James Richmond's
California Story

Henness Pass Adventure

One more peep as we take a trip over the Sierra Nevadaís by the Henness Pass Route. Six horse team wheelers, swing and leaders. I could get no seat inside or out only with the driver. I was well suited with that for I always did like to be where I could keep an eye on the horses you know.

We changed horses every twelve or fifteen miles. One might think that quite unnecessary who was not aquatinted with the grade of the road. It was quite wonderful, the loads they would take over those mountains, from twenty to twenty five persons with their luggage. Also plenty of freight. All that could be stowed away in that heavy vehicle. In fact it was packed as closely as a box of sardines.

We were on the down grade toward Virginia City. Our horses were fresh and full of vim. The last time we had exchanged I had noticed that the leader was full of fire. But I thought that would be taken out of them soon and they would cool down. All went right for awhile. They were going at a good pace down a long hill. The most dangerous part of the road where on the drivers side, the mountains were an almost perpendicular rise of perhaps one hundred feet. Road bed was just wide enough for passing room. And then you could look down, down, down for several hundred feet into an abyss of rocks and stunted trees.

All of a sudden a bird whizzed up out of the bushes. The right leader became frightened, gave a snort and a spring. Whirling, he brought himself directly in front of the other leader, compelling him to turn. In less time than it takes to tell it, they were both headed toward us. The driver and I were both taken by surprise but did not take long to consider, for it would not take long for those horses to roll our load of humanity and themselves down into the ravine. We might a few of us outsiders have saved our necks by jumping, even that would have been a doubtful business with six horses rearing and plunging.

We did not stop to consider the proís and conís. It flashed before me like lightning that I must, I just must get to their heads. They must be stopped. The driver reversed the brakes and that was all he could do. aside from keeping the other four in check. They were all beginning to rear and plunge. The only thought I had was to get it their heads. I stood not at all about this order of my going, but went; I could not, after it was all over, have told how. But I realized I was there and in less time than it takes me to tell it, I was holding their bits. I thanked the Lord that I never saw a horse yet that I was afraid of and that I had an iron muscle in my arm. had I hesitated one moment from fear or had my grip foiled me after I got hold of them I shudder to think what would have happened. As it was when they were checked, the front wheel of the stage was within one inch, by actual measurement, from the edge of the precipice.

I think the Lord must have given me strength to hold them back, just that one inch strip of rock, between us all and such a horrible death. I was so mixed up with the horses that I should have stood no better chance than the folks inside. As it was I had some bruises and shaken nerves. I found I was so weak and trembling that I could not stand. I took a seat by the road side weak and shaking until all was righted. Then they helped me inside as they all concluded I had done all the outside work necessary for that day. Someone asked how I ever got down from the drivers seat so quickly. I could not tell how I went but the driver said I jumped onto the wheelers and from them to the ground. For a long time after I would go through it all in my dreams. But would always see them all going down the precipice.

So that is how I came to have a pass over the Hennis Pass Route. When the company found that I would take no money for the service, they presented me with a free pass, which I accepted in the same kindly spirit in which it was given. And after, when occasion required, I made use of it. But I confess I never went over that one point but that the cold chills would creep over me as I looked and thought what might have happened.

The poet tells us, "Of all sad words by tongue or pen. The saddest are these It might have been." for once I failed to agree with the poet.

Henness Pass Road