Melvin Halsted, the founder of Lowell, often was called "Pioneer, Builder, and Adventurer." In the late spring of 1900, Halsted sat in his rocking chair and wrote an interesting autobiography, beginning with his birth in New York in 1821. The story of his early life and the founding of the Town of Lowell has been told many times, but the tales of Halsted the "adventurer" have been less publicized.
The following story begins in the spring of 1850, the year the 29-year-old Halsted and his family moved into their new house on Main Street in Lowell:
"Apr. 2, I started for California on horseback. Went to LaSalle on the Illinois river, took my horse on board a steamer, went to St. Louis, then to St. Joseph, Mo.; bought oxen and wagon and started as soon as the grass was good; on May 15th went northwest 250 miles to Grand Island, Neb.; thence to Ft. Kearny, thence 200 miles to junction of South and North Platte (several miles before we got to the junction the cholera was fearful; hundreds died. We stopped the wagon train long enough to bury them. One very sad case--a mother with infant at the breast and six or seven small children. The mother was taken out of the wagon amid the weeping of husband, children and those present); thence three hundred miles to Ft. Laramy, thence 150 miles to ferry North Platte, thence thiry miles to Sweet Water, thence to Independence Rock, thence Devils Gap.
"About five miles south of the trail three of us went up a very high mountain while the teams were resting. This was July 12, 1850. The mountain averaged (a) forty-five degree slope. The first mile brought us to perpetual snow. When the snow faces the shining sun it becomes like a deep bed of hail stone. We set our feet from four to six inches every step. We went about a mile higher. When we got to the highest peak we had a wonderful view.
"We then went to South Pass. The water now runs to the Pacific Ocean. We then went to Little Sandy Creek, thence Big Sandy, thence junction Salt Lake Trail, thence fifty miles of desert, starting at 4 in the afternoon traveled all night till noon next day and arrived at Green River. Rested that day, traded my oxen and packed thru from Green River to Bear River Steamboat Spring. The water is hot and steam puffs out of the rocks. Thence to Raft River, thence to City of Rocks, where the rocks are from one to two hundred feet high, then to 1,000 Springs Valley, 100 miles northwest of Salt Lake, where we camped six weeks. Afterwards fourteen men camped in same place and seven got killed in a fight with Indians.
"Then we went to Goose Creek, then to Goose Creek Mountains, thence to head of Humbolt River 300 miles to Sink of Spread, then fifty-five miles over a desert to the sink of the Carson River. On this desert there is hundreds of dead oxen, horses and mules. A great many abandoned their wagons, tools, clothing, bedding, etc. About fifteen miles before we got to the Carson River there was a ridge of deep loose sand. Many animals could not get thru, and would lay down. The people could not stay with them long without water so they would take what provisions the men, women and children could carry and leave all, after taking off the yokes and harness.
"Here provisions were very scarce. There were some men who anticipated what the situation would be. When the migration struck the Carson 250 miles before we got to the mines they met the people with a few wagons of provisions, A pie was $2; flour $200 per hundred; a single pound of anything was $2. I paid $1 for a sweet potato and $1.50 for a pint of flour. I went on up the river in company with many hundreds of others. (In) 150 miles we came to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, thence 100 miles to the mines on the middle fork of the American River. Here we were on the bank of Lake Bigler, but he being a rebel, the name was changed to Lake Taho.
When we got to the mines I worked a few days at $8 per day, then went to Sacramento by way of Sutters saw mill, where the gold was first discovered in the fall of 1848. The flour mill was never finished. The lumber from the saw mill was sold for $200 per thousand for rockers, long toms, sluices and other appliances to separate gold from the gravel and sand.
"I arrived at Sacramento in September, 1850. The cholera was very bad. I met D.C. Haskin. He introduced me to a ranchman, In cutting wood and doing other work, I made $500 in six weeks. I went down the Sacramento River forty miles to get away from the cholera. When the cholera abated I went back to the city and bought and sold hay, wood, hides and many other things. I built a ferry boat that winter. Times were good and I made some money.
"I started home the next spring across the plains in company with the first mail train [not a railroad] that went to Salt Lake from the Pacific coast. There were three of us and four in the mail service. We had thirty mules. We left the 5th of May, went to Placerville, then to Sly Park, thence five or six miles to deep snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The snow was soft and deep. We would leave one man in camp while the rest of us would would tramp a trail four or five miles to a good place to camp then we would tramp back next morning. We would then pack up and start at 4 in the morning and get to the other camp in two or three hours where we would repeat the work like the day before. We kept that up for nine days to get 45 miles.
"When we struck Carson Valley, the grass was knee high. We went down the river one day and met some Indians and skirmished with them. One of the mail service men killed one of the Indians. None of us got hurt, but in that same place the mail party was killed and their mail and mules were captured by these same Indians that fall. We started on and in two or three days crossed the desert near the same palce we did the year before. This was about May 15, 1851.
"When we got to Humbolt river there was three dead Indians that a party had killed for stealing his mules. The Indians were hostile for 500 miles. One evening when we had gone into camp an Indian was trying to spy (on) our camp. Two men went out and fetched the gentleman in at the point of a gun, showed him all our guns and pistols, gave him something to eat and after telling him that we were ready to fight a whole band of Indians, let him go.
"The Bear River was high and we had to swim our mules; the water (was) coming up over our saddles. We swam and waded for half a mile. We got into Ogden about the 3rd of June, where Ogden is now."
Halsted stopped to buy some food at a home nearby, and the lady who answered the door told him that her husband did not have emough for all his nine wives. Halsted later found his provisions at another home, and treked on to Salt Lake City.
"The four with the mail went back. Five of us in all left the city for home, over fifteen hundred miles. When we left that city the 10th of June 1851 we went up City Creek canyon thru the Wahsatch range of mountains 25 miles to Webber River when I saw and talked to Kit Carson Fremonts, old scout and guide, thence to Old Fort Bridger. I bought some buckskin pants his two squaw wives had made.
"Then we went to South Pass, then down the Sweet Water River across a 30 mile desert to upper Platte ferry, then on to Ft. Laramy. Thiry or forty Indian Chiefs came in and smoked the pipe with the commander of the fort. I passed the pipe when it came around. I went two miles out to where there were two thousand Siouxs in camp. When I went back to the fort about twenty girls left camp ahead of me. All of them together didn't have a yard of manufactured goods on them. Their clothes were made of antelope hide tanned white and soft, skirt and cape, leggings and moccasins. They looked neat with no bonnets and a very heavy head of black coarse hair cut short in the neck.
"We started down the North Platte the next day to junction of South and Northe Platte. Then to the Main Platte river. One hundred miles further we ran into a herd of buffalo. We had a fine chase running them, but when we wounded any of them they would turn and run us. We crossed the river and bought a supply of provisions from a large train of Mormons going to Utah. We got a canoe and swam our horses and mules over the Missouri River. Went to Kanesville, a Mormon town. Crossing Iowa we come to the Mississippi river. I rode 80 days in one saddle, had two animals half a day about, and two pack horses.
"Arrived home in August , bought Haskin's interest in the property and erected a flouring mill and got it running Jan. 1, 1853. In fall of the same year I laid out Lowell and give away many lots to mechanics and others to settle up the town."
Halsted made several more trips to the western states. Unlike the hazards he encountered by horse, one of his future trips went smoother as he traveled by steamer from the east coast, on a train across Panama, and then by steamer to California.