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Moses Schallenberg

There seemed little danger to me in undertaking this [agreeing to guard abandoned wagons at Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains]. Game seemed to be abundant. We had seen a number of deer, and one of our party had killed a bear, so I had no fears of starvation. The Indians in that vicinity were poorly clad, and I therefore felt no anxiety in regard to them, as they probably would stay further south as long as cold weather lasted. Knowing that we were not far from California, and being unacquainted with the climate, I did not suppose that the snow would at any time be more than two feet deep, nor that it would be on the ground continually. After I had decided to stay, Mr. Joseph Foster and Mr. Allen Montgomery said they would stay with me and so it was settled, and the rest of the party started across the mountains. They left us two cows, so worn out and poor that they could go no further. The morning after the separation of our party, which we felt was only for a short time…we set about making a cabin, for we determined to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, even if it was a short time. We cut saplings and yoked up our poor cows and hauled them together. These we formed into a rude house, and we covered it with rawhides and pine brush. A hole was cut for a door…. On the evening of the day we finished our little house it began to snow, and that night it fell to a depth of three feet…. It did not worry us much, however, for the weather was not at all cold, and we thought the now would soon melt. But we were doomed to disappointment. A week passed, and instead of any snow going off more came. At last we were compelled to kill our cows, for the snow was so deep that they could not get around to eat…. It kept on snowing continually, and our little cabin was almost covered. It was now about the last of November…and we began to fear that we should all perish in the snow…. We now began to feel very blue, for there seemed no possible hope for us. We had already eaten about half our meat, and with the snow on the ground getting deeper and deeper each day, there was no chance for game…. Death by starvation stared us in the face. At last, after due consideration, we determined to start for California on foot. Accordingly, we dried some of our beef, and each of us carrying ten pounds of meat, a pair of blankets, a rifle and ammunition, we set out on our perilous journey….

We did not say much at the parting. The feeling of loneliness that came over me as the…men turned away I cannot express, though it will never be forgotten…. My companions had not been long out of sight before my spirits began to revive, and I began to think like Micawber that something might “turn up.” So I strapped on my blankets and dried beer, shouldered my gun, and began to retrace my steps to the cabin…. As soon [as] I was able to craw around the next morning, I put on my snow-shoes, and, taking my rifle, scoured the country thoroughly for foxes. The result was…plenty of tracks, but no fox.

Discouraged and sick at heart, I came in from my fruitless search and prepared ot pass another night in agony. As I put my gun in the corner, my eyes fell upon some steel traps that Captain Stevens [the party’s leader] had left behind in his wagon. In an instant the thought flashed across my mind, “If I can’t shoot a coyote or fox, why not trap one?… My spirits began to rise immediately…. I set my traps. That night I went to bed with a lighter heart, and was able to get some sleep.

As soona s daylight came I was out to inspect the traps…. To my great delight I found in one of them a starved coyote. I soon had his hide off and his flesh roasted in a Dutch over. I ate his meat, but it was horrible. I next tried boiling him, but it did not improve the flavor…. For three days that was all I had to eat. On the third night I caught two foxes. I roasted one of them, and the meat…was delicious.

I now gave my whole attention to trapping…. I caught, on average, a fox every two days, and every now and then a coyote. I never really suffered for something to eat, but was in almost continual anxiety for fear the supply would give out…. As soon as one meal was finished I began to be distressed for fear I could not get another one. My only hope was that the supply of foxes would not become exhausted…. For bread and vegetables I had no desire. Salt I had plenty, but never used. I had just coffee enough for one cup, and that I saved for Christmas.

The daily struggle and the uncertainty under which I labored were very wearing. I was always worried and anxious, not about myself alone, but in regard to the fate of those who had gone forward. I would lie awake night and think of these things…. Fortunately, I had plenty of books, Dr. Townsend [the party’s surgeon] having brought out quite a library. I used often to read aloud, for I longed for some sound to break the oppressive stillness. For the same reason, I would talk aloud to myself. At night I built large fires and read by the light of the pine knots as late as possible, in order that I might sleep late the next morning, and thus cause the days to seem shorter. What I wanted most was enough to eat, and the next thing I tried hardest to do was to kill time. I thought the snow would never leave the ground, and the few months I had been living here seemed like years.

One evening, a little before sunset, about the last of February, as I was standing a short distance from my cabin, I could distinguish the figure of a man moving toward me. I first thought it was an Indian, but very soon I recognized the familiar face of Dennis Martin. My feelings can be better imagined than described.

Source: Emmy E. Werner, Pioneer Children on the Journey West, 13

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