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January 20, 1850
From letter published in
the Missouri Whig , Palmyra ca ?, 1850
DELPASSO, Cal., Jan 20, 1850.
MR. SOSEY-- On my arrival in the golden regions, I intended immediately to have sent you a communication for the benefit of my Marion county friends who may be disposed to wend their way to this distant land, which I have delayed too long. In the first place, I will say a few words relative to the kind of oxen which stand the journey best. Let none be less than four, nor more than eight years old, and well broke. Nearly half the cattle of which the teams of our company were composed were unbroke; and many of the others were from 10 to 17 years old; and the consequence was that the necks of such as were unaccustomed to the yoke, soon became sore, and their flesh wore off. Our cattle stood it tolerably well the first part of the journey, but when the grass became old and scarce, they failed, and most of them were left on the way to die.
After crossing the Platte river, for a long distance the water is strong with alkali, and caused the death of a great number of teams. Emigrants should be careful to keep their oxen from such water. It is generally estimated that we passed from 7,000 to 10,000 dead oxen and mules on the way. At one place I saw eight oxen, which apparently died in the yoke; chained together. At another place, within twenty rods, thirteen lay dead. I have become satisfied since our arrival, by enquiry of those who came different routes, that the way by which we came is the best, which is as follows: By the way of Fort Chiles, Fort Laramie, and on the plain and direct route to the South Pass; after which you follow the main road till after you cross Little Sandy, (so called.) After crossing this small stream, you come to where the road forks. The left-hand fork leads to Fort Bridger, and Salt Lake, and the right is Sublett’s cut-off, which is much nearer, and the best road. From Big Sandy to Green River the distance is about fity miles. This you are compelled to make without water. We laid by one day at Big Sandy, had our cattle well grazed and started at 3 o’clock, P. M., drove all night, and made Green River about 5 o’clock, P. M. From this place there is a plain road to Bear river, where the old Fort Bridger road comes in. From this place you follow the river to the Soda Springs, which are a great curiosity, and a place where the emigrant can spend a few days satisfactorily. From these Springs you follow the river about four miles, where it takes a short bend to the south, and the Fort Hall road turns to the right. Here the emigrants have made another cut-off, which is a much better road than the Fort Hall road, and as near or nearer than that. Take the cut-off, which is the straight-forward road. You will then strike for the head waters of the Humbolt river, 300 miles above the Sink. After passing the Sink about three miles, the road forks. The right hand is the Truckey, and the left is the Carson river route; which is much the best. About fifty miles above the Sink of the Humbolt, a road turns off to the right, which is the Feather river route. Don’t take that, for it is said by those who travelled it, to be about 200 miles round, and a bad road.
From what I learn, there has been much suffering, and I fear many lives lost on that road. Government sent out relief on each of these roads to the late emigrants. On the Feather river road were sent about 100 mules, 92 of which perished in a storm which overtook them on their return, in one night. When the few remaining mules came into Sacramento City with the men, and as many as they could help along; George Lane saw them. With them were the daughters of Mr. Murray, from St. Louis, who travelled with us part of the way. The daughters had put on boots and pantaloons, and travelled through, leaving their father and mother, and the younger children behind, who I fear have perished.
On the third of October we wound our way up the steep and rugged sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and camped that night on the summit among the lofty pines. We now felt that the fatigue and danger of the battle was nearly over, and the victory won. Early next morning we wound our way for the valley of the Sacramento, or the golden regions.--
On the night of the 11th of October we arrived at Weaver’s creek, where we saw the first gold washed. On the night of the 7th, where we camped, it rained most of the night, but on the mountain we left on the 3d, there was a severe snow storm. Several of the emigrants were camped there, who barely escaped with their lives, by the help of government, most of their own teams having perished in the storms. Among these was Dr. Brown, and family, from Saint Louis, with whom I had become acquainted on the way. It is said 300 wagons are wintering in a valley beyond the mountains, not being able to get through. If so, there is suffering. Others, it is said, have gone to Salt Lake to winter.
Now for some account of California and its golden prospects. The land in that part of it which I have seen, is a perfect barren, and so poor that snakes cannot live on it, except on the streams and detached places; and here the cattle are herded. After leaving the mountains and descending into the valley, there is no timber fit for building. Almost the only timber in the valley of the Sacramento, where we are located, is the oak, which is from three to eight feet in diameter, and branches out from four to ten feet from the ground. I have not seen a tree here off of which you could get a rail cut of common length. But I am told that the land and timber are much better south.
Mining is a perfect lottery. It is only here and there one that gets rich at it. I have made inquiry of miners from different diggings, and the general opinion is that they don’t average over seven dollars per day, and out of this comes their board. I believe, however that men who are willing to work hard, can make one ounce per day during dry part of the season, which here is worth sixteen dollars.
Our company, soon after our location in the mines, became satisfied that we could not operate as a company successfully or pleasantly, and on the 23d of November broke up, and sold out the remains of our stock at auction. Immediately after our sale, we came down and located on the American Fork, 3 miles from the city of Sacramento, and have rented land, and are going into the gardening and milk business. We are now engaged ploughing, and putting in such of our seed for early use as a light frost won’t kill. The prices of milk and vegetables, since I have been here, are about as follows on an average, but are constantly varying: Milk, one dollar per quart; Onions from sixty to eighty cents per pound; potatoes from 25 to 40 cents per pound; squashes 30 to 40 cts per pound; watermelons $1 to $2 each; pumpkins same price, and other vegetaables in the same proportion. The present prices of some of the articles shipped here are, for mess pork, $50 per barrel; hams 60 cents per lb.; lard 60 cents per pound; butter $1.25; cheese 75 cents; Salcratus $1.50 per lb.; boots, stout and good, 25 to $45 per pair; flour, 35 to $40 per barrel. These are the prices in the city; in the mines they are from two to four times that sum. At our sale I sold what flour we had on hand at 75 cents per pound, This was in the mines, 50 miles from the city, and under the price at that place.
There has been a great rise of water here recently; much damage done by it, for the last ten days, has been from four to six feet under water. My son went there last week for provisions, and passed in and out of the stores in a boat, which is the only means by which business can be done. Under such circumstances, there must be much suffering. My sheet is full, and I will close by requesting you to send me your paper, directed to Sacramento City, California.
Respectfully, yours D.
Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham