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American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

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It proved to be a small encampment for the night, of a wagon team and three or four men that had been coming south, like myself, the day before. They had kept on the road from which I had turned off. Their wet blankets were hanging before the fire to dry and I followed their example, ate my breakfast of hardtack and soon was at ease among them.4
After drying his blankets, Edmund packed up and joined a man from Boston, Massachusetts, well educated, and good-natured, who was headed to Fremont. Edmund told the man that 80,000 people had come over the plains that summer. “His reply was instant: ‘I pity the poor devils.’” Edmund, too, wondered what lay in store for so many people who shared the dream of finding gold. “By this time I had learned that gold digging was, with many, a matter of chance.”5

He and his companion soon reached two adobe houses on the bank of the Sacramento. As the town of Fremont was still miles away, Edmund decided to stop for the night. The young man from Boston went on. Edmund found the door of one of the adobe houses open, so he entered and found four Indians sitting around the fire. He greeted them with the salutation sign and signified a request to stay overnight. John C. Fremont had written that the California Indians were friendly, so Edmund had no fear of them. They indeed welcomed him and Edmund took a seat, drew a few hardtacks from his bag, and offered one to each. In return, the Indians gave Edmund the leg of a deer they had just roasted. Soon all but one of them left. Edmund took out a small bag of Mandrake pills from his sack; the lone Indian understood the use of pills and at once put out his hand for some of them. In his autobiography, Edmund summarized his short stay with the Indians as follows:

After while and some talk by signs, he motioned me to sleep on the floor, hard earth, enjoy the fire, and left for the other house. I slept soundly. Morning came. Ate my breakfast and went out. In a few seconds a dozen or so Indian men and boys, entirely naked, emerged from the other house and in single file and ran to the river, a few rods away. I followed anxious to see what it all meant. They took a long net from a pole and strung out in line, plunged into the river, swam around and brought in a lot of trout. . . . I shouldered my baggage and resumed my way to the town of Fremont.6
Edmund passed a herd of about a hundred wild deer and saw Indians gathering grass and acorns for food. He reached Fremont, which sat on the banks of the Sacramento River, after two or three hours. Passing by shanties, tents, and a boarding house, he found several stores that had a limited supply of groceries brought from such Atlantic ports as New York and Boston. There were no more than 100 inhabitants in the town.

Edmund’s legs broke out with scurvy from many months of living on salt provisions. He bought some sauerkraut and ate it ravenously. The water in the river was too high for work, so he stayed in Fremont for several weeks. He earned a few dollars by cutting down some trees and selling a few cords of firewood to a businessman. Soon after arriving in Fremont, he learned that a stern-wheel steamboat stopped there daily. A newspaper agent on board sold New York newspapers that were several weeks old for $.25. Hungry for news and something to read, Edmund bought the papers. The New York Tribune, Herald, and one or two other papers also printed special editions for the California market, but these came only once a month. Each paper was not more than four pages, never enough reading for Edmund.


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