Some gold rush history, a little mystery, and a huge thirst for modern adventure are all beckoning some local school kids to make a week-long covered wagon train trek in March from Madera to Agua Fria, the first county seat of what is now Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties.
This latest juourney of the Madera Method Wagon Train will take the students across some of the most pristine country in Madera and Mariposa counties, as they attempt to add the finishing touches to a diary that was begun over 150 years ago.
In April 1849, Texas newspaperman, William P. Huff, caught the gold fever and left his family to join a wagon train to California. All along the way he kept a meticulous diary in which he stated his intentions of traveling to the gold fields near Mariposa.
Huff, the Madera kids' posthumous writing mentor for their own trip, was a personal friend of Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, William B. Travis, and a host of other luminaries from the Lone Star State. After fighting with Sam Houston in the revolution of 1836, Huff settled down in Richmond, Texas, to become the editor of the Richmond Inquirer.
On the first pages of his diary, Huff told how the gold fever hit him in April of 1849.
"Operated upon and becoming excited by the golden tales that threatened to unsettle the cool and calculating minds of men...the author of this journal...determined to leave all behind, wife, children, father, mother, friends, and home to test the truth of the golden tales or rumors so rife everywhere in relation to California."
Huff went on to describe in great detail the flora and fauna of the Southwest until he reached California. Then the diary mysteriously ends.
He apparently found no gold and returned to Texas in 1853 with only his unfinished journal to show for his troubles. Now, 150 years later, the young historians from Madera, searching for nuggets of history, will attempt to retrace Huff's path to the gold fields from the valley and finish his diary for him, thus at least givng the old 49er a literary legacy.
In addition to the journal, the students have found Huff on the 1850 census along Agua Fria Creek. They also have a poem that he wrote in Agua Fria, describing his location, "five miles from Agua Fria on Bear Creek."
Armed with journals of their own and imitating Huff's writing style, the students will set out cross country on March 21, 2003, in a caravan of five, mule-drawn covered wagons driven by the Madera Method Wagon Train crew.
The educational entourage, led by wagon masters Steve King from Madera and John Diedrich from Firebaugh, includes muleskinners Ray Barger, Doug Sordi, Mike Purl, and Richard Harmon and several outriders led by Brenda Maxwell.
Chef de cuisine, Sheryl Berry, assisted by the students, will tend to the culinary needs of the group.
The kids will board their wagons at King's "Mule Town" and spend their first night at the historic Adobe Ranch. From there they will ford the Fresno River and traverse the Buchenau and Daulton Ranches to Eastman Lake.
From Eastman, the wagons will ford the Chowchilla River and wend their way through the rising terrain to Mariposa Creek. After a night on the Preston Ranch, the students will follow the creek to their destination, the site of Agua Fria, just outside present day Mariposa.
In addition to helping with the animals, gathering wood, cooking meals, and performing scores of other chores incidental to any wagon train trip, the kids will take copious notes of their observations along the way. At trail's end each day, they will record the highlights of their adventure for that day, attempting to express their 21st century thoughts in Huff's 19th century writing style.
Upon their return to Madera, the students will print their journal via desktop publishing techniques.