Battle Mountain

A Glimpse of the Elephant


By this point along the Humboldt River journey, California-bound emigrants were using two trails – one on the north side of the Humboldt and one on the south side. Traveling conditions were miserable, food was in short supply, and tempers could be quick. Emigrants were nearly at the halfway point along the Humboldt River trail. Between here and what is now Winnemucca was one of the most monotonous, boring stretches of the journey from the Missouri to California.


“Seeing the Elephant” was a common expression to describe the overland journey to California. If you had seen the elephant you had experienced every hardship crossing a continent could throw at you … and survived to tell the tale. A major part of experiencing the elephant was the interactions of people with each other. Just as being trapped in a cabin during a long winter can lead to “cabin fever,” months spent on the trail with the same people day in and day out sometimes resulted in deteriorated relationships.


About 20 miles west of here is Iron Point, where an infamous Donner Party death happened in 1846 — James Reed killed James Snyder with a knife in a fight that began when one wagon simply tried to pass another.

… here was a dreary scene, the road or trail several inches deep with ashy hot dust, occasionally large sage bushes & greasewood as far as the perfectly level desert extended, the mountain ridges bare of timber looked blue & seemed to reflect the almost insufferable heat, the sky clear & crystal white clouds, volcanic stones on desert. A profound stillness reigned here & the mind seemed overpowered with the desert scene, when breeze came up whirlwinds rose at several places.” - Peter Decker, July 14, 1849

Double Ox Yoke - Fashioned from strong wood able to withstand the stresses of heavy loads, the yoke was shaped to fit the ox’s neck without chafing.
Axle & Hub - The Wagon Axle was carefully engineered to provide maximum bearing strength. The outer end is conical and tapered, with its bottom surface horizontal to the ground so that the turning spokes are perpendicular when they touch the ground. Both the axle and the hub are lined with iron at the points of greatest wear.
Sunbonnet - Along with the wide-brimmed hats worn by the men, the women’s sunbonnet provided protection from the burning rays of the sun.