February 14, 1850

From letter published in the Missouri Whig, Palmyra ca ?, 1850


The following letter is from Mr. Sprat Ellis, who went with his father and others overland last spring. They were ten months on the route, and this is the first tidings of them since they left. The letter is dated 14th February, 1850:

Dear Brother –I now take my pen to inform you of our arrival in the gold regions of California, the great place which we have been toiling for the last ten months. We left home on the 18th day of April, and arrived here on the 10th day of February. I assure you that a journey of ten months is not a very pleasant one, although we enjoyed good health the whole route. The distance from home to this place is estimated at 3,500 miles; through a country of savage Indians and deserts. After leaving Susan in the State of Senora, we had no grass for our cattle until we passed the Cordilleras of California, the distance being 400 miles, a deep sandy road. We had nothing to feed on except willows and cotton wood. Hundreds of cattle, mules and horses died on the Gila river for want of food. We lost two cattle ourselves. We sold our horse for $50, but he gave out on the desert. We traded one of our cows for a mule on the Rio Grande, and the other died. We reached the town of Santa Barbara, on the coast of the Pacific, with three yoke of our cattle, and wagon, and there bartered them away for horses. We got six horses and $50. We sold our horses here for $675. A wagon and three yoke of cattle here are worth $800. It would have taken us until April to have reached here with our wagon. Every thing is very dear here now; but will soon be down. [Here the prices of provision are given, which are about the same as in other letters.] I will now tell you all I know about the gold mines. I have been here but four days, and do not know much about them. I am told that all men who work hard average from $10 to $50 per day; store-keepers, lawyers and doctors stand a poor chance. There is plenty of gold here, but it takes hard work to get it. Hundreds of men come here and do not strike a lick, and return home without getting any–men who are not accustomed to labor. Some who go to work, make a fortune in a short time. A few days ago a man dug out a chunk of gold which weighed 22 pounds, and gambled it away at a monte bank during the night. The next day he went to digging again in his hole.– Each person is allowed fourteen feet square of ground at a time to work on. We have not yet worked any in the diggings. We have entered into partnership with a man from Galena, an old and experienced miner, and expect to commence operations in a few days. Father has improved in health very much on the trip, and is healthier than he has been for the last ten years.

Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham