Ho! for California, Part 3
By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion
As George Parburt waited in Panama City for a ship to take him and the remaining Trojan gold-seekers to San Francisco, he wrote about crossing the Isthmus and life in Panama. The Gazette printed his story on June 1, 1849:
Arrangements having been made for the transit of the Ontario Trojan Band and its provisions across the Isthmus, several detachments set forward on foot at different hours on Thursday, the 29th . . . accompanied by natives and mules laden with luggage. My personal baggage was added to that of another member of the band, and made one load which was carried to Panama for five dollars. At half past seven o’clock on Friday morning, having swung my rifle over my shoulder, I set out alone . . . for Panama [City]. The idea that crossing . . . alone would be something of an adventure, made me less desirous of company – but the only romance about it is the novelty [of] passing over a highway which commands an ocean at either extremity. . . . The underbrush of this ancient highway is cleared to a width varying from ten to twenty feet. . . . in the dry season as at present, the paths are smooth and dusty. The acclivities and declivities are, in many places, worn into deep footprints by the mules, making the ascent and descent of the pedestrian as easy as if ascending and descending flights of stairs. . . . overspreading foliage shades the path until late in the forenoon – and again during the latter part of the afternoon. . . . Several brooks, affording to the thirsty traveler a pleasant refreshment, traverse the road . . . There is no danger whatever in crossing the Isthmus unarmed, and the pathway is so plain that a person must neglect the ordinary use both of the eyes and nose to mistake it. [The path was marked by the rotting carcasses of mules that had died along the route.] . . . The distance from Gorgona to Panama, I estimate at twenty four miles.
Having reached Panama City, Mr. Parburt wrote to the Gazette on April 22 (the letter appeared in the paper on June 15):
My Dear Sir: In addition to the several vessels now nearly in readiness for California, the large ship Humbolt, . . . laden with coal . . . was last Monday purchased for sixty thousand dollars and “put up” for San Francisco, at $200 for steerage and $300 for cabin fare. She will carry four hundred passengers and probably be ready for sea by the 5th of May. Not less than seventeen hundred of the anxious emigrants at Panama, including steamer passengers, are now provided with the means of proceeding to the far-famed land of gold. But new arrivals continue to supply vacancies . . . Panama will continue to be thronged with Americans. The vessels about to sail are crowded to their utmost capacity and the most of them are to[o] low between decks to afford comfort to steerage passengers. . . .
Yesterday morning some eighteen persons who had taken passage on the Brig Josephine for San Francisco, for reasons which have not transpired, left her at Tobaga . . . and threw their tickets in the market. Sixteen members of the Trojan Band, to wit, Robert Walker, Thomas B. Tyler, Stephen Parish, W. L. Kemp, M. S. Thompson, L. G. Austin, James Richardson, M. B. Clark, M. H. Lincoln, Seth Walkers, H. Tidman, A. Pierce, R. Quick, F. W. Collins, L. Proper and John Wells, purchased tickets at $205 each, and . . . left . . . with bag and baggage, and the most of our company property for the Josephine . . . They were all in good health, except Richardson and Lincoln – who were however convalescent. Of those left behind, Messrs. Mapes, Sterling, Wilson and Beeman will return [home] in the Crescent City on account of ill health, accompanied by Mr. Swart to assist them if necessary – one or two others may remain permanently at Panama, and when a good opportunity offers, I will proceed forward with the rear division, if the fever shall spare any of them . . . and join the Trojans on the banks of the Sacramento. . .
Mr. Parburt had an update on May 6:
. . . By a resolution of the O. T. Band, each member was at liberty to select his own mode of transportation hence to San Francisco – hence sixteen left in the Josephine – Tooker sailed to-day in a small craft called the Adaliuda – five will go in the Humbolt in the course of the week – and Putney will sail with me in the ship Sylph on Wednesday the 9th inst. – Dickson only will be left at Panama. . . .
And at long last, in September 1849, Mr. Parburt arrived in California. The paper printed his letter on December 7:
I now write to you from the celebrated spot where the golden treasures of California were first discovered. From this remote “lodge in the wilderness” has gone forth an influence which will affect for good and evil, the present and future destinies of millions of the human race. . . .
. . . on Thursday afternoon, the 30th ultimo, I shook my chum, Mr. Putney, by the hand, and shouldering knapsack and rifle, footed it down to Smith’s Bar and spent a very pleasant evening with the Messrs. Westfalls [sic], two of the Ontario Trojan Band, and Messrs. Wales and Bunting, of New-York. . . . I have not yet learned definitely the whereabouts of the “immortal sixteen” of the O. T. Band, but have no doubt they are doing well in some of the Southern Diggins. . .
Next: Life in California – and home again
Previous: Ho! For California, Part 2