University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Brother Aidan's Extracts


"For a long time lack of money gave endless headaches and troubles. Fire seemed to be the last straw. (!) An extraordinary event forced, so to speak, the Chapter to take a step in the success of which no one had confidence were it not legitimate according to all in God's eyes and for two powerful motives: the avoidance of a great scandal which would ruin the whole enterprise, and to find a way to liquidate the debt so that in the eyes of the public would be repaired the damage done by the fire. For this was the California Expedition decided upon. Three Brothers and three companions joined it, and all left at the end of March with the object of devoting themselves to the rebuilding of the apprentices' home." 1848

Members: George Woodworth, Captain; John Menage,; Lieutenant; Urban John Baptist Victor Monsimer, Secretary; Gregory J. Campan, Urban Alar, Lewis J. Gautier, and Mr. Dowling.

St. Joseph Company started with $1450 to be dissolved February 28, 1852. Any member could decide to stay in California and have right to share in proceeds.

All members, except Woodworth, recognized President of Notre Dame as "Legitimate" executor of last "will" in case of death.

Natural of legitimate heirs entitled to inherit in case of death -- all leave will before leaving.

Following rules of Brothers of St. Joseph.

"Whereas our debts, and of course their interest, are constantly increasing, whereas we do not see any ordinary means to be able for along while to pay so many debts, we have unanimously resolved, to make use of a means which, thought it will appear strange and extraordinary to some, is in no way unjust and unlawful. That is, three Brothers will be sent to California to dig gold: Brother Lawrence, as Director of the two others, Brothers John and Michael. None of these will go but of his own accord." Minor Chapter, September, 1849

"Brother Lawrence, together with Brothers Placidus, Michael, and Alexius will start by land for California as soon as possible." Janaury 28, 1850

"To get funds with which to rebuild and continue the work of Notre Dame, Father Sorin sent three Brothers to California in search of gold. Their expedition like so many others of the time, was a failure." Brother Gilbert in the ALUMNUS, 3:99

Guns must be provided for our California band. January 28, 1849

The name of Brother Lawrence appears again as steward in the minutes of January 8, 1852.

"For a long time a lack of money had been a source of worry and misery to the young mission. Shop fire the latest.

"An extraordinary event almost compelling the members of the Chapter to take a step in whose success none of them would have placed any confidence, had it not been in their unanimous opinion justified before God by two powerful motives, namely, 1) that of preventing a terrible scandal which might ruin the works, and 2) that of trying a means of paying debts long in arrears.

"On these grounds the expedition to California was decided upon. Four Brothers with three companions set out toward the end of March with the purpose of devoting themselves to the re-establishment of the orphans' house." Sorin Chronicles, 1850

. . . afraid of the Indians and can travel faster alone.

May 11 -- We had good camping ground 71 miles from Big Blue . . . Wood and water plenty; road sandy and hilly. Distance made: 21 miles . . . .We saw three dead horses and five graves on the road.

May 12 -- Last night we reloaded our wagons, putting nine hundred weight on the small wagon and twenty hundredweight on the large wagon. We took a pony from the small wagon and gave it to Mr. Gauthier and Brother Gatian that they might walk and ride by turns. Sunday. Travelled 15 miles. A company of Missourians killed a buffalo yesterday and two elks today.

May 13 -- Weather warm, road good . . . .Made 23 miles. We passed a branch of the Little Blue, which we left 7 miles from a muddy creek where we pitched our tent for the following night. A company lost 55 mules last night, one mile from our camp; they say the Indians came sneaking in the grass and frightened them away . . . . We are told that the Indians frequently assume the shape of wolves or other animals to commit their depredations.

May 14 -- Last night we had to leave our horses 3 miles from our camp to find grass for them. Grass being so scarce you have generally to pitch your tent one mile from the road, and frequently two miles. Today we began to feed corn to our horses only once a day, having but six bushels left, which we want to last till we reach Fort Laramie . . . Wood and water scarce. Distance made; 32 miles. Ten miles from the valley of the Little Blue we found wood and had water for the last time although we found enough water in a prairie slue 12 miles from the platto to water our horses.

May 15 -- Made 23 miles. Camped near the river last night and had good grass. This morning we passed by Fort Kearney, which is kept by the United States for the protection of emigrants. If any Californian be sick or disabled, he may apply for gratuitious assistance at any of the Forts. They also pursue all the malefactors on the route. Fort Kearney consists of three good-looking frame houses, a dozen mud or turf houses, three feet above ground, and two underground ones, covered with bark or shingles and several . . . .

May 16 -- Weather warm, road good but dusty. Wood and river water sufficient. Distance made: 25 miles. Brother Lawrence found the frame of an old saddle and gave it to the Brothers Anselm and Gatian. Brother Lawrence had the toothache today.

May 17 -- About nine o'clock this morning a wagon passed by our six-pony team and frightened the ponies; they put thorough the prairie. Our middle horses fell and the hind horses with the wagon passes over them. One of them, Charley, had his leg bruised, so that we cannot work him for several days. Captain Woodworth had the headache.

May 18 -- I have heard this morning that soldiers have been sent after a company of Californians to take them up, because they had set the prairies on fire.

May 19 -- Sunday. We had a good camp, plenty wood, water, and grass. We rested and said the prayers of the Church. We all are well.

May 20 -- Charley being unable to walk this morning, we left him behind in good pastures and departed with heavy hearts, saying, "May the wolves spare his life!"

"We left Burlington on the 15th (March), Saturday, our ponies being fatigued, and wanting a little rest ourselves, we resolved to pitch our tent and lay over on the following Sunday. Since that time we have thought it advisable to observe the Sabbath, the more so as we cannot leave the frontier before the 20th of April or the 1st of May. We have also camped ever since last Sunday, as we have found this plan more economical and sometimes more pleasant than the accomodations afforded by farms and hotels. Every evening, therefore we have pitched our tent, scattered over the damp or frozen ground a little hay or straw when we could procure it; and when we could not we would for a substitute rake a few leaves with our fingers, or mow a little prairie grass with our knives. Our itinerant lodgings being thus snugly put up, our horses fed and a large fire built in front of our tent, we would sit down to our rural supper, consisting of pork, sausages, or cod-fish; and then we would make our beds, say our evenign prayers and lie down to rest in security, relying on Providence and the fidelity of our sentinel for we have organized a guard, each man watching one hour and ten minutes . . . . ON the 19th, 20th, and 21st we had rainy weather and snow at night. The roads were very muddy, and intersected with mudholes and creeks. On the 20th we broke the king bolt of our small wagon, lost our route near Bloom-field, and advanced only 9 miles. From Bloomfield in Iowa to Princeton in Missouri, a distance of 90 miles, we did not see more than a dozen buildings. We had to ford the Fox and Chariton Rivers and a number of creeks of difficult access, some with almost perpendicular shores. There corn and oats sold for fifty cents a bushel and hay at fifty cents a hundred pounds . . . .At Independence corn can be had for forty cents a bushel. On the 24th, which was Sunday, we pitched our tent near a branch of Medicine Creek in Doge County. We paid eighty cents for the ferriage across the Grande River near Princeton . . . Our ponies had heavy pulling and yet were only fed twice a day. Once we traveled two hours by moonlight to find corn for them. At another time we had to entreat an old woman during half an hour for a bushel of corn and yet we had to pay one dollar in advance first. At Gentryville Captain Woodworth made a better bargain for a treat for Easter Sunday: he paid twenty-five cents for a fat wild turkey, weighing twenty-eight pounds . . . On the 30th we passed through Plattsburg, which is twenty-five miles northwest of Liberty, and on the evening of the same day we pitched our tent on the premises of Mr. Atchinson, the greatest wonder of nature which we have yet seen in our travels. He is thirty-six years old, six feet six inches high, weighs three hundred and fifty pounds and has grown four inches high, in the last ten years.

"The first days of April have been very merry and we spent our time in almost complete idleness at Mr. Atchinson's. Messre. Dowling and Menage, however took to split rails, but the timber was so knotty that, after two days of hard work, during which they split 101 rails, for which they wre allowed sixty-three cents, they gave up in despair. Before leaving Mr. Atchinson's we coupled our wagons anew and shortened the wagon boxes, sold our beds (except the blankets), our plates, knives, forks, razors and shaving boxes, a good many clothes, and all our trunks except one. We will heave away many other articles before we leave, among others which I will mention, the sheet-iron stove. Brother Lawrence's scow has not been used; we have thrown the oars overboard after having hauled them 300 miles. The huggy seat of the small wagon has shared a similar fate. The motto of the best-informed Californians is that the freight of every single pound hauled to California is ONE DOLLAR AT LEAST. Last Sunday morning after our auction and after having 234 pounds of hams, we left our encampment and travelled 14 miles and then encamped in the vicinity of Liberty, having met Father Ward, the priest of that town. There are but three Catholic families in the town. Yesterday morning we were at confessions and heard Mass . . . .We passed through Independence, which is about the size of South Bend. It is well laid out and consists principally of brick buildings. We reached the place selected for us about eight o'clock and took our supper at nine o'clock after a long fast of thirteen hours. We will have to wait for grass till the 20th of April or perhaps the first of May, the season having been unusually cold . . . . In going through Independence we have put ourselves nearly 400 miles out of our way, and this for the sake of Dr. Palmer whom we have not found. Yet we do not repent, for the cholera has appeared at St. Joseph and almost every point on the river. Moreover, provisions of every kind are a lot cheaper here than at St. Joseph.

"We have not yet completed our outfit and we want sugar, beans, bacon, etc., and at least two ponies . . . .

"We have a balance of $211.47 on hand . . . .

"The whole distance travelled since we wrote as recorded in our journal is 300 3/4 miles and from South Bend to Independence 615 1/2 miles.

"April 26 -- Yesterday we received your letter of the 1st inst. in which you expressed a paternal anxiety for our spiritual welfare. You need not, however apprehend any voluntary neglect of our religious duties. As soon as we have arrived at the mines we shall do our exercises as we do at the Lake, and now every member says his morning prayer as soon as he gets up, and his evening prayer before he goes to bed. When we came to this place we thought we could go to Church every Sunday, but a heavy fall of rain has rendered the Blue River impassible. Still we expect to be able to ford the river next Sunday morning and to receive the Sacraments before we leave the frontier.

"We have selected the 30th inst. for the day of our departure. On the 23rd Captain Woodworth went to the prairie and found that the grass had just made its appearance . . . .A few Californians, more daring than the rest, taking a little grain with them, started about the 10th inst. and travelled about 150 miles, their grain being consumed and finding no grass, they were obliged to return discouraged, and with starving cattle, horses, and mules. Some were compelled to hire Indians to bring them back to Independence . . . . We find this month of April very long, having almost nothing to do. We sleep most of the time and when we are not sleeping we play the game of Fox and Geese.

" . . . we have bought an old mare for twelve dollars cash and Michael Dowlings watch . . . . We have replaced our cooking-stove and utensils by a skillet and a camp kettle. Our outfit is complete and we have a balance of about $75 on hand.

"We start with 600 pounds of hard bread, 100 pounds of flour, 350 pounds of bacon, 175 pounds of sugar, 50 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of salt, 225 pounds of apples, 70 pounds of beans, 3 gallons of whiskey, 3 gallons of brandy, 7 gallons of vinegar, 3 gallons of molasses. These with various other articles, our baggage, and 15 bushels of corn, will make an amount of 3300 pounds freight when we start . . . all in good health." Yours most respectful and obedient servents, --

(Goose Neck Creek, 7 miles west of Independence, Missouri, April 9, 1850)

Mr. Gregory F. Campau writing from Independence, Missouri to Mr. John L. Woodworth at Notre Dame (?) one of the Notre Dame group of diggers: "The further we come this way the best the news are. Old Mr. Bouchey who is here told us that he saw a piece of California gold which was six inches long, two inches wide, and 3/4 inches high, and some other pieces have been found of a greater size, one which weighed 96 pounds. Dear friend, I mention this to show that money can be here made . . . Tell Francis and Thomas Byerley and Brother Thomas that I am sorry they are not with us." April, 1850

‹— Brother Aidan's Extracts —›