A Letter From Hang Town

The Yankee House at Hang Town (image from www.dsloan.com)

The Yankee House at Hang Town (image from http://www.dsloan.com)

California–Letter from Homer J. Austin.

We are permitted to copy the following interesting letter, received a short time since from Mr. H.J. Austin, of Ripley Township, who went to California last spring, by the overland route. It is addressed to his wife, and is dated August 11th, 1850, at Cold Springs, El Dorado Co., California. Mr. Austin writes:

“We arrived at Hang Town, five miles from this place, the 2d inst., safe and sound, after a journey of 95 days from old Fort Kearney, the place of leaving the States. It has been a journey of pleasure rather than hardship, although attended with fatigue and some danger. We left Salt Lake City the 24th of June. From thence we travelled 200 miles to the junction of Ft. Hall road without encountering anything of much interest. There we fell in company with Oliver Orton, of Mo., formerly of Richland Co., Ohio, who was taking through ten men, to work on shares. Dr. Stewart of New Haven, was with them. They strengthened our train and added much to our enjoyment.

Thousand Spring Valley (Photo by Ralph Maughan; www.panoramio.com)

Thousand Spring Valley (Photo by Ralph Maughan; http://www.panoramio.com)

One hundred miles from there we struck the Thousand Spring Valley, called by some, Warm Spring Valley. It is almost destitute of good water, what there is, being found in natural wells some ten feet deep, and from six to ten feet across, and either warm or alkaline. The Valley is some 100 miles in extent, and the road across it is good, except that the dust which resembles slack lime or ashes, is about 6 inches deep, and renders it very unpleasant for travel, and ruinous to stock.

Humbolt River 1849 (painting by Thomas Evershed; http://images.artnet.com)

Humbolt River 1849 (painting by Thomas Evershed; http://images.artnet.com)

Proceeding from thence we struck the Humbolt or Mary’s River, (which is called by the emigrants, the Horse Killer,) and followed it 300 miles, to the sink. The river being very high, or some 8 feet higher than last spring, it was impossible to cross it with teams, or to grass our stock on its bottom, in consequence of the mire. The whole distance is one bed of alkali, or saleratus bottom, and perfectly destitute of grass, except in the slews and across the river. We were compelled to swim the river to get grass for our stock which was attended with some dangers even to good swimmers. — The river is some 300 yards across and has a very swift current. Several emigrants were drowned in the river this season. John Parrott came very near drowning; we saved him by throwing him a rope. The banks of the river are perfectly lined with dead horses, mules, and oxen which i was impossible to avoid, and which made it very unpleasant.

In addition to these difficulties it is infested with a tribe of Indians, called Diggers, who live in the mountain cliffs. They steal horses and shoot the passing emigrants for diversion. Our stock had to be guarded day and night, which tried the courage of our men to some degree. One man was shot through the heart with an arrow, on the night of 2d of July, while he was on guard. We were camped about 2 miles back and saw him the next morning. I volunteered several nights, to stand guard at dangerous points, where I was fearful that we should lose our stock, unless well guarded, while grazing on the bluffs at night. We saw but a few Indians, as they keep concealed from the emigrants, altho’ they stole a good deal of stock.

We arrived at the Willow Springs, 20 miles from the Sink, on the 19th of July. We went on to the Willow Meadows and made hay for crossing the Desert. We stayed two days and made about 800 lbs of hay. Leaving one of our horses to recruit 4 weeks and then to be brought through, we started on the 22d at sun down across the Desert. We travelled all night and camped at 10 o’clock the next morning at a salt spring. At 5 P.M., we struck tent and travelled until sunrise the next day, when we arrived at Carson River, a distance of 40 miles, 15 miles being very deep sand next to the river. We had plenty of water for ourselves and most enough for our horses, while many others suffered very much. We counted 160 dead horses and found wagons left too numerous to count, upon the Desert. Our stock stood it well.

At the river we found plenty of pork and flour that had just arrived from California to relieve the emigrants. Those that had money had to pay $2 per pound, the same price for pork and flour. Those that had no money or stock got the same quantity. 3 lbs. of flour and 3 of pork, all that one person could buy or have at any price. I saw many almost starved to death, begging for food, as they arrived at the river. Some had been compelled to eat horseflesh.

Fortunately, we had plenty of food. We concluded to leave our wagons and pack the balance of the way, 200 miles, to Hang Town, which we did without difficulty. I think it would have detained us some 3 or 4 days longer to have got thro’ with wagons, and we might have failed at last. It would have cost us much more than our wagons and harness would have been worth, if we had brought them thro’. Orton hitched on to our wagon, it being better than his, but he was under the necessity of leaving it in the canyon, in Carson Valley. Our provisions lasted until we arrived within 40 miles of Hang Town.

We supplied ourselves at meal time, at the trading posts that we passed every 3 or 4 miles the balance of the way. I have not lost a meal since I left the States, and never enjoyed better health. There has been but little sickness on the plains, this season, but a good deal of suffering from famine.

Miners in Hangtown, William Shew, 1849. (iamge from /www.legendsofamerica.com)

Miners in Hangtown, William Shew, 1849. (image from http://www.legendsofamerica.com)

We found George Stewart, who informed us that Burras and Seymour were at Cold Springs, so we left for that place, after sending our stock on to a rancho, 8 miles from Sacramento City. We found Burras, and were much pleased to see him. He was mining in company with Seymour, Delano Patrick, and Edward Whyler. Burras wished me to go in company with him, which I concluded to do, a short time at least, as he had become somewhat acquainted with mining, and had plenty of tools. Edward and John Parrott started for the city with Dr. Stewart and George Stewart. I have worked, or partly worked, at mining 5 days, and made about $40. We shall soon leave for the rivers, as the water is getting too low in the dry diggings.

Wages here are $6 per day — on the rivers $8 per day and board; by the month, from $100 to $200. John Parrott engaged at driving team for Gage, formerly of Steam Corners, for $150 per month. Provisions of all kinds are plenty, and cost us about $1 per day, and cook for ourselves. I shall enclose in this a speciman of gold which I washed the third day I worked, worth by weight, 96 cents.

Your affectionate Husband,
H.J. AUSTIN.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Oct 15, 1850

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4 Responses to “A Letter From Hang Town”

  1. Rick Says:

    Thanks for posting this letter. My great-great grandparents came by the same route at the same time so it is evidence of what they went through. Although he was killed by the Diggers along the Humboldt and she continued with 3 small children to be found “along the Consumnes River, CA” in the 1850 census.

  2. Lillian medina Says:

    I cannot believe you have but a racist intend with your letter referring to :the Indians that graciously killed invaders, Rapist (no age limit) but a law was made and passed for sodomy, But none for kidnapping and sell indian babies.
    In this world of political correctness education you would know “Digger” no longer exist.
    Idiot.
    You wouldn’t talk about salvery and those niggers down south?
    Get it right and be respectful. California Indian history are lies taught in school. Don’t pass it on,

    • mrstkdsd Says:

      Um, Lillian,
      If you will note the date of the letter I posted, it was from 1850. That was over 150 years ago. When he wrote the letter, Diggers DID exist. It is important to read real history, and learn real history, otherwise, history WILL repeat itself.

  3. Rick Says:

    I believe “Digger” came from the observation that the Native Americans of that area spent most of their time digging for root vegetables as in that area of the country, food was very hard to come by. By reason of their locale they were a desperate lot and it would be human nature to try to steal stock, etc. Those were very racist and ignorant times but I think we can talk about it without being racist ourselves. Also what I learned in California history class in the 1960s was that the locals were treated horribly and wiped out. I still think that was a pretty accurate assessment.

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