Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Reunion of Death Valley '49ers Who Found Salvation in SCV.

Saved when they reached Del Valle ranch headquarters at Castaic Junction.


Jayhawkers of '49 Will Hold Reunion Today.

Survivors of First Trip Through Death Valley to Meet at Santa Cruz Home.

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Santa Cruz, Feb. 3, Special Dispatch — Three hardy survivors of the famous "Jayhawkers of '49," the first band of white persons ever to go through Death valley, gathered here today in preparation for their annual reunion tomorrow, when they will talk over the terrible suffering which they endured on that trip through lack of food and water.

Of the original party of 36, many died before they emerged, February 4, 1850, from the desert into the San Francisquito ranch near Newhall, and only four now remain at the end of the 63 years which have elapsed.

The only woman of that party, Mrs. Juliette W. Brier, who brought three children under the age of 10 years through the desert in safety, is still alive, though close to her one hundredth birthday.

At the home of her son, Rev. J.W. Brier, 94 Myrtle street, still considered by the rest as not rightfully belonging to the Jayhawkers, although he actually made the Death valley trip, the sixty-first anniversary of the rescue will be celebrated. Four generations of the Brier family, from Mrs. Juliette Brier to the small grandsons of Rev. Mr. Brier, will be present tomorrow at the dinner.

Comes from Galesburg.

All the way from Galesburg, Ill., has come Colonel John B. Colton, whose presence each year infuses new life into the Jayhawker society, to attend this reunion. He is 81 years old.

L. Dow Stephens of San Jose, 89 years old, is the other member of the party who has arrived in Santa Cruz.

John Groscup, 89 years old, the fourth survivor, lives in Laytonville, in the Mendocino redwoods, and for many years has not attended the annual dinner. However, each time he sends a letter of good wishes.

Vivid reminiscences of the past began to pass around as soon as the Jayhawkers met. "The little woman," as Colonel Colton terms Mrs. Brier, had to be helped from her bed to a chair, but she was still as interested as ever in the reunion. The colonel himself produced book after book of letters, clippings, a reproduction of a log kept by a sailor on the journey chronicling many of the hardships, and other mementoes of the past.

Left Galesburg April 5, 1849.

The original party of 36 left Galesburg April 3, 1849, and on crossing the Missouri river at the present site of Omaha organized as the Jayhawkers, one of the features of the initiation ceremony being the pinching of three pieces of skin from the leg. If the neophyte did not cry out, he was accepted to membership.

In August they arrived In Salt Lake City and got Captain Hunt of the Mormon battalion of the Mexican war to conduct the party over the Spanish trail to California. For $1,000 he was to lead the 100 wagons, and after waiting for the route to cool off from the summer heat, they set out October 1.

Troubles began to develop before they had gone far, and on falling in with a band of 12 Mormon wagons, a plan for taking a new route instead of the Santa Fe trail was heard of.

Land in Death Valley.

"If you take that route you will all land in hell," said Captain Hunt, but despite that assurance they started for the San Joaquin valley. Soon they lost their direction and entered the desert near Death valley.

Encamped on the edge of a narrow and difficult pass into a valley below, they hauled their water up the cliff hundreds of feet in buckets and at last decided to descend. They set out — and landed in Death valley.

The log book of the sailor tells much of their suffering. "Traveled five miles today" in one entry. "Another of our oxen died," reads another. "Food very scarce, no good water," is a third. For three months their suffering endured, 52 days of which they lived on their starving cattle, eating what little meat there was.

"Four pounds of blood and hide was what most of them consisted of," said Colonel Colton, "but we ate that and were glad to get it. Several days would elapse before we found water and then it would often be alkali."

Christmas "Feast" in Desert.

From wagons the conveyances became carts and then pack saddles, their horses having been stolen by Indians far back in Utah. A canteen of water became a precious treasure. Dew was ladled up in teaspoons when the travelers were able to find enough of it in one place.

Christmas day they found water in plenty, and slaughtered an ox in celebration of the day, or rather to meet their crying need for food. An old cake made by Mr. Stevens' mother and carried by him all the way from Illinois was produced as a delicacy, although it was so hard it could barely be broken.

But suffering was not over yet, and on pushing ahead, they encountered still more privations, several of their number being left behind, dead. Furnace creek, Salt river, Borax lake — these are all bitter reminiscences of the trip.

Saved by Del Valle's Mexicans.

Finally they entered a pass leading to the Santa Clara river, and Colonel Colton and another of the party went ahead to reconnoiter.

This was early in February. Far ahead Colonel Colton noticed a red spot. "That's a ranch," shouted his companion, who had been in the Mexican war and recognized the tile roof of the Mexican haciendas. The party pressed on, and on rounding a turn a few miles further on they met four Mexican vaqueros.

The Mexicans were much alarmed at their emaciated appearance and required much reassurance before they believed everything to be all right. Then one of them set off at full speed to guide the rest of the party to the ranch. Another raced ahead to prepare food.

Jose Salazar, manager of the great San Francisquito ranch owned by Señor del Valle, welcomed them with open arms. Beeves and sheep were slaughtered, tortillas and many Mexican dishes were cooked, and for two weeks a continual feast was held, until every one was in good health.

Later they continued their journey to San Buenaventura and then northward, some of them finally reaching San Francisco.


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Jayhawkers At Dinner Once More

Of Original Large Desert Party, Only Four Are living.

Of the sufferings of the Donner party, beset by snow and ice in the high Sierras, nearly every Californian has heard; of the hardships, equal in intensity, endured by the "Jayhawkers of '49" as the survivors of the first band of white people ever to cross Death valley are now called, less has been told.

The memories of 52 days spent in the sands of the Mojave desert, with boiled ox hide for food, and water as an occasional luxury, however, are kept alive by the Jayhawkers' society, whose four members, one of them a woman nearly 100 years old, hold yearly meetings.

These meetings, preceded by a dinner, take place on February 4, the anniversary of the day in 1850 when the remnants of the party left the desert behind them and wandered, more dead than alive, into a Mexican rancho in the valley of the Santa Clara river, near the present site of Newhall, a Southern Pacific station on the route to Mojave.

This Year's Reunion.

At the home of Mrs. Juliet W. Brier, the only woman of the party, who brought three children under the age of 10 years with her on the journey, the reunion was held this year. She now lives at 94 Myrtle street, Santa Cruz.

Colonel John B. Colton of Galesburg, Ill., L. Dow Stephens of San Jose and John Grosscup [sic: Groscup] of Laytonville, now compose the rest of the Jayhawkers. Only three were present last Tuesday, as Mr. Grosscup has been unable to make the journey for a number of years on account of ill health. Absent in body, he has been present in spirit, sending a letter each time, which is read at the dinner.

An outline of the journey of the Jayhawkers from the time the nucleus was formed in Illinois was told several days ago in the columns of The Call, but each recital of the tale brings forth new and interesting details of the terrible desert experiences. In 1872 common interest and a desire to keep alive the comradeship formed brought about the first meeting. Since then hardly a year passes without the gathering.

In 1849, when the party started for California, Illinois was a frontier state, and west of there Indians were practically the only inhabitants. By the time they reached Salt Lake and the Mormon settlements, practically all their cattle had been stampeded.

The desire of the Mormons to have some one break a wagon trail to southern California led them to advise the Jayhawkers to head for Los Angeles, says Colonel Colton, and the start across the desert was made against the advice of Kit Carson and other noted plainsmen. Hearing of the hardships of the Donner party, however, they hesitated at taking the route over the Sierras, and so, after waiting for six weeks in Salt Lake for the desert to cool off, they started southward.

Captain Hunt In Charge.

Captain Hunt of the Mormon battalion of the Mexican war was engaged to lead them at a price of $1,000 for 100 wagons. Nearly 290 people were in the party at the beginning. About 50 miles south of Little Salt Lake they camped at a place where the trail branched, the left fork being the old Spanish trail and the right hand branch bearing the name of Walker's cutoff. The latter seemed shorter, from a study of the rude maps of the time, and about 100 wagons separated and started over this route. In a short time, Captain Hunt and the rest abandoned the Spanish trail and followed the lead of the others.

They soon found that they could eat the flesh of their cattle, and so a diet of oxen was begun, to continue until they reached California. These poor animals, scarcely more than skin and bones, were killed regularly, and the skin boiled until it was eatable. Possibly a pailful of blood was secured from each, and this made a blood pudding. By boiling the entrails, a dish on the order of tripe was made. There was not other food.

Water Was Alkali.

Three out of five water holes they reached contained alkali and so had to be passed by. Men and oxen alike dropped in their tracks, never to rise again.

According to the account of Roy Brier, husband of the "little woman," one man was left behind, unable to walk, and the party too weak to assist him. When "Providence spring" was reached, they went back to look for him — he had crawled for four miles on his hands and knees before he died. A second wandered away insane, a third fell dead without a groan, another staggered into one of the springs on the route and died with the first taste of water on his lips. When his veins were cut open, a watery fluid bearing a faint resemblance to blood flowed out.

One tragedy followed another on this trip through the desert. Some 800 miles north and east of Death valley, soon after the start, a 1,000-foot cliff was reached, where water had to be hauled up from below in buckets. Seeing no other way ahead, they decided to descend, lowering their wagons by ropes to the plains below.

Captain Hunt told them they were "going to hell," and refused to follow.

Wagons Cut to Carts.

By Christmas day, when the Amargosa and Salt river on the edge of Death valley had been reached, the ox wagons had been cut down to carts, and then even these were abandoned and pack saddles made. Here they were overtaken by a party of Georgians who had been of the Jayhawker caravan at one time. Far away against the side of the mountains could be seen a tiny patch of snow, and for this the Georgians set out.

Two days later the Jayhawkers, nearly insane from thirst, caught up with them, to be revived by melted snow, which the Georgians had prepared. Leaving some of their cattle behind for the other party to eat, the southerners set out ahead over the mountains, later to meet their death at the hands of Indians.

Of all the party, young and hardy though they were, Mrs. Brier, a woman weighing only 115 pounds, and having three young children on her hands, was lees affected by the hardships than any of them. Her nerve and courage brought the rest through many a day when otherwise they would have given up in despair. Sometimes she saddled oxen for the weakest of the men, and at all times cheered them on.

Good Water At Last.

Though they made but few miles every day, they finally emerged from the desert into the mountains at the head of the Santa Clara river, finding water but no food. Rev. Brier later wrote that their cattle were stampeded near here by a grizzly, all of the voyagers being too feeble to chase them.

On the morning of February 4, 1850, Colonel Colton and Tom Shannon, who had been in the Mexican war and knew the appearance of the Mexican haciendas, saw a red tile roof in the distance, and a little while later they met with vaqueros, who at first showed much fear. On understanding the plight of the party, they set out for the ranch house, while others went back to aid the rest of the party. At that it took from the middle of the morning to sundown to traverse the few miles to the ranch.

The hospitable manager, Jose Salazar, ordered calves and sheep slaughtered, and beef, mutton, frijoles, tortillas and other dishes were cooked in abundance. For several days the jayhawkers merely ate and slept, and then a general celebration followed their recovery. Two weeks more saw them on their way to the coast, their sufferings ended.


Aged Member of Band of 'Jayhawkers' Dies.

Mrs. Julia Brier, one of four survivors of Death Valley trip, passes at age of 99.

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Stockton, May 27, Special Dispatch — Mrs. Julia Brier, one of the four survivors of the original party of "Jayhawkers," a brave band of immigrants that succeeded in crossing Death valley in 1849, died last night at the home of her son, Rev. J.W. Brier, in Lodi. She was 99 years of age.

Until the end she possessed all faculties.

Of the three living members of the party, one was her son. He is now 70 years of age. Two brothers who made the trip with htm and his parents have died.

The funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon, and the body will be buried in Lodi cemetery, beside that of her husband, who died 16 years ago.


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