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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 29: NANCY KELSEY’S DIARY – LIFE ON THE TRAIL

Nancy Kelsey’s diary of her life in early Lake County continues.

My, the turkeys and deer we did kill before we struck the Platte (River). The evening reached the Platte, we had a wedding. Miss Williams married ‘Zed’ Kelsey, Ben’s brother (Isiah).

This was where I witnessed my first cyclone. It came within a mile of us and I will never forget the awful sight. I saw trees going through the air, roots and all. They looked as if they had just been pulled from the ground. If the cyclone struck us our friends would never have known what happened to us.

There was a fellow in camp we called, ‘Bear’ Dawson. He was so named because he told a rather big bear story. How you would have laughed if you had seen him come into camp one day. He was entirely naked. The Indians had found him and stripped him of all his clothes. We corralled ourselves in our wagons and sent three men out to council with the Chief. Some of the tribe came to our wagons. The Chief and three warriors came into our camp and spoke with Bidwell and Wagon Master Fitzgerald, while the rest of the Indians camped nearby. The next day the Indians left us and went north, they said, ‘To fight the Blackfeet.’

Tom Bidwell reported what happened during the parley.

‘There were about forty Cheyenne’s in this war party. They caught and stripped Dawson while he was out hunting. Then they followed him back to our camp where Fitzpatrick spent most of the night bartering with them trying to get Dawson’s clothes back. He finally gave up on Dawson’s other possessions. Dawson was lucky to get out with his life.’

Here on the Platte is where we killed our first buffalo. It was dangerous for us as we traveled through the herd of thousands of the animals. Sometimes they ran and we were afraid they would stampede over us. When we got through the herd and arrived in Blackfoot territory, we stopped for three days at a large rock (Independence Rock, Nebraska) and dried the meat from the Buffalo we had killed. While we camped there, our party started the tradition of leaving our names on the Rock. Great herds more Buffalo passed our camp and caused much consternation. At night, as they kept coming, they split around the camp. Some of our oxen left us and joined the herds.

It is commonly thought that oxen were only dumb beasts. Not so. The Oxen that left the Bartleson Party’s herd, to join the buffalo, saw better days with the buffalo and with less hard work.

At Steamboat Springs, we rested our oxen while some of the men went hunting for game. They came upon a band of Paiutes. The Chief was peaceable and came back with our men. He had never seen a white woman. Here the missionaries, going to the Willamette Valley, left us. All the women, except for myself, went with the Mission Party for Columbia. I stayed with my husband and the thirty-two men to continue westward toward the land of California.

Let’s see, there was Captain Webber, who founded Stockton; Colonel Richmond; Captain Childs, and Colonel Bartleson. Oh, what a time we did have on the Humboldt River (Nevada). We had to leave our wagons and proceed on horseback. I had a young baby (Martha Ann Kelsey) to take care of too. At one place the Indians surrounded us but my husband, Ben, leveled his gun at the Chief and made him order his Indians back out of arrow range.

Nancy does not tell all the hardships they had. One time the party got lost on the salt flat at the heart of the Great Salt Lake. They were searching for the Mary’s River that did not exist. That was the river shown on Doctor Marsh’s bad map. They finally picked up the Humboldt River. Assuming this to be the Mary’s River, they followed it to Carson Sink in Nevada and were surprised to see the River dwindle away to a small trickling stream. They abandoned their wagons and took to horseback but continued to drive their oxen, their supply of meat on the hoof. Only when they reached the Sink did they realize there were still greater mountain barriers to cross.

Ben Kelsey insisted on keeping the oxen but they were too slow for Bartleson. He left with his group but returned after they ran out of food. After leaving Carson Sink the party followed up the Walker River only to come up against the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains where we rested. It grew colder and one cold morning, when ice formed, we knew we had to go on or die.

© 2017 PAL PUBLISHING/USED BY PERMISSION

                          Next Week: Death in the Mountains

                         Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

                          Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

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Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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