Ho! For California, Part 4
By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion
In 1849 George Parburt, former political editor of the Geneva Gazette, went to the California gold fields as part of the Ontario Trojan Band. He wrote back to the paper describing the trip west, the scenery, and life in California. His topics about California included real estate prices, crime, litigation, illness, dueling, vigilante activity, available jobs for women in California (very few, in his opinion, if they considered themselves respectable), and the postal service.
On February 15, 1850, the Gazette printed:
We are again in possession of letters from . . . GEORGE R. PARBURT, Esq. . . . the writer . . . has been for a considerable time, in the Valley of Trinity River, where he met with tolerably fair success in mining. But all his hard earnings, together with his clothes, provisions, &c., were stolen from him . . . he wended his weary way to Sacramento City. . . . he does not intend to resume mining . . . remarking that “there are many honorable ways to amass wealth in California, besides digging.”
Mr. Parburt made it clear that acquiring gold was not easy. The Gazette printed his October 28 letter on March 15, 1850:
. . . as a general rule, hard labor is necessary to obtain [gold.] . . . Many mechanics and farmers find themselves unfitted for the constant exposure and unremitting toil. . . . [a miner] probably has . . . a wife and children . . . he . . . feels the pains and weariness of the labor depart, as he repeats over to himself the names of the loved ones . . .
Mr. Parburt went to the San Francisco Post Office in early February, and found it very crowded. The Gazette printed his letter on May 17:
. . . Loafers sometimes get into line and sell out their places to more anxious seekers. After waiting two hours, I was fortunate enough to get two copies of the Ontario Messenger, three copies of the Albany Argus, six copies of the Geneva Gazette, and several letters. A slight tremor shook my hand as I broke the seals of my letters, for it was just ten months and two weeks since at Geneva, I bade adieu to the friends of my heart, and this was my first intelligence from home. I trembled lest . . . Death, had, in that interim, rudely broken the sacred circle of my affections. But . . . line after line assured me that “all’s well” . . .
In a later letter printed in the same paper, Mr. Parburt reported seeing many acquaintances from back east. Many of them were doing well, but not necessarily by mining.
. . . Among them, F. M. Smith, Esq., of Palmyra, who has amassed [sic] a fortune by real estate operations; J. W. Swinelle, Esq., of Rochester, who, with several partners, is prosecuting a vastly profitable professional business; [and] K. Root, Esq., of Troy, is coining gold in the commission business . . . The Band, you will recollect, originally consisted of thirty members, five of whom returned home from Panama. Sixteen . . . left Panama in the Josephine. . . . The sixteen however . . . dissolved partnership. Some continue in the mines; some are engaged in fishing, others in various employments, and all of them, (except Mr. Clark who returned home soon after the dissolution) are doing a fair, California-profitable business. Scott . . . of the original thirty . . . has shuffled off his mortal coil in California. He was not well when he joined the Band . . . Dickinson arrived here safely and is in employment in this city. A few days ago, Tooker, the last of the Trojans, who had left Panama early in a “dug-out” which had been decked over, reached this city. Poor fellow . . . the perils he has passed through, and the hardships he has endured, have quite changed his features . . . [I wish we had the story of Mr. Tooker’s odyssey, which must have taken around nine months – but it might have made sad reading.]
Letter of February 17th, 1850: . . . I have just received the painful intelligence of the death of Wm. L. Kemp, one of the O. T. Band. He died on the morning of the 28th ultimo, near the “Rich gulch” diggins, between the Calaveras and Mukolemuns rivers. His effects are in the hands of Mr. Frederick Collins, with whom he was associated in labor. Mr. Kemp was from Niagara County, N. Y., where, I believe, his parents now reside. He was a worthy young man . . . [in time,] none will know the last resting-place of the youthful slumberer. . . .
In April 1850, the first of the Trojans (not counting those who came home ill from Panama) returned to Gorham. The Gazette reported on April 12:
We had the extreme pleasure, on Tuesday last, of greeting an old friend, direct from the land of gold – Mr. THOS. B. TYLER, of Gorham, in this county, who went out with the Ontario Trojan Band. He returns after an absence of about 13 months rugged and hearty, and, as near as we could learn, with his pockets well lined with the “dust” – we hope so, at least, for a more deserving, energetic man does not exist. . . .
The “well lined” pockets may be a discreet hint that Mr. Tyler had done better than a lot of gold seekers, but we cannot be sure.
On December 13, 1850, the Gazette reported that Trojan Seth T. Walker of Canandaigua, had died. As Mr. Parburt observed, “He is the third one of the twenty-four . . . who landed safely in California more than a year ago, who has gone to the grave. In many other large companies the mortality has been much greater.”
By the following July, there was more sad news for Mr. Parburt. Gazette July 4, 1851:
The death of the beautiful and beloved daughter of our California Correspondent GEORGE R. PARBURT, Esq., will fall with unwonted heaviness and sorrow upon him. We deeply sympathize with him, as also with the sorrow-stricken mother, whose loneliness and anguish is rendered more acute by the absence of him whose duty it should be to be by her side . . .
This brought Mr. Parburt home. Gazette August 15, 1851:
HOME AGAIN! – We had the pleasure yesterday of grasping the hand of, and exchanging congratulations with, our late California correspondent GEORGE R. PARBURT, Esq., who returned in the steamer Prometheus on Wednesday. Saving the appearance of fatigue . . . he looked as well and hearty as when he left us nearly two and a half years ago, for the golden regions. His return will bring joy and gladness to the hearts of a fond family, who in his absence have been sorely afflicted . . .
Unfortunately, I was unable to find further information about Mr. Parburt in the local paper. It may be that he returned to California with his family. I searched for the names of all the Trojans, but found only three of them, all in 1851. Robert Walker of Canandaigua was called for jury duty in May. F. W. Collins of East Bloomfield won $1 for a pair of geese that placed second at the Ontario County Fair in October and Thomas B. Tyler of Gorham was a subscription agent for the Gazette in December. Probably many of the Trojans stayed out west. A few may have made fortunes, but probably most of them, like so many seekers, acquired only a little more money than they had to start with. They were rich in experience, though.
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