Last month in Part Two of his autobiography, Melvin Halsted wrote about his adventurous return from his first trip to the West coast. He wrote about traveling through very deep snow, a skirmish with Indians, crossing an arid desert, swimming rivers, smoking a pipe of peace, building grist mills, planning the Town of Lowell, his many business ventures, his return to California, and his visit to a whaling camp. This third and final part of his story includes more stories about his exciting trips. as well as the building of the railroad:
In 1864-65, Lyman Foster and myself went south when Lee surrendered and looked the country over and came home by the way of Mobile [Alabama] and New Orleans [Louisiana] up the Mississippi River and Illinois Central Railroad.
Here, I should mention that I went to Nevada City and Gold Hill. The Yellow Jacket mine paid me well and I sent for Mrs. Halsted.
She came to me by way of New York and Isthmus by steamer. It took 28 days to go that route. She and my youngest son, Theron, arrived safe at San Francisco. I met them there then we went direct to Nevada, 150 miles by stage from Sacramento. Theron was nine years old.
In one more year I made a good stake. I came home alone to see if I could buy back the Lowell mill property, which I did in the spring of 1864. Then I telegraphed Mrs. Halsted to sell Yellow Jacket and come home to Lowell, which she did, and rather than pay the expressage -- six per cent -- she brought the money and saved the fare, which was $300 for herself and $150 for the boy. I met her in New York.
In 1866, James Turner and I went south to raise cotton, but had to discontinue the business on account of the unhealthy country.
In 1867, I was elected trustee of Cedar Creek Township and built the first graded school building under the new law in Northern Indiana, which served the purpose for 28 years, when the present fine school building was built.
That same year the first brick mill was built for a woolen factory, but that was given up and only a carding machine was put to work. Afterward, a plow and wagon factory was put in the same building. It ran two or three years, then the machinery was moved out of the old flour mill into the brick mill, which burned in 1886.
About 1854, Jonah Thorn built a small hotel near the grist mill and a store by it and started the first store. Four years afterward, William Sigler started a store in the brick building that Mrs. Webb now occupies. In 1859 or 60, Murton and Viant put up a store on the county road and about that same time, Sigler moved on that same street which is now Commercial Avenue with his store.
In 1864, when my family was on their way home, I met them in New York and went to Washington, [D.C.] where we stayed for one week, seeing many things of interest. We spent several days visiting Congress. We heard Charles Sumner and many other notable men speak. We went to Mount Vernon.
Then it was with Mr. Colfax's help I got the daily mail to Lowell. Up to that time no dailies and very few weeklies were taken.
The old saw mill run 12 to 14 years until it wore out. The old flour mill done a paying business for many years. The town of Lowell had a slow, but steady, growth. Early in 1870 we had one frame and three brick churches. About this time we had a full compliment of stores and shops of all kinds, about 1,000 inhabitants, and three or four physicians second to none in the state.
In the fall of 1869, J.H. Luther and myself went to the Pacific Coast, which was my fourth trip. We went by railroad. Stopped off at Ogden, then went to Salt Lake City; took in the city and had a nice talk with Brigham Young. He was about 74 years old and hale and hearty. He had 19 wives; some old, some younger, some good looking, some on the shady side of life, some free to talk, some more reserved. It is characteristic of the Mormon women to talk freely.
Many think Salt Lake City is on the lake. It is 20 miles southeast of the lake. The lake is 90 miles long and will average 30 miles wide. The water is five times more salty than the ocean, notwithstanding there are three large rivers of fresh water running into it and there is no outlet. The water is all taken up by evaporation.
Ogden is 1,031 miles west of Omaha, Nebraska. The first 100 miles of Ogden, there are two road beds graded side by side some places only 20 feet apart.
Finally, they saw that this would not do, so the two companies, just before Lincoln was killed, decided that the president should decide the dividing point. So Lincoln said to the Union Pacific: "Ogden shall be the point and the Central pay for the 100-mile grade to the Union Pacific," It is about 1,000 miles to San Francisco by rail.
Mr. Luther and I went to California in 1869. This was within two years after the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads were built. We traveled up and down the Pacific Coast and stayed in the city the winter of 1870. In the spring, I went to Valeji and bought lots and built 15 homes, including the one I put up for myself. I rented those homes for $15 per month each, I had my family come to me and stayed there two years. A gentleman came to me, paid my price and I sold. Then I let my family go home to Lowell and I went on a lark or hunt.
I went to Santa Barbara, hired a small schooner and paid $10 a day with captain and cook. We sailed 50 miles northwest to a small island about 15 feet above tide water except one small hill that was 50 feet high. The name of the island is San Miguel and is two miles across either way.
At the north end was a sand flat which was dry twice in 24 hours which was called a rookery, where millions of seal lions would come and sun themselves. All sea lions carry their body 6 to 10 inches high while fur seal drag their body along with their fore flippers. Unlike the female, the male has a heavy mane, hence the name. No fur seals are found south of the Alleutian Islands.
I caught the largest sea lion at San Miguel. We had such a hard time to secure her that we only caught one-year-olds after that which weighed from 60 to 90 pounds. We raised anchor and went about a mile south to Santa Rosa isle and from there to Santa Clara.
Greasers, or half Spanish and Indians, were living on the islands herding sheep for rich men in the city. On the island of Ana Capa we caught three sea lions about one mile from where the steamer Yankee Blade was lost in 1852 with our old townsman, C.L. Templeton of Lowell, on board. I believe no lives were lost.
When the tide was out we went around the old wreck. The largest island had 4,000 sheep. There were five of us in the party. I took along lumber and made tanks and cages for our animals. About the tenth day we weighed anchor and went direct to Santa Barbara arriving about dark; then about midnight the coast steamer came into Santa Barbara on its way north. I got my tanks and cages on board and went to San Francisco.
When I got there, Mr. Woodward wanted me to go to his garden. He gave me $10 a day and expenses. I stayed 9 or 10 days. By that time I got the sea lions used to the change from salt water to fresh water, and I came east with them. When I got to the Missouri River, a John Robinson bought my four sea lions, for which he paid me a little over $1,200.
About three years earlier I had made an extensive trip through Kansas and Indiana Territory, In 1872, I went to the silver mines southeast of Salt Lake City, where I superintended a mine at $150 per month. I had my family with me again. In 18 months, the mine changed hands and we moved back to Lowell. I soon went back and worked in the Emma mine at $6 per day.
In the spring of 1874, the superintendent of the C.&S.A. Railroad wrote me to come home and work up notes in Cedar Creek and West Creek Townships. I came back and took several thousand dollars worth of notes and voted the two townships, and began grading Creston.
On August 15, 1874, I begun and took 50 deeds and helped select the railroad route. I paid surveyors and graded most of the road and built $18,000 worth of bridges from Dyer south. In all, I paid out over $85,000 and received $65,000 in money, notes and store pay, leaving a remainder of $20,000 unpaid. I have had the claim with others in law for 20 years, but probably it is lost. The railroad has been a very costly affair for me, but the town and country get the benefit.
In 1878, T.H. Halsted and I erected a 300-foot bridge across Iroquois River at Rensselaer in Jasper County. The same winter C. Haskin, T.H. Halsted and myself bought a saw mill at Bumbaloo in Newton County, run it two years and moved it to Roselawn. In 1882, [I] moved the same mill to West Lebannon and run it for two years, then moved it to Washington Territory and sawed timber and ties for the Northern Pacific railroad for three years. I come home once in that time. Then [I] went back and sold the mill and land and came home.
In 1888, [I] traded for another saw mill at Michigan City; cut 50,000 feet of lumber, then moved on B.&O.R.R. and cut 80,000 feet more, then moved to Lowell. About 1892, I moved the saw mill to Shelby; run it two years; built two long bridges across the Kankakee River and others from 15 to 100 feet long in the neighborhood. Then moved back to Lowell where the mill is now . In 1894 I built two frame dwellings and the next year two brick houses on Halsted street to rent.
In 1885, on my way back to Washington territory, 100 miles west of Ogden, I met a gentleman who was mining in the Snake River canyon. The mines are 110 miles from C.P.R.R. The canyon is 25 miles long and from 800 to 1000 feet deep; 800 feet wide with perpendicular walls. There is 30 or 40 feet of large rock from the water to the foot of the walls weighing from a few pounds to many tons.
He wanted to know if I could put up a derrick to move those rocks. The pay dirt lay under those rocks. The rocks had hundreds of craters black with smoke. They must have been heated by mineral heat, as there was no lava in sight.
Within two miles of the lower end of the canyon is the Great Sho Shone Falls, 214 feet high. I put the first derrick up half a mile below the last named falls. It gave entire satisfaction. I shipped in three derricks. I went 50 miles to get upright and boom timbers with a four- horse team. There was only one place I could get down the river between the falls.
In 1885, I came home from Washington Territory. On the train I met Rev. Duncan, a missionary. When he left college 12 years before, he went 600 miles north of Victoria, British Columbia, among savage Indians.
He christianized them, taught them to read and write and work; built a saw mill and helped build houses for them. He had 1,000 civilized people. He was an English Episcopalian and began his work without any help from any church.
Soon after his village was nearly built, an E. Bishop ordered him to come into his diocese. He would not and applied to Washington for permission to go over to an island a few miles northwest in the jurisdiction of the United States. So these Mattelack Indians all went over to the island to be in a free country.
February 18, 1899, my dear wife died after a lingering illness. We had lived together nearly 57 years. It was always sunshine in my house and the time seemed very short.
In July, 1899, I made a trip east; was gone 31 days and returned home very much improved in health, and now I find myself in my eightieth year hale and hearty ready for any enterprise that offers.
This brings me down to May 1900. I live in the east part of the house we built 50 years ago. No children are with me at the present time.
My oldest son lives in Kansas. He is a farmer and has a wife and three children. My youngest son lives in Boston; his only son lives with him. They are both engineers. ----
Respectfully, M.A. Halsted
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