Caleb Greenwood was 18 when he shot a sheriff who was serving a judgment on his family in Virginia. Caleb had to disappear quickly but his need added a story to Donner Summit history.
Although Caleb Greenwood had never been all the way to California he nevertheless guided the first wagon train to reach California with wagons and he did it when he was 80 years old. As if that was not enough for an 80 year old man, he made subsequent trips guiding other trains and improved on the original route he took guiding the Stephens Party. At age 84 he was part of the second relief party heading to rescue the Donner Party. Today the town of Greenwood, CA if named for him.
That all came from Old Greenwood the Story of Caleb Greenwood Trapper, Pathfinder and Early Pioneer of the West. Picking up the book with the modern jacket and the 2005 printing date makes one think it’s a modern book but one need not read too far before ones looks more closely for a copyright date. There are some dated and prejudicial terms such as “diggers” for Native Americans, his “dusky bride” who was Native American, and “didn’t speak with forked tongue.” Further investigation shows that book is a reprint of the 1936 edition. This reprint was done to help publicize the now defunct Old Greenwood development in Truckee.
Regardless of the reason for the reprint and the date of the old book, the story of Caleb Greenwood is an interesting story and another example of how they were tougher in the old days. Unfortunately it’s hard to write a lot of history about a man who was not in the news and did not leave much evidence of his life and so the book is short, only 129 pages. The book has a lot of guess work and family legend. We do learn some about the famous explorer though. When he came west in 1783 he probably engaged in the fur trade but he only appeared sporadically in history’s pages. He was married at age 50 and had five sons and two daughters. He died in 1853 at the age of 90.
The book is short and it does make an interesting read about one of the hardier characters of western history.