Heinrich Lienhard, the son of a farmer, was born in Switzerland on 19th January, 1822. He left school in 1838 and started work on his father's farm.
After the death of his mother in 1842 Lienhard decided to emigrate to the United States. He sailed on a boat that left Le Havre on 24th August, 1843 and it arrived in New Orleans 47 days later. Lienhard then travelled onto St. Louis. On the journey he was told about the success his fellow countryman, Johann Sutter, was having in California. He also met two other men from Switzerland, Heinrich Thomen and Jakob Ripstein, who also were tempted to head for the west coast.
In 1854 moved to Wisconsin. Two years later he joined a colony of Utopian socialists in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. His book, From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, 1846, was published in Germany in 1900. It was later translated into English and published in America.
Heinrich Lienhard died in Nauvoo on 19th December, 1903.
When I arrived in St. Louis, we went to work to get the necessary equipment together. Most important of all, we had to have a strong wagon and at least two teams of oxen. We bought the wagon without framework and covering for fifty dollars. It was a good wagon which stood the trip well. Ripstein had bought two teams of oxen on the Illinois side of the river for twenty-five dollars each, but one team was too heavy and too old for such a long and difficult journey. Therefore, upon the advice of everybody, we exchanged it in Independence for a much younger and also much cheaper team. To strengthen the wagon tongue, we had an iron rod attached along its entire length, and, thanks to this arrangement, the tongue did good service. Our wagon was, of course, outfitted with a framework and a covering of oiled canvas. There were five of us in all, of whom I was the youngest, who were going to take the trip together in the same wagon.
I think it was on the fifth day late in the afternoon that we arrived at the landing place for Independence. It was a barren spot at the foot of a steep and high embankment. I had expected at least a few houses, but as far as I recall, there was nothing of the sort. All our belongings were put on shore; the two men bound for Oregon also disembarked here with their baggage.
On the afternoon of the third day of our stay in Independence, we hitched all our oxen to our wagon, and only then did we consider ourselves actually on the road to California. The day was pleasant - the sun was shining warm, the prairie was turning green, all around us meadow larks and other birds were singing their happy spring songs. Nature seemed to burst with the joy of life. Finally Zins cracked the long rawhide whip; he was the first to drive our vehicle, our movable home, so to speak. We bade fond farewell to the little town of Independence and to the old settled country.
Just a short distance from Independence we came through a little woods, where the road was in pretty bad condition because of both running and standing water. On the undulating plain which opened before us the road was better again, and we all marched westward in happy spirits. About six or seven miles west of Independence we came upon a little grove on high ground, where we found two deserted log cabins enclosed by an old fence, and nearby several fresh-water springs came out of the ground. Since the sun was already close to the horizon, we decided to pitch our first camp right here. We found everything we could ask for: plenty of grass for the beasts, good water, firewood - what else could we want? We all wished that we might find a camping place like this every night on the entire journey to California. Naturally these questions came to our minds: who might have lived here and why was the place deserted again? Nobody could figure it out. Only when we came to the general meeting place on Indian Creek did we hear that our first camping place had once been used by the Latter-day Saints as a general religious meeting ground. Here the Mormon prophets, priests, and elders had proclaimed their oracles to the faithful until their neighbors, the "pagans" and unbelievers from Missouri, forced them to leave the district. They then moved to Nauvoo in Illinois, only to be forced by the people of neighboring townships and counties to move again, this very year of 1846.
After finishing breakfast and harnessing our oxen we continued our way almost straight westerly across beautiful undulating prairie. This was the beginning of our daily routine, and as time went on we mastered it thoroughly. The farms around us became scarcer and scarcer; in fact, we passed only one or two houses along the road, and then we were beyond the borders of the state of Missouri and in what was then Indian territory. It was the reservation of the Shawnees, a small tribe, or only the remnant of one. They were half-civilized Indians, who occupied themselves with agriculture and stock raising and lived in solid timber houses.
After a few days everything fell into a certain routine. It was easier to handle the animals. Each beast seemed to answer to its name and had learned the different commands. The danger that one or another might stray from the herd became less every day. After the camping site had been selected and reached and the wagons formed into a circle, the first chore of the evening was unyoking the oxen. Then everybody hurried to gather the necessary firewood and to fetch water, and those who had tents pitched them. Fires were lighted all the way around the circle, and soon one could hear the sizzling of steaks roasting and could smell the aroma of coffee brewing. Here or there one could see people mixing dough for biscuits and different kinds of cake. When someone was lucky enough to shoot some game - which was rare for long periods of time - the meat was usually roasted or stewed immediately. After supper was eaten and the dishes were put away, groups gathered together to gossip about all sorts of things. Some told stories; other sang; still others discussed the road ahead, the supply of wood, water, and grass, the danger of Indians, the chances for game, the purpose of the trip, and so on.
We had already left the Little Blue and were getting closer to the Platte River. Gradually the luxuriant grass of the regions of the Kansas disappeared; the grass became shorter and was of a different kind. The night before we had camped not far from the Little Blue and hoped to reach the Platte during the day or early the next morning. Ripstein shouldered his rifle and said he wanted to go upstream along the Little Blue River. Maybe he would succeed in bagging a deer or an antelope. He would meet us again somewhere along the road. We warned him about the Indians, for we had been told that somewhere along the Little Blue there was a large camp of Pawnees, whose hostility toward the whites was generally feared. Ripstein was tall, courageous, and strong and an excellent runner, never seeming to tire.
We continued our journey at the usual time through the open prairie and were caught by dusk before coming in sight of the Platte River. Since we had some firewood with us, we made camp near several water holes, which were full of mosquitoes, though we could use the water for coffee and tea after straining it through a clean handkerchief.
The next day we saw for the first time old, bleached buffalo skulls, which became more numerous the farther we progressed. We saw antelope more often than before, but we were seldom able to get within shooting distance of them. Our average daily march was about fifteen miles, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending upon circumstances. We counted on getting most of our firewood for preparing our evening and morning meals along the Platte. There was certainly no lack of water as long as we were near the river, and even though it was extremely turbid, it didn't have a bad taste and apparently agreed with everybody. On the third day there were more signs of our being in the land of the buffalo. We came across more and fresher skulls, often still with horns on them. Toward evening of the third day we even found fairly fresh dung.
I was perhaps more curious than anyone else to see a buffalo, and I spied in all directions for the chance of spotting one. Walking on ahead with a couple of my comrades, I saw across the wide Platte just opposite us two big fat objects which moved. "Hurrah, buffalos across the river," I called out. First they wouldn't believe me, but soon they saw that the black clumps were actually moving. When the party arrived, we called their attention to the two black objects on the opposite shore. They agreed that they must be buffalo, and -the wagons were halted. Immediately, five or six men volunteered to take a chance on crossing the river on horseback, in order to bag one of the two buffalo, if possible. Among the volunteers were Kyburz and Hoppe. We stayed a while longer, but since they were getting closer to the other shore without trouble, the wagons slowly started up again. We now watched our hunters and the buffalo with great interest. The latter did not seem to scent any danger until our men reached shore. Now the chase started. The buffalo immediately turned toward the hills, with the hunters hot on their heels. We heard the crack of several shots, but the hunters as well as the buffalo soon disappeared from sight. It was quite a while before we saw or heard anything from our men. We pitched camp a little earlier than usual in order to await their return. We kept watching the opposite shore, and, finally, after some of our people feared that something might have happened to our hunters, they suddenly all appeared between the hills, rode the horses into the river, crossed safely, and were soon in our midst. Each one was carrying a good-sized hunk of buffalo meat, which was distributed among the party. Our campfires had all been started, and soon we were enjoying the meat. The hunt put us all in a good mood, and we found the meat delicious.
These prairie dogs seemed to be on good terms with small owls and different kinds of snakes. Or perhaps these animals seemed to associate with them in order to feed upon the young and weak prairie dogs. We did not succeed in shooting any of them. Experienced hunters had told us that even if we hit them, unless we shot them in the head, they would escape before we could catch them. Their meat is said to be tender and tasty.
Fort Laramie was formerly only a trading post of a French fur company, where the Indians and white hunters bartered various articles for furs. Laramie was the headquarters from which the various smaller posts were supplied. For this reason, the company always employed a number of strong young men, who were also required to be good marksmen and not lacking in courage. These men were mainly French Canadians, but there were also Scotchmen, and some Swiss, French, and Germans. When there was a message to be delivered to one of the posts, one of the employees would be provided with a small food supply, together with one or two woolen blankets. Armed with his gun, he had to see how to get to the designated post to carry out his commission, no matter how far and difficult the way might be and how bad the weather. If he did not carry out his duties properly, or if he deserted and was caught again, or if the Indians brought him back in exchange for a reward, then he was certain of severe punishment. At the time of our arrival, there were some United States troops in the Fort. I do not know whether trade was still carried on with the Indians as it was formerly. The Fort is a rectangle with sixteen to twenty foot walls of dried brick. The interior was divided into various rooms, but being a military station the Fort lacked every comfort. As far as I recall, there was only one door, which was a large one. Various frontier Indians camped in the vicinity of the Fort. With them were packs of large dogs which looked like wolves and were doubtless closely related to them. The Indians used them sometimes as beasts of burden on their excursions.
Soon we arrived at Independence Rock, known to all emigrants, and about which I had read in Dr. Wislizenus Description of Travels in the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1839. I didn't measure the rock at that time, but it is perhaps one hundred feet long, forty feet wide, and about thirty feet high, forming a kind of an oval with rounded edges. Its sides were covered all around with names of emigrants and hunters who passed here. They reached up to such a height that it was a mystery to me how they could have put them up there. Most of the names had been painted with large letters in black or red on the brownish granite rock; only a few were carved into it. Independence Rock seemed to stand guard at the entrance to a gigantic, ancient volcanic crater.
The redheaded mountainman lived a short distance from the fort. He had taken as his wife a beautiful Indian woman, who was at this moment busy washing clothes. He was the father of a boy about three years old, who was practicing shooting with a bow and arrow. This man seemed to have settled down here for good; he was the owner of a small flock of sheep, among which were two kids of domesticated mountain sheep. They had smooth, grayish-blue hair but no horns yet. They were only spring lambs, yet they were already the tallest of his flock. In addition to a flock of sheep, he also owned a small herd of cattle. We traded our two cows for two young oxen. Both parties gained by this barter. The cows had produced little milk for us because of the sparse and dry grass, and we preferred the oxen; the cows suited him better because with rest and good pasture he could expect to get milk, and in the future to raise calves.
On the twenty-fifth we broke camp, but stopped again near the fort to give the cattle another chance to graze. We exchanged alcohol, sugar, lead, and powder with Indians and hunters for more skins and moccasins. Fort Bridger consisted of two blockhouses, surrounded by palisades about ten feet high. It could hardly be defended for long against a determined attack. Bridger probably used it more as a trading post than for anything else.
There were two roads from Fort Bridger: the old one via the so-called Soda Springs and Fort Hall, and the new one called Captain Hastings' Cutoff, which was said to be much shorter and which led past the Great Salt Lake. Many parties ahead of us had chosen this route, and since it was supposed to be much shorter, we, too, preferred it.
On the twenty-sixth of July, we finally set out again and took the new road behind the fort, leaving the Fort Hall route to our right. We followed the road, which led through a quickly rising dry ravine to the highest point, then went a little downhill again.
Hardly six miles from the fort we found on the right side of the road an ice-cold spring, coming out of the ground by a thicket. We passed another spring on the right side of the road, but we camped on a creek about six miles away from the first spring, or twelve miles from the fort. There was only a little water in the creek, but enough grass for our oxen.
On the twenty-seventh our road frequently went through depressions between rocky elevations, where we passed several springs, some of which had a disagreeable taste of mineral salts. Around one of these springs the surface of the ground was a rusty red color; the water probably contained some iron elements. In the deep, narrow canyon through which the road passed, there was always grass wherever there was water, but in places the grass was more like rushes. In the evening of this day, near sunset, after we had marched about eighteen miles, we reached the Bear River, where we camped. We met Captain Hastings in the afternoon, but he turned around and came with us, spending the night in our camp.
It was not until the day before that we had seen any Indians since leaving Fort Bridger, where there had been some who belonged, I believe, to the Sioux tribe. The ones we saw at that time were poorly clothed, short rather than tall, and were said to belong to the Ute tribe. Where we were now, we were supposed to be in the territory of the so-called Digger Indians, a tribe which has the reputation of being false and cunning, and would not hesitate to murder a white man, if they could do so without fear of punishment. The name Digger is applied to almost all Indians from here to California, because they all live off many roots, which they dig up with pointed sticks. The natives whom we met from here on always called themselves Shoshoni, and this name alone should always be applied to them. We had not seen any wild game for a long time, except occasional traces of them. These traces indicated the presence of bear, elk, and deer; large horns of mountain sheep proved that they too at times frequented this region.
In this valley, there was a great mass of the finest salt, often in crusts two inches thick. Crystal-clear water several inches deep flowed in some places, but it was as salty as could be. The poor animals, tortured by terrible thirst, tried again and again to drink of it, only to shudder away from it. We gradually approached the camp ground where a little village of wagons was assembled. Not a single head of our draft animals had fallen yet, and we came closer and closer to the patch of green grass. Then suddenly one and then the other ox of the lead team fell to the ground, hardly a quarter of a mile from the patch of grass. Zins and I had great trouble in getting them up to their feet again. After we finally succeeded, we slowly moved forward.
At last we reached the grass-covered ground, and hardly had the oxen put foot upon it than they started running as if they were not the least bit tired. When we reached the train of wagons, we stopped and unhitched the poor animals. Fortunately the spring was so surrounded by wagons that the beasts could not get at it. They, therefore, were obliged to quench their thirst by slowly sipping the water which flowed on the surface of the ground. It took fully two hours before they were entirely satisfied; after that their next desire seemed to be to rest. The spring consisted of a magnificent hole four to five feet deep and four to six feet wide. The water was fresh and seemed to be absolutely free of any salt or mineral taste. The Kellogg brothers had succeeded in bringing a big, beautiful black dog with them this far; he must have almost died of thirst. They told us how he had jumped into the water, taken a bath, and had his fill of drink. But when he came out of the water, he suddenly fell on the ground and was dead.
On the eighth of September we took a day of rest in order to let the many wet things dry out. In a nearby thicket I found a bundle of Indian belongings hanging on a branch, among which there was a bow fashioned from two horns of a mountain sheep. I tied everything together again and hung it back where it had been. In the afternoon several Shoshonis had come to our camp. One of them tried to make us understand by signs that there was another party like us with ox-drawn wagons coming from another direction. He pointed up the Humboldt River. His reports were correct because here the road from Fort Hall joined with the Hastings Cutoff, which would be better named "Hastings Long Trip." How much we profited by this "Cutoff" we were to find out from a small party which had taken the Fort Hall road and now passed us. They had left Fort Bridger twelve or fourteen days later than we did and now they were just as far as we.
The Humboldt River area proved to be poor in game. Only seldom did we see an antelope and nothing at all of other game. But there was a great abundance of wolves. Hardly a night passed without their giving us a free concert. From their number, one would have to conclude that there was no lack of other game. Their presence in such large numbers could be attributed perhaps to the fact that many animals died in this valley, and many were left behind because their feet swelled up and festered so that they became useless. It proved to be a fact that heavy-set, short-legged animals suffered more from infections than slender, long-legged animals. The latter seemed much more rugged and adaptable to such a journey. They almost matched mules in endurance and service on a journey in which they were exposed to all sorts of privations.
We often wondered how the Shoshonis made a living. The above mentioned variety of roots may have provided a part of their nourishment, but they must have been able to find other sources of food. In the occasional pools of water along the river there was seldom a fish to be found. Even grasshoppers seemed to be scarce, although it was said that this was one of the Shoshonis' chief sources of food. If we had come across such masses of grasshoppers here as we did for several days along the Sweetwater River, one could imagine that empty stomachs could easily have been filled to satisfaction.
In April of the following spring, six or seven men rode back to rescue the possible survivors, or perhaps even more to profit by the possessions of the deceased. Since it was rumored that Mrs. Donner had with her about fourteen hundred dollars, it was perhaps the chief purpose of these humanitarians to get hold of this money, belonging to the supposedly deceased woman. When the men reached the camp of misery, they found only Keseberg alive, and he was very emaciated, pale, and weak. One might ask how this man was able to stay alive through the long, cold winter. The men found a number of buckets partly filled with segments and limbs 'of the bodies of the dead, including Mrs. Donner, to which the poor man had to resort in order to stay alive. It was said that he even ate the flesh of his own children, but this is too unnatural to be credible.
The leader of the last "rescuers" was, according to what the above-mentioned Hollander told me, a very big fellow by the name of Fallen. He thought that Mrs. Donner had left a great deal of money and demanded that Keseberg tell him what had become of it. Since he was the only person still alive who had stayed behind besides Mrs. Donner, he must know where the money could be found. But Keseberg said he didn't know anything about the money that she was supposed to have left and that she had not said anything about it to him.
The men had gone there in order to get the money, and when they found none, they were much excited, and the sick and weak Keseberg was blamed for everything. Keseberg said that Fallen accused him of having murdered the woman in order to rob her of her money, that he must know where the money was, and if he didn't show it to them immediately, they would hang him. Fallen had acted half-crazy and got ready to put a rope around Keseberg's neck. Although Fallon was in the best of health and over six feet tall, he didn't think he would be able to put the rope around Keseberg's neck without the help of others. Keseberg thought his life was actually in danger now, and he did his best to defend himself. Trembling and weeping he begged for mercy and at the same time vowed that he did not know where Mrs. Donner had hidden her money. She didn't tell him how much she had, or, in fact, whether she had any at all. Furthermore, he didn't murder her. She, like the others, had succumbed to hunger and cold.
This method of rounding up, catching, and slaughtering the animals excited my greatest curiosity. The mounted vaqueros almost surrounded a herd of young oxen. The young bold American, likewise mounted, with a long lasso in his hand, first tried cautiously to approach; then he swung the lasso in a wide circle above his head and rode as fast as his horse could carry him to the chosen animal, which tried everything to escape with the rest of the herd. Suddenly, however, it was separated from the herd. The rider had come very close to him and like a flash of lightning had thrown the open loop of the lasso around the horns of the animal. But the ox tried to escape from his captor by bucking furiously, and lo, he actually did yank the lasso out of his hands and now tried with all his might to get back to the herd. But the man dug his big Mexican spurs into his horse's flanks, and the horse soon reached the lasso, which was dragging on the ground. Then Nye, in spite of the dashing gallop of his horse, bent down to pick up the lasso again. He separated the captive animal from the rest of the herd, which dispersed in all directions. The captive ox was then driven in a fast gallop to the camp of the buyer.
Finally, there appeared before our eyes several high, fenced enclosures (corrals) into which the cattle are driven, either to select them for slaughter or to brand them. And there was a house, too, with two beautiful young American females at the open window. This place belonged to a Scot named Sinclair, who held the position of justice of the peace. One of the women was his wife. This house was near the open banks of the smooth but wide American River, and since we could find no trace of a ferry, we waded through its clear but not deep waters. On the opposite bank we found ourselves on lowland, which is often entirely under water during the rainy season. Farther back from the river we reached higher and drier land, where we came upon a lone Indian sod-covered hut. A quarter of a mile to the left of the road we saw a fairly long, wide adobe structure, the walls of which contained many embrasure like openings. On the east were two small houses and a few steps farther on was a deep pond, which gets its water from the American Fork only during high water. This place was Sutler's sheepfold, with which I had ample opportunity to become acquainted two years later. The land over which the road led was considered unproductive at that time, but to our right not far from the road was a beautiful large piece of bottomland where Sutter had his wheat fields, which yielded magnificent harvests. After we had walked about a mile beyond the river, we saw from a slight elevation the long wished for Fort Sutter or New Helvetia.