Campbells of Southwest Virginia

Home Biographies Essays Memoirs Personal Letters Wills



By Newton Gleaves Finley


Introduction by Phil Norfleet

The following memoir is a digitized, hyperlinked version prepared by me from a typed copy that was most graciously provided by Elaine Thibodeau Daum of Petaluma, California. The document describes an overland trip to California taken in the year 1852. The leader of the wagon group was Benjamin Campbell, the youngest son of William Campbell (1793-1885) of Santa Clara County, California. Benjamin had first made the Great Plains crossing to California with his father and brother (David) in 1846, almost two years before gold was discovered. Benjamin’s elder brother, David Campbell, prepared a memoir of the 1846 trip that has also been appended to this web site.

It is very interesting to compare the accounts of these two trips.   The one in 1846 occurred when only a handful of white people had made the overland trek across the Great Plains to the West Coast.  However, by the post-Gold Rush year of 1852, almost 300,000 people had made the overland crossing - hence the journey was almost routine.  As Newton Finley observes, the great herds of buffalo seen by the pioneers of 1846 had already virtually disappeared.

The instant memoir was written by Newton Gleaves Finley in 1922. He had made the 1852 trip as a young man, a member of the James W. Finley family, thus his recollections are of events which had happened about 70 years earlier! A set of explanatory notes, prepared by Alton Lovell Alderman, has also been included, accessible by hyperlink.


Transcript of the Memoir

The first week of April, 1852, the families mentioned below started from my father's home in Saline County, Missouri for San Jose, California.


Wagon Train Group Roster (Five Families)

Benjamin Campbell [2] (Wagon Group Captain) and his wife, Mary Louisa Campbell [1]
Teamster for Benjamin Campbell - Jack Renison
Assistant Cook for Benjamin Campbell - James Slater
James Washington Finley and wife, Margaret Jane Finley Ira Joseph Lovell and his wife, Ann Laurette Lovell [4]

Their Children:

Their Children:

William Asa Finley William McNary Lovell
Newton Gleaves Finley James Michael Lovell
Sarah Esther Finley Mary Elizabeth Lovell
[3] John Pettis Finley [5] John Alexander Lovell
Hugh McNary Finley Theodore Campbell Lovell
Ann Eliza Finley Joseph Worth Lovell
James Benjamin Finley Hugh McNary Lovell
Sarah Margaret Lovell
Teamster for James W. Finley - Tom Midsinger Teamster for Ira J. Lovell - John Wood
Teamster for James W. Finley - Black Plein  
Assistant Cook for James W. Finley - Black Sam
William Thornton Rucker and wife, Veranda Rucker Robert Campbell and his wife, Mary Ann Campbell [6]
Their Children: Their Children:
Joseph E. Rucker David Campbell
John S. Rucker John Campbell
William Dodds Rucker Laura Campbell
Robert Thornton Rucker Virginia Campbell
Hiram Newton Rucker
Zachariah Taylor Rucker
George Ferguson Rucker
Nancy Catherine Rucker
Teamster for William T. Rucker - Steve Haskell

Whole number of souls = forty-four (of which number only eight are known to be alive in 1922).

Tents and Supplies

Each family prepared tents for themselves and also looked after their own supplies of food. These tents were of simple durable construction; the frame consisting of three poles of convenient proportions; two being of the same length used as uprights; the third used as a ridge-prier and indicating the length of tent.

These three timbers being then ingeniously united, completed the frame work; then with the cloth covering and ropes for anchoring, with the necessary stakes for pinning in the earth, and the sleeping quarters are complete. Cooking vessels consisted of pots with bails or handles attached, and large Dutch Ovens for baking bread. The arrangement for hanging vessels over the fire were made by taking two iron rods of equal length pointed at one end with rings formed at the opposite extremity, sufficiently large to admit a good stout steel bar and hooks, then we have the outfit complete for boiling food and preparing all liquid refreshments. Fuel was a big factor, and on the open plains consisting largely of buffalo chips and sage brush. Water was abundant and of good quality. Our supply of food was bountiful and of the best grade also of great variety, consisting in part of: cornmeal, flour, buckwheat flour, ham, bacon, sausages, dried beef, beans, peas, potatoes, rice, coffee, tea, sugar, honey, syrup, milk, butter, dried fruits, apples (green), walnuts, hickory nuts, hazel nuts , etc. Each family did their own cooking. We had fresh milk twice daily, butter fresh daily, procured simply by placing milk at morning in the churn, put it aboard the wagon, at night we had the genuine article.

Group Leader - Benjamin Campbell

At this time will be given the name of the individual person who so successfully piloted this noble band of pioneers in the far distant "Golden West". This man was experienced, tried and true, a man that had passed over the same trail in the year 1846, and hence had a personal-knowledge of all the conditions; a man to whom fear was unknown, a man among men; modest and retiring, one of God's noblemen, A man that dared to do and to be; a man that stood Four Square. His name, known to all pioneers of the Pacific Coast, is none other than Benjamin Campbell. Requiescat in Pace.

Prairie Schooners

Our conveyances consisted of covered wagons known as Prairie Schooners, to the number of eight, with the addition of two family carriages; the wagons were drawn by oxen, the carriages were moved by mule power.

The livestock of the entire company brought over were made up of oxen and loose cattle, mostly cows; number some three hundred head; also about twenty mules and a few choice saddle horses.

Trip Begins

The first day we traveled eight miles and camped at the home of my Grandfather Finley, near Marshall the County Seat. Next morning at nine A.M. we pulled out for Lexington, and in due time we landed at independence, our last camping ground prior to entering the great Indian Territory. At our first night's resting camp, after leaving the Missouri state boundary line, we encountered a very severe wind and rain storm. During the night our horses and cattle had a general stampede, causing more or less confusion, and succeeded in damaging one mule to the extent of badly fracturing a front leg, thus rendering him useless for the trip. So a trade was made with a band of Sioux Indians; we received in exchange a large red silk handkerchief, while they became the owner of the unfortunate mule.

Early the next morning the train was in moving order, ready to meet any emergency that came our way. The first streams of water engaging our attention were the Little and Big Blue Rivers: beautiful small streams of most clear blue looking water with pebbly bottoms, shaded with lovely foliage on all sides, located in such a charming open country, and last but not least the richness of the soil was the climax! We had the pleasure and satisfaction of spending two nights in this magnificent country. The next body of water on our journey was the South Fork of the Platte River; a tributary of the Missouri. We traveled for a number of days along near this streak; finally crossing to the northern side. This river at first view presents a very novel appearance, located in a flat, open country; the flow of water is very quiet, of a muddy color, extremely shallow, not more than twenty inches in depth, with low sandy banks and unprotected by trees or shrubbery of any kind; the width of this stream is not less than one-half to three quarters of a mile. Lest it be forgotten in this locality we came up with the Patterson brothers of Missouri with a band of thirty thousand sheep destined for the Pacific Coast; a novel sight to behold, these inoffensive thrifty animals moving steadily onward as if propelled by some magic hand.

Arrival at the North Platte

In a few-days travel we arrived at the North Platte, a river of good depth, but comparatively narrow at this point. The wagons, we crossed over by means of a Toll bridge, the cattle, horses and mules we had to swim over which was accompanied with some risk to life, also such valuable time and patience were called into requisition. To make this proposition intelligible, will say there was good sized low island near the middle of the river; to this point the animals went very readily; when it came to urging them to take the water for the opposite shore, then the trouble and confusion began; for some time it seemed all our efforts were unavailing to accomplish our design. Finally our captain of the train suddenly got wise. Selecting six expert horsemen, seated on good mounts, all trained for such an emergency, ropes were placed around the heads of the rebellious leaders, then horse and rider boldly and definitely plunged into the stream leading in tow these incorrigible bovines soon to land them on the opposite shore. A few object lessons of this kind, then the remaining herd took to the water and-were again united with those that were piloted over so unceremoniously. Fort Larimie then a Government Military Station is located on the North side of this river. Near this fort we camped for the night. This was a most beautiful broad expanse of country, the air is so pure and hence distant objects could be discerned so very clearly, and at the same time appeared to be so near. This land is very fertile, produces abundant feed for stock and in the days of the early Pioneers to the West was the banner-range for the immense herds of Buffalo which at that time ranged freely over these vast plains. "Monarch of all he surveyed".

In 1852 all is changed. Only one of these animals (once so numerous) was seen by our company and he showed up to poor advantage; coming from the North at full speed, he passed directly through the train of wagons, disappeared in a southerly direction, and making his escape from his pursuers by plunging head-long into the North Platte River and succeeded in gaining the opposite shore. We were now in an Indian country, yet we had no trouble with these people, as we were very cautious, keeping guards out at night around the cattle; the horses and mules at night were regularly brought to the camp and enclosed in a circle, which was formed by the wagons being placed at regular distances apart and then connected by means of coupling chains.

The tents were set up outside this circle, in close proximity to the wagons; and thus we managed every night while in this primitive country exposed as we were constantly to the ravages of these bands of roving savage Indians.

Here will be told recollections of a picture formed on memory's tablet concerning a place we passed on our trip; a beautiful picture never to be effaced. A veritable City of Stone! Cliffs of rock standing out on the open plain arrayed in majestic grandeur lifting their beautiful symmetrical spires heavenward, proclaiming to all beholders, "The hand that made us is Divine.''

Birth of Sarah Margaret Lovell

Next commences a little drama. At midnight while the heavens were most gorgeously illuminated with the millions of brilliant twinkling stars, when all seemed so peaceful and quiet, "Natures sweet restorer, balmy sleep" was giving rest and comfort to the weary and tired ones; suddenly the cry of an infant babe is wafted on the slumbering denizens of the camp, and lo, we have with us a most welcome visitor: a beautiful, bright, sweet little girl baby, Sarah Margaret. [7] One day's delay; rest and congratulations, then the caravan is again on the advance.

Here will be noted a little scene that has been unintentionally overlooked. Early one morning as the train moved out for the day, attention was called to the home of the Prairie Dog, truly a city inhabited by these denizens of the earth. innumerable mounds of soil of various heights and of good size; each mound or elevation presented a lively scene, as the entire family, young and old were very conspicuously arranged as if for a free exhibition; mutely saying by their many maneuvers, "We are this day on dress parade.''

Rocky Mountains

Now for the Rocky Mountains! They are located to our west, not far distant, near which we journeyed many days.

One day at a distance we observed a band of antelope feeding quietly. They appeared to be so near and looked so life-like. Three of our young nimrods proposed to have an antelope stew; consulting "Captain Ben". He very modestly informed them, their venture was not feasible as the game was fully ten miles distant, in an open plain and hence the chances were all against them; so the antelope stew went glimmering. Just as the wagons moved out for the day, one of our adventurous young men concluded it was a good opportunity to exhibit his skillfulness in handling his mount, a magnificent mule.. By some means he failed to remain in the saddle, coming suddenly and very unceremoniously in collision with terra firma, a much surprised youngster, while the freed mule made a dash for liberty, making a bee-line for the distant mountain range, going some five miles, then circling gradually around on the return, having made the circuit of fifteen miles or more, none the worse for his morning's exercise.

Green River Country

We were now gradually ascending the Rocky Mountain Range and passing through the Black Hill Section: A very peculiar formation of bare, unproductive soil; mounds of various elevations indicating that at some time this entire section of country had experienced very severe earthquakes. For many days we were anxiously and expectantly looking for the hour to arrive when we could say positively that the summit of the Rockies had been reached; the ascent had been so very gradual it seemed almost incredible when it was announced that we were actually passing down on the Western slope in the direction of the Green River country. Finding a suitable spot for the camp we called a halt and put up for the night. Here we had a stampede of the livestock, causing quite a commotion for a short time and damaging our valuable Bell Cow to the extent of putting her out of commission. Green River, a feeder of the Great Colorado next came to our view. A most beautiful stream of pure mountain water, situated in and watering a lovely commodious valley destined at some day to be the dwelling place of many a prosperous and happy family. As we approached the river we found to our astonishment a great many emigrants in waiting to be crossed over to the opposite shore. Finally our time came, we were taken across by the Ferry, only the wagons and carriages with their belongings were thus handled; the loose stock crossed over by each "paddling their own canoe", thereby we gained such valuable time and saved many dollars in hard cash.

Breaking camp near Green River next morning we steered our course due West, climbing the Wahsatch Mountain, crossing the summit in due time, winding our way leisurely to the inviting plateau below where we landed in the vicinity of Fort Hall and near Bear River. Here we came near having a fatal accident. In crossing a small ravine, a six year old boy was thrown from the wagon, falling directly in front of the back wheel, which passed over his body, immediately above the hips. Strange to say, he was not seriously injured and in a few days to all appearances showed no signs of injury from his hasty tumble.

Great Salt Lake

Taking a southerly turn we found ourselves near the Great Salt Lake where we camped for the night. Next morning as the caravan moved out for the day, Humboldt Mountains loomed up to our view. After traveling for some time we crossed over the summit and soon arrived at the headwaters of the Humboldt River, where we drove stakes for a night's repose.

Next day and for many days following, we traveled parallel with this noted river, through its valley with its wonderful growth of vegetation, its fertile soil and its many wells of water (many of them mineral) of almost every degree of temperature. Here let me narrate a story of a German emigrant. At the hour of camping, seeing one of these wells of mineral water, he proceeded to test the same by drinking. Soon he was more than satisfied, making haste to the camp he exclaimed as if in great fear: "Drive on my son John, drive on, hell is not one milt from this place." After camping many nights in these novel and interesting sections of the "wild and wooly west" we finally arrived at the sinks of this remarkable river, disappearing as it does beneath the burning sands of the great thirty-five mile desert. We arrived at this locality in the afternoon; camped for the night, remained here until next day about three P.M.: giving the animals a good rest, time to feed up for the long drive and also to fill all available vessels with water for our comfort. At the designated hour, having taken every known precaution, we pulled out into this uninviting, sandy, alkali, barren waste, traveling continuously for nearly fifteen hours we arrived just at the break of day safe, sane and sound in the unpretentious little city of Rag Town. [8]

Before proceeding on our journey will simply say this northerly trail was chosen for the very many advantages it furnished; superior grazing facilities was quite a factor; then the water supply was another important consideration, it being of better quality and in greater abundance also more widely distributed and, last but not least, fuel for burning was a big item and on this route we found a good supply and easily procured.

The successful journey of our company to this point was very largely due to this fact: "Safety was our motto" and no travel on Sunday unless it was actually necessary. Specific regulations for all camping arrangements were in full forces every man in his places a certain line of work to perform and no shirking. Early hours to halt the train was strictly enforced; so the cattle and horses could have ample time in which to secure their regular rations. Promptness was the keynote and contributed very largely to our successful and harmonious journey of six months. The crowning feature of all – "God was with us."

This article was written entirely from memory - after a lapse of seventy years, by request of a friend. While no doubt, there may be some minor geographical inaccuracies, yet as a whole this writing is substantially correct. Facts are given and not fiction.

Trip Retraced Using Modern Map

We will now retrace this entire trip, using a recent map of the United States to locate our line of travel in reference to the boundary lines of these six newly made western states.

Leaving Independence, Missouri, we enter the state of Kansas near Atchison; taking a westerly direction, we pass the city of Marysville, continuing the same course we cross the Nebraska boundary line, pass near Fort Kearny; keeping the same general direction we come to the South Platte River; turning slightly to the west, we clip a corner off of Colorado; turning gradually northerly, we cross over the South Platte, invade Wyoming not far from Cheyenne; pursuing the same direction; cross the North Platte River at Fort Laramie; switching around through the Black Hills we cross Sweet water (a small stream) scale the Rocky Mountain summit at South Pass; going due west we come to a Ferry near Green River. Now we are up against the Wahsatch Mountains, soon the summit is reached and then down the grade we find ourselves in the State of Idaho; next we cross little Bear River near Fort Hall; (here Robert Campbell and family left us, taking the Oregon Trail) turning southerly we pay our respects to Utah, come in close proximity to the Great Salt Lake, swinging westward we hail the State of Nevada, cross over the Humboldt Range; come to the headwaters of the Humboldt River following same to the sinks, reach the big sandy alkali desert, cross over at night and at early dawn enter the City of Rag Town.

Wagon Train Met by William Campbell of Santa Clara

We are now in Rag Town.. About the middle of September, time admonishes us (as the snowy season is approaching) to move forward and cross over the Sierras to the "Land of Sunshine, Raisin Trees and Olive Groves". So we clean house, casting away all old shoes, discarded hats and worn out garments to further adorn and embellish this noted and picturesque little village. The word is given to get in moving trim, when a man is observed approaching the camp; he inquires for the Campbell encampment. To our great astonishment and surprise he proved to be a messenger bearing good news from California in the person of William Campbell, coming all the distance alone to welcome us to his adopted Home Land.

After very many congratulations and hand shakings the caravan gets in motion. We cross the Carson River, a beautiful small stream of pure cold mountain water located near the base of the "High Sierras." We had been informed of the difficulties to be encountered in ascending this noted and far-famed mountain chain; we found by experience the "half had not been told." The road at first sight appeared to be utterly impassable, the trail was so very narrow and such a steep grade, and Oh! the roughness of this so-called much traveled highway. To all difficult undertakings there must be a finish; so with the "Ancient Worthy" we can truly say: "Veni, Vidi, Vici," - We came, We saw, We conquered.

After the turmoil, vexation and difficulties of the memorable day; we find ourselves near Truckee Lake, where we endeavor to secure a night's rest. Early the next morning when about ready to continue our journey, two bold mountaineers on horseback approach our captain, ask our destination, pass the compliments of the day, wish us a safe and prosperous journey, pass down the line of livestock, select as souvenirs our choice cow and a very valuable mule, switch them very hurriedly down a convenient side trail, rush them into a deep narrow brushy ravine and away. All that could be said or done amounted to nothing - dies infaustus.

Placerville (Hang Town)

We continued our journey toward the summit and crossed over without any serious embarrassment. Scarcity of feed for the animals being our chief difficulty. Now for the descent into the beautiful verdant valleys, the Grand Canyons and gurgling streams awaiting our coming. In time we reached the once famed city of Hang Town (now Placerville) where we camped for the night. On a little stream of water near this place we youngsters were given milk pans, and here we made our initial search for gold. Pulling up the grass with the roots attached, we filled our pans with water and by properly washing the contents we succeeded in obtaining quite a good showing of the precious metal.

Our next camping place was at Shingle Springs, some fifteen miles from Hang Town, We found here excellent grazing for our cattle and Moving by easy stages, gradually coming to the settlements. Finally we arrived in the City of Stockton at that time a small unpretentious town of a few hundred inhabitants. Here we tarried for one night. Next morning early, we broke camp and were on our way for the San Joaquin River where we arrived in good trim and crossed over the same without any difficulty. After resting over from our day's travel, next morning we were again on the road and in a short time we entered Livermore Valley, camped at a small place by that name. The next day we passed out over the hills to the West and through a charming little valley surrounded on all sides by such enchanting views. Amidst these imposing surroundings we were ushered into the beautiful Santa Clara Valley. we camped for the night near the San Jose Mission, just out in the valley west of the Warm Springs.

Next morning found us early on our Journey; we made good time and very soon crossed over the Coyote Creek about noon, and ere long we entered "the Pueblo de San Jose" to our great delight and satisfaction. Continuing on in a westerly direction for three miles we arrived on the Gravel Ridge, near the now "noted Winchester residence" where our long and interesting journey ends - October 1, 1852.

Many things more remain untold
Of this trip to the land of Gold
By the way: - sufficient to say
We landed safe in San Jose

Written December 30, 1922

by Newton Gleaves Finley [9]


(Prepared by Alton Lovell Alderman)

1. Mary Louisa Campbell, the wife of Benjamin Campbell, was the oldest daughter of William Thornton Rucker and Veranda Rucker.

2. Sarah Campbell, the sister of Benjamin Campbell, married Asa Finley, the brother of James Washington Finley.

3. John Pettis Finley was 7 years old in 1852. He married Nancy Catherine Rucker the youngest Rucker child of the expedition. He became a well-known businessman, founded the Pacific Manufacturing Company in Santa Clara, and eventually the Finley Mortuary of Portland OR. They had two sons and one daughter, Anna. One son, William Lovell Finley, was a noted ornithologist and one-time Oregon State Game Warden. Another son, Arthur, founded a line that still manages the huge Finley Mortuary in Portland. Anna married Frank Kenney. They had no children.

4. The Lovells had thirteen children, but two died in infancy Two girls, Cordelia and Lenora died in early childhood. Ella Laurette Lovell was born in California. She married George Lincoln Beaver (3 children). Her name naturally does not appear in the roster.

5. John Alexander Lovell was nine years old at the time of the journey. He was my maternal grandfather.

6. We know nothing so far about what happened to Robert Campbell and his family, Later in the narrative Newton Finley says that they left the party in Idaho near Fort Hall and took the Oregon Trail.

7. As Newton Finley puts it, Sarah Margaret Lovell was born on the Great Plains. But the family story has it that he was born in Humboldt County, Nevada.

8. Ragtown was Reno, Nevada.

9. After a lapse of 70 years, it must be admitted that Newton Finley still retained a terrific memory for detail.