March 17, 1850

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


The following is an abstract of a letter received by Thos. E. Hatcher, Esq., from Gen. David Willock, dated the 17th day of March, 1850, and written from Culloma:

I came to this place last August, and have remained, My health was feeble during the fall, and during the rainy season. I believed it imprudent to go into the mines, for a man of my age, who loses his health, has quite a struggle to regain it, under the privations incident to a life in the mines. Except the first twenty days in February, (which were as fine weather as I ever saw,) the winter has been exceedingly rainy. To-day the weather is delightful, and it is the prevailing belief that winter is near its close. The miners are as busy as bees, fitting out for the mines. We have an army of as hardy men as ever wielded pick and shovel, now laying siege to mountains and canons, who before next fall will render an account in gold dust that will astonish the world; and if reports be true, reinforcements arriving and to arrive, will by September next overrun the whole gold region. Many poor fellows fall in the struggle, and many more are maimed for life. The enthusiasm for gold carries the vast multitude forward with as little regard for the dead or disabled, as though they had fallen on a hard-contested battle field.

John Sharp and John J. Hawkins are among the dead. Dr. A. G. Anderson and Wm. Muldrow’s old black man, George, were victims; and many, indeed, who left the States within the last year, now lie beneath the sands of California. But this is not a matter of surprise to one who will witness the exposure and privations encountered in mining. It is not uncommon for a man to shoulder from 60 to 80 pounds, composed of provisions, blankets, and mining tools, and march away over mountains and canons, at the rate of 15 or 20 miles per day, and when they have found a place that suits their views, they fall to work, with no shelter, day or night, save the canopy of heaven; and then their food generally consists of pickled pork and bread and sugar and coffee, and necessarily so, for they cannot pack a variety of food.

California is unquestionably a health country for any man who uses the ordinary precautions for preserving health. I have used what would be called great care here, to save my health; yet I travelled two days on foot, and lay out during the, in the month of December, and during those two days and nights, the rain poured-down incessantly, so that my clothes were completely saturated, without experiencing any injury. I have enjoyed since November the most perfect health. I have gained a pound a week in flesh, since the first day of January, during which time I have worked constantly, and have at no time felt wearied. I would be proud to have my wife and children see me, for I believe they have never seen me look so well. Suspenders to my pantaloons are entirely useless. I have not worn a pair of them for a month.

The facility with which money is made, or gold dust acquired here is varied , many have made nothing, while others have grown suddenly rich. I have done as well as I anticipated; and but for ill health last fall, would have done much better. But when you understand that a man pays from $25 to $36 per week for board, without lodging, you will readily perceive that a few months sickness will place a man who recently arrived in the country penniless, a little in arrears. I, with one other hand, have taken in for work, cash to the amount of $2,100 50; there is now due us and unpaid, $386, and work on hand worth $690, since the 3d day of January last. But our bills of expense have been heavy, leaving the profits at less than my friends here suppose. Life in this country is like running a boat up stream in a strong current: if he drops his oars one moment he is driven down stream.

I need say nothing about the gold digging; and the other business in this country; the newspapers team with letters on those subjects, some false, but generally true in the main, and so well authenticated that all christendom has gone mad with the gold mania; and I presume the only sure remedy is a few months of toil, hardship and privations incident to mining operations, which never fails to cure or produce a convalescent state, so my advice to all who are deeply afflicted with malady is, come on, come quickly, and I’ll assure you a cure, so that you can go home perfectly relieved, say in three months, provided you have money to bear your expenses, and no frowning creditors to greet you on your return; but if you have not the disease, and are otherwise in prosperous circumstances, stay where you are.

I saw Thomas Hart, Jo. Winlock and Ben. Ward, and several other Marion boys a few days since; they were in fine health and spirits. I expect to remain in California till the fall of 1852, or until I am able to discharge all my pecuniary obligations, and have sufficient to retire to some ____________ “quiet spot, The world forgetting, and by the world forgot.”

Excuse this incoherent letter, for while writing it on my work bench, I have sold for cash $103 worth of work, and engaged $500 more.

Transcribed courtesy of Kathleen Wilham