The Gila Trail

The story of the overland route from Texas, Blanco County by wagon to California told by T. J. Casner, eighty one and one half years of age. He used to be called little Tommy Casner.
 Gila Trail engraving 1860

We started the journey from Western Texas about the middle of May 1868, just a little while after the civil war. I was twenty-one years of age. There were four families in the caravan. Mr. Littlepage's family of five, my brother-in-law, Cal Putman's family of three, my brother Martin Vanburin Casner and family of three, our family Martin Casner, wife and three children.

We started with twelve hundred head of cattle and several horses. The women baked up a lot of bread, we had about a thousand pounds of bacon and everything else according. When my father started he hired the best gunmen he could get. There were twelve of us men all together. At night, three at a time would keep guard. We crossed the State Plains, came to the Pecos River at the Horse Head crossing but traveled about three hundred miles up the river, struck the New Mexico line, went through New Mexico near the White Mountains, along here we found a big saw mill, went on through Mexico until we came to the Rio Grande River. All the cattle and wagons had to be ferried across. The second night of our journey nearly all our horses ran away and went back to the head of a stream called Conclro. The country was full of Indians but I and another young fellow went back and got the horses.

From the Rio Grande we went to Tucson, Arizona. Along here we ran out of anything to feed our horses so father bought flour, paying five dollars a sack, mixed it with water and fed the horses. We also ran out of bacon and payed a dollar a pound for it. We killed a calf every evening until they got so poor they weren't fit to eat. Then we traded two poor ones, or three, off to the Indians for one fat one. After leaving Tucson we next came to the Gila River. Near here we came across a wagon train where the Indians had killed every one but two little children who had wandered away during the fight and some people found them on what was called the Salton Flats. The wagon wheels were still hot. The people had been buried by the soldiers who were stationed along the route about every fifty miles. When they heard shots they came as fast as they could but were often too late to do any good. We were not supposed to fire our guns unless we needed help. Some of the boys with us shot a snake one day and here came the soldiers and gave them an awful calling down.

Fort Yuma on the Colorado. Circa 1860

We traveled down the Gila River until we came to Fort Yuma, Arizona. We came to the Colorado River and were ferried across. We next came to Indian Wells which is now Imperial Valley. Just before we came to the Wells we came to a little valley where there was a lot of careless weed growing. Our cattle were so hungry they ate a lot of this weed. They bloated up and we lost forty head all in a bunch. We knew nothing to do for them at that time.

I stayed at Indian Wells for two months to let the cattle fatten up a little. The rest of the train went on to Warner ranch in San Diego County. There was a bunch of Root Digger Indians (
Cahuilla Indians) at Indian Wells. They were harmless but very dirty. They would come to my camp every night and sit around my camp fire. After two months my father, brother, and brother-in-law came back and we drove the cattle, only about one hundred sixty head left, to Warner ranch.
Just before we came to Tucson, Arizona we came across a family where the Indians had taken their  horses and everything but the wagon. We fixed them up a team and brought then to some mines. Their names were Chilson and they now live at San Bernardino.

Warner Ranch 1920's buildings from 1860

 Indian Wells California 1870 (above right)

We stayed at Warner ranch until spring then father bought land at Ballena Valley. All the rest of us took up government land near there. I built a house on my land and was married to Texanna Lester in the year 1870 in a little town called Julian City. From
there we came to Ventura County in the year1872.            

 Julian  Pioneer Museum  building originally built in 1869 for a blacksmith.

I drove twenty five head of cattle through what is now the main street of Los Angeles. At  that time there were only a few buildings, no street cars or railroads. The first railroad came to Los Angeles in 1875."

                Los Angeles 1887

[Text thanks to Em Wendel ]