After leaving Salt Lake, the Royces, with a few additions to their party, headed in to the desert and literally missed their turn. They ended up far into the wasteland, with little food and water. A situation, Royce remembered, “so new and unexpected, that it seemed for a while to confuse—almost to stupefy—most of the little party.” Their oxen were starving and they fed them the ticking from their mattresses… rationing what little water they had to make it last.
After much debate, the group turned back to search for a place where they could feed the livestock and get more water. They met a small wagon train on the way, and though those folks could spare no supplies, they did ensure Royce’s group made it back to the “Humboldt Sink” where water and grass were plentiful. It would be this chance meeting that Royce later credited with saving her family’s lives.
After finding the Sink and resting, the group headed back out into the desert. This time they found the right road, successfully crossed the desert and made it to the foot of the Sierra Mountain Range. By this stage of their journey, they were short of food and exhausted. Snow was already flying in the mountains, posing yet more danger.
The little wagon train was contemplating their situation as they struggled to push their wagon and supplies through the heavy sandy soil, when two men from the California Relief Company arrived, seemingly “heaven-sent” to Royce. They were there to help see them safely over the Sierra Nevada Range
One man explained his presence this way…
“We were ordered as far as the Truckee Pass. When we got there we met a little company that had just got in. They’d been in a snow storm at the summit; ‘ most got froze to death themselves… and just managed to get to where some of our men had fixed a relief camp. There was a woman and some children with them; and that woman set right to work at us fellows to go on over the mountains after a family she said they’d met on the desert going back for grass and water ‘cause they’d missed their way. The said there was only one wagon, and there was a woman and child on it; and she knew they could never get through them canons and over them ridges without help. We told her we had no orders to go any farther then. She said she didn’t care for orders. She didn’t believe anybody would blame us for doing what we were sent out to do, if we did have to go farther than ordered. And she kept at me so, I couldn’t get rid of her. You see I’ve got a wife and little girl of my own; so I felt just how it was; and I got this man to come with me and here we are, to give you more to eat, if you want it, let you have these two mules, and tell you how to get right over the mountains the best and quickest way.”
Royce credited this fortuitous arrival of the Relief Party with their successful arrival in California . After resting in what their guide book called Pleasant Valley Gold Mines, they moved on to a little gold mining town called Weaverville.
[Sarah Royce kept a diary of her journey to California in 1849. She later rewrote the journal and in 1932, her son published it as “A Frontier Lady”. I found an excerpt in “No Rooms of Their Own”, women Writers of Early California”, edited by Ida Rae Egli. ]