Four travelers from East and West.
Four travelers to California.
Two brought as children, one drawn by gold, one taken in arranged marriage.
Generations pass, and their offspring fall in love.
Four travelers converge in one American family.
This story was first published Sept. 16, 2011.
A Story of Joseph Pike.
Did I ever fight Indians on my way to California? That’s what the boys always want to know first, not whether I struck it rich in the gold fields or almost got myself killed while sailing back home.
Our company of wagons crossed the Great Plains in the spring of 1850. We passed over the Mormon Trail and never met an Indian along the Platte River, the South Pass or on the path to Salt Lake City.
Our first encounter was on the 23rd of July as we were crossing the first desert beyond the Great Salt Lake. Dr. Quigley and I took our rifles and coats and set out across a high desert mountain while our company started around it with the wagons. We had to camp on the mountain that night in a thicket of balsam or fir. We spied some Indians lurking about near dark, though they kept their distance.
Three weeks later, in the canyons of the Humboldt Range, our company had a stampede at night among our stock. Edward and I lost none, but others lost horses and cattle. Perhaps that was Indians. Earlier that day we had visited one of their empty camps and found many horse bones that they had stripped the meat off of.
Three days later, on the morning of the 15th of August, the Indians stole Charley and Cub, two of my horses. Five of us started after them. We tracked them over the mountains for 20 miles, up a beautiful valley and into a canyon. We found an Indian lodge but no inmates. We camped near there that night wrapped in our coats and saddle blankets with the horse sweat still on them.
The next day we surprised a camp of Indians and found Cub’s halter, but no horses. We returned to camp that afternoon, having eaten little for 36 hours.
In the morning 18 of us set out for the Indian camps. As we rode up a creek, we found in the willows the corpse of a white man who had been buried but dug up by the Indians. His name was Dr. R. Gilmanerry. The sight made our blood boil. Leaving there we passed into a canyon and met one of the Indians upon old Cub. Several men shot at him, and he left the horse. We could not tell whether or not he received a mortal wound. Soon we found the tracks of old Charley on a run for the back track to give the alarm to the other Indians. So we had to be content to regain one horse. We brought old Cub with us back to camp.
If somebody stole your horses, would you grab your gun and spend three days tracking him through the Nevada wilderness? If you came upon the thief, would you shoot him if he tried to get away? Would it make any difference what his skin color was?
These are questions that grownups ponder. But I was a boy when I first listened to my mom read aloud from a copy of Joseph Pike’s diary. And I never thought of such questions. What mattered to me was that my great-great-grandfather had crossed the American West and had a run-in with Indians. He was an adventurer, and I wanted to be one, too. Years later, I would get my chance to venture into some of the same mountains he crossed: the High Sierras. — Robert Digitale
This is the second vignette in the saga of an American family. Next week: Franklin Fongson: To Seek Out a Woman.
To learn more, go to the “American Risotto” page.
The main characters of “American Risotto” are:
Carol – Robert’s girlfriend
Joseph Pike – Robert’s great-great-grandfather
John Digitale – Robert’s grandfather
Kwong Check Fee/Franklin Fongson – Carol’s father
Ng Sau Ping/Elaine Fongson – Carol’s mother