I am informed that it is difficult travelling down the Sacramento Valley, on account of the moisture; and that there is no river conveyance and the stream is very rapid, and obstructed with bars and snags. And that the mines are exceedingly unhealthy.
October 21, 1849 in
ON THE ROAD, in the saddle, riding through hills and forests and glens and weather, it is easy to romanticize those who have gone before. Those whose evidence of passing is a mere place name and, perhaps a foundation overgrown with vines or a rock chimney devoid of house. We travel in and out of these remote places dreaming daybreaks of melted mist and days ends of fiery sunsets, which give way to carpets of stars across a milky way. In between these dawns and dusks: placer mining rich with gold scooped from the stream bed, or boundless pastures upon which cattle graze, or clear pines felled for posts and rails or cabin walls. A Maureen O’Hara-type has a hot meal waiting and a few terse words that enhance the sexual tension. Pretty soon the credits roll: Republic Films.
A fellow named J. Goldsborough Bruff suggests things probably weren’t quite that way.
ALONG THE PONDEROSA WAY somewhere between the old Campbellville Lookout and Payne’s Creek, where the Lassen cut-off – having traced the narrow divide between Deer Creek and Mill Creek – intersects it, there’s a Forest Service sign marking Bruff’s Camp. I don’t have a picture-taken-personally because it’s been forty years since I went that way. A revisit is on my short list of trips yet to take on the BMW.
FOR SEVERAL WINTER-SEASON MONTHS, Joseph Goldsborough Bruff lived in the foothill hinterlands just east of the Northern Sacramento Valley until he and two others were rendered so weakened and ill that they had to abandon camp and follow Lassen's cut-off into the lowlands. He ended up at Lassen's Rancho near the confluence of Deer Creek and the Sacramento River where he was called upon to make good on the debts of others in the company who preceded him to the outpost. Behind him, he left the bones of covered wagons, the bodies of those who could march no further and the scattered skeletons of promised riches - riches that seemed so real to the legions who ventured into the western wilderness back in '49, '50 and beyond.
I THINK ABOUT BRUFF as I explore the gold country canyons of the American, the Yuba, the Feather and of Butte and Chico Creeks and those lesser streams that flow west from the Sierra into the valley. I think of him when I see a place name or an overgrown foundation or a naked rock chimney. I think of Bruff and am reminded that the settlement of the west was perhaps ten percent romance and ninety percent hard luck.
NOTE: Like Simpson Camp on the Mendocino National Forest in the Coast Range, I can no longer locate Bruff’s camp on any of the following: The US Department of Agriculture’s Lassen National Forest Map, the US Department of the Interior Geological Survey Quadrangles, or DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer. But I’ve been to Bruff’s Camp and I’m going back some day.
Church of the Open Road Press