In 1852, William Henry went to Fort Smith, where he was employed by Sutton, Griffith and Company, wholesale merchants. Two years later, at the age of 23, he was one of the leaders of a company of 30 men who drove a herd of some 800 cattle from Fort Smith to Stockton, California. His clothes and other personal belongings were packed in a 1' x 2' x 10" pine box with a decorative strip of buffalo hide on the face of the lid. During the drive he kept a diary in a small, leather bound notebook, recording the date and mileage covered in each entry with information on availability of wood, grass, and water, distinctive natural features along the route, and unusual occurrences. (As of this writing this diary is in the custody of E. Wainright Martin, Jr. A transcription of this diary by Beulah Jane Smith is attached.)

One of the most extraordinary events of the trip was the discovery of his brother's name, "A. Engels," carved on a tree at a camp in the Rocky Mountains. Abraham Allen Engels had left the Farmington Valley in 1852 and had traveled by oxen drawn wagon to Oregon, where he settled in the Umpqua Valley and remained the rest of his life.

In 1994, E. Wainright and Charlene Martin set out with a copy of this diary to trace the route William Henry followed to California. We found that he followed the Cherokee Trail that had been established a few years before by a group of Cherokees and whites as a route to California from Cherokee country in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). In 1854, the vast expanses between Arkansas and California were inhabited primarily by various tribes of Indians, some of which were hostile at times. There were no towns (other than the Mormon settlement at Salt Lake), only a few trading posts and forts. There were a few ferries that crossed some of the rivers, but William Henry only reports taking a ferry once. The cattle, of course, had to ford all rivers and streams. The trails, which he called roads, were well mapped, but rough and unimproved.

They had to take supplies with them--food, guns, ammunition, clothing, and cooking and camping equipment. But they could not take food for the cattle and other animals--the cattle had to eat off the land. Therefore, they could not start in the Spring until the grass had grown enough for the cattle to eat, but they had to get over the California mountains before the passes were snowed in. William Henry started from Ft. Smith on April 20, 1854, and arrived in Stockton on October 11, having covered (by his reckoning) 2,244 miles in 175 days (about 13 miles per day).

Note:This description of the cattle drive was written by E. Wainright Martin, Jr. It is based on study of the diary and following the trail, as well as oral history handed down through Bertha Gaskill, Beulah Smith, and Catherine Smith Martin.

Note:There is some disagreement on William's role in this endeavor. His obituary, published in 1917, says that he went with Will Sutton. However, his granddaughter, Catherine Smith Martin, insisted that "Grandpa was the one in charge on the trip to California. From the correspondence later on he was in charge. I've forgotten the name of the man who sent the cattle, but he had a lot of confidence in Grandpa's integrity--he was given the responsibility of bringing the money back."


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