JSNH&B home • Fall 2009 • vol. 2 no. 2

Joseph Goldsborough Bruff

Joseph Goldsborough Bruff was born on October 2, 1804, in Washington, D.C. He attended West Point, 1820–22. From 1827 – 1836, Bruff traveled and worked as a topographical engineer, mostly at Gosport Naval Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. Upon his return to Washington, D.C. in 1837, he worked in the U.S. Bureau of Topographical Engineers, 1838- 1849. Bruff organized the 64-member Washington City and California Mining Association which he led to California, during the California Gold Rush. He was associated with Peter Lassen and followed what came to be known as the Lassen Trail of the California Trail.

An amateur artist, Bruff spent two years drawing pictures of the mining camps and the Mother Lode country. His pen-and-ink sketches were illustrated in his journal. In 1853, Bruff returned to Washington, D.C. Bruff spent his final years in the office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. He died on April 14, 1889.


Click on any image for the larger version.
"The Midnight Visitor" Eastern Sierra Feather River Indians
Bruff’s drawing of a bear invaded his camp. He titled this drawing “The Midnight Visitor”. A drawing of the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada. An Indian encampment on the Feather River.
Fearsome lightning storm Sierra Nevada campsite Independence Rock
A fearsome lightning storm along the California Trail. Bruff’s drawing of his Sierra Nevada campsite. Bruff’s drawing of Independence Rock, one of the major locations along the California Trail.
Bruff's Mountain Lodge Indian petroglyphs Bruff's Sierra camp
A depiction of Bruff’s “mountain lodge”. Bruff was fascinated by Indian petroglyphs he discovered along the route. A drawing of one of Bruff’s mountain campgrounds.
Chimney Rock Emigrant in winter Life along the Lassen Trail
Bruff depicted Chimney Rock in this drawing. Chimney Rock was one of the first natural landmarks that emigrants spied on the eastern end of the California Trail. Bruff’s drawing of an emigrant crossing the Sierra Nevada in the winter. A drawing by James Goldsborough Bruff of life along the Lassen Trail. Peter Lassen is asleep under the tree.
Peter Lassen's rancho    
A drawing by Bruff of life along the Lassen Trail. Here, Bruff depicts the final destination, Peter Lassen’s rancho.    
Credits: All images from Joseph Goldsborough Bruff’s journal entitled: Gold Rush: the journals, drawings, and other papers of J. Goldsborough Bruff, captain, Washington City and California Mining Association, April 2, 1849-July 20, 1851