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Second Relief Diary
of James F. Reed

James F. Reed kept this diary of the Second Relief expedition which he led in February and March 1847. His companions included Charles L. Cady, Nicholas Clark, Matthew Dofar, Patrick H. Dunn, Joseph Gendreau, Brittain Greenwood, William McCutchen, Hiram Owens Miller, Charles Stone, John Turner, and perhaps Joseph Verrot. Some of Reed's entries were written afterwards, as they contain information acquired from others after the events described. The diary was written in pencil, and some parts are smudged and hard to make out. The original document is held by Sutter's Fort, with whose permission it is published here.
Feby 7 1847
Sund left Francisco1 half past one o’clock
Mo 8 on Sunday in a Launch for Sonoma and arrived on Tuesday morning.
Tus 9 Remained at Sonoma today got from Lieut. Maurey [William L. Maury] every assistance required and ten govrment horses 4 saddles & Bridles.
10 Weds. left this morning for Nappa with 5 men for the Mountains. 18 [miles]
11 Remained at Mr. George Yonts on acct of Greenwood   here I engaged three men more and brought Two horses.
12 Frd left Nappa and arrvd at Mr. Childs [Joseph Chiles] where I brought 1 horse & 1 mule also (?) 2 waggon covers for Tents. 12 [miles]
13 Sat this day very Rough road we encamped near Berrissas [Berryessa’s] 9 [miles]
14 Sun left and had as usual a bad road encamped about 15 miles west of Mr. [William] Gordons up Cach River. 15 [miles]
15 Mo had a good Road and encamped about 1 o’clock opposit Mr. Gordons on account of high water [on Cach River?] 15 [miles]
16 Tues Crossed Cach river water up to th backs of our horses I went to Wm. Gordons and bought 5 horses, returned to the men and traveled about 4 miles. 4 [miles]
17 Wed left Camp early I left the Caravan and went ahead to Mr. Nights [William Knight’s] where I found the water was high in the Sacramento and the Sliews swimming left here and proceeded to Mr. [Thomas M.] Hardys at the mouth of Feather river where we encamped for the night the boys Shot Two elk out of a band of about 100 – here I hoped to meet our spplies (?) with Comdr Woodworth in a Launch sent from Yerba buena, but unfortunately the head winds prevented his arrival F Riv was our [place?] of rendezvous 24 [miles]
18 Thur We broke camp this morning intending to cross the Sacramento at the mouth of Feather River in Skin Boats, for which purpose I intended to use elk hides, we were relieved the trouble in the morning by Mr. McCoon who had his Launch at Mr. Hardy’s, and kindly offered her to cross our Bagage when I found our Supplies had not arrived I crossed my horse and proceeded to Mr. Johnsons, 25 miles distant for the purpose of having prepared flour and Beef. 25 [miles]
19 Frd I was at Mr. Johnsons today the boys had not arrived being detained in crossing on acct of the high winds which arose when I landed on the East side
20 Still at Mr. Johnsons preparing Beef by drying and keeping his Indians at work Night & Day [Grinding] in a small hand mill
Sunday 21 this morning the men arrived with out any accident excepting one horse that run back I got him from Mr. Combs at Mr. Gordons. I kept fire under the Beef all night which I had on the Scaffold and next morning by sun rise I had about 200 lbs dryed and baged we packed our horses and started with the addition of 5 men and one Indian, our supplies 700 lbs flour including what Greenwood had dried Sunday 4 1/2 Beeves 25 horses in all 17 men in my party and Mr. Greenwood had 2 men 3 men including himself -& 2 boys traveled this days about 10 miles
23 Tues left camp early this morning and packed today and encamped early on acct grass tomorrow we will reach the snow 20 [miles]
24 Weds encamped at the Mule Spring this evening mad preparations to take the snow in the morning here we left at camp our saddles Bridles etc 15 [miles]
25 Thus started with 11 horses & mules lightly packed about 80 lbs. traveled about 2 miles and left one Mule, and pack, made this day with hard labour for the horses, in the snow made only about 6 miles   Our start was late
26 Frid  left our encampment early thinking the snow would bare the horses. proceeded 200 yard with difficulty when we were Compelled to unpack the horses and take the provision on out backs here for a few minutes there was silence with the men when the packs were ready to sling on the back when the hilarity commenced as usual Made the head of Bear Valley a distance of 15 miles we met in the valley about 3 miles below the camp Messrs Glover & Road belonging to the party that went to the lake for the people who Informed me they had started with 21 persons 2 of whom had died John Denton of Springfield Ils & a child of Keesberger left   Mr. Glover Sent 2 men back to the party with fresh provisions they men ware in a Starving Condition and all nearly five out   I here lightened our packs with suficiency of provisions to do 28 the people when (they should?) arrive, and started a man back on evening of 27 to bring more by tomorrow
& 27 Sat I Sent back to our camp of the 26 2 men to bring provision for the people they will return tomorrow and left one man to prepare for the people which ware expected today and I left Camp early on a fine hard snow and proceeded about 4 miles when we met the poor unfortunate Starved people, as I met them Scattered along the snow trail I distributed Sweetbread that I had backed the 2 nights previous I give in small quantities, here I met my own wife Mrs. Reed and two of my little children [Virginia and James] two [Patty and Tommy] still in the mountains, I cannot describe the unfortunate death like look of them they all had Bread Bread Bread Bread was the beging of every child and grown person except my wife I give to all what I dared and left for the scene of desolation and now I am Camped within 25 miles which I hope to mak this night and tomorrow we had to camp soon on account of the softness of the snow, the men falling in to their middles. Two of the party one man and one Child did since the party left One of the party that passed us today a little boy Mrs. Murphy’s son was nearly blind, when we met them. they ware overjoyed when we told them there was plenty of provisions at camp I made a cach 12 miles and 15 miles encamped 3 m eastward on Juba, snow about 5 feet.
28 Sund and 29 Mond left camp about 12 o’clock at night and was compl to camp about 2 o’clock, the snow Still being soft. left again about 4 all hands and made this day 14 miles in camp early snow soft. Snow her 30 feet 3 of my men Cady, Clark & Stone I told if they wished the might kept on during the night which they intended but halted within 2 miles of the cabins and remained without fire during the night on acct of 10 Indians which they saw the boys not having arms and supposed they had taken the cabins and destroyed the people in the morning they started all ware and arrived all alive in the houses give provisions to two Keesbergrs, Brinn, Graves and then two two then left for Donners a distance of ten miles which they made by the middle of the day I came up with the Main body of my party Informed (?) the people that all who ware able Should have to Start day after tomorrow made soup for the infirm washed and clothed afresh Mrs Eddy & Fosters children [James Eddy and George Foster] and rendered evry assistance in our power I left with Keesbergs people Mr. Stone to cook and watch the eating of Mrs Murphy Keesberge & 3 children
Tus March 1st left early this morning with 3 of the men and went to Donners where Cady & Clark had arrived on Yesty found all alive [cheered them?] and sent Cady back for more provisions say 7 day found here but 3 child of J Donner that Could Com with us at George Doner tent there was 3 stout harty children [Frances, Georgia, and Eliza Donner] his wife was able to travel but preferred [proposed?] to stay with her husband until provisions should arrive, which was confidently expected by Comd Woodworth, who was at Cap Suters the day I before I left Mr. Johnsons, here I left two of men Cady & Clark one with each tent to cook and as fast as possible resusitate the enfeebled (?) so that they might in a few days start, took 3 children of J Donner and the men I took in and returned the same day making this 20 miles carrying 2 of the child got back to the other cabins about 8 o’ck, much worn down, as I passed Mrs Graves I told them I would be of[f] in the morning, the men that remained with her [?] today cached the principal of her effects and got for her out of one of the waggons about 800 in gold & silver which was fastened concealed in a slat or bracket that was nailed in the middle of the bed the money being placed in grooves close made for the purpose
March 2 Weds after leaving with Keesberger camp 7 day prov[isions] and Mr Stone to get wood cook and take care of the helpless I left with the following persons P Brin Mrs Brin, John Brin, youg man and 4 other Smaller Children 2 of which had to be Carried in all of Brins 7 – Mrs Graves – & 4 children 2 of which had to be Caried in all of her family 5 Solomon Hook young man and Ma[r]y & Isaac Donner in all 3 – with two children of my own one a girl of 9 years the other a little boy 4 in all 2 – making in all 17 souls – proceeded About 2 miles and encamped on the edge of the lak[e] on a bare spot of ground
3 Thurs left camp early traveled on the lake 2 miles an encamped under the mountain made this day about 4 miles, nothing of interest occd.
4 Fri this morning after Breakfast I had 2 Scanty meals left for all hands, which would do to the night following I sent ahead 3 men J Jandrou M Dofar & Turner whoe ware of my best men for the ocasion, to push to our first Cach and if not disturbed to bring it up while the other Two proceed on and bring up our Second, and if they should meet our Supplies which we all had aright expected clace at hand to hurrey them on, but to our misfortune there was none nigher than 65 miles and at this Juncture no prospect of Starting which I learned afterwards, to be the fact from Comd Wodworth himself. I mouved camp and after a great fatiguing day arrived at the praire now Starved Camp at the head of Juba it was made by the other Compy. who had passed in but a few days previous. here the men began to fail being for several days on half allowance, or 1 1/2 pints of gruel or sizing per day. the Sky look like snow and everything indicates a storm god for bid wood being got for the night & Bows for the beds of all, and night closing fast, the clouds still thicking terror terror to many, my hartte dare not communicate my mind to any, death to all if provisions do not Come, in a day or two and a storm should fall on us. Very cold, a great lamentation about the cold.
5 Saturday Still in camp the last of our provisions gone looking anxiously for our supplies none. My dreaded Storm is now on us commcd snowing in the first part of the night and with the Snow Comme[ence]d a perfect Hurricane of and with the parents praying Crying and lamentations on acct of the cold and the dread of death from the Howling Storm the men up nearly all night making fires, some of the men began to pray a part several became blind I could not see even the light of the fire when it was blazing before me I Continued so to the next day then my sight returned Young Brine fell of his feet into the pit the heat of the fire had made in the snow to the depth of 20 15 feet. it has snowed already 12 inches, still the storm Continues the light of Heaven, is as it ware shut in from us the snow blows so thick that we cannot see 20 feet looking against the wind I dread the Coming night 3 of my men only able to get wood the rest give out for the present. After some time wood being secured we had a great dificulty in fixing a foundation for our fire the snow having melted to a great depth I think now 20 15 feet – and no earth in sight it must from 6 to 10 feet Snow before the earth is seen in the fire pit. the manner of making our fires on the snow are as follows, we lay 2 ps of timber or saplin about 10 feet apart – then com Roll close together large green logs on the two ps in a transverse position these form a bed for the dry logs to lie on and so as to prevent the coals of the dry wood which we lay on from falling through into this deep Pit which has melted below. Still Storming verry cold so much so that the few men employed in Cutting the dry trees down have to come and warm about every 10 minutes, hunger hunger is the cry with the children and nothing to give them freesing was the almost cry of the mothers with reference to their little starving freesing children Night Closing fast and with it the Hurricane Increases – not quite so much snow falling as before night.

6th Sunday   thank God day has once more appeared although darkened by the Storm Snowing as fast as ever and the Hurricane has never Ceased for ten minutes at atime during one of the most dismal nights I ever witnessed and I hope I never shall witness Such in a similar situate   of all the praying and Crying I ever heard nothing ever equaled it   Several times I expected to see the people perish by the extreme Cold  at one time our fire was nearly gone and had it not been for Mr. McCutchen’s exertions it would have entirely out and dispeared had it the fire been lost two thirds of the Camp would have been out of their misery before morning but as God would have it we soon got it blazing in comfortable order and the sufferings of the people became less – At this time their hope began to animate the bosoms of many Young and old when the Cheering blaze Rose through the dry pine logs we had piled together one would say thank god for this fire another how good it is the little half starved half frozen poor Children would say I’m glad I’m Glad we have got some fire oh how good it feels, it is good our fire didn’t go out At day light I discovered the Storm to Slack by hushing as it were entirely for a few minutes and then it would burst forth with such fury that I felt often alarmed for the safety of the people on acct of the tall timber that surrounded us – the Storm Continues to lull Snow now nearly ceased, the location of our camp is a bleek point under the summit of the great California Range about 1000 feet Consequently our altitude about 8300 above the Sea with a small Prarie on our south and west about 3 miles in length & one in breadth here the snow and wind had full sweep this camp was used by the other party that had passed out of the mountain and See the under or bed logs for the fire having remained it saved the men a gr from considerable labor in cutting and rolling green logs together I estimate the snow in this valley about 25 20 feet and at the cabins on the east side of the mountains about 10 feet on the average the Storm did not rage with such fury on the east side of the great Chain as with us as I learned by two of my party [Cady and Stone] that left the Cabins the day after the Storm was over

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