Arrival of the Watertown Boys: Letters from John C. Gilman

Previous posts about the Watertown boys:

Forty-Niner Profiles: The Watertown Boys

Watertown Boys Head For California

*****

Good News From California
ARRIVAL OF THE WATERTOWN BOYS.

Sunday’s mail brought California letters from Gen. GILMAN, H. WALDRON, S. STIMPSON and Dr. MEYER. The gratifying intelligence is conveyed by these letters, that all the Watertown boys had reached the El Dorado of their hopes, after long and patient toils and privations, in good health and high spirits. We have been kindly furnished the general’s letter for publication. It will be read with interest by his numerous friends here.

Mr. WALDRON‘s letter states, among other things, that the oxen, wagons, &c., of the company which cost about $900, had been sold for something over $1,000.

SACRAMENTO CITY, Oct. 14, 1849.

Here I am in California, upon the bank of the Sacramento river, and in the city of Sacramento — a city four months old, whose buildings are mostly made of cotton cloth — a city containing from fifteen to thirty thousand inhabitants; nobody knows the exact number. A great amount of business is done here. Some thirty ships lie along the river opposite the town, many of them from Boston and New York. Every business and laboring man seems to be making money at a rate unheard of before. Prices of manufactured articles and labor are very high. — Common labor is $10 per day and found. Mechanics get from $20 to $25 per day. Pork per barrel $40, flour $9 per hundred, beans 8c per lb., potatoes $1.25 per lb., onions $1.25 per lb. I paid a few days ago 50c for one onion which weighed 7 oz! Board at the public houses is $4 per day. Women’s work is very high — washing, for instance, is $12 per dozen, and every thing else in proportion. In the common eating houses, (and there are many of them,) we can get a meal for a $1. Apple or grape pies, baked upon a common breakfast-plate, are 75c. I paid yesterday $6.25 for a new 5 gallon keg. I filled it with molasses syrrup, at $1.25 per gallon. I paid $16 per hundred for Sandwich Island sugar, a good article; 60c per lb. for dried apples, 75c per lb. for dried peaches, tea $6 for an 8 lb. caddy. Fresh beef sells at the butchers from 20 to 25c per lb.

The price of labor in this country is governed by the amount of gold realized by the miner per day. A laborer gets from $250 to $500 per month. Every body is willing to admit that a man in the mines can make his ounce per day. Some men who came here in July or August, have made and brought to the city 40 or 50 tons of hay, which they are now retailing out at 10c per lb. Oregon sawed lumber sells for from $350 to $500 per thousand. Shingles $50 per thousand.

I am preparing and am nearly ready to go to the mines. I intend to dig this winter — am going in company with Stimpson, Glines and a German from Milwaukee.

We arrived here on the 7th of this month, and after selling our team and all  traps, and dividing the money, I had about $100 for my share. My poney, which would have brought me $100 at auction, strayed from me a day or two before we came here. I had my health good all the way after I left Independence, except some slight affection of scurvy, a disease which prevailed among the emigrants in the latter part of the journey. We surmounted all the dangers and difficulties of the journey without the loss of an ox or any accident of any kind, except the breaking of an axeltree, and that was done near Independence. I kept a daily journal of the whole route, which when I have time I intend to write and send you.

I cannot advise any friend of mine who intends to come to this country, to take the overland route. There are too many dangers and difficulties to contend with. It requires the most indomitable energy, perseverance, watchfulness and incessant labor to effect the journey successfully. There is no lack of feed for stock until you come to Fort Laramie. From that to Green River, on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, the country is a barren waste. Feed for teams is scarce, frequently having to drive our oxen 4 and 5 miles from the road to get grass for them. From Green River onward until we got about one-third part of the way down the Humbolt, grass is abundant. From thence until we came to Carson River, the country is a dismal desert. The water is all bad, and in most instances poisonous to man and beast. The only safe water is the sluggish Humbolt, which continually grows worse as it approaches the sink. It then becomes so foul cattle which drink of it will die in a few hours. Men have dug wells at the sink, whose water is taken to last man and beast 45 miles, the distance from the Sink over the desert to Salmon Trout river, (the old route,) and that of the new one by Carson river, is about the same, 45 miles. This distance cannot be made in the day time. Cattle cannot stand the heat of the sun, when reflected from the surface of the sandy desert. Salt an inch thick lies upon the surface. — From Carson river we had grass until we came within about 60 miles of the western foot of the Siera Nevada. Thence to the foot of the mountains, our only feed for cattle was oak leaves, procured by chopping down trees and turning our cattle loose to them — thence dry grass to the Sacramento.

No rain falls during the summer season west of the Laramie; consequently a cloud of dust constantly enveloped man and beast, which was our greatest annoyance.
Now, my advice to any one and every one, who wishes to make a fortune in the shortest possible time, is to come here. I do not care what a man may set himself about; if he is prudent, he can clear from two to fifty thousand dollars in a year, provided he has his health. I intend to dig until spring in the mines, if I have my health — then I may do something else.

JOHN C. GILMAN.

Watertown Chronicle – Jan 2, 1850

California — Letter from General Gilman.

CALIFORNIA MOUNTAINS, Nov. 28, ’49.

MY CHILDREN — I am now in the mining region, and located for the winter. I am on the Calabarus river, about 20 miles from its mouth. You will see my location by referring to Fremont’s map. Our party consists of six, viz: Stimpson, Glines, Blaucher, (of Milwaukee,) a Dutchman, a Scotchman and myself. We have been digging gold about ten days. We do not get it as fast as many anticipated, or many at home suppose. The product of our labor has varied from 1 1/2 to 7 ozs. per day. Day before yesterday, we got the latter quantity — yesterday about 3 ozs.

Glines has worked but little. Stimpson has not been out of the camp since we came here. He has not yet got rid of the scurvy, and consequently is lame in his limbs. My own health is good, except that I feel the effects of the scurvy in my knees, but not to hinder me from working.

The whole country has gold. Every river and brook, every ravine and gorge of the mountains, has more or less of the precious metal. In prospecting, I find gold in every place. But the ravines, which are called “gulches” here, are where it is dug for. — That which we have obtained is called coarse gold. In size it varies from a three dollar piece down to a pin’s head, is round, and in every other possible shape. It has all been melted, and thrown out by the action of volcanic fire.

I would advise none of my friends to try the overland route. Tell them to go by way of Panama. *  *  *  I have not eaten from a table, or slept on a bed, since the 18th of May last. *  *  *  The largest piece of gold which I have seen, weighed five ounces. *  *  *  Provisions very high, and freights from Stockton to this place, (40 miles, and road good,) 50 cents per pound! *  *  *  Our currency is pounds and ounces, and not dollars and cents.

In haste,

JOHN C. GILMAN.

Watertown Chronicle – Jan 30, 1850

1849  Stockton Main St. image from the San Francisco City Guides website.

California Letter.

The following is a letter from Gen. JOHN C. GILMAN, of Watertown, now in California, to our fellow citizen, Wm. M. Dennis, Esq. who has kindly handed it to us for publication, that the numerous friends of Gen. C. may know of his whereabouts and learn of his welfare.

January 9, 1850.

DEAR SIR, — I have located myself for the winter upon the Caladarus River, nearly due east from Stockton and San Francisco; Stockton is 45 miles distant. The winter here is made up of rainy days, and weeks of fine weather. It is the Spring of Wisconsin — April and May weather. The rainy season commenced about the middle of November. We expect it to cease about the middle of February. Vegetation commenced with the rain; and although I am among the hills, which form the base of the mountains, I have seen but few frosty mornings. I am upon the western verge of the gold regions.

The diggers in our vicinity make from five dollars to an ounce and a half per day. I have, since I stopped here, made two ounces in about half a day; it is not frequent that such an amount can be got in this vicinity. The ravines all have more or less gold — none very rich, and very few entirely destitute.

The one upon which we designed to dig for the winter was a good one. We found forty or fifty Chilinoes at work in the gulch (ravine). Soon other Americans came, and we have a village of tents and log huts of some twenty in number, each containing from two to four men. The men of Spanish descent, (Mexicans and Chilinoes,) are, in point of numbers, the dominant party in these southern mines. They not only assume the right to dig, but to dictate to Americans when they may or may not dig. This assumed right the Chilinoes commenced to practice upon with our own village.

Image from the Kidport Reference Library article on Gold Rush Law and Order.

Some three or four of our men went with their mining tools into a gulch, where a camp of about thirty Chilinoes were at work, our men were soon surrounded by the Chilians, armed with knives and pistols, who ordered them to leave, which they did, leaving behind their washers and mining tools, which the Chilians destroyed. A complaint was made to our Alcalda, who sent a force, and arrested the Chilians, and had them before him — fined them, and ordered them to leave the place. This was on or aobut the 18th of December. On the 28th of December, at ten or eleven o’clock at night, some detached camps of our village were assaulted by some fifty or sixty Chilinoes, all armed, and two of our most worthy men murdered upon the spot, and the ballance of the men of these camps were made prisoners and marched off, three or four of whom were badly cut and wounded — twelve prisoners in all.

These camps are about one-third of a mile from my tent, and where the most of the settlement is; we knew nothing of it until the next morning. I was upon the inquest held upon the bodies. Major Andrew Elliott, of Orlenas Co., State of N.Y., was one of the murdered men, and a Mr. Star, of the same place, the other. Their bodies had ghastly stabs and cuts made with large knives upon them; one dead Chilano lay near, with a bullet hole through the face and head. Our men mustered, and followed the Chilian band. They took the road to Stockton. The prisoners were all rescued, the whole band made prisoners and marched back to our camp; they were forthwith tried by a jury of twelve  men, (the Alcalda acting as judge,) sentenced — three were executed by shooting, one whipped and his ears cut off, and the remainder received from twenty to one hundred lashes upon the bare back, and ordered to quit the country. They obeyed the order without the least hesitation. I can tell you that Chilanoes and Mexicans hereafter will be mighty scarce in these diggings, I mean those that have whole skins.

With regard to the country generally, in my opinion, it has not been over-rated in any particular; its agricultural susceptibility, its now spontaneous productions, and its present herds. Why, the truth has not been half told, or if told, has not been understood. The common cattle of California are the largest and finest I ever saw; and as for fat and good beef, I never saw its equal in any market. I believe also, that the mineral wealth of California is yet to be developed in the main; all the gold yet taken is surface gold — not a vein or a lode has been found or worked, with the exception of two, one on the Maralumny River, found this winter, and the other is on the Maraposa River, and worked by Colonel Fremont’s indians.

Image of Chinaman in 1860 San Francisco from the San Francisco Images blog.

A man with some means can make a fortune here quicker than to dig for it; one or two thousand invested rightly in goods in N.Y., and sent round the Horn, is all that a man accustomed to trade wants. The common Stoga boots are selling this winter in San Francisco and Stockton from two to four ounces per pair, shoes of the same quality half an ounce. I am now wearing a pair of boots which cost in Stockton two ounces of pure gold, such boots as you sell in Watertown for $2.50. Pants, flannel shirts and drawers, are equally high in the mines; the common blue blanket sells at the mines for thirty or forty dollars per pair, and vegetables and eatables of all kinds are still higher. Flour $1.25 per lb., pork $1.00, beans $1.00 per lb., potatoes $1.00 per lb., onions the same, brandy per bottle $4.00. The man who travels the road from San Francisco to the mines, pays at the tents which are set up for entertainment $1.50 for a meal of victuals, $1.00 per quart for barley or corn to feed his mule, $1.00 for sleeping on the floor in his own blankets, and fifty cents for any kind of spirits per glass. Men cannot be hired to work for less than ten dollars per day, at the same time one half of them does not make five clear. I cannot particularise farther, the foregoing is true, and such is the chance to make fortunes; the prudent and industrious will make money, the idle, the dissipated, and those out of health, will be as poor here as in any other place.

If some of you speculators will come out, and bring with you a stock of goods, and open at Stockton, I will come in with you and operate in the mines.

Stimpson has left the camp, and gone to the Sandwich Islands sick with the scurvy. Glines has left our company for Stockton very much out of health, his lungs are affected, and some degree of scurvy; as to myself, the slight attack of scurvy I had on the Humbolt is wearing away, and my health is pretty good, and I have every confidence of enjoying good health in this country. The rest of the Watertown boys I have not seen or heard from since I left Sacramento; I think they must have gone up the American fork. I have not yet received the first letter from home. I cannot write to all I would wish. Please pass this round to Enos, Chappell, Besley, Ned and P.V. Brown, also to my children. If any of my friends come out, let them come by Panama, there is too many great dangers attending the overland route, waggons and pack mules are equally exposed, a correct idea of which I could not give you by letter without some more labor and time than I have at present to spare.

Gambling is done in the towns in this country on the big side; all the taverns and dogeries, and all saloons (and there are many,) are gaming houses. In the best house in Stockton, which is a tavern, there is one faro bank, three monta tables, two roulettes, and one billiard table, all in the bar-room.

Thousands of dollars lie stacked up on each table. I was at Stockton a few days ago, and stopped at this house for a day or two, and witnessed some of their operations. Money changed hands rapidly — thousands of dollars would be won and lost in a short time — all were cool, and no excitement — not a word of discord between the better and the dealer — one hundred eagles bet upon a single card.

The above is a fair sample of the business done in this line in California. Monta is the favorite game of the South Mexicans and Chilians, and they all bet with apparent carelessness.

Taft, of Milwaukee, U.S. House, and Robert Maloney, got up and opened a large tavern house in Stockton, some time in december, at an expense of thirty or forty thousand dollars, in about ten days from opening of the house, it took fire and was burnt down, all was lost — Taft has gone to the mines. I heard of Bristol at San Francisco, he was in the public hospital and not expected to live. Saw B. Crangle at Sacramento, he was home-sick, and talked of returning home. W.S. Hamilton and Olinger is on the American fork; O’Neal of Mineral Point is in our camp; Doctor More of Beloit is at Sacramento; Lieutenant Wright I cannot hear of.

As soon as the rainy season is over, I intend to explore some of this mining region; it is believed here that the Gold Region Proper is far up in the mountains to the east. I have seen a newspaper report of an Exploring Expedition which went out last Summer, they report the whole western slope of the Serra Nevada Mountains to be composed of quartz rock, and all bearring gold; their experiments and tests show that the least quantity of gold extracted from the pound of rock was one dollar, and that the best yield of pure gold to the single pound was fifty-four dollars and fifty cents.

Specimens of every variety of the rack have been forwarded to Washington by the senators elect from the State. All the gold taken in California is called by miners surface gold, it has escaped by some means from the place of original deposit, and has been scattered into all the ravines, brooks and rivers, by the agency of water, and that the places of the original deposit will shortly be discovered, I have no doubt.

Yours truly,

JOHN C. GILMAN.

P.S. — I now think that letters addressed to me should be directed to Stockton.

Democratic State Register (Watertown, Wisconsin) Apr 9, 1850

CALIFORNIA LETTERS.

A number were received in town by Monday’s mail. Mr. STECK writes that he is employed in the Sacramento postoffice, at a salary of $200 per month. He had either seen or heard from most of our “boys” a short time previously. They were all well. Gen. GILMAN does not write very flatteringly. We judge from what we have heard of the tone of these letters, that our friends there are not realizing their expectations.

We also received a letter from the “Rothschild of Coloma,” inclosing some beautiful specimens, to the value of eight or ten dollars. Thanks, brother LITTLE!

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 16, 1850

Image of San Francisco Harbor – 1851 from the Sparkle Tack blog.

From California.

Letters were received in town by Monday’s mail, from Gen. GILMAN, H. WALDRON, A. STECK, and J. ROGAN. We make the following extract from the letter Gen. G.:

The river turning business has proved total failure throughout the mines generally. Homeward bound vessels are filled with passengers, but still the increase of population is wonderful. Trade increases, and cities rise upon the plains. Thousands are turning their attention to agriculture and cattle growing, and yet the mines are overrun with diggers. Thousands will return home as poor as they came, and many much more so, while others will return rich. Many return without an effort to make money. A more disappointed lot of men I never saw, than those who came over the plains this year.

Watertown Chronicle – Dec 4, 1850

California Matters.

We have a letter from Gen. GILMAN, under date of Feb. 28th. We make an extract, from which it will be seen that the prospects of miners and business men in California, are gloomy enough:

“There has been but two rainy days since the  season for rain commenced — not enough to produce the usual vegetation. This dry winter is decidedly adverse to the interests of the miners. They have no water in the gulches to wash gold with. If the season should continue dry as it now is, there will be a general break down of the business men of California, and Stockton and Sacramento will almost cease to be places of trade. The success of all business men is this country depends upon the success of the gold digger. A great change in prices of almost every thing has already taken place. All necessaries are much cheaper than heretofore, and the tendency of prices is still downwards. — The forced sales of imported goods at San Francisco alone, is sufficient to supply the demand in the country. Comparatively few immigrants arrive this winter, and those mostly from Europe, while the homeward bound steamers are crowded with passengers — many of them poor.”

Watertown Chronicle – Apr 23, 1851

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One Response to “Arrival of the Watertown Boys: Letters from John C. Gilman”

  1. Another Watertown Boy Writes Home « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] Amos Steck! At the time I was searching for an image of the Green, Humboldt and Carson rivers for a previous Watertown Boys post. I have kept a journal from the time I left the frontier until the day I reached Sacramento, and […]

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