodical winds — Dine on board the Portsmouth — A supper party on shore — Arrival of Commodore Stockton at San Francisco — Rumours of rebellion from the south — Californian court — Trial by jury — Fandango — Californian belles — American pioneers of the Pacific — Reception of Commodore Stockton — Sitca — Captain Fremont leaves San Francisco for the south — Offer our services as volunteers.
Chapter 27.  Leave San Francisco for Sonoma — Sonoma creek — "Bear men." — Islands in the bay — Liberality of "Uncle Sam" to sailors — Sonoma — Beautiful country — General Vallιjo — Senora Vallιjo — Thomas O. Larkin, U.S. Consul — Signs of rain — The seasons in California — More warlike rumours from the south — Mission of San Rafael — An Irish ranchero — Sausolito — Return to San Francisco — Meet Lippincott — Discomfort of Californian houses.
Chapter 28.  Boat trip up the bay and the Sacramento to New Helvetia — An appeal to the alcalde — Kanackas — Straits of San Pueblo and Pedro — Straits of Carquinez — Town of Francisca — Feather-beds furnished by nature — Mouth of the Sacramento — Islands — Delaware Tom — A man who has forgotten his mother tongue — Salmon of the Sacramento — Indian fishermen — Arrive at New Helvetia.
Chapter 29.  Disastrous news from the south — Return of Colonel Fremont to Monterey — Call for volunteers — Volunteer our services — Leave New Helvetia — Swimming the Sacramento — First fall of rain — Beautiful and romantic valley — Precipitous mountains — Deserted house — Arable land of California — Fattening qualities of the acorn — Lost in the Coast Mountains — Strange Indians — Indian women gathering grass-seed for bread — Indian guide — Laguna — Rough dialogue — Hunters’ camp — "Old Greenwood" — Grisly bear meat — Greenwood’s account himself — His opinion of the Indians and Spaniards — Retrace our steps — Severe storm — Nappa valley — Arrive at Sonoma — More rain — Arrive at San Francisco — Return to New Helvetia.
Chapter 30.  Leave New Helvetia — Pleasant weather — Meet Indian volunteers — Tule-boats — Engagement between a party of Americans and Californians — Death of Capt. Burroughs and Capt. Foster — Capture of Thomas O. Larkin — Reconnaissance — San Juan Bautista — Neglect of the dead — Large herds of Cattle — Join Col. Fremont.
Chapter 31.  California battalion — Their appearance and costume List of officers — Commence our march to Los Angeles — Appearance of the country in the vicinity of San Juan — Slaughter of beeves — Astonishing consumption of beef by the men — Beautiful morning — Ice — Salinas river and valley — Californian prisoners — Horses giving out from fatigue — Mission of San Miguel — Sheep — Mutton — March on foot — More prisoners taken — Death of Mr. Stanley — An execution — Dark night — Capture of the mission of San Luis Obispo — Orderly conduct and good deportment of the California battalion.
Chapter 32.  Tremendous rain — Mission of San Luis Obispo — Gardens — Various fruits — Farm — Cactus tuna — Calinche — Pumpkins — Trial of Tortoria Pico — Procession of women — Pico’s pardon — Leave San Luis — Surf of the Pacific — Captain Dana — Tempestuous night — Mission of St. Ynes — Effects of drought — Horses exhausted — St. Ynes Mountain — View of the plain of Santa Barbara and the Pacific — A wretched Christmas-day — Descent of St. Ynes Mountain — Terrible storm — Frightful destruction of horses — Dark night What we are fighting for — Arrive at Santa Barbara — Town deserted.
Chapter 33.  Santa Barbara — Picturesque situation — Fertility of the country — Climate — Population — Society — Leave Santa Barbara — Rincon — Grampus — Mission of St. Buenaventura — Fine gardens — Meet a party of mounted Californians — They retreat before us — Abundance of maize — Arrival of couriers from Com. Stockton — Effects of war upon the country — More of the enemy in sight — News of the capture of Los Angeles, by Gen. Kearny and Com. Stockton — Mission of San Fernando — The Maguey — Capitulation of the Californians — Arrive at Los Angeles — General reflections upon the march — Meet with old acquaintances.
Chapter 34.  Military operations of General Kearny and Commodore Stockton — Their reports to the Secretaries of War and Navy — Battles of San Pasqual and San Gabriel.
Chapter 35.  City of Angels — Gardens — Vineyards — Produce of the vine in California — General products of the country — Reputed personal charms of the females of Los Angeles — San Diego — Gold and quicksilver mines — Lower California — Bituminous springs — Wines — A Kentuckian among the angels — Missions of San Gabriel and San Luis Rey — Gen. Kearny and Com. Stockton leave for San Diego — Col. Fremont appointed Governor of California by Com. Stockton — Com. Shubrick’s arrival — Insurrection in the northern part of California suppressed — Arrival of Col. Cooke at San Diego.
Chapter 36.  Leave Los Angeles for San Francisco — Don Andres Pico — A Californian returning from the wars — Domestic life at a rancho — Women in favour of peace — Hospitable treatment — Fandango — Singular custom — Arrive at Santa Barbara — Lost in a fog — Valley of the Salinas — Californians wanting Yankee wives — High waters — Arrive at San Francisco.
Chapter 37.  Progress of the town of San Francisco — Capt. Dupont Gen. Kearny — The presidio — Appointed Alcalde — Gen. Kearny’s proclamation — Arrival of Col. Stevenson’s regiment — Horse-thief Indians — Administration of justice in California — Sale of lots in San Francisco.
Chapter 38.  First settlement of the missionaries — Population — Characteristics of white population — Employments — Pleasures and amusements — Position of women — Soil — Grasses — Vegetable productions — Agriculture — Fruits — Cattle — Horses — Wild animals — Minerals — Climate — Flora — Water-power — Timber — Religion.

What I Saw in California: 
Part 1: Independence, Missouri, to the Green River
Part 2: Hastings Cutoff to California
Part 3: The Donner Party
Part 4: In Northern California
Part 5: To Southern California and Back

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