Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer
With the health problems he had experienced while at the American Asylum in Hartford years earlier, it is not surprising that Edmund developed a soreness in his lungs while living in the tent and sleeping on the damp ground in his blankets. He searched for a place to stay and found a boarding house run by a family with a deaf child.
At once I applied to a man who, with his wife, kept a boarding house and was admitted. They were from Illinois and had with them a deaf mute daughter eight or ten years of age. . . . I told them to go back to Illinois and place her in the school at Jacksonville and they thought they would. The man and wife were a kindly couple . . . at my request, I desiring nothing more, the woman made me a cup of coffee and I sat on the floor in my blankets, by the stove all night. Better in the morning and after that had a bed and took my meals with the family. In a week, the man sickened and died. The woman broke up housekeeping and I never knew what became of them after that.7It is typical of deaf people to take note of others in their lives who are also deaf. They have an affinity for finding one another, a result of shared experiences, especially the isolation caused by deafness and the challenges of communicating with hearing people. Edmund apparently experienced much less isolation than many deaf people did in his time, and we are left to wonder about the reaction of this young deaf girl in California, having met a deaf man who was the equal of any forty-niner with normal hearing around.
T H E water level in the Sacramento River finally fell enough to pan for gold in the river banks. Edmund found good-natured people everywhere. Just as he was about to take the next steamer for Marysville, a friend offered free passage if he would help row a boat up the river. Edmund accepted the offer, but as night approached the wind became too strong for their safety. They went ashore and waited a few hours and resumed when the wind died down. The next day, Edmund shouldered his pack, carpet sack, and blankets, and joined a half dozen men traveling by foot up the banks of Feather River.
Edmund’s first mining experience was with a group of men from New Jersey. He and three others dug and wheeled the dirt to a rocker, a device that helped separate gold from dirt. Another man worked the pump to wash the dirt. The two owners had built a shanty and also kept a cook. They lived comfortably, each man receiving $8 a day and free board. “The joke was we received the pay of a congressman and paid out nothing for board and lodgings.”8
After several weeks, the claim gave out and the owners gave up. With over $100 in gold dust in his pocket, Edmund then started for Marysville by foot again, pack on back as usual. During the few hours' walk, he saw a team of several yoke of oxen and a wagon going up to the mines. As he was about to pass he noticed the driver curiously looking at his face and clothes. It was Clark of Monticello, Iowa, who had been with him on the long journey across the Plains. “My first words, as soon as we had time to recognize one another,” he wrote to Mary Ann, “were 'Have you heard from home?' You may judge from this what has been most in my thought since my arrival in this country. Clark has heard nothing from home and we were like hundreds and thousands of others in this respect.”9
After talking a few minutes they went their own ways. When Edmund reached Marysville, he learned that men were being hired to row another boat to Sacramento City, and he joined eight or ten others the next morning for Reddings Diggings. At noon they stopped at an inn, ate a meal at a half dollar each, and went on to Sacramento City, arriving in the evening.