A richly detailed diary of Gold Rush California 1850-1852
Pangborn, David Knapp (1803-1874). Manuscript journal, 1850-1852, 1862-1864. 256 pp.; about 6½ x 8½ in. Bound in original calf journal with contrasting red morocco tooled one-inch head and foot bands. and bearing the bookplate of Winthrop and Katherine Girling. The covers are rubbed, and the spine is lacking. Otherwise complete and quite nicely preserved.
David Knapp Pangborn was born on 21 Oct 1803 in Panton, Addison Co., Vermont and died on May 3, 1874 in Hampshire, Maine. Married to Betsy Farrington on May 13, 1830, they quickly had six children, two girls and four boys. When the youngest, Anna Jane, was 7 years old. David leaving Betsy and the six children behind and began his journey to California to strike it rich.
Well-written, richly detailed and easily legible, Pangborn’s journal offers fascinating testimony to life in California in the 1850s, with discussion of the gold rush, the San Francisco Fire of 1851, and daily life amid the miners, speculators, gamblers, and confidence men who populated the region. The journal may be neatly divided into three sections:
- The Journey (May 27th, 1850 through August 14th, 1850). 62 pp. A colorful account of Pangborn’s passage from New York to Panama, and then after a month-long layover, from Panama to San Francisco. This first section of the journal was published in part (with omissions) as “A Journey from New York to San Francisco” in the American Historical Review 9 (1903)
- California (August 17th, 1850 through January 25th, 1852). 114pp., with thrilling discussion of life in San Francisco, Sacramento, and the mining camps. He discusses the life of a prospector, race relations, a cholera epidemic, the fire of 1851, criminals and con men, and trials brought before Judge Lynch. By mid-December 1850, he had given up hopes of striking gold and bought into the coffin business, a profitable trade in a land where life was short.
- Wisconsin (May 18, 1862 through the 1860’s). 80pp. Around 1853 Pangborn moved to Wisconsin. There he picked up the journal that he had set aside in California. This section is sparser than the first two, but with a great deal of interesting accounts of the Civil War, prison escapes, the policies of Abraham Lincoln, etc.
See below for selections from Pangborn’s journal. An important and eminently publishable primary source offering invaluable testimony on life on America’s furthest frontiers.
Provenance: The journal has been in the possession of the family since its original composition, having passed to the author’s granddaughter, Katherine Girling. From her through the family until the present.
Selections from the Diary
June 7, 1850
Too hot to sleep. Thermometer 85 in the shade. Came up on deck . . . we are now fairly in the Caribbean Sea. Very hot indeed; scarce a breath of fresh air and our overcrowded ship is almost breathless.
June 10, 1850
Hired a canoe with 2 others beside Wm and the Doctor and started at 1pm. Began immediately to rain and we put back. Out boatman deserted and left us alone in the rain which was rain pouring for an hour and a half. Got our baggage all wet and at 8, we very gladly crossed over by the vivid flashes of lightning to the American side of the lightning and took shelter in a hotel under the imposing name of the Irving House. Paid $1.25 cash for supper and lodging. Supper cider and biscuit. Lodging a cot and blanket stowed in the unfurnished chamber as thick as they could be stowed. Soon fell asleep not withstanding the heat and rested.
June 11, 1850
Got a cup of coffee without milk at a Negros Stand which with a biscuit made my breakfast. With much ado got our Negro Boatman and Baggage once more on board and started. River rising – banks low and swampy. Made 10 miles by hard labor and stopped for dinner. Got more black rily coffee and eat sea bread. At 3 succeeded in once more getting our darkies into the boat and started. Made 10 miles more and landed at 8 P.M. Very dark. Found an "Amerecano" with a tent who for the consideration of 50cts each suffered us to sleep on the ground under his Tent. Supper Coffee and Bread.
June 12, 1850
Started early after getting some Coffee and worked up a few miles. Current getting very strong and River rising. Stopped at 10 A. M. at a tent and for 2 hours another Rain Pouring. Never saw anything compare with it. After a delay of some hours a great deal of scolding and working succeeded in getting our Negros off by the promise of $5.00 extra pay. Started at 3 P. M. and made a few miles. Stopped at 5 at a Native Ranch. Got into a Hen House and opened our trunks. Found to our dismay that almost everything we had was wet. Wrung out our wet things as well as we could and hung them up till Morning. Went to a neighboring House and bought a little Coffee. Got some boiled Rice and made a Supper. Spread our Coats on some dry Hydes in the loft of the Hen House and slept well.
June 14, 1850
More Coffee and Rice. Paid 4 Dimes each for the use of the Hen House and after another long long spell of Coaxing succeeded at 11 A. M. in getting off. River rose during the night 10 or 12 feet and before we started had fallen again for about 5 or 6 of it. Current very strong and navigation very difficult. Could make with all our exertion only about one mile an hour. At 4 P. M. reached San Pablo, a Ranche on the right Bank of the River on a high Bluff and looking more like life than anything we had seen. The Ranche is owned by a Spaniard who is almost as great a proficient at speaking as “Los Americanos” themselves. Wanted to charge us 6 Dimes apiece for Sleeping on the mud floor of his Hovel. Left him and went back some 30 Rods and made a tent of our Blankets boiled some rice bought a little coffee at a dime a cup and camped down. All soon forgot in sleep the toils of the day but myself. I got up and with the long Knife of our Boat Man in hand kept gaurd over [?] our little camp . . . and after a few hours of reflection and meditation at about 12 I lay down on my Blanket and got an hour or two of unquiet slumber.
June 15, 1850
Got some more Coffee and sea Bread eat some cold rice and started. Toiled on till 3 P.M. with only a short rest at a Negro hut and reached “Gorgona." Got Supper at a “Hotel” with a large Name but slim accommodations and went down to the Boat. Opened all our trunks and Bags and spread everything out in the hot Sun on the gravel Beach which was covered for nearly a Mile by Men all laboring like us to get dry clothing. Found some of our things quite spoiled and others nearly so by the moisture and Heat. In fact everything you touch seems wet and once wet nothing dries but mold ensues immediately. By close application got our things in tolerable order and repacked by sunset. Dare not trust our negroes with the Boat tonight. Some done so last night and found themselves deserted after paying as we had done fare all the way through and this morning at San Pablo paid $10.00 each to get through, as much as we paid for the whole distance from Chagres to Cruces. Two of our party slept in the Boat, and two, the Doctor and myself at the “Rail Road Hotel” paying 75 cts for Supper and 50 for Lodging.
June 16, 1850
All still well and at an early hour were under way. River almost impassable. Saw last night the Rapid Current of the River filled with Boxes and trunks of a capsized Boat which were mostly picked up in the Eddy opposite Gorgona. It proved to be the Goods of a German from Utica N. Y. The owner was drowned. After an hour or two we came up to the place where the unfortunate German lost his life. A very rapid place and the Boatmen losing control of the Boat it was dashed against a snag or sunken tree and capsized. Several other fellows are said to have been drowned during the last few days. We saw 2 or 3 Floating Bodies in the River but did not learn who they were. Worked our way up till the last Mile. We were repeatedly obliged to get out on the gravelly bars of the River and walk past the rapid places while the Boatmen waded in the water and shoved the Boat and Baggage up. Arrived at Cruces at 2 P. M. all safe. Had another time drying our clothes and deposited them in a transportation office.
June 18, 1850
Got a cup of coffee and started on foot. Found the Road not as muddy as we had been led to expect but all the descriptions of tourists had failed to give up the first faint idea of it as it is except the general one that it was difficult. It has once been a paved mule road cut through the Mountains at great expense but with the ancient Glory of Panama is in complete ruins. A small patch here and there just serves to show the fact of its previous existence. The old paving stones and other boulders lie in complete confusion over the whole surface of a large part of the Road, interspersed with occasional patches of deep mud. When it is stones the unlucky wayfarer must jump and when it is mud he must wade, for there is no dodging either, it being impossible to get out of the Road let what will be in it in the way of difficulty.
A large part of the distance is made up of cuts in the Road of various depths from a few feet up to twenty or more about 10 feet wide at the top and in many places not 2 wide at the Bottom and some not even so wide filled at the bottom with the aforesaid stones and mud interspersed with here and there a dead Mule by way of variety, now suppose it to be up and down at every possible grade and crooked at every possible radius of curvature, fill it well up with pack mules and naked Negro Muleteers each with a long knife in his belt and perhaps with a trunk weighing 100 lbs or more on his shoulders and cover the whole with an impenetrable mop of foliage in Tropical Luxuriance and fill the air there with the constant screaming of parrots and you have the Cruces Road as we saw it.
We leaped from stone to stone and waded in mud forded brawling brooks held our noses and crawled over dead mules most perseveringly from 7 till 2 when we came in sight of the far famed “Half Way House " a miserable tent pitched on the bank of a Brook completely covered with the Mold which covers all cloth coverings here in the wet season. No seat to sit on. Cot Beds from 75cts to 100 each and no refreshment of any sort to be had in any other form or at any other price. It was “Hobsons choice” that or nothing. 2 of my Comrades refused to be [illegible] and went on, myself and [illegible] thought best to submit and stay washed the mud as well as we could from our Boots dried them, rested ourselves got some supper and in the morning went on.
June 25, 1850
Steamer Oregon arrived from San Francisco. Brought news of the Sarah Sands which has been due here for 6 or 8 weeks. She will not be here for 10 days or a fortnight yet. Some of her passengers have died. Many well have been sick, some have gone home discouraged and many more have procured other tickets and gone on. I think that 8 weeks in this climate will “decimate” a lot of passengers. 2 American funerals today, one Man and one woman a Mrs Hardy. She has left a Husband here and a young child. It would have been merciful to his family had he thrown them into the sea at New York instead of bringing them here to die by inches in this climate and among strangers destitute as all must be whether sick or well of the commonest comforts of life. It is no place for women and children. If men please to come let them.
June 27, 1850
Rose early this morning and went into the Mountains back of the City. . . . had some fine views of the country about and returned at 12 M. by the way of the Burying Ground. Saw the place where a good many disappointed Californians have taken up their last sleep, a wild neglected place outside the Catholic yard in the Bushes and trees. . . . I looked at the desolate looking place and thought of the chances I stood of taking my place among these with now no very comfortable feeling. But the will of God be done. I left home not for my own good but for the benefit of those at home. This end may be subserved perhaps as well by my dying here as by going on. Every day however we hold a council and talk over every expedient of escape from here and invariably end right where we began. There seems no way of escape for us without more funds than we have to spare so we must resign our lives and wait, as patiently as possible.
Almost every night is a Fandango at a Negro Gambling House near by kept up nobody knows how long. The dull monotony of the African Drum is only relieved at intervals of the dance by the drunken yells and screams of Darkies and Dinahs in the exuberance of their joy and at all times by night and by Day we have all sorts of noises of our own among ourselves. Card Playing, singing either Negro Melodies or Methodist Hymns as the case chances to be, and all mixed in complete confusion with the most foul and foolish Blasphemy from lips that might be expected to use decent language.
It is a very common thing to see Buildings gone completely to decay, Churches and private Houses unroofed and fallen in, some with all the side walls still standing, some with only one side up, and the rest all down. I think in its best days this city never had any aqueducts or any decent water. It is now supplied by water brought some distance on the backs of Mules and costs about 5 cts per gall and is the poorest water I have seen even here on the Isthmus. The principle well would not be offered as a respectable watering place for animals at home. The roofs are all covered with Tiles and the Floors of stone Houses are made of the same material only differing in form, but the houses so far as I can learn are all infested with insects and reptiles, many of them venomous.
Scorpions a large kind of spider looking thing with a tail about 2 inches long is quite poisonous and a small Lizard shaped animal said also to be poisonous is very common. We see them everyday crawling all over the walls and timbers above though they seem shy and run from us.
The Bread of Panama is the most like Human food of anything that is here, it is pretty good made of Chilian or Peruvian Flour and is only about double, or a little more than double the price in N. York. Beef miserable 20 cts per pound, pork not quite so bad 20 cts at the market, fish dear, for no reason that I can learn except they are too lazy to take them. Many of them are very good.
Sugar about double the price in the States and poor. This is the only place I ever saw where no attempts whatever are made at cultivation. I have not seen in the whole country anything worthy of the name of Cultivation, everything is brought from somewhere else even Bananas and the spontaneous productions of the earth are brought here in boats from along the coast toward Peru and many if not all the few edible vegetables used here come from Peru, Flour, Potatoes, Apples, etc. etc. Potatoes are 10 cts per pound and other things in proportion. A large portion of the meat used is salt ham brought I should think from the States and sells for 4 dimes (cts) per pound.
June 29, 1850
This morning while getting our coffee ready heard that a man had been stabbed during the night near by. Proved to be a Gambler and supposed to be killed by a Brother Black Leg for his money. He had been lucky for a number of days and was known to have several hundred Dollars. His money Belt was found by his side ripped open and Robbed. He was a white man but not an American. Only the day before in a Gambling brawl had stabbed and badly wounded another man. No notice is taken of the affair here by the Authorities if indeed there are any Authorities here, of which I see no indication except the presence of some forty or fifty Negro Soldiers barefoot and dirty and taken together the most inefficient looking Negros I have seen here. A perfect caricature of the name of Soldier. Nobody minds anything about them and nobody so far as I have been able to learn ever dreams of appealing to the city government for justice in any case whatever.
July 4, 1850
In Panama still and no prospect of relief. Great preparations are made up in the city for a celebration of the day. The Governor has offered the use of His House and has ordered it would seem an extra guard from somewhere for the occasion. A steamer is in the port under our window dressed in all the colors of the Rain Bow ready to carry those who have more Dimes and Patriotism than Brains to somewhere in the hot sun. I have to stay at home and save my breath to hurry for the Northern should I be so happy as ever to see Her come. She is now 86 days out.
I have learned what I can of the steamer business since I have been here and found it on the whole the most stupendous fraud of the age. Tickets are issued and sold by thousands in N. Y. and the Identical Money paid for them by the deluded Purchasers is Taken and Boats purchased with it and sent round the Horn while the robbed passengers have purchased instead of a “ Through Ticket” a certificate of certain detention here. Many got sick, some die and many are discouraged after weeks and months of delay and broken in fortune or constitution or both goes back discouraged entirely. I. Howard and Son and Roberts Lines have neither of them any certain means of forwarding from here one fifth part of the passengers they catch in their “Man Trap."
August 4, 1850
What little disposition I had to sleep was defeated for the most part last night by the incoherent ravings of a young man near me who had a fever. After Breakfast all went on shore to give the crew a chance to Cleanse the Ship [Small Pox]. Carpenter made a rough coffin for the dead man and at 10 He was carried a shore and Buried by the American curate.
Acapulco is a much cleaner and pleasanter Place than Panama. Went this morning about 3/4 of a mile out of the City Back to bathe in a Beautiful stream of fresh water coming right down from the High Mountains in the rear. Walked in the groves and Gardens a while and returned to Town and got Dinner.
Then went up on an elevated Plateau overlooking the Bay under a grove of Mango Trees to while away the time till night. The City is on our right a strong Mexican Fort is on the Point at our left and the Bay and Shipping right before us. The Northern being right in the Center of the Picture, covered with Her crew and all the “Hombres" that they can hire Taking in Coal and water, Cattle, Sheep and Pigs. At 412 took a long ramble up past the City and all around the Beach till we came to where our further progress was barred by the shutting down of the Hills so near as to close the Road. The City Lies embosomed among Volcanic Mountains Wild and Rugged as possible. In the rear is a natural plain of a Mile or so before you strike the Base of the Mountains in one direction but in another the Houses of the City extend for some distance up the sides of the Hill. The Houses are all one-story High and even the Church is very low being evidently made for a Volcanic Country. Monday,
August 5, 1850
At Half past five heard the welcome sound of the parting Gun fired and we left our Anchorage with three cheers answered from the crowded decks of the Steamer Republic alongside and from some other vessels and stood out of the Bay. Two more of our Sick had died while we were on shore on Sunday and were carried on shore privately and buried in the evening One the sick man who had disturbed us on Saturday night and the other a Ships Boy. Our Ship had been however well cleaned on Sunday and we hope the most of our sickness is over but we are in the Hands of God. In His hands our Breath is whose are all our ways.
As we left our anchorage in the Bay of Acapulco a storm of thunder and Rain Burst on us from the high mountains back of the City and we put to sea in the midst of the severest storm of wind and rain we have seen for many days. But our Boat is a good one and we have confidence in the good Providence of God. I slept well and rose Tuesday morning at Sea and in good health. The coast of Mexico in sight Mountainous in the extreme. Course still "West North West.” Heard that while lying in the Harbor it was Stated by the passengers of the “Republic" that one of their Passengers on the way down from Panama being out of His head with Fever came on Deck unobserved by any one and before the watch on Deck observed what he was doing leaped overboard just before the wheel and of course was seen no more. I did not learn who He was but the Ship held on her way. William has been sick again and took an emetic on Saturday morning. Is better again now.
August 20, 1850
Sacramento City. Came up on the Steam Gold Hunter on Monday night, leaving Benicia so late in the day as to lose all prospect of the country coming up. Paid the moderate price of $15.00 cash for passage merely, not having a berth – arrived at daylight & several a friend from Burlington [G. Backus keeping a public house, stopped with him till Wednesday morning.
In the morning after Breakfast walked into the village. Found it the most uncomfortable place we had seen. Hot as an oven. Jittery & crowded to excess. A man who no doubt meant well attempted to preach in a tent & we went to hear him but in the stench & heat & noise of the place it was worse than no words.
Thursday morning. Waked up in the night with some pain in my side. Got up & made a fire & drank a hot cup of tea. Put on more clothing & got into a perspiration. After a while got a little sleep, but woke this morning quite disheartened. William has had a relapse of his diarrhea. Will stay the day here to rest & recruit our strength. Thermometer at the diggings is at noon in the shade from 98 to 102 & in the morning closer to 58 to 60 making a variation in a few hours to 30 degrees . . . No perceptible falling off of the heat at all till about 5 p.m. & no person can bear at night clothes enough to keep him warm after Midnight.
September 1, 1850
Greenwood Valley. We arrived here Saturday night after dark after a long & fatiguing jaunt up to the river & back. We lost our journey up to the “Big Bar. The man who invited us to come there being gone back home. We have concluded that the “quartz rock” question must be settled by some one having more money to spend in the investigation than we have to spare just now. While we must go to doing something else which will pay more readily.
September 8, 1850
Have worked all the week. Have put up some berths in the log house here. Tuesday, pick axe & shovel in hand went into the diggings in the valley not far from our house. Last night weighed our gold & found we had dug in fine clays $98.50. If we can do as well we shall stay here a spell & dig, but I find digging is a very uncertain business. May do well today & nothing at all tomorrow. We shall keep on however till we lack turns & see that we cannot make it pay. God of His great mercy has preserved me & in health has brought me through great fatigues & exposure to this place in good health & trust still in his goodness for myself & the dear ones in that far off home which & scarcely grant myself to think of.
California is a beautiful country & but for the great scarcity of water in the dry season & the excess of it in the wet would be one of the finest countries in the world.
September 15, 1850
Greenwood Valley. Fatigued with a hard weeks work & must write a few words. Digging still holds out pretty well. Have made in the two weeks we have been here $175.00 in Gold . . .
September 22, 1850
Still at Greenwood diggings. Our new claim failed to pay as we wanted & we bought into another paying $6.67 for two thirds of a large claim which had been paying pretty well. It still continues to pay us at ½ an ounce or more per day for each day’s work which is pretty well. No letters from home & no news from the city as I had hoped.
September 30, 1850
Greenwood. Still here & things look now as if we should winter here. After two days spent in looking for a better place have bought the half of a large Tent at $30.00. NO news from Home or the City. No rain this week & weather very warm during the day & very cold with heavy dews at night. Our old claim now bought a forthnight since still continues to pay days wages, but we shall work it all out soon and have to look further. The influx of miners into the Valley is very great.
October 6, 1850.
Greenwood. Still here & still well. Worked out the last of our purchased claims myself, William being unwell & very often furtive. Got out $11.00 in the forenoon which I shared with my new partners, Smith & German. There is now four of us owning a good large tent, 15 x 18 feet & 10 feet high, have comfortable beds & live well. Have 1200 lbs of flour on hand & last night after dividing our earnings for the day, $60.00. William & I had in our bag $222.00 besides $26.00 in specimens. The largest of which I found myself weighing over $6.00. A Cherokee Indian found one yesterday worth $326.00 but a few roads from ours.
The words of California is no worse than I expected & yet it is impossible to hear next to me one speak but in the language of blasphemy. The Sabbath is not much used as a day of regular labor, but almost every one uses it for some secular purpose as prospecting, washing, hunting, traveling, or trade. The merchants do more & I think blacksmiths & shoemakers do more than any other day in the week. The miners coming in to the village on that day to get supplies or to get work done. I am however able in the absence of all outward privileges of a religious character daily to say as I lay down at night, “Unto thee oh God do I lift up my soul; & connected with my aspirations however are thoughts of home crowded out of mind by the labor & excitement of the day & the morning I can dare say as I leave, “Thou oh God art my stay & support be though my refuge & my eternal reward.” I yet hear nothing from my friends.
October 13, 1850
Greenwood Valley. Still here & weather still pleasant. Still digging & doing something. Have been looking over the Country for winter diggings & find none to suit us. Went on Monday up to Kelsey Diggings, Prospecting & taking lodgings for the night in a deserted shanty, roused up a nest of Rattlesnakes. After a hard fight, killed three large ones & retreated down the canyon to a store & got lodgings till morning & then made for home. Quite disappointed & said. Our new project of gardening in the mining region will fail for want of a piece of land that can be irrigated in the dry season.
No letters from home nor from anywhere else. Think I may have to go to the City myself before & get any letters. We made our best days work yesterday that we have made yet. Took out eight ounces for 4 of us. Have made since we cane to this place (6 weeks) about $440. About half of which is invested in provisions & tent &c . . . Gold digging very hard but a pleasant business. When we can find gold decently plenty to dig. But very dull when we find none.
October 31, 1850
Have concluded in favor of going south instead of going on to the River & our Boys are all gone to select a spot & put up the tent, leaving me to stay by the stuff. Cook & eat by the side of a little Break sleep in a Tent Tavern at 50 cts a night. While waiting this morning near the road, saw 2 loaded teams come down the hill near & the driver of the near team fell off & was instantly killed by the wheel passing over his neck. Near at the same time came that another City Teamster had died of cholera at the next house that morning. Helped to dig both of their graves & bury them.
November 1, 1850.
Last night past as I was going to bed a Team came in with another Cholera patient . . . in the morning the man was dead. He hardly knew where he was or where he belonged. He was buried before noon & I started for the Boys location – found them – they had got the tent up & at my suggestions started to build a fire place in it.
November 3, 1850.
Rhoades Diggings. I have since arriving in Sacramento on my way back from San Francisco, been followed by an obstinate Diarrhea which neither diet nor medicine seems to affect & having always been free from that when others have suffered so much it seems the more singular. I hear that Cholera is gaining rapidly in the city, reaching for the last few days to 80 or 100 per day and on every hand we hear of cases of men returning from there dying with it on the way back. God is my refuge. In Him will I trust.
November 7, 1850.
Rhoades Diggings. Our House & fixtures is all done & since Monday Morning 4 days our boys have been prospecting for God & find none. Or at least none that can be got till after the rains come. Feel much disappointed & our little company are quite in a fluster, none knowing what to do. It may be weeks before the earth here is wet enough to dig to any profit & we cannot afford to wait. All are full of plans and none are settled upon what seems to promise relief. For myself, I see as yet no way but to return to San Francisco & try to get into some business there. I cannot afford to be still. And though with all industry I can use I may not be able to avert the ruin I have brought on myself & family by this ill-omened expedition to the Gold Country, yet it is my duty to do all I can & pray for faith to leave the event with God.
Hope for news tonight which may determine me what to do. I should be glad ever more to see my wife & children & talk to them of the wisdom & goodness of God. Even in this sterile ground I see rolling hills, the majestic trees, the sublimely high & distant mountains, all made glorious in the golden light of morning or beauteous in the mellow tints of sunset and I long for the young hearts to whom I have been privileged to talk of these evidences of the presence & power of God. But they & I are in His hand. On them be the blessing of the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy – and on me be done His own holy will – only give me grace ever to say Thy will be done.
November 8, 1850
Death has been here & one of our little company is so suddenly called into Eternity. This morning at 3 o clock Mr. German was attacked violently with symptoms of Cholera & at 5 this evening he was in his coffin. Myself & Mr. Smith (almost alone) done everything for him we could do but in vain. In distress of mind in view of Death he asked to be prayed with & as God had given me grace & rejoiced in the opportunity to talk to him of Christ & endeavored to clear away his doubts & lead him once more to remain in God (He had been a Christian) & commending him & his absent family to God’s mercy & grace I left his bedside for a few moments. When I returned his senses were gone & at 2pm we began his coffin. He is now in it in peace & his spirit with God who gave it. Perhaps someone else may be called to night.”
November 13, 1850
Still at Rhoades Diggings, which I shall always remember for the scenes I have passed through here. I have been tried, but thanks to God I have also been supported. His grace has been sufficient for me & I will trust him in any new scenes of trial that may be in store for me. He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men; but only chastens us for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness; If the great Captain of our Salvation could only be made perfect through suffering, shall we shrink under our light afflictions which are at most but for a moment.
We have engaged our passage to Sacramento City & are waiting for the return of our comrades. It is now 9 a.m. Everything is packed up and ready. The tent & fireplace I have helped to put up for our winter quarters, the fixtures, about it I have put up & had expected to have made my home away for some months, but it is otherwise ordered & I leave them willingly, being persuaded it is best & yet as I look around on each object I had taxed my ingenuity to make for our comfort with the scanty means I had a feeling of sadness come over me & I cannot but be cast down. When & where shall I find a place of Rest. But God grant if it can be consistent with His wise & holy will that the dreary & barren resting place of poor German may not be mine.
November 14, 1850
Sacramento City. Arrived here this day at noon. Stopped at the Nevada House kept by Mrs. Nash [late of Burlington]. Found him sick & his partner, Mr. Philips, dead. Since I was here two weeks since, Nash is about but so agitated & nervous that I should not be surprised at any time to hear of his death, or at any rate that his business was ruined. Left on the Steamer Missouri for San Francisco. The cholera has much abated at Sacramento, but is prevailing to some extent in the city below.
November 17, 1850
San Francisco. A bright & pleasant day. We arrived yesterday at daylight after a very uncomfortable night on the boat. A steamboat ride is a very different affair here from what it is at home unless one has a mint of money to spare. We paid $8.00 each for a passage, having to pay $1.00 for each meal & no lodging to be had save on the Cabin floor & not half enough of that for all the passengers.
November 25, 1850
San Francisco. The rainy seasons has set in at last & rain now is a daily & nightly occurrence, oftentimes several times in course of 24 hours we have changes from rain to sun & vice versa. It is not cold however & it is early morning & evening that one thinks of wanting a fire. In the mountains however it is different & I hear that at Greenwood snow has fallen. We saw on our way from Rhoades Diggings to Sacramento the far off Sierra Nevadas covered with snow. Rhoades Diggings is fast at the foot of the high hills of the Gold Region & the first mountain was three or five miles off; rolling hills of no great elevation but showing if possible more palpable evidence of volcanic agency than ever the Mountains themselves. The whole being made up of lava & burned stones. After passing over these low hills for five or six miles we struck the alluvial plain of the Great River (American) at the distance of about 15 miles from Sacramento City.
I do not find business prospects very bright as yet, but hope for the best. I find many religious privileges here which are precious & which I have been long deprived of & have begun to make some religious acquaintances which promise to be good.
December 14, 1850
I have bought into a shop here engaged in the coffin business in company with a Mr. Hoag from New York & a Mr. Jackson who is still in New York City. Do not yet however know it will turn, but it seemed the only thing I could do & hope for the best. A great first night in Sacramento Street. I went to it & helped a friend get his goods out & came home at 10, slept for the first time in my new lodging in our little chamber. No letter from home last mail, but I have written again & shall continue to write.
In our little room almost alone, my partner Mr. Hoag is in bed sick & our Hearse Driver is asleep in his chair. I have been since the morning service at church engaged at our first Funeral & the drabbest funeral I ever saw. All were drunk. Buried the woman in a butternut coffin without a case & even went with the driver & helped to bury the woman at the moderate price of $45.00. Attended an auction sale on Friday & bid off 18,000 feet of Panama Mahogany boards for coffins at $25.00 . . . at the yards, $60.00 - $80.00.
I am now fairly a Denison of this Country, having in my trade for business bought one thrice of a shop building & a team for the Hearse, so that there is now a strong presumption that I am in for it for a year or two at any rate, if I live that long.
January 15, 1851
Have at last after great effort got my business arrangement with my partner, Mr. Hoag & have signed articles of partnership to expire the first of October next. I never saw but one man [John Abbott] that I thought so selfish. I came here with the express understanding that perhaps the way in which I might benefit my family by my California expedition might very possibly by dying here & so getting the money on my life insurance. That now looks more likely than any other prospect at present & yet after all my philosophy about its making but little difference where or even when a man dies, I have not yet fully reconciled myself to that even if the will of God should be so with regard to me. I suppose however that we are not to look for grace to enable us to die in quiet resignation until we are called up to die. The duty of the Christian plainly is to leave that matter in the hands of God, saying at all time, It is my Father, let Him do whatever seemeth Him good.”
But blessed be God if He cannot trust me with property I think He does not withhold His grace. Notwithstanding all my unfaithfulness, my engagement of His grows daily sweeter & sweeter and as my earthly hopes are crushed day by day I seem to feel more & more the preciousness of the Christian’s hope and also the blessedness of hearing of my children now also enjoying like precious hope with me. And if called to die here & see them no more in the flesh I shall meet them at His right hand on high to weep no more and forever. Amen & Amen.
January 28, 1851
A letter from Lizzie. She writes in good spirits. Life looks so bright to the young. I have passed a large part of my pilgrimage & am getting quite past all thoughts of recollecting almost of the spring time of life, quite into the yellow leaf. I never looked on life even in my youth with any very bright anticipations & now I can say after having spent two thirds of my three score & ten years (or nearly so) that goodness & mercy have followed me all my days. I brought nothing into this world & can carry nothing out . . . let me be content God will provide for my children as He has done for me.
February 23, 1851
A great excitement in the city today. Two men accused of Robbery & intent to murder were taken by the police Friday & last night a great crowd collected at the City Hall where they were confined, saying if left to the Courts they would inevitably escape & demanding that “Judge Lynch’s Court” should try them and appointed a committee [themselves] to take charge of the prisoners & bring them before Judge Lynch today at 2 P.M. The trial is now in progress . . .
March 3, 1851
Oh the Fleas! The Fleas!!! I never such a pest anywhere as the fleas of San Francisco. I shall remember this the longest day I live. The lizards and scorpions of Panama in point of real trouble were nothing to the fleas of this city. Though they might not be very pleasant looking things as they crept about the walls, yet they never bit me, which is more than can be said to the credit of the fleas!
May 4, 1851
Woe! Woe! San Francisco is in ashes. An alarm of fire sounded at early hour of the night last night. But I had of late heard so many alarms of fire that amounted to nothing that I thought nothing of this & went back again to bed & to sleep. But was wakened again after a time by the noise & confusion without & dressing & going out I found the whole City almost in flames. At least ¾ of the property & business of the City is gone. The dealers are almost without exception burned out & such is the rapidity with which fire spreads in this Falseboard City that it is next to impossible to remove heavy stacks of goods if it was not attempted. And there is but 4 or 6 buildings left in 16 or 18 entire blocks or squares of the city. The fire burning on 9 or 10 of the streets going East & West & 4 or 5 of those crossing them north & south. I cannot yet foresee what effect this catastrophe is to have on the interests of the City. Of course it will be disastrous, but we cannot yet tell what degree. A great many who were worth thousands or tens of thousands last night are poor today. Hundreds have lost their all & hundreds more are out of employ & it may be houseless. Several lost their lives in the most horrible manner & many more had hair breadth escapes from death. This calamity must for a long time injure the city, for burdened as it is now with debt I cannot see where funds can be had to repair the now impassible streets of the city. For its trade is for the present ruined by the ruin of the merchants & the destruction of such a vast stocks of goods while its taxable property is mostly destroyed. One of the business men of the city who was ruined by the loss of all by the fire went while the city was yet in a blaze & shot his mistress & then attempted suicide, but without success & is now in the cell of the common felon. What effect the fire will have on us we do not yet know. We have escaped the fire ourselves.
June 1, 1851
John Allen is dead. He called on me one day last week and after a short while left to cross the Bay to his Ranch, in company with 5 others. They had a heavy load & choosing an unfortunate time of the tide or going in an unfortunate place two cross currents met their boat & all but one was drowned. When the sea shall give up her dead, they will leave their deep place of rest . . .
June 15, 1851
Lynch Law is now the common law of San Francisco. A few days since a “committee of vigilance” was organized of quite a large number of the most respectable men in the city & Tuesday night a “Sydney bird” caught steeling a safe from a shipping office fell into their hands instead of that of the law & instead of a short arrest at the station house to be by the laws delayed and the lawyers quibbles turned out to prey on open society again, was marched up to committee, a trial had forthwith, and within six hours he was hanging in the Plaza, Bankers & Merchants & Steamboat Captains playing “Jack Ketch” for him.
May 18, 1862
Neenah, Wisconsin. I have been in Wisconsin now nearly nine years & the journal so abruptly broken off on the opposite page is resumed. But now with the idea that it should be anything more than a desultory thing just as the fit takes me.
My friends all know & none who will see this would be interested if they did of the main events of my life since the 25th January, 1852, the date of the last entry. I returned to the mouth of the south Yuba and remained there till October following when I returned to Vermont & remained there until spring when I came here for a stranger, and a por one too. I have had my share perhaps of success, though nothing very great in the lines of property or business. I have been for 8 years one of the Elders of the Presbyterian Church, was one year a Supervisor of the Town, one year a Member of the Board of Village Trustees, one year the President of the Village Corporation & ex officio a member of the County Board and was by them elected one of three Commissioners to raise means & erect county buildings, etc.,
I returned to Neenah in October 1860 & began my improvements on my plan which I have named, “Le Cache,” the hiding place, or the place where something is hidden or concealed.
Presidential Election over & Lincoln again elected. It is probably the best thing we could do, but I had much rather have had a more radical man. We have had half way measures long enough.