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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

Harry G. Lang

Chapter Five
The Making of a Forty-Niner

Edmund Booth spent the first few days in the land of gold much as he had along the California Trail. He prepared supper with his companions in the usual way, talked through the evening, spread his blankets on the ground, and slept soundly until morning. One of the first things he did in Sacramento was look for the post office.

After breakfast, I went for the post office. . . . found it after some inquiry, and asked the postmaster for letters. I stood by his side, as he sorted them, and grabbed at one letter with the name of Booth. I had written my name as E. Booth. The postmaster held it back and showed it had a different given name. I was greatly disappointed of course. Five months from home, after a journey across deserts and through uncertainties of [a] route unknown. . . . and wife and Tom, seven years old, and Hattie, the baby of one year, all left behind. I had requested wife to write me once or twice and direct to Sacramento City.1
In his first letter from California to Mary Ann, Edmund wrote proudly, “I said ‘I should come through’ and here I am!” He knew that he would have no answer for at least two months or longer. The mail steamers made only monthly trips. He told Mary Ann he would write every month and he hoped that she would do the same. In today’s age of pagers and cell phones, one reads his words with especial sympathy. “Do not forget that I must necessarily be anxious. . . . in the absence of letters from home, I have many fears.”2

There were many problems with the mail. Mary Ann had sent several letters to Sacramento while Edmund was on the Plains, but he did not receive them upon his arrival. He constantly watched the posted lists of letters, hoping that his name would appear, but in California the transfer of such correspondence was extremely slow. The Postmaster General had repeatedly issued a general request in the newspapers to discourage the use of sealing wax on letters sent to California. When sealing wax melted, letters would stick together and upon arrival in San Francisco the addresses were often destroyed. Edmund suspected that some letters for him had been lost in that way. He was tired from the long journey, but relieved to have successfully made it. “I am glad you and the children did not come with me,” he wrote. “It would have been a bad journey for you and Thomas and would probably kill Harriet.”3

Shortly after arriving in California, Edmund met a young man who was driving a mule team up the Sacramento River to the diggings and needed assistance. Edmund accepted this opportunity. A few days after they started, the rainy season set in. The rain was at first light, and they slept at night in a tent. But about a week after they had begun the trip, a very heavy rain forced them to let loose the mules on a small island in the river. The next morning they found the island covered and the mules gone. The owner of the team went for help to look for the mules. Edmund never reported what happened to them. He had seen many men going south the past few days and he decided to head that way, traveling until it became dark. It was cloudy and slightly rainy as he started to cross a large wooded region. After a half hour, he found himself where he had started out. He tried again, but without a compass it was fruitless. He took a blanket out of his carpetbag, ate supper, laid his butcher knife by his side and slept soundly in the light rain until broad daylight. In the morning, he began walking again, and after about a half mile, he saw smoke. He walked toward it to find its source.

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