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Sierra Speaker Series: Caleb Greenwood
July 16 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pmFree
The monthly Sierra Speaker Series connects folks to the rich cultural and natural history of the area. Join us on July 16th at Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center to learn and engage! Doors open at 5 pm, and the presentation is to follow at 5:30 pm. Admission is a suggested $5 donation. Light refreshments will be available. Parking is free after 5 pm.
Caleb bio (Frank Mullen)
Timeline — Caleb Greenwood, mountain man, (1763-1850)
1763– Born on a farm in what is now West Virginia
1781 — killed a man and fled his home for the Southwest.
1809 — in Saint Louis, Greenwood joins the Lisa party bound for upper Missouri
1821 – 1834 — mountain man and free trapper
1835-1843 — homesteads in northwest Missouri; he and his wife, Batchicka, a Crow Indian, raise a family
1844 — guides the first wagon train on the Truckee River Route across the Sierra at what is now Donner Pass.
1846 — assists in the rescue of the Donner Party. Continues to guide wagons east and west until 1848.
1848 — settles in California, where he dies in 1850.
Caleb Greenwood went into the wilderness west of the Mississippi River three years after the return of Lewis and Clark and died during the California Gold Rush. He is a human metaphor for the opening of the West and a buckskin colossus, even among mountain men. He knew everyone and did everything, and then he lied and bragged about his accomplishments. Yet most people, even Western history buffs, have never heard of him.
“Old Greenwood” as he is known, pops up in everyone else’s frontier journals. But since he could not read or write, he never kept a diary. He was 46 when he went into the wilderness in 1809 and was in his 60th year, and a grizzled veteran of Upper Missouri when more famous mountaineers like Jim Bridger and “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick entered the fur trade. Greenwood remained a free trapper until about 1835, when he and his wife, Batchicka of the Crow Tribe, settled on a farm in Missouri and raised many children. Greenwood was in his 70s then, but he still had another career ahead.
In 1844 he signed on as a guide for the Townsend-Stephens-Murphy Party, which named the Truckee River and became the first party to take wagons over the Sierra Nevada (at Donner Pass). In the winter of 1847 Greenwood and his sons assisted in the rescue of the snowbound Donner Party. For the next two years, he again crisscrossed the continent.
During the Gold Rush, Greenwood made-up tales of lost lodes and then sold provisions to greenhorns who then paid his sons as guides to the hidden treasures. The lost mines were never found, but the legends Greenwood invented persist in California lore until this day. The old man died near Napa in 1850, at the age of 87, still wearing his buckskins which “if he ever took them off, they would have walked around without him, according to 1846 pioneer Edwin Bryant.
Old Greenwood, born before the U.S. Constitution was written (although he told folks he was born 20 years earlier than he apparently was, based on recent research, making his claimed nativity prior to the Revolution), came to know the land from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains to the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada the way a city fellow knows his own backyard. This mountaineer, trail-blazer, and guide is a murky figure to historians, but if even half the legends about him are true, his life rivals the fantastic legends he invented.
Frank Mullen Bio:
Frank lives in Reno with his wife Susan, a newspaper feature writer. He holds a master’s degree in environmental journalism/new media from the University of Nevada and is currently writing novels and completing a book on the history of the Truckee River. He is available for freelance journalism assignments, collateral writing for Web and print, Nevada history lectures, and Chautauqua/living-history performances.