A letter from Thornton McElroy to his wife Sarah about his gold mining experience since arriving in California, June 19, 1850.
Thornton F. McElroy (1825-1885) traveled to California in the spring of 1849 via an overland route from Pittsfield, Illinois. After the Gold Rush, McElroy and his family settled on the West Coast, moving to Oregon and Washington, where McElroy worked in newspaper publishing.
Placerville, June 19th 1850
My Dear Sally
As good luck or good fortune would have it, I am again enjoying perfect health, when I wrote to you last I was just recovering from a long and severe spell of sickness, which came very near putting me under the sod, you may judge how near dead I was when I tell you that all my friends and acquaintances despaired of my ever getting up again and made preparations to bury me. This will account to you the reason of my not writing oftener to you during the winter, I wrote to you from Oregon, and when I landed at San Francisco, and after I got up here the 3 day of December, and sent two letters by John Mudd. Soon after Mudd left I was taken sick, I worked during the month of December, done very well, and had learned something about mining so that when I was taken I was making from an ounce to two ounces a day, the last day I worked I made 20 dollars. It is hard enough for a man in good health to get along in California and when it comes to being sick it is still worse and very expensive. I made in the month of December between three and four hundred dollars, the first of January taken sick and for eight weeks kept growing worse and in that time no change for the better. After I took a change for the better it seemed
as though I never would regain my health and flesh and strength again, it came slow but sure, I am now enjoying better health that I ever did in my life. I weigh 170 pounds which is more by 10 pounds than I ever weighed before. It cost me thirty dollars per week to have some person to wait on me and take care of me, besides other necessary expenses, which, in the time I was sick and before I was able to work again took nearly all I had made. I was not able to work until the middle of April, since that time I have done only tolerable well as this is the dullest time in the year for mining. Where there is one miner making half an ounce a day there is twenty that is doing nothing. There is but few at work in any of the mines at this time, the rivers are all very high and consequently no mining can be done till they fall, about the middle of July, in the dry diggins like these where I am, there is but little mining going on, the water is drying up very fast. In the best ravines for gold the water is entirely gone, there will be nothing of consequence done in these diggins until the rainy season commences again in December. California is a great country for lice and fleas, in the winter the lice will almost eat a "feller" up, when the warm weather begins to come the lice retire in disgust and the fleas begin to come thick and fast, and during the night they wake a "feller" up
and make him say his prayers very often, and during the day in danger of being eaten up by snakes and lizzards [[object Object]], and a small animal in the shape of a toad, with horns on it. During the months of April and May California is the most delightful country in the world, the mountains are covered with snow, the hills and valleys are covered with grass and the most beautiful flowers of every hue and color and the air is filled with delightful perfume from the flowers, but about the time the scene changes, and in a short time every thing will be dried and parched up in consequence of there being no rain during the spring summer or fall but it rains all winter. When I wrote you last I intended to start in a few days for the mountains on the middle fork, but I learned from a good many acquaintances who had went up there and could do nothing and come back again to this place. I shall be here for two weeks yet I think, and then go up in the mountains. I think I shall return home this fall or next spring certain. Norton is up in the mountains on the middle fork, went there about the first of April, the "diggins" up there are rather poor in consequence of the high water and none of the miners are making more than expenses. Doctor Clemens, the bearer of this letter to you can tell you more about Nort than I can, he came down from the mountains a few days ago. I have not room to write any more at this time, I want you to write me all the news about Pittsfield, write often
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and still direct your letters to Sacramento City. I have written several letters to mother but have never recieved [[object Object]] any from her, if you hear from her let me know, from your affectionate Mc