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Oleepa, May 8, 1850
I WAS most highly gratified a few days since by receiving a letter from you, which gave me more news from home than I had received in all before. Indeed, the mails seem tired of persecuting me any longer, for within the last two months I have received (count with your fingers so that you will make no mistake) three letters from my wife dated severally August 25, October 21, January 12--one from my sister, December 2, one from Colonel Morgan of New York, December 18, and you of February 4--all but the first one and Colonel Morgan's came within the last two days, and I have read and reread them so often that I have committed them to memory to serve until I strike another lead.--Well, this is the merry month of May--hot enough to roast eggs--men. The hens in this country don't lay--'cause there isn't any. Eggs are brought by sea from Acapulco at six dollars per dozen. I wish some Yankee would establish a manufactory here, so as to reduce the price a little. But speaking of May, it reminds me of where I was a year ago, sailing by point of
compass on the plains between the two Nemahas, and by this time thousands of our fellow citizens have commenced their long and weary route of suffering towards this land of distress, sickness, and death, for in few words, such will be the inevitable fate of many who will cross the plains. So many reminiscences of my trials present themselves so vividly to my imagination, that I can scarcely write at all, so ardently do I desire to be with them to tell them how to avoid the difficulties and suffering which we encountered, and much may be avoided if they knew how. In one of my communications to you, I spoke of the pocket map which you presented me on my leaving Ottawa, but from a word dropped in your letter, I conclude you never received it.--It was a copy of Fremont's, most conveniently arranged in sections, so that by turning a leaf two or three days' travel lay before us. We found it of infinite use. The distances were accurately laid down, and the notes and remarks were perfectly correct. Many trains were benefited, and something of the kind would be very useful to emigrants. Ours was only on this route to sixty miles west of Fort Hall, but now a new and better route is found from Bear Springs which saves about an hundred miles' travel, leaving Fort Hall to the north. It seems as if a man may live years in a few months in this country, so many are the changes and the scenes which he goes through. Every transit from the mountains to the Valley, or from the Valley to the mountains, brings its adventures. If I could detail but a small portion of the experience of travelers to this country, it would form as interesting and exciting a book of the kind as ever was published.
Colonel Taylor, of St. Louis, in coming out last season with a part of his company, left their train and started for California. They lost their horses, and in an attempt to make a cut-off, got lost in the Wind River Mountains in August, where the snow was ten feet deep. For many days they had no provisions, only what they killed and that was but little, and just as the last ray of hope was departing, and they had concluded that death was inevitable, they regained the road and succeeded in getting through by walking fifteen hundred miles.
My neighbor, T. E. Gray, came through Central America on foot. On the Pacific he took a whaleboat and put to sea, was once washed overboard in a storm, but arrived safely in San Francisco in twenty-seven days. Among the unfortunate sufferers who were caught in the November snows of the last emigration was a gentleman who told me that, in a desperate attempt to reach the settlement, he took his knapsack and started to walk in about two hundred miles. In about three days his provisions were all gone but one day's ration of flour and a small piece of bacon. He overtooka family where there were three women and three or four little children who had not a mouthful to eat, and the men had gone out to seek aid. Their cattle had all died and they were left helpless. With a self-denial and generosity that few can fully appreciate but those who have seen such things, he gave all his provisions to the helpless and starving sufferers, and walked three days in snow knee-deep, without food himself, before he ate anything. The family were rescued by the Government relief train But such things are so common that they have ceased to be a subject of conversation.
A rather droll meeting happened to me last fall among hundreds of others. During my last trip to Sacramento City just before the rains set in, I was driving my ox team in company with two other teams over a dry arid plain, without grass or water--night was approaching, and no sign of a camping ground appeared, and tired and jaded, suffering alike with hunger and thirst, we were anxiously looking round for a resting place for the night. Directly an old man overtook us, driving a smart span of mules in a light wagon, and we inquired where we should find grass and water. "About four miles from this," he replied courteously. "I camped there on my way down, and it is the only place you will find.--It will be after dark before you reach it. I will drive on, kindle a fire, and you will see it when you get to it--it is about half a mile off the road, but you will see my fire." He drove on and we followed slowly. When we came in sight we found that he had been as good as his word, for there was a bright fire, and on driving up we found our friend cooking his supper. We soon joined him in this agreeable operation, and soon we were amused at his wit and originality. Though rough in his appearance and somewhat Californian in his language, we soon saw he was a well-educated man and a gentleman. After spending the evening quite agreeably in story-telling and discussing various topics, we spread our blankets on the ground and turned in, without once inquiring where each other was from. While we were breakfasting next morning, the old gentleman happened to drop a remark about Indiana. "Are you from Indiana?" I interrogated. "Yes." "What part of it?" "O, from down on the Wabash where they have the ague so hard that it shakes the feathers off all the chickens." A sort of recollection flashed through my mind like lightning.--"Is your name Patrick?" "Yes"--said he, looking up.--"Dr. Sceptre
Patrick, from Terre Haute?" continued I. "Yes, that is my name--who the d--l are you?" "You were once a student of my father--he was Dr. Frederick Delano." "My God, is it possible?--and you--youmust be A--!" Our knives and our breakfast dropped from our hands instantly, and they were clutched in the warm grasp of "auld lang syne." I had not seen him for sixteen years--"and now, Patrick, situated as you were at home, with every comfort about you, with your reputation and circumstances, what sent you on this wild chase to California?" He had been a member of the Legislature and a somewhat prominent man at home. "Why, I'll tell you--my health was very poor, and I thought the exercise, excitement, and change of air might be beneficial, and so it has, but I like to have died on the road." "How so?" "Why, I had the cholera, and came within an ace of slipping my wind. I was taken suddenly and most severely, and there was not a man near me who understood dealing out a dose of medicine, except our d--d fool of a pepper doctor. I was vomiting, purging, and suffering all the pain of infernal regions, when I told them to give me a large dose of calomel, opium and camphor, and not to count the grains either. But the pepper doctor urged me to take a dose of No. 6--. 'Go to the d--l with your No. 6; give me the calomel, and quick too, or I am a dead man.' But the fool kept talking about his No. 6--No. 6 all the while, till finally to satisfy him, and at the same time while I was writhing in agony, I told him to pour it down me. He immediately turned out a double dose, and I took it. Then I thought I should die. The remedy was worse than the disease, and I thought my insides were all on fire, and I roared out for water, 'water, water, for God's sake, or I shall die.' But there was not a drop of water to be had and all were much alarmed, but I did not throw the medicine up. 'Well, give me something--I'm burning up--give me brandy, fire, or turpentine, anything.' The doctor jumped to the brandy jug and poured out half a glass full, and before I knew it I had swallowed nearly all of that, but it was only adding fuel to flame, for the poor frightened devil had made a mistake in the jug and poured out another quadruple dose of No. 6. Now I thought I was gone sure, but it stuck, and stopped my vomiting, and then he was willing to give me my medicine, and that stuck. In the course of an hour or so it operated, and the disease was checked, and I got well." Our time was spent, and we parted, like the "two dogs resolved to meet some other day."
I am located for the present in the fine flourishing town of Oleepa, at the head of steamboat navigation on Feather River. Our fine and populous town consists of a cloth store, over which I am the presiding genius (Genius of the Lamp, vamos, for I am here), one cloth hotel about opening, under the direction of Mr. Gray, aforesaid from Florida, and two Indian ranchos composed of about four hundred Indians, most of whom, disdaining Parisian fashions, are dressed in nature's costume Were it not for the mosquitoes, this would be a very convenient dress for the climate, where modesty is of no account. There are about fifty naked wretches sitting on the ground in front of my building, in the sun, laughing, singing, and taking comfort, all playing the same tune and beating time with their hands on their bodies, for it is slap, slap, slap, as the tormenting mosquitoes bore into their naked, copper-colored hides. It will be in June before the water will be low enough to do anything in the mines, and then I shall shoulder "de shubble and de hoe" and make tracks for the mountains. Since my sickness of last fall and winter, the climate seems to agree with me, and it may eventually prove best suited for my constitution. There has been another great fire in San Francisco. It is estimated that from five to ten million dollars' worth of property has been destroyed
The lower towns are improving rapidly in the arts of civilization. San Francisco, Sacramento, &c., &c., are graced with theatres, celebrated singers and dancers, model artists, &c.--admittance two dollars, front seats reserved for the ladies. Fudge--let'em come this way and they can see Indian dances, and naked men, women, and children by the quantity for nothing, with a large sprinkle of grizzly bears, black wolves, and coyotes, with deer, elk and antelopes, rats, mice, and ground squirrels thrown into the bargain. So far from its being a novelty we do not notice them. I have not seen many of the Ottawa boys lately. I saw Joseph Reddick not long since. He has a first-rate claim on the Middle Fork of Feather River, and will do well. Mr. Fredenburg and B.K. Thorn are near Mr. Green, all doing a fair business. Armstrong is at Long's Bar, on the river, with good prospects before him. Indeed, those who are now well and have secured claims cannot fail of meeting with fair success. Gold is found in large quantities in the Cascade Mountains, towards Oregon, and a strong current is setting that way, but it is a horrid country of sharp, broken and rugged mountains. McNeil is with me, one of the best men in the world. Mr. Pope is doing well on the Yuba.
He is a good and honest man, deserving success. Smith and Brown have a bakery at Yuba City.--I have not heard one word from Dr. Hall since last fall--he richly deserves the best fortune.--Mr. Rood has a grocery at Eliza, two miles below Marysville--says he is doing well. Young Loring has a claim about five miles above my upper one in a rich district. Mr. Bacon and Dan. Stadden are dead, and it is rumored that Captain Reed was drowned a few weeks ago in Feather River This is about the only news I am possessed of with regard to our boys--we have all got places and are ready to go to work as soon as the floods permit.
- Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Alonzo Delano's California correspondence: being letters hitherto uncollected from the Ottawa (Illinois) Free trader and the New Orleans True delta