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November 7, 1861: Knight’s Valley

November 7, 2011

Knights Valley 01

Vineyard in Knight's Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 66

The weather continued to look like rain, but [today] we pushed on. The trees grew more numerous, not only oaks, but fir or spruce, pines, the majestic redwood here and there with trunks towering perhaps two hundred feet high, and a lovely madroña tree growing finer than we had seen it before. This is a beautiful tree, has leaves like the magnolia, rich dark green, sheds its outer bark every year, and is very peculiar as well as beautiful.

Here let me state that your maps will give but little satisfaction for the region I am to describe. All north of the Napa Valley is guess work—much totally wrong—only a few of the main features are correct. There is a Mount St. Helena (not St. Helens), but no Mount Putas (Whore Mountain). The latter is probably the one now called Mount Cobb, as there is a high Mount Cobb near where the map puts Mount Putas. But all the region through to Clear Lake and on to the Humboldt is a very rough country, of which there are as yet no maps anywhere near correct. We, of course, are getting as many details and bearings as we can, and will eventually, I hope, get a tolerably good map. But do not wonder if my letters and the maps disagree during the remainder of this trip.

Knights Valley 03

Knight's Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

We passed up to the head of the Napa Valley, then over a low divide toward the northwest and descended into Knight’s Valley, a lovely valley watered by a tributary of the Russian River. The divide between these valleys on the south side of Mount St. Helena is very low, not over five or six hundred feet high. We passed down Knight’s Valley a few miles, then across by an obscure road, over low hills to McDonald’s, on a creek of his name, a tributary of Knight’s Creek. Here we camped—Camp 66.

McDonald1 is a quiet, fine man, and what is rare in such regions, a pious man. He settled here twelve or fifteen years ago, then the remotest settler in this region between San Francisco and the settlements in Oregon. His wife2, then but twenty years old, is still pretty, an intelligent and amiable woman. It must have required courage to settle here at that time, surrounded by Indians, so far away from civilization.

As this was the “headwaters” of wagon navigation we made our preparations to go on with mules. To the north of this lies a region now creating much excitement from the discovery of many quicksilver “leads.” This we wished to hastily visit.

Pioneer Cemetery 05

McDonnell gravestone, Pioneer Cemetery, Calistoga; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

1“The earliest settler in Knight’s Valley was William McDonald, who came there from Napa County in the year 1850, and was the first to act as guide to the Geysers…”–J. P. Munro-Fraser, History of Sonoma County (1880). “McDonald” was later spelled “McDonnell”.

2Eleanor Graves, a survivor of the Donner Party. “The Graveses traveled much of the way with the little known Smith Company but shortly after Eleanor’s fourteenth birthday they caught up with the Donner Party….When the Graveses arrived at Donner Lake and realized that they would probably have to winter in the mountains, the men of the family built a cabin about half a mile from the eastern end of the lake….On December 15, Eleanor’s father, her older sisters Sarah and Mary, and Sarah’s husband Jay Fosdick left with the Forlorn Hope snowshoers. The two men died en route; the women survived. Eleanor’s turn to escape did not arrive until over two months later, when she, William, and their sister Lovina left with the First Relief on February 22.”–Kristin Johnson, Eleanor Graves McDonnell. “Eleanor’s reticence to talk about her experiences with the Donner Party seems to have lasted most of her life”–which would explain why Brewer was apparently unaware of her story.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Smith permalink
    February 16, 2012 9:23 am

    My name is Jack Smith and my g-g-grandfather was Hiram Smith, captain of Smith Company in 1846. I have details of his trip if you are interested. Jack Smith


  1. November 10, 1864: Over Donner Pass | Up and Down California

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