“A Pocket Full of Rocks Bring Home”

From the Daily Sanduskian

From the Daily Sanduskian

Our readers will perceive that we publish a letter from California, for which we are indebted to James Belden, Esq. It is from his son Robert H., who belongs to the Marsfield company. We are glad to learn that he has reached the “land of promise” in safety, and hope he will

“A pocket-full of rocks bring home.”

LETTER FROM CALIFORNIA.
SAN FRANCISCO, June 4, 1849.

Dear Parents:

At last, after all my trouble, vexation, hard living and detention I am here at the grand emporium and head quarters of the El Dorado. — But I will commence back a short time. We left Panama in the steamship Panama, at one o’clock on the morning of the 18th of May. —

For the first two or three days the weather was very warm and the sea almost a dead calm — we suffered greatly from heat. After that we had the land and sea breezes which made it much wore pleasant. At night I would swing my hammock on deck in the open air and sleep as sweetly and soundly as if I were in a luxurious bed in the open air. As we worked our way up the coast the winds became heavier and when in the vicinity of Mazatlan, in Mexico, we fell in with a small schooner in distress, out of water, and one half of those on board had the scurvy. It was a distressing scene. We relieved their necessities as much as possible and went on.

The last three days before our arrival here, was very stormy and we began to run short of fuel. The captain ordered every spare spar burnt and soon every thing combustible was in requisition. The last night out, the passengers in the lower forward cabin were turned out of their berths which were all burned at five o’clock. The morning of the 4th, we entered the bay of San Francisco with scarcely fuel sufficient to propel her to her anchorage, and at six o’clock she dropped her anchor at a cable’s length from a U.S. sloop of war.

The ship we came in is a fine vessel and a good sea boat, with good accommodations for one hundred and fifty passengers but she was crammed with over three hundred which crowded us very much, and consequently we were very uncomfortable. Our food was rice, beans, salt pork, beef and once a week we had what sailors call duff, and on shore we call plum pudding — this food would have been good but the beans and rice was usually musty and burnt, and the pork and beef rusty. We had to wash in salt water and the fresh water to drink was horrible. We had no table set and in fact lived like a parcel of brutes, but all this we could and did stand first rate and arrived here in most perfect health.

You have seen and heard so many descriptions of this place that it is useless for me to particularise; I will say however that it is very windy and unpleasant at this time, and they say it is a fair specimen of the weather. I am much disappointed in this, but the moment we get back from the coast it is delightful, as fine as could be asked for. As soon as I could get on shore I found Henry D. Cooke — he was very glad to see me and has been of much benefit by his advice and introductions. We have pitched our tent in the town and are living first rate, still every thing we have to buy is enormously high. Wages are high. A laborer gets ten dollars per day and mechanics as high as twenty dollars per day, of course other thing, are in proportion; for example I saw a small room about 12 by 18 which rents for $1,000, and a moderate two story house which at home would cost perhaps $1,500 or $2,000 to build, rents for $100,000 per anum.

We shall start for the gold mines to-morrow in a small vessel, in which we will go to Sutter’s Fort, and from there by land until we stop to dig. And by the next steamer I will be able to advise you by my own experience as to the gold. There are reports here of different kinds, as to the gold found, trouble with the Indians, and the San Joachim river, &c., &c., but we pay little attention to them. We shall go north of the Indians. They lie so much about the gold it is impossible to tell anything from reports. I think the prospects are favorable and so do my friends, but my sheet is exhausted.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Aug 27, 1849

Chagres (Image from www.maritimeheritage.org)

Chagres (Image from http://www.maritimeheritage.org)

Extract of a letter from Henry D. Cooke of this city, on his way to California, to one of the editors of this paper, dated
PANAMA, Dec. 1st, 1849.

My Dear Friend;

Here I am again in Panama, the venerable “city of the past;” a city once of opulence, splendor and magnificence, but now, alas! in its decayed grandeur, its own epitaphic record of its former glory. Here I am, in the midst of broken shrines, crumbling cathedrals, all gray and moss-grown, decaying palaces, once brilliant with beauty and taste, and gay with the festive song, now deserted and cheerless. —

Here am I, in a word, (to drop down into prose reality,) here am I in a large, antiquated room of one of these whilome palaces, now converted into a hotel, kept by a Frenchamn, seated at a rickety, greasy table, writing by the feeble, flickering light of a miserably lean and dyspeptic-looking tallow candle; my door thrown open upon the balcony, to admit the cool and fragrant night air, while I can gaze out upon the moonlit and crumbling edifices. But hark! The charm and romance of this once queen of the Pacific is now gone forever, for a large party of Americans in an adjoing square are awaking the echoes and the turkey-buzzards, with

“Oh Susannah don’t you cry for me,
I’m bound to California, with my tin-pan on my knee!”

There are now on the Isthmus eighteen hundred and fifty Americans bound to California — more than the steamers can take away in four months. — Still there are fresh arrivals every month, averaging, say seven hundred per month. I took passage in the “Crescent City” from New York, which steamer arrived at Chagres one night in advance of the Alabama from New Orleans, and four days before the Ohio’s passengers who were transferred on board the Falcon at Havana. The three steamers had on board in all one thousand and fifty passengers. This will give you an idea of the rush of Americans across the Isthmus. Three gentlemen, and I, were first of all these to reach Panama.

Here we found over seven hundred Americans waiting opportunities for getting up to California. Many of them have been here one, two and three months, without being able to get away. It is estimated that there are now on the Isthmus nearly a thousand persons, who have no tickets for the steamers. Sailing vessels, however, are leaving every week or ten days. The passage in these is long and tedious, and they are always very much crowded. Yet no sooner, are they filled, and about to sail, than their tickets at once command two or three times their original cost.

I heard today of a steerage ticket in the ship “Sea Queen,” which cost $175 being re-sold for $380. Steerage tickets on board the steamer “Panama,” which cost in New York $150 are selling at five and six hundred dollars! For a cabin ticket on the same steamer, for which I paid in New York three hundred dollars, I have been offered nine hundred! Of course I would not sell it, but if I had chosen to do so I have no doubt I might have got a thousand dollars for it. Yet notwithstanding these high prices, there are many poor fellows who have been here so long that they couldn’t give fifty dollars for a ticket, for their means are exhausted by their long detention here. —

There is in consequence, much suffering, some sickness, a good deal of desperation, more gambling and occasional deaths. How many hast thou ruined, oh, lucre! We found the river from Chagres to Cruces, uncommonly high, and the roads from Cruces to this city, owing to the severe rains of the past four months, were almost impassable; and notwithstanding we made all possible haste in crossing, four days were consumed. Some are just arriving; having been seven days on the road. We met on the road several passengers from the “Panama,” just arrived from San Francisco.

Among them I met several friends and acquaintances. They gave incouraging accounts of the state of affairs there — which were sufficiently confirmed by the large amount of gold — (over a million and a quarter) of the monthly remittance. Mr. Wilson, ex-consul, told me that according to his advices from California, the amount next month, would be still larger. This of course will keep up the excitement; and how they are to get away from this place as fast as they arrive is difficult to say.

I arrived here on the day of the sailing of the English steamer for Valparaiso, and met Robert Belden, just as he was leaving the hotel with his baggage to go on board. It was mutually an agreeable surprise — for he was just from San Francisco, bound to Valparaiso on business, and had much late news to give me, while I had letters for him from his friends in Sandusky. We had an hour’s chat together, and he was then obliged to hurry off on board the steamer. He was looking very well, and has been “doing wonders” in California, having succeeded beyond all anticipation. —

Messrs. McKnight, Stewart E. Bell, H.U. Jennings, and the other Sanduskians were all well when he left, and all making money as rapidly as could be desired.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Jan 4, 1850

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Robert H. Belden left again for California last evening on board the steamer America. He does not speak very favorably of San Francisco, in many points of view, although he has been very successful there. He says he would not live there [ten] years if he could make a million of dollars a year.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Mar 30, 1850

San Francisco Fire (Image from www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/fire.html)

San Francisco Fire (Image from http://www.sfmuseum.org)

SAN FRANCISCO ENTERPRISE.

The following is an extract of a letter from Mr. Robert H. Belden, formerly of this city, to his father:

SAN FRANCISCO, May 29, 1850.

On the 1st of this month, I left Panama in the fine steamship Oregon, Capt. Patterson. We had a fine passage. Our ship was clean, orderly, and the staterooms pleasant. Our table was fine, as good or better than I expected, with my former experience in Howland & Aspinwall’s steamers in the Pacific. —

We had a fine pleasant cabin full of passengers, among whom were some ten ladies. They of course made every thing more pleasant, and our gentlemanly captain did all in his power to make the time pass as agreeably as possible for his passengers.

On our arrival at San Diego, which is in California, five hundred miles south of this city, we learned that San Francisco had again been visited by a terrible fire. On the morning of the 4th of this month, at about four o’clock, the fire broke out, and burned until seven, consuming over four hundred buildings. The loss is estimated at five millions of dollars. —

Thus, in the short space of three hours, was the best and fairest part of this city destroyed, and hundreds of persons who the night previous retired to off, and doing a fine business, were awakened in the morning to the sad reality that in a moment as it were, they were stripped of every thing, and wholly ruined.

We were among the sufferers. The building which we erected last September (of which I sent you a plan) at a cost of twenty thousand dollars in case, was entirely consumed, with all the contents, excepting our books and papers, which we succeeded in preserving. The buildings of all our tenants on the same property, were also burned, leaving the entire lots one hundred and thirty-eight on Clay and sixty-nine feet on Montgomery streets, (you will recognise this as the Davis property in my plan,) entirely cleared off by fire.

* Link to a larger view of the map: HERE

As you can readily imagine, this was very unpleasant news to reach me as I neared my home. — However, as I am something of a philosopher, and act upon the principle of “not crying for spilt milk,” I did not grieve much, or sleep less, on account of my loss.

We arrived here on the morning of the 20th, and I immediately repaired to the scene of the fire, and found, to my surprise, our property entirely covered with buuildings, and all occupied, expepting the corner, where my partner had nearly completed a large two story building, for ourselves and Messrs. Harris & Panton, which we have now completed, and are occupying. So you will see that in less than two weeks from the morning of the fire, ten respectable two story stores were erected on our lots which were burned over.

Our property on the opposite corner was not injured by the fire. Our old friend, Henry D. Cooke, Esq., is one of our tenants, having an office there. — The most of the burnt district has been re-built, but we are in dread continually of another fire, several attempts having already been made to fire the city in different places; but the vigilance of the police has so far defeated the object.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Jul 12, 1850

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco has this:

Six months later, on May 4, 1850, the second great fire occurred. It began at 4 o’clock in the morning and by 11 o’clock three blocks of the most valuable buildings in the City had been destroyed, with an attendant loss of property estimated to be $4,000,000.

It was supposed to have been of incendiary origin. Several persons were arrested, but no formal trial took place.

You can read about the other three San Francisco fires at the link as well.

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“RETURNED TO THE STATES.”

It seems that the California people can yet hardly realize that they are in the United States. The editor of the California Courier, in announcing the dissolution of the firm of VanDyke & Belden, says that Mr. VanDyke “finding that the climate did not agree with his constitution, under medical advice, he has returned permanently to the states,” just as if he was out of them. The paper adds that he carries a snug pile with him, amply sufficient for a life of east “in the states.

R.H. Belden, his late partner, is authorized to close the concern.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Jan 4, 1851

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3 Responses to ““A Pocket Full of Rocks Bring Home””

  1. San Francisco Fire: June 14, 1850 « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] dollars. It gives a list of the sufferers, and among them we observe the names of Vandyke & Belden, to the amount of $30,000, who were also sufferers by the previous fire to the amount of […]

  2. Forty-Niner Profile: Stewart E. Bell « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] “A Pocket Full of Rocks Bring Home” […]

  3. Hiram Heads to the Mill « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] trip he took to the flour mill.  An example of a “travel account” can be found  in this previous post; it  is  from a California Gold Rush forty-niner. Pleasant Grove […]

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