In May 2002 "The Pioneer History" column featured Part One of the autobiography of Melvin Halsted, founder of Lowell 150 years ago. Halsted wrote about coming to West Creek Township to farm in 1845, moving to Lowell in 1848, building a saw mill, burning bricks, and building the first brick house in 1850. This month he tells an interesting tale on the trail to the west during the Gold Rush.
We left Sacramento the 5th of May  thence 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 tramp a trail four or five miles to a good place to camp when we would tramp back next morning.
We would then pack up and start at 4:00 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 place we did the year before. This was about May 15, 1851. There were many dead animals at the deep sand ridge east of Carson river. Animals do not decompose in that dry pure atmosphere; they dry up through and through with the skin on the carcass. They will remain so many months and finally crumble away to dust. Fresh meat will not spoil at any time.
When we got across to Humbolt River, there were three dead Indians that a party had killed for stealing his mules, and whom we met. The Indians were hostile for five hundred miles.
One evening when we had gone into camp, an Indian was trying to spy our camp. Two men went out and fetched the gentleman in at the point of a gun, and then showed him all out 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 coming up over our saddles. We swam and waded for half a mile. We got into Ogden about the third of June. Where Ogden is now, I went to a house to buy butter, eggs and potatoes. The woman said, "Mr. Brown did not have enough for himself and all his nine wives in this row of cabins." I said "Are all of them his wives?"
"Yes, she said, "and he wants another. Do you see that house eighty rod away? That man has just died and he is going for the widow, farm, cattle and all. So you can see, Mr. Brown will soon have a large family."
So we went along and got our butter and eggs at another house. We went into camp five miles from Salt Lake City. Next morning, while on our way, two young men came along on horseback. I began to tell them about Mr. Brown. "Yes," one said, "I have five wives and I am young in the business." Within one mile of the city there is a spring that will boil eggs. Salt Lake City has many attractions of which I will describe later.
I will speak of one cruel circumstance. This was in June, 1851. An Indian chief overpowered a small tribe of Tintes and killed all the men and big boys and brought the women and children to the city to sell. A squaw with a papoose sold for $10. A boy or girl from 8 to 10 years old sold for from $20 to $50. They tried to enslave them. The experiment was a failure. Indians can never be enslaved, as I learned years after at Salt Lake City.
The city had 10,000 people in it at this time. We stayed near the city for five days, then two other men joined us. The four with the mail went back. Five of us, in all, left the city for home over fifteen hundred miles. When we left the city the 10th of June, 1851, we went up City Creek canyon through the Wahsatch range of mountains 25 miles to Webber River, where I saw and talked to Kit Carson Fremonts, old scout and guide, thence to Old Fort Bridger. I bought some buckskin pants that his two squaw wives had made.
His stockade, or fort, was made by setting timber or logs in the ground close together, twelve or fifteen feet high. From there we went to Green River. After the Mountain Meadow massacre and other depredations, the government sent soldiers and a train of provisions.
At Green River the Mormons captured their train of provisions after a hard fight.
Then we went to South Pass, then down the Sweet Water River across a thirty-mile desert to Upper Platte ferry, thence to Fort Larimy on the Larimy River where it empties into the North Platte.
The government sent out scouts and runners for five hundred miles around to have the Indians come in to make treaties and smoke the pipe of peace. There was a large room at the fort with benches around it. Thirty or forty Indian chiefs came in and smoked the pipe with the commander of the fort. I was on the bench when they all came in. I passed the pipe when it came around. The commander would smoke, too. It went around three times.
They were savage looking people. I went two miles out to where there were two thousand Siouxs in camp. Their families were with them and 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, shirt and cape, leggings and moccasins. They looked neat with no bonnets or hats and a very heavy head of black course hair cut short in the neck. They walked one behind the other. When they walk they set the front end of their foot down first. We started down the North Platte the next day about 400 miles to junction of South and North Platte. Then we went down on the north side of the Main Platte River. When we got 100 miles further we ran into a herd of buffalo, then we had a fine chase running them, but when we wounded any of them they would turn and run us.
We finally quit the fun and went on 100 miles further when we ran out of provisions. We crossed the river and bought a supply off a large train of Mormons going to Utah.
The river is very bad to cross. It was one and a half miles wide, with soft quick sand and deep channels of water. When we got across the first wagon we came to, we told the woman we wanted a good supper for we had been short on allowences two days and would pay liberal. While she was getting supper, we went to those that would sell and bought bread and bacon and went back.
Fifteen years after that, I met a man on the street in Salt Lake City. I told him I was tired of the hotel and wanted to board with a private family to learn more about the Mormons. I stayed with Mr. Edwards (for that was the Mormon's name) ten days.
About the second day I mentioned something about the supper on the Platte River years ago. "Why," says Mrs. Edwards, "I got that supper for you."
Our conversation was about polygamy. She said "I am looking for another wife for Mr. Edwards. I am getting too old to have children so I will get him a young wife that he may raise more children unto the Lord and build up the Kingdom." I went the next year and saw the young wife.
The old lady did not act the same as before. She was less cheerful. There was one too many in the house.
Returning to our supper mentioned, we were three days passing millions of buffalo. About 100 miles more we reached Fort Kearney, thence to the Missouri River, 250 miles. The ferry boat was sunk. We got a canoe and swam our horses and mules over the Missouri River. The water was high. Went down a mile going over. We went twenty miles up the river to Kanesville, a Mormon town, and a fitting out place on the way to Utah. Rested over Sunday and heard six Mormon preachers talk on every subject but the gospel.
Polygamy started in Iowa in 1846 about half-way across the state, when Brigham Young told Bill Hickman to take another wife; Young saying he had a revelation from God to take more wives.
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 January 1, 1853 [on Mill Street]. In fall of the same year, I laid out Lowell and give away many lots to mechanics and others to settle up the town. Lowell was surrounded by good farmers and good land. The mills caused Lowell to begin to settle. The first store started in Lowell in 1854.
In 1852, the first brick school was erected. It was 20 X 30 and stood near where Hago Carstens' shop is now. In 1856, the Baptist church and what is now Mrs. R.C. Webb's house was built. Several houses were built by this time. In 1857, I sold the property and went to Kimmundy, Illinois, and bought an interest in a saw mill. I erected a flour mill and seven houses -- one to live in and the others to rent. The mills proved to be good property. In the fall of 1858 my brother, another man and myself went through Missouri and Arkansas to look at the new wild country. This same year I went to New Orleans, Mobile, thence up the Tom Bigley River and visited several plantations four years before the war and saw slavery at its best; I went across the country, struck the Alabama River, then to Montgomery, Ala., then to Atlanta, Ga., then to Chattanooga, Tenn., Augusta, Ga., Wilmington, N.C., Petersburg and Richmond, Va., thence to Washington and home by way of Baltimore. I sold the mills in Kimmundy, but kept the houses to rent. I went to California again in October, 1859. I went through Harper's Ferry the same week as John Brown's raid. The train stopped twenty minutes to see the havoc made by capturing John Brown and others. They were put in jail eight miles from Harper's ferry across the Potomac River. I went, via to New York, to California on a steamer around by the Isthmus. From Aspinwall to Panama, it is 48 miles by rail. The elevation of the Isthmus is 350 or 400 feet. We saw a great many of people with scanty clothing; some boys and men were entirely nude. After prospecting for a mill site about six weeks, we found a good site 30 miles south of San Francisco on the coast. We erected a flour mill in 1860 with two run of stone. We used 80,000 feet of lumber in boom and mill. A very rich company wanted our stream of water above the mill to carry water to the city to better supply San Francisco. We sold out at a good price. We then came home before the war began. William, my oldest son, went in three months service. The next call, there was twice as many offered as was wanted, so I went back to the gold fields. I went to Virginia City, Nevada, and stayed two years. In 1863, while at San Francisco my family and myself, consisting of my wife and two sons -- one 20 and one 11 -- went on the coast 30 miles south, where my brother and I built a flour mill at Spanishtown in 1860, thence 10 miles to a whaling camp of which there is six such camps in 900 miles coast from San Diego to Oregon.
It takes 20 men to man a whaling camp. They see a whale 2 or 3 miles from shore. About six men will got out in a small boat and when they get near him they will put down their oars and one man will paddle slow and still so not to scare him until they get up broadside, for they swim and play with their backs from 2 to 6 feet out of the water. Then one man will shoot the whale just behind the shoulder blade; for a whale is more animal than fish. Their two fore fins have anatomy just like the fore legs of a cow or a horse, only instead of a leg it is a fin three feet wide and five feet long.
The gun is about four feet long and will carry a bomb lance one inch in diameter and 12 inches long with a three inch taper point, so it will enter the whale easily. As the bomb leaves the gun, the fuse is lighted so it will explode in the whale, which paralyzes it for 5 minutes when the sailors go up to him (for he lays still a few minutes) and sink a harpoon into him and attach a 300 fathom of rope at one end and a buoy on the other. In a little while the whale will wake up and dive and swim often ten miles before he dies, which often takes two days. They then watch him from the bluff with a glass when they go after him and tow him to the camp on the beach. They often weigh 100 tons and are often from 60 to 90 feet long. The men have two capstans run by 10 men each, with two-inch rope with 5 or 6 shive pulleys.
They land the whale back to shore at high tide when they begin to take the blubber off, which is solid as fat pork, four feet from the back. The blubber or fat is two inches thick and gets thicker every foot until it is eight inches thick at the bottom. They often get from 60 to 80 barrels of oil from one whale.
The whale must live near the surface to breath or they will drown. The mortal enemy of the whale is the swordfish, which has a lance 3 or 4 feet long and come up under the whale and spear him in his vitals, which is sure death. When we are on the steamer we can often see 5 or 6 whales spouting and playing for 5 or 10 miles around. We occasionally run into a school of porpoise two or three miles long. Many thousands of them jump out of the water to see the steamer. They are 5 or 6 feet long and 12 to 15 inches through. I made a good stake and bought back all the Lowell mill property, Foley mill, the McCarty mill -- also improved the lake so there was enough water to run without steam.
Part three of Mr. Halsted's autobiography will appear in July's "Pioneer History" column with more interesting stories about his many travel adventures and business enterprises in many states, including a story about capturing sea lions.
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