"A Thrilling Narrative of the Adventures, Suffering & Starvation of Pike's Peak Gold Seekers on the Plains of the West 1859, by One of the Survivors" Daniel Blue
Transcribed and contributed by Jayne Sweger
Bona fides: Introductory
The narrator of this tale of adventures and sufferings is a stranger to the public; and in these times of imposition, when so much passes for truth that is merely fiction, the public are incredulous towards all stories they read or hear, especially when coming from one, of whose character they knew nothing. In order, therefore, that my readers may not be left without some reason, more than my own assertion, for believing my narrative, I subjoin the following certificates from gentlemen of position and credibility, residing in the county of my home.
STATE OF ILLINOIS,
Be it known that the undersigned is personally acquainted with Daniel Blue, of Whiteside County, Illinois, and has full confidence in the statement of his sufferings, and the horrible death of his two brothers, Charles and Alexander, while on their road to Pike's Peak in the spring of 1859, as related by said Daniel Blue. I have had the acquaintance of Mr. Blue for a number of years, and know him to be a reliable man for truth and veracity.
Given under my hand and seal this 22nd day of December, A. D. 1859, at Ustick, Whiteside County, Illinois.
Meril Mead, Justice of the Peace
Entered according to the Acts of Congress in the year 1860, by Daniel Blue, in the Clerk's office of the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
In times when veracity is sacrificed to interest, and the people are compelled to receive truth as well as error with caution, if not with distrust, it is the duty of all honest men to testify to the truth whenever the opportunity occurs. For this reason, I hereby certify that, thought I had no personal knowledge of all the facts related in this melancholy narrative, yet from my intimate acquaintance with Daniel Blue, his parents and surroundings, for nearly twenty years, I have every reason to believe that his is an "owner true tale."
Oakville, December 10, 1859. D. MacKay.
Morrison, Whiteside County, Ill., October 2, 1860
To Whom It May Concern: This is to certify that I am acquainted with the bearer, Mr. Daniel Blue, and cheerfully recommend him to your confidence. J. W. White.
Pastor Cong. Church, Morrison.
Daniel Blue, 1859
It is a sad story I have to tell a story of painful facts, of thrilling adventure, of terrible sufferings endured, of heart-rending scenes witnessed, and of a marvelous rescue from death. My pen trembles in my hand as I undertake the reluctant task. My heart swells almost to bursting, and the unbidden tears come streaming to my eyes, while I recall to my mind the harrowing details which, at the urgent solicitations of my friends, I am about to embody in a published narrative. I confess that I would rather not do it-rather not "live over again", even in thought, as I have to now the scenes, experiences and horrors which I witnessed and felt during the few short weeks which cover the events of this narrative.
Gold has a magic power upon the human mind. The hope of its possession has infatuated thousands, and the pursuit of it has plunged tens of thousands into misery and premature graves. For its sake, men imperil their lives, sacrifice their peace of mind, their comfort of body, and sometimes their very souls. They, forsake homes, loved ones, friends and everything that is dear to their hearts, and cross seas, deserts and mountains, enduring the greatest hardships and the severest deprivations, in quest of the expected wealth that gold will give. In a country where gold seeking is so common-so almost universal-no one will either be surprised or blame me when I state that the object of our undertaking and adventures which I am about to relate, and which resulted so disastrously to myself and my companions, was the getting of gold.
All remember the general exit event that was occasional throughout this western country during 1858 and 1859 by the glowing reports of the discovery of rich and abundant gold mines in Western Kansas and Nebraska Territories, in the region known as "Pike's Peak", among the Rocky Mountains. Influenced by these reports as many other young men were at that time, a company of five, consisting of three brothers, Alexander Blue, the oldest, myself (Daniel), next of age, and Charles Blue, the youngest, and John Campbell, our cousin, and Thomas Stevenson, all residing in Whiteside County, Illinois, determined to start for that far distant land of gold. My oldest brother, Alexander, has a family-a wife and four young children-but the rest of us were unmarried. So, bidding farewell to father, mother, three sisters, a comfortable home, and many fond friends, we started forth from Whiteside County on the morning of the 22nd of February, 1859, bound for Pike's Peak.
We traveled by rail to St Louis, and thence by boat on the Missouri River to Kansas City. There we left the river, and journeyed on foot to Lawrence, where we purchased a pony, and packing our blankets and satchels upon his back, proceeded to Topeka, where we purchased two hundred pound of flour, which we also packed upon the back of our pony, and on foot, and loading our pony, we journeyed on tell we got some three miles west of Manhattan, where we took shelter from a severe snow-storm in the hut of an old Indian named James Levies.
Here we met a company of nine other young men, also bound for the gold mines. One of these was a man named John Gibbs, whom we called "Captain Gibbs", because, he having, as he said, been over these western plains once before, we relied upon him as a sort of leader. The storm lasted three days, and then joining Gibbs party of nine, we proceeded on our journey, but had not proceeded far when we over took two others, John Currans and Geo. Solley, of Cleveland, Ohio, also bound for Pike's Peak.
There were now sixteen of us - a good sociable party-all feeling well and prepared for almost any emergency. We three brothers and our two original companions were a little better off then the rest in having a pony to carry our luggage and provisions, the others carrying theirs in packs on their backs. We had about a hundred miles to travel before reaching Fort Riley, and arrived there in a little less than three days from the Indian's hut.
At Fort Riley we tarried about half a day, debating as to which route we should take for Denver City, the "Republican" or the Smoky Hill route, the former being more than the later, and about 600 miles, while the latter was only 500. Capt. Gibbs said he had crossed the plains by the "Smoky Hill" route, and professed to be well acquainted with it; consequently, the majority of the party decided to take that route, though I urged strongly that we should take the "Republican". Somehow, I had a presentiment, at that time, that we should meet with calamity if we took the Smoky Hill route.
Therefore, without knowing anything as to the advantages of the respective routes, I did all I could to persuade the party to take the other, but I had to yield to the decision of the majority, and we started off, following the Kansas river -- wading across the Republican fork of that stream - and before the close of that day, a driving snow-storm overtook us - one of the most terrible storms I ever witnessed - and we left our pony and provisions, and, wrapping ourselves in our blankets, hurried to a house a short distance from us, where we dried ourselves at a stove and remained until next morning.
Here myself and my brother Charles tried again to persuade the party to return and take the other route, but Gibbs and his companions prevailed upon us to abandon that idea, and so we started off westward again. I had purchased a tent at the Fort for protection at night, but my companions prevailed upon me to leave it behind, so that all we had to shelter ourselves with on this long journey of over 500 miles of uninhabited country were woolen blankets into which we wrapped ourselves at night, lying down to sleep on the bare ground.
The first two days out from the Fort we made some thirty-five miles, and, after a good night's rest, started off, now abandoning all roads, and trusting only to the sun's course, and to the course of the Kansas river, which we continued to follow. We journeyed on, good weather and bad, for some six or eight days, when the nine men of Gibbs' party, Gibbs himself included, made a halt for the purpose of hunting buffaloes while they were yet in the buffalo country, their provisions being nearly exhausted.
Our original party of five, together with Geo. Soley, went on; but we had not proceeded over two days when we found ourselves completely confused as to our course, having lost sight of the river. We struck towards what we supposed to be in the direction of the river, and traveled till night, when we made a stop to rest, till morning, unpacking our pony and leaving him grazing near by. In the morning we woke and our pony was gone. We spent half a day in looking for him, but did not find him, and so gave him up as hopelessly lost, supposing that the Indians had stole him. We were about half was between Fort Riley and Denver City. Dividing off our provisions and satchels, (which the pony had until now borne for us), into equal portions in packs, we slung them upon our backs and went on, two of the other party, John Scott and a Hungarian, and another man named Hawes, of Indiana, whom they found on their way, he having been lost from another company, having in the meantime rejoined us. There were now nine in our party.
We journeyed on for a number of days, and were, it was supposed about two days' travel from the head of the Smoky Hill route, when my brother, Alexander Blue, was taken with severe pains in his head and back, and we had to stop to give him a chance to recruit. We rested four or five hours, when, after getting a drink of water, Alexander felt able to proceed. Here we consumed the last bit of flour and provisions that we had with us, and threw away all the luggage that we could possibly dispense with, and went on.
We had already been through considerable rough weather - storms of wind and snow - and had suffered from cold. It was the 17th day of March, I believe, when we reached the head of the Smoky Hill Fork. We then sat down in the peaceful, solemn wilderness, like pilgrims, lonely and solitary in a strange country, and talked over our past adventures and future prospects. We had nothing to eat, having consumed everything we had. The question for us to decide then, was whether to stop and hunt for game before proceeding further, or to go on and "trust to luck". We had been informed, both before starting and while on the way, that the distance from this point to Denver City was only about fifty-five miles. This was our great mistake: the actual distance being about 170 miles. With only about fifty-five miles before us, we supposed, of course, that with the chance small game we could kill on our way, we could make out to subsist to our journey's end, and so we determined to go on without stopping to hunt for game. Oh, it was a fatal, a terrible mistake, this mis-information as to the real distance.
We now had to trust entirely to the sun's course as to our course, having no compass nor guide of any kind with us, and having now reached the head of the Smoky Hill Fork, which we had followed. We struck out over the wide prairies what the sun indicated to be westward, and were once again fairly on our journey. But on the afternoon of that day a tremendous snow-storm suddenly came upon us, fierce and cold, the wind blowing copious snow furiously. We faced the storm boldly, and kept on our journey. The sun was hid, and we knew not where we were, in what direction we were going, or what was before us. Confused, lost, drenched and blinded, in the general chaos of falling and driving snow-lying down, wrapped in our blankets to rest in the night, and again struggling onward in our uncertain way during daylight, we continued to fight this terrible storm for five long days and nights.
Alexander and Charles were both sick, weary and discouraged. In addition to his sufferings from the general fatigue or traveling and the want of food, Alexander endured the agonies of inflammatory rheumatism. He suffered intensely, but stood it heroically, seldom uttering complaint, lest he would make Charles feel worse. He restrained his own feelings on this account; and, indeed, in our general distress, discouragement's and hunger, during the great storm, we all said and did everything we could to encourage and keep each other.
About the time the storm ended, we had to stop for Charley's sake. He became completely disabled, and after doing all we could for his relief, we spread our blankets on the snow, and wrapping ourselves up in them, went to sleep as we had the previous nights, trusting that the morrow would bring food, strength and hope. We found when the sun appeared again, that we had got off our course, and had, indeed, been traveling almost in a circle. But now we saw our westward course once more, and in the morning, Charles, being better, we prepared to resume our journey. Before doing so, however, Alexander and I, seeing a drove of wild horses nearby, made chase and tried to shoot one (for there were two or three guns in our party) in order to secure food. Alexander ran very hard, and a considerable distance, to get a shot at them, but neither of us succeeded, and Alexander rejoined the company in much worse condition than he had been at any time before. He had exerted himself too much, and the reaction and general effect of the effort almost prostrated him completely. We had to tarry a little longer on that spot in consequence.
Hawes (the Indiana man) and the Hungarian here forsook us, going on alone, and leaving the rest of us (eight in all) to our fate. Getting rested somewhat, (and that wasn't much, for all we could find to eat was snow and an occasional rabbit that we captured, and a dog that had followed us), we proceeded slowly on our way once more, and after traveling three days farther, during which none of us were barely able to drag one foot after another, being so weak and weary; and while going down the side of a ravine, Alexander sank down exhausted and in severe pain. We wrapped him up in blankets, bathing him with snow water, and tearing our shirts into strips, bandaged his feet and head, and did all we could in our weak and almost dying condition to relieve him and then we all laid down in our blankets on the snow and rested till morning.
Oh, for something nourishing to eat; how hunger gnawed in our stomachs, parched our lips, and dried up the moisture of our throats and mouths. How it weakened us, consuming, as if by fire, our muscles and our juices. It reduced us to very skeletons, and we stalked about emaciated, with death's hollow sound in every word we tried to speak, with death's dull, leaden fixedness in our eyes, and with death's pale look in our sad and wretched faces. A sad, desperate plight was ours. I had read and heard of human sufferings on the battle-field, on the sick bed, on the land and on the sea, but never had my imagination conceived sufferings like those which I and my poor companions endured during those horrible winter days on these far western plains. It makes me shudder, even now, to think of them, and I only wonder how any of us lived as long, in the midst of those hardships, as we did, or that I now live to relate them.
It was here, in the midst of these tribulations, while we were lying on the ground together, and feeling that death from starvation was near at hand to all of us, that our conversation turned to the subject of eating each other. Horrible thought. One of the company mentioned the fact that sailors have been known to do so at sea, and that travelers on the deserts have done the same.
"Here let us rest now," remarked John Campbell, our cousin; if we have to die, let us die decently; or let us cast lots to see which of us shall die to feed the rest".
"I am willing to die to feed any of you", said my brother, Charles, too weak almost to utter the words. "I don't feel like going any further".
The thought of taking the life of any of my companions, in order to preserve my own, was abhorrent to me, and I remarked to Campbell, "John, I am sorry that one as old as you are should speak in that manner, considering our present condition. For my part, I am willing to die by starving to death, if it must be so, but am not willing that any of you should die to keep me alive".
And yet, the subject having been mentioned, we kept thinking of it, and subsequently we again spoke of it, and all then agreed that whichever of us should die first, should be eaten by the rest. We then slept till morning.
It was one of these days of our sufferings, when, seeing a drove of antelopes near us, I attempted to shoot one, but was prevented by a serious accident. Crouching near the ground I awaited their approach with my gun cocked, but on trying to change my position, let the butt of the gun fall heavily to the ground, which caused it to discharge, and the shot pierced the corner of a satchel under Thomas Stevenson's arm, be being seated on the ground about ten feet from me, on the left. It was a narrow escape for Stevenson. I thanked God and I trust he does, that he was not instantly killed.
Well, on the next morning after the conversation above reported, with the sun rising brightly, and with prospects for a fair day, we awoke, and I rose before the rest and walking out a short distance to the top of a ridge and looking westward, I beheld for the first time, dimly up among the clouds, a peak of the Rocky Mountains. My heart, faint with weakness, beat quicker then, and a thrill of joy came over me, and hope revived. I ran back to my companions and joyfully announced to them my discovery.
"The peak, the peak. I see it afar off there in the westward. Take courage, boys, and let us go on".
These words seemed to revive them a little, and we were soon again on the march - slowly and solemnly, like a funeral march, it is true; but not without hope. I carried Alexander a portion of the way, Charles and Soley, though very weak, being still able to walk. Stevenson, Scott and Campbell bore up wonderfully. But we had not gone over forty rods, when Alexander fell down exhausted again.
"Daniel", he said, "My race is run; I have gone as far as I can". We stopped and bandaged and washed him again. I now deemed it improper for my brothers to try to on further, and it was then proposed that all of the party who were able, should go on, and if they found help, should return to the rescue of the others. John Campbell, Thomas Stevenson, and John Scott then determined to leave us, and requested George Soley, the Cleveland boy, to do likewise, but the noble boy replied, "No, I will stick to these boys till I die". They had hardly been out of sight, when Soley, who, without a murmur, had thus far suffered everything and borne up with the strongest of us, sank down, completely overcome by his physical weakness. He and Brother Alexander were now completely prostrate, helpless as babes. Charles rallied a little during the day, and he walked slowly, while I carried the two helpless men along, first bearing Soley a certain distance, and settling him down, then going back after Alexander, and then again returning for the satchels. My object was to fin, if possible, a better shelter for them, hoping to find a human habitation of some kind. But when evening came again, and our condition and prospects were more desperate and wretched than ever before.
We had now been eight entire days without food, except boiled roots and grass and the snow, and even these, what little we could get of them, did not in the least satisfy our hunger. The roots were bitter and would not digest, and laid heavily in our stomachs, making us more miserable than we had felt previously.
On that night Alexander suffered terribly, and I had to sit up with him, trying to soothe and alleviate his excruciating rheumatic pains. Charles and Soley slept soundly till morning, but at about seven o'clock the same morning, Soley commenced to sink rapidly, and soon expired, bidding us a sad farewell, and requesting us, with his last words, to take his body and eat of it as much as we could, and thus preserve our lives. The poor, noble hearted boy had actually starved to death. And in his fate we three brothers, who were now left entirely alone, saw our own: for death was surely gnawing at our vitals, and we felt that soon we would have to follow our silent, pale and emancipated companion to the other world, "where the weary are at rest".
We were not strong enough to inter the corpse, neither had we pick or shovel with which to dig a grave, even if we could muster strength enough to do so. The dead body laid there for three days, we lying helpless on the ground near it, our craving for food increasing continually, until, driven by desperation, wild with hunger, and feeling, in its full force, the truth of the sentiment, that "self preservation is the first law of nature", we took our knives and commenced cutting the flesh from the legs and arms of our dead companion, and ate it.
This was the hardest of our trials - this being forced to eat human flesh. We restrained as long as we could, but we yielded at last, for it was our last resort for hope of preservation. After having, with eager relish, devoured part of a leg and party of an arm, the corpse began to mortify and to smell, and we could eat no more of it. But what we had eaten, though it at first sickened us, had the effect to strengthen us a little, and enabled us to bear up longer than we could have done otherwise. We tarried there several days, to give Alexander an opportunity to recover from his terrible pains, but, overcome, by his intense pains and hunger, he, too, sank down and died. He retained his consciousness to the last moment, and a short time before his death, he succeeded in writing on a piece of paper the following brief farewell to his family:
April 18th, 1859
My Dear Beloved Wife and Children:
I take my pen in a trembling hand to let you know that my hour of death is near, caused from want of bread. Oh, my God, what a hard death. My kind love to you and all my dear children. My love to father and mother, sisters and Richard. God bless you and keep you all, my dear wife and children.
It was a solemn time for us, all alone there on that vast prairie - lost, helpless wanderers on a desert - to hear our dying brother's last words and requests. He said he was happy in finding relief from long sufferings, all he regretted was that he could not see his wife, children, parents and sisters, before giving up this life; and trusted fervently that he should meet us all in the "other world". With these words spoken he sank into the sleep of death, he, like Soley, urged us to eat his body for our own preservation.
After he had been dead two days, the uncontrollable and maddening cravings of hunger, impelled Charles and I to devour a part of our own brother's corpse. It was a terrible thing to do, but we were not in a condition of mind or heart to do as we, or other men, would have done amid ordinary circumstances. We were considerably strengthened by the food, and taking a part of our brother's body with us, to eat hereafter, we resumed our journey. We traveled a number of days farther, necessarily slowly, not proceeding over a mile or two each day, when, coming to a ravine near the banks of Beaver Creek, Charles sank down exhausted, and we made a stop.
I tried hard to soothe, encourage and relieve the dear boy - gathered some wild prickly pears and tree bark, which he ate, but nothing that he swallowed digested, and he became so constipated and bound up that he could neither eat anything more, nor free himself from that which he had eaten, and after thus suffering for a time, he too, the last of my brothers, died from sickness, starvation and general exhaustion and I was left alone in company with my dear brother's corpse - alone in a boundless waste of prairie, weak, helpless and starving.
Charles also died happy - expressed his trust in Heaven - felt that God had forgiven all his sins, and he was "going home to glory". "Oh Daniel," he said, "Seek your soul's salvation, and tell my sisters to remember their God, and to remember me, and to prepare to meet me in heaven. You will live to get home - Oh, remember your Saviour, who died for your sake", and he expired. Some days before his death, he made out to write on a piece of paper the following:
April 18th, 1859
Mr Dear Father:
I take my pen in hand, to let you know that my hour of death is near at hand. God help you and mother. We all three brothers are here together, near the Big Sandy River. We have twenty-five dollars and five cents.
Anyone that finds this letter will please write to Daniel Blue of Clyde, Whiteside County, Illinois.
PS: My dear father and mother, what a terrible sensation to know that in a very few hours I must die, and you far from me, and all for the want of a little food. Oh, dear father and mother, could you imagine the distressed feelings that burn within me - to know that within a few hours I must die, and that in good health - all for the want of a piece of bread. May God help us all, and that we all may meet in heaven. Take care of bread. Pray take care of bread. My affectionate love to you all.
I laid me down in sorrow by the side of my dead brother's body, weeping and moaning over his death. I was now sick of life, and gave over in despair. While my brothers were still living, the hope of saving them and yet bring them to a place of shelter and relief, bore me up, and inspired me with courage, strength and resolution, but they were now dead, and I was alone, having no one but myself to care for. My spirit shrank in despair within me, and I made up my mind to die.
For three days I laid there, impelled by the terrible pains of hunger to rise up only three or four times during that time, and then, alas, to eat of my brother's body, that was lying dead and pale by my side, and refresh myself with the water of the Creek nearby. But this did not nourish me, the food that was already in my stomach seeming to have hardened into stone. Gradually becoming weaker, I at last found myself unable to raise from the ground at all; and then my vision forsook me; I could not see my own hand before my eyes; was completely blind - and then, still retaining my senses, I felt I was indeed dying.
Finally I fell asleep, remaining unconscious, I do not know how long - it may have been for days, or only hours. The first I knew, was the hearing of a voice exclaiming gruffly - "weak. Weak". And a human hand was laid upon me. I had not strength enough to speak or make a motion; and the Indian (for such he was, and there were three of them - of the Arapaho tribe) took me carefully in his arms, laid me on his pony's back and thus conveyed me to his tent, their Chief and a member of his tribe being camped there. He and his squaw bathed me, and gave me some tenderly cooked antelope meat and some drink; the effect of this was to throw me into a violent fever, and to make me feel very sick. He then gave me some warm antelope blood and some raw antelope liver; these tasted sweet, and I relished them well; they strengthened and revived me, so that I was soon able to raise my head; and in a day or two I could sit up, and my eye-sight was restored.
God bless that young Indian brave and his good squaw. They nursed me as carefully and gently, during those days I spent there in their rude but hospitable tent, as my own mother would have done, and they saved my life. I could not understand their language, not they mine, but in this case, on both sides, "actions spake louder than words" - theirs of kindness, mine of gratitude. Men talk about the humanity of civilization, and the cruelties of barbarism, but I have the best of reasons for knowing and feeling that there is as much humanity in "the savage breast" - if these Indians are indeed savages - as can be found in the breast of the most perfect civilization that mankind has ever known.
One day the young Indian came into the tent, looking excited and sad in turns, and by and by he approached my couch, and pointing with his finger and nudging his head out towards the prairie, said, "Wo, Haw; Wo haw. Wo, haw," having no doubt heard some emigrants speaking thus to their ox teams, and deeming that the best manner in which he could indicate that he wished me to go with him. Getting his meaning, I gave my assent, and he then lifted me up, assisted me to mount his saddled pony, and leading the animal he took me to an encampment of the Pike's Peak Overland Express Company, whose coach and team, it seems, had just reached that point from Leavenworth City, bound westward. The Express party received us kindly and gave us to eat and drink, and agreed to take me to a point of safety next day.
Returning with the Indian to his tent, and squaw, the next morning, bidding them an affectionate and tearful farewell, I left them and was taken by the Express party to their first station, which they had just established there, and which was near the spot where my brother Charles had died, and where the Indian had found me in a dying condition. Mr Williams, the superintendent of the Company, who happened to be with the coach, gave the station woman, a kind, tender-hearted lady, directions to take good care of me till the next coach for the west came along, and then I was to take that for Denver City. Besides the lady who kept the station, there were there a hired man, a hired girl and two drivers. The Express party stopped long enough to bury the body of my brother, then proceeded on their way.
I was there some dozen days, during which time the good woman nursed me very kindly when all of us were driven away, to the next station west, where we were attacked by hostile parties of Comanche and Apache Indians, who were in pursuit of the Arapahos, with whom they were at war. Fortunately we escaped unharmed from the warriors, and after waiting two days longer, the stage-coach of the Overland Express Company from the east at length arrived, and I proceeded therewith to Denver City, where I arrived on the 11th day of May, nearly three months after the day we left our home in Illinois.
And here let me stop long enough to express my grateful and heart-felt thanks to the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company, and to Mr R D Williams, the superintendent, especially, for their humane treatment of me for they not only nursed and fed me kindly, be landed me at Denver, free of charge. Such acts of kindness and humanity deserve to be recorded, as they are in my inmost heart, never to be erased.
One of the first objects that arrested my attention just before entering Denver, was my lost pony, which we had purchased at Lawrence, and which we supposed had been stolen by the Indians on the Kansas River. He was found by some emigrants wandering about on the Smoky Hills Fork. They brought him along with them to Denver, and there sold him.
At Denver, I one day met Captain Gibbs, whose company, it will be remembered, we overtook at, and traveled with from the old Indian's hut east of Fort Riley, and whom we left in the Buffalo country, hunting. I also met Currans in Denver. Gibbs was working in the mines, and Currans was driving team for his board. They informed me that they had a hard time getting over the plains, enduring many hardships, and that they left all the rest, except for the North Carolinian, to perish on the plains. Of all those seventeen men who were on the plains while I was on the journey, only five are living, as far as I can ascertain. It is probable that all the rest perished. The five referred to are Capt Gibbs, Thomas Stevenson, John Currans, the North Carolinan (whose name I never learned) and myself. Stevenson is the only one besides myself of the original party of five who left Whiteside County, Illinois, who is alive - John Campbell having probably starved to death, as did my brother. What a melancholy termination to a bold adventure.
My narrative is drawing to a close. It only remains for me to say that after reaching Denver City, learning the true state of facts in regard to the gold bubble that had been blown by reckless speculators for the drawing on of just such young men as we were, and remaining there for some three weeks, vainly trying to find something to do to earn a living, I made arrangements with a Mr Cooper, of Iowa, who had come to Denver City with a saw-mill and sold it, to return with him in a mule-team across the plains and as far east as the Missouri river. Our return journey was in the summer, with good weather most of the time, and we reached Omaha City, Nebraska, side of the Missouri river in safety.
We traveled by what is known as the Platt route. At Omaha, I took a steamer to St Joseph, there took the cars at Hannibal, on the Mississippi, and thence I came by railroad to my old home in Whiteside County - worn weary, and poor, with just fifty cents in my pocket, and feeling content to spend the rest of my days - and I am still quite a young man - in peace at home and on the farm.
Gold stories have no longer any allurements for me. Gold, that I fancied glittering invitingly in the distance, was the ignis fatus that lured me astray - that led my lamented brothers to destruction, and came near making me a sharer of their terrible fate. And here let me conclude by advising all men who meditate a trip to Pike's Peak, that, as far as the gold mines are concerned, "distance lends enchantment to the view". There is gold there, no doubt, but you must have capital, machinery and much patience to get it. A poor man is better off here.
My story is told. When I commenced I said it was a sad tale, and is it not so? It is a tale of realities, and in its sequel, as far as my rescue and preservation are concerned, it proves that truth is indeed "stranger than fiction". I was delivered from the very "jaws of death", and though I deplore and must ever lament, the terrible and untimely taking off of my beloved brothers, whose bones now lie bleaching on the plains of Western Kansas, yet I thank God religiously, heartily and fervently He rescued me from the fate that stared me in the face, and not left this sad history unwritten, or the fate of my companions untold.
A LETTER HOME ANNOUNCING SAD TIDINGS
On the day after my arrival at Denver City, I became acquainted with a gentleman, Mr Alexander J Pullman, who, at my request, wrote to my relatives in Illinois, apprizing them of the death of my brothers. The following is a copy of his letter.
Denver City, Cherry Creek, May 16th 1859
Mr John Wilson:
Dear Sir: It is with pain that I inform you of the death of two of your brothers-in-law, Alexander and Charles Blue, who died from starvation on the Smoky Hill route to the Pike's Peak gold mines. Daniel Blue, the only brother who is left to tell the sad news, arrived at this place yesterday. Daniel owes his life to the Arapahoe Indians, who, in almost the hour of death, rescued him from his awful situation, took him to their camp, made him comfortable in preparing him food, such as he could eat, washing, combing his hair, and taking him to the whites on their ponies. Daniel is very weak, but is rapidly improving. On his arriving, I invited him to my cabin where I soon got him a cup of coffee, and the best the bakery could afford of pies and cakes. When he had refreshed himself and rested, I took my pocket diary and commenced noting down the sad and horrible story of Daniel Blue, which causes me to shudder as I write it down. He requested me to write to you, so that all his friends would hear of the sad and melancholy fate of the brothers and George Soley, of Cleveland, Ohio. Alas. How would the parents and friends of these unfortunate young men feel when they hear the sad news. I can truly feel and sympathize with them on receiving the distressing intelligence, ascertaining, as I do, that they were residents in the adjoining country from me in Illinois.
Daniel Blue informed me that he with his brother, Alexander and Charles left their home in Whiteside County, Illinois, for the gold mines at Pike's Peak. They left a comfortable home - a father, mother and three sisters, Alexander left a wife and three children to bewail their sad loss. The three brothers, with George Soley, of Cleveland, Ohio, arrived at Kansas City on the 6th of March. They then started on for Lawrence, Kansas, where they bought a pony. They then passed on to Topeka, where they supplied themselves with provisions. They traveled on to Fort Riley, and so on to the Smoky Hill Fort, when unfortunately, on their way they had the pony stolen from them. They then packed their blankets and what provisions they had, on their backs. The commenced suffering with hunger. Traveling on for the space of ten days, living now and then on a hare or bird shot by Daniel Blue. On the 26th day of March, the heavens grew dark, and the dark clouds cast a fearful gloom over the face of the earth. They lost their way - had no road, no compass to guide their footsteps on their long tedious journey. The wind commenced blowing and the snow falling, when George Soley gave up to die, he could not go any further, and died the next day. Then, soon after, Alexander Blue died; he retained his senses up to the last moment of his existence, and died perfectly happy, though sincerely regretting not being able to see his wife, children, father, mother and sisters once more in this world of care and sorrow. He requested his two brothers, if ever they reached their homes alive, to take good care of his family. He told them to bid all the family members farewell in this life, with the fervent hope that they might all meet again in a better world.
Then how dreadful was the condition of the two brothers living. They were compelled, painfully from a state of starvation, to subsist on the dead body of their brother. They left the bones of their two companions to bleach on the plains of Kansas. Charles and Daniel traveled on about five days, when Charles gave up to died. Daniel remained with him while he lived. In his dying moments, he tried to cheer up his only surviving brother by telling him he would get through his travels alive; he also told him, that when he was dead, to feed on his flesh and travel on as fast as he could. Charles died perfectly happy, feeling that all his sins were forgiven him. He then closed his eyes in death, leaving Daniel to moan and bewail his sad fate all alone. He lived then a few days on the remains of poor Charles, when, lo and behold, in an unexpected hour, when death was staring him in the face, three Indians came that way and rescued him from his impending fate.
His brothers' bones lie bleaching on the plains of Kansas; their souls are in the spirit world. I can fully sympathize with you, as brother-in-law. Alas. What must be the feelings of those parents, wife, children, and sisters, when this heart-rending intelligence reaches their ears. May God grant them fortitude and resignation to bear it and to look to Him who can alone give them comfort in this trying hour. I now bid you farewell, mourning friends, and that you may find comfort where alone it is to be had, is the ardent and most fervent prayer of
Yours ever, Most respectfully, and sympathizer of the afflicted Daniel Blue,
Alexander J Pullman (Formerly from Ogle County, Illinois)
Great Falls, Montana
I have recorded Daniel's Journal as it was written, except for easier reading, I made many more paragraph's than he did. Daniel wrote many paragraph's that took up one typed, single spaced page, very difficult to read. So to make reading easier, I divided the Journal into many more paragraph's than were in the original. Daniel also made a moderately sized paragraph out of one sentence. I made very few changes, nor did I divide up his very long sentences. While, perhaps, grammatically incorrect, Daniel knew how to make a point!
While researching my Wink family in Whiteside County, I found that my Grandmother's youngest sister, Olive "Ollie" Wink, married Donald G McKay, also of Whiteside, in 1890. Then I discovered that Donald McKay's mother was Catharine Blue, sister of Daniel. I also found evidence of the ill-fated trip to Pike's Peak.
In the early 1970's, another Donald G McKay came to visit me in Oklahoma. He was a great-grandson to Donald Daniel and Catharine McFarlain Blue. He told me about the Journal that Daniel had written. By this time there were very few copies of the original published work in existence. He did, however, have a copy, a copy of which he kindly gave me.
Daniel's parents, Donald Daniel Blue and his wife, Catharine McFarlain, came to Clyde Twp from Canada in 1839. They had eleven children, John, Jane (Mrs John Wilson), Alexander, Donald, Margaret, Isabella, Charles, and Catharine (Mrs Donald McKay). John and Margaret died in 1839, Alexander and Charles in 1859.
I believe Daniel married in Whiteside (but I find no record of it), but soon moved to Independence, Iowa. They had several children. I know he returned, at least once, on a visit, when he was a good age.
I welcome any contact from Blue descendants. A picture of Daniel, information about his family to fill-in data to add to my family tree, would also be welcome.
If you would like to read a non-fiction article relating the tale of the Blue brothers great adventure, you may find it in the June, 2006 issue of Wild West.
Daniel married Helen Benjamin in 1860 in Whiteside, but soon moved to Independence, Iowa. I believe they had several children. I know he returned, at least once, on a visit, when he was a good age. (Also see: Portrait & Biographical 1885, page 487) There is some confusion about his name. It was Donald Daniel, after his father. Both men were often called by either name.
Stages of the Blue Brother's Trip From Whiteside Co. Illinois to Pike's Peak:
February 22, 1859 to May 11, 1859. Arrival at Denver City.
1. By rail from Clyde Twp., Whiteside Co., Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri,
2. Boat up Missouri River from St. Louis to Kansas City, Missouri.
3. Walked from Kansas City to Lawrence; bought a pack pony.
4. Walked from Lawrence to Topeka; bought 200 pounds flour.
5. Three miles west of Manhattan; took shelter at the Indian's Hut from a snowstorm; joined here by Capt. Gibbs's party of nine, plus John Currans and George Soley of Cleveland, Ohio, a total of 16.
6. Three days travel to Ft. Riley, a distance of 100 miles.
7. Discussed two routes: Republican Route, northerly, 600 miles; Smoky Hill Route, straight west, 500 miles. Chose Smokey Hill Route. Left Ft. Riley; waded across the Republican Fork; later that same day, took shelter in a house from a driving snowstorm.
8. Some 10 days from Ft. Riley, Gibbs's party of 9 men stopped to hunt buffalo. The Blue group continued on.
9. Blue's group, plus George Soley go on for 2 days. Half way between Ft. Riley and Denver City, their pony wanders off. At this point, John Scott, Hawes (of Indiana), and the Hungarian rejoin the Blue's making 9 men in the group.
10. Two days from head of Smoky Hill Route, Alexander Blue took sick.
11. March 17th: Head of Smoky Hill Route. Here is where fatal decision is made. Based on information that it is 55 miles to Denver City from this point, they decide to press on, even though they are hungry, tired, and without any food. In reality it is 170 miles.
12. Left the river. Follow the sun westward toward Denver. Blizzard trapped them, and for 5 days they wandered in circles, wasting what little strength they had left.
13. Rested several days after the storm. Charles completely disabled. Alexander and Daniel try to shoot a wild horse. They chased after them, running a lot, and Alexander became prostrated.
14. Hawes and the Hungarian leave the party. Only 8 remain.
15. One days travel. Alexander very ill. Everyone exhausted. First talked about eating each other. Rested here several days.
16. Attempted to shoot an antelope; nearly shot Thomas Stevenson by accident when Daniel's gun slipped out of his numb (with cold) hands.
17. Daniel Blue first saw the mountains: "The Peak! The Peak!" he cried. Slowly they moved on. Daniel is now carrying Alexander.
18. Campbell, Stevenson, and Scott leave the Blue's and go on alone. George Soley remains, and suddenly becomes very ill.
18A. Daniel is now carrying Alexander a distance; returns and carries George Soley to Alexander; returns for the satchels. Daniel is hunting for a place to shelter.
19. Eight days without food. Soley dies.
20. Three days later, remainder of Blue party begin to eat Soley.
21. Several days later, April 18, Alexander Blue dies.
22. Two days later, Charles and Daniel begin to eat Alexander, and take parts with them as they travel slowly westward.
23. Several days later, near bank of Beaver Creek, Charles dies.
24. Three days later, Daniel began to eat Charles. Drank from the creek; received no strength. Went blind. Knows he is dying.
24A. Here the Arapahoes found Daniel, and took him to their camp and nursed him back to life. Later took Daniel to an encampment of the Pike's Peak Overland Express Company. The stagecoach left Daniel at their closest Station to await a Denver bound coach. Express Company employees buried Charles.
24B. During the dozen days wait for the next stage bound for Denver, the Station was attacked by Comanche and Apache Indians. The Express employees and Daniel escaped unharmed to the next Station east.
25. Two days after arrival at second Station, left on Overland Express Stage. Arrived in Denver City on the 11th of May, 1859.
[Written on the occasion of the death, by starvation, of Alexander Blue, while on a journey with his brothers, to Pike's Peak. A poem included in the second printing of Blue's narrative]
Wagner Camp entry on Daniel Blue page 456
350b. Thrilling narrative of the adventures, sufferings and starvation of Pike's Peak gold seekers on the plains of the West, in the winter and spring of 1859. By one of the survivors. Whiteside County, 111., 1860. Chicago, 111. : Evening Journal Steam Print, . . . 1860. 12 Title, verse with copyright notice "1860, by Daniel Blue . . ."; Introductory (signed by Blue, and with affidavits) (iii)-4; The Narrative (caption-title), (5)- I860 18 (signed at end "Daniel Blue") ; letter signed "Alexander J. Pullman (Formerly from Ogle County, Illinois.)", 19-21
A 2nd edition was printed at Morrison, Illinois, probably in the 1890's.
Blue was a survivor of a foot party that starved to death on the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak, Smoky Hill, express route, aptly called the "Starvation Trail."
His harrowing story had previously been reported by Henry Villard in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial June 3, 1859; duly notarized and entitled: "Statement of Daniel Blue, late of Clyde Township, Whiteside Co. Ill., made on the 12th day of May, 1859, at the office of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company, in the city of Denver," signed by Blue. This statement was authenticated by B. D. Wilson, the Super- intendent of the Express Company, who went back to where the Arapaho had found Blue, and buried the remains of Daniel's brother, Charles, who had succumbed a few days later than did Mr. Soleg and the other brother, Alexander Blue, (Colorado Magazine, vol. 8, no. 6, Nov. 193 1, pp. 232- 233). Blue, by prearrangement, survived by eating the flesh of his dead companions and brothers.
Further confirmation of the Blue narrative appears in the Rocky Mountain News, of May 7, 1859: "Two footmen have just arrived via the Smoky Hill Route. They appear to have suffered severely from hunger and thirst. They report having passed some ten or fifteen dead bodies unburied, and many new-made graves . . . they lived for nine days on prickly pears and one hawk." A pioneer train arriving at Denver at about this time reported that they had picked up three men who had given out and lain down to die of hunger and thirst, (Colorado Magazine, vol. 11, 1934, p. 78.). Some or all of these unfortunates were probably survivors of Blue's original party, be- fore it split up and dispersed,
Margaret Long in "The Smoky Hill Trail," Denver, 1943, quotes "Boyd's Log of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Ex- press Road. The Great Central Route along the First Stand- ard Parallel to the Gold Fields of Western Kansas," originally published in Freedoms Champion (Atchison), June 25, 1859; a copy is preserved in the Kansas State Historical Society. A similar log by A. D. Richardson who traveled with Greeley, is to be found in Richardson's "Beyond the Mississippi."
[This information from Anne Whiteman]
Letter to John Wilson, Denver City,
Cherry Creek, May 12, 1859
Blue was a survivor of a foot party that starved to death on the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak, Smoky Hill, express route, aptly called the "Starvation Trail."
Daniel, by prearrangement, survived by eating the flesh of his dead companions and brothers. The letter, which is to his brother-in-law, was written by Alexander J. Pullman at Blue's request following his arrival in Denver. It describes the journey through the rescue of Daniel by three Indians. Shown with the letter is Daniel's "Thrilling Narrative" .. open to the description of his second brother's death and his rescue by Indians. [From the William R. Coe Collection]
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