The following news articles are all related to traveling by boat to California during the Gold Rush. Be sure to read the last account; the author gives a very good description of the hardships endured on his voyage.
The Journey to California.
We fear that hundreds are starting for California, without carefully counting the cost and danger, and that a consequent failure will be the result. The great danger of the route by the Isthmus of Darien, which is the one mostly followed, consists in the difficulties connected with crossing the Isthmus, and the detention at Panama for the want of shipping facilities. — The voyage from New York to Chagres, or from Panama to San Francisco, after once on ship board, presents nothing very alarming. — The difficulties at the Isthmus are, however, not small. The New York Herald has published a description of the route, written by a gentleman who has resided in Panama for some time, and has made frequent journeys across the Isthmus. We learn from this statement, that Chagres, the Atlantic port, is a small collection of huts, containing about 500 inhabitants, almost all colored people. The exceptions are a few officials at the custom house and the castle. It is situated in the midst of a swamp, and from the constant rains, the streets are impassable except on longs of wood. Its climate is said to be the most pestiferous for whites in the whole world.
The coast of Africa, which enjoys a dreaded reputation in this way, is not so deadly in its climate as is Chagres. The thermometer ranges from 78 to 85 deg. all the year and it rains every day. Many a traveller, who has incautiously remained there for a few days and nights, has had cause to remember Chagres; and many a gallant crew who have entered the harbor in full health, have, ere many days, found their final resting place on the dark and malarious banks of the river. Bilious, remitted and congestive fever, in their most malignant form, seem to hover over Chagres, ever ready to pounce down upon the stranger. Even the acclimated resident of the tropics runs a great risk in staying any time in Chagres; but the stranger, fresh from the North and its invigorating breezes, runs a most fearful one. Its accommodations for travellers are very limited, or about none at all, and no one thinks of staying there twenty-four hours, if he can possibly help it.
The first stage in the journey to Panama is made on the Chagres river, in canoes propelled by poles in the hands of the native boatmen. — The distance to Cruces, the end of the river travel, is 50 to 55 miles. The journey takes from twelve to thirty-six hours, according to the number of hands employed to propel the canoe. The passenger sits in the stern of the light craft, and his baggage is placed in the center, and he is obliged to remain perfectly quiet, to avoid upsetting. He must take his provisions with him, — to land is impossible without running great risks, as the river swarms with alligators, and the shores are marshy and clothed with exuberant vegetation down to the water’s edge. No village, or even a hut lines its banks the whole distance. It is the region of disease and venomous animals and reptiles. The lowest cost for a single passenger is a doubloon, ($16) and from that up to two, three, or four doubloons.
Arrived at Cruces; which is a small village, the traveller is within twenty one miles of the Pacific ocean, which have to performed on land. The usual method is on horse or on mule back, with another mule to carry the baggage, and a muleteer who acts as a guide. The road is a mere bridle path, and as the rains on the Isthmus are very heavy, and there is more or less of them all the year round, the mud holes and swampy places to be crossed are very numerous. He must carry his provisions with him. After about twelve hours toilsome ride, the beautiful Pacific appears in view and the city of Panama is reached. This city contains from 5000 to 7000 inhabitants, and is a quiet, dull place. The climate is warm, say from 80 to 85 degrees the whole year round, and the rains long and severe. It is a healthier place than Chagres. With due care, avoiding all excesses and the night air, a person can preserve his health; still the heavy rains and continued damp atmosphere, render it necessary to take every precaution; for though healthy when compared with Chagres, it is by no means a safe place for unacclimated strangers from the north.
Having arrived at Panama, the chief difficulties of the journey are over, and the traveller on ship board, on the bosom of the glorious Pacific, may revel in his day dreams of gold and riches to his heart’s content. But let us look somewhat more narrowly at the difficulties of the route at the present moment. Death has his seat at Chagres, and no time must be spent there — but, from the great numbers now taking that route, there is imminent danger of being delayed at that place for the want of conveyance. The canoes and boatmen are limited in number, and from the great demand they will be tempted to charge exorbitant rates. — Many will no doubt lay down their lives and their hopes together in a grave at Chagres, for want of conveyance or means to get away.
But say he has arrived at Panama. Has he then any assurance of speedy departure for California? All the steamers are full for months to come — Panama is a costly place to live, and the danger of sickness is imminent. Many will have to wait for weeks, possibly months for a passage to San Francisco, and when the long wished for opportunity occurs, they will find themselves unable to take it, as their expenses in Panama will have exhausted their means. Thus situated in a strange, unhealthy country, moneyless and friendless, their spirits depressed by their situation, it requires no prophet to predict a heart rending termination to their golden schemes.
We present these difficulties to put those who have determined to make this voyage on their guard, and prepare them for its dangers. Such an undertaking should not be entered upon rapidly; if it is, misfortune will be sure to follow. — Pitts. Gazette.
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Jan 2, 1849
THE ISTHMUS — Mr. Dominguez, Consul of New Grenada at the port of New York, states, in a letter dated a few days back, that at his last advices from Panama, no persons were in waiting at that port to proceed to San Francisco. This is a flat contradictions to the statement recently current, that there were certainly 2000, and probably 6000 persons waiting their chances for passage to California.
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Jan 2, 1849
PRICE: $300 to $420
TIME: 30 to 35 Days
By Cape Horn:
PRICE: $100 to $300
TIME: 130 to 150 Days
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Jan 9, 1849
The excitement in regard to the California gold mines continues unabated. Thirty-six vessels have sailed from New York, Boston, &c., for California via Cape Horn, with 1,164 passengers, 530 have gone via Chagres. — These are in addition to the crews of the vessels.
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Jan 20, 1849
A CALIFORNIA EMIGRANT RETURNED
Mr. Nicholas Rector, of this place, recently one of the proprietors of the City Mills, returned a few days since to his home and family, after having proceeded as far as Panama on his way to California and the Gold Placers. He was ill most of the time from the period of leaving New York until his return. He gives a gloomy account of the condition of things, on the Isthmus route. The statements he makes leave no doubt that an infamous game of fraud is being played at New York, to induce emigrants to take the Chagres route, with the expectation of fleecing from them in many instances, charges to that point and back again.
Mr. Rector left Akron on the last day of February. — He left New York, on the Cresent City, on the 15th of March, (ult.) and arrived at Chagres on the 24th ult. — He found there, on his arrival, two thousand persons waiting for a passage to San Francisco, and the harbor of Panama destitute of shipping. The passengers of the Cresent City had been led to suppose that they would find a vessel at Panama bound for San Francisco, with little difficulty. The steamer of Howland & Aspinwall, the owners of the Cresent City, they were told would reach Panama soon after they did; and they could get passage on her without difficulty. They found, however, that tickets calling for a passage on the California Steamer, could only be had at prices varying from $600 to $1200. At this enormous rate were tickets to be purchased, it at all; and then the purchaser must run the risk of the arrival of the steamer. Few of he multitude at Chagres and Panama could pay such prices. Many of them had been waiting for a passage until their money and provisions were gone, and they were begging for aid from camp to camp, like men frantic. The number in this situation was rapidly increasing. What they would do it was impossible to say. Thousands of miles from home and from their destination, among strangers in a strange land, in an inhospitable climate for northern men, and where labor is not in demand, their situation is lamentable in the extreme.
Mr. Rector remained on the Isthmus eight days. During that time the number in waiting was increased by new arrivals to 3,000. The distance across the Isthmus from Chagres to Panama, is about 54 miles. Three days is the time usually occupied in crossing.
MORE FROM THE ISTHMUS. — The Ohio State Journal publishes a letter from Mr. W.F. Legg of Columbus, dated at Panama, March 22, 1849, which confirms the statements of Mr. Rector. The letter says:
We found at Gorgona some 25 or 30 tents, filled with Americans, who had found it impossible at this time to get away from Panama, and concluded it was best to stay there and eat up their provisions rather than transport them to Panama at an expense of from $7 to $10 a hundred. We found at this point a number of gambling shops, kept by the Americans, and a number of emigrants had lost every cent they had. We met a man returning who had lost it is said $700! One gambler here had won with a roulette, $10,000, and left for Panama.
I would say to every man bound for California, “come any way but this,” for it is impossible for all those who are now here to get there; and many are returning; and some have stayed here until they have no means to go back nor forward; and I am afraid that a great many more of us will be in the same situation, if we do not proceed some way soon. Tickets have sold here on the steamer for $700 and $1,000; and one man offered to pay $200 and work as a deck hand, and was refused.
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) May 8, 1849
Voyage To California.
The Akron Free Democrat publishes the following interesting letter from Mr. L.B. Raymond, formerly of that place:
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 12, 1849.
- * * I have finally arrived in the land of gold and gold mines. I had for the first time the exquisite satisfaction of viewing the tent-clad hills of San Francisco on Thursday last, about 2 o’clock P.M. * *
When we were in Panama, Mr. Dow and five others of our company, bought tickets on the brig Two Friends, for which they paid $250 each, but myself and two others were unable to procure tickets on board of her, although we offered a heavy premium on the prices paid by others. I waited a week or so after they had bought, when I had an opportunity of buying second-hand tickets on the brig Solidad, which lay in the harbor, several miles from shore; and as it was very expensive to get on board, I had to take the word of others in relation to her.
I saw a number who had tickets on the same vessel, and learned from them that she was a good, substantial sea vessel, of 128 tons, with comfortable accommodations; so I and the two others of our company bought tickets on her, for which we had to pay $230. I went on board for the first time, April 28, and in five minutes after, she was under way for California. She was of but 90 tons burthen, with 92 passengers, and the deck so covered with trunks, boxes, and gold-washers, that the sailors could scarcely get about. But this was nothing to the scene presented in the hold, as I for the first time, on hands and knees, with bended neck, made my way to a vacant shelf, where I could nearly straighten myself, and if I could, sleep. –
For the first three nights, I put myself in this hole, but afterwards, when I slept at all, it was on deck, for about two months. We were 28 days going to Acapulco, a distance of 1,500 miles, in a succession of calms and squalls, thunder and rain, such as I wish to never to see again. We had a dead calm at least one-third of the time — and a calm under a tropical sun, is not very agreeable, especially where you are exposed to its direct rays. A thunder-storm at sea in this latitude is the most awfully grand and sublime spectacle it is possible to imagine. There is one continual peal of the most deafening thunder, while the forked and chain lightning fill the whole hevens with a vast sheet of flame. All these storms, during our passage, were in the night, and we had some eight or ten of them. It rains in the tropics as I never saw it rain before — seeming as if the very windows of heaven were opened, and from one to four hours during a shower. –
As there was no decent place to go below, I always stayed on deck, and there, holding on to a mast, rope, or something else. I viewed the war of elements, with feelings as calm as the circumstances would permit. Such a scene of terror and confusion as a vessel presents during one of those storms, cannot well be imagined. Between Acapulco and Cape St. Lucas, we experienced some of the roughest sea on the whole passage, some of the waves being estimated by good judges over 30 feet from the summit to the hollow. * *
Our drinking-water, brackish as the best, had been put in whale-oil casks, making it a thousand times worse — the only way I could drink or keep it down, (after going without as long as possible,) was to take the strongest kind of peppermint in my mouth before and after drinking. Our provisions were on average better than the water, though a dog, in the States, would suffer some hunger, before he would venture to attack the jerked beef we had to eat. Our bread, up to Acapulco, was all wormy, but the rest, principally rice and beans, were passable, with the exception of a lot of beans which we had finally to come to, which as near as could be estimated, contained three bugs to two beans.
We stayed six days in Acapulco, where we got some good bread, &c. From Acapulco to St. Lucas we were twenty-two days. Here we could get no provisions but jerked beef, &c., and our number of passengers was increased to 97. After stopping at St. Lucas three days, we set sail at night, but the wind dying away we drifted towards the breakers, on which the waves were dashing with great fury — the cape at this point being a mass of solid rock, from 50 to 200 feet high, and nearly perpendicular. We drifted to within 10 or 12 rods of the rocks, when, providentially, a breeze sprung up and saved us from certain destruction. The officers said that had she gone on the rocks there was no probability of a single soul being saved.
From this place to Santa Barbara, we were 26 days. After coasting up to lat. 25 degrees with constant head winds, we struck off to the west, making about the longitude of San Francisco without gaining any latitude. — After being out 10 or 12 days, we were put on allowance of food and water. It was ascertained by a committee appointed to examine the provisions, that there was sufficient to last 10 days, and they of the poorest quality. * * *
I have taken an old sea biscuit, which had been saved from my rations when not so hard up, and after breaking it into small pieces, to get the worms and bugs out, eaten it with a greater relish than anything before in my life. We were allowed half a pint of coffee per day.
Just as our provisions were all gone we were fortunate enough to arrive at Santa Barbara. After what I had suffered from hunger and thirst, and fear of shipwreck, I thought it best to leave the old craft, and go by land. I succeeded in buying a mule, and with six other individuals, we started for this place, a distance of over four hundred miles. It took us sixteen days, including one day spent going on a wrong road. We traveled through a country mostly prairie, with very scanty timber and water; at one time we traveled three days without passing an inhabited house. We had to stand sentinel during the night, as we passed through where there were lots of Indians. On the whole I had a pleasant trip. I walked more than two-thirds of the way, owing to having to make a baggage mule of my animal. There are any quantity of Cattle and Horses in the country we traveled through. There were seventy thousand head on one Mission, which we traveled through — at one view I could see from ten to fifteen thousand; I also saw lots of deer, two panthers, and….**
- *The last portion, maybe 3 sentences, left off; they were illegible.
Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Nov 27, 1849