Back to Gold Rush Letters
September 2, 1849
From letter published in
the Missouri Whig , Palmyra November 29, 1849
The following are extracts of a letter from Edward Murphy, Esq., formerly of this place, who started overland last Spring, and dated at "Camp near Weaver’s Creek, Sept. 2nd, 1849." Mr. M. sends in specimens of the California gold, which the curious may see by calling on Rev. H. H. Hayes:
I have at last reached, or arrived in California, after having undergone many privations, and a few hardships. I know you are anxious to receive an account of my journey up to the present time; I shall therefore attempt to give you a brief history of the country ‘thro’ which I have travelled, as well as the one I am now in. I believe the last letter I wrote you was written somewhere about the Vermillion river. Previous to that I gave you an account of our travels, after travelling up the Platte, on which the roads was very good, but the nights cold and chilly.
I spent my 4th of July in the mountain pass. The Rocky mountains are very high and steep, and some of them look as though they were one solid mass of rock; however, they are nothing when compared with the California mountains. These mountains are majestic, awful, and at the same time picturesque. I forgot to tell you that I packed from the source of Mary’s river, through a distance of 5 or 600 miles, with but one mule, with three strangers, men who lived in Calloway county, Me., John H. Moore, a young man, and a lawyer, by the way, was one of the company. One of our little company had to remain behind, on account of his mule, which gave out about six days after we started. He met with an accident shortly before he left us. We were hunting ducks. He had two government pistols in his hands the trigger of one of them caught in a bush, and it went off and shot him thro the heel. The wound, however, was not a serious one. I packed on my mule two large cakes of bread, 4 lbs. of sugar, 4 or 5 lbs. of coffee, one extra pair of pants, my overcoat, rifle, a revolving pistol, shot pouch and horn, which weighed about 2 1-2 lbs., and 2 blankets, besides the saddle, bridle, and lariat; all of which, with myself weighed nearly 200 lbs. We travelled from the above mentioned place, (by some called Mary’s river, by others, Humbolt river, ) a distance of near 600 miles in 19 days. We found it very hard to get provisions from the emigrants, no one had anything to spare. However, we would occasionally meet with generous emigrants, who would, after being persuaded, let us have bacon at 50 cts. per pound, flour 30 cents, and sugar and coffee at no price. As luck would have it, I had coffee enough, and our sugar run out about two days previous to our arrival. We crossed a number of deserts on our route, the longest one is from the slough (which is about three miles above the sink of Mary’s river) to Salmon Trout, or Carson’s river, a distance of 65 miles over a sandy and barren country, without either grass or water, save salt water. We crossed that in 20 hours from the slough. I saw a great many dead horses, mules and oxen; I suppose between 60 and 100 dead mules and horses. I am under the impression that there will be a great deal of suffering on the plains yet before the emigrants can get through. When we crossed this desert there were but 2 or 300 wagons ahead of us. If the emigrants do not get this side of the California mountains before the last of October, it is very doubtful whether they will be able to get through this winter, as the road, (the Morman road) is very obscure, and the snow falls to a great depth. There were two nights upon those mountains, that I slept very cold, (had plenty of cover too.) When I got up in the morning my neck was stiff and my bones ached. While we were in the valley before ascending the mountain a day previous, to our getting to the top, we were informed by some of the emigrants that it snowed shoe deep, and that the hail was very large. The lightning struck some five or six men, and prostrated them on the ground, but without, as it happened, killing any of them. I have heard that Mr. Muldrow’s company broke up and went home--that their oxen were too young to stand the trip; and again, that he traded all his young oxen off for older ones, and that he was still on the road. I hear of Jas. Dudley and his mess. They are far, far behind, with the finest and fattest cattle on the route; but I am afraid they will suffer a great deal before they get through. Hazelip, Hart and Winlock are now in California; However I have not seen them. I beat them through. James Morell, with the Hannibal company, are here. I have not seen Morell, Gen Willock I saw but a few days ago at Suter’s Mill. At this mill there is quite a little town called Columo, and a number of stores. I shall see him to-morrow, as I intend to pass thro’ that town on my way to the Middle Fork of the American Fork, (there are from what I can learn, three branches to this river; these are called the South Fork, Middle or Spanish Fork or bar, and the latter the North Fork. Gen W. has been a little unwell within the last few days, but is now much better. I heard from him to-day. Hiram Taylor is within twelve miles of me. I heard of him through Gen. W. He is sick at present at a place he owns at Green Springs. Taylor is the son of Colonel Taylor, who lives near Palmyra. He has plenty of gold.
I suppose you are anxious to hear something of the gold diggings in California. It is true there is plenty of gold here, but it is very hard to get. It requires a great deal of labor to get it out of the ground; at the same time we have to search diligently for it; we can get but small quantities at a time. Every river; canon or valley in and throughout this portion of the country contains some gold. However, I would not advise any persons to come to the country. If they are doing well, I would advise them to remain at home. A great many live here without a house or tent, sleep upon the bare ground, exposed to the chill and cold air of night, and the scorching sun throughout the day. some of the miners make an ounce of gold a day, some half an ounce, and a great many not more than four or five dollars by digging. Some last, and even this season, have been lucky enough to get thousands, and to return home, satisfied with what they get, and with the country. Companies now are damming the rivers, and bailing water out of the holes in the beds of the rivers, from which they take large sums of money. I have been hard at work for the last two days in bailing a hole on this river. However, we had to abandon it, because the water ran back nearly as fast as we bailed it out. Our little company will start to-morrow for the Middle Fork. We intend to dam the river, if we should find a place, and it is not too late in the season. I will not return until I at least get enough gold to pay my expenses back. It will not take long to do that, however. At Columo sugar sells for 40 cts. per lb.; tea at $4 or $5; hams at $1 per lb.; cheese $1; flour 30 cts. per lb.; hay, I understand, is $1 per lb. I bought a pick, and gave $8 for it, a shovel $4, a tent cost in the stores $4. Salt pork is worth 60 cts. per lb. San Francisco is 200 miles from here, and there things are much cheaper. Sacramento City is but 43 miles from here, and even there provisions are but very little cheaper than they are here. Sunderland is on the Middle Fork at work mining; he is doing well, as I understand.
Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham