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Sunday, August 25, 2002

A perilous wagon-train trip west

Jerry Bowen

One family settled in Allendale

In my last column we left the wagon train on the banks of the Colorado River, south of today’s Bullhead City, Ariz., with 13 wounded and Alpha Brown dead from an Indian attack.

In addition, all seven members of the Bentner family had been killed earlier when they left Sitgreaves Pass and traveled alone to join the Rose party at the river. Udell had begged them not to go on alone, but they refused to listen.

Only 17 cows and 10 horses were saved from the Indian attack, which left most of the people without animals to pull their wagons. Facing starvation and more attacks, they made the decision to abandon several of the wagons and try to return to Albuquerque, 600 danger-filled miles away.

On Aug. 31, Udell commented in his journal, “Here we were, left in the midst of merciless savages thirsting for our blood . . . I was in the worst situation of anyone in the company who had a family, my wife being 65 years of age and so feeble that she was not able to walk, and I had not an ox or hoof left, except an Indian pony which I had kept at my wagon and he was so worn down he could scarcely travel . . . there was not half enough provision in the company to sustain us until we could reach white settlements so that in all probability we must all perish by the hands of merciless savages or by starvation . . . Indeed, I almost envied the lot of those of our comrades who were left dead behind us, their lifeless bodies to be burned by the savage foe, as is the custom of those Indians.”

Incredibly, faced with such a hopeless situation and just as Udell finished writing those words, the destitute company learned that a large wagon train from Iowa was camped at Mountain Spring, just three miles back down the trail (near present day Oatman on old Highway 66). To top that off, one of the members of the Iowa Company was John Hamilton, a good friend of the Udells. Also in the train were some old friends of L.J. Rose; the Caves, James Jordan, Perkins, and Davis families. They assisted as many as they could by taking them into their wagons. However, there was not enough room for all of them.

They began to retrace their footsteps eastward at night to escape the terrible heat. The women walked, cradling infants in their arms through the thorny cactus, greasewood, and sagebrush. The men struggled with the remaining possessions, many with worn-out shoes, their feet swollen and infected from massive cuts caused by walking on the rocky terrain. Continued Indian harassment added to the misery of the beleaguered group whose only hope was the superiority of their firearms to keep the enemy from overwhelming them.

Almost miraculously, they encountered another very large wagon train from Decatur, Ill., at White Rock Spring (near Truxton on old Highway 66). The 43- man E.0. & T.O. Smith wagon train was herding 600 head of cattle to California. With the addition of the new company, they numbered 118 well-armed men.

Udell argued without success that with this strength they could continue to California. Udell wrote, “I pressed my appeal so strong that some of the Iowa Company became angry and began to curse me, so I did not push the matter any further.” Rose’s embellished stories of the Indian deprivations and certain death won the day and the frightened emigrants continued to head east, still split into separate groups.

Udell documented the return journey, filled with tales of great suffering, human kindness, and utter greed. Finally, the ragtag outfits pulled into Albuquerque in mid-November. Udell recorded much bitterness toward Rose in his journal, telling of his refusal to help others when he had plenty. In another light, Udell’s praise of the Smith’s sacrifices in order to help others showed a depth of greatness attained in times of despair. The twin Holland boys died of starvation on the return trip and were buried in the middle of the wagon road. Sally Fox’s half brother died after reaching Albuquerque and was buried there.

Udell settled in Albuquerque and was hired by the Army to feed stock. He learned that Lt. Beale would soon return to develop his road. When Beale arrived, Udell and the Hedgepeth family asked if they could accompany his group. Beale consented to take them along.

They left Albuquerque in early March of 1859 and returned along the same route to California with Beale and his Army troop. During the trip they were joined by Beale’s partner, Samuel Bishop, and learned that he had recently defeated the Indians that had attacked the wagon train a few months prior.

The Udells reached Los Angeles on June 16, 1859. They boarded a ship bound for San Francisco and finally he and Emily arrived at Allendale where they remained with their sons, Oliver and Henry.

Emily died on April 19, 1868. John remarried Jan. 15, 1871, to Llarinder Anderson of Sonoma County and settled near Healdsburg. John Udell died June 30, 1874, at the age of 79 and I believe he is buried there.

In the spring of 1859, the wagon train with Sally Fox decided to go the southern route through Arizona to California. By that fall Sally and the rest of her family finally arrived at their uncle Harbison’s farm at Vacaville. Sally planted the four black walnuts where later the famous Nut Tree was built. For years, the story that she picked up the nuts on the banks of the Gila River in southern Arizona has been told. But, according to researcher and author, Jack Beale Smith, “Recent research has proven that this is an impossibility as no Black Walnut trees grow on the banks of the Gila River from Casa Grande to Yuma where this wagon train would have followed that river. Even the earliest Spanish records confirm that walnut trees did not exist along the Gila River when they first arrived in that area in the 17th century.” He adds that, “One day, while they were camped at Partridge Creek near Mt. Floyd, about 15 miles northeast of modern day Seligman, Ariz., Sally picked up four small black walnuts which she carried in her apron to Albuquerque.”

As for Rose, he and his family finally emigrated to California in 1860 and settled in the San Gabriel Valley where he raised horses and produced fine wines. After a series of financial problems, he committed suicide on May 17, 1899, at the age of 72.