A Historical Column From The Fayette County Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office
Captain John Murchison, The Pioneer Who Led the La Grange Natives to Gold – Part II
By Kayla Peters
Submitted by Ed Janecka
Little is known for certain about the details of the journey, aside from what Cox revealed. Perhaps our greatest insight into Murchison’s quest to California comes from a letter he wrote to Reverend Chauncey Richardson which states:
Camp Near Passo (sic) Del Norte
June 3rd, 1849
Reverend Chauney (sic) Richardson
My dear Brother, with heartfelt gratitude, I announce to you, that we have got safe to this place without the loss of a man, horse, mule or wagon, while I have the painful reflection to believe that there are hundreds now perishing in the mountains of Texas. A part of Captain Haynie’s command and himself passed this some ten days ago before our arrival. They gave an account of great suffering. They were reduced to the necessity of eating several of their mules and horses and many snakes. Captain Joseph Young, who left one month before us, save one day, numbering thirty five men, passed this place on the fourth instead with six men; William Blair, James Blair, William Love, Turrow, R.W. Fuller, and Thomas Early; the balance of the company have not since been heard from and I fear never will be. There are several companies that should have been here long ago, but they are not heard from. We are indebted to Major Neighbors and Dr. Ford for our success; had we not have met them and procured a guide to pilot us, we would have been as badly lost as any others; the only difference would have been that we have provisions enough to have lasted us with care for twelve months. Eternity itself can only tell this great good that Neighbors and Ford have done for the human family in reviewing and describing this road. It is one of the best roads I ever saw in all my life. The only object that Mr. Neighbors feared was the Guadalupe Mountains. My command was the first that ever crossed them, and on the next day there were forty five wagons that crossed without difficulty, and since that time, from what we can learn, more than one hundred more. The fifty thousand dollars appropriated by the government for the opening of the road, we think are entitled to whether we get it or not.
I will further say in further praise of my command that they have done their duty, and they are the only company that has come half this way united. We expect to remain here a few days. There are many applications of other companies, or parts of companies to join us. We could be 500 strong if we could receive them. My men are gentlemen and easily controlled------. The distance we have traveled, agreeable to our account, is 762 miles from La Grange; others make it much more. The route can be shortened eighty miles from La Grange by crossing the Colorado about the mouth of the San Saba. This we think is bound to be a great highway. I would warn or advise the traveler to prepare for two stretches of barron (sic) wastes without water; the first is… 70 miles--- no certainty of water. The second from Salt Lake to Passo (sic) Del Norte, 80 miles. In the latter place we came near losing some of our men and all of our stock; being the first to travel this route, we suffered more, we hope, than any others may ever do, as we lost much time hunting and digging for water. My company, being in front might have got some water at one place, but like men, passed it by leaving it for the families behind; consequently in three days and nights we were relieved, whilst others delayed until they lost many of their stock. We have been here five days and have been engaged ever since in sending back water and teams to Thorn’s and Thompson’s trains. The lives of all the families have been saved, but they have lost much of their livestock. Those coming hereafter, by coming prepared, will find no difficulty if they are the right sort of men; if not they had better stay at home. If you think proper, you may publish in your excellent paper these facts.
Most affectionately yours,
John Murchison survived the treacherous and extensive journey to California. Earlier in his life he survived two assassination attempts. The first was when he was traveling to church with his wife and daughter and a man shot at him. The bullet missed Murchison, but hit his two-year-old daughter, wounding her right limb. The second instance occurred while Murchison was talking on the square with other men, and a shooter successfully shot him in the chest, but Murchison survived. This brave and rugged man met death by accident. John Murchison died on July 28, 1849 when his gun was accidentally discharged.
Although Murchison’s company never found gold in California, he will go down in history for reaching California with his company intact, while countless others failed. Murchison will forever be remembered for the remarkable leader he became and the great contributions he made to Fayette County. He was a true example of a leader who was able to accomplish various goals and conquer abundant obstacles through hard work.