The Gold Rush Diary
Of George Bonniwell
Part V - August and September, 1850
Diary courtesy of Barbara Sumner
protected by copyright, all rights reserved
Transcribed by J.R. Tompkins
Thursday August 1st 112 days out
We slept well last night and feel a little refreshed, but feel very weak and languid. Mr.
Mums got us a breakfast the same as last night. Went over the salmon trout river and cut
grass. Brought it over and fed our hungry horses. Heard that there was a trader from San
Francisco with provisions arrived at this point. I will mention that our men took off
going on foot. William went up and bought 1 lb. tea 2 dollars per lb., rice 20 lb. at 1.25
lb. Pork 21 lb. at 1.00 lb. Came down with it and I assure you that it made us smile. We
put the camp kettle on and cooked some and had our bellies full once more. We laid and
slept the remainder part of the day. Towards night, 2 of our men found the horse that we
left on the road with the Indians and took it away, brought it in camp. We gave 3 cheers
and William treated us with a quart of brandy, and for which, he paid at the rate of 10
dollars a gallon and 1 lb. sugar 1.50, and on went the camp kettle again and we made a
large pan of brandy and water. We lapped it up and felt quite refreshed. Cooked our supper
and went to bed, 16 of us all in a row, all in one bed. 4 of our men has taken up the
horses to fetch in the wagons tomorrow morning, and we meet them at the river and
breakfast together at 8 a.m. we started on our journey and went 4 miles over heavy sand
and had to camp. Laid and rested all day. Our horses want more rest.
Friday August 2 and 113 days out
Last night we concluded to pack, and today has been spent in fixing pack saddles and
making necessary preparations for our new mode of conveyance. At sundown, we had our packs
on our horses' backs, and off we went. Crossed a desert of 14 miles. In all traveled 20
miles. Camped at 2 o'clock in the morning on the Pilot[?] river good grass along the river
and good water. Willow wood.
Saturday August 3 and 114 days
This is a hot morning. Our horses had all liked to have got missed last night, as we all
went to bed and had no watch set as it was so near daylight. We all feel quite tired out
and we are laying round the campground in all directions. 6 p.m. We have been picking up
our traps and packing our horses, and in half-an-hour, we shall leave the banks of the
Pilot River and cross another desert of 25 miles. 6 p.m. All well.
Sunday Aug.4 and 115 day out
We left our encampment last night and
struck the desert a little after 7 p.m. We had a most tremendous heavy sandy road for
about 8 or 10 miles. We had to work as our horses is in such a weak state they could not
carry us. God knows what we should have done if we had not left the wagons and packed. We
started on about ahalf-enough to eat and not enough provisions for breakfast. We have 1
quart of flour and 1 pint of rice among us. We traveled about 14 miles and rested our
horses, and laid down till 1 hour before daylight. We then packed and proceeded on our
march without anything to eat or drink and about 8 a.m., we struck the banks of the
beautiful Pilot river again. Here was a trader where we got a few lbs. of flour, 20 or 25
lbs. for which was paid 1.25 lb. This was fortunate for us. I felt very tired and my
bowels ached with hunger. This trader had some brandy and he charged 50 cents a glass. I
took a good stiff one and that done me good, and helped me on 2 miles up the river where
we stopped to get our breakfast, which we made of dry biscuits and coffee. We bought 16
lbs. of coffee at 25 cents lb. off a man that was going to California. 10 a.m. We start
again on the trail. Traveled 5 miles and camped till tomorrow. Turned our horses over the
river, where there is beautiful feed, clover and buffalo grass. 6 P.M. I am now setting
under a cotton wood tree, a little a one side of the camp to finish my notes for the day.
It is a lovely cool evening and everything looks pleasant. It makes me think and look back
to my happy home, and think of those that I have spent so many happy hours with and walked
to the house of God together. Oh how I miss those privileges God granted. Is all for the
best. We bought a piece of fresh beef just now at 25 cents lb. they tell us we are yet 140
miles from the Sacramento City. We have been told so many stories that I have no
confidence in any. We shall know when we get there. As I have time and opportunity I shall
state a little of the suffering on this road. From the time we struck Humboldt or Saint
Mary's river there has come under our observation many heart-rending cases. Some on foot
without anything to eat, or many, some lost their teams, horses poisoned with alkali.
About 500 horses in less then a week died at the sink. We was told a few days after we
left it, on the 40 mile desert. It was shocking to see the property that was throwed away,
all kinds of clothing, feather beds, tools, cooking things, barrels, and any thing that
was useful. I should think that there was over 100 wagons left and destroyed on this
desert. And harnesses all along the road, saddles, bridles, every thing but money and
food. And the amount of horses was very great. You see the poor wretches standing along
the road, starving to death and not a bit of vegetation to be seen. The cattle and mules
was not half so great. Cattle is the best by far for this journey. The land on these
deserts may be turned level, and in some places, the road is as smooth and hard as a barn
floor, and in others very loose fine sand, which makes it desperate heavy wheeling on the
last end of the 40-mile desert. There is 8 miles of this here. The teams give out and have
to be taken in to the river for water and grass. I must now give up writing as it is time
to go and get our horses from over the river.
Monday Aug 5 and 116 days out
We left our encampment at 5 a.m. All well. Made our breakfast of about 2 oz. of beef and 2
cups of coffee. Left the river and crossed the 14-mile desert, one of the stoniest roads
we have been over. In some places, the horses could not find a place for his foot without
stepping on a stone. Stayed here and bated our horses. There was a trading store here. We
got a few lbs. of bread at 1.25 lb., and when it was divided, it amounted to one biscuit
apiece. Started after dinner and struck the Pleasant[?] Valley and traveled 18 miles and
camped. Here is a trader. We got a few lbs. of bacon and flour at 1.00 lb. We are now at
the base of the long-looked-for Sierra Nevada Mountains. They are covered with pine trees
of a stunted growth, but they look pleasant to us that has not seen trees for so long.
They are very high, and some snow on their peaks. This valley is 30 miles long and 5 wide,
and has abundance of good grass. I saw some fine packs of clover. We are in a fine healthy
climate here, neither too hot nor too cold. We have made 32 miles today, and I have walked
about halfway on 2 oz. of beef and one biscuit. I thank God I stand it well, and never had
better health than I have now, but my belly aches for my supper. 6 p.m. All well.
Tuesday Aug 6 and 117 days out
Left our encampment at 8 a.m. and have been traveling along the valley and at the base of
the mountain. The night was cold and a heavy dew as we camped by the river, and this is
the only place in this country you will find dew. We made our breakfast of bread, coffee
and bacon, not near enough to satisfy our ravenous appetites. The road has been good, hard
black sand and gravel. Grass in abundance, and about every 40 or 50 rods is fine streams
of the finest water that ever I drank comes out under the mountains. The timber on these
mountain is pitch pine, and today we found the trees much larger. I saw some 4-1/2 in
diameter. Traveled 15 miles and camped to bate for 2 hours. It was very hot and nothing to
shelter us as we had to leave our tent behind here. We was tired, faint and ornery. We
made a bit of soup out of a few bones and about 1/2 pint of corn and 1 pint of flour. We
picked the bones and had about 1 pint of soup each one. I feel the short allowance very
much. We all look quite thin. God help us, which I know he will, if we put our trust in
him. Packed up and started on again. Left the Pillot[?] river and went over a bluff and
came to the foot of the mountain, where we have to cross. Here we was about all beat out.
Here is a trader, and we got 50 lbs. flour at 75 cents lb. The cooks is very busy, baking
bread and we shall have our supper in a few minutes. The citizens of California has sent
out a relief train for the suffering emigrants. Have met them this afternoon. We tried to
get some provision. They told us that they could do nothing till they got to the 40-mile
desert. We are camped on a hollow surrounded by mountains. Its quite retired and pleasant
to me, as I always was fond of such places. Their mountains is 30 miles from the base to
the summit, and as you pass along, there is small valleys 1 of 8 miles.
Wednesday Aug 7 and 118 out
We camped at Kannion[?] Valley last night and left it this morning at sunrise for two
reasons. One was there was nothing for our horses to eat, and one of our horses got loose
in the night and ate all the flour that we got last night for our mess, about 20 dollars'
worth. We began to ascend the mountain and went 9 miles of one of the man-and-horsekilling
roads I ever heard talk of. Some of the places was so steep that our pack horses could
hardly climb up. We stopped in a small valley on the summit of this mountain, and the
other 2 messes divided their flour with us and then we had nothing to eat. We stopped for
2 hours and started again. The road was much better. Passed through another small valley,
perhaps 50 Acres. Very pleasant, surrounded with high mountains and covered with pine,
spruce and fur, and cedar trees some 6 foot through. There is a small river of the purest
water here, and there is diggings on it. We saw a quantity of fine gold dust where we
stopped. Went about 7 miles farther and we came to a steep mountain. We had job to get up.
My horse fell and I pulled him by the tale 10 foot before I could get him up. So this will
give a little idea how steep it was. And what is astonishing to me, there I saw 3 wagons
going up. One of their mules got down and they rolled him over the stones, and finally got
a foothold for him to get up. They got to the top and this is the summit of the second
mountain. We descended to a lake valley and camped. Poor grass. Here was a trader where we
got about 30 lbs. flour at one dollar lb. This will make our bread for supper and
breakfast. We have walked 20 miles today up these mountains and we all feel very tired
William Tow'd[?] as been sick for some days. He is not hardly able to ride on horseback.
Thursday Aug 8 and 119 out
The night has been very cold, with some frost. Our bed clothes was wet this morning. Quite
cold to turn out. We made a hearty supper last night of bread and coffee. We had our belly
full for the first time for some days. We was on the trail at sunrise. Went 1 mile and
crossed a river. William got down and wet his bedclothes. Ascended 3 miles on the 3rd
mountain and stopped to breakfast of bread and coffee. This will take all of our flour and
William tells me that he has not a cent of money. It is quite cold and we had to put on
our great coats. The road is much better then we found it yesterday. Towards the top, the
road was very steep and sidling. On the NW side of the mountain, the snow I should judge
was 14 foot deep. It only lays in places and there is not so much snow as anyone would
think. For my horse I had to push up part of the way, and when I left off pushing him,
down he fell. We got him up again and got him up to the summit, which we gained at 10-1/2
a.m. Went about 1/2 mile and I had to leave him behind. You have a fine prospect of this
mountain and can see a great way. We likewise had to leave another horse that could not
get up. We took a cutoff that saved us 8 miles out of 16. This was a horrible road. Our
horses could hardly get down. Two of them fell, did not hurt themselves. We are stopped a
little while to get our supper and rest our horses. Here is a lake nearly round and about
2 miles across. It looks quite pleasant. The sceneries on these mountains look very wild
in places. Some are nearly white and some a very dark color, and looks solemn and gloomy.
We have not seen any game of any kind. William bought this morning out of a wagon 10 lbs.
flour at 75 cents lb. We have ate it all up for supper. We felt the short allowance at
first very much, but not so much now, as we get used to 2 meals a day and short at that.
We are all, I believe, in good spirits, and lay out to have a good blow-out when we get to
the diggings, as we are told we are only 65 miles from them. I dreamt last night that I
was getting married to one of Ms. Capes[?]' daughters. We started after supper and crossed
the outlet to this lake, and went 2 miles over the rocks and came to a valley where we
found good grass. The scenery looks wild and yet pleasant. I am told that there is good
fish in the lake. There is quite a variety of flowers on those mountains. Saw some
gooseberry trees and some perennial catnap. We suppose we have come today 15 miles whether
we have or not the Lord only knows.
Friday Aug 9 and 120 days out
At daylight, we found everything froze. The prospect before us looks gloomy. 2 of our
horses got in the river. Got them out again. We have nothing for breakfast but a little
tea. Hard times. We was on our march a little after sunrise. Went along the foot of the
mountain and now our poor horses, while I write this, is struggling up a steep mountain.
They are almost up. God help and supply our wants. These words strengthen me this morning.
Put thy trust in the Lord and he will strengthen thine heart. Yes, Lord, I will though
thou shows me. Blessed be God, my soul is happy. My lord, pour thy spirit upon me and let
they grace sustain me. We descended the mountain and had a beautiful prospect of the
surrounding mountains. Saw a sort of a mist ganging over the mountains along way off. This
is the first mist or cloud that I have seen for two months or more. Went on till we came
to a trading post. Here we got 3 pieces of shanks of the ox, paid 1 dollar and got 3 small
loaves of bread. Went on a little farther and stopped to breakfast. Started on again and
came to another trading post. Here we traded 1 horse off for 10 lbs. of hard bread. Went 5
miles and came to a trading post at Leep[?] Spring and camped. Here we got a few lbs. of
flour, I think 8 at 75 cents lb. Here we made a kettle of soup with leaks, bones and bread
and flour, and had a hearty meal. The people looks very hardy and I think that it is a
very healthy country. All in fine spirits. 40 miles from the Hangtown diggings. We hear
encouraging news by the people.
Saturday Aut 10 and 121 days out
We was on the trail, sun 1 hour high. Traveled 25 miles. The road has been very crooked,
stony and mountainous. Tired. Nearly Nearly all of us have to walk and we all feel very
tired. We have come all day without any grass and 12 miles. We found no water. Our horses is about beat out, and tonight nothing but
browse for them to eat. We got a few lbs. flour at 62-1/2 cents today and enough pork for
our dinner tonight. We ate all our flour up. I believe we are about 25 miles from the
diggings. I have eaten cherries, raspberries, filberts and crabapple today, and some very
fine gooseberries. It has been timber land today, and some of the finest timber I ever
saw. I saw a tree 10 foot through. I saw some small black ones short and stunted.
Sunday Aug 11 and 122 days out
We was on the trail at sunrise. We had nothing to eat and we are in need of our
breakfast, as we have had nothing since yesterday at 4 a.m. We traveled since that time 13
miles, and come to a trader where we got some flour at 62-1/2 cents lb. We had no grass or
water for a long way, 20 miles, and here was some hay, and we offered one of our horses to
bate the others and could not do it. We had to pay 300 dollar per ton for it. Gave our
horses 4 lbs. each, and started again and came within 9 miles of Hangtown. Here is some diggings here and we stayed
here all night. Had a supper of hard bread at 22 cents lb. The country is not quite so bad
to travel in, but very dusty here. We found oak trees but not very large at this place.
There is a short tavern and a few provisions to be got. Everything is very high, beef 25
cents, pork ditto. There is a garden here and potatoes and some corn in it, but I think
they will not come to maturity as it is so dry. Well, now we are in the golden region and
thank God for his goodness in bringing us safe through here. I shall conclude my journal
from Milwaukee to California 122 days from Milwaukee.
Sunday Sep 8
I shall now pass over from the 11 of August to September 8 and state some of the
particulars during that time, as it has been difficult for me to keep a daily journal. We
came in to Hangtown and we did not find things so favorable as we expected. Here was a
great many people and it is a place of great business. There is diggings, but it is hard
to get a place to dig, as the diggings is all taken up and it is hard to get a days work.
William has gone down to see P.M. Johnson. I have been whiling about several days and
can't get anything to do. Me and Thomas Mun and Charles started for Sacramento. When we
went downtown, Charles got a job and then we declined going. I met in with a man and he
hired me to go to the American river to butcher for him. He was to give me 4 dollars per
day and board. I worked for him 2 days and he could not find sale for his meat and so give
it up. I then went with Mr. Twenteman[?], one of our company, and bought a whipsaw, and
was going to saw lumber, and he backed out and I got the man to take the saw back again.
Lumber was selling at 30 cents per foot, then me and another man went and bought a new set
of mining tools. Cost us 42 dollars and went to mining. The first day, we took off the
surface and did not realize anything the next day. We got 9 dollar, and the next day we
got 25 dollars, and Mr. Johnson came and I had to sell my share of the tools and go with
him. Lost 6 dollars and a weeks' provision. I think that it was a good strike that we made
during my stay at this place. I was troubled with the dysentery. It is a very prevailing
disorder here. Me and the rest of the men started and walked 160 miles through a pleasant
country and saw a great many diggings, and 1 or 2 quite flourishing villages and a great
many people of different nations. We arrived in 7 days and found them all well. Alfred
Hanery and William was working on the bar. My feet got blistered very bad. Not well yet. I
went in with a man to mine and worked part of the day and made 4 dollars, and then we had
to leave as they said we was on the river the next day. I went to work for William and
Johnson on the bar. I am quite glad I have not to travel any more, yet I have to pay
William and Johnson 400 dollars for my time. I think I shall like it very well. I am
fattening up every day and I think that there is a prospect of doing well here. I went to
hear a sermon today. I felt quite at home.
Sunday September 15
This last week, I have been working on the dam. I have had a looseness in my bowels,
nothing to hurt. Fine weather, some clouds, first I have seen in 3 months. Alfred has a
touch of dysentery. Little Bill also is recovering. Had to go to work on the dam this
morning to stop a leak. Likewise, this evening, the men has gone to stop another leak. It
blows hard tonight.
Sunday September 22
We are all well. We have been working on the dam. Billy is quite recovered of the
dysentery. We had some cloudy weather with a sprinkle of rain.
Monday Sept 23.
We have been working on the dam. All well.
Tuesday Sep 24.
We had a very stormy night. Rained hard and made the
water rise. The dam sprang a leak. Had to work before breakfast. Looks doubtful whether
the dam will stand. About 2 p.m., the dam busted. The dam above gave way, and such a body
of water caused everything to fall before it. It is a great loss and has put a stop to
everything. In consequence, we have to lose time till something is concluded on whether
the dam is to be built up or not.
I now must close this book, and I hope that all that reads it will excuse all bad writing,
spelling, and as I find by looking at it, there is plenty I should have corrected it
before I set it down, but had not time. I hope every allowance will be made. -Geo
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