The Journal of Daniel Blue

©2005, by Jayne Kennedy Sweger


"…Gold has a magic power upon the human mind," Daniel Blue wrote in December of 1859, as he slowly returned to health after a grand adventure turned sour. "The hope of its possession has infatuated thousands, and the pursuit of it has plunged tens of thousands into misery and premature graves."

Ten months before he wrote those words, Daniel, his brothers Charles and Alexander, their cousin and a friend, waited for a train in Morrison, Illinois. Young men, barely in their twenties, they had all read the ballyhoo in the newspapers about gold at Pike's Peak in far off Kansas Territory, and were determined to get their share. Unfortunately, from advance press, they thought they could walk to the foot of the mountain and fill their buckets with nuggets as big as hen eggs, then troop home with wealth galore.

Their grand plans, however, had a flaw or two. They left on their journey on February 22nd, at least six weeks before spring, and mid-winter to most folks in the upper Great Plains.

Their enthusiasm probably lasted a few weeks, probably to about Fort Riley, Kansas, where grim reality set in. Again in Daniel's own words, "What should have been a grand adventure became an endurance contest, a merciless wearing away of flesh, bone and human determination to live, and, at the end, a nightmare too horrible to contemplate". Their route on public transportation went from Illinois to St Louis, Missouri, then up the Missouri River to Kansas City. From there, it was shanks mare all the way.

Hindsight is 20/20, and Daniel had it in abundance. "…For (gold's) sake, men imperil their lives, sacrifice their peace of mind, their comfort of body, and sometimes their very souls. They forsake homes, loved ones, friends, and everything that is dear to their hearts, and cross seas, deserts, and mountains, enduring the greatest hardships and the severest deprivations, in quest of the expected wealth that gold will give. Yes", he wrote in his Journal, " …the object of our undertaking and adventures which resulted so disastrously to myself and my companions, was the getting of gold."

They left parents, siblings, a comfortable home and many friends…

Lawrence, Kansas, was their real 'jumping off place'. Here they bought a pony and packed their provisions on his back. Then on to Topeka where they bought 200 pounds of flour. "…Leading our pony, we journeyed on till we got some three miles west of Manhattan (Kansas), where we took shelter from a severe snowstorm in the hut of an old Indian named James Leviea." Also sharing the Indian's hut were nine more men, headed by Captain John Gibbs, who said he'd been this route before. When the storm passed, the two groups banded together and were soon joined by John Currans and George Soley of Cleveland, OH.

Daniel's group were a tad better off than the others with the pony to carry their provisions, while back packs were carried by the Gibbs party and Currans and Soley.

Just a few days into their journey, they had experienced a severe winter storm. What possessed them to make such a trip so early in the year? Certainly The Chicago Tribune was partly at fault. As early as September, 1858 The Tribune reported that "…it seems to be a pretty well established fact that gold does exist in considerable quantities in Kansas…washings are said to yield from $5. to $16. a day along a small stream, about 50 miles from Pike's Peak". And while they did not say there were nuggets laying about, the flowery rhetoric of the day certainly implied such. Thus was the fabric of men's golden dreams.

Daniel's Journal confirms this: "…all remember the general excitement that was occasioned during 1858 and 1859 by the glowing reports of the discovery of rich and abundant gold mines in the Western Kansas and Nebraska Territories, in the region known as Pike's Peak, among the Rocky Mountains…we determined to start for that distant land of gold".

And why not? The Whiteside Sentinel (Morrison, IL) said that "…from four to six hundred men are at work on Cherry Creek, and all doing well".

With such glowing reports to urge them on, weather was the least of their worries. They should, however, have given it serious consideration. They had no way of knowing the weather patterns on the Great Plains. They knew Illinois winters could be a wooly-bugger in February and March, but perhaps they thought that by going south to Kansas City, and thence westward across Kansas they'd be hitting spring weather.

Perhaps they were just five young men that got a wild hair and decided to go west and pick up gold nuggets. Young, strong farm boys. Healthy as a horse. They knew they were indestructible. True, they were out for adventure, but a very real need existed. The country was in an economic slump in the mid 1800's, and they wanted to add to the family income during a rough time.

The promoters of the Pike's Peak humbug had no interest in furthering the welfare of nearly destitute families. They were driven by greed. Speculators in every imaginable product had their fingers in the golden pie. "…Many go to dig, perhaps as many to speculate on the presumed necessities, or fancies, or vices, of the diggers. Liquors, tobacco, implements of gambling, etc., will be sent along in profusion", The New York Times stated in January, 1859.

Politicians were greedy, too. In 1859, Kansas Territory took up a huge hunk of middle America. It extended from the Missouri State line on the east to (at least) the front range of the Rockies, which included Denver and Pike's Peak. Denver City was small, little more than a frontier outpost, founded the previous year when the gold rush began. Colorado Springs, at the foot of Pike's Peak, was not even a twinkle in anyone's eye. It was not founded until 1871, five years before Colorado statehood.

Statehood, however, was already in the minds of Denver city-fathers. Sherman Enderton, a Denverite, wrote his brother, James, back in Whiteside County: "…there is a paper printed at Denver called The Rocky Mountain News, which is a perfect fabrication kept up by political men who want another rush of emigration here in the fall in order to have a population sufficient to divide the territory".

Meanwhile, the Blue's and their new companions, lingered at Fort Riley. Located in east central Kansas, it was the last group of buildings and people that could, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a town.
There they "…debated as to which route we should take for Denver City, the 'Republican' or the 'Smokey Hill Route'. The former was more northerly than the latter, and was about 600 miles, while the Smoky Hill Route was only 500 miles. Capt. Gibbs said he had crossed the plains by the Smoky Hill Route, and professed to be well acquainted with it.

Consequently, the majority of the party decided to take that route, though I urged strongly that we should take the Republican. Somehow I had a presentiment at that time, that we should meet with calamity if we took the Smoky Hill Route…"

The Republican Route followed the Republican River, for many miles about 30 miles inside present day Nebraska. For part of its way, it follows US Highway 34 through McCook, Nebraska, until its South Fork dips back into Kansas at Benkleman, Nebraska, makes a short trek through Kansas and into Colorado at Hale. It finally fizzles out near Limon, CO.

The Smoky Hill River, on the other hand, lies a few miles south of I-70. To reach it the travelers first followed the Kansas River, also slightly south of I-70 in the eastern part of the state, until it runs into the Smoky Hill in Ellsworth County. Beyond this point the river drifts southwesterly until it enters Colorado considerably further south along US 40, and it ends north of Cheyenne Wells, CO.

On the surface, the Smoky Hill Route should have been all right, but time and weather were to take their toll on the foolhardy gold seekers.

While the Blue's sat in the snow and argued about routes, Denver saloons sprang up like mushrooms after a spring rain, with prostitutes plying their trade, and liquor by the barrel to satisfy miners in town on R&R. Yes, there was gold to be had, but in the saloons and general stores of Denver City, where the miners came to spend their hard won gold.

Daniel Blue lost his argument and "…we started off, following the Kansas River, wading across the Republican Fork, and before dusk, a driving snowstorm overtook us-one of the most terrible storms I ever witnessed-and we left our pony and provisions, and, wrapping ourselves in our blankets, hurried to a house a short distance from us, where we dried ourselves at a stove and remained until next morning".

Looking back from the 21st century, it is a moot question as to whether the other longer route would have been any better. It was now into the first week in March, and any area of the Great Plains from Texas northward, is ripe for sleet, freezing rain, and blizzards, all nasty miserable storms, anytime during March, with rogue storms even into April.

It was here that these farm boys, with little or no knowledge of how to live off the land, or even any true conception of the vast emptiness that lay ahead of them, made their first serious mistake.

"I had purchased a tent at the Fort for protection at night," Daniel wrote, "…but my companions prevailed upon me to leave it behind, so that all we had to shelter ourselves with on this long journey of over 500 miles of uninhabited country were woolen blankets into which we wrapped ourselves at night, lying down to sleep on the bare ground.

They journeyed out the next day, making some thirty-five miles, following the Kansas River ever westward toward the Smoky Hill River. Gibbs party stopped to hunt buffalo, as their provisions were about gone, but the Blue's and George Soley went on alone, drifted away from the river and became lost. Exhausted, they finally found their way back, set up camp and left their pony grazing nearby.

Sadly, when they awoke, the pony was gone. A grave setback to their venture.

Three more men found their way into the Blue camp, enlarging their number to nine.

Apparently the next ten days or so passed uneventfully, for little is mentioned in Daniel's Journal. Then he wrote, "…Alexander came down with severe pains in his head and back, and we had to stop to give him a chance to recruit." It was here that they used the last of their flour and provisions. They threw away all the luggage that wasn't essential. The weather, of course, never ceased to plague them, and with no tent, and certainly none of the insulated winter apparel we take for granted, the Blue Party was now in desperate straits.

And here, they made their second crucial mistake. "…we had been informed, both before starting and while on the way that the distance from this point to Denver City was only about 55 miles. This was our great mistake, the actual distance being about 170 miles…Oh, it was a fatal, a terrible mistake, this mis-information as to the real distance," Daniel lamented, looking back at his ordeal.

Following the sun they moved on only to be struck by a blizzard that beat upon them for five days. They struggled onward uncertainly during the day, wrapped themselves in their blankets at night. Alexander and Charles Blue were both sick, plus general fatigue, and hunger. When the sun came out and they took stock, they realized they'd been traveling in circles for five days.

They saw a herd of wild horses and attempted to shoot one for food, but only succeeded in exhausting themselves further. "The men rested fitfully," Daniel wrote, "eating snow and an occasional rabbit that we captured, and a dog that had followed us…none of us were hardly able to drag one foot after another, being so weak and weary…and Alexander sank down exhausted and in severe pain…"

They bandaged his feet and head, doing what little they could to alleviate his suffering, then settled into the snow to wait for morning. "Oh, for something nourishing to eat; how hunger gnawed in our stomachs, parched our lips, and dried up the moisture of our throats and mouths. How it weakened us, consuming, as if by fire, our muscles and our juices. It reduced us to very skeletons, and we stalked about emaciated, with death's hollow sound in every word we tried to speak, with death's dull, leaden fixedness in our eyes, and with death's pale look in our sad and wretched faces…"

It was at this time that eating human flesh was first mentioned, and discussed at length between the brothers and their companions. "I am willing to die by starving to death," Daniel said, "If it must be so, but I am not willing that any of you should die to keep me alive...and yet the subject, having been mentioned, we kept thinking of it, and subsequently we again spoke of it, and all then agreed that whichever of us should die first, should be eaten by the rest".

Once again they were teased by the appearance of antelope, yet in their weakened condition were unable to shoot even one. Surely at this time, the words of a Chicago Tribune article must have come to mind: "…game would be a resource against starvation, consisting of buffalo, deer, antelopes, etc. Those who go there [Pike's Peak] may be said to run no risk at all. If they do not find gold so abundant as they anticipate, they can turn to the cultivation of the soil…"

The soil-frozen-under several feet of packed snow, could not be cultivated. Neither did the exhausted travelers have sixty days plus to wait for a harvest!

Still, with each new day comes hope. Daniel arose early and walked a short distance to the top of a ridge, and looked westward. "…I beheld for the first time, dimly up among the clouds, a peak of the Rocky Mountains. My heart, faint with weakness, beat quicker then, and a thrill of joy came over me and hope revived…"

"The Peak! The Peak!," Daniel yelled to his companions. "I see it afar off there in the westward. Take courage, boys, and let us go on." At this time they were in the vicinity of present day Limon, CO.

Slowly they moved westward, Daniel supporting Alexander's weight. Finally he fell. "Daniel," he said, "My race is run; I have gone as far as I can". Daniel wouldn't let them quit, and he carried Alexander a ways, returned for Soley, sat him down, returned for the packs, then repeated the process. He hoped to find a better shelter, but evening came with no shelter and no improvement in their health.
They were without food except for boiled roots, grass, and snow, none of which was satisfying.
Headed northwest now, toward Denver City, Soley collapsed and died. With his last words, he said, "'Take my body and eat as much as you can, and thus preserve your lives'…in his fate, we three brothers, saw our own, for death was surely gnawing at our vitals…"

Not strong enough to bury him, they lay nearby for three days before, in desperation, they did cut flesh from the arms and legs of the body. "This was the hardest of our trials-this being forced to eat human flesh. We restrained as long as we could, but it was our last hope of preservation…but what we had eaten, though it at first sicken us, did strengthen us."

Alexander continued to suffer terrible pains from his rheumatism, and died the 18th of April, 1859. The only one of the brothers with a family, he wrote a last note to his wife and children before he died.

Several days after this, Daniel wrote, "We were considerably strengthened by the food, and taking some with us, we resumed our journey." Then Charles fell. Daniel fed him "…wild prickly pears and tree bark…but nothing he swallowed digested…" He lingered a day or two, then followed Alexander. He wrote to his father: "I take my pen in hand to let you know that my hour of death is near at hand. God help you and Mother. We three brothers are here together, near the Big Sandy River. We have twenty-five dollars and five cents…in a very few hours I must die, and in good health, for want of a little food. May God help us all, and that we all may meet in heaven. Pray take care of bread…my love to all."

Daniel was prostrate with grief, and laid near Charles weeping and moaning. "…I was now sick of life, and gave over to despair. While my brothers were still living, the hope of saving them and yet bring them to a place of shelter and relief, bore me up, and inspired me with courage, strength and resolution, but they were now dead, and I was alone, having no one but myself to care for. My spirit shrank within me, and I made up my mind to die."

Daniel's location on Beaver Creek was about half way between what is now Agate, CO, on I-70, and northeast to Last Chance, on Colorado 36 highway.

For three days he grieved, then forced himself to eat human flesh, and drink water from a nearby creek, but he received no nourishment. "…I could not rise from the ground, and my sight left me." He was "…completely blind; I fell asleep, remaining unconscious, I do not know how long; it may have been several days, or only a few hours. The first I knew was hearing a voice exclaiming gruffly: 'Weak, weak', and a human hand was laid upon me. I had not the strength to speak or make a motion, and the Indian (for such he was, and there were three of them of the Arapaho tribe) took me to his tent, their Chief and a number of his tribe being camped there. He and his squaw bathed me, and gave me some tenderly cooked antelope meat and something to drink. The effect of this was to throw me into a violent fever, and to make me feel very sick. He then gave me some warm antelope blood and some raw antelope liver; these tasted sweet, and I relished them well. They strengthened and revived me, so that I was soon able to raise my head, and in a day or two, I could sit up, and my eye-sight was restored."

"God bless that young Indian brave and his good squaw. They nursed me as carefully and gently as my own mother would have." Language was a problem, yet as Daniel said, "actions spake louder than words, theirs of kindness, mine of gratitude.

"One day the Indian came into the tent, looking excited and sad by turns…" He indicated by signs that a wagon was nearby, and asked Daniel if he wanted to go there. He helped Daniel onto a pony, and lead him to "…an encampment of the Pike's Peak Overland Express Company, whose coach and team, it seems, had just reached that point, bound westward.

To add to his misery, the way Station was attacked by hostile Comanche and Apache Indians who were at war with the Arapaho. "Fortunately we escaped unharmed from the warriors…and I proceeded on the stage to Denver City; I arrived the 11th of May, nearly three months after the day we left our home in Illinois."

There he saw his pony, picked up by emigrants, and Captain Gibbs, who was working in the mines. All but one of Gibb's party had also died on the plains. According to Daniel's figures, of the seventeen men on the journey, only five survived.

Daniel learned "…the true state of facts in regard to the gold bubble that had been blown by reckless speculators for the drawing on of just such young men as we were. Gold stories have no longer any allurements for me…There is gold there, no doubt, but you must have capital, machinery and much patience to get it".

Daniel spent the next three weeks recuperating, thinking of looking for a job, but found he was to weak to be useful. Yet by the time he joined a mule-team headed east toward Kansas Missouri and, Praise God, Illinois, good food had made a marked improvement in his general health.

Daniel re-crossed the prairies that summer with a mule-team, taking the route along the Platte River through Nebraska Territory to Omaha City. Finally a steamer to St Joseph, and, "…I came by railroad to my old home in Whiteside County-worn weary, and poor, with just fifty cents in my pocket, and feeling content to spend the rest of my days-and I am still quite a young men-in peace at home and on the farm".

He concluded his Journal with these words: "…I lament the terrible and untimely taking off of my beloved brothers, whose bones lie bleaching on the plains of Western Kansas, yet I thank God fervently that He rescued me from the fate that stared me in the face…and not left this sad history unwritten, or the fate of my companions untold…

Yes, to paraphrase Daniel, gold does have a magic power on the human soul, acquiring it has seduced thousands, leading them not to untold wealth and prosperity, but to abject misery and premature graves…"What a melancholy termination to a bold adventure!"

In a Statement written by Daniel Blue on 12 May 1859, in the office of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company, Denver, he synopsized what I have told you, finishing with: "…the Indian, on Wednesday, the 4th day of May, brought me to the encampment of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company's train, en route for Denver City, under the charge of Superintendent B D Williams, where I was received and taken care of, and left at Station 25 to recover sufficient strength for the continuation of my journey free of charge.
"The above statement I make freely, voluntarily. Knowing it will reach the eye of the public at large, I wish to give expression to the sincere gratitude …to the employees of the L and P P Express Company in general, and Mr Williams in special, for the truly humane treatment received at their hands. Daniel Blue"
It was dated, subscribed and notarized. A fellow traveler on the stagecoach wrote…"Mr Blue came up to this place on the same coaches that I did. He looked like a skeleton, and could hardly use his limbs, and his sight was impaired".
In addition to being a writer, I am my family's historian While tracing my family in Whiteside County, Illinois, I read 1850's newspapers on microfilm, where I found the Blue story. It was short and lacking in facts.
The Blue name popped up in my research. Some digging found my grandmother's sister married a man named Donald McKay, whose mother was Catherine Blue, our Daniel's sister! I contacted one of my McKay relatives for information regarding the Blue Expedition. She sent me a copy of Daniel's narrative!

I was delighted. I knew what a gold mine (no pun intended) I had, and what to do with it. I contacted the Colorado Historical Society; they had limited information. A notarized statement given by Daniel Blue on 12 May 1859 appeared on page 232 of The Colorado Magazine, Vol 8/6 (Nov 1931) and a brief paragraph on page 238 of a book, The History of Denver.
I relied heavily on Daniel's Narrative while writing Gold By The Bucketful!
In the 13 March 1879 issue of The Whiteside Sentinel, it was plain that time had not dimmed the memories of Morrison, IL residents. "Mr Daniel Blue, who was well known twenty years ago as the only survivor of the Blue brothers who started for Pike's Peak, was in town this week. Mr Blue, with his two brothers, one older and the other younger, all young men or boys, started for the Peak on foot, and were lost on the Plains, resulting first in the starvation of Charlie whose body was eaten by the other two, and then of Alexander, who body was used for food by the remaining one, who was found in that depraved condition by some Indians who carried him to a trading post and finally he came home, more dead than alive. Mr Blue has lived in Iowa until recently, when he returned to his old home in Morrison."

As Daniel said, "…what a sad end to such a bold adventure…"

-- Jayne Kennedy Sweger


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