The Way It Was; 3
Returning from college for my spring vacation I found the excitement over gold running high in every neighborhood men were making ready for the planes right at home I found a party of three already booked for the venture and casting about for the fourth man to make out the compliment. Well I was urged to take the place. After some hesitation on my part and more of my father's consent was given and everything made ready our little company was made up of an Irishman and Alabamian Buckeye and a badger. Curious combination although But tamely illustrative of the motley harms that were gathering across the mountains. The way it was presenting eyewitness accounts of historic events. Material for this program was drawn from the files and papers at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
Today overland for Go Wisconsin to California. In the summer of 1847 Captain John Sutter decided to build a sawmill on his property in Sacramento Valley California. January 24th 1848. James Wilson Marshall the carpenter hired to do the job found in the tail race of the still unfinished mail a small bit of yellow metal that was to change the history of California. And the nation and by 1849 the gold rush was underway. Starting from the mill where the first nugget had been discovered the mining field was rapidly extended. Fresh streams and gulches were discovered rich in gold. The truth about these finds was exciting in its own sake. But the truth was magnified. Some even came to believe that the Sierras might be only a thin
crust over mountains of gold. Men came from nearby Mexico from Oregon on the north and the Sandwich Islands on the west and from Peru and Chile on the stuff from Europe and China and Australia they came within eighteen forty nine alone the territory's population swelled five fold as 80000 men arrived in search of gold by eight hundred fifty two. California held nearly a quarter of a million people and each year the mines continued to produce a treasure worth fifty million dollars. By 1865 three quarters of a billion dollars in gold had been taken from the hills and streambeds of California. There were two ways to get to California in those days by sea or by land. The traveler by sea had his choice of two routes he could make a long trip around Cape Horn or he could sail to Central America cross to the Pacific and take another ship to San Francisco. The traveler by land went
straight across the plains to the setting sun. That was the way of those who came from the Middle West. They could follow the Santa Fe Trail to Santa Fe from whence they had a choice of several routes to Southern California going farther north they could take the Oregon and Mormon trails which could be followed across the Rocky Mountains. Then they could turn off on several trails either leading to the Columbia River Valley or directly to the California gold fields. The trip by land was apt to mean crossing rivers and prairie deserts and mountains. Some of the men who came that way left memories of the long hard journey in diaries letters and even lectures in some cases. They kept it day by day a record from the time they left home until the time they arrived in California.
Let me think. Thank you Senator Coleman your store was right. Oh OK well that's the last big I'm going to sort through with or through. Andrew or of us left Marquette County Wisconsin. His wife and his family on March 12th 1849 traveled 11 miles the first day. William Turner only made 10 miles his first day og from honey Creek Wisconsin in 1850. Charles Schneider recorded 17 miles his first day on route from Milwaukee and 1852. And J.B. Parkinson left the same year during his spring vacation from college. All were bound for California on the first leg of the journey from Wisconsin ended with crossing the Missouri.
Setting out on the third day of May 1850 to crossing the Mississippi at Dubuque by steam ferry and passing through central Iowa we reached and crossed the Missouri on flatboats a few miles above Council Bluff on the first day of June the Missouri at this latitude was then the extreme border of settlement and civilization. There were a few buildings at Council Bluff but not one on the present side of Omaha. Not a permanent human habitation did we see from the crossing of the Missouri until we reach Sacramento a distance of about 2000 miles. May 23rd the weather is hot. I took a walk to the Missouri River and attended a meeting of the Mormon story in the afternoon on. May 24. We drove through the city to the ferry and did not arrive until noon due to the crowded streets. We fought and struggled at the ferry until 9:00 in the evening with the results and only one wagon and one
yoke of oxen were transported across the river. This necessitated standing guard over the cattle and wagon storing the whole night until five o'clock in the morning. We were then able to transport the remaining three wagons and oxen at 11:00. The cattle had to fast for thirty hours. I could buy dirty Missouri water which people here call lemonade for one shilling eyeglass. We drove from eight to ten and at last we found gratis. We expected to rest for two days but heard that it was not safe to be so near to Indians because of the possible theft of our cattle the Indians were all very fond of beef but had no stomach for raising cattle themselves. The worst Indians on the whole route shoot cattle and horses and mules with arrows and claim on them so they cannot travel and the owners of gone they kill the cattle and beat the meat that are great many lost their animals in this way. Some
of them shot the Indians and I was the number a man killed by the Indians. We encamped a few miles up from the Platte River on a sort of a prairie like undo waiting plateau. I had a little experience the next morning with a child ventured to relate. I had wandered off about a mile from the camp and was taking a little survey of the country and wondering whether civilization would ever reach out as far as this. When turning I saw it coming around in all about thirty rods away and making directed towards me. Five full grown the mammoth looking Buffalo Books. My first impulse was to make for camp but my second thought was wiser. This was a golden opportunity and must not be lost. Turning a little to the right filing along one after another these
great bows came to within 75 patients. When they halted giving me a broadside exposure but at the same time turning full upon me their long whiskered shaggy brown sand matted faces they were magnificent creatures aiming at the leader of my rifle. Missed fire it didn't go off and neither did the buffalo. The next time I was more successful and brought down my gate he was a monster estimated by good judges to weigh 2000 pounds you may rest assured there was feasting upon jerked buffalo meat from that time on. Sunday the 20th we crossed a small stream where we watered our team. And then drove eight miles to Salt Creek. The water there was too salty for use but we took in wood
across the stream and found fresh water. Filled our canteens with water. Drove eight miles and encamped on the left of the road on the open prairie. The water is bad tonight. We've passed one company of ox teams sold creek. Also one dead horse and three dead oxen. The country's been extremely handsome for the last three days but there is a scarcity of wood. And water. 29. Four miles from our morning's encampment we crossed a small creek drove six miles crossed another creek passed five oxen carcasses of the ravenous wolves who devoured their flesh. We passed one company and then with ox teams and some of them are in the state of starvation.
Sunday June 6th we passed over Elm Creek. Bad district. June 7th. Captain Williams who had his wife and seven children with him died this morning at seven o'clock of Colorado and was buried at nine oclock. We left his train in which there were still two sick people on whose account they had to lay over our people. I'm not quite well either. The sickness or attack usually last from 24 to 48 hours and is caused by drinking the water from wells dug in the valley over prairie river. Male after seven miles from our morning's encampment we find water for our teams. We made about 20 miles today. Wood is very scarce for the last three days. Sunday the 12th. We laid in camp preferring to make the Sabbath a day
of rest rather than travel for wood. We burned away again for cooking our provisions May 30th. We left our camp at six o'clock a.m. four and a half miles to mineral spring in the lake. Seven and a half miles to rock Avenue a steep descent. The road here passes between high rocks for half a mile two miles to the alkali swamp and springs. This place is not fit for a camping place. About four miles further to a small stream of clear water. We have driven 18 miles today without water. The alkali water is poisonous. July 19th much dust little grass in 60 hours. We slept only two in five nights.
I was on watch three. The whole day. We had no water. July 20th over the Big Sandy River. At night the first of the danger a Shoshone Indians came into our camp. July 21st. Between 11 and 1 o'clock we crossed over the Green River by ferry price three dollars. The cattle had to swim. There are many Indians much vermin little grouse. I travelled on 80 miles from Salt Lake City to Bear River. We had a ferry there across the river in the morning and to go 23 miles without water. Then I came to a hot spring. The water was salty but I was compelled to
drink it a dive I was hot. Horses drank so much that one of them gave out going six miles. Took me until midnight to get through to where I could get to. It was dark and I was alone. The rest of the company had gone on ahead. It's every man for himself one day. July 1st Monday would scares grassed poor road poor. We drove through clouds of dust today and looked more like Indians in white matter. Tuesday July 2nd four miles from our morning camp we came to the ford of the Humboldt at Mary's River. Here we fell in with several wagons. The water being deep some of the men was packing their goods over on horses others ferrying in a wagon box. It would have been amusing to our Wisconsin friends to witness a scene while we were fording the river up to our armpits. We drove 25 miles down river and camp one mile west of the river. Our wagons had
rolled fellow deep in dust most of the day September 7th. We reached the Truckee River in the 4 noon travel for 30 miles but it good. A lot of very deep sand. And here it was that we passed very many abandoned wagons. Much equipment and many dead cattle. We gave up cattle one and a half gallons of water per head and came through safely. I didn't get to the Truckee River until 2 o'clock in the afternoon and it was very hot and I had no water. Within eight miles of the river my horse began to fail and I had to go slow. When I drove him within three miles of the river it couldn't get any further. I was tired out. I travel to go on foot and I'd lay down in the sand and rest. The sun shining on me. I thought I'd never get through. I laid down to kick the bucket when I thought a woman would give me a little more gripped. I get up and stagger along myself thirsty my
tongue and lips cracked and glad I was able to get the water in after drinking a little drink too much. I felt better towards night it took some grass and water in my canteen. Back to the horse. It was in the same place I'd left him. On. July 16 we left our camp this morning at half past five o'clock quite fatigued for the mosquitoes were so numerous and troublesome that we could not sleep one half hour during the night. We drove 12 miles to the last saloon where we arrived at 10 o'clock. We lay there until 4 o'clock when we hitched up and rolled out for the desert after filling our casks canteens and every other thing that would hold water. Twelve miles stopped two hours to baked then drove 10 miles stop 2 hours again then drove 8 miles and again stopped one and a half
hours and over about seven miles and our teams were failing very fast. We left our wagon threw away a portion of our clothing back the remainder of our provisions on the horses and moved on at a slow rate. We arrived at the river on the 17th at twelve o'clock. We lay there until 4 o'clock. The distance across the desert 95 miles it might with propriety be called a desert for 150 miles. I got out of provisions one day on the next train ahead wouldn't sell me any or give me any. I said they hadn't enough to last them through. When they breakfast in the mornin I sat down and began to eat as hard as I could. I hadn't eaten anything since noon the day before and not much then. They looked at me but said nothing. They was from Missouri. I left with them that day and ate with them noon and night in the same way. I pretended to be
crazy. They said if I'd leave in the morning they'd sell me some flour and bacon. They did so. I went on that day September 8th the way today is over mountains which are entirely covered with sharp stone knives. Again at the river where the road slanted to such a degree that at times four men had to hold the wagon so it would not tip over. But then again over sand and boarders on would hardly believe that such conditions were possible. September 9th. Half a mile over St. Louis. No tracks visible only a very high hill and zigzag downward sones steep that when one wagon left the train it fell down the hill a total wreck. We see wrecked wagons here hanging over the edge and lying in the canyon bottom. September 10th in the Sierra Nevada has lived before us
and jesting and reaching to the sky. Yeah very heavily wooded with I mean one of the mountains is a 5 percent success rate site at night. We also see scorpions for the first time on. July 29. Our road today has been very hilly. Also stony and Sandy after a drive of 15 miles. We found water 300 yards to the left of the road in a ravine. July 30 a drive of 18 miles over good roads brought us to hang time. But I know did not go digging us. We arrived safe in the diggings and after resting a few days we went to work. There was man I worked with that never worked any before and I had to do as much as all of them. The 12th of August the gold was found on September
17th at 5:30. We arrived at Galloway's tavern five miles this side of Downey Vale where a big brick partner of mine who had left us on the road two days earlier came toward us. He had taken up a claim and brought a bit of rock sample which we do not wish to and cannot travel further. September 18th early today we sold our wagon for $10 while sleeping in it. At 9:00 we sold their oxen practically all of them being sick from poisoned herbage eaten the day before September 19th I and CNO became partners. September 20th bought mining for forty six dollars. September 26 Sunday. This week we worked in a claim near Downey jail got out $30 slept in the open for an hour
cost twenty eight cents per pound by close figuring we can live on six dollars per week for food. Sunday we have the first tent. We found little gold this week this week in the bar of the river. It paid two hundred and eight dollars to divide. The men who came west looking for gold generally found it but not many found enough of it to make a fortune. Only a very few of them did that.
Most found a little gold one day a lot the next and maybe not at all the day after that. The work was backbreaking and sometimes they were glad to earn just enough to pay for their provisions. The prices were high and in the winter when it was almost impossible to prospect or dig the prices got higher. December 19th eighteen hundred and fifty two. This was a sad week. That one coming may be worse from Monday night to early Friday. It snowed to reflect Lee dry snow from early Friday to early Saturday rain and snow from Saturday night to Sunday rain and snow. If no food had arrived in Downieville by Monday famine will prevail there and most of the people will have fled so
far as we are concerned we are fully snowed in and can get some wood from under the snow only with great exertion. The previous Sunday we had a week's provisions and since Wednesday we ate only two times daily so that we still have a few days supplies. We reckon 40 each person per week five pounds of potatoes two pounds of bread three and a half pounds of beans two pounds of bacon a pound of butter a pound of sugar and a quarter pound of coffee. The longer we manage to stay in bed the less we eat. I shot three partridges which wanted to travel along nearby but I sweated before getting them. When the spring came the men could go back to finding gold. And as time wore on some of them began to think of going home.
Sekret meadow City February 5th 1850 their wife it's with much pleasure I can direct a letter to you once more. I'm sorry for the disappointment you'll have and not see in me this spring but you must make the best of it. I'll come in the fall if I have enough to get me to the states and $1000 laughed. I would add but I've not done very well this winter and have now eight hundred dollars in gold dust Another proper date to the amount of $100 to cost me three hundred dollars to get home by the time I pay all my debts I don't know how much they'll be. I wouldn't have much left. You see it would not be as well-off as we would be if I can stay here this season. I think I get home with fifteen hundred or a thousand dollars and that will make us comfortable. Oh I'd be glad to see you once more on the children. And to think that I've spent so much time in the suffering to start home with a few hundred dollars Wednesday and seven or eight months longer I could make enough to live on and educate the children as they should be. Now
Caroline think of our welfare and be contented as possible. I know the time seems long but it's almost a year since we parted in a few months more will slip by. I wish you had the money I've got now. Live as you was a mind to. But it's dangerous sending money from here afraid you wouldn't get it. Carolina can't bear the idea of going home with so little money as I've got now and there's a fortune Sonny out of my reach. If I was to go now I wouldn't you know my disposition I'd never be contented again. I have been sick a day since I left home but I've suffered almost death coming over the plains. You'll shed tears when you come to know how much I've suffered and the hardships I encountered. I found out much I couldn't do in my own Constitution stood by me. If it hadn't been for you and the children that is to think I should have certainly given up and died. But time seems long to me. The dogs live better in the States than we do here for the
last three months. I've lived on musty pork and musty flour. The prices are very high. In your letter you wrote that I must come back in the spring if I had more than $5000. You could see the mind you'd say it would take a man is a lifetime. There are but a few that have done as well as we have this winter. I never mind Caroline Dell'Olio. He should have a gold watch when I return or lend a gold whistle or a Gold Boy Ophelia doll. Yes I'm all for me. I think of them night and day and I can't see them now. You wrote you wished you could kiss me when you said goodbye. I wish the same. So goodbye. The way it was presenting eyewitness accounts of historic
- The Way It Was
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- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Series Description
- "The Way It Was" is a radio program which presents eye witness accounts of notable topics throughout American history. Each episode begins with a description of a specific event, person, or historical topic, followed by several dramatic readings of witness testimonies found in the files and papers of the state historical society of Wisconsin. The program was originally released in 1969, and was re-broadcast from the program library of National Public Radio.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-37-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “The Way It Was; 3,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7h1dpc8p.
- MLA: “The Way It Was; 3.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7h1dpc8p>.
- APA: The Way It Was; 3. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7h1dpc8p