Joseph A. Keck's Journal & Letters

File K234, Historical Library, Des Moines, Ia.

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Journal of Trip from California to home in Iowa by J. A. Keck. Left San Francisco Calif for home May 15 1852 Took Steamer via Panama for New Orleans. in company with a number of the boys from Iowa & Ill.. Was some seasick the first part of the trip. Stopped one day at Acapulca Mexico to lay in supplies, we enjoyed going ashore for a change. It was a big day for the Roman Catholic Church, They gathered at the Church and formed in procession and marched through the streets with their Images, and Banners. While they were parading the Californians lined the sidewalks, and the Marshal motioned for them to get down on their kness(knees). to make Obesiance to their Images and of course of we did not obey there might of been a serious disturbance We adopted the saying. while in Rome, do as the Romans do. They made quite an imposing appearance. We all enjoyed the day and were all ready to leave. We did not stop any more until we got to Panama. Our vessel could not get nearer than one mile, but went ashore in small craft. There were quite a number came to the Ship, after we cast anchor Amoung the number. where a number of naked boys. surrounding the ship. The Californians would throw dines, and quarters, into the water to see them dive after the coins. We arrived in good health, and had a good trip. We did not stop very long at Panama, We got a meal of Ham & eggs, and made preperations to cross the Isthsmus We packed our things on our backs others hired pack mules. to carry them across. There were some ladies in our crowd they were carried in a chair fastened to two poles. and carried by four natives all naked but had Breech Clouts on, The first day we traveled about half across and stopped for the night. with a party that had put up a large tent for the acomadation of the public for meals and lodging, the next day we arrived at the Rail Road. which had been built and equipped for traffic and we paid 9. Dollars to ride 18 miles, and was glad of the chance, they called it 40 miles across the Isthsmus, we started a little after dark, and ran very slow, they had a man ride on the front of the engine for safety. as the natives were angry at the road by taking away their trade they were a treacherous set of men. but we got through in safety We re embarked at Aspenwall for our destination, this was not much of a train at that time, There were a number of men took passage from here to New York that had been to work on the R Road and their time had expired. and were going home, They brought the Cholera aboard with them and soon raged in fearful destruction, to the Passengers, and Crew. as about one fourth died before we made a landing. It was just awful, there was not help to keep the vessel in a Sanitary condition. We could scarcely stand it between decks to take our meals as the stench was nausious, we took our blankets, on deck, to windward and staid there day and night, The first ones to die had a funeral service performed but they soon dispensed with the service as they were so numerous. In this condition we arrived in Havana Cuba. After we got into the harbor, we cast anchor, and let off steam, The health Officer came aboard and found out condition and insisted on our getting outside the harbor, as soon as possible, or they would sink us so we had to take up the anchor and get up steam, and get out, with the guns of Moro Castle frowning upon us we lost no time. The Officer cautioned us not bo bury any of the dead in the harbor and had several, boats watching us to see that the request was complied with but all the same we let a few down over the wheel house, After we were out of the harbor they brought us out provisions and coal to take us over to Key West Florida We would liked so much to have gone ashore as it was a beautiful place It was only a few hours run over to Key West. but the steamer stopped at Sand Key about 6 miles. from the town and put us ashore on a small Island of Sand. where there was a light house located off the Florida Reefs. to warn vessels of the Rocks. It was just a tower built of steel like a a wind mill tower only much larger, There was only the keeper and his family on the Island and one small house for the family to live in there was not a spear of grass, or tree. nothing but a pure sand. The steamship company procured a hulk of a vessel. and put the sick in it. and the well ones ashore We was here some two weeks. and had no Cholera while we remained here, but some took Fever. There was a party who were so anxious to get home Chartered a sail vessel to take them to Mobile. We heard from them afterwards that most of them died of Cholera before they reached their destination, I never expect to see such a dissatisfied (a) lot of men again as we had at Sand Key all anxious to get away and go home, After the Cholera had abated, they allowed us to go to the town of Key West, but they would not admit us into their homes. I remember sleeping on a porch with my boots for a pillow. in about a week or 10 days time there was a steamer came. to take those we wanted to go to New Orleans, but the most of them preferred to go to New York. The only recreation we had was catching Turtles which came. on shore to lay their eggs in the sand to be hatched out by the hot sun. We had Turtle soup every day as we had the ships Cook with us. they fed us while were here, the same as on the ship. While here we were much annoyed by the R. Road Irish who came aboard at Aspenwall, they wanted to run every thing, they were a thievish set, one night the(y) stole the pants from under a man head. They got out a search committee and found the man that stole them and there was a trial, and he was sentenced to 30 lashes, on his bare back, well laid on. The poor fellow, cried out Oh merciful man, repeatedly, and after he received his punishment, he went around to show his back to his comrades, but that settled them the rest of the journey, we had peace ever afterwards. The Hospital ship was in sight of where we were, but had no communication with the Hospital, but saw bodies floating around, with the sharks swimming around to pick them up, the weights had become detached, if they ever had any. The Company cleaned, and fumigated the vessel, and hired a vessel to go to Havana to get supplies, and a crew to run to New York, as the crew had mostly died off. After everythings were in readiness, we were taken aboard for our destination, there were no deaths while we were at Sand Key. While on our way, there were two cases. similar to Cholera but they recovered, there was some-thing remarkable about the Cholera, as there was some recovered that had the disease, As we approached Staten Island New York the ship Surgeon came through the ship and. told the men, to put on the best face they could, or they would be left, but they all passed, and were allowed to land in New York, and we were all glad to leave the ship, where we saw such misery on our voyage Aug. 1852 Notes of the route I had to take to reach my destination, Visiting my Childhood home in Greensburg Penn. and. from there to Iowa. The Ohio & Miss. River were both very low, and only the smallest Steamboats could navigate these streams, and the round-about rout(e) I took to get where I wanted to go. After exchanging our gold dust for the coin of the realm, and. getting an outfit of clothes and seeing the sights of the City. We bought a through Ticket from New York to Greensburg Pa By boat up the Hudson river to Albany, and from there to Buffalo. and Detroit from there across the Lake. to Cleaveland, Ohio, from there, by rail to Wellsville on the Ohio river and from there to Pittsburg by boat, then by rail, and stage to Greensburg where we visited a couple of weeks, Then bought Tickets to Rockford, Ill. by rail. the end of the then completed Road the farthest running West of any road From Rockford, to Galena by Stage and from there down the Miss River by boat. to Keokuk Iowa, which was a tedious journey as the river was so low, and we ran on a number of sand bars. and from Montrose to Keokuk. we had a lighter flat boat and transferred, the Passengers and most every thing on the boat even the tables an chairs. by so doing we got over the rapids, in good shape, and from Keokuk we took Stage for Bonaparte Iowa, there we found a neighbor in with a team, who took us within a mile of home, which we reached on the evening of the same day. Then there was rejoicing all around, and glad to be at home again These notes are written Feb. 1908 from our memory after so long a time. and the things are as fresh in our mind as when it occurred
J. A. Keck Stockport, Iowa
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Transcribed by Rich & Nancy Lowe for the Van Buren County IAGenWeb Project - copyright 2007