Parenthetical notes and "Ed." comments are those of the 1939 transcriptionist. Bracketed notes are mine.
A TRIP TO AND FROM THE OREGON TERRITORY IN 1850-51In 1850 Major Philip Kearny was ordered to join his regiment, the First United States Dragoons, in California.
BEING THE NOTES OF MAJOR PHILIP KEARNY
Entered in his Diary During the Rogue River War.
Kearny embarked at New York; traveled by way of Panama. and arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1850.
While in California, Kearny, whose fortunes had been seriously impaired by the speculations of his agent in New York, took advantage of the GOLD RUSH, and according to his first cousin, Major General John Watts De Payster, who was joint heir with him of the two-million-dollar estate of their grandfather John Watts, the last Royal Recorder of New York, increased his fortunes by over five hundred thousand dollars.
Upon his arrival at San Francisco, he was taken with a serious illness, and this no doubt was fortunate, as it gave him the opportunity to look into the economic conditions, which enabled him to recoup his losses.
The object of his mission was to remove the United States soldiers, principally the Mounted Rifles, then stationed at Columbia Barracks, and at Fort Vancouver. The Oregon governor and the Congressional Delegates, according to Kearny, had insisted on having the troops brought in, but almost immediately had reversed their position, and, because of the expense, had insisted that these troops be removed. Kearny's mission resulted in the Rogue River Indian War, and the clearance of the trade routes from California to Oregon.
The diary consists of notes made day by day, usually, as Kearny progressed from San Francisco, Sacramento to Oregon City, Portland, Columbia Barracks and Vancouver and thence back to California.
The book in which the notes appear is five inches by two and a half; about half an inch thick, and leather-backed. On the side is a holder for a pencil, and the manufacturer claimed, on the inside cover, that if THE PENCIL therein contained were used, the elements, rain or drenching in the waters, would not erase the notes. The notes, though in pencil, for the most part, are in perfect preservation after eighty-seven years. Some, however, are difficult of deciphering.
The diary follows.Tuesday March 25th, 1851. Received orders from.Oregon to go, in confidence, to Sacramento … As usual nice country … Lovely sunset … sweet twilight … Just at dark at Benicia … After an hour in cabin, went on deck … Scenery is strange, in a narrow sense … Trees in sunlight … Old priest … Got to bed and slept well … Arose at eight to find we had arrived at three … Sacramento is a city amid the trees … Beyond nice prairie, interspersed with trees … New Orleans Hotel … Frenchy … Sacramento is American … Like N.Y. with unpaved streets … Few foreigners. The Levee, inland, looks down on bustling market scene. Goods crammed all around … Jay Street, Horn Market … Sutlers over two miles out … Jay Street one and a half mile … Population about 7000 … Property lower … Three gambling palaces … Beautiful farms in vicinity … sickly from overplowing … Race course five miles out. Stage wagons … Teams with goods … Stop at Knapp's 28 miles …
Thursday the 27th. Enter the hills … Great heights … Fine view of distant valley … The grass nearly up to my waist. Low pines … Within 12 miles of Coloma … Country bare … Precipitous … Looks mineral … Every little hill is turned topsy-turvy … Many houses … Niggers at Eldorado … Coloma some 100 or more pretty good houses … Frame … Boards show new … Some good painted ones … Shops around … Express office … Return by the old mill …Large damming … The Tunnel … Roads good considering winding along precipices … Return by Union Town … Stay at Knapp's.
Friday 28th, 1851. Went by devious road to "Mormon Diggings" … It is quite a place … which has been much dug. Yet many at work and profitably. Meet a fellow passenger … Long Terms … Quick delivery … The river turned by a dam … Shanties … Huts … Road coming out at Willow Spring … Rain. Lunch at ten miles from the Squatter Cave … The house where MacKinley was killed five miles out … Arrive in time for steamer … We go rapidly. Scenery first dull and flat … Banks low … Relieved by houses … Wood for market of San Francisco … Reminds of scenes as we approach New York …The Sierra Nevada is replaced by the range of Mount Diablo … and Napa … Appears as the distant Catskills … Or the Highlands
Saturday the twenty-ninth … March 1851 … The report (General Green) of Committee as to sites chosen by them at Vallejo … Coal discovered, on dit [French: "it is said"], near Vallejo … The proximity of buildings with a lady who popped her head out of an adjoining house's window, and her admiring me, during a whole morning's employment … I saw Dutch Charley … More races …
Sunday 3rd March … The majority of gold coin in circulation is "California" . . . (Mint)
Tuesday April 1st … 1851 … L. Shannon's Cave today … Within a few days the tax on foreign miners has been (very properly) abolished … The probability of California being erected into two states (This was the intention of Jefferson Davis THEN … and many Southern statesmen).
Thursday April 5th. General Smith ordered home … (The foregoing notes are written in ink, principally. The balance, except two pages, of the diary, are written in pencil. Ed.) …
At this point the diary is not wholly readable. But evidently Kearny is heading for the ship which is destined to take him to the Oregon country and Fort Vancouver. Some names and passages are readable. Thus:
A plain of interminable pines run out into a tongue beyond a range of hills, out by Cape Disappointment … We ran by town, South … Pilot boat … Struck from the said Island dimly discontent … Point Adams the point of low land … The abortive city of the Pacific … The river five miles wide, but seems like North River at Hoboken … Some four or five small ships. Mount Hood like loaf of sugar but Oh! how wild.
Then the diary continues:
April 9th 1851. As we approach Fort Vancouver, the settlements thicken … Some pretty farms … Mr. Preux bought a nice ram from an Indian woman … (no shawl) and two bucks laid on a colt … Indian tent village … Some men naked … boys swimming … .
April 28th Portland. Over to Portland City with Crouch, Burke and Morris … Crossed by rope ferry … Little slim good-natured carry boy of ten … Wagon road somewhat round about … So we trail through woods … Got there in forty-five minutes … (Then appear names which look like Mr. Leonard and Suntru on S. side of River Kup Ferry. Ed.) … Portland on west of Willamette is two or three streets deep … Willamette forest … Looks like a little town in the North.
Portland April 29th 1851. All seems American, junky … Some pink houses. Several churches and hotels … People gone to mines … No fences. Looks dirty … Still it of 14 months ("months" may be a misreading. Ed.) … Some eight or ten vessels from 100 to 600 tons … The main vessel has been up in high water … Chester pines (May be misreadings. Ed.) … Recross the river five miles to Martinsville … Pretty good road … Ranches occasionally located … Martinsville. Some 100 houses since last November … From Martinsville to Oregon City … Road horrible … Through town. Cross Clackamas. Oregon City extends from Fall of Clackamas. A curious ------ place with ten … (? Ed.). Good ferry. Falls of W. River one half a mile wide …
Visit General Gaines … General Lane is running for Congress … Soil rich … (Then follows this unusual entry across the page: "At Gatoin (? Ed.), people do nothing but dance and fiddle from morning to night … No wonder for they live on monkeys. I peeped at their cuisine; and saw on the fire what seemed a little nigger child roasting … It was a monkey … Monday, rattlesnake … The meat grossly poor … I proposed a dinner of scorpions." [This was apparently a reference to Gatun, Panama.]
Thursday the twenty-ninth of April … Heavy dull rain had commenced the preceding night … We start … Captain W. leaves at seven … Captain S. at nine. (W. was Walker and S. was Stuart. Both had fought in the Mexican War with Phil. To Kearny at Churubusco had been ascribed the honor of FIRST entering the City of Mexico, on August 20th, 1847, while on Sept. 14th Stuart, after Kearny had lost his arm in his famous cavalry charge, was reported by Scott to have been the first THEN to enter the city. All three were great friends. Ed.) … Great detention at ferry … Eight miles from Switzer to Portland Ferry … A wood track … Sluice to ferry … Fields inundated for one and a half mile … Road hilly and through woods … Portland Ferry good … Two roads, the new, the shortest … Captain Walker takes it by accident … Sergeant Thompson under Lt. Irvin stay at the [omission] with some rear pack mules … Captain S. and I. and company go on to the Six Mile Camp … Horrible road … The camp in a ravine … grain for horses … No grass … A cheery good wood fire … Lt. Williamson …
Friday the 30th of April … Wait until eight and a half for Lt. Irvin … Leave Hamsly, two others and some mules … Pack mules to the utmost … Terrific road … Mudholes belly deep … with flaws … Bad swale … five miles to over … Have sent wagon on empty … Two miles further to junction of old road … Seven miles from.Six Mile Camp … The Tualatin plains … Friends of '45 … Walker had encamped at ------ with train … Five miles further to Camp of the Woods … Not much grass … Beautiful camp …
Saturday the thirty-first of April … We start at seven … Three miles to the Camp of the Train … They had started early … We make twenty-four miles to Lafayette … Cross rapidly good ferry … Come up by detachments … Captain Walker selects a bad camp in a sluice [slough?] … Exchange Kitty for a fine horse … Beautiful country all day … Ever since entering plains fine improvements. Occasional distant Indian tent or hut, not Indian enough to be called wigwam … Lafayette promising young town … Public square … Stores … etc. … Traffic with Up Country … Hunting [Hauling?] terms (? Ed.) ten dollars per hundred.
Monday May 3rd … Fine day … Left the fort at eleven … Pass the Mills … Occasional settlement every half mile or mile … we make two to three miles per hour … (The next entries are illegible, partly, but evidently an Indian chief came up with "skins, caps, leather things, and a sash of brilliant colors." The chief's name seems to spell out Cummnet. On the night of the second of May, the "encampment was seven thirty in the evening, and very comfortable." … The Indian proposed he act as guide, which Kearny seemed to refuse … "Many willows" were noticed. Ed.)
Then the record continues:
May 14th Rainy morning … Used our French coffee pot … Start at eight. Course to Castle Rock, like Windsor Castle … Came there in two hours … Rock two hundred feet high … bastions. Tree on top … A flower grows out of rock … Like the New York Palisades … Salmon jumping … Indians fishing … Palisades … (The course of a river is now followed and at night the party arrives at Johnston. Several islands were seen in the river … Ed.)
Kearny then proceeds:
May 14th (con). Arrive at Johnston at 10½ o'clock. Discovered Indian graves … Bones and flat skulls … Terrible crossing. River road. Lazy Indians … Fishing establishment … Cruelty to their slaves … Child with two salmon … A man catching two fish in his net … A respectable man hiring out his wives … Two and a half miles to the sawmill. … Seeing cascades … Very fine … But NOT Palisades, but Harper's Ferry … A whole family in a canoe. I winning a horse … we started at five A.M. We came to a submerged forest … River bearing N.N.E. … Mountains magnificent … Children flat skulls … Encampment at seven. Misty … Noble camp fires … Indians fix tent … Grandeur of Mt. St. Helens at night.
May 15th. Balmy air; misty and rainy; very light and no wind … Our soup of beans and consomme … Start at eight … River a vast tidal duel. Put sail down … River bears East North East … Forests in the water … Mountains open on both sides for a space of two miles … Especially to south … we have been sailing rapidly. The mountains less high, but noble … Mountains tapered down to high hills, hardly mountains … Dead horse on rock … Specimens of soul [soil?] at Johnston … Specimens of fossils at Johnston … Pass upper Cape Horn … we have been under sail. Wind not strong … The hills sparse wooded or bare … The Dalles in view …
Kearny now describes the windings of the river; and the "cold," which at times was quite severe; and at length.
Vancouver. Tuesday, May 27th … Rainy season holds on. This is cold mountain weather … Bracing like autumn for exercise … But green as hay … It is not the May of the poet waking all things to love … Still flowers profuse … Imperial purple … Literally like a parterre … The last dogwood … white full blossoms are falling. The white, sweet scents … May in the meanwhile comes and gone. We miss them in the woods though flowers have succeeded … It prefers May elsewhere. The mules of ------ the train left Saturday. The stores leave Monday at four A.M. We are to start Thursday the 29th. (Follows his unconnected entry across the margin, "General Lane, and his electioneering speech. His character" … Then an entry, which the Major has run two lines through, apparently indicating his intention to keep his thoughts, very personal, off the record."
June first 1851. (Note the date of Kearny's birth, sometimes placed at June second, is decided as June first. Ed.). Praise God my Birthday! I have changed in a few months, constitutionally, mentally, and in temperament, from.being over-young, to being over-aged for my years … My life has certainly been strangely admixed. Impulsiveness has been like a runaway steed … My fortune and love of pleasure made me appear to others deficient in character, I am NOW changed. But it is the weakness of a prematurely broken-down constitution (My sickness in California did it.) … More correctly it has been the body which has been overworked by the mind. The mind, the brain, has become scarred. (Remarkable words indeed: For whereas he STOOD the brunt of Lee's and Stonewall Jackson's and Longstreet's vicious and magnificent assaults alike in each Battle of the Seven Days, and on the Peninsula, and at Second Bull Run, he THEN boasted--as was the fact--that his "health was never better." Ed.)
Then Phil. gives this account of his birthday in its uncanceled edition:
Sunday June 1st 1851. My birthday. Game yet. Slightly deaf (This disappeared. Ed.), a recompense for having refused to succumb. Everything promises finely. Seventeen miles to a lovely camp. View of distant campaign country. At one point see FIVE snow-capped peaks. No church. People strawberrying. Our guide, Mr. T'Vault. The people are afraid of our soldiers. Encamped at Camp Strawberry. Write Mrs. Laight (She was Phil's aunt, for whose family Laight Street, New York City was named. Ed.) of New York City. Beautiful wildflowers. I accept the omen.
Monday June 2nd. This day marched and encamped at LaCreole. A pretty camp. This is election day. General Lane, Dr. Willson, Mr. Thurston, a fussy politician. Oregon citizen soldiers ask to vote, and permitted … Good grass … Mr. T'Vault pretty useful … Visited by an old fogey who was Superintendent for Judge Walton. (Well-known New Yorker. The Walton house on Franklin Square was the handsomest mansion in the city in colonial times. Ed.)
June 3rd 1851. Tuesday. Five miles to where train encamped … lovely spot … "Slip bits" and graze … our mules and our packers. Three and a half further to Davis' Banford (? Ed.) has procured oats. B. returns … M. pilots us to straighten road for people. (Note. The following has reference to an old complaint. Applegate and Scott, who led a party here, were much blamed for having taken a wrong route--too long. Hence Kearny was asked to make a survey, and detour, to ascertain whether the Applegate route was the right road. It was established that it was. See Gen. Philip Kearny Battle Soldier of Five Wars, by the author. Ed.) Nice man. Road wanders amidst groves which approach the road as it winds through … Spanish-looking cattle … Strike the Will Point (? Ed.) at Marysville … Cross river. Encamp at five miles from ferry. Island like camp … Good grass … Marysville has a blacksmith shop … two or three stores and several houses … All wood, new. On crossing the river a tableland on precipitous bank of the Willamette on the west by a very picturesque mountain ridge rising abruptly … Met Mrs. Norris, cousin of old Ben (? Ed.).
Wednesday June 4th. Nine miles to Dr. Richardson … Long Tom … Seven miles to second bridge … Encamp at Second Bridge …
Thursday fifth of June … Seven miles to Richardson … Noon. Two miles to Bridge. Horrible Long Tom bottoms … Encamp at beautiful camp at ------. At commencement of spurs.
Friday the sixth of June … Encamp at the Siuslaw. Several very hard bottoms … The beautiful pines … Lambert (?) still amidst the spurs. The mountains commence beyond …
Saturday June seventh … Saturday encamp at Applegate's. 10 miles over the mountains. Six miles thence to Applegate's … High ridges … Abrupt ascents and descents … A very bad mud-holey, woody road … on this side … Streams crystal clear … but very abrupt banks … Applegate's on the Elk Creek … our wagons encamped over the mountains … Had great difficulty in crossing the Elk Creek here. Dismiss my wagons finally this morning … I rode ahead … Employ Applegate … We met many passing and repassing from the mines … Yesterday I saw two Klickitat Indians going to assemble their warriors to fight those on the Rogue River.
Sunday June 8th '51. Make seventeen miles to Reed's, about nine or eleven miles from the N. Umpqua … Rainy afternoon … Encamp range style, under tree … This Umpqua country, small valleys … Very rich, open timber … Cross spurs that run in all directions … Settlements continually, but fewer and newer … many traveling in from the mines … Good accounts … Report of Indian trouble … Lt. W., Applegate, Scott far ahead.
Monday June 9th. The wagon train ahead but moves very slowly. Cross the Umpqua Valley … River rapid … Sometimes fordable … Very swift … Valleys rich but small … More noise of Indian troubles. Very many troubles with packs coming from mines … Rained just as we encamped at 3 P.M. Encampment three and a half miles from Ferry … Grass everywhere fine … 7 P.M. a wretched, heavy, settled rain. Powder two dollars … Tobacco two …
Thursday June 15th. Rain all day … Some seventeen miles and encamp three miles beyond the Myrtle--so called from a sole tree … Myrtle Creek is the pass direct to our new route to the Rogue River … Vast saving by it … The banks of Umpqua precipitous. (Note: The new route was not shorter than the old taken originally by Applegate and Scott, for which their companions blamed them. This entry may indicate that the "new" route was a "vastly" shorter one. See General Philip Kearny. Ed.). Very severe spurs running to the water … Else very rocky, gravelly river bank … Mr. Hannah informed me that train arrived at two P.M … Can't cross. I think our camp is three miles from ferry … Great alarm …
Wednesday June 11. We delay till 11 A.M. Rainy day … Arrive at ferry. Very few stores and no wagons around. I swim the command over. (Kearny had picked up the troops at Vancouver and Columbia Barracks, and his command now numbered about 60 men. Ed.) With difficulty engage Scott and Applegate …
Thursday 12th. Long day. Rainy first part and then clears dubiously … Receive Knott and his petition …
Yesterday decided on new course as a military move … Confined today by securing Scott. Applegate a humbug … The rainy weather prevented Win (? Ed.) making a reconnaissance as I directed … nook of a camp in a triangle between two brooks.
Friday June 13. With ------ provisions and packs I started … The train ------ and 16 soldiers under Lurling … At eleven leave Knott's. I cross eight miles from K. … At three move. Encamp on a run three and a half miles from ferry …
Sunday June 15th … Encamp on Umpqua at the forks … Cross the saddles … packs and E Company. Cheerfulness of men … The half breed Frank G. crossing. (? Ed.)
Monday 16th June … Cross Company A. Column marches at seven A.M. Winds
up a high hill … Frightful paths on side of ridge … Trail descends into a lovely country … Open timber, high.mountain off on right … Very wooded hill on left … Fine grass … Trail excellent … Five miles from ferry to Applegate's late camp. Trail leads along stream and at times into it. Twenty miles from ferry commences ascending the Divide by a lateral spur. The trail takes the Divide at the highest. Openings to valleys to right and left. Must be good road there … Almost impassable Cap to Divide … Five miles from summit find camp selected by Applegate … Much old Indian sign, and party of half breed and horses … Strong guard … Small fires …
Tuesday June 17th. March at 6 A.M. Five miles to Rogue River … Unexpected … Difficulty of finding Indian sign … Walker crosses … Skirmish … Captain Stuart killed … Myself nearly cut off … Camp … Terrible on horses … Killed.
Wednesday June 18th 1851 Secretly cross Rogue River near camp … Gain the plains … 17 miles to Camp Stuart … Nearly due south … Walker's Trail. Uncertainty as to train …
Thursday 19th. Camp Stuart. (Note: Kearny named the camp for his beloved friend. Later he had the body removed to his home, Beaufort, South Carolina, where a monument marks the grave with a tiny biography of this war. Ed.). Walker and Irvin join me from Camp eight miles off. Citizens (militia Ed.), Binquy (? Ed.), Applegate and Scott leave …
Friday June 3rd. Camp Stuart Third night … Many citizens encamped under our protection … A party robbed … We gallop five miles in three quarters of an hour, and take packs and kill and surprising Indians.
Saturday … 21 Camp Stuart. 4th night … Tiresome not awaiting volunteer … Send out scouting party. Continue Indian signal fires …
Sunday 22 … Scott and Irvin return in the afternoon … Applegate with Trainer at 7 P.M. Saddle at eight and a quarter … March at nine …
Monday 23rd. Cross Rogue River at old ford at daylight … Gallop over the plains … Break up ranches … With some fighting … Skirmish in hammock …
Tuesday 24th. Outmaneuver old chief … Humphrey toward Mt. Pitt. Scour this day left bank … Encampment on road … General Lane came this night with some 40 men …
Wednesday 25th … March to get in rear … Fruitless search for ford … Sent back Walker to strengthen squaw guard. (Note: The peace, later signed, was largely influenced by Kearny's capture of these women, including the wife of the chief. Ed.). Encamp at three P.M.
Thursday 26th … Trainer to assemble parties and direct them to face Table Rock (Promontory from which the Indians observed the movements of settlers and troops. Ed.) this day, and cross there the next … We cross good ford ten miles above ferry … Follow up a creek. Kill spies … Surprise chief's family. Fine encampment … in ------ of Table Rock.
Friday 27th Camp S. … Follow trail … Come to base of mountain of Table Rock … Walker joins me … Ford at "moving" point … We move on to Camp Stuart.
Saturday 28th. Camp S. New Camp Stuart. Applegate, Scott and some volunteers go …
Sunday 29th. Dragoons resume march to hill (Note: Kearny had organized his command as a Dragoon regiment, although composed of privates and officers of the Mounted Rifles. Ed.). Move 13 miles from Newburgh … The rainbow … Sunset … The river is excessively tortuous … Country very rich, but unemployable for want of a Levee … It became dark as we got under the shadow of Mount Diablo … (Rich valley of Mount Diablo) … Good tea and waiting on table … Table cloth …tea salts … Arrive at nine and a half o'clock … Find my old room … Vacport (illegible) practical scientific talk of the common men you meet … Diggings are pure but laborious …Wages three dollars …Big lumps scarce … The quartz operating promises successfully … Machinery said to be too small … Wages very high. Six dollars … and paid …
----This ends the diary. Kearny reached California after the Governor of Oregon had immediately followed up the defeats of the Indians in the skirmishes and at the TWO battles known as Rogue River and Evans Creek [in 1853], and in October, after joining in Indian Expeditions and making Indian treaties in northern California he sailed for a trip around the world. He later fought with Napoleon in the War of Italian Liberation; and in the Civil War.
Unconnected, yet obviously relevant notes, are recorded under no date of place in the book. The preparations for his mission are represented in these items.
Subsistence to be transported: 25 pounds of flour … 15 dry pork … 10 sheep … Pack mules to carry 200 pounds … 4 wagons … 6 mule teams, each with six pack saddles, to carry 1000 weight each … Teams or packs to be selected from all the best numbers without regard to returning wagons. The names of Cooke and le Count appears written by Kearny on the book.
Thomas Kearny, B.A. L.L.B.Yale '99
45 East 56th St., New York City
Mary Kearny, 1810 Monument Ave.
March 6th, 1939
University of Oregon typescript A65
Last revised May 22, 2017