December Social Media Posts

Here are the Social Media (Facebook) posts I wrote for December for the California Trail Interpretive Center.

December 3

Since emigrants generally didn’t travel during the winter months, for December Frontier Fridays, we’ve selected stories from California Trail emigrants about their experiences during their first December after arriving in California.

Edwin Bryant wrote a book about his experiences and it can be downloaded from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/55048851/. Bryant traveled in 1846, starting out initially with the Donner/Reed party. However, he and 8 companions traded their wagons for pack mules near Fort Laramie and finished the trip by early September. After a few months in California Bryant and quite a few other emigrants joined the California Batallion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Battalion) to help the U.S. in the Mexican-American War. He recounts the December mission of the Battalion to recapture Santa Barbara during that conflict. Regarding the provisions for the soldiers he wrote, on December 4, “Thirteen beeves are slaughtered every afternoon for the consumption of the battalion. These beeves are generally of good size, and in fair condition. Other provisions being entirely exhausted, beef constitutes the only subsistence for the men, and most of the officers. Under these circumstances, the consumption of beef is astonishing. I do not know that I shall be believed when I state a fact, derived from observation and calculation, that the average consumption per man of fresh beef is at least ten pounds per day. Many of them, I believe, consume much more, and some of them less. Nor does this quantity appear to be injurious to health, or fully to satisfy the appetite. I have seen some of the men roast their meat and devour it by the fire from the hour of encamping until late bed-time. They would then sleep until one or two o’clock in the morning, when, the cravings of hunger being greater than the desire for repose, the same occupation would be resumed, and continued until the order was given to march. The Californian beef is generally fat, juicy, and tender, and surpasses in flavour any which I ever tasted elsewhere.”

December 10

Since emigrants generally didn’t travel during the winter months, for December Frontier Fridays, we’ve selected stories from California Trail emigrants about their experiences during their first December after arriving in California.

Edward Gould Buffom’s account of his adventures in gold fields of California can be downloaded from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/rc01000767/. He had arrived in California by ship with a regiment in 1847 during the Mexican-American war. After the sale of California by Mexico to the U.S. in 1848, and the discovery of gold that year as well, Buffom left his newspaper job in San Francisco to enter the gold fields in October, 1848. After arriving at Weaver’s Creek in Northern California on December 4, Buffom wrote “The day after our arrival, in anticipation of the immediate commencement of the rainy season (a time dreaded by strangers in all California, and particularly in the northern region), we determined to build a log house, and were about to commence operations, when we received an offer for the sale of one. We examined it, and found a little box of unhewn logs, about twenty feet long by ten wide, which was offered us at the moderate price of five hundred dollars. The terms, however, were accommodating, being ten days’ credit for the whole amount. With the reasonable expectation that we could pay for our house by gold-digging in a less time than it would require to build one, we purchased it, and ere nightfall were duly installed in the premises…. Our party’s first day’s labour produced one hundred and fifty dollars, I having been the most successful of all. But we were satisfied, although our experience had not fulfilled the golden stories we had heard previous to our reaching the placers . Finding the average amount of gold dug on Weaver’s Creek at that time to be about an ounce per day to a man, we were content so long as we could keep pace with our neighbours. There is a spirit of emulation among miners which prevents them from being ever satisfied with success whilst others around them are more successful. We continued our labours for a week, and found, at the end of that time, our whole party had dug out more than a thousand dollars; and after paying for our house, and settling between ourselves our little private expenses, we were again on a clear track, unencumbered by debt, and in the heart of a region where treasures of unknown wealth were lying hidden in the earth on which we daily trod.”

December 17

Since emigrants generally didn’t travel during the winter months, for December Frontier Fridays, we’ve selected stories from California Trail emigrants about their experiences during their first December after arriving in California.

Luzena Wilson came to California with her husband and two children in 1849 where they opened a hotel in Sacramento. Her memoir can be downloaded from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/37008794/. Luzena recalled, shortly after selling the hotel, the December, 1849 flood in Sacramento: “There was not much lumber in Sacramento, and what little there was, and the few wooden houses, came in ships around the Horn from Boston. The great majority of the people lived like ourselves in houses made of canvas, and with natural dirt floors. The furniture was primitive: a stove (of which there always seemed plenty), a few cooking vessels, a table made of unplaned boards, two or three boxes which answered for chairs, and a bunk built in the corner to hold our mattresses and blankets…. The first night we spent in our new home it rained, and we slept with a cotton umbrella, a veritable pioneer, spread over our heads to keep off the water. For days it rained incessantly; the streets ran full of water. Men and animals struggled through a sea of mud. We wrung out our blankets every morning, and warmed them by the fire— they never had time to dry…. One afternoon late, about Christmas—I do not remember the exact day—as I was cooking supper and the men were coming in from work, the familiar clang of the Crier’s bell was heard down the street, and, as he galloped past, the cry, “The levee’s broke” fell on our ears. We did not realize what that cry foretold, but knew that it was a misfortune that was mutual, and one that every man must fight; so my husband ran like the rest to the Point, a mile or more away up the American River, where the temporary sand-bag barrier had given way. Every man worked with beating heart and hurrying breath to save the town, but it was useless; their puny strength could do nothing against such a flood of waters…. Almost before I thought what it was, the water rushed against the door-sill at my feet and in five minutes more it rose over this small obstacle and poured on the floor. I snatched up the children, and put them on the bed, and hastily gathered up the articles which I feared the water might reach. The water kept rising, and I concluded to carry my children into the hotel, which we had lately sold, and which stood some three or four feet above the ground. I put them inside the door, and ran back, meeting my husband just come from the levee. He said, “We must sleep in there tonight” and, knowing the scanty hotel accommodations, I gathered up our beds and blankets and carried them in, and put in a basket the supper I had just cooked….” She continues telling of the next seventeen days spent living on the second floor of the building with forty people waiting for the flood of ’49 to subside.

Flood waters that inundated Sacramento in January 1850 led to a levee system. (California State Library)

December 24

Since emigrants generally didn’t travel during the winter months, for December Frontier Fridays, we’ve selected stories from California Trail emigrants about their experiences during their first December after arriving in California.

Eliza Farnham’s book can be downloaded from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/rc01000780/. Her husband had already gone to California to establish a residence and law practice but died in the fall of 1848. Eliza booked passage on a ship in 1849 and went to California to settle his affairs and to take up residence on his ranch in 1850. It was during that year that she wrote the following: “We removed the week before Christmas; and our first invitation to dine out, in California, came a day or two after, to go to a Christmas dinner, about three miles from home. Our host was a neighbor, who had been kindly assisting at the dam, and who had sustained himself under the protracted labor, by such free application to the bottle, that his manner of inviting was of the funniest; but he assured us that if we would come, he would keep sober himself, and that if he did not, we might entirely rely on his thrashing any person who should be rude to us, and sending us home the moment we should intimate a wish to go. He would send horses, mules, wagons, to convey us—a camel or elephant, if he owned one—escort—anything his rancho afforded. We could not reject so cordial hospitality, and accordingly promised to go, doubting, almost, if our doing so would be remembered till he got home. But on the day, came the horses and escort, and we went. And because I despair of doing the dinner or the party any justice in description, I must content myself with saying that they gave us a better notion of the life of the country than a month’s Christmas at home would.”

Image from https://christmaspast.media/victorian-christmas-dinner-is-served-mrs-beeton-style/

December 31

Since emigrants generally didn’t travel during the winter months, for December Frontier Fridays, we’ve selected stories from California Trail emigrants about their experiences during their first December after arriving in California.

Gordon C. Cone’s diary is held in the collection of Brigham Young University. A transcript can be downloaded from https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/Diaries/id/4234/ and the original handwritten diary can be viewed at https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/Diaries/id/7639. After emigrating to California from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and becoming a gold prospector, he made these observations of life in Sacramento on December 1. “My last visit to the city has given me quite an opportunity to learn more of its peculiarities, and the habits, customs, and occupations of its inhabitants. Amidst the multitudes that are represented here, is found the heralds of Salvation warning this wicked people to avoid danger, by ceaseing to do evil. The Baptists have organized a Church, and are building them a house. They have a man by the name of Cook laboring with them, but he tells me that he is oblieged to resort to other means for his subsistance, and so he keeps a meat market. The Methodists also have commenced opperations, and have got them up a small house for Worship, the further extent of their opperations I know nothing of. The Prysbeterians have preaching, and are trying to build a house. Also the Unitarians are trying to make a demmonstration, but from what I have seen of this place they will have to depend upon somthing more potent than human agency, to be able to stay the tide of iniquity that is setting in upon this city. Men that were respectable in their deportment, chaste in their conversation, and moral in all their conduct when in the States, and under the restraints of society, and civillzation, have here thrown off all restraint, lost their self respect, and have abandoned themselves to most of the vices of this far off region, such as frightful profanity, beastly drunkness, Sabath breaking, and cruel gambling. Extortion is so common here, that it has been stricken from the Catalogue of crimes, and therefore is nothing thought of– and indeed the whole catalogue would be annihilated at once, if the standard of crime was graduated by public opinion. Profane swearing and men drinking are common practices here, therefore the mind at once comprehends the magnitude of these evils on the anouncement of the fact, so that a full detail is not necessary, even if it was possible. Altho these evils may be considered universal, yet there are honorable exceptions, and men are found even here that deeply feel that these things ought not to be. The practice, or more properly speaking the sin of gambling, is carried on here to a greater extent than I had supposed it possible in any community of intelligent people.”

J. D. Borthwick, an Englishman searching for his fortune in the Gold Rush, came to California in 1851. He observed and portrayed the gambling element of it in several of the lithographs illustrating his narrative. January 1, 1851. Image from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/goldrush-gaming-and-entertainment/

By the way, the town of Elko had their Snowflake Festival and Parade of Lights on December 11. The California Trail Interpretive Center decorated one of our wagons and joined the parade!

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