Who were the original '49ers?
The thousands of people who flocked westward to the gold fields in 1849 came to be known as California Forty-Niners. During the fall of 1849 many wagons remained in the vicinity of Salt Lake City because it was too late in the year to risk crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains. Most continued along the Old Spanish Trail led by Captain Jefferson Hunt. A number of others decided to try a relatively unknown route because it might shorten their trip by as much as 500 miles. However, as they continued across desert and mountains, they found their route becoming increasingly difficult. Water sources became scarce and more distant and forage food for their animals was inadequate. Yet they continued resolutely westward, hoping to be nearing their goal.
Then, as they descended into a deep valley, they were dismayed to see their course blocked by a high range of mountains. Most of the parties located escape routes from the valley, but the desperate condition of the Bennett and Arcan families prevented them from continuing. They killed some of their oxen for food and burned their wagons to cure the meat.
William Lewis Manley and John Rogers then courageously set out on foot to find help. After traveling 250 miles across uncharted mountains and desert, they found supplies at a ranch outpost near the San Fernando Valley. They promptly retraced their route back to the trapped families and then led them out to safety. This heroic rescue stands as lasting tribute to the indomitable spirit of these hardy pioneers
As they stood on a high mountain peak in the Panamint Range overlooking the scene of much trial and suffering where that they had just left, they spoke their uppermost thought - "Good bye Death Valley". And thus the valley received its name.
In 2007, a Monument Headstone was Dedicated by the Death Valley '49ers in memory Of California’s unsung hero, John H. Rogers. The monument is located at Merced Cemetery District in Merced, California.