’49ers History


John and Abigal Arcan

Harry and Mary Wade

Asahel Bennett

The story of the original ’49ers

The thousands of people who flocked westward to the gold fields in 1849 came to be known as California Forty-Niners. During the fall of 1849, many wagons remained in the vicinity of Salt Lake City because it was too late in the year to risk crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains. Most continued along the Old Spanish Trail led by Captain Jefferson Hunt. A number of others decided to try a relatively unknown route because it might shorten their trip by as much as 500 miles. However, as they continued across desert and mountains, they found their route becoming increasingly difficult. Water sources became scarce and more distant and forage food for their animals was inadequate. Yet they continued resolutely westward, hoping to be nearing their goal.

Then, as they descended into a deep valley, they were dismayed to see their course blocked by a high range of mountains. Most of the parties located escape routes from the valley, but the desperate condition of the Bennett and Arcan families prevented them from continuing. They killed some of their oxen for food and burned their wagons to cure the meat. William Lewis Manley and John Rogers then courageously set out on foot to find help.

Harry Wade had decided not to wait and it would be better to try and find a way out to the south. He also thought when the two young men reached civilization they might not come back.

When Wade was very low on water, their Daughter Almira saw some birds flying and disappearing over a ridge. She walked in that direction and discovered a large spring, now known as Saratoga Spring. This provided life saving water for the family.

Harry did find a way out, the only person to bring his wagon out of Death Valley, all other wagons were abandoned or burned and the pioneers walked out. Today, a monument marks the approximate Wade Exit Route on Highway 127.


Thomas Shannon

Wagon Train Guide – Jefferson Hunt

Brier Family

John Colton

Edward Doty

Captain Asa Haynes

L. Dow Stephens

One of the earliest settlers in San Jose

William Lewis Manley and John Rogers then courageously set out on foot to find help. After traveling 250 miles across uncharted mountains and desert, they found supplies at a ranch outpost near the San Fernando Valley. They promptly retraced their route back to the trapped families and then led them out to safety. This heroic rescue stands as lasting tribute to the indomitable spirit of these hardy pioneers

When they arrived back at the camp, almost a month later, they thought the families had died as they saw no one. Manly shot his rifle in the air and the families came out of their wagons.  Sarah Bennett yelled “The Boys Are Here, The Boys Are Here.”  This rescue is listed as the number 5 heroic deed in California history. They rested a few days so the families could get some nourishment. Then they all walked out to civilization, except two small children rode in the saddle bag on the mule.

As they stood on a high mountain peak in the Panamint Range overlooking the scene of much trial and suffering where they had just left, they spoke their uppermost thought – “Good bye Death Valley”. And thus the valley received its name.

In 2007, a Monument Headstone was Dedicated by the Death Valley ’49ers in memory Of California’s unsung hero, John H. Rogers. The monument is located at Merced Cemetery District in Merced, California.

In August 2018, the City of San José’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) announced the grand opening of William Lewis Manly Park. William L. Manly is best known for his heroic rescue with fellow pioneer, John Rodgers, of their party of lost settlers in the Death Valley area in the mid 1800s. At least three areas in Death Valley National Park bear Manly’s name today. Manly is also known for being one of the earliest settlers in San José, having purchased 250 acres of land on Communications Hill. Manly’s family would go on to maintain an active relationship with San José and its development for the next 150 years.