CHAPTER VIII - THE CAPTURE OF THE WILL-O'-THE-WISP (Pages 119 through 122)
And in every town all over the country people reading these editorials and advertisements straightway caught the gold fever.
In a certain town in Ohio little else but gold was talked or thought of, and many of its people made up their minds to "sell out" and go to California. They needed only a leader and guide, and it interests us to recognize in the man chosen the son of one of our old friends - the "J's," who came over the Wilderness Road and down the Ohio, years ago.
This is the third time, but not the last, that we shall meet on these western plains a descendant of those Quaker pioneers to the Yadkin, whom long ago we saw setting out from friend Haworth's farmhouse. For once a pioneer always a pioneer - it is in the blood.
There were three possible routes across the plains - by the Oregon trail, the Santa Fe trail, and - straight ahead over the prairies!
Dr. Wright chose the first of these and presently a long line of oxen drawing white wagons plods slowly up the trail.
But there was,
unfortunately, on this journey no little "J" to keep a daily record. The little
girl would have had much to write about; there was, for instance, the day that
there were heard roarings, as of the surf of the sea, which grew louder and
louder, and nearer - and presently the startled travelers saw bearing directly
down upon them an enormous number of buffalo. They thought their day had come -
if indeed they were able to think at all - when suddenly the herd parted in the
middle, and the thousands of hoofs thundered by to the right and the left, and
the caravan, almost smothered with dust, but otherwise unharmed, dragged slowly
There were the days - three in succession - when they had to wait, while another herd crossed their trail - thousands upon thousands there were with "necks like thunder," and they traveled - like Jacob - in "bands"- first the great leader and other full-grown strong bulls, then the cows and calves, lastly the young bulls, whose wild impulses to leave the rear and march in front were held in check by the sharp horns and mighty heads of the older ones, who thus prodded them back to their proper places.
There were days, O many days! when the men and the oxen were thirsty almost to the point of death ; there was the day when in the dim light of the early morning they were attacked by Indians, and there was the awful day when, in the midst of a driving blizzard from the north, even the cool-headed leader became bewildered and they lost the trail.
But they did not turn back - none ever turn back who set out for gold, - and at last after months of every kind of suffering, they came over the South Pass and reached the Great Salt Lake, where there were the settlements of the Latter Day Saints - otherwise known as Mormons - and the Mormons were strongly opposed to letting the Gentiles through!
It was a perilous and an exciting time but by great diplomacy the leader managed to procure some supplies - for which he paid fabulous prices - for the coming long march through the desert.
They turned at last into Sutter's one-time solitary valley - but it was not solitary now - and came to the "diggings," their journey's end.
Tens of thousands were there before them, tens of thousands were now on their way, and soon every stream was traced back to its mountain source, every nook and cranny searched, every wild scramble was made for gold, gold, gold, "by the good and the bad and the very bad," and of the latter there was a very great number.
The laws were not obeyed - there were in fact no laws in the country and no officers to enforce them if there had been.
As time went on, the conditions of crime and of danger to life became intolerable and led to the formation of Vigilance Committees, who made themselves a court of justice, gave all accused persons at least a form of trial, and punished them if guilty - as generally they were found to be. The president of the first Vigilance Committee was the leader of the Ohio caravan of the "J's"- Dr. Isaac Sumner Wright, son of Joshua, whose courage he inherited, - along with his wanderlust.
Time and the gold fever and the incoming of population continued, and presently there gathered in California a great convention to draw up a constitution for the State. This constitution prohibited slavery.
So our line from east to west dipped southward, and added to the free States, C
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