Criminal Annals, Part 100 – Senator Henry Clay Passes

Senator Henry Clay

On June 29, 1852 Senator Henry Clay passed away. He and Senator Thomas Hart Benton, the father-in-law of John C. Fremont, were the two strongest proponents of statehood for California and westward expansion. Clay was also popular with the rest of the country for many reasons and was named by a congressional committee in 1957 as one of the five greatest senators in United States history.

The information did not reach California until early August of that year. Major newspapers in California immediately “ruled” their pages by putting vertical black lines between the columns, an indication of mourning. Edward Kemble, the editor of the “Alta California,” commented that even though his editor partner, Edward Gilbert, had died in the duel with Senator Denver, that his own newspaper the “Alta California,” because of the death of Henry Clay, “carried in a few words, only the statement of the facts.”

State funerals, complete with processions and even a draped empty casket were held for him in San Francisco, Sacramento and many other California cities, as had been earlier done in major cities on the east coast. Church and government office bells were mournfully tolled, military salutes were fired, flags were flown at half-staff and even stores closed.

An example of one of many of the articles regarding Senator Clay shows up in the August 5, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union.”

“OBSEQUIES IN HONOR OF MR. CLAY. – We call particular attention to the subjoined circular from a Committee of Common Council, who were appointed to co-operate with the citizens to make arrangements to do honor to the illustrious dead. The circular clearly expresses its object, and need we urge upon the citizens of Sacramento, the solemn obligations they are under to unite in paying the last tribute of respect to the memory of America’s most renowned statesman:

“The undersigned Committee appointed by the Common Council [City Council] to co-operate with the citizens in appropriate ceremonies of respect due to the memory of HENRY CLAY, would respectfully request the citizens to assemble in mass meeting at the Orleans Hotel TODAY, Thursday, 5th August, at 12 ½ P.M. to appoint a committee, and take such other action as may be deemed proper.

“They would also request that such committee, together with committees from the different military and civic societies, assemble at the Orleans Hotel the same (Thursday) evening, at 8 o’clock, to make suitable arrangements for the occasion.

“August 4, 1852, J. H. Nevett, C. H. Barker, Thos. P. Rose.”

The August 7, 1852 edition of the paper has quite an article on problems being faced by the immigrants still out on the plains. Movies often show the trip west as a wonderful, carefree event, but it wasn’t in most cases.


“Reported suffering among the Immigrants. War with the Indians, &c., &c.

“A portion of the party that went out to Carson Valley with government stores for the relief of the immigrants, returned to the city yesterday. To Mr. Griffiths, one of the party, we are indebted for valuable and interesting information.

“Some of the immigrants are getting along very well, and enduring but slight hardship and suffering, while the larger portion are in a deplorable state of destitution. The women and children, we learn, are subjected in a great many instances, to incredible degrees of hardship and suffering – frequently abandoned on the road without any assistance or protection, and left to get forward as best they may.

“Stations have been established by the government party on Carson river, Truckie [sic] river and the Sink of the Humboldt. At the latter point, east of the desert, supplies are furnished to the more destitute, sufficient to take them across the desert, there they are further assisted as much as possible by the other stations. But the means at the command of this party are totally inadequate to the proper relief of the people.

“The grass on Humboldt is holding out much better than was anticipated, but the alkaline waters met at different points, is proving extremely destructive to the stock, especially mules and horses. Whole teams are destroyed and parties left in a condition bordering upon actual helplessness.
Mr. Greenwood, well known in this vicinity, was shot about ten days ago, thirty-five miles above the sink of the Humboldt, by the Indians. He was searching for stock that had been stolen from him by the Indians, when the savages came upon him and shot him with arrows. He was mortally wounded.”
Note: Caleb Greenwood, after whom a school is named in Sacramento and the El Dorado county town of Greenwood is named (he and his sons, Britain and John, established a trading post there), would have been around 90 in 1852. He was a well known fur-trapper and trail guide. His date of death is listed as “circa 1850,” so this may or may not have been him.

The story continues: “A new route has been lately discovered from “the meadows” on the Humboldt to Carson river, by which the distance across the desert is reduced to fifteen miles. At the second sink of Carson’s river, the exploring party met with about fifteen hundred Indians, who had a large quantity of American stock in their possession, which they stated was stolen from the immigrants two years ago. They professed friendship for the people of California, but declared their purpose to continue their depredations upon the immigrants. A party of forty-five men under the command of Capt. Burns, an old mountaineer, had started out to whip the Indians. It was expected they would meet them on Tuesday last.

“The stock of provisions on had at the stations will be exhausted before the train returns.”

Note: In regards to the Humboldt river where it begins to sink into the Nevada desert, a marker along the California Trail has a quote from the journal of Eleazar Stillman Ingalls that says: “July 28, 1850. The Humboldt is the burying ground for horses and oxen. The river is nothing but animal broth seasoned with alkali & salt.” If that wasn’t bad enough, the very last part of the trail before reaching the Sierra Nevada and fresh water, is what is called the “Forty Mile Desert.” It is a barren stretch of water-less, alkali wasteland and the most dreaded section of the California Trail.



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