All of the quotes from the outdoor exhibits are listed below. Where available, we've provided you with additional information about the source of the quote and possible links to download or access the original source material. The quotes are listed in the order you might encounter them as you walk through the plaza and the hillside trails.
“… never take no cutofs and hury along as fast as you can.” – 13-year-old Virginia Reed, May 16, 1847
Virginia Reed wrote a letter to her cousin from the Napa Valley on May 16, 1847, after being rescued from the harrowing ordeal in the Sierra Nevada mountains that winter. Two of her letters, including this one, are published in the Covered Wagon Women series (Volume 1 and "Best of" Volume 2) and may be available in the CTIC gift shop. You can preview the letter in Google Books.
“There is a nigher route, and it is of no use to take so much of a roundabout course.” – James Reed, 1846
This quote comes from the 1928 book James Clyman, American Frontiersman, 1792-1881, edited by Charles L. Camp. This book can be viewed on the Internet Archive.
The reference above is just preceded by the following quote:
“Take the regular wagon track and never leave it.” – James Clyman to the Donner Party 1846
This quote is also referenced in the Great Plains diorama inside the California Trail Interpretive Center.
“After traveling eighteen days they accomplished the distance of thirty miles, with great labor and exertion, being obliged to cut the whole road through the forest of pine and aspen.” – James F. Reed report, 1847
This quote comes from an article by J. H. Merryman, based on notes from James F. Reed and published December 9, 1847 in the Illinois Journal. It is available to view and download from the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.
“They proceeded down this valley three days, making about fifty miles of travel.” – J.Q. Thornton, 1849
This is from an account of pioneer life in the Pacific Coast state of California and the Oregon Territory by Jesse Quinn Thornton, who was later a Supreme Court Justice of the Provisional Government of Oregon. It was first published by Harper & Bros., New York, in 1849 in two volumes. This particular quote came from volume 2, chapter 7, in which he relates the story of the Donner Party's travels along the Humboldt River. The valley referenced in the quote would be the valley on the west side of the Ruby Mountains. You can view and download Volume 1 and Volume 2 from the Internet Archive.
A few pages later in the account he made the following observation regarding October 10.
“… they halted upon the place where Mr. Salle, who had been killed by the Indians, had been buried. His body had been dug up by the savages, and his bones, which had been picked by wolves, were bleaching in the sun. Here they cached another wagon…” – J.Q. Thornton, 1849
"Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free."
Henry David Thoreau was an American essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience", an argument for disobedience to an unjust state. A month after he died from tuberculosis in 1862, an essay by Henry David Thoreau titled Walking was published in The Atlantic magazine. The quote above is from this essay, which extolled the virtues of immersing oneself in nature and lamented the inevitable encroachment of private ownership upon the wilderness.
The Atlantic has been published continuously since 1857. The entire essay can be read at theatlantic.com. The quote from the essay can be seen on one of the stone walls on the south side of the CTIC entrance plaza.Read More
“Crossed the creek and left it on the right, and by an easy ascent reached a summit and as gradually descended to a valley of sage and sand sloping to the South East, the streams running toward the Salt Lake and either emptying into it or losing themselves in the plain.”
Byron McKinstry's Aug. 3, 1850 diary entry is quoted on the Great Basin Interpretive sign in the plaza.
On August 3, 1850, Byron was in the region of the City of Rocks in what is now Idaho. The photo above is from the published edition edited by McKinstry's grandson with notes of his retracing the path of McKinstry's journey. You can explore more of his diary through the Byron McKinstry Plaza Tour.Read More
“The Oregon Trail strikes off to the right and leaves us alone in our glory with no other goal before us but death or the diggings.” – Wakeman Bryarly, 1849
This quote is from the Monday, July 16th entry in Trail to California: The Overland Journal of Vincent Geiger and Wakeman Bryarly. The diary is rich in detail, begun by Vincent Geiger in Saint Joseph, Missouri on May 10 and continued by Wakeman Bryarly beginning on June 23. It can be viewed online on The Internet Archive.
The quote on the plaza wall is mis-attributed to Bryarly as "William" rather than "Wakeman".Read More
“We started to cross the desert traveling day and night only stopping to feed and water our teams as long as water and grass lasted. We must have made at least two-thirds of the way across when a great portion of the cattle showed signs of giving out…” – James Reed, Pacific Rural Press, March 25, 1871
James Reed wrote to the Pacific Rural Press in 1871 to correct what he believed to be some misinformation from a previously published article. His response article can be viewed at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
“Our ignorance of the road was complete. We knew that California lay west, and that was the extent of our knowledge.” – John Bidwell, Echoes of the Past, 1900
John Bidwell (1819-1900) was born in Chautaugua County, New York, and was living in Ohio when he decided to seek his fortune in California in 1841. He journeyed west as part of the first emigrant train going overland from Missouri to California, where he found work at Fort Sutter. You can learn more about Bidwell's journey in the indoor exhibits of the California Trail Interpretive Center.
Echoes of the Past focuses on Bidwell's overland journey to California, with some attention to his early years in the West: acquaintance with Johann Sutter, and early gold discoveries. The quote above can be found on page 15 of Echoes from the Past, which can be downloaded from the Library of Congress.Read More
“Seventeen-year-old Nancy Kelsey was the only woman in the [Bidwell-Bartleson] group, but this didn’t bother her. ‘Where my husband goes, I go.’ Nancy and her infant daughter Ann were the first white females to reach California in an overland emigrant party.” – Ginger Wadsworth in Words West, 2003
You can preview a copy of this book (but not the page where this quote is) on Google Books.
“It is death to every one of you… to travel a distance so great as that through a trackless desert.” – William Sublette 1842
“Made 4 miles in Mineral Valley due south turned to the west 4 Miles through a flat in the mountain” – James Reed 1846
This statement comes directly from James Reed's journal. The portion of his journal which covers the Hastings Cutoff is published and discussed in the 1951 (Volume 19) edition of the Utah Historical Quarterly. It is interesting to note that Reed's "Mineral Valley" was his name for the Ruby Valley.
“After descending some very steep hills… we reached some natural wells… it is my opinion that these wells form the source of the Saint Mary’s or Humboldt River.” – James G. Shields 1850
“In many places the alkali lies so thick upon the ground that it lifts up from the earth with the grass … the stock refuses to touch it.” – James A Payne, 1850
“The Humboldt is a singular stream; I think the longest river in the world, of so diminutive a size. Its length is three or four hundred miles, and general width about fifty feet. From here, back to where we first saw it, the quantity of water seems about the same. It rather diminishes in size as it proceeds.” – Franklin Langworthy, 1850
Franklin's diary can be viewed and downloaded from Google Books.
“Sept. 3 … 6 a.m. we rolled on; over a good road, short rolling hills, and … entered a moist flat valley trending round to the Westward, with springs, and a grassy and willowy rivulet; -- one of the heads of the Humboldt.”
This quote can be viewed on the Humboldt River interpretive panel in the CTIC plaza. The image above is from J. Goldsborough Bruff's original field notebook. After his journey to California was over, he wrote a more complete transcription, from which the quote on the sign was used.
Joseph Goldsborough Bruff (October 2, 1804 - April 14, 1889) is best known as a topographer, journalist, and artist of the gold rush era. Bruff was born in Washington, D.C. He attended West Point from 1820 until his resignation in 1822. From 1827-1836 he worked as a topographical engineer, predominantly at Gosport Naval Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. He returned to Washington, D.C., in 1837 and from 1838-1849 worked for the U.S. Bureau of Topographical Engineers. Bruff then organized the Washington City and California Mining Association, which he accompanied to California. While in California he produced extensive journals and drawings of the mining camp experience. In 1853 Bruff returned to Washington, D.C., where he worked in office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department until his death. You can view images of many of Bruff's original diaries and artwork here. The specific record for this quote can be viewed here.Read More
“Meanest and muddiest filthiest stream, most cordially I hate you.” – Leander V. Loomis 1850
Leander V. Loomis' book A Journal of the Birmingham Emigrating Company: The record of the trip from Birmingham, Iowa, to Sacramento, California, in 1850 can be viewed on Hathitrust.
Loomis did not actually reference or make this statement. The editor of the 1928 published version of Loomis' diary (Edgar M. Ledyard) inserted a poem written by a Dr. Horace Belknap, who he says made a trip from Iowa to California in 1850. The full text of the poem as quoted by Ledyard in the footnotes is:
Meanest and muddiest, filthiest
stream, most cordially I hate you;
Meaner and muddier still you seem
since the first day I met you.
Your namesake better was no doubt,
a truth, the scriptures tell,
Her seven devils were cast out,
but yours are in you still.
What mean these graves so fresh
and new along your banks on either side?
They've all been dug and filled by you,
thou guilty wretch, thou homicide.
Now fare thee well, we here shake hands
and part (I hope) to meet no more,
I'd rather die in happier lands than
longer live upon your shore.
The "seven devils" are a reference to Mary Magdalene in the gospels. The Humboldt river, in 1850, was commonly known as Mary's river.
“Reports reach us of hard roads ahead; that there was no grass… where the river disappears in the sands of the desert.” – Alonzo Delano 1854
Alonzo Delano's account of his journey to California can be downloaded from the Library of Congress.
His diary is titled Life on the plains and among the diggings; being scenes and adventures of an overland journey to California: with particular incidents of the route, mistakes and sufferings of the emigrants, the Indian tribes, the present and future of the great West.
Born in Aurora, New York, Alonzo Delano (1806-1874) moved on to the Midwest as a teenager. July 1848 found him a consumptive Ottawa, Illinois, storekeeper, and he joined a local California Company. He remained in the West after the Gold Rush, winning fame as an early California humorist. Life on the plains and among the diggings (1857) is based largely on letters from Delano published in Ottawa and New Orleans newspapers of the day. Covering the period April 1849-August 1852, he discusses his voyage to St. Joseph and an overland journey to California; sojourns in Sacramento, Marysville, and San Francisco; and experiences as a storekeeper at Mud Hill, Stingtown, Gold Lake, and Grass Valley. Other topics include quartz mining, crime and vigilantism, and real estate investment.
The quote on the plaza wall is dated 1854. The quote is actually from his 1849 diary, but it was prepared for publication in 1853 and actually reached final publication in 1857.Read More
“… the road forks – we will take the left crossing the river, the other going down the north side of the river; we don’t know which is right.” – Dan Carpenter 1850
“This is the end of the most miserable river on the face of the earth,” wrote one traveler. “The water of the lake, as well as the last one hundred miles above, is strong with salt and alkali, and has the color and taste of dirty soap-suds.”
This quote is found on the Interpretive Panel about the Humboldt River Sink. The author is not identified on the sign, but it comes from the diary of Margaret A. Frink, written on August 14, 1850.
Margaret's diary is considered one of the classic overland trail diaries and the original edition, published in 1897 by her husband, is considered quite valuable.
You can view a fascimile of the 1897 edition of the book here. Frink's diary is also published in the more recent Covered Wagon Women series of books, including the Best of Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 1 and Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 2. These books are often available in the CTIC store.
You may also be interested in the CTIC Plaza tour based on Margaret's diary.Read More
“On arriving at the sink of the Humboldt… there was found a mud lake ten miles long and four or five miles wide, a veritable sea of slime, a slough of despond, an ocean of ooze, a bottomless bed of alkaline poison…” – Rueben Cole Shaw, 1849
“Today we are to leave this place and home and friends and start upon a long journey, even to the land of gold. ‘Tis hard to say the last goodbye even though we know, or at least think, ‘tis for the better.” – Delia Thompson Brown 1860
“… The most important effects are taken out of the wagon and placed on their backs and all hurry away, leaving behind wagons, property, and animals that, too weak to travel, lie and broil in the sun…. The owners hurry on with but one object in view, that of reaching the Carson River before the boiling sun shall reduce them to the same condition.”
In addition to this quote, the diary paragraph above is quoted twice within the CTIC (the Jumping Off Town room and the 40-Mile Desert room). It is from Eleazar Stillman Ingalls' Journal of a Trip to California by the Overland Route Across the Plains in 1850-51. The book is currently out of print and available through book collectors and libraries (including the library at the CTIC). A small portion of it (but not the one with this quote) can also be downloaded from the OCTA website. The entire text can be accessed on Project Gutenberg.
You can read a bit more about Ingalls in the Jumping Off Town Quotes section.Read More
“Large boulders and irregular jutting cliffs would intercept the way; there, dizzy precipices, yawning chasms, and deep, irregular canyons would interpose, and anon a bold, impassable mountain of rock would rear its menacing front directly across their path. All day long the men and animals floundered through the snow, and attempted to break and trample a road.”
The excerpt above is quoted on the Sierra Nevada sign at the west end of the plaza. It is from Chapter 5 of McGlashan's book.
C. F. McGlashan wrote the History of the Donner Party in 1879. In the preface he wrote "The scenes of horror and despair which transpired in the snowy Sierra in the winter of 1846-7, need no exaggeration, no embellishment. From all the works heretofore published, from over one thousand letters received from the survivors, from ample manuscript, and from personal interviews with the most important actors in the tragedy, the facts have been carefully compiled. Neither time, pains, nor expense have been spared in ferreting out the truth. New and fragmentary versions of the sad story have appeared almost every year since the unfortunate occurrence. To forever supplant these distorted and fabulous reports—which have usually been sensational new articles—the survivors have deemed it wise to contribute the truth. The truth is sufficiently terrible.
Where conflicting accounts of particular scenes or occurrences have been contributed, every effort has been made to render them harmonious and reconcilable. With justice, with impartiality, and with strict adherence to what appeared truthful and reliable, the book has been written. It is an honest effort—toward the truth, and as such is given to the world."
“Here we came to the river but we found about 200 wagons encamped and the grass was all gone.” – Henry C. St. Clair, 1849