THE LAST PACK TRAIN
is an article “The Last Pack
Train” by Rudolph Wueste, Lt Col., A.U.S., retired,
found in the San Diego Historical Society’s Periodical dated
July 1955 (1). This may be of
interest to the people at Morena and Highway 94 travelers.
“Sweetwater River Bridge, on State Highway 94, spans a normally dry
watercourse and is one of the most picturesque spots in our mountains. But the Sweetwater is not always dry, and it was here that
near disaster overtook what probably was the last pack-train operated by
the United States Army – at least, so far as San Diego County is
“The year 1916 stands out and apart for all San Diegans who lived here
than, and its annals make interesting reading for those who have come
since to enjoy the salubrious local climate.
The torrential rains of January of that year and their purported
cause have recently been covered by Barbara Tuthill in her Hatfield the
Rainmaker. Following the
climax of those rains on January 27 and the death and destruction
following in their wake, there came incidents no less dramatic but not to
“As a military attraction at the Panama California Exposition of 1915-16,
the 1st Cavalry Regiment, USA., was encamped in Balboa Park; we
well remember their functions at retreat in the Plaza de Panama, with
their carbines, pistols and sabers. From
its inception, the Cavalry had certain civilian components such as its
wagon trains and pack trains. By
1915 the wagon trains had been militarized, but not the pack trains. The packmaster at the Exposition was Tom Remington.
To him we are indebted for the details of what might be called –
at least in theory – ‘The Relief of Morena.’
“The Exposition assignment looked like pretty soft military duty
until one evening shortly after January 27.
A big truck rolled in, loaded with subsistence supplies – mainly
hams, bacon and flour. The
order had come down, through channels:
‘Take this to Morena; there are people
“No questions were asked, the supplies
were loaded aboard the standard number of pack mules, together with the
necessary grain rations for the animals, 51 in number.
Morena Dam, 63 miles distant and with two raging water-courses to
cross, was the destination.
“Even though not fully loaded, all of the 50 mules and the one horse of a
train participated in a march, to take care of casualties, cripples and
sickness. The pack saddles
were skeletonized affairs made comfortable for the mules’ backs by
improvised willow twigs and padding of hay to relieve pressure and
chafing. The animals got one
meal a day – supper – nine pounds of grain and 15 pounds of hay,
requisitioned where it could be found. The packs were cinched so tightly that the animals would get
sick if fed at any other time of the day but evening. Each animal wore a halter and pack-saddle – nothing else.
Halter and saddle were numbered, and the equipment never was
exchanged; a mule got to know its number and would respond when that
number was called. The
bell-horse – the fifty-first animal of the train – carried no pack; he
was the leader and the faithful mules followed him implicitly.
‘If that bell horse wandered into the door of a café,’ Tom
said recently, ‘the whole train of mules would follow him.’
first night was spent at Spring Valley, where hay could be procured; and
even that first day had indicated the super saturation of our countryside.
A mule would wander slightly to the right or left of the traffic
hardened crust of road and – presto! -- down it would go to its belly. Nothing to do but remove the 200 lb pack, get the
animal back on its four feet and proceed, maybe for only another 50 feet,
when it would go down again and the whole rigmarole would be gone through
once more. These difficulties
increased as the train continued on into the mountains.
second day found the pack train confronted by the Sweetwater River, a
tawny, turbulent torrent – no bridge, nothing but water.
But it had to be crossed, and gingerly the train stepped in.
At the left bank there was an uncharted hole, where five mules lost
their footing and rolled beam-end over beam-end toward Sweetwater Dam.
Tom and his packers jumped in, got to the mules and cut the single
ropes which were the final security of the packs.
The loosened packs went on down into Sweetwater Lake, but the mules
evening Jamul ranch was reached, and the ranch had hay for sale.
The fourteen packers were wet but rugged; they turned in and slept
in their sodden clothes and shoes. They
were up early the next morning and at noon were confronted by their second
unfriendly cross drainage – the Cottonwood.
L.W. Smith had rigged a cableway across it; Tom transferred his
packs across to the left bank and led his mules about a mile upstream,
where he found a crossing with sloping banks for a take-off and landing.
The pack train got across, re-loaded the packs and headed on toward
Potrero. The Potrero Grade
was one of the worst damaged pieces of road in the county – entirely
obliterated in places by semi-liquid avalanches which had floated
gargantuan boulders down from the haunches of Tecate Mountain.
At Potrero they found a corral and a supply of hay.
The next day they made camp; Morena was only nine miles away.
arrival of the “relief expedition” at Morena was something of an
anti-climax. Tom looked in
vain for the “starving people” – and instead found Seth Swanson, the
city’s dam-keeper, and his wife. Instead
of being without food, they invited the fourteen packers in for an
orders are orders. They
unloaded the packs, including one bulky package which, when it was opened,
proved to be a family Bible weighing 12 pounds; hams and bacon had gone
down the Sweetwater, but the Bible came through unharmed.
The Swensens still have that Bible – and also a receipted bill
for the groceries.
trip back to San Diego took the same amount of time as the trip out from
town. The members of the pack
train became heroes on paper, and each one received a citation from the
Reprinted from San Diego Historical Society