Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Gold in California

Not everyone who ventured to California seeking gold during the "Gold Rush" were as fortunate as George Duffield.  When he got the fever, he left Iowa in 1849 and returned three years later with enough gold to buy Linwood Farm above Chequest Creek, north of Pittsburg, where he built a brick kiln and fashioned the handsome brick home overlooking the river that became a landmark.
A group of men from Van Buren County decided to make the trip to California by boat, thinking it would take less time than a trip over land.
Gold fever was strong in Van Buren County.  Hundreds went west in their quest for gold, and most of them did not return.  Thus the fate of many is unknown.  The idea that one could find fortune continued to draw people to the Golden State.
In November, 1850 Martin Tuttle, C. Towner, Archie Browning, J. A. Haw, John Steward, Frank Shreves, a Mr. Myers, Peter Carr, Lawrence Murphy, Sam Boyd, Owen Williams, William Perkins, Alexander Cummings, James S. Bailey, Crawford Stone, Archie Irvin, and a Mr. Sturdivant left Farmington aboard a riverboat.  The Murphy family accompanied them.
Between Farmington and Cairo, Illinois the river was full of ice and slush, which hindered the progress of the vessel.  But from Cairo to New Orleans, it was clear sailing and the group arrived at the Gulf of Mexico ten days early.
They discovered 400 other gold seekers waiting for a ship that would take them on as passengers.  No worthy vessel would take the large group.  Finally, they were able to board a condemned vessel named the Alabama.  Soon after leaving land, nearly all of the group became violently sea sick.
Before the Panama Railroad was built in 1855, the port of Chagres at the mouth of the Chagres River, was the chief Atlantic port at the Isthmus of Panama.  Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, it had an excellent harbor.  It became a popular point for gold seekers to launch their expedition.
Indians were hired to row them as far as they could up river.  The last 40 miles required them to walk or ride burros over mountainous terrain, to reach the Pacific Ocean.
At Panama City, they learned that it could take weeks or even months before they could book passage on a steamship.  When a dilapidated old ship came into port headed for California, 180 of the men decided to risk sailing on it, including Bailey, Irvin, Murphy and his family, and Strudivant. 
They sailed southwest from Panama City to catch the trade winds, but instead ran into a calm sea where they were stuck for fourteen days.  Drinking water ran so low that it was rationed, the heat was unbearable, and 27 passengers died.  They were given a "Christian sea burial."  Bodies were wrapped in a hammock, pieces of coal tied to their feet, then were placed on a board that was balanced on the ship's railing.  The board was tipped until the body slid into the water.  The captain said a few words and offered prayers.
When the trade winds finally came, they headed for Acapulco, Mexico where passengers refreshed themselves with water, rum, and anything else they could find to drink.  They set sail again, arriving in San Francisco in March, 1851.  The trip from Van Buren County took them 77 days!
The remaining group that stayed in Panama City boarded a decent steamer and had a pleasant, uneventful voyage to San Francisco.
Unfortunately, this is the end of the story.  It is unknown whether any of these gold seekers found fortune in California.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick