1841 Emigrant's Reminiscences

The following article was located in the Amador County Archives by Larry Cenotto, Archivist. He was kind enough to share the information with me. Larry has done some research on this family and has included some of his findings in an article for the local paper. I have presented it as it is written. Comments in brackets are my own.

[The Fallbrook Enterprise, Fallbrook, San Diego County, CA., Friday, January 12, 1917]

Old California Pioneer Passes Away At Fallbrooks

Martha Williams Reed, Age 87,
Crosses the Plaines by Ox-Team in the
Early Gold Excitement of California

Mrs. Martha Reed, age 87 years, 6 months and 29 days, mother of Joe, John, George and Webb Reed, died at her home in Fallbrook Sunday, Jan 7, 1917, and was buried in Fallbrook Cemetery Tuesday, Jan. 9, 1917.

In September, 1913, Mrs. Reed gave the Enterprise the following data in regard to her trip across the plains in 1841:

"I was born in Missouri, June 9th, 1829. I was of a family of nine children of Richard and Lizzie Huckaby Williams. In the spring of 1841 my father, with his family, joined a company coming to California by ox team. There were six of us children, my two oldest brothers being married, remained in Missouri until two years later. I was 12 years in June. There were in our company two other families--Ben Kelsa [Kelsey], wife and one child; his brother, Sam Kelsa, wife and two children; Andy Kelsa, a brother; Betsey Grey, sister of Ben's wife, and [her] child, who [Betsey] had left her husband; Zade Kelsa, who was no relation to the other Kelsa's; a preacher, Williams by name; John Bidwell of Sacramento, who was afterwards governor of California, and several other men. We started from near Oceola, MO. The first river I remember of any note, was the Platte. My sister Winnie was married to Zade Kelsa, a young man in the company, at this point. After crossing the Platte we were in the buffalo region--saw thousands upon thousands of Buffalo and we had fresh meat all the way across the plains. The first fort I remember was Fort Laramie. At this point a man named Cochran joined our company and traveled with us, and afterwards married Betsey Grey. He persuaded Father to go to Oregon--said he could never get through to California with his family. At Independence Rock one of the men in taking his gun out of the wagon accidentally shot and killed himself. They had to bury him without a coffin. When on Green River, mother and sister were both sick and I had to do the cooking and take care of my baby sister. There wasn't much to cook, as we were very short of rations. Father only had one wagon so couldn't haul enough provisions. There was a man in the company who had provisions to sell, but he sold them so high and Father hadn't much money, so he couldn't afford to buy much, and as a result we went hungry a good deal of the time. The next place of any note was Fort Boise. The next Bear Valley Soda Springs, there the company divided, the priests going to the Flathead Indians, Cochran, wife and little girl going back to Missouri on horseback.

Ben Kelsa, wife and child and several other came on to California. They had many hardships. Got out of food and had to kill their oxen and eat them and leave their wagons and come on foot and they all but starved. Mrs. Kelsa was the first white woman to cross the plaines to California. They removed to Oregon, thence to Texas, where they had a girl scalped by the Indians. We had no trouble with the Indians. I remember one time some Indians caught one of our company away from the train, took his coat and hat then followed him into camp. The captain of our company got them all off to themselves, the emigrants gave them their supper and they gave us no trouble. This was before they got to molesting the settlers. From here we went to Fort Hall (about one day's travel). There we traded our oxen and wagons for horses. Rode part of them and had packs on the others. Armentenger, of the Hudson Bay Co., piloted us on to Dr. Whitman's who was a missionary for the Nez Perce [Cayuse] Indians. We were short of provisions most all the time and went hungry lots of time until we got to Dr. Whitman's. There we got some wheat and ground it on a hand mill, and I think some pickled pork. They had tomatoes there, but we didn't eat tomatoes then. We didn't suffer so much for something to eat as we had before. Dr. Whitman and his wife had been there with the Indians for several years and had them civilized. We could hear them say their prayers at night and morning and singing. They had learned them to do all kinds of work, the same as the white people. A few years after, we were through there, some emigrants came through who had the measles and the Indians caught it from them. They thought Dr. Whitman brought it there to kill them off so they killed Dr. Whitman, his wife and all that were at the station.

When we left Dr. Whitman's he sent an Indian to pilot us down to the Dalls. We passed Walla Walla where we got some course flour. The only kind of guns we had were the old flint locks. When we left the Dalls, another Indian piloted us on to Willamette Falls what is Oregon City now. There was a missionary living there then and father went to him to get some flour, but he couldn't let us have any until the board of missions met. The next day they packed some potatoes from the boat for him and he gave them potatoes to pay for the work and we surely enjoyed the potatoes. The same day an old man came across the river in a canoe. His name was Moore. He told father to put his family in the canoe and take them across over to his place and we could share what he had, and we did. They also brought over our camp outfit in the canoe and some Indians swam the horses across. The next day my father and brother-in-law, Zade Kelsy, went out and took up government land close to where the town of Hillsboro now is and about 25 miles from Portland, but there was no Portland then. They built log houses and made split shakes to cover them, split puncheon and hued them off for the floors. The only white people there were Mr. and Mrs. Griffin, missionaries and some men with Indian wives. Mr. Moore let us have some cows on the shares. My father went to Vancouver to the Hudson Bay Co. and they agreed to furnish him provisions until he could raise wheat to pay for them. We lived on boiled wheat lots of the time. The stones for the first grist mill were brought across the plaines by wagon. I was the first white girl to cross the plains to Oregon. I never went to school any, as my father never lived near enough to school, when I was growing up. The first fruit trees my father raised he got cuttings and put the end in potatoes and set them out. In 1843, two years after we came to Oregon, my two oldest brothers who remained in Missouri, came out with their families, and with them a young man, Jacob T. Reed, to whom I was married Sept. 5th, 1844. At that time each married man and wife could take one-half section of land, so we took up a section all in one place and built a log house. In 1849 when the gold fever in California sprung up, we rented our place and came by ox-team to California. We then had two children-- Samantha two years old and Joseph C. about one month old. Samantha died in August of that year at Sonoma, Cal. We remained in California over a year and returned to Oregon. When we came to Sonoma, Ben Kelsay and family who came to California the year we went to Oregon, were living there. When we got there his wife had gone to town on horseback to do some trading. While she was gone, an Indian (who had lassoed a man and dragged him to death) tried to lassoe her. The only thing that saved her, some other Indians came up and he left her. When she got home and told her husband he came right to our camp and wanted my husband to go with him to the Indian camp--said he was going to kill that Indian. My husband tried to persuade him not to go, without avail. When he got to the camp the Indian was inside. Kelsay tried to get him to come out but he wouldn't. Kelsay then threw a large rock into the camp which brought him out. Kelsay shot and killed him then went to town and gave himself up, but nothing was ever done about it.

We with John White and family, who came to California with us from Oregon, kept a boarding house on the road to the mines. We were never molested by the Indians, but while we were there they killed a Mr. Stone and Andy Kelsay, Ben's brother, near Clear Lake. We went back to Oregon in 1850 and lived there until 1858 then came back to California and lived in San Roman Contra Costa county. While in Oregon three children were born--Sarah Malinda, in June 1851, Benjamin who died at the age of two years; Jacob T. Jr., March 4th 1857. The next summer I got word that my father was very sick so we went back to Oregon on a visit--went by water and was gone but a few months. Jan. 1861, Geo. W. was born. That summer we moved to Oregon again to sell our land. We stayed three years before we could sell it and then we traded it for mules. We traded the mules for horses and brought them to San Roman and traded them for a ranch. While in Oregon we had a great deal of sickness. Myself and all the children had the measles and some of the family had malaria. Geo. W., the baby, had a fever and nearly died. October, 1863, Wilburn was born. I told my folks I would rather come back to California and live on bread and water than live there and have plenty, and all be sick all the time. In 1864 we came back to California overland. One or two years later our land in Oregon sold for $10,000. In 1868 we sold our ranch in Contra Costa county and moved to San Luis Obispo county near Cambria. While there in Contra Costa, two more boys were born--Austin G. in 1865 and Granwill S. in 1867. Most of the family was sick with a fever that year. In 1869 we took up government land unserveyed. In April, 1874, Emma, my baby girl was born. In 1877 we sold our place and started about July 1st for Arizona. Went with teams and traveled at night and laid by, during the day, while crossing the Desert. That was a dry year and horse feed was very high. We didn't like in in Arizona and only stayed there till spring and came back to California. My husband and boys made and burned a kiln of brick that winter about 60 miles from Tuscon. They got $20.00 per 1000 for making them. Provisions were very high, as the railroad only went to Yuma and everything had to be hauled from there. We came back to California the spring of 1878 and lived in Orange county near where Huntington Beach now is till the winter of 1880 when we moved to Valley Center, San Diego county. There we took government land again. We lived in a camp until fall when the boys cut sycamore logs and built a house (the remnants of which still stands). We lived in that several years. My husband died March 14, 1884, aged 69 years. I moved to Fallbrook, San Diego county, the summer of 1904 with my oldest son Joe, where I still live, all my other children being married.

I was well acquainted with the Weamer family that discovered the first gold, and have seen the gold nugget which caused the great stampede to California in 1849. Was acquainted with Mr. Katy, one of the men that went to the rescue of the Donar party that was snowed in in the mountains and nearly all perished. Mr. Katy got his feet frozen and lost part of his toes. I am the mother of eleven children, eight of whom are still living--seven boys and one girl."

My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by
. Return to [ Home Page ] All [ Comments and Inquiries ] are welcome.