Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Forty-Niners in Death Valley: A Tentative Census.


"There before us was a beautiful meadow of a thousand acres, green as a thick carpet of grass could make it, and shaded with oaks, wide-branching and symmetrical, equal to those of an old English park; while all over a herd of cattle numbering many hundreds, if not thousands ... were calmly laying down in happy rumination.

"Such a scene of abundance and rich plenty and comfort bursting thus upon our eyes, which for months had seen only the desolation of the desert, was like getting a glimpse of Paradise, and tears of joy ran down our faces."

of the Bennett-Arcan (Arcane) party, recalling his arrival
into the Santa Clara River Valley (Santa Clarita Valley).

Manly, 29, and John Rogers, 22, had broken camp Nov. 4, 1849, to find civilization. They found it at the Del Valle family home, on the Rancho San Francisco, near present-day Magic Mountain, on Jan. 1, 1850. Fed and clothed, they returned to Death Valley with supplies — and a proven route out of the wilderness. Illustrations are from Manly's book, "Death Valley in '49."

Leaving Death Valley

When, late in December, 1849, white wanderers first looked out upon the salt playas of the great desert sink later to be known as Death Valley, they were in no mood to exclaim upon the weird beauty of the scene. Instead, they were gripped with foreboding and harassed by deep discouragement as they gazed upon this new and formidable barrier to their westward progress.

Already nearly two months had slipped away since they had left the "Old Spanish Trail" at a point near what is now the southwestern corner of the State of Utah. There they had branched hopefully out into the unknown, in search of a shortcut to the California gold diggings. But as Christmas neared they found themselves in desperate straits, their food well-nigh exhausted, their oxen half-starved, their nerves on edge. Small wonder that no member of this weary band of luckless emigrants halted to list the names of those who found themselves thus trapped upon the desert! Small wonder that Sheldon Young noted in his sketchy "Log" that this was "Damned dubious looking country!" Henceforth it must be each man for himself, and the Devil take any who might linger in this wasteland to record the tale of their disaster.[1]

When, in later years, certain of the survivors of this desperate trek sat down to write of their experience, or gathered to renew friendships born of those hours of travail, they found that the names of many of those who had been with them on this desert "shortcut" had already been forgotten. There had been several distinct groups, generally traveling as separate parties, but frequently crossing one another's trail, and of some of these groups not a single name seems to have been preserved, while of others only two or three are now available.

There were the "Jayhawkers," the "Georgians" and the "Mississippi Boys"; there were the parties headed respectively by the Reverend James Welsh Brier and by Asahel Bennett, and there were certain single men who trailed now with one and now with another party of the train. Of the Georgians only the name of the Captain seems to have been recorded, while of the larger group of Mississippi Boys only the nicknames of three Negro slaves have apparently survived. The Jayhawker list was itself somewhat elastic, varying from year to year under John B. Colton's enthusiastic reunion promotion.

Even allowing liberally for possible duplications, it is apparent that well over one hundred emigrants were included among these unwilling discoverers of Death Valley, and the following list is presented with no illusion of it being a complete or final census, but rather as a tentative check-list, containing all the names as yet discovered by the writer. Where available, brief individual data is included in respect to certain members of the party.


George Allen
From Knoxville, Illinois. Born September 6, 1831 (?). Died in San Francisco on September 11, 1877.
Edward F. Bartholomew
From Farmington, Illinois. Born about 1828. Died in Pueblo, Colorado, February 13, 1891.
Brian Byram (also listed as Bruin, or Burin Byrum)
From Knoxville, Illinois. Died in U. S. Military Hospital, Keokuk, Iowa, April 11, 1865.
— Carter
From Wisconsin. Not heard from by others of the party after 1850.
Charles Clark
From Henderson Grove, Illinois. Died there on September 9, 1865.
Alonzo Cardell Clay
From Galesburg, Illinois. Born near Chester, Vermont, February 13, 1828 (possibly 1818). Died at Galesburg, Illinois, December 13, 1897.
John Cole
From Knoxville or Galesburg, Illinois. Later mined near Sonora, California, and died there in 1852.
John Burt Colton
From Galesburg, Illinois. Born at Monson, Maine, August 11, 1831. Later lived in Kansas City, and at Grand Island, Nebraska, where he died on October 23, 1919, aged eighty-eight years. His files and scrapbooks are now preserved in The Huntington Library, and form the collection known as the "Jayhawker Papers."
Urban P. Davidson
Died, probably at Thermopolis, Big Horn County, Wyoming, December 18, 1903.
Edward Doty
From Knoxville, Illinois. Born in New York state, April 6, 1820. Lived for many years at Naples, near Santa Barbara, California, and died there on June 14, 1891. He was usually spoken of as "Captain" Doty.
Marshall G. Edgerton
From Galesburg, Illinois. Died in Montana Territory, probably in 1865.
Sidney P. Edgerton
From Galesburg, Illinois. Died at Blair, Nebraska, January 31, 1880.
— Fish
From Lima, Indiana. Died of thirst and exhaustion on the summit of the Argus Range, west of Panamint Valley, on January 13, 1850. "Father" Fish, as he was frequently termed, was an older man, who succumbed to the hardships of the desert. He had generally traveled with the Brier family, but was always listed by Colton as one of the Jayhawkers, with whom he had apparently been traveling since the party's departure from the brackish spring in Death Valley where they burned their wagons.
Harrison B. Frans (or Franz?)
From Henderson Grove, Illinois. Lived for a time in Los Gatos, California, going thence to Rye Valley, Baker County, Oregon, where he died on January 16, 1902.
"Frenchman" (name not preserved)
This man wandered from camp while crossing the desert, and is said to have been "captured" by Indians. Apparently he lived with some desert tribe for a number of years, for he is said to have been found and "rescued" by a party of government surveyors sometime in the middle sixties. (Dr. T.S. Palmer suggests that he may have been Jerome Bonaparte Aldrich, who later lived in San Bernardino, California.)
— Gould
From Oskaloosa, Iowa. Generally traveled with Mr. Fish. Went to the Southern Mines in California and is said by Stephens to have died at Pen Yan, New York, near the close of the fifties.
Frederick Gretzinger (or Gritzner?)
From Joliet, Illinois. A note in the "Jayhawker Papers" indicates that he died at Portland, Missouri, October 1, 1875.
John Groscup
From Henderson Grove, Illinois. Born at Galesburg (?), Illinois, September 29, 1826. Lived for a time in San Jose, California, later settling in Mendocino County, California, where he died at Longvale, near Laytonville, February 24, 1916 aged eighty-nine years.
Asa Haynes
From Knoxville, Illinois. Born in Dutchess County, New York, February 9, 1804. Captain of the Jayhawkers, and oldest member of the party. Died at De Long, Knox County, Illinois, March 29, 1889.
William Isham
From Rochester, New York. Died of thirst on the desert, near Searles Lake, on January 13, 1850.
Aaron Larkin
From Knoxville, Illinois. Died at Humbolt, California, in 1853.
Thomas McGrew (or McGraw?)
From Knoxville, Illinois. Died at Boise, Idaho, in 1864.
Charles Bert Mecum
From Galesburg, Illinois. Born at West Suffield, Connecticut, August 25, 1822. Died at Mt. Vernon, Iowa, February 20, 1905.
Alexander S. Palmer
From Knoxville, Illinois. Died at Chandlerville, Sierra County, California, March 27, 1854.
John W. Plummer
From Knoxville, Illinois. Died at Toulon, Illinois, June 22, 1892.
Luther A. Richards
From Woodhill or Galesburg, Illinois. Born at Westminster, Vermont, April 12, 1818. Died at Beaver City, Nebraska, June 15, 1899. Usually spoken of as "Deacon Richards."
William Robinson
From Knoxville or Magoon, Illinois. Died near the head of Soledad Canyon, California, on January 28, 1850, from drinking too much cold water after the privations of the desert.
William B. Roods
From Knoxville, Illinois. Drowned in the Colorado River, at La Paz Ranch, near Ehrenberg, Arizona, April 29, 1871. The spelling of his name as "Rude" by Manly and others is apparently a mere phonetic spelling, as the full name "Roods" appears on a rock near the mouth of Lemoine Canyon, Death Valley, with the date of 1849, presumably inscribed there by himself. His initials and the same date are also found scratched on a lava boulder at the Jayhawker Spring. Letters from him in the "Jayhawker Papers" give his last name as "Rood."
Thomas Shannon
From Knoxville, Illinois. Born in Jefferson County, Ohio, January 25, 1825. Died at Los Gatos, California, November 15, 1903.
Lorenzo Dow Stephens
Born near Hackettstown, New Jersey, December 21, 1827. Lived for many years at San Jose, California. Died at Oakland, California, February 10, 1921. Author of booklet entitled "Life Sketches of a Jay Hawker of '49," published at San Jose in 1916.
Wolfgang Tauber
From Joliet, Illinois. Died at sea en route home from California, November 15, 1850.
John Lewis West
From Knoxville, Illinois. Born about 1818. Lived for many years at Phillipsburg, Montana, and died at Sacramento, California, January 12, 1898.
Leander Woolsey
From Knoxville, or Henderson Grove, Illinois. Born at Ashtabula, Ohio, June 28, 1826. Died at Oakland, California, October 7, 1881.
Sheldon Young
From Joliet, Illinois. Born in Connecticut, July 23, 1815. Kept a "Log" on the journey to California, the only record made on the spot and at the time. Died at Moberly, Missouri, October 18, 1892.

Although the thirty-four men above listed are those ordinarily considered to have made up the Jayhawker Party, at least some of them were not of that group prior to their arrival in Death Valley. Thus, Messrs. Fish and Gould had previously camped with the Brier family, and Fish camped with the Briers the night before his death. On February 15, 1892, Colton wrote Brier that there had been "thirty-eight" Jayhawkers, in which total he was possibly omitting Sheldon Young and adding the five Briers, who were, however, not truly of that group at any time.

In addition, R.H. Allen, son of George Allen, wrote to Colton many years after 1849-50 of a certain William Nesbit, whom he declares to have been "one of your party." One John Morse, of Henderson Grove, Illinois, was also listed by Colton on at least one occasion, and John Goller has also been included in some lists. (He remained in Los Angeles as a blacksmith and carriage maker, and died there on July 7, 1874, after having revisited the desert on several occasions, in an attempt to rediscover the "Lost Goller Mine," which he claimed to have found while on the 1849 trek.) Colton also mentioned "four Dutchmen," who traveled with the Jayhawkers, but were not of the party, and it is possible that Goller was one of these. Occasionally, a son of Edward F. Bartholomew has also been listed, but it seems doubtful whether he was with the party.

In addition, the names of Alexander Ewing and his son, John C. Ewing, appear in some lists, as do those of "Deacon" C. Arms, Robert Price and Norman Taylor (all three from Knoxville, Illinois), and three unnamed men are said to have been in the group "paying their way to be taken to the mines." It seems probable that if they were ever members of the party, none of these last eight continued with the Jayhawkers into Death Valley. Recently the name of Alexander Benson, as a possible member of the party, was also brought to the writer's attention by his son, but no other record has been found of him.

Were all these to be included, the total number of Jayhawkers, instead of being Colton's "thirty-eight," would be increased to some fifty-one. Doubtless some of those whose names are not known were duplications, and it seems probable that around forty men were from time to time members of or traveling with the Jayhawker Party.


Rev. James Welsh Brier
From Iowa City, Iowa. Born at Stillwater, near Dayton, Ohio, September 11, 1814. Died at Lodi, California, November 2, 1898.
Mrs. Juliette (or Julia) Brier
Wife of James Welsh Brier. Born at Bennington, Vermont, in 1813. Died at Lodi, California, on May 26, 1913, aged ninety-nine years and eight months.
Christopher Columbus Brier
Born September 11, 1841, in Indiana. Died in Oakland, California, December 7, 1907.
John Wells Brier
Born May 28, 1843, in Michigan. Became a well-known clergyman in California. Died at Lodi, California, February 24, 1914.
Kirke White Brier
Born May 5, 1845. Died at Sacramento, California, in January, 1883.
Harry Vance
Mentioned in a letter from Brier to Colton dated January 16, 1896. He was possibly one of the Arcan teamsters.

The names "Harrison" and "Achison" occur in certain statements made by Brier at widely separated intervals, and probably refer to the same pair of brothers. It is even possible that they were in fact the "Edgerton" brothers, of the Jayhawker Party. Mrs. Brier (in her account of Christmas in Death Valley, San Francisco Call, December 25, 1898) mentions "two Germans" and a man called "Croker" (probably Edward Coker, listed elsewhere). In a letter to Richards dated January 20, 1898, the Rev. Brier spoke of "Patrick and Lummis St. John" as having met the Brier party "utterly destitute" beyond "Borax Valley." This may refer to the two Arcan teamsters, whose names seem not elsewhere to be available. Mrs. Brier speaks of them as "St. John and Patrick." In addition, she mentions Fred Carr as having been in the Brier group, but he seems to have been with Coker, and is there listed.


Asahel Bennett
From Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where Manly had lived with the family. Died, probably at Idaho Falls, Idaho, April 22, 1891. Said to have been in his eighty-fourth year.
Mrs. Asahel Bennett (Sarah Dilley)
Said to have died at San Jose, California, sometime in the fifties.
George Bennett
Melissa Bennett
Martha Bennett
Children of Mr. and Mrs. Asahel Bennett.
J.B. Arcan (spelled by Manly "Arcane")
Born April 14, 1813. Said to have been a Basque. Came to California from Illinois. Died at Santa Cruz, California, September 15 1869. First name probably John.
Mrs. A.H. (J.B.) Arcan
Maiden name unknown. Died at Santa Cruz, California, in March, 1891.
Charles E. Arcan
Son of Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Arcan. Probably born in Illinois about 1846. Lived in Santa Cruz, California, until 1891. Left, but returned shortly before death (date apparently not recorded). Said to have been a life guard, swimming instructor and musician.
Henry Earhart
From Iowa City, Iowa.
Jacob Earhart
From Iowa City, Iowa. Brother of Henry Earhart.
John Earhart
From Iowa City, Iowa. Son of Henry or Jacob Earhart.
"Captain" — Culverwell
Said by Manly to have been "an ex-seafaring man." He was from Washington, D.C., where he had been employed in a government office. Died in Death Valley, a few miles south of the Bennett party's "long camp," in January or early February, 1850.
William Lewis Manly
Born at St. Albans, Vermont, April 6, 1820. Author of "Death Valley in '49," published at San Jose, California, in 1894. Died at San Jose, California, February 5, 1903. (Buried at Woodbridge, San Joaquin County, California.)
John Rogers (possibly "Rodgers")
From Tennessee. He was Manly's companion on the trip out to the settlements and back seeking help for the Bennett party, and he was living in Merced, California, as late as 1895.
Henry Wade
Born at Rochester, England, March 16, 1800. Came to Tioga County, Pennsylvania, in 1836. Lived for many years at Alviso, Santa Clara County, California, where he kept an inn, "The American House." He died at Alviso, October 13, 1883.
Mrs. Henry Wade (Mary Reynolds Leach)
Born at London, England, June 17, 1813. Died at Alviso, California, May 3, 1889.
Harry George Wade
Born at London, England, December 18, 1835. Died at San Jose, California, September 21, 1911.
Charles Elliott Wade
Born in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, August 12, 1838. Died at San Jose, California, March 9, 1918.
Almira Wade
Born in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, June 21, 1840. Married John Jacob Ortley, December 24, 1858. Died at Alviso, California, February 24, 1907.
Richard Angus Wade
Born in Will County, Illinois, October 19, 1844. Died at San Jose, California, September 2, 1923.
Silas Helmer
One of Bennett's ox-drivers.
S.S. Abbott
One of Bennett's ox-drivers.

In addition to these, there were two teamsters who had worked for Mr. Arcan, but whose names are nowhere given, though they may have been among the persons mentioned by the Briers. There was also a Frenchman, whose name is unrecorded, but who is known to have gone out of Death Valley with the Wade family. Manly states that when he and Rogers left for the coast there were eleven "grown persons" in camp, and since the Wades were separately encamped and the four teamsters had already departed there is still one person unaccounted for.


"Captain" — Towne
That Towne and one of the Turner brothers escaped to the settlements appears from the fact that they passed Tejon Ranch later in 1850 en route back to the desert seeking silver ore. Dr. E. Darwin French saw and talked with them there at that time.[2]
— Turner
— Turner
— Masterton
— Crumpton

This was the small party which continued with the Briers after the larger group of Mississippi Boys left to go up Darwin Wash. Towne's party continued down Panamint Valley, and finally left the Briers at the "Camp of the Horse Bones." The first names of these five persons seem not to have been recorded by any of those who knew them on the westward trek.


Tom (Negro)
Joe (Negro)
"Little West" (Negro)

Of the larger group of Mississippians who broke away from the Jayhawkers and Briers near Towne's Pass, only the names of these three Negro slaves have apparently been recorded. Manly mentions a David Funk who may have belonged to this party, which is said to have included around fifteen men. It is barely possible that the group with which Edward Coker left Death Valley was this party, though Coker himself was from New York.


"Captain" James Martin

The names of the other members of this party seem to be wholly unrecorded. They were apparently also known as "The Bug Smashers." Stephens wrote that the group consisted of some fifteen members, while Colton (San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, l903) remarked that it included "about twenty" men.


Edward Coker (or Croker?)
"Captain" Nat Ward
James Woods
James Martin
Possibly this was the Captain of the Georgians, otherwise listed.
John D. Martin
Fred Carr
Joe (Negro)
This may have been the same Negro otherwise listed among the Mississippi Boys.
"Old French" (or "Old Francis")
This man may have been the "Frenchman" listed with the Jayhawkers. Apparently none of the emigrants could remember French names, as there appear to be three distinct Frenchmen mentioned by various members of the Death Valley Forty-Niner parties, always without giving any name.

Many years had passed after the 1849-50 trek before Coker met Manly and told him his story. Coker stated that the party with which he escaped over Walker Pass consisted of twenty-one men, though he lists only the eight here named. Several, said he, were from Coffeyville, Mississippi. There remain certain curious problems in respect to this group. If, as some have presumed, it is to be identified with the larger party of Mississippi Boys, or if, as has also been suggested, it was in fact the party otherwise mentioned as the Georgians or the "Bug Smashers," Coker and his companions could not have been with the Briers and Jayhawkers, as Coker states, after Fish and Isham died, for these other parties left the Jayhawkers and the Briers a number of days before those deaths occurred. Doubtless no final answer to many of these queries can now be expected, although in the present list every effort has been made to avoid a duplication of names.


John Adams
— Allen
— Baker
— Lemore
Charles McDermet
— Pinney
— Savage
— Ware
— Ware
Willey Webster

While it is possible that this party did not actually traverse Death Valley, it is deemed proper to list it here, since numerous writers have mentioned this group, and since a complete list of the names of its ten members has but recently become available. This was the party which left "Captain" O.K. Smith and his group near "Division Spring" in Southeastern Nevada late in November, 1849. The ten adventurers headed west, packing their food on their backs, and of their experiences practically nothing is known, save that Pinney and Savage, at least, managed to escape and reach the California diggings.


In addition to the above parties, Manly mentions one David Funk, of Texas, and a Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dale and their three children, of Texas. It is possible that this latter name may have been a misreading or misprint of the name Wade, since no other list mentions a "Dale" family. However, it is known that the Wades came from Illinois, rather than Texas, and it is therefore possible that there was another family, otherwise unrecorded, among the Death Valley discoverers.

Several of the survivors later mentioned one "Townshend," but it now seems probable that this reference is in fact to Towne. Haynes' remark, "Find body of Townshend scalped," in the Argus Range, west of Searles Lake Valley, is difficult to explain, since no other account mentions any such circumstance, and since it is now known definitely that Towne made his way safely out to the goldfields.

In a letter dated January 17, 1876, Brier wrote of "The New York Boys." Apparently these were among the men already listed.


It would obviously be impracticable without undue expansion of this article to attempt to cite the precise source of each individual item. No comprehensive bibliography of the extensive literature relating to Death Valley has as yet been published, but since the basic sources of data in respect to the Valley's discoverers are comparatively few, the following may serve to outline the nature of such fundamental material.

Most important among the background sources is, of course, William Lewis Manly's "Death Valley in '49" (published in San Jose in 1894; reprinted by Wallace Hebbard, New York and Santa Barbara, 1929). Much of the data on this subject which appears in that volume is to be found nowhere else. In 1916 Lorenzo Dow Stephens printed at San Jose his "Life Sketches of a Jay Hawker [sic] of '49," a sixty-eight page pamphlet which should be read with some caution as Stephens was nearing the age of ninety when it was prepared and his memory was apparently then none too good.

The Brier family contributed several articles on the subject of their desert trek. As a matter of fact, though unsatisfactory as to detail, the first printed resume of the Forty-Niners' trip across Death Valley was contributed by the Rev. James Welsh Brier in the form of a brief account of a portion of the trip printed early in the fifties in the Christian Advocate, a religious journal published in San Francisco. This article was reprinted under the title "Route from Las Vegas de Santa Clara to Walker's Pass, by the way of Owen's River and Owen's Lake," in the Appendix to Heap and Beale's "Central Route to the Pacific" (New York, 1854). Mrs. Juliette Brier was the subject of an extensive interview entitled "Our Christmas Amid the Terrors of Death Valley," published in the San Francisco Call on December 25, 1898. In 1903 Sunset Magazine published two articles by the Rev. John Wells Brier under the title "The Death Valley Party of 1849" (pages 326-335 and 456-465), and in 1911 the same author wrote an account entitled "The Argonauts of Death Valley" for The Grizzly Bear (Vol. IX, No. 2, June, 1911).

John B. Colton, the youngest member of the Jayhawker party, was active for many years in maintaining the contacts of the Jayhawker survivors, and promoted numerous reunions of that group at various places. He could always be counted upon to contribute an interview for the local newspaper on the occasion of such a reunion (see, for example, "Story of the Jayhawkers," in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 1903). Manly wrote a number of accounts of portions of the 1849-50 trip for the San Jose Pioneer (see, for example, the issues of that journal for April 21 and 28, 1877, August 1, 1893, March 15, 1894, May 15, June 15 and July 15, 1895). Recently an interview with John Rogers was discovered in a copy of the Merced Star for April 26, 1894, the title of the article being "On the Plains, 1849." Apparently but one contemporaneous journal of the trip across the desert has survived. This is the "Log" of Sheldon Young, and while it is meager as to detail, it is of primary importance. A typed copy is filed among the "Jayhawker Papers" in The Huntington Library.

That collection (consisting of the files and scrapbooks of John B. Colton) furnishes many clues in respect to otherwise obscure problems. Colton apparently kept every scrap of data which came to his hand, and it is fortunate that this magnificent collection of material has been preserved. In addition, much data has been collected during recent years by the National Park Service, largely in the form of interviews or correspondence with descendents of Death Valley pioneers. Finally, mention should be made of the researches of Dr. T.S. Palmer, of Washington, D.C., who, as a young man, headed the Federal Government's expedition of 1891 to these desert regions, and whose interest in the subject has never waned.[3]


1. See "Trailing the Forty-Niners Through Death Valley," by Carl I. Wheat in Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, June, 1939. [BACK]

2. See "Pioneer Visitors to Death Valley After the Forty-Niners," by Carl I. Wheat, California Historical Society Quarterly, Sept., 1939, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, pp. 195-216. [BACK]

3. The writer desires to express his appreciation to Dr. Palmer, as well as to Mr. Lindley Bynum, of The Huntington Library, and Messrs. O.T. Hagen, T.R. Goodwin and H. Donald Curry, of the National Park Service, for their cooperation and assistance in connection with the preparation of this "Census."

Mr. K. Kevil, of Santa Cruz, has also been helpful, especially in respect to the development of data on the Arcan family.

It is to be hoped that this effort to list the Forty-Niners who traversed Death Valley may lead to the bringing to light of additional data and the correction of any errors which may have crept into this preliminary attempt to develop a unified record of these pioneers. Suggestions along these lines may be addressed to the writer at 1720 Mills Tower, San Francisco, California. [BACK]

Originally published in The Quarterly, December 1939, of the Historical Society of Southern California.

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