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November 8, 1861: En Route to the Geysers

November 9, 2011

Knights Valley 04

Mt. St. Helena from Knights Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Pine Mountain

We had a cold night, and [today] the temperature was 37° F. in the morning—but the sky was intensely clear. We started, Professor Whitney, Averill, and I, each with a mule, and Old Jim carrying our blankets and some provisions packed on his saddle. The Professor and I carried saddlebags on our mules, while tin cups, pistols, knives, and hammers swung from our belts. We agreed to ride the two mules by turns, but it proved in the end that it was little riding that any of us did. Mr. McDonald went with us on foot as guide the first day. First we went up the valley of the little stream two or three miles, then struck up the ridge and crossed Pine Mountain, some 3,000 or 3,200 feet high, commanding a glorious prospect from its summit. The ascent was steep, the trail very obscure, and we would never have found it alone, even with all our mountain experience.

The summit of the ridge has some scattered pines, but on descending its northern slope we passed through a forest—firs, pines of several species, oaks, madroñas, etc., and with these the strange “nutmeg tree”—a curious tree something like a pine, more like a hemlock, but bearing fruit in size, shape, and taste very like a nutmeg.

We descended a few hundred feet into a canyon, where a cabin had been built beside a fine brook. It was now deserted, but here we camped, unloaded, and picketed our mules to feed, then descended into another wild canyon to a claim that was being worked.

On our return we found two other men had followed us, with pack-horses, having “interests” in some of the leads. A fire was built in the cabin, a dirty coffeepot found, which we cleaned up, coffee made, bacon roasted, and we had a comfortable supper, after which we sat by the bright fire and listened to the tales of pioneer life and adventure in these wilds. The rest slept in the cabin, but the Professor and I spread our blankets out under a majestic fir tree. The night was clear, the stars very bright, twinkling through the foliage; the sighing of the wind through the pines carried me back to recollections of other years and far distant scenes. The night was cold, but we were tired and slept well. To be sure, we were not over ten miles in a direct line from camp, probably not that, but distance in such places is not to be reckoned by miles but by the hours required to accomplish them.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 4:10 pm

    What do you suppose the “nutmeg tree” was?

  2. William H. Brewer permalink*
    November 9, 2011 4:25 pm

    Farquhar identifies it in a footnote as Torreya californica, or California Nutmeg. I’m adding a link to Flickr photos of the tree (& thanks for highlighting that!).

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