The Rose-Baley Party was the first, and largest, wagon train to travel the Beale Wagon Road, but it met with despair
A Wagon Train’s Tale of Westward Woes
“Aug. 31, 1858: This day all who were left alive of Mr. Rose’s party came into our camp, bringing melancholy intelligence.”
A two-hour battle between members of a wagon train and Native Americans, not unheard of at the time, resulted in nine deaths, four of whom were children, and 16 wounded on the side of the Leonard John Rose’s party. The number of Mohave killed is estimated at 17.
During the summer of 1858, the Rose-Baley Party became the first European American emigrant wagon train to traverse the 35th parallel route known as Beale’s Wagon Road from Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico to the Colorado River near present-day Needles, California.
A wealthy businessman from Keosauqua, Iowa, Leonard John Rose, formed a company with his family of seven, his foreman, Alpha Brown and his family, and 17 grubstakers – workers who were not paid a salary but given food and board in exchange for their labor.
In 1892, writing in The Californian, Rose identified what motivated him to leave Iowa, where he had built several successful businesses: “In 1858 some miners who had just returned from California so fired my imagination with descriptions of its glorious climate, wealth of flowers, and luscious fruits, that I was inspired with an irresistible desire to experience in person the delights to be found in the land of plenty.”
To finance the venture, Rose sold the majority of his assets, and after paying off his debts was left with $30,000, then a considerable amount of money. These funds enabled him to finance a well-equipped wagon train that included 20 horses. He also purchased 200 head of red Durham cattle, which he planned to resell in California for profit.
To complete the train, Rose acquired four large ox-drawn prairie schooner style covered wagons, each required three yokes – or six oxen – to pull a wagon. Three wagons were loaded with supplies, and the fourth was used by Alpha Brown and his family. Rose’s family traveled in a small wagon that had once been used as an ambulance, which was pulled by a pair of mules.
The Baley party was led by a 44-year-old veteran of the Black Hawk War, Gillum Baley, and comprised eight Murphy wagons, 62 oxen, 75 head of cattle, and several riding horses. They employed six grubstakers to tend their stock.
The combined Rose-Baley outfits numbered 20 wagons, 40 men, 50 to 60 women and children, and nearly 500 head of cattle, according to John Udell’s journal. Udell, a 62-year-old minister, kept the only known journal of the events.
On Aug. 30, 1858, after having traveled more than 1,200 miles in four months, the Rose Party was attacked by 300 Mohave warriors as they prepared to cross the Colorado River.
According to Charles Baley, great-grandnephew of Gillum Baley and author of “Disaster at the Colorado: Beale’s Wagon Road and the First Emigrant Party,” at approximately 2 p.m. the emigrants camped near the Colorado River heard Alpha Brown’s stepdaughter, Sallie Fox, screaming. She had been playing in a wagon when she noticed several Mohave nearby.
Having lost the element of surprise, the warriors then let out war whoops as they shot arrows into the camp, mortally wounding Rose’s foreman, Alpha Brown. Udell described the attack as “like a shower” of arrows.
According to Rose, “I have no doubt they expected to massacre us. But we were well armed and the men that were in camp ready to receive them.” As the men mounted a defense, the women ran with their children to the covered wagons. Both Udell and Rose stated the fighting lasted for about two hours.
Baley explained that when a Mohave chief, who appeared to be leading the attack, stepped out in front of his warriors and taunted the emigrants, Gillum Baley, not only a veteran of the Black Hawk War but also a noted marksman, took him down with a single rifle shot. The Mohave warriors retrieved the chief’s body and retreated from the battle.
The emigrants held off the assault, killing 17 Mohave, but decided to backtrack more than 500 miles to Albuquerque, New Mexico instead of continuing on to their intended destination in Southern California.
A Mr. Bentner, one of the men employed by Rose, had tried to continue through the night with his wife and five children.
“The body of his oldest child, a young woman, horribly mutilated, and her clothes torn off was found. We supposed the family had all been murdered. The family have not been heard of since,” wrote Udell.
Rose stated that of the train’s livestock, only 10 horses and 17 cattle remained. Baley noted that in addition to the killing of Alpha Brown, the entirety of the seven-member Bentner family, including five children, were massacred while traveling unaccompanied to the river camp. Subsequent investigations showed the Bentners were attacked by a group of Hualapais, which included seven renegade Mohave warriors.
The Mohave County Miner reported, in its “Indian Outrages” section in the latter part of 1858, that the “emigrants lost three men, two women and four children killed, with 16 wounded.”
“Pen cannot describe the awful sensations that pervaded every breast on hearing this news,” Udell’s journal reads. “Here we were left in the middle of merciless savages, thirsting for our blood, some 60 women and children, several infants, and none, except Mr. Rose, had a team sufficient to move the families and our few provisions.”
Nearly 40 years later the Mohave County Miner reported that Charley Merritt passed the site of the fight on his way to Fort Mohave and brought in some relics of flowered chinaware. Remnants of the battle were still visible to the naked eye in 1891.