Wednesday, February 17, 2010

California Gold Rush Letters

The Marietta Intelligencer, March 16, 1850

A large number of letters of various dates, have been received here within a few days, by the friends of the Marietta and Harmar men who are now in California.  We have been favored with the perusal of nearly all of them, and are permitted to make such extracts as will be most likely to interest our readers.

The intelligence of the death of Samuel E. Cross will be read with general regret.  The disorganization of the Harmar Company will occasion no little surprise, for it was generally supposed that having passed thro' the difficulties and dangers of the journey together, there was but little doubt that every man would be inclined to adhere to the Company.

Our extracts are made without reference to order of dates.  We commence with a letter from Mr. Dwight Holllister dated on the 28th of December:

* * I write in a log cabin, 14 by 18 feet, covered with clapboards and quite comfortable.  I have a table about four feet in diameter, made of a piece of pine plank about three inches thick, and set on a block.  It is groaning under a  burden of cold pork, short cake, and dishes - such as tin plates, tin cups, knives and forks, and a few bottles of vinegar.  This latter is an indispensable article to prevent scurvy, in this region where we hardly see any vegetables.

You may like to know how I spent my Christmas.  In the forenoon I dug about $3 worth of Gold.  I dined with J. Q. A. Cunningham on cold salt beef, cold pan cakes and tea.

The weather now is pleasant.  The sun brightly shines on the green oaks and pines that surround our humble cottage, and the green grass that covers the mountains.

Yesterday I went about five miles, to a small village, to get some things for Cross.  I bought a small loaf of bread, about a three cent loaf at home, and paid a dollar for it!  For four pounds of dried peaches I paid five dollars!  For 6 pounds of potatoes $4.50.  My dinner, a very common one, was $2.  Such are the prices we have to pay for something to subsist on, in this part of the mines.

Cross and myself have been working together ever since we met in California.  We have been in company with E. D. Perkins and John Huntington, and the Harmar Company - that was.  That Company kept together much longer than most others, but has now broken up.  We were all too late in choosing a location for the winter.  But we are all comfortably situated in log cabins.

Perkins and Huntington have put them up a nice cabin a few hundred yards from Cross's and mine.  We shall all probably be together through the winter, but separate in the spring.

Perkins is well, but awful homesick.  Huntington is perfectly contented, and takes every thing easy.  Cross, my partner, poor fellow, has been unwell some time, and is now very sick of Billious Fever.  I stay with him night and day, and for two nights past have had to be up with him all the time, attending to his numerous wants.  He is very delirious, and is all the time talking with his old Marietta associates.  Last night he fancied himself on a riding excursion, and every thing went well for a while; he called out to Israel Waters to "go on, and do the best he could, for," said he, "I cannot - my feet are blistered."  (I had mustard drafts on his feet.) * * * *

We are in a pleasant part of the mines, and generally healthy.  We are about 50 miles east of Sacramento city.  We came here in November.  The rain soon commenced, and has prevented our working much.  Rainy days I lay back in my cabin, smoke my pipe, and think of Marietta.

Dr. Hildreth came up to the mines, but did not stay long.  He left us with his mind made up to go home, but I do not know whether he has gone or not. * *

Dwight Hollister.

- - - - -

Mr. J. Q. A. Cunningham writes to Messrs. W. F. & J. D. Curtis, from "Dead Man's Branch."  His first letter is dated Dec. 20th.   We copy from it as follows:

* * * I have not heard one word from Marietta since I left, until this week, when I received yours of June 17th and August 18th, and one from Robt. Jennings dated in August, which is our latest from Marietta.

I arrived in the Sacramento valley October 3d, after a hard trip across the mountains and plains.  I was sick with chills and fever, until I got to the South Pass, from which place I had good health until I arrived at the beautiful Humboldt - or, in other words, Humbug - river.  I took the scurvy near the sink of that stream, and from there until I crossed the mountains I had a "good time," eating grass and willows, and sometimes a little mint.  Two of us had this disease at the same time, and the only thing we had to eat was salt bacon, and that we dare not use - so we had to "go to grass."  I think if I had been detained on the road one week longer I would have been a good subject for a "scratch club" funeral, for when I arrived here I could not ride or walk.  I stopped three days on this side the mountains and ate nothing but grapes, which helped me more than any thing else.

Since I arrived here I have been well, and have at this time better health than I have had for five years.

Chesebro and Stephens left me at Fort Laramie, and I did not hear from them until I arrived at Sacramento city, where I got a letter from Chesebro, but did not see him.  He had gone to the mines before I got in, and my latest news from him is his letter of Sept. 16th.  He said Stephens had gone up the Yuba river 100 miles from the city, and he had not heard from him since he left.

Perkins, Cross & Huntington arrived here one week before I did.  They saw "the Elephant" - they did.  Some of the glorious six (the Marietta company) arrived here bare-footed and bare-headed.  Ha! ha! ha!  Guess who.

I am with the Harmar Company.  We shall spend the winter or rainy season here.  We have built two log houses, one 18 by 22, the other 16 by 20.  The rainy season having commenced, there will not be much mining done for three or four months.

We are on a branch of the Cosumne river, and in sight of the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  There is a company of 200 men and families back in the mountains, who have sent in for relief from the Government.  One man from Ohio came in.  He said the snow was three feet deep when he left them.  They had killed all of their stock,and made jerk of it.

Dwight Hollister and Sam. Cross have built a house near us.  Dwight is well, and we have a fine time.  Perkins & Huntington are building about 1/4 miles from us.  We are six miles from Weavertown, four miles from Hangtown (so called from the fact that 20 Spaniards were hung there last summer without judge or jury) and 50 miles from Sacramento city.

I have not made much since I arrived in California - say about three hundred and fifty dollars, which I have spent for provisions.  I shall not say much about the Gold, only there is plenty here, and by a man exposing his health, and working in the rain, he can make $16, per working day.  As for making any more, I have not seen it yet, but you can hear of some big raises being made.  I have not been in the mines long enough to give a full and true account of them.  We have not had a fair trial yet.  Last week John Huntington was prospecting in a ravine, not twenty yards from our house, but left and went to another place.  Two men took the place he left, and in two hours took out two hundred dollars, and in two days $500.  So you see it is all a lottery.  You make a raise one day, but may be glad to make your board for the next week.

As for boarding, it costs something to live in this country.  I have mostly lived on Hall's Pilot bread, salt horse and old rusty pork.  I will give you some of the prices.  In Sacramento City flour sells from $40 to $60 per barrel; Pork $40 to $50; Dried Apples 50 to 60 cents per pound; dried peaches 75 cents to $1.00 per pound; and Potatoes 75 cents to $1.00 per pound.  All woolen goods sell at high profits.  The lowest price boots are $16; water-proof boots $30 to $40 per pair.  These are the prices at this time in the city.  When we got there they were much cheaper.  The prices in the mines are more than double what they are in the city.  I have seen flour sold here at $250, and Pork at $200, per barrel, and potatoes at $1.25 per pound.  Freight from the city to the mines, this winter, is $60, per 100 pounds. * *

J. Q. A. Cunningham.

- - - - -

In another letter to the same gentlemen, dated "Dec. 23," Mr. C. says:

The Harmar Company is no more.  It collapsed a flue, and broke the main shaft, on Saturday the 22.  I am happy to say that no lives were lost.  Through the careful management of her captain, skillful pilots and noble [ahem!] crew, she was run ashore, and landed on the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada.  Her damages being great, her crew thought best to leave her "alone in her glory."

The company dissolved by mutual consent, and from this time every fellow will be for himself, and we hope for good luck all round.  The business of the company will be settled by Capt. Chapin.  The stock consists of seventy one shares, of $50 each.  The laboring party here have pledged themselves to pay the agent $100 for each share - making $7,100, by the first of May 1850.  So the laboring party now own all the stock.  They have provisions for the winter; two fine log houses; eighteen head of cattle; six mules; three fine wagons; mining tools of every description, &c, &c.

I send you a specimen of the gold.  It is some of my own washing.  As I wanted to send you two kinds, I have been to the creek and washed out some from there with a pan - the first I have worked from these mines. * * *

Send me some papers from God's country, for I have not seen but three papers since I left home, and they were N. York and New Orleans papers of old dates.  The news boys from New York are crying their papers thro' the mines, and they sell quick at a dollar each.  I would give five to see the Marietta Intelligencer - tell Gates, as a hint.  * *

I will state one fact, to show our expenses.  Four of us, who had not heard from home, and were anxious to get letters, sent Mr. Hammett to the city.  We got thirteen letters, in all.  We paid the agent at Sacramento $13 to get them from San Francisco.  Mr. H's tavern bill two days at the city, and two days travelling expenses, in all was $40, not counting his time, which in the mines they average at $10 per day.  I have sometimes paid $2 for a meal, and glad to get it at that.  this is the country you read about - it is.

December 25th.

This Christmas morning I received the office of auctioneer for the Harmar Company.  Ha! ha!  Going, going, gone!  We are all well.

J. Q. A. Cunningham.

- - - - -

The latest dates of any letters received here, are Jan'y 30 1850.

Mr. D. G. Whitney, formerly of Harmar, late of Quincy, Ill. writes from Sacramento to his father (Jas. Whitney Esq.) under this date, as follows:

* * * There is but little doing in the mines this winter, during the rainy season, as miners cannot dig to advantage.  The impression is that a large amount of gold will be raised the coming season, and my own belief is, that many years will roll round before it becomes scarce in this valley.  Still it will require great toil and exposure to get it, and it is sad to reflect that thousands whose hearts now beat high with hope at the golden prospects ahead, are doomed to disappointment.  A great many deaths have occurred this winter, not from any particular disease which prevails, but from general debility and neglect.  Mr. Samuel Cross of Marietta died on the 8th inst. at the mines.  He was with Hollister, Perkins and others from your place.  * * A young man named Soule, from Harmar, who came out in Chapin's company, told me a few days since that the Harmar company was dissolved, and the men are to work on their own account.  * * *

D. G. Whitney.

- - - - -

Mr. Wm. H. Bisbee (one of the Harmar company) writes to Mr. T. J. Pattin of Harmar, from the mines, under date of December 23d, and to Mr. D. S. Young of Harmar, under date of Dec. 24th.  His letters are mostly occupied with details of the difficulties that led to a dissolution of the company.  As personal matters seemto have been the principal cause of the disorganization - matters in which the public can have no special interest, and particularly as only one side of the story is told, we find but little in them that we think it proper to copy.  Indeed the persons to whom they are addressed do not wish extracts relating to personal matters to be published.

From the letter to Mr. Pattin we make the following brief extracts:

At meeting of the Company yesterday, we proposed to pay seventy-one hundred dollars for the stock of the company.  This was duly considered by Chapin, Williams and Hovey, and accepted. * *

Previous to the dissolution we worked 25 days on the Indian Bar, paying in the dust nightly.  The amount we earned there was some over $1,500. * * *

I am with a mess of four.  We have a fine cabin, 14 by 16 feet, and our winter's flour on hand, and are ready to make money in the spring at the rate of $16 or $20 per day.  Paul Fearing is not able to work, and I hardly think he will ever see home again, but I will be ready to help him if he needs it. * *

Wm. H. Bisbee.

- - - - -

In his letter to Mr. Young, Mr. Bisbee says:

The Harmar company is finally dissolved.  The laboring party are to pay $7,100, or double the original stock.  By this operation the home stockholders make one hundred per cent on the money they invested, as it is to be paid on or before the first of May 1850, less than one year from the time of investment.  * * *

The country here surpasses my most sanguine expectations.  The gold is here, and can easily be obtained.  Men in the mines average from $16 to $20 per day.  The climate is fine, and the weather warm.  The rainy season is now upon us, and we cannot work much until about April - from which time we can work without interruption until January.  We are now very comfortably situated, in our log cabins.  * *

Wm. H. Bisbee.

1 comment:

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