A Dangerous Journey

March 26, 2011 § 6 Comments

Rainy weather always puts me in mind of the historical oral histories taken down by James Reagan in 1914. They highlight how dramatic, dangerous, and long cross-county travel could be – travel that today makes us irate and grumpy when it take a few hours.

The New River mentioned here is the San Gabriel River, in its “new” channel. It shifted course in the 1860s. S.P. is Southern Pacific (rail road). The trip, 25 miles from Downey to Santa Ana.

The tale of Tom Hutchinson:

“In 1884 the rains came early and gentle and completely soaked the ground and the ground got so soft that a horse would mire down out in the fields, and then it came on hard rains and there was so much water that the whole country was a lake. He was in Downey and his mother was in Santa Ana, sick, and the last message they got from her before the Telegraph line washed out was that she was not expected to live, and he said he was going over there and they tried to talk him out of it; said he could not swim, but he said he was going anyway. He started out about ten o’clock  at night, moonlight, and followed the S.P.  track to where it crosses the New River; a part of the piling of the bridge of the S.P. was gone but the ties and the rails were still holding when he got there and he crossed on them. Says the water was about up to his knees  on the bridge in places where the track had sagged, but he got across all right, but the New River had made another channel a little east of the bridge, ad the water was very swift and looked deep but not very wide. He made a run and jump and caught the willows on the other side of the bank and pulled himself up but lost his hat.

He had an uncle living there at…the New River at that time…He was heading for his uncle’s place to get a team. Says his uncle and himself hitched up a team and went on from there and they were in water practically all the time. The last stream they had to cross — Coyote Creek — was pretty deep and they came out about a half mile below the ford or where they aimed to, and where they came out at there was a bank about four feet high and they got the horses’ feet up on the bank down and got the buggy and team out. This was just about daylight and he had left Downey at about ten o’clock and they had a good team and had been traveling all the time…


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§ 6 Responses to A Dangerous Journey

  • Sue says:

    So did he get there in time before his mother died? Great story, would be fun to trace his steps on foot and see how long it would take.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Yes! Sorry to the emotional cliffhanger there. She actually recovered, if I recall correctly.

      I agree – after reading these histories, I think of the basin in very different terms now.

  • Merilee says:

    Great story. I ‘ll need to find the book and read the whole account now! If you like this kind of thing, I highly recommend *Death Valley in ’49* by William L. Manly. It’s an autobiographical account of crossing Death Valley to Los Angeles by horseback, wagon and on foot.

    • KZinCC says:

      Also highly recommend “Escape from Death Valley” by Leroy Johnson. It’s written by a team of professional researchers who weave together all the extant memoirs of participants that vary significantly in times, events and even names into one cohesive timeline. They then set out to hike the same path in one go at the same time of the year to prove the feasibility of the route. For how scholarly it is, it’s a blistering good read for anyone with any mind for nature, adventure, california history or an affection for the mojave desert.

  • Joe Linton says:

    I love the expressive use of “mire” – “…the ground got so soft that a horse would mire down out in the fields…”

  • Steve Donaldson says:

    I wonder if this mighta happened in 1886 rather than ’84, since there was much more serious fl;ooding reported in the later year, and ultimately even a suspension bridge errected across New River to get passengers across S.P. washout.

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