Benjamin Franklin Ruggles, a native of Columbia Falls, Me., was one of thousands of Americans who attempted an overland passage to California. On March 7th, 1859, he joined a company leaving Minnesota in ox-drawn wagons, heading across the plains through Omaha and Salt Lake City. After ridding themselves of excess goods in Salt Lake on July 4th, and watching the Nauvoo Legion salute Brigham Young and other Mormon elders, the party set out north along the edge of the Great Salt Lake for Brigham City and crossed into Nevada. Shortly after crossing the Bear River west of Brigham City, the party saw their first Native American in the area, a short, "filthy" Shoshone from the Humboldt River, and thereafter Ruggles and his fellow travelers were constantly on the lookout as they entered the "Indian Country... where Mormons frequently come to stop and commit their depredations."
Following the route across Nevada outlined in the Mormon Guide of 1851 (probably Thomas Christy's Road Across the Plains), the party passed through the town of Thousand Springs to the banks of the Humboldt River, doing their best to keep their oxen healthy on the sparse grass and poor water. Following the road along the northern side of the river, after almost being lured to the rougher southern route by a charlatan who, according to Ruggles, was probably employed by a trading post there (1859 July 21), the party several times encountered other groups of emigrants or soldiers and they once thought they crossed paths with Horace Greeley in a stagecoach, but the further west they traveled, the worse conditions grew. By the time the party veered from the route described in the Mormon Guide to cross into California by way of the Honey Lake Route, crossing the Black Rock and Smoke Creek Deserts, their cattle were nearing exhaustion from the heat, dust and lack of food and pure water. On August 10th or 11th, the party crossed into the fertile valley around Honey Lake with nearly everyone in the party, canine, human, and oxen, still alive.
Ruggles' party arrived at Hat Creek Station, just north of Red Bluff, on August 16th, the day after "Digger" Indians had "descended," killing both inhabitants. While most of the other emigrants with whom Ruggles' party had joined in California went north to Oregon, Ruggles settled down. "Emigrants throng the country," he wrote, "running here and there and every place seeking employment none to be had, times very hard on new comers" (1859 October 23). Ruggles was more fortunate than some, finding odd jobs before eventually landing employment as a bookkeeper in T.H. Boarman's store. Within a few years he had risen to local prominence and was elected as a Union Party candidate for County Clerk in 1864 and 1865. In the summer of his second term, however, Ruggles' health deteriorated, and after traveling to San Francisco for treatment to his lungs, he died on February 4, 1866.