Whole Number 181
by Russell E. Bidlack
In the Sparks Quarterly of March 1972, Whole No. 77 pp. 1472-73, we published a biographical sketch of 49.8 David Rhodes Sparks that had been written by Walter R. Sanders and included in a 1953 history of Litchfield, Montgomery County, Illinois. We did this as a part of the supplement to records of the family of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks (the parents of David Rhodes Sparks) that had been found and shared with us, in a most recent unusual manner (see pp. 1466-68 of the issue of the Quarterly) cited above.
Since publishing this record of David Rhodes Sparks, we have learned that in his old age, beginning in January 1893, he wrote for his descendants the story of his eventful life. His account remained as he had written it, in longhand, until 1932 when his grandson, George Sparks Milnor, and a grandson-in-law, Col. Mathew A. Reasoner, arranged for a typewritten transcription to be made, comprising some 94 pages, to which were added other family records. Twenty-eight copies of this transcription were distributed among the family. In 1967, one of these copies was placed in the Haynor Public Library in Alton, Illinois. It is evident that in making the typewritten copy of this manuscript, an unfortunate error was made. The maiden name of the mother of David Rhodes Sparks was copied as "Givens" whereas it was actually Gwin (or Gwinne). Rather than perpetuating that error, we will substitute the correct spelling in sharing portions of this autobiography with our readers.
It was in Ponca City, Oklahoma, in 1971, that a young man named Klem P. Chandler, age sixteen, purchased a box of old papers and letters. Klem was then collecting a variety of curiosities, especially "old stuff." In this box of tattered papers, he found an envelope on which was written "Sparks Family Records." Therein were eleven sheets of paper torn from a tablet on which had been copied, apparently from a family Bible, perhaps by one of the children or grandchildren of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, a record of their family. The mother of Klem Chandler, Mrs. Emma Chandler, recognized the genealogical importance of this record, and she sought out the existence of our Association. Mrs. Chandler sent the editor a Xerox copy of these eleven sheets. The first entry on the first page is the birth record of Baxter Sparks (May 8, 1777), followed by that of his wife, Elizabeth Sparks (1 May 1786). These entries are followed by a record of the births of their ten children, born between 1808 and 1828.
The middle initials of these ten children are given in this record, including David R. Sparks, born October 15, 1823. This was David Rhodes Sparks, and when he wrote his autobiography, he included a list of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks' children, with their full names. Following is the list:
49.1 Mary Sanders Sparks, born March 13, 1800.
49.2 Thomas Paine Sparks, born October 24, 1809. (David Rhodes Sparks gave this date as October 21, 1809.)
49.3 John Gwin Sparks, born September 22, 1811.
49.4 Matthew Nelson (or Nelson Matthew) Sparks, born March 21, 1814.
49.5 Wesley Holmes Sparks, born May 23, 1816.
49.6 George T. Sparks, born September 18, 1818. (David Rhodes Sparks gave his middle name as Gwin, which was probably an error.)
49.7 Edmond Baxter Sparks, born August 22, 1820. (David Rhodes Sparks spelled his name as Edmund.)
49.8 David Rhodes Sparks, born October 15, 1823.
49.9 Harvey Addison Sparks, born January 19, 1826.
49.10 William Andrew Jackson Sparks, born November 15, 1828.
The ten succeeding tablet-size sheets of paper found by Klem Chandler contain a record of the births of a number of the grandchildren of Baxter and Elizabeth Sparks, as well as well as several marriages and deaths in the family. On the seventh page is the date of marriage of Baxter and Elizabeth: September 30, 1806. Among the deaths recorded on the ninth page are those of Baxter Sparks (on September 7, 1840), and of Elizabeth Sparks (on March 24, 1844).The last entry, on page eleven was dated July 28, 1873--for Anna Pearl West. We have not discovered her connection with the family of Baxter Sparks, although his son, Edmond Baxter Sparks, was married in 1841 to Elizabeth West. It was doubtless some time after 1873 that these entries were copied from Baxter and Elizabeth's family Bible in the form that Klem Chandler found them.
Although the maiden name of Elizabeth Sparks, i.e., Gwin, does not appear among the names on these eleven sheets, David Rhodes Sparks identified it as Elizabeth's maiden name in his autobiography. In a supplement to the autobiography prepared by George Sparks Milnor and Col. Reasoner, Elizabeth's maiden name was given as "Gwynne," which was an alternate spelling of Gwin. Also, in a biographical sketch of 49.10 William A. J. Sparks, youngest child of Baxter and Elizabeth, contained in the Portrait and Biographical Record of Clinton, Washington, Marion and Jefferson Counties published in Chicago by the Chapman Pub. Co. in 1892, his parents were identified as Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks. There it was stated, also, that both Baxter and Elizabeth were natives of Virginia.
According to the opening paragraphs of David Rhodes Sparks' autobiography, both his grandfather and his great-grandfather had been named Thomas Sparks. This information, he said, had come solely "from the lips" of his father, 49. Baxter Sparks. While we believe that these names are probably correct, David Rhodes Sparks was surely mistaken when he added that they had lived near Richmond, Virginia. We have ample evidence that their homes in Virginia had been in the county of Pittsylvania, the southern border of which adjoins North Carolina.
Before migrating to Pittsylvania County in or ca. 1777, this branch of the Sparks family lived in Prince Georges County, Maryland. A Thomas Sparks, whose age was given on 1776 census of Prince Georges County as 65 (thus born in or ca. 1711), was one of those who migrated with his family to Pittsylvania County, as did his brother, Matthew Sparks, who was a few years younger than Thomas. David Rhodes Sparks believed that his great-grandfather, Thomas Sparks, had been born ca. 1709.
David Rhodes Sparks stated that his grandfather, also named Thomas Sparks, had been born ca. 1742. Indeed, the Thomas Sparks born ca. 1711, whose wife, Elizabeth, had been shown as 58 years old on the 1776 census, did have a son named Thomas, but Matthew Sparks, whose wife's name was Eleanor, also had a son named Thomas, and these three Thomases, father, son, and nephew can be easily confused in the Pittsylvania County records. The Thomas, son of Thomas, married a woman named Elizabeth, adding to the confusion. Although David Rhodes Sparks did not mention the maiden name of his grandmother, other family members have believed that it had been Sanders. Support for this is found in the fact that the first child of Baxter and Elizabeth was named Mary Sanders Sparks. Some have claimed that the mother of Baxter had been named Mary Sanders. It is possible, of course, that this Thomas Sparks had been married twice, first to a Mary Sanders and second to Elizabeth LNU.
We know that there was a Sanders family in Prince Georges County, Maryland, for a Lydia Sanders was married there on November 25, 1788 to a William Fowlar. Sanders was sometimes spelled "Saunders," and a Josias Saunders, age 25, appeared on the 1776 census of Prince Georges County with his wife, Jemima, age 32--the same census on which the elder Thomas Sparks had appeared, as noted above.
According to the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks, his father, Baxter Sparks, at the age of 25 (thus ca. 1802) moved from Virginia to Kentucky, to "near the present City of Louisville. He worked at his trade, that of saddler, until the year 1807, when he married Miss Elizabeth Gwin. He added that Elizabeth's father (whom he did not name) had moved from Virginia to the Territory of Indiana "but a few miles from Louisville. This would place the Gwin family in what became Floyd County, Indiana, in 1819. (Floyd was formed from Harrison and Clark Counties and is across the Ohio River from Louisville, in Jefferson County, Kentucky.) We know that Baxter Sparks was in Clark County, Indiana, on February 25, 1808, because of an entry for him in Clark County's Estray Book.
David Rhodes Sparks explained how his parents had become acquainted. He said that the Gwin family "had formerly lived in the same neighborhood as that of my father." Records from Pittsylvania County do, indeed, reveal that the Gwin family had lived near the Sparkses on Sandy River. The head of this family in 1778, according to the tax list of Pittsylvania County that year, appears to have been George Holmes Gwin, with sons named Holmes, Jesse, and Littleberry. They were listed in the same district as the Sparkses; a William Gwin also lived nearby. It was unusual for a man at that time to have, and to use, a middle name, as did George Holmes Gwin. It may be significant that a son of Baxter and Elizabeth Sparks was named Wesley Holmes Sparks.
According to Pittsylvania County Deed Book 10, p. 436, a bond dated September 19, 1796, was posted to Virginia Governor Robert Brooke permitting Littleberry Gwin, John Gwin, and Matthew Sparks to build a bridge across Sandy Creek. This Matthew Sparks may have been a brother, or first cousin, of the Thomas Sparks who was father of Baxter Sparks. The above John Gwin may even have been the father of Elizabeth Gwin, wife of Baxter Sparks. When the 1810 census of Harrison Township of Harrison County, Indiana Territory, was taken (which is the only portion of the 1810 census of Harrison County that survives), Baxter Sparks was shown as heading a household there. His age was given as between 26 and 45. Only the name of the head of each household then appeared on a U. S. census, but we can be sure that the female enumerated in his household as between 16 and 26 was Baxter's wife, Elizabeth, and that the girl and boy shown as under 10 years were their children, Mary and Thomas. What is especially interesting is that the next name on this census following Baxter Sparks is that of John Gwin. He was enumerated as over 45 years of age, as was also the female in his household, who was surely his wife. In their household, also, was a male 26 to 45; two males 16 to 26; a male between 10 and 16; a female 16 to 26; and two females between 10 and 16. The next household visited by the census taker was that of Dolly Bates, followed by that of John Gwin, Jr., whose age was given as between 26 and 45. The female in his household, shown in the same age category, was surely his wife, and the three males and one female, all under 10 years, were doubtless their children. Thus, John Gwin, Jr. and Baxter Sparks were of the same generation. It is logical to guess that the elder John Gwin was John Jr.'s father and Baxter's father-in-law.
Half a century ago, in April 1948, George Sparks Milnor, grandson of David Rhodes Sparks, made a journey with family members from his home in Alton, Illinois, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, stopping on their way in Indiana where Baxter Sparks had lived. Mr. Milnor described this journey in a long, undated account that he shared with relatives, including the late Frances Sparks Jones, a great-granddaughter of David Rhodes Sparks's brother, John Gwin Sparks. Mrs. Jones shared this with the present writer before her death in 1983. In this account, Mr. Milnor stated that, indeed, Elizabeth, wife of Baxter Sparks, had been a daughter of John Gwin. Following are portions of Milnor's account of his journey.
For several years the writer [George Sparks Milnor] had been looking forward to a trip to southern Indiana and Virginia in hopes of securing further data regarding the Sparks genealogy and family. The opportunity arrived in April 1948 ....
The autobiography of Grandfather David Rhodes Sparks contains the only known genealogical record of our branch of the Sparks family. There is no evidence that he had access to any written records, but was very clear as to the information obtained from his father, Baxter Sparks, and from his older and only sister, Mary Sanders Sparks, who married Dr. L. S. Coon in 1829....
In the autobiography, he mentions the fact that Baxter and Elizabeth Gwin, following their marriage in 1807, first "settled on a farm, or rather in the woods, about six miles south of New Albany, Indiana". Although he does not say so, the chances that this farm was located in Floyd County, of which New Albany is the county seat. The autobiography indicates that the five oldest children, Mary Sanders, Thomas Paine, John Gwin, Nelson Matthew, and Wesley Holmes were born on this first farm.
The second farm owned by Baxter and on which David Rhodes Sparks and his older brothers were born, is described in the autobiography as being located "on a branch of Indian Creek, about 10 miles south of New Albany and 1/2 mile from the very small village of Lanesville, Harrison County, Indiana ....
Being anxious to have more accurate data as to David's place of birth, I searched the records at Corydon, the county seat [of Harrison County], and with little trouble found the following: On November 27, 1817, Baxter Sparks either "entered" or bought from the government, the southwest 14 of section 17, Town 3, South, Range 5E, being 160 acres. The following year, November 14, 1838, Baxter Sparks "entered" the adjoining southeast 14 of section 18, Town #3, South, Range 5E, being 160 acres, all in Franklin Township. This is the first land owned by Baxter Sparks in what was then and is now Harrison County, Indiana. As will be shown later, Baxter retained ownership of all of the above farm., 320 acres, for ten years or more. From the county map, we had no difficulty in locating this farm which is, as grandfather described it, about 12 mile (about 1 mile by road) from the village of Lanesville, and is on a branch of Indian Creek, the branch running through the farm. The farm, or part of it, is now  owned by Gilbert Schneider, son of Jacob Schneider, who has a comfortable house and other farm buildings across the stream of where it is believed the old Sparks house or cabin was located. There is nothing left of the old cabin, although some stones evidently used as a walk from the road to what appears to have a cabin site, were located. There are still some jonquil flowers blooming along the walk, and it is believed that this is the location on which Baxter Sparks built the cabin referred to in grandfather's autobiography, and where the four youngest boys, including David Rhodes Sparks, were born. We took pictures of the site.
The farm is in a valley between wooded hills. The hills are rocky and covered with mostly second-growth timber. The valley is under cultivation. The soil is good for that part of Indiana, which makes one wonder as to the incentive or objective that Baxter had in mind when he moved, first to New Albany and, two years later, to the prairie lands of Illinois. There is no doubt that the soil in Macoupin County, Illinois, where Baxter settled, is better, richer, and more level than in that section of Indiana, but it must be remembered that the new location near Staunton, Illinois, was more wild and unsettled in 1836 or 1837 than was southern Indiana near the Ohio River.
The record did not disclose what Baxter paid for the land--probably $1.25 per acre, or whatever the price fixed by the government may have been at that time. It was on the above-described farm that Baxter's four youngest children were born: Edmund Baxter, David Rhodes, Harvey Addison, and William Andrew Jackson.
A further examination of the records show that on February 16, 1822, Baxter Sparks sold to Thomas Carr 80 acres for $80, being the west 1/2 of the southeast 1/4 Section 18, and that on April 22, 1828, Baxter Sparks sold to John Gwin, for the sum of $300, 50 acres of the southwest 1/4 of Section 17. This is particularly interesting, as John Gwin was the father of Elizabeth Gwin, Baxter's wife. Presumably, Baxter and his father-in-law were then neighbors on adjoining farms. [Editor's Note: This John Gwin who purchased the land from Baxter Sparks was more likely Baxter's wife's brother, John Gwin, Jr., than her father.]
On December 12, 1837, Baxter sold to Jeremiah Pritchett the east 1/2 of the southeast 1/4 of Section 18, 80 acres and 110 acres of the southwest 1/4 of Section 17, for which he received $700.
The last mentioned sales completed the disposal of the entire 320 acres originally purchased. All of the above land is in Franklin Township.
Grandfather's autobiography states that the family moved from the Indiana farm to New Albany in the spring of 1834, where he owned property, and then to Illinois in 1836, after having lived about two years in New Albany. I believe that the dates given by my grandfather were from memory, and some inaccuracy as to dates is possible. Based on the county records, the home farm was not sold until December 1837, which fact, however, is no reason why Baxter and family could not have moved to New Albany to live in 1834, and Illinois in 1836, and still have retained ownership of the farm until December 1837. As a matter of fact, Baxter's oldest sons, Thomas, John, and probably Nelson and Wesley, did not move with Baxter as is shown by a letter in my possession written by the mother, Elizabeth, to Thomas in Harrison County in 1840, urging him to bring his family to Illinois. In all probability, Thomas and the others continued to live on the Harrison County farm until it was sold in December of 1837. From available material, I believe that Baxter, his wife, Elizabeth, and sons Edmund, David, Harvey, and Jackson, are the ones that originally moved to Illinois. Later on, Wesley joined them, and somewhat later, Thomas. John never moved to the Staunton Farm, but settled in Illinois near Marion, where he raised a family prior to moving to the state of Washington, as mentioned in grandfather's book...
Baxter's wife, Elizabeth, made a trip from the Staunton farm back to Harrison County in 1840, and on her return (presumably by horseback or wagon), she was met by a family friend who gave her the sad news that her husband, Baxter Sparks, had died during her absence. Baxter, his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1844, and other members of the family were interred in a private burial ground on the Sparks farm north of Staunton. Many years later, probably in the 1890s, Grandfather and William Andrew Jackson Sparks, erected a fine granite monument in the Sparks cemetery. As the farm had been sold many years before, the little cemetery was not well maintained. by 1937, it was discovered that the cemetery was almost completely overgrown with briars and other vegetation, and the monument had been defaced by vandals. At the suggestion of Col. M. A. Reasoner, it was decided to move the monument a mile or so east to a public cemetery known as the Chapman Cemetery, which is maintained in good condition. Col. Reasoner secured the necessary permits; the monument was moved and installed near the Chapman lot in which Richard Chapman and other members of that family are buried. This move seemed particularly fitting as the Chapman and Sparks families were closely related through the marriage of David Rhodes Sparks to Anna Davenport Chapman.
The small headstones originally placed in the Sparks cemetery, the inscriptions on which are now  almost obliterated by age, were not moved, nor were the remains of those buried. The above-mentioned Sparks monument was moved with the consent, full approval, and at the expense of various descendants of Baxter Sparks....
We then continued our trip through Louisville, Corbin, and southeastern Kentucky to Cumberland Gap, and on to Danville, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In making the trip, we approximately followed the Boone Trail, which, without doubt, is the route followed by Baxter when he moved from Virginia to "near Louisville."...
The route from Louisville, Kentucky, to Danville, Virginia, is some 450 miles. A large part of it is through mountainous country, and there is no doubt but that it required Baxter Sparks and other pioneers several weeks to make the journey by horseback or wagon. When it is remembered that Baxter made the trip only six years after the first wagon trail had been made [the Wilderness Road]; it is easy to visualize the hardships encountered in traveling through this rugged country. At this late date, it is difficult to understand what incentive motivated Baxter and others to make the move. Undoubtedly, it was the pioneer spirit and the urge to settle in a newer country and on more fertile land....
Danville was the eastern objective of our trip because, after several years of intermittent research, I have been able to develop, without reasonable doubt, the fact that Baxter's home at the time he left Virginia was, in all probability, in Pittsylvania County. Pittsylvania County, Virginia records show Order Book 4, page 391, Court Record, February 1732: Thomas Sparks producing recommendation from the Elders of the Methodist Church as a minister of that Society is hereby authorized and empowered to join in matrimony any persons in this county according to an Act of Assembly." The records also show that this Thomas Sparks became a landowner in Pittsylvania County in 1778 and in 1780 was given a government grant of a tract of land along the Sandy River in said county. Later, Thomas bought and sold numerous other pieces of land, including some on both sides of the Sandy River, as well as a tract on Dean's Creek.
[Editor's Note: While George Sparks Milnor was entirely correct in believing that the Thomas Sparks who had been Baxter's father had lived in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, as had Baxter Sparks during his youth, Mr. Milnor appears not to have realized that there had been three, perhaps four, men of varying age living in Pittsylvania County in the late 1700s and early 1800s who had the name Thomas Sparks. In a forthcoming article for the Quarterly, we will try to present evidence to distinguish their relationship to each other.]
The county records also show that John Gwin owned a tract of land along the Sandy River adjoining that of Thomas Sparks. Gwin sold this land in 1804.
We know from Grandfather's book that Gwin and his daughter, Elizabeth, moved from Virginia to Harrison County, Indiana, in 1806. Furthermore, Baxter and Elizabeth Sparks had been neighbors before they had left Virginia....
From the description given in the deeds, it was comparatively easy to view the land along both sides of the rather small Sandy River which flows into the Dan River near Danville. Therefore, we had the satisfaction of seeing the land that the Rev. Thomas Sparks owned, and where he lived for many years, but without locating the exact farm.
The court records show that in 1799, Thomas Sparks was granted permission to build a gristmill on Bean's Creek. So, in all probability, Great-Great- Grandfather Thomas Sparks became the first miller in the family....
[Editor's Note: George Sparks Milnor closed the account of his journey with a conjecture that the Thomas Sparks whom he had concluded was Baxter Sparks's father, had come to Pittsylvania County from Culpeper County, Virginia. We are quite convinced that Mr. Milnor was mistaken in this conjecture. As noted earlier, there can be no doubt that it had been from Prince Georges County, Maryland, that members of the Sparks family had migrated to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in or ca. 1777. Because Baxter Sparks was born May 8, 1777, we cannot be certain whether he had been born before his parents left Maryland or after their arrival in Virginia.]
Whole Number 181
The Autobiography of 49.8 David Rhodes Sparks
[Editor's Note: We now present portions of the autobiography that David Rhodes Sparks, son of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, began writing at his home in Alton, Illinois, in January 1893. He was then 71 years of age. We omit here his references to his grandfather and his great-grandfather because they have been discussed in the preceding introduction.]
It is with feelings of distrust of my ability that I attempt to give my children a true and intelligible record of our family, and a short but true sketch of my own life. However, I shall proceed with such material as I have at my command....
My father, Baxter Sparks, was born in 1777. At the age of 25 years, he emigrated to Kentucky, near the present city of Louisville, where he worked at his trade, that of a saddler, until the year 1807, when he married Miss Elizabeth Gwin, who, with her father, had the year before removed from Virginia and had settled in the then Territory of Indiana, but a few miles [across the Ohio River] from Louisville. They had formerly lived in the same neighborhood as that of my father, and from this acquaintance the marriage soon followed.
The newly married couple settled on a farm, or rather in the woods, about six miles south of New Albany, then a very small village. Here, with the energy and pluck of a pioneer, he hewed out his first little home and farm. When it is considered that this whole section of country was a hilly, heavily timbered forest of land, the undertaking, with only a stout heart and a bare axe in hand, can be better appreciated. How they managed to support life is more than I can understand. Yet, such was the energy and will of the man, he seemed not to consider the hardships before him, and after a few years of cutting and clearing the land, or a portion of it, he sold this little hard-earned farm and entered a large tract of land on a branch of Indian Creek about ten miles south of New Albany, and about a half-mile from a very small village called Lanesville. He was now in the County of Harrison, named after William Henry Harrison, the grandfather of our President of today. The county seat of Corydon was then the seat of government for the Territory of Indiana, and has since been the county seat of Harrison County. [Note: In the transcription of Sparks's autobiography in 1982, "Lanesville" was mistakenly copied as "Louisville.'']
On this latter farm, I was born October 15th, 1823, and now, perhaps, I may as well proceed to give the births in my father's family as they occurred, as well as a sketch of the life of each.
My only sister, Mary Sanders Sparks was born March 13th, 1808. She grew to womanhood on the farm near Louisville, where she was married in 1829 to Dr. L. S. Coon, who settled in Louisville and practiced medicine, and was there and did great service in the great epidemic of cholera in the year 1832. 1 can distinctly remember that year of terror and death in this sparsely settled country. In some cases, whole families were swept out of existence. In the midst of this terror and death, Dr. L. S - Coon never faltered from his duty; rich or poor, it made no difference-- he did his duty most heroically and manfully. He moved to this state [Illinois] in the winter of 1835 and 1836, and was followed in the spring of 1836 by my father, who bought and settled on a farm one mile north of the then mostly newly marked out town of Staunton. Dr. Coon and his wife settled in Staunton and lived there, with a short exception, to the time of their death. The doctor, preceding my sister to the grave, died January 19th, 1869. My sister retained her old home to the time of her death, April 8th, 1881. She bore no children of her own, yet her house was always the home of one or more motherless child, and today there are those who speak of her as "Grandmother."
Thomas Paine Sparks was born October 21st, 1809, and grew up to be a man of most magnificent physique, and mental capacity, yet by some strange chance he fell into the habit of excessive drinking, that was so common in those days. He married and left two children, a boy and a girl, both now grown with families. He died suddenly of heart disease in 1874. It is only fair to add to this that Uncle Thomas gave up the habit mentioned many years before his death. He was highly respected in his hometown, and was a man of fine appearance and well read for his day.
[Editor's note: In the family record discussed earlier on p.4938 (at the top of this article) and published in full in the Quarterly of March 1972, Whole No. 77, the date of the marriage of 49.2 Thomas Paine Sparks appears as December 31, 1829. While the name of his wife was not given, we know from the record of his marriage, on this date, in Harrison County, Indiana, that his wife's name was Nancy Chapman. While David Rhodes Sparks stated (see above) that Thomas had only two children, the "Family Record...." as it will be cited hereafter, lists four, as follows:
49.2.1 George W. Sparks, born January 30, 1832;
49.2.2 Marion Sparks, born January 22, 1834;
49.2.3 Mary E. Sparks, born October 4, 1836;
49.2.4 Nancy I. Sparks, born September 19, 1839.
Perhaps two of these children died in youth, since David Rhodes Sparks remembered only two. Among the deaths listed in the "Family Record..." is that of a Marion F. Sparks on October 1, 1849, but whether this was the child of Thomas P. Sparks named Marion, we do not know. Thomas Sparks was shown as the head of his household on the 1830 and 1840 censuses of Harrison County, Indiana; on the latter he was shown with a female aged 20 to 30, who was doubtless his wife, along with a male and two females between 5 and 10, and a male under 5. This suggests that the child named Marion was a son, not a daughter. Thomas Paine Sparks may have been the Thomas Sparks, age 45, born in Indiana, who appeared on the 1850 census of Marshall County, Illinois, with wife Nancy, age 40, also a native of Illinois. Their children, George, age 18, and Mary, age 15, seem to match the information in the 'Family Record...," except that their places of birth were recorded on the census as Ohio. Also included in this 1850 household was an 8-year-old female named "Mana" born in Illinois. Thomas P. Sparks may have been the 60-year-old Thomas Sparks living in Macoupin County, Illinois, when the 1870 census was taken, shown as "works in a mill," in whose household was one other person, Pollyanna Thomas, age 69, a native of Kentucky.]
49.3 JOHN GWIN SPARKS was born September 22, 1811. He was a man of good abilities and never used intoxicating drinks under any circumstances. He first learned the hatters trade, and worked at his trade for a number of years, but tired of this business and turned to the study of law, which he practiced for the remainder of his life. He lived in Washington Territory for more than twenty-five years, and died in 1891 in Olympia, where he had lived most of the time. As I have not seen him for more than forty years, I know little of his life, more than that he was highly respected where he lived, having held a commission under Mr. Lincoln, and the office of Judge.
[Editor's Note: According to the "Family Record..." John Gwin Sparks was married on January 16, 1834, but the name of his wife was not given. From a census record, however, we know that her name was Rebecca; she had been born ca. 1818 in Illinois. The "Family Record ... " lists three children: 49.3.1 Mary Sparks, born January 2, 1836;49.3.2 Elizabeth S. Sparks, born on February 18, 1838; she was probably the Elizabeth Sparks listed among the deaths in the "Family Record..." on March 24, 1844; and 49.3.3 Francis M. Sparks, born May 21, 1840. John G. Sparks and his family were living in Jackson County, Illinois, when the 1850 census was taken. His profession was given as lawyer. Living with John G. and his wife, Rebecca, in 1850 was their daughter, Mary S. Sparks, age 14, and their son, Francis M. Sparks, age 10. Since their daughter, Elizabeth, was not listed in their household, she was doubtless the Elizabeth Sparks, as noted above, who died on March 24, 1844. When the 1860 census was taken, Rebecca Sparks was living in Williamson County, Illinois, which adjoins Jackson County on the east. Her age was given as 41; she had no occupation. Her sons, Francis M. Sparks, age 20, was the only other person in her household. We have found no record of John Gwin Sparks in the state of Washington, nor do we know when he moved there. It is curious that on the 1870 census of Jackson County, Illinois, in the "Precinct of Carbondale," Rebecca Sparks, age 54, was shown as "Hotel keeping." Nine residents at the hotel were listed, none of whom, however, was named Sparks.]
49.4 NELSON MATTHEW SPARKS was born March 21, 1814. This brother seemed to have been unfortunate almost from infancy. When a small boy, his ankle was badly broken by the fall of a tree. While he was still very young, he was kicked by a horse and very nearly killed, and he wears the deep scar over his eye to this day. And, again in early boyhood, he met with another very serious accident--his foot caught in a wheel and was crushed and torn, making him a very bad cripple for life. Now, having both limbs badly damaged, this seemed to have made him exceedingly nervous. However, our father managed to give him a fair education for that time, and he taught school for a great many years for a livelihood. He is now  living in the city of Litchfield, this state [Montgomery County, Illinois]. Though quite old, he is in fair health, and a rabid Methodist as well as a radical Republican.
[Editor's Note: Nelson Matthew Sparks, who was sometimes called Matthew, was married on March 1, 1840, according to the "Family Record...." but his wife's name was not recorded. On the 1850 census of Jackson County, Illinois, in the same district as John Gwin Sparks, "N. M. Sparks," age 34 and a native of Indiana, was enumerated as a "School Teacher" by occupation. 'We assume that the 23-year-old female in his household was his wife; her name on the census was given as Sarah A. Sparks, a native of Kentucky. The "Family Record ... " indicates that N. M. Sparks had two children: 49.4.1 Maria J. Sparks, born February 24, 1841; and 49.4.2 Mary E. Sparks, born May 12, 1843. Neither of these children, however, was included in the household of "N. M. Sparks" on the 1850 census. Likewise, when the household of Nelson M. Sparks was enumerated on the 1860 census of Jackson County, Illinois, neither of these daughters was included, but living with him and Sarah was 8-year-old 49.4.3 John Sparks, born in Illinois, who was probably a son.
[by 1870, NELSON MATTHEW SPARKS had moved to Litchfield in Montgomery County, Illinois, and on the census of that year he was shown as 54 years old and a "Watchman, flour mill." His wife, Sarah, was now 49 years old; the John Sparks who had been eight in 1860, was shown as "John K. Sparks," age 18, and "works in flour mill" in 1870.]
49.5 WESLEY HOLMES SPARKS was born May 23, 1816, of small stature, bright and full of energy. At an early age, he learned the trade of shoe making, and worked at it for several years, but, becoming dissatisfied at this humble trade, he determined to study medicine. He persevered, under the most discouraging circumstances, until he finally received his diploma from the hands of Dr. McDarnell of the Darnell [sic] College of St. Louis in 1850. He soon after married a second wife, and located at Maryville on the Illinois River, where he entered upon a very successful practice, but the unhealthy location soon had its effects on him, and he died in 1852.
[Editor's Note: According to the "Family Record.... " Wesley H. sparks died on August 7, 1852. He had been married, according to the "Family Record..." on December 1, 1838, but his wife's name was not given. On the 1850 census, his wife's name appeared as Amanda Sparks, age 33 (thus born ca. 1827), but Amanda may have been Wesley's second wife.
[Wesley Sparks's name appears on the 1840 census of Macoupin County, Illinois, near that of his father. His household then included a male in the same age category as himself (20 to 30), as well as a female in the same age bracket, whom we may assume was Wesley's wife. There were also six children enumerated: two males and three females, all under the age of five years, plus a girl between 5 and 10. The "Family Record..." lists two children of Wesley Sparks.
49.5.1 Elisabeth E. Sparks, born October 26, 1838;
49.5.2 Vanburen Sparks, born April 20, 1840.
Considering the date given for his marriage, we can assume that there was an error of some nature in this record. Perhaps there was a relative with children living with Wesley and his wife in 1840. When the 1850 census was taken, Wesley Sparks was in St. Louis, having just completed his medical training. His age was recorded as 36 years, and occupation was given as "Doctor." His place of birth, however, was mistakenly given as Kentucky. As noted above, his wife's name was given as Amanda Sparks, age 33, and a native of New York on this 1850 census. No children were living with them. In his brief sketch of Wesley Sparks, David Rhodes Sparks made no mention of Wesley's first wife, noting only that soon after receiving his medical diploma in 1850, "he married a second wife." It is quite possible that Amanda was this second wife.]
49.6 George Gwin Sparks was born September 18, 1818, and died in his infancy, before I was born. [The "Family Record ... " gives his date of death as October 18, 1822."
49.7 Edmund Baxter Sparks was born August 20, 1820. He grew up to be a man of ability, considering the early state of the country. He married when quite young, lived on a farm until 1850 when the great rush to California gold fields took place. In company with a group of friends, myself among them, he crossed the Great Plains and Desert Mountains with an ox team to California, where he died about two months after reaching the mines. He left a widow and one child, but still living; the widow, however, having married many years since.
[The date of Edmund Sparks's marriage appears in the "Family Record ... " as October 28, 1841, and his date of death in California as July 25, 1851. Later in his autobiography, David Rhodes Sparks noted that Edmund had died shortly after they reached "Coloma on the South Fork of the American River." He continued: "After stopping over night, we started early next day to climb the mountain, about two miles hard climbing to the top.... We found the pay rather dull, but moving up the branch half a mile or so we found better digging. Here my brother took sick, and after a week or ten days, he died. We bought a plain pine box coffin at Coloma for $25.00, carried it up the mountain on our little mule, and by the aid of some miners nearby we rigged up a wagon and buried Brother in what was then called Greenwood, about four miles from where we were camped."
[Edmund Baxter Sparks and his brother, David Rhodes Sparks, left for California on March 28, 1850, leaving each of their wives with a small child in Macoupin County, Illinois. Edmund was married, according to the "Family Record .... 11 on October 28, 1841, but his wife's name was not recorded. The "Family Record... lists three children of Edmund: 49.7.1 John B. Sparks, born January 13, 1844, died April 29, 1848; 49.7.2 Elizabeth Malinda Sparks, born March 21, 1846, died April 11, 1846; and 49.7.3 Melinda E. Sparks, born June 5, 1847. It appears that the first wife of Edmund Baxter Sparks died and that Edmund had been married again by 1848 or 1849. This wife seems to have been named Elizabeth and she had been born in Illinois ca. 1827. When the 1850 census was taken in Macoupin County, Elizabeth Sparks, age 23, with an infant son named Edmond, one year old, was living with a 31-year-old farmer named C. L. Allen, perhaps a brother. This child may have been the Edmund Calvin Sparks whose death in the "Family Record ... " was recorded as occurring on July 25, 1851."
49.8 David Rhodes Sparks was born October 15, 1823, but as I shall further on give a short sketch of my life, I will make no further remarks here.
[Editor's Note: The grandson of David Rhodes Sparks who arranged for the reproduction of his grandfather's autobiography in 1932, provided at the end, a record of his marriages and his children. David was married in 1846 to Mariah Parisher. She died the following year and was buried at Staunton, Illinois. She had no children. On December 20, 1848, David Rhodes Sparks married (second) Anna Davenport Chapman. She had been born on May 13, 1830, at Staunton, and was a daughter of Richard Chapman.
Children of David Rhodes and Anna Davenport (Chapman) Sparks:
49.8.1 Mary Ann Mariah Sparks, born September 26, 1849, died September 3, 1931. She married Frank Richmond Milnor on April 23, 1874. He had been born on December 15, 1846. They had two children:
126.96.36.199 Mabel Sparks Milnor, born May 22, 1877; she married Mathew A. Reasoner; and
188.8.131.52 George Sparks Milnor, born December 11, 1880; he married (first) Alice Bowman, and (second) to Alice Elizabeth Ryrie.
49.8.2 Richard Baxter Sparks, born March 7, 1852, died April 14, 1861.
49.8.3 Wesley David Sparks, born May 4, 1854, died in May 1909. He married Emma L. Fisher, who died in 1905. They had no children.
49.8.4 Julia Josephine Sparks, born April 18, 1856, died August 5, 1860.
49.8.5 Hosea Ballou Sparks, born November 5, 1858. He married Bessie Mayo Pegram on June 6, 1894. They had no children.
49.8.6 Charles Fletcher Sparks, born August 14, 1861. He was married on June 25, 1884, to Mary S. Noble. She had been born on August 29, 1860, and died on March 19, 1914. He was married (second) in November 1915, to Marceline Randolph Reyburn. Charles Fletcher and Mary S. (Noble) Sparks were the parents of the following children:
184.108.40.206 David Noble Sparks, born July 13, 1885, died in July 1886;
220.127.116.11 Mary Esther Sparks, born December 25, 1886; she married Paul Bliss Cousley;
18.104.22.168 Edwin Milnor Sparks, born March 1, 1889; he married (first) Dorothy Hanna and (second) to Irene Fries;
22.214.171.124 Richard Davenport Sparks, born November 4, 1890; he married Johny Matthews;
126.96.36.199 William R. J. Sparks, born April 2, 1893, and died in infancy;
188.8.131.52 Katherine Noble Sparks, born February 16, 1895; she married (first) Dr. Harry Seiwell and (second) to Edgar Drier;
184.108.40.206 David Rhodes Sparks, born November 3, 1897; he married Lucy Chase in June 1828.
49.8.7 William Lincoln Sparks, born October 17, 1864; died July 28, 1866.
49.8.8 William Lincoln Sparks (second son with this name), was born April 1, 1867. He married Marie Louise Buckmaster on December 10, 1892. She had been born on January 2, 1870. They were the parents of three children:
220.127.116.11 Hunter DeBow Sparks, born August 29, 1894; he married Victoria Coppinger on December 29, 1917;
18.104.22.168 William Baxter Sparks, born April 6, 1900; he married Nell McGuinnes in September 1926; and
22.214.171.124 Marie Virginia Sparks, born December 6, 1902; she married John Lamb on April 6, 1924.
49.8.9 Edmund Weston Sparks, born October 24, 1869. He married Ida Elizabeth Yager on October 2, 1894. She had been born on October 6, 1870. They were the parents of one child, 126.96.36.199 Anna Davenport Sparks, born February 22, 1897. She married Dr. Herbert Bergamini in June 1919.
49.9 Harvey Addison Sparks,son of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks] was born January 19, 1826. He grew up to be a very strong and fine-looking young man. Was married at the age of nineteen years, and died a few months later, leaving no children. His death occurred in October 1845. Thus a life, so full of promise, was suddenly cut down.
[Editor's Note: The date of the death of Harvey Addison Sparks is given in the "Family Record ... " as September 1, 1845. There is no record of his marriage in the "Family Record .... "
49.10 William Jackson Sparks was born November 19 1828. His father having died in 1840, and his mother in 1844, he was left at this tender age, with very little means to take care of himself. He received limited help from his other brothers who, though willing, were also poor. Under these adverse circumstances, he managed, with much skill and ability, to gather up sufficient education to teach a small country school. I will mention one honored name he never forgets, who helped him to secure this position, and that was old Father Richard Chapman, of whom I shall speak further on.
This little start enabled him to go to the Lebanon College of the state for one term. He again taught school for further means to continue his course in the College, and in this way, with the small means he was able to secure, he graduated from that school in the year 1850. He then taught school under Judge Breeze of that town. He soon obtained a license to plead at the Bar. He was elected assistant clerk of the House of Representatives, and in 1853, under Pierce's Administration, he was appointed Receiver of the Land Office at Edwardsville, which position he held until the office was closed. During these years, with money received from his work, he made his first start as a man of means. Careful and industrious to the last degree, he worked his way to considerable wealth and prominence. He was elected a member of the Lower House of Repre- sentatives in the state [Illinois] ca. 1858, and again to the State Senate in 1863. He was, and is , an ardent Democrat and was highly indignant at Governor Yates for that Legislature [sic].
He had married Miss Julia Parker while holding the land office in Edwardsville.
He removed to Carlyle after the office was closed, and makes his residence there to this date.
In 1874, he was elected to the Lower House in Congress, and, being successively elected, held that office eight years, holding several honorable positions on Committees. The state having been redistricted, his old district was completely broken up, and he retired from any further effort in that direction, but on the election of Mr. Cleveland to the Presidency in 1884, he was appointed Land Commissioner, which position he held for three years. Then, owing to a disagreement between himself and Secretary Lamar, he resigned the office. Since that time, he has made his home in Carlyle where he owns a beautiful residence.
In 1888, he was a very popular candidate in the Democratic Convention for the nomination for Governor, but for some reason, which cannot be explained, he was defeated. His party was also defeated that year.
His wife is now  in very poor health, and he is doing nothing more than look after his pastime and his loved wife's comfort....
[Editor's Note: The "Family Record ... " gives his date of birth as November 15, 1828. His full name was William Andrew Jackson Sparks; he was often called W. A. J. Sparks. Excerpts from a biographical sketch appearing in the 1892 publication, Portrait and Biographical Record of Clinton, Washington, Marion, and Jefferson Counties, Illinois appeared in the, Quarterly of March 1971, Whole No. 77, pp. 1473-74. He married Miss Julia Parker of Edwards- ville, Illinois, on April 16, 1855. They had no children. William A. J. Sparks died on May 7, 1904.
I was born, as has been stated, in Harrison County in the state of Indiana. The country at that time was very sparsely settled, and as a rule with very poor people, and consequently my opportunity for education was bad. I can remember attending school in my younger days. We had to walk about a mile and a half to the school house--a little log cabin located in the midst of a very heavy timber. A spring nearby supplied us with water. The house itself, if it can be dignified with such a name, had a rough slab floor and one of the old-style fire places that could easily take a stick four feet long. Great logs would be rolled into it, creating a huge log-heap of fire. Our lights consisted of an open crack between the logs, with a board swung by straps to shut out the cold. Our seats consisted of a half log. Take a small tree, for instance, and split it in two in the center, then dress the flat side, bore four holes in the round side, drive in pins for legs, and you have the school bench of my early boyhood.
Everything was then ruled by force in the schools; moral suasion was not practiced to any extent. When the teacher appeared, he usually had a stern frown on his face (this was before the days of the Yankee School Marm); and a great bundle of long beech switches was kept sticking in the cracks between the logs as a warning to evil doers. I have seen boys, not over twelve years of age, whipped unmercifully and, in some instances, until the blood ran down from the lacerated skin. Yet, no one seemed to protest. The very religion of the day invited this cruelty to the young and rising generation. The cries of these little sufferers ring in my ears today, and I despise the practice of whipping with all my nature, as being brutal in its every form. If the child Is too small for reason, it is cruel to beat the little one; if big enough to be capable of reasoning, then apply reason and not the lash.
I have digressed from my subject, yet what I have said points out how poor our chances were for the very commonest education.
My father sold his farm, where I and most of the children were born, in the spring of 1834 and moved to New Albany, Indiana, where he owned property.
He lived here two years, during which time I had better opportunities for schooling; however, in the spring of 1836, he sold his property in New Albany and moved to the village of Staunton, in Macoupin County, Illinois. Here, as I have said before, he bought a small farm. Chances to go to school in this still newer country were even worse than they had been even in Indiana, and my school days were now limited.
My father died in October 1840, leaving my widowed mother with three children living at the old home. I, being the eldest, then seventeen, had to manage the small farm as best I could. Nothing of any note occurred until the spring of 1844 when my mother died. Her death broke up the family, and each of the children was, to a large degree, left to take care of himself.
As it is difficult for the boys of today to realize the changes that have taken place within the last fifty years, especially here in the West, I will refer to a few facts. Fifty years ago, we had not a railroad in the state. Chicago, now the third, if not in fact the second, city of the United States, was little more than a country trading post. St. Louis, older and larger, was, nevertheless, insignificant as a city when compared to its present size and population of more than half a million prosperous citizens. Kansas City, now a large and thrifty railroad city, was unknown then, with wild animals and wolves howling about what were to be its streets. I have seen deer and wolves in the fields of our farm, and our Great Prairies were but a wild waste of land, producing millions of tons of fine grass which served no purpose except to rot on the ground and add to the already fertile soil.
Such was the West of fifty years ago; and when we look now upon her vast fields teaming with life, upon her system of railroads almost as great as that of the balance of the world, and upon the chain of large. and prosperous cities stretching across to the Pacific Ocean, we cannot but be overwhelmed at our wondrous growth and prosperity. Although 1, myself, have lived to see this change and, to a degree, have labored to bring it about, I feel it is almost incredible that so great a transformation should be wrought within the lifetime of one man. Such a miraculous advance was never witnessed by the human race before, nor is it likely to be seen again in any one lifetime.
Besides the railroads that have worked such wonders, we now have the telegraph, which is more wonderful still, if, indeed, of less importance. The telegraph seems almost at the door of every house of this great country; nor was a great ocean, three thousand miles in width, a barrier to the magnificent science which created the instrument. Cables plunge into the water on one seacoast andemerge on the other, and, with a flash, as if from God, nations speak to each other across the waters. Commerce is quickened and made more certain, and human thought is carried around the world before I can write one of these lines.
And now add to the telegraph the telephone, still but a few years old, and it would seem that human skill and invention has reached its limits. But I do not believe the end is yet. Science is still at work, and the very Throne of the Supreme Being, if we can conceive of such a thing as existing, will be reached.
With the telephone we stand in our warm, comfortable houses and converse with friends twenty or thirty miles away, our words passing over flooded streams, fields, and forests alike. And not only this, but we recognize the voices that speak. Even the child of four years may call up its Papa twenty miles away and recognize the loved voice. The child wonders how it is that he can hear and talk to Father or Mother, and yet not see them. And the child is not alone in this for, to me, the wonder is just as great; not that sound may be conveyed, but that the voice may be known and understood.
I refer to these great advances that those coming after me may better realize what tremendous changes and inventions have taken place within my own time and memory. And in speaking of the wonderful work of science, I cannot refrain from quoting a sentence from one of the most eloquent orators and deepest thinkers America. ever produced, Robert H. Ingersoll. He said: "Science took a teardrop from the brow of toll and converted it into a power that turns the tireless arm of machinery and moves the commerce of the world. 11 I quote from memory and may not use the exact words, but the meaning of this gentle but great thinker is there. What grand words and lofty thought!
And now I must go back to where I left off with my own doings through life. After the death of my mother in 1844, 1 worked on a farm in my own interest. But this was the year of the greatest high waters known to the Mississippi since the white man settled upon its fertile banks. While I was not affected by the river, I was by the torrent of rains that fell in this latitude, and my little crop was ruined. The next year, 1845, I hired my help to an old farmer in the West Prairie, by the name of Valentine Sawyer and familiarly called by all of us young men, and even by his older children, "Uncle Tine. "Uncle Tine" was like a father, not a boss, to me, and his grand old wife, "Aunt Polly," as we endearingly called her, was like a mother. We were not servants, as are the hired men of today, but all sat and ate at the same table and were equals. My wages were eight dollars per month, except in July, harvest month, when I received nine dollars, and cut oats part of the month with a scythe and cradle.
One hundred years from now, these harvest implements, which came after the old cycle of earliest times, will be amongst the relies of our museums. Even now, many young men would not know for what purpose they had been used, so totally are they unlike our present magnificent self-binders drawn by three or four powerful horses.
[Editor's Note: David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography will be continued in a future issue of the Quarterly. He enlisted in the U. S. Army to serve in the War with Mexico in 1847.]
Whole Number 183
[Editor's Note: In the Quarterly of March 1998, Whole No. 181, we published the first portion of the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks (1823-1907), son of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks. This was preceded by a genealogical record, in which we noted that members of this branch of the Sparks family had migrated from Prince Georges County, Maryland, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in or ca. 1777. As a young man, Baxter Sparks had then moved from Virginia to Kentucky ca. 1802, but by 1810 he was in Harrison County, Indiana. It was there that David Rhodes Sparks was born October 15, 1828. He was one of nine children, one of whom died in infancy.
[His father died in 1840, when David was seventeen, and his mother died in 1844. "Her death broke up the family," David recalled, "and each of the children was, to a large degree, left to take care of himself." Our extract from David's autobiography in the March 1998 issue of the Quarterly ended with the year 1845, during which he had worked on a neighbor's farm for "eight dollars per month except in July, harvest month, when I received nine dollars."
[David Rhodes Sparks began writing his autobiography in January 1893. He wrote for his children, but his story remained in one handwritten copy until 1932, when a grandson, George Sparks Milnor, aided by a brother-in-law. Col. Mathew A. Reasoner, arranged to have the manuscript transcribed and typed; twenty-eight copies were then distributed to David's descendants. In 1967, one of these copies was placed in the Haynor Public Library in Alton, Illinois. It is from a photocopy of this that we now present David Rhodes Sparks's memories of the War with Mexico.]
The next year, 1846, I "farmed it" on shares on the farm of Han [sic] Thomas Hart. In July, I married Miss Mariah Parisher; but her health was not good and she died in the following January of 1847. Left thus alone again, I was only too anxious to join the Army at the second call for volunteers for the war with Mexico.
The volunteers assembled in Alton [Illinois] in June 1847 in an old frame building near where Mr. Root's splendid residence now  stands. In a short time, we were ordered west to Santa Fe, New Mexico. And so, since a soldier must go where he is sent, we embarked on the old steamer Cotton Plant and passed down to the mouth of the Missouri below Alton, and up the Missouri to a point about four miles above the place where the beautiful city of Fort Leavenworth now stands. We stopped here for a week or two and then started on our long journey across the plains, and were sixty-seven days in making the trip.
The distance by wagon road was about 800 miles, and, save our own tents, there was not a human dwelling from the Missouri line to Las Vegas, at the edge of the mountains. We had four companies of men, and, being infantry, we of course, had to walk every foot of the way. We marched in squads by the side of a provision train consisting of sixty-four wagons, each drawn by six to eight pairs of oxen, and we made a long line when we were drawn out on the road.
The trip, which should have been comparatively easy, was made exceeding difficult by the bad management of our commanding officer. This commandant, Major Donalson, worked us to a very death and then underfed us. Through Major Donalson's ignorance and stupidity, we were allowed only the rations received by soldiers in their quarters; whereas, on our heavy duty, we should have been given quite one-third more. And this short-rationing went on when we were actually accompanying a provision train.
I look back upon this trip as being the hardest part of my life, and bitterness comes with the knowledge that it should have been a pleasant, easy journey, had we been only under proper management. Our suffering brought on disease and death. Within the first eight months of our enlistment, we buried sixteen young men out of a total of eighty-six, more than one-sixth of the whole company. And out of the six men of my own mess, three, all of them strong men, left their bones to moulder in the dust of New Mexico. The three men of my mess who died were James Vinton, Jackson Scroggins, and Thomas Cornell. All died before we had been in the service eight months. Those of the mess who survived were Daniel Henderson, afterward a captain in the Civil War, his brother, Benjamin, and myself.
Before we were done, our Company A lost thirty-three men, more than one-third of its total strength. And this was about the average of fatality for the entire expedition. Our company had no battles. All of our men were the victims of disease. But I must not dwell on this tragedy too long, and I am getting ahead of my story.
There was one incident of our trip across the plains to Santa Fe that is worth telling here. At Walnut Creek, six miles above a place now known as Great Bend and located on the Arkansas River in Kansas, our regiment and wagon train stopped over a day to rest. While we were there, a party of twenty of us, headed by Captain Adams of our Company A, started out on a buffalo hunt. There seemed to be but few buffalo in the vicinity at the time, but we went. While we were beating around about four miles above the camp, in country covered only by prairie grass and small bunches of plum bushes not higher than a man's head, we ran directly into a swarm of about two hundred wild Indians. They rose up in front of us almost as though they had come out of the ground.
They were a wild and ugly looking body of men, and they numbered two hundred as compared to our little band of twenty. As I have said, the ground here was open, save for the prairie grass and plum bushes. We could not take to cover. When those wild savages began to close in on us from the front and both sides, we had no alternative but to spread out our line as best we could and make a stand against them.
This we did, promptly. But it was an unusual sort of stand that we made. Through the good management of Captain Adams, we did not fire when our line was formed, but held our fire. Constantly we threatened the advancing Indians by aiming at them with guns cocked ready to fire, but we did not send out a single shot. The action, inspired by Captain Adams's great good sense, was bold enough so that it turned the day for us. Although the Indians were, at one time, within fifty yards of us, they eventually checked their advance and finally came to a stand. The moment that happened, the moment they stopped, we turned and began to walk away in the direction of the camp. We did not run. Running would have been useless, for we should certainly have been overtaken; and again, any sign of cowardice on our part would have given the Indians courage to follow. As it was, they did not stir an inch when we moved, and when we passed over a slight rise in the ground about a mile away from them, they were still standing there.
When we came to within a mile of camp, two men hurried ahead to bring reenforcements, and soon about fifty men from camp joined us. But we saw no more of the Indians. by the time we had walked back to what I may call the scene of our big scare, not an Indian was to be seen, and it was most difficult to make our new recruits believe that any Indians had ever been on the ground.
I will say here that, since that day, I have been in a goodly number of hard-fought battles, as will be narrated later on, but in none was I as terrified as I was when, with the others, I stood in front of those naked and howling Indians. I believe that, had we made the mistake of firing even a single gun, not one of us would have lived to tell this story.
And now to conclude this account of our sixty-seven day march from Kansas to New Mexico. All along our way across the desert plains, we saw thousands of buffalo, but our Old Granny officer, made fearful, perhaps, by our hunt that had stirred up the Indians, would give us no opportunity to kill buffalo. And so we were left to feel hunger while we were surrounded by good meat, food that could have been had for the taking. But we did finally arrive at Santa Fe, and there, when we went into camp, we fared better for the gruelling march was over, and the guard and other duties assigned to us were light.
After a rest of five weeks at Santa Fe, we were orderd South, down the Rio Grande, on a march which we took under the command of the same inefficient Major Donalson.
It was in the midst of winter now and quite cold, but we mostly had short marches and, since we were more used to the service than we had been on the march from Kansas, we enjoyed the trip. I will give one incident, though, to show that it was not all fun.
Under the guidance of our "Old Ignoramus," we were marched twenty miles one day. Our supply train made barely ten miles. When night came, we were left stranded in a country that was utterly bleak and barren. We had no food or fire, and our only shelter was that given by a few large cottonwood trees growing along the banks of the river. Soon after We stopped marching, snow began to fall and continued until the ground was covered to a depth of two inches. Without comforts of any kind, we had to keep on our feet and stamp around as best we could to keep from freezing. We got no relief until, about midnight, one wagon belonging to Captain Cunningham drove up. From Captain Cunningham, with whom I was acquainted, I managed to borrow an axe, and with this we cut fuel and soon had a fire going. The cottonwood limbs made poor fuel, but such heat as we gained from them helped us a great deal. But we got no food until about ten o'clock next morning.
At that time, a small Mexican bull chanced to wander past our uncomfortable camp. When we sighted him, we did not consult our "Old Granny," and soon the bull Was down and partly relieved of his hide. Each man cut out pieces of meat as best he could, roasted them before the smoky fire and, without bread or salt, ate them with keen relish.
The episode was finally brought to an end when, a short time before night, our supply wagons put in an appearance with food and our tents, making us at home once more after a starve that had lasted thirty-six hours, except in so far as it had been broken by our consumption of the half-roasted bull beef.
To continue with the account of our march down the Rio Grande, nothing of any importance happened after the above trouble. Why the trip was ever undertaken at all is a mystery to me. After we had reached a point about two hundred miles south of Santa Fe, We were ordered back to Santa Fe again, and there we went into 'Dobe Quarters. It was the first time we had had any shelter, save our tents, since we had left hone, and the move proved to be unfortunate. The whole company got thoroughly lousy in short order, and much washing and boiling of clothes was required before we were rid of the loathsome vermin.
Fortunately for us, we stayed in these filthy quarters only about three weeks, and then we were ordered down the river to Albuquerque. The trip carried us about seventy-five miles, right back along the road we had just passed over. On reaching Albuquerque, sometime in February 1848, we went into winter quarters and this time had better luck than we had had with the quarters at Santa Fe. The rooms of the building we were in were lighter and cleaner, and we had little trouble in keeping ourselves free of the common pest of Mexico.
During our stay here, (in May I think it was) the officers of the three companies now at this station arranged a hunting party of one officer and two soldiers from each company. Captain Adams of our company was our leader; a mountaineer named Carter and I were selected to go along. I had, at the time, a large fine rifle that I had bought; I Was very proud of this rifle. I had hunted and killed deer in Illinois and so kneW how to go about it.
The first day the whole party travelled together through a pass in the mountain, about twenty miles east of town, and having passed in behind the mountain, we went into camp. Early the next morning, we started out in threes. Captain Adams, Carter and I were in one party. We turned back to reach the highest point of the mountain. (We had taken no lunch or water.) Bearing too much to the right, we had to pass over two or three high ridges, thickly set with a small pine growth. We had a hard job of it, but the Captain and I did not stop until we stood upon the highest peak. We left Carter at a lower range, as he could climb no longer.
Upon our return, we found Carter greatly excited, as he had discovered a bear which he pointed out to us. It was now 2:00 P.M., and we had neither water nor food and v;ere very tired. However, the sight of the magnificent game nerved us to increased strength. We finally reached a point not more than one hundred yards distant from the bear. He turned and looked back at us. I, having the heavy rifle, was given the first shot. It was well aimed, cutting through his body and weakening his back so badly that he could not fight us nor run away. So we soon dispatched him and found we had a fine, full-grown cinnamon, or brown, bear....
It was noW nearly 3:00 o'clock. Our friend Carter was completely exhausted and could go no further, so it was arranged that I should stay with him and the Captain return to camp, now nearly five miles distant. Taking two or three pounds of the bear meat in his handkerchief, he started back to camp and arrived about dark....
As stated, I was to stay with Carter, but we had no water near, as we thought, and as we could see a bank of snow nearly at the top of the mountain, I was to go up there at once and procure some snow for wateróall I could pack in a handkerchief. We started up this steep mountain and were two hours in reaching the level of the snow. Here we found we had missed our course, and it was a full quarter along the side of the mountain to snow. So after making this trip, and while resting before Captain Adams left, we looked back down the mountainside and there, about two hundred yards below where the bear lay, was a beautiful spring of water. Oh, what a beautiful sight as it shone out in the bright afternoon sun! I turned back and almost slid down in the loose rock to the spring. Carter also made his way down, and here we quenched our thirst.
We kindled a fire and cut out the choicest pieces of meat and broiled and ate the same to our hearts' content, without bread or salt. The next day, the bear was sent into town on the back of a mule, and then we tramped back to camp, arriving just at sundown. We had had nothing to eat for two days except the bear meat, and to say we were tired is to put it very mildly. Returning after a week's hunt, with no further success as to game, we fell into the monotonous routine of drill, and cook, and eat, and play cards.
About the last of June, an order was received by Lieutenant Colonel Bajakin, in command, to take seventy-five men and go west to the Zuni Village, about one hundred and fifty miles distant. This took us fifty miles west of the summit of the Rocky Mountains. We saw one or two bear on this trip, and some of the boys killed one of them. The trip was, with all, rather a pleasant one, and after an absence of sixteen days, we returned. Nothing new had occurred during our absence.
At this time we were expecting the news of peace between the two nations. That, of course, would end our service, and we were all anxious to get home. We, who had taken this western trip, had hoped that the glad news would be received before we returned, but were disappointed in this as no news had been received. But, strangely enough, the very next day after our arrival the good news came that a peace had been concluded, and we would shortly be on our way home. I might add here that, at that time, it required about sixty days to get a letter to or from the States...
About a month was consumed before the word "March" was given, and on the llth day of August, 1848, we left our quarters where we had lived for six months. We felt no regrets, however, as all were glad to start for home. Some twenty-five of our company had bought mules or ponies to ride. I had a nice young mule for which I paid $55.00 in gold. So, with this outfit, those not having ponies or raules had a better chance; as our wagons were not heavily loaded, they could ride at intervals. We were under our same old major; that is, our battalion of four companies, but he felt that our time was nearly out and that it would be unpopular to hold us under too strict discipline. We had an easy time, going and coming about as we pleased during our trip home.
I helped to kill several buffalo, but it was my hope and pride to kill one on my own hook. So one day I got off from the other hunters, having only one companion with me, John Davis (since. Dr. John Davis). We soon found two buffalo lying down. I had hunted deer in Illinois and understood how to get at the game, so we crawled up within one hundred yards of our huge game, and I took deliberate aim. I have no doubt the ball passed through the lungs, if not the heart, of the great beast. He sprang to his feet, ran about two hundred yards and, turning square around, ran back and fell dead within a few yards of us. When I shot him, this satisfied my ambition on this subject. I also killed two or three antelope with ray splendid rifle.
One little incident of our journey home from New Mexico I have overlooked, and it may be worth mentioning. When we arrived at Pawnee Creek about half way to
Fort Leavenworth, we found that stream somewhat swollen by a heavy rain of the day before. Some traders with us crossed that evening, the water coming barely to the wagon bed. Our Wagon master advised crossing, as it was a long stream and liable to rise much higher and remain so for several days. But our old-time major would not cross, but went into camp on the west side. The next morning, we had about ten feet of water in the channel, so, of course, we could not now cross. Remaining there all that day, the next morning found the water fully twenty feet deep and running over the banks in places.
Now this was a fix for us. A few, I believe all within my own mess of six, thought we could build a raft out of the few logs then to be found along the edge of the stream and cross over. Our captain spoke to the major about it and secured permission-that if we could cross we might go on without waiting for the other companies. So, with this promise, the few already named went up the stream a half mile of so, found a drift of old logs and, at some peril to our lives, managed to get out four or five of the best of them. Each man mounted his log and managed, by the current of the stream, to float them to the camp, a mile below. On arriving at camp with these logs, new heart seized upon the whole company, and willing hands now took hold and drew them into a shallow eddy where they would float, and we soon had them made into a raft that would carry six or eight hundred pounds.
It was now noon, and we had dinner, but quite an ugly job was still before usó that was to get a line across this swift deep stream, fully seventy-five feet from bank to bank, and not less than twenty feet deep. Volunteers were scarce and four of the same who had obtained the logs must do this rather hazardous work. So, with Sergeant Henderson in the lead, I next, and the two young Hawkins boys following, we started in and soon landed the line on the opposite shore, after one of the Hawkins boys had received a good ducking. Soon all was ready and two or three of the boys got on the raft and were landed safe and sound on the other side, and now the work began in earnest. Wagons were taken to pieces, the front wheels would be crossed over, then the hind wheels, then the bed, then a few sacks of flour or tents. These wagons were set up as fast as they were crossed over, and their loading replaced until the whole, seven in all, I believe, were ferried over. Then the animals were compelled to swim across and thus, by sunset, the whole company had crossed and the teams were hitched up ready to go. We drove out about six miles and went into camp, having turn- ed over the raft to Company "K," with whom we were friendly, with instructions to destroy it that we might get a good start ahead of the others, including our old major. That night there was a full moon, and the Company "K" boys got across during the night and made an early start. We also started by sunrise and reached Walnut Creek, thirty miles from Pawnee, about 2:00 P.M.
We found this stream also level with its banks and at least fifteen feet deep, but not so swift and ugly. Here we found a few dry walnut logs and knowing better how to proceed, we had a fine raft ready by night. Company "K" arrived just at night and all were very tired, so we rested until morning. Early the following morning, the work of crossing began, both companies now working together. The current being slow, we would tie the beds of the wagons and pull them through the water. A few, whose bottoms were fairly tight, would be landed be- fore they sank. Most of them, however, would go to the bottom and after being out of sight for a while would be seen slowly emerging on the other bank, drawn by the force of fifty or sixty men. Before night, both companies had crossed, and after tearing up the raft, we moved down to the Great Bend (where Great Bend City now stands), six miles below Walnut Creek, and went into camp.
With this start, we kept about two days ahead of our old major and the other two companies. The balance of the trip to Fort Leavenworth was greatly enjoyed.
There are many little incidents that would probably be of some interest to include, but they would carry the narrative far beyond my first expectations.
One little noteóon arriving at Leavenworth, it was found that no provisions would be made for the personal horses and mules, so I undertook to take them overland to Alton. Harry Harrington accompanied me on this trip, and after a very pleasant trip of ten days, we arrived at Alton eight hours before the steamer that brought the rest of the boys. On the 17th of Oct, 1848, we were discharged and returned each to his home, quite proud of his hard earned army experience.
[Editor's Note: The autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks will be continued in a future issue of the Quarterly, in which he recalled his joining the California Gold Rush in 1850.]
Whole Number 185
[Editor's Note:Here we present the third part of the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks (1823-1907). The first portion of this account appeared in the Quarterly of March 1998, Whole No. 181, pp.4944-53. This was followed by a second portion in the Quarterly of September 1998, Whole No. 183, pp.5041-47.We now present what we are calling Part III in which Sparks recalled his joining the California Gold Rush, starting from Macoupin County, Illinois, on March 28, 1850. Had he left for California a year earlier, he would have been a "49er," but in 1850 a considerably larger number of Americans crossed the plains to the "Gold Fields" than had done so in 1849.
[The California Gold Rush is receiving considerably more attention in historical magazines and journals in 1999 than in recent past years because of its being the event's sesquicentennial. A number of historians have noted that it was only the Civil War that received more news coverage and popular interest during the 19th Century than did the gold seekers in California. Letters home from these adventurers were eagerly sought for publication not only in the major city newspapers but by editors of town weeklies as well. Many diaries appeared in those pages, along with interviews with men who had returned, although most of the latter had to confess their failure in finding the riches about which they had dreamed.
[Preceding Part I of David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography in the Quarterly of March 1998, we noted that members of his branch of the Sparks family had migrated from Prince Georges County, Maryland, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in or ca. 1777. As a young man, Baxter Sparks, father of David, had moved from Virginia to Kentucky ca. 1802, but by 1810 he was in Harrison County, Indiana. It was there that David was born October 15, 1823.He was one of nine children, one of whom died in infancy. In 1836, the family moved to Illinois, settling on a farm near the village of Staunton in Macoupin County. For further information regarding David's youth and early manhood, as well as his writing of his autobiography and its preservation, see p. 5041 of the March 1998 Quarterly.
[David married his first wife, Mariah Parisher, in 1846; she died the following year, in 1847. It was after her death that David volunteered to join the U.S. Army to fight in the War with Mexico. Part II of his autobiography was devoted to those experiences. He returned to Macoupin County, Illinois, following his discharge on October 17, 1848, and it is at that point in his life that we begin Part III.]
Soon after my return home, I married my present wife, then Miss Anna Davenport Chapman. Nine children were born to us as a result of this union, six of whom are still living. I will speak of these children further on. After our marriage, which occurred December 20, 1848, I bought the interest of the Old Homestead from the different heirs, and in the spring of 1849 I undertook to run the old farm again. The season was very unfavorable and my crop was well nigh ruined by the wet weather, and at the close of the season I found myself poorer than when I began. I might mention here that, counting two horses and my Mexican War Land Warrant, I was worth, all told, $300.00. After a year's very hard work, I found myself worth about $175.00.And now, in company with my brother-in-law (since Major J. T. Chapman), Wesley Best, and Stephen Sawyer, we started for the great gold fields of California on March 28th, 1850. [For some reason, David failed to note here that his older brother, Edmund Baxter Sparks, was also a member of the party.]
Our equipment consisted of one common ox-wagon, with four pairs or yoke of oxen, as we called them. This one wagon was to carry our provisions, clothing, etc. for a five-months trip. We crossed the Missouri River here at Alton in company with seven other wagons or parties. About one month was spent in reaching Independence, Missouri, a small town that was then used as a starting point, mainly to Santa Fe. Kansas City was still unknown.
Starting from Independence about the 2nd day of May, we plunged into the great prairies of what is now the prosperous state of Kansas, and reached the mines of California August 30th, tired and worn after five months constant toil and travel. If I should attempt to tell, in anything like detail, all the incidents of the long and tiresome trip, my book would be full. In fact, there was nothing of an unusual character about it. It was one long, hard, tiresome trip from start to finish.
After leaving the Missouri State line, to old Fort Kearney on the Platte,about three hundred miles out, we did not see a human residence except the tents of the Great Migration. Here at Kearney, unlike the common fort of defense, we found a little cluster of houses built of wood hauled a hundred miles or more. Yet they had fairly comfortable quarters, with quite an extension of barns for their horses. After leaving Kearney, we traveled up the Platte, crossing the South Platte near its mouth. We forded it though it was at least one-fourth of a mile wide. Our next sight of any human habitation was at Fort Laramie near the mouth of the Laramie River. This latter stream was somewhat swollen from the melting snow of the mountains and though it was not more than three hundred feet wide, it was deeper than the South Platte. We swam some of our smaller cattle and stopped up our wagon bed, but the water got into it. However, after a few hours rest on the other side, we soon had our things dry and proceeded on our long, long journey.
Fort Laramie was very like Kearney, already described. It was now about nine hundred miles to the end of our journey, and during that long and tiresome journey over mountains and deserts, we did not see a single human dwelling save the tents of our fellow travelers. Passing over this trip, I have omitted many little incidents that might be of some interest to my children, and it is for them and their children that I write, and not for the public.
We had no horses in our (then) party of eight wagons, all depending on our legs to do what was to be done, and did not care to bother with more stock than was required to haul our wagons, which contained our all. Our stock consisted of four pairs of oxen, to the wagon. Mr. Pickins Camp and my older brother, Edmund, were old hunters, and I had often hunted with them and was decidedly at home when on the hunt, so we, that is Camp, my brother and I, often took long tramps from the road in pursuit of the antelope. The buffalo had fled from near the road as it was lined with wagons, so we had to content ourselves with hunting antelope. They are watchful and wary, but can be fooled as easily as the wild deer of Illinois, which we had hunted both in the forest and open prairie.
We had little difficulty in making a "sneak" (as the boys would now call it) on those rather unsuspecting but exceedingly wild animals. My brother and Camp had taken their large double-barreled shotguns that had been very good to kill deer, but in this bare ground they found it diff icult to get close enough to kill their game with shotguns. They would use rifles that my partner, Best, owned but seldom used. My brother was a man of extra-ordinary courage; in fact, he hardly knew what fear meant.
One day after we were out about two hundred miles and in the country of the hostile Pawnees, my brother started by himself and tramped eight or ten miles from the road. When at this distance from any white man he be-thought himself that it was rather reckless, to say the least, so he turned his course until he would strike the road. He had gone but a short distance until he found quite a valley in his front and, as he rightly supposed, it was the Little Blue. Here he discovered four or six horses. He first thought they had been captured by the Indians and that they were watching them from some hidden spot, which at this place would have been easy as a few cottonwood trees and underbrush skirted the stream and the grass was high enough for an Indian to conceal himself.
Now he knew they were the common horses of the States and not Indian ponies, and that they had either strayed from their owners or had been stolen by the Indians, the latter being the most likely. Here was a situation to try the nerves of the most daring. I doubt if one man in a hundred, and I might say thousand, would have attempted to capture these horses. He could see one of them dragged a rope several feet long, so he at once determined to capture this one if possible. I confess I should have given the whole thing a wide berth, but not so with him. He boldly went forward, managed to catch this horse with the line and soon found he was a kind of leader and the rest followed him to camp about ten miles from the place of capture.
Now all this seems rather tame as there were no Indians there, but he did not know it; while the chances were that the horses had been stolen and were being guarded by the Indians. Those who saw much of this wild and desolate country can the better appreciate his daring act.
After a full month's travel, we came up to the parties who had lost their horses, and, of course, never expected to see them again, but were quite glad to get them once more.
As I frequently took long tramps from the road, almost invariably two in a party, I will note one trip of this kind. It is only one of many, but this was rather a hard day. Camp and I started out one morning (I think it was after we had crossed the South Platte). After walking perhaps two miles, we came on a party of antelope. Each attempted to shoot, but both guns missed fire and, of course, the antelope scampered off at a lively gait. To say that we were decidedly out of humor is putting it very mildly. But we had no alternative but to put on new percussion caps and try again, this time, of course, simply to clear the guns. So after all was in good order and our rifles reloaded, we started on. We soon discovered a clump of pine trees many miles distant and almost directly away from the road. We determined to sit and rest under those pines, and after about two hours of hard walking reached the pines. Here we sat down to rest in the shade of these pines, perhaps a dozen, with no other timber anywhere in sight. After we had rested here perhaps half an hour, we saw a party of three antelopes coming up the little branch towards us. We kept quiet until the antelope turned up a little side branch. This was our opportunity. I had already killed several antelope, while Camp, the better hunter, had not killed one, owing to the shorter range of his shotgun. But now he had a fine rifle, and I was to give him the first shot. So he turned down the little branch to come in behind them while I crossed over a little hill, and just as I was approaching the top of the hill, Camp fired, and I saw his antelope fall. The other two galloped to the top of the hill opposite me and stopped to look back at their fallen kin. It was a long shot, but I hit my game fairly and he fell in his tracks. The third one was so amazed that he stood where he was until Camp reloaded and took aim and brought him down also.
Well, we were nearly or quite ten miles from the road, yet we each cut out both hams [the typist of Sparks's manuscript misinterpreted his handwriting and used here the word "horns."], that is, a pair each. These horns [i.e., hams] would weigh at least twenty-five pounds. This, added to our rifles, fifteen pounds more, was a full load for two tired men. As expected, we found the road in about ten miles. Here we learned that our teams were about eight miles ahead, so we sold one pair of horns [hams] for $1.50 and divided the other pair. This lightened our burden somewhat and we started on, and after a walk for the day of nearly forty miles, reached our wagons. Tired is no word for it, but we had the night to rest and fresh antelope for supper and breakfast. It is now nearly forty-nine years since I performed this terribly hard day's work and now in my present age I can hardly realize that I could have performed such labor, but I was used to all manner of like hardships and at the time thought but little of it.
My early life was full of similar hardships, that if detailed would make quite a book of itself, and when I think of the many hardships scarcely noticed, with my two and a half years active service in our Civil War, I could but smile at the little brush our boys had with Spain [in 1898], most of whom were out less than four months all told.
I will skip over this part of the route, though it was interesting in many respects. In one bound, I will pass over the summit of the Great Rocky Mountains, and though it was July 4th, snow lay in great banks and covered the higher peaks; and then on through great desert places, one of which (Sublets Cut-off) was fifty miles in length without water. We ferried the Green River on a wagon bed with a log on each side, swimming our cattle across this rugged and deep stream. For this accommodation, we paid the ferryman Five Dollars for each wagon. So it was, on and on, over one great mountain and then another until we reached the headwaters of the Humbolt [sic] whose only merit is that it bears the name of the immortal traveler, Humbolt. This we found to be a beautiful stream at first and the road followed its course to where it loses itself into the sand in the great desert. For the first fifty miles it was a beautiful little stream, with clear, good water and plenty of grass for our teams. The next fifty was also good water and grass. The next hundred grew worse rapidly. The water became badly tinctured with alkali, and grass was very scarce. The third and last hundred beggars description. Almost no vegetation save the few willows along its banks and in the sloughs; and the water more strongly saturated with alkalies, and hundreds of dead cattle and horses in its sloughs to further poison this already very bad water.
Finally we reached what was then known as the Meadow where the stream spreads out about two miles wide and eight miles long. This is, in fact, the sink, but a little arm of the stream runs down about twenty-five miles further. This Meadow, as it was called, grew up in high rank grass, resembling a cane brake of the South. Here we rested one day, cut some of this grass with our butcher knives for the cattle to eat before passing over the great desert before us. As I have said, the arm of the stream forced its way into the desert about twenty-five miles from the Meadow, so we drove to this point in one day. Here the water was absolutely filthy. It looked and tasted almost greasy from the filth of the many dead cattle. Yet, it was all the water we had. With forty miles before us of absolute and terrible desert and no grass whatever for the cattle, we had to use the little we had secured at the Meadow. After boiling the water and making very strong coffee of it, we could drink it fairly well. Sentiment about the dead cattle did not deter us as we were tired and hungry. The next day, about 8:00 A.M., we moved out to cross the worst desert, by long odds, we had yet seen. Many of our cattle refused to drink the water at the slough, not knowing of course they had forty miles more desert before water could be had. The first twenty-eight miles of the route was good roads, save about one mile of very bad sand. Here we lost our first little ox, poor little fellow. He had been too ambitious and free and refusing water at the slough, he soon fell on this first sand. We took out one of our rifles and put an end to his suffering.
Without difficulty we picked up a nice set of harness and put them on the odd ox and on we went, passing hundreds of dead cattle, horses and mules. It is said mules never die, but such mules had never attempted this terrible desert. Passing on, without incident, with the dead animals on all sides and with a forest of deserted wagons, we finally reached the sand hills about twelve miles from the beautiful Carson River. I could not describe the scene along this ten miles. The night covered part of the scene, but it could not shut out the horrid smell. Here were whole teams lying dead, some yet hitched to the wagons. Their inhuman owners had deserted them, taking packs on their own backs, and rushed on to get out of this horrid stench. The dead and dying, in every conceivable condition, from the swollen body to the dry hides over the bones, with worms by the bushel, as they lived and perished with the dead. It was with difficulty we got around the deserted wagons and dead animalsóour wagons even passing over some of the perished bodies.
But the scene was soon to change. The sun rose up in all its brightness, as it can shine only in a desert. We were now emerging from the hated sand hills to better roads. Our cattle caught the smell of the water two miles away. Shouting at, and urging these poor half dead cattle was no longer necessary. Some of them had been forty-eight hours without water and had travelled sixty-five miles, but as I have said, two miles away they caught the moist air from the Carson and began to move up more and more freely; finally all hands were called to the help and management of the poor thirsty and starved brutes. While some stood in front beating back the half-crazed cattle, others finally released them from the wagon and let them go. It was a sight that might bring mingled tears with laughter for pay, to see these happy brutes as they stood in the beautiful clear stream up to their bellies and sipped and drank its clear and cooling waters. Thus ended this fearful march down the Humbolt. I have witnessed many battles in my life, and if you relieve the scene of human dead, I have never witnessed anything that approached these last twelve miles of desert just described. My memory is vividly renewed by reading one of my old California letters to my wife, the first after our arrival and the first after passing the desert.
Now the scenery was suddenly changed. We traveled up the Carson and though the hills are dry and deserted, there are cottonwood trees along the stream, or were at that time. After a few days travel along by the side of the Great Sierra Nevadas, we suddenly turned into what was called the Devil's Gap, and if "devil" means bad, then it was properly named, for we found the worst piece of road of the trip. Not like the desert, but rocky and rough beyond description. The scenery here was exceedingly grand. While we passed through this rough gap, the rocks stood up on both sides thousands of feet above us. Passing on, we finally came to the summit of the great Sierra Nevadas, traveling over snow ten or fifteen feet deep. When we finally reached the top, we had a scene before us that was grand indeed. At our feet, the great slope of the mountains was covered with the finest pines I ever saw, some of them doubtless three hundred feet high. Looking from this grand height, we could see the great blue Pacific in the distance. With snow and cold weather where we stood, we could look over a land of almost perpetual flowers and summer in the distance.
But I must leave this grand scene and go on. After pulling over one great mountain and almost dropping down on the other side, a few more days of toil, yet amidst the most beautiful scenery, after a journey of five months, we finally reached the long coveted mines, at a point called at that time "Hang Town," though Placerville was the proper name. Here we sold our cattle and wagon and went into camp as miners.
[Editor's Note: In a future issue of the Quarterly, we will publish David Rhodes Sparks's account of his stay in California and his journey home. Sixteen months after starting to California full of confidence that he would strike it rich, Sparks returned home with little to show for his adventure beyond his memories of hardship and disappointment. The text of a surviving letter that he wrote to his wife from Fort Laramie on June 15, 1850, appears on the following page.]
When typewritten copies of David Rhodes Sparks's handwritten autobiography were made in 1932 to share with family members, several of his surviving letters were copied to provide an appendix. One of these, dated June 15, 1850, had been written at Fort Laramie. It was doubtless one of his letters that he used to help him recall events while writing his autobiography. It is Interesting to note his reference to his brother, Edmund, finding the lost horsesófrom the autobiography, we know that the owner was eventually found. How this letter was conveyed to Anna back in Illinois is not known, although in many instances such letters were entrusted by their writers to gold seekers who were returning home without completing their journey.
Fort Laramie, June the 15th 1850.
Again I have the favored opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along. In the first place, I will inform you that I am well and in high spirits, as I was when I wrote before. We have just crossed the Laramies Fork, a stream about sixty yards wide and deep enough to run over the fore-wheels of our wagon and swim our lead oxen, but we crossed without any difficulty and are now ready to go ahead again.
Nothing of much note has taken place since I wrote you before. We kill antelope occasionally. Edmund and myself started out at noon and went about three miles and killed one. I took both hams and he took the fore parts and packed them eight or ten miles to the camp. So we have fresh meat at our house.
We drove from Fort Kearney to Fort Laramie, 330 miles, in fourteen and one-half days and our teams look about as well as when we started. We are sure that we will get to the end of our journey by the last of August or the first of September . There are three or four lame oxen in our company, but No. 1 is all sound yet, and has been. We have a fine team, as good as any on the road and as to our mess, it can't be beat. We love each other like brothers. We never quarrel with each other, but would fight for one of our mess to the last breath. Our attachment for each other increases every day.
We expect to get to Salt Lake by the 15th of July and from there we expect to push over to the last notch. We are talking of swapping our wagon for a lighter one. We can buy a fine wagon for $12.00. I have sold my pistol for $12.00. We have money enough and none to spare. Edmund found three horses and one mule three weeks since and has found no owner for them, nor I don't think he will ever find him.
My dear, I want you to take good care of self and babe, and content yourself until I return, if ever I am so fortunate. I don't expect to get home before next fall [full ??] year, though I may get home sooner, but not without some money I assure you.
I close for the want of time. There is so much noise and hurry that I can't write like I want to when I try. Tell Jackson and Fletcher that I can't get time to write to them, and write often yourself. Give my best respects to all inquiring friends - and to you the purest love a husband can give.
[signed] D. R. Sparks
To Anna D. Sparks.
Whole Number 187
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DAVID RHODES SPARKS
[Editor's Note: We began publishing David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography in the Quarterly of March 1998. Beginning on page 4938 of that issue, we provided an introduction, noting that Sparks had been born on October 15, 1823, in Harrison County, Indiana. His parents, Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, had been married in 1807 in or near Louisville, Kentucky. Baxter Sparks, born on May 8, 1777, was a member of the branch of the Sparks family that moved from Prince Georges County, Maryland, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in or ca. 1777, the year of Baxter's birth. (See "Family Record of Baxter Sparks" in the Quarterly of March 1972, Whole No. 77.)
[David Rhodes Sparks died on November 10, 1907, in Alton, Illinois. During his life, he participated in each of the major historical events of the mid-19th Century, and in his autobiography written for his children and grandchildren, he recalled his role in those events in fascinating detail. Part I, appearing in the Quarterly of March 1998, Whole No. 181, was devoted to his memories of his youth on what was then the American frontier. Part II in the issue for September 1998, Whole No. 183, included his experiences in the War with Mexico in 1847/48. Part III in the issue of March 1999, Whole No. 185, was devoted to Sparks's experiences in 1850 going overland to California in the Gold Rush that had begun the year before. Part IV presented here, covers his disappointments in seeking California's riches, the death of his brother, Edmund Sparks, and his return home by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Also included in this part is his struggle to establish a milling business and his response to the siren call of gold discovery in Colorado. Part V, to be published in a future issue of the Quarterly will be devoted to Sparks's experiences in the Union Army in the Civil War.]
After resting a day at Placerville, we (that is, [Wesley] Best, [J.T.] Chapman, my brother, Edmund, and I) bought a small mule to carry our camp equipment. During the night some scoundrel stole him, and we had to repeat the buying next morning. Our first experience at packing a mule was laughable. We packed and piled in the most fantastic manner, and the very first move the mule made, the whole pack turned under his belly. He made no attempt at kicking, for in fact it would have been difficult for him to do so. Well, there was nothing left but to undo this pernicious load and repack the mule. So when we got our things all on the ground again, we concluded to stay and have an early dinner and made our second start about twelve, going to Caloma on the South Fork of the American River, where we stopped for the night. This is the location of the old Sutter's Saw Mill where, in digging a short water race, gold was first discovered. The old mill and dam was still standing, though I believe not in use, yet it had been used after the discovery and had not the gold fever set everybody crazy, there was a fortune in this old mill, but it was impossible to get men to chop wood when they could go almost anywhere and dig gold in considerable quantities.
After stopping overnight, we started early next day to climb the mountain- -about two miles hard climbing to the top- -then we found ourselves on a kind of plateau, and by panning out a little dirt in a small branch, we found gold, as we thought, in paying quantities. So we stopped and sent back to Coloma for a miner's cradle and dipper, a pick or two, and shovels, and went to work. We found the pay rather dull, but moving up the branch half a mile or so we found better digging. Here my brother took sick, and after a week or ten days he died. We bought a plain pine box coffin at Coloma for $25.00, carried it up the mountain on our little mule, and by the aid of some miners nearby we rigged up a wagon and buried Brother in what was then called Greenwood, about four miles from where we were camped.
We continued our work after this sad rite was over, leaving now Wesley Best, J. F. Chapman, and myself. We had all been raised close together and, of course, were familiar with each other. Besides, as I have said before. Chapman and I were brothers-in-law, while Best and Chapman were cousins. After working here a few weeks, making fair wages, though not half that was promised, that is, sixteen dollars per day, we concluded to go into winter quarters on Slate Branch, about one mile from this place.
We built a log cabin and a little stone fire place and made a kind of shelf for our beds. We then laid in a hundred pound barrel of pork and also one hundred pounds of beef (that was very lean). We also bought three hundred pounds of flour at twenty-five cents per pound; in fact, we paid the same for beef and pork. We also bought some dried apples as a relish and a supply of sugar and coffee. Thus supplied, we were prepared for winter which, however, was very moderate, freezing very slightly at most. We stayed here until March, when we pulled up stakes and went over to the Middle Fork of the American River. Here we worked a while for five dollars per day, but soon began prospecting again, but our Mr. Chapman determined to return home, and after dividing our little earnings- -less than $500.00 each- -Best and I moved over the mountain to another point, but prospects were not favorable, and Best became Discouraged and determined to return with Chapman.
I had lost track of all my old friends and began to feel very lonesome, even before the boys left, and soon determined to accompany them on their home journey, and so we all started soon after for San Francisco.
We walked to Sacramento and there took a steamboat of considerable size to San Francisco, down the Sacramento to the Bay. This river, I believe, is not now navigable, having filled up so badly from the washings of the mines. Besides, the railroads have taken the place of water navigation to a large extent, though at that time there was water for large steam crafts.
On arriving there, we found a bark of 250 tons almost ready to sail with about one hundred and fifty passengers. We joined them, and the vessel pulled out after a day or two. We were all first-cabin and at the same time steerage passengers, for there was no line drawn. We were all equals. Passing out of the Golden Gate, we found ourselves full of hope in the waves of the mighty Pacific. We sailed rapidly out of sight of land that day, sailing away down south to catch the trade winds, but got into a calm that lasted more than a month. Here, without making headway, we were tossed about by the ever rolling sea until provi- sions and water began to grow scarce, and starvation stared us in the face. There was no wind and we were helpless- -apparently nothing we could do.
About two-thirds of the passengers held a meeting and determined to take the ship and turn her away back to the Marquesas Islands, but the one-third of the passengers and the determination of the Captain rather overawed this wild scheme. Soon after, the next day in fact, we began to move in the right direction, and in seventeen days from the date of this little rebellion we arrived at Panama (arrived about two P.M.) our trip having lasted seventy-five days, and seventy days out of sight of land, or more than double the length of time Columbus was out of sight of land when he discovered America.
We were greatly overjoyed on landing once more. We stayed over night in Panama and started next morning about sunrise across the Isthmus of Panama, on the Chagras River. The distance was about twenty-eight miles. We reached this little town at sundown, thoroughly wet to the skin, as it rained hard on us dur- ing the trip. The next day we started with three others, or five perhaps, eight in all, besides two natives to row, and one boss. The skiff was not large, but sufficiently so and we made the trip during the day. It was a clear and beautiful day. We saw little droves of monkeys climbing about like squirrels on the trees overhanging the water. They seemed not to care so long as they were seventy-five or a hundred yards away. Chagras was mainly a town of tents. The hotel in which we stopped was a kind of framework covered house with canvas on the sides. Here we stayed one day waiting for the steamer. She was a large sidewheel steamer of four thousand tons, but very slow as compared to our steamers of today, being eleven days from Chagras to Havana, Cuba.
The name of this steamer was the Falcon of four thousand tons and one of the largest then built. The screw has long since taken the place of the old side paddle wheel. That large and fine ship could make about eight knots per hour. We now  have ships of eighteen thousand tons that will make twenty-two knots per hour, and cross the Atlantic to Liverpool in six to seven days. We now have twelve or fifteen armored cruisers of ten to fourteen thousand tons that can easily make twenty-two knots with immense armament of guns that will throw a shot eight or ten miles and at close range will easily penetrate eight inches of steel plate.
At Havana, we changed to the steamer Cherokee and in three days more we landed in New Orleans, stayed one day here and took passage on the steamer St. Louis for St. Louis, making the trip in seven days. This, however, was rather a pleasant trip as we took cabin passage and our big river steamers were very fine. This was the summer of 1851, of high-water fame. The bottoms opposite St. Louis were com- pletely submerged. As there was not a railroad entering that city, we took a ferry boat for Alton, landing near where the Union Depot is now located. Here we took stage for Woodburn, arriving about 2:00 o'clock A.M. next day. We hired a wagon and two horses to take us home, near Staunton, and arrived during the afternoon, meeting our wives, children, and friends after an absence of sixteen months.
Soon after arriving home from California I began to look about for a beginning, and I will say here that I returned with almost exactly $300.00 in money and no other property whatsoever. With this small beginning, I entered eighty acres of fine prairie land two miles from the timber line, for which I paid $100.00. This land lies about one and a quarter miles south and east of what is now the prosperous little city of Mt. Olive, on the Wabash Railroad and is now one of the finest coal fields in the state. My land was two miles from the timber, and it looked lonely, but I was not discouraged by this. I next bought twenty acres of good timber land of my father-in-law, which was one and one-half miles inside the timber line, thus making the whole distance from my farm land three and a half miles. This timber was bought on time. I then purchased two common horses, a cheap set of harness, and a wagon. by this time, my money was gone, but I still made my home with my good father-in-law, Richard Chapman. Now it was about the first of July, when no one thought of working in the timber where it was very warm, yet I made it my daily job to start out and drive about three and a half miles to the timber. Here I select- ed a good sized saw log, such as would make a load for my two horses, I would then take off the two wheels of the wagon next to the log, putting the point of the axle in the end of the hub of the wheel, turned down, then with the use of two sticks or young trees strong enough to bear the log, I would, with the aid of what we called a "cant hook," roll this up on the wagon. At my present age, it seems almost im- credible, but I did it, and that "by main strength and awkwardness," to use an old phrase. I would then take hold of the rim of the wheel and lift it up and force it back on the axle and drive home for dinner (which, by the way, was on the road to Staunton where they had a little steam saw mill and would saw the logs into lum- ber for one-half of the lumber). After dinner, my horses fed, I would drive to Staunton, about four and a half miles, unload my log and return home. This I did day in and day out, right in the very midst of the hot summer of 1851.
After getting logs enough in this way to furnish lumber for a small frame house, 14 x 22 feet and one story high, I then went into the woods to make shingles for the roof. This work was new to me, but good old Father Chapman went with me one day, showing me how to split out the blocks and how to divide them into proper thickness. I had the use of the drawing knife and proceeded to make the shingles for the little house. This done, and my lumber now ready, I hauled it to the place where the house was to be erected, which was fully seven miles from Staunton. Then, by swapped work with Father Chapman again (he was a kind of "jack-at-all-trades" and though old and trembly, he knew how to lay off the work), I could do the hard part of it. So in this way, by the first of December I had the little house closed in, but not plastered. A temporary plank partition was put up to divide the room, and a small cooking stove, which answered also as a heating stove, was bought. We moved into this new but unfinished little house, two miles out in the bleak prairie, about the first of December 1851. Our furniture consisted of two common feather beds and plain bedsteads, a few wood- bottom chairs, some kind of a little table, and stove referred to, and that was all- -except a new rag carpet, the work of my good wife while I was building the house. This carpet was cut from rags and sewed together by her own hands, save perhaps some help in this from her mother and sister; the weaving was her own handiwork. Thus, furnished with our warm brand new carpet, a thing many old settlers never had, we took our loved little girl out in this frail building to spend a very severe cold winter. Of course, I had no time to play. I had to haul wood three and one-half miles to keep my wife and dear little one warm. (This child is now Mrs. Milnor, living in Litchfield, with two small children, a daughter now at Monticello Seminary, the son at home with them, in one of the most comfortable houses in that city.) Besides this- -and it was no small job- - I would make daily trips to this timber to make rails with which to fence part of my land for the next spring. Sometimes it was so cold I would walk the entire distance, three and one-half miles, cut and split one hundred large fence rails, and then walk home. Thus, you see the walk was seven miles besides the work. Other times I would ride one of my horses. Enfeebled by the hardships of forty- two years since then, I can hardly credit my own story, yet I know it is literally true- -and much more than I cannot note here.
After spending this cold winter in this way, about the first of March I swapped my wagon and one horse to old farmer Jesse Boyd (who lived one and a half miles east of me) for four pairs, or yoke, of oxen, as we called them, with a prairie plow to break the thin, tough sward (or sod). I also got an old-time wagon. For all this, besides the horse and wagon, I agreed to break seventy acres of his new prairie land, he to furnish dinner and supper to me and board my driver. This was a big job, but I stood not upon hard work, for I needed the team to break my own land, or part of it. So as early as practicable, I be- gan my work. One who has followed the slow movement of the ox can better judge how exceedingly tedious such a job would be, without which he can hardly realize the work. However, by patient, steady work, the job was accomplished in due time. But during the spring, I also hauled out the rails already referred to, to fence ten acres of land, which I also broke before finishing the other job. I planted this ten acres in what we called sod corn, and in this way raised considerable feed. After Mr. Boyd's job was completed, I broke ten acres more of my own land, also five acres for a brother-in-law. Dr. Mitchell. This land is now a part of Mt. Olive.
I now laid by the old plow, turned my cattle on the prairie to rest, save one yoke that I sold to pay my driver as helper. The net of this job was twenty acres of my own land broken and ten acres fenced, and I had one horse and three pairs of oxen left besides the old plow and wagon, and it was then about the first of July . So I traded one pair of my cattle for a good work horse and one pair for a two-horse wagon. Thus equipped again with my two horses and wagon, twenty acres of my land broken, partly fenced, and one yoke of oxen to go, I felt that I had done a big spring and summer's work, and so I had.
Later on the same year , Captain Dan Henderson and I borrowed the money to pay for a threshing machine and ran this machine all the fall and paid for the machine. I felt well pleased with the year's work, and now I fully expected to run my little farm the next spring. But during the winter, Wesley Best's wife died. This left him somewhat broke up and, having been raised close together on adjoining farms, and having just made our long trip to California, he naturally came to me, and we soon had a scheme to buy out a small steam saw mill on Macaupin Creek in Macoupin County. Best, in the meantime, sold his little farm for cash and we paid cash- -1 believe about $700.00- -for the little mill. After sawing up a large lot of logs there, we took up the mill and moved it to Kahokia Creek, about five miles nearly south of where Gillespie now stands. Here we built a small log cabin before the mill got into place, and I rented my little farm and moved into this log cabin about April 1853. We had then two children, a girl and boy. Here we lived for some time, with no doors or shutters, save only a bed quilt to keep out the wind and rain. We were in the woods where wild deer might be found almost any day, and our nearest neighbor was at least one and a half miles distant, and the next would have carried us over two miles.
Soon, however, the little mill was put in place and the sound of the ax and hum of the saw made it look quite business like. We made some money from the start, and during that fall I bought Best's interest, paying mainly with my little farm, he going into a small store in Staunton with my brother-in-law, Isaac Sturges. I worked the mill until the next July, during which time I furnished some nine thou- sand railroad ties for what was then known as the Terre Haute and Alton Railroad, in the course of construction. I delivered the ties at a point about two miles west of where Gillespie now stands.
Sometime in July 1854, Mr. B. J. Henderson and I determined to build a flour mill in Staunton, and I sold my saw mill to a brother-in-law, now Major J. F. Chapman.
I soon found my new partner, Henderson, had little or no money, and as Best was anxious to go into the mill, I was only too glad to have him do so. He sold out his interest and we again became partners, and we soon bought Mr. Henderson's little interest, and he went out. This partnership, with a slight break in 1861, lasted for twenty-five years.
The new mill (Big Mill as she was called) was started in May 1855, and I have been constantly in the milling business ever since. I think I am the oldest continuous miller in the state- -over thirty-eight years as you will see.
But I must go back to the little saw mill, of which, after Best went out, I was sole proprietor. My business was to fire the boiler with green oak slabs, which I had to cut and split up for the furnace. I also had to look after the choppers, haulers, and selling the lumber. So the labor I performed was plenty for two men. There our third child, Wesley David, was born. I look back with wonder that either my wife or I could stand such hardships. Think of this mother, with two little children on her hands, and here a third is born, and yet she did most of the work, cooking, etc., for one to three or four men. It is almost past belief- - yet no word of complaint. Indeed, she knew I was doing all a man could do, and she not only bore her full part without complaint, but rather with cheerfulness. Often, when [I was] badly overcome by overwork and heat, her cheering words were ever present, overlooking her own hard work. No man ever possessed a better wife, or children a better mother. My children should mark this heroic work of this dear, devoted mother and wife.
But I must not dwell here too long. I will, however, give a few more of the little incidents of this, I may say, "camp life," for it was little better. During the spring of 1854, we had some very heavy rains. At one time I was at old man Sawyer's, near Staunton, looking at some work cattle, and, owing to a very heavy rain storm, I had to stay overnight. Next morning I hurried forward to find the creek full from bank to bank, and about ten feet deep. There was a fix, but I did not like to lay around on the opposite bank, so I had one of the men throw an ax across the stream, about sixty feet. The ax was landed all right, and I proceeded to cut down a small cottonwood tree. It fell across the stream, its top barely reaching the bank and rather floating on the water. On this doubtful bridge I started, feeling sure that if I fell off I could swim to the shore, though the water was quite cold. IVIy weight bent the little tree below the water, but I succeeded in crossing without a cold bath as the boys expected to see. At another time, the creek was still higher and ran over our saw; it was waist deep in our lumber yard and was about to float off a lot of lumber. So I waded in and piled up lumber for hours, working most of the time up to my waist, and the water not too warm. These and many more little incidents helped to make up that part of my hard spent life.
I will now turn again to the building of the Staunton Mill... .After selling my saw mill, I had about $2,200.00 all told, not all in money, but some money. Best had more, perhaps $4,000.00, but it was scattered, and he could bring little, if any more, to our work. Between us, I doubt if we could have mustered more than thirty or thirty-five hundred dollars. However, we each had a team of horses and a wagon and did a very large portion of the hauling and other work. So we contracted for the mill machinery [to be] put up complete for $5,600.00, with Stiggleman and Johnson of Alton, and we had the first engine built by them in what is now called the old Woolbin Mill. We furnished the building; the contract was for the machinery only. We had to pay all freight of the machinery, lumber, etc. The mill was guaranteed to make thirty-five bbls. in twelve hours, or seventy bbls. in twenty-four hours. We had no use for so large a mill, nor could we see what we could do with thirty-five bbls. of flour daily. However, these builders thought they could not build a complete merchant mill and make it less, so we made the venture, agreeing to pay one-half cash as the work progressed and when finished, one-half of the remainder in twelve months after the mill was finished, and the last in eighteen months after the completion of the mill. The mill cost us about $9,000.00 or $9,500.00, but it must be remembered that Best and I did a large percent of the work of hauling and building....
[Editor's note: Here we omit the portion of the Sparks autobiography devoted to further details of the building and success of his and Best's mill. They were able to pay off their creditors as scheduled. He recounted in this part of his story that local farmers complained regarding the price he and Best were willing to pay for wheat and how, in 1859, two local merchants named Stephenson and Barnett, with funds loaned them by the disgruntled farmers, built a rival mill in Staunton. We continue from Sparks's autobiography at this point.]
So they contracted with the same parties who had built ours to build a copy in every way of our mill, only their house covered less ground. They had the same head mill-wright, James Van Sant. They disposed of their store and the new mill was built and started the spring of 1860, or five years after ours. This five years of experience was not lost and now, as competing mills, we "locked horns," to use an old western phrase. The result was that in four years they went into bankruptcy, with liabilities amounting to about $70,000.00, about $40,000.00 of which was to the farmers in whose interest the mill was built. The mill and all they had was mortgaged to a St. Louis party for about $25,000.00 of this money, leaving the farmers with the empty bag to hold, while they themselves were completely broken and now cursed and abused by those farmers who, by the way, were still holding the empty bag. Mr. Stephenson got a clerkship and travelling position in St. Louis and never entered into business again. Barnett worked afterwards in Litchfield, lugging grain around on his back. Poor fellow- -he was a good hearted man- -deserved a better fate and got it, for a few years after his wife died, he married a widow near his boyhood home and lived on her farm and I believe is doing fairly well and living com- fortably. Of course, he is now old.
Barnett moved to Edwardsville some years ago and by dint of trading around, made a bare living, the farm I believe going to the children of his wife. Two years ago, while I was in the State Senate, I managed to get him appointed as Inspector of Stock in the East St. Louis Stock Yards, where he still holds his position at a salary of $100.00 per month. How strangely things turn around in life.
But to go back; this same year of 1859 was the counter, on a smaller scale, to the 1849 of California, and large numbers flocked to the newly discovered gold mines of Pike's Peak, though in fact 80 to 100 miles away and much nearer Long's Peak that raises its hoary head nearly fifteen thousand feet above the ocean. Well now, as to this great gold discovery, it was well nigh a failure, as I have remarked of it. At the time it was as a mouse to an elephant, as compared to the great gold fields of California. However, some gold was found and that was enough; so by the next year, like the 1850 of California, the 1860 of Pike's Peak saw thousands of ox teams wending their way across the desert plains, either to get rich digging gold or to trade.
Well, it so happened that my brother-in-law, Isaac Sturges, with other friends, Robert Hunter and William Patrick, fitted out a team in 1859 and went to the mines. They managed to get a claim on Russell's Branch. Here they worked during the summer and took out a few hundred dollars in gold, but the great gold lodes that were being discovered was to be the great thing, but it took machinery to work them. So they secured a long run on the Mammoth Lead, which they discovered about half a mile from where the little city of Central City now stands, and returned home in the fall, flushed with the hope of great things from this great gold lead.
So they came to us. Best and me, to go in and furnish money for the machinery, which we gladly did, excepting, of course, we had but little money. However, it did not take much, so we commenced securing the machinery and cattle and wagons for an early start in the spring. The whole outfit cost about $4,500.00. We found it quite difficult at that time to get machinery for no one seemed to know what was required. However, we agreed with our Alton friends, then Johnson and Emerson, to furnish us an engine and boiler with six stamps. Thus equipped, we started with this outfit; that is, wagon and teams, as the machinery was shipped to St. Joseph, Missouri. I was to accompany the machinery. I started from my home in Staunton about the 20th of March, cheerfully kissing my dear wife and loved little children, Mary, Dicky, Wesly, Josie, and Hosie, as we lovingly called them, never dreaming that I would never see the bright face of little Josie again. So on we marched with four ox wagons.
I had charge and, in addition, was chief cook and general worker, actually doing most of the cooking myself on this trip. Mind you, this whole trip was about 1100 miles with ox teams, camping out along the way, but we got all the fun there was out of it.
We arrived at the mines early in June and in a few days had the mill set up, and I turned the steam on the second engine ever started in these mountains. The first was a very insignificant concern, very nearly where Central City now stands. Ours was about a half mile up what was then called Spring Branch. We soon had up a lot of the (to be) famed Mammoth Lead Quartz and started the mill. After stamping out a measured cord or two of this quartz, we stopped to clean up and see what we had. Our disappointment and amazement knew no bounds when it dawned upon us that we had not so much as the color of gold. This was a damper, and you could have bought out the whole lot of us for about 10 cents apiece. However, we did not propose giving it up yet.
On arriving, and before this trial was made, I had written to Mr. Best for more stamps and other material to follow, but after this trial I wrote him to hold up a short time. About two weeks after, I wrote him to stop any further machinery. Even though it might be started, he must turn it back. He had acted on my second letter and had gone to but little expense, and any further outlay was thus saved. Of course, we did not give up all hope and kept trying. We finally stamped about a cord of quartz for some parties and took out over six hundred dollars. This so excited us that we bought this claim, paying some little down and a large part of the net earnings for quite a sum. I don't now remember, but I think about $3,000.00. Here we spent the summer and some money sinking a shaft on this lead.
During the summer, I had arranged with two others to go to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, about twelve miles distant. You could almost think you could see a deer on its snow-capped summit. Just at this time, without the least warn- ing of what was to come, I received a letter from home. It was hurriedly opened, for I saw it was from my wife, and there in a few lines I read that my dear little Josie was dead. She was about four years old and exceedingly bright. This shock seemed to change the whole outlook of the mountains, for what had seemed too splendid and interesting was now as suddenly covered in gloom, and my trip to the summit was abandoned. Now I longed for the time to come when we should start home.
Finally, about the last of September, we struck an open space [in the shaft] at the depth of one hundred feet. I panned out about one gallon of the decomposed quartz here found about 60 cents in gold. I tried a second pan with about the same results. This was considered very satisfactory, but, as the first of October was set as our time to start home, we gathered up a pair of horses and a pair of mules which we had got from the Russell Creek claim, and Patrick, Sturges, and I started for home in company with three or four others who had one of the teams. Mr. Hunter had his wife with him, and he stayed to manage the business.
We left the mines about September 28th and arrived home about the first of No- vember, 1860, just in time to vote in that memorable election. I should have stated here, though we got a few hundred dollars out of this rich spot, the whole thing was a failure and abandoned with the total loss of what we put in it, Mr. Best and I losing one-half.
[Editor's Note: The "memorable election" of November 1860 to which Sparks re- ferred was, of course, that which made Abraham Lincoln the next President, thus heralding the imminence of the South's secession and the Civil War that would follow. When, following the Union's defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers to enlist for three years, David Rhodes Sparks organized and became captain of a company in the Third Regiment of Illinois Cavalry Volunteers. When we next publish a portion of Sparks's autobiography it will pertain to his memories of his Civil War experiences.]
Whole Number 191
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DAVID RHODES SPARKS
[Editor's Note: In the Quarterly OF March 1998, Whole No. 181, we introduced our readers to the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks, born 1823, died 1907, with a record of his ancestry (pp.4938-44). This was followed by extracts from his autobiography describing his youth and young manhood in Indiana and Illinois (pp. 4944-53). This took Sparks to the year 1845. It was in the Quarterly of September 1998, Whole No.183, that we published Part II of David R. Sparks's story which was devoted to his experiences as a soldier in the War with Mexico. His first wife, Maria Parisher, had died in 1846, childless.
[Soon after his return to Illinois at the close of his service, David married his second wife, Anna Davenport Chapman, by whom he became the father of nine children, the eldest of whom was Mary Ann Mariah Sparks, born on September 26, 1849. It is her photograph, taken about 1920 with her granddaughter, that appears on the cover of this issue of the Quarterly.
[In the Quarterly of March 1999, Whole No. 185, pp.5130-35, appeared Part III of our extracts from the autobiography of David R. Sparks. This part was devoted largely to his joining the California Gold Rush and his vivid description of his experiences in crossing plains and becoming a miner. Like nearly every other adventurer to the "Gold Fields of California, David failed to strike it rich, but his experiences there were dramatic. Part IV of his autobiography appearing in the Quarterly of September 1999, Whole No. 187 (pp.5199-5206) related his disappointments in failing to strike it rich, the death of his older brother, Edmund Sparks, in California, and his return home by way of the Isthmus of Panama, across which he walked.
Also included in Part IV of the Sparks autobiography was his account of his struggle and success in establishing a flour-milling business in Staunton, Illinois, as well as his response to the siren call of the gold discovery in Colorado. Again he failed to find riches. This took him to the year 1860.
[We now present Part V of the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks. Although he voted for Stephen A. Douglas in the memorable election of that year, Sparks responded to Abraham Lincoln's call for 300,000 volunteers, following the Union's defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, by organizing a company of cavalry. Here we begin Sparks's account of his role in the Civil War, to the end of June 1862. In a future issue of the Quarterly, we will begin Part VI with David R. Sparks's activities in Arkansas.] ¬†
Immediately after the Bull Run disaster, the President by proclamation called for three hundred thousand men for three years, and among these, three Regiments of Cavalry from our State. So I determined to go in the Cavalry. I at once saw Noreden Camen, afterwards First Lieutenant, who lived near Walshville, a little village about ten miles east of Staunton. He was ready to join me in getting up a company and with little delay I went to Springfield and reported a company. Governor Yates asked how long before I could report for duty. I told him a week or ten days. So I was placed in the Third Regiment of Illinois Cavalry Volunteers and the work of getting together ninety to one hundred men with horses was no small job, but no time was lost.
Large numbers of the young men who were ready and willing to go had no horses, nor were they able to buy them. I should state here that the Government was totally bankrupt and asked the people to furnish their own horses and receive pay for the use of the horse at forty cents a day.
So to mount these men, horses must be bought. Not discouraged at this, I established a kind of horse market and horses were offered freely, I giving my own note for them. Camen refused to join me in this hazardous business. However, I had made up my mind to throw all I had into the scale at whatever cost or hazard; so I gave my own note for over fifty horses, costing about Six Thousand Five Hundred Dollars, more money I think than I was worth at the time. But in the great distress of my country, I counted not the cost, feeling that all would be saved or lost with the Government. So now in a very few days all was ready and the day set for meeting, and a great picnic dinner was set in a grove about five miles east of Staunton. There the Staunton boys would meet the Walshville boys. So with about fifty or sixty of the men we rode out from Staunton to this meeting place.
I should have stated that some days before this, in fact before the last recruit was reported at Springfield, we had met together in one of these groves and had gone through a formal election of officers. I was chosen Captain. Noreden Camen was chosen First Lieutenant, and A. Vanhooser, Second Lieutenant. So when we met at this grove for dinner we were already organized.
Hundreds of the people met here this day. Fathers and mothers, sisters and friends, sweethearts and all came to this dinner. To many it was no fun. or pastime. To the good mother who saw her darling son about to start on the perilous journey of war, it was no light matter. To the sterner father who bid his boy good-bye, with the solemn admonition, "My son, do your duty to your Government, it was a sad farewell. And to the husband who kissed his loved little children and that dear wife he was leaving in care of these loved ones while he entered this fearful service; to all these it was a scene and trial that can only be appreciated by being present. Mothers came to me with streaming eyes and asked that I take care of their boys. I promised, and so I did--so far as the circumstances would admit, but several of these boys never saw their homes or mothers again. Such is war, and such was the great trial that had burst upon a quiet agricultural people--like a great storm through whose dark clouds no eye could penetrate to see beyond.
Now all was ready, dinner was eaten, and last farewens were taken, the company was mounted, and the word was given to march. Amid the cheers of friends and tears of relatives, we rode off, proud that we were going in defense of our country, but sad in the thought of leaving home and friends.
Our first camp was about four miles north of Litchifeld at the farm of a Mr. Briggs (I believe it was). The night, though early in August, was chilly. Most of us slept in the barn of Mr. Briggs, for, of course, we had no tents. That night, my son Charles Fletcher Sparks was born. I might have stayed over, but of course could not tell then that this event would come off so soon. Besides, my presence seemed to be necessary to manage such a crowd of men, thus thrown suddenly together and every possible precaution had been taken that the mother should have all the assistance she could have had, had I been present.
The next morning we started on our march. (I do not give particular dates here as it does not seem at all necessary, but this was early August 1861.) At a point about two miles east of Virden, Illinois, on the C. & A. Railroad, we met a farmer with a morning paper containing the news of a battle that had taken place under Captain Lyon, commanding, at Wilson's Creek, about twelve miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri, in which Captain Lyon was killed and our forces defeated. Captain Lyon was a regular officer of great promise, and though up to this date he had not, I believe, been promoted, yet he had charge of this army of about ten thousand men.
[Editor's Note: The Captain Lyon mentioned here was Nathaniel Lyon, who was killd at Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861. He has been called the North's first military hero.]
Here was more news calculated to discourage the loyal hearts and add greater fear and anxiety as to what the end might be. The rebels were more defiant and confident than ever, and the Rebel General [Sterling] Price, now pushed his advantage and soon appeared before Lexington, on the Missouri River, where we had a small army of about twenty-five hundred or three thousand men, among them the First Illinois Cavalry who had been ordered forward. Price surrounded this force and after a few days' siege, the command was surrendered by Colonel Mulligan, an Irish leader. I have always considered this an ignorant or cowardly surrender, as our forces were paroled on the terms that they were never to take up arms against the Confederacy.
....That whole regiment was thus, right at the beginning, wiped out of the service. Why Colonel Mulligan was not court-martialed for this surrender I have never learned...
[Editor's Note: James Adelbert Mulligan had raised the "Irish Brigade" and he was captured with his brigade on September 20, 1861, at Lexington, Missouri. In the following Nov, he was exchanged at Winchester, Virginia. He died from wounds at Winchester in 1864. General Sterling Price was later forced to retreat from Missouri to Arkansas by a Union force commanded by General John Charles Fremont. Captain Sparks would encounter Price in Arkansas at a later date.]
After receiving the sad news of General Lyon's death (as we now began to call him) and the defeat of our army, we moved on, more sullen perhaps, but more determined to wipe out these defeats with victory. That night we camped at a farm house about ten miles south of Springfield, and the next day about noon we rode into the public square, or rather streets, surrounding the old State House, and halted, while I went into the Adjutant General's office to report my company and to be assigned to camp.
I can look back now and see those boys with every kind of dress and all kinds of old saddles that had been borrowed for the trip, to be sent back in the two wagons that accompanied us to haul provisions, etc., and I doubt if the Springfield people were very favorably struck with their appearance. I did not do as some foolish and vain officers did, muster them around the square to show them off, but quietly marched on to our camp at Camp Butler on the Sangamon River, about six or eight miles northeast of Springfield. Here we received tents at once and provisions were furnished; we now began our three-year period of camp life.
We were sworn into the service the next day, but it was two or three weeks before we got saddles. We then began to drill, and in a short time we had worked our selves into very respectable soldiers. We remained here for about six weeks, drilling and training ourselves to camp life, when the news of Mulligan's surrender was received. We were at once ordered to the front, boarding the cars at Springfield with our horses in the same train.
We were soon landed in Alton, Illinois, it then being the terminus of the C. & A. Railroad. We unloaded our horses at once and took passage on board the steamer "City of Alton" for St. Louis; there we disembarked and rode back to where the Fair Grounds is now located and went into quarters, but for only two days. Here we received our arms, consisting of the old-style "Hall Carbine," with what we used to call "horse pistols," a kind of little musket with big rounded handles and smooth bore muzzle loaders. Of course, they were of no use except for one shot as a mounted man would hardly load one of the things in action. The carbine was a breech loader, but we used the old paper-wrapped cartridge, which had to be torn off with the teeth and then fired with one of the old-style percussion caps. These were very poor guns for Cavalry, but would have been much better for Infantry who, at this time, had nothing better than muzzle loading guns. However, as to this, we were on equal footing with our enemies.
Leaving St. Louis, we marched to St. Charles during that night. Why this hurry, I do not know, for we lay there on the banks of the Missouri River two or three days with no tents and little provisions. Finally, a steamer came to take us to Jefferson City, Missouri. After a very tiresome tnp, we got to the end of our steam boat journey and were not sorry. We now went into camp, having received tents here. A few days later, we marched up to Tipton and waited there for the assembly of the army that was to be led by General Fremont against Price, who, before this, had abandoned Lexington and had fled to Springfield, Missouri.
We soon had an army at Tipton of about 12,000 strong, and started south to Spring field where it was supposed Price would give battle. But he did no such thing, but on our approach retreated further south. One Major Zejona, with about five companies of cavalry, had gone ahead by another road and found about a regiment of rebels camped nearby. He partially surprised them, and by a bold, but rather foolish charge, routed them, and they retreated, having killed seventeen of Zejuna' s men and a lot of horses. This was rather a daredevil piece of work, more for glory than for any good it could accomplish, because, of course, they would have retreated before our army. News of this fight came to us about eight o'clock when we were just lying down, and some of the men asleep. So, after marching all day, we were ordered to saddle up and go to Springfield that night, about thirty miles.
We arrived in Springfield next morning about one hour by sun. We found all quiet, as the rebels had gone for good. Zejuba' s dash had the effect of scaring them, at least, and that was some good for they began to think there was some daring among the Yanks, as they called us. We went into camp here for two weeks, doing hard guard duty with constant scouting parties. While here, I was on the battlefield of Wilson's Creek and saw the bones of what was said to be General Lyon's horse, and the spot where that brave officer fell so early in the struggle.A -.
After staying here two weeks, we were ordered back to Rolla, the south end of the railroad and about one hundred and twenty miles from Springfield. Here we went into camp for about two months. During this time we had cold weather and one night, with the snow about four inches deep and the thermometer down below zero, I was ordered out about 8:00 PM. to go down the railroad about thirty miles. Some of the men had lain down, but there was no foolishness--the order was peremptory.¬† Company H was also ordered to go with me. I, being senior officer, had charge. We were told to report to Colonel Wyman up in town, about one and a half miles. He directed me to leave one company out about twenty miles and the other must go to Cuba, about thirty miles. So we were soon on our way. It was very cold. We had to get down and walk at times, though walking was bad on account of the snow.
We arrived at the little town about sunrise, having left Lieutenant Hargrave with the other company about ten miles back. Here we took possession of a schoolhouse with an upper story for a Masonic Hall, and as we could get beef and provisions in plenty, we had a pretty good time scouting and hunting the country round about for rebels. We did not find any, however, save two or three who lived nearby, but they were not in, nor belonging to, the army and were not disturbed.
After a week or ten days stay at this place, we were ordered back to Rolla..... It was now February, cold, and much bad roads, but we pushed on, skirmishing with enemy almost daily for more than a week. This was our first real hard marching, for we were often ahead of our positions, camping out in the woods or wherever we happened to be at night.
Finally at Sugar Creek our Cavalry made a charge on the rebels and routed them, but we lost about ten men and some twenty horses within one hundred yards along the road. Nothing of any permanent character came from this loss, only our rapid pellmell pursuit of Price was stopped. Afterward we moved forward about twelve miles to a point called Cross Hollows and went into camp here for about two weeks. Meanwhile, the Cavalry was kept very busy scouting the country.
[Editor's Note: A number of letters that David D. Sparks wrote to his wife, Anna, during the war were included as an appendix to the typewritten copy of his autobiography. From three that he wrote in February 1862, we quote here the following:] ¬†
Camp in Arkansas,
February 19th, 1862.
At last we have stopped for a day and [I] embrace the opportunity to write, but when you will get the letter is very uncertain. However, I will write and send it when I get the chance.
We drew our pay at Lebanon and I sent by the Paymaster money to be expressed from St. Louis and, if it gets there, you will find in one package $1,600.00, besides $60.00, all of which was collected to pay on those horses. The $60.00 was sent in a package to Hosea Snell. He will hand it to you. At the time I could have made some disposition of it, but now I cannot more than say pay all the six-months notes as far as the money will go, and it ought to pay most of them. Out of the $1,660.00 you may pay Walter Binney $265.00 and tell him I wish him to wait for the rest until I draw again. One package directed to you contains $265.00. This is my own. After you use what you need, Sturges may use the balance in advance so as to make the best of it and I will send more next time, if that time ever comes.
Tell him I wrote to Hameyer and he thinks they can furnish us with money when we wish to start to mill, and three or four weeks before if needed....
No doubt you heard before this that Price did not give us fight at Springfield more than a few shots by his pickets. Here commenced a running fight. For several days he retreated, and we pursued with all our might. For three successive days, we run on his rear and fired away at each other as though we were disposed to fight, but it was impossible to get our Infantry up so as to make a general attack. However, on the 17th, about 2:00 o'clock, our advance ran on a strong force posted in the woods and quite a skirmish took place. The First Missouri Cavalry was in advance and made a charge, followed by the Illinois Third. The rebels were soon driven from their places of ambush and ran in every direction.
I am writing in the open air. It is cold and the smoke blows in my face every minute, so it is impossible for me to give any definite idea. But suffice to say, I have heard the cannon roar, saw men laying dead on the ground, heard the groans of the wounded and dying, with the dead and maimed horses, which looked very much like we had been in a battle; yet the battalion we are in did not fire a shot, their Infantry and Cavalry being dispersed before we got up, but several of their cannon shots fell near us which looked like they would kill us if they could. The boys, with two or three exceptions, behaved remarkably well. They looked cool and determined. As to myself, I will say I never felt more like fighting in my life. One bomb shell fell within a few feet of the rear of our company, but it created no confusion. However, it did not burst but we did not know it would not when it fell. I was busy at the front of the company and did not notice it at all.
I am getting very cold and can't write much longer.
Our loss in killed was nine, with some eight or ten wounded. Their loss was not exactly known, but five of their dead were left on the field. How many they took, I can't tell, but I don't think their loss was much, if any, greater than our own, they having all the advantage of the woods, while we had to rush on them, drive them from their hiding places. My company was the advance picket guard that night, and our pickets stood in sight of each other, yet the men, except those who were actually on post, slept as soundly as though they had been in Illinois. What do you think of that?
I must close, I am so cold. The health of the company is very good. My own health never was better. When I shall be able to get home, God only knows, but I hope before a great while. May God keep my loved family.
Farewell¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† D. R. Sparks
P.S. Price is said to be ten miles ahead, preparing to fight us. So we shall meet him and I have no doubt clean him out, but I fear he will not stop. I would rather fight him than run him.
J. M. Cooksey sends an order to T. Randle of St. Louis for his pistol. Give the order to any of the boys returning and get them to bring it.
P.P.S. February 26th - the enemy have entirely outrun us and we have no prospect of a fight soon.
D. R. S.
Camp at Cross Hollow, Ark.
February 28th, 1862.
Your letters of February 2nd and 9th were received today. This is the first word from home since we left Lebanon where I wrote you, and have written but one letter since, and only got that started the 26th inst. I have had no time to write and, if I had written, I had no way to send it out. This is one God forsaken country, with no mails and not much to eat. However, as yet we have done pretty well in that line. We take chickens, geese, turkeys, hogs, sheep and beef and everything that we can get, and with the exception of being out of coffee three or four days, we lived high. Now we have coffee so we are all right so far as eating is concerned. I have not read a newspaper since January 29th, and no prospects of anything better. This is very disagreeable.
You wrote in a letter to John Higgins to know how we liked the flag and if we had received the socks, etc. It was an oversight in me not to say or speak of it. Of course, it was received with loud cheers and a hearty good-will and gave entire satisfaction. The socks were a grand treat and present. Tell Sissey [Mary Ann Mariah] her box of kernels was received and relished the more because of the loved fingers that picked and prepared them. I even keep the empty box. The sausage was also received and you know I love good sausage. It was a very nice present.
[The remainder of this letter was omitted by the person who typed from the original, handwritten copy, but the following postscript was included:]
P.S. March 1st 1862. All well. You have no idea of the frightened condition of the inhabitants from Springfield, Missouri, to this place, not one in ten remaining at home, leaving bedding, furniture and everything of the kind behind. If ever I get home, I may be able to do the subject better.
D. R. S.
[Editor's Note: A letter from David to Anna written in February 1862, but otherwise undated, repeats much of the information he gave in the above letter, on the chance that it had been lost. This letter closes with the following paragraph.]
......1 was much relieved to hear that Dickey [his son, Richard Baxter Sparks, who had been born on March 7, 1852] was some better and that you felt some what encouraged, but at the same time I feel very uneasy about him and fear I may never see him again. If I were at Rolla, I would go home if I was cashiered for doing so, but as it is it would take at least seven days to ride to Rolla so it looks almost impossible to think of going soon! If we knew it would be in six or eight months, but it looks gloomy now. Let us hope for the best and not reflect too much about the future as it only helps to make us sad. The reception of your letters, although they give me great pleasure to read and I could scarcely do without them, set me to reflecting, and I am soon found with my eyes resting on the ground in a deep study and am asked--"What is the matter, is there anything wrong?" etc. Again I must close--farewell. May Heaven smile on my loved family.
D. R. Sparks
[We now return to the text of the autobiography]
Finally, Price having retreated to what is called "Boston Mountains, about forty miles south of where we had stopped, met other forces from Arkansas and Texas commanded by General Vandam who seemed to rank General Price. Early in March  they moved north with the avowed purpose of breaking and capturing our army, now commanded by General Curtis. We then had about 12,000 men, all told. They had a much larger force, but they had picked up a large number of what was called "for the fight men," and these, perhaps, did about as much harm as good to their friends for when pushed, they were easily routed. However, the General in command doubtless felt very confident.
At the approach of the enemy our forces fell back about twelve miles and prepared for battle at what we called "Pea Ridge," but the rebels called it "Elk Horn Tavern." Here our forces were concentrated. Segal from Bentonville moved back to this point; the Cavalry with one regiment of Infantry had gone in force on a scout to Huntsville, about forty miles distant. We were also warned of the approach of the Rebel Army and directed to cut across to Pea Ridge. This was on the 6th of March, and we made this distance during the day, the Infantry also going into the new camp a while after night. I had the front that day and was warned by our Colonel McCrillis of the danger and told to keep a sharp lookout, as it was thought they would send a party to intercept us, but they did the very opposite. We were on the east while they moved in by the left and west of the place our army had selected for the battle. In doing this, they moved to the north of us and formed their lines across the wagon road leading to Springfield, the source of our supplies. Thus, the morning of the 7th found the rebels covering the main wagon road north of us, while our lines lay across the road fronting to the north. It was evident by this bold move Vandam expected a certain victory and, by his positioning, he hoped to capture all our supplies and most of our little army. But he counted in vain, for on the 7th the battle was opened about 8:00 o'clock and continued all day with varied success. Our Cavalry was on our right in front of General Price's division, and was forced back about one mile during the day. Our left was more successful, driving the enemy back about a mile in a hot action late in the evening.
I was slightly wounded in the side. A large musket ball had glanced off some hard substance, the limb of a tree no doubt, that flattened the ball and checked its force, so it only lodged against the skin after passing through my clothing and, while it made an ugly little sore for some days, it never took me off from duty. I had six men wounded in the battle, one of whom died from its effects. Several horses were also killed, but the battle was not ended on the 7th by any means.
During the night, our forces were strengthened near the center of the line, and just at sunrise the first shots were from a Rebel Battery almost in front of where the Cavalry Battalion rested, of which I was in command at the time. They first fired on a German Battery that had very foolishly located itself out in the open field. They soon sought shelter in the woods behind them. We were close by in the woods and they evidently saw our horses for they turned their guns on us but did little harm as the shots were aimed too high. We fell back a short distance, and they let us alone. by this time, firing commenced all along the line and continued with unabated fury until about 10:00 o'clock. The fire from the rebel lines slackened, and it was evident they were retreating or changing position. It was soon discovered that they were retreating, and before night the field was clear and the victory ours.
Our Cavalry was ordered to pursue about five miles, which we did, but they were gone, save for the stragglers whom we found quite a-plenty. It was now night, and I had had nothing to eat except a half pint of coffee and a piece of cracker. This was brought to us where we lay in the bush during the night of the 7th by Sergeant Miggins.
Thus the battle lasted from the morning of the 7th to the evening of the 8th at 8:00 o'clock, as I, with a small squad, was the last to come into camp. The time here seems not so long, but one who has gone through a battle with all its excitement, mental as well as physical strain. will find it very hard. Thus ended our first real set battle, and we all felt much elated at our success.
[Editor's Note: Sparks apparently wrote to his wife shortly after this battle ended, but it appears not to have survived. A letter that he wrote a few days later, how ever, was included as an appendix to the autobiography.]
Camp at Pea Ridge, Arkansas
March 13th, 1862.
Having a little more time this evening, I will spend it in writing to you although it is doubtful if it ever reaches you. When I wrote before, the smoke of the battle had scarcely cleared from the field. We knew but little about how badly the enemy was defeated, having been out every day since the action until today. Now I have a pretty fair chance of learning for myself. I have been several miles out on either side and find the same results and that is they went in all directions, large numbers of them having thrown away their arms, and one man said he saw more than fifty and but one had a gun. This is not only the story of one man, but of all I have conversed with. I have asked what the people thought of the matter, and they say it is the general opinion that the army is entirely broke up, as it is almost certain McCulloch is killed and sure that McIntosh is dead, with several badly wounded, one of whom died in our camp.
[Editor's Note: General Ben McCulloch had followed his neighbor, Davy Crockett, to Texas, fought at San Jacinto, and later became an Indian fighter; he was appointed a brigadier general in the C.S.A. in May 1861, and while leading his brigade at Pea Ridge he was killed by sharpshooters on March 7, 1862. Also having a background in Indian scouting and fighting, James McIntosh had been a captain in the C .S. A. at Wilson's Creek; appointed a brigadier general in January 1862, he was also killed at Pea Ridge on March 7, 1862.]
General Price was slightly wounded in the arm. With these losses, besides their dead and wounded which must exceed one thousand, it will be a sad loss for them, and it will require, no doubt, a long time for them to make another stand. Our killed and wounded will be near one thousand, but there is, perhaps near one half of them that are wounded so slightly that they can continue on duty; for instance, in my own company, we had in all six wounded, and but one that is disabled (N. W. Towers), and his is by no means dangerous, being shot in the arm.
Perhaps I had better give you the names of those wounded and the nature of the wounds, as my other letter may never reach you and will save the friends of any anxious feelings on that account. Web, as above stated; Walter Lees, slight in the leg; Z. Cobb, slight on the head; Joseph Batman, on the shoulder, slight; Wm. Snell, very slight in the face; and I received a musket shot against my stomach, passing through my coat and lodged against my pants, but it raised the skin and made quite a sore place. The shock was severe and nearly took my breath for a moment, but I recovered and told the boys that ran to me to go ahead, that I was not so much hurt as I first thought. I did not leave the field from the time we went out at 9:00 A.M. the 7th until 7:00 P.M. the 8th, and I am proud to say that I had a good number that stayed by me until the battle was over....
It is no use for me to begin, unless I had taken notes as I meant to, to give you an outline of the battle. At times, the shot flew thick and fast and how it was possible for so many to escape unhurt is more than I can see. One shell burst right among the men in the company, almost blinding them for a while with smoke, yet neither man nor horse was hurt at the time. Dozens of cannon balls whizzed close over our heads and by our sides, mixed with the serpent-like musket balls that almost seemed to burn as they went by; yet, I had not a man hurt until late in the evening when at one volley, or nearly so, we met with all the damage received. Company E that was by our aide all the time, had two men killed and two wounded, while we had six wounded and none killed.
Lieutenant Bowen told me, when he got back, that he could not believe that Dickey was then living, but I was really relieved when I received your letter of the 21ist--but three days later--that he was mending. How anxiously I await another mail, but fear it may bring the sad tidings that he is no more. I do hope that we may not be compelled to drink this bitter cup, but come what will, I am better prepared to meet it than when I received the sad news of the death of my loved child, Josephine. The memory of those once sparkling eyes, and the sad thought that I never can see them again in life, brings a gloom over me that will not be dispelled soon, but I must be reconciled.
When I can come home, I can't tell, but do hope it won't be a great while, though I can't say....
As ever yours,
D. R. Sparks.
[Editor's Note: Our extracts from the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks will be continued in a future issue of the Quarterly. In a letter that he wrote to Anna on May 9, 1862, from Batesville, Arkansas, he expressed his anxiety "about my sick child," but little Dickey (Richard Baxter Sparks) had died on April 14, 1862. When David learned of his ten-year-old's death is not known, nor do we know its cause. (He had been born on March 7, 1852.) David and Anna's daughter, Josephine, had died on
Whole Number 194
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DAVID RHODES SPARKS
[Editor's Note: In the Quarterly of March 1998, Whole No, 181, we introduced our readers to the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks (born 1823, died 1907), with a record of his ancestry (pp.4938-44). This was followed by extracts from his autobiography describing his youth and young manhood in Indiana and Illinois (pp.4944-53), taking Sparks to the year 1845. It was in the Quarterly of September 1998, Whole No. 183, that we published Part II of his autobiography devoted to his experiences in the War With Mexico. His first wife, Maria Parisber, had died in 1846, childless. David was subsequently married to his second wife, Anna Daven≠port Chapman, by whom he was the father of nine children. In the Quarterly of March 1999, Whole No. 185, pp.5130-35, appeared Part III of his story of joining the California Gold Rush. Part IV appeared in the Quarterly of September 1999, Whole No. 187, pp.5199-5206, and related his disappointments in failing to strike it rich in California, the death there of his brother, Edmond Sparks, and his return home by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He responded to the lure of gold, again, in 1859, joining the rush to Colorado. Part V, appearing in the Quarterly of September 2000, Whole No. 191, pp.5405-14, covered his response to Lincoln's call for 300,000 volunteers for the Union Army following the First Battle of Bull Run by organizing a company of cavalry. This part ended with June 1862. We now, in Part VI of David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography, continue his account of his experi≠ences in the Civil War.
(Part V closed with Sparks's account of his role in the Battle of Pea Ridge in north≠west Arkansas (called "Elkhorn Tavern" by the Confederates), fought on March 7th and 8th, 1862, between the Union Army of the Southwest, numbering about 11,000 troops, and several Confederate units, with a combined strength of about 14,000. This engagement ended with a Confederate retreat, with a loss of about 800 men. On the Union side, there were nearly 1,400 casualties. It was with a letter dated March 13, 1862, by David to his wife, Anna, describing his part in the battle, that we ended Part V. We now continue with his autobiography.
Thus the battle lasted from the morning of the 7th to the evening of the 8th at 8:00 o'clock, as I, with a small squad, was the last to come into camp. The time here seems not so long, but one who has gone through a battle with all its excitement, mental as well as physical strain, will find it very hard. Thus ended our first real set battle, and we all felt much elated at our success.
The Cavalry now had some time for rest, though not much. We were kept almost all the time scouting from point to point. It was out of the question to pursue the rebels farther South as we were now nearly two hundred miles from the nearest rail≠road which terminated at Rolla, Missouri. So we beat around where we were.
[Editor's Note: On May 9, 1862, David Rhodes Sparks, wrote the following letter to his wife.]
May 9, 1862
I wrote a few lines and sent by John Hall some four days since, but having a little time today, I drop you a short letter, but can give no news more than I gave in the other, but you miss a great many, I have no doubt, and if you should get two letters containing nearly the same things, you need not be surprised, as I frequently put in the same in two letters in view of the above fact.
We left Forsyth, Missouri, April 16th (that is, I left with all that could be got out on a Scout, 25), and did not see our wagons for 15 days, they stayed with them one night and started on another Scout, or run, from West Plains to this place, eighty-five miles, with forty men of my Company. Made the whole trip in two days and nights. Stayed two or three days and went out West about 20 miles, gone three days, returned day before yesterday and joined teams again yesterday, so you can see that, although we are in a Southern climate, the grass don't grow much under us at one place. We have no order as yet to move from here, but we expect one today or tomorrow, and, so far as I can learn, we shall move towards Little Rock.
We hear that Memphis is ours, but is not confirmed. We have it in a Southern paper that New Orleans is now ours--this is beyond a doubt. It would seem the Anaconda is drawing his folds pretty close just now and, if they don't succeed in breaking his strongholds, he will soon squeeze their Confederacy into nonexistence.
But how this thing is to be settled, I can't tell, as it would seem from reading of some of their papers that they literally hate us, but the people do not show quite so much feeling, although it would seem we are in the midst of Secession. Yet I was told yesterday by the Provost Marshal that he administered the Oath of Allegiance to over one hundred per day and, from the signs around his tent, I should judge he was not far wrong. Now this will produce quite a commotion among themselves, and I don't doubt but, if their leaders would lay down their arms, that the large mass of the people would hail the day with joy, for they are sick and tired of it, and nothing but their lying papers keep them up at all.
I was told by one of their own men yesterday that their Confederate script was only worth, for gold, 20t on the Dollar; at the same time I was saying it was worth 35 on the Dollar, and he corrected me as above. Now is not this a dreadful state of things? You will not find coffee in one house in twenty-five and very little of the comforts of life except cornbread and bacon. Some have flour. The stores are all closed. Some have a few refused goods in them yet which they sell at enormous prices. If they are willing to stand this a great while, I shall begin to think they have merited something, but their independence they already had, and I can't define how a man can obtain that which he already possesses--then why do they fight? I can see no reason except to gratify an aristocratic nature, the natural result of slavery, that "sacred institution." I have no doubt that some of my Southern sympathizing friends will be very ready to say that I have turned Abolitionist, a name they abhor, but let them leave their homes, as I have done, and ride through storm and snow, through rain and sun, and rest their weary limbs on the rough rocks of Missouri and Arkansas, with the cloudy or starry heavens for a roof and hard rocks for a bed and wit≠ness the blighting influences of the "institution" where persons with not more than one-quarter African blood in them are held in bondage, bought and sold like brutes-and then tell me if you think such practices consis≠tent with a Democracy as that would--but enough.
I long to see my home, but how long it will be I can't tell. Oh, how anxious about my sick child, but it's no use. I must make the best of it. I am well.
As ever yours,
[Editor's Note: The "Sick child" about whom David R. Sparks expressed anxiety in his letter of May 9, 1862, was his son, Richard Baxter Sparks, born March 7, 1852. He had actually died on April 14, 1862, but news of his death had not yet reached David. We do not know the nature of his illness, nor the date David actually learned of his loss. We now return to Sparks's autobiography.]
I was detailed to escort back from Batesville, Arkansas, an ox train that had come to us with provisions, to Pilot Knob, Missouri. This was the terminus of the Iron Mountain Rail Road, and we reached that point about the 2nd of July 1862. Previous to leaving the Army at Batesville, and while still South of White River, I was ordered to take my company, with Company H, and go back South about fif≠teen miles for a soldier who had been left there, with instructions, also, to bring back the family of a Union man who was with us. I started with sixty men, forty of my own company and twenty from Company H, on what I feared was rather a perilous trip. Nothing happened, however, until we reached a point about two miles from where we wished to go, we struck the rebel pickets who, after firing at us, retreated. I now put my little force in the best possible shape for a fight. Soon we passed a small wagon road turning to the right. The fleeing pickets had taken that road. I left Sergeant Snell here with twelve men to hold the road if he could, but I had not advanced far, say a quarter of a mile, when firing com≠menced at this point.
Soon the party joined me, reporting about one hundred rebels. I felt that we could beat that many and moved back to give them battle. It was soon very evident that we had more than one hundred to fight. In my report I put the num≠ber at three hundred to three hundred and fifty, all mounted. As soon as we were fairly in their front, I ordered my men into line and the firing commenced at once. The rebels, seeing our small force, charged upon us, and my little line was broken. Seeing we were badly outnumbered, I gave orders to retreat. The men fell back in considerable confusion, crossing a small open field and breaking the fence on the opposite side.
I feared my men were liable to be cornered at this point, and captured. I order≠ed a halt and succeeded in forming twelve men, myself included. Those that stopped had revolvers, and thus we faced this rebel horde of more than three hundred. They had mostly discharged their guns, mainly of the double barrelled shotgun style, and to this fact we, perhaps, owe our lives, for we had by this time come within twenty-five to forty yards of each other in this open field. Their firing had been rather wild from the first, and here it was scattering, and not one of the twelve received a scratch. After emptying our revolvers at this close range, I again ordered a retreat which, with this little band of brave men, was executed in good order. One of these men, John H. Purdy, an old boyfriend, snapped his pistol entirely around at this point, it failing to fire. The fact show≠ed nerve in the very extreme, and he swore a blue streak about the failure as we rode away, in fact, while we were in range of rebel bullets that whizzed about us.
With this handful of men, we drew sabers and rode in fours back toward our camp, expecting, of course, that the rebels would aim to cut us off. Had they tried this, we should have charged their line with our sabers. This was determined, but the rebels feared we were only the advance guard of the main army, and, instead of pur≠suing, they soon fell back on their own forces. Around this small force alluded to, I soon gathered most of my scattered command and rode back to camp in pretty good order, and was highly complimented by our old Colonel, B. A. Carr, then command≠ing a Brigade. Our Colonel, E. T. McCrillis, also commended my action very highly. This was one of the most exciting actions I was in, as we were taken suddenly by overwhelming numbers. Strangely enough, not a man was killed, though we had four wounded, while I had a shot in my saddle very close to my leg, and about twenty horses received various wounds, two or three being killed. I also lost four men who were captured.
Reaching Pilot Knob, we waited there for orders. Within a few days, Colonel S. H. Boyd was sent out to take charge of two outposts, one at Greenville, Missouri, about forty miles Southeast of Pilot Knob, also one at Black River, sixteen miles South of Greenville. I was then in his command and accompanied him back to Black River. Here we stayed until some time in October t1862] when we, that is, my company, was ordered to St. Louis via Pilot Knob and from there by rail.
While at Black River, we had many long and hard rides, often skirmishing with the rebels, yet we had rather a pleasant time as Colonel Boyd was a very clever man, with whom I was on intimate terms. But I should have stated that when I left the main army at Batesville, I took fifty men and one wagon, leaving about twenty-five men with Sergeant Garrison, Lieutenant Camen being at home. While Lieutenant Vanhooser had resigned, and as I expected to return soon, no prep≠arations were made for these twenty-five men to draw pay, and when I rejoined them at Helena, Arkansas, they were a pretty ragged set, and you can be assur≠ed were glad to see us. We were also very glad to get our company together again, and, as the Paymaster soon put in his appearance, we got our pay, in≠cluding back pay to those who had been absent. Here we rested for some time.
Our rest at Helena, however, was a good deal like the old farmer who said, "Boys, while we resting for dinner we might chop a little wood." And so it was with us. While we rested at Helena, we made a trip down the river, that is, the Cavalry and some Infantry. The latter, however, did not leave the boats, the Cavalry pushing across the bottom lands to a point probably twenty-five miles, where we struck White River, about opposite Arkansas Post, a rebel location on the Arkan≠sas River. The distance at this point is about twelve miles. Boats were to pass up White River to take us over that we might attack in their rear, while the gun boats were to go up the Arkansas and attack in front.
The water was so low it was found impractical to cross the bar at the mouth of the river, and the movement failed, so we had to return. The ride from the boats to the White River took us through some of the worst road I ever saw. At times our horses went to their knees in mud. However, on arriving near the bend of the river, the ground was dryer.
In the midst of this heavy woods, without a bite to eat for ourselves and horses, we lay over night. To add to our misery, about midnight it commenced raining and continued to rain until about 8:00 o'clock the next morning. As it was away along in Nov, the rain was chilly in the extreme. by morning, our horses were nearly knee deep in mud and had to be shifted about to keep them from getting swamped. About 10:00 o'clock, we had orders to move as it was ascertained that the boats could not come up the river. Going back, we took a new and better road and got within a mile or two of our boats. Here we captured a right good fat hog (that is, my company), and having sent in to the boat for bread and coffee, we had a good supper and night's rest, as we had grass to make our beds. The next day, we boarded our boats again and, after a slow trip up the river, returned to our camp, after a very hard trip of eight or ten days. This is the way we rested.
A week or two later, we were ordered out "on another rest." This time, we crossed the river and went out on a long, tiresome trip to Granada, Mississippi, the object being to burn the railroad bridges at that place, which were in the rear of the Rebel Army. This object being accomplished, we returned after two weeks of very hard work, much of the time travelling after night.
We had two or three little skirmishes on this trip. The expedition consisted of Cavalry and Infantry, about ten thousand, all told.
After our return from Granada, we rested a short time and then broke camp at Helena and embarked on steamers for Vicksburg, under the command of General Sherman. [Editor's Note: David Rhodes Sparks's account of his role in the Siege of Vicksburg will be included in Part VII of his autobiography in a future issue of the Quarterly.]
Whole Number 199
[Editor's Note: In the Quarterly of March 1998, No. 181, we introduced our readers to the unpublished autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks (Born 1823, died 1907), with a record of his ancestry (pp.4938-41). This was followed by extracts from his autobiography describing his youth and young manhood in Indiana and Illinois (pp.4944-53) taking Sparks to .the year 1845. In was in the Quarterly of September 1998, No. 183, that we published Part II devoted to Sparks's account of his experiences in the War With Mexico. His first wife, Maria Parisher, had died in 1846, childless. David was subsequently married to his second wife, Anna Davenport Chapman, by whom he was the father of nine children. In the issue of March 1999, No. 185, pp.5130-35, appeared Part III of his story of joining the California Gold Rush. Part IV appeared in the Quarterly of September 1999, No. 187, pp.5199-5206 he related his disappointments in failing to strike it rich in California, the death there of his brother, Edmond Sparks, and his return home by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He responded to the lure of gold, again, in 1859, joining the rush to Colorado. Part V, appearing in the Quarterly of September 2000, No. 191, pp.5405-14, covered his response to Lincoln's call for 300,000 volunteers for the Union Army following the First Battle of Bull Run by organizing a company of cavalry. This part ended with June 1862, describing his role in the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas, in which the Union Army of the Southwest defeated several united Confederate units, but with a loss of 1,400 Union casualties. Part VI appearing in the Quarterly of June 2001, No. 194 (pp.5539- 43), recounts Sparks's experiences in the summer and autumn of 1862 in Arkansas and Mississippi during which he and his company destroyed bridges and railroad tracks, with occasional skirmishes with the Confederates. We closed that part with Sparks and his men breaking camp at Helena, Arkansas, and embarking "for Vicksburg under the command of General Sherman. "
¬†[This was Sherman's Yazoo Expedition until January 12, 1863, when he was appointed Commander of the XV Corps of Grant's Army of the Tennessee.]
After our return from Granada, we rested a short time, and then broke camp at Helena and embarked on steamers for Vlcksburg under the command of General Sherman. The expedition [about 10,000 men] made a fine showing as we passed down the [Mississippi] River, a whole fleet of our river steamers covered with the boys In blue. They all knew that many would never return - but soldiers do not meditate much; they are generally full of jokes and fun. Besides, cooking and other duties gave them enough to keep them fairly busy.
On reaching the mouth of the Yazoo River, about five miles above Vicksburg, we turned up that river and landed opposite Haines Bluffs. Strongly fortified by rebel forces, the bluffs at this point are nearly two miles back, so we met no resistance in landing, and after a day or two getting into position, an attack was made, but the position of the enemy was very strong, with rifle pits all along the bluffs. There were many obstructions in their front, including quite a slough of water, which made It utterly impossible to carry their position. After serious loss, we had to abandon the enterprise.
My company held our extreme left the night before the army fell back, and was the last of the pickets to come in. I speak of this part to disprove what some have called a "retreat" and even a "hasty retreat." There was no truth In this whatever. A few rebels followed at long range, firing a few shots, but our army was not beaten, nor in the least demoralized and would have gladly turned upon the enemy had he left his strongly fortified position. We simply failed to carry their position by assault as we failed to carry the works in the rear of Vicksburg on May 22nd  following. Yet we did not fail in capturing that latter stong hold during the day.
We embarked again and moved down to the mouth of the Yazoo River and camped on the opposite side at Young's Point. Here with the aid of a glass one could see the Rebel Flag as it waved defiantly over the Court House.
The camping here was not pleasant; the high water almost surrounded us, and with rain and mud we had a rather ugly time of it. The assault on Haines Bluffs took place some time in December 1862 - so you see, we encountered the winter as It is down there. It was not very cold at any time, but often wet and very chilly. After camping here a short time, we went aboard our boats again and started up the river to the mouth of the Arkansas River. Turning up that stream, we stopped about two miles below Arkansas Post. Here we landed artillery and the whole army; with them were six or eight of our river gunboats ("Turtle Shells" as we called them). General John A. McClernand was then with us and in command, as he ranked General Sherman at that time. After a day or two getting ready, our gunboats moved up the river for about a mile, facing these strong forts. At the same time, the whole army attacked their rifle pits back from the river, and about noon up went the white flag and the rebels had surrendered. They had five thousand men and all their guns and munitions fell Into our hands. Thus this annoying position In our rear was broken up.
[Editor's Note: In the next several pages of Sparks's diary, he makes a number of references to General McClernand, a man little remembered today. A few lines about him may be helpful to the reader. A lawyer and newspaper man and a resident of Springfield, Illinois, he had known Abraham Lincoln before he became President. He had been elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Congress In 1843.
[At the beginning of the Civil War, McClernand resigned from Congress and raised what he called the "McClernand Brigade" in Illinois, upon which Lincoln appointed him a brigadier general of volunteers. In March 1862, he was promoted to major general of volunteers; he commanded a division at the Battle of Shiloh. In January 1863, he took command of the 13th Army Corps under General Grant, while Sherman was placed In command of the 15th Corps. Using his friendship with Lincoln to promote his own reputation, he even Informed Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton that he was tired of providing "brains to Grant. " His arrogance soon prompted both Grant and Sherman to loathe him. In mid-June 1863, Grant learned that McClernand had Is sued a congratulatory report to his own Corps, while promising that, as their commander, he would lead them to victory at Vicksburg. It was the publication of this report in a Memphis newspaper that enabled Grant to charge McClernand with violating an order from the War Department forbidding the publication of any official report. Despite his friendship with Lincoln, Grant was now able to relieve McClernand of the command of his Corps and to order him to Illinois to await further orders. Grant's victory at Vicksburg shortly there after silenced McClernand's complaints.]
I will relate a little incident, in which I took active part, that occurred the night before the capture [of the Rebels at Arkansas Post]. I had been detailed as an escort to General McClernand; that is, my company. Late in the evening, Colonel Stewart, one of McClernand's staff, wished to reconnoiter in the rear of the rebel lines. He asked me (with the company, of course) to go with him, so we rode - around back of their position and came near their camp of cabins. The Colonel here took one of my men- and turned back, remarking that I might look around a little If I liked.
We moved on rather cautiously. It was then growing dusk and I had not to exceed thirty men. We rode right into their camp and ran onto many stragglers. They seemed utterly cowed and offered no resistance, though ten of them in one of their little log huts might have cleaned us out. The boldness of our action seemed to overawe them; besides, they did not know but we had two or three hundred men, In stead of about thirty as was the real fact. I made a kind of center or headquarters while the boys hunted down these stragglers and brought them to me, and we finally had some fifty-five or sixty gathered up, with more guns than our boys could carry. I ordered them to throw the guns to one side In the brush.
As we rode back through the woods, the two armies commenced a little artillery practice, some of the shots passing over us. This was a little exciting, but did us no harm. As I reflect upon this scene, it was rather grand and would have added terror to men less inured to danger. Here we were, a little body of men, guarding twice our number through these dark woods, with the shriek and bursting shells too close for comfort, with the flash and fire of the bursting shells to add excitement.
Right in the midst of this, while riding across a slough, my horse got tangled somewhat in the mud and fell flat on his side with my leg under him. The water was four to six Inches deep and so I was covered in mud and cold water for there was a light snow on the ground. One whole side, from head to foot, was soaked In this cold bath. I soon wiped some of the mud off me and mounted and moved on, with all the discomforts of this little incident. It was laughed at by all hands. Getting through the woods, I reported my prisoners to General McClernand. With out any recognition of the merits of my action, he simply directed that I report them to General Blair, about a mile further down. So we must go on and turn over these men, which was done without further ceremony.
Then being close to our boat, I went down and got a dry suit of clothes, and as Sergeant Garrison had a pot of beans nearly done, I stayed and about 10:00 P.M. had a fine supper of bean soup, with some pork and crackers. As I am very fond of bean soup, and not having had a bite since morning, I did full justice to this meal. I then rode back near General McClernand's headquarters where we went Into camp; that is, tied our horses to the trees and lay around as best we could.
I often wonder now, as I go to my comfortable, warm, soft bed, how I could, or did, endure all this, and the little I tell here is only skirting along--making a note here and there as compared to the whole.
The next day, we captured the whole rebel force and sent them North. They came to Alton and were quartered in the old prison. Returning from this expedition, we again went into camp at Young's Point. While here, six of my boys took smallpox, having come in contact with that fearful disease while on the boats. Of these six, three died and one was discharged and returned to his home to die soon after. While these men were sick, we fitted up an old Negro shanty for them. It was now necessary to have someone to wait on them. I asked for two volunteers and, without hesitation, Sergeant Samuel Sacket and Corporal Lowell volunteered. Yet no battle would have had so much terror for them. Two of the sick died soon after, becoming a mass of sores; now again, these men were too busy. I called for three men to go with them for this duty. They were forthcoming without hesitation. I only speak of this to show how indifferent to danger these men had become.
[Editor's Note: We end here Part VII of David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography with a letter dated April 19, 1863, that he wrote to his wife, Anna. Part VIII, telling of the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, will appear in a future issue of the Quarterly. A few words of introduction should probably precede the transcription of this letter. From the beginning of the, Civil War, it had been vital for the Confederacy to control the Mississippi River at least from Memphis to the Gulf; without that control, the Southern Nation would be cut In half. Vicksburg, Mississippi, located on a high bluff above the river, had by April 1863 become the last major stronghold of the Confederates in their defense of the river--a mighty blockade that was sometimes called "the Gibraltar of the West. " Because of Its height, Vicksburg could be attacked only from Its rear. Repeated attempts by Grant to reach that rear from upstream had all failed, with mounting casualties. Concluding that he could only reach his objective by advancing from below the blockade, Grant prevailed upon Rear Admiral David Porter, commander of the Union Navy on the River, to make a run of the blockade on the night of April 16th. This was the event described by Sparks in his letter of April 19th.]
Near New Carthage, Louisiana
April 19, 1863
It has not been long since I wrote you last, but then we were on the eve of moving. Well, we did move to this place, about thirty miles from Millikens Bend and about two miles from Carthage. There is a break in the levee just above that place, which runs down a slough by this place (Smith's Farm). The slough is about sixty yards wide and very deep, but in places trees are growing which makes it very difficult to navigate; but nothing--no obstacle-- seems too great for the indomitable energies of Northern Yankees (as we are called).
The night of the 16th [April], some eight gun-boats and rams, with three transports, started to run the blockade at Vicksburg, the work of more than twelve months labor where they have planted some of their heaviest guns that they have in their service. These boats have to run from four to six miles exposed to this storm of iron thrown from nine- and ten-Inch guns [from above]. Now when you think of sending a frail steamer through such peril, with the pilot standing exposed, without the least pagesion, it is an undertaking that but few would think of and nothing but the determined energies of our people would undertake to carry into effect .
Now for the success of the expedition. The Silver-Wave, one of the transports, is now lying about 200 yards below where I sit, on the slough above mentioned, discharging some one hundred and fifty tons of commissary stores which she brought down, with no damage except having her nose shot off. The Forest Queen was not so successful, being badly managed as I am told by a drunken pilot, having her steam pipe cut off with other damage, but floated by and will be repaired. The Henry Clay was more unfortunate; she was set on fire and burned to the water's edge, and I learn, not official, that while this fated steamer was burning, making the scene grand and awful beyond description, that the Secesh crowded down to the banks of the river to rejoice over what they called success, when the monster gunboat Benton was floating silently along, receiving their heaviest shots without making any resistance, with closed ports. Suddenly she began ringing her bell and this increased the crowd. Finally, when all was ready, she threw open her ports and from her ten and eleven inch guns, sent forth a shower of iron hail In their midst; broadside after broadside was discharged, which must have sent many poor mortals to their long trip home, while many more must have fallen, screaming with pain from shattered limbs and mangled bodies. This confusion, added to the burning steamer and the roar of more than a hundred large guns, must have been terribly sublime . (This account of the Benton I give as hearsay, but I give It credit.)
Of the eight gun-boats that started on the perilous expedition, all passed the enemy with but slight damage. This success must have caused consternation and confusion in the leaders at this point. It must raise their ideas of the determined energies and prowess of the North people whom they once despised as cowards and mudsills . What ever may be the success of this expedition, my opinion is we shall now strike in the right direction and that if Vicksburg is not evacuated (which I am inclined to think will be) there will be a big fight in which I think it will fall (so may it be). I don't know how it is, but I feel in better spirits than I have for a long time. I feel that the blow will soon be struck that shall make Seceshia tremble to its foundation, and "Copperheads" at home will begin to cry out In admiration of the government they have opposed by word, if not by deed .
I see if the Conscription Act is enforced it will be to fill the old Regiments. This is one of the most judicious acts of the Administra tion since the commencement of the war. What would these "forced Regiments" be worth with perhaps half or more of their officers in sympathy themselves with the Rebels? I see two or three of the Regiments are from Southern Illinois, but when scattered to fill the old Regiment, they will be powerless to do us harm, and they willsoon catch the spirit and patriotism of the old troops and soon (I hope) be able to redeem their names from the odium of "Copperhead. "
I have received but one letter from you since I left and not a word from Wes. or Sturgess. I want Wes. or Sturgess or both to write to me at least once a week and give me all the particulars of the business. Why don't they write? I hope they will.
In the future, direct as follows: Capt. D. R. Sparks, Commanding Escort to Gen. McClernand, 13th Army Corps.
Don't put the Regiment on it, but use the above words .
I see no prospect of leaving this position soon . My health is good .
May Heaven bless you. Farewell .
D. R. Sparks.
The photograph appearing on the cover sheet of the present Issue of the QUARTERLY has been provided by Alice Anabel (Henrick) Reynolds, a great-great- grand-daughter of David Rhodes Sparks. Mrs Reynolds' great-grandmother was Mary Ann Mariah (Sparks) Milnor (1849-1931), eldest daughter of David and his second wife, Anna Davenport Chapman. Mary Ann's photograph appeared on the cover page of the September 2000 Issue of the Quarterly with her granddaughter, Alice (daughter of Mabel Milnor and husband, Matthew A . Reasoner). Alice would become Mrs . Reynolds' grandmother .
Mrs . Reynolds has identified the four gentlemen shown in this photograph as sons of David R. and Anna (Chapman) Sparks and, of course, brothers of her great great-grandmother. She believes that the photograph was taken in or about 1928, at which time the eldest of the four, Hosea, at the far right, would have been 70. We wonder whether it may have been taken on the same day as that of Mary Ann Mariah (Sparks) Milnor with her granddaughter, Alice Reasoner. Might there have been a family reunion?
Of the seven sons born to David Rhodes Sparks and his wife, Anna, two died in childhood: Richard Baxter Sparks In 1861, age 9, and William Lincoln Sparks, born In 1866, he being the first son to be given this name, who died when he was 15 months old. The William Lincoln Sparks In the photograph, born 1 April 1867, was thus the second son of David and Anna to be given this name.
Long before this photograph was taken, another son of David and Anna named Wesley David Sparks, born May 4, 1854, had died in May 1909. He had been married to Emma L. Fisher in 1905; they had no children.
On page 4949 of the Quarterly for March 1998, we gave brief biographical information regarding each of these four brothers, but we do not have the date of death of any one of them .