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Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Unwelcome Visitor

Joseph Goldsborough left a diary of his overland journey to California in 1849-1850. His cabin was visited by a man named White, who was a member of another group of travelers. Goldsborough was disturbed by the presence of White, who seemed mentally ill and was armed with a bowie knife.
At dusk White returned to our lodge, said the oldest son of Elliot struck him, and he was afraid for his life, with them, and wished to sleep by our fire. I told him we had no room, but I could fix him comfortably in a wagon. “Well,” he said, “let me cook my supper here.” I told him to go ahead. He held in his hand a very large and sharp Bowie-knife, took a seat near my left, and commenced mincing up a piece of the ox-meat, on a small piece of board, on his knee. He minced the meat very slowly, chopping it over and over, very fine, and ever and anon, looking askance at me from under his slouched hat, and feeling the edge of his large bloody blade. Now and then he'd pause, and barely cut at all, -- seem'd absorbed in meditations. - Evidently deeply abstracted in mind. He thus sat about hour, cutting up his meat. During this queer performance, I cautiously put a pistol in my bosom, and moved off a little from him. He then put the minced beef in a small tin-kettle of water, & set it on the fire, after which he put a handful of wet ground coffee, from an old dirty handkerchief, in another small tin kettle, with water, and sat that also on the fire to cook. He then laid his knife very carefully on the chair at his right, dropped his chin on his hands, with his elbows on his knees, and asked me many questions, without looking at me at all . . . [He] kept us up quite late, asking information we could not give, muttering inarticulate sentences, mingled with oaths & imprecations . . . . I intimated our desire to retire, several times, and at last had to tell him, he must go, and I would conduct him to a wagon. . . . I then closed out frail house as well as I could, and set a chair with tin ware in it, at the entrance so that it could not be entered without alarming us. We slept on our arms.

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