Looking back over a span of something over fifty years in San Diego County, there have been some wonderful changes. The next fifty years will witness far greater ones. But they will be of a different kind. From now on for as far as we dare to look ahead, progress will be steady and along natural lines. There will be few difficulties that would differ materially from those to be met and overcome in any growing community. But looking back to what the pioneers had to contend with, we see a very different state of affairs. Many of them came across the plains from the various more civilized states. And when they determined on the move to the Golden West, they of course knew that it meant cutting themselves loose from not only their friends and acquaintances, but from the protecting hand of the law. For they must travel for months through a part of the country where there were few settlements, and where the uncivilized tribes of Indians were anything but friendly.


What some of the women suffered who came across the plains with those old immigrant trains, God only knows. Mothers with little children who never lay down to sleep at night without the thought that they and their dear little ones might be murdered or scalped before morning. If a coyote or a wolf howled near their camp they must be alert for it might be Indians imitating these animals. If an owl hooted in a nearby tree they must draw their little ones near them and pray to God that it wasn’t an Indian imitating the hooting of an owl. For the dreaded savages could imitate the barking of a coyote or the hooting of an owl so perfectly that they could deceive anyone. And they always had the danger with them of their teams being stolen by these fiends, and of themselves and their little ones being left with no means of proceeding farther. When you think of these dangers, and then add the dangers of fording rivers, and of traveling over next to impossible mountain roads, we certainly must feel like standing with bared heads while a woman whom we know passed through these experiences, passes by.

I have talked with a number of them and it has thoroughly convinced me that women in time of real adversity and real danger are braver than men. I have never talked with one of these pioneer women who boasted of having done anything remarkable. Their husbands had decided to come to California, and of course they had cast their lots with their husbands, for better or for worse, when they were married.


The writer’s Father and Mother did not come across the plains when they came to California. They came by way of the Isthmus of Panama and by steamer. I have always been thankful that my mother escaped the trials and dangers of a trip across the plains. Though her trip here by sea was far from being a pleasure trip.


There is an old couple living within a hundred feet of where the writer is sitting while penning these lines, who came across the plains from Texas in the year 1868. I refer to Mr. and Mrs. L.H. Bailey of 4227 St. James Place, San Diego, California. Mr. Bailey was born in 1840, so he was twenty-eight years of age when they started for the Pacific Coast. Mrs. Bailey was born in 1843, so was in her twenty-fifth year. They had two children. A little daughter of four, and a boy two. Both the old people are quite feeble with age now, for Mr. Bailey will be eighty-five and Mrs. Bailey eighty-three this summer. But their minds are both very clear when they talk of events that occurred when they were crossing the plains fifty-six years ago.


They started from near Houston, Texas on April 1st and got to a place in San Diego County near Campo in the last days of November. So they were eight months making the trip. Most of the parties who came from Texas made the trip in about six months. The Baileys would have made it in that time, too, if they had come direct. But they traveled north from Houston for several hundred miles, with the intention of coming over a more northern route by way of the Great Salt Lake and entering Northern California. However when they had gotten almost up to where they would have taken the more northern road, they learned that the danger from Indians was so great on that route that year, that all the trains were taking the more southern route, via Santa Fe, and coming into California through Arizona. So they too turned about and came over the southern route. In making this northern detour they lost two months of valuable time.


Mrs. Bailey and I had a talk about her trip across the plains only a few days since. According to her account they had about the usual experience of immigrant trains coming to California.

They had no encounters with Indians, though they saw where another train of wagons that had preceded them had been attacked and the wagons burned. Nothing but the iron parts being left. Neither did they see any buffalo on their trip across. This was unusual at that early date for they were sometimes seen in herds of thousands. The part of their trip that I especially wish to refer to though is that part after they had gotten almost across the desert in this – San Diego County.


Most San Diegans have been over the road between San Diego and Imperial Valley. And those doubtless have not forgotten the road leading down into the desert from the hills beyond Jacumba, past Mountain Springs, and on down through the rocks, sand, and general desolation to Coyote Wells. Some people think the road, either up or down the mountains is dangerous even yet. But if they would take note of what those poor old ox teams had to get over in order to reach the – at that time – inhabitable part of California they would say that any road they have ever been over in the West (no matter how bad it was) was a boulevard.


The old road, after passing Coyote Wells (coming towards San Diego) was up quite a heavy grade, and through coarse dry sand, with plenty of cactus, chollas, and rocks, until you reached the mouth of what was called the “Devil’s Canyon.” To reach the mouth of that awful gorge you passed on by the canyon that the present road enters – past what is known as the “Sugar Loaf” and after going through heavy sand with lots of rocks to bounce over for a mile or two, turned up to the left into the rockiest, roughest, and most altogether awful piece of road you have ever seen. From that point until you were up to the Mountain Springs, you wouldn’t believe it possible to take wagons over any worse road. But when you get to the Springs stop and look at the big rocky mountain that rises up like a great wall before you. If you look closely you can see the old road that the old ox teams had to climb. (Yes, it’s there yet.)

As you stand at the present station called Mountain Springs, looking west, you will see the grade that is traveled now, bearing to the left as it ascends the mountain.


You will see another older grade leaving the Springs and bearing to the right. It is much steeper than the road now used, and doesn’t look very inviting. You will probably say, “Thank God, we don’t have to travel over that grade.” But right between those two grades – the one now used, and the older and steeper one bearing off to the right, as it ascends the mountain, is a big steep rocky mountain peak.

And zigzagging right up the face of that rugged mountain is the old original road that the pioneers had to climb in order to get over the mountains. It was made by John C. Fremont in 1848, when he came across the continent to San Diego.


I saw the old road many times before I so much as dreamed that wagons had ever traveled over it. I supposed it had been a trail up which pack mules or burros had been driven.

John Capron, who in 1857 had a contract to carry the mail and passengers from Los Angeles via San Diego to El Paso, Texas, told me that his stages traveled up and down that old Fremont road until they got what they called the “new grade” built. (That is, the grade bearing right as you look west from Mountain Springs.)


He said they considered the old grade so bad and dangerous that they always asked their passengers to walk up the hill from Mountain Springs. He told me an amusing incident that occurred there once. There are many San Diegans who remember John Capron, as he died here only a few years ago. And they will also remember that he had a wonderful sense of humor.


He said they used to have a station at Mountain Springs, where they changed horses. Once when he was himself coming to San Diego on one of his stages, they stopped as usual at the station and changed teams, putting six horses on to come up the mountain.


They had four or five passengers that trip. The driver, as usual, explained to the passengers that they had a very bad mountain to pull up, and asked them to walk up the trail, which was much shorter than the road the stage must travel. All of them readily agreed to do so, except one, who was a German. This German said he had paid his passage and besides his feet were sore, and he was going to ride even if it was a steep hill.


Capron said, “I got the driver aside and told him, ‘Now Frank, when you start up the grade, put the whip on those horses, and whatever else you do don’t let that Dutchman get out! We will give him the ride of his life’.” He said the road was awfully rocky and steep as well as very sidling in places, and as Frank was giving them the buckskin and going at a fearful rate the “Dutchman” began to fear the stage would tip over and roll down the mountain side. So he began to shout, “I vant to get oudt! Vant to get oudt!” Capron shouted back at him, “you sit where you are!” But the poor fellow was getting worse frightened every minute and shouted, “I vant to get oudt!” “Sit still, you ----- ------ Dutchman!” shouted Capron, and drawing a revolver he shoved it up against the side of the fellow’s head and told him that if he did not do just as he was told he would blow his brains out. Just then the stage made a short turn and came to a place a little more sidling than any they had passed. “Get out and stand on the brake block on the upper side or this stage will tip over,” shouted Capron. “And if you attempt to jump off I will shoot you!” We made the trip up the grade in about half our usual time,” said Capron, “And we were carrying the worst frightened Dutchman you ever saw.” And though there was little danger of the stage tipping over, they made the poor Dutchman think there was. When they reached the top and stopped to pick up the other passengers, the “Dutchman” had been given such a fright that he was almost sick. He assured the driver that if there were any more mountains like that on the road he would be willing to walk up them.


Any old timer who remembers John Capron will readily believe that he would put a contrary passenger through just such an experience and enjoy the fun to the utmost.


But I must get back to Mrs. Bailey’s experience coming over this old road in a covered wagon in 1868. As I remember her story they camped at Coyote Wells Sunday night. Monday they pulled up through the heavy sand to near the mouth of the Devil’s Canyon. By the time they had got that far their oxen were almost worn out. There were only two families in the party now – Mr. and Mrs. L.N. Bailey and children, and his brother Henry Bailey and family. They had three yoke of oxen on each wagon.

The men here decided that as they now had a very bad mountain to climb they must leave one wagon and use double teams. That is, put the twelve oxen on one wagon and take it up to the top of the mountain, and then come back and bring the other wagon up.


I will now endeavor to tell the experience of Mrs. L.N. Bailey, just as she has told it to me. “The men went on with the other wagon leaving me and our two children, and Henry Bailey’s wife and children camped there in the sand. The men got back with the oxen some time Wednesday, having taken one wagon up the hill. They started up with the second wagon that evening. I walked behind the wagon that night all the way up through the Devil’s Canyon. We got to Mountain Springs about midnight, and camped there until morning. In the morning we started up the big mountain back of the Springs (The old Fremont grade) I walked behind the wagon all the way up. We got to a place called Milquati Friday evening, where we went into camp. The following Monday night my son Harvey was born.”

Now, if that is not an experience for a woman to go through that would cause a man to raise his hat and stand with bared head as she passed, then, in God’s name, what would be?


When I asked Mrs. Bailey if her experience at that time was not perfectly terrifying, she said, “No, I felt that I was sustained by a higher power, and that I should get through it all in some way.” God’s Book tells us that “if ye have faith ye can remove mountains.” But here was a little woman who had faith sufficient to enable her to climb over mountains, without having them removed.


California was settled by a wonderful class of people who were not afraid to face danger and privation when they had a purpose in view. “The cowards never started and the weaklings died on the way.”

And the pioneer women who settled the Great West were, many of them, wonderful women. Some of you who have read the accounts of the awful experience of the “Donner party,” who, after a very trying trip across the plains, were caught in an unusually early and very heavy snow storm at what was afterwards called “Donner’s Lake” near Truckee, and where most of the party perished, will call to mind how bravely the women of the party faced the dangers.


Those of the party who were rescued alive the following spring told of how parties of the stronger ones (some men and some women) attempted time after time to fight their way through the terrible snow drifts that covered the high Sierra, in a vain endeavor to reach help. And in almost every instance the women of those parties outlasted and outdid the men, in those awful days and nights of breaking trail through the deep snow. Not one of those parties succeeded in getting through to the settlements. They either died where they gave out or turned back to die of starvation, in their camps at Donner Lake. But the fact remains that the following spring when the few remaining alive were rescued by search parties from the western side of the Sierras, and they had sent out searchers to find the remains of those parties who had so bravely lost their lives in struggling through the terrible storms of the mountains, in almost every instance they found that the women had gone farther than the men before giving up. Some will say that was because the men shielded the women in every way they could, and thus wore themselves out while the women’s strength was reserved. We can readily believe that those brave men did shield the women all they could. But the diaries of the various men all seem to agree that the women, from the very first, took an equal part with the men, in breaking trail and all the other hardships they had to undergo.


What explanation can we give, then, that would account for their being able to go farther than the men of the party? Men are ordinarily very much stronger physically than women. In the writer’s opinion the answer lies in Mrs. Bailey’s explanation of how she managed to walk up those terrible desert mountains less than a week before her child was born. They were “sustained by a higher power.” Women have a stronger faith in God than men have.