The thud of horses’ hoofs resounds through history, and occasionally a great ride is singled out for song or story—Paul Revere’s, Jack Jouett’s, and those fellows’ who brought the good news from Ghent to Aix, for instance. Louis Remme’s great ride was possibly more heroic than any of those, although it was not made for any lofty, altruistic purpose. It was made, quite simply, to save his fortune. We retell the story here as adapted from an account m the Portland Oregonian for February 12, 1882. This was drawn to our attention by Mr. Vern Hammond, of Marysville, California, who located it with the help of Mrs. Irene Simpson Neasham, director of the History Room of the Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.
Sacramento City was a booming town in the spring of 1855. She had thoroughly recovered from the floods and the fires, and had half the gold of the Sierras dumped into her lap. At that time there were five banking institutions there, to wit, Adams & Co., Wells, Fargo & Co., John M. Rhodes, D. O. Mills & Co., and Harris, Marchand & Co. All these concerns not only received deposits and sold exchange but purchased gold dust also. One day a cattle dealer named Louis Remme came into Adams & Co.’s bank with $12,500 in fifty-dollar pieces, which he deposited and took a certificate for. A week rolled around, and Remme was down at San Francisco, having a good time, when, on the morning of Saturday, February 17, the good old steamer Oregon arrived from Panama with 540 passengers. She brought the news of the failure of the greatest banking house west of the Allegheny Mountains, the old and hitherto reliable firm of Page, Bacon & Co., of St. Louis.
A terrible financial panic sprang up in consequence of the receipt of this intelligence. Page, Bacon & Co. hadjust moved into their new banking house, and the bank had been open just twenty minutes when the steamer arrived. A “run” was started up that lasted till 4 P.M. , and then the bank closed till the following Monday, having paid out over four hundred thousand dollars. The run was resumed on Monday morning and began to extend itself to other banks. Page, Bacon & Co. closed its doors that afternoon, never to open again. Then at two o’clock on Tuesday morning, Delos Lake, judge of the Twelfth Judicial District, got up out of his bed and appointed Alfred A. Cohen receiver of the assets of Adams & Co., and that was the last the depositors ever saw of their money.
Louis Remme returned to Sacramento on Monday night’s boat and Tuesday morning called on the agent of Adams & Co. to get his money. He was told with a bland smile that the concern had gone into liquidation and if he wanted his money, he must get it through Cohen, the receiver, and share the expenses pro rata with other depositors. He stood stupefied a moment and then walked out into the street. He had less than a thousand dollars in the world, and something told him that to regain his money he must take some step outside of the usual mode of procedure. Should he go to Marysville? The branch bank there was already aware of the suspension. All hope seemed lost, and his brain began to reel. Broke, after five years of unceasing toil and self-denial. Stay, there was hope yet! Adams & Co. had a branch bank in Portland, but he must reach Portland ahead of the steamer, which was to sail the next day from San Francisco. It was already ten o’clock (for the banks opened at nine in those days), and as he walked toward the levee he saw a stern-wheel boat just getting ready to start for Knight’s Landing, forty-two miles above Sacramento. To jump aboard was but the work of a moment.
He knew that every mile of riding that he could save was so much gained, and forty-two miles was a great gain. Arriving at Knight’s Landing, he got a horse from Knight himself and rode to the head of Grand Island, where he got a fresh horse from old Judge Diefendorf. All through the Sacramento Valley he could borrow horses of his personal friends and was at no expense till after he got into the mountains. He finally got to where he had to buy a horse every thirty miles and change as often as possible. Every new horse cost him eighty dollars, and he did not know whether he would ever see it again; nordid he care whether he rode a horse to death or not. He went through Red Bluff after night and ate his breakfast at the Tower House on Clear Creek, thirteen miles above Shasta. Here ended everything that bore the semblance of a wagon road, and henceforth a narrow bridle path was all he had to go by. As the day wore along he reached the Trinity River and found himself in the vast knot of pine-clad mountains where the Coast Range ties itself to the Sierra Nevada.
The blinding snows of a February night began to darken his trail, but he kept his horse moving briskly till he reached Trinity Center. Here he found it impossible to purchase a horse, but a good-natured miner offered to lend him a fresh one provided he would return it in two weeks. The wind howled frightfully as he began the ascent of Trinity Mountain, but he pushed all but his purpose out of his mind. It was now forty-eight hours since he had closed his eyes, and his brow grew hot and feverish, notwithstanding the intense cold and whirling snow. The tall firs and tamaracks creaked with their fleecy burden, and every once in a while a great forest monarch would fall to the ground with a crash that made the hills ring out with its shivering boom.
The cold, weary traveller reached Scott Valley in six hours, where he slept till noon; and Yreka in seventy hours from Knight’s Landing. He reeled into a barroom and drank off a big glass of brandy as he was called to his frugal meal, and then a fresh horse was brought him. Away he sped, leaving the lofty dome of the peerless Shasta behind him, with its hoary head veiled in the tempest of years untold. Four hours later he was slowly ascending a long eminence about eleven miles north of where he had crossed the Klamath River. A huge cairn of stones was heaped about a small oak tree whose boughs had been lopped away by an axe, and as much of it as projected above the stones bore a curious mark placed there by United States surveyors. It was the mark of the boundary line between a state and a territory. He looked at the tree for a brief moment and alighted from his saddle to drink from the swollen waters of Hungry Creek, which roared beside his path.
“Thank God for Oregon,” sighed Remme as he left the tree behind him. His path, however, was fraught with dangers from this time along. The savage Modocs ranged the whole region between the Klamath and Rogue rivers, while another band more deadly and murderous infested the too appropriately named Grave Creek Hills. At the Dardanelles he hired a strong horse from a stout Irish farmer named Kavanaugh and was walking him along near Jump-off-Joe when a ball whizzed past his head and the crack of six Indian rifles on the bluff above the trail told that his journey was no pleasure trip. But he wore a charmed life, and no redskin’s bullet was destined to be billeted on his person.
He sped down the great canyon and over the beautiful plateau where Roseburg now stands. At daylight on Saturday morning he came to the little village of Winchester on the north fork of the Umpqua, where he got a strong sorrel from Levi Knott. He changed horses again at a farmhouse in the Yoncalla Valley and twice more before he reached Eugene on Sunday morning after riding through a torrential storm during the night.
The day was mild and clear when he crossed the Willamette at Peoria, and the lofty peaks of the Cascade Range towered into an unclosed vista of liquid blue. The picture was a lovely one, and yet the weary man said to himself:
“This is the fifth day, and I have slept just ten hours in all that time. I shall not lie down till I reach Portland.”
He rode all night through Linn and Marion counties. About midnight he rode up to a cabin and peeped through the window. A young man sat by the fire with a young girl on his knee. He was telling her the story that is ever new. Remme took his breakfast at the lower end of French Prairie and hired a horse for five dollars to bring him to Oregon City. He reached there at half-past ten o’clock to find that there would be no steamboat for Portland until next day.
Monday noon found Louis at Milwaukie, and the ferryman’s son got him across the swollen Willamette. The ride to town was exceedingly muddy, but by one o’clock he had reached Stewart’s stable and put away his horse. He asked: “Is the steamer in from Frisco?”
“No,” replied the hostler, “but we look for her today.”
“Where is Adams & Co.’s bank?” asked Remme.
The hostler directed him, and he walked around to the bank. Dr. Steinberger was agent and had just returned from lunch.
“Can you cash a certificate of deposit for me on Sacramento—it’s on your own bank?”
“I guess so,” replied the doctor. “We charge half of one per cent exchange for all sums over one thousand dollars and one per cent on all below that.”
“Twelve thousand and a half,” replied Remme. “I’ve bought a band of cattle, and the longer I wait to pay for them, the worse I am off.”
The doctor examined the certificate, which bore the signature of W. B. Rochester, agent of Adams & Co. at the California capital. There could be no doubt of its genuineness. He counted out the money to Remme and was chuckling over his being able to sell twelve thousand dollars’ worth of exchange on San Francisco without shipping a dollar’s worth of dust or coin.
Remme went around to his hotel and deposited the money in the safe. He came back and told the doctor:
“You’d better save yourself.”
“What do you mean?” asked the doctor.
“I mean that your bank has failed, and everything is attached in San Francisco and Sacramento. I have ridden from Sacramento since Tuesday noon and killed a dozen horses, pretty near. You’ll find I’m right when the steamer gets in.”
“Ridiculous! You might as well talk of Page, Bacon & Co. failing.”
“Well, they failed first, and that is what started the run on your bank,” retorted Louis.
“Bah! Now I know you are crazy,” sneered the doctor.
“Bang!” rang out a gun, and looking toward the river, they saw two brig-rigged masts approaching the city. It was the Columbia , with Captain DaIl on the bridge, with Billy Gladwell, the river pilot, standing by his side. Before the ship had got her lines fast to the dock a constable had served a writ of attachment on the bank of Adams & Co. at the suit of Ralph Meade, the purser of the steamer, who had $950 in the rotten bank. The depositors never got anything after that, and although the local banks stood the run, the town got a pretty severe shock one way and another.
Our humble hero was a Canadian Frenchman by birth, and although he was not a very large man, he was a wiry specimen of humanity and weighed as many ounces to the pound as any man that ever saw Oregon or California even in that heroic age. He had ridden a distance of 665 miles, from Knight’s Landing to Portland, in storm and darkness, over Indian trails and through a trackless wilderness, in just 143 hours; deducting ten hours for sleeping leaves 133 as actual running time.
Remme’s ride is one of the legends of early Oregon that the old pioneers like to tell of beside the roaring oak fires in the Willamette farmhouses in the long winter nights when the apples are roasting on the hearthstones and the cider sparkles in the white china mugs on the kitchen table. It is borne on the mountain torrent of tradition down to the vast ocean of history—a history such as no other people knew—replete with heroism and self-sacrifice.