Meet Caleb Greenwood, mountain man extraordinaire |

Meet Caleb Greenwood, mountain man extraordinaire

Special to the Sun
Frank X. Mullen will ppresent a Chautauqua performance as mountain man Caleb Greenwood for the last 2014 Truckee's History Alive! presentation.
Courtesy Steve Davis |

More info

When: Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, 7 p.m.

Where: Veteran’s Hall, 10214 High St., Truckee

Why: To delight and enlighten with a local history program series

Contact: 530-582-7846

Join Caleb Greenwood, human metaphor for the American West’s opening and trailblazing wagon guide at the Veteran’s Hall in Truckee on Thursday, Sept. 18.

The Truckee Library, the Friends of the Truckee Library and the Truckee Donner Historical Society invite you to hear the tales Old Greenwood tells about the 19th century.

This icon of the past, who led wagons on the Truckee River route and over Donner Pass, left no diaries and was never the subject of dime novels. As a mountain man, wagon guide and Gold Rush pioneer, he knew everyone and did everything, then bragged about his accomplishments.

Hear his colorful tales as Frank X. Mullen, a Reno-based investigative journalist, author and Chautauqua scholar portrays the rugged mountain man.


Dubbed “Old Greenwood” by pioneers he encountered in the mountains and deserts of the West, Caleb was born in Virginia — now West Virginia — before the American Revolution. Family legend has it he shot a sheriff in 1781 defending a household slave; Thus began his journey West.

By 1809 he was west of the Mississippi and for many years was a fur trapper, attending the first great trappers’ rendezvous on the Green River in 1825.

Caleb married a Crow Indian woman, and lived with the Crow and other Indian peoples for several years. With his oldest sons, he guided the renowned Stephens-Murphy-Townsend party of 11 wagons across the desert to the Sierra in 1844 — his expertise ended at the Humboldt Sink, but an affable Paiute man led them to the Truckee River.

The party took the man’s name to be “Truckee,” and it has been used in appreciation ever since.


Through excruciating difficulties, Greenwood succeeded in leading the first wagon party over the Sierra at what is now called Donner Pass, opening the Truckee River route of the California Trail. On a later return trip east, he and his sons blazed the trail through Dog Valley, Hoke Valley and Russell Valley, north of the Truckee River canyon. In the winter of 1847, he assisted in the rescue of the snowbound Donner Party.

During the Gold Rush, Old Greenwood spun tales of lost California lodes and then sold provisions to greenhorns who also paid his sons to guide them to imaginary treasure. Discover legends, persistent in California lore, Sept. 18, 7 p.m., at the Veteran’s Hall on High Street in Truckee.

There will be time to ask questions of Caleb Greenwood, as well as of Mr. Mullen.

Mullen wrote “The Donner Party Chronicles,” a day-by-day Donner Party and has appeared as a journalist and historian in History Channel series, Discovery, PBS, BBC and other cable and local TV programs. Mullen has taught journalism, reporting and writing classes at University of Nevada, Reno, since 1999 and has twice been named Nevada’s Outstanding Journalist by the Nevada Press Association.

He performs Chautauqua in several states and other than Caleb Greenwood, his characters include Babe Ruth, Henry VIII, Edward R. Murrow, U.S. Grant, John C. Fremont and Huey Long.

For more information call the Truckee Library at 530-582-7846.

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