Letters From Gold Rush Days Tell Grandfather's Quest to Make His Fortune

To make his fortune, man risked everything to cross the country during the Gold Rush days.

| Good Old Days

Anna Ryan Greenwell of Lakenan, Missouri, has a packet of 13 letters over a century old written by her grandfather, Alden Rice Grout, as he made his way across the plains to California during the Gold Rush days and labored there hoping to make his fortune. The letters were written on thin blue and white paper. When the writer had covered the pages, he turned to the margins and filled them with last-minute thoughts. One space in the center was left for the address, and the page was sealed with a dab of sealing wax. Here are excerpts from the letters:

"Richmond, Mo., April 22, 1849 – If practicable, I wish to go on to California as I have been foolish enough to start, and try to be paid for some of the trouble and anxiety I have already felt by leaving a pleasant home for the miserable life I am now enduring."

There was a disagreement among the leaders of the 32-wagon train. At Ft. Laramie, Wyoming, Mr. Grout and seven other men broke away to form their own company. He wrote: "The captain, as good and clever a man as ever lived, wished to please all; the consequence was nobody was pleased."

Estimating that they had passed 1,000 dead oxen in 150 miles of alkali plains along with deserted wagons, tools and clothing, he says: "I can think of nothing I ever read to compare with it except Bonaparte's excursion to Russia."

The company arrived at the diggings near Sacramento on Sept. 16, 1849. Mr. Grout's letters soon were filled with admonitions to his friends in Missouri to remain there. There were days when he dug $200 worth of gold from the hills, but these days were preceded by weeks of labor that netted nothing. To a friend asking his advice about making the trip, he wrote: "I doubt not but you almost weekly hear of this one and that of having taken out his pounds and pounds of gold. But do you hear of the one thousand and one that have died, or are lying sick, unable to labor for their bread and not any means to buy it with?"

The fantastic prices took their share of his hard-earned gold. At one time he wrote of flour being $2 a pound; onions, $1.50; potatoes, $1. Hay was $10 for 100 pounds, and cornmeal $25 a barrel.

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