California Pioneers of Early Days Crossing the Plains

August Wilhelm Wern

Many a youth left home and friend
To pioneer a distant land,
With fortitude and buoyant hope,
With perils and dangers dread to cope;
To seek their fortunes away out west,
And pass o'er plain and mountain crest,
E'en wives and children left behind
By men who sought the gold to find.
With saddened hearts they bade farewell.
When they should meet, no one could tell.
Through all their dire vicissitude
They passed with double fortitude
That spurred them on when thoughts were near
Their loving wives and children dear.
 
In preparation for all need,
They gave their best and careful heed;
Took prairie schooner, ox and horse,
Tents, blankets, food--all in its course.
For armor, guns and bowie knife,
In case they met a foe in strife,
Or for protection 'gainst wild beast
That oft afforded them a feast
And 'gainst the poisoned arrow darts
That savages aimed at their hearts.
 
They started early in the spring
When meadow larks were caroling;
They had no guide to show the way,
But took their chance at close of day,
To find a camp with grass and water
Each his own host, cook, maid and porter,
Though mostly beans and bacon straight
They oft replenished their tin plate.
The dining-rooms were all outdoors,
And bedrooms had but nature's floors
From which the pebbles ne'er were swept.
Yet, oh! how sweetly they most slept
Until the guard would sometimes shout,
"Boys, boys, the redskins are about!"
Their prompt attack would soon disperse
All but a few who without hearse
Were left for wolves' and buzzards' feast
And other carnivorous beast.
 
They trudged along o'er unmade road,
Oft through deep sand or slimy mud,
Until there was a stream to cross,
No bridge nor ferry for their use;
The wagon beds corked with some cloth
To their emergency then rose,
On which load after load was towed,
Until all on yonder side up rode.
 
The rolling prairies while in bloom
Did oft their weary sense illume,
And when all passed without mishap,
They would indulge in dancing step.
Sometimes dark clouds would o'er them come,
And cast the night in dismal gloom,
While in their tents in peaceful sleep,
Dark threatening clouds would o'er them creep;
With lightning's flash and thunder's roar,
Large hail and rain would on them pour;
The tempest in its fury grow,
And tents almost to ribbons blow.
The hail beat down with gunspeed force,
And pelted man and fast-tied horse,
That would break loose and then stampede
O'er rocks and hills to distant mead,
Where, after searching all one day,
They found them rollicking at play.
The caravan restored and dry
Moved on in patched-up livery.
A number of streams ran in their way,
Which they passed o'er with some delay.
 
Next to the bison land they come,
That o'er the hills by thousands roam,
With shaggy mane and stubbed horn;
"To die," says hunter, "they were born."
They let the caravan pass on,
In fact its presence they would shun,
Unless stampeded by a foe,
Then great the danger that all know.
For they will rush on caravan,
Unless they're turned by skilful man.
Soon other troubles did await
The pioneers, enduring fate.
Of what they now did most desire
Was some dry fuel for a fire;
They soon removed that dire eclipse
And used for fuel dry buffalo chips,
Which cooked their beans and antelope stew
And gave them tres bon flavor too.
 
To hardship they became inured,
Did need no doctors to get cured.
Some with their tents did oft dispense,
And give the blue sky preference;
And let the stars their vigil keep
O'er them while they in dreamland sleep,
Sometimes near by a rippling stream
That lulled them in a happy dream
From which they sometimes would awake
And out their bed a scorpion shake.
 
Onward their tired teams they urge,
And soon they reach the mountain verge;
The Rockies loom up to the sky
In their majestic dignity
That they admire with a deep sigh
And wished they'd passed its grandeur by.
No guide posts there nor graded road
O'er which to pull the heavy load,
But boulders large and canyons deep
And many ascents rouch and steep;
Yet oft they pass a lovely dell
Where they are tempted e'er to dwell,
Fish, fowl and game quite plentiful
And scenery grand and beautiful.
Ah! what a vista from the summit--
Words are inadequate to name it.
The mountain peaks at morning's sun
Oft most divine to look upon,
And then the shimmering sun at eve
Would flower gardens interweave
With all the beauty--rose's tint--
That on some souls left its imprint.
 
But scenery was not their great aim,
Nor in fine art sought they their fame;
Onward they must o'er rock and river
To reach the coast before November.
Up to the summit was a struggle,
Sometimes the teams had to pull double;
Oft on flat boulders, downward trip,
Both team and wagon badly slip,
Then without team and wheels all tied
They let the wagons o'er them slide,
Their sympathy cut to the core
To see the teams getting footsore,
While blacksmith's work to most was new
Yet they soon learned to nail on shoe.
Again they got on level land,
With greasewood, sagebrush without end;
Dry grass, poor water all about,
The teams began to get fagged out.
Some wheels shrank up and lost the tires,
The wagons then made good campfires.
Their blankets and what food they had
They put on saddles roughly made,
And thus they moved on with the rest,
For none could travel very fast.
 
Soon gruesome visions met the eye,
As they dead carcasses passed by
Of horses, cattle on each side,
The buzzards picked off flesh and hide.
Now and then a board stuck up
That signified a bitter cup:
It marked the grave of some dear one
Who passed from wilds to the beyond.
No message sent nor came from home,
All for a time lived in a tomb.
The express on a foaming steed
With lightning dash would past them speed.
No message could they give or take,
Their speed they dared not slack or break.
Through all their dangerous career,
Not oft would any one demur;
New strength they gained when danger near
And e'er more courage, never fear.
They saw a future new and bright
That raised their hopes and made toil light,
Still other obstacles appear
That try the dauntless pioneer.
Large desert, without grass or water,
That they must cross and never falter,
Oft in the night, for on hot days
The sun's intensely burning rays
Like fiery furnace molting heat
Would on them like a death-blow beat.
Sometimes they followed a delusion
When mirage caused them dire confusion.
Some knew they saw a real, blue lake
Alas! that they could ne'er o'ertake;
The water that they sometimes found
Was oft a poisonous compound
That took more teams from out their rank
And left a sad and doleful blank.
Though many a one now lost his all,
But friendship did not let him fall.
The pioneer pre-eminent
With love and true benevolence,
Will share his food, his bed and all
And thus obey his soul's best call.
 
Some now on nearing settlement
Quickly to rach a town were bent.
They crossed the hills without a trail,
But in their effort some would fail,
Bewildered and of mind bereft,
Or killed by Indians, scalped and left;
And many a mother's heart was yearned
But nothing from her boy was learned.
The worst of all--a massacre.
From which none escaped that could convey
The horrors of the crime so black
That demons' pity would awake.
'Twas said that Indians did the deed,
With murderous white man in the lead.
 
The deserts passed all tired and weary
They reach the base of mount Sierra,
That they must cross e'er snow doth fall,
For that might mean their funeral,
As was the case with some belated,
Whose sufferings were ne'er o'errated.
But most of them pulled safely through
To valley green and pasture new,
Forgot their hardship manifold
In land of sunshine, fruit and gold.
 
The pioneers whom we all know
Will do their part where'er they go,
And reap the best from what they sow,
Though many a one has passed away,
Who for some others paved the way.
Let those permitted here to stay
Enjoy the fruits so dearly bought,
And ever hold the joyful thought:
Whate'er I've done, 'twas for the best,
God called on me, I stood the test,
And leave the balance to the rest.


Main Location:

California, USA