Final article on Crossing the Frontier

By Jan Lawrence

Editor’s note: This article is the final in a series that began last year. The series chronicles a trip across “The Plains” by Susan Minerva Weaver McBee and her husband John W. McBee, which began in the Spring of 1853. The quotes are those of Susan Minerva Weaver McBee and the article is by Jan Lawrence of the Dry Ridge Museum. To read previous installments of this series, go to www.weavervilletribune.com and use the search term “the Plains”.

Susan Minerva Weaver McBee states, “We continued for a month from the summit to the beginning of the sink of Humboldt. (Editor’s note: Humboldt Sink and its surrounding area was a notorious and dreaded portion of overland travel to California during the western migrations of the mid-1800s. It was also called the Forty Mile Desert.)

“The way was not rough as compared with the descent we had just come down. We stopped here three days and took on hay, grass and water for the cattle to be prepared to cross the desert. Mac had crossed this desert in 1850 and found it very hot and dry. When we crossed in 1853, about ten miles out we found a river that came up to the hubs of the wheels.

“I could not understand how it could be so different in three years. Mac claimed he was not mistaken, either, in the time of year or the place. Others had said a dry desert extended from Humboldt sink to Ragstown.

“Evidently, a river had overflowed its banks or in some way a new channel had been cut. (Editor’s note: the sink has no outlet so in years when heavy snows had fallen above, the river-like conditions occurred.) We crossed the sink one lovely moonlit night to save ourselves and the stock from the intense heat. This brought us to Ragstown.

“Everything that was not absolutely needed was dumped here by the different wagon trains since the oxen were generally tired and the roads ahead were steep and rough. It was a ragged looking place. Pieces of clothing covered bushes. Broken down wagons, discarded furniture and chicken coops were all heaped together. All were left to lighten the load for the tremendous climb up the high Sierras.

“From Ragstown we climbed to Walker River and traveled up the river to its headwaters in Mono Lake. We had been delayed too long in our journey and the way was very rough, so rough that I could no longer ride in a wagon. I was put on horseback and rode there many days before the last hard day which began at daybreak. It ended eight or ten miles below Mono Lake at sunset and there, with the aid of our womenfolk, George was born! I think it was a surprise to all of us and especially to me. Women in those days gave little thought to the hardships of those times and how they harmed us.

“George was a premature baby but a healthy one and got along nicely. I had not yet prepared for him, but we managed until I reached California where I set to work quite industriously. We stayed only one day in that location. The baby was born at sunrise on October 10, 1853, and we started on the next day at sunrise.

“The other wagons had gone on the same day George was born and were to wait for us a Lake Mono, if we were not too long in coming up. It was getting late in the year to stay much longer in the mountains. I now has a light wagon to ride in — a wagon with springs— a spring wagon to travel in. I had found this wagon by the wayside near the summit of the mountain while riding on horseback.

“Evidently it had become a dead weight on some previous wagon train, and they had been forced to abandon it. It was in unusually good condition, so I asked Mac to bring it for me. He could not do it because every draft ox was doing his all to carry the load already allotted to him. Grandpa Crow found a place behind his light wagon he was using it for a kennel for a favorite dog about to increase her household. My young son and I traveled “in state” from Mono Lake to Sonora for about three weeks. The way both going up and coming down the mountains was unbelievably rough.

“From Sonora we went to Shaw’s Flat. Here a cousin of John L. Crow wanted to pay Mac $100 a month to stay and work his ranch during the winter. We did not stay because we had come too far to make our home and too long on the journey to delay any longer. We were anxious to get to the valley—to farming and stock raising. Mac did not want to prospect. He had tried it during his first trip to California and did not like it. He did not think it was the way to be happy and prosperous.

“From Shaw’s Flat we traveled to Bodega in Sonoma County where we got good land under a Spanish land grant, but it became necessary to find a different climate for Mac’s health. He had heard of the Mendocino Mountains, so we decided to go there. In 1859 we started north into wilderness, sometimes finding a trail of road and sometimes no road at all. At the end of sixty miles or so we settled and made our home for good in the new country.

“That was sixty-six years ago. Since then, Mac has passed on as have some of my children, grandchildren and first friends. There have been joys as well as sorrows and I find it good to have lived and been unafraid of life. (January 1925).”

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