Sister Betsey Aldrich

Fate allowed Elizabeth Betsey Aldrich, my 2nd Great Grandmother, to survive the overland crossing to California; it was not so kind to some others in her party. The calamity that befell a family in their party became legend, known as the Oatman Massacre. So famous was Olive Oatman's ghastly and forbidding ordeal she became the archtype of a white woman held captive by Indiansfor more than 150 years; even today portrayed, however inaccurately, as Eva Oaks on the AMC series, Hell on Wheels.

Betsy Wilder, and her husband, Willard and their one-and-a-half-year-old son, only knowm as J.H, and one more on the way trekked overland with about 90 other believers, an offshoot of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, called Brewsterites, in their quest to found the new Zion at the mouth of the Colorado River. Between watching the team and the treacherous Indians, they were kept busy. Only a delay to give birth to their second son, Frank, saved their small party from a butchering by Indians. One family, the Oatmans, felt they could not afford to wait and went on alone. Denying some Indians food, they were murdered, taken captive as slaves, or left for dead. Years later they found traces of one of the young girls who had been carried away.
Betsy’s husband Willard tells the tale to the Los Angeles Herald more than half a century later:
In 1850 I sold my property and fitted-up for crossing the plains to California. My family consisted of my wife, one son, J. H., who was a year and a half old at that time. Our destination before a final start was at Independence, Missouri, whither we went with four yokes of oxen, three yokes of cows, attached to one large prairie schooner.
About twenty-five families had met there for the long, tedious journey to Los Angeles consisting of about 100 men, women and children.
We took the Santa Fe trail and followed it to Las Vegas, New Mexico and before arriving at that little Spanish town, we traveled 5OO miles without seeing a single sole, tent or human habitation.
Nine miles this side of Las Vegas found us at the fork in the road.  At that place there arose a dispute regarding the remainder or the journey­ whether to go the shorter distance over the rough mountains or to go a longer distance along the valley region, both routes having been described to us by people we had met.
This dispute resulted in about an equal division or our company, half going one way and the other half the other.
My decision was to go by way of the valley.
Those taking the mountain fork met many hardships.  They became much discouraged their teams, being jaded, poor in flesh and footsore. These conditions compelled them to stop in the western part of Mexico, to recuperate. Their meager finances obliged them to raise a crop and dispose of It before continuing their journey. This company straggled Into Los Angeles about one year after our arrival.
Our trip by way of the valley proved much the easier, but we encountered many hardships and the Indians brutally killed several of our company. Those going by way of the mountains met no Indians.
But we feel that my family probably was saved from the cruel blows of the Indians by the birth of our son Frank, which occurred on the way, and with whom I am now living.  He was born in camp about ninety miles this side of Tucson, Arizona, which caused a delay of several days. There was only one woman with us besides my wife, but the mother and child did finely and In a few days, we were able to start on again, but our future prospect at that time was very sad.
One of our party by the name Rays Oatman, with a wife and seven children, decided that their finances would not admit of their waiting for us, and regardless of our protest, started along toward Fort Yuma. The family had gone about seventy-five miles when it came in contact with the Indians, who killed all but two girls and one boy, Olive, 13; Mary, 9, and Lorenzo, 11 years old. The massacre occurred about nightfall.
The Indians beat their victims over the hands with clubs and supposed they had killed all but the two girls, whom they took into captivity, the boy revived sometime during the night and was terrified to find the remainder of his family dead, as he thought. He crawled away some distance fearing the               Indians might discover and kill him, and remained dazed and frightened. suffering tortures from the wounds inflicted by the cruel blows of the Indians.
At daybreak the brave little sufferer left the dead bodies of his relatives and started on a Journey full of untold hardships. He made his way twenty-five miles back to where he met us, after we had made a way of fifty miles from the place where our baby was born.
It was a great shock to see the brave little fellow in such a terrible plight, and when he told us his heart­ rending story· we were much discouraged­ aged, but decided that we dared· not go further and would retrace our journey to our former camp.  Those miles wearily traveled - we were as we were badly off as ever, not wanting to go back and afraid to go on.
We were bemoaning our misfortune when we caught sight of seven men and six mutes coming our way. We raised a great shout of delight which attracted their attention. The men met us half way and showed great surprise and Joy.
These men proved to be deserters from the United States army who had the California gold fever.  But we hailed them with as much Joy as If they had been strlct1y on government duty. The fact was they took us into their good graces, we did the same thing, and we were in just the hard-up positions to help each other without any special prying into previous conditions.
These seven men had decided to break away from camp under the cover of the darkness of night.  They planned that each confiscate mule and saddle and pack him with the necessary equipment for the journey. But on the very start one of the mules became fractious and broke away from, his would-be rider.  This left the man in a hurry plight to pursue his journey, and his comrades advised him to give up the attempt.
The fe1Iow, however, had the clear grit and determination not to be thrown off the track, and so when all were in readiness to start up the six mules, each mounted with one of comrades, he forcefully expressed himself that he would not be left behind - unless behind a mule - grabbed one of the mules by the tall and tenaciously hung to it on the run to keep pace with the animal.
His comrades tried to persuade him to give up and return to camp, but he kept on.
Soon his companions decided to compromise and took turn in exchanging positions with him as rider and runner until meeting us at our camp. '"These men faithfully   piloted  us through the dangerous Indian territory and then, as their mules were speedier than our ox teams, they bade us a feeling farewell and went their way.
But to return to the sad scene of the massacre. A man by the name or Kelley, one of my companions and I went to the spot where the Oatman family had been killed. We gathered up the bones of the victims as best we could - for the prairie wolves had eaten a11 the flesh. As we had no spade with which to dig their graves we covered the bones with rocks, making a mound as shapely as possible.
This monument remains, and the spot and its immediate surroundings are today designated as the Oatman Flats.
We crossed over to the west side of the Rio Grande river and arrived at Socorro. Mexico, where veterans of the Mexican war were stationed. They were during making hay for the government mules, and as the soldiers disliked work, we had a good opportunity or earning $75 apiece and rations each month for two months.
We arrived at our destination in California just one year and twenty days from the time we started.
But we must not lose sight of the two girls captured by the Indians and the boy who was left by them to be dead.
After the youngest girl had been in captivity about two years she died.  It was the Indian custom to cremate the dead, but the sister Interceded with the chief and could dig a grave and bury her loved one in a secluded spot.
The older girl had been sold from one Tribe of Indians to another several times during her captivity· of five years. She finally was rescued by the help of an Indian named Francisco, who informed the troops of her whereabouts. Francisco took a note from an officer to the girl, who was at the headwaters of the Colorado River, and together they managed to affect an escape.  They took the hazardous trip of 300 miles down the river on a crude raft.
Portions to her features had been tattooed by the Indians, and these never could be obliterated. I saw her face years later in Los Angeles. She was a beautiful young woman and finally married a banker in Texas.

The boy came with us to California. After working in different places for several years he settled down on a farm he purchased in Fillmore County, Minnesota.

Within two years of giving birth Betsey has divorced Brother Aldrich and married my 2nd Great Grandfather, Fielding Wesley Gibson, and will give him six to eight children, including my Great Grandfather Edward David Gibson, the future sheriff of Los Angeles County.


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