LETTERS FROM THE CALIFORNIA GOLD CAMPS
To St. Clair County, Illinois Residents

Donated by ©Donnell Redlingshafer Wisniewski

©Illinois Trails History and Genealogy
http://www.iltrails.org/stclair


 
 

Belleville Weekly Advocate
Tuesday Evening, August 7, 1849

From the California Emigrants.
   We were kindly permitted, to-day, to peruse the only letter, for our part of the country, from the California emigrants, that was rescued from the steamer Algonia.  It was from our young and much esteemed townsman, JAMES C. WEST, and directed to THOMAS JAMES, Esq.
   The letter is mainly occupied with the progress of the party from St. Joseph to the point that it had reached at the date of the letter–17th June–a description of camp life on the Plains, and of the country through which their route lies.  Mr. WEST states that they had reached a point some considerable distance beyond Fort Laramie—that at the outset they had connected themselves with another company, constituting, altogether, a party which the writer had always from the beginning, considered too large, and that they had, some time before the letter was written, parted from this company, and left it some fifty miles behind.  Mr. WEST further states that the health of the party to which he was attached, was remarkably good, and that they had enjoyed themselves well, thus far.  Their cattle were doing well, with the exception of one yoke, which had given out, so as to have to be driven all the time.  He thought that they must soon have to be left entirely behind.  They had out-travelled several parties who had mule teams.
   He advises those who wish to emigrate to provide themselves with fine mules and light wagons—the wagons taken from here having proven entirely too large and heavy.  He states that the party of Mr. Wm. C. DAVIS, from this place, being supplied with the finest mules, had, though starting after many others, overtaken the foremost trains.
   Every party seemed to be bent on lightning their loads, and provisions of every description were very cheap—particularly bacon.
   Five men belonging to the company of Mr. A. G. WHITESIDES, of Monroe county, who had gone out on a hunting excursion, had not been heard of since, though they had been out some time.
   The emigrants, generally seemed to be in the finest spirits, having received glowing accounts of new and extensive discoveries of gold.  “Push on ! push on !!” seemed to be the motto of every one and the journey seemed to have become a race, as to who shall get there first.  They had some time since passed the region where the graves of the emigrants were so awfully numerous.
 
 

Belleville Daily Advocate
December 19, 1850

Late from California.
LETTER FROM DOCT. JOHN F. SNYDER

   The annexed excellent letter was received by John H. Merritt from our esteemed friend on the 16th instant.  It will be read with interest by a large circle of friends and acquaintances in this region.  From it, our readers will perceive that the Doctor has time to devote from the “dry diggings” to subjects philosophical, historical and general.  His original penchant for botany, geology, natural history, &c., is indicated by his sensible remarks upon each of these topics.  We need not direct the readers attention to a careful perusal  of this excellent epistle.  All will read it.
PLEASANT HILL, ON
SLATE CREEK, CALIFORNIA.
November 1st, 1850.

   DEAR FRIEND:--It is morning! a calm, delightful morning.  The peaks of the adjacent mountains are just tinged with the golden rays of the rising sun; all is silence, and solitude on Slate creek; save the variegated voices of many birds; as they joyously skip from tree, to tree, and from branch to branch.
   A spur of the Sierra Nevada, covered with a dense growth of majestic pines, and natural hedges of the beautiful mansonaeta; slopes gracefully down to the creek.  One would scarcely think, (from the silence that prevails) that man had ever disturbed the quiet of this beautiful __; but as we advance to the brow of the hill, we perceive, half hidden among the tree a small; but neat and romantic looking cabin, constructed of the trunks of huge pine trees.  Near the door is a “rocker”, two or three shovels, picks, crowbars, &c., indicating that the inmates are miners.  The door is open! all within is as silent as the grave!  let us enter, and examine the interior of this “home in the woods”.  The breakfast hour is over, and the din of coffee-pot, and frying-pan, is over, and these utensils, with various others, having performed their morning’s service are quietly reposing in the chimney corner.  On the right, there you may see the bunks, in which the inmates of the cabin sleep—(one was made over the other to save room); and on the left are piled up the winter’s store of provisions, consisting of a barrel of pork, a keg of whiskey, and several sacks containing flour, coffee, sugar, beans, rice, &c., on the wall there, supported by wooden hooks, are two guns; that huge double-barrel one, you perhaps recognize as having belonged to Narcisse Pensoneau.  On the shelf over the chimney, are two or three medical books, Hoyle’s games, a bible, a pack of cards (rather greasy), pipes and tobacco, and a case of dissecting instruments, and on pegs in the other corner, are hung two old coats, several dirty shirts, and a pair of boots.  This so far, completes the internal arrangement of the cabin.  The furniture is rude, and simple in the extreme—it consists merely, of half a dozen three legged stools, and a table constructed of rough clapboards—the floor was made when the earth was created, and has not since been disturbed, Seated on one of the stools, before the table is the sole occupant of the cabin the other two boys having gone to town, on a ‘bust’)—he is a plain, but intelligent looking young man, and his dress; which is very plain and common, denotes him to be a miner—on his uncombed head, he carelessly wears an ancient slouched hat, and his old flannel shirt is thrown wide open at the collar, and the sleeves are rolled up to the elbow—his breeches, (supported at the hips by a strap of leather which once served as a back band in a set of harness) are so patched up with different colored materials, that it would be difficult to any but a keen observer to ascertain what was there original texture; and his sockless, dirty feet are stuck in a pair of No. 12 brogans; which by divers cracks, and crevices give rather fare ventillation to his understanding.  In his right hand, he holds a pen over a sheet of paper, and in his left he has an open letter which he is carefully reading, for the fourth time.  Slowly laying down the letter he takes up a newspaper; but having twice before read all the news it contains, he now with interest peruses all the advertisements.  That letter is from A. G. Badgley, and that paper—the Belleville Advocate.  Finishing the fourth page of the paper—he thoughtfully lays it aside, and dips his pen deep in the ink.           Such is Pleasant Hill, and such the appearance of ‘your humble servant’, and his residence.  I, with two Alton boys (Blevins, and Quick) have located ourselves here for the winter.  We are near the South Fork of the American river—seven miles from Sutter’s mill, and forty-six from Sacramento city.  The ‘rainy season’ having sent several harbingers of its near approach, in the way of showers, and cold weather; we have concluded to leave the wet, and take to the dry diggings.  We had another cause for leaving the wet diggings; that is, that they are all nearly exhausted; or, at least so much so that it now requires extensive, and difficult labor to make moderate wages.  The dry diggings are not extensive; but the labor is easy, and pay regular.  The great number of emigrants who have flocked in this year have rooted up every nook, and corner where a speck of the ‘filthy lucre’ could be found, until there is scarcely a foot left unprospected; or unworked.  The average yield of the mines now about $4 per day.  Of course, many are making handsome wages; but, again, hundreds do not make their board.  The work, in the mines is very hard—quarrying rock (the only labor at home, I can compare it to) is not a circumstance to it.  Hundreds of miners are leaving the country every day—some with their “piles”—others are going home at the expense of their friends.  The mines at this time, are very unhealthy, and I daily see some poor fellow going, feet foremoste, to his last roosting place.  The prevailing diseases are diarrhea and billious fever.
   I cannot say that I am much pleased with this country—it is no country to live in.  The climate and the very few facilities for irrigation, renders it totally unfit for agriculture and the natural resources of the country, are gold and lumber.  The first must in course of time be exhausted, and the second is useless, as lumber can be transported from New York, and sold at Sacramento cheaper than it can be got from the mountains.  There is very little variety presented in the vegetable kingdom here—the only timber is the pine; (some of which grow to an enormous height) and a species of scruby live oak; which in the valley is hung full with Spanish moss.  The shrubs are the goosberry, the mandonaeta and two or three others, peculiar to this country.  The grass, I am told is very fine in the spring; but ever since I have been here it is as dry as hay.  The mineral kingdom, if anything, presents still a less variety—the rocks are all primary and the appearance of the whole country, in fact gives evidence of its igneous origin.  There is not a secondary rock, or fossil in the country—nothing but granite, quartz, slate and a species of slate-soap stone; so much altered by volcanic action that it is difficult to ascertain what it originally was.  The minerals are quicksilver, and gold—the first found in small quantities, and the second found sometimes in lumps; but most commonly in coarse dust, and always mixed with a black metallic sand of nearly its same specific gravity, and from which it is easily separated by the application of a magnet.  Though the vegetable, and mineral kingdoms are somewhat deficient in variety here, Animated Nature presents us with a wide field for observation.  We have all the birds, beasts, and reptiles of the States here; but each species differing somewhat in size, colour and voice from the same species there.
   The Indians here are the first remarkable object in the animal kingdom—a more degenerate, degraded, and lousey set I never saw.  They are low in stature, generally ill-shaped, and with features remarkably irregular, and ugly.  Their food consists of what game they can kill with their bows, and arrows, and acorns; of which they manufacture a very fine meal; or flour by pulverising them in holes or mortars made in the rocks for that purpose.  They live in huts made of bark, and sticks, and when one of their number dies, the body is placed in one of the huts, heaps of wood are piled around and the whole is set on fire, and they then move their encampment to another place.  They have no form of worship.  Their language; which sounds like a succession of grunts, consisting of low, corrupted Spanish, mixed with their original Utah dialect.  They are a miserable set, and occupy in my estimation a place far inferior to the Africans.  The California lion, of which you have doubtless heard, does not belong to the feline species; as is generally supposed; but is only a species of wolf with long shaggy mane something like a lion; but he is perfectly harmless.  We have several other varieties of the wolf; but none I think, with this exception that are found in the States.
   The birds are numerous, and I think the woodpecker is the most interesting among them his plumage is black, with white spots, and red head; and his voice is loud, and singular.  It is curious to observe the ingenious instinct these birds display in providing their winter’s provisions.  In the bark of the pine trees they peck thousands of small holes, in each of which they deposit an acorn; which they fit in so neatly that it requires a pointed instrument to extract them.  The quail of this country is of a lead colour, with a plume of black curly feathers on the head—I think it is a much handsomer bird than the quail of the States.  I could give you many pages on the ornithology of this country; but will defer it for the present, for want of room.
   In reptiles we are not wanting; in fact the whole country is overrun with lizzards; the most interesting kind of which is what we commonly call the ‘horned frog’, and the long black lizzard.  There are but few snakes, the most common, however, is the rattlesnake.  The insects are numerous; but I have no room at present, to describe any of them.
   I will now give you the whereabouts of some of our Belleville boys, as far as I can keep the run of them.  Gelwicks has sold his store, and in company with Tim. Hinckley, and two Norwegians, is putting up a cabin near ours.  Henry Johnson, with Dr. Hunter and two sons have removed to the “Kelser diggings” (about 8 miles form us) for the winter.  Henry West is still at Cold Spring.  John Thomas and Thomas and Gooding Harrison are still at Georgetown—Thomas Harrison at last accounts, was sick.  William Tate will winter with Major Hook, and Jacob Maurer, near the Volcano diggings.  Henry Hay is still at the French trading post.  Dr. Goheen is doing well, at Hangtown.  Fred. Snyder and J. Hinckley are sticking type in San Francisco.  The last I heard of Joe. Sargent, he, and Hillery Murray had gone to San Francisco.  Murray Morrison is still the ‘top of the pot’ at the Sacramento bar.  Dr. Gray has quit Maysville, and is now located in Sacramento city.  F. Pierce and lady are still at Greenwood’s valley.  I cannot hear a word of Wilson, and Thornsbury; but think they are in the vicinity of Terrell and Prickett’s store, on the Middle Fork of the American.  Young Thomas and Hiram Padfield are in the Auburn dry diggings, near where Wm. Thomas and Chris. Oatman are keeping boarding house.  Our old friend Jim. Morgan keeps a very fine house in the city (“the Illinois”).  The last time I was there I saw Robert Afflick, Phillip Scott, and John Beer—all sick.  I have since heard that Afflick was well, and the other two much better.  Several of the old Belleville delegation have returned home, and those who have not returned would like too; as they are dreadfully homesick.  It is strange that we do not hear from home more often.  Albert’s letter is the first and only one I have yet received; though I have written more than a dozen.  I hope the new administration will do something for us, in the way of mail arrangements.
   Hangtown was the scene of considerable excitement a few days ago, cause, first by a party of Indians having murdered six whites.  Volunteers were drummed up, all over the mines, to the number of two hundred and started immediately in pursuit of the Indians.  I have not yet heard the result of the expedition.  The second cause of excitement was this; a gambler in a quarrel shot a man, and the next day he was arrested, and without the trifling ceremony of a jury trial, he was strung up to a tree, “A LA JUDGE LYNCH”.  A report came to us yesterday, that the cholera was raging in San Francisco and Sacramento—I do not place much confidence in the rumor. * * *
 Yours &c.,
JOHN F. SNYDER
 

Transcribed from the microfilmed edition of the newspaper.
Belleville Public Library, Main Branch
By Donnell Redlingshafer Wisniewski
4 June 2003
 

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