Michael White and the First Yankee Wagon in San Gabriel

Apparently losing $5,000 was a blow, but it didn’t clean Michael White out entirely, because most of the money was held for safekeeping by relatives and not people like Fair and Stockton. Now he’s got a new challenge: to make it back to Rancho San Ysidro without being murdered or robbed, and that ain’t easy. At the Mission, they used cartas, big two-wheeled ox carts, to move stuff from place to place. Apparently Michael White’s new-fangled wagon (although he bought it used) was cutting-edge in San Gabriel.It’s 1849, he’s 48 years old and just hit it pretty big-time after about a year-and-a-half in the gold fields up north.

So here he goes again:

A man who owed me $600 brought them from the mines to me at Stockton. With that money I bought a wagon and two mules, with harness for four mules. After giving the mules some rest at French camp came down to Santa Clara and got from my brother-in-law, Isidoro Guillen, some $3000 that I had left with him and went to San José where there was an auction of dry goods, and bought enough goods for $1000 as loaded my wagon chock full–then I hitched on my two mules, and two more that I had procured since, put a boy on one of the leaders and I began to drive.

This was an entirely new thing to me for I had never driven even one mule. We were on the road 20 days to San Gabriel. That was the first wagon that ever was seen in San Gabriel, and every one thought it was an excellent thing. It had a painted tent on it. The wagon was an old affair that had come across the prairies from the other side of the Rocky Mountains. I managed to capsize it three or four times on the road.

When we got to Soledad, two English-speaking men who said they were Americans, came to me and asked where I was going. I answered that I was coming down, and they said they were also coming down to Santa Barbara. I replied that they could travel much faster than I. They were on good horses and I didn’t know how they got them. They were rough, suspicious-looking men, and I was afraid of them. The roads were, at the time, full of robbers and murderers. The Reed family had been murdered but a short time before by some tramps in the Mission of San Miguel.

I stopped to get dinner at La Soledad and then went on to the Rancho Bernadal. There was an adobe house there. The two fellows came out to me again. I had a case of brandy in the wagon, and said to myself that I must manage to find out what those fellows were. I got a case bottleful and gave them to drink.

In two minutes they were fast asleep and snoring, but I believed they were only feigning sleep, and kept a sharp watch. I did not sleep a wink that night. In the morning cooked breakfast, invited the fellows to partake of it and gave them another dram and told them I was going only as far as the next ranch where I intended stopping three or four days to rest my mules. Sometimes a man is more scared than hurt and such was my case.

I stopped at that ranch 24 hours, thinking that they would be far off by the time I started, but I overtook them about a mile before reaching San Miguel. I was not then afraid of them, as the road was full of emigrants from the East, and I would meet some every hour or so.

I was pestered on the road by many to tell where the best places for digging were, and I invariably answered, “Where you find the gold, Sir.” It was the best answer I could give them, adding that I might find a place that was very rich, and another come and work alongside of me and find no gold, and then he would curse me if I had induced him to come there.

Finally got down as far down as Santa Rosa ranch, close by Santa Inez mission. The old Sergeant [possibly Macedonio Gonzalez] that owned the place got angry with me because I did not call him Uncle. He was a son of Eulalia’s sister. He welcomed me and my servant boys, but would not allow the two fellows that had attached themselves to me to go into the house. “Tienen mala cara tus amigos, Sobrino, tienen mala cara” [your friends have evil countenances, Nephew], said the old Sergeant. I assured him they were no friends of mine, but had not been able to get rid of them. Started from there two days after, and went on top of the mountains and camped in the night. The two fellows still stuck to me, for they had nothing to live on but what I gave or procured for them.

Next day got to the mouth of the Gaviota and camped there. Next day at about 3 p.m. got to the Arroyo Hondo ranch of the Ortegas, from there to the cañon of the Ortega ranch where the trail goes over the mountain. There one of the two men lost his horse. I told them I would go very slowly that they might overtake me, but as soon as I lost sight of them, I put whip to the mules, and the road being pretty level and hard, I placed a large distance between us. I never saw them afterwards. I got into Santa Barbara that evening. Three or four days after, traveling slowly, I reached home.

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~ by ravenjake on February 9, 2010.

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