Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Benjamin F. Ruggles Journal, 1859-1861

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, June 1994

Summary Information
Title: Benjamin F. Ruggles journal
Creator: Ruggles, Benjamin Franklin, 1832-1866
Inclusive dates: 1859-1861
Extent: 156 pages
This journal contains daily accounts written by Benjamin F. Ruggles while traveling west on ox-drawn wagons from Salt Lake City, Utah to Red Bluff, California.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1994. M-3035.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Benjamin F. Ruggles Journal, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Ruggles journal represents the second of two journals kept by Benjamin Franklin Ruggles, documenting his overland journey from Minnesota to California and covering the portion of the journey from Salt Lake City to Red Bluff. Ruggles made daily entries in his journal and took his time in writing thoughtfully, describing the scenery, route and the numerous groups of travelers they encountered in their crossing. The details at times provide the most interesting reading, as in his discussion of trying to keep a dog and the oxen alive and healthy when crossing the alkali flats in western Nevada, but the value of the narrative lies as much in providing a closely observed, densely written account of an overland crossing by way of the Mormon and Honey Lake routes. In comparatively few words, Ruggles provides a strongly impression of the landscape and the difficulties encountered in desert travel. It is interesting to note the fear with which he viewed Native Americans, the "hateful sight of sneaking Indians" as he wrote, and although he never personally had any negative encounters with Native Americans, he was more than willing to consider them culpable of misdeeds. Lastly, Ruggles' journal also contains some interesting, though briefer entries for his first few months in Red Bluff. These passage sketch out in rough form the life in a northern California town that was in the process of changing from a frontier town to a more mature settlement.

Subject Terms

    • California--Description and travel.
    • Indians of North America--California.
    • Nevada--Description and travel.
    • Oxen.
    • Shoshoni Indians.
    • Utah--Description and travel.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Benjamin F. Ruggles journal,  1859 July 4-1861 January 9 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Thomas Christy's Road across the Plains : a guide to the route from Mormon Crossing, now Omaha, Nebraska, to the city of Sacramento, California. Reprint 1979

    Partial Subject Index
    • 1859 July 15
    California--Description and travel--1848-1869
    • 1859 August 10-20
    • 1859 August 4-8
    • 1859 August 8
    Fourth of July
    • 1859 July 4
    Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872
    • 1859 July 31
    Humboldt River (Nev.)
    • 1859 July 21-22
    Indians of North America--California
    • 1859 August 16; 1860 February 16-17; May 16
    • 1859 December 19
    • 1859 July 4-6, 15
    Nauvoo Legion
    • 1859 July 4
    Nevada--Description and travel
    • 1859 July 15-August 10
    • 1859 August 4-8; October 2-4
    Shoshone Indians
    • 1859 July 14, 19, 22-23
    Thousand Springs (Nev.)
    • 1859 July 18-19
    Utah--Description and travel
    • 1859 July 4-15
    Young, Brigham, 1801-1877
    • 1859 July 4