Joseph Middleton Diary, 1849   2 comments


Thursday 4th October

“. . .Three miles on we cross another narrow strip or bulb of grass running for S. to N. similar to the one where we camped except in this there is a fine clear small stream running north in a black mossy bed Massacre Creek–in the other no water ran.  Wells supplied water there in wet swampy places for watering cattle and some good grass in season:–two miles ahead Emigrant Spring they say there is grass, where we will stop before entering on a desert of 16 or 18 miles they say–but I will report when I see.

“2 log chains, lots of burnt wagon irons, ox yokes, rings & staples, a fine iron jack with teeth and wheels for greasing wagons–the wood burnt.  The road goes N.N.W. down the bulb of valley–(another not so much travelled passes across over the sage desert N.W. but we should come to more grassland where we are going to.)

“Down the valley a short way a dead horse.  Dead ox No. 3–Ground strewed thick with stones of black bottle glass but not in the strath or valley.  In 1/4 of mile we leave the strath and travel to the west among the barren sage.  In this part of the valley 5 wagons which (with?) rims and all the iron &ceteras of wagons and scythe snath.  Almost all the wood burnt up except the snath and a wagon tongue, old riding saddle and other things, but have not time to examine and record.  ____hind wagon wheel hoops are piled one above the other, and all the ____iron carefully gathered and piled in the middle of them.

“After leaving the strath of the valley the road take to the S.W. up a low hill and soon joins that which went straight forward avoiding some small hilly places.  After travelling over this rolling or rather kind of hilly country 2 miles further we came to a wet spot Emigrant Springs where there are wells dug 1 or 2 feet deep.  We will camp here and let our cattle recruit on what grass they can find.  I can see none but they say there is some a little way off.

“A grave ‘Dan Wheeler a coloured man; died Sept. 23d 1849’–dead oxen No. 5.–Came up here with some of our old road acquaintances.

“This morning we poured the coffee off from the dregs and sweetened it all before commencing breakfast so that no one got more sugar than another; a plan, which if it had been adopted from the beginning, I believe our sugar would have lasted till this time.  There is a fellow in our co. which I recollect of being in the habit of taking three times as much as was actually necessary for a fair sweetning and many others which took it lavishly–and when I saw it going so wastefully, I did the same; although I don’t like either tea or coffee very sweet.”

Friday 5th Oct

“Thermometer at sun rise 18 above zero, or 14 below freezing.  The grave, of Dan Wheeler, is what in this wilderness is called a cache.–French for a hiding place.  It contains hid the articles of an entire wagon taken to pieces and carefully packed away–besides many other things that the owners could not take along with them.  This is certified by some of my old road acquaintances who were camped here and saw it done.  These wagons with my acquaintances are still here.  About 1/4 of a mile ahead the same operation was going on yesterday before my eyes, by another wagon party.  It will perhaps be finished today, and the men are going to Pack–so they call it.  Many of the larger graves we have lately passed are doubtless caches . . .”


In the spring of 2009, I hitchhiked from Wyoming and helped John and Susie brand their calves near Massacre Creek; it is about 36 miles east of Cedarville, California in the state of Nevada.  John and Susie pronounce it “massa-kree”.  They call this part of the country the California Outback; it is high desert ranch country near the Warner Mountains.  Cedarville is 4600 feet in elevation.

Branding Calves and the California Outback
Fixing Fence and Emigrant Trail

2 responses to “Joseph Middleton Diary, 1849

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  1. Great post and great blog! Fascinating! Where did you find the diary? I subscribed, by the way.

  2. Last night I walked into the office of the Sunrise Motel and Susie handed me a photocopy of the Middleton Diary. I thought it was fascinating. Notice in that short passage how many graves and dead oxes there were? I think there were many graves on those trails going from the midwest to the west, i.e. The Oregon Trail, the Emigrant Trail, etc.

    I first met John and Susie when I was hitchhiking through Cedarville in 1999.

    I just asked Susie where she got the diary from. She told me that it was in the possession of John’s parents. John is part French Basque; many Basques settled in Nevada, Idaho and the California Outback as sheepherders and ranchers. John has a cow-calf herd and I have helped him work cattle the past few years.

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