George's Wild West Adventure

George Blunderfield was born in Hales, Norfolk on the 29th August 1829 and was the second eldest in a family of twelve children born to Francis and Mary Ann Blunderfield. The family farmed at Hales Hall Farm just a couple of miles from Loddon. One of their neighbours, at Bush Farm, was Matthew Atmore and his family. Children from both families would, at some point, have attended school in Loddon, probably travelling to/from school together and no doubt becoming friends. Certainly George and Charles Atmore were known to each other, a friendship that continued when they both moved to Norwich around 1840 for more advanced education. Charles’ father, Matthew, was a local preacher in the Methodist Church and believing he could do better in America, crossed the ocean in 1844 with his family aboard the "Mediator", a sailing-vessel under the command of Captain Chadwick. The voyage started on the 17th March and landed in New York after twenty-three days on the ocean. Eventually settling in Calhoun County, Michigan on a farm near Battle Creek, with eighty acres of timber land and a snug little frame house. Whether George travelled out with them in 1844 is not known but he certainly joined them at some point as he appears in the 1850 US Census, working on a farm in Convis Township just a few miles from the home of Charles in Pennfield Township.

By the spring of 1851 gold fever had been in full swing for two years, following the initial ‘rush’ of the 49ers into California. George, and his friends Charles, Richard and John Atmore, were clearly attracted by the 'get rich
quick' stories and made plans to head for California  Charles had about $300 but George and the two younger Atmore boys only had $100 each. With a four-horse team and wagon, they left Battle Creek on the 22nd March 1852 .and travelled through La Porte, Indiana,  across Illinois, going south of Chicago, then on to Rock Island where they could ferry across the Mississippi. The mud was axle deep all the way to St. Joseph, Missouri. They crossed the corner of Iowa near to where Iowa City now stands - at that time marked by a lone log house. With their rifles, they were able to supply themselves with game. Until they reached Iowa, they had stayed in houses each night but they now had to begin camping out, either by a small stream, or in a little grove. On their first night in Iowa, being afraid of Indians, they slept in the wagon, with feet to feet, and guns by their sides. During the night George aroused the others, saying Indians were near, and Charles was about to shoot, when he discovered the noise was caused by one of their horses. Many a joke was cracked about the Indians they had seen, and George was not allowed to forget his mistake.

The Missouri river at St. Joseph was so high that they had to wait ten days before they could cross. St Joseph was a bustling but rough frontier town, the last supply point before heading out to the ‘Wild West’, so it was no surprise that during the wait, there had congregated about one thousand wagons, four or five thousand horses and mules, and about the same number of people, of all classes and dispositions. They crossed the river on the 10th May but with so much traffic the tracks had become very muddy. All along the road they passed wagons stuck in the mud but they travelled without accident, each one wading through, sometimes waist deep, with a shoulder to the spoke.

In Nebraska they came across a camp of Sac and Fox Indians on a little stream, who had built a bridge and demanded $1 per head to cross it. About twenty-five miles north-west of St. Joseph they came to the Iowa Presbyterian Mission, where there was a stockade and some outbuildings. Another traveller in 1852, John Clark, was relieved to find a blacksmith there to mend his broken wagon and describes a large farm under excellent cultivation with a store and a schoolhouse where they taught young Indians. Except for forts, these were the last buildings they would see until they reached Nevada.

Some twenty miles west of the Iowa Mission they came to a deep swamp, where they found in abundance, bacon, corn, oats, etc., left by those who had overloaded their wagons. All who needed helped themselves. They crossed the Big Blue which, having steep and muddy banks, was difficult to cross, and for some distance it was deep swimming. When they reached the Little Blue, they turned to the north to avoid crossing. During their journey they came across many discouraged men returning east, but these kept off to one side as much as possible on account of the jeers with which they were greeted. On reaching Fort Kearney they learned that a Sioux Indian, who had been captured by the Pawnees, had been in training to run for his life, a 'privilege' that had been secured by the United States government. The Indian had acquired great speed, and to watch the race, a great company of Indians had been brought together.

From Fort Kearney, the party went along the south fork of the Platte  and crossed at a point where the river was three-quarters of a mile wide but had quicksand. Heading North to Ash Hollow and a steep descent to the North Platte River which they followed north-west to Fort Laramie. The Platte rivers were silty and muddy so camps were often made close to the tributaries that had fresher water. However, with so many people using these camping sites the water became contaminated and Cholera was prevalent. They saw many newly made graves and 15 miles south of Ash Hollow they met a company of men digging a grave in the road in which they were to bury their father (the earth in the road would become compacted and difficult for Coyotes to dig up). Every day for a month they saw human bones along the trail that had been dug out by the coyotes..They found Fort Laramie a lovely place, in a beautiful location. Between Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie the roads were excellent and game plentiful. 

Their route from Fort Laramie followed the North Platte upstream passing what is now Casper and then turned south-west to find the Sweetwater River. Here they came across one of the most significant landmarks of the trail - Independence Rock. Many travellers aimed to arrive at Independence Rock no later than the 4th of July, to be sure of reaching California (or Oregon) before snow came in the Rockies and closed the trails. They followed the meandering Sweetwater westwards, crossing it seven times in one half day. Leaving the Sweet Water, the men travelled over the country to the Green River, which was so high that a man had been drowned the day before they reached there. However, they forded it successfully, pulling the wagons across with ropes and carrying provisions across on horseback. They had crossed the Continental Divide at Pacific Spring, but were unconscious of the fact until one day, when they discovered the stream flowing in a different direction.

The next important stream was Bear River in Colorado, which they ascended till they reached Soda Springs. There they found Indians encamped, in the hope of trading horses for powder and tobacco, but as the party had neither of these articles, they gave the red men a wide berth. However, a few days later came across some Indians who proved to be friendly and with whom they travelled for a time along the Raft River. The party arrived at Thousand Spring Valley on Saturday the 3rd of July and camped out, it being their rule not to travel on Sunday. The next morning, about ten o'clock, they were visited by two Indians, who begged for food and after eating laid around the camp for several hours. When it was time for Charles to go on guard, he heard the neighing of horses and found that the Indians had stampeded their horses and were rolling stones off the divide in order to keep the animals excited. Charles and George at once began to pursue the Indians and followed them until one o'clock at night. When they reached the divide the wind was high and the night so dark it was impossible to pursue their way, so they were obliged to turn back to camp. On their way they heard a bell which they judged to indicate that Indian ponies were near. They threw rocks at the object, and soon men approached, with a very forcible salutation, inquiring what they were doing. After some parley they found friends. As soon as possible they made their way back to camp, five miles distant. The camp was soon astir and preparing breakfast for those who started at day-break in search of the horses. The men went to the divide and soon saw the horses, a quarter of a mile away. When they reached the place there was but one Indian; they concluded the other had gone for help. The Indian jumped on the back of his pony and lassoed one horse, but it pulled back, giving the men an opportunity to catch up with him. He finally was obliged to cut the rope. With four of the horses the men started back toward camp. Soon about twenty-five Indians were pursuing them but they found friends and were able to get to their wagons and out of danger.

The party next had to cross forty miles of desert in Nevada, where they saw Oxen, still in their yokes and chains, lying where they had fallen dead from thirst. The winds in the desert were so strong that it blew the cover of their wagon. Soon after crossing the desert their provisions were exhausted but fortunately they succeeded in getting some that had been sent out from California by the state government and in Carson Valley they found a Mormon settlement. They camped in a beautiful grove of cottonwood trees, where they found many others. It was there that one member of the party died and was buried in the middle of the road, with suitable funeral services. When on the Sierra Nevada they sold their teams for $500 in gold, with the privilege of using them for the next seventy-five miles to Mud Spring, in Eldorado County, California. There they turned the teams over and took their blankets, sleeping in these for one night in a barn. At dawn the following morning, the original party of four set out to visit Stephen Gilson, better known as “Squire Gilson”, a friend from Michigan, who had a ranch in Coloma near Sacramento. Now walking, their progress was slow and it took them three days to cover the twenty-five miles. After a week there they went on to Sacramento and decided to split up, their remaining money was divided equally among the members of the company.

They arrived in California in August. It had taken them almost 5 months to complete the journey of 2,100 miles across America.

The movements of George Blunderfield from this point are not known. The biography of Charles Atmore, written around 1900, from which the above text has been formed makes no further mention of him by name but there are further references to ‘a friend’ – it is possible that he stayed in touch with Charles and accompanied him on other journeys. The next recorded appearance of George is in 1860, arriving by sea at a port in Ohio in 1860 – but from where? Between 1860 and 1863, George returned to England and Norfolk, where he married Anna Maria Spurgeon and began farming at Church Farm, Heckingham. They had no children but I'm sure other children in the village would have been enthralled by the stories he could tell of his 'Wild West' adventures. George died on the 4th November 1886 aged 57.

It is known that George’s friend, Charles Atmore, had a variety of jobs in California from which he accumulated $3,000 before returning to Michigan towards the end of 1853. This journey was made, mainly by sea via Nicaragua and New York, at a cost of around $400. In Michigan, he bought twelve horses to take to California and started upon his second overland trip in March 1854. During this stay in California, Charles engaged in mining. However, in 1856, with about $1,500 he had saved, he returned to Michigan again, this time via the Isthmus of Panama (as the Panama railway had opened in 1855). The steamer took fire in mid ocean but the fire was extinguished. He bought land and married soon afterwards.

(1)   In 1846, the population of the territory that is now California was estimated to be around 14,000 (of which 2,500 were in Pueblo de los Angelos). The discovery of gold in 1848 at Columa and the extraordinary richness of the deposits, startled the civilized world and initiated the ‘gold rush’ (the 49ers). In just over 4 years, the huge influx of  emigrants and gold seekers had swelled the population to 314,000, enabling the territory to become a full member of the United States .