PAPERS OF J. A. KECK
Upper California June 4th 1851. Dear Brother, I again take up my pen to write you a few lines to let you know that Henry and I are well at present. We received your kind letter 4 days ago dated March 27th from which we was glad to hear that you were all tolerably well. I am allways glad to hear from home and also the Neighbors. I was glad to hear from S. Milliser and Rupley that they got home safe after so long a trip as they had in going home. Mr. McDow wrote to me that they left John Rupley sick in California and that they think he is dead am astonished at them for leaving him in that situation. I would like to see Sam firstrate and hear him tell of his trip. We had lots of sport with him coming out to this country he was very much afraid of (of) the Indians on the first part of the trip and in fact all the way through he generally kept close to the wagons. Henry and I are not together at present. He is still on Indian Kanyon and I am on Bear River we are about 10 miles apart I have been on the river about a month. I was over to see Henry last Sunday. I told him I would answer your letter the reason we seperated the water was so high in the Kanyon that we could not work to a good advantage and we did not want to leave the claim so I concluded I would go and work on the river until the water fell the waters are getting down so that the miners are beginning to do pretty well I averaged ten dollars per day last week, on the river. I am at work about 3 miles from Moores boy's. Mahlon was up a few days ago the boys were all well. they are going to turn Bear river for the purpose of working the bed of the stream they have got their race dug and are putting in the dam this week. I heard B. Kyes was a going home shortly on account of his wife being sick I have not seen him since we parted last fall. A. Billings was sick with the Encyepelas about a month but he is so he is about again. He started for the City a few days ago to get his Ears doctered for his ears are running and he is hard of hearing. He has sold out for less than cost. he would have lost anyhow for he is not calculated for that business he has no turn for trading anyhow. or no ambition about him he is like some old man of 60 years old. We got a good joke on him when I was hunting for our money down at Ophir Old man Wheeler wrote a letter a few days after McDow got home to his son Charles and directed it to him or John Bayles. his son had gone North and I Bayles opened the letter and read it to the boys. Billings was still out (to) the Kanyon so we concluded we would have some fun when we got back. T. Boyd and Israel Chappell were the ones that started it and the other boys helped it along. When we got back we told Billings that Wheeler had got a letter from home and that McDow and Elvaders got home safe and in good health and also that Minerva McDow was married to Wm. Smiley a few days before the old man got home and that Mr. McDow was very much displeased with the match. Well - Billings of coarse believed every word of it, he turned quite pale, he was so astonished. He said Bill Smiley did not marry her for any good, and all like expressions he looked downhearted for a long time towards the last he began to rather doubt it. after I got a letter from home, which of coarse did not mention any thing about it he came to me one day and asked me whether I believed or not I told him she might probably be married but I hardly believed it or else Father would have said something about the affair. Billings then tried to turn the joke on me he had been down to the City and said his partner had a letter from McDow stating that the widow was married but could not tell who she was married to. I told him I was very sorry to hear it but it was no use to cry for spilled milk I got a letter from Mr. McDow a few days ago stating that the widow was still not married, and no talk of it I read the letter to Billings. he still stuck too it that Mc. wrote that she was married. I have not seen James Martin and John Klise since last fall. I heard from them some time ago. J. Klise had gone up North and J. & Martin was at work on the North Fork of the American, they were both well when I heard from them. Thomas Downard and Albert Dunn were working for I. Nixon about Nevada. Nixon carrys on a large business here in the mines and I suppose he is making money. He is now in a company to take Bear River to the Auburn and Ophir dry diggin a distance of 30 miles over a hilly country they have let it out under contract for one hundred thousand it is to be finished in Seventy days or they forfeit fifty thousand dollars. Wages are one hundred dollars per month and board. that does not seem like big wages here but when I cast my eyes back to the States where a person would have to work one year for that it seems then like good wages, the largest days work I done in California I made 90. dollars. This is a great country for a poor fellow to make money if he will work and be saving but there is a class of men here that will never make anything and yet they work hard as soon as they get a little ahead they go and get drunk and gamble it away. I should get tired of that kind of business I do not like to work as well as that all comes to. I have spent very little money foolishly since I have been here. I want to save all I can to take home with me, for I know how it comes in the states where a person has to work for their money and I know I would never be satisfied to stay in the States if I had to hire out to make a living. I like this country firtrate(sic) it is such a pleasant climate the whole year round. most especially in the Spring of the-year when the ground is covered with all sorts of the most pretty flowers it beats Iowa all to pieces. I never saw as pretty flowers in any country as there is here, there is a good deal of farming and gardening carried on this season vegetables of all kinds are plenty and can be had at much reduced prices, and it still a very profitable occupation there is farms open now in the mountains where but a few years ago there was none but the red man to be seen chasing the deer and Antelope now there is large towns and incorporated cities springing up in every direction. California is bound to become a rich and powerful State if the distance between it and the States were not so great it would be filled in one year but it will not be a long time as it is, until it is pretty thickly settled. there is a great many families coming in every ship. I do not hear of one half the dissatisfied miners now as there was last fall some of whom I am well acquainted with cursed the Country when they first came here, and they would go home as soon as they got money enough to take them now they are perfectly satisfied to make this their home. I like to mine very well but I do not like the mode of living to(o) well but I am getting used to it for it does not seem half as hard now as it did at first. We had rather a bad time of this Spring along in February and March after we left our cabin and went up in the mountains. it was very mild wether when we started out but we had not been gone very long before it commenced snowing and raining and we could not keep fire one half the time. it was very disagreeable camping out. We sometimes laid in bed the greater part of the day to keep dry and warm for if we wanted to get to the fire we would have to stand in the rain or snow if the people in the States would expose themselves like the miners does and live as they do it would kill one half of them it is a singular country. We started out prospecting one morning from Camp the snow was six inches deep where we started and in going three miles there was no snow at all the ground was bare and when we got back we still found the snow there yet. I must fetch this to a close for I have a song for you that I wrote on crossing the desert. I never wrote about it. We started from the sink to cross the desert in the afternoon it was 40 miles across without water or grass and the road part of the way very sandy. We traveled nearly all the night and got on the heaviest of the sand about 10 oclock the next day one of our steers gave out and the rest was very much give out so we unyoked them and took them to water one of them gave out we could not get him any farther so we left him, it was about 7 miles to the river when we got the cattle to the river we started back with some water in a gum elastic sack and some hay to feed the steer so that we could drive him into Camp it was nearly night when we started out, and it was some time before we got back where we left him lying. When we got there he was gone. Henry started on the road to look after him. And I laid down by the side of the road in a wagonbed to rest it was a pretty moonlight night I laid there a short time and got up and I saw an Indian coming sneaking up towards me with bow and arrow in his hand and there I was all alone without a weapon of any kind I gave one yell and the Indian took to his heels. He would have killed me if I had lain there a little longer We got the steer but could not drive him into Camp that night. Song on Crossing the Desert by J. A. Keck 1. Dear Brother I will now tell you What happened unto me As I was coming 'cross the plains This golden land to see 2. We crossed the desert in the night It was a lonesome road The road was long the sand was deep We had a heavy load 3. Full forty miles it was across No water on the way And many cattle there was left To rotten and decay 4. As we were coming cross the sand The heaviest of the road One of our steers did there give out And so we left our load 5. We then did turn our cattle loose And to the water drove We got them all but one across We could not make him move. 6. Henry and I then started back To take the steer some feed We took some water in a sack For he was much in need 7. 'Twas dark before we reached the place Where we had left him lay And when we came unto the spot Behold he strayed away 8. Henry he then traveled on To try and find the steer And I then laid me down to rest In a wagon that was near 9. I had not laid there very long Before I locked around — And there I saw before my eyes An Indian on a mound 10. A crawling up on hands and feet As slyly as a cat With bow and arrows in his hand To kill me as a rat 11. The moon was shining very bright It was a pleasant eve I gave one yell, the Indian ran Im sure I did not grieve 12. For I was left there all alone Amoung the savage crew Without a weapon in my hand An La, what could I do. 13. And when the Indian he had left I traveled on the road Towards the place where we had left Our wagon and our load 14. I had not traveled very far Before I saw a tent I asked them if they had seen Which way my Brother went 15. They told me they had seen him pass Inquiring for a stray He found a train a working him And coming on the way 16. I saw him coming close at hand I told him of my fright We got the steer but could not drive Him all the way that night 17. We drove him nearly into camp When it was getting late The steer was tired and would not go We left him to his fate 18. I started early back net morn To drive the steer to shore I looked all around for him And thought he was no more 19. I thought perhaps the Indians Had drove him off to eat Thinks I they'll have a jolly time In eating his tough meat. 20. In the evening then we started back To fetch our wagon too We put six yoke of cattle on And bid that place adieu. F I N I S I have still got my journal yet, of the whole trip. I wish I had it at home and also my money. If I get a chance I probably shall send it. I would have over a thousand dollars if we had not met with the misfortune of losing a purse of the precious stuff well that shant count. I wrote a letter to Mr. McDow on the 1st of this month and sent him the note on S. Milliser and Rupley perhaps you may get this before he does his. I must now close for the present time Excuse me for not writing any more (e0t shant count) Give my love to Father & Mother and the children and all enquiring friends, and accept a good share yourself. I will come home as soon as I get satisfied here and then I will tell you all about the mines and the country. Write soon and give me the particulars about what is goin on in the neighborhood. & c. Give my love to the girls. tell them I often think of them and would be glad to have a chat with them once more, for virtuous girls are scarce in this part of the country. I have a slight acquaintance with Stewarts girls and a Miss Stephens, an acquaintaince of Stewarts, Tell the widow not to get married until I get back for I want to be at the wedding, I want you when you write again to let me know how Margaret Johnson is getting along and where they are living. I have never heard a word from her since I left. You never mention Catharine or Johnsons either whether they are at home or where they are. No more at this time but remain your affectionate Brother, Joseph A. Keck To his Brother George, N.B. If this wont do send it back and it shant count. Return to Top of Page
Joseph A. Keck's Journal & Letters
- To California for Gold
- Letter Home June 4th 1851
- Return Trip to Iowa
- When Coal Oil Was First Used
- Early Days in Van Buren Co.
- The rise and fall of the Know Nothing Society
- Sons of Liberty, vs. Knights of the Golden Circle
- Early Tornado, or Cyclone
File K234, Historical Library, Des Moines, Ia.
Transcribed by Rich & Nancy Lowe for the Van Buren County IAGenWeb Project - copyright 2007