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Friday, January 27, 2012

Lake County's 49ers and the California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush (1848 - 1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California.

U.S. Postal stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of the California Gold Rush, 1999 issue.

Word spread slowly at first, and the initial gold-seekers were mainly from the westMexico, California and Oregon.

In the fall of 1848, George Allen Hibbard left for the gold mines, "being the first adventurer in that direction from Lake County." (Elijah Haines) Hibbard went to St. Louis, Missouri where he joined Colonel Fremont's expedition, apparently as a means of reaching the California gold fields.

Colonel Fremont, also known as the Great Pathfinder, shown in an 1856 campaign image, glorifying his expeditions to the West.

Fremont was seeking a new route for the railroad to connect St. Louis and San Francisco along the 38th parallel through the Rockies. On December 12, on Boot Mountain in Colorado, it took the party 90 minutes to progress 300 yards. George Hibbard, along with nine others, perished in that snowstorm.

By the spring of 1849, word of the Gold Rush had spread worldwide. Among the "forty-niners" from Lake County: Isaiah Marsh, George Ferguson, D.H. Sherman, William and James Steele, Jacob Miller, Joseph Lamb.

The name "forty-niners" was derived from the year 1849.

Joseph Lamb of Warren Township was one of the 49ers from Lake County. Photo circa 1900. LCDM 2003.0.43

By 1850, the most easily accessible gold had been collected, but the influx of emigrants continued to increase. Some notable Lake Countians who ventured to California in that year included: Isaac L. Clarke (Waukegan), Mark Bangs (Wauconda), John Closes (Shields), George Gridley (Vernon), and Jeremiah Stowell (Benton/Waukegan).

Eleazar Stillman Ingalls (1820-1879) of Antioch left for the Gold Rush on March 27, 1850, and reached Placerville, California (formerly Hangtown) on August 21st. He was accompanied by Patrick Renehan, Thomas John Renehan and Charles Litwiler of Avon Township (among others).

Eleazar Stillman Ingalls, circa 1860. Ingalls lived in Antioch from 1838 - 1859. Photo from the collections of the Menominee County Historical Society. 

In Ingalls' extraordinary account of his journey titled: "Journal of a Trip to California by the Overland Route Across the Plains," he describes coming across newly dug graves, dead cattle and horses, and "emigrants" begging for food, who by miscalculation or bad luck had run out of supplies.

He wrote in his journal on July 28: "The appearance of emigrants has sadly changed since we started. Then they were full of life and animation, and the road was enlivened with the song of "Oh, California, that's the land for me," but now they crawl along hungry, and spiritless, and if a song is raised at all, it is "Oh carry me back to Old Virginia..."

Ingalls remained in California 18 months where he was profitably engaged in merchandising. He returned to Antioch and practiced law there and in Waukegan. In 1859, he moved his family to Wisconsin, finally settling in Menominee.

At least fifteen men from Lake County joined Captain Parker H. French's ill-fated "Overland Express Train" in the spring of 1850. French promised to take the travelers from New York to San Diego, California in 60 days for the cost of $250 each. It was in fact a scheme to swindle money. French duped the gold-seekers out of tens of thousands of dollars, and the merchants who supplied them out of much more.

Parker H. French from a lithograph in Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1856.

By the time they reached San Antonio, Texas after much frustration and many delays, French's scheme had caught up with him and he was arrested. The 60 day time limit on the trip had expired, and they were still 1,500 miles from San Diego. The men of the expedition gathered what supplies and cash they could, broke into groups, and continued west or went home.

Another interesting character from Lake County who headed for the gold fields was Archimedes Wynkoop (1812-c. 1880) of Libertyville. Wynkoop was a farmer, county recorder of deeds from 1839-1841, and the publisher/editor of the county's first newspaper, The Little Fort Porcupine and Democratic Banner. 

In 1851, Wynkoop left  for California, forcing his wife Eliza (nee Slocum) and their children to move to Wauconda to live with her sister. It was understood that there had been a “tragic and mysterious interruption” in Eliza’s marriage.

A letter from Wynkoop to his brothers in Chemung, New York in November 1851 describes his share in three California gold mines. He noted that the gold was fine and had “to be taken up by quicksilver,” also known as mercury. The next record of Wynkoop is from the 1860 census where he is listed as 48-years old and residing in the Stockton Insane Asylum in California and listed as insane and suffering from a “religious affliction.” It is very probable his insanity was caused by his use of mercury in mining for gold. He died some time after August 1880 at the asylum.

Emigrant party on the road to California lithograph from the book, "The Emigrants Guide to the Golden Land." 1850. The guide was written for English "emigrants" to California, giving useful information on history, geography, and laws.

It is estimated that at least 100 men traveled from Lake County to the gold fields of California between 1848 - 1853. Some perished from the rigors of travel or disease, others remained in California and sent for their families, but most returned home to Lake County.


Shawn Ford said...

It is amazing the ambition of those people. Many of them had recently traveled the long miles from the east coast with rough transportation. Then to get up and head on an adventure to the west coast must have been somthing. Jacob Miller was the first settler of Millburn and he went to the gold rush and died out there I believe. John Delaney had a farm in Newport Township, and in his memoirs tells of his travels to and back from the gold rush and the hardships of it all. Those were some rough times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post - I do hope to hear more of the Lake County members of the expedition.

My Lake County ancestor Peter Gray survived the expedition, and is buried at Waukegan

A lot of names of the members of the expedition iat the link:

By the way, we have read several of the published books about the expedition. But never did learn exactly how Peter Gray made his way out to California and then home.

Catherine Green

D_Dretske said...

Thanks for the link regarding Capt. French's expedition. It's one I've seen before, but will look over again.

So, you have a family mystery on your hands... how did Peter Gray complete his journey to California and get home? Thankfully, he made it.

Thanks again for commenting!

The Brigham City Fort said...

Just found your blog when I was googling George Ferguson who was a 49er. He crossed the plains in "The Extract Company." They left on May 6, 1850 from Kanesville, Iowa (Council Bluffs). This company was from Waukegan, Lake, Illinois. He was the Captain. There were twenty-one other men listed in the company.

My ancestor was Stephen Sherwood. He arrived in San Francisco in 1850. He went by ship. I am doing a blog on him.

Regards, Grant

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for sharing! Very nice blog.


Scott Grasse said...

Great post! This is super interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Toni Mann said...

George and John T. Gridley wrote home about their adventures in California. You can read their letters here:

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for sharing, Toni! Always great to learn of more historical resources.

This link worked better for me: