Posts Tagged ‘Overland Route’

Watertown Boys Head For California

February 11, 2011

“We’re bound for Californy,
Our pockets for to fill!”

Yesterday morning seven of our own citizens and two of neighboring towns, took up their line of march for California. They are to proceed by wagon to Galena, thence by steamboat to St. Louis and Independence, and thence as “circumstances” may dictate to the “diggings.” Their names are —

Stephen Stimpson,       Louis Meyer,
Henry Waldron,        James Stevens,
Martin P. Glines,         Luke Colburn,
Amos Steck,               Ole Hanson.
Nelson Whitney,

Among this list will be recognized some of our oldest and most respectable citizens. They leave in high spirits, hardly realizing, we fear, the hardships and privations before them. While we regret to part with them, we cannot but hope that their most extravagant expectations may be fully realized, and that within two years from this time, we may hail the return of each, with “all their pockets” well filled with the precious metal.

They intend celebrating the 4th of July at the South Pass, making those wild and distant hills and valleys re-echo, for the first time, the songs and the sentiments of liberty.

Watertown has contributed liberally to the mighty stream of emigration that is setting toward California. In addition to those given above, five others have left within a few weeks past, viz:

Francis McCluskey,        Henry Helman,
Philip Johnson,        Bernard Crangle.
Darius Gibbs,

There are others here who have caught the fever, and we should not wonder if they, too, should soon be “carried off.”

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Apr 11, 1849

Image of the Pony Express Route – click to enlarge – Find the Forts etc. mentioned by the Watertown Boys.

A Californian’s Epistle.

[Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle]

May 10, 1849.}

FRIEND H. — According to your request, I drop you a hasty line, informing you of the whereabouts and success of the Watertown boys. We all reached St. Louis at dark on Monday evening, April 16th. I left the boys there and proceeded on my way up the Missouri river to this point. After leaving St. Louis the third day of our passage, a poston rod broke, and detained up six days. We reached St. Joseph on Monday the 30th of April, where I found all the Watertown boys except my mess, they having passed up the river while we were lying to below for repairs. They were all in fine spirits, and said the Elephant had not yet been discovered. Thursday or Friday following they intended to leave for the plains, crossing the river at Fort Kearney. But I had to leave them and find my mess. I reached here May 3d and found Mack and Phil in the tallest kind of clover, they having reached here two weeks before, and were “camped out” and going through the regular routine of camp duty in order to get “broke in” before leaving for the plains. They had a very hard time while on their way — all bridges through the country where they traveled were gone, the streams were high, and the water very cold. But they were in good health and spirits, and bound to go-ahead. They have seen harder times than they will again see on their route to California, at least so the old guides tell us.

The hardships and dangers of the trip have been greatly magnified by those who know nothing about it. We are told that the road for 500 or 600 miles on this end of the route is of the best description. There is very little danger to be apprehended from the Indians, if a vigilant watch is kept up. It is impossible to tell how many emigrants are intending to cross the plains this season. But from what I have seen and heard others say, I should think 15,000 to be a high estimate. Of these some 3,000 are Mormons destined for the Salt Lake. A few teams have already crossed the river and are on their way, but it is yet full early, on account of the grass, as it is not much grown, the spring having been backward. Our company are now ferrying some of their wagons and teams over, and on Saturday, I think, our team will cross, when we take up our march over the plains.

But this California life is a great one shirt and pants, hat and boots, knife and pistol — them’s your rig. No coat, no vest, no neck handkerchief, no suspenders, a belt round your waist — haven’t shaved for a month, eat like a trooper, sleep like a brick, don’t care a snap for any body, no body cares a fig for you. That is what you may call independence.

There is generally a very good feeling existing among the Californians, but now and then they have a brush among themselves. I hear this morning of a company who crossed at a point about 20 miles above this, after proceeding 15 miles on their way, fell out and had a regular fist-fight. Some of them were sadly bruised, and part of the company broke up, and turned back for home. The reason of this is, that a parcel of wagons combine and form a company, and before forming, the parties may have been acquainted for but two or three days, and they soon disagree. If possible, companies should be formed of teams who are from the same state or section of country. There are several teams from Dodge county in our company. Hillyer of Wapun and his company are here, and a man from Rubicon arrived here last night. I think his name is McCune. I have had no opportunity of seeing him. P.C. and B. Crangle were at St. Joseph. Thompson and boys of Waterloo will cross the river 20 miles above here. Fitzgerald of the same place, formerly of Johnson’s Creek, is in our company. Ingersoll, who left Watertown some time before we did, we saw in Galena on his way to California. These are all I can now think of who you may know, that are in this section. When an opportunity offers I shall write you again, which will be at Salt Lake probably.

Yours, &c.,

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) May 30, 1849

Fort Laramie image from the Wyoming Photographs website.

Watertown Californians.

During the past week, letters have been received in this village from Messrs. GILMAN, STIMPSON, STECK and GLINES, dated June 19th, at Fort Laramie, the last fort they will pass before reaching California. These letters were more or less blackened and charred by fire, having been recovered, according to a printed endorsement of the Postmaster at St. Louis, “from the wreck of the steamer Algoma, burned at the wharf at St. Louis July 29th — said boat having a large California mail, a large portion of which was entirely consumed.”

From the letter of Mr. GLINES we learn that the Watertown boys still remain in good health and most of them in good spirits, and that their oxen are all in “better heart than when they started from St. Jo.” But other emigrants had been less fortunate, “You cannot imagine,” says Mr. G., “the suffering and distress on this road. Men, women, children and teams are giving out and dying every day. The road is lined with dead oxen and mules.”

For 75 or 80 miles before reaching Fort Laramie, Mr. G. says the roads were “very heavy and sandy, water scarce and bad, and no whisky!” He concludes his letter by saying: “I would never advise any one to take this route for California.”

Judging from the rate at which the company have traveled since leaving Fort Kearney, they will probably reach the ‘diggings,’ if no misfortune befals them, early in September. But the worst part of the route is yet before them, if we have anything like a correct knowledge of the country. The desert portions of it have still to be passed. — Heavy wheeling and scarcity of water, food and fuel, are in reserve for the company. — But stout nerves and a determined spirit can triumph over all these; and the next intelligence we receive from our “boys,” will doubtless be to the effect that they are “feeding in tall clover,” with both pockets rapidly filling with “the rock.”

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Aug 15, 1849

Image from the Fine Books & Collections website.

From California.

We have received from a friend at San Francisco, the Alta California of Aug 2d. It contains the very latest news that has been received in the states, from that point of attraction. We give below a bird’s-eye view of its contents:

Seventeen of the twenty columns of the paper, are devoted to the trial of the persons concerned in the riot mentioned in our last issue. Then follows half a column of placer intelligence, in which new and extensive discoveries of the precious metal are given. Next, a table of immigration during the month of July, the total number being 3,614, of whom 49 were females, and about 3,000 Americans. Next, an account of the arrival of the pioneer overland companies, with news of 5,000 or 6,000 wagons having nearly reached Pleasant Valley. [We hope the Watertown boys may be of the crowd.] — Then, an account of new gold discoveries on Trinity river, 500 miles above San Francisco; the announcement that the dedication of the new Baptist church, “on Washington street,”  will take place the following Sabbath; a journal of the arrival and departure of vessels, as well as a list of the vessels in port; winding up with the San Francisco Price Current for July. We quote the prices of a few articles: Flour $12,00a13,00, Oregon corn 1,50a2,00, mess pork, new, 18,00a22,00, old 14,00a16,00, Am. cheese 37 1/2a42c., Am. butter 75a80, sugar 9a12 1/2, coffee 5 1/2a8 1/2, young hyson tea 27 1/2a45, brandy per gallon 1,00a2,00, gin 1,00a1,10, champagne per doz. 15,00a18,00, whisky per gallon 60a1,00, am. brogans 1.23a1,35, pine lumber 300a350 per M., house frames 1,200a2,500.

A little paragraph at the bottom of a column, states, that “the average passage of vessels which have reached San Francisco from the various Atlantic ports, is 163 days.”

The Alta California is printed on very yellow paper — just for fashion’s sake, we suppose!

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin)Sep 26, 1849

Fort Bridger, Wyoming – 1873 from the Wyoming Photographs website.


Our townsman, ROBERT CRANGLE, has just received a letter from his two brothers, dated at Fort Bridges[r], July 1st. They were in good health, and had no fears of being able to get through. They were about 100 miles from the Mormon city, and 800 from the diggings. They estimate the number of teams in advance of them at 400, and in read at 1200. Of the latter, they think many will not be able to get through, owing to the scarcity of feed.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 3, 1849

The Great Salt Lake Valley

From Salt Lake.

[Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.]

July 12, 1849.}

FRIEND H. — When I wrote you last, our train did not expect to take the route to this place, and I placed a letter in the hands of a gentleman who was packing through, and intended to go by the way of the city. When we arrived at the junction of the Fort Hall and Salt Lake trails, our company had not decided which route should be taken, and after debating half an hour on the subject, a part took the Fort Hall road, the remainder taking the road to this place.

It is not known to emigrants that there is a waggon trail from Salt Lake to the gold region, nor were our company aware of it until we were within 80 miles of the lake and very few teams take this route, and those who take it do so with the intention of exchanging their oxen and wagons for pack mules; but we are told that there is a good road from here to Sutter’s Fort, and plenty of grass and water, the distance being about 850 miles through — 600 miles of the road of the best description, when we reach the California mountains, the road over these being hilly and rough for a portion of the distance. We again strike the great trail by Fort Hall 180 or 190 miles from this place.

We reached this place yesterday, at noon, and shall leave Saturday or Monday morning. The distance traveled is 1049 miles, over a very good road, with the exception of the last 40 or 50 miles, where we had to climb two high mountains, both the ascent and descent being very steep and rocky, and I think, rather harder than your Rock river woods’ road at its worse stage.

The “glourious fourth” was spent in a manner rather derogatory to Yankee character. Some of the boys felt like having a little glorification in the morning, and banged their rifles, and hurrahed a little. But it was “no go;” their enthusiasm soon vanished, all saying that the next fourth should have a double dose. We traveled 23 miles that day, a very warm day, and taking a new and different road from that laid down in our guide book, to avoid crossing several streams, were without water for 13 miles, and camped at night within three miles of Fort Bridger.

If there is a beautiful spot on the earth’s face, it is the valley of the Great Salt Lake. The best description of it I can give you is to tell you climb some high mountain and look upon a beautiful lake, and the valley will be pictured to you. It is about 40 miles long, with a width of 22 miles, and is surrounded by high mountains, with the exception of a small space at the north, many of whose summits are capped with snow the year round. The soil is very good, (I have seen much better in Wisconsin,) and the climate delightful; at least it has proved so the short time I have remained here, and I am told it is but a fair specimen of the summer season. The mountain breezes, cooled by the snowy banks which cap their sides and summits, temper the hot air to that deliciousness which makes existence an enjoyment which man can hardly be said to possess in any portion of the eastern world in which I have resided. And this breeze is never idle; its mighty fan is ever in motion. The winters are mild, and but little snow falls. The last winter snow fell to the depth of 20 inches in the valley, and the old trappers and traders say that it was the most severe winter season that has been experienced in this region for the last 16 years.

The great city is regularly laid out in blocks or squares, the streets being very wide, and is most beautifully located, 22 miles from the lake. As yet, nothing very extensive in the way of building has been done, and it presents rather a mean appearance. I do not recollect having seen a house higher than a single story, and very many of them are mere cabins, whose dimensions will not exceed 12 or 16 feet square. They are built of “adobes” (sun-baked, or Spanish brick) and logs. Some of the inhabitants are still living in tents and wagons. There is no timber in the valley, the inhabitants hauling it from the mountains, a distance of from five to twenty miles. They have not yet commenced their great temple, and how soon they will do so, is not yet determined.

It is estimated that there are from 17 to 20,000 people in the valley — Mormons — most of them handling the plough and hoe for a subsistence. Irrigation is resorted to to produce crops. Their crops look very well. Yesterday I saw a man threshing wheat grown this season, but the harvest season will not properly commence for 6 or 8 days yet. Corn does not appear to thrive very well, the nights being too cold and frosty, the air being cooled by the mountains. — Crops of other descriptions appear to do very well, and we are now regaling ourselves upon green peas, beans, turnips, onions, small cabbage, &c. Cattle are very plenty, and will make the fattest beef by merely feeding upon the grasses with which the valley abounds. Six run of stone for grinding purposes, and 7 or 8 saws are in operation in the valley very little can be learned of this singular people, and the most I have been able to learn is, that Brigham Young, their present leader, has 32 wives, and very many of the “sterner sex” having 2, 5 or 6 wives, and others divide their affections among a still greater number of the “gentler ones.”

But what interests the Californians the most, are the gold stories told us. There are a great number of Mormons here who have had practical experience in the mines, and are now shaking the “gold dust” in their pockets. They tell us that gold is plenty in the mountains of California, and is inexhaustible. When a digger could not procure his $100 per day, he was off for a new prospect, and many men would find $200, $500 and some $1000 per day. Then why did you not stay and dig for a while? we ask them. The reply is that, “the church called them home, and they must return.” — And why not get leave to go again? “We are in no hurry, the gold will hold out, many richer deposits will be found, a great number of our brethren have already gone out, and we are required to stay at home to attend the crops, &c.” So much for so much.

It is said that gold has been found on “Goose creek,” 200 miles from here, on our route to California. I have seen several specimens of the dust. It is in thin, flat, small scales, presenting a dark appearance. The Mormons have established a mint here, and will commence coining gold in a few days. A few pieces have already been struck off. The device is the “Masonic Grip,” the value of the piece, the words, “God and Liberty,” and date, and words, “City of the Great Salt Lake,” are found upon its sides. They will coin $20, $10, $5 and $2.50 pieces. They have sent a representative to Washington to advocate their interests. He left a few days since.

I have not heard from the other company of Watertown Californians, and do not expect to until I reach the golden world. I have made the acquaintance of Mr. Stephens, of Fort Atkinson. He tells me he traveled tow days in company with Charley Bristol, of Beaver Dam. Lieut. Wright was two or three hours ahead of us at the junction. He goes by the way of Fort Hall. Jacob Rapalje, of Milwaukee, died here about a week since, of mountain fever. He had good attention from the Mormons. Dr. Evans, also of Milwaukee, I think, will go no further. It is said he will join the Mormons, and be baptised next Sunday. My two Watertown companions, McClusky and Phil. Johnson, have both had mountain fever, but are now quite recovered. This is a queer disease. A man is taken with vomiting, followed by a terribly severe headache and high fever, which are not usually worked off under four or five days. It is not considered dangerous.

We expect to reach the end of our journey in 45 or 50 days. But there is one thing, the emigration on the Fort Hall route will suffer terribly. There were only 12 or 14 wagons ahead of us on the great trail, and we had hard times to get enough feed for our cattle, and there were 6000 wagons yet to get through.

Yours truly,
A letter from Mr. P.C. CRANGLE, dated at Salt Lake city on the 8th July, was received by his brother ROBERT, of this village, last week. He speaks in high terms of the city, and says the temple was about to be commenced. An accompanying brother, BERNARD, was offered $5 per day and board, as a carpenter, but refused, preferring his chances at the mines.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Oct 10, 1849

Letter from the Gold Diggins.

[Correspondence of the Watertown Chronicle.]

September 7, 1859.}

FRIEND H. — The journey is ended. The goal(d) is won — for the gold stories are no humbug, though many of them are much exaggerated. August 31st we arrived at the first “diggings,” and September 3d, reached this city, which is situated at the junction of the American river with the Sacramento, 2 miles west of Sutter’s Fort, and 200 miles from San Francisco. Its streets are regularly laid out, crossing each other at right angles, and buildings of every description are now erected, though two thirds of them are nothing but a slight frame work, over which is stretched a covering of common cotton cloth. These buildings answer every required purpose during the dry season, but when the rains commence, something more substantial will be required. There are many buildings of wood erected or in the course of erection, but the scarcity and high price of lumber prevent many from building.

The population of the city, it would be hard to determine. It may be 5,000 or it may be 25,000. Hundreds arrive and leave daily. Provisions are plenty and cheap. I will give the prices of leading articles: Flour per 100lbs. $3a9; pork per bbl. $10; sugar per 100lbs. $14a18; coffee per 100lbs. $.14a18; mackerel and salmon, (salted,) per lb.25c.; beef, (fresh,) per lb. 25c.; hay $6 per 100.

These are the principal articles purchased and consequently very high. Potatoes $1 per pound, onions $1.50 per pound. A small squash is sold for $5. Green peas and a few other vegetables may be had, but at such prices that will stagger even a gold digger. Journeymen mechanics receive $10 per day and board. $32 is charged for setting a set of wagon tires, and $24 for new shoeing a horse. Common laborers receive $10 per day. Clothing may be bought at prices as low or lower than are paid in New York city. The immense quantities of provisions, clothing and other merchandise sent to this market have completely glutted it, and the only ones who will have cause to curse California will be speculators in your eastern cities.

Vessels arrive here almost daily from Atlantic ports and San Francisco, loaded with provisions and merchandise, and no fears need be entertained of a scarcity for a year hence.

A more stirring, go-ahead city than the one I write from, does not exist on the face of the globe. Business of every description is carried on, and with that celerity and despatch that could not fail to please the most driving. “Time is money;” but I never saw the adage carried out with its greatest force until I reached California.

The gold mines, if we may judge by the quantities brought in and the stories of the miners, are inexhaustible. $16 per day is paid to laborers at the mines, and the man who WORKS for himself will make much more. — Some days he may make nothing, others an ounce, or two, or three; and then he will strike a good “pocket,” and dig a thousand dollars or more in a month, and sometimes in a less time. The mines cover a large surface, extending as far as now discovered 300 miles north and south, and 50 or 60 miles east and west. The much boasted climate of California has not sustained its reputation very well. The nights are very cold, and so are the mornings and evenings, while between the hours of 9 A.M. and 4 P.M. the sun pours down with scorching intensity. Water which we use, is hardly fit the name, being warm and filled with filth. Very many are sick; the prevailing disease being a fever in most cases brought on by eating to excess and drinking intoxicating liquors. But I should think that if proper care is used by emigrants and unacclimated persons, that California may be called a healthy country.

I can hear nothing of the other Watertown boys. McClusky left us at Salt Lake, and packed through. I can learn nothing of him. I. and C.P. Crangle arrived on the 5th. — I saw them yesterday. The Fort Atkinson boys are all here and are well. I shall leave for the mines to-morrow, and intend to go up the Sacramento 160 or 200 miles, where the diggings are represented to be very rich. When I arrive there, I will endeavor to find time during the evenings to give you something of an account of our journey across the country, and California prospects and doings.

Truly yours,

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Dec 5, 1849

California Gold Rush – part 2 – The Forty-Niners

August 22, 2009







Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa) Jul 26, 1927

William Waldo Writes about Starvation and Death Among Overland Emigrants

May 18, 2009

From the Osceola Independent, 14th inst.

Emigrant Road, Monday, Sept. 30th, 1850.

Mr. W.P. JOHNSON — Dear sir: Yours of the 4th of July, written at Clinton Mo., was taken out of the office at Sacramento City, and kindly forwarded to my by Mr. A. Blakely, and gave me the latest news I have received from your section of Missouri.

I have now been on the horrible road more than one month, during which time I have witnessed every grade of human suffering & misery. Too often have I seen families, who from all appearances, had been brought up in the enjoyment of every luxury, feasting upon the carcasses of dead oxen. Capt. Duncan, of Michigan, stated to me a few days since, that the best food he ate for sixteen days, was a faithful dog that had followed him from home; that he saved him as long as he could, but finally killed him to prevent starvation, and divided the meat among twenty men. I have seen hundreds so weak that they reeled and staggered as they walked along the road. Saw one man from St. Louis on Humboldt river, a few days since, lying by the side of the road in the last agonies of death, caused by starvation. —

Have just reached this point, after ten days journey up Humboldt river, where I found many persons without one pound of provisions, although four hundred miles from Sacramento City. And what makes their situation worse, they have suffered from starvation until they are so weak that they can scarcely walk. These people have been robbed by the Indians even, to their blankets although the nights are cold and chilly, and it requires two or three blankets to keep a man comfortable, yet many of these people have neither blankets or coats. The hostile Indians are very numerous, becoming very bold, and killing the emigrants daily. They conceal themselves in the thickets and ravines, and fire upon the emigrants as they pass; those on foot being too weak to carry their guns, fall an easy prey to the savages.

The Indians have taken a great deal of stock from the emigrants, and are consequently well mounted; and by picking up the fire-arms thrown away by the weak and exhausted, they are also well armed, which makes them far more dangerous than they have been at any previous period. Many believe these Indians are headed and led on by white men, whose object is to secure the emigrant’s stock. Several families have disappeared, for which no account can be given who have either been killed by the Indians when off the road, or taken prisoners.

I have only mentioned a few of the thousand calamities which have befallen the overland emigration of 1850. Such an amount of suffering never has been experience by the American people since the settlement of the country; and I sincerely hope that it may never be my lot during life again to witness scenes of suffering and misery. —

The snow is now four inches deep upon the mountains, and the rivers rising, and in fifteen days from this time, in all probability, the mountains will be covered with snow from five to ten feet deep, and in many places much deeper. There will not be a trader on this side of the mountains after 5th of October. The greater part of them are now leaving, with their stock, for fear of being in the snow storms of the Sierra Nevada. —

From the best information I can get, there is yet between 100 and 200 families and probably 2,000 men in the most perfect state of destitution, far back on this route, without stock or provisions, and many of them without blankets or comfortable clothing. If the winter sets in early, I cannot see any possible chance for these people to cross the mountains. I have at my command 3,000 lbs of fat beef, and 3,000 lbs of flour, besides 30 mules and horses, which will answer for food; but the horses and mules are needed to transport the feeble women and helpless children over the mountains and across the deserts.

I have fitted out an expedition, and will leave here to-night to relieve the sufferers on the Humboldt, and shall carry back flour and beef sufficient to enable 1,000 persons to cross the Desert. We have relieved emigrants from every State in the Union. — Those from the city of St. Louis have been the greatest sufferers. Then comes those from Ohio, Kentucky Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Missouri. — Probably fifty from New York and Pennsylvania have been relieved, three families from Louisiana, and about twenty men from Georgia, and from every State, more or less.

I have with me Thomas Kinkade, of Benton Co., Mo., and Ewing Story and Washington Pond, of St. Clair Co., Mo., who have pledged their word of honor to remain with me on the east side of the mountains until the last emigrant has passed on, or has been called to a final account.

Observing that the traders were becoming alarmed & leaving for the settlements on account of the approach of winter, and fearing the effect of this course on the men with me, I determined to know who would remain at any hazard, and risk every consequence. I stated to them my resolution was formed, and that I did not intend to cross the mountains as long as there was reason to believe that one emigrant remained behind alive that they all knew the circumstances in which we were placed; liable to be attacked by the numerous tribes of hostile Indians east of the mountains, and should we be so fortunate as to escape the Indians, they were aware of the still greater dangers arising from the almost impossibility of crossing the mountains after the winter set in and when across the mountains, we must pass through the Indian tribes on the west side, by whom so many murders were committed last winter and spring. After full consideration, those I have named from your section of Missouri declared they were willing to risk the consequences and remain, and declared they would never attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada until I crossed with them; so you may rest assured, if you ever hear of our arrival in Sacramento City, that the last of the overland emigrants of 1850 are out of danger from starvation, as we shall go in with those in the rear. My company is small but well armed, each man having a rifle, four pistols, hatchet and bowie knife. —

I have duly considered the risk and reflected upon the consequences, and should I never reach Sacramento again, I shall at least die with the consolation of having attempted to discharge a painful duty to the suffering humanity under difficulties too great to be overcome. My respects to friends.

Yours, truly, WILLIAM WALDO.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Jan 22, 1851

More about William Waldo, from Wikipedia:

William Waldo (1812 – 1881) was a candidate for Governor of California in 1853. He was born in Virginia, but spent most of his life in Missouri, where he was a merchant and steamboat captain. In 1849 he joined the gold rush to California at the head of a wagon train. In California the next year, reports arrived of impending starvation among numerous immigrants on the Nevada side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Waldo put great effort into recruiting and delivering supplies for them, and became well known for his relief attempts.

The Milan Company Arrives in Gold Country

April 29, 2009
Placerville, CA (Image from

Placerville, CA (Image from

According to an article I will be posting at a later date, the Milan Company consisted of the following men:

Ebenezer B. Atherton, (Captain), Martin Smith, Harvey C. Page, Robert Smith, Samuel Wickham, Jno. G. Norton, Hiram Allen, Snow Edison, Geo. C. Choate, Chas. Goodrich, J. Gregory and Wm. Jennings.

Good News.

We have been favored with the following interesting letter from E.B. ATHERTON, Esq., the Captain of the Milan Company of California emigrants, which conveys the gratifying intelligence that they had all nearly arrived at the end of their journey, in good health and spirits: — Milan Tribune.

SACRAMENTO CITY, Aug. 25th, 1849.
MESSRS. H. CHASE & Co., — Dear Sirs:

I arrived here on the 23d, in advance of the Company, who are perhaps five or six days behind. They thought best that I should come through in advance of them, and examine the different mines, means of operating, and get such other information as would be of advantage to the company. I left them on Carson river, and made the journey here in eight days, with a small Indian pony, (distance, 242 miles,) packing my provisions, one pair of blankets, one buffalo robe and cooking utensils, over the California mountains. The distance over the mountains is about 70 miles. The road is difficult. There are several places to ascend, where a good team cannot more than draw up an empty wagon, and going down require the wheels all “locked” and the utmost caution, to prevent accidents. This route is a new one, and is called the Southern or Left-hand route, which is taken three miles west of the sink of Mary’s river; it strikes the Carson river 45 miles from that point, and 20 miles above the sink of Carson river. —

Carson River

Carson River (Image from

This route is preferred to the northern one, on account of the pass over the mountains; the emigrant being obliged to pack his goods and wagon some seven miles over the summit, on the northern route. In descending the mountains, I struck Pleasant Valley, which I followed about 60 miles, and struck the American river 10 miles above this city.

When I arrived here I found myself and horse nearly “used up,” he having traveled several days without food, except weeds or browse, Grass may be found in the valleys, by going away from the road, from one to three miles. I was obliged to descend into one of these valleys on one occasion, after 10 o’clock at night, having traveled 34 miles over the worst portion of the mountains without grass, and sixteen miles without water. —

The whole distance from St. Joseph’s, Missouri, to Sacramento City, 2,000 miles. The teams will make the journey within four months’ time. We have found much on the route that has been interesting and pleasant to us while the whole journey is one of continual hardships and privations. Our company have enjoyed good health generally, except slight attacks from colds, and excessive fatigue, being in several instances obliged to travel all night to pass long stretches of sand without grass or water — a distance of from 20 to 45 miles. I have seen the men so much worn down with fatigue and loss of sleep, that they would sink down on the road and fall asleep.

These were hard times, but none murmured. Fording and ferrying the streams, is both hard work and dangerous; the water being generally cold, deep and rapid, requiring the utmost care, and frequently getting wet, beside the trouble and risk of swimming our mules and horses over these streams, there being no other mode of getting them over, the ferry boats being made expressly for wagons and packs.

Fording a River (Image from

Fording a River (Image from

We made the journey up to the time I left he company, without accident, except breaking a wagon hound, which did not hinder us more than two hours to repair.

The Indians have killed and stolen many horses, mules and cattle on the route; but we have lost none, our mules and horses have been strictly guarded to prevent such difficulties.

I have visited some portions of the mine, and think they fully meet my expectations. An industrious man can dig an ounce per day, ($16) and sometimes much more. I think it safe to say that a man can average from $10 to $20 per day, by working hard. The wet “diggings” are thought to be the best until the wet season, say until the 1st of December next; when the miners will go further into the mountains.

This city is on the Sacramento river, about 100 miles from its mouth. It has come into existence within the last three months, and now contains about 7,000 inhabitants. The buildings are principally built of canvass or cotton cloth, which is drawn over stakes and poles. In many instances common tents are used for stores and dwelling houses; the goods being mostly outside. Lots sell from $500 to $10,000 each.

These canvass houses are filled with the choicest goods, while the sides of the streets and river banks are covered with every variety of goods that our eastern cities can furnish. The utmost order and regularity prevail here; crime and thefts are punished with the rifle, pistol or bowie knife. Common labor is $10 per day; mechanics get $16. Flour is worth $16 per bbl.; Mess pork $40; fresh beef 25 cents per lb.; lumber $450 to $500 per M.; sugar 16 cts per lb.; baker’s bread 50 cts. per loaf; horses, cattle and mules are comparatively cheap. Money is plenty; any one can have it by digging after it.

Gold Rush Town (Image from

Gold Rush Town (Image from

I think our company will be here in time for us to commence operations within eight days, after which I will try to give you a less confused, and more particular description of matters and things here.

The Scipio and Norwalk companies will be here within two days; I passed them on the mountains; they were all well. Mr. J.V. Vredenburgh and son are some distance behind; they travelled in company with Captain Newton, of Norwalk, as far as Bear river. Dr. Thompson, (Dentist,) from Mansfield, Ohio, is here. Mr. Baker, of Monroeville, Cook, of Bellevue, and George Goodhue, will be here to-morrow.

The Milan company wished Mr. Waggoner to publish, for the benefit of their friends, the fact of their good health and highest expectations of success. I shall be glad to hear from you, and all others who will be kind enough to write to me, and will answer such letters with pleasure. You will please to remember me to your families, my friends in Greenfield, and others generally. We wish all letters sent to any member or members of our company, to be directed to Sacramento City. The next steamer sails from San Francisco on the 1st Sept. I am obliged to send this letter to that place by messenger, to be mailed in time, which gives me twenty minutes to write what I don’t believe you can read.

Yours sincerely,

P.S. Don’t fail to write often, and send papers frequently. Recollect I am a great distance from you — and bound to make some money before I see you again. I will try to give you a more full description of our route, and of this country in my next letter. I hardly know what I have written in this. E.B.A.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Oct 30, 1849

**For more articles about the Gold Rush and some of the men mentioned here, click on my “Gold Rush” category on the right.

A Letter From Hang Town

April 13, 2009
The Yankee House at Hang Town (image from

The Yankee House at Hang Town (image from

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;

Thousand Spring Valley (Photo by Ralph Maughan;

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;

Humbolt River 1849 (painting by Thomas Evershed;

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 /

Miners in Hangtown, William Shew, 1849. (image from

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,

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Oct 15, 1850