The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Edited and with introduction by RAYMOND STARR
Department of History, San Diego State University

Images from the article

The American conquest of California brought to mid-nineteenth century San Diego some extraordinarily lively military people who gave the early community a spirited quality which it did not see again for many years. One of the more interesting of the soldiers was Cave Johnson Couts. Descendant of a prominent Tennessee family, he went to West Point, served in the Mexican War and first came to San Diego in 1848. The next year he was given command of the military escort for part of the commission surveying the new United States-Mexico boundary. He resigned from the army in 1851 and settled in San Diego. Couts married Ysidora Bandini, of one of the major Californio families in the area, and acquired through that marriage a sizable rancho, called Guajome. He remained a major San Diego civil and business leader until his death in 1874. Couts was a lively and a colorful man of strong opinions—he murdered at least two men, for instance—who left a considerable impact on San Diego.1 He also left an unparalleled record of his experiences. Couts’ surviving diaries, correspondence, and other papers, total in excess of 16,000 items. Most of the papers are in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, but the San Diego History Center has a small but significant collection.

The letters published below are drawn from the military correspondence file of the San Diego History Center’s Couts Collection. The letters (often contemporary copies) pertain to his service as escort to the boundary survey in the Yuma crossing area, from September to December, 1849. The letters deal with a number of important topics. To begin with, the Yuma crossing was one of only two decent crossings of the southern Colorado River (the other being near the present town of Needles, California). Inasmuch as the Yuma crossing has always been the major entry into San Diego from the east, its story has long played a major role in San Diego’s history. In addition, the letters provide descriptions of San Diego’s backcountry, the desert between the mountains and the Colorado, plus details of military life on a frontier post. Most importantly, the selections deal with Indian relations and the flood of emigrants on their way to the goldfields. The letters from the military file not include below contain additional references to the above topics, but mostly deal with military life and administrative detail.

The items published are an important supplement to our knowledge of the topics considered. For instance, two portions of Couts’ diaries for this period have been previously published, but these letters contain details not found in the diaries. In addition they form a supplement to the published writings of others involved, such as Amiel W. Whipple and William Emory.2

The circumstances behind the correspondence began when Congress authorized a boundary commission after the Mexican War. Colonel John B. Weller of Ohio was eventually made the head of the commission, and Lieutenant William H. Emory of the Topographical Corps (and who had previously been through the area) was put in charge of the astronomical observations. One portion of the commission was sent to where the Gila River flows into the Colorado, to map that portion of the boundary. Lieutenant Cave J. Couts and the “A” Company of the First Dragoons were sent along as a military escort. Couts was on this expedition from September 11 to December 11,1849. While on duty, he headquartered at a camp just west of a hill across the Colorado from the mouth of the Gila. He called his headquarters site “Camp Calhoun” after the former Secretary of State, John C. Calhoun.3

As will be seen in the correspondence, Indian and emigrant matters dominated Couts’ attention at Camp Calhoun. The Indians in the area were Quechans (sometimes spelled “Cuchan” in nineteenth century accounts), a part of the Yuma group which had occupied the area west of the lower Colorado for hundreds of years. The Yumas were fairly nomadic gatherers and traders, although the ones along the river did develop considerable cultivation. They lived in scattered settlements of unprepossessing huts. The Quechans had a fairly loose political system with tribal leaders of relatively little power. Their early contacts with Europeans had begun in the sixteenth century when the Spanish began to tentatively penetrate the area. In the eighteenth century the Spanish established small settlements and a mission in the area. Because of Spanish abuse of the Indians—especially the destruction of their food supplies—the Quechans destroyed them in the 1780s. Except for occasional mountain men, the Indians were undisturbed by Europeans until the 1840s when Americans began to move into their world.4 The result of that phenomenon created friction between Quechan and white, which is the subject of much of Couts’ correspondence in 1849.

Although the permanent American intrusion into Quechan life began with various American armies crossing the area after 1846, the largest disruption came with the emigrant trains of 1849 and after. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, thousands of people rushed into the area. The most heavily used route was the northern trail (an off-shoot of the Oregon trail); many also crossed the Isthmus of Panama or went around Cape Horn. Some followed a southern overland route. There were many starting points—Santa Fe, Texas, northern Mexico—but they all eventually converged at the Pima Villages on the Gila River, followed the Gila west to the Colorado, and then moved north-ward to Los Angeles or the goldfields. A very few took a spur to the west and ended up in San Diego.5 It was the emigrants on this southern route whom Couts encountered during his time at Camp Calhoun.

Many of the emigrants were in difficult straits by the time they reached the Yuma crossing. The southern route was especially hard because it crossed considerable desert and other harsh environments, which compounded the troubles of innocents who had left home with insufficient food, animals and supplies. They were further harassed at many points by Indians; disease also attacked many. In addition, the crossing of the Colorado itself was hazardous, in the absence of a decent ferry and with the threat of Indian treachery at the crossing site. It was this combination of matters which presented Lieutenant Couts so much cause for concern in his few months on the Colorado. Clearly, the material on the emigrant trains is the most significant information presented in the items being published here.

The letters and documents which follow include letters from several emigrants who passed through the area, plus letters from Couts dealing with his own observations and suggestions. The items are all printed in their entirety, with original spelling, punctuation, abbreviations and spacings.

* * * * * *

Sta: Isabel, Califa.6 
Septr. 17: 1849.



I have the honor to report, that I arrived at this place yesterday, where I met three intelligrent young Americans just from the Colorado. It is almost impossible to find an animal of any description in this part of the country—Warner’s ranch,7 two leagues from here, is represented as abandoned: And for this reason, with what I have gotten from the young men just in, I send the express from Sta: Isabel.

The Indians on the Colorado appear very numerous, but entirely harmless, except in their cunningness in exacting larger sums from the emigrants in crossing them over the river. They have a raft for this purpose, and before setting out, make all pay who cross on it; afterwards, and whilst passing over, make them pay again—frequently as often as three times—and after landing them on this side, still call for pay again. This, there is no doubt, has caused the skirmishes which we heard of between these Indians and the emigrants.

They are represented as being well mounted, and in good circumstances: whereas, when the Command under Bvt. Maj. L. P. Graham,8 passed in Nov: ’48, they were in the most deplorable state of barbarity. This is sufficient evidence of their having committed many robberies and outrages. I had no apprehensions of trouble with them before leaving Sn Diego, and have less now.

This party of Americans, passed near two hundred wagons between the Pima Villages9 and the Colorado. They are represented as having ox teams and plenty of provisions.

I fear, that parties, in sufficient numbers, will reach the Colorado in distress, to place me in an awkward situation before our object is accomplished.

It is impossible to make any arrangement this side of Sta: Monica,10 to facilitate an express whilst we are on the Colorado. I have sent to-day, to Ojo Caliente,11 for a horse to send this Express to San Diego. Also, if possible, to purchase three or four.

I am compelled to use my company horses for all purposes—will have to use them in driving the cattle which will be brought to me to-day from Sta: Maria12—there being none here. I shall take five or six Indians from this place as herdsmen.

The route between Sta: Monica and Sta: Maria is much worse than supposed. We were near four days making the distance, which is less than fourteen miles — the first six and the last two miles, being a good road. In the absence of picks, we had to use common felling axes, by no means a good substitute. The mules are very weak, and in double teams, with men at the wheels, for ordinary hills. They nearly all gave out the second day from the mission.

With the Stampede at Sta: Monica, and those lost at Sta: Maria, I am now seven mules missing. Having to leave my wagons and drive the mules to water, after night on 12′, several (two or three) escaped and returned to Sta: Monica. Dn José Anto Estudillo13 has promised to take up all he can find, and return them to the Qtr Master at Sn Diego.


I leave early in the morning for Sn Felipe.14
I enclose a semi-monthly return of my company.
I have written to Capt. Hayden15 to pay the Indian $6 for going in.

I have the honor to be,
Yr: Mo: Obt: Svt:
Cave J Couts
 Lt. L’ Drags;
Comdg. Expd.

Bt Maj: W. H. Emory
Cmdr Escort to Bdy: Comsn.
          Camp Riley, CA16

* * * * * *


Camp Calhoun,
 Oppe Mo. Gla,
Octr. 10′, 1849.


I have the honor to report, that the expedition reached the Colorado on the 29′ ult., thirteen miles below this Camp, and came up here on 2nd; inst.

I marched from Vallicito17at 5P.M., on 21st, reaching Carrizal18 between two and three O’clock the following morning; when, much to my discomfiture, (knowing what was before) the Animals would not use the water. Leaving this at day light on 22nd., pushed on for the lake,19 twenty-eight miles distant. Nine miles from Carrizo Creek, having to double teams, with the aid of all my men at each wagon, and Ther. standing at 110° in the Ambulance, Caused no little fear for my mules. Fortunately, about 5 O’Ck P. M, a heavy storm burst upon us, and in a few minutes we were travelling over a sheet of water. I did not succeed however, in getting all the wagons to Salvation Camp,20 fifteen miles from the lake, until 25′; when the teams were so reduced, as to make it impossible for me to carry all through at once, if desired. Accordingly, I selected Six of the best teams, added two mules to each, and left on 27′, for the Colorado—leaving Sergt. Berry,21 with nine men, to guard remaining wagons and mules, with most of my horses, which I also left—the men walking from Carrizo Creek to this place. On the 4th., I started Sergt. Hinton22 back to this Camp, with the mules and horses that had come through, (except one team and two horses) And am now daily expecting Sergt. Berry with the remainder of the provisions.—

The grazing at Camp Salvation, as its name implies, appears to have been thrown there by a providential hand, for the Salvation of American Emigrants. They, the emigrants, Call it three different names—Buffalo, Gamma, and Gramma.—It is what I Call mesquite grass. I have never seen a superior grazing field—(to use a soldiers expression as he came up to it—”it made his horse laugh”). On the Opposite, or west side of this so called New River, is another kind of grass, very excellent for making hay. One man can gather with his hands, as much as his six mules will consume in a day; and but a few hours under that scorching sun, cures it, and is ready for packing.

Without entering upon a description of the “New River,” I send you a sketch of it, which will probably explain it more fully. It is older, than the old mesaqite trees that margin it from one extremity to other; and which furnish the famous mesquite bean in great abundance.

I found the Indians on the Colorado, very different what I had anticipated. By the time of reaching it, I was fully satisfied that the emigrants had good grounds for complaint. They are very numerous, insolent and intruding, almost beyond endurance. A few days before our arrival, parties had commenced forming to fight them, but were deterred for the sake of those following. Many volunteered to return with me to fight them. The Captains were hasty to inform me, that none of my animals would be stolen. I told them that they, (capts.) and no one else was responsible to me for them.

On 3rd: I held a Council with them, telling them of the disposition of the U. States toward all the indians [sic], and that peace and friendship must exist, between them and the emigrants. The Cuchans stated, that they had a Captain, who was a thief, robber, and murderer, and no American—that he was a Mexican. This Capt. (Pablo)23 who stood near me, with his habitual dress an old black wool hat, fixed off fancifully; a Dragoon band dress coat with Infy. epaulettes; his eyes covered with green goggles which he had robbed someone of; three pairs of pantaloons, of different lengths, the shortest on the outside and reaching just below the knee joint; an old pr of shoes; several red strips around him; and held in his hands, which were protected from the sun by a large pr. of heavy black-kid gloves, a sword about two feet long, leather scabbard & brass mounted—was appointed by the Mexn Govt. prior to the war. I told them of the mode of elections in the U. States, and recommended the same to them. On night of 4th; they held a large Council, and elected three Captains, one of them, the head Capitan. On morning of 5′, they Came to me to ratify their election, tell Pablo that he was no longer their Chief, and give the newly elected a paper, ratifying said election. This I did, stating particularly, that it was at their own wish. When I handed Antonio24 the paper, they were all much rejoiced.

If the emigrants exercise the proper forbearance, I think that no further trouble may be apprehended.

The Asst. Astronomer,25 was very particular in telling me whilst on the march, that, in speaking of the object of the expedition, he did not want me to say we—that he, and the escort, were very different. Since our arrival, and he has commenced his observations, I find that most of the escort, are assistants and aids in the scientific dept.—He has Called for nothing in the Comd. but what has been furnished, nor shall he. I have had my men on guard, two nights in succession, several times.

Finding the Indians as I did, even objecting to my men gathering grass in the bottom, I commenced trading the few things I brought with me, for grass, corn, (which they have a great deal of) and mesquite beans—This I succeeded in very well the first two-days; but the Indians finding a much bet ter, and cheaper store on the hill, left me. I presume that the things which Lieut. Whipple is presenting them with, are on his own private account, and have threfore said nothing—charity being so much talked of, and so little practiced.

I have the honor to be,
 Yr; Mo; Obt: Svt:
Cave J Couts
Lt. l’ Drags:
     Comd: Exp.

 Majr. W. H. Emory
           Comdr; Esct Bdy, Comsn;
           Camp Riley.

* * * * * *

Camp Calhoun
Junction of the Gila & Colorado,

 Lieut. Couts, U. S. Army



Dear Sir,

I cannot leave this place without expressing my thanks for your Kindness, and my gratification at witnessing your urbanity and Kindness to all the Emigrants and regret that you have not the means at your disposal to carrry out your views, for the relief of the Emigrants whose distress is daily brought to your notice.

Situated at the crossing of all the best roads, from the States of Mexico, and Sta. Fé, the tide of Emigration here, is incessent, and the want of Provisions after such a long and tedious journey is too painful to witness when we cannot relieve it.—

By judicious management, you suppressed the hostility between the Indians & Emigrants, but their disposition is such, that your Force cannot be with-drawn; and while here, should be supplied with a Train of Waggons to bring Provisions from Sn. Diego—means for opening a few Wells on the Desert, and for “Building a Ferry Boat” for the Colorado, —With such appliances at your disposal, you could render unbounded Service to your Country, and save the lives and property of Thousands; nor have I met, any one better qualified to carry into effect such arrangements than yourself.

I have the honor to be


 Very Respectfully
Your Obedt. Servt.
R. L. Browning

Octr. 15, 1849

Four Miles below Camp Calhoun,
 Colorado River
Octr. 16, 1849

Lieut. Couts, Comdr,
Dear Sir,

As many months may probably pass before I have the pleasure of another meeting with you, and you during that time, will be stationed at this, to Emigrants, all important point of the Colorado, & before, I get beyond reach, send you my most sincere thanks, for the aid you have given me, in crossing my party over your rapid and dangerous Ferry, owing to the Steep Banks, and Quicksands, added to the swift Current of the River at this place. —Should you ever, visit N. York, the presentation of this letter will be an introduction to my Father J. J. Audubon, or Brother V. G. Audubon.27

Now will you allow me to beg you to exert your influence to the best of your reasoning, and pursuading powers, with our Authorities, in establishing a line on this Desert, so dreaded by Emigrants, in order that Provision may be spared for our poor starving Countrymen, who seem, like myself, to have over run their Calculations of the time requisite for the Journey nearly one half, owing in a great degree, to the fearfully barren state of the Country between this and the Pima Villages.

I passed one Waggon with nearly one half the Stock “Dead” and the Family told me they had consumed nearly all their Provision, and had fully expected to have reached los Angeles by the time they had, this place. — I know that to be only “one” case of many, and if you do not get the means of supplying the cravings, “and that speedily“; of the “Starving“, who must pass your post this winter, I would not be in your position, for any consideration ! ! !

You told me you intended Building “a Ferry Flat,” at once but that would not be so serviceable as a good “Yawl“, as the Current is too rapid, for the flow, and heavy work of a Flat—One could be Brought to you by the next Waggon Train, as a Waggon body, it should be about 20 Feet long, deep, & Flat, very Strong; it will soon be so cold that the Indians, will charge more than Emigrants can pay, to swim their Horses, and an easily rowed Boat, will be absolutely necessary to send on all “Trains,” who may pass, as a “Days” provision here, is worth “Ten” almost, any where else, and should by all means, be saved the Travellar, as I with all the aid I received from you, and the Petty trading we could do, with these half-friendly Indians, are leaving with only ¼ ration pr. Day for 5 Days to make 130 Miles, with Mules and Horses, most of them from Davis’s Ranch “Rio Grande & Camargo Mex.”28

I shall when I have the pleasure of an interview with Genl. Smith,29 urge the Necessity of sending Provisions here, for the use of Emigrants, as I feel assured from your Kindness, to me, that I, should not have been forced to urge my Mules, as I now shall had there been an established Post at this place, but I am spinning on, and will conclude with my thanks again repeated and am with Kind Remembrances to the Officers around you,

most gratefully and Respectfully
J. W. Audubon

I am grieved at the painful news just brought, of the death of Captn Thorn,30 for want of the Boats I speak of.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mouth of the Gila, Cola
Septr [sic] 17th,1849


Dear Sir,

I have witnessed on my march to this post, and during my detention here for the last Two Days, with extreme pain, and regret, the destitute condition of many of our fellow Citizens, on their way to the Pacific; I have seen them with, animals broken down, and many parties destitute of Provisions. Without relief many must perish, and more will suffer, —With these facts, you, Sir, are but familiar — During your Command at this post, the Calls upon you, must have been numerous, and I doubt not you have greatly regretted your inability to supply their wants, Such being the Facts, I cannot but urge upon you, to render all the aid in your power to those who may come after us, and I cannot but believe, that the Government, will not only approve but will Cheerfully sanction any expenditures you make make for our Suffering Countrymen.

Very respectfully
(signed) J. Collier,31
Collector of Customs
for Upper Califa

Lt. C. J. Couts,
U. S. Dragoons,

 Comdg. at the Mouth of the Colorado,

* * * * * *

Camp Calhoun, Cal.
(Copied) Oppo. Mo: of Gila
Oct 21st 1849


In compliance with the instructions just received from Head Quarters Escort to Boundary Commission, dated Camp Riley Cal Oct 14th 1849, I have the honor to submit the following report.

The Emigrants held a meeting on the night of 19th inst. upon the same subject; and, at their request, respectfully transmit the resolutions adopted, through you to Genl Riley.32 I consider that there is no point within the bounds of the United States, where a Military post is more essential than at the junction of these two rivers.

General Riley has anticipated our fellow citizens on this subject, and I have only to report upon the nature of the situation for a temporary establishment.

From the sketch which I transmitted you a short time since, an idea can be formed of this bend of the river. The Colorado comes a little east of south to the mouth of the Gila, the reach being about seven miles, where it turns a little north of West, making a reach of about the same distance; and turning again near due south; forming a large and rich bottom, of which the boundary would be an equilateral triangle.

The highest point of the ridge, through which the Colorado cuts its way, is on this side, and admits of a very good defence on a small scale defence against Indians. But the large slough through which most of the water of the Colorado must pass when high, and which was at one time evidentaly its bed, making this point an island, renders it objectionable—it would only be accessible from the West, by crossing the main river twice. The character of the ridge you will know its elevation is its recommendation; but being isolated from the main land four months in the year, condemns it.

For this reason a point below the mouth of the Slough and any where along the bank of the Colorado between one and six miles below this place (the whole of which will be north of the boundary line) would be preferable. I think indeed after a thorough examination through this bottom, that our present position would be entirely too much confined during a rainy session, if the convenience of getting wood were not materially interfered with. On the west side of this slough there is more timber, a preferable situation for buildings and all the defence necessary for ordinary Indian warfare Can be easily constructed. There is an abundance of stone and timber (cotton wood) for building purposes. This material however with a supply of stores might be brought up the Colorado in a Steamboat during a high stage of water. The Commander should be supplied with small boats to enable a number to cross the river rapidly, as a guard against depredations of the Indians, who are probably the best swimmers in the world being as much at home in the water of the Colorado as upon its banks.

Not having retained a copy of my communication to you on this subject, that I might avoid repetition and in the event of the present escort to the commission being no longer required after our present purpose shall have been completed, I may flatter myself upon this being the station of my company and I beg leave to submit the following, I trust pertinent remarks.

This is a handsome situation for a military post and the bottom is capable of producing every thing required but there is no one yet to cultivate the soil, and all supplies must be brought from San Diego. In establishing a train of wagons, say ten or twelve, wells must be opened at two different places, forming with Kearneys first Well33 three permanent watering places across the jornada.34 This so called new river, is now dry There are however three pools of water where the bed has been washed out deep. (called by the Emigrants lakes) but which can last but a short time longer. Wells can be opened along this stream yielding good and permanent water.

The beautiful field of gras [sic] which sprang up on this arroyo apparently for the salvation of the American Emigrants, is rapidly disappearing; more rapidly from the effects of that scorching sun than by consumption of the hundreds of half starved animals daily luxurating upon its richness.

Nothing can be relied upon by the animals from Sta: Isabel to the Colorado (distance in round numbers one hundred and fifty miles) and what is found here, will have to be brought from the other side of the jornada. Consequently a depot should be established at Sn Felipe or Vallicito with a non comd. officer and ten men as a guard.

If it is designed making a permanent post at this place, a few hundred head of Cattle should be purchased and driven into this bottom. They could subsist here very well and I hardly think the Indians would trouble them with the U. S. brand.

In conclusion if the suggestions here made are entertained at Dept Hd Qurs the series of wells opened a train established, and forage of some description thrown [sic] at San Diego—I consider that it will be a handsome undertaking; the management of it of much importance and credit and reputation to be gained or lost in its accomplishment.

I have the honor to be
Your Most Obt Servant
(signed)     Cave J Couts
Lt 1st Dragoons

Comdg Gila Expdn.

Bvt Maior W. H. Emory

Cmmdg. East Bdy. Com:

 Comp Riley


* * * * * *


Camp Calhoun Cal

Oct 21st 49


In compliance with the request of the emigrants I have the honor to forward a copy of this paper just as it was handed to me yesterday for Dept H Quarters.

I will state in addition, that the Indians though now quiet are exceedingly anxious for the departure of the troops at this place and it is for no other purpose than to recommence their depredations. Unless taken in time they may prove of considerable annoyance to the Government.

I have the honor to be,
Your Most Obt Servt
(signed)Cave J Couts
Lt 1st Dragoons
Comdg Gila Expd.

Bvt Major E R S Canby35
Asst Adj: Genl.
Head Qurs l0th Milty Dept
Monterey Calirornia


At a meeting of the Emigrants held at Camp Calhoun Opposite the mouth of the Rio Gila on the 19th inst Oct when Doctor Stephen Kinzey, was called to the chair and Lemarcus Wiatt appointed secretary, the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted.

Whereas the undersigned citizens of the United States and emigrating to California, finding upon their arrival at this point unforseen trouble have met tonight at Camp Calhoun, and passed the following resolutions, viz:

Resolved That from the best information collected, and observations made, this is the preferable point for the Emigrants to cross the Colorado river.

Resolved, that in consequence of the hostile and thieving disposition of the Indians at this place who are well supplied with arms and ammunition, the establishment of a military post is of all importance for the protection and safety of the great flow of American Emigrants; and do therefore respectfully petition for the Government of the United States to establish said post at as early a day as practicable for the security of our fellow Country men who are following and who are yet to emigrate following this route.

Resolved That we tender our sincere thanks to Lieut. C. J. Couts commanding at this camp for the kindness and attention he has extended to the emigrants and also to the men, soldiers of his command who have voluntarily divided their rations with families in a suffering and distressed condition.

Resolved That the Secty: of this meeting furnish a copy of these resolutions to Genl. Riley with a view and hope of a more speedy accomplishment of their object. And also, a copy to some Washington City paper with a request for its publication.

Resolved That in behalf of the Emigrants Lieut. C. J. Couts be requested to take charge of these resolutions and forward them by first opportunity to the Secty: of War— presenting them in meantime to such emigrants as may be passing, with the view of obtaining their signatures.

Resolved That this meeting now adjourns.

Camp Calhoun Stephen Kinzey
Oppo Mo: of Gila
Oct 19th 49
Wm G. Evans 
  Alex Cribbs
  David freeman
Lemarcus Wiatt James Harrison
  Jos Sanrock
Secty George Steengrandt
C. W. Buckel W. Crentzfield
  David Shiply 
Young E. Brown John Stentzel
James Morrow Henry Stentzel
William Michler A Emmert
  Chas de Quisine36
Luis Wolf  



1. For an introduction to Cave Johnson Couts, see Iris Wilson Engstrand and Thomas L. Scharf, “Rancho Guajome; A California Legacy Preserved,” Journal of San Diego History 20 (Winter 1974), pp. 1-14, Scharf’s introduction to “Pages from the Diary of Cave Johnson Couts; San Diego in the Spring and Summer of 1849,” Journal of San Diego History 22 (Spring 1976), pp. 9-11; or Cecil Moyer, Historic Ranchos of San Diego (San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Co., 1969), pp. 69-72.

2. The two Couts diary selections for 1849 which have been published are From San Diego to the Colorado in 1849: The Journal and Maps of Cave J. Couts, edited by William McPherson (Los Angeles: Arthur M. Ellis, 1932), which covers the same time period as these letters; and Scharf’s selection (mentioned above, fn 1). The selections also supplement Amiel W. Whipple’s The Whipple Report: Journal of an Expedition from San Diego, California, to the Rio Colorado, From Sept. 11 to Dec. 27, 1849, edited by E. I. Edwards (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1961); and William H. Emory, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey. Volume I (Washington, D. C.: Cornelius Wendell, Printer, 1857).

3. On the boundary commission, see Lewis B. Lesley, “The International Boundary Survey from San Diego to the Gila River, 1849-1850,” California Historical Society Quarterly 9 (March 1930), pp. 3-15; Emory’s personal account in Emory, Boundary Survey, I, pp. 3-22; and Thomas L. Scharf, “Amiel Weeks Whipple and the Boundary Survey in Southern California,” Journal of San Diego History 19 (Summer 1973), pp. 18-31.

4. The literature on the Yumas is extensive; the best single volume introduction to the Quechans is Jack D. Forbes, Warriors of the Colorado: The Yumas of the Quechan Nation and Their Neighbors (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965); for a briefer introduction see Clifford E. Trafzer, Yuma: Frontier Crossing of the Far Southwest (Wichita, Kan.: Western Heritage Books, Inc. for the Yuma County Historical Society, 1980).

5. For the routes to the gold fields, see Warren A. Beck and Ynez D. Haase, Historical Atlas of California (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974), map number 49. Owen Cochran Coy, The Great Trek (San Francisco: Powell Publishing Company, 1931), pp. 215-62, provides the most detailed description of the southern trails.

6. Santa Ysabel was an assistencia of the San Diego Mission, located in the foothills east of San Diego. A mission chapel had been built there in 1818.

7. Warner’s Ranch was located north of Santa Isabel in the San Jose (also called Agua Caliente) Valley. The area was originally used as grazing for the Mission San Luis Rey and the Santa Ysabel Assistencia. It was established as a Mexican rancho and in 1845 was acquired by Jonathan Trumbull Warner of Connecticut. He changed his name to Juan José Warner when he became a Mexican citizen. Warner built a house on the ranch, which he occupied until 1855.

8. Major Lawrence Pike Graham, a Virginian with experience in the Mexican War, led a group of American soldiers from Monterey, Mexico, to California in 1848. His group reached the Colorado on November 22, 1848. Couts was a member of Graham’s party; his diary of the trip has been published as Hepah, California! The Journal of Cave Johnson Couts from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico to Los Angeles, California During the Years 1848-1849, edited by Henry F. Dobyns (Tucson: Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society, 1961). Couts mentions the Colorado crossing on pp. 73-82.

9. The Pima villages were major settlements on the Gila River, about 175 miles upriver from the mouth, and about twenty-five miles north of the Casa Grande ruins. The Pima Indians were sedentary people with extensive agriculture, substantial and prosperous villages, and a tradition of hospitality.

10. Rancho Santa Mónica, also called El Cajón Rancho, was the third largest in San Diego county at 48,799 acres. It was used originally as grazing land for the San Diego mission. The towns of El Cajon, Santee, Lakeside, Bostonia and Flinn Springs were built on the rancho lands.

11. Ojo Caliente was a small Indian rancheria near to and once owned by Warner.

12. Santa Maria Rancho was controlled at this time by one of the area’s more colorful citizens, Captain Edward Stokes. It became the modern town of Ramona.

13. Don José Antonio Estudillo was one of San Diego’s most prominent citizens at this time. He owned several ranches and administered the Mission San Luis Rey. At various times he served as alcalde, justice of the peace, county treasurer and county assessor. His adobe residence in Old Town was one of the most substantial residences in Mexican San Diego.

14. San Felipe is a valley north of Vallecito, drained by a creek of the same name. It was part of the natural route from Warner’s ranch down the mountains to Vallecito and the desert beyond. The major rancho in the area was created in 1846 and granted to an Indian, Felipe Castillo.

15. Captain Julius Hayden of New York, was made a brevet captain in 1847 for bravery in the Mexican War. Like Couts, he was on Emory’s military escort staff. He commanded the “H” Company of the Second Infantry.

16. Emory established his observatory near the southeast end of San Diego Bay; he called it “Camp Riley” after General Bennet Riley who was commander of American troups in California.

17. Vallecito is located at the bottom of the eastern slope of the mountains, about half way on the trail from San Diego to Yuma. The site had water, grass and fuel, and became a depot for government supplies, a camp for virtually all who passed through, and eventually, a stage coach station.

18. “Carrizal” refers to the area around Carrizo Creek, a stream draining eastward from the mountains, to disappear into the sand. It had a few patches of grass and brackish water.

19. The lake, referred to as “laguna” on most contemporary maps, is about forty-five to fifty miles down the trail from Vallecito. It is part of a system of low-lying areas which fill with water in wet periods and virtually dry up with the lack of rain.

20. Salvation Camp is about half way between Vallecito and Yuma. It is located on the “New River,” a depression running more or less north and south, which upon occasion fills from rain or the overflow of the Colorado River. The campsite was, in the 1840s, wet enough to produce good grazing conditions and travellers of ten spent some time here recuperating from the desert crossing.

21. Sergeant John Berry of Company “A” of the First Dragoons, was Couts’ quartermaster and wagon master.

22. Unfortunately Couts provides no additional information about Hinton on his 11 September 1840 roster of the escort group. See San Diego Historical Society, Couts Collection, File #1, item #14A.

23. Pablo Coclum, a Kamia Indian from the New River area who moved to the Colorado River by 1829. By 1849 he was a principal chief of the Quechans, until removed, as Couts describes.

24. Antonio (also spelled Antón) was a Quechan sub-chief at this time. One of Whipples’ 1849 maps shows Antonio’s settlement on the west side of the Colorado, directly across from the mouth of the Gila.

25. A sarcastic reference to A. W. Whipple, whom Couts disliked immensely. (Emory was the chief astronomer). On Whipple, see the introduction to the Whipple Report, pp. 7-17; and Scharf, “Whipple and the Boundary Survey,” pp. 18-31.

26. Lieutenant Robert L. Browning of the United States navy, had joined John Woodhouse Audubon’s expedition (see below, fn 27) on the Rio Grande in Texas, and accompanied it to the California goldfields. He was drowned in 1850 while surveying Trinidad Bay.

27. This letter is by John Woodhouse Audubon, younger son of the famous naturalist, John James Audubon; his older brother was Victor Clifford Audubon, a New York businessman. The younger Audubon journeyed in 1849 to the California goldfields via the Rio Grande River and northern Mexico. His experiences are recorded in Audubon’s Western Journal 1849-1850, edited by Frank H. Hodder (Cleveland: The Arthur B. Clark Co., 1906). See pp. 21-38 for a biographical sketch and pp. 162-75 for his experiences from the Gila to San Diego.

28. In passing through the Rio Grande valley, Audubon must have bought animals from Henry Clay Davis, the leading rancher and citizen of Rio Grande City, which was across the river from Camargo, Mexico. This was one of the largest cattle growing regions of the country.

29. Genral Persifor F. Smith was appointed Commander of the United States Army of the Pacific in 1849. He served as military governor of California from February 12 to April 11, 1849.

30. Captain Herman Thorn, a New Yorker who had distinguished himself in the Mexican War, was head of a military escort to the newly appointed customs collector for California. Thorn was drowned in a boating accident on the Colorado. See the detailed description in Couts to Emory, October 17, 1849, San Diego Historical Society, Couts Collection, File #1, item #25.

31. Collier was appointed United States customs collector for California in 1849. On the way to his post, he arrived in Couts’ camp on October 15, 1849. The letter is clearly dated “September” 17, but that is obviously an error; it should be “October” 17.

32. General Bennet Riley was sent to California in 1848; he was the last military governor, serving from April 12 to December 20, 1849.

33. Stephen Watts Kearny marched the Army of the West from New Mexico to California in 1846, culminating in the Battle of San Pasqual on 6-7 December 1846. For two days after crossing the Colorado, he had experienced severe desert conditions. Finally his party dug wells in a gully near Alamo Mucho, which produced bad but usable water. This is probably the well Couts refers to.

34. “jornada” probably means a stretch of difficult desert, such as that between Yuma and Carrizo Creek. In southern New Mexico there was a hostile stretch of desert known as Jornada del Muerto (the journey of death); since most western travellers of the time were familiar with it, that is likely the origin of this usage of “jornada.”

35. Major Edward R. S. Canby, another veteran of the Mexican War, was sent to California in 1848 to serve as adjutant on General Riley’s staff.

36. Since neither the names of Lemarcus Wiatt, Stephen Kinzey, nor any of the other signatures appear in San Diego records after 1849, it is likely this train, like the overwhelming majority, moved northward after it crossed the desert.

Their demands were granted in due time. By now General Smith had become convinced of the necessity of a military post at the Gila-Colorado site and in October, 1850, Brevet Major Samuel Peter Heintzelman of the Second United States infantry left San Diego for Yuma where he established first a camp, and later a fort, Fort Yuma. Ferry service was also improved. See Trafzer, Yuma, 52ff.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS on pages 168, 172, 176 and 179 are courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society Library. The map on page 169 and the drawings on page 180 are from the San Diego History Center Research Archives.