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New Orleans to San Francisco in '49

Supplies Run Out

Our supply of food and water was diminishing in a manner that was alarming, considering that we were still a long way from our journey's end. The allowance of water was again reduced, and each person had to give a portion of his allowance to be used in cooking his food. As the principal article of food was salt beef, a good deal of water was needed for cooking it. It was said that this beef, which was called "salt horse" by the sailors, was several years old. Whenever a barrel of it was opened, the odor from it was so strong that the deck would be deserted in a hurry.

One day it was discovered that Mr. Lemon was using fresh water for shaving, and there was quite an uproar about it. A committee was appointed to see that both the water and the food were properly distributed. One of the first things done by the committee was to find out the amount still on hand. During the investigation a half barrel of sugar and a few other things, that had been secreted by the supercargo for his own use, were found. When Mr. Cassidy heard of this, he rushed on deck with two revolvers, and ordered that the secreted provisions be brought on deck at once. As everyone had learned that he was not to be trifled with, the articles were produced, and equally divided among all on board. My mother had a small quantity of provision, for which she had paid an excessive rate of transportation across the Isthmus. On the morning of the Fourth of July she ordered these brought on deck. Among them were flour, sugar, and lard. She obtained permission to go to the galley, and with the help of the old negro cook she fried doughnuts, to be divided among all on board. Flags were hoisted, and though no one felt very light-hearted, all tried to be patriotic on our nation's birthday. A larger quantity of water than usual was issued, and with that and our doughnuts we had a feast indeed.

Mother voluntarily turned over the remainder of her provisions to the captain. Yet not one week after, when the allowance of water was reduced to one pint a day, several passengers, who called themselves men, asked the committee to make the allowance of water less for us children than for the adults. However, their request was treated with the greatest contempt.

By the 15th of July all the supplies except the "salt horse" were getting low. The bread we were then using was some kind of old, musty Peruvian bread made of unbolted flour. Though it was as hard as brick it was alive with worms, and we did not dare let it lie long at a time or it would crawl off. We still had a few beans and a few peas filled with weevils, but these could not be half cooked owing to the lack of water.

Every precaution was now taken to prevent scurvy from breaking out. A bath-room was fixed on deck, and everyone was compelled to bathe daily unless a storm was raging.

One of the passengers, a tinsmith, thought that he could make a condenser out of some sheets of tin that were on board. He hoped by this means to be able to obtain fresh water from the ocean. While he was at work every one began to look more cheerful; but on investigation it was found that the fuel was nearly gone, so the project was given up.

About the 19th of July we encountered a storm compared with which the others had been mere breezes. All of the passengers were ordered below, the hatches were battened down, and there in utter darkness we spent three dreadful days and nights. When the horrors of that storm had passed we found that the ship was disabled, and we began to despair of reaching our destination.

We had now barely two weeks' provisions, and our allowance of water was reduced to half a pint a day. Everyone tried to save at least a few drops of this each day, as all feared the time would soon come when the entire supply would be exhausted. Never did miser guard his hoard of gold with greater vigilance than we did that precious fluid. One man by the name of Wilcox, while lying sick in his hammock, offered mother about three pints of water which he had managed to save. Mother at first refused to take it; but he urged her to accept it, saying he could not lie there and see little children suffer for water. With the tears rolling down her cheeks she thanked him, saying it was the most precious gift anyone had made to her.

All was done that was possible to repair the damage done by the storm. Though we were not so very far from our journey's end, the wind was contrary, and we could not seem to make any headway. Our situation began to appear hopeless. How anxiously everyone watched for land, or a vessel that might rescue us. About sundown one evening, some thought they could see land. The captain said it was the Farallon Islands, and if the wind, which was then favorable, continued so, we should reach the Golden Gate the next day; but unfortunately for us the wind changed, and the next morning we were blown far out of our course.

Captain Stevens, the owner of the vessel, said that he had once been on a ship that had entirely exhausted its supply of food, and he knew to what lengths starving men could be driven. He stated that notwithstanding the small allowance of food and water now issued us, in a few days all would be gone. He stated that although he knew most men would rather die rather than taste human flesh, others driven insane by their sufferings would be willing to devour their companions. He therefore proposed that lots should be drawn to see which should be the first to be killed to serve as food for the others. All were called on deck, the matter was discussed and it was decided to follow Captain Stevens' advice. The women, children, Captain Pardee, and two of the best seamen were to be exempt from the drawing. Mr. Lemon read a chapter from the Bible, a prayer was offered, and a number of slips of paper were prepared. Three of these slips were numbered 1, 2, and 3, and all were then given to my little brother, with directions to put them into a tin cracker can and stir them around thoroughly. Captain Stevens was the first to draw, and he was followed by others in turn, my elder brother among the number. Lot No. 1 fell upon a mulatto, who died that night; probably his death was caused more by fright than anything else. His body was saved, to be eaten in case of extreme necessity.

That night the wind again shifted to a favorable quarter. The third day after the drawing of the lots the Farallones were sighted, and on the last day of July, 1849, we cast anchor in San Francisco Bay.

 

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