The lure of gold caught St. Joseph county and it joined in the mad race of the forty-niner's.
The October 20, 1849, issue of the "Western Chronicle", gives a portion of a "forty-niner's" diary kept by Hiram Jacobs, who with John Major, Volney Hotchin, Benjamin Ogden and Robert Ethrington from St. Joseph county arrived in Indian Territory May 15th of that year. We quote one day's record: "This morning after breadfast, while examining the ford of a river, we saw a man on horseback in the distance, then another and another, until the prairie seemed alive with horsemen, all painted and dressed up in Indian style. I was on a sand bar until they began to ford the river at which they dashed at top speed. Our men at camp were taken by surprise when some one reported: 500 Indians are crossing the river! Our company was scattered, some hunting, some in one place, some in another. The Indians galloped into camp. I was at the point of nearest approach; the chief and a number of his warriors made signs to shake hands and I gave them a hearty one and they passed to the others in single file.
"One of our men about ten rods off lost his head and aimed his rifle at the chief and would have shot him if it had not been for the timely interference of Robert Ethrington of Sherman, who, by his presence of mind, saved the chief's life and us the consequences that would have followed.
"One of our men standing on a bluff fired at an Indian and missed him, but he did mortally wound one of our mules. On leaving us, the Indians met our hunters, shook hands and rode on. They came to a man by the name of Rowe, who through fear fired on the Indians and they promptly killed, scalped and cut his face in a terrible manner. We found him .. and buried him. I went on guard at seven o'clock but no one was sleepy after the events of the day, but it taught us a melancholy lesson."
A letter form John Sturgis of July 26, 1849: "We have crossed the long and dangerous California Desert, which is strewed with dead and dying horses, oxen and mules. We have had the good fortune to get safely through with our teams and loads but it was a hard task; it was only by the skin of our teeth.
"Out of twenty-one wagons in out train, Mr. Raymond's and our own were the only one that reached the river. Mr. Raymond's company exchanged their heavy wagon at Fort Laramie for a lighter one and were obliged to put all their team to one wagon, throwing away everything that they could
spare. There are about 150 wagons just ahead of us. We passed fifty by the wayside in the desert. They were obliged to unhitch and drive the animals through loose. For forty-five miles we didn't find a spear of grass nor drop of water, and sixty miles before we came to the desert, very little grass and the very worst of water. The next 200 miles will be worse for those who follow for there are from 6,000 to 10,000 teams behind us.
"The dead animals along the way are skinned by a miserable thievish tribe of Indians called "Root Diggers" .. all along the dry sands we could see the snow on the mountains. We are now fifty-five miles from Fort Hall and 2,350 from home. Tell my friends not to come this way.
"We were fool-hardy for ever attempting the land route. The plain was literally crowded with dead animals, tents, wagons, feather-beds and valuable clothing. It is the south, or Mormon road. Miller, Heverland and Schellhouse brothers are with us.
"The Mormons say there is more gold on the San Joaquin than Sacramento...
A few days ago Mr. Taft, brother of Moses Taft of Nottawa, gave us a party. It commenced with prayer, that was followed by music, dancing and other amusements. Women, the Mormons claim, are a necessary evil. Mr. Young, one of the "Twelve", has thirteen wives. They are a bad lot."
Mr. Bishop later discribes a skirmish with the Indians who ambushed their party, two of whom were killed, two wounded. "One of those killed was Johathan Turner from Colon. Jackson and Martin Schellhouse used Johnson's rifle by turns. William Foreman was in the fray. The Indians practically stripped them of their outfit. Seth Taft, Salter and James Brooks returned to join the Mormons. After the skirmish, I found my leg rather painful and got Jackson to cut it open with his knife to find the bullet. He couldn't seem to go deep enough.
"The Mormons overtook us and urged us to return, saying they would re-outfit us; but after we returned the hypocritical cusses never gave a dime. Three weeks from today we start again for El Dorado."
A letter from Sacramento from James H. Voorheis, pictures the prospectors at the mines.
"You must not be surprised when I tell you that many are leaving the country with little more than what they came with. I cannot tell you the reason unless it be indigence. Some come with the expectation of amassing wealth without labor. All such are sorely disappointed. It is the hardest work I ever did to dig gold. You lift rocks of immenst weight. Most
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
of the gold is found in crevices of slate and flat rock. Every man must perform his own labor. He cannot hire. All have a chance to dig and where they stop they have their pay. Large companies cannot mine to advantage. Our company has divided up and are at Rio de los Cosamus where we are all doing well. Our average is about ten dollars per day for each man. Father and I are making much more per day. We are in the wet diggins. Old miners will not work here, they insist on going where they get thirty or forty per day. The winter and spring are the best for obtaining gold.
"I arrived in the gold mines three days ago .. I left the teams 250 miles from here and rode through on horse back with Thomas Redford from White Pigeon. Left the Sturges well; they had got across the Great Desert that is so much dreaded. We came across in two nights, drove nights and laid up day times. The desert is forty-five miles long without grass or water, and deep sand. And for sixty miles back of it there is nothing for the cattle to eat. Calvin Johnson went ahead with John Klackner of Pigeon on horseback so that they could come back with water and meet us, for we had no way to carry enough to last us across. This is a desert of destruction .. One team started with forty horses and five wagons and they only got seventeen horses across the desert. They left all of their wagons. Our wagon is the third one that has come clear across without being left on the desert and the cattle unhitched and driven to the river. I left the wagons at the river and after July 26 rode 250 miles in six days over the "Sera Nevada," about the worst road in the world.
"We have laid by five days for sickness. There is plenty of gold here. They dig from one to two ounces a day - worth $16 per ounce .. Provisions are worth their weight in gold. One man paid $625.00 for drawing one load of provisions thirty miles with three yoke of oxen. Wages are $10.00 to $15.00 per day; $100.00 for driving team. Board is $20.00 per week. If a man steals he is promptly shot or hung. Every man is allowed to dig and no man is to commence within ten feet of him."
In a later letter, Mr. Lown wrote: "Calvin and Cook and I have decided we can make more money by taking boarders. Calvin can make right good biscuits. We have built a good log house in the dry diggings. The Mottville company arrived last week. Haven't heard of the Centerville company since I left them in St. Joseph.
Our Company has decided that one will cook, one tend grocery, one drive team, the other two dig gold. Digging gold is hard, discouraging work".
"Twenty two young men started two weeks ago from St. Joseph afoot with their provisions on their backs". Later David Benedict wrote: "California is great in minerals but for agriculture, I would not give old St. Joseph county for the whole state."
"About the St. Joseph County Mining Rangers? If I remember right, I wrote you that Jerome Macunber died of disease of the heart. He had had cholera and measles on the way. The St. Joseph County company dissolved partnership by mutual consent. From Bear Lake, Ludwig, Benedict, Vaughn and Cowles went to Oregon with Joseph Brown of Albion. B. F. Brown, L. Strong, Geo. Engle, J. Abbott, S. Gilkinson, L. W. Tubbs, D. H. Austin, J. Fisk, S. Jennings, G. Stone, J. C. Duree, H. A. Hecox, D. Gee and myself headed for the gold mines.
"G. W. Peacock went with J. C. Charles." The writer A. B. Montross tells of the difficulties along the way and the hard work of mining --advises his friends not to come.
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