Back to Gold Rush Letters
November 15, 1849
From letter published in
the Missouri Whig , Palmyra February 28, 1850
When our paper was nearly ready to go to press, we received the following letter from Gen. David Willock, and knowing the great anxiety of the people to hear from California, we leave out some other matters to make room for it.
COLUMA, Upper California,
MR SOSEY----Sir: By giving a place in your paper to the following communication, written during the breakfast meal at a boarding tent, you will aid the writer in fulfilling a promise made to many friends who are readers of your journal. The promise was to inform them of what I had seen, as well as heard, after having been awhile in California.
It is with some reluctance this is done, having seen communictions made by others (no doubt men of intelligence and integrity) which differ so widely in point of fact from that which personal observation, as well as reliable information, collected from other sources in this country, compels your correspondent to make.
Much of the discrepancy between letters from California may be accounted for on the score of the different temperament of the writers, and the different hopes and expectations of those who come here, as well as with the success with which their various efforts are crowned. It is not uncommon to meet two men who have come out in the same train, or same ship, expressing their views of the enterprise, the one declaring the country to have more than realized his most sanguine hopes, while the other asserts it to have totally failed meeting his expecttions in any particular. This I say may in some degree account for the various views taken by different individuals relative to the advantages to be derived by coming to California; but your correspondent is at a loss to account for the contradictory statements made relative to facts, by writers professing to have a personal knowledge of the things about which they write. One asserts that "Judge Lynch is the only Magistrate known throughout the mining distict, and that his decrees are pronounced with all proper judicial forms, and executed with relentless severity;" while another declares that "Good order prevails, and a man is as secure here in his person and property as in the States."
Your correspondent has had rather poor health, except at intervals, since his departure from Independence, Missouri, which has been well calculated to cause a peep at the dark, as well as the bright side of the picture, and should therefore be better prepared to receive correct impressions, and he will give them as received from observation, and the best sources of information within his reach.
The country is undoubtedly a healthy one in general. There are unhealthy locations in California as in all countries, but they are as easily determined here as elsewhere.
Gold is very abundant in the earth, and in the hands of those who are digging it out. Laborers obtain from 8 to 16 per day, exclusive of board. An ounce, troy weight, or $16, is considered an average amount by those who work in the mines; yet some obtain thousands of dollars in a few weeks, while others make less than their subsistence. Hundreds spend their time in "prospecting," with the hope of finding "rich diggings," and make scarcely anything. Many more, failing to realize any thing of consequence by their first efforts, become dissatisfied and quit the mines, with the view of obtaining labor of some other kind at good wages; hence the price of common labor is falling somewhat.
The rainy season is thought to have set in already, and being earlier than usual, the traders in the mining regions are not well supplied with provisions, and the earth becomes so soft with rain, that wagoning is performed with great difficulty; hence provisions are rising in price rapidly. The price of board at the tent where I am now, is $6 per day, or $36 per week. Flour is selling at from 50 cents to $1 per lb.; pork from 75 cts. to $1.25 per lb.; potatoes at about $60 per bushel, or $1 per lb.; fresh beef and venison ranges about 50 cents per lb.---Washing and ironing clothes from $6 to $8 per dozen.
Many of the old miners say they can make more during the rainy season than in summer, because of the abundant supply of water for washing dirt. A short time since I saw and handled a lump of gold taken out by a very successful mining party, which weighed 63 11-16 ozs troy weight. They sold it for $1155. Besides this lump, they had piles of gold dust with which they have gone home satisfied. Many others have made their "piles" and returned or returning to their families, to enjoy the comforts of wealth.
Here as in all countries where wealth is abundant there are a swarm of speculators and traders in all kinds of property, some of whom are realizing immense fortunes, while others are failing and becoming bankrupts; yet any able bodied man who uses industry and economy can easily realize ten times the amount that he can in the States within the same time and this is certainly the place for a laboring man to live.
The health of our people is generally good; there is as little sickness in the Sacramento Valley as usually exists at the same season of the year in Mo., among an equal number of persons, not withstanding the reckless disregard of the common means necessary to the preservation of health, observable among a large portion of the emigrants. Scurvy has made its appearance in the mines, & indeed many emigrants arrived here afflicted with it; but I am fully persuaded that any one by ordinary precautions may avoid the disease.
For the information of those who are interested, I feel it my duty to speak a word or two concerning the emigrants from Marion county. Your correspondent was among the first, if not the very first, from Marion, to arrive in the country by the overland route, Some who came by sea or through Mexico, and who started in February, reached here in June; others, one at least, Cook Campbell, did not arrive till about the 1st of Sept. Some of the Marion county emigrants perished on the plains by cholera, and our worthy citizens, Jones, Samuel Muldrow, and perhaps some others did not live to reach this golden land. Dr. A. G. Anderson, who left home in ill health has died since reaching this country. Capt. Wm. Muldrow, Hugh Jeffries, T. L. Andersonís black man Sandy, suffered with scurvy. They are each recovering. Capt. Muldrowís company has, or will probably dissolve. So far as your correspondent has been able to ascertain, all the Marion emigrants except those above named, are in good health and spirits, but they are so widely scattered, that certain information cannot be often obtained. Those who took the Santa Fe route have not been heard from. Among them are the Hon. Wm. McDaniel, and Capt. Robards company from Hannibal.
It is supposed that there are emigrants yet on the route; if so, there is great danger of their perishing in the snows on the Sierra Nevada. Gen. Smith very humanely sent out help to the hindmost emigrants, but I understand the convoy has returned probably leaving some yet behind.
I will here take the liberty to remark that I think there is an inexcusable obstinacy, often, nay almost universally manifested on the part of those who set out for the first time on a trip across the plains and mountains. They turn a deaf ear to the counsel of those who have had experience; they procrastinate the time of starting, encumber themselves with unnecessary baggage, and commit many blunders of which they will only be convinced by sad disaster when it is too late to find a remedy. One individual left Palmyra, to the astonishment of many of his friends, with no more baggage than one horse or mule could pack conveniently, made the trip with ease and comfort, and arrived in California as well provided with clothing and baggage as most emigrants who started with large stores of such articles to throw away on the route.
Towns are springing up in the mountains and on the rivers, as if by magic, and it is supposed that the population will be doubled next year; and the best and most experienced judges here think the gold will not be exhausted for an age to come.
I am compelled to close this hasty scroll in consequence of the bearer, Mr. Wood, of Quincy, Ill., just leaving for home. I will try to avail myself of more leisure to write you another communication. Your obít servant, W.
Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham