Michael White on New Mexico

Michael White’s narrative didn’t go exactly chronologically and there was some stuff he left out, plus some additional research that I’m putting in now so that it follows a more linear time frame.

Now when we last heard from our hero, he was stuck in a flooded house. Occasions like that cause a man to reflect on the misery of his condition. We also found out through other research that he was planning all the time – setting up a land deal with the Lugos and Alvarado and preparing for a trip up the Spanish trail with a big caravan from New Mexico. It ain’t much of a stretch to picture this guy with his political connections and his intimate knowledge of “the coasting trade” to be scheming a way to exploit this new trade route that just opened up. He owns land right at the opening of the trail, he speaks English and Spanish, and now he needs to go check it out and hopefully make some connections. He’s 37 years old, fit, and a man of some means.

Here he goes:

I had forgotten to state, in April 1839 I started from Los Angeles for New Mexico, as far as Taos. I accompanied a New Mexican expedition carrying horses and mules. I carried 50 head, mostly horses, of my own; reached Taos in July without anything very important happening on the way–had a little skirmish with the Utes on the Red river. One of the Utes came and told me not to interfere in the fight as we were friends, and if any of my animals were taken, they should be returned to me—that the Mexicans had robbed them, and they were getting the value of their own.

We stopped a day or two on a lake called the San José (now known as the Beggars'), and I told my partner to take care of the horses, as I wanted to ride around and take a look at the country. Riding round I heard firing a little ahead of me. Hurrying on, I discovered that our New Mexicans had surrounded a rancheria of Piutes. I saw one little Indian boy, about 12 years old, with his arm nearly shot off, just hanging by the skin a little below the shoulder. I began to scold the New Mexicans and called them a pack of damned brutes and cowards, and they were so.

There was one old Indian, standing with his bow and arrow. They wanted to take and kill him, but were afraid to approach near enough to come within reach of his arrow. I went up to the Indian and asked him for his bow and arrows–they had solemnly promised me not to hurt him if I succeeded in disarming him. The Indian handed them to me and I shall never forgive myself for having taken the word of those villains, for villains they were, of the blackest kind. As soon as they saw the Indian without arms they came near and riddled him with bullets.

I parted with them and went by myself. This was a considerable distance from our camp.

I found another rancheria in a thicket of willows. An Indian came out and by sign asked me if I had come to fight. I said no; then he asked me if I was hungry, and answering in the affirmative, he invited me to alight, and partake of what he had, which was atole [a porridge], made of the seed of hogweed, and barbecued trout of the most delicious–as you may suppose, considering I had had nothing to eat in nearly 24 hours. Whilst I was eating up came the confounded New Mexicans, and the Indians ran to conceal themselves in the brush. All but two succeeded in escaping—those two unfortunate Piutes were taken by the Mexicans, tied, and shot in cold blood. I begged, entreated, threatened, and did all I could to have their lives spared but all my efforts were unavailing.

When they were about to shoot the Indians, I was so indignant that I raised my gun, aimed at one of the gang, and pulled the trigger, and it wouldn't fall, though I pulled it with all my force. 10 or 12 guns were pointed at me, but they didn't fire, as my gun had not gone off–they said this was what saved me. The rascal's name was Tomás Salazar. I assured them that I would never again travel with such a set of brutes. They answered, "Que! no es pecado matar esos indios gentiles.” [Oh, well. It's no sin to kill those pagan Indians.]

My partner in the camp wanted me to keep quiet, because the New Mexicans were exasperated against me and would put me to death if I said more. From that time I had no rest at night. I was apprehensive of being murdered.


Finally reached Taos, and stayed there the rest of 1839, and till the fall of 1840. During that period I visited Santa Fé two or three times, trading for blankets. I had sold or exchanged all my horses and mules for blankets. Most of the time I was in the store of Mr. William Workman at Taos.


In the fall of 1840, Mr. William Workman, Mr. John Rowland, Mr. Benjamin D. Wilson, William Gordon and his family, William Knight, a German tailor named Jacob, Hamilton, Dr. Lyman (afterwards a famed scientist of Philadelphia), Taylor, Col. McClewen, and a great many others, whose names I can't recollect. We formed a party of 94 or 95, all foreigners, [and] started from Taos in September for California, and arrived here in December at the Cajon. We celebrated Christmas day at the Cajon. We of course considered ourselves in California then.


We met with no adventures on the road. Indians would occasionally come to our camp and beg for something to eat, which we gave them. We finally reached Los Angeles, where each man took his own road. I came home to my family at the Mesa just below Los Angeles.


Back to “The Works Hubert Howe Bancroft Volume XXI History Of California vol IV 1840-1845” for a more complete list of the Workman-Rowland Immigrant Company.


Workman-Rowland Immigrant Company of 1841:


  1. Fred Bachelor
  2. Frank Bedibey
  3. James Doke
  4. Jacob Frankfort
  5. Isaac Given
  6. William Gamble
  7. William Gordon
  8. Frank Gwinn
  9. Wade Hampton
  10. William Knight
  11. Thomas Lindsay
  12. L or JH Lyman
  13. John McClure
  14. James D Mead
  15. William C Moon
  16. John Rowland
  17. Daniel Sexton
  18. Hiram Taylor
  19. Tibeau
  20. Albert G Toomes
  21. Michael White
  22. Benjamin D Wilson
  23. William Workman


Those who did not remain in California are marked by a John Behn and John Reed are named by Wilson and others as members of the party but are not included in Rowland Lista de los que le acompañan en su llegada al Territorio tie Alto California MS signed by Rowland and copy certified by Manuel Dominguez, Juez Feb 20 1842.


The Old Spanish Trail website lists a few items in the chronology that are of interest. For instance, Hipólito Espinosa on whose land Michael White was staying prior to making the journey, was a New Mexican who had only come to California a few months prior to White’s departure:


1838 September 22 — Lorenzo Trujillo, José Antonio Garcia, Hipolito Espinosa, Diego Lobato, Antonio Lobato, Santiago Martínez and Manuelita Renaga (who gives birth to a son, Apolinario, at Resting Springs) leave New Mexico, bound for California. These eight individuals are the first settlers of the San Bernardino area.


Secondly, there were two Salazars – José Antonio and Tomás. They made it to California in 1838 (apparently with a lot of problems with “insubordination”). White was on what was Tomás Salazar’s return trip, and obviously it was a nightmare.


1839 — José Antonio Salazar and several New Mexicans and two Canadians travel in party of 75 men to California. José Antonio Salazar’s expedition returns to New Mexico on April 14, 1839, with an estimated 2,500 animals. Some of Salazar’s men desert the expedition and remain in California as settlers. Michael White was either with this party or on the return trip with Tomás Salazar in 1840.



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~ by ravenjake on January 12, 2010.

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