The Bixbys are a legendary name in the history of Long Beach and the Rancho Los Alamitos, and deservedly so. The true start of the family fortune goes back to the early 1850s when cousins Benjamin and Thomas Flint and Lewellyn Bixby returned home to Maine from Gold Rush California, where they had some success as merchants. After visiting with family, they took the train to Indiana, Illinois and Iowa and bought 2,000 sheep and drove them 2000 miles overland to California, parallelling the Oregon Trail, dealing with friendly and hostile Indians, new Mormon converts on their way to Salt Lake City, and making their way south from Salt Lake City along the Old Spanish Trail (roughly today’s Interstate 15) through the Las Vegas and Mojave deserts before arriving in San Bernardino area on New Year’s Day 1854. Thomas Flint kept a diary of that trip. Here are the September 1853 excepts.
Thursday 1st :
Following down Echo Canon. The report of a pistol shot would reverberate from crag to crag until it would seem to die away in the distance. Perpendicular bluff on right hand side going down — on left somewhat sloping. Average width about 20 rods. Length 21Vfc miles with a gradual descent. Camped on creek in the canon opposite to some very high perpendicular bluffs.
Still on the creek in the canon. Higher bluffs on the sides as the creek strikes Weber River. Red and grey sandstone and red conglomerate filled with pebbles as if with cement. Took dinner on Weber River near a vacant house — more in sight down the river, all uninhabited. Deserted, it is said, on account of Indian attacks, so were called in to Salt Lake City by order of Brigham Young. Crossed the river and camped on a moist bottom on the southeasterly side. Pleasant.
Remained in camp this forenoon. Caught a few trout and White shot some ducks so we had a variety for dinner. In P. M. drove over the mountain 5% miles. On the summit had splendid view of Mountains around and beneath us. The westerly descent in a narrow ravine. Had to drive late to find a place smooth enough to camp on, finally came to one in a patch of brush. Trail very rough — a sprinkle of a shower.
About midnight a large bear made its presence, probably attracted by hope of a mutton for breakfast. Lewell being on guard he wisely drove it away without making an alarm. Moved camp to Canon Creek for feed where we remained for the remainder of the day. About sunset I saw a calf wandering around and went to drive it to camp with the sheep. It started away from me and I followed, as I thought, the sound it made in the brush but on nearing an open space the boys in camp cried out, “a bear, a bear!” and I discovered that I had been trailing a bear, the calf having turned aside. It was not a large one. Mr. Johnson grabbed the best rifle and ran after the bear which had gone into the creek nearby. As he reached the bank the bear raised upon its hind feet almost under him. Johnson took to his heels when all hands shouted, “shoot, shoot!” He banged away but his rifle pointed skyward as I could see, but he averred that he hit the bear. Had he been in less haste and waited for assistance we might have had bear steak for breakfast. The bear retreated a little way into some thick brush where our shepherd dog, Watch, held it at bay some time, but we thought it prudent not to go after it. Johnson’s bravery was the subject of ridicule in camp thereafter.
Drove on up the creek which is in a deep canon until noon. Took dinner and drove to the summit of another ridge in the mountains and camped in sight of the Great Salt Lake Valley. Snow covered peaks to the south of us. High cragged mountains on either hand. Am somewhat
indisposed from headache last night. Pleasant.
Found a lot of Mormons with teams here hauling wood and lumber for the valley. Descending from our mountain camp by a very steep grade into another deep canon, followed it down some 8 miles where we found feed for our stock, the first for 24 hours, and to be the last, as we were informed, for the next 20 miles. Camped until tomorrow. Pleasant.
Crossed the last ridge before entering the valley of the Great Salt Lake and descended into a canon through which we travelled 7 miles and emerged from Emigrant Canon, as it is called, upon a high tableland 5 miles from Salt Lake City. Deserted cabins all along the trail from last night’s camp. The settlers having been ordered into city by Brigham Young on account of alleged hostile Indians.
As we were driving along two men on horseback met us and one of them asked me if we were “Saints or sinners.” I replied that it depended very much how he interpreted the question, when he said somewhat testily, “Are you Mormons or not?” Not was the reply. They then asked what train it was and I told him; upon that they wheeled about and rode off toward the city. In a short time two more men came out and meeting us said, “We know who you are. You are the ones that assisted some of our people on the plains who had been robbed by the Indians. You may turn off to the left and go down the hill to the church gardens and camp there until you hear from us again — but keep your stock off the plowed lands.”
Camped near a garden patch and by invitation helped ourselves to whatever vegetable we liked which was a great treat. Our horses were taken to a feed yard in the city. Word was sent us that if we could go to a certain house in the city, we would be repaid in kind for what we had furnished their people whom we had befriended on the plains.
Drove to the city, went to the place designated and got the provisions that we had traded to the Mormons back on the trail, not knowing that we would ever hear from them again, but we found it a very good turn of affairs in our favor, for we were kindly received and treated wherever we went. It was our intention to drive to the north of the city and perhaps camp for the winter, but meeting a Mr. Wilson, by his advice turned back south for a better camp on the River Jordan which runs into Salt Lake from Lake Prove. Fed our oxen and horses in the city and in the afternoon drove out 8 miles and camped near a Mr. Caspars of whom we bought feed for oxen and horses, paying him $1.25 per dozen sheaves of oats. Dined on green corn from the church cornfield.
Started south again. At morning were ordered off from unoccupied ground on the pretext that it was a neighborhood range. Did not move and nothing more said. In the afternoon struck Willow Creek and camped at Warm Springs, a poor place but could do no better. Pleasant.
Moved off early hoping to find feed for sheep as there was none here, save what was fenced in. Outside there was nothing but a miserable yellow weed which the stock would not eat.
Moved a few miles to the banks of the Jordan in Utah Valley where we found plenty good feed and intend to remain a week or two. Here we found Mr. Frazer who had been here with his train some days. Plenty of green corn, squash, melons, potatoes, etc., which was most enjoyable to all in contrast with the barren plains we had passed over. Fish plenty and of good quality of various kinds.
Ben and I went to the city with Mr. Wilson to lay in some necessary articles for the camp also to try the cattle market for it is our intention to purchase about 100 head of oxen. Arrived early in the evening and put up at Bro. Hawkins. Pleasant weather.
In the city taking observations. Saw Brigham on the streets. Did not call upon him. Paid our respects to the wives of Francis M. Pomroy, fulfilling a promise made to one of his father-in-laws whom we had met back on the Platt River. This Mr. Pomroy was from the State of Maine. Bought a few cattle. Obtained some buffalo robes and retired as the night before to a hay stack in preference to an upper room in a crowded hotel.
Circulating among the Mormons yet buying cattle. Paying from $60 to $90 per yoke which is cheaper than they could have been purchased in Illinois because of the Indian difficulties which prevents the occupation of the cattle ranges. Pleasant.
Ben and I with a new hand, Robert Mack, left Salt Lake City to drive the cattle we have on hand to our camp on the Jordan. Purchased some more on the way. Stopped for the night on Big Cotton wood with a Mormon with two wives. They gave us a good supper. We herded our cattle
in a small field keeping guard outside, sleeping as we could catch a nap in our blankets, but a shower coming up in the night made it very uncomfortable.
Bought more cattle of our host (2 yoke of oxen and one cow) and started for our camp again. Dallied along looking at stock, bought some, finally struck a Mr. Dillon from Illinois with 210 sheep that were sound and a few cattle. Bought the sheep at $4 per head. I started with cattle for camp and Ben returned to city to close up some unfinished business. Reached camp at midnight. Driving at night against Brigham’s advice.
Returned to Dillon’s camp, a distance of 18 miles where I met Ben. Took the 210 sheep, 2 yoke of oxen and 4 cows, paying $1,040.00 for the lot and drove across to a Mr. Rose’s where we are to get another yoke of oxen. Put our stock into a leaky corral where we had to lay by and watch them all night. Pleasant but cold.
Heavy frost last night nevertheless we had a ghostly apparition in the shape of a lanky woman in her night clothes who made inquiry for her cows. Drove to home camp. Well tired out, having had little sleep for 4 nights.
Resting in camp. Wrote a letter to father. Our men taking care of the stock around us which appear to enjoy the good grazing we have placed them on. Ben and I relieved Lewell of the care of the camp he has had for a week. Pleasant weather.
Lewell is gone to the city 30 miles. Some of the men fishing, hunting, mending clothes, taking care of the stock, etc. Much company. Mormons and emigrants, the latter like ourselves, bound for California.
In camp. Ben and I made a fine catch of fish. Some very fine trout with chubs graced our string. At night a Mormon with two wives who drove their horses so hard that they gave out to get across the mountains six miles from us as they feared an attack from Indians at the pass. We have not seen Indians that gave us any fear of disturbance.
Still in camp waiting for Lewell to get back from Salt Lake City who made his appearance soon after noon. All hands glad to see him as we want to be moving south by short daily drives. Pleasant weather.
Up and moving as early as we could, but it is something like breaking up housekeeping and repacking everything, took considerable time. Passed Dry Creek settlement and camped just south of American Fork settlement. Both places fortified and forted up as they called [it,] by a square enclosure made of logs set into the ground close together, about 12 feet from the ground to the top. A gateway guarded by sentries every night prevented ingress or egress without permission of the Bishop. In the center was a corral into which the stock was driven at sunset and driven out upon the range and guarded daily lest the Indians might stampede them as it is reported by the Mormons, numbers of whom are in camp offering to barter for worn out sheep, groceries or anything. Pleasant.
Detained in camp waiting for a Mormon who promised to come early to trade some flour for worn out sheep. Did not trade with him after all. So started for Provo City. Passed near that place and camped on the River Provo, l1/^ miles above — near a deserted farm. I rode into town and contracted for 1,000 Ibs. of flour at $6.00 per hundred and some beef at $9.00 per hundred Ibs.
Remained in camp to have some blacksmith work done on the wagons. I rode past Spring Creek settlement to where Frazer was camped — some 7 miles. Late in getting back to our camp but found at the shop that they were just setting the wagon wheel tires. By Brigham’s order the Mormons pay no attention to keeping Sunday until their fortifications are completed and harvesting done. Light rains today but pleasant at night. Exchanged some coffee for butter. Nothing else would be accepted in exchange. Coin was of no account to them.
Monday 26th :
Got under way after considerable delay. John Trust, the Dutchman, and White, the blacksmith talked of leaving the train and no men to be had nearer than the city 48 miles off. They finally concluded to remain with us. Just at
starting Reuben Percy Mack joined us on horseback. Had some trouble in getting across the river. Drove through Provo taking on the flour and beef in passing, paying for them in coffee, pepper and spices at 40c per Ib. We camped on Little Spring Creek 2 miles from the town. Pleasant.
Drove on today past Spring Creek Settlement and to the right of Palmyra and camped on a creek from which water was taken to irrigate the land. Some of the ditch crossings were very miry therefore hard to get through, especially for the sheep. Pleasant but cold nights.
Pushed on this morning — passing White and Viles’ train in camp to Peeteneet Settlement, made a short stop and bought a cask to salt beef in, cost $5. On arriving at Frazer’s camp we pitched our tent for the night. Ben and Lewell returned to town and bought 4 oxen and steers which they drove to camp. Pleasant.
Started out quite early. Frazer’s train ahead, ours next. White and Viles following and Judge Burdick’s in the rear, who came up just as we were breaking camp. Crossed the summit between Utah and Salt Creek valleys where we were informed at starting that we might expect trouble from the Indians. It was reported that one of Tom Hildreth’s men had been robbed there. We camped between the Deep Springs and Willow Creek. Springs 30 or 40 feet deep. Willow Creek the Mormons reported no one passed without an attack but not an Indian put in an appearance.
Moved the sheep some time in advance. Found few had picked up poison of some kind. One died, the other we saved by pouring down their throats warm lard. Drove through Salt Creek settlement and camped where there was no feed. Pleasant but cold.